Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Typecast: two original haikus

Haiku is not a form that I've done much with, but here are two I've written:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Some thoughts about race

Some of my best friends were black – and some of my worst enemies too. And it took me a long time to wake up to my complicity in racism. I went to school in affluent middle class suburban environments in Minnesota. I don't remember any black students in my elementary school, but I do remember learning about slavery and racism while I was still young, and being horrified. I also remember before going on a family trip to Chicago to visit my brother in school, a friend told me “be careful if you go to south Chicago. There are a lot of black people there.” -Well, so what? I asked, incensed at his insinuation. Though the only black people I met personally in my childhood were those in Chicago – or in Columbia, Missouri, where my other brother was in school – I did watch movies with black characters, like Ghostbusters, and I watched the Cosby Show, and I thought that black people were cool. How could anyone hate them, I wondered, when they were so cool?

[Someone needs to make a meme with Danny Glover's character in Silverado saying "Son, you've got a lot to learn about people."]

In eighth grade I became friends with the only black student in my junior high school except for a girl from Africa. He was an amateur rapper with the stage name “MC Carpet,” adopted in reference to his flat-topped hairdo in the style of the time (this was in 1990). Being one of two black kids in a white school where the cool kids listened to gangster rap and everyone listened to MC Hammer, I think he felt like he had to emphasize his racial traits to make him stand out from his white classmates who idolized Eazy-E. My friend wasn't into gangster rap, but he had a bombastic persona and some of his lyrics were quite sexual. All this shielded an awkward and sensitive character that made him as much a social outcast as me. To make matters worse, he wore some kind of orthopedic brace, which in junior high never helps. I still remember him in the locker room after those humiliating gym classes, in his metal and plastic frame, cold and white against his bare brown buttocks – fragile flesh in that concrete cave. “Watch out for the black moon, y'all!” he would shout before disrobing.

Being the only black guy in school, you'd think all the white kids who listened to rap would look up to him as the real deal, but I repeat: he was one of the outcasts like me. His posturing was dismissed by those of the higher strata. He was not strong: I once saw him get beat up by our lunch table (none of the rest of us dared to intervene). Once he shaved “WORD UP” into the hair on the back of his head and it backfired about as spectacularly as my covering my jean jacket with buttons, i.e. it drew nothing but gleeful derision. But I wasn't aware of that derision having a racial aspect: I thought he was picked on for being a nerd and a wimp, not for being black. Maybe his loud flaunting of his blackness helped shield him from overt racial malice? At the time, Steve Urkel was making us all laugh on TV and getting white audiences used to the idea of black nerds. Or maybe I just failed to see a powerful racial undercurrent. Maybe everybody had to pick on the only black kid in the school, to prove that they wouldn't discriminate in their cruelty. There was plenty of cruelty to spare, so maybe they felt that it would be reverse discrimination (which as every good white person knows is twice as bad, right?) to spare a target because of his color.

I lost touch with my junior high friends when we moved to the Cities, and I started 9th grade in a huge but affluent school with many more black students. Many more in absolute numbers, but relatively they were still a small number. It's true that a lot of them sat together at lunch, and of course some of us white students sometimes commented on that, but the classrooms were inescapably integrated. The black guys in choir made me laugh and left me alone. I got along pretty well with the studious and religious guys who put Bible quotes in their lockers: with one of them by my side I actually had the nerve to debate theology with an agnostic in one of my classes. But there was also a big bully in Social Studies, who provoked me to one of my immature attempts at violence and then had the nerve to ask me if I was racist. “I'm not!” I sobbed. “The last thing I am is racist!” In American Government I got along just fine with one black girl, but another one teamed up with her blonde friend to make my life miserable.

It didn't help that I was one of those adolescent boys that teachers like to complain about: I mean I was still lax in my personal hygiene. I figured that since I wasn't growing yet, I still hadn't hit puberty yet, so why should I waste time on deodorant? Especially since I was already missing too much sleep by having to get up early for the weekday religious instruction that we Mormons get as teenagers.
My classmate and her friend were not shy about expressing their disgust at my smell, or how long I went between washing my clothes. Once she grabbed a ball-point pen and wrote on my knee with it: “there! I'm writing 'Friday' on your jeans, so you can wash them over the weekend, and if you don't I'll know it the next time you wear them because this will still be here.”

