Friday, February 28, 2014


"Downton Abbey"

Since this is the big Oscar weekend, I’ve been sort of sporadically thinking about movies -- not who should win the prizes, but what the movies tell us.  As a nation we take our cues from them far more than we do from sermons on Sunday.  What do I get from watching “Downton Abbey” and “House of Cards” concurrently?  Because that’s what I did these past weeks, actually picking up episodes of “DA” right after watching “HofC”.  

"House of Cards"

Both are coming to me on the Internet, not on disc or through the big TV networks.  Both are about an elite in power that wants to stay in power, but is often revealed as foolish.  Both explore the “character” of the main politicians, their supports, and their opposition.  Both originated in Great Britain at the BBC.  “DA” is a conscious portrait of idealistic people of whom we want to approve.  It’s a defense of the wealthy, suggesting that they take care of “their people” and their land.  “HofC” is a conscious portrait of the degeneration of leaders and the energy of opportunists.   The original was BBC.  Put through an American filter, it is even more sharp-edged.

Now I'm going to recommend an article.  It’s lazy of me to simply link to the Economist description but otherwise this post would  be very long.  For those who want details about the publication's founding and ownership, which I think is important, here you go.   Generally, it has escaped scandal and earned respect for intelligence.   They describe themselves this way:  it aims "to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress."  That suits me.  Therefore, I take it seriously.  I was looking for an article like this one:

At night I turn my computer entirely off -- like, unplug the electricity.  This is partly because the cat walks across it and in spite of the plastic cover on the keyboard, can otherwise turn it on, and partly because I discovered that my computer was having secret conversations in the night if it were set only on “sleep.”  Silicon pillow talk.  But a few mornings ago I was disconcerted to discover that Yahoo had somehow managed to get access to my OS and had changed my preference for starting searches from a blank page to the Yahoo search page.  It took me a while to realize I had to go into preferences to change back.

Edward Snowden

That would be minor, merely irritating, except for this story:    There are no compromising pics of me on the Internet except a rear shot my father took when I was three.  I suppose someone might be “turned on” by it, though I was interested to be told that face recognition software, which looks for skin tones, is often confused by people’s butts.

"The Jewel in the Crown"

There was a third movie series I was watching during this time period:  “The Jewel in the Crown,” another BBC production that I got on disc from Netflix.  As you can see, I’ve been thinking a lot about government, both from outside and from inside.  The interest comes directly from worrying about the confused fates of the Blackfeet Tribe and the Town of Valier, each of which has managed to reach deadlock exactly like the US government.  They are polarized, xenophobic, worried about their incomes, much richer than they think, and determined to get control since they interpret domination as the only safety.

This is the honorary Blackfeet elders group -- quite blameless, I think.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has decided to stay clear and the legal groundwork for that is in place.  “You want sovereignty?  We’ll give you sovereignty!”  There are people in Valier determined to go the other way:  “Let’s unincorporate.  This town is irreparably broken.”  Part of the problem is that the state has been dictating (for our own good) higher and higher (more and more expensive) improvements to our infrastructure all the while that the population is shrinking.  Valier had thought it was an island of jurisdiction.  They refuse the requirements of the state. 
The just previous town council of Valier

And, with a bow to Gandhi and Nehru, racism confuses everything.  As a white woman with a long history in Browning, I get hit from both sides: a double allegiance.  As a person with a fancy degree, largely achieved by support from private endowments in a denomination and a major university, I feel obligated to "pay back" by using what I know in a practical and contributing way.  That does NOT mean becoming mayor or pamphleteering on the rez.  Much of what it means is to keep thinking and researching.  I'm not making much progress.

I agree with the Economist authors that democracy is in big trouble.I was raised to believe in co-ops.  As a former Unitarian Universalist I believe in principles.  (I try NEVER to drop the Universalist part of the name because it resists elitism and that insidious old idea that only a few are chosen, a cornerstone of Abramic religions.)  As a student of theatre and the arts and as an emergency responder, I know that the media is capable of evil.

Jonathan Swift invented the race of Yahoos.  

The state of Montana is offering communities an opportunity to do a self-study.  They are expensive.  The last time we had one here, the questionnaire sent around was jiggered to ensure people didn’t make trouble.  No one really wants to know.  What we want to know is what the neighbors are sending around on Yahoo and whether their butts are better or worse looking than theirs when they’re uncovered.  Who is the State of Montana to judge?

Both of these communities in question have high levels of alcoholism, if not in the our present voters, then probably in their parents and back farther.  People have kicked substance abuse more than anyone would have predicted, but there are counter forces, the kind of people who, knowing you are diabetic, pressure you to have more pie.  They find their fat friends reassuringly familiar.  They'd like to have your butt on the bar stool next to them.   Regardless of what alcohol and sugar do to your innards, the real damage to society is not the money for your care as you deteriorate, but the constant insistence on secrecy, punishment, stigmatizing, and generally maintaining the status quo at whatever cost.

Montana is one of the few states where a citizen cannot receive Public Broadcasting except through cable or on the Blackfeet reservation where it is rebroadcast through the air.  Discovering that it was available online was wonderful.  President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act into law on November 7, 1967.   He said,  "It announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than a 'chicken in every pot.' We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit. That is the purpose of this act.”

So who pays for me to watch “Downton Abbey” on my computer?  Not the government.  VERY fancy high-end ads from a haute couture designer and a cruise ship company.  There you go.  Why have a democracy when a plutocracy is so much more fun?  If 1% of people are very very rich, which 4 people out of the Valier population of 400 have a LOT of money?  I could name a few.  Of the 8,000 Blackfeet living on the rez (8,000 live somewhere else) who are the 800 who have a LOT of money?  Many nominations.  But so what?  Are you going to burn them out?  Run them off?   India did that to get rid of the colonizers, so they could have a compassionate effective democracy.  How are they doing today?  Or should I start watching “Game of Thrones?”

1 comment:

Karen Scott said...

Terrific articles by the Economist. I am wondering now why I declined their invitation to subscribe. It is a relief to
think about the problem of declining faith in Democracy without the political
mudslinging and hysteria of American
argument these days.