A Gorilla in a Zoo

Ever since zookeepers had to shoot dead a gorilla holding a 4 year old boy who was able to get into his ‘enclosure’, people are in an outrage over the unfortunate situation.

Animal rights activists, especially that this is an endangered Lowland gorilla and is a silverback male at his prime, they blame the boy’s parents for not keeping a close enough eye on him. Though most don’t go so far to say it, they’d rather the zookeepers takes its chance with the gorilla fondling the boy until he’s (the gorilla) done with him and walk away, tranquilize the gorilla and then safely get boy out than just shooting him (the gorilla) dead. This also means that the life of an endangered animal is more valuable than a human child. How much that this child happens to be black and therefore immediate assumptions are made about his parents’ parenting skills in making this sort judgement is unknown, but judging from some of the articles that are filtering through the press right now, this fact is close to people’s minds. The Daily Mail have already dug up ‘dirt’ on the boy’s father as being a convicted drug dealer and declared them to be the ‘most irresponsible’ of parents. 

Most people believe the boy’s life is more valuable than that of a gorilla, even if he were the last of its kind on earth. It doesn’t matter how the boy got into the enclosure, whether his parents were delinquent in their supervision of him, his life is more important than that of an ape.

I am of the third camp where I find this whole thing outrageous on many levels and the blame is evenly split between the zoo and the parents and of course, you save the boy. Those who waffle on this issue need to re-examine their humanity.

The whole idea of zoos and keeping wild animals which belong in the wild in their own habitat and are now trapped in enclosures for the rest of their natural lives an outrage. A gorilla belongs in the wild, since this is a Lowland Gorilla, he belongs in the African Lowlands. He’s to lead his own family, he’s to hunt and forage for his own food and build nests where it’s comfortable for him to lie in at night. He’s not supposed to be gawked at by curious adults and children (unlike chimpanzees, gorillas are not outgoing and friendly with humans, they are quite shy and prefer to not be around humans), be fed his meals (as opposed him foraging and hunting them himself) and kept in a confined space with no companion. This in and of itself is a cruelty of its own.

That aside, zoos are here to say and that one of the reasons for the existence of zoos is because humans have destroyed wildlife and their habitat for so long that in order for animals to not become extinct, humans have to keep them and breed them in captivity, even if it’s detrimental to their development and totally unnatural to their state of existence. I suppose it’s better than they going extinct. Zoos, besides providing entertainment and education for families, also exists as a conservation program.

This is also where animal and conservation activists raise their strongest objections. The whole idea of keeping the gorilla in a zoo is so that he doesn’t get killed or maimed by poachers or trophy hunters, and what happens to him anyways? He gets killed by a zookeeper because some improperly supervised little boy crawled into his enclosure. I understand their frustration, as an animal lover myself, I understand their passion towards wildlife and the loss of a beautiful wild animal.

Of course, without any argument, the most valuable thing on this earth is the life of a human, especially that of a young child who didn’t understand the ramifications of his actions when he decided to crawl into the gorilla’s enclosure.

The boy’s life is the most important out of this unfortunate situation, regardless of how he ended up there. You don’t sacrifice the life of a child for the life of an animal. Never.

But let’s go back to the zoo and the ‘enclosure’. If someone, even a small child, can crawl in from under the enclosure, then it’s not an enclosure. It has by definition, failed at being an enclosure. An animal enclosure is supposed to ‘enclose’, which means no one can breach it, not the animal, not another human (adult or child). The fact that a child can ‘fall into the moat’ and approach the gorilla, there is something very wrong with the design of the ‘enclosure’.

For those that say ‘why not tranquilize the gorilla and then fetch the boy after its down’ don’t realize that the gorilla is 350 to 400 lbs, and if he is tranquilized while holding the boy and subsequently drops him as he’s passing out from the tranquilizer, the boy can die from falling, or if he doesn’t die from fall, but if the gorilla falls on the boy on his way down, the gorilla can crush the boy to death. There was no choice but to shoot the poor animal. Standing there with baited breath hoping the animal doesn’t harm the child, leaves it and walks away is not an option. Too many uncontrollable variables. So, as a result the parents are blamed and shamed.

On the issue of parental supervision, or lack of in this case, which allowed a 4 year old to get into a gorilla enclosure. Parents and guardians are responsible for their offspring while in public, all the time, every time – no exceptions. Having said that, it’s impossible to control a rambunctious and excited 4 year old every second of every day and despite the best of intention and supervision. Accidents happen when you are looking and when you aren’t. It takes less than two seconds for something to go horribly wrong, it really is that quick. Those who don’t have small children cannot appreciate this often repeated cliche (and fact). Especially when they are headed to places like the zoo or an amusement park, where they are supposed to become excited. To be so harsh and judgmental on the parents of this little boy and to dig up all the dirt one can find on them just prove how ‘irresponsible’ they are and now it’s all their fault that an endangered gorilla is dead due to their negligence is unfair. To imply that the life of a gorilla is more important under some circumstances than the life of their child is callous and cruel. And in this case, I’d argue it’s racist.

This was a bad situation where mistakes were made by the adults and authorities (zoo). The zoo’s mistake is that its enclosure is faulty, it isn’t really an enclosure if a child can get in. The second mistake is the boy’s parents didn’t keep an enough of a watchful eye on their child. Children are naturally curious, they exist to push boundaries, to test their parents’ patience. They don’t know the dangers or the ramifications of their actions. They can’t know at 4 years old. It’s up to the parents to rein their children in. And in places like zoos where there are usually throngs of people and animals caged in improperly designed enclosures, it does not cross the line to ask parents and their children to stay at home if their child does not know how to respond the instructions of parents in public. Parents cannot assume that zoos are inherently safe because it happens to be a place where a lot of children visit. Just like any reasonable parent wouldn’t assume the carnival rides at local fairs are inherently safe.

All the hysteria whipped up over dead animals (remember Cecil the Lion?) is distracting from the real tragedies in the world right now.

Over 500 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea this past week. Rescuers are still retrieving floating bodies in the sea. Most of the dead are Africans and Middle Easterners fleeing war, poverty and political instability – a lot of it caused by the policies and actions of Western nations. This barely registered on all the major news outlets as they are whipped up in a whole other hysteria and the freak show that is the US presidential elections. Syria’s civil war is has gone on for 5 years, half of that country’s population has been displaced, over 250,000 dead. In the year 2016, we are in the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. There is war, political instability, extreme poverty and persecution on almost every continent in this world right now. The United States, EU, Canada, Australia and parts of South America are the only peaceful, secure and wealthy regions left in the world and they’ve chosen to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the rest of the world, even as they drown. Instead of trying to help these people, these governments are talking about restricting refugee and migrants.

And we are talking about Harambe the gorilla. Yes, the gorilla had a name too, his name was Harambe.

Those who call for Bernie Sanders to quit the race now – not until the last primary vote is cast.

There are calls from all sides for Bernie Sanders to step down and concede the race before it’s over. Despite the fact that he said many times over that he will stay in the race until the last ballot is cast and last vote counted. It doesn’t matter to Sanders or his supporters that the odds are impossible against him, or that mathematically he’ll never catch up to Hillary Clinton even if he won every single race until the primaries are over because of the lack of support from the superdelegates. Hillary shills like CNN and MSNBC spend every night of their precious prime time air time, having different ‘experts’, political commentators and even staticians come in and Hillary-splain to its viewers on why Sanders can’t and won’t win the nomination and they end it with, “he’s dividing the Democratic party”, for those that are slightly more hysterical, they equate the current Democratic Party divide to that of the Republican Party divide and if we head down that road, it’ll spell doom and disaster.

Estimated Delegates Earned
Primary/Caucus Events

Clinton
1768

Sanders
1497
Total Including Superdelegates

Clinton
2305

Sanders
1539
2,383 delegates needed to win. Superdelegates are Party officials who can support whichever candidate they like. The total number includes superdelegates that have committed to Clinton or Sanders. It is worth noting that ‘commit’ is not the same as ‘bound’; these superdelegates are free to switch until they vote at the Democratic Convention. Delegate Counts: New York Times

 

Source: CNN/270towin.com 

For the uninitiated, the pledged delegates are the delegates won with primary votes, and those are split alongside winning percentage. So if Clinton won 30% of the vote and Bernie Sanders won 70% of the vote in a state’s primary, Clinton will be be awarded 30% of that state’s delegates, and Sanders gets 70% of the delegates. For Republican primaries and caucasus, some states are winner takes all, meaning if any candidate wins 51% of the primary votes in that state, they get to take all of the pledged delegates. Then there are the superdelegates who are the Democratic Party’s elite (Governors, Senators and other high ranking positions) and they are free to cast their vote for any candidate they like at the convention and what’s more they are allowed to change their vote depending on how the political wind changes, they are not tied or bound to any candidate and so they are also referred to as unpledged delegates. This electoral system normally goes to benefit establishment candidates and according to the DNC (Democratic National Committee) — it prevents a Donald Trump-like situation, meaning if the voters go apeshit and vote for a candidate like Trump, the party elites, those that know what’s best for the country and party, will have recourse to choose a more appropriate candidate. For a clearer explanation on how our convoluted electoral system works, refer to this link.

