Tag Archives: violence

Little Laughter

The new “Joker” movie is a rehash of an old conundrum: middle-aged man tries to remain relevant in a society that views him with mocking contempt, while he seeks true love and cares for his elderly disabled mother.  Said middle-aged man then experiences a cerebral infarction that plunges him into a psychotic pit of hopeless violence.

How the hell did the screenplay writer get hold of one of my journals?!

“Joker” reminds me of a 1950 Mexican film entitled “Los Olvidados” (The Forgotten Ones), directed by Luis Buñuel.  Also known as “The Young and the Damned”, it focuses on a small cadre of teens trying to survive the brutalities of urban life in a México City slum.

By the 1950s, many films began to acquire a more realistic approach to the world’s problems.  While a post-World War II America seemed to relegate itself to colorful musicals and grand westerns with clearly-drawn heroic and villainous figures, filmmakers in other countries expressed a more cynical, jaded view.

In “Los Olvidados”, Buñuel depicts poverty exactly as it is: cold, violent and oppressive.  It’s a birth place for anger and hostility; not ingenuity where people go from victim to survivor through sheer will power and determination.  American movies of the time often showed Mexicans and Negroes as happy and laughing, despite their economic hardships and substandard living conditions.  In “Los Olvidados”, poverty doesn’t hover in the background like trees in a park.  It’s tangible and painful; it’s a source of cruelty and hate – not an inspiration to forge ahead through rocky obstacles and build a better life.

“Joker” is a modification of that, as it highlights the humiliation individuals often experience in their ongoing quest for acceptance.  It also points to the hostile and sometimes violent reaction people have when they don’t gain that acceptance or respect.  It’s why, for example, American society exploded into rage and bloodshed in the mid-1960s; more directly, why many non-Whites exploded.  They’d finally lost their patience.  They’d done everything possible to be part of the American mainstream, and it still wasn’t good enough.  They were still being treated as second-class citizens; intimidated at the voting booth; forced to sit in the back of mass transit vehicles; sequestered into a proverbial closet.  Beat an animal long enough and it’ll eventually bite back.

For me, patience was always a given.  I had a long fuse.  It took a lot to aggravate me to the point of hysteria.  That may seem like a good thing, a positive attribute – and it is.  But like paralyzing fear, it has its drawbacks – namely that I let people take advantage of me.  Then, in the quiet of my home, I’d complain about it – to no one.  When I would finally bite back, I would unleash a barrage of bloody emotions.  And people would have the audacity to be shocked and get upset.  In other words, I’d scare the shit out of them.  But the primary drawback?  It made me look mentally and emotionally unstable.

In “Joker”, Joaquin Phoenix tries to put on a happy face, while mired in emotional pain and confusion.

I can recall a number of examples where I let myself get pushed too far, but here’s one.  July 2000 and I worked as an executive administrative assistant for a large bank in Dallas.  I supported two bank officers, plus the manager to our little group.  That summer our particular division decided it wanted every individual officer to submit letters to every client in their portfolios; personally-signed letters – not electronically stamped.  The letters for each of my two officers arrived later than for those of the others.  They’d been sent to the wrong floor.  One of my officers seemed to get upset that I didn’t get all 800+ of her letters out on the same day she dropped them on my desk.  She’d taken them home and, after two weeks, finally had them all signed.

I reserved a conference room for half a day, just for the sole purpose of folding each and every one of those letters and placing them into respective envelopes with two of the officer’s business cards.  When my manager realized how far behind I was, he enlisted a few others to help me get them done.  One of the helpers was a fellow administrative assistant who loathed the idea of helping anyone do anything.  In between folding and stuffing, that one particular officer I supported kept yelling at me to answer her phone – while she conversed with another associate.  I finally told her to stop yelling at me.  She and that one admin, however, took the time to stand at the desk of the admin to the department supervisor and discuss beauty secrets with his roommate who did drag shows at local queer bars.  The roommate was on speaker phone.

The next day – after all the letters had been dispatched – I confronted my manager to complain about the fiasco.  His dismissive attitude, along with the eye-rolling response from that one officer and that one other assistant, served as the final knife into my back.  To enhance the aggravation, they pointed out that I’d taken the time to talk with my father (when their own family members would call several times a day) and then accused me of “fraternizing” with yet another admin.

Thus, my patience disintegrated faster than tequila at an open bar during a Mexican wedding.  The level of anger that spewed forth from beleaguered soul terrified even me.  My voice rose in such extreme anger that some people on the other side of the floor hear me.  When our department manager threatened to call security if I didn’t “calm down”, I took the liberty of calling them myself.  On speaker phone.  With that supervisor (and my immediate manager) standing beside me.  They were both stunned into silence, as the security official on the phone waited for a response.

“No, it’s okay,” replied the department supervisor.  For once she sounded nervous.

