What I Liked This Week: In Pursuit of Transcendence

Furious Faithful. I liked a lot this week. Let’s jump straight into it:

I liked this article, in Sports Illustrated, in which Jason Collins states that he is gay. This makes Collins the first openly gay male professional athlete who is still (technically) an active player of his sport. It’s a big deal. It’s an important step. The greatest hurdle that the human rights movement faces, in terms of unilateral acceptance of our gay citizens — and the legal recognition of their equality — is the opposition of the straight male. Our most major, most popular team sports are largely made of and for straight males. Collins’s announcement is a big, important step. However, many media outlets are calling him the first openly gay professional athlete. Let’s not make a claim for progress at the expense of further progress. Many professional female athletes — despite the smaller audiences female team sports draw — have come out as gay while still competing. More on that here.

Also, if you read what Collins wrote — pay attention to the reasons why he decided to do this now. They are not mutually exclusive to coming out. Without taking anything away from the social import of what Collins has done, this isn’t just a story about being gay and having the courage to say so while working in a business where homosexuality is not discussed. It’s a story about having the courage to be yourself and to stand up for what’s right. And a story about realizing we cannot wait for permission or the right time to do either.

I liked this op-ed, from The New York Times, in which Sean F. Reardon details the many ways and reasons why the children of the wealthy are increasingly performing better in schools compared to their middle class and poor peers. Peers. That word bears repeating. I don’t actually like this. I don’t believe that rampant income inequality and runaway social injustice is going to be solved by fostering a coming generation in which those that grew up fortunate are given an ever bigger head start in life by getting a better education than everyone else. This, of course, already happens — has been happening for a long time. But the pattern should be taking a turn for the better, not the worse, at this crucial time in our history.

Not only is this unjust, it’s bad for business. Trust me. I went to college with several wealthy young people who seemed barely human to me, and who also were incapable of doing much more than getting dressed, and drinking and eating in between rounds of networking and whining (to be clear: I also studied with many amazing and talented, good people). Also: think back to our recent presidential election. I believe part of the reason Mitt Romney lost is because he literally seemed like an alien — and at points appeared to feel like one — in the presence of the majority of Americans. Do we need more alien masters in our population? At what point does the limited experience and knowledge of “the real world,” on the part of those wealthy and powerful people who control our world, begin to predict a fuller collapse of our entire way of doing things? I’m starting to sound crazy, I know. I’m also completely right.

I like what Shelley Worrell is doing with The Flatbush Film Festival, as detailed in the Ditmas Park Blog. In short: the festival is filling an important need, by providing an official outlet for film and other arts to thrive within a community that — compared to the arts and entertainment industry in Brooklyn/NYC/America at large, and considering the Caribbean population in the area where the festival takes place — is probably underrepresented. I live in the Flatbush/Ditmas Park area, and Rebecca was born here, so it’s great to see an initiative like this (which is four years old at this point) getting its due. Consider donating to the festival on Seed and Spark (a new, fair-trade crowdfunding site) to help the fest get the resources it needs to go up this year.

I like this song, by Cash L3wis, who followed me on Twitter this week. I often do a quick check of someone’s profile when they follow me. Cash’s profile included this track, which I listened to all the way through. There’s a rawness and an energy to it that I appreciated, and I liked his lyrics. The track is on Spotify here.

I like the charts in this article, by Henry Blodget at Business Insider, in which record corporate profits can be compared to record low worker wages and continued underemployment. Remember this easy-to-digest video, about wealth inequality in America, that went viral a few months ago? These charts live inside the black soul of that video. Look upon them, and be angry. The title of the article is: Dear Workers of The World: These Three Charts Show How You’re Getting Totally Shafted. I don’t actually like any of this.

I liked My Dinner With Andre, the latest flick on the Sophia The Great watch list. Andre is another title I had been meaning to watch for a while. The overwhelming majority of the film takes place across a table at a restaurant, where two artist friends catch up after several years, which eventually results in a deep, overarching philosophical conversation on life as we know it. On the surface, this is not an easy story to keep moving. The film has an esteemed reputation, and Sophia includes (and depends upon) a few lengthy philosophical conversations that take place in our heroine’s living room as she goes about experimenting with podcasting…so I really wanted to see how they pulled it off. To be honest, it took me a little time and patience to settle into the film. But the investment paid off by the end, and not only did I enjoy the experience, not only did I learn a little, but I came out feeling more confident with my perhaps bold decision to adopt this format to some smaller effect. Most people would tell you that a film about two friends having dinner is a terrible idea, that it wouldn’t work. This one does. And I think I know why.

Quite apart from its setup, the story of My Dinner With Andre is completely itself. The life of it, which seems in a retrospect to have been unarguably sparked by an essential creative stroke of inspired thoughtfulness, was honored in the process of that story’s eventually telling through film. People go out to dinner in real life. Sometimes such occasions take on a narrative, and sometimes that narrative builds to a transcendent experience that stays with us all our life. Conversely, it seems important that something like Andre is proved to be possible. Not everyone is going to to have a transcendent conversation over dinner with a friend. But it’s nice to know it might happen, and/or to wonder if we might position ourselves, as we live our lives, such that it could happen — whether at dinner or anywhere else.

Transcendence is something we as filmmakers, no matter what the story, should always pursue. The medium does not always, shouldn’t always, cannot always — be aimed in the direction of escapism. Neither does this have to mean that our faces must be pushed always into the mud. Life, after all, is made of peaks and valleys. I wonder, sometimes, if it’s the journey between and among those peaks and valleys that is the essence of the experience of living. A film, for me, these days, seems the preeminent vehicle for re-delivering such an experience, despite its fundamentally artificial origins. I think this the duty of the filmmaker, to recapture, recreate, and honor a particular transcendent experience. Only in this way can the life of the thing, that essential creative stroke of thoughtfulness, become real in the minds of all willing to accept such an alchemical moving catalog of life and behavior that a film becomes, if it is composed authentically, pieced together moment by moment through a combination of imagination and memory.

Have a good week.

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