Moral Gray Area and the Myths of Civilization

One of the best ways to teach a lesson is through storytelling. We see this in many children’s books and fairy tales such as the story of Pinocchio. Not only can storytelling teach lessons, but it can also be used in uncovering the myths of civilization. Issues in society today can be difficult to fully understand when immediately faced with the problem. Sometimes it can be hard to cope with or difficult to accept that people are suffering from these complications. In order to find ways to convey the message of these issues, it is best to do it through the use of storytelling. The Battle of Algiers is a strong example of a movie that challenges myth that human beings are violent. The Battle of Algiers strongly shows that when it comes to violence, there is a lot of moral gray area.

“History is repeated” is a known saying when referring to different situations society faces over time. It is true that many cases in history prove to be similar; therefore we have the ability to learn from the previous events. By telling stories of past experiences we are able to learn from them and work to handle the current situation differently. Story telling “sets out to paint a picture of homo sapiens which a being from another world, or, better, being from our own… might recognize as something approaching the truth” (Kingsnorth and Hine). In doing this, we are able to challenge the myths of civilization, such as the myth of human violence, and help to create new ones.

The Battle of Algiers is a French movie about the fight for Algerian independence from France in 1953. It tells the story of the FLN and the French Military battling in guerilla warfare. The director, Gillo Pontecorvo, made the attempt to produce an objective film from the side of both the FLN and the French Military/police force. Through the use of this strategy we are able to evaluate the myth of violence. The movie portrays a very violent image of human nature, especially when portraying attack scenes. There are two scenes in the movie that provide us with the image of extreme violence. The first scene is the scene in which the three ladies each take a bomb and bring it to the café, disco, or airport. The bombs then go off killing many innocent French people including children. The second scene that conveys the image of violence is the scene when the French Military retaliates and blows up a house killing many innocent Algerians. Both of these scenes are extremely upsetting and are followed up by scenes of people rushing to help those who were hurt. This movie portrayed humans as violent and somewhat merciless, but it also challenged this portrayal through several other scenes.

One of the techniques used in making this film was the use of the documentary style. During the 1950s, people would go to the movies in order to receive their news and watch clips that appeared to be in the style as a documentary. Pontecorvo’s use of this technique is effective in the sense that it makes it so that it feels less distant for the audience (as this movie was made in 1966 so much of the audience had received the news in this way). By making it so that is was less distant and being objective in portraying each side, Pontecorvo is able to challenge the barbaric myths of society. As people are able to closely connect to the film they have a harder time distinguishing which side they should be partial to. The audience feels sympathy for both the French and the Algerians. Each side attempts to justify their reasoning behind killing. In a scene that shows one of the leaders of the FLN, Ben M’Hidi, is questioned if it is cowardly using the baskets of his women to hide bombs and kill innocent people. M’Hidi responds, “isn’t it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousand of time times more?” (Pontecorvo). In order to justify the FLN’s acts of violence, M’Hidi points out that the French use equally, if not more violence. If one side can use violence, it is only right that the other side get to use violence as well. We see France as this “civilized” nation, however they are committing extreme violent acts as well. This calls into question what is actually morally right and morally wrong. Each side sees justification of their violence, however, the audience sees the violence differently.

Another way in which this movie challenges the myth of human violence is the soundtrack the movie uses. In scenes illustrating the post-attack, Bach is playing in the background. The song is very solemn and melancholy and produces a mournful feeling. This sadness makes it difficult for an audience member to find justification in the violent acts, as many of the people who were killed were in fact innocent. There is repetition of this song as well in the scene in which the bombs go off killing the French as well as when the bomb goes off killing the Algerians. This provides a connection because the two scenes and the two different sides, making it difficult for the audience to sympathize with one side more than the other. The feelings of those who suffered from the violent acts can be seen as similar for both the Algerians and the French by the use of the same sad song. By employing the use of the same sad song, Pontecorvo is challenging the myth of human violence, however challenges the audience in determining exactly what is morally right and wrong.

