V For Victory

In the futuristic drama “V for Vendetta”, director James McTeigue brilliantly brings to life the crisply written screenplay of the very talented Wachowski Brothers.   Set in totalitarian England at some unspecified time in the future, the film focuses on one mysterious mans plan to bring down the government.

            The character of V, cleverly played by the Australian actor Hugo Weaving, is a counter hero because he is attempting to organize a revolution against an oppressive British government that is full of corruption and deceit.  Hiding behind a gothic like mask, V conceals his identity from all the other characters and from the audience.

            Despite the title and the seductive nature of V’s violent personality, the film is really at bottom, a love story in it own way.   These love interests is a woman named Evey, who abducted by V and held in captivity for about three years.  When she is first captured, Evey, played by Natalie Portman, is a gentle and reserved British citizen who is unaware of the atrocities committed by the corrupt British government.  By the time she has survived her captivity, Evey has come to realize that her appearance of being a respectful citizen is just a disguise that covers her evil nature.  They fall in love when her evil nature connects to his evil nature making them perfect for each other.

            Once V and Evey “commit” to each other, his plot to blow up parliament on November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day, can proceed.  Evey, along with thousands of others, have now joined V’s masked army of rebels.  Each of V’s “soldiers” is wearing a duplicate of the mask worn by V.  The plan is for V’s “army” to march toward Parliament.  In the meantime, an underground train filled with explosives is ready to be sent to a location directly under parliament.  The ending of the film, which will remain a secret, will surprise even the most experienced film viewer.

            V for Vendetta is filled with many symbolic references and traditional themes.  When the masked army marches in unison towards parliament, the film viewer cannot help but be reminded of the famous scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth when ten thousand members of the English army and the Scottish rebels each cut down a branch of a tree and use it as a disguise to attack Macbeth’s castle.  In both Macbeth and V for Vendetta, rebels are trying to overthrow an oppressive government.  The Wachowski Brothers evidently evidently know their Shakespeare.

            The film also borrows thematically from another very famous futuristic story about an oppressive British Government.   George Orwell’s classic novel entitled 1984 is the story of Winston Smith who secretly tries to connect with a young woman who he thinks will join him in trying to go against “Big Brother”, which is the main branch of the totalitarian government.  Like “V for Vendetta”, Orwell’s novel about a world in which the majority of citizens have lost their rights is really a love story.  In both the novel and the film, one theme becomes clear: love cannot survive when individuals are not free to be who they are.

            Despite its political timeliness and despite its top-notch acting, the film fails in certain areas.  One problem lies in its complicated plot.  At times, the viewer struggles to follow all the ins and outs of the character’s motivations.  For example, V himself evidently has a personal grudge or “vendetta” towards the government.  What that personal grudge or vendetta is, is never made clear to the audience.  Also, the film is thematically dark because its backdrop is an oppressive government filled with corruption.  At times, this thematic darkness spills over into a visual darkness that clouds a scene and makes it hard for the viewer to distinguish characters and props. 

            The cinematography of the film was very effective.  For example, in one scene, V hurls his sword at the “bad government officials.”  Through an effective use of slow motion cinematography, the director captures the anger of V and his passion to execute those forces he feels have betrayed him and the rest of the world.  As that sword tumbles through air, the viewer has no doubt that it will find its mark a few times over. 

            The most interesting characters in the film are V himself and Evey.  V is a fascinating character because he never really changes his personality throughout the film.  He is intent from the very start on destroying the British government. V never really allows anything or any person to distract him from succeeding in his goal to overthrow parliament.  V easily seduces the audience because we feel sorry for him and then we feel empowered by him.  His one soft spot is his feelings for Evey.  Yet even his attachment to her is seen as less important than his passion to destroy the government.   To the audience, V is a very interesting character type because of his commitment to one goal.  Evey on the other hand undergoes a character change.  She moves from being an obedient citizen to a rebel.  Evey is a beautiful looking woman who falls in love with an obsessed man.  She never even sees who that person really is physically behind the mask.  However, Evey like the audience falls in love with V’s character and personality.  Like many of us, we would like to think that we see beneath the outward appearance of someone and appreciate more the inner person.

            All in all, “V for Vendetta” is a film definitely worth seeing.  If you are disgusted with the present political state of affairs, and you feel there may be hope for change, “V for Vendetta” is the film for you.   Although the extreme measures V goes through to overthrow the government are probably not the measures that a modern American audience would use to show their dissatisfaction with the government, the spirit of V’s rebellion is something that most Americans can identify with. 

            I would give this movie an overall rating of a 4. 

– Jared Albaum 

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Mark Twain

Jared Albaum July 30th, 2008

Professor King English 215

Mark Twain

Today’s political satirists would not exist if it had not been for the genius and journalistic expertise of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Mark Twain, whose life spanned the critical Civil War period in America, combined journalism and humor in such a way that he was able to mock politicians, American institutions, and human nature.

