Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sad State of the World...and My Mind

William Smythe is a buddy of mine. Recently he wrote a post about how common courtesy has been forgotten.

I didn't really think twice about what he wrote.

However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that he is right. Common courtesy is dying. Americans...check that...humans do not truly know what common courtesy is anymore.

About a week before school started, my wife and I took advantage of a business trip she had to take and now we are out on the East Coast. This, of course, meant traveling by plane.
Airports and air travel is insane now. Security pushes you through faster than a fast food joint, though they are just as surly. My wife was attempting to get her shoes off (and her belt...that was a new one) while holding our son. I was putting our bags (and her computer, which has to be pulled out and put in a bucket) on the belt. The TSA officer kept telling my wife, "You must go faster, Ma'am. You MUST go FASTER." If you're ever tried to do anything while holding a toddler, you know it's impossible to truly go faster.

I, meanwhile, am being talked about by the woman behind me.
"Could this guy TAKE UP anymore space?" she asked snarkily.
I let that one go. I was more concerned with my wife and son.
"I fucking hate people who just don't know how to fly," her friend says.
Let that one go too.
"Look at the woman with the kid," Snarky now says while indicating my wife. "I bet I sit near that bitch and her brat."
That's where my courtesy ends.

It doesn't take much to look like what I call a "flying idiot." As Snarky started to put her stuff behind mine I positioned my stuff at a slight angle. Then, when the conveyor belt started to take my stuff, I would have to reposition it. If you do it right, then the repostioning forces the first thing behind it to fall off the belt. In this case, her shoes and jacket plopped over the side into dust bunnies.

However, the real issue of common courtesy came at the gate. My son is now walking. At the time, however, he was still learning, so he needed to hold our hands for help. Being that we had a small child, we decided to board early for the first time ever. The three of us heard the call and walked up toward the gate with my son leading the way. Suddenly, a woman with a large stroller cut us off and knocked my son down. Then, as she wasn't paying attention, she ran over his hand. He started crying. The woman who knocked him down turned, looked at him then at my wife and I, and said, "Do something. He's upsetting my daughter."

I lost it.

"Apologize," I said.
"Excuse me?" she said.
"You ran over my son's hand and hurt him. Apologize for what you did."
"No. You should have had a better grip on him."
"You cut us off," I said.
"I was here first. Make him stop crying."
"Apologize or I will make a scene so crass and loud that people here will think you kicked him in the face."
She turned to the attendant and said, "Do something. This man is threatening me."
The attendant looked at her and said, "You did knock down his child. However, sir, you need to stop or I will remove you from this flight."
I took a deep breath when the attendant put her hand on my shoulder.
"Sir, you, your wife, and your son can board first since you're sitting away from this family."
We boarded, but it was a hollow victory. The woman felt no shame about knocking down an infant that wasn't hers.

The lack of courtesy is not just in the airport either

My wife and I took our breakfast from IHOP one morning last week. A woman paying her bill as asked if she liked everything. Instead of saying, "Thank you for asking but I didn't enjoy everything," she called over the manager and started to talk about how (and I quote), "The server is obviously retarded, the food tastes like ass, and your cleanliness is bad." The server asked what she could do to help, and the woman said, "You should quit, because you suck."
We waited a little longer and watched as a guy walked in and took a booth without permission. When the server asked him to move, the guy merely said, "Make me."

There's always the issues with cell phones. A guy in Barnes and Noble was screaming across the room tonight while on the phone.

I love going to the movie theatre, but I think I'm at the point where it's cost and the lack of courtesy from the people around me make me want to stay home.

People rarely hold doors anymore, and today's kids almost never show good manners and common courtesy. Hmm, maybe that's not fair. Some do show it, but most don't.

Then again maybe my issues with the world also stem from myself. I've been feeling like a lousy parent ever since school started back up last week. I have 200 students, so I have to grade. Unfortunately it means my grading has to come home with me. That means a few hours of work at night. My son looks to me to play and be with him, and I can't. That frustrates me.

