Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Modern Romance (short prose)

A Modern Romance

Paul George

Jacob thinks Martha is cute.

Tonight is their big date and he wants it to be the most romantic date Martha has ever had. It is morning and he is thinking of buying her a card to declare his love for her.

In a forest near Camas, Washington, a chainsaw cuts down a fine pine tree. It violently crashes on the forest floor, harshly evicting a family of squirrels. A truck spewing carbon dioxide into the air drags the tree to the local mill. A young boy chokes on the rotten-egg odor vomited into the air by the process of turning a tree into paper while he sits in the backseat of his mom’s Buick, traveling past the mill.

The paper, thin, without grain and lifeless, goes to a factory where it is colored and pressed. A staff writer at the greeting card company creates a cute sentence using words like heart, kiss, and love. He could write something deeper, but the value of his words is in direct proportion to the pay check he receives. The unmanned printing press embosses a golden heart, the unreal kind, on the card along with the writer’s words in a beautiful fourteen-point French Script font. Now the machines will do their work and create the card. At the end of the line, the Hallmark stamps its trademark on the card and envelope. Above the bar code, the Hallmark Corporation reminds all would-be-lovers that it owns the content of the card and will sue anyone who misuses it for copyright infringement.

Jacob walks toward the Wal-Mart exit with a white plastic bag containing socks, canned corn, breath mints, soap, aspirin, latex condoms, bottled water, Cheetos and one Hallmark card. An elderly employee stops him at the door and checks Jacob’s receipt. Jacob tells the old man to keep his eye out for those damned condom thieves.

Martha likes chocolate, so Jacob travels across town to a shop that sells the finest German chocolate in the area. He selects a small unreal-heart-shaped box that has been sealed in non- biodegradable plastic. He pays extra for gift wrapping and a bright pink bow. It looks beautiful, he thinks to himself. The chocolates will be quickly eaten, but the packaging, like his love for Martha, will endure forever.

Next on the list: roses. Jacob travels to the florist and asks for a dozen red roses, the benchmark standard for true love. The florist explains that there used to be a time when roses could bloom only in season. Now, however, the hot house allows them to be produced year around. Mother Nature, he explains, had rules about these things. “We, the florists, are Mother Nature’s apostates,” he says. He goes to a bed of roses in the hot house and hacks them from their roots and wraps the stems in shiny red plastic. “Be sure to put them in a vase with water or they will dry out. They are dead already, but you can slow down the decay. They will maintain the illusion of life and that is all that matters,” the florist says as he hands Jacob the roses.

The date is getting close. There is but one more item on Jacob’s list, a diamond. He travels to the mall and walks into Corporate Monopoly Jewelers. Jacob sees a beautiful diamond sitting upon an altar of gold. He asks the jeweler for a closer look at the ring. “This ring is special,” says the jeweler. “It was brought out of a mine in Zaire along with the body of an eleven-year-old boy who found it while working in the mine,” continues the jeweler. “The boy worked for pennies a day and died to prove your love to your girl.” He continues to speak, holding the diamond ring under a light. “You see, a diamond is not a true sign of love unless someone dies in order to get it to you. Fortunately, the life of a little black boy in Zaire is nothing compared to the beauty of this stone, sitting on its little golden altar.”

Jacob tells the jeweler that he will buy the ring.

“This diamond was once a rough stone in the ground,” says the jeweler as he packages the ring in a little box. “It has been cut, polished, and, most importantly, cleansed.”

Jacob pulls out a plastic card branded as the “Consumer’s Cache” and hands it to the jeweler. The best things in life are not free, Jacob thinks, they are financed.

It is dusk and Jacob drives to Martha’s apartment. He approaches the door, card, chocolate, and flowers in hand. Martha is dressed in her finest dress. Her blonde hair is in perfect submission to her will to be beautiful. Jacob gives her the card. Martha opens it and glances at the back. Papyrus would have been better, but Hallmark will do. She takes the chocolates removes the plastic wrapping, discarding it in a little green trash basket by the door. She takes the red roses. “My favorite,” she says. “I love pretty dead things.”

They get into Jacob’s car and drive to Benjamin’s, the finest restaurant in the city. Jacob decides tonight is special and drives up to the valet parking. He gives a young man his keys in exchange for a ticket. The attendant takes the car to section B19. Two years ago, there was the sound of birds singing from the trees that once ruled this piece of land. Now there is nothing but asphalt with white lines painted on it. The sound of car engines, horns, doors shutting, and swearing parking attendants fill the air. The parking attendant sits in Jacob’s car, checking the car for spare change or anything else of value. Beneath the asphalt lie the bones of a family of rabbits who did not escape the diesel-fueled wrath of progress.

Inside, the hostess leads to couple to their table. They sit down, talking to each other over the warm glow of candlelight. The waiter, a young dark-haired man, asks Jacob and Martha what they would like for dinner.

“I will have the genetically-modified steak,” says Jacob, thinking of the hard-working men in lab coats and blue latex gloves who created this fine steak.

Martha looks at the waiter and asks, “Is the swordfish fresh?”

“Of course,” responds the waiter. “It was brought in this morning. A young man from Brockton lost his hand catching the very swordfish we are serving tonight.”

“Then I will definitely have the swordfish.”

“You have made an excellent choice madam. If you will excuse me, I will get the two of you some soup while the chef makes your meals.” He walks off and enters the kitchen.

Soon the couple enjoys its French onion soup, fortified with the urine of a minimum-wage waiter. They drink wine, eat dinner, and talk about the mundane details of their lives. The desserts arrive and Jacob stands up and approaches Martha. He kneels in front of her and talks about how much she means to him. He reaches into his pocket, fingering an unopened condom before pulling out a small jewelry case with a black bow on it. He opens it, allowing the warm light of the candle to reflect the ring’s beauty. “Will you marry me?”

Martha looks at the ring. It is a good-enough diamond, worth at least the lives of two or three little black boys in Zaire. She takes it and a tear rolls down her face.

“Of course I will marry you Jacob. This is the most romantic evening of my life.”

Copyright 2011 Paul George. "The Unreal Kind" artwork copyright 2011 Paul George

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dirge for the Common Man: A Response to "Song to the Men of England"

The near-deafening brouhaha raised by the Tea Party during the 2010 election season in the United States attracted the attention of the mainstream media and political system with its use of controversial slogans and anti-government statements. Candidate Christine O’Donnell, misattributing words to Thomas Jefferson, riled the crowds with words that the government should fear the Tea Party. Air-raid-siren-voiced candidate Sharon Angle shrieked against the so-called evils of public education, social security, and minimum wage. Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin announced that the women of the Tea Party were “mama grizzlies” ready to devour an out of control federal government. Party members met at rallies, shaking signs announcing “Warning Constitution Under Attack,” claiming President Obama was a socialist, and the need to “Protect and Defend the Constitution from All Enemies” (Scherer 27).