It may have occurred to me to protest this invasion of my personal space, but I didn't stop her. It could have been resignation to the fact that I just didn't have what it took to resist what everybody dished out without making a big scene, or it could have been some kind of masochistic pleasure at getting this kind of intimate attention from a girl. I think it was more the latter.

I didn't like these girls. Besides being mean to me, they were raunchy and obnoxious. But I wanted to like them and for them to like me, and if I couldn't have that, then at least I was getting attention from them. I wasn't aware enough of my feelings or feelings in general to recognize that sadomasochistic attachment lurking under the surface of our interactions, and there was no encouragement or time to develop a conscious understanding of it, what with classes, homework and report card angst demanding so much of my time and attention. Role-playing scenarios in Social Studies only scratched the surface, and an awkward boy who got a C in the class didn't look likely to have interest or aptitude for psychology. Even our kind-hearted teacher could not have taken the kind of time and attention with me that might have called out my interest and native empathy to develop beyond the immature behavior that marked me as a prime target for harassment. Teachers in a school of 2000 students simply cannot afford to give that much attention, even if it is a “school of excellence.” In fact, the school's excellence accentuated my poor performance, casting it all the clearer as sinful rebellion against a benevolent authority that “really wants to see you succeed.”

I was better served by Neil Peart, who deserves some kind of honorary education degree for all the learning he has fostered in nerdy Anglophone teenagers fed up with school over the last 38 years. As I sat glued to the radio one night in 1993 for a special program in honor of the release of Counterparts, I heard him mention Carl Jung and Camille Paglia. While it took me almost 20 years to follow up with my own investigation into these visionary voices, the song they inspired, “Animate,” became one of my all-time Rush favorites and remains for me one of the best songs in an album that suffers at times from a heavy-handed didactic tone.

One of those socially virtuous songs, “Alien Shore,” resonated with my experiences at the time: “You and me, we are thrust into these solitudes: color and culture, language and Race. Just variations on a theme, islands in a much larger stream . . . for you and me race is not a definition.” Race was not a definition for my black classmates in high school from my viewpoint, and I didn't think it should be. Our shared social class was a commonality that made comfortable inter-racial mingling the order of the day – at least that was how I saw it. So when the students at my school put on a cultural awareness program my sophomore year I saw it as divisive, making a big deal out of differences I felt that I had accepted and learned to ignore. It happened during my sophomore year, when I was at my most reactionary. That was also the year that I had a black study hall supervisor. He professed a reverence for Truman Capote, but I don't think he would have known what to do with a student like him. Catherine Woods he was not. Confronting me once about something I didn't do, he refused to allow me a word in edgewise and seemed compelled to remind me who was boss: “if you give me any more nonsense, I'll come down on you like a ton of bricks.” In a silent bout of l'esprit d'escalier which I would never have dared to voice, I imagined asking him “Is this because I'm white?” I remain grateful that in that case my fear saved me from saying something so stupid.

Of course I not only had something to prove, but a limited frame of reference to work with. I could have benefited from some sustained, well-informed and calm discussion of not only race but economic class, and their interrelationship. What if the cultural awareness presentation had dealt squarely with economic class as well as race and ethnicity?

I keep wondering: what might have my experience been in a mostly working-class, or inner-city high school? I had some working-class friends, thank God, even in my privileged upbringing; but they were all white. There may have been apartment complexes in my school's area, maybe even trailer parks, but no black ghetto. Students of all colors wore skewed baseball caps and saggy baggy pants as well as neat sweaters. “Cross colors” was a hot new clothing brand that did just that.
Some of the things I remember from that cultural awareness presentation: “why do black people change songs so much when they sing them?” A blonde cheerleader dancing enthusiastically to hip-hop and then saying “I'm glad they brought over your ancestors as slaves!” A monologue portraying the life of one of the first successful black women entrepreneurs.

Aha! Being a dutifully aspiring young Republican I worshiped entrepreneurs, and so I came out of my defensive conservative shell to rejoice at this shining light of good example (I remember also admiring how the presenter kept her poise when confronted by mild heckling). See, I wanted to say, this is what I'm talking about!

Looking back, I don't recall any discussion of systemic racism in relation to politics and economics: the students' grievances centered around “the way they are treated because of their differences.” Because I felt that I didn't treat them any differently (I, who didn't have many friends anyway), I didn't think anyone else did either, and so these provocateurs weren't acknowledging my generosity. How dare they be so ungrateful!

