Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Fourth Dimension catches up

Before I hopped the plane back to Beantown, I finished Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. Unlike her other book about Oxford time-travellers, which was horribly depressing but well-written and highly engaging, this one was light-hearted and funny. It was also choc-full of 19th-century literary references. I loved it.

The story takes place in 2049 and 1888 and 1940 and 2018. A time-traveller accidentally brings a cat from 1888 back to 2049, and Time itself attempts to repair the damage done. It’s very funny. And nerdy. And I guessed the “surprise” towards the end of the book, but maybe that’s because I’ve gotten used to Willis’ clue-dropping by now. But even then, it’s still a wonderful book. It did, however, remind me of the first Willis book I read, Bellwether, in that it attempted to delve into a bit of chaos theory. It also reminded me of James Burke’s The Pinball Effect, in that it kept ping-ponging back and forth, putting forth “What if” scenarios about the effects of small minor things on historically significant events. Willis is still the only sci-fi author to date that I’ve really gotten into. Not that I’ve branched out much…

Then, waaaaaay back, even before Christmas, I rifled through La Madre’s DVD collection and watched Freedom Writers. Normally, I am very skeptical of the overdone story of the teacher (usually white and middle-class) who comes into the “inner city” to teach misunderstood kids (usually black or Latino, sometimes both), and they are all happily and tearfully changed and inspired by the end of the film. There are the typical plot devices and characters: there’s usually a school fight; students tell the teacher s/he is an outsider; there’s some violence involving one of the students; the teacher stands up for the students against either another teacher or administrator who exhibits classist or racist or inflexible and outdated thoughts about the school system; one of the kids has to take a stand and do something that sets an example for the others outside the clasroom; at the end of the film, everyone has the warm fuzzies.

As these types of movies go, Freedom Writers wasn’t bad. I didn’t hate it. There are two reasons it ranks higher than horrible, horrible movies like Dangerous Minds. For one, the teacher, played by Hilary Swank, didn’t tell the kids Horatio Alger stories about overcoming the odds to “succeed” and pass standardized tests, a la Stand and Deliver, which I admit I totally loved when I was a kid. She basically told them to write from their own experiences and let them know they weren’t alone by having them read books written by other teenagers from other eras and countries. And secondly, the movie included Asian kids. (Because they are left out of movies about the city a lot…) So the school’s gang warfare that’s so central to the plot was at least a little more realistic. Haha. I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course, as someone who learned in sixth grade what orange and green and red and blue colors are, and for the next seven years had to always double-check the day's outfit for an overabundance of any hue…

The rest of it was pretty weak and predictable, though. Hilary’s marriage to the smarmy Patrick Dempsey is on the rocks, her daddy fears for her safety, etc.
It also did not help that La Madre came home from the credit union while I was watching the movie and immediately said the kids reminded her of the ones from my high school. And then, several minutes later, during a scene where a Latina character talks about the tough life in the barrio, La Madre suddenly said “We should show this to [my bro-in-law] when they’re here for New Year.” At which point I had to pause the video and we had a little discussion (which in Palmer terms means loud voices) about the appropriateness of mentioning the names of all the people you know of X ancestry immediately and in an irrelevant fashion if you see something about people who happen to be of X ancestry… La Madre understands this when it’s applied to Asians, Asian-Americans, and thus herself, but not so much when it comes to everyone else.

At any rate, the movie does a better job than most, possibly because it’s based on the published stories that real teenagers wrote, which I admit I have not read. And don't really have the time to, right now!

Back to the public policy readings...

No comments: