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Inspired by my friends over at Queering Motherhood, here’s a snapshot of where I’m at:

Loving: the feeling of being home in many places. And clean laundry.

Reading: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, by Chris Hayes, which is articulately and compellingly confirming my gut feelings about U.S. institutions and the pitfalls of meritocracy (read more over at Rolling Stone; definitely a post of its own to come upon completion). To balance out the wonkiness (uber readable wonkiness, but wonkiness nevertheless), I’ve also just taken My Antonia, by Willa Cather, off my shelf. Oh, and Labor Notes newsletter, Ms. Magazine, and Bitch.

Watching: political debates, the Rachel Maddow Show, If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (fascinating), Look Both Ways (heartbreakingly wonderful and moving), Winter’s Bone (intense and painful and good), Foyle’s War (British mystery! Sam and Foyle are my favorite characters).

Thinking about: how I am going to start eating healthier, the advances of modern medicine, the sorry state of health care, what I want my career to look like in the coming years, how cold my toes are, the word and the concept of weltschmerz, writing.

Stressing about: finding balance, the feeling I have right now that I am forgetting something, returning e-mails and phone calls, not having things done that should already be done, uncertainty (useless, I know).

Looking forward to: paying off my credit card debt, being part of a dear friend’s wedding at the end of the month, having three days off next weekend, movie night with my roommate, cozy knitting.

Making me happy: letters in the mail, end-of-dock conversations, homemade macaroni and cheese.

Amelia Earhart and her plane "Old Bessie"

Amelia Earhart and her plane "Old Bessie"

While on a recent adventure, I saw the new film Amelia, all about the life of Amelia Earhart, an amazing, pioneering female aviator who captured the attention of the nation and the world before her 1937 disappearance in the midst of an around-the-world flight. While I’m glad I saw the movie, I have to say that I was disappointed. As so many mainstream films do, especially when women are the main characters, it seemed to unfortunately overemphasize her romantic entanglements. From what I’ve been told of Amelia Earhart’s life, there are myriad aspects that could have been expanded upon—and all for the purpose of more compelling storytelling. I would have loved to see more of her childhood and gotten a clearer vision of where her love of flying and her independent spirit stemmed from and how they took root. I would have loved to have a more nuanced sense of the role her family played in her life and the effect that they had on her—good and bad—more than the few throwaway lines that were mentioned. I would have loved to get a wider view of the professional work that she was up to and her work with the Ninety-Nines, a group of women aviators that still exists today. And if you’re going to spend all that time concentrating on her romantic relationships, I would have liked to see some development of their foundation so that when they’re being played out on screen, I actually am emotionally invested in them. Whether it was acting chemistry that was off or whether there just wasn’t enough introduction or set-up, I wasn’t pulled in by either of the romantic story lines, which made the focus on them even less tolerable.

There was one moment in the film that actually had emotional resonance and stuck with me: Amelia is flying solo across the Atlantic, and it seems as if she’s not sure she’s going to make it. The look on her face as she finally sees land, all the emotions conveyed in a series of seconds—relief, joy, amazement—that whole sequence was really well done.

So why am I glad that I saw the movie? I think it gave me a small taste of Amelia, and despite its flaws (perhaps in part because of them) made me eager to learn more about her, to gain a fuller picture of her life and all that it contained. I’d like to seek out more well-rounded and richer accounts of her life and work. Any suggestions for further Amelia reading/viewing? And if you’ve seen the movie, what’s your take?

Feel free to check out the film, the official Amelia Earhart site, and the Amelia Wikipedia page (which includes theories on her disappearance).

Heard of the Yes Men? They’re an awesome group of anti-corporate, anti-globalization tricksters headed up by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. In their own words, they engage in “identity correction”: “Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.” Exposing the greed and dehumanization of corporate culture, they set up fake websites, get invited to speak at conferences and on television, and—in outrageous fashion—point out the seriously misguided, destructive, irresponsible actions of some of the largest corporations in the world. They also print spoof issues of major newspapers that highlight the realities of the world we live in and visions for a better one.

The Yes Men Fix the World

The Yes Men Fix the World

This past Friday, they screened their new movie, The Yes Men Fix the World, at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington, followed by a Q&A (Andy appeared in person, Mike appeared virtually via a laptop Skype hookup)—all to benefit WBCR (Berkshire Community Radio). While I find watching their movies a little stressful, I think they’re innovative, entertaining, and important. Whether they’re impersonating Dow Chemical and highlighting their refusal to do the right thing and take responsibility for the Union Carbide disaster in Bhophal or taking on Halliburton with fake Survivaball pitches (side note: a WBCR board member appeared in a Survivaball at the beginning of the Q&A), they’re exposing the cult of consumerism and capitalism. As they say in the movie, what looks normal to those on the inside of it looks crazy to those on the outside. They provide the much-needed view from outside of the cult, offering up the craziness for all to see.

