Friday, February 19, 2010

I Don't Know Why They Made This Commercial

Well, maybe I do. But if I understand what's going on here it's depressing as hell.

It's a recent American Airlines commercial, with a tall basketball player named Milos and his scrappy little agent who seems to be relentlessly lying his ass off, all around the world: "Milos only wants to play for Dallas." "Milos really wants to play for Brussells." "Milos only wants to play for Buenos Ares." "Milos only wants to play for blabbity-blabbity." "Milos really wants to play for hamana hamana." "Milos only wants to play for yip yip yip." And so forth. It seems obvious that Milos is not very sought-after, but his agent relentlessly presents him to different teams as if he were. And then at the end a voice-over sonorously intones: "We know why you fly."

Why exactly does this agent fly? And more to the point, why does American Airlines think that its potential customers want to fly alongside people like him? Because they like compulsive liars? Because they, too, are salespeople who are desperately misrepresenting their wares all over the world? Is there a great fraternity of lying, hustling weasels out there, flying all over the world on American Airlines?

I'm afraid that there just may be. Maybe somebody at the ad agency said, "You know, we've being doing really well for a long time with these slick and completely unrealistic ads. All these ads about nothing, which just set a mood and flatter businesspeople, with a lot of slow-mo of very good-looking actors portraying businesspeople in great suits staring sagely into glorious sunsets from luxury-hotel balconies and earnestly shaking hands in luxurious boardrooms with urban skyline views and opening very expensive-looking briefcases and wearing hard-hats with the sleeves of their dress shirts rolled up while they point at blueprints and relaxing in huge first-class seats and so forth, without giving the viewer any hint of what they're really doing. But maybe all those down-the-heel desperate Willie Lomans out there peddling crap to each other -- you know: our actual target demographic -- would appreciate a commercial that shows them as they actually are, doing what they actually do: wearing desperate smiles and desperately lying for a living. Let's make it a sports agent, to jazz it up a little. We don't want to get too real, showing a lying office-goods salesman whose desperate smile is wearing thin after twenty lean years; that might be a little too depressing. I know: a short sports agent with a tall basketball player who can't even throw a paper wad into a conference-room wastebasket while the little agent is trying his best to BS some team's board of directors. Kinda real, but cute and funny."

We Know Why You Fly: Because BS And Fear Make the World Go Round.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Claire Danes as Temple Grandin