It's hard to explain. Maybe it's just me. I don't know. I'll try to come back with a stronger, happier thought in my next post.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Have Dreamed a Dream

"Some say life is hard....
That's just talk.
In fact, it's good to be alive.
It's...exciting." - Kurosawa in Dreams

In 1990, one of the greatest directors in cinematic history released a film that followed his life and polarized many critics.

Some truly loved the film. Others called it overly self indulgent and weak compared to some of his other works (Ran, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress).

The film is a set of eight vignettes that follow the life of a character with no name. He is supposed to represent not only Kurosawa but all of us. Throughout the film, his name is never given, but he is essentially "I".

The first two vignettes ("Sunshine Through the Rain" and "The Peach Orchard") deal with the young version of the protagonist. It is also in these two pieces that the audience sees how much the director loves nature and the environment. The sadness of the dolls in "The Peach Orchard" is due to the loss of their trees. The dolls even blame the boy for the clearing and scold him for his part. However, just as the boy shows remorse for not listening to his mother in "Sunshine," he also is able to convince the dolls of his love of the orchard. They reward him by showing him the way things used to be. These two sections have dual meanings. The first is to show the viewer the beauty and tribulations of childhood. For every perfect moment, there is an equal moment of understanding how the loss of naivete can alter memories.

At the same time, Kurosawa is warning the viewer about nature and the environment. Minor abuses, such as clearing an orchard or disturbing the animals' natural courses, can be forgiven, but those occurences do change the course of our lives.

Time passes in life and in the film. "I" becomes an adult and the next two segments of the film become depressing and deep. This is not unlike how humans, as they become adults, no longer meditate on the simplicity of life and concentrate on the dark side.

"The Blizzard" deals with a group of men (one of which is "I") become lost in a blizzard. They are on the verge of death and want to stop. Only "I" realizes they must keep going or be lost forever. It is here that Kurosawa adds a touch of Japanese mythology. After being separated from the other men, "I" runs into a siren on the mountain. This may, in fact, be the Yuki-onna (a woman who attempts to lead men to their death while in blizzards). "I" does not succumb, however, because he knows he must live, and because he answers her call, she lets him live (the spirit is known to do this if the reason is just).

While "The Blizzard" deals with overcoming one's own death, "The Tunnel" deals with overcoming the death of others. "I" is returning home from the war (we can assume it is World War II) and after walking through a tunnel on the way to his village, he is approached by the ghost of one of his men. "I" finds it hard to explain to the man that he is in fact dead. The ghost leaves only to return with the whole platoon. "I" is left with no choice but to live with his survival guilt and send the men back to their graves.

Kurosawa is very careful to change the tone of the film for this section. The vibrant colors of the world are replaced with harsh tones of blue. It is obvious that M. Night Shyamalan borrowed his color ideas for The Sixth Sense from Kurosawa. Blue represents the spiritual world, and in most cases it is negative.

"Crows" enters the middle age portion of the life of "I". Now an art student, he enters into the work of Vincent Van Gogh (here played by Martin Scorcese, who won't win any acting awards) to talk to the painter about his work. As "I" walks through various painting by Van Gogh, he finally finds the painter only to discover what his hero's (also a hero of Kurosawa) drive was.
"I paint," Van Gogh tells him, "because the sun compels me to." Kurosawa's Van Gogh also goes on to explain that he cut off his ear, because he could not get it right in the painting. As "I" chases the artist, he starts heading through the Van Gogh's rough sketches as the painter was approaching the end of his life.

It is here that Kurosawa attempts to use one of his heroes to put forward his own views on life and art. Kurosawa feels he MUST make art. He is, however, also making a commentary about middle age. Humans will begin to feel compelled to do all the things they must before they die. Van Gogh cannot stop because of the sun. Once the sun sets, his life will end. This is what Kurosawa is telling the viewer about life here in the middle of the film. The sequence also returns the viewer to the beautiful imagery before losing it again.

