I saw Django Unchained earlier this week and enjoyed it, but still had some issues. There has been much talk about the catharsis provided by seeing slaves rise up and fight openly against their masters, but I see nothing cathartic about it. As the wonderful Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, it gives the impression that slavery is more about white people than black people. It’s the same reason I couldn’t love Inglourious Basterds, despite knowing many who thought it was a masterpiece. Wouldn’t it be fun to shoot Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, and all those other assholes or at least watch them burn to death? Maybe as a cheap thrill, but as anything more than that, it lacks a certain something. Don’t get me wrong–Django is highly entertaining, well-acted, and contains many memorable scenes of Tarantino’s signature dialogue and short, explosive bursts of cartoonish violence. It just isn’t that deep, is all. Samuel L. Jackson has an interesting role as a house slave whose Stepin Fetchit exterior masks a cold, calculating intellect, but other than that, the film doesn’t have much to say besides “Slavery was bad”. The possibility that one could own slaves or support the slave trade and not be an irredeemably awful human being is not even entertained, as that would complicate Tarantino’s borderline-pornographic fantasy. There are otherwise decent people who oppose gay marriage or disliked the idea of women’s suffrage or integration. But every slaver we meet in the film is evil to the core. That way, Tarantino–I mean, Django and his companion(s)–can murder them guilt-free.
There is a scene in the film that is bound to spark conversation at a few dinner parties. (I’ll keep this spoiler-free.) In it, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character cuts open the skull of a deceased slave that his father had owned and explains that black people’s brains are malformed so as to make them the most submissive race on the planet. My thoughts drifted back to, of all people, my former roommate/landlord/whatever, Robert, a man who was just about the friendliest and most personable fellow you could imagine, until he threw me out on a whim. Basically, he regarded me as a lesser human being. To him, I was not one of “his people”, just some college kid who was occupying a room in his apartment until he decided that he didn’t want me there anymore. It’s hard for me to put into words the pain that I felt when I read his two-sentence email (he neglected to tell me in person despite seeing me several times that day) informing me that I needed to pack my shit up and leave by the end of the month and offering no reason as to why. He was gay, which I mention only because one of his first questions for me when I came to look at the place was, “Are you gay-friendly?” Setting my own sexuality aside, I’m from California, and voted no on Proposition 8. So yeah, you could say so. But if Robert could, I think he would own slaves.
Vengeance is not inherently evil, but as an end unto itself, it’s somewhat lacking. I rarely get revenge on the people who have hurt me, although I might if the opportunity presented itself. It’s hard to know whether they have earned forgiveness until you are presented with the chance to offer it. And sometimes, the altruistic choice is not the best one. Some people are just parasites who will take a mile for every inch they are offered. I’ve met plenty, and I suspect I will meet plenty more.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from living in California and New York–two of America’s great liberal bastions–it’s that there are a lot of shitty liberals out there. Your political affiliation is just a label, after all, and if you voted for Barack Obama but still treat waiters like shit, then you support his ideals of equal opportunity for all only in theory. I kind of miss the days when I could hear a Republican argue and think that they were making a good point. A few people I know like Chris Christie, but about all I’ll give him is that he’s less of an asshole than Boehner, McConnell, and their ilk. That’s setting the bar very, very low. There were probably slaveowners who treated their slaves better than some Northern businessmen treated their low-ranking employees. That doesn’t make slavery any less evil, but it does put the whole issue in perspective. How many people have you screwed over just because you knew you could get away with it? What you believe is less important than your ability to think for yourself.
I tried not to get overly reflective on New Year’s. Naturally, my Facebook feed was full of people looking back on all of the wonderful/dramatic/terrible/interesting things that had happened over the last year, and hoping that the new year brought more adventures, but to me, it was just one more day. My break has not been very sociable so far. I’ve reached out to some people, but most everyone is just going on with their lives, only vaguely aware that I’m still around. Or maybe I’m just being dramatic. All I know is that I’m tired of begging people to notice me. They’ll do what they do, and I don’t have much of a choice except to deal with it. And every now and then, I break through.
My brother lives in Seattle. I wonder what it’s like over there.