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As it Turns Out, America’s Racial Problems Are Not All That Bad

 WHAT REALLY DIVIDES US IS PREJUDICE

A meme with a man talking to son about racism and prejudice

 

Stated simply, prejudice is pre-judging another person for their values, looks, or behaviors. Humans use these judgments as psychological placeholders. We categorize people to help us evaluate their inner character and estimate their intentions toward us. As such, there is a whole range of prejudices one may harbor, as people commonly prefer to be around people who are like them (homophily) and, thus, not as keen to hang out with people who are different (heterophily).

In light of recent events, some have found great advantage in re-labeling all prejudice as racist. Activists have loudly argued that racism is a systemic, compelling—yet often unconscious—prejudice against people wearing other skin colors. Taking their cue to do some soul searching, I have only found that as a white male, I do not regularly practice bias against others based on the color of their skin. But you will have to take my word for it.

Nevertheless, I discovered that I am prejudiced. I freely admit it—I practice discrimination against other people every moment of every day.

And so do you. We all do.

Like every other human on earth, there are things I like and other things for which I do not care. For example, I enjoy my property, and I am highly prejudiced against anyone who would take from me what is rightfully mine. I worked for it—they did not.

Similarly, I harbor prejudice against selfish people. In fear of being judged the same way, I try to practice generosity so that no one will easily discriminate against me on that same account. Furthermore, I am prejudiced against people who find ways to avoid hard and honest work. That goes for the rich wall-street investor and the bum alike, white-collar or blue.

As I self-examine, I see that I also harbor extreme prejudice against bullies and thugs—those folks who demand their way and throw temper tantrums when people try to stand up to them. I discriminate especially against those who would use coercive and violent force to marginalize others. I disrespect people who disrespect the law and our elected authorities.

These days, I am also annoyed by people who think they can read my mind or believe they are more qualified than me to determine what I like or dislike—and those who think they know all about the privilege I've enjoyed (brother, your envy is showing). I am biased against those who tell me I am merely like the fish in the ocean that is too stupid to realize he is all wet. If you knew me, you would know that I am not a clueless enabler of some hate group (sister, your prejudice is showing).

Last time I checked, bullies come in all skin colors, from many cultures, and are of various ages; they can be Democrat or Republican, college-educated, or drop-outs; they can be rich or poor. Oddly enough, I am more willing to tolerate the differences of ideology, class, culture—and yes, even race—much more comfortably than I can tolerate a sharp contrast in personality.

On the other hand, I am positively prejudiced toward those who like calm dialectic and reasoned responses to refine our best practices in a free society. I respect those who have endured many slings and arrows and still manage to carry on with grace and forgiveness and without any notion of revenge. You are my heroes!

We are all prejudiced. (I write that last sentence with some irony in that even my grammar check program just now suggested that I substitute the word racist for the word prejudice.) It is impossible not to discriminate as we bridge life's gaps and try to make sense of the world.

The real problem is that we often keep using our prejudices long after their expiration dates. A healthy soul will reconsider, re-evaluate, and check their signals before they reapply a prejudice in a new situation. Is it still valid? Does it reliably help one make sense of others' values and behaviors?

Here is the truth, my deepest confession: I will hopelessly continue to be highly prejudiced against jerks. So reprimand me if you have taken offense. Shut me down. Silence my voice. Do what you must. But know that at least I am one white male citizen who can freely admit his real prejudice.

©Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

The Curative Serum

An Allegory About Disease

©Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

With all the talk about the disease de jour, we should never forget that there is another disease still running its unstoppable course, the most nefarious malady of all time. While one seldom hears in the news about its spread, this disease is fatal in that it deprives the infected of life. And yes, it is highly contagious due to our shared genealogy—all humans everywhere are at risk since it is transmitted at birth. It is impossible to avoid catching and spreading it.

Virus cells, man sneezing

The good news is that it is curable.

