This is a post about some documentaries I watched, which I use to support a somewhat dark but sincere view point I have about today’s society. While my arrival to my final statement is circuitous, I just wanted to lay this out first and foremost for those of you wondering why the next few paragraphs is me talking about…well…me.
Thanks English 1A.
Anyway…so recently I’ve had an alkaline desire to view the graphic and the real. In the past, I was never much of a gore hound, and I realize that this term has negative connotations, but it would seem this fact is changing.
To be frank, I can watch videos of Mexican cartels beheading people slowly and ineffectively with a kitchen knife and still have my dinner, do my homework, and go to sleep without any nightmares. Perhaps the only real effect such a terrible thing has on me now, is a darker view of the world, and a deeper skepticism as to whether or not “freedom” is a current reality anywhere, even here in America.
Extreme to say? Maybe. But just to be clear, I’m an idealist, not a nihilist. I see wrongdoings, and I find myself hard pressed to keep my mouth shut. I’m blunt, forward, and often times, tactless. Many people in my life have found this to be both an exemplary but troublesome quality in me.
Some small examples of what I mean: My husband once had to (literally) hold me back from jumping down the throat of some jerk who cut in front of us at a Las Vegas hotel. It was late, we were tired, and literally the next in line when this guy just slides right in front of us and starts barking at the hotel clerk. The clerk very tactfully handled the situation and we were checked in just fine. Another time, I was about to settle down for a LARP game (White Wolf’s, Changeling: The Lost) when the Storyteller decided a player was banned simply because the guy had once banged his girlfriend (who had dumped said dude and left him for the Storyteller). In a ridiculous fit, this 6 foot giant locked himself in his room and refused to come out, having this girl come out to deliver the news to my beleaguered friend. Stunned and annoyed, the guy was gonna leave to go hang out with his friends on the other side of the apartment building, and after hearing what went down, I flat out quit the game, telling the girl she could tell her boyfriend to stuff it.
This is me. This is how I am. If I weren’t married and considerate of my husband’s feelings, I probably would have run off to join the Occupy movement. A good thing, I feel now, in the long run. The occupiers stirred my heart with their passion, but they were a part of what I now recognize as an impressively ineffective way to bring about change in organized society. Maybe if I had been given some more guidance when I was younger, I would’ve gone to CSU: Longbeach when they first accepted me, and got into whatever crazy left wing groups they had there. But I didn’t, and here I am: A quiet little rebel with radical thoughts somehow married to a middle-line conservative Air Force soldier in the bible belt, serving bloody-marys and mimosas at a conservative country club.
But that’s life! And maybe this introspection has been the reason I’ve been watching documentaries as of late. Two documentaries, seemingly irrelevant, really underscored the thought I stated above.
Is freedom a current reality in our world?
That said, if there is no freedom, is our oppression under societal rule all that bad? America, as my prime example since I friggin’ live here, offers many people many opportunities…
…But in order to have those opportunities, you have to be born in certain areas, and you canNOT break the acceptable mold of appearance and behavior that American society dictates.
My first case for this is the documentary, MODIFY:
This incredible film explores the world of body modification—and not just tattoos and piercings. It covers everything from body builders, to permanent make-up, to 3D body art, to dental reconstruction, to plastic surgery. It talks about the beginnings of the extreme piercing and 3D body art world. Returning to the rabbit hole everyone is familiar with, and going beyond conventional piercings and tattoos, there are also genital piercings, subdermal implants, tongue splitting, amputations, scarification, branding, and probably much more I’m missing.
The documentary is rather graphic in that it depicts surgical procedures, such as sex changes and plastic surgeries, and genital piercing procedures. It talks about the hows, the whys, and the plain ‘ol facts of body modification, and how it is the participants ultimate form of self-expression.
But these people, especially those who engage in the most extreme and exotic forms of body modification, are often shunned by society for their choice in appearance. Many people who seek body modifications are actually rather religious. One man even stated that he was a born again Christian, but had been called the Devil numerous times.
The documentary also talks about the legal gray areas of body modification, and how currently there are hundreds of bills being sent through the political machine to try and restrict certain forms of body modification. The speakers on the documentary all voiced their adamant opposition to this, stating together in summary, “It is my body, and I have a right to change it to what I want.” As one self-described narcissistic, and nihilistic body modder stated, freedom is an illusion, everything is an illusion.
But given that I can’t get a job outside of this subculture with face tattoos and horn implants, I have to wonder if that guy was at least partially correct. What does it matter that I have tattoos up and down my arms? If I am capable to do the job required of me, I should be allowed to work, is my view. But is this the case? No. I realize that body modification is associated with the underworld of criminal activity, but this is an unwholesome misconception. Many of these people have families, but when they try to go down the street with their kids, people stare at them like they have robbed someone else’s crib. It’s a shame.
