Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Redefines "Marriage" as "Love"

Celebrating Supreme Court ruling on marriage
President Obana was so romantic when commenting on the Supreme Court 5-4 ruling that same-sex marriage be permitted nationally.  "Love is Love," he declared, in a puzzling statement of the obvious.

Yes, love is love. but it is not marriage, though the president implied that's so. Do all people who deeply love each other naturally want to marry?

The nursery rhyme that "love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage" is as outdated as the horse and carriage. Nowadays more Americans are single than married. Many live together; many just hook up. Others cultivate relationships for years but don't marry.

Love is love. It is a feeling. It can waver and wane and disappear. More marriages based on how spouses feel will mean more divorces, and divorce is inevitably sad, divisive and, when children are involved, becomes difficult, uncomfortable and complicated.

Redefining institutions is a dangerous business. Changing an institution into a feeling is absurd, but it has happened. Marriage, in every culture, through all time, was the setting designated as the procreative, child-rearing core of societies. Without the purpose of man and woman creating offspring that they together raise, marriage would not have endured. Why would the world's major religions sanctify--set aside--marriage as a glorified institution if societies have no stake in its welfare? Marriage would have faded or morphed thousands of years before if it was defined as a declaration of feelings.

Pres. Obama declaring "love is love," meaning 'love is marriage.'
 But now that the Supreme Court has decided love is the legally recognized criterion for marriage, they're going to have a tough time upholding other criteria. Triplet sisters with a close bond certainly deserve to marry as much as two strangers! And should they decide to obtain sperm and become pregnant, isn't it nicer for a child to have THREE mothers rather than merely two? Doesn't a child deserve more legally recognized love, rather than less?

Love is love, and now it's marriage. Love comes in many different types, none more than a mother for her child. I know many who claim their mothers are their best friends. That bond cannot be surpassed; who is to say it is less permanent than those of the same generation? Children should be able to marry their mothers. At age 4, my son Danny pledged to marry me. I remain solidly married to his father and Danny chose a brilliant wife, but we continue our commitment to each other, so why not marriage?

Love is love, so if someone currently married to another--or others--finds a willing person to add to his/her constellation of love, then clearly under the new definition, he should not be denied marriage. Isn't it better for children if Mom and Dad or Moms and Dads, remain together? Why should the government require divorce? Isn't that bad for children? Isn't divorce economically disruptive? Love is love. How dare the government limit one's love to just one other person?

Ahh, but government makes many inconsistent laws. When logic dictates one thing, legislators often ignore it. Love is marriage for gay and straight unrelated couples. Love as marriage is forbidden if you love too many people, or love family members or have no divorce.

There are many ways to show respect for those with all sexual orientations. Government does not impede private relationships between people. But like every other culture at every other time, our nation retains a stake in children being born and raised in the environment that offers them the best opportunity to thrive.  That is the only relationship that should be encouraged. Every person is worthy of respect, but not every relationship is worthy of marriage.

The American version of the English language is confused when love is defined as marriage and marriage defined as love. Feelings make poor basis for reliability and predictability, and so with this change, all marriages become tougher to uphold and defend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Making Much of Womanhood: Caitlyn, Hillary and Women Who Ran for President

Hillary: Too late to be the first
Headline in USA Today, "Clinton: Gender a factor in campaign." Hillary makes it such because that's the main thing she's got going for her, what with those nasty fails in her background--a foundation that takes money for State Department favors, four dead people in Benghazi, and, perhaps most fascinating, a husband who can't keep his hands off women, even when he's their superior, even when he's in the most hallowed space in the the country, even when impeached for lying about it.

There's all that stuff and lots more, so the New York Times shifts its disdain to the wife of Republican candidate Marco Rubio's thirteen traffic tickets over the last 18 years, including one for going 23 miles per hour in a school zone. Mrs. Rubio is a woman, by the way, so her stints in traffic school must be news. Her husband, a comparatively sedate driver, over those years received four citations, two of which were dismissed. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, who last year admitted she has not driven a car since 1996.

Caitlyn Jenner: So shocking you have to look
Female gender is hot enough that Vanity Fair used it to resuscitate its readership by sensationalizing poor Caitlyn aka Bruce Jenner, dressing her in bust-popping corsets and revealing the extensive plastic surgery the 65-year-old endured to femininze her features. The skanky layout gave the issue of gender steam, letting Mrs. Clinton highlight something more titillating than issues facing the country.

Being a woman, being a man wanting to be a woman, admitting to "coloring my hair for years" and learning how to apply eye-liner (Caitlyn used Tom Ford Eye-Defining Pen)--these are topics gaining attention. They inspire the public to purchase magazines and, Hillary hopes, cheer at her rallies.

Hillary wants to capitalize on her gender because she's aware it's "trending."

While repeating that she's a woman, she'll conveniently forget to remind us of the more than thirty-five other women who sought the presidency before her, including candidates in her own party. Notably, Hillary won't mention a black congresswoman who represented Brooklyn, New York for seven terms, from 1969 to 1983, Shirley Chisholm, whose slogan and book were "unbought and unbossed."


Rep. Chisholm ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972 (when Hillary and Bill were in Yale law school with my husband), and with only $300,000 at her campaign's disposal, won 152 first-ballot votes for the nomination. Rep. Chisholm was direct, articulate and feisty, and earned as much comment about her gender as her race.

"When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men," she reflected in 1982, on her way to teach at Mt. Holyoke College (as quoted in her New York Times obituary of January, 2005).

Rep. Chisholm wasn't the first woman in recent memory to earn delegate votes at a major party's national convention. The Republicans did it first in 1964, with Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate, representing Maine for 32 years. She always emphasized her competence over her gender. When asked upon announcing her presidential candidacy if she expected the continued support of Democratic women, she answered, "I take the position that women Democrats and Republicans are not supporting a woman because she is a woman. I think the women of this country are looking for qualified candidates..."

  
Sen. Smith founded the women's divisions of both the Coast Guard and the Marines, and in 1950 was the first Republican to publicly denounce Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communism tactics in her "Declaration of Conscience" speech, in which she said, "I speak as a Republican, I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American." In that ascending order.

This contrasts with Mrs. Clinton's spotlight on her sex. In its coverage of her campaign reboot speech a few days ago, the New York Times noted, "...it was clear that Mrs. Clinton will make gender more central to her campaign this time. In her closing remarks, she called for a country 'where a father can tell his daughter yes, you can be anything you want to be, even president of the United States.'” Earth to Hillary: fathers and mothers have been doing that for two generations now.

She must also grapple with the issue of her advanced age, a problem Sen. Smith could not surmount, even though she would have been three years younger than Mrs. Clinton, who if elected will take office at age 69. To deflect age questions, Mrs. Clinton shifts focus back to her gender, saying in her reboot speech, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

Screen grab from Carly Fiorina's recent speech in DC
Carly Fiorina, 60, would prefer a different outcome. I saw Ms. Fiorina electrify the Road to Majority Conference this weekend in Washington DC, and I left the hall to the excited buzz of newly-converted admirers. See her superb 20-minute speech here.

Democrat Geraldine Ferarro in 1984 was the first woman to capture a major party's nomination for Vice President, followed by Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. They both already demonstrated women's acceptability for high office.
Sec'y Condoleeza Rice: Universally respected

And there's another woman who, like Mrs. Clinton, has international experience. A concert pianist, National Security Advisor to the President, Secretary of State, Stanford provost and professor, corporate board member, College Football Playoff-picker, and seven years younger than Hillary: Condoleeza Rice. Unlike Hillary, she has no family baggage or scandals to detract from her record. Adding her as VP to any ticket--as suggested by my husband--undercuts Mrs. Clinton's "I am woman" mantra, and adds Dr. Rice's proven national security expertise.

Hillary isn't gaining fans, and in fact, it appears she's losing them. It could be her stiff, five-miles-an-hour delivery of stump speeches. It could be her unwillingness to answer direct questions, or her squishiness on foreign enemies and solving domestic economic lethargy. Most likely, the public's just tired of her, because she sounds tired. She never earned their trust or friendship. Mitt Romney can attest to the importance of a candidate who "cares about people like me," and with a net worth somewhere near $30 million, few are "people like Hillary."