As the audience sees the violent acts of both the French and the Algiers, there are moments that offer potential new stories in place of others. In one scene when the character Ali is talking to M’Hidi, they are discussing the effectiveness of the strike and Ali mentions he was not in favor of it. M’Hidi responds, “acts of violence don’t win wars, neither wars nor revolutions, terrorism is a useful start, but then the people themselves must act” (Pontecorvo). This suggests a possible new story in that violence may not be absolutely necessary at all in starting a revolution. If a group of people can get enough attention through an act such as a strike, it is possible to avoid violence. Even at the end, Colonel Mathew offers Ali the chance to surrender in order to avoid death. With the old stories of this movie provides, it is possible to create new stories through the lessons learned in the old stories. An audience today can use this movie as an example on ways to evade violence based on the mistakes and good decisions these characters made. Although this is a fictional story, there is some truth in the events that are portrayed as it is based on the actual Algerian war, however there are still substantial amounts of grey area in terms of what is morally right. The underlying message and truths of the war can still be seen in the movie The Battle of Algiers.

These possible new stories can offer potential hope in situations we are facing today. In the United States today we are battling against new terrorism from the Middle East. Stories like the Battle of Algiers offer hope because we can see the successes of the Algerian War and learn from them. This offers hope because we now have access to information that could help in the United States’ current situation. Based on how France and Algeria handled the situation and documented the events that occurred, the United Stats can base their actions on the successes of France. The ability to learn from the old stories is what creates new stories and hope for the future. Eventually, the Algerian War ended and the violence subsided. Seeing that the violence did eventually end provides hope for future situations that it will end.

Story telling is absolutely crucial in learning lessons of the past. Through these lesson we can learn how much more effectively handle situations. The movie, The Battle of Algiers tells the myth of human violence in society and challenges this myth through the ways in which the movie was made. Because the movie was produced to be viewed in an objective manner, it challenges this myth of violence, as it is difficult to justify the violence of either side. Through these stories we are able to create new ones by choosing to act differently in situations similar to the old story. Seeing the successes and failures of the old story can provide hope because we have access to information on a similar event to the current situation. This information can then be applied to the issue at hand in hopes of a more positive outcome. Without storytelling, we would never be able to learn from the past and history truly would repeat itself. Humans do tend exhibit a violent nature, but through the use of stories from the past, we can attempt to avoid as much violence as possible. In Battle of Algiers we are challenged to sympathize with the terrorists, which provides us with their prospective. This can be applied to the current situation of the United States, and, if we work to use non-violence and understand the terrorist side, may result in less violence. Although storytelling is highly effective in teaching lessons of the past, it also leaves large amounts of moral gray area when facing certain situations.

 

Works Cited

Kingsnorth, Paul, and Dougald Hine. “Uncivilization Manifesto.” (2009)Print.

The Battle of Algiers. Dir. Pontecorve, Gillo. Perf. Jean Martin, et al. , 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Impacted Me the Most in this Course

One text/topic that had a large impact on the way I think is Between the World and Me, by Ta-Neshisi Coates. I understand that in the present day there are still serious issues regarding race and inequality, however, I grew up in a predominantly white town; therefore I can honestly say I do not believe I was fully aware of the true intensity of the issues. The part in the book that proved most striking to me was the topic of Coates’ children. He talks about how they still suffer from the same struggles, such as verbal abuse and violence, that previous generations have. Coates says, “… for all our differing worlds, at your age my feeling was exactly the same” (Coates 21), which is interesting because over the years there have been many reforms to work to improve these issues. Coates even mentions that in his childhood there was no black president, but now there is and still fears are the same. I have analyzed and used this passage many times this semester because to me personally it is very disheartening that despite the efforts to solve these issues, they are still so strongly present in society today. What more could we be doing to make it so that these issues are no longer such a huge part of society. Is it just a matter of time? I personally believe that these issues have improved simply based off of the history I have learned and the present conditions of this country. There is no longer segregation and there are many stories of successful people who started off in adverse conditions. Ben Carson is an extremely successful neurosurgeon and also ran for president of the United States for 2016. He grew up very poor, but worked through out his whole life to overcome the hardship he faced as a child. Now he is the head of the neuroscience department at John Hopkins University. When Coates talked about how even in this generation there are the same fears in a way it confused me. I understand that there are most definitely hardships in terms of race and society today, but there are also significant changes that are being made in order to help the situation. I think that all parents believe that their children are facing the same issues they were. The only things that changed are the different situations of each generation. The same feelings are the root of the struggles. Though it surprises me that Coates believes children now are still feeling the same, it also makes sense because it takes time for issues so large to be resolved.

