Monday, June 16, 2008

Lars and the Real World

You may have seen the poignant film by Craig Gillespie, Lars and the Real Girl, where Ryan Gosling masterfully portrays a young man whose loneliness is so acute that he actually buys a life-size mail-order sex doll, names it Bianca and expects all his acquaintances to welcome her into the small-town community. Sex is not what he is after, however – he is simply starving for a relationship of substance.

So why would I cite this film in the world history class I taught last semester? Gosling’s character’s behavior was symptomatic of some serious adolescent scarring – a profound sense of abandonment, in particular. It is no secret that dysfunctional behavior can almost always be traced to some kind of past trauma or extreme deficit. As I write this I’m also reminded of the Barbra Streisand film, Nuts, in which it is revealed that, during her teenage years, the father of this now high class, sex-addicted call girl regularly used money to coerce her into having sex with him. Not all consequences are so dramatic, but they are there nonetheless.

If this is true of human beings, is it not possible that the same is true of nations? I am sincerely asking the question, rather than making a dogmatic statement.

There are many problem spots in the world we would label as dysfunctional, whether it be ethnic conflict, corruption, religious friction…and in my simple, naïve, American mind, I wonder why everyone can’t just get along….Knowing that over half of the foreign aid that arrives in Africa falls into corrupt hands and never reaches its destination makes me crazy; Sunni vs. Shiite makes absolutely no sense to me; the refusal of the Myanmar junta to allow relief agencies to help its people in the wake of such a disaster blows my fuses.

I am certain that I never see the whole picture, that no one really sees and understands the full story; but I am convinced that if we look into the past to learn for the sake of the future, we will have more than one “aha” experience. Take Rwanda, which I believe is emblematic of much of Africa: We would better understand the Tutsi/Hutu conflict that engendered the genocide of the 90’s if we knew that the Belgian imperial presence (preceded by the Germans) showed a blatant preference for the Tutsis, thereby setting one tribe against the other. We would have more insight into the Kurdish conflict – and why Turkey is so threatened by them -- if we knew that this is the largest ethnic group in history to have never had its own independent political state. I don’t cite these examples to take sides; just to say that there is always a back story.

This blog is intended not as a monologue, but a diablog! Do other examples come to mind? We welcome your comments.

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