Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Thank you for your patience

I had posted on Facebook and Twitter, but if there is anyone reading the blog who did not see it, I have been having big computer problems with only intermittent connectivity. That will be its own post, and I hope soon.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Underground: Becoming radicalized

That title may seem a little scary. It is not completely intentional, but it seems like the best title. Maybe that will make sense by the end.

I've written about fear and choice, but not all choices are made by fear.

In "Minty" Harriet Tubman talks about her escape, and coming back to get her husband, who did not want to go. Other people did. She had been thinking about her family, but that was a limited vision, and she realized that and began to free many.

When Noah and Rosalee make it to John and Elizabeth's, family information comes out that was not expected. John learns that Rosalee is his niece. Rosalee learns that her brother Sam is dead.

Maybe it's important that Sam is her half-brother. Maybe her father would not have hung his own son to gain political points at a rally and show that he was sufficiently tough on slavery. As it was, it was one of the most horrifying images of the series, and it was irrevocable.

As Noah and Rosalee lay together, processing her grief for Sam, but no doubt also thinking of all those lost along the way, she says that none of us are free until all of us are free.

Noah being captured not long after may reinforce that, as well as finding out that she is pregnant. Her determination to free her remaining family and her fear of not being able to leads to some questionable decisions, but she's right. If the people you love are in captivity, your caring for them becomes another bond.

Regardless of what wrong decisions she makes, her decision to train with Harriet is an admirable one. Even if she does it because of her family, it does not change that the help she gives to others extends beyond them.

Noah is angry at her concealing the pregnancy, and he has a point, but he also cannot resist the call. He cannot deny Harriet's words when she appeals to him, and he cannot deny the need of another man to be reunited with his family.

Maybe it's not just our own family that matters, or maybe at one point you realize we are all family.

It is possible to deny caring for others. You can kill your soul to the point that you will rush through a viciously misanthropic tax bill and lie about it being a gift. You can narrow your focus to where you believe that everyone else is lazy and worthless but you (maybe including you, on some level), and you will keep accepting pain as long as it gets spread around to those bad ones.

You can do that, but it's evil, and it kills joy, and it scorches land that should be beautiful and live-giving. And it kills joy.

There is a lot of pain in caring about everyone, but there is joy in it too, and comfort, and moments of triumph.

It is technically radical, because it means you want to take the oppressive structures and tear them up by the roots. Doing that requires being radically honest, including with and about yourself, so you will notice if your plans end up leading to more destruction. Therefore it also requires being radically caring and radically kind.

The details may vary in how we get there, but there shouldn't be any doubt as to destination.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Underground: Choice

I'm going back to the "Minty" episode.

Tubman's presentation was absolutely enthralling, which only increased the sense of discomfort that I am about to get into.

In earlier episodes there was beginning to be some conflict between the members of the Sewing Circle - a group of women who openly support abolition and with somewhat more secrecy shelter runaway slaves - and some visitors affiliated with John Brown. The disagree on the justification for and necessity of violence.

With everything that she has been through (probably including some PTSD), Elizabeth finds herself becoming more drawn to the violence, especially when she sees the face of her attacker. This is where she commits arson, though after she has seen the man leave his home. She then sees a young boy calling for his mother and entering the flames.

We later see the boy heavily bandaged in a hospital. It does not appear that his mother was in the house, or that anyone else was hurt, but Elizabeth is now responsible for injury, not just property damage. It's a reminder that if trying to be careful does not guarantee results.

In "Minty" we aren't there yet, but she does begin to talk in terms of war. Her communication is so direct with the audience that it is a question for the watcher; will you fight for this?

I came to a place of empathy with John Brown a few years ago after watching The Abolitionists on The American Experience. I can understand why it seemed like there was no other way, and I already believed in the importance of his cause. I still don't know that I could initiate an attack. Defend myself? Yes. Defend others? Yes. But if there's not an actual attack going on, just a horribly wrong and unjust structure, can I start violence against that? I don't know that I can.

So the thing I appreciate so much about where they went is that it gave a choice without removing responsibility. I wish I could give the words, but probably really people should just watch it. Still, here is what it meant to me: You better listen.