The November 4th election led to some Tea Party victories and the Republican Party gained a majority vote in the House of Representatives. Suddenly, however, the Tea Party vanished into the background and little changed in government. Legislature made compromises, passed bills, and all will remain quiet until it is time for another election. Rather than being out-of-control wild grizzlies, Tea Party members showed themselves as sheep, bleating loudly until shepherds arrived to tell them they will be taken care of by the wealthy. Palin herself quickly withdrew to the flock, avoiding questions from that bastion of hard-hitting investigative journalism Katie Couric.

Large uprisings are nothing new. History is full of groups of people rising against their rulers demanding food, protection, or freedom. The American Revolution, which energized Europe, provided hope for the people of France, who felt oppressed under a system that protected the wealthy and denied human rights to the common citizen. In time, however, the fervor about revolution calmed and many felt the dream of freedom and equality would never be attained. Indifference, or complacency, settled into the soul of the commoner.

Perhaps this is what early 19th Century poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was responding to when he wrote “Song to the Men of England.” Shelly directs his poem directly to England’s working class, those who plough and weave for the wealthy, providing the rich with food and fine clothing, yet ultimately giving their lives for the upper class without receiving any gratitude. Ultimately, Shelley states these men toil, yet receive not “leisure, comfort, calm, / Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm,” but pain and fear.

Shelley’s words are clearly a call to arms, but they are also a reproof of, not only the workers’ indifference, but their willingness to contribute to class inequality. The final two stanzas of the poem tersely tell the men to go underground, bellow the very floors they built, and chain themselves with the very chains they made for their masters. If the men of England are going to continue supporting the system, then Shelley writes that they should use their tools and skills to make their own graves.

Class divisions still exist in the United States. After World War II and continuing through the 1970s, the gap between the rich and the poor in America remained relatively close and stable. With the introduction of Ronald Reagan’s policies of deregulating markets and giving large tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, the gap began to grow. The gap continued to grow as the wealthy continued to increase their corporate earnings while the working class was getting paid less. Unions are now viewed as an evil, designed to steal away money from workers. Yet non-union workers constantly find themselves struggling to make enough income to take care of their living expenses.

An example of this is Wal-Mart, where employees are constantly told they are part of the family, but consistently have trouble getting the desired hours they need. A new employee is forced to watch a video about why a union would simply hurt the store’s employees and create a rift between the management and the managed that would damage everyone. Just in case an employee does not get the message, he or she must pass a computerized exam where agreeing with Wal-Mart is a condition for passing the test (Ehrenreich 144-145). With twenty-five percent of all merchandise in the United States purchased from Wal-Mart, it benefits the company to remind its employees that they are part of a family and need to show loyalty to that family by accepting low wages and whatever hours the store decides an employee deserves on any given week. And employees agree to it. They become participants in a plan that benefits the upper echelons of the corporation disproportionately more than the workers.

That has become the American way, serve and be quiet. Author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club, about the impotent and denaturalized condition of the modern American male, introduces status quo challenger Tyler Durden. Tyler challenges the system at every turn, setting up clubs for men, dissatisfied with their lives, to fight each other. In the fight clubs, every man, whether rich, poor, healthy, sick, big, or little, gets the change to throw down with another man. There is no class. There is not any system elevating one man over another. A man’s liberty in Tyler’s world is forged with bare fists and bruised flesh.

Eventually the system, in this case law enforcement, tries to interfere. A police commissioner vows to stop the underground fighting. He is soon grabbed and pinned down by Tyler and a group of his Space Monkeys. They pull the commissioner’s pants down, wrapping a rubber band tightly around the man’s testicles. “How far do you think you’ll get in politics if the voters know you have no nuts?” asks Tyler (165). Since he is a powerful and wealthy man, the commissioner has much to lose. Tyler tells him that his gang has nothing to lose except for the fight club.
Tyler’s next words echo Shelly’s. However, in the case of Tyler and his Space Monkey’s, they are already challenging the system. They are ready to neuter those who have kept them at the bottom and Tyler’s words tell the system that the underclass has realized its true power. He says:

Remember this…The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on. We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner.
We make your bed. We guard you while you’re asleep. We drive the ambulances. We
direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about
you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every
part of your life (166).

America’s political and upper classes remain happy with a nation where the workers view it as a privilege to serve the needs of the rich. The Tea Party, whether one agrees with their politics or not, made a lot of noise, but eventually allowed themselves to be used by the very people they claimed to be against. The Tea Party, which stood for less federal government, became supporters for fewer taxes for the rich, less regulation over the markets, and reduced funding for education. Ultimately they were happy to chain themselves down and be used by the political right.

Shelley knew the people’s power came, not from just rioting or protesting, but by their power to assert themselves through the goods and services they provide for the wealthy. Leaders, whether financial or political, need to be prodded. If Wal-Mart’s employees decided to strike for better pay and work conditions, twenty-five percent of the nation’s economy would come to a halt. That is power.

Or as Tyler would say, “don’t fuck with us” (166).

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed. New York: Henry Holt, 2001. Print.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: Norton, 1996. Print.

Scherer, Michael. “It’s Tea Time.” Time. 27 Sept. 2010: 26-30. Print

Shelly, Percy Bysshe. “Song to the Men of England.” Ed. Applebaum, Stanley. English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology. Mineola: Dover, 1996. Print.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Millennial Dusk : Failed Religious Predictions and Hindsight Bias

Millennial Dusk:
Failed Religious Predictions and Hindsight Bias
Paul George
Psychology 101 D03: General Psychology
Professor Janice Russell
October 12, 2009


Religion has a long history of attempting to predict the future. While Christianity as a whole has been interested in the end of the world, some sects of Christianity base much of their theology on end times prophecies. These end times groups predict various events that will lead to the end of civilization and the deliverance of the faithful. When these predictions fail, hindsight bias allows these groups to explain their failures. Methods involved include reinterpreting the Bible to justify failure, blaming church members, or rewriting church history to cover over the error. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a long history of failed prediction and an equally long history of explaining why those failures should not cast doubt on their ability to predict future events.