I have “body mods” too. I’ve got copper highlights in my hair, piercings in my ears, piercings in my nipples, and a tattoo of X-Men’s Storm on my left upper arm. Whether or not you consider these extreme or not, these are indeed modifications to my body, and you have to ask yourself: why are some forms of body modification more acceptable to others? We all say, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Frankly? I think we should shut up about books and start talking about real people. Because that’s who these body modders are. People.
The next documentary that I watched was Crips and Bloods: Made In America.
This documentary provides an interesting look into Los Angeles, California’s two notorious rival gangs, and the turbulent history of oppression and injustice that very likely led to their creation. It’s directed by Stacy Peralta, the filmmaker responsible for Dogtown & Z Boys, one of my favorite documentaries, and narrated by Forest Whitaker. The story begins in the 1950’s when many African American “clubs” were formed by adolescent teenagers. To name a few, there were the “Slausons”, active from 1952-1965, the “Businessmen”, active from 1957-1965, and the “Gladiators”, active from 1952-1965.
A Few Slausons’ Club Members
Commentary was provided from three former Slausons’ members, who stated their thoughts as to how these clubs came to formation, and what they really were about. In the 1950s, there weren’t “outreach programs” or “community groups” unified to encourage black youth and keep them out of trouble. One speaker even stated that the Boy Scouts turned him and his mother away because the troop leader believed some of the parents, “would feel uncomfortable.” Coupled with the constant harassment the black community faced at large in LA at the time, these things caused some youths to try to band together in an effort to create safety and pride. For them, it wasn’t about drugs and killing each other. Was there violence? Yes, to some degree. But guns and knives were never involved. Disputes were always handled by their fists. Club members were “notorious” for being difficult with white law enforcement, and often beat each other up for crossing imaginary territory lines. But there were no murders. No “beefs”. In fact, these clubs all united in 1965 for what was called, “The Watts Rebellion.”
It was a bloody and violent conflict, and it showed the pent up frustration that the southern LA African American community felt towards their being forced into poor living conditions, and the attacks faced by law enforcement. Many club members went on to become Black Panthers. Many became influential leaders in their communities for black pride. This new African American movement alarmed white government officials, who saw this as a threat to national security. The FBI and LAPD were known to consider these groups as dangerous and unlawful.
During this period, many black leaders were either imprisoned or assassinated.
By the end of the 70s, black youth were suddenly bereft of a righteous cause, and yet still denied equal opportunity. They were left angry, disenfranchised, and poor. They grew up, witnessing the organized and passionate movements their parents had participated in without an outlet of their own. Peralta suggests this led to the creation of today’s gangs.
Crips — Allegedly created before the Bloods, they are assumed to have been founded by Raymond Lee Washington, who was murdered in 1979 at a young age.
The documentary loses some points with me, despite their interesting foundation of information, for neglecting to detail just how the Crips and Bloods arose from all of this, and for failing to answer who their founders were, and what their lives had been like. While it is true that these gang founders were killed at a young age and thus, we shall never know what their original intent had been beyond basic survival (maybe that’s all there ever was?), I still feel like Peralta lacked a direct
connection with LA’s African American history, and today’s current gang violence. After all, it has been stated that Raymond Lee Washington, the original founder of the Crips, disliked
guns and knives. His crimes were often attempts to protect himself or provide for basic needs—such as robberies consisting largely of food and clothing. But by the time of his death, he had little to no control of the Crips, and there is no current understanding as to why he was murdered in the first place. Maybe there wasn’t a reason, as can be the case in gang violence. But regardless, I think Peralta could have at least mentioned some of this in the documentary.
Still, the film does an excellent job giving a glimpse into today’s Crips and Bloods, offering testimonies from current members and former members alike, as well as the families of some of their victims. The basic point that the film makes is this: the Crips and the Bloods are a product of the America that was, and the America that is. Many African American men are incarcerated, tearing apart families over non-violent offenses. Criminal records often bar released prisoners from starting a new and lawful life, resulting in frustration and a return to crime. Sub-standard living and “gang task forces” also lend to the vicious cycle. After all, with discrimination and violence, and without equal opportunity, how can one expect the birthplace of these gangs to end their illicit activities?
What I especially liked was that the film doesn’t just leave you with this bloody and sad mess of societal failure, and it especially doesn’t give you any room to think that Peralta is somehow glorifying gangbanging—the film ends on a bittersweet, but otherwise positive note that, despite the continuing existence of these gangs, there are some who are willing to risk their lives, without government assistance, to try to turn the tide. This brave lot includes former gangbangers who try to reach out to young people and tell them how it really is.
So in America, where you can’t look a certain way, be born in a certain place, or even be related to certain people…does the concept of freedom still ring true in your ears?
For me, it rings more as a possibility. This may sound cheesy, and even pretentious, but if we don’t save our children from the unjust prejudices and social failures of the present, all of our bullshit will sound just like that…