| the Journal | the Cult of Saint Cecilia
October 25, 2003.

"It is always a little too easy to have minority or disabled characters in movies serve as saintlike or magical creatures who teach able white people how to be more authentic. The result is itself inauthentic. It pretends to elevate those who have been marginalized but in reality just uses them as plot devices. And it patronizes them by not allowing them to be fully human or to be the central figures in the story. "

That's a quote from "Movie Mom" of all things - I generally don't like reading movie reviews, as they come off as pretentious or shallow - there doesn't seem to be a middle ground. But in searching through things, I eventually ran into "Movie Mom" reviews off of the Yahoo movie sites. I don't know who Movie Mom is, but she writes insightful reviews, surprisingly even-handed - specifically from the point of what a movie is like, what she feels it teaches, and, even in the cases of movies she hated - with the realization that kids are going out and seeing these flicks +/- their parents' consent - how to hold useful conversations about the movies and what they are teaching.

So, now I trust Movie Mom's critiques above all others (except possibly the Baltimore City Paper, as I know that whatever they say, the exact opposite will be MY opinion)... and the above paragraph (excerpted from her review of "Radio") is just another example of how she's not trying to be too PC, doesn't have a liberal agenda (art critics, if they are advertising an agenda, are almost exclusively to the left of centre), and is pretty damned perceptive.

There's a point to this - Trip related, even.

Yesterday, Ray and Heather and I went to see an exhibit of artwork made by prison inmates. "Con Texts: Art of ... something"... damn, we'll have to track down the title. It was sponsored by/coupled with a program that published works by incarcerated authors, as well as another program that brought donated books to prisoners (what's the most popular book requested by prisoners? The dictionary.).

The exhibit is beautiful. It contains a lot of 8.5x11" sheets of paper, handkerchiefs, envelopes - whatever surface a prisoner can get their hands on - beautifully illustrated. Some are coarse: cartoonish women leering over their mountainous breasts - a lot have a tattooish quality to them - others show a fine skill that would've stood out even back at MICA. One or two have pretty violent content, a good number have political commentary - either about prison Life, or about what Bush is doing outside of their enclosing walls. There are self-portraits, a lot of pictures of couples, kissing, many beautifully decorated hearts. Ornately illuminated addresses stand out on the wall, desert scenes, eagles... barbed wire, prison guards, naked men being beaten.

But I have no context. Which is the point I suppose. Politically motivated shows tend to leave a lot to the imagination. It's an argument that gets me into trouble a lot. We've given the Republicans a lot of practice at Cover Your Ass Politics, but I'd argue that the Liberal side of the world focuses more on being loud, on being heard, but really isn't so hot at defending themselves, selling themselves, proving themselves.

White placards are the halmark director of one's passage through the standard art exhibit, and this small gallery is no exception. Litte white placards explain that these decorated handkerchiefs are the exceptions, rather than the rule - as many prisons confiscate decorated handkerchiefs as contraband (plain ones are fine). Little white placards explain that prisoners have to work hard to save up cash for coloured pencils which are available from the prison commissary at exorbitant prices. Little white placards explain that most of the prisoners in America's prisons are not violent offenders... Little white placards tell me little of anything new.

But for all of this, the Little White Placards, in the process of explaining that they are humanizing prisoners - giving a voice to the disenfranchised and silent masses (x millions, the highest percentage of any country) - making us understand that these prisoners are just family men and women, wanting to come home, making beautiful things in their cold grey cell blocks, beaten by their inhuman guards, treated like human waste... The exhibit accomplishes for me exactly what that quote says. I start picking at it because the agenda is a little too blatant, and the prisoners themselves become nothing more than art on the walls. They've been dehumanized by the exhibit.

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