Monthly Archives: June 2014

Loving America

Fourth of July is coming up, and I’m faced with my annual question of how to celebrate it. Not what to do, of course. I watch fireworks, eat veggie hot dogs and fit in time to see 1776 either the day before or the day after. What I’m trying to figure out is what the holiday means to me. It’s the birth of my nation, obviously, but how do I feel about that? What does it stir within me? Because when I think about American patriotism, the first thing that comes to mind is Rush Limbaugh talking about how liberals are destroying the greatest nation in the universe, and that’s not really where my head wants to be when I’m celebrating. So I shove patriotism into the back corner of my mind, and try to mindlessly enjoy my non-hot dog.

That approach doesn’t usually go that well. Mindlessly enjoying things isn’t where I usually live. I tend to prefer Overthinking-it-with-peculiar-glee’sville.

In this country, people who talk about loving America usually do it in a way that makes it very hard for me to join in. For one thing, it’s mostly people on the right who do it. The things they say they love about America tend to be deeply rooted in good ol’ white picket fences surrounding heterosexual families with 2.5 kids values.

Traditional American family, complete with gender roles
Traditional American family, complete with gender roles

Rhapsodies on the greatness of our nation tend to either ignore the existence of gay trans men, or point a finger at our kind and accuse us of being out to destroy it. For another, it tends to be deeply invested in seeing America as the greatest nation in the world and the sole promoter of democracy and freedom and apple pie. I look at international statistics about health and education and gun violence, and while we could be doing a lot worse we could also be doing a lot better. Finally, it tends to be couched in highly religious language. It’s one thing to pray for your nation because you personally are both patriotic and religious. I have no problem with that. It’s another thing entirely when someone heartily says “God bless America!” because that’s one of the slogans that everybody says to express patriotic fervor, and I flinch, and then wonder whether it’s more awkward to just let them think I hate my country, or have this be the moment where I out myself as an atheist.

I don’t hate my country. It’s just that I’ve got a sort of conditioned response to wince, for one reason or another, whenever someone starts talking about how much they love America.

I don’t think I have to be religious to care about the place where I live. And I think it’s actually pretty unpatriotic to act as though “I love America” must be equivalent to “I think America is the best place in the world.” Nothing in this world is perfect, and love at it’s best is about accepting the object of love for what it really is now, flaws and all. I love my sister and my best friend and my boyfriend that way. I love the kids I work with and my coworkers and my stories and myself that way. Why shouldn’t I love my country that way? Love that is conditional on the beloved thing being either perfect or better than anything else out there is not love at all. And I very definitely don’t think loving America means being invested on “traditional values” that are actually a pretty recent idea. I think America, like every country and every living civilization and the entire human race, is constantly evolving and loving it isn’t about trying to halt the change and pin it down to one decade, but fervently hope it keeps changing for the better.

1776 is a really great movie, because it makes no attempt to portray the Founding Fathers as perfect, because they weren’t, or as being in accord with their vision of the nation, because they really, really weren’t. It portrays assholes and perverts and slaveholders and lazy fops, it portrays arguments and insults and compromises that we really wish they hadn’t made.

Source; http://inonibird.tumblr.com/post/89916308600/freaking-love-the-musical-1776-and-it-sure-is
Source; http://inonibird.tumblr.com/post/89916308600/freaking-love-the-musical-1776-and-it-sure-is

It shows all this, and yet you still love the characters, and you still want them to succeed in putting this rebellion together so we can have a new nation. You can recognize that even in its sloppy execution, at the heart of their mission is a beautiful and revolutionary idea about government and human rights and freedom. You know that when they succeed, they will be a key part of a global movement away from tyranny and towards independence. They will not be the only country casting off the monarchy, but they will be one of most visibly successful examples, and that will change the way the world works.

Even though the reality still fails to resemble the ideal, it has come to resemble it a lot more over the past couple of centuries. I think that’s fantastic, given that in the entirety of human endeavors, that’s the best we have ever done. We suck at being perfect, but we can do pretty well at getting better when we really put our minds to it.