Millennial Dusk: Failed Religious Predictions and Hindsight Bias

Prediction has been with mankind since the beginning of written history. The Bible, and other ancient books, contain prophecies in an attempt to determine future events. Sports gamblers risk money based on who they predict will win a game. Pundits predict who will win the next political election. When prediction fails, however, many use hindsight bias to excuse their failed prediction. Hindsight bias is the “tendency to believe, after learning an outcome, that one would have foreseen it” (Meyers, 2008, p. 10). Sports fans, after the team they predicted would win actually loses, often claim that they knew their team would lose all along (Bonds-Raacke, Fryer, Nicks, & Durr, 2001). Since most failed predictions rarely result in lasting harm, hindsight bias is rarely viewed as a serious psychological issue.

When religions use hindsight bias to explain failed predictions, it is harmful to the members of that religion. Because of the schemata members of predictive religions have developed, hindsight bias has allowed the leadership to maintain authority over the membership.

Hindsight bias has frequently appeared in religious apologetics when science has contradicted religious belief. Many evolutionist have found that, upon presentation of evidence proving evolution, creationists will go back to the Bible and find a new way to interpret it (Shermer, 2009). For decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses believed the earth was about 48,000 years old (Watchtower 2004). After scientific evidence proved the earth was older, they gave a Biblical explanation that the days of creation mentioned in the Bible book of Genesis were figurative and could not be determined (Watchtower, 1986, p. 11). Like most Christian religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses have developed a schema that the Bible’s account of creation is correct. When the facts contradict, they will reinterpret the Bible to preserve the schema. In this sense, hindsight bias is used to justify the change in belief. According to Beitman, hindsight bias is frequently used “for faith-held rather than scientifically supportable theory” (2009).

The middle of the nineteenth century saw an explosion of religions and cults in the United States. According to psychologist Singer, this led to regenerative sects, which tried to reform well-established churches from within and schismatic sects, which rejected established churches completely. The schismatic sects promoted a narrow interpretation of the Bible and enforced strict moral codes. Jehovah’s Witnesses, then known as the International Bible Students, fell comfortably into this category. Many of these religions were making predictions about the end of the world. As those predictions failed, most of these groups faded away or transformed into less eschatological minded mainstream religions. However, as history professor Penton writes, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are unique; they have preached millenarianism longer and more consistently than any major sectarian movement” (2002).

Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the group that would eventually be known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicted that the world would end in 1914 (Penton, 21, 2002). Specifically, he believed that Jesus would come and destroy everyone, with the exception of Russell’s followers. His group of followers, then known as the International Bible Students, were also called Millennial Dawners. In October 1914, they got up and were ready to be taken to Heaven. As 1914 came to and end, the end of the world did not. Rather than admit that he was wrong, Russell looked to the Bible and decided that Jesus was ruling the earth, but he was doing it invisibly. While the official history of the religion acknowledges that Russell was wrong, it glosses over many other dates and predictions that came and went without incident. It even questions the motives of those who were expecting salvation. Those who were upset that the end did not come were, according to the Watchtower, more interested in salvation than serving God (Watchtower, 1993). Hindsight bias was applied to the Bible to prove that, while Russell may have had the details wrong, he was still basically correct (Penton, 2002, p. 198). Since the vast majority of the churches members were convinced that the leadership was being led by God, they accepted any explanation given for the failure of these predictions.

From 1920 to 1940, various dates for the end of the world were set. Each one failed. Rather than admit error, the church leadership found scriptures to support their view, blame church members, or simply rewrite their literature to reflect new dates. While a small portion would leave after each failure, the leadership would tarnish their reputations by calling them apostates (Barrett, 1996, p. 84). For questioning the accuracy of the Watchtower organization, they were to be ignored by any friends and family that wanted to remain faithful to the Watchtower.

For decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses wisely avoided setting dates. However, in the late 60s, the organization began to focus on 1975 as a special date. Many members of the leadership were saying that 1975 was the year the world would end. The literature produced during this period praised people who sold their houses or quit their jobs to preach the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine (Franz, 2002, p. 247). Vice president of the Watchtower, Frederick Franz, frequently told church members that they should “look forward confidently to what the autumn [of 1975] would bring” (Penton, 2002, 99).

When 1975 proved uneventful, Franz used hindsight bias to explain the failure of the prophecy. Franz referred to a scripture, which says that no one would know the day or hour of the end (Matt. 25:36, New Rev. Stand. Vers.). He then blamed the church members for the failure, stating that it did not happen because they expected something to happen. Still, Franz insisted that the end would come in the next few years (Penton, 2002, p. 100). This form of hindsight bias allows religious leaders to simply dig into the Bible and pull out anything that supports their ideas. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the governing body that makes these decisions were chosen by Jesus to lead them, they willingly fit any change in doctrine to fit the schema they have established in their minds.

That schema is that the leadership of the Watchtower, known as the governing body, have been selected by Jesus Christ to interpret the Bible (Watchtower 2004). Jehovah’s Witnesses are to be loyal to the teachings of the Watchtower. To question Watchtower teachings, even ones that are not clear Bible teachings, means rejecting God. This authority is accepted by all Witnesses. Therefore, when faced with false prediction, members try to find away to fit the error into the schema that the Watchtower is the method God uses to communicate with mankind. Likewise, the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they have been chosen to be God’s authority on earth. When predictions fail, they must find a way to maintain that authority. Admitting mistakes would suggest that maybe they are not actually being guided by supernatural forces.

These predictions may seem harmless, even amusing. It becomes clear, however, that this form of hindsight bias is dangerous to those who continue to listen to religious predictions. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses, believing the end is near, have sold their homes, given up careers, left college, put off life saving surgery, and severed ties with family members who openly disagree with their beliefs. As excuse after excuse is provided to explain failure, most Witnesses refuse to question the schema that they have established.

Research into cognitive functions has led many researchers to the conclusion that most reasoning is “unconscious, automatic, and rarely open to introspection” (“Thought,” 1995, p. 53). Hindsight bias distorts judgment. Rather than think about what actually happened, most people will simply fit what they can into what they thought would happen. End times religions, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, have developed schemas that tell them certain things are supposed to happen. They have a prediction bias that tell them to expect certain events in the future. When those predictions fail they are rarely open to introspection. Instead, they have already been primed by over a century of organized hindsight bias, to reconcile what they thought would happen with what did happen.


Barrett, D.V. (1996). Sects, ’Cults’ and Alternative Religions. London: Cassell.

Beitman, B. (2009). Brains Seek Patterns in Coincidences. Psychiatric Annals, 39(5), 255-264.

