Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

December 21, 2011

Alonso V Penn

Filed under: Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:32 am

(Cross-posted on my blog at The Marshall Independent.”

For those who enjoy following celebrity public spats, there was rather a good one at the American Airlines lost luggage area at LAX on Sunday (Dec. 18.)

Cuban-born star Maria Conchita Alonso spotted Sean Penn, approached him and braced him for his support of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

Things escalated until Penn called Alonso a “pig,” and Alonso replied, “And you are a communist a**hole! It is great to live the way you do as a communist!”

Penn would not reply to press inquiries about the incident, but a representative told the New York Post that a “hostile woman was nonsensically berating” Penn.

Alonso later made a statement, “The only thing I regret is me calling him an a** hole because I lowered myself to where he is at, and took away my class at that second, but I don’t regret calling him a communist. The other thing I regret that nothing came out of this for us to meet in private. What happened Sunday isn’t really the way I wanted things to happen, I thought, ‘This is the perfect moment for me to go and tell him lets meet and talk.’ I have facts and he doesn’t. All he sees is what Chavez has presented. I am still not having a conversation with him, which is what I wanted to achieve that day. But all this is still good because I have an opportunity now to tell people that what Sean says is not true. How can you believe someone like Chavez? You have to be stupid, which I know Sean is not.”

Alonso was raised in Venezuela after her parents escaped Castro’s Cuba. She is a former Miss Venezuela and first entered show business in Venezuela and Mexico.

Penn is Hollywood royalty, the son of actor/director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan. Leo Penn was blacklisted during the 1950s, and though you have to dig a bit to confirm it, was in fact a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA.)

Sean Penn has palled around with Chavez, as well as spending some serious face time with Cuban dictator Raul Castro in 2008. Back in 2002 he toured Baghdad as celebrity guest of Saddam Hussein, and on his return erected a larger-than-life sized statue of the late unlamented dictator in his front yard.

So is Sean Penn a communist, a chip off the old block?

I seriously doubt Penn has the brains or the patience to wade through ‘Das Kapital.’ Nor does he seem the kind to give up his fortune to live in a commune, or subject his professional judgment to Party discipline as so many Hollywood writers did back then. His fairly lengthy arrest record for assault indicates “does not play well with others.”

Penn once described himself in an interview, “Let’s face it. I’m a person that feels pretty alienated from the rest of the world and never felt understood by anyone.”

Poor misunderstood fellow, with nothing to console him but his millions.

“I’ve been spreading the word around for a while that I’ve wanted to talk to him and Danny Glover and even Oliver Stone. But they haven’t wanted to talk to me. I want to believe that it is just ignorance. I want to believe that those amazing directors and writers and actors that praise communist leaders just don’t know the truth and have been brainwashed by the propaganda,” Alonso said.

With all due respect to Alonso, I think she misses the point entirely.

What Penn, Glover, Stone, and a lot of their ilk are, is dictator groupies.

Dictator groupies, to put it bluntly, like hanging around with people who kill people. Similar to gangster groupies, like the celebrities who liked to hang around with “Crazy Joey” Gallo before he got whacked in the Gallo-Profacci War in 1972. (But hey, he got immortalized in a song by Bob Dylan no less.)

Dictator groupies are not unaware of the mass murders committed by their idols, how could they not be? They admire them.

Probably everyone has had the “if I were king of the world I’d set everything to rights and kill all the no-good $#!+s” fantasy. The difference is, these people take it a lot more seriously than us grownups. And of course, who else but professional creators of fantasy would be so susceptible to taking that fantasy seriously?

But there’s another thing too I think. Academics, professional intellectuals, and people who have inherited wealth and professional advantages (and note how many prominent Hollywood people these days have inherited their intro into the entertainment industry,) tend to be a bit on the wimpy side. They admire strength, but they don’t know what real strength is.

And all too often, they think strength is brutality.

December 19, 2011

Movie Review: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

Filed under: Movies,Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:59 pm

Published in The Marshall Independent TV Guide

I really didn’t want to like this movie, so it was with some trepidation that I decided to review it, with visions of mobs of angry teenage girls besieging the Independent’s office with torches and pitchforks dancing in my head.

Plus I have met and liked one of the actors (Dimitri the vampire) and it’s kind of touchy critiquing the work of someone you know, however slightly.

But I was trained as an anthropologist with a strong background in folklore studies since childhood. This recent trend in reworking the vampire legends offends me professionally.

Let’s get this straight, a vampire is not Anne Rice’s “dark, Byronic figure.” A vampire is a corpse risen from the dead. In some legends reanimated by a demon. They could be victims of other vampires, atheists, illegitimate children, or other outcasts and undesirables come back from the dead to exact a geek’s revenge on society.

And they have bad breath.

Admittedly there have been some pretty good modern reworkings the vampire theme, discarding much or most of the supernatural elements of the legends. One is vampirism-is-a-disease, inspired by theories that vampire legends may have drawn on observations of victims suffering from pernicious anemia, porphyria, or rabies. The “Blade” series is an example.

Another is that vampires are another species that prey on humans from their position one link higher on the food chain. Good examples of this are “The Vampire Tapestry” by Suzy McGee Charnas, and “Fevre Dream” by George R.R. Martin.

