Won't somebody please think of the children?!
The White Ribbon
Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Politi-Flix was able to secure copies of some recent complaints submitted via email to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the recently aired Presidential State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. Here’s a representative submission:
Ok, so this purported email complaint is fictitious. You know, a practical joke designed to make a point — sort of like impersonating phone repairmen and seeking access to a Senator’s office phone lines.
The obvious “joke/point” being made here with the FCC complaint is that there are no such complaints (at least not without actually filing a FOIA request to the FCC to find out). That’s because Americans sure can get fired up about some sexually suggestive cartoon joke on Family Guy, a wardrobe malfunction, or some unisex Adam Lambert kiss on the American Music Awards or Superbowl commercial (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of missives).
But, depict some indecorous behavior by our elected officials and the FCC hears crickets chirping and tumbleweed rustling.
Maybe it’s because we have gotten so used to snarkily divisive behavior by our leaders that it just doesn’t faze us anymore. Or maybe we just can’t see the harm that inures to young impressionable minds when they see adults being discourteous, disrespectful and disagreeable.
At the risk of being subjected to FCC complaints questioning my patriotism, maybe we just need some foreign intervention to wake us up to this “indecency.” That foreign intervention comes in the form of three films: Fish Tank (about the struggles of a young woman in a London housing project who wants to be a hip-hop dancer while facing conflict with her single, promiscuous mother, her new boyfriend and father figure, and her foul-mouthed sister), The White Ribbon (about some mysterious child abuse happening in a religiously strict and socially repressed rural German community just prior to the outbreak of WWI), and Police, Adjective (about a police detective’s moral struggles regarding his surveillance of some Romanian young people who are smoking hash and the rigidity of his higher-up in busting the kids).
Like a laundry list of ills and proposed policies inherent in a State of the Union speech, here are the “bullet points” about these three films and how they can teach us about the need for more adult adult role models.
All three of these films:
• premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and are just now making their way to American shores and hinterlands;
• are set in foreign lands and involve foreign languages (ok, so Fish Tank is set in London, but the British accent and slang is so thick that you wish it was subtitled like these other two films!);
• are exceptionally good — especially compared to typically Hollywood fare;
• have no major, recognizable actors;
• will only be shown — if at all — at hoity-toity art house theaters;
• have received awards and may likely receive more;
• were on many critics top 10 lists of 2009;
• have scenes that are shocking and leave a lasting impression that will stay with you long after;
• pack an emotional wallop;
• are intelligent, thoughtful and contemplative and invite and reward the expenditure of mental effort;
• are depicted in the brooding, realistic, contemplative style of foreign slice-of-life films;
• have extended scenes without dialogue or music, but just natural sounds of people moving across landscapes;
• contain a straight-forward narrative structure about people going about their daily lives — be that as farmers, town officials, or urban dwellers;
• avoid the bombast of car chases, explosions, special effects, superhero histrionics, nefarious intrigue, and smarmy humor;
• contain a focus on children — how they are raised, what they are taught, how they are treated by adults, and how adults relate to these kids;
• depict — in their own unique and poignant ways — children exposed to adults taking out their frustrations and disempowerments, imposing rigidly inflexible (as well as conveniently adjustable) rules, engaging in demonstrable promiscuity, and perpetuating familial instability;
• involve elements of confusion — over growing up, the imposition of rules (familial, societal and religious), the actions of adults, and how to respond to that confusion;
• showcase how repression, violence, crime, hypocrisy, and abuse by adults toward children or as role models can produce similar troubles in children, who then pass this abuse along; and
• suggest that parental failure as role models can lead to hatred, racism, intolerance, rigidity — and even criminality, governmental oppression and eventually wars of aggression and conquest.
Notwithstanding all of these admirable qualities, don’t be surprised if the FCC receives ample complaints about these films — regarding their language, violence, drug use, sexual suggestiveness, and the fact that they’re foreign.
Just don’t expect those complaints to be about their messages involving deficient, demoralizing and demeaning adult behavior and its influence on the young. Apparently, that’s hunky-dory.
Doug Young is The Statesman’s outstanding film critic. He works for U.S. Sen. Mark Udall as an environmental policy advisor.