“Fences” and “Hidden Figures”: Finding Purpose in Unexpected Places

By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileTwo recent films, each nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, help white America understand the challenges and struggles of black America from different perspectives. On the one hand, “Fences” is a story that shines a light on the challenges and issues faced by black families in the 1950s. On the other hand, in “Hidden Figures,” we have Hollywood telling the amazing story of three immensely talented black women who made invaluable contributions to NASA and the American space program.

August Wilson has been called one of the finest American playwrights of the 20th century. His plays have highlighted and brought to life African Americans in everyday roles dealing with everyday issues including love, struggle, duty, and betrayal. The impetus behind his plays was so white Americans could begin to see African Americans in a different light; see them dealing with the same issues that define life for most whites so that whites just might treat African Americans differently. “Fences” was one of his best-known plays for which he received both a Pulitzer and a Tony award.  In 2016, “Fences” came to the big screen directed by Denzel Washington.

“Fences” is the story of Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh.  Portrayed passionately by Denzel Washington, Maxson is a bitter man whose dream of becoming a professional baseball player died early on because he was too old by the time Major League  Baseball began admitting black players. As a result, after spending time in prison, he now struggles with his own ambitions to find success in his job and as a man needing to feel vibrant and loved. Yet, he looks for this, as the proverbial song says, “in all the wrong places.”

His main support is his long-suffering wife, Rose, played brilliantly by Viola Davis, who won the 2010 Tony for best actress in the role and the 2017 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the same role (her Oscar acceptance speech was deeply moving).

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Resentment, Multiculturalism and Identity Politics

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By David Eaton

david_eatonDuring the post-World War II era the influence of multiculturalism and identity politics in the West became a pervasive and potent force in politics, academia, sociology, and culture. So-called “social justice warriors” (SJWs) have taken activism on a variety of issues — race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences — to such extremes that it is near impossible to engage in reasoned debate or discussion without finding oneself mired in invective-laden exchanges drenched in political correctness.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that the term “identity politics”

“…has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination.”

There is an emphasis on the need for various social groups to use political means to attain social justice — justice not necessarily based on principle or universal truths, but rather on “political formulations” or an affiliation with a particular political party that will legislate according to a specific set of concerns. Current iterations of multiculturalism and identity politics can be traced to Marxism and the Cold War, particularly the Marxist ideological tenets of the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, known as the Frankfurt School.

As the Industrial Revolution led to the emergence of a substantial upwardly mobile middle class, the issue of economic disparity between rich and poor — a main Marxist premise — began to dissipate, hence the revolutionary urges exploited by earlier Marxist revolutionaries were mitigated.

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“Jackie”: The Legacy of Camelot

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileThose of us of a certain age will never forget what we were doing on that fateful day — November 22, 1963 — when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.

I certainly remember where I was on that rainy day. I was returning to my fifth grade classroom with my classmates after having attended our weekly religious education class. For the next week, my parents and I followed the television coverage chronicling the events leading up to President Kennedy’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The assassination of JFK will remain one of those iconic moments in American history. All of these memories came back to me while watching “Jackie,” a new film starring Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy and directed by Pablo Larrain.

“Jackie” allows us to get a glimpse of what Jacqueline Kennedy may have been like those first few days after her husband’s death. She tells her story through the lens of journalist Theodore H. White’s interview in Life magazine conducted with the former First Lady shortly after she moved out of the White House.

White had been contacted by Mrs. Kennedy to write her story because of what she believed were unflattering and hurtful news stories written about her immediately after the assassination. The guarded and intensely private woman that the American public saw is juxtaposed with a picture of a very real, very human woman who had just experienced a brutal and violent end to her larger-than-life husband.

Throughout the film, Jackie struggles with finding meaning in what she witnessed while also needing to redefine not only her husband’s legacy but also who she is now that she is no longer First Lady. As she goes about arranging her husband’s funeral while also going through their living quarters at the White House in preparation for moving out, Portman shows a woman on an emotional roller coaster, unable to find her emotional rudder — chain smoking and drinking as a way to cope late at night when no one can see.

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“Collateral Beauty”: A Conversation with Time, Death and Love

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileThe death of a child is probably the most devastating experience a parent can go through. This is made all the more devastating when the child is very young and has just begun to spread his or her wings.