The next two stories return to the grim nightmares of the director. "Mt. Fuji in Red" deals with nuclear meltdown as a power plant on Mt. Fuji goes critical. The director paints the sky red and sets the power plants behind the mountains as if the volcano, not the reactors, are ending lives of the people of Japan. This returns to the directors feelings about the arrogance mankind has about the environment.
"The Weeping Demon" is Kurosawa's attempt to scare those in charge about the dangers of Nuclear war and holocaust. "I" has survived, but he's discovered that nature has been turned upside-down (literally), dandelions are huge, and humans are dead except for those responsible. Those people have become horned demons. The more responsible a person is, the more horns he has. The multi-horned demons must also eat those with fewer horns. Along with immortality, these former humans are now doomed to forever be in this Hell on Earth. While the imagery can be quite powerful and haunting, the director sermonizes a little much. The overall idea of these two sections could also be the time after middle age before old age. The body is unable to work as well as it should (or could), and those unable to adapt may truly live the rest of their life in a difficult landscape.
Kurosawa, however, ends on a positive note. "I" happens upon a village where the people commune with nature by attaching watermills to every home. This way they are not dependent on the nuclear power plants shown in the "Mt. Fuji". By passing on modern technology, the people of the village are happier. "We have chosen to have," the man tells "I", "the health of our spirit instead of convenience." As the film closes, "I" hears joyful music and sees people celebrating. When he asks, he is told that this is a funeral. Living to old age and working hard is celebrated instead of mourned. This is a message from Kurosawa about the end of life. Humans should celebrate what each of us has accomplished in life instead of mourning what will be missed.
The cycle of life begins with the lovely colors and wonder of childhood, and mankind returns to that wonder in the end. The middle may be full of hardships, but the journey is worth it.
While it may not be Kurosawa's best work, Dreams truly gives the viewer an insight into the journey of life as well as the director's mind.
It is exciting to be alive and though the journey may be difficult, it's never boring.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ramblings for the Evening (9/10/2007)

Let's do it.
So without further ado: MONDAY! MONDAY!
Brilliant Satire:
As you may or may not know, I am a big fan of satire. Here is a
brilliant sendup of Monty Python's "Upperclass Twit of the Year" (see the original here).
Basically, it makes fun of Hipsters (who are easily dislikable as the video shows), and does it in a way that anyone who doesn't know what a hipster is will know by the end. Awesome.
Track Him All!:
It's interesting.
I have this blog. The students and my colleagues can find me if they wish (some choose to read, others just scoff), and my family knows if I'm alive or dead through here.
And yet I have not been found by those from high school or college.
Part of this is easily explained. If you search with my full name (which I assume someone might if looking for me), you don't get this blog. In fact, other than a few links to my quote in USA Today, you don't get much (which is quite amazing considering how large the net is).
So I have some anonymity. Some....
It does worry me that I know students are watching. Not in a Big Brother sense, mind you, but there is something disconcerting.
It's almost like being a comic and not being on the stage (I saw this happen once). Then, as you're out trying to enjoy yourself, a person comes up and says, "'re that comic! Be funny right now!"
When students see your thoughts and read your writing, it adds a little pressure. You know there's an audience.
I don't worry about Tom. I should, but I don't. He keeps coming back, because he sees a kindred spirit in depression and rage (more rage here than depression, but I was told yesterday that I must be depressed...long story).
It's interesting to me as well, because a student just had to ask me today, "Mr. Leab...did you have, like, friends in high school? Or were you like totally alone?"
"I knew alot of people," I responded.
"Oh....Yeah....You just seem like everyone loves your humor or totally hates you."
"I see," I replied. "Thanks Dr. Phil."
"Nothing," I muttered.
So here's the thing. I was pretty popular in high school. I knew a lot of people and got invited places. I was also a hub in college (a lot of people passed through my house on a daily basis).
And yet now...I really don't want my world to be that large. I could easily go on Facebook or MySpace and join friends and such, but I don't want to at all.
I like that my world is now small. It's my wife, son, and a few people. We place way too much emphasis on numbers.
"Oh, I have (X) number of readers of my blog."
"The number of friends I have could fill a bar."
"My MySpace has (X) more friends than yours."
Why do we care? Have we as human beings become that shallow?
Maybe this isn't a new thing. Throughout known history the idea of status has been important.
"I own a Mercedes."
"I have a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes."
Hell, most people will lie like dogs when they return to their reunions. I went to my five year reunion (as you may
recall) and listened to people tell stories about who they worked with, what they did, and what they own.
Am I supposed to be impressed that you live in New York and own a Jaguar? That means you:
A. Spent $50, 000 for a car that's...well...not as good as it used to be, and
B. You pay roughly six to twenty thousand dollars for parking alone.
Wow...what a waste of money. Meanwhile, I own a know...where the parking is free.
It just saddens me that we no longer truly value intelligence in people.
Of course what do I know? If I was so smart, why aren't I rich? I could be wrong.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Ramblings for the Evening (9/9/2007)

