Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.

Ceòl na h-Alba (Music of Scotland)

wallacesco-368349William Wallace is a Scots folk hero who, it is believed, was born around April of 1270. Wallace was a Knight who fought for Scottish independence from English rule, and was immortalized in the Oscar-winning film Braveheart, at least in name. Braveheart, while an entertaining drama, is about as factual on Scottish history as a tub of Cool Whip is the equivalent to Whipped Cream.

Braveheart’s soundtrack, while pleasant,  is also a modern composition, in the style of 468e4c6be98b994f6e8abf87e1f95732Scottish music but not containing a single actual Scots tune. This begs a greater question: what’s the difference between Scottish Music and Irish Music? Aren’t they the same, but with bagpipes? The question might just get you decked for saying that.

Truth is, they are quite similar, passing traditions back and forth. If you listen to folk steeped in the music, there are subtle differences in rhythms, traditional Scots music tends to be in the key of A (there’s only so much you can do on a bagpipe), while the Irish prefer drums and the key of D. Scots tunes tend to be more “snappy,” while the Irish are more “driving” (the Clancy Brothers version of “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” all but jumps out and strangles you through the speakers). But, as in anything, the styles change song to song. Each will tell you theirs is better.

brigadoonIrish music tends to be better known for several reasons. Far more people have emigrated from Ireland than Scotland, a country with the same population as Dallas-Fort Worth. The Irish tended to have more children than the Scots, so they beat them on sheer numbers as well. Many of Scotland’s great ballads get lumped in with English, but Scottish music is far from unknown. Amazing Grace, played on bagpipes though it’s an English hymn, is a funeral standard. Pipe bands are often a staple of parades. There is the Broadway play Brigadoon by Lerner and Loewe, complete with kilts and dancing. There’s a 1954 film version, but even for its day it’s rather awful. If any film needs a full Hollywood reboot, this one is 60 years overdue.

If Ancient Scottish Ballads aren’t your thing, and you think bagpipes sound like boiling rodstewartdm1306_468x431witches, there’s a much better chance you’ve enjoyed modern Scottish music. So many of the songs we hear today and think of as American or British acts are actually the work of Scots, since accents aren’t always that obvious in song. Perhaps the best known Son of Scotland would be Rod Stewart, the gravel-voiced rock singer who worked his way from rock to swing music. Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics is a Scottish lass. Sheena Easton, KT Tunstall, Mark Knopfler, now solo but formerly the lead singer of Dire Straits, David Byrne of The Talking Heads, the folk group The Corries, Average White Band, and current smooth hit-maker Paolo Nutini (yeah, that had me fooled, too – his father was Italian, his mother Scotch, and he was born in Scotland). Add in Ian Anderson (lead singer for Jethro Tull), Lulu (you might remember her for the theme from the Bond film “Man With the Golden Gun”), Big Country (a one-hit wonder in America), Gerry Rafferty, Simple Minds, and the Celtic folk group Capercaillie.

200px-wallace_tartan_vestiarium_scoticumThat’s a lot of tartan pride!

So whether you like traditional Celtic folk, the plaintive reels of a good piper, or feel like rocking out to Maggie May, sit back and raise a pint to old William Wallace, a patriot who died keeping his country and culture from being lumped with Ireland and England.

Strong Girls, Stronger Women

stb-jaylah-3While previewing the DVD for Star Trek: Into Darkness (as if I didn’t see it in the theater and wasn’t buying it myself 5 days later), I realized that Jaylah, the lead female character, is everything I want my daughters and granddaughter to be: strong, brave, smart, resourceful, a planner, a leader, and even when emotionally wounded, she never, ever gives in. Surely one of the strongest female leads ever, without losing her femininity in the process, like Grace Jones as May Day in A View to a Kill, or Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It may even be safe to say that Jaylah’s the strongest female lead ever in Star Trek itself – and no, not even Uhura, who, although she could kick butt, was often saddled with lines like, “Captain, I’m frightened.”

And that made me start thinking on who the strongest female leads might be. By strong I don’t mean nastiest or most vicious goal-driven women, no Joan Crawfords or Cersei Lannisters or Erica Kanes. I mean women or girls who started out ordinary, but when faced with impossible odds, had the grit and determination and education and smarts to work their way into survival.