Work Cited

IMG_7063

My Mother and Me on My Graduation Day

Defying Double Consciousness through Musical Expression

The United States is composed of an eclectic group of cultures, each thriving in its own way. One of the most influential cultures in America is black culture. Black culture dates back to slavery when slaves would sing songs while they worked in the fields. Since then, black culture has grown and shaped America in various ways such as language, fashion and music.

Music particularly has influenced black culture. From the days of the slaves, to blues and soul in the early 1900s, to modern hip-hop, music has been a form of expression for the black community. Du Bois emphasizes the importance of the songs the slaves sang for “these songs [were] the articulate message of the slave world”(Du Bois, 207). Without these songs, the slaves would not have been able to preserve their culture and express their values due to the oppressive conditions society imposed upon them. Additionally, in the early 1900s, Billie Holiday used her music to express her dismay during a time when blacks were mistreated. In her song, “Strange Fruit”, Holiday sings about African Americans that were lynched on trees, specifically in the South. Her line “black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze” draws attention to the brutality blacks were facing at the time (Holiday). “Strange Fruit” received substantial amounts of attention because it openly expressed the horrors of society blacks were experiencing at the time, which were unfortunately some issues black culture had to face.

Due to the issues faced in black culture, there exists a feeling of what Du Bois refers to as “double consciousness”. Double consciousness is “the sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” (Du Bois, 5). In other words, double consciousness is allowing others, or society, to define who you are as an individual. It is not uncommon to be consumed by social norms and lose sight of one’s individual personality. Successful hip-hop dancer Duane Holland uses music to inspire his dance moves. Through his dances, he is able to express himself as an individual, defying double consciousness and push his boundaries instead of taking what society has given him. Through his ability to choreograph his own dance moves, he is expressing his individuality, therefore defying double consciousness. Not only does music help Holland with expression, but it is also a way in which the community can come together (Holland). The issue of double consciousness is present in the slave song, “Strange Fruit”, and Holland’s dances because of the poor, violent conditions blacks constantly face and these artists ability to defy it by expressing their individuality. With the help of music, it is easier to preserve individuality through the art of expression.

Black culture is also expressed in the music produced today. Wiz Khalifa embodies the idea of double consciousness in his song “Medicated” through his personal experience and how he eventually defied it. Artists who have grown up in a more difficult environment, such as poverty or violence, take the opportunity of turning their experiences into music as Khlifa does. Although music has changed over the centuries, Khalifa’s song “Medicated” conveys the same struggles blacks face and express in their music because while some struggles have changed, others have not over the years.

Khalifa was born into a military family in the city of Minot, North Dakota. His parents divorced when he was three years old. Because of the military life style, his family moved often until finally settling in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania where he attended high school. At the early age of nine, Khalifa discovered his love for music and began writing his own lyrics (Mead).