First weekend while back at work. Too short.
Oh well.
Without further ado: DENY!
The 50 Cent Irony:
The MTV Video Music Awards are in Las Vegas this year, and 50 Cent was performing outside in a pool.
So get this: He almost gets electrocuted. Why? Because he set himself up, that's why.
He has this stage on the water. Already we have a mixture of electricity and water. Brilliant.
Now, he tosses money in the air (thus "Making it Rain") and at the fans. The people watching charge the stage, and it begins to dip toward the water.
"You're going to get electrocuted," the rapper yelled, but when it comes to free money, is anyone really going to listen?
So, he pulled an Axl Rose and walked off for the night.
He threw the cash, so he should know what's going to happen.
Still, his night was better than Britney Spears, who apparently looks and sounds terrible. Awesome.
Steve Jobs is a genius. So anyone who bought an iPhone and complained is getting $100 in store credit. That means that the people who spent the extra cash are not getting that money back but are getting money to spend at the store. It's brilliant. These people think they're getting something, but really they're just being setup to give the money (along with some extra cash) back to Apple.
Bravo, Steve Jobs, this is the reason why Apple is now so successful. When the public figures it out, will you become part of pop culture and be abandoned? After all, the thing that made the company truly popular was being part of counter culture.
and finally...
Hatred Happens:
Several of my students came to see me on Friday. As one of my colleagues puts it, "They're your cult."
It's true. I have a cult. Not the point.
These kids come to see me for various reasons. A few actually clean my room for me after school (which is nice as it gives me time to actually breathe). Some come for advice or whatever.
So as I sat there waiting for my wife to come pick me up (Her car's battery died, so she had to get it changed, and with one car, she had to drop me off and pick me up), and the kids start talking to me.
One kid says, "You know that there are a lot of kids who hate you? Doesn't that bother you?"
And I thought about it. It didn't bother me, but why not?
Why didn't I feel angry or upset over that fact that some kids I taught couldn't stand me? The answer was simple: Hatred happens. Everyone is capable of hate.
But what is hate? Also simple. Hate is an intense emotion. To truly hate a person, you either had to have an expectation of liking or truly like a person. Then, when the expectation is destroyed, or the person does something that truly betrays your trust in them, you begin to hate.
It happens. Everyone hates a person. At least one. You can say you don't, but that's a lie, and you know it!
I know who I hate. There are two people in the world. One destroyed my heart, while the other almost killed me. Both, however, betrayed my trust.
You know the old saying. "You can't please all of the people all of the time."
I know I can't. So if you're one of those students who doesn't like and is reading this. Well...first of all, what are you doing?
Secondly, I'm sorry you dislike me, but that's your choice. I can't change who I am.
Then again what do I know? I don't have anymore stalkers. I could be wrong.