Harriet Tubman believed that she was led, guided by visions in her case. I have often felt myself led too. You better listen to find out what you can do, and what you should do, and what it is your role to do.

There is so much that I don't know right now about this time and how to get through, but I do believe in my ability to listen. I believe in the ability to get answers.

And I believe that I can do what I need to do.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Underground: Fear

In the first season Jay (a slave who spent time living with Indians) tells Ben Pullman that we each have two wolves inside, one good and one evil. Only the one you feed can live. He leaves unanswered which one Ben's father August is feeding. In both seasons characters give in to the their better and worse impulses, but in the second season it becomes clearer how much of a factor the fear inside can be.

There were two conversations that stood out specifically. In one, Noah argues that you can't get rid of the fear; you just can't let it overcome you. That is a healthier attitude than the other conversation.

Elizabeth has had a hard time. Watching the woman who seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown over her failure to conceive, it was hard to picture her taking to sheltering runaway slaves with such enthusiasm, but she did. She found a new purpose and new abilities, and found herself held hostage in her home, raped, attacked and branded, mocked by her attacker, pelted when attempting to speak, and her husband was murdered.

She was never going to get good advice from Cato, but she had no way of knowing that.

You could certainly argue that the things he was saying didn't sound like the words of a recently suicidal man. There were reasons for alarm bells to go off.

Elizabeth said she didn't know whether to try and keep the fear inside or let it out. Cato's advice was to pull it all inside and then let it all out, transforming you into a worse monster than the one who hurt you, basically.

And he sounded convincing; Alano Miller is a super-intense actor. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth commits arson, blackmail, and apparently enters into a sham marriage to get inside information in preparation for the raid on Harper's Ferry. She also participates in a daring raid to free the slaves from three plantations with Noah, but she had participated in a daring raid to rescue Noah before a lot of the terrible things had happened to her and before she had ever thought about becoming a monster.

It's worth remembering that Cato's pretended suicide attempt was an effort to gain sympathy to accelerate his spy work in pursuit of Harriet Tubman. When he is buying the freedom of some slaves, and contributing to causes, it can look like there is a good heart there, but there are other clues that his primary motivation is ego. His belief that he is the necessary force to tear the country apart is easily cast aside in favor of controlling the legend of Patty Cannon.

Even if you ignore moral issues (which I don't recommend), Cato is not the best source of advice because he doesn't seem to have much of a problem with fear. He did fear for Devi briefly, but he turned on her definitively when she rejected his actions. His ego may lead him down bad paths, but it also tells him he is smarter and more capable than everyone else (which is not completely unfounded). Elizabeth would never really want to be like him, even if there is some temporary allure.

Caring for others does hurt. Noah's worst taste of fear comes when he learns that Rosalee is pregnant. It was bad enough fearing for her; now there is so much more at stake. It does lead to anger, but still, his answer is that you cannot let the fear overtake you. You might even take big risks to help another family, and other people, because you know that it matters. (Hence a daring raid freeing slaves from three plantations).

If you don't care about anything you don't have to fear anything, but it's no way to live.

You have to find a way to deal with that fear.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Band Review: A.J. & Tara


A.J. & Tara are a pop duo from Los Angeles.

I enjoyed them pretty well. Their music has a strong technological influence. I can't swear to the presence of Auto-Tune, but I can't rule it out either. Between that and the synth, the music seems like a natural fit for the club scene. The emphasis on partying in the music tends to agree.

Despite that, there is still an emotion that comes through. The tempos are not endlessly dance-centric, but can also go well as a background to other activities. I thought "Rock The Night" and "Believing" were the best of the four tracks. You will notice similarities between them, but they do not end up being monotonous.

For the niche where it would be easy to place A.J. & Tara, they are better than they need to be.




Thursday, December 14, 2017

Band Review: DiElle


My primary feeling with DiElle is annoyance. That has been building up for a long time.

I have had her on the review list since January 21st, getting surprisingly close to a year. For some perspective, tomorrow's band was entered on June 28th. (I try to keep it within six months.)

That happened because when I first went to check out DiElle's site there was a very disjointed navigation process for listening to about 40 songs, and I didn't have time for all the clicking back and forth.