Bonds-Raacke, J., Fryer, L., Nicks, S., & Durr, R. (2001). Hindsight Bias Demonstrated in the Prediction of a Sporting Event. Journal of Social Psychology, 141(3), 349.,

Franz, R. (2002). Crisis of Conscience. Atlanta: Commentary Press.

New Revised Standard Version (1989). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Penton, M.J. (2002). Apocalypse Delayed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Shermer, M. (2009). Creationism in 3-D. Scientific American, 300(5), 32.

Singer, T.S. (2003). Cults in Our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Thought and Communication. Basic Behavioral Science Research for Mental Health: A National Investment. 1995: 53-67. SIRS Government Reporter. Web. 05 October, 2009.

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. (1993). Jehovah’s Witnesses, Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. (1985). Life - How Did It Get Here?. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. (2005). Watchtower Library 2004 [CD-ROM]. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Book Review: I'm Perfect, You're Doomed

I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed by Kyria Abrahams

(Note: I too was once one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My review, therefore, examines comparisons between Ms. Abrahams’ experience and mine at times.)

For many people, the religion they belong too has everything to do with their parents. Many people are Catholic simply because their parents were Catholic. In Kyria Abraham’s memoir I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed, she reflects on her life as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The bulk of the book concerns her childhood and teen years.

While telling the story of her life, she introduces us to a variety of colorful characters. Some of them are funny, others tragic, and a few are bizarre. I have to wonder if there is a factory in Brooklyn where they produce these odd characters. So many of her experiences with individuals at the Kingdom Hall reminded me of my time in Taunton, Massachusetts. Apparently every single Kingdom Hall has a single twenty-something pioneer named Lisa.

Her childhood is filled with all of the challenges that Jehovah’s Witness children must deal with, the alienation from other kids in school. Witness children are told this is good: a sign that they are pleasing Jehovah. She mentions the constant pressure to please a God who is constantly looking for a reason for failure. Jehovah is like Santa Claus, except if he finds you naughty, for any reason, you will be executed at Armageddon (she never says this, I’m just ranting. It was just a thought as I read her book.). Her other childhood experiences revolved around the superstitions that Witnesses embrace (while claiming to not be superstitious). The greatest example of this is the Smurf incident. I will not spoil this for you. However, the hysteria over the most ridiculous rumor ever heard was indeed a real event. Throughout the book, she writes from the perspective of someone who thought that the end of the world was in the near future. It was the religion of her parents, so it had to be “the truth.”

As she becomes involved with Alan, her future husband, the story takes a dark turn. It is obvious to the reader, and the writer, that this sixteen year old girl was not ready for the stress of marriage. The marriage was an unhappy one. Sadly, this is not uncommon in this religion. She soon found herself in an unhealthy relationship where her needs were viewed as secondary to her husband’s. As she grew more miserable, she made some life-changing decisions. Really her initiation story begins with the choices she makes in this section of the narrative.

Some readers of the book have mentioned that the story ends on an unresolved note. Life is rarely resolved neatly. What do readers expect? That she leave, find the man of her dreams, a dream job, and God sitting her down and telling her the meaning of life?

This book differs greatly from other ex-Jehovah’s Witness books. While there are many that discuss the reasons a person left the religion, they are usually tied into the Watchtower doctrines or failed prophecies. Many of those books have value. However, all Abrahams has done with her book is tell her story. It happens to revolve around her childhood religion. She is also very honest in her portrayal of her younger self. She presents young Kyria as a bit of a self-serving brat. Even if she was not raised a Witness, many of her problems would have existed. However, her beliefs shaped the way those issues played out in her life. The book is about her life. It is not an attempt to take down the Watchtower.

Some Witnesses have claimed that the mistakes she makes toward the end of the book prove that she was wrong to leave. I cannot see how that is the case. She makes some mistakes, but that is what life is about. Would she have been happier if she stayed in an unloving marriage while her individuality was being choked out of her?

I know a little about Kyria now and her life looks like it is going well. She has published a book, writes and seems to be enjoying life. Perhaps she will follow up I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed with a book about her adventures in New York.

At times the book is very funny. At other times it is tragic. For a person who knows nothing about the Witnesses, it is still a fascinating story of initiation. For those who were once Witnesses, it is an encouraging, yet occasionally heartbreaking reminder of why we left.

Copyright 2009 Paul George

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Big Goddamned Essay of Manliness

The Big Goddamned Essay of Manliness
by Paul George

“In the days of my youth I was told what it was to be a man.” This opening lyric from a classic Led Zeppelin song established that boys grow up believing that, in order to be a man, they need to develop certain qualities. For many youth, a real man is physical, strong, independent, intimidating, powerful, in control, rugged, respected, hard, a stud, muscular, and, most importantly, tough. If a man does not measure up to these standards, he is labeled with the words pussy, bitch, fag, queer, soft, mamma’s boy, girly, emotional, weak, wimpy, wuss, and sissy (Katz). Sadly, the mass media and modern advertising have encouraged these mind sets rather than challenge them. Advertising directed toward men sends the message that men must be emotionally indifferent; consequently, it preys on any vulnerabilities or fears they have underneath the facade.

A quick look at a current issue of Esquire magazine demonstrates the emotional tone that is predominant in many men’s magazines. Of the thirty-two advertisements featuring men, only four showed men smiling. The twenty-eight glowering advertisements were for a variety of products including apparel, cologne, and whisky. The advertisement for Prada was typical of the other commercial content of the magazine. The two-page advertisement features two men. The young man on the left is staring to the right side of the page. He is emotionless, although there is a hint of sadness in his expression. The second man is on the right page gazing indifferently toward the camera. The message sent by this advertisement is that, as men, emotional expression is not a desirable quality.

Glamour, a magazine directed toward women, fares no better in its display of men. An advertisement for Calvin Klein Jeans displays two men sitting on a couch. One has no shirt on while the other has his shirt unbuttoned. Lying across them is an attractive woman, topless. Both men are staring away from each other and away from the woman. Again, their faces demonstrate no emotion. While the three page spread shows the threesome in various positions of contact, no emotional contact is displayed. The advertisement is clearly suggestive of a ménage a trios, yet neither of the men display any emotional attachment to the situation. Once again, the message is sent that, in order to be considered a man, you must purge any emotional responses, even erotic ones.