Clemens was born in 1835 in Florida Missouri and he and his family moved to other small towns in the South. In 1848 Clemens drops out of fifth grade and finds a job at a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. After writing a few sketches for various magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, Clemens left Missouri to work as a printer in New York City.

His career as a journalist was sporadic. His personality seemed more compatible with political satire, a genre that enabled him to blend the news with humor. After a brief time as an apprentice river boat pilot on the Mississippi River, Clemens changed his name to Mark Twain, a term used by river boat captains to signify a depth of two fathoms.

It was at the end of the Civil War in 1865 that Mark Twain found his literary voice. That year he published a humorous short story entitled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Many newspapers in the country ran the short story and Twain became an overnight sensation. This short story was significant in American writing because it was one of the first pieces of literature written in dialect.

The popularity of the “Celebrated Jumping Frog” allowed Twain to go on a lecture tour as a comedian. He took his comic approach in life to Europe and wrote a travel book called The Innocents Abroad in which he made fun of the ancient relics of the old world that are supposed to be so impressive to tourists. For example when traveling to the holy land, Twain humorously notes: “to reproduce a Jerusalem street, it would only be necessary to upend a chicken coop and hang it before each window in an ally of American houses.” When he visited Venice, he noted that “the gondolier is a picturesque rascal.”

Mark Twain’s most significant contribution to American literature and to political satire today occurred because of his brilliance as a novelist. Twain is the perfect example of a writer who evolved from journalism to fiction. His earlier novels such as Tom Sawyer, The Innocents Abroad and Ruffing It are mostly comical in nature and do not attack American institutions in a serious way.

Its not until the late 1800’s that Twain’s writing becomes darker and more serious in its criticisms of America. One of the reasons that his satire became sharper may be the personal tragedies that he experienced in his own life. In 1891 he faced bankruptcy, in 1896 his favorite daughter Susy dies, and in 1909, his other daughter Jean dies. In 1904, his wife Olivia dies when they are traveling in Italy. The culmination of these tragic events and Twain’s overall disillusionment with humanity served to produce some of his most successful texts and set the stage for future political satirists who would entertain America.

The key text in Mark Twain’s collection is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which some critics have claimed to be the most subversive text in American literature. Through humor, Twain uses his protagonist, Huckleberry Finn, to attack such respected institutions as education, religion, the family, and the justice system. Twain also had the audacity to pair Huck Finn, a poor white trash dropout with a runaway slave named Jim. By making these two “dregs of society” heroes in his text, Twain thumbed his nose are respectable middle class literature. The fact that he used a variety of dialects rather than standard proper English also annoyed the reading public. In an explanatory note at the beginning of the text, Twain humorously writes “In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremist form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the ordinary “Pike County”; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but pains-takingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.” The adventures of Huckleberry Finn caused such a scandal in the American Public School System that it was banned in many high schools.

If it had not been for Mark Twain and his courage to dissect American culture, today’s political satirists would have had no one to guide them. Twain fearlessly pointed out the horrors of slavery, the hypocrisy of a twisted religion that allows people to worship together under the same roof and then to go out and kill each other. Political commentators like Jon Stewart and Chris Rock often tackle contemporary issues such as political corruption, torture, and greed through comedy. These same issues characterize American culture during Twain’s years. For example Andrew Carnegie once bragged to Mark Twain that America is a Christian nation. Twain looked at him and responded by saying “so is hell.”

Today’s comedians are quite as talented in pointing out the hypocrisies and follies of human nature. In his Letters From the Earth, Twain has Satan note that man is very strange: “Man has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights… sexual intercourse! It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water.”

Mark Twain has left such an impression on American culture that there is now a Mark Twain humor award given to the comedian who has contributed most to raising the political awareness through comedy. This years award is being given posthumously to George Carlin. One can only imagine the humorous conversations the two of them will have once they meet up in “heaven, or is it hell?”

Bibliography

“America’s Original Superstar.” Time Magazine 14 July 2008.

-Jared Albaum

Gay Marriage… What are the Alternatives?

What is it like to grow up gay in a predominantly straight and homophobic world? Gay children struggle to envision a future that includes marriage, family, and children. Gay children who grow up in America face a serious dilemma; if they assert their sexual identity for all to see, they run the risk of public scorn, alienation from family, and civil rights discrimination. On the other hand, if they hide their sexual identity and pretend to be straight, they enjoy all the benefits that society has to offer straight people but are forced to live with a private pain that often leads to alcohol abuse, drug addiction, severe depression and in some cases suicide. Recently the topic of gay marriage has arisen as a civil rights issue and has generated a heated debate among gay activists, and religious fundamentalists primarily. Marilyn Maxwell, a former Hewlett High School English teacher, and the only openly gay person in school district 14, illustrates the complexity surrounding this issue through the difficulties she has experienced.