That only delayed her for about two months. Then when I gritted my teeth to get to it, I discovered that the vast majority of the tracks were just half-minute samples. You needed to pay to get whole songs.

I have a lot of sympathy for the need of musicians to make money. I support that. I still think if you are trying to sell 40 songs you can afford to have a small block of songs (I think 4 - 6 is optimal) for people to listen to together, letting them know if you have music they would be interested in. This is especially true if you go around following different accounts trying to raise interest in your work: provide some work! Some bands will send you some tracks if you subscribe to their mailing list; I don't love that either, but at least it gives you an option.

(If this complaint sounds familiar, I had similar issues with Prophecy of Sound.)

What DiElle gives you is two versions of the same song on Spotify, a list of four official videos that is really just two videos that play, one private video, and one short clip, and of course a page full of 30-second clips. What I mostly used was another play list - titled original material - which had some good recordings but also some with poor sound quality, some interviews, and more of the notorious short clips.

I remain annoyed.

Anyway, DiElle reminds me a lot of Adele. Her voice isn't quite as strong, but she doesn't take that hard edge Adele often does either, which may make her more palatable for some. However, unless you just want to assume you like and start buying tracks, listening to her takes an unfortunate amount of commitment.

But, except for a daily song down the road, she is no longer my problem, and that makes me happy.




Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Underground: Three episodes


I have only seen each episode once, but while I thought the cuts and tracking that they used in the first season were interesting, the most innovative things seemed to happen in Season 2. That makes sense; the success of Twin Peaks aside, normally you want to get your audience somewhat established before you mess with them too much.

There were three episodes that particularly stuck out.

"Ache" was the third episode of Season 2. Rosalee has been working with Harriet Tubman, and goes alone to a rendezvous with some runaway slaves. Despite some close calls, she gets them safely away, and then a gun shot sends her off of the boat, into the water.

That is just the beginning. After making it to shore and tending her wound, she has to deal with fights, falls, cold, thirst, temporary deafness, and snakebite. Also, she is pregnant.

The physical toll on her feels punishing for the viewer. It was visceral, and it almost made me want to stop watching. That's not an exaggeration; I was seriously considering that I didn't want to watch this anymore during the show. But then after, I did want to watch the next episode, so I guess it worked out.

I'm not sure that the next one I am thinking of was really "Citizen", but I think it was. Everything was out of sequence.

It was an episode where people were changing directions. As disjointed as they were feeling, maybe it left the viewer confused and disoriented with them. That can work, but I wouldn't have done it for that alone, mainly because there were so many things I still wasn't sure of by the end of the episode.

However, they also covered a lot of ground, and moved everyone forward very quickly. As the season was winding to a close, that was necessary. I guess it worked for that, but I am still not sure about it.

Not all risks pay off, but the biggest reason I am writing a post on film making choices for the show (instead of my emotional responses) is because of sixth episode, which was brave and bold and powerful.

"Minty" was amazing.

Harriet Tubman combines the name of her mother and her husband, but she was called Minty (for Araminta) as a child, which is something she tells her audience. Here Harriet Tubman speaks.

There is an odd tension at the beginning. We see a woman getting ready in front of a mirror, with a long skirt and corset and visible scars from whippings. For a moment I wondered if we had jumped forward with Ernestine, because we hadn't really seen Tubman in a dress at this point. There is that uncertainty of whom we are watching, and also the long silence.

She goes to where she will speak, and it is an auction block, with prices marked on the merchandise - something never referred to beyond that, but full of symbolism that cannot be ignored.

Then she speaks. For most of the episode she is the only voice that you hear. There is one other voice briefly, when she asks a question about one of her scars and a man answers, but mainly she is telling her story. She is telling it well, and almost unbearably at times when the thunk of her hand emphasizes the beatings she received as a young girl.

Monologues are a risk for holding attention. I was watching it aware of what a risk it was, and it was spellbinding. The writing helped and the cinematography helped, but I have to give a lot of credit to Aisha Hinds who plays Tubman. It was riveting.

And then there were emotional things too. I am going to try and combine those things with things I felt in other episodes, and try and write some good things about that for next week.

Today is just about film making, and Underground was bold.