These very ideals have lead to a generation of men who find themselves at odds with their feelings. Men, unlike women, generally do not have the social structure that allows them to deal with anxieties. Many men find that talking to their wives or girlfriends simply exacerbates their emotional anxieties. When one man’s dog died, he was greatly distraught. When he cried in front of his wife, she simply told him to get over it. When a man displays fear, anxiety or sadness, he is frequently told “cry me a river,” “go tell it to the mountain,” or “welcome to the club.” Unable to externalize these emotions, many simply internalize their feelings. Since no one cares how they feel, they withdraw. A recent British study asked women the following question: If they died and were brought back to life, would they want to come back as a man or a woman. 19% of women chose to return as a male. The same question was then asked to a group of men. 60% of men said they would rather return as women (Torlée). Clearly many men are have lost their sense of belonging in the world. Advertisements like the one previously discussed reinforce the message that emotional distance is a desirable quality in a man. However, this tough exterior does not mean that men do not have emotions. It is simply a disguise.

Advertisers have tapped into the insecurities that men have and have preyed upon those fears. This is demonstrated clearly in advertising for weight loss supplements and erectile dysfunction advertisements. An advertisement for Xenadrine in Men’s Health displays the torso of a man with a chiseled body and well-defined abdominals. The copy reads “triple you weight loss!” and then proceeds to reach past the disguise of invulnerability that many men have and play upon their insecurities. The advertisement then inquires “Are you suddenly feeling you’re behind the game and much too soft and sloppy to take your shirt off?” Muscle & Fitness, a physical culture magazine, features an advertisement for the same product. However, it shows a picture of a muscular male before and after he took the product. The before picture shows a classically muscular man who should be proud of the body he has developed. The display announces that the test subject lost 25 pounds of pure fat from the use of Xenadrine. It states that his body was “carved by the world’s best fat burner.” The picture of the model after he took the product shows him chiseled and cut, as if he was carved from marble. The implication is quickly recognized in a man’s inner self. If a man has eaten right, exercised, lost weight, and improved his health, he still is not complete. If he is to be emotionally hard and indestructible, then physically he must be the same way. A man must eliminate anything soft from his body, mind and soul. He must be carved. He cannot be weak or vulnerable. If he is, he will be exploited. Of course, Xenadrine is right there to help him deal with his shortcomings.

Erectile dysfunction is a real medical condition. Many men who suffer from it, but feel embarrassed to talk about it. Since Pfizer’s release of Viagra in the late 1990’s, the issue of ED has been raised in the collective consciousness of society. An magazine advertisement for Viagra, an ED pharmaceutical treatment, shows a middle aged couple driving in a convertible with smiles on their faces. The copy reads “guys are getting the message.” Viagra’s website tells the viewer that “ED is more common than you might think.” The site explains that ED is not the same for all men, and lists various examples of what might be considered ED. There is a good chance that most men have at some time met these broad qualifications. The website then reaches past the tough male exterior and states “ED is a medical condition. So in most cases, erections will not improve without treatment.” This sends a message to many men that they must have this drug. They begin to feel inadequate, even when they have had no serious problems in sexual performance.

This has led to a silent epidemic, the abuse of Viagra and other ED medications. It is easy to get a doctor to prescribe the medicine because he can only base his decision on what the patient says. Many doctors have become concerned that younger men are taking the drug. Men in their 20’s and 30’s who have shown no signs of ED have started taking the drug (Condor). In the August 2008 issue of Playboy, a 28 year old reader wrote that he was taking Viagra because he became nervous on first dates. He felt the drug served as an insurance policy. However, at some point, he would stop taking the drug and his sexual performance would be normal. This has led to confused partners. Doctors are concerned that the taking of the drug by younger men will lead to a lifetime of dependence and can be potentially damaging to a relationship. The advertisements for Viagra and other ED medications have capitalized on men’s fears of sexual inadequacy. Since men have been told that they need to “suck up” any feelings of anxiety, they turn to a drug that they may not need. Again, vulnerability is exploited by advertisers. Yes, Viagra, men are indeed “getting the message.”

Sadly, boys and men are given a narrow box that defines manhood (Katz). Women are given an unrealistic standard of thinness. Men, however, are given the message that they must develop a lean muscular body in order to meet any standards of attractiveness (Vartanian). Modern advertising has helped men build a wall around their complex masculine emotional selves and then slowly eroded it with advertisements that tell them that they are weak, soft and inadequate. Due to media influences, men equate manhood with strength and power, not with compassion or love

Works Cited

“About ED”. Viagra. 5 Apr. 2009.

Anonymous. “The Playboy Advisor.” Playboy. Aug. 2008: 37.

Condor, Bob. “The New Face of Viagra Abuse Is Younger Than You Think.” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL) (Dec. 26, 2003). n.p.. SIRS Researcher. Elizabeth Strum Library, Reno, NV. 5 Apr. 2009. SIRS Knowledge Source .

Calvin Klein Jeans. Advertisement. Glamour. Apr. 2009: 27-29.

Esquire. Apr. 2009.

Katz, Jackson. Video documentary. Tough Guise : Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity. 2009. Media Education Foundation. 2 Apr. 2009. bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=211.

Led Zeppelin. Good Times Bad Times.

Prada. Advertisement. Esquire. Mar. 2009: 1,2

Torlée, Liz. "The plight of the other sex." Marketing Magazine 109.20 (07 June 2004): 17-17. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Elizabeth Strum Library, Reno, NV. 26 Mar. 2009 live.

Vartanian, Lenny R.. . "WHEN THE BODY DEFINES THE SELF: SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY, INTERNALIZATION, AND BODY IMAGE." Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 28.1 (2009): 94-126. Research Library. ProQuest. Elizabeth Strum Library, Reno, NV. 26 Mar. 2009.

Viagra. Advertisement. Esquire. Apr. 2009: 46

Xenadrine RFA-1. Advertisement. Men’s Health. Apr. 2009: 93.

Xenadrine RFA-X. Advertisement. Muscle & Fitness. May 2009: 22,23.

Copyright 2009 Paul George

Thou Shalt Not: The Ten Commandments and American Society

Thou Shalt Not: The Ten Commandments and American Society

Paul George

The principal of a Colorado high school had security cameras installed in the cafeteria to catch students who were leaving their trays at the tables. On April 20, 1999, however, those cameras captured the chilling images of two students with guns shooting other students. At the end of the day, Columbine High School would be forever known as a school where fifteen students, two teachers, and two gunmen died (Vail). Naturally, the event created a flurry of debate over what went wrong. One of the ideas proposed by conservative Christians was that children are not being taught the Ten Commandments. These ten laws, attributed to God, come from the Bible book of Exodus (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:2-17). Conservative Christian groups suggested that the Ten Commandments be posted in public schools. One conservative writer suggested that posting these rules would “nudge toward God an unknown number of youngsters who might otherwise become moral monsters not far different from the killers of Columbine High” (Rusher). The assertion, consistently put forward by conservative Christians, is that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American law and the ten best rules for living. A poll revealed that 68% of Americans felt that the Ten Commandments should be posted in public courthouses (Osler). Clearly the majority of Americans feel strongly about these rules. However, other research has shown that 60% of Americans cannot name even five of these ten laws (Grossman). So while Americans claim to have deep respect for these laws, they actually know very little about them. The Ten Commandments are not conducive to the foundations of American law; furthermore, they do not reflect American morals or ethics.