Centuries ago, the authorities issued a 10-part protocol on how to keep the disease at bay, but no one was able to live out those rather strict rules for hygiene and health. In more recent times, a new treatment has proven to be 100% effective, and it costs the patient nothing. The serum comes from the rare blood of one single Donor. It is so rare that no one can find a match. Records show that so much blood was drawn from this man that he died—though those who take the cure seem to come under the impression that he has been regenerated somehow. This may be true because, despite the rarity, the supply of this curative serum seems strangely unlimited.

There have been reports by those cured that the treatment is remarkably painless and enjoyable—but they can only realize this truth after the procedure is finished. In the moment, most people report an agonizing discomfort and a burdening sense of shame.

As such, there are many infected people who are hesitant to take the proven treatment for various reasons. The untreated may perceive such a cure to be worse than the disease. Others will claim the procedure is too naively simple, too inconvenient, or even unnecessary.

Still, there are even others who still bet on their ability to meet the standard protocol. On the other hand, there is a growing number of infected who just simply give up and embrace their disease—even to the point of proclaiming that their hopeless and joyless choice is actually more healthy and satisfying.

Meanwhile, scientists continue spending billions of dollars in research to bring expensive synthetic treatments to market. There are a host of medical salespersons who tout everything from exercise, to special diets, to a range of psychotherapies as the real cure. Meanwhile, those who suspect they are infected will often find ways to self-medicate. People become so immersed in such homeopathic remedies that they begin to experience a common hysteria—the impression that they are well and immune.

All these rumors are perpetuated in the news as well as in many of our pop-cultural narratives. Still, only in death will the true course of the disease be made known. And only in death will those remedies be found inadequate.

As stated before, the procedure is rather uncomfortable. One must be in the presence of the Doctor who requires one to disrobe completely—no clothes or adornments can hide one from His probing examination. The examining room is cold and lit brightly. It is common for patients to report that they sense other people watching as they stand before the Doctor, judging every flaw in their ridiculously pathetic naked body. Others resist the Doctor's commands to bare themselves. As such, there are many stories of long struggles with the Doctor who must forcefully take away everything the patient brings into the examining room.

The symptoms of this disease are varied, but the most common one is that the infected have no joy or hope. And even many among those treated with the cure will report the lingering or recurring symptoms of this disease for the rest of their lives. Oddly enough, infected people often don't realize that there are treatment centers scattered almost everywhere across the globe. Even the cured come in for regular treatments, even though their presence serves more of a reminder to the fact that they have already tasted the serum. This booster is particularly helpful when the ghost symptoms of the disease cause doubt.

The fact that many tend to put on their old clothes after undergoing the procedure is likely the cause of the lingering ghost symptoms. A clean new wardrobe is offered to every patient after treatment, but some think they can't afford it. Others simply prefer the fit of their old clothes. In spite of one's choices, people should know that the treatment centers remain open to address both the real and ghost symptoms of this disease.

With other diseases, social distancing is a way to contain the virus. Yet with this disease—this, the most contagious, most terminal disease the world has ever known—the Doctor commands his cured do just the opposite. We can never distance ourselves from our family, friends, and neighbors who are infected.

In all cases, the cure works. The serum is powerful. It always has been, and it always will be effective against whatever new strain is discovered—though it is unlikely any new virus will be discovered under the sun that hasn't already been tested and destroyed.

THE FILMMAKER’S PRAYER: CINEMA & RELIGION by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Excerpt from THE FILMMAKER'S PRAYER

© Philip J. Hohle

     . . . According to Barna and Gallup polls, most of the residents in the U.S. are religious—or at least, we claim Christianity or some other mainstream faith-based worldview. Is it not strange then, that filmmakers often avoid addressing anything serious about religion in their movies?  At times, religion does play some positive minor role in the plot, but religiosity is more often the cause of the antagonist’s opposition to the less-religious protagonist than the reverse. It has become self-evident; religion is too complicated or fragmented for a scriptwriter to use as background for her characters. In making a character too religious, the writer runs the risk of losing some of the consubstantiation a viewer needs in order to like a character.

