Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Odds Are Never In Our Favor, Part 1

I'd like to preface this by saying while sitting down in the student commons at school to draft this post, a news report came on the TV about a shooting in a Minneapolis restaurant which killed one person and injured three and was immediately followed a breaking news story about an alleged gunman on the Yale University campus. I cannot emphasize the terror I felt from this - I like my posts to be relevant and timely, but this is too much so.

http://www.thewrap.com
I begin this post otherwise in the frame of reference of having just seen The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on Thursday night. I was not prepared for the feels I anticipated having while viewing it and, after seeing it and crying far more than I've cried during any film save maybe Third Star, I'm still dealing with how much I was moved by this film. I've been seeing a lot of criticism (as I had for the first) about it being too violent for children and people not wanting to see a movie about children killing children. These are totally valid points, but I take a different view of The Hunger Games - both the books and the films. The media and marketing for the film might be exemplifying and glorifying violence and be trying to convince us the narrative is all about a love triangle, but I'm going to (as I did with the first film) separate the marketing from the story, the violent "it's just entertainment" elements from the timely cultural/political reflection in order to take a look at what exactly is going on with this film and the society it's reflecting and acting upon. Namely, we're going to be looking at some forces that oppose each other yet are also interrelated and require some pulling apart: the Entertainment v. Metaphor to our  lives as mentioned previously and Public/Political v. Private/Personal.

First off, The Hunger Games is not really meant to be only entertaining. Clearly, it is entertaining and has a very interesting story, but I can't say that it's entirely an enjoyable piece of literature or film for me. I walked out of the theater with my throat aching and feeling like I'd had my heart ripped out, stomped upon, set on fire, and my body had been thrown down a flight of stairs to boot. I told my roommate it was a better film than Thor: The Dark World (don't take it personally, Thor; you were a good film, but this is... this is different). The Hunger Games is violent, but I don't think its violent in the way that some films are in order to glorify such actions and disgust - Katniss is none too happy about the violence and commits limited violent actions in this film, haunted by her killing in the first Hunger Games. This got criticism from Entertainment Weekly, which found Katniss weak and boring for not killing anyone in this film, or as the author says "getting her hands dirty." Seriously. It wasn't dark and violent enough, apparently.

http://www.ryanseacrest.com
I believe that it was plenty violent, but not as much as it could have been (which I think then would have shown gratuitous violence and head in the wrong direction). It's honest and allegorical to the same violence that happens in our own world. What troubles me are people who say they don't want to watch kids fighting to death and are unaware that such things, in a sense, occur in our own world on a daily basis and are privileged enough to think that such things could never affect them. I completely utterly understand about not wanting to watch such a thing as entertainment - because then we'd be watching The Hunger Games actually AS the Hunger Games: it would no longer be a metaphor for society's ills but rather an acceptable way to watch such violence, fictional as it may be - for the time being. There is a fine line between watching this movie as a critique and watching it to see violence and I'm not entirely sure any of us are clearly on one side of it or another. But there is a strong difference between how viewers see this film and how Hollywood is dealing with it. Namely because there is a plethora of violence in the world around us and it is becoming more obvious.

Right now, I am immersed in news reports about things such as:

- Bored kids are randomly sucker-punching people in the face for shits and giggles as an internet trend called "knock-out." Several people have died due to this nationwide.
- There have been armed robberies in my neighborhood.
- A gunman robbed someone in the middle of the day in Anderson Hall, a classroom building on the U of M campus (which I, mind you, live eight blocks from).  
- A student was sexually assaulted by a man pretending to be a cop near campus.