A security official did come into our area; as equally perplexed as he was curious about my call.  By then, however, the department supervisor’s boss – they were all C-level executives – had learned of the situation and consulted with me privately.  He was angered – not with me; but with my colleagues and my direct manager.  When he gathered all of us together, I thought that one officer, the one who’d accused me of “fraternizing”, was going to melt into a puddle of tears and shit.

I didn’t like what happened that day.  I didn’t like that it got so ugly.  Hostility breeds nothing but contempt.  But I had to take a stand.  I had to let people know how exactly I felt and why I was so angry.  I rightfully put the blame back on them; that if they’d shown me the respect I deserved as an adult and a business professional, none of that would have happened.  Then again, if I’d only said or done something earlier; if I’d just reacted sooner, the day would have proceeded more smoothly.

Sometimes, though, we do have to yell; we do have to make a scene.  It should never get to that, but it happens.  Some people just can’t grasp the concept of keeping peace in the neighborhood or maintaining a high degree of business professionalism.  We have to lower our intellect to their level, so they’ll comprehend what we’ve been trying to tell them.  I hate doing that – because it really does make us look emotionally unbalanced.  But occasionally, there’s just no other way.

The title character in “Joker” is embroiled in the same dilemma.  He’s trying desperately to remain relevant and garner respect.  He’s been beaten down and disrespected for far too long.  Then he explodes.  He’s been pushed to the violent breaking point.  And there are literally millions of people like him across the globe.

It all goes back to one of the most human of desires: to be acknowledged and respected.  The lack of respect creates hostility in the workplace, but it also launches wars and civil unrest.  We saw that here in the U.S. with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  We saw it with the 2011 “Arab Spring”.  People can only take so much.

Whatever happens, it’s no laughing matter.  Respect will always equal dignity.

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Worst Quote of the Week – October 25, 2019

“So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.  All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching.  But we will WIN!”

– Faux-President Donald Trump, colorfully describing the impeachment inquiry by the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives

Still working (with surprisingly little effort) to maintain his role as ASSHOLE-in-Chief, Trump once again uses racist terminology to elicit sympathy from his brainless followers.

To put the concept of lynching back into historical perspective, the above photo was taken shortly before the lynching death of Henry Smith in Paris, Texas, in 1893 that was viewed by a crowd of 10,000 as a public spectacle.  An estimated 4,000 people have been lynched in the U.S. since the end of the Civil War, even as late as the 1960s; mostly Black, but also Native American, Hispanic and even some Whites.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama offers a stark view of the REAL victims of human intolerance.

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Things Jussie Smollett Could Have Done for His Career

As if things couldn’t get any stranger since the election of Donald Trump, the so-called actor known as Jussie Smollett has made a sad name for himself by apparently staging an assault on himself and claiming it was a hate crime.  Investigators in Chicago – where the alleged attack occurred – arrested Smollett on Thursday, the 21st, and charged him with fakery.  (Fakery is essentially the same as dumbfuckery.)  I’d heard of the show Empire, but I’d never heard of Smollett.  I mean, who has?  In the high-pressure universe of television entertainment, people are only as good as their last scandal.  But, if Smollett seriously wanted to advance his career, there are a number of things he could’ve done, instead of conjuring up a hate crime scenario.

To help him – and other would-be assholes who have dared even thinking of doing the same – I’ve composed a list of things Smollett might have done to enhance his notoriety.

 

  • Take acting lessons.
  • Post nude selfies to social media.
  • Get arrested with marijuana in his underwear.
  • Pose for Playgirl.
  • Announce he’s turned heterosexual.
  • Express his support for Donald Trump.
  • Rent an expensive sports car and wreck it.
  • State publicly he hates queer people.
  • Fake a seizure while on a plane.
  • Claim he had a one-night fling with Anderson Cooper.
  • Go to work part-time for Wal-Mart and say he needed the gig to supplement his income.
  • Say he has 4 testicles.
  • Travel to Acapulco for vacation and “disappear” for a few days.
  • Get into a fight with an old woman in a wheelchair.
  • Say he’s trying to find a child he thinks he fathered 20 years ago.
  • Start wearing a t-shirt that says, ‘I Beat Vitiligo.’
  • Visit a therapist claiming he’s a masturbation addict.
  • Tell everyone he’s NOT vegan and eats gluten.
  • Publicly condemn scientology.
  • Say he hates Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

 

On a more serious note, I have to confess my disdain for Smollett.  I’ve known plenty of non-White people who have been victimized by hate crimes (beyond name-calling), and most of the queer people I’ve known could recount one or more harrowing tales of hate crime episodes.  For Smollett to pay someone to inflict an attack on him, just for the sake of seeing his acting career skyrocket, is an offense to REAL victims of hate crimes.  It may also prevent future victims from reporting these events, lest they be questioned and even mocked.  You know the right-wing establishment is going to have a field day with this shit, don’t you!

