Monday, November 8, 2010

Mean Girls in Pleasantville

Mean Girls, Paramount, 2004
So, what would have happened if the Plastics had ended up in Pleasantville instead of David and his sister Jennifer?  What would have become of them?  Would they have changed the parameters of their surroundings, or would their surroundings have enveloped them and made them pleasant people?  And, would that have been better really or just more convenient for the people they came into contact with?

I have been pondering my own personality and propensity for being judgmental or mean-spirited in light of my strong reaction to the blogger Maura Kelly.   They say confession is good for the soul, and I would also like to believe that I continue to strive for brutal honesty within the confines of this blog or else it won't achieve its goals.  So, here goes.

The question I had to ask myself is whether or not I had ever been mean-spirited at all (that was an easy one:  I'm a gossip-prone female, of course I have), and more particularly, have I ever been mean spirited in my blog?  The answer, ashamedly so, is yes.  For one example, in my little fiction trilogy I wrote last spring to be able to examine my issues with people who wanted things from me following Mother's death that I wasn't prepared or able to offer I dropped one thing in there that wasn't fictional.  With some admitted relish, I attributed a comment to one of my characters that had actually been made to me.  The individual who made it originally happened to read the post and clearly saw herself in the character and was hurt by it.  We've severed our relationship since.

Don't look for that post.  I took it down and apologized to the individual involved.  But, I plopped it in there originally out of spite.  If I said anything differently, I'd be lying.   The individual and I had a history of little tits for tats before we just called it a day actually.  The person said some things about me as a parent that shook me to the core when Kelsey first began struggling, and worse still said them to others, for whatever reason, never having the ability to man-up and say anything to me directly.  But, as will tend to happen, they made their way back to me, with some enhancements, I am sure.  For my turn, I was overly critical of the individual, quick to pounce on any little slip.   We went back and forth in a passive-aggressive grudge match for a long time, neither one of us - in my opinion - occupying a moral high ground.  Finally, and very gradually, it dissipated.  I was able to let the hurt go, the person in question didn't seem intent to build up their own sense of self by tearing me down any longer, and things were repaired.  Until the spring that is.  I could justify my actions in the weight of my circumstances, but I won't bother.  It was just plain mean - even if only the two of us knew about it.  But, surely, you say, having realized the hurt you caused, you have gone on to make sure you don't hurt others in this manner, correct?  So not correct.  I can trash-talk with the best of them.  I won't give you examples, just trust me.

Therefore, I had to question my own right to be so angry with an individual for simply expressing her heartfelt opinion on an issue, just because it dealt with body image issues, which are core to individuals struggling with ED.  That brought me back to some of the other issues I've blogged about recently, which is the State of the Nation's politics.  I was watching the Presidential Press Conference the day after the mid-term elections and was aghast at some of the press and their open disdain of the President.  They were rude, and there were no two ways about it.  Part and parcel, I was sad to think, of the current political climate.  We cannot agree to disagree and leave our differences at the polls.  I want my right to speak out in defense of the things I believe in - I tend to believe in things strongly - but I have to accept that this means others have the right to voice their opinions in opposition.  I've heard the same thing probably all of you have:  never discuss religion or politics.  I'll engage in both with gusto.  But, I want the participants, myself included, to respect others with opposite views.  Discuss and engage, hope to persuade maybe, but don't ridicule or deride the other side.  I'm guilty of not practicing what I just preached, but even I will say I'm not close to the worst.  We've jumped the shark somewhere along the line as a country, I sometimes think.

Yet, as I ponder all of this, I wonder if this is the natural result of the First Amendment in the Internet age, and is it just a price we have to pay for that freedom?  One of the reasons Pleasantville is one of my favorite movies (NOT one of the Big Six) is that it works on so many levels.  You can skim along the surface and watch it as a pleasing, quirky comedy, or you can see layer after layer of social commentary served up like a hot fudge sundae with a technicolor cherry on top.  It also sports one of my all-time favorite movie lines.  One of the lessons of the movie, in my opinion, is that extreme civility and politeness is stifling and insincere.  The prejudices are still there, but they are buried in a blandness and a refusal to recognize or allow anything outside the norm.  Because you do not say it or because you say it sweetly with a smile does not make it any less heinous.   Didn't I grow up believing that if more people had spoken up against the Nazi party as it rose to power, less people would have had to die?  Therefore, should I vilify an individual for simply telling the world what she truly thinks?  Should Juan Williams have lost his job because he told the truth about being nervous about getting on a plane with someone who is Muslim?  Because, tell me the truth, how many of you have, no matter how much you don't want to, had the same misgivings?  You may feel ashamed of it and may fight that inclination in yourself, but you still notice now when you didn't pay the slightest bit of attention before 9-11.  Maybe it was an awful thing to say in public given his position, yet maybe let him take his hits like the editors of Marie Claire are doing with Maura Kelly, but let him keep his job and the chance to mend his reputation.  Who knows what the right thing is here?  Who has the corner on what's right and what's wrong?

I know I wanted that young woman's head on a platter on one point earlier in the week.  Since then, I don't know.  I'm just sad about it.  I'm sad that she feels the way she does (because, no, I do not feel her apology was sincere) because it means she has not truly recovered.  Because it means she feels that certain people are less worthy than others.  Because I have to confess, I am the same way, but about other things.  And because all of us - or almost all of us - are too.  Yet, our differences of opinion make us colorful, and isn't a colorful world more exciting and dynamic?

Pleasantville, NewLine Cinema, 1998

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