So Hillary is reduced to touting her gender. Voters want a candidate with a record of competence, but with a trail of scandals and embarrassments, the Democratic candidate just keeps singing her slow-tempo "I am Woman" refrain as Republicans with momentum pass her by.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pressure for Women to Look Good is Imposed by Bottom-Biting Media

I write here of two problems: that women feel badly about the pursuit of beauty, and that
Commentator Megyn Kelly, part of the pressuring media.
some cannot express their conflicts properly.


An opinion article in the New York Times recently bemoaned feminists' needs to make themselves look as--pick your favorite--young, sexy, stylish, desirable, nubile, beautiful as they possibly can.

   "The Pressure to Look Good" noted women's hypocrisy in insisting on achievement and empowerment while, well, squeezing into Spanx. The writer, an author, lamented that she received a compliment for her Time Magazine piece encouraging her daughter to aspire beyond appearances-- while on her way for Botox injections. "How can you tell your girls that inner beauty matters when you're texting them the message from your aesthetician's chair?"

   Admittedly, I don't know what an aesthetician is, and neither does my word processor, but I do know one thing: writer Jennifer Weiner failed in assigning blame. She writes, "Social media has done many wonderful things for women, and for writers, and for activists, and for women writer activists...But, in terms of beauty, it's really bitten us on the bottom."

     Leave aside that women, writers, activists and women writer activists likely do not share a collective bottom.

     Focus instead on a more troublesome and ubiquitous problem. Media are plural. Social media HAVE done many wonderful things, but THEY have not bitten bottoms. Or a singular, shared bottom, with their plural teeth, a most peculiar metaphor to visualize.

    One might have thought a woman writer activist would realize that the word "media" is the plural form of the singular "medium." Or, at the least, one might have expected that copy editors at the New York Times would be so informed.

     However, preparing for the possible snap of another's cell phone camera, and the photo perhaps going viral on Twitter, blogs, Facebook and Instagram requires a lot of advance primping. Which leaves little time for proof-reading. "There have been entire afternoons that I could have spent with my daughters where I've been in the salon instead, getting my gray covered up and my calluses scrubbed," Ms. Weiner admits, awkwardly. After all, today's women know "that being out in public means being looked at, and possibly photographed, assessed in a way that men still are not, and maybe never will be."  Such is the thinking of women writer activists.

     Reminder to Ms. Weiner and all feminists everywhere: men and women are different. Despite a new definition of marriage that equates genders, the way the real world works is that women first gain attention for beauty  and men first for dynamism and career success. It's not fair, it's not egalitarian and it's not politically correct, but something drives Ms. Weiner to "squeeze into viselike undergarments and heels so high that I can barely hobble..." She admits a motivation is "just liking to look good," and fearing what happens online to "any woman who doesn't."

May I suggest two things. First, just as a physician takes an oath to "do no harm," professional writers should swear to use proper grammar. (Incomplete sentences exempt.) Specifically, writers should not confuse "media" with "medium." Contributing to the problem is that the word "media" is usually preceded by "the," as in "The media are about to abandon Hillary Clinton despite their liberal bias." Why not just return to the uncluttered and direct use of the word "media" without an unnecessary "the" beforehand? Media, are you listening? Alas, I realize you're not.

Writer Jennifer Weiner: conflicted.
Second suggestion: Admit that women seek recognition for their physical appearance, and choose to honor that desire and be comfortable with it (or not). Just don't complain about it and then publish surprise that you perpetuate it. Success and attractiveness can co-exist even as in many situations the former is dependent on the latter. The newscaster can offer astute commentary from her lipstick-rouged mouth as it speaks above her cleavage. She can provide sharp analysis, while seated in a short skirt. If smart journalists jointly refused to show off their nicely dressed bodies, well, ratings would suffer, and some other woman who has it all (brains and beauty, both) will come take the job.