So, I suppose my question was answered all along. I love America, in a “you’re not perfect, but damn, you try as admirably as I could ask for,” kind of way. You go America! Keep up the hard work. I know things look bad now, but they’ve looked bad in the past and you’ve still managed to get better and better. If that isn’t an expression that most people would recognize as American patriotism, so be it. For those whose beliefs and feelings are perfectly summed up by “God Bless America” they are welcome to it.  For myself I like this song. That’s what my patriotism looks like, and it’s good enough for me.

Why Dr. Connors Failed as a Character

Disclaimer; I do not have a physical disability. What I wrote below was based on experience working with various disabled communities (ASL interpretation and special education), relationships with people who have disabilities (such as my father and ex-boyfriend) and reading the writings of people about their experiences with disability. Take with appropriate quantities of salt.

After my second viewing of The Amazing Spider-man, I decided its main problem was the weakness of its villain. This is not an uncommon opinion. Even those who liked it thought he needed work. However, there is no consensus on what is wrong with him. Theories range from superficial special effects problems to deep rooted character problems. He’s struck a wrong note with almost everyone who watched, but most people can’t explain exactly what that wrong note was. For my part, what stood out was the moment where Dr. Connors went from a disabled scientist who just wanted a cure to a lizard monster intent on turning everyone else into lizard monsters. It was, shall we say, less than coherent. It felt less like a tragic fall of a good man, and more like two characters from different stories superglued together, possibly by a four year old.

The most simple explanation is that the serum he took altered his mind and turned him evil. I believe some events in the sequel support this, although I’d have to watch it again to be sure. In any case, this disturbs me, because from a storytelling perspective it strips the character of all autonomy and reduces him to a diabolus ex machina, while from an activist’s perspective it seems to be equating mental illness with evil. The serum makes you crazy, therefore the serum makes you evil. I think the story also leaves room for a secondary interpretation; the serum doesn’t make you crazy or evil. It makes you impulsive, obsessive and potentially aggressive, but how that manifests depends on who you are as a person. I think it is more than fair to judge the story on that assumption; it’s plausible, it  paints the story in a better light than either of the other options I’ve considered, and frankly if there’s a third conclusion I’m missing I think the writers should exposited it more clearly.

My assumption takes us back to the original problem. First Dr. Connors is nice and humanitarian, and then he is suddenly bent on inflicting every human in New York City with a terrifying transformation, just because he has arbitrarily decided we are better off with the body he likes. What on earth was there in his character to foreshadow this shift?

Well, quite a lot actually. The first words he speaks are “I am not a cripple, I’m a scientist.” To many people, that probably sounded like a powerful, confident statement, but if you look under the surface, it’s actually self-devaluing and fairly creepy, because it’s inaccurate. He is both. He is missing one arm, and he’s also a brilliant, successful scientist; clearly the two are not incompatible. I’ve never heard a famous, successful person with a disability talk about themselves that way. Can you imagine Marlee Matlin saying, “I’m not deaf, I’m an actress,” or Peter Dinklage or David Beckham talking like that about their conditions? You could argue that Dr. Connors doesn’t mean he’s not disabled, he’s only rejecting a label that stigmatizes his medical condition. I don’t buy it. Everything else he says suggests he has a mentality where a disability is not a medical condition that makes one or more aspects of life difficult, but a stain on a person’s value as a person. One of his catchphrases is “everyone is equal,” but he never says it in a way that implies he thinks that is already the case. It’s always in conjunction with dreaming about a world where every ailment is cured, “a world without weakness,” and the outcome of that better world is that “everyone is equal.” As if they aren’t already. As if Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman’s relative value to the world can be judged based on which of them uses a wheelchair. He never actually says disability, which is a frank but clinical and neutral word, and instead favors actively stigmatizing language like “crippled,” “weakness,” and “deformity.” By rejecting his disability so adamantly he is actually suggesting that his real feelings are the reverse. He feels that his disability takes something away from who he is as a scientist, and that he has to push away the one in order to get full credit for the other.

