Victoria Jelinek


The Pregnancy Diaries 25

Be the change you wish to see in the world. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Roller coaster floodedOne of the reasons I was reluctant to have a child was because I worried about the state of the world. My husband told me these worries were a rationalisation for my greater concerns like my not wanting to forfeit naps. He argued that negative global events are precisely the reason that thoughtful individuals should have children. But as I go into the last several weeks of my pregnancy I find myself fighting my previous trepidations about bringing a child into this world which I believe is only getting worse. I’m a glutton for news, even as it upsets me (both the topics and the reporting). My father used to advise me not to take it all so ‘personally,’ but I find it all to be a personal affront because I find all of the worries and incidents of the world to be indications of greater philosophical issues such as selfishness, avarice, corruption, hypocrisy, inequity and aggression.

Globally, I see the fact that the Syrian leader won’t step down, even as his Russian allies tell him the situation is untenable and he should help implement a new regime and transition government, as the sign of universal greediness and hunger for power regardless of which country one cites. Many people in the Philippines are living and being schooled on houseboats due to rising water levels (and I won’t even go into the animals and vegetation and desertification throughout the world) yet apart from a few developed countries like Denmark, there doesn’t seem to be any real initiative to aid the environment by using sustainable energy supplies, which I see as a sign of universal selfishness and lack of foresight because it seems no one wants to compromise their way of life even in small ways. There was that huge shooting in the US last week of almost 40 people – there are now so many families grieving – and gun sales went up in the days that followed. The American government signed in a new fiscal deal, and while it’s certainly good that something has managed to happen in an ideological bi-partisan country, the very rich – and even the middle and lower classes – do not seem to object to the fact that there is not health coverage and educational opportunities for all, which can only be had with more money coming into the coffers, which means higher taxes. If the US continues in this manner of individualism and capitalism at all costs, it will not be able to proclaim that it’s the land of opportunity for all. Yet other countries are equally as bad. Since Hollande proposed the 75% tax for the upper 1%, 5000 rich folks have left the country, even Gerard Depardieu, who owes the French people for his money and fame. In the UK, despite the fact that banks were bailed out by the government, which is ostensibly for the people, the banks have not passed on their savings to customers in recent years and despite their rising profits. And, while many folks are not able to live in major cities like London anymore, meaning they often must commute for work, transit costs in the UK have gone up 50% in the last ten years.

Perhaps opportunity and resources only for the few is the crux of the matter? Capitalism versus Socialism? Perhaps it’s a sign of collectivism versus individualism run riot? Is this the fault of Thatcherism and Reaganomics? Is it simply human inclination? I often see people operating in their own interests to the detriment to others in all manner of ways on a daily basis even in a little mountain town like Chamonix, particularly during the high season when there are many holiday makers: no one wants to cede their way on the roads, making it dangerous in the snow and ice; no one wants to give cuts in the cue at the grocery market to a heavily pregnant woman with two items or a young mother with a toddler when they’ve just fought to get their huge grocery carts full of food; folks don’t clean up after themselves in the cinema, or they throw rubbish on the ground, or they don’t pick up their dogs poop; and I was recently told by a few women here that I was attempting to discuss politics with that they don’t know who Romney was/is and they don’t ‘bother’ to read the papers or watch the news ‘cause it’s ‘too depressing.’ Indeed. Why be informed? Why vote? Why should we look out for anyone else’s interests when it’s so damn hard to assert our own in this rat race of a world? I see the dystopian novels of Philip K. Dick, Anthony Burgess, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell moving from science fiction to reality. The only thing that is keeping me going right now is another thing my father told me before he died – that we cannot affect others because they don’t want to be proselytised to, but we can live our lives the way we would like everyone to live their lives. Simple advice that’s not easily followed…it’s hard to remain patient and kind and to take the ‘right action’ when one is tired, or worried, or over extended, or highly emotional and pregnant!



The Hunger Games

Set in the not-so-distant future, The Hunger Games are a televised death match for lottery-picked teens from each of the Capital’s districts. After volunteering to replace her little sister when she’s chosen to take part, Katniss Everdeen must endure the games, where she’s forced to make tough choices in order to survive, all-the-while facing quandaries about love and humanity.

Meant to take place in a Brave New World in which North America has fallen due to droughts, famine, fire and war, the games are a return to the brutality of early empires – part entertainment for the masses, and part intimidation of the masses. Add this context to our heroine’s moral dilemmas throughout her quest to survive the games, and you have a compelling concept for an action film, but it’s not original: reminiscent of the 1982 movie The Running Man, and the goddess Artemis (bow & arrow, prowess in the woods), with elements from the great classic books 1984 (cold, bureaucratic society), Brave New World (desensitized society), and Lord of the Flies (youth turning against each other), what’s worrying is that the book that this film is adapted from is mandatory reading for middle-school teens in the US…are they also reading the great classics (Orwell, Huxley, Golding) that this book is derived from? Are these teens exploring historical references here, too, such as the Aztecs and the Romans, with their human sacrifices? Are they considering the similarities of this book and film to reality TV? I hope so. Without delving too deeply into the implications of the popularity of this book and film, the fact is that it’s had such incredible box office numbers that it seems important to see the phenomena in order to comment on it. And, despite my ambivalence about the film, I found that it is entertaining fare. With cameos by Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, and Woody Harrelson.