I am a feminist. I am a realist. I am a grammar geek. Feminists can acknowledge or eschew the reality of gender differences (whether they exist by acculturation or biology), choosing how to respond to that reality. Some things, however, cannot stand, and those include nasty, bottom-biting media.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Seatle Got its May Day Riots--" Smackdown Mom" was Right

This is not me, but could've been.
The meaning of May Day has morphed, from innocent and happy to sinister and angry.

 “To old-fashioned people, May Day means flowers, grass, picnics, children, clean frocks. To up-and-doing Socialists and Communists it means speechmaking, parading, bombs, brickbats, conscientious violence," said an article in Time Magazine in 1929.

I was an old-fashioned child, born after Communists were rooted out and Socialists never mentioned in my carefree American home. In my public elementary school in Los Angeles, each grade prepared dances for a May Day performance for parents. Girls wore flowers in their hair, boys wore crepe-paper bow ties, each class distinguished by a different color. The dances were in circles, squares and lines, and the children were reminded to smile. Sometimes there'd be a May Pole, and each girl would take a streamer and dance around it until it became wound in happy colors.

At home, we'd pluck flowers from our yard, tuck them into construction paper cones with stapled-on handles, and leave them on front-door knobs before ringing the bell and running off in giggles.

In the United States, association of May 1 with labor protests dates to the Haymarket Riots of 1886, when workers held a national strike for the cause of 8-hour days. But by the mid and late 20th century, most workers had no need for protests. Union wages were well established, and men returning from World War II set off on careers that would allow them the American Dream. The Baby Boom was a spurt of hope, and families, with two parents and children, the center of the culture.

But over just the last decade or so, May 1 in the US changed. Street demonstrations abound; this year's march in Seattle was billed as "the 14th Annual May Day March for Worker and Immigrant Rights, organized by El Comité." It's annual now; expected, and it's not about working conditions, more vacation, sick time or salary. Today, May Day is the day for anger about whatever's currently newsworthy, like immigration enforcement or the obvious fact that black lives matter.

Get ready for it: in Seattle, residents were warned to steer clear of Downtown Seattle; authorities didn't know what to expect. The newspaper instructed that bus routes may be moved to avoid confrontations. The Mayor set up a press conference. Places, everyone; time for combat. And at night it happened: Anarchists formed what KING 5 TV called an "anti-capitalist rally," bashing cars, throwing rocks and sticks at officers, and vandalizing and spray-painting property on Capital Hill. Police sustained injuries, as Seattle got its riot. And for what?

Certainly some causes are worth protesting. I can sympathize with the black community's frustration that young black males tangle disproportionately with law enforcement, and I can understand that at certain periods in our country's history, unfair labor practices required extreme action to correct.

Seattle police on May Day, 2015
But...today? Anarchy? What's the appeal, except narcissism? And what's this anti-capitalism? Have we forgotten the 2012 Arab Spring Riots (spring--again) seeking capitalistic opportunity and resisting oppressive governments? After Stalin and Castro and Mao, hasn't the world learned the value of freedom? 

May Day in America now gives license for anger.


The change of May Day emphasis from sweet, springtime doorstep bouquets to protests and confrontation is sad--and destructive. Stand-offs and conflicts pump protesters' adrenaline but don't solve problems.

Toya Graham smacking her errant son in Baltimore
Baltimore "smackdown mom" Toya Graham had it right when she went after her 16-year-old son when she saw him throwing rocks in a riot.  Want to get in trouble? March in the street with a bunch of angry people.Want to get in bigger trouble? Throw rocks at cops.

Moms need to keep their kids in line--and at the same time they need to guard their innocence. Parents have the power to teach values. Yes, yell when they do stupid things. But raise them with traditions that celebrate the world. Restore May Day to positive appreciation for hope and renewal, and teach means to channel anger toward useful constructive action.

Monday, April 13, 2015

On Being a Caretaker as the Patient gets Better and Better

Nurse offered bubbles when my husband finished treatment
Nobody likes dealing with cancer, especially me. My daughter-in-law, the one about to be "pinned" as a registered nurse, loves everything medical. She's comfortable in the environment of a hospital, with officials rushing around reading machines hooked up to pale patients. Not me. The hospital smell makes me queasy. The pale people make me worried, and feeling lost and untrained makes me anxious.