First on almost any list is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, from Alien. While you can say it ec93835d9542a13ce50f467297565f63already took guts and grit to be a warrant officer aboard a deep-space ship, finding out your mission was a suicide run to bring back an alien life form and you’re its food can either send you screaming in helpless panic (as Lambert did), or make you hike your bra straps and shoot first. Ripley is a real woman – no makeup, no unrealistic sexy uniforms, and not afraid to be pushy when she needs to be. And almost 40 years later (can it possibly be that long?) Alien still holds up on every level of film making; truly, a masterpiece.

katniss_prim_hugKatniss Everdeen is also a favorite for strongest female: just sixteen at the start of The Hunger Games, Katniss is already a survivor, having raised a sister and cared for a dysfunctionally depressed mother following the death of their father, in a world where people are kept in line through fear and starvation. Sacrificing herself to the Hunger Games to save her sister is just the start; surviving the Hunger Games not once but twice, surviving on luck, wits, and the smarts acquired through a lifetime of survival makes Katniss a formidable – but sympathetic and realistically feminine – heroine.

Sarah Connor of Terminator fame would round out my top three: a simple waitress who thought she was minding her own business until she’s hunted down by a terminator from the future – because when push comes to shove, Sarah will become a serious survivalist to save her son – a son who will grow up to be the leader against the machines that take over the world. Sarah is thrown into an impossible situation but comes out on top through sheer determination and a survival instinct that won’t quit.

Why so many women from science-fiction? That’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because “strong” women in literature or film are often seen as detestable power-hungry ladder-climbers who will use murder or sex to achieve their goals, and it is only in the realm of “fantasy” that women are allowed to be every-day humans, both strong and vulnerable at the same time, without boob jobs and fake nails. Yet the real world is peppered with incredibly strong women – Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, and so many more. Not one of them is sexualized by the media, either.

turn_me_loose_it_s_ashleySo, to be fair, there are literary women who also struggled against formidable odds: Scarlett O’Hara’s entire world was ripped from her by the Civil War: her income, her inheritance, her mother, her husband (whether or not she wanted him alive) wind up Gone With the Wind. She takes charge in a time and place when genteel women did not do that, and through guile and determination pulls her life and the lives of her family back together. And as the anti-Scarlett, I would include Mammy, who carried on through war and starvation, caring for former slaves and slave-owners alike, facing the same dangers as Scarlett but with even less means or social approval. In The Color sofiaPurple, yes, Celie has to survive an ugly life, but to me Sofia is far more of a tough cookie, taking her lumps and even prison because she won’t take the abuse anymore. Sofia is limited by society, but she’s every bit as tough as Katniss.

And moving further away, I would also nominate Maria, from West Side Story. She’s sixteen and stands between two warring gangs for love. The Sharks don’t frighten her. The Jets don’t frighten her. The police don’t frighten her. She gets in the face of each and every west-side-story-1961-dvdrip-moviecenter-avi_snapshot_02-16-56_2016-07-21_15-39-34one, standing up for what she believes in. No one is telling Maria what to think or do.

I could add more – Elizabeth Swan, Marion Ravenwood, Molly Weasley, Natasha Romanov – but if you’re looking for role models for girls and teens, real women who aren’t villainous or overly sexualized or vacuuous but incredibly strong and resourceful, there are plenty to choose from.

Tales of Three Chrises

befunky-collage-5-11While looking at upcoming films, I watched the newest trailer for the Wonder Woman movie (due June 2, 2017, and it looks fantastic), and was surprised to see actor Chris Pine in the role of Steve Trevor – I had no idea he was in the film. I like Chris Pine, he’s a worthy actor, and I think he’ll do a wonderful job in the role. But I can’t help but notice, he’s been cropping up in an awful lot of films lately.

Sometimes Hollywood gets hooked on a new actor and they become “hot” – in high demand because they seem to pull in audiences and thus make a lot of money, worthy or not. They may hang around a while, then fade off into obscurity when it’s realized they have no real talent, only to reappear on a C-grade cable network show pushing designer socks. Sometimes actors let their popularity run for a few years, make their money, and then get out altogether, to pursue directing, theater, music, or sometimes even a college degree.

But lately the name Chris seems to be the favorite in Hollywood – Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, and the other blockbuster, Chris Hemsworth. All are fine actors who have taken on roles that shot them to stardom, yet all have solid resumes of good films behind them even if you’ve never heard of them.

mv5bmtm4otq4ntu3nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwnjewndu0oq-_v1_ux214_cr00214317_al_Chris Pine comes from an acting family – his dad was Robert Pine, Sgt. Getraer from CHiPs, and he’s one of those well-rounded actors with actual talent. Although currently best known for taking on the iconic role of Captain James Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, he’s done an array of very worthy films, from action hero in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, to wine maker in Bottleshock (a very underrated movie with an excellent cast), to Coast Guard skipper in The Finest Hours. If you doubt his acting talent, listen to his singing voice as he belts out the tune “Agony” in Into the Woods. If he runs out of films, he can  switch easily to Broadway. If you’re of a certain age, or have daughters of a different age, you may remember him from Princess Diaries 2.  He’s not just taking on any role to make a buck.