Homage to Los Angeles

Los Angeles Reconsidered

When I moved to Los Angeles for professional reasons, I was prepared to dislike it intensely.  I brought with me from my native New York many unfavorable assumptions and negative stereotypes about California and Californians.  I believed that LA was full of self-absorbed, superficial people; a cultural wasteland that existed as a city but was really a sprawling suburb; a horizontal city rather than a vertical one.

Initially, LA met my low expectations: it is a sprawling wasteland with Wal-Marts and K-Marts next to small streets of cafes, shops, residences and strip malls; and there are so many Mercedes, Ranger Rovers, and Hummers that I thought that people were automatically given them once they attained a certain income.  I’d go to barbeques and have six-minute conversations with people I’d meet about what we each did for work and who would then offer to show me their headshots or resumes and get vacant-eyed when I changed the subject.  Working in the film industry, I discovered that it could be, as I had thought, self-absorbed, unjust, and harsh.

Then about a year into living there, I began to see LA differently: I started noticing that the desert life is beautiful and courageous; the succulents, such as the Joshua trees and cacti, are resourceful, keeping water in their hard, leaves and stems; the Oleanders grow beside the dirty highways without any encouragement; the vines of pink, red and purple flowers are everywhere; there are birds singing in every neighborhood, in palm, lemon and lime trees.  I started turning towards the dark, dusty hills that surround the city and took walks and horseback rides through them, seeing coyotes, skunks, and bobcats; and every time I’d come over a westward crest near the ocean, I’d find myself catching my breath with the first glimpse of the breaking waves.

CINEMA DISCOVERED

Buoyed by the city’s natural beauty, I started exploring further.

Cinema venues, of course, abound: there are the American Cinematheque and the NuArt, that run festivals from various countries and themed screenings in various genres; there is the El Capitan, where an organ player rises from the floor and plays while you’re being seated; there’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater, with its grand architecture and the footprints from the silver-screen actors of Hollywood to today’s superstars out front, combined with its supersonic sound and fine picture quality inside, is a movie cathedral.  There’s the Arclight, where ushers wear nametags with their favorite movie characters and introduce the films. There’s the Kodak Theater special screenings of classic movies and where the Oscar ceremony is held.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

There are free tennis courts everywhere, public pools for a dollar, and skating, bike-riding, and skateboarding activities along the long coastline from Malibu to Hermosa Beach.  Tolerable skiing is only an hour away, and good skiing is a five-hour drive through the desert. The desert is also great for camping and visiting motels and hotels hidden away in the Joshua tree forest, or near Barstow or Palm Springs, where there are natural aquifers allowing ranches and settlements to seem like oasis’.

EMIGRES AND EXILES

I saw anew the colorful contributions of immigrant Mexicans: murals everywhere, little stucco churches with tall, simple steeples, colorfully painted houses terraced into the hills of Silverlake and Echo Park, and I was fascinated by the fact that Mexican families use the parks on the weekends en masse, having picnics and playing games with their extended families.  I found a Korean town, a Japanese town, a China town, a Thai town, and an Armenian town, in each of which the people have retained their own culture’s foods, clothing, shops, and lifestyles, despite the inevitable move toward assimilation into the general culture, which is enhanced by this diversity.

Writers, directors, actors, migrated en masse to LA at the turn of the 20th century for a variety of reasons, and stayed. They still do. The long list is, in itself, a testimonial to the appeal, financially, symbolically, and topographically of Hollywood-Los Angeles.

Most people focus on the exploitive business practices of the many unprincipled executives in the film industry, which creates the negative stereotypes of LA, but there’s a well-developed infrastructure in the city, its highways, its airports, its businesses, its cultural scene, as well as the tropical climate.

THE PROMISED LAND

In time, I learned the subtle fact that Californians know and outsiders don’t: Hollywood and Los Angeles should be evaluated as two cities, which are separate but symbiotic.  I then learned the history of the region that put the present day city in context—a place of easy money and easy ways, a place that cashed in on gambler’s luck, first with the Franciscan padres finding artesian wells in the late 19th century that made the region a veritable Garden of Eden, then the Gold Rush to Northern California, the influx of oil Sheiks of the 1920’s in Southern California, and finally the boom of the film industry. All of these events carried out the theme of California as a place that promised the American ideal of riches. I considered the harsh reality of those working in film, and the “truth” of these stereotypes – it’s a difficult city to penetrate, because it seems to exist on the surface, but it does deserve to be considered more fully.

IN CONCLUSION

I was, and am, still aware that there’s a sharp contrast between the haves and have-nots in Los Angeles. And the sentiments I held when I first moved to Los Angeles – basically that it’s a cultural wasteland that exists as a city but is really a sprawling suburb – still holds truth. But it’s not the whole truth.

I’ve since moved to Europe, and I often think of California. It’s to its credit that it convinced this skeptic of its charms. So much so, that I become defensive when listening to many stereotypes about Hollywood-Los Angeles uttered by people in my adopted country (and despite having held them myself at one point!), especially statements about the negative television and film images exported to the rest of the world (but eagerly seized upon, I may add) as the sole purpose of the city and examples of its offerings.

It’s unfair to LA to cling only to the negative, to the stereotypes – LA has various storylines – urban and suburban sprawl, ‘high’ and popular culture, sun and sand, mountains and trees, diverse languages and people. It’s all of these wonderful and unexpected elements of the city, in contrast to the pretentious and often tawdry goings on, that function as a chorus, and sometimes principal character, in the story of LA.