So being a "caretaker," the euphemism for a completely uneducated person charged with somebody else's life-and-death requirements, is about the last thing I desire.

Sometimes we have no choice.

With my husband diagnosed with throat cancer, we together entered a strange and out-of-focus world with its own rules. Gravity doesn't pull the same direction. Something I considered gross, say, anything thick and greenish, becomes measured and analyzed. In this upside-down milieu, activities heretofore unmentioned earn applause. As one nurse blithely remarked, "we celebrate poop."

Me, not so much. Nor vomit, nor dense, stringy mucus. Seeing blood normally makes me feel faint. Needles going into people make me wince. This is the recuperatant's universe.

(Remember, I'm the movie critic's wife who won't accompany her husband to any screenings liable to portray violence, suspense or slapstick. What very sick individuals go through could be classified as the former. And sometimes the latter.)

So be proud of me. In the last two months I've learned a whole new vocabulary. Unless you're a medical professional, I doubt you know the word "bolus." (It's a big syringe of liquid that gets squirted into a person's stomach via a tube through a, pardon me, hole.) People whose swallowing mechanisms have been zapped or otherwise disrupted need to get sustenance somehow. I have learned exactly how.

And I will spare you.

Horror Film Medication Names
This monster is not "Ondansetron."
Now, everybody thinks she knows about taking medicine, right? You pop it into your mouth and depending on what it is, chew, or drink and swallow. Oh yeah--some people can't swallow.

Gratefully, my husband's swallowing muscles still function, but given all the zapping that went on in his mouth and throat, it's a mess in there. Again, I'll spare you, but as it pertains to me, the mess causes the need for varying levels and types of medications, many of which take a lot of careful administration in creative ways.

I learned that many medications go by not just one strange, made-up combination of letters, but quite often, two. These wild-words are used interchangeably, nonchalantly, as if everybody knows that, say, Ondansetron is also Zofran.  I should have figured that, since both sound like horror-movie robots.


"Gamera" is not a medication name.
Unfortunately, all medications carry destroyer-of-the-world names. There's no Caretaker U course called Weird Words 101 teaching you that two completely unrelated-sounding creatures are the same, and that those particular protagonists fix, say, nausea caused by chemotherapy.  Instead, as people wield these terms in your direction, you exist with a special level of panic, sure you're going to give the lizard monster to the patient when really he should have gotten the enormous turtle monster.

I learned many things. How to repress responses when cleaning out receptacles. How to speak up when bullied by people using multi-syllabic medical jargon. I know that as confusing and overwhelming as this is for me, it is magnitudes worse for my dear husband who actually endures the devastating process that is necessary for his cure.

It Gets Better
Even as the gunk and sputum and slime and other impolite substances continue as part of our lives, he shows signs of improvement every day. Which allows us to trudge along.

While he was hospitalized, I began repeating a phrase that my sweet Daddy used to say often: "Every day in every way I am getting better and better." I replaced the "I" with "you" and told this to my husband every day, even on days when I didn't believe it.

The phrase originated with French psychologist Emile Coue (1857-1926) who developed self-hypnosis and the use of "affirmations." He saw that patients he encouraged did better than those he didn't, conducted some experiments to show this, and through his book Self-Mastery Through Conscious Auto-Suggestion (1922) popularized his catchy phrase. It later reverberated throughout the culture, including mention in a PG Wodehouse story ("Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure"), a Pink Panther movie ("The Pink Panther Strikes Again"), and a John Lennon song ("Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy]").

And now my husband hears it and is getting better and better. Hair has broken through his scalp, now forming a five o'clock shadow where there were few wispy survivors of his chemotherapy.  His voice is getting noticeably stronger. He spends increasing time at his computer writing, and published op-ed pieces in USA Today, and his column for Truth Revolt, as well as commentaries you can read on his website. He's started recording segments for his show where he gives his take on the day's current events. The mucus that emanates from his radiated salivary glands still prohibits his hosting his three-hour radio show, but he's coming back, every day, in every way.

