Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Two documentaries I recommend

So in the last month or so I've watched these two documentaries. And I'm intrigued with how they go together in my mind.

The times of Harvey Milk
An academy-award winning documentary. Harvey Fierstein narrates this documentary by Rob Epstein about San Francisco's most colorful -- and unfortunately, tragic -- political figure: Harvey Milk. A staunch fighter for gay rights, Milk helped forge a presence for the city's gay community in city hall, becoming the first openly gay member of San Francisco's combative city council. But his life along with Mayor George Moscone's was cut short by infamous fellow political Dan White. (1994)

What caught my attention: Imagining "what if". What if he had lived? How could someone like Dan White be that afraid and upset? I found this to be an enraging, inspiring, and thought provoking story. Enraging because of the trial, inspiring because of the movement and person of Milk, and thought provoking because it made me less afraid. By the end of the movie I wanted to do things I previously thought scary. I think this is a brave-making movie. :)

Devil's Playground [npr]
When Amish teens turn 16, they have the opportunity to venture out in the "Devil's Playground" (the Amish term for the outside world) and indulge in 21 century vices such as drinking and smoking. At the end of this period, called "Rumspringa," they can choose to commit to the church for good. Or not. This documentary tracks 18 year old Faron's struggle to reconcile his drug addiction with his deeply ingrained desire to life the Amish life.

What caught my attention: Not only are the Amish encouraged to go out into the "world" but they also are almost expected to spend time alone "making out..." with the person they are dating, which I found incongruent for how strict the Amish are otherwise but I suppose it goes with "Rumspringa". The rate of teens who go back and join the church is I think almost 95%. Which is stunning. Is it the fear and whiplash effect? Do they come back because they were never taught how to live outside their Amish constraints? Being sheltered and then being sent out into the world is common not just for the Amish, but also for home schooled kids, some evangelicals and other more conservative churches. I experienced it a bit. In a desire to protect ones kids they aren't prepared for life.

I can't name it but there was something about watching these two documentaries together that's birthed some un-named question in me. I just can't put it into words. If any of you can do try! Or if you've watched either of these speak. :)


Sarah said...

I watched Devil's Playground a few years and thought it was VERY interesting. There were many things that surprised me and lots that I found interesting.

One thing that sort of bugged me though was that they called or thought of this experiment time as being "in the world" and being like outsiders or something. Then when they would reject all the drugs, alcohol, orgies, etc. and come back to the faith to stay, it was like in their minds that the alternatives to being Amish were to be in an eternal life of what they had been experimenting with for the last year or months on their own.

To me, that seems like a flawed experience and flawed logic. I don't think it is so either or: Be Amish or be a total addict to drugs and sex. That makes no sense, and maybe it is just some scheme of the community's elders to scare them into being Amish. I'd say most people would feel guilty and get tired of the lame and depraved lifestyle they presented and change their ways to have healthier relationships, and a body that isn't consumed by drugs.

I just thought it was a little goofy for them to come out of an experience of practicing depravity, selfishness, and contrived fornication and reason that the only other way to live a good life was to therefore be Amish and reject "the world." Do you know what I mean anyone else who's seen it?

just me - titration said...

Sarah! Yeah I felt the same, in that it did seem a bit goofy. There was no continuum. It was all or nothing. I wonder many times how long the amish will last like this.

Zuzu said...

I've seen both documentaries. I adored the Harvey Milk documentary - the first few times I saw it I was simply inspired. Overtime I've been more critical of certain aspects of the "movement." It was a moment in time, in a world before HIV, but there were ill thought out aspects of the movement that hurt people, especially young gay men.

I think it's important, when thinking about the Milk documentary, that Mayor Moscone's life was lost too - and that he did something truly revolutionary - resulting in the MOST diverse board of supervisors ever.

As for the ruthless killings perpetrated by Dan White... it wasn't just about White's homophobia - it was about how the traditional "straight white man" with so-called "family values" reacts when his privilege is threatened. NOT his livelihood, NOT his well-being, just his privilege.

I think when Harvey encouraged young people across the country to come out, and told them that if they were met with hostility they could move to San Francisco where a movement was being created, he really didn't think that through.