Now that the housekeeping rules are out of the way, let’s get to why Sanders should stay in the race and the red herring that is party unity.

First of all, if this election is being compared to a sport competition, the losing team wouldn’t quit the game until the last buzzer is rung. To quit the game even if you are far behind is unsportsmanlike behavior and being a sore loser or just a loser period. And you are also giving your opponent an easy win, if your opponent is to win, make them work for it and if you are to lose, to use a football term, “you leave everything out there on the field.”

Secondly, Hillary Clinton was in this exact same position in her bruising primary battle against Barack Obama in 2008, she didn’t quit the race until the bitter end. It was finally at the convention where she graciously “released” her delegates and asked everyone to rally behind their candidate Barack Obama with “no way, no how, no McCain”. Everyone applauded her, her supporters openly wept, Michelle Obama gave a gracious speech of how Hillary Clinton made 18 million little cracks in the impenetrable glass ceiling (that was how many votes she earned in the whole primary process) and that she paved the way for many women wishing to join national politics. Hillary Clinton went home to New York to nurse her wounds. President Obama rewarded her support with a plum post as Secretary of State and now she’s back again, poised to take the top prize for herself this time. This was, in fact, her plan all along. Those who thought that we’d see the last of her after she stepped down as Secretary of State were kidding themselves.

So, why should Sanders at this juncture step down? Granted, he’s far more behind Clinton than Clinton was behind Obama at this same stage in 2008, but why does that require Sanders to step down? If Hillary Clinton is to ultimately get the nomination, she better earn it, why should Sanders (or any other opponent) make it easier for her? Yes, dealing with Sanders supporters everyday on the campaign trail must be so tough. To answer questions on her very hawkish foreign policy positions and unconditional support for the fascist state that is Israel, and her husband instituting the mass incarceration of black and brown people and gutting welfare to the most needy must be really irritating. That’s the heat of the kitchen.

When Sanders ran for president, he didn’t run on the premise that he would win, of course he would love to win the nomination but he was only polling at 3% nationally, Sanders’s real aim is to create a political revolution to get big corporations and their rotten money out of politics. He wanted to run a different kind of campaign, without superpac money, without dirty money, without lobbyist support, only the support of the people. By the people, for the people. Many of Sanders positions are hardly radical, but after 8 years of the neocon and war criminal Bush Jr. and 8 more years of neoliberalism and a drone enthusiast Obama, what once seemed reasonable is now radical.

Not policing the world with our military is radical, not bullying developing and third world countries is now radical. Not instituting regime change in other countries to suit our national interests is radical, hell, minding your own fucking backyard and cleaning up the shit there first before you go foraging in other people’s backyard is now a radical idea.  A $15 per hour minimum wage is radical. Free college for publicly funded community colleges and four-year universities is radical. Asking multi-national corporations and the super rich to pay their “fair share” of taxes is now a really radical idea. Cutting up free trade agreements and ending fracking so that we don’t destroy the one planet we can live and breathe on is now very radical. Admitting that ‘free-trade’ isn’t really free, and it’s paid for with backs of workers in all of North America (not just American factory workers) is somehow blasphemous to the Capitalist creed. Challenging the ideas of rampant free-market capitalism is sacrilegious. Telling the police to do their jobs without shooting people to death is unfair, because they are afraid of all big and tall black and brown people. Updating our country’s crumbling infrastructure and at the same time putting millions of people to work is radical and unfeasible. Social security needs to be increased and not reduced is socialism rearing its ugly head. Having a single health payer system like many other advanced nations is radical because it’s allowing government to intrude on our lives. Newsflash: they already are, women’s right to abortion and access to free contraceptives are slowly being eroded with one court ruling after another.

Any time I hear any politician or anyone for that matter say “but how do we pay for all of this?” The first response is: shut the fuck up (or STFU for short), and if we can spend TRILLIONS for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and continue to spend that kind of money overseas, we can pay for everything and anything we need in this country. The supposed budget deficit is not caused by costs of welfare, medicare or social security, it’s caused by funding illegal wars overseas. Wars that American people didn’t sanction, wars that Congress didn’t approve. The second source of the deficit in our budget is all the tax breaks given to multi-national corporations and tax loopholes which allows them to stash their cash overseas, while their executives enjoy skinny lattes at their desk every morning while their employees wear diapers at the production line because they are denied bathroom breaks.

(On that note, please everyone boycott Tyson’s, Perdue, Pilgrim’s and Sanderson Farms – these multi-national corporations while raking in billions making salt soaked, chlorine bleached, disgusting, plastic tasting chicken deny their workers bathroom breaks.) 

And what are Hillary Clinton’s positions on these issues? Before Obamacare there was Hillary-care, a healthcare plan she devised when she was First Lady as a sort of prelude to a single health payer plan, it went nowhere but at the time it was bold and for the longest time she was for the single health payer plan. This was her platform, to bring good health insurance to everyone in this country. Recently? She’s hemmed and hawed saying the country just implemented Obamacare, to radically change the system again after Obamacare was just getting into groove would cause a lot of people to lose their existing plans. In other words, the insurance industry bought her off. We already know her hawkish stance on foreign policy matters, while she was Secretary of State she didn’t negotiate the Iran Deal in good faith because she thought it would go nowhere and also her pro-Israel stance prevented her from actively engaging in negotiating the Iran Deal. When Secretary John Kerry got a deal with the agreement of the international community, she tried to claim credit and said she laid the groundwork. She cast that disastrous vote to invade Iraq based on false intelligence of having WMD, there were no WMDs, now her supporters wants everyone to forget about it and those that keep bringing it up, i.e. Bernie Sanders and his supporters, we are told that we are being childish and it happened so long ago. It’s so 2003 and we all need to get over it and move on. Not so fast, the US military destroyed a functioning state (weakened by sanctions but still functioning) and all if its institutions. Iraq, the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein not withstanding, is an ancient land where multiple sects, religions and ethnicity coexisted together in relative peace. It is the place of many World Heritage Sites (along with Syria). Now it’s a lawless failed state, filled with corrupt politicians in Baghdad and lawless gangs on the streets with guns and improvised bombs. It is essentially ungovernable, just shy of being a total failed state. Millions of civilians have been killed, maimed and lives destroyed, so, no we will not forget this bloodshed nor should Americans forgive the legislators and leaders who allowed this to happen. In light of all this, her being a corporate shill who accepted millions in speaking fees as a form of political bribe or serving on the board of Walmart as it stripped workers of their organizing rights are the lesser of her crimes.

On the charge that Sanders is dividing the Democratic Party when it should be unified to fight the evil force that is Trump, therefore Sanders should drop out so the party can unite. We are too late for that, the party was already divided. Whether Sanders drops out now will make no difference. Before Bernie Sanders came onto the scene, there was already an insurgency from the Left, it manifested itself in the Occupy Movement, most of it was very grassroots, but the unrest was there. People no longer accept the current Democratic Party in its present manifestation, nor do they accept neoliberalism as the status quo, all was needed is a candidate to harness all of that discontent. Many argue Sanders doesn’t go far enough, perhaps, but he has brought many of the anxieties of the out into the open and there’s no putting that back into Pandora’s Box.

Hillary Clinton revealed herself to be a corporate feminist. She’s a feminist for the corporate elite, the aspirational women with college degrees and career paths, people who resemble her, neoliberals who are destined for the corporate world. She’s not a feminist for the Berta Caceres of the world, or the checkout girl who works at the local grocery store at minimum wage, or the receptionist who works at fancy law firms or what someone brilliantly call the “unnecessariat“, which is further extrapolated from the term precariat, coined by economist Guy Standing:

[They] refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc.

The unnecessariat takes this idea one step further:

Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that.

[…]

[A] world in which a significant part of the population has been rendered unnecessary, superfluous, a bit of a pain but not likely to last long. Utopians on the coasts occasionally feel obliged to dream up some scheme whereby the unnecessariat become useful again, but it’s crap and nobody ever holds them to it.

If there’s no economic plan for the Unnecessariat, there’s certainly an abundance for plans to extract value from them.

And the unnecessariat? A lot of them are women. It’s the women who are dying from alcoholism, drug overdoses, suicide or a combination of those at alarming rates. Women always outlived men. Where is the concern of Hillary Clinton, the most prominent feminist of our time, where “women’s rights are human rights” for the unnecessariat?

The majority of low wage work are occupied by women, Bernie Sanders raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour will first and foremost benefit women who are subsisting on two or three minimum wage jobs, many of these women have children and are single parents.

Regardless what happens to Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, regardless if the “math” ever adds up or not, he brought about a political change, to call it a revolution may be premature. He challenged the economic status-quo. Large income inequality is not normal and it’s not acceptable. Extreme poverty in modern times is not the result of scarcity or unforeseeable weather events such as drought and floods. Modern technology have alleviated many of these concerns yet we still have large pockets of the world who are struggling with extreme poverty. Extreme poverty exist today is because of greed and resource hoarding at the top. When the Clinton campaign couldn’t attack Sanders personally, they attacked his supporters for being too white, too male and by default sexist, misogynist and racist (The Berniebro). If that’s not the teapot calling the kettle black, I’ve no idea what is. Hillary Clinton has superpacs who pay people to online troll her opponents.  All of her opponents if they are women are self-hating anti-feminist women, if they are men they are sexist and misogynist, never mind that some of Clinton’s policies and actions are the most sexist and anti-feminist of all.

It is just cowardly to ask one’s opponent to drop out before it gets too ugly, even if your opponent is too far behind to catch up. Since it’s established that there is no party unity to speak of at the moment, making Bernie Sanders drop out earlier than he needs to is Hillary Clinton being self-serving.

My primary is coming up on June 7, I double and triple checked our primary ballots to make sure we can vote for Bernie Sanders. I’ll be damned if anyone takes that opportunity away from me.

Clickbait and Shaming Mental Health Sufferers

It’s been a few days since that deplorable woman Amanda Lauren published a poorly written, ill informed, ill advised trash piece for the online trash publication XOJane explaining why her friend “Leah” who suffers from mental illness (a schizoaffective disorder) was better off dead. Her death appears to have been the result of suicide, she was found drowned in a bathtub.

The internet, the mental health community, mental health activists, disability rights activists and most of digital media have all put in their two cents in condemning her piece, which indirectly gives this Amanda Lauren person more attention she deserves. But what she wrote was so vile, so cruel and the way she talked about a mental health sufferer so callously, it really hit a nerve for a lot of people, regardless if they struggle from mental illness or not. She deserves all the abuse and criticism she’s getting and more. But in a way she did everyone a favor. She ripped off that polite mask that some able bodied and sound mind person wears when dealing with someone who suffers from mental illness and got people talking. She said out loud what many people feel about people with mental illnesses, especially when those illnesses manifest themselves in personality disorders and they became difficult to deal with. The message is this: you’ll never get well, you’ll never act normal, you’ll never think normal,  you’ll never be normal, you don’t even know what normal means, you are too ‘far gone’ (whatever that means), you are attention seeking, just go away. And Amanda Lauren took it one step further, just die and we’ll mourn the person you could have been before you got mentally ill. She spoke the last taboo of dealing with people with mental illness, she made her friend seem like a burden to all that around her and when her friend died, she did herself and everyone a favor. She’s no longer a burden to herself, her family and society.

XOJane has already taken down that vile piece of writing (vile in style and in content) and since offered an apology. But why did it even publish it in the first place? How this piece of drivel even got published in the first place is indicative of the lack of proper boundaries since we entered into a digital age. People, hiding behind fake identities they create for themselves, no longer know what is appropriate to publish and want isn’t. This combined with the competitive digital publishing format, everyone scrambling for clickbait content to promote their site, you get articles like ‘My Former Friend’s Death was a Blessing –Some people are so sick, they are beyond help.’

(I struggled with whether I should link back to Amanda Lauren’s vile article, but it’s important that people see just how callous her tone is, and she was no friend of Leah’s.)

XOJane passes itself off as a serious publication for the modern woman but it’s really just a clickbait-y online publication which commissions mostly women writers who are not experts in any field pertaining to issues about women. The mostly write about their own experiences and how it magically applies to all other women. Occasionally they have articles that discuss domestic abuse and highlighting domestic abuse awareness, but mostly, they feature writers like Amanda Lauren, a pretend expert on mental health (or any other flavor of the week), a know-it-all with a thin resume where you don’t really know what the writer does for a living. Amanda Lauren is such a person. On her own website she calls herself a writer, actress and model, or what we call in L.A. a MAW (model, actress, whatever). Amanda Lauren would be a perfect cast member for the reality show Vanderpump Rules. She is bleached blond, her face appears to be over injected with fillers,  spends too much time and money on personal grooming as opposed to having intellectual pursuits (just a little wouldn’t hurt – crack open a book once in awhile), and she wants to be an actress without trying. In the meantime she maintains or raises her ‘profile’ with modeling gigs, writing articles like the one she wrote for XOJane or until she lands a rich guy marry or hits it out of the park with her own reality show.

This ‘friend’ Amanda Lauren describes is hardly what one would call a friend, she’s at best an acquaintance from childhood or someone she used to know. Their connection is spurious, in L.A. we’d call that ‘hanging out’, and not every person we hang out with we call a friend. Besides that, if Leah were really a friend, she wouldn’t be spoken of in this way. Her death would be mourned by her real friends and family. The first sin that Leah committed, is Leah attempting to “hook up” with a guy Amanda Lauren had a crush on, so after that and a few other transgressions, she was cut off. If she empathized with Leah’s mental illness and how it affects her, she can easily see that her strange or abnormal behavior is very much to do with her mental illness. After she cut her friend off, and by cut off, I mean cut off the Millennial way, blocked from all social media, or in effect, iced out. Leah won’t be tagged in Instagram photos with their mutual friends, she’d be blocked from seeing Lauren’s Twitter and Facebook accounts and vice versa.

Years pass and another mutual friend of theirs told Lauren to take a look at Leah’s Facebook page and this is where it gets ugly; Lauren describes Leah’s Facebook account as an anorexic fourteen year old sex worker and her posts were disturbing, she says this mockingly, without any real concern for Leah’s wellbeing. If she were a real friend, she’d reach out to Leah directly to get off social media and stay off until she’s well again and she’d tell Leah privately her feelings. And of course her final salvo, after humiliating her friend by exposing her at her weakest moments: after battling mental illness, the humiliations and indignities that comes along with that, looking like an anorexic underage sex worker on her Facebook profile, the fact that she was found drowned in a bathtub is a welcome relief for Leah. She no longer has to suffer with the indignities of her illness, which is becoming an anorexic “cam girl”. And she had the nerve to say the healthy Leah would not want to see the crazy Leah like ‘that’. Does she not realize that the healthy Leah and the unwell Leah are the same person? People’s illnesses and disabilities are part of who they are, regardless if they are showing symptoms or not. There are no two Leahs, the one one that is sane and the one that is “crazy”; there was only one Leah.

The saddest part of this is many people suffering from mental illness have come out publicly and said they knew this is how their family and friends viewed them:

We are the victims of violence and trauma because we encounter people every day who see us as less than human – people like you [Amanda Lauren], who believe that being crazy is an invitation for tragic mistreatment and even death.

Six years ago, they might have said that I was beyond help. They sure liked to emphasize how severe my disorders were, how dysfunctional I was. Like your “friend” Leah, they might have said that death spared me from a life of institutions and burdening my loved ones. -Sam Dylan Finch

When it was mentioned to Amanda Lauren that she didn’t put a trigger warning in her article as her writing might affect someone who is recovering, she said the title of her article spoke for itself and they could choose to not read it.

Mental illness is very misunderstood. Unless one is a psychiatrist or mental illness health provider, many people do not know how to cope with people with mental illness. Families get on the best the can with what little resources they have. If someone’s mental illness is wreaking havoc and chaos in their family, let’s remember that they are suffering too – even though it looks like they are the cause of everyone else’s suffering.

The word “crazy” has also been bandied about to suit whatever situation one finds themselves in but judicious use of that word is in order.

Donald Trump is crazy.

Screaming One Direction fans are usually hormonal crazy teenage girls (and maybe some boys).

We were all crazy in love once with someone.

We all acted crazy and irrational at times when things didn’t go our way.

We’ve called people we didn’t like crazy regardless if they deserved that label or not.