Year later, in Pittsburgh, I worked with a black woman, an attorney who had two sons named Thurgood and Langston. It taxed her patience to talk to people on the phone who “can't speak the king's English,” and she often disparagingly talked about the attitude that “The Man is keeping you down” as “complete bullshit.” I have wondered what she would have thought of that presentation if she could have gone back in time and visited my school. Would she have told them to quit whining about The Man keeping them down and just get on with it? Would she have thought they had a better deal in the suburbs of Minneapolis than in Pittsburgh? I really have no idea. I don't know what her experiences were like living in Pittsburgh, which, though it has its problems with racism, also has a much, much higher black population than Minneapolis. It may be full of bigots, but the objects of their bigotry aren't as exotic as they were where I grew up. Still problems, but different kinds.
The part of the presentation that got me the most steamed was where the white students were saying how grateful they felt thinking about all the settlers who came over on the Mayflower and so on, and then the black students started bursting their bubbles: “People! Open your eyes! Not everyone came over on the Mayflower! Our ancestors were packed into the hull like sardines!” And the white students covered their ears, so the black students had to come closer and speak louder.

On a human level of course I couldn't help but recoil at the horror of the slave trade, so why did it get me so angry that the descendents of slaves were expressing their own horror at it? The guilty take the truth to be hard, and that reminder of the historical injustice underpinning my privileges cut me to the quick. You see it every day: people try to excuse themselves by taking offense. So few have learned how to debate responsibly that it works too often: the moment someone takes offense at what you say, you have to give up the moral high ground? (Seems to me a dark-skinned prophet had something to say on that subject on a city wall a few hundred years ago.) I thought there must be some malice in their bringing this up to manipulate our emotions and make us uncomfortable. I had been taught to believe that whenever black people brought up the past in that way that there was some Hidden Agenda at work, or at least rudeness: couldn't they see that it wasn't nice to make us polite white folks uncomfortable? Didn't they want to put the past behind them and be friends?

There must have been some mention of Columbus in the presentation too, because I wrote in my yearbook, and I quote: “if 1 more fyag bashes Columbus I will drop out of school & egg their house!”

I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I woke up about this, but it was really always there, the human recognition of injustice. I didn't want to admit it because it went against the doctrine I had submitted my mind to at the time. Despite learning of the evils of mass conformity in my Great Wars class and reading A Raisin in the Sun in English, I didn't yet have the nerve or the strength to apply the lesson with consistency. The anger with which I smothered my conscience speaks to the same stunted psychic growth that locked me in sadomasochistic relationships – and which does the same for too many people. After all, that's what school really teaches.

It also has taught the descendants of 19th-century Scandinavian, German, Italian, Irish, Slavic, etc. immigrants to ignore their own family histories in favor of Mayflower mythology, which is another problem. Some southeast Asian immigrants took part in that awareness presentation 20 years ago, and I imagine that if they're still doing them, that recent ones will include Latin American immigrants as well. Those two groups come of their own free will, but aren't able to blend in just by learning the language either, as most Europeans could.  An education which truly encouraged, or at least allowed each young person to own and explore their individual ancestry and its culture (partly by not crowding their time with schedules, assignments and tests) would give a better environment for the kind of empathy; or patient, respectful admission of its limits; that these students were right to wish for in their peers – that every citizen is right to demand in a society with any kind of pretensions or aspirations to freedom.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Typecast: Spiritual struggle

If you know any teenagers I highly recommend The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn.  There used to be an easily accessible PDF online, but I think it got taken down.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A talk I gave in church last year

 Brace yourselves, because I'm going to tell a J. Golden Kimball story. Like all folklore, this has several versions. Here's one.

One day Elder Kimball was waiting for a chance to cross the street near Temple Square. When he thought the coast was clear he stepped into the street, but at that moment a car whooshed by him, narrowly missing his leg. Shaking his fist at the retreating car he shouted “Damn you!  Have you no respect for the priesthood?”

I'm going to approach the topic of priesthood by talking about respect, and about authority. Now there was a time when an idea of “respect for authority” was very important to me, but those days are gone. My growing respect for children of God has broken down my misplaced reverence for the authority they have a bad habit of presuming. At the same time though, my respect for the priesthood has strengthened, and in the next few minutes I'll try to explain this.