This is not an abstract problem, but a real life, dangerous perception that people with disabilities have to deal with all the time. They are constantly judged, not for what they can do but for what they can’t, not as a gestalt of their goals and fears and strengths and flaws and actions and thoughts and personality, but simply for the sum of their parts. People in wheelchairs are talked to like they are children, even if they are mentally average or above average. Family members try to avoid diagnosing or even discussing a condition because they let fear of the stigma of disability outweigh the need to cope with and overcome it. It is called ableism, and it compounds the difficulties of the lives of people with disabilities every day.

So Dr. Connors, as he is portrayed, comes across as a self-hating ableist. This stretches plausibility a bit, but it’s a potentially interesting characterization, and it lends some coherence to his actions. All along, he was someone who judges human beings and their worth based on their physical ability. Naturally, when exposed to a serum that made him feel physically superior to humanity, he decides the whole human race must partake of it, with no acknowledgement of the rights they have to make decisions about their own bodies. A dehumanizing view of people with disabilities lead to a dehumanizing view of all non-lizard people. However, I don’t think that’s the point we are supposed to get. I think this for two reasons. One is that this movie is not subtle about good guy/bad guy lighting or cuing the villains with scary chords. Dr. Connors is always given good guy music and good guy lighting, until he becomes the Lizard. The second is that nobody ever dissects or challenges his view of disability. They just nod sagely and compassionately.  We aren’t supposed to think there’s something wrong with his attitude towards disability.

So we are back to the same old problem. He’s portrayed as a nice guy who suddenly turns evil for no reason, and there’s an added problem of his holding deeply prejudiced views that are never challenged in-story. This leads into another strange thing I noticed about his portrayal. Pre-transformation, two things are missing; scenes where he doesn’t talk about his disability, and scenes where his disability is shown to impact his life in any negative way. The first is a problem because we never learn about anything beyond “disabled scientist”, the second is a problem because we never learn anything about what his disability is like for him. We can safely assume that it impacts his life, but we never understand how his life with his disability is uniquely his. I assure you, we can’t pretend to begin to know what his life is like just from knowing what his condition is. My Dad’s experience with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis was not like that of the teacher I worked with or my classmate in ASL class. My ex-boyfriend’s deafness was not like my favorite teacher’s Deafness. Tommie’s autism is fairly classic autism, and it’s still not like the autism of any other kid I have worked with. So how am I supposed to understand why Dr. Connors is so preoccupied with his disability if I never see who accepts him and who rejects him, how he copes and in which areas of his life he fails to cope?

In short, Dr. Connors can’t escape being judged as clumsily written, no matter how close you look for inner depth and motivations, and close examination not only fails to turn him into a coherent character, but reveals some indications that his writers probably are more than a little ableist themselves. If they can write him with such a dehumanizing mentality without ever suggesting he’s wrong, maybe it’s because they actually think he’s right. If they make him behave as if the disability is the only important aspect of his life, and then tell us nothing else about that life, it suggests that they tend to assume the only important thing about a disabled person’s life is that they are disabled. What’s interesting to me is that this characterization didn’t just strike a wrong note with me, the person who has received a pretty good education of what disability is and what ableism looks like. In the many reviews I’ve read, nobody liked him. Some hated him, some just thought he was bland, but to everyone he felt off. Ableist mentalities bred a terrible character, and anybody could recognize it.