We’ve referred to our own mothers as crazy when she disagreed with us.

Specifically to women, labeling a woman crazy usually applies to a woman over a certain age, so it’s also tinged with sexism and ageism.

Crazy, depending on the situation can be funny, hysterical even – Nora Ephron’s stories and essays come to mind.

Crazy can also mean describing someone who is mentally ill and is in the middle of a mental breakdown.

The only way to end the stigma to mental illness is everyone doing their part, no matter how small, not contributing to the labeling of people would be a good place to start. Not ostracizing or icing people out because of their mental illness would go a long way. Learning some tools to handle people with mental illness can help everyone. An offering of unconditional friendship to someone who is mentally ill can go a long way.

 

Sally Brampton: Depression and its Deathtrap

The actress Hayden Panettiere (TV show Nashville and Heros) has checked herself back into treatment for the second time for severe postpartum depression. She has a 17 month old daughter with her fiance, the heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko. She is only twenty-six years old. She has bravely taken the preemptive step of getting treatment in the full glare of the media and hopefully helping other young moms before her mental health issues compound. She has chosen to reveal her treatments and progress publicly to hopefully remove the shame and stigma of mental illness, especially severe postpartum depression, which is still very misunderstood. Many women still prefer to suffer in silence than to face judgment about why they can’t bond with their babies in a healthy manner. This silence can have disastrous even deadly outcomes.

The Irish singer Sinead O’Connor went missing after another harrowing Facebook post in Chicago (not the first time), but has since been found alive and safe (presumably). Sinead O’Connor has a long history with mental illness which include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. She has lost custody of her children, one of whom is only 12 years old (she has four sons) in her home country of Ireland. She’s alone here in the United States, perhaps touring or trying to earn money. Sinead O’Connor has struggled, very publicly with mental illness, and she has been quite open about it. She’s been open about how she was ignored, belittled, dismissed when she went to doctors about her mental health issues until it was almost too late. She was prescribed heavy dosages of medication, it stopped her from killing herself but she was never the same. Over the past few years, the scars of her battle with mental illness have manifested physically. Her once flawless face now appears haggard, weary and tired, no doubt from untreated trauma and abuse she received as a child, from her parents and from the repressive and often abusive Catholic Irish upbringing (she was a survivor of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland – her parents sent her there when she was 14 to be rehabilitated because she was shoplifting) and her battles with mental illness as an adult.

Sally Brampton, novelist, writer, journalist and founding editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine British Elle, after a 20 year battle with severe clinical depression, has committed suicide on May 10. She is presumed to have drowned in the sea, after someone saw her walk into the sea near her home in St Leonards-on-Sea, England. Brampton had been suffering with severe clinical depression and was not responsive to hospitalizations, therapy or medications. She leaves behind a twenty-four year old daughter and two brothers. She was recently separated from her third husband. She was sixty years old. In 2008, she published the book ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’, a memoir about an unflinching look at depression. It’s considered one of the most explicit and raw memoirs on what it’s like to live with and suffer from depression. In it she writes:

“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive.”

When she was struck by severe depression in her forties, far from being a sudden onslaught of blackness that descended upon her at once, she realized that she always suffered from this blackness, this hollowness in small fits and starts since her youth. She described even while in crowds of people, in a glitzy party with a champagne glass in hand chatting to people, she felt disconnected from humanity. But when she was younger, she was busy with career, with travel and also drank a lot to keep the black dog at bay. When she was forty, after she became a freelance writer, the black dog came barking.

In 2003, she wrote a searing piece about battling depression for The Telegraph, I told myself – ‘Get over yourself. Stop snivelling. Stop whining…’ What the title of article suggests is usually what depression sufferers tell themselves, especially for those with the stiff upper lip: ‘just get over yourself, there are real problems in the world, don’t be so self-indulgent and whining’ and ultimately, ‘no one cares what you feel.’ Sally writes:

For me, depression was a place – is still a place with which I now have (mercifully brief) encounters. The landscape is cold and black and empty. It is more terrifying and more horrible than anywhere I have ever been, even in my nightmares.

It is an abyss, a black hole, a place where nothing thrives, where sound is muffled so as to be unintelligible, where vision is dimmed until it is like seeing through clouded glass.

The more I tried to escape, the harder it held me. I could not understand it. I could not recognise myself. People asked: how are you? I did not know. Who is me? I did not have a self to be. I felt nothing.

And eventually, I became nothing.

Depression is indiscriminate of its victims. It crosses geographical and class boundaries. Hayden Panettiere is a peppy American, a young mother only in her twenties. She has a whole life ahead of her, her daughter needs her. Sinead O’Connor, an Irish woman of forty-nine, one of the most iconic singers in the 80s, mother to four sons, has battled mental illness for the last twenty years or so. Sally Brampton, an upper-class woman who attended Oxford and later Saint Martin’s School of Art, had jobs as a glossy magazine editor, novelist, memoirist and journalist, she was also a mother. When she dramatically took her final journey into the sea, many of her closest friends were sad but not surprised. She’s attempted suicide before. She, unlike so many others, had access to the best care she could afford. When the NHS (National Health Service) of UK cut the budget for mental health services, she spoke out strongly against it, ultimately those most economically vulnerable will be harmed. But sadly Brampton is in the very small percentage of people who are not responsive to treatment. Meaning there is no protocol of medications or therapies she can utilize to keep her depression at bay. Even if she took all of the prescriptions available to her, she can still suffer from symptoms.

I got so bad that, at one time, we seriously considered electro-convulsive therapy. I said that it seemed to me that we weren’t much further along than Bedlam and leeches. My psychiatrist said that at least we knew what leeches did.

Sally Brampton spoke openly and honestly about what depression did to her. She even addressed the taboo subject of committing suicide whilst you have a young child. She addressed it matter-of-factly, it was “hard struggle to stay alive”. It’s not that she doesn’t love her child, she did, more than anything. But having depression cancels everything out, everything which is good in your life is colorless, joyless, black. This doesn’t mean she loves her daughter any less than the next person. She, perhaps controversially, didn’t keep her daughter in the dark about her depression. Her daughter had full knowledge of her struggles, and was perhaps told over and over again that it wasn’t her fault or anything she did should the worst ever happen. When her daughter was younger, she would leave lots of little notes around the house to cheer her mother up.

Many who suffer from depression, especially true of  mothers, feel that they need to explain why they feel depressed. Especially those on the outside look like they’ve got nothing to be depressed about, which the contributes to the stigma and silence of depression. The causes for depression are many. It can be a chemical imbalance of the brain, some can be more predisposed than others due to genetic factors, sometimes it’s the situation one finds themselves in. People who are long term unemployed are prone to depression, doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. Young mothers can suffer from depression (different from postpartum depression) because of the demands required of her, especially if she doesn’t have a strong support system. People who feel like they’ve failed at their lives or didn’t achieve what they set out to do and fear they never will may become depressed. For most people, there is help, provided there is easy access and we reach for it. The single greatest barrier for those that need help and don’t ask for it is the shame and stigma attached to it. The ignorant throw away comments made by well meaning (or not so well meaning) people: ‘get out in the sun more’, ‘but everything is going so well for you’, ‘you just became a mother (or grandmother)’; they do more harm than good. It leads the sufferer to feel that they are not justified in their feelings of depression.

It is time to end the conspiracy of silence for mental health sufferers. If Sally Brampton has a legacy, it would be to shed light on what it’s like for those that suffer depression and the urgent need to keep mental health services available for everyone.

The Kids are All Right (2010)

If What Maisie Knew is a study of a toxic dysfunctional family, then The Kids are All Right is its exact opposite. The Kids are All Right features a loving family, very vanilla, so much so that it almost makes you gag. The family live in an affluent and liberal part of Los Angeles, Venice Beach, one parent is a stay-at-home parent and the other is an obstetrician. The two children of this marriage are so well behaved that it’s a dream for most parents with teenagers. They get good grades, they stay out of trouble. They are respectful to their parents. They do as they are told without objection.

The only thing that is unconventional about this family is that the two parents are a lesbian couple, married, each carried a child with the same sperm donor. Their daughter Joni, played wonderfully by Mia Wasikowska at some point during the movie accuses her parents of wanting the “perfect lesbian family”.