There is cause for confusion in the word “respect,” the first of several that I will dissect. The original Latin meaning – to look back – has grown several branches after being grafted into our mongrel tongue. In one sense it can mean treating someone partially – with exclusive favor, as a result of their wealth, class, ethnicity, credentials, whatever. The apostle James warned against this in his letter to the primitive Church. When Cornelius was converted, Peter had a vision that showed him that “God is no respecter of persons,” in other words, not one to show partiality. “All are alike unto God,” we read from Nephi. In Luke we read from Mary, mother of Jesus: “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”

God is not impressed by whatever priesthood titles we claim either, as is clear in the final segment of Section 121, that essential text for proper priesthood conduct amplifying the words of Peter and James: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

It seems that for every abstract concept expressed by our language, there are pure and corrupt meanings. Someone recently wrote a definition of respect that covers a wide span, and rings true for me:

“To respect is to understand that the other person is not you, not an extension of you, not a reflection of you, not your toy, not your pet, not your product. In a relationship of respect, your task is to understand the other person as a unique individual and learn how to mesh your needs with his or hers . . . Your task is not to control the other person . . .”

In this sense I am satisfied that our Heavenly Father respects all of us quite deeply, particularly children. Let us never forget the special attention Jesus showed to them.

Modern revelations are quite clear about the Lord's respect for our agency. Alma the younger caught himself in a sinful wish to make everyone repent, which came from his commendable missionary zeal. I would never accuse him of unrighteous dominion, but he reminds us how easily even our love for others can erase our respect for them. He looked back and remembered that the choices other people made were not really his business: his business, and ours, is to perhaps bring a soul to repentance. Not to force a man to heaven, nor to demand that others recognize my right to their favor. You look again and see children of God for what they are: spirits which, in kinship with God, naturally wish to follow God's will. A true dominion is born from such respect, flowing “without compulsory means” from spirits who know that your love for them is stronger than death. For some, that takes a long time.

But this is available to all who will take the time to watch themselves as King Benjamin urged. You really can respect people even without feeling the slightest admiration toward them. In fact, does not admiration also lure us toward a corruption of true respect? Because to regard someone as an ideal figure denies their full dimensions as a fellow human being.

And of course, when we watch ourselves, we see also the sin in trying to control or impede another's life as revenge for hurting our feelings or not giving us what we want.

“Without compulsory means.” That phrase is one of my strongest anchors. William Blake wrote: “prisons are built with stones of law,” which you could parse as a powerful paraphrase of Paul: “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor 3:6). Compulsion spawns defiance as your hand casts a shadow in the light: much of what we call “discipline” is a fundamental insult to a spirit that comes, as another William, Wordsworth, wrote:

“from God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy” . . .

May God have mercy on us all.

If you grow up being “compelled in all things” (Section 58:26), with scant chance to develop beyond the role of slothful servant, it becomes very difficult to find out who you really are. The concept that command and comply is the bedrock of human society sets a course which, depending on your temperament, leads to a role of oppressor or oppressed – or both. You may come to believe that all your feelings are dependent on external approval, and then you will be ripe for the picking by con artists. I speak from experience, and that might help you understand the source of my own authority problem.

There is no shortage of people willing to tell you what they think you should do. But telling you “all things what ye should do” belongs to the words of Christ, given by the Holy Ghost, which, as Nephi reminds us, is a gift we all receive after baptism.

Questioning authority in fact has good scriptural precedent: “trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister,” says Alma, “except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14). He said this to a group of people who had just fled from their kingdom after breaking the law of their sovereign. What's more, this sovereign operated under what, by all indicators, was a theocratic order. When he went against the principles of righteousness he didn't do away with priests, he “consecrated new ones . . . such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts” (Mosiah 11:5). And most of the people, used to following a king as a religious authority, were “caught in a snare” (Mosiah 23:9). No wonder Alma did his best to deprogram the 450 who broke away: “stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free,” he said, “trust no man to be a king over you” (verse 13). Years later, king Mosiah the second dismantled the monarchy that had been in place for half a millennium, “that the burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part. . . . Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins. ”

Joseph Smith had his own authority problems, so I count myself in good company. “It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul” he said, “civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race. Love of liberty was diffused into my soul by my grandfathers while they dandled me on their knees.” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, Chapter 29) And of course we have Captain Moroni's memorable letter to Pahoran: “we know not but what ye yourselves are seeking for authority . . . behold, I do not fear your power nor your authority, but it is my God whom I fear” (Alma 60:18, 28).

Authority, dominion, lordship, power, and related words: they all have histories, and they bear the scars of history. Throughout this web of interconnected meanings you'll find the same divergence between pure and corrupt. On the one hand, trust in the wisdom and goodwill of a respectful, exemplary elder; and on the other, the meddlesome impulse to despise or violate the agency of others.

