Oprah and Crash

I have to admit that I did not always like Oprah. I had thought that Oprah was one of the feminists that I wouldn’t like, that instead of empowering woman, they trash man. Until recently I had not watched Oprah much, and I realized that she is actually a wonderful person. While I still hold on to Aaron MacGrueder’s quote; “We should all harbor a healthy fear of Oprah,” I think her TV show has done wonders for informing the public about situations all over the world and presented some of the best coverage I saw about the Katrina disaster.

Yesterday Oprah hosted the cast of Crash. If you have not seen the movie Crash and want to do it in the future, you might want to stop reading now. Crash is a very in your face movie about racism. I was very surprised to see the cast of stars that starred in the movie. This movie uses various stories that are connected via the characters. Everyone has something to do with everyone else on one level or another in the movie, ultimately connecting the various story lines together.

The movie starts with Don Cheadle speaking the following quote as his character Detective Graham Waters,

It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

When I watched this movie I found its meaning so powerful that I had to write this post about human touch. I believe in the power of human contact to express affection, and it is a topic that has been researched by many. This is an interesting article by one of the first things I heard about it back in College even thought the article can be somewhat strong.

Oprah invited Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock and Ludacris to this panel discussion. They began by showing a clip of the movie where two young black man(one of them being played by Ludacris) are having a conversation about how white women (the one in the scene played by Sandra Bullock) will, upon seeing them, hold a little tighter to their husbands arm as they walk down the street. The conversation is about racism and it makes some excellent points, only seconds later you learn that the two black man are carjackers and are stealing a black Navigator from that same couple. This scene sparked the conversation about racism and fear. Racism can come from fear, fear based on prejudice. Prejudice is dictated not only by our environment but also society. Animals have instincts, when a gazelle out in the plains smells a lion it instinctually will run for its survival. Does the same rule apply here? Is that prejudice such a bad thing when you are just trying to protect yourself and your family?

The movie does a great job at posing those questions. It makes you look int the mirror and see that whether you like it or not you live in a society where stereotypes are as common and numerous as our clothes. Take me for example:

I am Colombian so I should know a lot about drugs, coffee and violence.
I am a gamer therefore I have no social skills and am an overall loser.
I am a biker so I must constantly break speed limits and get into a lot of bar fights.
I am a computer programmer, which makes me a geek incapable of discussing any subjects outside of software.
I have a tattoo, which makes me almost a criminal, and up to no good.

I have been a victim of all the generalizations before at one point or another in my life. Our society does not concentrate on individuals but on labels that categorize things around them. Anything different or out of the ordinary can make people nervous and in the end become prejudice. Now, how can we break down those barriers? One of the things I try to do is meet people from all walks of life and look at them as individuals. I am not perfect; I still fall prey of prejudice-fueled thoughts and stereotypes all the time.

Oprah continued showing clips from the movie. The next scene shows Matt Dillon playing a racist cop that takes care of his ill Father and then has to deal with, what seemed to him, an unhelpful and incompetent black insurance worker. Matt takes out his frustration on a black couple that he pulls over because they are driving a vehicle that meets the description of the recently stolen Navigator. During the stop Dillon dehumanizes the black couple played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton by humiliating the husband as he fondles his wife, feeling powerless and overtaken by a mixture of fear, shame and impotence. This is described as another “Crash” moment during the movie, a moment where people collide and race takes a forefront instead of the characters humanity. The movie has several twists and turns and some of the people get to see each other again under different circumstances. A lot of the situations are racially charged and will make people very uncomfortable, some more than others because of the emotional impact they carry. While all the characters play their race stereotype we can also see their human side and how we, even if we are not from the same race, can relate to their emotions.

I had seen Terrence Howard before in a couple of movies. I did not think he was an excellent actor before and I was dismissive of his work. After watching this movie and this interview I have a new respect for him as an actor and as a man. He has had a couple of “Crash” moments in real life. One as an adult when he was arrested after standing up in a plane to take his daughter to the bathroom, the incident was blown out of proportion and he spent a week in jail. This happened pre 9-11 and if you hear the full story you cannot feel anything but sorry for the guy. The other “Crash” moment is even sadder; while in a Santa line in the mall back in 1972 his Father was assaulted and then killed a man in self defense ending up in prison. His parents were both mixed, but his Father happened to be more Caucasian looking than his mother. His Father was saving their spot in the Santa line and when his wife and kids came back a man behind him complained to him about letting the n**** cut in line. His Father replied, “She is my wife.” The white man preceded to choke his him against a wall and started to beat him down… he fought back eventually killing the man and went to jail. I cannot imagine being an actor that has had to deal with so much racially motivated pain playing the scene where the cop feels up his wife.

The rest of the show was excellent; racism was discussed and defined by an expert. One fact that I learned is that 97% of women are raped by their own race. Oprah also brought up the use of the n**** word and how she wants to abolish it… surprisingly Don Cheadle feels that it should be ok for the word to be used between black people.

In conclusion Oprah presented us with an excellent panel that discussed a very good movie about a very touchy subject. I wish I could have told people to watch the show before hand, you can check out some of it on Oprah’s website or wait for a rerun. In the mean time go rent or buy the DVD.