At the beginning of the film, Joni has just turned 18 and is about to go off to college. She is a straight-A student, a serious and studious girl who aims to please her parents so that they aren’t criticized for forming a lesbian family. Her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) who is two years younger, is more laid back. He wants to meet their sperm donor but because he’s not yet 18 so he cannot legally inquire, but his sister can. He implores her to go to the sperm bank and find out who their donor is. Joni reluctantly agrees, they find out he’s a guy called Paul (Mark Ruffalo) and he lives nearby. They agree to meet. Both of them immediately take to him, especially Joni, who appreciates his laid back attitude to life compared with her more uptight ways. The kids wanted to keep this a secret from their mothers but felt in the end it would seem disloyal and sneaky. Since they weren’t doing anything wrong, they decided to tell their moms about the meeting with Paul.

They also told their mothers that they’d like to keep on seeing Paul – the sperm donor, but in order to do that their moms Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) demands that they meet Paul too. The meeting went well and both moms, with some reservations, gave their blessings to allow the relationship between the sperm donor and children to continue.

This is where the cracks in Nic and Jules’s marriage begin to appear. Like all families, there are problems, even the most idyllic looking ones. Nic, the main breadwinner of the family can be controlling and domineering. Since their children were born, Jules has always been the stay-at-home parent, though it wasn’t always her choice. She had aspirations of some type of a career, and she’s started and ended a lot of projects and careers, all funded by Nic. She’s recently started a new landscaping business again, she’s eager to create a career for herself, something to call her own. Nic supports her but in a sort of passive aggressive way. Nic also has a drinking issue, she is very close to becoming a functional alcoholic. Everyone, including the children, notices her drinking but don’t say much about it.

Paul upon hearing about Jules’s new landscaping business decides to hire her to redo the gardens of his home, which has become an overgrown jungle. Nic doesn’t like the idea but she doesn’t want to appear unsupportive, she reluctantly agrees. We soon find out the reason for Nic’s reservations, it appears that Jules is bisexual, or perhaps used to be bisexual before she committed to a lesbian relationship. Jules quickly begins an affair with Paul and it’s a passionate affair. Let’s just say she really missed having a man to have sex with and enjoys herself a little too much in the coitus department, especially for a supposed lesbian. They engage in passionate daily sex sessions while they are supposed to be planning the garden, needless to say, not much work was done.

Paul is your typical man who doesn’t want to commit to any single woman. He’s hedonistic and carefree and does what pleases him, compared to the uptight and controlling Nic, he’s a breath of fresh air. He’s also flattering to Jules–something Nic isn’t, and it makes her feel good and worthy again. Except he was only flattering to her because he wants to sleep with her, something Jules doesn’t realize for obvious reasons. Jules feels terrible about betraying her wife, but doesn’t really do much to stop herself from sleeping with Paul either.

At the same time Paul is sleeping with the children’s mother, he is also spending a lot of time with Joni and Laser. They really like him, and like that old saying blood is thicker than water, the children bonded with him. These children never had a father around, never a man in the house, they never knew what they missed until now and they like him. In turn, he also bonded with his ‘kids’ too, he begun to see those children as his own though he has no right to. He’s careful to not cross boundaries or discipline inappropriately, but he makes an effort to be a ‘good friend’ to them. In fact, it’s about the only people he’s ever allowed himself to commit to, since he won’t commit to one woman.

Throughout this whole time, Nic feels that something is amiss. She feels that her children are drifting away from her and her relationship with Jules is on shaky ground. To clear the air and ease tensions, they all agree to go to Paul’s house to have dinner. When Nic goes to use the restroom she finds clumps of Jules’s flaming red hair in Paul’s shower drain (just like how she leaves it at their house – that’s a bone of contention between them). Feeling worried, she tiptoes to Paul’s bedroom and takes a look around and sure enough Jules’s red hair is found on Paul’s pillow and bedsheets and she learns the truth. Her wife is having an affair with a man and not just any man, the man who also happens to be their children’s sperm donor. And on top of that, he’s carefree, sexy and good looking with a penis – the opposite of her. This can threaten her family.

Later that evening, they have a confrontation and Jules ends up on the couch and the children know what’s happened. The children are sad and disappointed that the man they have begun to like and trust has done this to their mothers’ marriage. They wish he is a better person.

In recent years, the concept of a family has changed to be more inclusive. The idea of mom, dad, two kids and a dog constitutes an ideal family is no longer. Joni and Laser while grew up in a loving and affluent household, with supportive parents, but without a father or male figure, and when they did find their sperm donor, they are instinctively drawn to him like moths to flame. There’s no explanation, logical or otherwise. They just ‘liked’ him when they met him, even the usually stoic and methodical Joni. Is it genetic, or just pure curiosity on what it’s like to have a dad after not being raised with one, it’s hard to know.

The director of the film Lisa Cholodenko, is a lesbian in a committed relationship raising a son together, perhaps she wanted to explore what it’s like for children who didn’t grow up with the concept of having a mother and father and how that affects them. The traditional family is perhaps the oldest institution in the world. It’s prehistoric, before any political or civil institution was formed, the family was the bedrock of society, some would argue it still is but the composition of a family has changed. So when you change one of the major components of the family, how does that affect the children? There will always be a curiosity of the person that gave you half of his or her DNA, there’s no getting away from that. It doesn’t matter if it’s a household with two dads or two moms, the children of those unions will always wonder about the other half of them. To pretend that curiosity doesn’t exist or can be tucked away would be naive.

Lisa Cholodenko explores this subject in a very sensitive manner. As much as Joni and Laser like their sperm donor Paul, but when it came time to choose, due to the bad behavior of Paul, they chose their family, their mothers. Before Joni was to go off to college, Paul came by their house one last time asking if they could still keep in touch and be friends, Joni’s logical side came back to her and she gave a noncommittal answer, but most of all, she was disappointed with him. She wanted Paul, ‘her dad’ essentially, to be better, to act better, to make better decisions. In short, he wasn’t who she thought he was. Her younger brother Laser, who wanted to initiate this meeting to begin with, wouldn’t even speak to Paul. These two children have something that most children don’t have –and that is the freedom and luxury of rejecting a father who disappoints them.

Nic rightly asserted that Paul was an “interloper” and that if he wanted a family he should go build his own and stay away from hers. In the end Nic and Jules reconciled – it was painful and bruising to them both. But at least they got to get to the bottom of the troubles in their relationship and mend it as opposed to glossing over it. In the end, your family are the people you choose and allow in, not so much what society or genetics dictate.

Of Christianity & Suffering

Suffering has always been a theme that’s central to Christianity. After all, Jesus died on the Cross to save us from our sins, so they tell us.

Those of us who consider ourselves Christian are told in so many ways that suffering is good, suffering can be noble and if we can understand God’s greater plan for the reason of our suffering, that, in and of itself is a form of salvation.

Evelyn Waugh wrote of Sebastian Flyte’s suffering in Brideshead Revisited as something quite holy, even though the root of Sebastian’s suffering is due to his alcoholism and deliberate dissolute lifestyle. Sebastian Flyte’s suffering is largely self-inflicted, but it’s still holy.

When Western powers were conquering and colonizing Africa and North, Central and South Americas, along with guns, disease, alcohol, they also brought Christianity with them, specifically, Catholicism. The Catholicism practiced by the  Spaniards and Portuguese are particularly fatalistic and savage, and they’ve managed to convince continents of people that their suffering wrought by foreign imperial powers is for their own good. They were transformed from heathen savages to faithful Christians. Those who didn’t comply were slaughtered. Father Junipero Serra has just been granted sainthood, on the basis that he was the first to bring Catholicism to North America, even though he decimated millions in the process. He decimated Indigenous people’s bodies and their cultures. Scores of ancient indigenous languages, writings and cultures are lost to civilization forever as a result. Everyone thought this was a good thing, after all, the Mayans offered human sacrifices to their gods, Christians don’t do that, they just kill people for non-compliance and before their last breath is drawn, quickly given last rites.

For those that reside in the West and for those of us who attend church, we often hear the sermon of “everyone has a cross to bear, and we must bear that cross with grace, dignity and without complaint”, just like Jesus and the prophets before us did. We all have our burdens and hardships. May it be chronic illness, addiction, battling a mental illness, difficult relationship with a parent, a wayward child who cannot figure out their lives, a child who is ill, a difficult marriage, contentious relationship with family or siblings, discontented with one’s career, not being able to fulfil one’s life’s passion and purpose, poverty, engaged in cycles of chronic poverty, or just plain unhappiness and depression, we all have our own burdens to bear. And we are told a good Christian bears them with quiet courage, dignity and grace, just like Jesus would want us to.

In the Third World where abject poverty exist alongside with rampant capitalism, those who live in grinding poverty are told to bear their plight with patience and grace, for God will reward you in the afterlife, or what Karl Marx refers to as “opiate of the people.”