This is the experience of Howard Inlet (Will Smith) in the new film “Collateral Beauty.” Howard’s whole life has been turned upside down with the death of his six-year old daughter. Unable to deal with her death, Inlet, once the creative force behind a successful New York advertising agency, withdraws completely from life. Over the year following her death, he only comes to the office to create massive and intricate domino-like designs that he proceeds to topple once the masterpiece is complete. He retreats so far into his grief that he does not eat or sleep, does not communicate with his business partners and friends, sits alone in a dark apartment, and cycles recklessly through the city day in and day out.

During one of his daily cycling rides, Howard appears to stumble on a support group for parents who have lost a child. He finds himself periodically sitting in on their meetings only to leave if asked to share about his experience. Over time, he begins conversing with the group’s director (Naomie Harris) who also lost a child, a six-year old daughter, to cancer. It is during one of their conversations that she shares a concept that helped get her through her grief. This concept is the phrase “collateral beauty.” As she describes it, collateral beauty is recognizing the possibilities of meaning and beauty that are all around us even in the midst of death and pain. But Inlet cannot move past the pain of his loss and cannot or will not acknowledge what happened to his daughter.

Trying to salvage a now-suffering business and also wanting to reach out to their friend, Howard’s business partners Claire (Kate Winslet), Whit (Edward Norton) and Simon (Michael Peña) take the drastic step of hiring a private detective to follow Howard in the hope of obtaining evidence that can be used to force him to turn over his controlling stock in the agency.

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“Loving”: Outlawing Love and Marriage

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileI am a romantic. Like many romantics, we like to believe that when two people share a deep and abiding love, there should be no problem why they cannot have a happy marriage. Unfortunately, we have come to see this is not always the case – especially when the two people are racially diverse. This is because we still live in a world that is racially charged and racially divided. Racism seems to be one of the most intractable problems to solve. Our inability to see “the other” as an equal, as our neighbor and as fully human, has plagued us since the beginning of the human race.

Nowhere is the challenge of racism more evident than in the movie “Loving,” written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and nominated for two Golden Globes in acting. Loving tells the story of an interracial couple living in pre-civil rights, 1950s Virginia, who ultimately became the center of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that addressed the unconstitutionality of the anti-miscegenation law of Virginia and those of 24 other states (Loving v. Virginia).

Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white construction worker, and his wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga) a black woman, begin their arduous legal journey with the simple act of getting married in 1956 and creating a home in rural Caroline County in northeastern Virginia. Though they are legally married in the District of Columbia, their home is in Virginia and such an act is illegal under Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law.

It does not take long before news of their interracial marriage spreads, resulting in the couple’s arrest in the middle of the night after local police raid their home. When their case comes before the judge, the Lovings are given two options if they want to avoid prison: divorce immediately or plead guilty and leave their home and family in Virginia and not return for a minimum of 25 years. Though expecting their first child, the Lovings plead guilty and move to Washington, DC – leaving behind everyone they love and hold dear.

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The Rise and Fall of the World’s First Global Holiday

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By Ronald J. Brown

Ronald_BrownJesus may have been born in Bethlehem, but it was the City of New York that transformed the traditional day of his birth, December 25, into a national, and eventually global, holiday season.

The evolution of the Christian religious holiday of Jesus’ birth into a secular global holiday that embraces all religions, cultures and traditions is a unique example of the emergence of a global culture. Yet, today, the planet’s first global holiday is under siege from all sides and may not long endure.

The Need for a Unifying Secular Holiday

Compared to Spain, England, France, and Russia, the newly established United States of America in the late 18th century had no history, no national language, no national religions, no national identity, and no national culture.

Washington Irving, of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” fame, recognized the potential of the holiday as a force capable of uniting the northern and southern colonies, old family Knickerbockers and new Irish and German immigrants, upper and lower social classes, and rich and poor. He described how the celebration of Christmas in England bridged class and wealth and contributed to a stable and happy country. He stressed the holiday as one that not only transcended all social classes and could unite all New Yorkers and Americans, but transcended all religions as well.

Yet, as late as 1855, the grow­ing Christmas holiday was still shunned by many churches as a pagan festival.

Nonetheless, during the Civil War, Christmas emerged as a secu­lar symbol of American nationalism. In 1870, Congress de­clared Christmas a holiday for federal employees in Washington, DC, and in 1885 ex­ten­ded the holiday to all federal employ­ees.

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Creativity, Music and Sexuality

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By David Eaton

david_eatonI recently received a complimentary issue of classical music magazine, Listen. Of interest was the cover story wasn’t about a current firebrand on the classical music scene such as dynamic conductor Gustavo Dudamel or soprano Anna Netrebko. Nor was it about iconic figures of the past: Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan or Maria Callas. The cover story was about none other than pop music icon, Sting.