We both look forward to the time, relatively soon, when all this will be forgotten (more so for him thanks to certain wild-worded medications).  And I can return to being my squeamish self where little is slimy and our lives' cast of characters is familiar.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Falling in Love with Anyone

The New York Times' "Modern Love" column of January 9, "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This," garnered more than 5.2 million online visits, 365,000 "Shares" on Facebook, and 745 comments. A reader even set up the fall-in-love procedure as a game on a website. People are desperate for love.

Writer Mandy Len Catron successfully tried "a Cupid-like technique to help two strangers fall in love," a series of 36 personal questions a pair asks each other, developed two decades ago by psychologist Arthur Aron. The process culminates in a four-minute eyeball-to eyeball stare-down. After a 45-minute interchange and gazing through the windows of the soul, the couple feels in sync.

Mandy Len Catron's take-away lesson: By building closeness through introspective communication, "it's possible--simple, even--to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive."

If it's "simple, even" to create trust and intimacy, wouldn't it be even simpler to rekindle the same feelings, once entrenched and now faded? To re-fall in love, and avoid divorce?

Two married people drifting apart emotionally could take only a single hour answering 36 questions to steer themselves back together. With such an easy formula for closeness, why wouldn't every estranged couple give it a try? Revealing feelings is a lot less traumatic than moving out; a lot less costly than court; a lot less acrimonious than deciding custody.

Here's why not: willingness. Or lack thereof.

Willingness is a choice, of course. And certainly people have justifiable reasons to refuse. Justifiable, but often sadly selfish.

Perhaps withdrawing is the culmination of years of small slights, hurting comments or unfair expectations. And certainly there are times when a spouse feels so betrayed she can't bear the offender. (Divorce is indeed necessary in some cases.) But even after resentment and anger replace a chunk of original affection, a couple can still decide to set the bad stuff aside in order to choose closeness.

But few people now learn to put others ahead of themselves. The concept of self-sacrifice has abysmally low ratings.

Still, most who enter marriage claim intentions of "forever," and want the relationship to work (as long as it satisfies). A functioning, pleasurable, life-enhancing relationship for both partners is the prize--but it requires willingness to put others ahead of yourself.

Stubbornness is selfishness--and keeps too many partners from deciding to give in to the other. The 36 questions shift the focus. How can you stay estranged when you're telling your partner personal insights like your secret hunch about how you'll die? About why you haven't accomplished what you've dreamed of doing? About your feelings regarding your mother?

In the exercise, moving from your deepest interior life into questions focusing on the other cements the connection. "If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know." The process climaxes with question 36: "Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen."


Why are these 36 questions so effective at producing love between strangers (and non-strangers, too)? Because embedded in the questioning is a course on communicating and bonding. The questions require looking inward about memories, emotions and desires (ie one's past, present and future).

They require forming these thoughts into cogent words, phrases and paragraphs--expressing one's interior--and checking to see that the receiver understood. This involves offering oneself to the other, becoming vulnerable; when both do this they form a relationship combining the two individuals.

The entire process rests on a bond and a goal--a commitment (bond) to work together to connect, "to fall in love with anyone" (goal).

That's marriage: A bond that supersedes a declaration, and an ongoing goal. Everyone knows how tough it is to undo the legal contract; neglect alone can dissolve the emotional bond. But few articulate that the goal, called by the 36 questions game "falling in love with anyone," must be pursued by daily choices placing the spouse, and the relationship, first.

The goal of marriage is continuing to fall in love, every day, every moment, with "anyone," the person you've got sitting in front of you, the person you may know better than all others, and still not yet know because he changes all the time. Understanding those changes brings closeness, the substance of love, and all you have to do is choose to keep asking the questions. And gazing into each others' eyes.

(Dedicated to the love of my life, as we celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary January 27, 2015.)  The 36 questions can be found here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Husband's a Movie Critic. Here's why I skip 90% of screenings.