Before examining the claim that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American law, it is necessary to briefly study the history of these ancient laws. After escaping slavery from Egypt, the Jewish leader Moses brought the Jews a set of laws that, according to the account, God gave to him (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:1). However, much of this law code came from older Egyptian ethics. According to author Richard Gabriel “the ethical precepts of the [Ten Commandments] were extant in Egypt at least two millennia before Moses” (Gabriel). To claim that the Ten Commandments are important because they are somehow older than other ancient laws is to ignore history.

The claim that American law is based on the aphorisms of the Ten Commandments is not in agreement with American history. American law evolved from British law. British laws developed mainly out of commercial concerns, inheritances and landholder rights. These issues greatly influenced early American law (Green). According to law professor Mark Osler “almost none of the Ten Commandments remains as a functioning part of American law” (Osler). Many conservative leaders continue to insist that American law was founded on these Bronze Age laws. In discussing this issue, writer Frederick Clarkson expresses his concern that the agenda of conservative Christians is to create “a revisionist view of American history - one that, if it gains wide currency, threatens to erode the culture, and constitutional principle, of religious pluralism in the US” (Clarkson). An examination of the Ten Commandments will demonstrate that many of these laws are invalid in light of the Bill of Rights. Other commandments simply do not reflect modern values.

The first command states “I am the LORD your God…you shall have no other gods before me” (New. Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:2-3). When a Bible translation uses the word “LORD” in all capitals, it is important to note that the original Hebrew text contained the personal name of the Jewish God. This is translated in some English Bibles as “Jehovah” (Am. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:2). The purpose of the Ten Commandments was to establish a covenant relationship between Jehovah and the freed Jews (Seeksin). The next command elaborates on the first by saying that they were not to make idols or commit idolatry (New. Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:4-5). Why was this so important? Because Jehovah describes himself as jealous (New. Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:5). The very first right that the Bill of Rights gives to Americans is freedom of religion. It clearly forbids congress from making any law that would establish any religious practice as superior to any other religious practice (US Const., Amend. 1). To say that the Ten Commandments are the basis of American principles would be to eschew the principles behind the Bill of Rights. Ironically, the conservative Christians who want to push the Ten Commandments into public schools could easily be accused of breaking these commandments. The second command forbids idolatry. Many Christians pray in front of crosses or images of the virgin Mary. Clearly these are acts of idolatry. According to William Rusher, who advocates posting the Ten Commandments in public schools and courts, the first effect of posting these commandments would be to “[acknowledge] the existence of God” (Rusher). Posting the Ten Commandments in public schools would send a message to children that the only acceptable religion is the Judeo-Christian one. By their very nature, the first two commandments exclude Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, and atheists.

The next command is to “not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God” (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:7). Again, to say that this is a foundation of American ethics is to endorse the worship of a specific God. However, the First Amendment also protects the right to free speech. The fight for free speech in the United States has included expressions using the word “god” or stating anti-religious views. Many states had laws against blasphemy, however courts have frequently judged them as unconstitutional. John Adam considered blasphemy laws an embarrassment that prevented the improvement society (Osler).

The next law is to remember the Sabbath day (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:8-10). The Jews were to do no work on this day. Many New England states had, until recently, blue laws. These laws prevented places of business from operating on Sunday. Is there anything about having a day declared as sacred and dedicated to Jehovah that is appropriate for school children or Americans in general? While most conservative Christians talk about the importance of the Ten Commandments, few of them actually dedicate an entire day to God. What was the punishment for breaking the Sabbath? While Moses and the Jews were roaming in the wilderness, a man was gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. The punishment for this travesty of the fourth commandment was simple, he was to be put to death by stoning (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Num. 15:32). If advocates of the Ten Commandments believe that these are the most important rules for people to follow, then they cannot simply ignore the punishments that were attached to these rules. Therefore, by their standards, any Wal-Mart employee, doctor, police officer, or charity volunteer who does their work on Sunday should be dragged out of town and have stones thrown at them until they are dead. The first four commandments are entirely religious in nature. Specifically, they point to a jealous god who demands that all worship be given to him. They are, by nature, opposed to the constitutional principles that Americans consider vital to a free democratic society.

The next command concerns the honoring of one’s parents (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:12). On the surface, this sounds perfectly fine. However, the law was absolute. As one writer stated “honor cannot be bestowed automatically by an honest intellect” (Gaylor). While the vast majority of parents strive to be loving and responsible toward their children, it is no secret that there are many parents who have abused, beaten, and neglected their children. According to the Ten Commandments, parents are part of an authority structure that begins with God. Under the Jewish law, any child who demonstrated dishonor, for any reason, toward his or her parents was considered cursed by God (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Deut. 27:16). The Jewish law went so far as to say that a son who ignored the discipline of his parents was to be pelted with stones until he was dead. According to the scripture, this action would “purge the evil from [their] midst” (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Deut. 21:20-21). Even if a parent was abusive or neglectful, any action on the child’s part to protect themselves would lead to the death penalty. In light of the context of the fifth commandment and the punishments involved, the fifth commandment is a barbaric command that does not reflect modern society’s morals. Modern society puts the responsibility on the shoulders of the parent to be a responsible caregiver.

Very few people would dispute the value of the commandment “you shall not murder” (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:13). All modern societies have laws that forbid the killing of another person. However, the focus of the Jewish law was the treatment of those within the covenant between God and the Israelites. While traveling on their way to the promised land, the Jewish nation entered the territory of the Midianites, who were also descendants of Abraham. After an issue regarding worship arose between the two groups, Moses ordered the Israelites to attack the Midianites. While the account does not give a count of the casualties, it is clear that a large number was involved. The Israelite men took the women and children captive. Moses was upset that his soldiers demonstrated mercy toward the women and children. He commanded his men to kill all of the children, infants and women. The only exception was the young women who were virgins (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Num. 31:1-20). The account makes it clear that after the slaughter, those young virgin women added up to thirty-two thousand. Half of them were given to the soldiers (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Num. 31:35-36). When the Ten Commandments talk about forbidding murder, it is only among those in that religious covenant. From the example given, and there are many more, those who followed the Ten Commandments were capable of atrocities beyond any sane person’s idea of moral or ethical.

