Monday, December 11, 2006

kids lit and the reality effects of occupation

I haven't read Elizabeth Kolbert's article on kids' lit in the Dec 4 New Yorker. But please check in with two other readers and writers of diverse natures, Electric Warrior, An Actual Native of Pittsburgh (though now removed to points North), who read it and enjoyed it, and Our Friend Madame Librarian, who posted on the article at her very own Brookeshelf.

As for whether or no reading to children is a form of control, well, I'd say it is clearly a question of Discipline. And the Electric Warrior, like so many of us, seems to have been "properly disciplined," as it were, as evidenced by her feelings for Shakespeare and Dahl and Andrew Lloyd Weber. I myself have been watching a lot of well-meaning-middle-brow TV (NYer withdrawl symptom, I guess), including:

CNN's "Autism is a World" This was good, and much better than the title suggests. The program, rather, argues that autism exists within, as part of, intimately bound with The World and is not, or at least need not be, A World unto itself in which lost souls may not be found. Note she's looking wistfully out the window. Oh my God, stop it. Honestly, it's not that bad a piece.

A PBS POV documentary titled My Country My Country inspired by The New Yorker and made by Laura Poitras. Again, it was a bit plaintive. But what was really interesting about this (follows rampant speculation) is alright, so the filmmaker probably set out to make a film critical of "US, I mean, coalition" (everyone in the film says it this way) occupation.

But as she is assembling her footage of US troops being instructed and contractors and Kurds and Iraqis and Baghdad residents and The Good Doctor she finds that the language that US occupation uses to describe the upcoming (as were) elections emphasizes the word "show." In the many senses of the word: the elections will show this or show that, or this is a "showstopper," the show must go on, etc, etc and then, finally, one of the men being trained as the Iraqi police force for the elections calls his instructor on it - "What do you mean show?"

And then this, um, linguistic tic is paired with constant visual presence of television screens (even when they are off, which is rare) within the frame, as everybody watches the war on television. At first, watching the war seemed like the kind of news watching (or radio listening) many people have been represented as doing during times of war and election, but with the emphasis on the "show," well, you're back to thinking about how and why we watch and what we're being shown and why. Maybe it's just a reality effect of a slick documentary (well, not slick, but very well made) but even if Poitras went in there thinking the election was a big show, I doubt that she expected the symptoms of occupation to show themselves so readily in the language she captured. I could probably figure out how this theme developed so very literally (so to speak) by spending much time at linked website.

This whole idea of symptoms, well, if it's a little slight here, I'm under the influence of a paper I wrote years ago and just found when I was tidying up my computer on the symptoms of occupation as, you know, indexes of its unease/disease.

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6 Comments:

Blogger andyhorbal said...

I had the opportunity to ask Laura Poitras a number of questions when she spoke at CMU a week or two ago (she was here for the "Faces of Democracy" film fest). At one point she mentioned that she shot over 240 hours of footage, and another that she didn't even meet her protagonist Dr. Riyadh until she shot Abu Ghraib scene.

The extent to which she created that film "on the fly" and in the editing room is remarkable...

6:51 PM  
Blogger zp said...

The more of DC I see, the more I miss Pittsburgh. But the cable TV has been a boon . . .

8:19 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

You missed everyone being all grumpy on the night of the first real snowfall. Every person I accidentally brushed up against during my walk back to Squirrel Hill from Oakland growled at me...

2:29 PM  
Blogger zp said...

Well, one wears all those layers of clothing and then one feels like a ball of yarn balanced precariously on tiny feet mincing along the uneven and icy sidewalks and if one is brushed up against one might lose one's balance and then roll, slide or plummet for at least half a mile what with the dramatic terrain. It's dangerous out there.

Our next neighborhood will be flat, I swear.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Raquel Laneri said...

I think the "discipline" observation is an accurate one. I'm on one hand an anti-disciplinarian (growing up in a household where I -- and what I consumed, both physically and mentally) was strictly monitored. But at the same time, I'm almost a dictator when it comes to matters of taste, which is awful, yet true. I completely empathize with Kolbert's buying of books for her children that Kolbert likes, because I'm that way. I won't buy my boyfriend a movie I don't like, for instance, even if he loves it. And I do the same with my little sisters. I sometimes imagine what my life would be like if I one day had kids who watched nothing but the Disney Channel and read Gossip Girl books. I think I would die.

However, I like Kolbert's reading on the perverse, violent tastes of little children, because it is so true, and few adults really can tap into that innocent fantastical and perverse mentality. That's why I (still) love Dahl. Other children's writers make me think "how cute" but Dahl really makes me FEEL like a kid again because he really transports me into a child's way of looking at the world.

3:28 PM  
Blogger zp said...

Margaret Talbot on Roald Dahl pretty much agrees with you, Rachel. Or did agree with you summer before last http://ihatethenyer.blogspot.com/2005/07/july-11-18-new-yorker-issue-and-some.html.

Someday I'm sure I'll be movtivated to write a whole post on asecticism and the censorship of children's media access. After Whole Foods, this is my next great pet peeve. Like that thing on NPR about children and porn and . . .

9:55 AM  

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