     In spite of filmmaker’s reluctance to make the celluloid sacred, I will argue in this book that films are full of religion. Both unconsciously and consciously, filmmakers infuse religion into the story in subtle ways, which can be missed unless the viewer is able to interpret the film on a less conventional level. Furthermore, I propose that if the viewer is not aware of the filmmaker’s religious sense-making within their created world, they are more subject to influence or even conversion. Considering the power of film, one can argue that the filmmaker is today’s tent-revival evangelist. But of course, most of this influence is worked in the unconscious and not always recognized in a conventional read of the film.

   In reading on, there will be some terms I use often that help shape the argument. As a matter of fact, Cinema & Religion is the sequel to Lenses, my previous book revealing ten perspectives one can use to interpret and make sense of movie narratives. . . .

[section omitted]

. . . This brings us back to the fundamental premise of this book. Films are full of ideology, and that ideology is often an identifiable worldview that is promoted as passionately as any religion. In these pages, we will compare the values, assumptions, and beliefs represented in films that, not only entertain us, but they comfort or disrupt us; they instruct and motivate us; they help us make sense of our lives. I hope that sounds like religion to you.

This book will:

  • Identify the key religious themes commonly found in narratives.
  • Show how these themes can be found and examined in a film.
  • Illustrate how the religious perspective will reinterpret the role and function of characters, the meaning of signs, and even the plot found in a movie.
  • Help the reader compare and contrast the ideological messages some popular movies to the divine story in Christianity.
  • Advance your emerging fluency as a lay critic, becoming more confident in recognizing the ideology and theology of a film.
  • Help you find a voice in communicating a case for its value or lack of value to our world. Ultimately, you can help shape the conversation over the film’s contribution to our culture’s grand narrative.
  • Motivate you to respond to an exigence (an urgent issue) raised by the film viewing experience.
  • Affirm and strengthen your appreciation for the power of film and the ability of the filmmaker to bring the viewer to experience transcendence in the story.

LENSES: Ten Ways to Interpret the Movies You Love (and some you hated) by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

LENSES book cover man with film running in his head

Excerpt from the Introduction

© Philip J. Hohle

...This remarkable influence is why it is so vital that viewers learn to read film. It is not so we can all have the same interpretation. I think of the old school literature professor who refuses to recognize any alternative interpretation of a classic poem. Recall the first literature class John Keating has with his students in Dead Poet’s Society4. Keating has his students rip out pages in the textbook that proposed the goodness and truth of a poem could be measured scientifically—leading to a singular, objective interpretation.

Conversely, the lessons in this book serve more like a guide to make us more sensitive—more aware of both the effect proposed by the filmmaker (e.g., the film craft as a noun) as well as the affect film has on us (as in a verb). In becoming literate, we become aware of the power we give film. But do not worry that your nuanced sensitivity will spoil your enjoyment—not like how a backstage tour of Disneyland diminishes the magic. Instead, I argue our literacy makes film even more powerful. We become more aware of the subtleties most viewers miss. Knowing more about the craft makes one appreciate it so much more when the film is indeed well made.

     Becoming fluent means you can help others toward a higher appreciation of such well-made movies. Fluency for me means one can interpret film for the benefit of others—to heighten their own literacy. This increased competency can mean you will more fully love the good movies you love. Likewise, you will help open other’s eyes to seeing disruptive films for what they really are. To our friends, parents, children, and the stranger in line at the film festival— we are critics. And the more fluent we are, the more we provide useful lenses for others to use.

Lenses are what this book is finally all about—ten sets of glasses one can try on in order to make sense of a film. Metaphorically, this book is an exercise in showing the changes of hue and texture each lens affords. Thus, selecting an appropriate lens becomes critical to a fulfilling and helpful critique of a film. Not only will each lens reveal a different story in the same movie, each person also employs personal filters that may blur or sharpen what the filmmaker intended. Being aware of one’s filters can reveal something about us as they simultaneously serve to help illuminate the film...

4. Dead Poet’s Society, directed by Peter Weir (1989; Touchstone Home Entertainment, 2012), BluRay.

Find this book on AMAZON in both paperback and eReader editions.