"The Artist" is a film I saw...and loved.
Though my husband hosted Sneak Previews, the movie review show on PBS, for twelve years, and has continued to review new movies as a national radio talk-show host for the last 18 years, I seldom go with him to screenings.

Here's why: I don't want anything in my head with violence, suspense or slapstick. If I go to a movie, I want it to be fun, interesting and/or uplifting. You don't need violence, suspense or slapstick for that.

Many people call me a wimp. A whuss. A ridiculous extremist. Let me try to convince you that I'm right to be so picky.

First, violence. I don't like to see people get hurt. I know it's not real, but animation, camera work, "foley" sound and special effects put us in the middle of the gore and mayhem. When I see an image, I don't just forget it. I wince. My brain has taken an indelible snapshot of the scene with its literally sickening, graphic components. Sickening: even in real life, I'm squeamish, and in real life in America, you don't typically see such disgustingly horrible mutilations and murders as screenwriters devise. There is far too much placed before my eyes from the real world without my consent; why would I want to add even more bloodshed to fuel my recollections?

There's been way too much research on the impact of violence on children, and more than necessary on the influence of violence on adults. After the first fifty studies, we should have understood that images, plot lines and even incidental content all change us. Watching violence makes kids more aggressive, and even if it doesn't change actual behavior, it influences how they perceive the world (more menacingly). Please read Michael Medved's classic book Hollywood Vs. America.

He makes the unassailable point that advertisers spend tons of money for sixty seconds of content, which they'd definitely save if they thought their commercials didn't impact anyone. Certainly the TV shows surrounding those commercials sink into our consciousness just as much as the ads. In movie theaters, with all distractions removed and images oh, thirty times life-size, doesn't it make sense that blood spattering across your field of view, with severed limbs or mangled bodies creates an impression that's, well, larger-than-life?

I know: you watched all that stuff and you came out okay. In fact, you keep watching that stuff, and you're a virtuous model citizen who sleeps just fine. Well, you may have a clean slate and your heart might melt at LOL Cats, but this doesn't mean you're unscathed. Desensitization to cruelty and others' suffering, proven in scads of those over-funded studies as an outcome of watching violence, may not express itself overtly or even often, but still offers subtle influences to personality.

Does seeing violence really help you in any way? You can say that it's necessary when telling some stories; that the plot couldn't move forward without it. You could say it, but it's not so. Remember Alfred Hitchcock's movies? He worked during times of strictly imposed standards of the Motion Picture Production Code (called the Hays Code after its champion Will H. Hays, the first president of the Motion Picture Association of America). Yet he was able to clearly communicate horrifying events, causing plenty of nightmares in viewers, without oozing blood, graphic hackings or shocking dismemberment.

And frankly, I don't want to wrap my brain around a story with even implied violence. OK, this may be too wimpy for most, but in my limited hours on earth, I'd rather use my brain cells for less wrenching focus. As a psychologist, I cultivate empathy; if I have any for a fictional screen character--which is what all good writers strive for--then I'll still experience some degree of anguish or discomfort to see the protagonist suffer. There is enough real suffering in the world; for that I reserve my heartfelt caring and distress.

So, I eschew viewing violence. I'll never see an Alfred Hitchcock film, though, due to my second criterion: no suspense.

Well, little suspense. Even the most lighthearted films have some sort of hurdle or obstacle or conflict, and of course these create some level of suspense. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, there's some problem (causing suspense) but it's overcome and, well, Sleepless in Seattle. You've Got Mail. When Harry Met Sally. Biggest RomCom grosser of all time? My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Why refuse movie suspense? Because suspense is imposed stress. Life is stressful enough, see my note re suffering, above. Some people find tension invigorating. I do, but only self-imposed stress, like when I'm cooking big meals for guests for the Jewish Sabbath and I've got only a few minutes until it begins but three dishes left to finish.

That's blissful stress. I set it up that way; when I do get everything done under the wire, I'm flying into Shabbat. Feelin' good! Feelin' fine! Feelin' in control! If I miss the deadline and have to turn off the oven with the challah bread still baking inside, well, okay, it's my own fail, and I'm still pumped from the exercise of trying. That's why God made freezers--to keep bread ready for when yours isn't quite done on time.

