Monday, February 7, 2011

Just Biutiful!

I strolled by a new book by Oliver Sacks on the way in to see this new-ish Spanish flick, Biutiful. The Mind's Eye, apparently about the ways in which humans can adapt to making sense and socializing despite deficits among the major neurologic systems. I hope I can find the time to read it.

From the cover blurb, I find that you can remain social without the ability to speak, and you can remain observant without sight or even musical without pitch. This is hopeful facing a world now where the very supposition of information sufficiency provides the most significant deficit of all time. We are no longer aware of how it is that we pick and choose what to pay attention to. We actually believe that so long as things reported are true, things are working as they should. Wikileaks will save the world!

But when we hear again about a college shoot-em-up, we never consider how paying attention to that event is at the same time robbing attention from not just other events, but other things we maybe should be thinking about. We can look aghast and not consider for that moment the still more awful things happening all around us.

Biutiful is at least as grim as a Coen brothers' film, and Bardem draws certain of his stark reflection of reality from them in this Spanish take. Among other things, the film puts the lie to the idea that evil actors are the root of evil. These actors' parts are systematically compromised by their situations, and being true to those you love and interact with seems always to involve screwing others who plug in at some different level.

It's not enough to be true to those you love. No matter what, bad things still happen. No matter which diet you choose, or how much you exercise and no matter that drought in the rainforest causes by omission more carbon left in the atmosphere than the U.S. pumps in in a year, there's still global warming and nothing we can resolve ourselves to do about it.

In all things, what we lack is any good integrative method to resolve things like how the human self works beyond its collection of well-understood discrete systems. We lack any political system which can render up sound policy that isn't just a fudge of compromise between and among near violently held opposition.

Our economic beliefs seem to keep people working for so long as there is perpetual growth, which seems to mean for so long as there are people who will always want more and more and more. But then the earth entire presents its limits and so we are forced back from our frontiers.

If the Earth were a body we would be still more distant from understanding its workings than we are those more limited microcosms we pilot around and call by proper names. Systems interact one with another and change themselves in the interaction. Our math fails to keep up. There is no emotional calculus. Yet.

Yet as individuals we need not lash out when the world lets us down. We need not scream our outrage, and kick and scratch at and destroy those who will not love or include us. In this film, Biutiful, the protagonist learns that he will die. He will cross a threshold from which there is no turning back. He is a spiritualist of sorts, who mends the frayed endings for relatives when transitions are sudden and without warning. Uxbal. A name which might call across the ages. An alien with the look of a primordial Spaniard.

The acting in this film is wonderful. Facing death, Uxbal must play to those who might tend to his children whom he will leave behind. He must hold back from selfishness of any sort, even as he must compromise for the sake of his own children and his compromises directly result in the horrific deaths of sweatshop denizens from China. His children's caretaker among them. He'd been trying to sweeten these workers' lives with portable heaters. The shoddy cheap Walmart-style Chinese imports suffocated the workers instead.

Frozen in our own comforts, we watch now, vaguely eager for the success of the newly emboldened citizenry in Egypt. We've already forgotten how the Chinese Party rulers readjusted after Tank Boy. We know it's gauche to disparage our comforts here at home. Global warming, you know, seems so vague, and no-one knows which way to steer things really. I will seek out bargains.

What else is there to do? Like many of the rest of us, I watched the SuperBowl yesterday, thinking that otherwise I might miss out on an important collective experience. I wanted to see the ads, and compare the half-time show to the Olympics in China. I felt vaguely wasted afterward. Cheated.

I strolled around Pasadena before catching the bookstore where I spied Oliver Sacks' new book, before catching the film. I marveled at their success installing or instilling right there on Main Street (Colorado Blvd. actually) the innards of a typical high-end shopping mall. There was even an Apple Store. Restoration Hardware.

It was much more pleasant than a shopping mall though, since there were people from all walks of life, and if you don't like the chain store offerings for lunch, you can stroll along until you came to a more authentic place with local flavor. Well, assuming that there is a "local" in the greater LA sprawl.

Why can't that happen back in Buffalo? At great expense a pedestrian mall was built downtown, but there are no stores. The stores are all out beyond the rotten core, in sprawlsville, and the shoppers all look like the upper track from high school. The realpolitikal landscape utterly prevents any kind of overarching plan which might mitigate against the bottom devouring tendencies of brutal unrestrained capitalism.

What harm if regional planners were able to trump greedy developers? Unless it was the planners who caused the trouble in the first place. The pedestrian mall destroyed as much as it provided an opportunity to come if they would build it.

What if government investments in school were regarded not as expense but as investment? What if it weren't only possible to provide extraordinary funding for those with diagnoses? What if the healthy livers among us were to get the lions share of healthcare dollars and what if it turned out that the really sick would number fewer therefore?

How could this calculus work?

What if you were changed by the reality you interact with as much as it is changed by you? What if you were able to sense those changes ahead of time and what if it were considered to be OK for you to behave as though you did? What if common sense was not always a matter of getting the best price? What then??

It won't buy you forever, but maybe your kids will be better taken care of. Maybe.

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