The “Twilight” series falls into the vampirism-as-a-communicable-disease camp. If you can call an infection that makes you stronger, faster, and gives you psychic powers and everlasting youth a disease. There is that overwhelming desire for human blood thing, but evidently that can be controlled by strong self-discipline and animal blood, according to author Stephanie Meyers.

There is so much about this movie that grates. To begin with it drags, if you’re not in the mood to watch beautiful scenery (Oregon and Rio) while waiting for the action to start. And for those of us who have actually been present for a partner’s pregnancy and delivery, it makes one kind of queasy as Bella’s life-threatening pregnancy advances, and definitely gross when she drinks human blood and delivers by Caesarian section performed by amateurs.

And oddly, since Robert Pattinson (Edward) and Kristen Stewart (Bella) are reportedly a real-life couple, there is something missing from their on-screen romance. Edward is 80-odd years older than Bella but we don’t see a hint of the tensions, misunderstandings, and sweet poignancy couples with a marked age difference experience. It is mentioned Edward struggles between his love for Bella and his desire to murder her for the blood in her veins, but again it doesn’t show in their performances much.

(Russian-English actor George Sanders once remarked, “It is impossible to be in love with a woman without experiencing upon occasion, a desire to strangle her.” I suspect women feel a different urge than strangulation, and am quite certain it’s more than occasionally.)

But all that said, I have to say the popularity of the Twilight series among young people fascinates me.

I think all thoughtful people must realize this is a bad time for lovers in our society. We are conflicted about what the nature of real manliness is, somewhere between the extremes of wimpiness and brutality.

What I see here are young, and not so young, girls longing for manly strength, gallantry, and lustiness tempered by honor and discipline. A man who could tear apart anyone who threatens them, but who wouldn’t willingly harm a hair on their head. A man who is stirred by their femininity but can keep his hands to himself. A man in whose arms they’d feel safe jumping off a high cliff into a tropical pool.

Teenage Bella is courted by not one, but two such men. Bitter rivals who it appears will become fast friends. And it is strongly hinted, the rejected suitor will become the hero her newborn daughter will need in a dangerous world.

I see the wish-fulfillment fantasy of every girl becoming a woman, in a society unsure of what a man should be. And I wonder what it means that this is presented as a fantasy.

December 9, 2011

Review: Knights of Mayhem

Filed under: Martial arts,Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:51 am

Note: Printed in the Marshall Independent TV Guide

What you first see when you tune into “Knights of Mayhem,” a new reality show on of all places the National Geographic Channel, appears to be a bunch of smack-talking, foul-mouthed rednecks with egos bigger than their outsized selves. Then you see them in 130 pounds of plate armor mounted on 2,000-plus pound horses, charging at each other with 11-foot wooden poles at 30 miles per hour.

What they’re doing is called “jousting” which was what men did in the Late Middle Ages instead of football.

Jousting originated as a combat sport for mounted knights in the High Middle Ages. By the 15th and 16th centuries it had evolved pretty far from its martial origins, using specially designed jousting armor much heavier and less articulated than armor for warfare.

This by the way, is what led to the popular misconception that a knight unhorsed and lying on the ground could not get up due to the weight of his armor.

The death of King Henry II of France in a joust in 1559 is generally held to mark the end of jousting as a sport. Since then there have been periodic revivals, mostly of what is called “theatrical jousting,” where the joust is carefully choreographed with a pre-determined “winner.”
This isn’t that. These guys in the Ultimate Jousting Championship engage in the real thing, breaking lances on each other’s armor and trying to knock them off their horses.

It’s worth mentioning that in 2007 a jouster in England was killed in precisely the same way as Henry II when a splinter from a lance got him right through the eye-slits of the helmet. Concussions are common, as are injuries to the hands and shoulders.

The UJC is the brainchild of Charlie Andrews, who founded the organization in 2010 with the intention of popularizing jousting as the Next Big Thing in extreme sports. Charlie was taught jousting by Patrick Lambke, aka “The Black Knight,” onetime mentor and now bitter rival.

Charlie, to put it mildly, has an ego. He’s proclaimed that it is vital for the future of the sport that he win the World Championship.

Considering the “World” in this case is no more than a dozen guys who meet at various venues around the country, that tends to grate on people’s nerves.

Charlie is a tad obsessive about jousting. He’s admitted he’s gone broke and lost his family trying to promote the sport.

Add to that a lot of typical reality-show bickering, and talk like, “If you put my grandmother up on a horse I’d knock her on her…” and you’ve got a pretty high irritation factor.

Plus, jousting is actually a very sophisticated sport requiring superior horsemanship and fine point control of a long lance that is not light while atop a bouncing horse. The uneducated eye will not see the subtleties of technique and become easily bored.

Not to mention jousting is expensive. It requires a full suit of custom-made plate armor, a carefully-trained horse only slightly smaller than an elephant which consumes massive amounts of grain, not hay, and the rig to haul it all around in. Factor in training time and that $20,000 purse for the championship doesn’t look all that big.

So who does this kind of thing?

To begin with, big guys. If jousting had weight classes, a 200 pound man would be a lightweight. Other than that, former soldiers, football players, one former MMA fighter, guys who grew up on horses, a few who learned to ride just so they could joust.

And why do they do it?

Glory. The charge that comes from mastery of something so strenuous, so dangerous, and so cool.
You see real jousting, and you don’t wonder where all that ego comes from.

Now if only they could learn to talk with the delicate courtesy of the knights of old.

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