In America we are told that poverty can be character building, an enriching experience, resilience building and to experience poverty and suffering can be a good thing, with the hope that one will one day grow from poverty to prosperity and that time in spent poverty will be seen through rose tinted lenses. The time spent in poverty will be seen as a character building exercise for greater things to come later in life. Except the American Dream was never a real thing, it was just a fantasy.

The notion of suffering as a noble thing has been used to oppress people all over the world. To complain of life’s unfairness is to be ungodly. To feel bitterness or angry at those who’ve wronged us in life is ungracious. We should be forgiving and tolerant of the shortcomings of others just like God is forgiving of our shortcomings.

As a churchgoing person, I’ve heard the “we all have a cross to bear” homily one too many times. I have heard it delivered in different ways and delivered by different people. There have been some times when I hear this homily in the most opportune time, and it’s given me reprieve. Every once in awhile, we need perspective, we tend to get tunnel visioned and only see our own problems and forget the real problems out there. Sometimes we need a jolt as a reminder.

Then I started to critically think about the whole notion of suffering and what it entails – not all suffering is equal, not all suffering is noble, worthy or needs to be tolerated.

To suffer from things and people which are preventable is not noble, it’s simply irritating and unnecessary. That toxic parent who refuses to acknowledge you, why must one tolerate insufferable people like that and dress it up as noble suffering, a noble cross to bear? That wayward child who disrespects you at every turn, that child whom you’ve given many chances to and have tried your best to parent but to no avail, where does it say that tolerating such ingrates is a noble thing? Toxic friends who won’t leave you alone, but you want to help them detoxify, why? Unreasonable siblings and family members, besides holidays and special occasions, why is contact with such people even necessary?

Suffering from addiction, a chronic illness, mental illness, loss of parent or a child or any other loved one, or poverty which for one reason or another we cannot escape – these are sufferings which the person has very little control over. These are events which can overtake someone and their lives.

Take poverty – since post Industrial Revolution, most of the poverty people experience is largely manufactured, it’s not from scarcity of resources or natural events such as drought, floods and other natural disasters leading to famine and disease. The poverty the world experiences today is an event manufactured by humans, or more specifically, the 1% of the world. The 1% of the world have stolen all of the earth’s resources for themselves and have left the 99% scrambling and fighting over crumbs. There is absolutely no reason for all of the people on this earth to not have enough to eat, clean water to drink, shelter, basic clothing and other necessities, even taking into account global warming and other weather changes. The earth is abundant and with birth rates declining in many parts of the world, there is no reason why anyone should go hungry, not have clean water to drink and basic shelter accommodations. None. So, to tell people who live in poverty that their turn at abundance will come later, in the afterlife, is adding insult to injury.

Income inequality and poverty is the greatest issue of our generation right now. For the single reason that so much wealth has been created on the backs of millions but the rewards only went to the top 1%. To use Christianity or any other religion in any way to justify suffering or poverty is perversion of the religion. It is insulting the intelligence of the people. It is degrading their personhood.

There is no justification for poverty ever. There is no justification for events which are the result of poverty. There is no justification on how the earth’s abundance of resources only go to a few people. Poverty is not noble. Suffering which are caused by the actions of others are not just or noble. That is not suffering, that is injustice.

What Maisie Knew (2012)

The movie adaptation of What Maisie Knew, directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel is an updated rendering of Kramer v. Kramer, directed by Robert Benton. The topic is the same, divorcing parents who despise each other and how their children are the victims of their mutual hatred.

While Kramer v. Kramer puts a gloss or a veneer on the subject, to appeal to more conservative times in the 1980s and the story is told from the perspective of the parents; What Maisie Knew does away with that gloss and gives us the unvarnished version of how it looks from a child’s point of view when her parents’ are at war with each other. The camera angles in What Maisie Knew is always at the level of the child, the audience gets to see the events and the people in her life from her vantage point, a small person, looking up at the scary adult world, which can be overwhelming for a child.

What Maisie Knew was originally a Henry James novel published in 1897. It’s a novel about upper middle class parents who divorce and each parent use their child Maisie to manifest their hatred and disdain for each other. In the novel, the custody arrangement is that Maisie lives with each parent six months at a time, but her parents are narcissistic and selfish people and Maisie is often left in the care of her caretakers, who do a better job looking after her than her parents.

The movie version essentially kept the same plot but updated the events to take place in modern day New York City. Maisie’s mother Susanna is a rock musician who tours with her band. She has moderate success as a rock musician and has a small fan base and they often party at her house while Maisie is there. Maisie’s father Beale is no better either. He’s a successful art dealer who is often away on business. On the outside, Beale looks like the more stable parent because he knows how to keep his temper in check, whereas Susanna has a bad temper who is prone to losing her cool and Beale knows exactly which buttons to push to make her lose her temper, and she falls for it every time. The care of Maisie is left in the care of Margo, her Scottish nanny, who is loving and kind. Margo tries to shield Maisie from the ugly fighting of her parents and tries to make life ‘normal’ for her.

Susanna and Beale finally divorce, the custody of Maisie becomes a battleground. Each parent tries to undermine the other as they each petition for sole custody, even though they both have no intention of parenting Maisie themselves. Beale seduced and married Margot to install her as Maisie’s caretaker and as his wife, then he won’t need to pay her. Susanna married Lincoln, a younger bartender so he can babysit Maisie (also for free) when she’s working. Susanna and Beale just about violate every cardinal rule about divorce where there is children involved. They say terrible things about the other parent to Maisie. Susanna calls Beale an “asshole” in front of Maisie. She locks Beale out and have a nasty fight through the locked front door while Maisie is standing right there, she makes no attempt to moderate herself and her temper in the presence of her young daughter. While Beale is less vitriolic, he undermines Susanna’s authority at every turn, he tells Maisie that her mother is mentally unstable and makes fun of Susanna temper tantrums, he also makes condescending remarks about Susanna’s waning singing career. One of the worst things they do is sending Maisie off to court appointed child psychiatrists to get her to say something bad about the other parent in an effort to gain sole custody.

Maisie takes all of this in stride, for a six year old, she’s very astute on what she should and shouldn’t say, as if she knew if she said the wrong thing to the wrong person, she’ll be ripped away from one of her parents forever. She also became adept at navigating the murky waters of her parents’ narcissism and selfishness. In front of her parents, she tries to be the perfect little girl so that they won’t be mad at each other or mad at her. Like many children of divorce, she probably thinks it’s her fault that her parents are divorcing. Susanna and Beale never even took the time to tell their daughter that their divorce and mutual hatred for each other and all this shouting, insults and ugliness is not her fault and that they love her no matter what. Margo did that bit for them.

While Joanna and Ted of Kramer v. Kramer seek to mitigate the effects of their divorce on their child, Susanna and Beale make no such effort. Joanna and Ted Kramer each want sole custody because they want to parent little Billy; Susanna and Beale want sole custody of Maisie to spite each other. Susanna nor Beale have any interest in being Maisie’s main caregiver, they will farm out the tedious bits of parenting and when time permits and when it suits their mood that day, they’ll swoop in the front door and be the ‘Disneyland parent’. This is their idea of good parenting. Perhaps the greatest tragedy (or not) of this toxic situation is Maisie’s unwavering unconditional love for each of her parents, no matter how appalling they’ve been. Each time she sees them, the excitement overtakes her, she runs straight into their arms – and it’s worthy to note, Maisie isn’t a particularly expressive child. Yet her parents can’t see that and endeavor to behave better towards Maisie and each other.

The custody arrangement is a disaster, they are to hand Maisie over t0 each other every 10 days except both Susanna and Beale either ‘forget’ to drop Maisie off or they drop her off a few days early or a few days later. This drives both Margo and Lincoln insane as they become the de facto parents of Maisie. Pretty soon both parents disappear altogether. Susanna disappears for days at a time to go ‘on tour’, Beale disappears for weeks at a time because he’s in London making deals. When both Margo and Lincoln realized they’ve been used to help their respective spouses gain custody and be free child care to Maisie they become angry and disillusioned and turn to each other for friendship. They remain in Maisie’s life to look after her because no one else will and they bonded with Maisie on an emotional level. While Beale doesn’t much care if Maisie prefers Margo over him – Maisie is just a trophy to him; Susanna, on top of unwilling to be a parent, resents the fact that Maisie warms to Lincoln and prefers Lincoln’s company over her own sometimes. She lashes out at both Lincoln and Maisie. Susanna and Beale are thoroughly unlikeable characters without any trace of character traits which might make them sympathetic. They are selfish, narcissistic and horrible people, not just towards Maisie but to everyone else too.