Like many gay adults living in a committed relationship in the United States, Dr. Maxwell and her partner are unsure as to how they should proceed regarding the issue of marriage. Dr. Maxwell and her partner have been in a committed relationship for 10 years and would like to celebrate their love for each other publicly in a formal ceremony that is acknowledged by the state of New York.

Unfortunately, many states are passing legislation in favor of gay marriage, and then cancelling that legislation. I asked Dr. Maxwell the “should 2 partners go through a same sex marriage in New York State if the voters of New York make it null in void?” She said, “New York State recently, by executive order of the Governor Pattison agreed to accept same sex couples who are legally married outside of New York State and who then returned to New York State to live.” When Dr. Maxwell and her partner heard about this development, they, like other gay couples in New York, considered traveling to those states where gay marriage is legal and then returning to New York to enjoy the benefits that straight couples have. According to Maxwell there was such an outcry against gay marriage in New York, that there is a threat that Governor Pattison’s executive order will be overturned by a public referendum in the next election.

Dr Maxwell has given a lot of thought to alternatives to gay marriage. She and her partner had a public commitment ceremony where they celebrated with 100 of their friends and family members. The ceremony was led by a minister from the Ethical Humanist Society and was conducted like a marriage. When the minister was writing out the certificate, Dr. Maxwell said that the minister deleted the word marriage and wrote “ceremony”. Dr. Maxwell and her Partner exchanged vows and rings and celebrated with their friends. However, they do not enjoy the same civil rights benefits as do straight couples. They like many gay couples, feel it is unfair that gay people must pay additional money to ensure survivor benefits for their partners. Also, when a husband or wife dies, the surviving spouse does not have to pay inheritance tax on all the goods and property left to him or her. Gay couples, on the other hand are faced with such enormous costs when a partner passes away. In addition, when a wife or husband is sick and hospitalized, the spouse is admitted into his or her room and is allowed to make medical decisions. For gay couples, each partner must pay an attorney to draw up a medical proxy that allows the partner to make such medical decisions. Gay couples at this point in time must suffer these civil rights violations because New York State and the rest of the country cannot decide on the legal status of civil unions for gay couples is unethical. Those who are opposed to gay marriage often argue that marriage is a religious ceremony that recognizes the union between a man and a woman. Dr. Maxwell, like many gay adults in New York, understands that the word marriage may be the obstacle preventing people from accepting gay unions. Her solution is “drop the word marriage and call it a civil union that entitles the couple to all the same rights and privileges given to straight couples.”

– Jared Albaum

Robberies…Crimes Of Opportunity

There have been in excess of twenty-two robberies since January 2008. Police reported in a local meeting that a Caucasian male approximately 25 years old was apprehended as a result of a trail of blood left on a fence in front of a home. This blood specimen was further explored by DNA testing and the perpetrator was later caught. It is still believed that other perpetrators are at large due to the excess of additional robberies.

The police department is warning residents to lock their doors after a sting of residential burglaries between January 2008 to present. Residential burglaries have nearly doubled from December 26, 2007 to present. Burglaries have occurred in the daytime and the evening hours. In some cases, residents have been known to be home. Thieves would enter through an unlocked door, opened windows, and would use a ladder to climb through skylights, attic fans jumping from various parts of roofs of the homes. These thieves have earned the title of “ninja burglars”. These burglars climb, slide, slip, and crawl into tiny spaces such as a dryer vent. It appears that these perpetrators perform the impossible.

Safes, electronics, cash and jewelry have been taken. In some cases, the homeowner was unaware of the missing items until they were needed.

The police force refers to this as a “crime of opportunity”. The police are recommending that all burglar alarms are to be activated at all times, motion detectors placed in master bedroom areas, doors should be locked, lights should be maintained on timers and radios left playing when a homeowner leaves the premises. Hopefully, this would deter an unwanted burglar. Once the “ninja thief” enters the home, the master bedroom is the main focus of the robber’s intent as they are searching through closets, drawers, and lifting mattresses. The burglars are of a professional nature. Crime enforcement personnel are advising the public to change their patterns. For example, leaving the home at different times, mail should not be left in plain sight as this may be considered an invitation to enter a vacant home. Neighborhood watch and local meetings have been instituted so that the area residents will have an awareness of the crime spree.

There have been more presence of undercover and uniform police patrolling. Helicopters have been circling areas of importance due to the tree line streets and the wooded lands.

Auxiliary police have been recently hired to explore suspicious activity such as reckless drivers who may be speeding or tailgating. These types of newly hired officers have been scanning license plates and following leads that may bring the professionals closer to making an arrest. This would make the streets of the 5 towns a safer neighborhood.

Detectives are making the public aware of the criminal patterns and mischief that has caused the five-town area and western Nassau to become more cognizant and knowledgeable about the “ninja thieves”. It appears that these are target areas as a result of how homes are maintained with beautiful landscape, exotic cars in driveways, and acres of land where robbers can easily escape.

-Jared Albaum