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Wednesday, September 03, 2003


Review of the animated movie "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" (originally written 7-5-02)

I keep starting to write this, then stopping again. On the one hand, I'm really appalled. On the other hand, why bother? It's only a children's movie...

Still, it's been a week since I saw the film and I'm still vexed. I'm going to take one more crack at writing this down before letting it go.

Last Tuesday - that would be July 2nd, 2002 - I talked myself into going to see the animated movie "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron".

On the positive side, this is an amazingly well-crafted animation. The scenery, the body language, the facial expressions on the horses, the pace and timing of the plot – all are extraordinarily well implemented.

Never the less, I hope that you will not go see this movie. Here’s why:

The subtext of this movie is, "white man bad, red man better, horses good, wild horses best". There are, of course, some who hold such opinions - that's not the problem. What I do object to are dishonest and manipulative attempts to sell those opinions, especially in a children's movie.

On my previous attempts to write this, I've trapped myself each time into describing the plot point-by-point. But the problem here isn't the plot - it's the direction. Still, beware: there may be some SPOILERS below.

This film's directors used two types of dirty tricks. The more obvious is create some subtle differences between two groups in order to convince the unconscious that one group is in some sense better than the other. For example, compare the drab, uniform coloring of Army horses to the wild and Indian horses. Sorry, but the army didn’t really paint all of its horses brown.

For a better example, contrast what happens when “Spirit” is captured for the Army with “Spirit” being captured by the Lakota Indians. When "Spirit" is captured by the Army, we see it from below, close-up, with his neck muscles straining hard against the ropes. It's highly dramatic. Later, when "Spirit" escapes the army with Little Creek, two more Lakotian men ride up and simple drop the loops of their lassoes around "Spirit's" neck. This time, "Spirit" simply rolls his eyes while the voice over says something to the effect of "again with the ropes?". The Lakotians don't even have to take up the slack. And this is the same horse that, minutes before, was deliberately falling onto his back in an attempt to crush his rider.

The second, subtler trick involves choosing what not to show. There are numerous examples, but the most dreadful are probably the lack of reaction shots. When "Spirit" does something of which the film approves, there are reaction shots showing approval. When Little Creek does something, there are reaction shots of his friends. But when "The Colonel" issues a cruel order, there are no reaction shots to suggest that the other soldiers have any opinion whatsoever. In this way, the directors indirectly implicate all of the soldiers in the Colonel's cruelty.

Similarly, Spirit causes enormous injury and destruction in this film: repeatedly kicking the farrier; viciously throwing various riders; rolling backwards into another; chasing away all of the army's horses; destroying a steam engine; and causing an enormous forest fire. But there are no reaction shots in any of these cases: no horrified expressions, no concerned looks, no painful grimace, not even a stretcher or a figure limping away into the distance.

That's because the directors wished to make these actions seem inconsequential, at least compared to the awful thing that the men dared try to do – that is, saddle and ride a horse.

In the end, that's what really, really surprises me. Forget the fact that every wild horse in America was descended from domesticated European horses. Forgot that breaking a horse is no crueler than training a dog. Forget all of the dishonesty. Instead, focus on message that that dishonesty is working to promote. "Spirit" is a children's movie that tells the little kiddies that horses hate to be ridden! Even Little Creek, who already owns a broken, devoted horse, ends up setting that horse free to go with "Spirit". Sorry, lil' Sally, but according to this movie, if you want a pony, you're as bad as that mean ol’ Colonel!

I know I haven't managed to fully convey the dishonesty of this film. I hope somebody studies this piece of P.C. propaganda in film school and posts a fuller treatment onto the net. Until then, don't give DreamWorks any more money for this drek. If you must see it, be wild and untamed! Sneak in through the exits and watch it for free! Spirit would have wanted it that way.

PS: If it matters, I personally think that the U.S. Government acted shamefully toward the Indian nations. I also think that it probably didn’t matter in the long run – read the Pulitzer-winning book, “Germs, Guns, and Steel” to see why more low-density cultures necessarily fall to higher-density cultures (hint – the big factor is disease).


9-11 (orignal version written 9-14-02)

On September 11, 2002, in his log, the bbspot guy Brian Biggs put up a link where you could "Tell me how you feel" about the 9/11 hype. What follows is my email response (edited).
It's nice of you to ask.

I don't watch TV news, but I did hear part of the ceremony in Pennsylania on the radio this morning, and tears did pop into my eyes. I watched some video clips of the same ceremony on Yahoo tonight, and the same reaction happened again.

It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the victims in NYC or in Washington, nor that I'm unappreciative of the soliders, fireman, cops, and others who lost so much. It's not that I'm not still mad (though my perspective is unusual, and the target of my anger is not whom most people would expect).

But the emotion is still really only fresh for me when I think of the people on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. I know how hard it was for me to comprehend the reality of what was happening at the time that it happened. I was sitting at my desk at work when my sister emailed me the news - that people had flown two planes into the World Trade Center - and it seemed to take me forever to truly grasp the thought that these were deliberate acts.

I can only be awed that there were people on that plane who were apparently not only able to absorb that truth from cell phone messages, but then had both the will and the courage to act on that truth. Awed and strangely proud. Could I have done that myself - looked past the shock, accepted my own death as inevitable, and acted in defense of... what? Other people? The country? Of was it just in defiance?

It doesn't matter - it was the right thing to do, whatever their motives. At least they didn't sit in denial, or waste their lives in useless panic. Maybe that's the source of the strange pride. Even now, with their example to follow, it's so easy to imagine myself taking the path of least resistance, avoiding the necessity to stand up and pay the price. But then I think "but they did it"... and for just a minute something flares up inside me, and I believe that maybe I could have done it too

For what that's worth.


Sowing and Reaping

This isn't an original observation, but it's still worth reflecting upon: the entertainment industry is reaping what they have sown. The Recording Industry Association of America in particular has been throwing fits about file swappers whom they blame (probably correctly) for the continuing slide in music CD sales.

But who are they to complain? After all, they have spent decades promoting performers spewing out lyrics that extoll the virtues of vice: everything from drug dealing, pimping, whoring, all the way to cop killing. Now they want to act indignant about the relatively inncocent theft of a little intellectual property?

Of course, the RIAA wants to pursue its remedy thru lawsuits and other lawyerly manuevers. I doubt the thought of elevating moral contents of their products even crossed their collective minds. After all, the immoral is so much easier to sensationalize, and thereby market.

For an example, I suppose we need look no further than the Antics of Madonna Ciccone, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera during the 2003 Video Music Awards. Don't just focus on "The Kiss"! It got all the headlines, of course, but it's not the key. Neither are the "gay marriage" and "group sex" motifs, nor the S&M undertones, though of course they add to the spectacle. No, the point of the entire performance was to use Madonna's old song ("Like A Virgin") and a couple of Madonna follow-ons (Aguilera and Spears) to re-invigorate Madonna's image and promote Madonna's new song / Album, "Hollywood".

Not surprisingly, the key to the whole thing is the buried in that song's nonsense lyrics.Don't take my word for it - check the lyrics out yourself, and try to make sense of them. You'll see that the only line that stands out is the last line; the line that was also the punchline of the VMA performance: "I'm bored with the concept of right and wrong".

Have a generation of kids shouting that out for a while, and then try to tell them what they should and shouldn't do.

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