Running towards bullets

Jim Kristofic notes in his autobiography, Navajos Wear Nikes, that school violence can be horrifically commonplace on the Rez. Still, most violence happens in homes and in secret. Kristofic's vivid images of patching up bloody abrasions and suturing cuts reflect an awareness, but only a tangential one, of the violence that dominates the everyday reality of people caught in cycles of poverty and trauma. This is true on the reservation and this is true in most places in the U.S. There is no way that just being a "tough noodle" can protect you from eruptions of violence that eventually maim and kill.

There were certainly markers of this kind of extreme violence where I grew up. The family station wagon I spent my early youth packing and riding carried a wound from a school parking lot shootout. While my mom was driving to school, a murderer sprayed a bullet into the tailgate of her car. I don't remember the shooting, save the fact that our car had a scar for taking the projectile--I was only four, after all. I had an awareness that a police officer was killed, as there was a memorial eventually erected in the parking lot. What I also don't remember is much discussion of this kind of extreme violence--which seems a little odd to me because my father was a social worker who dealt with broken lives. It just didn't come up.

In my family, conversations about violence centered upon dealing with the occasional violence we might encounter at school. "Hit back: hit hard," my dad would advise me when he discovered I was thrown in the mud, along with my books and homework, by a group of older kids in 2nd grade; he reminded me to "remember that they don't hate you--they hate their lives" when I was surrounded by a group of kids in 3rd grade who thought it would be funny to try to stone me; he urged me to "remember that you have it better, but know that you have to stand up to people who want hurt you"when I was pulled down from behind and beaten by a group of kids in 4th grade. I eventually learned how to deal with the surface violence. Lay low. Don't bring attention to yourself. Don't be loud. Don't stand too tall. When cornered, make it apparent that you can and will do damage if pressed. Quickly, and with effectiveness.

This kind of temporary hardness helped me when I had a knife pulled on my in junior high, when I played football in high school, when I had to kick wannabe gangsters and drunk troublemakers out of where I worked, and, eventually, when I had to stop would-be rapists on the street. This is the kind of violence that exists around us all. It's what we all swim through, even if we never have to throw a punch or talk down somebody shaking and screaming for a fight in the middle of a busy intersection.

A little less certain, however, is how anybody will deal with circumstances that might result in cascading death. I would like to think I would be like the Sandy Hook principal who ran to stop the slaughter. After all, this March, in South Sudan we ran into the pitch-black night towards the gunshot of an AK-47 to see if we could protect a Thompson's gazelle we were bottle-feeding. Still, there is no way to know how I would deal with this hypothetical. Only soldiers and civilians living in war zones know about living on the serrated edge of these eruptions.

We need to keep demilitarizing our country, until we can see beneath the trauma. We are not there yet.



A few of you asked me to post my thoughts on the Alien(s) prequel Prometheus, so I'll share 10 assorted thoughts and questions, with none of them particularly summative (I think). If you want my more global take on the movie, I fall somewhere between Roger Ebert's awe and Kenneth Turan's disappointment. I really enjoyed the movie (in some ways, more than the original Alien).

1. When critics say that the movie poses more questions than answers, they are right. It does. No, it doesn't quite make sense. Neither did Alien (or, frankly, Star Wars).

2. It is a colorful, and often bright movie. I was surprised by how the open shots of every planet felt so depopulated, but that even the most claustrophobic inside shots felt like they were full of life. The grandeur of space felt incredibly empty, and contrasted easily with the lived spaces of the spaceship Prometheus and the alien environments.

3. Do the Alien snakes descend from the earthworms that the camera briefly flashes before us? Is that what eventually turns into the nasty menace we see in the later films? If so, what role does the Engineer goop-weapon play? The simplest answer seems to be that the "Creators" created evolution, which overtakes them. Allegory, anyone?

4. Loved the Iceland landscapes. Great choice of location to film.

5. Noomi Rapace is great (as is Charlize Theron), but Michael Fassbender just steals every scene that he is in. I had a hard time NOT suspending disbelief in this cool, resentful android. Creepy, cold, and yet completely and believably human in his hubris and treachery.

6. It's interesting that this film is halfway between an epic adventure and a horror film. Almost every film in this series attempts a different genre (haunted house horror/war movie/thriller/adventure/etc.). I think this genre blending is where it mostly fails. Horror fans are disappointed, as are the epic fanboys.

7. Seeing The Avengers right after this film shows just how well made it is. It's certainly no Blade Runner, or even Thelma and Louise, but this a solid movie on almost all levels. Not transcendent, but just go to Battleship to show just how off the mark a big-budget CAN be. Readjust expectation.

8. Didn't see it in 3-D. Won't. Don't care.

9. I appreciate Scott throwing in two idiots to kill off first. It makes the rest of the carnage less difficult to stomach. It's a cheap thrill, but it shows that Scott isn't above appealing to the groundlings in all of us.

10. Even though the now-famous self-performed C-section wasn't as horrific as I expected (it could hardly live up to what my mind conjured), the sequence that ensues elevates Dr. Shaw to the Pantheon of Badasses. Ripping one alien out of your body, surviving a meeting with her maker, and then surviving the destruction of not one, but two ships (all while we realize she is still probably leaking from her self-surgery) pretty much puts her in the Hall of Badassery. As far as I'm concerned, that should be enough--Dr. Shaw then insisting on going after the Gods who caused all of this mayhem pushes her to the front of the table. Bad. Freaking. Ass.