You can follow a trail from the word “authority” through “author” and back to the Latin auctor, which, being interpreted, is "enlarger, founder, master, leader," literally "one who causes to grow,” cognate, in fact, with “augment.” While our “authority” has strayed from that meaning, you can discern traces of the concept in, for example, the way an author brings forth a book.

Hold that thought while I bring up a use of “authority” in library science – because if I wasted a ruinous sum of money on an advanced degree in that field, I might as well use it here. Actually I'm rather grateful to have learned the concept called authority control in library school. It's basically this: in order to help people find the book they're looking for, you have to come up with a standardized way of describing them. This means not only fixing the spellings, but all sorts of really picky specifications on how you phrase names and subjects. It's kind of like making sure that all the keys and locks are shaped just so, in order to open the right doors at the right time.

I think of such catalog control as a very crude mimic of something like DNA, which causes things to grow into the dazzling array of living things that we're so blessed to share the earth with. An analogy is irresistible here to the personal tree of life that Alma the younger called on the Zoramites to grow in their souls: Christ as the author of our faith causes this to grow within us as we “nurture it with great care” (Alma 32:37). But even with all of our nurturing we recognize that we are not the force behind the growth. We have authority to nurture and welcome the growth that proceeds from an eternal auctor, which is beyond mortal reach. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth” (John 3:8).

All this is to try to invite our immersion in the lesson that Section 121 laments men's slowness to learn. We know it intellectually of course, but that is no guarantee at all that we will internalize it. It takes time and courage to quiet the mind enough to sift through all the inherited ideologies, bad habits, our comfortable illusions about ourselves, even the well-meaning praise of others, and get to touch on those “principles of righteousness” that hold the key to controlling and handling the powers of heaven, which show humanity's proudest achievements as mere child's play.

I mean no disrespect to the holy act of child's play!

The priesthood on the earth is a sort of apprenticeship, and as part of that, our master calls us, at a young age, to assume roles that seem beyond our years. Considering etymology again, we may recall that “deacon” comes from a Greek word meaning “servant;” and our modern English “priest” may be traced back to the word the Greek-speaking saints of Jesus' dispensation used for “elder.” We still call young men to be “elders” when our society has just legally recognized their adulthood: the Lord calls up a maturity which earthly powers too often fail to recognize or allow.

I remember my dear old mission president – whom we all loved so much that none of us wanted to disappoint him – asking us not to use the word “greenie” anymore and reminding us that we all have eternal spirits. “Let no man despise thy youth” - we remember the young age at which Joseph Smith had his first vision. We see examples of temporally young people rising to greatness throughout history. If we all can take upon us the name of Christ, then surely a boy of 12 can take on a role of greater age and wisdom than the state imagines.

How to take it on, how to shape our locks to fit these keys of age, assume the ageless splendor of our eternal spirits?

The maturity of the world, which discouraged children from bothering an important man like Jesus, is of limited use in this question. The principles of righteousness that Joseph Smith named are worthy of quiet and careful consideration by everyone, alone, from time to time. This list bears comparison with Paul's list of fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians: look it up, there's homework for you. I feel a resonance between all of these and Alma's teachings. How can you trust anyone to be your teacher or minister, unless that person shows persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge? How can you trust someone unless you see them as lacking hypocrisy and guile?

The priesthood is administered on earth through a kind of authority control that we call keys. Keys are essential for opening locks, and often we lock doors or chests because there is treasure inside. The key is a device, a tool that allows you to get at what you're after. To quote an ancient Chinese archivist, in one of several translations:

Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.

Priesthood keys may be conferred on a man quite easily at the right time, just as learning to read in an alphabetic script is simple when undertaken at the right time. To what end do we learn to read, or add and subtract, or build elaborate catalog schemes? Because they are keys that unlock treasures of knowledge. Without a clear framework to encode that knowledge, the lack of order would obstruct learning. Still, the treasures of knowledge are what give life to the letters; without those what good would it do to manipulate abstract marks, or worse, to subordinate our souls to strict structures?

I hope that the application of this metaphor is readily apparent, because it's time to close, and I wanted to close with one more thing about keys. I call to mind again the passage in 2 Nephi 32 that I mentioned earlier: “Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels?”

John the Baptist told Joseph and Oliver that the Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and I am convinced that a significant part of this comes in the form of the acts of service we do for others. Certainly my family has been blessed abundantly by mortal angels who sit in this room and others. Their love has gained our gratitude, and I thank them for magnifying the priesthood.