Khalifa’s song “Medicated”, tells the story of a black boy growing up in a rough environment, dreams of eventually becoming successful. The song starts with the lyric “back when I was young, I had dreams of getting richer” then progresses into a bitter tone in saying “cause most n***** never make it they standing where I’m from”(Khalifa). The innocence Khalifa experiences as a child allows him to have big dreams, but once he is introduced to the stereotypes of society, it becomes harder for him to envision himself achieving these dreams. Stereotypes are part of what double consciousness is, in that it is how other people view you as an individual. It is clear that the environment in which Khalifa grew up in was not ideal and because of the influence of society, he was pressured to believe that he might not achieve his dream. Through out the song Khalifa raps about the effect his surroundings had on him such as “ain’t no conversation all they understand is get a gun”(Khalifa), they meaning the black people, which illustrates the violence he grew up in and experienced. He also repeats the line “I’m from straight up off the corner”(Khalifa), which calls forth an image of someone living in poor conditions. This line is particularly striking because of the repetition and the subtle, but sends the powerful message of success, as he is “straight up off the corner”, but now is a successful rapper. By the end of the song this lyric allows the listener to truly understand his success in contrast to where he came from originally.

He also sings of the importance of family and community, which is valued in black culture. Toward the end of the song, Khalifa raps about when his cousin dies and how he wishes he could “bring [him] off the street”(Khalifa). This line not lonely indicates the violence he suffered, but also the love he felt for his cousin and the community aspect of black culture. It is often perceived by present day Americans, that the majority of Africa Americans live in this violent type of setting and have a more difficult time finding their way out (of the neighborhood). Often times African Americans will express their desire to get off the streets. However, Khalifa’s lyrics suggest that he felt as though society imposed these particular living conditions on him. Because he was able to recognize that society was imposing upon his own individuality, he was able to overcome double consciousness and see his own potential. Khalifa indicates that those who do not approve of him, otherwise known as haters, have little effect on his life.

Khalifa’s song “Medicated” illustrates how he was able to overcome his own double consciousness imposed on him by society and view himself as an individual and become the artist he wanted to be. He is simply expressing himself and the experience of many other African Americans through his music. The song ends with the lines “ridin’ down the street way I’m grinding is unique”(Khalifa), demonstrating how Khalifa is able to stay true to his own personal identity and not view himself through the eyes of others. Khalifa’s lyrics indicate his pride in the positive situation he has achieved over the years. He was able to over come the stereotypes of society and remain who he wanted to be, feeding his individuality through his music.

In addition, the progression of the song embodies double consciousness in that Khalifa in his younger years was in fact influenced by the ideas of society. He mentions how difficult it is to make it off the streets, which are the common view of those in higher classes in society, on the black population. For a while he is blinded by the way other people look at him and lives in the stereotypical way society expects. The initial lyrics to the song embody double consciousness; however, by the end of the song he makes it clear he was able to begin to see himself through his own eyes and not allow social norms to influence him. This is Khalifa’s way of overcoming double consciousness and remaining his own individual. Khalifa knew he had a passion for music, but it took him time before he was able to discover his individuality.

Similar to the Sorrow Songs and “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, Wiz Khalifa sings of the struggles he had to face in his life. The challenges he was presented with are similar to the challenges other blacks must face. Like the slaves and Holiday, Khalifa uses music to express himself and send the message of the black community into society. In each generation a new type of music is used to express the same message of struggle in black culture. In Ta-Neshisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, he mentions that struggles, despite reforms, have not changed. He talks about how his son suffers from the same challenges he suffered as a child and teenager, regardless of all the changes that have been made to improve them (Coates 21). The challenges society has imposed on the black community continue to impact their lives. Music can be considered as a kind of coping strategy for dealing with these issues. Many of the different conflicts the black community faces are illustrated in the music they produce and perform. It is a way in which they can defy double consciousness and identify with themselves as both individuals and a community. Music provides a chance for expression, with this it is easier to see through double consciousness and see personal individuality through the eyes of the individual and not through the eyes of society.

Music is a key aspect in culture that shapes the ways in which the black community can express themselves. However, in society today it is difficult to over come the way others see you and remain an individual. Wiz Khalifa’s song “Medicated” illustrates his own personal struggle with double consciousness, but how he was eventually able to over come it. Through the use of music, the black community is able to express their culture.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. New York, New York: Spiegal & Grau, 2015. Print.

Wiz Khalifa. Medicated. , 2012.