San Francisco really didn't (doesn't) have much to offer young gay people. Entry-level, low-skill jobs in the "gay ghettos" - like The Castro or what was Polk Street were often held by my mature gay men - in their late 20s, early 30s. What would typically be a job for a 16 year old (busing tables at a greasy spoon) was being held by a twenty-something and there wasn't programs to help gay youths, coming to the City for the first time, find employment and housing. WAY too many young gay men ended up on Polk Street, prostituting themselves, in the late 70's. Of course this was devastating on so many levels - not the least of which was that there was an unseen enemy among them - HIV.

While when you watch the documentary, it's easy to get swept up in the idea of a mecca of freedom, the infrastructure of a Gay and Lesbian center, health care, job training and placement program, housing assistance, etc., should have come BEFORE the call for gay youths to move westward.

For me, there's something of the link between the documentaries.. or rather, the flaw of both - giving young people freedom or even a mecca to be who they are - still requires some structure, guidance and support. In both situations, "freedom" for young people in particular, didn't really include that.

Not all Amish do that rumspringa thing - the Wisconsin Amish, for example, do not.

I think what good came out of the West Coast gay liberation movement, which included Harvey Milk, outshines the bad. Eventually the structures and infrastructures created by gay people in the Bay Area are a shining example of what is born out of love, compassion and the best of who we are as humanity. Health clinics, support services, community programs and projects sprung forth in the aftermath of that explosion of community organizing.

While some people point to the spread of HIV among the gay community in SF as a testament to "evil" - other's point to the containment of HIV largely within the gay male community in SF as a testament to the overall benefits of addressing homophobia. In New York, for example, where gay men lived married/straight lives and secret lives of homosexuality, a large contributor to HIV among women and straight people generally was spawned in that environment. In the Black community in America, where homophobia is rampant and people are most apt to be rejected by family for being gay, many men live on the "down low" - masquerading as heterosexual but maintaining gay relationships. The pressure to maintain the facade of the straight lifestyle is what as lead to the spread of HIV among certain groups. Frankly, if people were able to put their homophobia and hatred aside, we could focus on supporting people in having safe and healthy relationships within the context of their sexual orientation - but that's going to take a lot of work from the straight community and as a group they demonstrate little will or courage to heal themselves and address their fears and hatred.

Epidemiologically, HIV is extremely interesting because it flies in the face of what the CDC previously believed about epidemics - namely that the flourished among the poor, uneducated, malnourished, marginalized, etc. This was/is an epidemic that was flourishing among wealthier, generally more educated, more privileged people. Thus was born the notion of "pandemics" or intersecting epidemics and a recognition of how truly deadly things like homophobia are in fueling epidemics.

Most people think of gay men when I talk about HIV, which leaves lesbians feeling "safe" and not touched the same way. But rates of breast cancer are astronomically higher among lesbians compared to straight women - as are rates of substance and alcohol abuse, suicide, etc. Narrow-minded straight people will say that the increased use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc. are just another consequence of their "evil ways" - and never take responsibility for fact that medicating and self abuse are ways that people respond to be treated as second class, unvalued and under-valued citizens. The straight community's treatment of gay people is probably the largest "leison" of the gay community - and why in the course of coming out, at least for a spell, many gay and lesbian people turn to separatism from the straight community in order to heal from the toxic affects of judgment and rejection.

Anyways.. I digress. I liked both movies. You ARE brave and it's good you're inspired to be even braver - because that's your true nature and as you embrace it you heal!


just me - titration said...

zu how did you get to be so educational! Thank you for sharing all this. Good added perspective.

Anonymous said...

very cool comments by zuzu... loved how she said being brave is your true nature - it is!!! i love the question that you figured out while talking to L... i could have told you the same thing she said... i'm glad she helped give voice to a great question in this process... what's the focus? what's the goal? (you and I had this conversation when we talked about do you really want to date a bunch of people or are you looking for a committed relationship - in the long-run?) because we can often be looking at one thing when what we really want is something else. J

Anonymous said...

the whole "i could have told you the same thing l said" means I could've seen myself giving that same example! (not I could've told you THAT!)