August 20, 2011

The King's Speech - A Beautiful Bromance

Every now and then there comes along a movie which recalibrates my whole being. This year The King's Speech was such a movie. I saw it for the first time in Renoir Cinema in London in January. Later I have seen it five more times, I think.

The movie has been characterized as a bromance - a compound word of "brother" and "romance". I had not heard the term before. So I did a little reading around the term. A bromance is a close, but non-sexual relationship between two (or more) men, a form of homosocial intimacy.

I remember when I first arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1995. There were many strange smells and scenes, but one of the most startling sights was the widespread physical contact between males. Everywhere I walked I saw men touching, holding hands, piggybacking, and walking together with arms crossed behind the back of his friend, a hand placed in the other's back pocket - if I didn't know better, I might mistake it to be a homosexual metropolis. However, it was just a beautiful expression of the close relationships males can have in Asia.

Fast forward a couple of years, I am studying in the Pirate University of Norway and have several fellow students from Nepal, among them Tiger (whom I have written about before here). One day we had a new arrival from Nepal - Thompson, also known as Snow Leopard (read more about him here). As we were having tea after dinner, Snow Leopard was sitting next to Tiger, his arm wrapping around Tiger in that comforting way males touch in Nepal. "Snow Leopard, you should be careful", Tiger smiled. He then proceeded with acquired wisdom: "If you do this in public here in Norway, people will think we are homosexuals!" Snow Leopard bounced away as if electrocuted. "Homosexual!?! That is horrible!" Snow Leopard  had just been expelled from paradise, and I had witnessed it with a sad heart. How perverted we Westerners are, I thought to myself. I felt ashamed.

One common view is that the fear of homosexuality "broke out" in the West in the late 19th century with the emergence of Freudianism and more visible homosexuality; heterosexual men began to fear expression of intense emotions.

Luckily, it seems that things might be changing. Boys who grew up with "feminist mothers" from the 70s onward are apparently more emotionally expressive and responsive than previous generations who grew up with "traditional views" of masculinity. In fact, research has shown that men who have these traditional views of masculinity have trouble understanding, identifying, and relating to emotions. It is a disturbing thought in itself - that there might be a large part of a generation consisting of men unable to have close relationships with other human beings. Personally I am happy for this emerging more flexible view of masculinity and the "new man" who can relate to feelings. It seems to bode well for better relationships between people, and for the health of men themselves.

In the King's Speech the main character Prince Albert (who becomes King George VI) is a man deeply conflicted largely because of the loveless relations to his father and his brother, and his lack of any close friends to confide in. His main obstacle in his function as a prince is his persistent stuttering - an impediment he has had since he was a little boy. In the movie we see how he is introduced to the speech therapist Lionel Logue and how the relationship unfolds. A most beautiful bromance.

I think the official movie trailer was OK, but I have found a trailer made by a young woman, Lolilie, who makes alternative movie trailers as a hobby. I hope you enjoy, and if you haven't seen The King's Speech, well - do. I am sure to post more regarding this movie in the future, but this is my first take on it.

August 16, 2011

Tuchman's Law and Celebrating what's right with the world

The Scream by Edvard Munch

A couple of days ago I was sitting with my friends Benjamin and Raging Lion. I told them I was feeling down for several reasons, some of them personal - but as we progressed through our conversation it turned out that Benjamin said he was also feeling low these days. It feels as if the whole world is at a low point, he sighed. The hunger threatening Somalia's population; the war in Afghanistan; heads of state killing their own people in Libya and Syria; the global financial crisis; the Norwegian psychopath who gunned down innocent, young people for political reasons; the list goes on. It is easy to feel like one might as well lie down and die.

Then I also remembered in one corner of my mind some perspective of the brilliant historian Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989). I dipped into the internet and fished out the words she wrote in 1978:
Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. This has led me to formulate Tuchman's law, as follows: 
The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (or any figure the reader would care to supply). 
                                              Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

So in order to end this post on a positive note, don't let Edvard Munch and his Scream get you down. Let's look at something better:

Mona Lisa
by Leonardo da Vinci
Barbara Tuchman
with a Mona Lisa smile

And as a final treat and encouragement to you, my dear reader  - I want to share a 22 min video made by National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones called Celebrate What's Right With the World.  Here is the link:


August 5, 2011

Personal Illusions, Old Time Religion, and Terror

Harold Camping - End Time Prophet

Fear is a potent driving force. Some people feel so threatened by the world's complexity. The claims of the ending of the world always follow such fear. The American Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping is one such visionary. He was sure the world would come to an end on May 21 this year. When that didn't happen, he postponed the end of the world till October 21. Then, he himself was suprised by God on June 9th with a stroke. Apparently he is still in hospital. He seemed to have confused the end of the world with his own end.

The man who killed 77 people in the Oslo area on July 22 this year had a similar personal illusion, but instead of merely scaring people, he decided to kill. His own personal struggle with an explosive mix of various scraps of ideology, islamophobia, and high-powered narcissism ended up as an aweful public manifestation. To him, it appears, Europe was about to be crushed in a violent struggle between Muslim and Christian worldviews. Like a Messiah figure in his own eyes, he needed to sacrifice himself to save Europe. He wanted to return to some simpler, purer place. He wanted the Muslims out of Europe; he wanted women to go back to the kitchen and take care of their children and husbands; he wanted men to be more manly and honorable - all in all he wanted to go back to some Old Order and some Old Time Religion. He wanted to go back.

This violent urge to go back to some glorified, "pure" past and old doctrine is nothing new. Changing times are always frightening, and the world today is perhaps changing faster than at any other time in history. That was why I offered the Hindu story of the Churning of the Cosmic Ocean as a profound parable for our times (see that blog post here). After the terrible events of July 22 I again dipped into my Joseph Campbell library of snippets and found a very appropriate response to all kind of fundamentalism. I hope you take time to listen to his thoughtful words, in conversation with Bill Moyers from 1987:

I have found three interesting viewpoints on the incidence in Norway on July 22 by three prominent Norwegian thinkers and writers. The first is by Aslak Sira Myhre - the leader of the House of Literature in Oslo. He writes Time for Norway to face its Islamophobia in the Washington Post.  Author Jo Nesbø writes in the New York Times The Past is a Foreign Country. Finally, a piece in The New Yorker by journalist Knut Olav Åmås: Seven Days in Oslo: Flowers, Flags, Silence.