Friday, June 23, 2006

Toni Morrison and more

What makes Toni Morrison such an important American writer? She is better than anybody I've read at showing how racism and institutional oppression becomes internalized in the oppressed. In The Bluest Eye, there are examples of clear racism of whites toward blacks--but the focus of the novel isn't on these clear-cut examples of repulsive prejudice and behavior, but on the internal effect such prejudice and behavior can have. As I'm finishing up Beloved (not as good as The Bluest Eye, but as it is clearly about the legacy of slavery, many seem to see it as the more important book. I'm not sure it is...but I'm not sure it isn't), again I see that there are overt forms of racism and oppression being described--but the thrust of the novel seems to be on the effect of this oppression on black people, and the internal lives of those who suffer such experiences. And Morrison's style and insight does the trick of showing us the internal experience.

Is the ability to show internal experience the difference between entertainment and art? If so, then film is an inferior artform to literature, to "art art" (paintings and sculptures), and even, yes, television. Often in film, time limits require that great changes occuring in a character (and great changes in people often develop slowly over time) must be symbolized in shorter, quicker changes. In many films, the internal change a character quickly goes through can seem inauthentic--it must be shown too quickly. Novels can show this. TV series can show this. Visual art, perhaps, doesn't show the change, but tries to make physical and visual that internal, and the great artists succeed. And yet, a film is more likely to make me cry than any other film.

Speaking of crying during film, a second viewing of Brokeback Mountain helped me to understand the effect this film had on me. This is a movie about...

(here it comes)


It's not just about the homosexual relationship; it's about all sorts of expectations and pressures placed on men in America. It is brilliant. I think on the first viewing I was able to feel how the movie presented this; after the second viewing, after much time and thought and the commentary of others, I have been able to think about it. The expectations involving work, family, physicality, expression of emotion,'s all there. If you want to explore this further, do a little research into why the NFL didn't allow the filmmakers to use footage of their games during the Thanksgiving meal scene involving Jack Twist, his son, and his father-in-law.

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