Fabricating criminal behavior won’t advance anyone’s career, but it can set back the progress marginalized groups have made towards equality.  The public truly doesn’t care about the notoriety of a little-known actor on a ubiquitous television show.  But we do care about people who have fallen victim to hate and oppression.  Smollett can now fade into the obscurity where he was already languishing.  Maybe Wal-Mart will hire him.

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It’s Okay to Kill Men

The jokes were seemingly endless.  “No hard evidence.”  “Won’t stand up in court.”  This was part of the chaos surrounding the infamous John and Lorena Bobbitt fiasco from two decades ago.  In June of 1993, Lorena Bobbitt was an Ecuadorian immigrant living in Arlington, Virginia and married to a former U.S. Marine, John Bobbitt.  Lorena claimed John returned home in a drunken rage one night and raped her.  In retaliation, she grabbed a kitchen knife and severed his penis.  Then, she fled their apartment with the organ in her hand, dropping it into a field.

The story quickly made international headlines, and Lorena Bobbitt became an instant feminist heroine.  And then, the jokes started – about John Bobbitt.  Everyone, it seemed, especially television and radio talk show hosts, had a good time with it.  Women in my own workplace laughed out loud about it, carrying on as if they were discussing the antics at a family dinner.  But, I noticed no one made fun of Lorena Bobbitt.

Exactly one year after the Bobbitt incident domestic violence took a deadlier turn when O.J. Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ron Goldman.  Shortly after Simpson’s arrest, a group of women’s rights activists, led by Los Angeles-based feminist attorney Gloria Allred, demanded that Simpson be put to death, if he was found guilty.  Legal semantics did not concern them in that Simpson qualified for the death penalty under California law because supposedly he’d murdered two people at the same time.  Too many men, they declared, had murdered their female partners and gotten away with it.  They wanted an example made of Simpson.  Keep in mind that they called for Simpson’s life even before he was arraigned in court and long before the actual trial began.  But, amidst all the talk about the volatile relationship between Simpson and his ex-wife, one person was consistently left out of the picture: Ron Goldman.  He was hardly mentioned.  In fact, he was almost always referred to as “her friend,” meaning Nicole Simpson’s.  It took a lawsuit by Goldman’s father to bring Ron’s name to the forefront.  But, even now, Ron is still often referred to as “Nicole’s friend.”

Four months after the Simpson case erupted family violence took yet another tragic turn.  In York, South Carolina, Susan Smith placed her two young sons in her car and rolled the vehicle into a local lake whereupon the boys drowned.  Smith claimed that a man had carjacked her.  As with the Simpson case, race played a significant role because Smith had specifically stated a Black man had committed the crime.  As officials scoured the local area for the missing car, they also descended on every Black man in the county.  Not just those with a criminal record, of which there were few.  Virtually every Black make who passed through York, South Carolina found himself with a target on his back.  Finally, after intense scrutiny, Smith confessed to the unthinkable: she had fabricated the entire story, from the kidnapping to the pleas for her boys’ return, and led police to her car.  She had driven it into a local lake – her toddlers strapped into their car seats.  The boys’ bodies were still entombed in the submerged vehicle.

The media did a good job of showing many women lovingly holding onto their children, as if to emphasize that most women wouldn’t dream of behaving like Susan Smith.  In the Simpson case, however, the media didn’t make any effort to note that most men don’t abuse, much less murder, their wives or ex-wives.

Then, during her trial, Smith made a stunning accusation.  She claimed her stepfather, Beverly Russell, had molested her as a teenager.  And, after Smith was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, the focus suddenly shifted away from her and her dead young sons and onto Russell.  And the same band of feminists who had been so quiet throughout the trial suddenly rose up in anger, demanding that Russell be investigated.  And, just like Ron Goldman, Smith’s two sons were lost in the heated discussion about domestic violence.

I thought of these cases Both the Bobbitt and Simpson cases brought the ugly specter of domestic violence into a new light.  Virtually every analysis of this subject, however, has focused on males as the aggressors.  If anyone mentions the term battered husbands, they are met with incredulity.  But, in a 1974 study of couples in which violence had occurred, researcher Richard Gelles found that while 47% of the men initiated the violence on a wife or girlfriend, 33% of the women did the same to a husband or boyfriend.  In 1980, Gelles joined with fellow researchers Murray Straus, a pioneer in family violence research, and Suzanne Steinmetz, another prominent sociologist, to analyze an even greater number of similar situations and found that the percentages had increased exponentially – for women.  In 1999, University of Wisconsin psychology professor Terrie Moffitt confirmed those findings and added that, contrary to feminist proclamations, women don’t often initiate violence as a measure of self-defense.  They are often the aggressors.