Anyone familiar with Sting’s musical career knows he has been venturing into the realm of classical music for some time. His recording of the role of Joseph the soldier in Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, with Kent Nagano conducting the London Sinfonietta, dates from 1988. In recent years, he has recorded the music of the English Renaissance composer, John Dowland, and is attempting to master the lute, Dowland’s primary instrument and the precursor to the modern guitar. In 2010, he recorded orchestral covers of songs from his Police days with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Symphonicities).

In his Listen interview, Sting referred to the lives and music of Robert and Clara Schumann, perhaps the most famous couple in the annals of Western classical music history; both were talented composers and pianists. Sting cites a letter by Robert in which the composer refers to music as being “nothing more than resonant light.” Sting observes: “I think resonant light is exactly right; scientifically, it’s a waveform just as light, just a different part of the spectrum. I don’t know whether he knew that or whether it was just a poetic intuitive image, but certainly it’s true scientifically.”

Speaking to the metaphysical and spiritual aspects of music, Sting states, “If I have a spiritual life, [it] is one of music. I seem to be, through music, in touch with something bigger than myself or bigger than the material world; it’s a spiritual path.”

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Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileAt a time in which we see horrific images of atrocities committed in the name of religion, the new film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” provides us with a different story. It is about a young man who, because of his faith, refuses to kill and commit atrocities. “Hacksaw Ridge” is director Mel Gibson’s new biopic film that tells the story of Pfc. Desmond Doss who became the first person to win the Congressional Medal of Honor without firing a single shot and without even holding a gun.

Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, is a conscientious objector during World War II who enlists because he believes it is his patriotic duty. However, rather than enlist as a soldier, his plan is to enlist and serve as a medic so he can save lives rather than take them. While his plan seems simple and straightforward, Doss faces two clear obstacles. One, to serve as a medic, he has to pass basic training, which requires handling a rifle. Second, he has to survive basic training with the intense attitudes and feelings of the other soldiers and commanding officers who simply do not understand someone willing to enlist but not willing to kill the enemy during war.

After Pearl Harbor, many young men were filled with rage and extreme patriotism. As we are introduced to Doss’ fellow soldiers, we see young men eager to respond to the threat posed by Japan and Germany, men eager to prove themselves in battle. It is this type of bravado that makes it hard for soldiers to understand or respect anyone who doesn’t feel the same way. As Gibson’s film makes clear, at a time when many Americans wanted revenge for that fateful day in December 1941, it was hard to believe that an able-bodied American did not want to fight and show the world that he was a true patriotic American.

Through the first half of the film, Doss’ constant battles for acceptance among his fellow soldiers are interspersed with flashbacks that give insight into how a simple young man from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia became a conscientious objector.

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You Say You Want a Revolution?

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By David Eaton

david_eatonIn our current election cycle, we hear the customary calls for “change,” “moving forward,” and getting away from the debilitating “status quo.” Speech after speech is laced with calls for social and political revolution as candidates of both major political parties, as well as a few political outliers, vie for the presidency. Yes, change is necessary, but as we observe, everyone believes in change but no one wants to change what they believe.

Regardless of political affiliation, those seeking the highest political office view government as inimical to effecting change in the manner they consider most beneficial to the common good. Limiting government overreach is a concern of traditional conservatism while expanding the role of government is the aim of the present iteration of liberalism. This is an important debate, however. Whatever side of the political spectrum one chooses to identify with, protecting our civil liberties remains a significant issue.

The advocacy to utilize government censure as a way to achieve social justice is fundamentally at odds with our Constitution, not to mention Divine Principle. Regardless of what one may think about women’s, voters’ and minority rights, etc., we intuit that when freedom is diminished or oppressed, regardless of intention, our portions of responsibility cannot be exercised in a principled fashion and love becomes a casualty. Yet the impulse to coerce via governmental authority has become part and parcel of liberal, progressive orthodoxy when it comes to social matters.

As Charles Krauthammer reminds us, John Stuart Mill — one of the first liberals of the 19th century — argued in his essays, On Liberty, that “truth emerges from an unfettered competition of ideas,” and we improve our individual character when we are allowed to develop our ideas in a free and open society without coercion. Free speech zones, prohibitions on religious belief, ruling by judicial fiat — Mill would consider these to be an affront to a truly liberal society and a shift toward a dystopian culture. Today’s postmodern iteration of liberalism is a far cry from that of Mill, or even that of senators Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, or House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

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