There are many people trying to pressure Hollywood to do a better job representing women and minorities, to counter stereotypes and increase public understanding and empathy and all that. The main tool used to convince them is the stick. The activists say, “if you write in an ableist, sexist, racist, classist or otherwise prejudiced way, we won’t like you very much. We will think angry thoughts and write stern letters and maybe not even go see your movie.” The whole issue is treated as a tug of war between the pressure to remain politically correct and the desire to write without that pressure. What I think a lot of people on both sides of the tug of war don’t realize is that there’s a carrot here, as well as a stick. Well written characters are entertaining. They do a great job selling a movie. Who is better written, Dr. Connors or Professor X.? Who brings people to the theaters? Who do you think activists like more? There’s a reason the answer to all three is Professor X, and that is that he is a human being, with hopes and flaws and strengths and struggles and a personality. Social justice, at its best, is ultimately about seeing people as people; not as members of homogenous groups or stereotypes or as if one trait can define their whole life, but as people. Good writing is no different.

Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Eight

Chapters ten through thirteen chronicle a brief arc in The Patient’s growth. He makes some new friends, as I mentioned previously, and seems to be on a downward path on account of being in the vicinity of non-believers, but slips through Wormwood’s grasp and reaffirms his faith. The turning point of The Patient’s conversion is a moment of true pleasure; he reads a book he really enjoys and then goes for a walk in a place he really likes. Somehow, this leads to a transcendent moment of religious communion, which utterly undoes Wormwood’s work. Throughout this arc, Screwtape has hammered again and again at the point that pleasure is not a tool of theirs, but of Gods, and he is outraged that Wormwood has ignored the warnings.

In chapter thirteen, he clarifies that what is dangerous to their work is real sensation. They want to lure humans into a state of dullness with the wrong kinds of pleasures; ones that are rooted in a desire to be popular or to be powerful or to be seen to like the “right” kind of things. Real pleasures are a kind of antidote against the superficial pleasures they trade in. “You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for liver and onions.” Furthermore, real pleasures root people in who they are really meant to be, which means allowing humans to indulge real pleasures plays directly into God’s hand. “Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them… Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so. The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him.”

This is a cool idea that makes a kind of intuitive sense. My rational mind is frustrated by my inability to explain the exact mechanism that this works by, but the times that I have felt most kind, most honest, and most like the person I want to be all the time have also been the times I am most genuinely happy. The reverse is often true. Trying to like things because of the people whose approval I’ll win or because I want to be the kind of person who likes this and that, doesn’t tend to bring out my best.

If I were to venture at a potential explanation for how this works, I think there are two things behind that correlation. For one thing, being happy gives us spoons, and the spoons can then be spent on being generous and genuine and empathetic. Denying ourselves the things that really make us happy and trying to be someone we aren’t costs spoons. For another, doing something we really like tends to bring us into contact with people who really like that same thing, and community is a powerful source of positive good, for ourselves and the world at large. I think trying to fit into communities we don’t truly enjoy, that we are only using to win some sort of points, does not tend to produce the kinds of communities that put good things into the world.

So while I dislike (and disagree with) the threat of eternal damnation coming from having a few dinners with an atheist couple, I wholeheartedly like and agree with the idea that doing things we truly enjoy is good for our souls. I also think it’s a great contrast to a stereotypical attitude of religion, particularly as it is practiced in America; the Puritan-derived attitude of “enjoyment is bad because its frivolous and pointless and distracting from God.” I say stereotypical because I have met no shortage of Christians who are the furthest thing in the world from Puritans, and I also think I should point out that the pleasure-equals-sin is a mentality co-opted frequently by the secular world. I had a conversation with my boyfriend recently, and I was trying to come up with a counterexample for our culture’s admonishment of particular kinds of sex. “Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if everyone who enjoyed blank were demonized?” I tried to say, but nothing actually worked. There are whole ad campaigns hinged around making people feel bad for enjoying food. You can only like dancing if you’re a girl. Fashion is for shallow people. The most neutral hobby I could think of, stamp collecting, is for nerds and geeks. And isn’t the whole use of geek as a slur essentially just insulting someone for liking something more than you think they should? Every pleasure is commonly demonized, when it is enjoyed too much or outside of certain parameters, and I wish I could say those parameters are simply  “when it becomes measurably, objectively harmful to you or someone else.” I can’t, because they aren’t.