2020 Cinema and Religion

2020 Cinema & Religion Series Marks Seventh Season

Classic movie stars on screen seeming to argue about religion.

Thanks to our dedicated patrons and participants, the Cinema & Religion will again be offered this Spring on Monday nights at the Moviehouse & Eatery in the Trails of 620 shopping center on RR620. The series is an informal class for the community offered in conjunction with a college course at Concordia University.

Now in its seventh season, this informal class is produced by film scholars Dr. Philip J. Hohle and Dr. Jake Youmans. Hohle is a professor of Mass Media at Mary Hardin-Baylor University. A member of the prestigious Society for the Cognitive Study of the Moving Image, Hohle has authored two books on viewer responses to movies. Youmans is a professor of religious studies at Concordia University Texas. He also has published works on the religious implications found in popular films.

In The Filmmaker's Prayer: Cinema & Religion, Hohle argues that virtually all movies project a surprising degree of religiosity. “Most good films subtly express a certain worldview, a statement about the human condition—Who am I? Am I a good person? What is my redeeming purpose in life? Certainly, those are some of the fundamental questions of religion, and many movies invite an examination from that perspective. If we don’t, we miss some profound ideas and lessons.” Noted Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Seminary, Dr. Robert Johnson has stated that the cinema’s storytellers have become the new priests of our culture. As such, the movie theater has become another great competitor for the church because great movies inspire people in profound ways.

The ten-week class is sponsored by Parabolic Media and Concordia University Texas. The course concept is similar in approach to an ESL class for non-native speakers of English, but in this case, it is entertainment as a second language. This series was designed to help viewers develop a higher sense of media literacy and fluency in interpreting the films they see. Similarly, Cinema & Religion is designed for anyone who wants to develop a higher awareness or appreciation for the inspirational power of movies.

A reduced registration fee of $50 includes a choice of Youman's and Hohle's books, including The Filmmaker's Prayer, which was written as support for this course. The course will feature ten free screenings of selected films at the Moviehouse each week. Every movie is followed by an open discussion led by Hohle and Youmans. “There is no better setting to truly consider the richness of the film narrative than in a comfortable movie theater with an audience,” Hohle said. “While our respondents primarily speak through the lens of Christianity, we really learn from each other as we take the time afterward to unpack and share the personal religious experience the film provides for each of us.”

The series begins on February 3 and runs through April 13 (no class on March 9). REGISTER BELOW NOW BEFORE THE CLASS IS FILLED.

For more information, email philip@parabolicmedia.com or visit the frequently asked questions page.

LEADING FROM THE BOTTOM by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Book Cover bird pooping on another bird below.

Excerpt from Leading from the Bottom

© 2018 Philip J. Hohle

. . . I had to write this book because it is time to debunk four fundamental myths about organizations and leadership:

1. Leadership does not exist unless the organization bestows it.
2. Leadership is contained in the actions of those entitled to lead.
3. The qualities of the leader are more important than the qualities of the follower.
4. The will to lead is stronger than the choice to follow.

In exploring these myths, I hope you will obtain a sense of catharsis and even liberation as you reflect on the relationship you had with those organizations that broke your heart.

Just so we are calibrated from the start, let me assure you this book will not become a self-indulgent exercise in whining or an incessant licking of old wounds. That being said, this book will be a sense-making exercise for anyone who risked their wellbeing in serving an organization and came away less than fulfilled. While that includes pretty much all of us, I wrote this book for those who are somewhat heartbroken from the experience—not because your résumé now has an indelible stain, but merely because you loved that organization and you desperately wanted to contribute to the mission and make it better. And you failed—or maybe, the organization failed you.

