Monday, November 24, 2008

Lake of Fire

Tony Kaye's horror documentary left me kind of twisted in fear and righteous anger over the characters at the ends — at one end, in particular — of the American "abortion debate." That's a misnomer; the issue's been thrown way outside the boundaries of debate or discussion or even childish name-calling, though there's plenty of that, too. Lake of Fire is about detachment, how the abortion issue is now tangential to the abortion debate. The real focus is the characters, and it would only be oversimplifying a little to classify them as (mostly male) intellectual liberal ninnies and (mostly male) motherfucking psychopaths with high-powered rifles, both stroking their egos within their little sub-cultures.

Hidden in the mess is a woman with a thing, a tumor alien chimera growing inside of her. One of the early scenes is a late-term abortion where after the procedure — I didn't realize this — the doctor needs to assemble the pieces of fetus to be sure that it's removed entirely. It's a grotesque image, thankfully shot in black-and-white, that re-affirms both sides of the argument: simultaneously human and a sick joke parody of a human, hands and feet like a doll — detached from the body — a kind of pygmy Chernobyl prairie-dog looking creature with a bulging eyeball running down its squished head. I flipped, "Eeeew! Eeeew! Get it out of me!" before even realizing that it's evil metaphorically manifest.

But that's not important.

The drama, dogma and demagoguery outside the clinics hogs all of the attention, which I suppose is the point. On a sane day, it's merely anti-abortion protest leader Randall Terry facing a disorganized crowd of profligate college kids in their own anti-abortion protest protest, both sides bitching about how it's impossible to have a frank discussion with the other side. The vociferous Christian right wrangles more face time from Kaye, and also more batshit crazy face time. One Florida pro-life preacher, John Burt, bought up all the property around a Planned Parenthood clinic, set up billboards condemning the women in the clinic when both he and God couldn't be bothered, and spewed his brimstone vitriol — the Lake of Fire gets a major shout-out — at anyone within earshot, or on the opposite end of a camera lens.

The pro-choice side, pro-abortion or pro-woman, depending on your stance, is on the defensive. I can't see why having an abortion is more shameful than devoting your life to spying on the women who come in and go out of the clinic, but self-righteousness is a powerful shield against due shame. It's voyeuristic and pervy, a NARAL activist points out, over footage of an eighty-year old man peeping out from an impromptu "counseling" house across the street from a clinic. There's something about taking a position, or doing so on film, that screws with your countenance: all the pro-lifers have a vague child-molester look to them, the pro-choice women go out of their way to be dykey, the pro-choice men are all eccentrics with uncontrollable hair. It's difficult to believe they're all examples of the same species.

It escalates, especially in the wake of America's conservative turn post-9/11. The far-left accuses — and before you ask, they're reading way too much into it, Sarah Palin's retarded baby notwithstanding — the Pentecostals of subverting the Constitution to re-create America as an eternal Christian theocracy. It would have been glossed over before the Taliban came into our consciousness, but their far-right counterparts, those with the aforementioned high-powered rifles, make Falwell's knee-jerk contention that gays, feminists, liberals, abortionists, and the ACLU caused 9/11 sound petty. Blood libel and SRA — again, bullshit — are common themes.

Lake of Fire follows the contrasting, rational, genuine but largely irrelevant ethical discussion, too. It's all the more jarring to see Noam Chomsky or particularly the godless Village Voice columnist and pro-lifer Nat Hentoff talking heads in, ostensibly, their lecture halls, in front of a chalkboard or bookshelf, making a case without grainy video of an aborted fetus or a picture of a woman dead with a coat hanger in her uterus. Society still has these wordy things called words that can be used to some effect; the argument that while protecting the unborn may be nice, there are millions of already-born children starving, or without clean water, or medicine, or schools outweighs all the graphic bodily descriptions, in part because I could think about it without having to look away. (A mostly nude performance artist and her not-as-nude partner make the same point, but it's somehow less effective when she's stripteasing, for a purpose, with a wire hanger in her underwear.)

I wish I'd thought of that when I confronted that anti-abortion woman outside of church.

Is that just because I have a brain? Several of the non-insane liberals make a point of not arguing with the dogma screamers. Hentoff's contention that the fertilized egg must have civil rights in order for the idea of civil rights to be meaningful can be, and summarily is, torn apart. Bio-ethicist and Princeton professor Peter Singer finds the real root of the issue and has the chutzpah (gall) to assume that abortion is murder and then ask why, exactly, is murder bad? But what do you with the real scary people in the Lake of Fire, besides gagging them or alternately letting them spew their loony till everyone else stops listening? The latter might take a while, and the former suddenly elicits a response about freedom of speech, usually from someone who'd piss on the Bill of Rights if they could.

I haven't even mentioned the real monster freaks in the film, without question people who need to be thrown into the Christian version of GuantanĂ¡mo and left in that netherworld. There's a senescent priest — no idea what cult would have the guy at their face — who runs a halfway house for, if I remember correctly, 180 young girls and goes on a possessed, speaking in tongues rant on all the nasty ways President Clinton wants to fuck "Sparklee," the sixth-grader sitting not two feet away from him. John Burt, who claims to go no farther than inflammatory rhetoric, is certainly not apologetic about (inadvertently?) talking Mike Griffin into shooting a doctor who performs abortions. And he's disturbingly ambiguous about his relationship with Paul Hill and Andrew Cabot, who defend Griffin with fury and psycho quasi-logic ("All murderers need to be murdered!") and in their down time discuss who else needs to be murdered (homosexuals, adulterers, blasphemers, anyone who says "Goddamn it!" at a baseball game) in a half-scary serious tone and a half-scarier sarcastic tone. They are the pygmy Chernobyl priarie dog with personality, guys who I'd negotiate with for my own safety: "I'll renounce my right to an abortion (pretty easy for me to do) if you renounce your Second Amendment rights," and they'd flip out on a whole separate rant about the end days and one-world government and the DEA coming to eat their children.

There's little room left inside them for Singer's question and even less for its answer.

And, oh yeah, there's also a woman with a devestating choice to make somewhere in the mix. Here's Kaye's only point of real connection with somebody and the issue, also the film's only character who's too busy being pregnant and unable to care for the child to give a damn about taking a militant position either way. The whole of the past two and a half hours is suddenly irrelevant; all that's in the room is the woman, and the staff and Kaye's camera providing her the sympathy, and also clinical appreciation of her situation, that she can't provide herself. Nice to see there's folks out there still capable of caring about somebody else for a moment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My cousins dropped by the East coast for some random relative's wedding and they stopped in today for their annual couple-hour visit on their way to the airport. It was the grandparents, parents, and their two proto-humans. The baby couldn't care less, because she's a freaking baby, but the toddler was adorably shy, or at least as adorable as those things get. She was scared to walk in the front door, scared to meet Grandma, spending most of the afternoon engrossed in the GPS navigator and also a shiny silver necklace. Maybe fifteen minutes in, I guess Grandma felt like the toddler was neglecting her, and she called her over, "C'mere, Zoe..."

Zoe didn't even look up: "No."

We are simpatico.

God, I envy her, and I hope she never changes, because that is fucking beautiful. I wish I could do that, be just my own free fucking soveriegn self without any of that passive-aggressive bullshit. Nothing personal, just slow down, Cowgirl. I'll come when I'm good and ready.