Which brings me to the sole issue I have with his conclusion. It seems obvious to me that the things a person most genuinely enjoys are going to be subjective and personal. One person loves gourmet food, while another is happy with Kraft mac and cheese but loves rock music. For the former, making an elegant meal for a dinner party is going to be the genuine pleasure that brings out the best in them, and the latter should maybe start a band instead. All the pleasures Lewis mentions are the same sort of thing; very homey and domestic and congruent with a simple English life. It might be a coincidence, but it seems to me, based on other writings of his, that he does think of certain pleasures as being the right ones and others as the wrong ones. I’m fairly certain that if I made a list of things that make me feel wonderful and happy, he would take an issue with, for example, anything I do with my boyfriend. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t say, “go be yourself” and then look down your nose at anyone whose real self isn’t you.

When I was thinking of times I was trying to like things because I thought they were the right things to like, I was thinking of my Christian days. I was thinking of Christian rock and movies I watched not because they were good, but because they didn’t have any sex or swearing. I was thinking of the days when I judged people for showing cleavage. Then one day I made friends with a girl who openly liked gothy, punky, alternative things and talked about sex and supported her LGBT friends. I saw something in her that I wanted to be, and I started doing things that reflected who I felt I was, rather than who I thought I should be. The first step was dying my hair with cobalt blue. I sincerely doubt Lewis would have approved.

Last year I worked with a teacher who liked the Kardashians. I’m not sure whether she liked them as people or just liked the voyeurism of looking in on their lives via TV and tabloids. She dyed her hair and manicured her nails and talked like someone who reads Cosmo without a trace of irony. We worked together with a learning disabled six year old boy who was impulsive, rude and disobedient. He came from a classic broken homes no role models kind of situation. He drove her up the wall, but she never gave up. She met with every expert on tough special needs kids in the building, and tried every idea we came up with. I’ve known teachers who would have hit their limit, decided he was a bad kid and not have spoken a kind word to him the rest of the year. That was never on the table with her. She worked with him all year, and moved up to second grade the next year to keep on working with him. Around November I asked some people about him, and they all said the same thing; he turned around. The biggest trouble anyone’s had with him since the start of the year is getting him to remember his glasses. He’s finally succeeding in school and making friends.

What I’m saying is, I’ve thought some pretty judgmental things about the sorts of people who dig the Kardashians, but where is it written that I get to judge what she likes? If that’s what she needed to destress, to find the energy to change a little boy’s life, then I say to her, enjoy!

Just a Little Water

I’m currently working on two posts that are proving harder to write than I anticipated. It’s one of those cases where the process of writing down my thoughts is causing me to dig deeper into them, which is good, but it’s also delaying their posting quite a bit. In the meantime, there’s a story from work that I’m feeling the urge to share.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I work in a special ed preschool. We are currently in the “do assessments then play because who cares about work its summer bitches!” stage of the year, and in that spirit last Friday was water day. We set up a sprinkler on the playground and filled several plastic tubs with water and bath toys. The next hour was all happy screams and soaking wet chaos.

After a few minutes, we noticed one kid was missing. Tommie (not his real name) was hiding behind the slides. In the past he has had trouble distinguishing between the screams that mean “This is funny and exciting” and the ones that mean “we are scared,” so perhaps he had concluded this water day thing was some unholy torture. Or perhaps he simply thought water belonged in bathtubs and water bottles and getting splashed with it on the playground was incorrect.

Our first attempt to convince him that water was a friend was to invite him onto the swings, which were partially in the path of the sprinkler. During regular playground time it’s one of his favorite activities, and we thought the association might make it fun. The same trick had worked with another kid last year. This time, however, he sat on it for a minute before saying, “Tommie get off? Tommie get off?”

We let him off, and he returned to the refuge of the slides. After giving him a break, one teacher took his hand and gently lead him to the other side of the sprinkler. It was not the sort that went all the way back and forth, but went about halfway up and then down again. She had him on the side where the spray wouldn’t come down on him. She held his hand out so he could feel the water on his fingertips, and see that it wasn’t going to hurt him. At first it seemed to be working, but then he started shaking and she let him go.