 So let us all, in this apprenticeship of the priesthood, aspire to the errand of angels.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dream, Dare, Do

The morning of September 9, 2013 I saw a stream of sixth graders walking in front of the building in the lovely cool morning – first hint of autumn, magic magic magic. Even walking past the school building later that afternoon and not forgetting the terror and captivity, I felt magic from the red bricks, from the cool air, from the memory of pencils. Shouldn't there be a place for the honor of that, as part of autumn's enchantment in childhood?

But I was thinking about the morning first. Those sixth-graders filed past the door in tune with the morning's loveliness. Then I heard an adult voice bark “single file straight line!” as if they were a bunch of jailbirds – reminding me that, in fact, they are.

When I called the sixth-grade school they said that these students had attended an assembly at the middle school, some anti-bullying thing. Very much on everyone's mind these days. I called the middle school and found out they contract with some outfit to come and give them this presentation every year.

Apparently it's a big deal: they set up three big screens in the gym and have a powerful sound system. They're very proud of it, saying it “will encourage students to clarify dreams, look clearly at obstacles, and through hard work and determination, turn their dreams into a reality. Students will learn positive methods for dealing with the pressure, stress and fear they feel inside, and they'll understand the importance of setting short-term goals for their lives.” And of course there's the personal responsibility that adults never tire of invoking when it comes to making younger people do things: this show “will help students realize that it's time to stop passing the blame to someone else and start taking responsibility for their futures.”

Their website offers a shrunk-down version of the presentation, which I watched. They certainly do try to make an overwhelming show of sight and sound. The shrunken preview can't match the experience of the real thing, they say, and I believe them.

A powerful, high-impact character lesson, they say. What it is is loud and vapid, the art of saying nothing over forty minutes refined near to perfection. I can imagine sitting in the bleachers in the gym with those sights spread out over huge screens and the sound blasted into your head – no escape. I imagine all the adults, having their ears pressed flat to their skulls by the angry-sounding pop metal music in the thing, maybe not enjoying it at all but thinking that these guys who made it sure must be legit cuz they've got all this badass-sounding music that the teenagers like.

I sat through plenty of clumsy agitprop while I was in school, and of course we saw through the grown-ups' feeble attempts to appropriate our vernacular and poured derision thereon when they were safely out of earshot. I'm 36 and have only the vaguest idea what kids are listening to these days, but watching this it looks like (alas) the propaganda engineers have gotten much better at what they do over the past quarter century. The music in this presentation sure didn't sound like the cheesy stuff that tried to inspire my generation to love school. This stuff was like a hammer to your brain, along with the rapid editing of shots (including plenty from action movies) smashing away at any attempt by a viewer to formulate and consider any thoughts of substance or consequence.

-Which served its purpose, since what would happen if too many people really started asking questions like: what if my hopes and dreams are in fact blocked by having to go to school every day? Just how exactly do my good grades in each subject prepare me to reach my dream? How do the standardized programs of learning even help me to find what my true dream is? Are the grotesquely-amplified examples of athletes and singers really relevant to my life? How would the authorities over me react if I dreamed of a life outside of this system and dared to do what I had to in order to bring that about?

How much can the school environment even bear the concept of an individual life's calling?

And on and on. I haven't the energy to write much more about it; I don't know if it even deserves the dignity of a detailed consideration or rebuttal – there's not really much to argue against, because it's damn near impossible to argue against emotion.

 Of course this thing doesn't show any sex or tantalizing views of certain body parts, but it's as pornographic as anything, stroking the feelings of your lower chakras in a calculated move to make a flood of feelings that will drown ideas. People pay for this kind of opiate in theaters or in their own homes to escape the meaninglessness of their over-regimented lives, or in the case of music, the powerless band together in communities around angry protest songs: punk, heavy metal, rap. I don't know if this production company really pulls off a convincing appropriation of that protest in the perception of its young captives. Despite the in-your-face, no-escape presentation method, I hope that the young people saw through it.

Maybe it's vain to hope too much: we constantly hear complaints about today's youth: about their apathy, their addiction to screens, their susceptibility to the persuasion of violent and titillating images on those screens – this presentation was tailored exactly to such, and depends on non-thinking recipients for its success. But I still hope. I hope there were a lot of closed eyes, and mouths in cupped hands pressed to ears, during the onslaught: respectful human touch is the best antidote to pornography.