Perhaps when Henry James wrote this novel in the late 1800s, he wrote this as a warning of what might happen if ancient institutions such as marriage and family are not honored, there will be children split into two homes shuttling back and forth, not knowing that it’s become a reality less than 100 years later. With divorce rate hovering at 50%, many children are being shuttled between two homes on a weekly basis.

Of all the horrible things that happened to Maisie, she took it on the chin. She doesn’t cry when her mom or dad doesn’t come pick her up from school, or when she realizes she’s been made into a pawn between her hateful parents. She has Margo and Lincoln to fall back on for love and support. Children being the intuitive beings they are know immediately the people who truly care for them and will naturally navigate towards them. The nadir of the movie is when Susanna had a day off during her tour, she made an unannounced visit back to New York City, gets into a fight with Lincoln which ends their marriage (child care arrangement), with Lincoln spitting the words “You don’t deserve her (Maisie)” to her and walks away. Susanna intended to postpone her tour and stay in New York City with Maisie for awhile, but she gets a call from her manager telling her that she must return to tour or else she’ll be sued. She has no choice but to return. Beale by this time has moved back to England permanently, divorced Margo the nanny, Susanna just ended her marriage to Lincoln, instead of calling Lincoln to see if he can come pick her up at her apartment, she drops Maisie off at the restaurant where Lincoln works, and waves goodbye to her daughter, doesn’t even give her daughter a cell phone with emergency numbers on it, no backpack of her belongings, not even any form of identification. Except that night was Lincoln’s night off and no one could reach him on his phone. Maisie falls asleep at the restaurant and is brought to the home of another waitress to spend the night. Maisie wakes up in the middle of the night in a stranger’s home with a large and imposing man there and they appear to be smoking pot, she finally breaks down and sheds a tear. It’s the first time she cried in the whole movie. Thankfully, Margo was there by morning to collect Maisie.

Because Susanna and Beale are wealthy residents of New York City, and as a result of their wealth and status – the people around them protected them from authorities. If a poor Latino or black mother dropped of her child at her ex-husband’s work while he wasn’t there and left them there, you can be positive that she will be arrested and charged with child neglect or child abandonments (as she should). Her child will enter the foster care system and it would be a very long time before they can be reunited. Susanna and Beale and by extension Margo and Lincoln are protected from criminal prosecution because of their race, wealth and status. While Kramer v. Kramer provided a sympathetic bent to Ted and Joanna and made these two flawed humans and ultimately desiring to be a loving parent to little Billy. What Maisie Knew doesn’t even bother with what kind of parents Susanna and Beale could have been if circumstances were different, they are just shitty people and even shittier parents. If it weren’t for their wealth and social status (musician and art dealer), they’d be exposed as the nasty people they are.

This is not a case where Susanna feels trapped by motherhood, she isn’t. Before her divorce, Margo was hired as a full time nanny to Maisie. She was able to work, tour and throw loud and inappropriate parties in her home after her child goes to bed. Her husband Beale didn’t really care what she did. It’s unclear what their arguments are about. They usually take place off camera where Susanna shouts in background “asshole”, “loser”, “there you go walking away again”, “coward”. There are no indications of infidelity or anything else. Whereas Joanna Kramer used her time away to improve herself and become a better person and mother, Susanna has no such concerns. She doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her temper or how her behavior affects her child. The same goes for her husband Beale. He provides for Maisie financially, does the superficial ‘good dad’ act and to him, that’s good enough. Susanna wants to be seen as a good and caring mother, but doesn’t want to put in the effort to actually become one. And on top of that, she resents anyone who gets close to her daughter, as it points out her failings as a mother.

In the end, Beale is never heard from again, Susanna goes back on tour, attempts to come back and get her daughter to go on tour with her, but her daughter refuses to go, and is visibly scared of her mother’s bad temper. By this time Margo and Lincoln have gotten together romantically and is staying at a beach house belonging to Margot’s cousin, they have Maisie living with them and Maisie is seen finally having the carefree, stress free childhood she deserves, with her designated caretakers by her waste-of-space parents. But make no mistake this is not a happy ending. Maisie doesn’t need two loving and capable surrogate parents, Maisie needs her own parents to step up to the plate and be there for her. No one can replace her parents, even as narcissistic as they are. Maisie is only six years old in the film, the trauma that she experienced with her parents divorce will manifest itself in many ways in the years to come.

Whereas Kramer v. Kramer gave a biased view of Joanna Kramer as the ‘villain’ of the film, What Maisie Knew gave a pretty even handed dealing of Susanna and Beale. They were both awful in their own ways. On the face of it, Susanna seems worse than Beale because of her foul temper and dirty mouth, but upon closer examination, Beale is no better himself. He is the sneering contemptible Englishman personified. His ‘good manners’ covers up a person who is rotten to the core, he only thinks of himself, Maisie and her needs are an after thought.

The Subjective $400 Crisis 

The Federal Reserve’s Report on Economic Well-Being on US Households in 2014 reported that 47% of Americans do not have $400 in liquid funds to meet an immediate emergency. The 47% of Americans are not just the working poor and the unemployed, it also includes members of the middle-class and upper middle-class by income bracket. Following this report, the writer Neal Gabler ‘outed’ himself as part of this 47% for the headline article for the May issue of The Atlantic ‘The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans’. Neal Gabler, at least on the outside, embodies the life of an upper-middle class American family. He lives in the Hamptons with his wife, they used to have a co-op apartment in Brooklyn but sold it, his two daughters went to private school, after that they attended Stanford University and University of Texas, became a Rhodes Scholar, then onto Harvard Medical school, paid for by his parents (which means his inheritance was spent too), and recently, this past winter, he had to borrow money from his daughters to fill up the tank for his winter fuel. He couldn’t cover that expense otherwise. He was deeply ashamed and embarrassed about it (he shouldn’t be, isn’t this what the private school and elite university education was for?). Gabler goes into forensic detail about what he’d had done wrong financially and it was brave to reveal in black and white your economic missteps over the years. In short, he lived beyond his means but not in a grandiose fashion, he was under the false belief that his means would keep increasing to commensurate with the rising cost of living. Even as a writer, his wages have fallen flat too. His compensation for his articles barely budged for the last 20 years. He’s published 5 books and has another in the works, wrote hundreds of articles, has a teaching job, and by all quantifications, he’s done well for himself, especially in such a financially precarious profession. When reading between the lines, besides his own admission, one can see that this man of letters has zero business sense. He also admitted that his male pride kept him from revealing to his wife just how stretched their budget was and it was that same male pride that induced him to cash out his meager retirement account to pay for his daughter’s wedding. He didn’t want the in-laws to know just in what dire straits they were in.

In contrast, Sandra Bland’s bail amount for her last arrest where she died in police custody was $515, not too much over the $400 emergency threshold, but an astronomical amount for the supposed ‘crime’ she committed. Bland’s family and friends tried to raise this amount for her and they couldn’t. Sandra had 4 sisters, her mother owns a real estate company and was recently married, and she had a myriad of friends and relatives, but they couldn’t put together $515 to save Bland’s life. Of course they had no way of knowing that Bland was to die in police custody or what kind of treatment she would receive while in custody, but the fact remains – Bland’s extensive family and friends couldn’t put $515 together within 24 hours or less. This cost her her life.

Kalief Browder committed suicide after he was released from prison without trial. He spent three years behind bars without trial because his mother initially couldn’t raise the $3000 bail and by the time she did, due to some technicality, he was denied eligibility for bail. Roughly two of the three years he spent in Rikers Island awaiting trial was spent in solitary confinement. When he was in the ‘box’, he was starved, abused emotionally and psychologically. When he was with the general population, he was beaten, brutalized and raped by other inmates and prison guards. When he was released due to insufficient evidence to go to trial, he suffered from psychological trauma, PTSD and depression. He hung himself in his mother’s house on June 6, 2015. Both of these victims were black, indigent and definitely had no emergency fund for when they get pulled over and arrested by the racist and brutal police force – which by all measurements is the biggest emergency of their lives.

