Sunday, September 24, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

A while back, I read an article about the state of American cinema. The author of the piece posited that, because Americans are not heading to the movies in the numbers they once did, Hollywood now relies on foreign markets to squeeze a profit out of their mediocre products. American movies, as a result, lack meaningful dialogue -- which increases the cost of subtitiling -- and lean heavily on special effects. Think Shrek.

To find a movie that appeals to anyone with a brain cell or two, Americans like me turn to foreign films, documentaries and the "indie" movie circuit. The low budget independent films are the cinema of yesteryear, engaging the audience with wacky characters and stimulating, whitty dialogue. Think Pulp Fiction.

Little Miss Sunshine is the latest gem of the indie smorgasbord. It is a hilarious story about the dysfunctional Hoover family's road trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Southern California to take their seven-year-old daughter to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. From the father who is a self-help speaker to the grandfather who snorts coke and chides the teenage grandson for being a virgin, it is a family that will make you cry laughing.

Go see this movie.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

About Culture

Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds.
The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who
refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses
instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.

Albert Einstein

Continuing where we left off in the previous post, it is time to talk about culture.

Culture is the notion that I should do something because other people do it. Those people can be alive, they can be dead but, according to the culture police, I am nevertheless required to emulate their behavior because we may or may not share some racial or geographic proximity.

Take weddings. Our culture says I am supposed to be a gold-digging whore who demands that my husband go into debt to put a stone on my finger that some child slave in the Congo probably died mining. The bigger and more ostentatious the stone, the greater the evidence of his love. So when I told my husband that it would be a non-starter to ever marry anyone financially foolish enough to waste money he does not have on an item that neither builds equity nor earns interest, my friends and co-workers were perplexed. I'm supposed to get a rock because I am supposed to be a brainless moron who does what everyone else does. Otherwise, how can all the shallow bimbos in the room sit and compare rings to see whose husband loves her more? That's culture.

Arab culture says that hospitality is number one. Literally, you can bring shame to your family if you aren't the most dazzling, generous host who kneels at the feet of your guests. It sounds great in theory until someone plops a 7th helping of grape leaves on your plate, accusing you of not eating enough. Jeez. You're about to explode and you are staring at your plate in terror because you do not want to offend your hosts. My husband, at one point, refused to go to my parents' house for dinner because my dad has this annoying habit of making sure that your plate never empties. "That's our culture" is no consolation when you are sick from overeating.

Soul food. It is great, but the shit will kill you. And yet 400-pound Black women continue to convince themselves that they are beautiful, that diabetes and high blood pressure are okay and that no other food tastes as good. An old friend is from Alabama and her sisters refuse to eat anything that is baked instead of fried. That is their culture and they are sticking to it, whether it sends them to the grave at 30 or not.

And do not get me started on half-ass China. Hubby and I call it the "almost" factor. When we were in China last year, we noticed that things were done well, but not quite right -- things were almost good. Because of their annoying obsession with saving and losing face, the Chinese never admit when they are wrong; and, what's worse, is that they can never tell anyone there is a mistake in something, even if it's not their fault, because it might cause someone else to lose face. Think about that next time to you get on a Boeing plane that incorporates parts made in China.

It is not all bad. There are good things about cultures. If a pattern of behavior you engage in is part of your culture, but also makes sense and brings harmony to your world, great. But when culture becomes religion, that is where we part ways. If your only justification for doing something is because it is your culture, you have made culture your God and you are no different than a kamikaze fighter or suicide bomber. You can be talked into anything as long as enough people around you do it too.

On BombsOverBaghdad's blog, a commenter suggested that one would be lost without culture, but I strongly disagree. Indeed, I think it is quite the opposite. Refusing to define yourself around one narrow set of pre-conditioned behaviors provides you room to learn and experience so much in life; to pick and choose the best each culture has to offer to tailor what is right for you. I'll have Iranian food for dinner, green tea from China in the morning and listen to some salsa music in the car.

Some time ago, Mr. Wilson sent me a quote attributed to someone whose name escapes me, which observed that "Men of intellect are of the same religion." That bit of wisdom has stuck with me and, taking it a step further, I believe people of intellect are of the same culture. It is those without intellect that must rely upon shallow similarities in food and music to feel a sense of belonging.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Double Standards

Oktoberfest is a two-week festival held each year in Munich, Germany during late September and early October. The event takes place during the 15 days before the first Sunday in October and usually ends on that Sunday, making the entire festival 16 days. The festival has traditionally ended on the first Sunday of October, but if this day is the 1st or 2nd, the festival will go on until the October 3rd (German Unity Day).

Never to waste an excuse to drink, Southern California kicked off an almost two-month long Oktoberfest last night. We went to the local German restaurant/beer hall for opening night to watch the more than 1,000 revelers drink themselves into stupidity.

It was quite a cross-section of society, from the short Asian guy wearing Lederhosen, to the gang-member-looking Mexicans to the 50-year-old German speakers. Beer steins filled to the brim, people danced around the beer hall, singing along to German songs. When the bunny line formed, the lead guy carried a German flag, followed by a guy with an American flag.

Watching the German pride-a-thon, I couldn't help but wonder if the same people waving the German flag are the same people who deemed it an outrage when Mexicans waved their flags at the immigrant rallies, no matter how many American flags were included. I hardly doubt that the nutcase hypocrites of the right-wing media will accuse the Germans and all who participate in Oktoberfest of not being "assimilated" because they retain their native tongue, wave their home country's flag and honor an occasion that was borne of a royal Bavarian wedding.

The double standard is amazing. Whites can insist they are Irish, display shamrocks with pride and celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Italians can have entire neighborhoods for themselves with flags of Italy everywhere and Germans can celebrate German monarchy, retain their language and wave their flags without a hint of comment from "America". But the minute a "brown" person dares to do the same thing, it is damning evidence of his failure to adopt American "values".

Where are my Lederhosen?