I saw Temple Grandin on HBO last night, and loved it. Especially Claire Danes in the title role, based upon the real-life figure of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who is currently a professor at Colorado State University specializing in animal behavior, and who has designed pens and buildings for livestock which have made the treatment of cattle more humane, as well as a "hug machine," based on chutes used to hold cattle still while they're being inoculated, which many autistics have found to be a great help in calming down and gathering their wits when they become agitated. This has to be the best movie portrayal of an autistic person by a non-autistic actor since Rain Man. (A couple of amusing pieces of trivia about Rain Man: 1) When he was getting ready to play Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman consulted -- ta da! -- Temple Grandin; 2) The man upon whom Rain Man was based isn't actually autistic.) This movie is all about Claire Danes, it's built very much around her, portraying Grandin mostly in her high-school and college years, and man oh man does she ever hit a home run. David Strathairn is good as a science teacher who was a huge help in Grandin's life, being one of the first to sense the dimensions of genius under her strange exterior, but he and the other supporting players don't have much to do but react to Danes. If I had to criticize something in the movie, I'd say that the other actors besides Danes could've been given more to do, their characters could've been more complex. You know -- with lives of their own, with at least an occasional glimpse into their own ups and downs and problems and triumphs and all. Despite that one reservation, props to Christopher Monger for a great screenplay, and to Mick Jackson, the director. (I can't believe one and the same man directed this and The Bodyguard. "And Iiiiiii, will always looove yooooooouuu-HOOOOOO!!!!" Yes, THAT Bodyguard.) The scenes showing how Grandin "thinks in pictures" and the graphics suggesting the high-speed calculations going on in her head are great. Alex Wurman's music is really wonderful in spots, recalling, in its calmer moments, the work of Philip Glass, although, ironically, over the end credits, which feature pictures of the real Temple Grandin, the music became much more busy and effusive, and gave this autistic a bad case of sensory overload. But mostly, it's Ms Danes. Wow. So good. You immediately forget that you're watching a glamorous movie star, and instead you see a very awkward and skittish, profoundly autistic young woman who is constantly misunderstood by other people and is constantly misunderstanding them, and has problems with all sorts of things which don't bother most people at all. The automatic sliding glass doors at a grocery store completely overwhelm her, for example, so she gives up trying to go through them and shops at a little store across the street instead. The squeaking of a felt-tipped pen on paper annoys and distracts her to the point that she cannot follow a conversation. The maid at her aunt's ranch accidentally knocks the sign that says "Temple Grandin's room" off of the door to her bedroom, and this sends her into a meltdown. (I don't know how it happened in real life, but in the movie, when Danes/Drandin sees that the sign has been knocked off of the door, she runs outside to the cattle inoculation chute, climbs inside, screams for help, and asks her aunt, who comes running, to press her tightly inside the chute, and so the "hug machine" is born.) (Not all autistics are always bothered by being hugged. I just thought I should mention that. If the autistic person is verbally functional, you could ask instead of assuming that a hug isn't wanted. It's possible that an autistic kid would just love a good hug but is too shy to point out that your assumption that he or she doesn't want to be hugged is wrong in his or her case. Also, one and the same autistic person may like having you hug them at one time and not want to be touched at all at another time, without there necessarily being the slightest reason for you to take it personally. I'm just sayin'.) The sliding doors and the felt-tipped pen and the sign are good examples of the kinds of things we autistics struggle with constantly, good examples of the reasons why from time to time we behave in ways which most people find very strange, and Danes, to this autistic, and also to more neurologically-typical folks, to judge from the reviews, conveys this struggle very convincingly. Danes is brilliant portraying Grandin, and the Temple Grandin she portrays brilliantly, courageously, tenaciously overcomes the obstacles in her path and expresses her special gifts, to the great benefit of cattle and the livestock industry, and to the great benefit of autistics, showing us and showing the world the sorts of things that we can do. We're not all geniuses like her, we don't all have photographic memory like her, we're not all good at building things with our hands like her, but like her, we see and hear and feel the world differently than most people, and, although this definitely causes difficulties, it always has its good side too. Don't assume we want to be "cured." I'm sure most of us would love to be better understood. Most of us are constantly struggling to better understand most of you.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fairy Tales

I can't recall ever having been under the impression that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny was real. I don't think my parents ever presented them to me as other than fictional characters. There was not a lot of the elaborate game-playing on Christmas Eve in our house that goes on in a a lot of houses. I don't recall ever leaving a snack out for Santa. I also don't recall ever believing in the Stork. My parents told me and my siblings where babies, and venereal diseases, come from, and about the methods used to prevent VD and pregnancy, while we were still small. I tended to assume, as people do, that my state of affairs was typical. It was quite a surprise to me when, as a teenager, I gathered that other teenagers were getting pregnant and/or getting gonorrhea without quite realizing what was was happening to them, and when I was shushed in the presence of small children when the subject of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny came up, because, apparently, the tykes, or at least some of them, believed in them.

Snipe hunts and religion I had to figure out on my own, the former either because it never came up with my parents or because they thought that snipe-hunting was good fun, and the latter because my parents are practicing, believing Christians, and raised me as one. They were quite frank and straightforward with me about what they believed.

I wonder how many people go to church, or to their synagogue or mosque or some other form of temple, because they think it's good for the kids. That the last thing you want to do with a young child is be frank and straightforward with him or her about the big world and all the scary stuff in it. Preserve their innocence! I gather that some conservatives think of the masses, when it comes to religion, as children, whose innocence should be preserved: they themselves are atheists, but still think that religion is good for most people. The ones who are meant to grow out of it, will. This attitude seems to have been taken by more than a few leading citizens in Graeco-Roman antiquity. Nietzscheseems not to have cared one way or another what the masses believed. In the foreword to the Antichrist, Nietzsche describes his few readers, and then remarks, "Was liegt am Rest? Der Rest ist bloss die Menscheit." ("Who cares about the rest? The rest is merely humanity.")

It's tempting to adopt an Epicureanattitude like that of Nietzsche's, to focus on oneself and a small group of friends like oneself. I was going to continue "But[...]" and point out how it is less practical to behave that way in our time than in Nietzsche's or Epicurus'. But is it? Is the notion that there is a point to trying to live for more than a small group, just another fairy tale, a modern, would-be democratic one?