I was feeling pretty bad for him at this point, and I thought the least I could do was make him feel good about having tried the water twice. It’s a little hard to know how much language he understands, but I went up to him and did my best. I told him he did a good job trying the water, and I was proud of him. I gave him a big grin and a thumbs up, which he copied. I had that sense of practically seeing the wheels turn in his head, as he tried to piece everything that was going on into a coherent picture. After I felt I had either made my point, or come as close to it as I could, I gave him some space.

A few minutes later, he was slowly creeping up on the sprinkler. He studied the spray, and stuck his fingers back in the jets with the air of a little scientist. I wandered up to him and casually stuck my own fingers in. He watched me, obviously seeing that the water wasn’t hurting me but still on the fence about the whole endeavor. I remembered how much he likes having his feet painted for footprint art, so I stuck my feet over the jets and said, “tickle tickle,” which is what we always say when we are painting.

He immediately copied me, and started grinning.

From then on, he was practically glued to the sprinkler, first sticking his fingers and toes in, and eventually running through it like the rest of his friends were. By the time we had to pack up, he was sitting in one of the tubs and very sad about having to come out. As I was pouring the water out of the tub, I decided he should be rewarded for his bravery. I called him over, and poured it out in front of him; a miniature waterfall for him to play with. Tommie stuck his hands in and splashed the last of the water all over his face, laughing hysterically.

My job is awesome.

 

Discussed Themes

Early on in this blog, I made a post about the question of how to write themes, how I think it’s an under-discussed part of storytelling and why I think they are so hard to talk about. I wrote that with the intent to let my thoughts evolve and return to it again and again. This is my first fulfillment of that promise.

I’ve come up with a system for categorizing themes. It’s probably not the only one that can be devised, just as you can categorize plots in many different ways. It might be one that I end up changing any number of times. But it’s a good start, I hope. My three categories are discussed themes, silent themes, and obscured themes.

Discussed themes are the most easy to identify. The writer puts their point out in plain view by having the characters discuss it. However, the discussion can only be part of it. Otherwise it’s an essay, not a story. The events in the story have to play out the ideas discussed. Stories with discussed themes are like a hypothesis and experiment in science. The characters propose one way of viewing the world, and the subsequent events show whether their view is correct or not.

The discussed theme is the advantage of being clear, but it runs the risk of being didactic or pedantic. The experiment is not blinded, and the writer has the ability to manipulate events to support their own point of view. If the writer cares deeply about the point they have to make, they are tempted to exclude any events from their story that do not demonstrate the point they want to make, and ignore any good arguments against their conclusion. When a debater relies on logical fallacies and appeals to emotion, they suggest that either their ideas are weak, or they don’t really know what they are talking about. It makes their audience distrust them, and by extension, their ideas. In short, a weak argument has the opposite effect it intends on the people it most wants to convince. A strong debater is willing to take on the best arguments of the people who disagree with them. The same goes for a story with a discussed theme.

One of the best examples I can think of a discussed theme done poorly is The Monuments Men. George Clooney makes five or six speeches about how art is valuable and worth saving, even at the cost of lives. What are the counterarguments? There are none. At times it looks like we will get one, when a military official denies the Monuments Men some sort of aid, or when the people Clooney is giving presentations to ask him to justify his mission. But they are never allowed to be eloquent on their own behalf. They are walking invitations for Clooney to express the Official Theme of the Movie, and he is always given the last word. The events of the film are similarly biased in his favor. People die for the works of art, but all of them are Monuments Men. This is not a strong challenge to Clooney’s position, because all of them eagerly volunteered for the work and none of them expressed the slightest doubt as to the value of their work. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking “this movie needs a gruff yet lovable private, sent to guide these clueless professors through enemy lines. He can’t agree with their mission; he’s just doing it because those are his orders. And he needs to die. Then we will see how confidently the next speech on the value of art is delivered.”