Mead, Wendy. “Wiz Khalifa Biography.” The Biography.com website. Web. <http://www.biography.com/people/wiz-khalifa-012916&gt;.

The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903. Print.

Billie Holiday. Strange Fruit. , 1939.

 

Duane Dancing Reel. Anonymous Prod. Holland Duane Lee. 2008.

 

 

 

Who Owns Earth?

Society today is currently facing many issues. Some of these issues include economics, social acceptance, and the environment. Although the other two issues prove to be important, the environment has been a struggle humans have been battling for years. After the industrial revolutions, the technological progress people began to make was instrumental. Human society began to progress with intense speed and continues to do so to this day. However, while the progress may be beneficial to humans, it is destroying our Earth. Chemicals are constantly being release into our atmosphere creating many problems such as a hole in the Ozone layer and high amounts of CO2. This is extremely harmful to the environment and adversely impacts those, humans, animals, and plants, who live in it. In the 1950s, Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring, which highlighted the issue of DDT and other harmful affects to the environment. She states that while humans are using DDT to benefit themselves, it is having extreme affects on the environment. If one species were to go extinct due to a chemical such as DDT, not only does it impact that species, but it also impacts those around it who are dependent upon it. Species depend on each other to survive and with humans imposing on nature in ways such as using insecticides, we are causing a detrimental impact on our earth. Carson states, “the most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials” (Carson 6). Despite the fact that this book was written in the 1950s, specifically about DDT, which is no longer used in America, the issues Carson addresses can be applied to the issues today. One of the main purposes of Carson’s book is to make people more aware of the effects of the chemical they are using. “Much of the necessary knowledge is now available,” but people are not using what they know to find solutions; instead, people are simply ignoring the problem (Carson 11). Unfortunately for us humans, our selfish acts will literally be the death of us. Because of the waste we produce, the forests we destroy and the seas we pollute, our Earth is deteriorating, at much faster rates as time goes on. It is important to take notice of the harmful affects what we are doing has on our environment in order to preserve the planet we have. Humans live in a delusion they are superior to nature, when in reality we are a part of it.

Work Cited

Is Happiness a Part of Society Today?

What is happiness? This question may seem to have a simple answer, but proves to be more daunting when further investigated. If you ask a child what they think happiness is, they will probably mention candy, sports, TV, video game, ect. But buried within these responses is the innocence of youth. The older you become, the harder it is to identify the activities and feelings of happiness. Larger issues become more prevalent in life was we age, therefore creating a blurred image of what happiness is. For example, it is harder for children to understand the concept of death; however, as you become older the thought of losing someone forever is more easily understood and creates a stronger emotional response. In humanity we struggle with what true happiness is. We are blinded by the pressures of society such as social pressure and economic pressure. Because there are such high expectations in our society, people tend to focus more so on the negative aspects of life in order to achieve what they think could be happiness. For example, a businessman will work a boring job for years in hope of eventually achieving a dream that may include a family, financial stability, or a home. Consequently, he must endure years of tedious work and misery before he could possibly reach his happiness. Happiness is different for every individual. One might find happiness in love; another might find it in the woods or on a boat. But in the society we live in today, it makes it very difficult for an individual to truly enjoy himself or herself. In Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, a man named Septimus, who suffers from severe PTSD, does not find happiness in life and eventually kills himself. Mrs. Dalloway overhears the news at the party and begins to question what happiness is. Reflecting on the suicide of Septimus, she concludes that “death [is] defiance” from the miseries people face when alive (Woolf 184). In addition, Sigmund Freud mentions in his book Civilization and its Discontent that “satisfaction is obtained from illusions” (Freud 50), and some mechanism used to cope with unhappiness include “powerful deflections… substitutive satisfactions… and intoxication substances” (Freud 41), which goes to show how superficial happiness can be. Society today struggles with the concept of happiness and whether or not people are truly happy. The social normal imposes substantial amounts of pressure on people to fit in with society as opposed to finding individual happiness. Each individual has their own perception of what happiness is, but society today makes it almost impossible to some day achieve that goal.

Work Cited