[Part omitted]

     It matters not if you are leading in such an organization now, or one who once led, or one who may someday lead to one degree or another—this book will speak to you. It is for anyone who really wants to know what combination of variables converged and interacted to disrupt the mission—even if you were one of those disruptions. After all, who of us is entirely innocent? This book is for you if:

  • You have served in an underperforming or dysfunctional organization.
  • You have found your own leadership efforts stymied.
  • You are living in the hell of having tons of responsibility without any concomitant authority. No one trusts you.
  • You find yourself being forced to serve an alternative mission, one quite strange and different from the explicit purpose that attracted you to the organization.
  • You have been discarded by an organization you wanted very much to serve.
  • Your beloved organization has broken your heart.

[Part omitted]

   Unless you are a star-crossed newbie, I expect you have sensed this paradox: Humans are so fundamentally flawed it is a wonder people can cooperate well enough to work on a shared mission goal, much less become successful at it. Divorce happens! Like realizing an idyllic marriage has gone wrong, from time to time many of us have come to the stark realization that we no longer are a good fit for our once-cherished store, restaurant, manufacturing plant, church, school, or community group. Perhaps you had an epiphany that they are no longer good for you. Whichever; you put on your big-kid pants and left, but the questions and regrets linger.

This book should help.

Find this book on AMAZON.

Fall 2019 Movies

Lenses: Entertainment as a Second Language

The title of the movie we select for discussion will be posted here one week in advance (including starting time and theater number).

Nov. 18th, 6:00 PM, Theater 2

Jojo Rabbit

From IMDB [Fox Searchlight] "Writer director Taika Waititi (THOR: RAGNAROK, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE), brings his signature style of humor and pathos to his latest film, JOJO RABBIT, a World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy (Roman Griffin Davis as JoJo) whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism." PG-13, 1 hr. 48 min. View trailer here.

 

Past Movies Discussed

Nov. 4th 6:00 PM, Theater 3

THE CURRENT WAR

Oct. 28th 6:00 PM, Theater 10

MALEFICENT — MISTRESS OF EVIL

Oct 21st 7:00 PM, Theater 1

Gemini Man

Oct 7th 6:30 PM, Theater 8

Joker

Sept. 30th 6:30 PM, Theater 9

Judy

Sept. 23rd 6:00 PM, Theater 10

Downton Abbey

Sept. 16th 7:00 PM, Theater 2

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Sept. 9th 6:00 PM, Theater 3

The Peanut Butter Falcon

 

Lenses: Entertainment as a Second Language

LENSES Informal Class for Community Learners

 


Parabolic Media is pleased to announce the return of Lenses, the popular Informal Classes for the Community starting Monday, September 9th.  6:30 PM at The Moviehouse & Eatery. For the Fall 2019 LENSES Series, there is no registration fee. Simply purchase your ticket at the box office or online on the Moviehouse & Eatery website. The series runs Sept. 9 through Nov. 18 (excluding Veterans Day on Nov. 11).

New for the Fall 2019 season, participants will be viewing CURRENT films being offered by The Moviehouse & Eatery. Due to fluctuations in distribution, the movie, start time, and theater number will be announced no earlier than one week prior to each class. Watch our web page for updates. Note that the opinions expressed in LENSES do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moviehouse's owners, managers, or employees.

Poster announcing series on Monday nights at the movies house and eatery.

 

Participants will explore and practice ten valuable lenses that can make them fluent in their media consumption—better at making sense of the messages and meanings behind their favorite movies. Improve your media literacy—become fluent in reading popular film.

The Lenses series is parallel to the Cinema and Religion series offered at The Moviehouse each spring. Focusing on film, the two classes provide examinations of this compelling media form in the context of an actual movie theater with an audience—the most pure and powerful viewing environment.

For more information, visit the FAQ page.

 

Class logo

On the Move to Fight Cancer

New Non-profit Hosting Benefit to Help Get Patients to Treatment Centers.

By Philip J. Hohle, PhD

Cancer is a tough enemy to fight. Recent statistics from the American Cancer Society show that in the United States, an estimated 125,000 cancer patients needed help with transportation to their treatment appointments in 2017. In Texas alone, the Society provided 2,223 cancer patients with rides, but 16,247 additional requests went unmet.