But somebody else imposing unpredictable stress? No thank you. Even if I've begged for the spoiler, and found out the plot turns out fine, I don't want a movie manipulating my emotions like that.

And most of the time, I don't know what will happen, except that the music is getting faster with lots of thumping, and you see the car careening with a very upset driver. That's when I leave the room and don't finish the movie. If I made a poor choice and am stuck inside a dark theater, that's when I duck under my jacket, put my fingers in my ears and start humming. I never have to worry about disturbing my neighbors because that thumping about-to-crash music gets awfully loud.
The Three Stooges. Hilarious?

No, a script-writer's imposed stress is not for me. That brings me to the final movie device I avoid: slapstick.

I don't find people doing stupid things, usually getting injured doing them, funny. The Three Stooges were prime offenders. The cruelty poking eyes, flipping brooms and crowding doorways appalled me as a kid watching the black-and-white TV show. How many pies were pushed onto those guys' faces? What did they have against pie? I did not laugh; I cringed. This does not mean I am humorless, and in fact, I'm the first to laugh at even fairly lame jokes. I just don't laugh at slapstick, because it's always at someone's expense.

As intimated earlier, that leaves me with romantic comedies. Or unromantic comedies. Or interesting stories that aren't even funny, but end up happy (or at least not sad). I prefer exiting a movie more upbeat than when I entered. I prefer being entertained, perhaps with good singing and dancing, as offered in most musicals. But if the show is called "dark" (Into the Woods) or a tragedy (the characters you care about die) or a suspense thriller (duh), there's no chance I'll enjoy it.


Like most people, before taking the hour-and-a-half for the movie plus the extra hour-and-a-half for transportation and mandatory waiting for the show, I check out the film's trailer online. When I saw the one for The Theory of Everything (2014), about handicapped scientist Stephen Hawking, it appeared the film was the story of a couple in love fighting together to overcome a debilitating disease. Looked romantic, but it bothered me to see Hawking succumbing to illness, so I skipped the screening. My husband returned saying that the trailer was misleading--the film was really about the Hawkings' divorce. He said it depicted each's affairs and their split. Rather than an uplifting story of love trumping physical limitation, it apparently told of love's demise.  No matter how well acted or beautifully shot a film, if its story is one of coming apart, betrayal and sadness, it's not for me.

Most people love sharing their responses to movies, and who better to do that with than a real movie critic? If I'm standing by when friends start talking to my husband, I listen politely but only rarely want to see the movie discussed. I've got far too much to accomplish, experience, and heck, just maintain (ie housework) to indiscriminately enter some screenwriter's made-up world. I admire excellent artistry but not at the risk of my sensibilities.

I do enjoy many films, though. The Artist, winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012, is at the top of my list. Why? It was a film in which every character was likeable, yet it told a complex story with a message--and even did it silently, in black-and-white. Recently, I liked Chef, this year's Jon Favreau film, and while we're on the subject of food, Julie and Julia (2009) and The Hundred Foot Journey (2014), were delightful films that met all my criteria.

Which brings me to the final point. Most movies lower the quality of discourse, and drag me into milieus and neighborhoods I'd rather avoid. The ones I appreciate contribute to my enjoyment of the world. I am blessed with a fabulous, exciting life, and while I love broadening it with travel and non-fiction and beautiful images and music and especially study and learning, I want to restrict the tainting influences in our culture as much as possible. So, I'd rather hear a lecture on Jewish text than a movie with profanity. I'd rather even read the newspaper than "experience" a character's grimy, drug-centered downfall. Yes, that limits my experiences to half of the possibilities of life, for surely there is as much negative in the world as positive. But one can be aware of the negative but choose the positive. One can read about criminals and choose admirable people as friends.

So don't expect to see me with my husband at screenings. I'll remain blissfully naive of the latest box-office smash. And as free as possible from gruesome images and soul-wrenching stories, hoping to make the most of this awesome existence.