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Crash.
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Chicago Bears NFC North Champions

I normally don’t post about sports since I am more of a gamer than a sports fan, but I am still a Chicago fan. Today the Bears gave Chicago fans an excellent present, not only are they the NFC North Champions but they beat the Green Bay Packers. You see in Chicago, even if the Bears have a bad season, beating the Packers is like winning the superbowl. It is the oldest rivalry in football… so GO BEARS!

Christmas Caroling with Neighbors

The street that I moved into does something special for Christmas every year. They get together and go house to house on our street and sign Christmas Carols. This tradition has been ongoing for 50 years, as one of the people that we sang to attested to. Charlie was the guy that organized it this year, and I believe he has been in charge for quite some time. It does not take much to put it together, but it really makes a difference. We were wondering who would carry on the torch after Charlie cannot do it anymore.

Every single house we went to greeted us with treats, cookies, banana bread, candy canes, chocolates… you name it. I want to learn more songs; I did not know half of the songs. Growing up in Colombia I learned the Colombian Christmas carols that we call “Villancicos.” While we have some of the same songs like Silent Night “Noche de Paz” and The little drummer boy “El Tamborilero” there are a lot of other songs that are completely different.

I think caroling is an awesome tradition. One of the things that I miss the most about Colombia is the sense of community that I felt back in the old neighborhood. While this tradition is only a once a year thing, it gives me that sense of community that I miss. Christmas is a very festive time in Colombia with a lot of traditions around December. “La Novena” is the tradition of getting together every night for nine days before the 25th to pray and sign around “El Pesebre” The nativity scene. Kids from the neighborhood go from house to house and pray and sign as the story of Joseph and Marry traveling to Bethlehem is told. The 24th, the last day of this tradition some people actually give the kids small gifts, some others prepare food on that day. Yesterday the caroling had some of that safe feel.

May you and your family have a Merry Christmas.

Stress

“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency.”
- Natalie Goldberg

We all have heard that stress can kill you. I am not going to concentrate on that, but I will say that I do believe that it can cause health problems, just look at how it affects your immune system. While all stress is not bad, the one that I want to talk about today is the negative stress that we all feel at times. Some of us feel it more than others. This kind of stress can consume you to the point that you feel it physically, for me it feels like my stomach is being torn apart.

Small things in life can cause this kind of stress as much as the big things. The key to solving this puzzle is to find out what the causes those problems and learn to deal with them. Sometimes the situations that stress us are related to things that happened during our childhood. I was picked on a lot as a kid and at times I am super defensive when someone addresses me, at times assuming that I am getting picked on. While most of it is unconscious, I have to make a conscious effort tot not let it be a stressor in my life. Some people benefit from therapy; by having someone help them sort out the thoughts inside of their heads. Some resort to prescriptions to help them out, or have a need for them because of an inbalance in their brain.

One of the smartest things I have heard about mental health is the following. Your brain is an organ just like your liver; if your liver is sick you don’t think twice about taking medicine for it, think of you brain the same way. Society still has a stigma about counseling and drug therapy. I am guilty of making therapy related jokes. I also believe that exercise, healthy eating and good living can lead to good mental health. My doctor also believes this, however he also admits that some people do need the extra help. I was surprised to hear from him that there is about a 50% chance of a medicine working to help someone cope with stress. This is not taking into account people that need some kind of medicine because of an actual medical condition. However lifestyle changes will benefit everyone.

But how do we deal with stress in our daily life, where are the tools to make it through the day? I want to list some of the things that work for me and I encourage you to post some of the ones that help you.

- Hobbies: For me, they have to be hobbies that completely occupy my mind. While they might not take the stress away permanently, they do ease it for a period of time.

- Drinking Water: Drinking a lot of water at work has made a difference. At times it is hard to remember to stretch and take a walk. Drinking a lot of water cause me to take a walk not only to refill, but to unload. Give it a try; it is also healthy in other ways.

- Friends and Family: Talking to your friends and family about those nagging problems even small ones help out quite a bit. Sometimes just vocalizing the problems helps make them smaller and more manageable.

- Humor: You have no idea how much of a difference someone laughing at what you are worried over can do. You might think a problem is big until someone else finds the humor in it. Hey, that is what friends are for.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (***)

I recently read the book partly because the movie was coming out. I enjoyed the book and felt it was well written, I was actually amazed at how well it translated into a movie. While not every single detail in the movie was faithful to the book; which could have been, the book is quite short; everything that was important to the story was included. The message was the same even thought it was not as Christian as the book was. The same story of redemption and resurrection were intact but they did not feel overly religious.

The acting in the movie was better than I expected. All the kids played their roles very good with the exception of Peter. I felt he could have been a little stronger without shouting to express emotion. Tilda Swinton, who played Gabriel in Constantine, was perfectly cast as the White Witch. Liam Neeson was also excellent as the voice of Aslan.

The CGI in the movie did not impress me or disappoint me. I was able to see when and how it was being used and it did not detract from the story. I am not sure what the budget was for the movie so I cannot really complain too much about it. All the battle scenes were done without the use of tons of blood or gore and still delivered the intensity the story demanded.

Overall this is an excellent family movie. It has a strong message of good vs evil, teaches responsibility and redemption. I think that it is a most see for kids and it is good enough to go visit the movie theater.

buy at Amazon.com
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
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