According to the Patient Advocate Foundation in 2015, 15 percent of all cancer patients reported problems accessing care due to transportation conflicts, and the greater the distance they have to travel, the more likely they will miss or delayed treatment. It is no wonder that the cancer survivor rate is remarkably lower in underserved areas.

Driving Hope LogoDriving Hope of Texas is a new startup that aims to put a dent in those statistics. The non-profit organization is the vision of a veteran professional truck driver Michael Hohle of Moody. “Several years ago, my uncle came down with cancer. I saw the trouble my aunt had in getting him to his treatments. They were from your typical small Texas town, and driving in the big city was quite intimating for her. Because of the situation, going to treatment was as hard on my aunt as it was for my uncle—who never really trusted her driving. I thought, ‘they needed me to do the driving.’” Hohle added, “Ever since then, I’ve been wrestling with how to help people who have to go through the stress of getting to their treatments. After all, just knowing you have cancer is stressful enough.”

Continue reading On the Move to Fight Cancer

Short Tragedies

A Review of Independent Shorts (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

As a whole, those who selected the narrative short films for the 2018 SXSW festival are apparently obsessed with themes of gender identity. I have selected a number of these shorts to analyze for the deeper questions they raise—along with the obvious conflicts and concerns more conventionally found in the story. It is often the less noticeable films that make for the richest philosophical discussion.

These shorts do not represent the entire body of work being produced (the number of stories being made into short films is almost unfathomable). Neither does the examination here represent all the shorts submitted to film festivals—or even one festival. What it does represent are the choices this festival’s programmers made.

Inclusion in such a prestigious festival is more than just exposure for the filmmaker. It can be an attempt by the programmers to make a profound social statement. For SXSW 2018 there were only 20 shorts selected out of 3,600 entries (according to one programmer at a screening). As such, the prevalence of these themes could be taken as a representative sample among those included. While I am not privileged to know for certain, my instincts tell me they are not. As the programmer explained, they chose films “that will change your point of view.” The selection of these cinematic voices automatically implies that other voices, those not included, are marginalized. It would be interesting to know what those voices said.

An inclusion makes a statement that the subject matter, and the treatment of such, deserve the attention of, if not the public, at least the critic at this moment in time in this setting. I will note in this and other reviews that this alternative lens is not new. I recently this quote: “When a journalist becomes an activist, they are no longer journalists, but politicians.” The same applies to filmmakers; there may be rhetoric hidden under the screen's canvas—and if can taint the art.

If there is a cultural sea-change underway, the narrowed selection serves to further distance viewers from anything the previous generation held as true. No doubt, this purpose may be a subtle whisper from the infamous punk manifesto that defined the Cinema of Transgression. That statement was not so subtle: the aim of film should be to disrupt and disturb.

The reader may consider if there will be any conventions left to transgress before the beast has to turn and eat its own tail. If you consider the conventional social order to be immoral, this deconstruction is a good thing. In any case, the matter is not yet settled, so before we resign our society to this archipelago, there may be a few more propositions found in these films that need sober analysis.

Review of short: Men Don't Whisper

Understand that this reviewer is not gay. As such, it is not easy for him to understand the point of LBGTQ love stories. Like any character portrayed on screen, if one cannot feel the emotion or at least envision the bonds they feel, the lack of empathy will diminish the impact of the narrative. Perhaps that inability disqualifies me from making commentary on this short film. For better or for worse, I shall give it a go.

In light of these prevailing inabilities, the goal of a new wave of LBGTQ filmmakers seems to be an attempt to get straight folks to understand something. Perhaps it is for us to stop thinking this alternative relationship is different (ironically, it was commonly called queer in my day, and the term seems to stick).

I propose that this disruptive rhetoric is found more often in independent shorts as opposed to longer, studio films. Due to the financial stakes, executives of those projects can hardly gamble with the chance that the story will make the audience queasy. On the other hand, the independent filmmaker making low-budget shorts can bring these stories easily to the screen without the normal filtering.