Check out their latest stunt—announcing that the Chamber of Commerce has reversed their stance on climate-change legislation (which the CoC is strictly opposed to):

Last month, as Andy was telling us in the Q&A after the screening, the Yes Men were sued for the very first time, by the Chamber of Commerce. Surprised that they haven’t been sued more often? The way Andy explained it, engaging in a lawsuit that would give the activists more opportunity to state their case and point out to the world why the corporations they target are the ones that deserve to be on trial usually isn’t in the best interests of said corporations, who spend millions of dollars trying to present a clean, shiny image to the public at large.

Next they’re screening their film in DC, and then they’re off to Copenhagen. Be sure to see the new movie, check out what they’re up to, and find out how you can get involved.

Other gems from the Q&A:

  • “We’re not actually great actors at all, we just play them in front of corporate audiences.”
  • “There are progressive people in government, they just don’t act that way because we’re not taking to the streets and carrying pitchforks and setting cars on fire.” (One of them noted how hard it is to find a pitchfork nowadays.)
  • They’re starting to organize educational workshops for people interested in anti-corporate pransktering, “the Yes League for Something Something” (they’re still working on the name). “We give away our secrets and you can do it yourself!”

Seen either of their movies? What did you think?

Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story

Last weekend I went to see Michael Moore’s new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, one of his best (that I’ve seen). Detailing the troubling effects of the “system of giving and taking—mostly taking” in the United States, Michael Moore delivers a must-see documentary that lays bare the major problems with U.S. capitalism for everyone to see.

Highlights (spoiler alert! I highly recommend just going to see it yourself):

  • Unbelievable corporate “dead peasant” insurance policies. Basically, these huge national companies take out huge life insurance policies on their employees, often without their knowledge, so then they make money when that employee dies. (And do they use it to help the family with funeral and living costs after the death of their family member? I’ll let you guess the answer.)
  • Scary Citibank plutonomy memos.
  • Christian religious leaders explaining why capitalism isn’t what Jesus would do.
  • Examples of workplaces that function as democracies, like Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing, a worker-owned cooperative in Michigan.
  • The awesome workers at Republic Windows and Doors.
  • Moore trying to figure out what derivatives are, and where has all that bailout money gone. PS. Elizabeth Warren rocks! and so does Ohio representative Marcy Kaptur.
  • FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.
  • Footage of President Jimmy Carter warning the country: “Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

Moore says, “I refuse to live in a country like this. And I’m not leaving.” And I totally agree. He says we need to replace it with a system that is good for all people, with true democracy, not capitalism-driven democracy. Which I think is a pretty great idea, too. But I’m not totally sure what that completely means or what it needs to look like or how we go about doing that. Thoughts?

For more, check out:

Spoiler alert: I will be referencing how-the-movie-ends types of things in this post.

So the new movie 500 Days of Summer seems to be all over the place—all my friends have gone to or are going to see it. The “this is not a love story” tag line is intriguing. If it’s about a boy meeting a girl, and it’s specifically not a love story, then what is it? This past weekend, I went with a friend to find out the answer.

I have to say that, while the film was entertaining, I was disappointed. First, things I appreciated: They don’t get together in the end. It wasn’t a typical “happy ending,” and that felt more realistic than the typical romantic comedy Hollywood puts out. Also, counter to the usual gender stereotypes, the woman was not interested in a long-term, serious relationship, and she was honest and forthright about that with the man (and she wasn’t portrayed as a “slut”), and it was the guy that was looking for the full-blown romantic ideal of “the one.” The two main characters had charm. And it has a great soundtrack.

So, about the things I didn’t appreciate. What disappointed me was the use of tired, not particularly funny “jokes” that didn’t add anything to the film except reinforcing stereotypes. Cringe-worthy and alienating. When Tom has a huddle with his friends about his romantic situation, and says they don’t really need labels for their relationship, what are his friends’ responses? “You’re so gay.” Or maybe it was “that’s gay,” as in “that’s stupid.” Either one, way to propagate and normalize juvenile displays of homophobia, especially in a film that’s generally pretty heteronormative. The only reference to a character with any kind of LGBTQ orientation or experience—Summer having had a short same-sex relationship in college—is again played for laughs, rather than being treated as a normal part of her relationship history. Another line that earned my disappointment? When Tom is avoiding initiating the big what-is-our-relationship talk with Summer (because he’s afraid the answer will be “I don’t want to be in a relationship”), his little sister’s advice? “Don’t be a pussy.” Granted, I realize that there is irony in this line being delivered by a strong, young, athletic girl, but the use of the pussy=girl=weak=not-something-a-guy-should-be angle is old and, again, just not really funny to me.

I know that some people would tell me to lighten up. But I don’t want to. This kind of stuff is so embedded in our culture and so often goes unmentioned or unchallenged. And so I just don’t feel like lightening up.

Sometime last year I wrote an article for a new online women’s magazine that was starting up. It never actually started up, and this article has been sitting around since then. So I’m sharing it with you!