Admittedly, roughly 75% of arrestees in domestic violence cases are male.  But, does that mean men simply are more violent?  Or, that police are more likely to arrest men?  Still, the idea of women being violent is somewhat foreign.  It contradicts the stereotype of the helpless, passive female.

So, just how many battered men are there in this country?  No one knows.  Despite years of analysis – even of that particular subject – researchers still can’t present an accurate count.  To feminists, this proves that domestic violence is strictly male-on-female and nothing else.  But, to those studying this issue from an analytical perspective, it points to a cultural definition of manhood.  Men who are abused emotionally or physically by women are considered weak; the objects of ridicule; less than human.

To me, it points to a long-held assumption that violence against men is perfectly acceptable; that the male life is expendable.  It starts in infancy, when many newborn males in the United States are routinely circumcised without any type of anesthetic relief and for no established medical purpose.  The procedure became common in the early 1950s in the U.S. and soon reached a peak of roughly 90% within a few years.  That figure remained relatively steady for the next 30 years, when it began to decline.  By 2010, the rate of newborn male circumcisions had dropped to an astonishingly low 40%.  But that’s been a difficult battle to fight.  It’s still perfectly legal to sever part of an infant male’s penis for the ridiculously mere purposes of religious means or aesthetic sensibilities.  Any efforts to ban the procedure – even at a local level – have always been met with hostility and ultimately abandoned.

Yet, in the 1990’s, the issue of so-called female circumcision became prominent, and women’s rights activists pushed for laws to ban the procedure in this country.  They achieved that in 1996 with the passage of the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which received 100% support from all members of the U.S. Congress and took effect immediately.  Opponents of FGM declared that female circumcision is worst because it removes all of the genitalia, while male circumcision only removes part of the penis.  That’s like saying, if you’re going to hurt somebody, stab them.  But, for God’s sake, don’t shoot them.  Still, FGM never has been practiced in the U.S. or most other developed nations.  Personally, I’d never heard of it until the early 1990s.

On the issue of child abuse, male children are six times as likely to endure physical abuse and ten times as likely to suffer injury than their female counterparts.  Some school districts, even at the elementary level, maintain policies that forbid corporal punishment from being administered to girls, but not boys.

And then, there’s Selective Service.  Mandatory military service for men in the U.S. ended nearly half a century ago, but Selective Service was reinstated in 1980.  All males in this country are required to register for Selective Service within thirty days of turning 18.  While there’s no penalty for late registration, there are some severe penalties for failing to register; such as an inability to obtain financial assistance for college, find employment, or get a driver’s license.  Non-registrants can be fined several thousands of dollars and be imprisoned.  Even men who are only children or only sons and those who are physically disabled (but can leave their residence under their own power) are required to register.  Selective Service means young men can be drafted into the military in times of national crisis; meaning they can be forced into a war; meaning they could get killed.  It turns young men into cannon fodder.  Yet, all of that is perfectly acceptable.

Not until 2013 did the United States finally allow women already enlisted in the military to serve in combat roles.  But they still can’t be conscripted.  And Americans remain squeamish about the thought of women coming home in body bags, or with missing limbs.  Apparently, though, we’ve made peace with seeing men return like that.

In the realm of capital punishment, men comprise 98.5% of death row inmates.  Death penalty opponents often point out the racial disparities in meting out capital punishment, which are valid.  But, in reality, the death penalty is more sexist than racist.  And, when women are sentenced to die, the objections are especially boisterous.  In 1984, Velma Barfield of North Carolina became the first woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment eight years earlier.  At the time, she was only the tenth woman executed in the U.S. since 1900.  Barfield poisoned a number of people to death, including her own mother.  But, when she was sentenced to death, a tidal wave of protests, including some by religious leaders, ensued.  And, the same cacophony of protests surrounded the execution of Karla Faye Tucker here in Texas in 1998.  No one actually has declared that it’s immoral to execute a woman, even if she is a proven killer.  But, it seems to be implied.

I’m not trying to defend the likes of John Bobbitt or O.J. Simpson.  Neither has been an upstanding citizen.  And, no one really knows what happened those two different nights so many years ago, except the parties involved.  The police had been called to the Bobbitt home several times in the months preceding the knife incident.  As one observer put it, to say that John and Lorena Bobbitt had marital problems is like saying Jeffery Dahmer had an eating disorder.  It somewhat trivializes the entire matter.

Violence is violence, regardless of gender, race, age, or any other attribute.  It’s morally wrong and it serves no purpose.  We need to stop putting prices on people’s lives and categorizing violence according to how much injury the victim incurs.  Despite decades of progress regarding basic human rights, most societies – even those with high standards of living and educational rates like the U.S. – seem to believe it’s okay to kill men.  Except in rare cases of self-defense, it is not okay to kill anybody.

 

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Image: J.L.A. De La Garza

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