Men Don't Whisper can be categorized as one in a genre where characters search for an elusive masculine identity. Of course, this is a theme for both gay and straight filmmakers, and the profound questions here are rather universal. In Men Don’t Whisper, two young men (a gay couple) realize they do not know which of them is the “man” in the relationship. Significantly, the film is centered on their attempt to find out which of them is masculine enough to claim that role.

This couple comes to the conclusion that, not unlike the perceptions of many straight men, only one who has sex with a woman can claim the title and role of a man. The film is mildly amusing as these two awkwardly attempt what is so unnatural to them—to pick up two girls in a hotel bar and take them upstairs for some easy sex. Without spoiling the ending, let us at least say that the encounter does not go well.

On a conventional level, this film is an exploration of what limits remain to the concept of masculinity in a postmodern world. When one studies the thematic trends in filmmaking, it is apparent that the quest to become a man has become a nostalgic artifact. While no couple can claim that each has a perfectly equal role—that is, one is always more dominant than the other—the once-honored character of the strong male has been eliminated from many current film narratives, especially in the shorts. In truth, a character like that would be portrayed more likely as the antagonist to one the more egalitarian protagonist. Critics embracing feminist ideology would argue that this he-man’s departure is good riddance. Thus the situation becomes an absurdist comedy when you find these two eunuch-like guys going old school to resolve a bet.

On a deeper level, the question of masculinity in this film becomes even more profound. I find the desire for someone to fill the role is significant in the context of today’s arguments over gender roles. Even in a liberated society—represented by an independent film free from the constraints of marketable conventions—the players ask the same uncomfortable question we are all asking right now.

I like to phrase the query in the popular song by Paula Cole from twenty years ago: “Where have all the cowboys gone?” Where are the men that use their sexuality, not simply to please oneself, but to serve and fulfill the woman—giving her what she really wants and needs? I have heard it said; you have to water the garden if you expect to enjoy the fruit. It becomes a vicious cycle; the boys cannot enjoy girls because they cannot give them pleasure. Of course, this is fiction, but if the two characters could, they might find their manly service to be fulfilling and enjoyable in return. Perhaps it is a universal problem among millennials; this generation has never learned how to make love. These casual relationships seem to be for the sole purpose of providing selfish pleasure and nothing else.

As many filmmakers propose, there can never be a masculine male without the character devolving into just another boy appeasing his unrestrained libido. One of the girls in this fiction exclaims, “Just having sex with a woman does not make you a man!” Of course, the journey these two girls are on provide their personal tale of tragic love, but we shall save that for another post. Still, their statement is profound. It is not just having sex that makes a man—but pleasing the opposite sex may have something to do with it. In any case, significantly, the story stops short of revealing the truth. No one gets it.

Back to the cowboy metaphor, we know the answer to the question: the romantic male-female love myth was busted in Brokeback Mountain. Still, it is significant that many filmmakers continually bring up the same question—where have all the cowboys gone? Popular western culture has succeeded in recoding the very image and idea of the cowboy as the hero. The strong, male protector no longer exists; instead, it is the male who needs to be rescued and mothered—or almost in the case of this couple, fathered. Here I am referring to the feminist take on Freudian psychology; the daughter looks for an image of her father in the boy she considers for a mate (that is, whatever healthy or unhealthy imprint the father made in her life). If these two guys are feminized, why would it be strange that they would be looking for the same archetypical father figure in each other? In any case, they both realize that neither can fill that role.

Essentially, the film proposes that having a partner play this role in a relationship does not matter anymore—a masculine man is no longer needed. Moreover, no one really misses him.

Or do we? The question will not be put to rest anytime soon.

Review of Are We Good Parents?

Another short included at the 2018 SXSW film conference posed good questions for anyone raising or who has raised a child. In recent decades, the role of the father has come under fire (think, Married with Children from the 1980s). In pop culture's stories, we continue to question the role of the parent in setting limits for their children.