When Neal Gabler wrote the headline article for The Atlantic about his financial incompetence which lead to where he’s at today, he knew he would be criticized, mocked and ridiculed and he deserves to be. Most liberal publications such as Slate and Huffington Post think it’s a complete joke that Gabler would even put himself in the same category as someone who is financially distressed – especially as he admits, most of it was his own fault. He is terrible with money and finances, he made terrible decisions without realizing they had bad financial repercussions. He spent money where he shouldn’t have. In circumstances where he should have driven a harder bargain he didn’t. Gabler stated in his  article that he wanted “no sympathy”, and that his financial incompetence is just “a fact”, he’s not making excuses for his family fortunes (or misfortunes) but that he wanted to share how he got to where he is now and there are millions of outwardly successful professionals like him, who suffer in silence because of shame and embarrassment. In fact, Gabler asserts that he’d much rather admit to “sexual impotence” than “financial impotence”- at least the former is a medical condition which is out of his control.

This same $400 mean very different things between a white upper-middle class “successful” published writer and a poor black family desperate to bail their loved ones out of jail before they get mistreated for too long. For Neal Gabler, the $400 is a minor inconvenience, so his winter heating oil doesn’t get refilled on time, they’ll just wear more layers of clothes until his next paycheck comes in, or if he were really desperate and he couldn’t ask his daughters for help, I am sure he can find something of value he owns and sell it. For Bland and Browder’s families, that $400 cost them the lives of their loved ones. The definition of “dire” are on completely different levels. Gabler sees himself as financially vulnerable because in his mind, with his years of experience as a writer and body of work behind him along with a “very small” reputation in the world of publishing and journalism, he should not be coming up $400 short when he needs it. He should be covered and have much more in his liquid reserves – even in light of the litany of his bad financial decisions – because, he deserves it and it’s how it should be, wages should rise over time not decrease.

Black families who lost what little they had in the Great Recession do not have have the means to save $400 on their best month. Barring some gross negligent behavior on Gabler’s part, as an upper middle-class white man, will never get pulled over for no reason and be wrongfully arrested and be forced to spend nights in jail until his wife can raise the bail (the fact that they own a house would preclude him from ever not meeting bail). This is not his reality so he doesn’t have to worry about it. For black people and other minorities, being pulled over for no reason and get arrested on trumped up charges is a daily concern. The second they get in their car to go anywhere, the likelihood of this happening is very real.

Sandra Bland, also a college graduate, who attended college on a scholarship, graduated in 2010 where job prospects were terrible for college graduates especially a black college graduate with an arrest record. She bounced around from one low wage job to another, which caused her great distress and depression. She was a grown woman with a college degree but was constantly broke and couldn’t find gainful employment which utilized her skills and education. Prior to her last arrest she had other arrests for things such as driving without insurance, broken tail light, marijuana possession and DUI. Most of the drug charges didn’t stick and the one that did it was reduced to just a mere infraction where a fine and few days jail took care of it. Speaking of fines, Sandra lived in Texas for most of her adult life:

Texas has no income tax, and the state, its counties, and its municipalities have to get the money from somewhere. One way is through traffic tickets, using a system similar to the one the Justice Department has criticized in Ferguson, Missouri. In Texas, extra charges are attached to the tickets, and they are staggering. There’s a $25 “records management” fee, a $15 “judicial fund” fee, and $15 added to each bail-bond payment. The tickets themselves also include add-ons to fund a statewide program providing services for people with brain and spinal-cord injuries. Even Prairie View A&M’s [Bland’s alma mater] juvenile-justice school was funded with money from traffic tickets.

Sandra Bland had, in the past, resorted to “sitting out” her traffic tickets and that means she’d go to jail to clear her tickets at the rate of $100 per day – which is in its way a debtor’s prison sanctioned by the government. So in effect, Texas makes the poor and downtrodden pay for their state’s expenditures and not the rich and well off.

Many would argue that Bland’s predicament is a result of her own choices. Perhaps, but what’s happened to her is the systematic abuse of the system against vulnerable black people like her. She was chronically depressed, even with her stellar academic record, she couldn’t find a job in her field of choice that paid her enough. She had no access to mental health services despite Obamacare, she still couldn’t afford insurance and most mental health practitioners do not accept state Medicaid insurance. She turned to her church, but the best advice they had was to ‘pray’. She had a rocky relationship with her mother and at the time of her death, they were working on mending their differences. Her godmother Dee Watts who served as her surrogate mother when things were tough with her own mother and helped her out financially and gave her a place to stay when she didn’t have anywhere else to go died of cancer, Dee’s husband Lionel Watts didn’t want Sandra around much anymore after that, so that emotional and financial lifeline was cut off. These are all of the small things things which led to the sum of Bland’s life and choices, which in the end killed her. But there is no sympathy for Bland’s ‘choices’. She chose to smoke pot, she chose to drink and get behind the wheel, she chose to assert herself and talk back to the pig (police officer) that arrested her. And as for her unpaid insurance and broken tail lights, she chose to spend her meager amount of money elsewhere instead of taking care of her business. So, while it’s sad that she died in police custody, she needs to bear some responsibility for the appalling state of affairs. This is what white supremacists will say. But Bland didn’t create institutionalized racism, she didn’t invent white supremacy, she doesn’t even condone it, she’s an unwilling participant and a victim of the ‘system’ which doesn’t benefit her but is against her at every turn.

There exists a parallel experience between the plight of the employed but distressed educated elite and the oppressed minorities. The system seeks to benefit the former, only if they knew how to use it, which according to The Fed, many don’t; while it seeks to oppress the latter and they try to fight back. While people feel sympathy for Neal Gabler because he lacks the financial shrewdness to navigate this new economy, there is only boiling scorn for Sandra Bland and Kalief Browder. The white guy who is bad with money is seen as honest, naive and undefiled by the ways of the world and ultimately a victim when compared to their financially shrewd counterparts- especially those on Wall Street, who are greedy, slimy, dishonest and criminal. Minorities and the poor who are bad with money are seen as stupid and need to be taught a lesson about the ways of the world.

People such as Neal Gabler, who have some assets (his home in the Hamptons) and means and professions that earn six-figures and above but due to their own financial impotence can’t manage the good income they earn are given lots of sympathy and empathy. Yes, they are incompetent when it comes to money, but they work hard so it can all be forgiven. But when it’s folks like Sandra Bland and Kalief Browder’s family, where either the family is headed by a single mother or unable to find gainful employment after college graduation, every single choice they make with their finances comes under scrutiny and open to criticism. Society sits there and judge how they spend their welfare checks, how they spend their meagre paychecks – why didn’t they pay the rent on time, why didn’t they pay their car insurance, health insurance? How did Sandra Bland afford cigarettes if she was so broke? If these people budgeted better on their insufficient to nonexistent incomes they’d have enough money for food and emergency expenses. And everyone is ready to impart money planning advice to the poor. Their first problem is not having any money to budget with.

Not to dump on Neal Gabler even more as he feels bad enough about himself already, but the litany of stupid things he’s done on his six-figure income is astounding considering his intelligence in other areas of his life. He sent his two daughter’s to private school, while he acknowledged that it was his choice and it crimped their finances but he was willing to sacrifice his comforts for their future careers:

I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses. But, like many Americans, I wanted my children to keep up with the Joneses’ children, because I knew how easily my girls could be marginalized in a society where nearly all the rewards go to a small, well-educated elite. (All right, I wanted them to be winners.)

He could have sold his Brooklyn co-op faster by dropping the price sooner before the vultures (potential buyers and their agents) smell blood in the water but he didn’t. Because of this mistake, he carried two mortgages for years, he obviously didn’t rent out his Brooklyn co-op while he was trying to get it sold, which was another way to stem to bleeding, especially if he knew it could take “years” to sell it. Not only did he pay two mortgages for years, all the mortgage he paid on the Brooklyn co-op didn’t even pay off because he sold if for a loss – stupid. The most appalling mistake would be to cash out his paltry 401K to pay for his daughter’s wedding so that he wouldn’t look bad to the in-laws – stupid times two. Telling your daughter that you can’t pay for her wedding is not a tragedy. A white wedding is a luxury, not a life’s necessity, unless you are keeping up with the Joneses. These are blatant financial missteps that any amateur reading his article can figure out in three minutes or less. And since he chose a very financially precarious field of work for his profession, he has more or less accepted the hardship that is to come with his chosen profession. It’s just a shame he never told his wife and daughters about it.

The solution to Gabler’s problem is just as obvious his mistakes, he can sell his house in the Hamptons in this hot market right now and free up all that cash and rent something smaller or buy something smaller and more affordable – his two girls have moved out, there’s no need for a single family home anymore. And when he gets his final payment after he submits his book, he should open a new retirement account right away, that way he’ll minimize his tax liabilities and replenish the one he cashed out. And if he’s ever short on money again, he should continue calling his daughters, the very people he sacrificed everything for during his prime working years so that they can have a leg up on their careers. Just my two cents.