Not Just Another Night at the Movies
By Jessica L. Atcheson

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. Quiet Revolution. Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. These movies are not playing at a theatre near you. They never did. But they have been shown in community centers, churches, and people’s homes throughout the country. I’ve seen progressive, independent grassroots documentaries in various settings over the past five years: Outfoxed in a community room above a fair-trade store in New Hampshire; Quiet Revolution in the privacy of my own living room; Iraq for Sale in a small independent bookstore in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Documentaries like these are taking a look at a range of compelling issues: politics, war, the media, civil liberties, consumerism, domestic and sexual violence, the environment. It almost hurts how important these issues are. These films are independent, they’re informative, they’re infuriating. They’re on the edge, out of the mainstream, and crucial to our awakening. And when I say awakening, I don’t mean that you necessarily have to agree with them. But they will make you think. And form opinions. And spur you to further research, discussion, and hopefully action. They aim to jolt you out of your day-to-day existence.

I find, though, that each time I see a film like this in a community screening, I hear three comments in particular in the discussion afterward that bewilder or frustrate me: “But it’s not even being shown in the big theaters.” “But I don’t think it was a really great film.” “We’re just preaching to the choir.” So, I want to respond. I think that the first two arguments and criticisms are a convenient way for people to distance themselves from the scary truths about the state of our country and our world. It’s a lot easier and less overwhelming to say, “Well, no one’s going to see it” or “But the camera angles…” than it is to get to the down-and-dirty business of addressing the issues that these documentaries bring to light.

“But it’s not even being shown in the big theaters.”

No, it may not be. But it is being shown in hundreds of homes, community centers, churches, and other venues throughout the country, often for free. This allows a new kind of access and a higher level of participation. These screenings have the potential to create movements. I think that the way these films are distributed and displayed encourages connection and discussion, not just paying your $8 (or $10 or $12) to watch a movie for a couple hours and then walk away. It supports community members that care coming together for discussion—the beginning of grassroots activism that can and will make a difference.

“But I don’t think it was a really great film.”

The editing may not be perfect. They may have spent a minute too long with one interviewee or the transitions may be a bit clumsy. Overlook this. I don’t think that most of these films were made in hopes of winning Oscars or Sundance awards. They are not here to be judged on the merits of picture-perfect filmmaking. Often made on strict deadlines with little budget and with no powerful film industry backing, they exist to make a point and to provide information. It’s one thing if a film is so badly made that you are unable to see or hear the point or look past the deficiencies; I don’t find that to be the case with these documentaries. The nitpicky film criticisms are not useful. We are not here to discuss the merits of Robert Greenwald’s directorial style. We are here to be inspired, to learn, to discuss the issues, and begin taking action.

“We’re just preaching to the choir.”

This one goes for more than just grassroots documentaries; I hear this argument and observation at nearly every grassroots progressive event I attend, and I think it’s defeatist unless coupled with constructive ideas for action. To assume that a gathering of likeminded people is pointless is unhelpful. It’s good to know that you’re not alone, that people share your views and are willing to stand up with you for them. Groups can make things that seem impossible and hopeless when you’re alone take a step toward the possible. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe that there comes a point when more discussion amongst the choir has to turn into action or it becomes redundant and pointless. Action is absolutely essential, and because of that, we mustn’t underestimate the importance of energizing people and their beliefs toward action.

Let’s be honest, even if we are preaching to the choir, not everyone in the choir is singing. Though the film (discussion, rally, etc.) may not change any minds, it may galvanize them and spur them to action, give them the tools to reach out to someone whose mind could be changed. If such a gathering inspires a quiet or unsure or lazy member of the choir to finally sing—to speak out, engage other people, take action, then it is valuable. If it gives someone the information they need (or challenges them to actively seek out further information) to intelligently debate a progressive cause with others, then such an event is not unimportant. If it motivates people to discuss with their friends and family and raise awareness, then it is not meritless. If it prompts someone to finally write a letter to the editor of their local paper or to contact their senators or call to encourage others to vote, then it’s not worthless.

If these films push people to organize and resist the dominant paradigm in whatever way they can, then it is not insignificant—in fact, it’s eminently vital. And I hope that’s what they have done, are doing, and will continue to do. You can be part of it: host your own screening, form your own opinion, start your own discussion—and then take action.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a short list of films to check out:
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
Quiet Revolution (Alliance for Justice)
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Searching for Angela Shelton
Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

And looking for even more?
Check out Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films.
Subscribe to Ironweed, a DVD film club that delivers a monthly selection of socially-conscious independent films straight to your doorstep.

Jessica L. Atcheson is an editor and writer whose work has been published in regional newspapers and online. Currently serving as Associate Editor at large nonprofit in western Massachusetts, she is an avid reader who knits mason-jar cozies for the resistance and is trying to figure out how to live a thoughtful and sustainable life on this planet.

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