In this short, a young teen daughter makes the announcement she is going on a date with someone named Ryan. What follows is a comedic life-examining by her champion-level liberal parents. The couple is filled with angst over the apparent choice of their child to date the opposite sex. Ironically, these same parents seem to have a closed heterosexual relationship. In a most Portlandia fashion, the two struggle with the possibility that they may not have eliminated all the heterosexual bias in the life of their child.

Audiences at these festivals seem to be quite open-minded (dare I say uber-liberal?). One can interpolate the political temperature from whatever gets laughs, groans, and by what questions they ask of the filmmakers after the screening. In this film, the audience found an opportunity for abundant laughs. It becomes evident they were able to scoff at the caricature of themselves without taking offense. On the conventional level, it was an exercise in poking fun at the far extreme of this kind of parenting—a cautionary tale for those on both sides of the political divide.

On a deeper level, the film raises the question of bias in another more limiting way. These are the liberal versions of helicopter parents, those who strive to protect their child from making wrong choices that they fear would be harmful—at least in the parent’s definition of harm. Here are some of the moral values/assumptions evident in this couple's parenting:

  • It is unhealthy and perhaps wrong for a child to fear the judgment of parents.
  • The sexual identity of a child is totally their choice (though this couple shows their bias in questioning that possibility).
  • When nature stacks the deck in one direction (your birth gender), ethical parents must do what they can to even the expected tug-of-war in the mind of the child.
  • A seemingly too easy choice to be heterosexual can be interpreted as immature thinking—or even rebellion.
  • An alternative choice in gender identity is a tribute to competent parenting (ergo, the title of the film)

Intentional or not, the filmmaker’s comments after the screening put the film into a new perspective. In making the film, she wondered if 18 was too late to come out as gay. Many would agree that children are becoming sexually aware earlier in life than kids in previous generations. Still, it is hard to remain neutral on this issue when one is aware of the problem of sexual abuse among children of all ages. It is one thing for a child to experience a natural and even healthy sexual awakening when the time is right. It is quite another thing when this exploration becomes abuse, and this difference must be guarded zealously. It is unquestionably right to protect kids from inappropriate adult intervention. Gay or straight, we all must monitor this boundary; if not, we allow predators a free pass to inflict harm on the innocent.

This film short raises some good questions. While we heap disdain on the undue influences of pop culture, we seldom consider if such a child’s decision on sexual orientation may be constructed on this same house of cards. Moreover, even kids are susceptible to confirmation bias and post-purchase rationalizations once they take a public stand on their identity (after they come out). If this way of thinking is not good for adults, should we, like the parents in this short, intervene to balance our child’s thinking?

Review of Tangles and Knots

Another short screened at SXSW18 was a gut-wrenching exploration of what is proper in a parent-child relationship. Referring to the bullet point made above about the taboo of parental judgment, this film can be perceived as a cautionary tale for those who forgo the traditional parent-child relationship in favor of a friend-friend arrangement.

In spite of her natural beauty, a teenage girl seems to be socially awkward among her peers. Her mother throws an alcohol-and-drug-infused pool party to prime the pump for her daughter. The strategy falters from the start, and ultimately, the mother takes matters into her own hands on behalf of her daughter. Alternatively, perhaps, it is her own needs that fuel the pitiful choices the mother makes as the party winds down.

The twist in this short is how that friend-friend relationship itself is questioned. In truth, even a good friend will challenge our thinking and our choices. Beyond seeing her daughter as a friend, the mother appropriates the life of her child. As such, like a few of the other narratives at the festival depict, the ownership of the child’s identity becomes a site of conflict.

Certainly, this is a universal, time-honored theme in drama: a child leaving the parent and becoming a separate person. Significantly, this tale is set in the context of a single or divorced mother clearly wearing the yoke of her own unfulfilled dreams as she further burdens her daughter. The dysfunctional twist in this film is that the mother’s vicarious possessing becomes an expression of her own self-loathing.

Sadly, festival viewers heard that this film is based on the filmmaker’s own experience as a daughter of such a mother. Unfortunately, these troubled relationships are quite common in society. This short film is a shocking tragedy, best considered in the same genre of film that explores the ongoing consequences of broken marriages.