Monday, July 07, 2008

The Crack in the Cosmic Cage

A few months ago, an excellent article in the New York Times discussed fear in children. Called Joy of Fright: Old Chillers That Should Scare (but Not Terrorize) the Kids, Wendell Jamieson observed the effect of 1940' fright films on his son Dean.
So for the last several weeks he and I have watched a series of clever horror movies from the 1940s, including a few exciting recent releases. I’m happy to report success. Dean has learned to allow his imagination to frighten him, and he doesn’t seem any the worse for wear.

As a bonus he has also learned some lessons about cinema. He can now tell, almost instantly, when a character appears who was created solely for the purpose of being killed. And he has even learned some lessons about life, like this one: When you are alone with the bad guy, and he is pouring you a drink, and he asks if anyone knows that you came to meet him, you always answer: “Yes, yes. Everyone knows! I told everyone I know that I was coming! Totally.”
Unfortunately the monsters that exist in today's world are far more frightful than those of a healthy active imagination.

Dozens of articles warn or complain of helicopter parents who oversee every movement a child or teen might make. And parents do so not because they are intolerant of their children but because society has become so. Parents come in a multiplicity of archetypes these days but one category distinguishes those who hover.

The Wobegon sect insist on creating and maintaining social class differences. They advocate entitlement and hover to insulate and ensure every social advantage. They are often by-products or principals in the education system. One can sit in just about any academic awards ceremony at any school in the country and note, scorecard fashion that those who are considered worthy of awards are related to those who work within the school system. Education in America has manufactured an education entitlement caste, self-insulated, and self-insulating.

The Jedi sect hover for other reasons. The vampires, witches, and monsters of this world have become institutionalized, unmerciful, ruthless, and far more depraved than any child or young adult can cope with.

The collapsing U.S. economy demonstrates how coarse and vulgar the unwitting are treated in today's society. People are duped into becoming credit slaves, enjoying short-term gain for a lifetime of obligatory servitude.

Young adults are seen as armies of victims waiting to be exploited by creditors, politicians, and educational paper mills. The insatiable desire evoked by these monsters is no longer the sexual fantasy of being swept away by a stranger. Today, the cultivated desire is consumption, immediate gratification, and extreme, accelerated thrill.

I am strong and unflinching advocate that television and media need to offer adult themes for adults and that open forums offer free speech even when the speech offends. Unfortunately, open forums are intolerant of ideas that challenge the status quo. Censorship killed the Charlie Rose forums. Talking Points Memo for all its sanctimonious "truth"-telling is intolerant of unflinching liberal viewpoints. The New York Times closed their forums when its vocal readership pointed out their hypocrisies.

By diminishing of free speech through the privatization of the most democratic communication channels, children and teens cannot learn how the system truly works, how it takes advantage of people, and how it neutralizes citizenship. By controlling free speech, critical thought is eliminated except to argue manufactured talking points.

Frank Rich at the New York Times laments our descent as he provides a film review of Wall-E.
Humanity is not dead in “Wall-E,” but it is in peril. The world’s population cruises the heavens ceaselessly on a mammoth luxury spaceship that it boarded in the early 22nd century after the planet became uninhabitable. For government, there is a global corporation called Buy N Large, which keeps the public wired to umpteenth-generation iPods and addicted to a diet of supersized liquefied fast food and instantly obsolete products. The people are too bloated to walk — they float around on motorized Barcaloungers — but they are happy shoppers. A billboard on the moon heralds a Buy N Large outlet mall “coming soon,” not far from that spot where back in the day of “Hello, Dolly!” idealistic Americans once placed a flag.

And yet these rabid consumers, like us, are haunted by what paradise might have been lost. How can they reclaim what matters? How can Earth be recolonized? These questions are rarely spoken in “Wall-E,” but are omnipresent, like half-forgotten dreams. In this movie, a fleeting green memory of the extinct miracle of photosynthesis is as dazzling and elusive as the emerald city of Oz.

One of the great things about art, including popular art, is that it can hit audiences at a profound level beyond words. That includes children. The kids at “Wall-E” were never restless, despite the movie’s often melancholy mood and few belly laughs. They seemed to instinctually understand what “Wall-E” was saying; they didn’t pepper their chaperones with questions along the way. At the end they clapped their small hands. What they applauded was not some banal cartoonish triumph of good over evil but a gentle, if unmistakable, summons to remake the world before time runs out.

You have to wonder what these same kids make of the political show their parents watch on TV at home. The fierce urgency of now that drives “Wall-E” and its yearning for change is absent in both the Barack Obama and McCain campaigns these days.
Jedi parents who hover, hover because of the comprehensive dangers our society has amassed against individuals, the free-thinkers, and the sacred.

The life-blood of freedom is free-speech yet the message of Wall-E could be construed as disruptive of school activity and censored and punished. In Sunday's Courant, Frank D. Lomonte enumerates the assault on free speech of students in Reaching To Stifle Students.
In one recent case, lawyers for Connecticut's Region 10 school district, serving Burlington and Harwinton, actually convinced the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that Avery Doninger, then a Lewis S. Mills High School junior, could be punished for using a blog — created on a home computer on personal time — to encourage the public to lobby school administrators to overturn a decision that threatened a student-organized concert. Although the student regrettably used a coarse word to refer to the administrators, it was not the mild expletive that decided her fate; it was the fact that, in the court's view, Doninger "disrupted" school by escalating the concert dispute to involve the public.

What a miserable civics lesson for a 17-year-old who, as even the school conceded, was an otherwise exemplary student. Asking public officials to take precious time out of their day to actually answer calls and e-mails from parents who question their management of the school is such a "disruption" that it justifies suspending the First Amendment. In what country?

Thankfully, this bizarre and frightening view of our Constitution remains an aberration.

A U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania recently rejected the same argument that prevailed in Connecticut, wisely observing that — if students misbehave online in ways that violate the rights of others — that's a private matter with private remedies.

Why should we be concerned for the "rights" of a student to call the principal a bad name? Because court decisions can live on forever, and they can be misapplied in mischievous ways.

What about the student who learns that the coach has been molesting female students — a scandal that undoubtedly would provoke a "disruptive" level of discussion at school? Many principals refuse to let students publish such "adult" matter in the school newspaper — and now, if the radical expansionists get their way, the principal can constitutionally add: "If I catch you talking to anyone about this — anywhere, any time — you're expelled."

In a landmark 1963 case, the Supreme Court said elegantly that "First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive." Today, thanks to decisions like Morse, too many courts are affording the breathing space to the censor — especially when that censor is a school. They're willing to let schools punish innocent conduct for fear of second-guessing the principal's authority.

Well, principals who abuse their disciplinary authority need second-guessing. And if schools want to put court-approved muzzles on our kids, then we'd better speak for them — loud and clear.
To be muzzled is to be a slave to the political hucksters who run the schools, the government bureaucracies, and the above-the-law corporations who shamelessly will take advantage of every individual weakness a child, young-adult, or unwitting adult may have.

Dissent across the globe is being reduced to a silent scream whose avenues of expression are being systematically eliminated. Jedi parents know this all too well. If they hover, it is to protect their children from an all-too blood-thirsty world.

The crack in the Cosmic Cage is not an accident.

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