http://farm6.staticflickr.com
I don't even feel entirely safe at work now. On Saturday, I took a call for the home improvement part of the store, which I was working near. It started off strange, as after answering the man on the other end said, "Who is this? Is this the home improvement?" when I had literally just said I worked at the downtown Target. I clarified where I was and asked how I could help him. He then said he was looking for two items. I had trouble understanding him as his voice was muffled and only caught WD-40. I then asked him to repeat and, as he was still muffled, asked him once more to please repeat what he had said. Then he began shouting profanities and finally I caught that he was looking for a hammer and WD-40. He then apologized saying he hated it when "I get all emotional." I, like the stupid fool I am, stayed on the phone and said that it was okay and that we certainly had the items he was looking for. He then asked where they were. I immediately got very confused. When people call our store, they are generally calling from outside, checking to see if we have the product, which they will then come in and get themselves or have us put on hold for them. He, however, sounded as if he was in the store, which is exactly what I inquired next. Instead of clearly replying, he snapped, "NO!" furiously, as if he were speaking to a disobedient dog. I was shocked, but still kept trying to clarify, knowing he wasn't in the hardware section, as I was only a few yards away and would have been able to hear him. I kept trying to find out if he was in the store, explaining that if he was, I could come find him and show him where the items were, but that I was accustomed to customers calling from outside the store and I had assumed that's what he had done. Instead, he started talking vaguely about customer service, saying something akin to, "See the thing about employees and customers..." and trailing off into something else and "Interesting word, customer. It starts with a C. Seen any customers lately?" Starting to get seriously frustrated, I asked again for clarification if he was in the store. Instead, he asked "What the hell is that beeping sound?" which I thought could have been him overhearing my walkie, but said I had no idea what he was talking about. He then asked, "So, how's your weekend? Done any shopping?" in a tone that I can only describe as lascivious. This is the part where I slammed down the phone, covered my mouth with my hands, and rushed over to the fitting room operator, telling her I needed to talk to someone. After explaining what happened to her, she instructed me to call AP (essentially our police/protection service in the store) while she called over the LOD (leader on duty, or the floor manager). I explained to AP what happened, then promptly burst into tears in front of basically the entire AP force, the LOD, members of my sales floor team, and several befuddled customers. It was my first time crying at work and the worst customer issue I've had to date. The LOD, who previously I didn't like as much as the others won me over with her gentleness and directness, saying that if such a thing happened again, to notify her right away and let her take the call. At this point, I still wasn't sure if the guy was in the store or not, so having AP there and being comforted by the amazingly kind fitting room operator made me feel better. After taking a breather in the staff area, I was able to slip back into a more rational, friendly persona. But I have never lost face like that at work before and it was alarming. I'd also never felt so vulnerable and scared.

I don't know if this man had a behavioral or mental condition, or if were had epic misunderstanding or what the hell happened, but I am not going to blame myself for this. I didn't know in a situation like this that I should call in the LOD and I didn't know that AP could handle things like this. But I do know, thanks to my Human Sexuality class, that sometimes people will call various places - fast food restaurants, retailers, and other such places and ask bizarre or sexual questions and get gratification from it. I hope to God that is now what occurred, but based on the tone I detected in the man's voice at the end of the call, that is what I initially suspected. And he wasn't a young kid prank calling either - by his tone, he sounded forty of fifty.

http://studentsspeakingout.org/violence.jpg
I mention this (besides a need of disclosure and caution to others who hold jobs like mine) because I want to remark on how this can happen to anyone. I live a fairly privileged, safe life. That doesn't make me free from danger. Strange calls occur all the time at my store - it just so happens this is the first time it happened to me. I am in a less precarious situation than many, but it doesn't protect me. What I think bothers me about both the media's handling of these incidents and my own awareness of them is that I'm only noticing how widespread violence is when it affects people like me - middle class, white, average - when really its been affecting many forever. It's nothing new - and yet it does seem more widespread, different somehow. There's almost a sense of acceptance that such violence is everywhere, anywhere, not just in "dangerous parts" of the city (though that rhetoric is dangerous in its own right). It's not as if violence was ever restricted to certain areas - that's a load of crap and kind of racist to boot - but I think there is a change in violence everywhere in the city and in the US. We're becoming a society where a gunman appearing on a college campus is a monthly event. Mass shootings happen every year, if not multiple times a year. Such mass violence is either becoming more common place or the media is reporting on it more. Or, as I suspect, both.

This post has become much longer than I expected, and because I don't want to make this any longer as shorter posts are more favorable, I'm going to pause here and continue this into a part 2.

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