On the other end, you have Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, who gained thirty8e289e037001b64b43665c8be542d3f9 pounds of pure muscle to take on the role of powerful comic book hero Thor in the multitude of Marvel films. But Hemsworth is not just eyecandy. His latest film was a comic role in the Ghostbusters reboot (okay, not exactly a great film, but not Thor either), but he’s popped up regularly in Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, chasing Moby Dick in In The Heart of the Sea, racing cars in Rush, and escaping computer espionage in Black Hat, a worthwhile thriller though not of the same caliber of a Marvel film. He may look like he fell off the cover of a romance novel, but you can’t say he’s allowed himself to be typecast. He, too, was in the Star Trek reboot, as George Kirk, James T.’s father – a role he will be reprising in the next Star Trek film, which has not yet entered production (even though he’s three years younger than Chris Pine). If you really want entertainment, listen to him speak with his native Australian accent – you realize just how impressive his American accent is.

chris_pratt_-_guardians_of_the_galaxy_premiere_-_july_2014_croppedChris Pratt landed two franchises – starring in the latest Jurassic Park flick, Jurassic World, as well as the lead of Peter Quill in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (and the upcoming GG2, due out May 5 of 2017, and the next Jurassic, in pre-production, and reprising his Peter Quill role in the Avengers Infinity War, currently filming – talk about busy!). AND he starred with Jennifer Lawrence in December’s new release, Passengers. Before taking over the action-hero trade, he appeared in such varied films as Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball, and the recent star-studded western, The Magnificent Seven. Of the three, he’s also done extensive television, with recurring roles on Parks and Recreation, The O.C., and Everwood.  He’s earned the right to be exhausted!

So while the weather is less than delightful, make it a weekend of high entertainment and Chris-cross some of these films off your list. No matter what your style of movie – westerns, intrigue, racing, science fiction, comic heroes, fairy tales, covert wars, musicals or more, one of these men has the perfect film for you.

The X Factor

imagesIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom created an uproar in the movie industry. While it didn’t meet the criteria for an R rating, the intensity of the violence and its unrelenting action and danger freaked out so many kids and parents and caused so many complaints that the PG-13 rating was born – probably the same people that brought their six year old grandchildren to see Deadpool and didn’t think twice. Before that, there were just four ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America: G (general audience), PG (parental guidance suggested), R (no one under 17 without guardian), and X (now NC-17, meaning No One Under 17 Admitted, no way, no how, this will scar you for life).

Of course, as a kid, you can’t help but wonder, what’s in an X movie? What could be more violent than people beating each other up? What could be grosser than people naked?  How many more swear words are there? And then the internet was born and we’ve never wondered since.

Surprisingly, though, some of our favorite movies DID have an X rating at the start. Film makers want to be cutting-edge and push envelopes, but an X/NC17 rating c51q55v7qvblan sink an otherwise profitable film because it cuts out the teen crowd that hangs out at theaters every week and also makes some adult film-goers leery. After repeated trips back to the editing room, most of the movies do achieve their golden R rating.

Some, however, never do. Three movies were nominated for Oscars despite their X rating: Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange, and Last Tango in Paris. Midnight Cowboy actually won the Best Picture Oscar for 1970. When rereleased in 1971, it carried only an R rating, even though not a single edit had been made. It had been given the X rating for “homosexual suggestions,” and that was no longer a criteria. Times were already changing.

Two things are usually to blame for an X rating: extreme violence/gore, or explicit nudity/sexual content. It’s hard to believe, but for all the outcry against The Exorcist (some vi51kp0kgvmdlewers were taken away by ambulance), it only garnered an R rating. (So, in 1969, homosexuality would get you a deadly X rating, but by 1973, demonic possession, gore, blasphemy, and violent sexual situations involving children would not. Go figure.) Sometimes the fix was something so banal as toning down the brightness of the blood (Taxi Driver), which makes you wonder who is actually doing the judging and rating of the films. Others, like Cliffhanger, needed adjustments to almost every single scene. Although Casino cranks in at more than 420 utterances of the Fornication word (that’s almost 2.5 for every minute of film49), it was the violence that created its problems.

Here is a list of popular films you’ve probably heard of, and probably have seen, that were originally rated X before being edited yet again (American Pie needed four tries) to win the magic R. Some of these are very good films that just happen to be a little more graphic than others. Some of them you knew were headed for trouble just by the title (Freddy Got Fingered), but others, especially twenty years later when there sometimes doesn’t seem to be a limit on sex or violence in movies or on television (Boogie Nights drew trouble for a 10-second shot of a prosthetic penis, yet Life of Brian and Trainspotting didn’t for showing a real one), make you scratch your head at what the fuss was.