The seventh commandment strictly forbids adultery (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:14). Marital infidelity can be devastating to a marriage; however, many marriages survive unfaithfulness. The punishment provided in the Bible for adultery was death. It is of note, however, that adultery was viewed differently then compared to the twenty-first century view. The punishment of death was required when a man and sexual relations with woman who was married to another man (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Deut. 22:22-24). Later in the Bible, the adultery law was elaborated on and, again, it provides punishment for a married woman who has sex with a man who is not her husband (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Nu. 5:11-31). Clearly, when the Ten Commandments state “you shall not commit adultery” (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:14), it is talking about an act committed with another man’s wife. It was a property issue, not a moral one. There is nothing in the Hebrew law that prevented a married man from sleeping with other women. As a matter of fact, Israel’s king Solomon was reported to have seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (New Rev. Stand. Vers., 1 Kings 11:3). The Bible never accuses him of adultery. However, had any one of those women taken a second husband, they would have been executed for unfaithfulness. These details demonstrate that the Ten Commandments were written at a time when women were considered property and had no rights. Thankfully, modern America does not retain this poor view of women.

Like murder, the commands against stealing and bearing false testimony have value (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:15-16). Like murder, however, these commands were applied to those within the covenant arrangement. According to the Bible account, when the Israelites slaughtered the Midianites, they took as spoil nearly a million heads of livestock (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Num. 31:32-34). Clearly the Israelites did not feel that taking property belonging to other nations was a violation of the eighth commandment. As previously stated, there were civilizations before the creation of the Ten Commandments that had laws against lying and stealing. There is nothing special about the Bible’s commands to not steal, murder or lie.

The tenth commandment is another example of an outdated and sexist attitude. The command is to not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, slave, ox, donkey, or “anything that belongs to your neighbor” (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Ex. 20:17). Like the seventh commandment, this demonstrates the attitudes of a Bronze Age patriarchal society. Here, the Bible tickles the ears of women by giving them a value between a house and a slave. Ultimately, this puts women squarely into the category of chattel. It is offensive in our modern society to tell women that the best set of rules for living are ones that view them as slightly more valuable than oxen and donkeys. The scripture also implies that slavery was acceptable, something the Thirteenth Amendment strictly forbids in the United States (US Const., Amend. 13). The entire concept behind the commandment against coveting is contrary to American capitalism. There is nothing wrong with desiring the things your fellow citizen possesses. In the United States, all have the right to pursue happiness. If a person desires the same things his neighbor has, he or she is free to open a business, pursue a better education, or seek a better career in order to obtain what they desire.

The Ten Commandments are clearly a set of religious laws that include a few unspectacular standard laws. Those behavioral laws are nothing original and there’s nothing about them that stands out when compared to other laws of the time. Conservative Christians push the Ten Commandments as being the best set of rules ever created; however, many of these commandments are contrary to the foundations of the United States and are offensive to modern values. These commandments are a set of outdated rules from the Bronze Age, a time when people believed the earth was flat, a wound could be cured by spitting on it, the constellations in the sky were living beings, and “sea monsters were considered a legitimate hazard” (Religulous). The sayings attributed to Jesus show that, even in the first century attitudes were changing. When Jesus was asked what the two greatest commandments were, he said to love God and to love your neighbor (New Rev. Stand. Vers., Mt. 22:36-39). Early Christians moved away from the apodictic structure of Jewish law and embraced casuistry. Many modern Americans, no matter their religious beliefs, have embraced the concept of living by principles and not by rules. This has allowed them to make informed decisions rather than obeying blind dogma. Any reasonable person could make a list of ten principles to live by that would be far wiser, kinder, and more positive to society than the Ten Commandments.

Works Cited

American Standard Version. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society,
Inc., 1929

Clarkson, Frederick. “The Religious Right Has a Harmful Agenda.” Opposing
Viewpoints: Extremist Groups
. Ed. Karen F. Balkin. San Diego: Greenhaven
Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Truckee Meadows
Community College, Reno, NV. 11 June 2009

Gabriel, Richard A. Gods of Our Fathers : The Memory of Egypt in Judaism &
. Westport, CT, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 2001. p 86.

Gaylor, Anne Nicol. What’s Wrong With The Ten Commandments?. 20 June

Green, Steven K. “The Fount of Everything Just and Right? The Ten
Commandments as a Source of American Law.” Journal of Law and Religion.
Vol. 14.2 (1999-2000): 525-558. JSTOR. Elizabeth Sturm Library, Reno, NV.
5 June 2009

Grossman, Cathy Lynn. "Americans Get an 'F' in Religion." USA Today (n.d.).
Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Elizabeth Sturm Library, Reno, NV. 5 June

New Revised Standard Version . Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1989.

Osler, Mark. "‘Aseret Had'Varim’ in Tension: The Ten Commandments and the
Bill of Rights“. Journal of Church & State 49.4 (Sep. 2007): 683-696.
MasterFILE Premier
. EBSCO. Elizabeth Sturm Library, Reno, NV. 2 June 2009

Religulous. Dir. Larry Charles. Perf. Bill Maher. Lionsgate, 2008.

Rusher, William. "Schools Should Post the Ten Commandments to Teach
Morality." Opposing Viewpoints: Religion in America. Ed. William Dudley.
San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.
Gale. Truckee Meadows Community College, Reno, NV. 8 June 2009

Seeksin, Kenneth. Autonomy in Jewish Philosophy. Port Chester:
Cambridge University Press, 2001. Elizabeth Sturm Library,
Reno, NV. 5 June 2009

United States. The Constitution of the United States.

Vail, Kathleen. "Columbine: 10 Years Later." American School Board Journal
196.5 (May 2009): 16-23. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Elizabeth Sturm
Library, Reno, NV. 15 June 2009

Copyright 2009 Paul George

Crash: The Collision of Cultures in America

This was an English assignment. The task was to write an explanatory synthesis using the motion picture Crash and an essay claiming that the film had failed in its message about racism in America. I found myself agreeing with the essay's claim that America is a culture dominated by white privilege. However, I felt that the writers' criticism of the film was flawed. Oddly, it may seem that I'm defending the film, but I feel it fails for entirely different reasons than the Jensen and Wosnitzer put forward.