I didn’t think this because I disagreed with a single word Clooney was saying. In fact, I agree with him. If I were living under a totalitarian government that was trying to eradicate oppositional by burning books it disliked, I damn well hope I would have the courage to hide King Lear and the Tao Te Ching and Calvin and Hobbes. If I died making sure just one of these were preserved for future generations, I would consider it a good death (even for Calvin and Hobbes. Especially for Calvin and Hobbes). I would love it if their story sparked a massive dialog about the value of art to the human race and what measures we should take to protect it, but because the story was clumsy and artless in its execution, it was dismissed, along with its idea. That is what frustrates me.

A perfect counterexample is Jurassic Park. I can think of more sophisticated examples, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Fiddler on the Roof, but the first one that came to mind was Jurassic Park, and it’s the one I’m going to use, precisely because it is so much the opposite of The Monuments Men. One was Oscar bait, the other was light summer fare. One is historically based, the other soft science fiction. One was expected to make a point, and the other one actually did. The theme of Jurassic Park is, “be humble when playing around with nature. We are fallible, and playing around with things we think we understand but don’t can have disastrous consequences.”

The story is pretty simple. A billionaire uses cutting edge science to clone dinosaurs for a theme park. Stuff goes wrong, the dinosaurs break out and everyone gets eaten except for a few plucky heroes who escape. The story, as it is laid out, seems like it could be very simplistic anti-science action thriller. But the complexity starts with the debates. During the first discussion, between the scientists and the billionaire, chaotician Ian Malcolm isn’t allowed to stick with simple put downs like “the lack of humility that’s being displayed here is staggering.” Hamilton, the billionaire, comes back with challenges. Would Malcolm have such a problem with cloning if Hamilton was doing this with endangered species like condors, or extinct ones like the dodo? Aren’t there wonderful implications in his work for discovery and education? Malcolm has to think his arguments through more thoroughly, because he is being presented not with the worst arguments against his position, but the best ones the writers could come up with. Nor do the writers use the cheat of making Malcolm’s opponent a greedy, unlikeable character. Hamilton is kind, funny and grandfatherly. While he stands to profit, he cares less about that and more by the genuine joy of making people happy. I liked both characters, and I thought they both made good points.

Although you wouldn’t expect it from a simple summary, the events continue to grant points to both sides. Science got them into this mess, but without their technology they hardly would have gotten out alive. In between the scenes of danger, there are many pleasant, beautiful, awe-inspiring moments between the humans and the dinosaurs. Without Hamilton’s meddling, those scenes would not have been possible. The movie still declares Malcolm the official winner, but the overall perspective presented is complex and nuanced.

As a result, even though it’s primarily a fun action film, I was left thinking a good deal about the ideas contained in the film. Even today, when I think about the uses and misuses of science, scenes from Jurassic Park drift through my mind. That is the sign of a good theme; it leaves you thinking about it for a long time afterwards, whether you agree or disagree. Here’s the funny thing. Although I agree with the points made by Jurassic Park, watching it doesn’t motivate me to sign petitions banning cloning research. It makes me more excited than ever about the things we can achieve. It wakes my mind up to the wonders that are out there and how we can use science to reach them. It comforts me to think that even if, in our overeager curiosity, we unleash a herd of hungry velociraptors, maybe we will have enough creativity and resilience to get to the chopper out of there. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

As I said in my last post, theme the part of the story that is most dependent on the audience. Maybe you’ll put in all the work for an audience that largely just cares about how many people get eaten by the cool giant lizards. Maybe you’ll find that, after all the work you put into showcasing a great debate, you haven’t convinced your audience of your point but rather eloquently argued your opponent’s position. It takes humility to write a good theme, because more so than any other part of your writing, the theme is not about you and the story you want to write, but about ideas and truth. Maybe it’s okay to have been wrong, if by being wrong in the right way, you end up directing a larger part of the world towards what is right.

Coming up next; silent themes.