Crash: The Collision of Cultures in America
Paul George

Race is a dirty word in America. We refuse to talk about it. When we do, it is rarely an open dialogue, and it is almost never honest. Paul Haggis’ motion picture Crash is a character study that tries to deal with the issue of race in America. Critics praised the film for its “brutally honest” depiction of race issues in America (Williams). In response to this acclaim, journalism professor Robert Jensen and documentary producer Robert Wosnitzer wrote an essay, entitled “Crash,” claiming that the movie minimizes the systemic causes of racism in the country. According to Jensen and Wosnitzer, the film is “white supremacists because it minimizes the reality of white supremacy” (Jensen and Wosnitzer). While the film’s main focus is the effects of racism on a personal level, Crash frequently addresses the systemic nature of racism in this country. Crash is an allegorical tale that uses archetypes to personify the various groups and institutions that promote white privilege in America.

The first words out of detective Graham Waters indicate that the characters of the story do not inhabit a real city. His opening monologue has the air of parable. After an automobile accident, he says “we’re always behind this metal and glass.” Frequently, people carefully guard their speech and attitudes, especially when race is involved. The physical crash in Crash represents the filmmaker’s attempt to remove those “metal and glass” filters and have the characters speak in open, honest, and unfiltered dialogue.

Jensen and Wosnitzer contend that Crash fails because it “directs attention away from a white-supremacist system and undermines white accountability for the maintenance of that system“ (Jensen and Wosnitzer). Throughout the film, various white power symbols are represented by characters in authoritative positions. District attorney Rick Cabot represents the political system that caters to non-whites for votes and public image opportunities. Jean Cabot symbolizes rich white privilege, which views all non-whites as subservient and a threat to its way of life. Television producer Fred typifies the entertainment industry, which continues to promote racial stereotypes for material gain. Officer John Ryan represents not just law enforcement, but the racial attitudes are ingrained in the law enforcement culture. Officer Tom Hansen, who is generally decent, ultimately gives into racial profiling. While the laws of the country are intended to be for all, we have created rules that intentionally judge people based on race. When viewed as an allegorical story, the white characters say a lot about white authority in America.

Many of the black characters of the film represent those who, while affected by racism, refuse to challenge the system. Detective Waters has a career in law enforcement. When confronted with the inherent racism of the system, he gives into what is best for the white authoritarian structure. His mother accuses him of abandoning his brother and his mother. He has been too busy pursuing a career. Rather than continuing the fight for civil rights and equality for all, Waters has become a member of the white authority structure. Cameron Thayer, a television director, is essentially a black man in “whiteface.” The white powers that be have continued to put a carrot in front of him, fame, and he has consistently given into their demands. When an officer sexually assaults his wife, he refuses to do anything about it because a report in the paper would upset his white employers. Lt. Dixon is a black police officer who readily acknowledges racism in the LAPD, yet he does not want his position to be threatened. He has worked too hard to get where he is in the police department. Anthony, who touts various white supremacy conspiracy theories throughout the film, considers himself sort of a black Robin Hood. Since he only steals from white people, he feels he is fighting the system. He starts to realize that he is part of the problem as he sits on a bus. He may talk a lot, but he really is not any different than the minorities on the bus. When he steals a van full of Thai people who are being trafficked as slave, he realizes that he is becoming the very thing he has been criticizing throughout the film, an oppressor. Even Dorri, a second generation Iranian-American, has become more American, and therefore white, in order to be a successful doctor. The system of white supremacy, as discussed by Jensen and Wosnitzer, is clearly demonstrated in Crash. The message in Crash is clear, if a black person wants to be successful, they need to obey privileged white people.
Peter Waters spends most of the film as a sidekick for Anthony. However, he represents those who simply do not buy into the system. He and Anthony have very different views of what it means to be a black American. He constantly defies any stereotypes associated with black Americans. He likes country music, hockey, and is interested in Catholic theology, all symbols associated with white culture. Ultimately, he is killed for having an open attitude. The message sent by Crash is that the system will not tolerate the tolerant.

Guns play strongly in the film and represent power. Frequently, when a gun passes from person to person in the film, it represents the passing of power. When a white gun shop owner begrudgingly sells a handgun to an Iranian man, he sells the Iranian man blanks. Frequently, white politicians talk about the United States being a land of opportunity and equality for all. However, the system does not always deal fairly with everyone. Ultimately, just like blanks in a gun, the assertion of constitutional rights by immigrants is rendered impotent by policies like the Patriot Act and racial profiling. Anthony and Peter discuss their fear of being in white neighborhoods. Their fears are relaxed because they carry guns. When Anthony attempts to car jack Cameron’s automobile, they struggle with a gun. Cameron, who has been complacent and unwilling to assert his rights throughout the film is suddenly emboldened when he confronts the police. During the entire altercation, he has a gun in the back of his pants. When Cameron leaves Anthony on a street corner, he gives Anthony back his gun. He gives the power back to Anthony, who must now take responsibility for his future actions. Constitutional rights protect Americans and empower them, regardless of race. White authority views such power as a threat when put in what they consider the wrong hands.

Crash, the film, ends where it begins, with an auto accident. The final message of the movie is that, even if some of the characters changed their attitudes during that day, there will be others to take their place the next day. There will be another John Ryan to harass innocent citizens. There will be another black director so hungry for fame that he will do whatever he is asked by his producers. There will be another young black man stealing cars from white people. The film simply says that everyone is a racist and there’s nothing that can be done to improve the situation. “Crash,” the essay, contends that white America needs to be “forced” to accept the issue of white privilege in America (Jensen and Wosnitzer). Neither offer any practical solutions for the race issue in this country. The United States has made progress, but it has been slow. Laws have been passed to protect the rights of everyone in the country. However, well meaning laws cannot actually change racial attitudes in this country. Forcing opinions on others is a poor solution. People need to be given information and a variety of opinions on this vital issue. There needs to be an open dialogue where everyone, no matter their race, gender, or belief, has the opportunity to share in the discussion. If we can accomplish this, perhaps this country will be able to one day embrace its pluralism and grow stronger as a nation. Perhaps then, race will no longer be considered a dirty word.

Works Cited

Crash. Dir. Paul Haggis. Perf. Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle and Matt Dillon. Lionsgate, 2005.

Jensen, Robert and Wosnitzer, Robert. “Crash.” ZNet Daily Commentaries 21 Mar 2006. 18 June 2009

Williams, Kam. “Movie Review: Crash.” Black News 2005. 24 June 2009 .

Copyright 2009 Paul George