If you haven’t seen the movie Green Book, I’d like to recommend that you do.
It’s been both lauded by the film critics and also panned for historical inaccuracies. However, I believe that it IS worth watching. It’s based on real life events…real people. I’ll put a link to the trailer at the end of this post.
It highlights the racial tension of the 1960’s in the southern states of the USA and follows the life of Donald Walbridge Shirley – born in Florida in 1927 to Jamaican immigrant parents. But Don is no ordinary black man. He is something that people particularly in the deep south don’t understand…..he is a musical genius AND more importantly a highly educated, intelligent and sophisticated black man. He held doctorates in music, psychology and liturgical arts and could speak 8 languages fluently as well as being an extraordinarily gifted pianist who started playing the piano at the age of 2 and was invited to study music theory at the Leningrad Conservatory of music at the age of 9. He was also a talented painter.
The movie begins with Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga – a New York nightclub bouncer applying for a job as a driver for Doctor Shirley. He is shocked to find out that Doctor Shirley is a negro and that he wants Tony to be not only his driver but also his protector for a tour of venues in the deep south of the USA, where the Don Shirley jazz trio will give a series of musical performances…….to rich white folks. There’s a scene early in the movie in Tony and his wife’s apartment where a couple of black work men are given a drink of water by Tony’s wife and Tony puts the glasses that the guys have used into the trash rather than washing them and using them again. He accepts the job because he needs the money and reluctantly sets off with Shirley armed with the “Green Book” which gives the movie it’s title.
The Green Book in question is a guide for blacks who travel in the south and lists motels and restaurants where they will be welcomed. There are not many…..and those that do accept blacks are shabby and run down.
The movie highlights the racial problem and also the differences between the northern united states and the south. The people of the south are willing to shake hands with this musical genius and are eager to be entertained by him, but don’t want him eating with them in the same restaurant – even though he is better dressed than most of them, better educated and better mannered. Nor do they want him using the same toilet as them.
It’s funny how blacks used to be employed by whites to prepare their meals and even look after their kids…..but they weren’t allowed to use the same bathroom. I forget who said it, but someone once said that you knew when the great depression really hit the white folks…..it was when they used to have to look after their own children.
The police in the south, just like those in the north, are meant to “serve and protect” and by the terms of the US Constitution – to treat everyone equally. “No State shall… abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” BUT it seems that in the deep south, “any person” doesn’t apply to blacks and we see Dr Shirley obstructed and abused by both the good old white folks and the police.
Racism is bred from ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar or unknown. In the movie we see Tony’s attitude toward Don Shirley change as he comes to know him better. It’s a life lesson.
I’m not going to spoil it for you by giving away the whole plot, but it is worth watching just to see how the relationship between the two men – from totally different backgrounds – changes as the movie progresses.
Don Shirley is a misfit. He’s black…..but doesn’t fit in with black society because of his education and sophistication. BUT neither is he accepted into white society due to the colour of his skin. This feeling of isolation drives him to drink and he becomes an alcoholic. It is also insinuated that Dr Shirley is a homosexual which only adds to the tension and prejudice against him.
Here’s the official trailer of the movie to tempt you.
It’s a movie that both entertains and informs. Sad and frustrating in parts and funny and uplifting in others. It’s a relationship movie….a road trip movie…a lesson in life….it has action, great music, great actors and a good script (written partly by the real Tony Lip’s son……who incidentally also plays one of Tony’s family members in the movie). I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Forgive me father…it’s been 2 weeks since my last Blog post. The Chaos of Christmas and New Year are finally behind me and I can get back to some serious….and some not so serious blogging.
I’ve been reading a book called “Armageddon in Retrospect” by Kurt Vonnegut and it’s got me thinking about things. What sort of things? Well civilisation for one thing. Looking up the meaning of civilisation (I’m using the English spelling rather than the American) – I’m told it means the following:-
the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced. Or the process by which a society or place reaches an advanced stage of social and cultural development and organization. OR the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area.
And of course is derived from the word Civil – meaning courteous and polite.
I’d like you to really think about those definitions and consider if it applies to how we treat our fellow human beings and how we are as a society today.
We in the western nations consider ourselves to be civilised and have in the past, and some would even today, claim that we are more civilised than the communists of Russia or China and certainly more civilised than those who ran Nazi Germany before and during WW2. By the way these days the word Nazi is taken to refer to those who express extreme racist or authoritarian views or behaviour. But are we actually any better? Have we learned anything during those 74 years since the end of WW2 to today? Are we a more civilised society…..can we even claim to be civilised at all in view of the various definitions above? Judging by the number of wars and armed conflicts that the western nations have been involved in in the last 74 years, I don’t think that we can.
Let’s take the USA for example – I don’t like to pick on one country when many are guilty, but the USA is a prime example of what is wrong with the world today. The USA was built around immigration. It’s not known as the “Alien nation” for nothing. The early settlers had a chance to live peacefully with the first nation peoples, but as more outsiders arrived land was taken by force and the original American people were pushed on to reservations and even today are still struggling to be heard by the all conquering uncle Sam. Now we have President Trump in charge (who going by the earlier definition of Nazi …… you finish the sentence, you know where I’m going with this…..) – who’s pledged to make America great by stopping immigrants (particularly Mexicans) from entering the country and kicking out all illegals. He knows that this doesn’t make any sense because it’s the illegals, doing all the low paid jobs, that white Americans don’t want or can’t be bothered to do, that keep the country running. Currently he’s not paying “unnecessary” government employees – this includes the likes of air traffic controllers – who among many others are hardly unnecessary (think about those pissed off air traffic controllers next time you fly somewhere in Air Force One Mr President) – and his actions are putting many families to the wall. There’s a standoff between the 2 major parties who’s leaders are trying to prove who can piss the farthest up the wall – the one that Trump wants to build presumably. BUT meantime, while others suffer and are expected to work unpaid, those making the decisions in Congress and the White House are still being paid. The powers that be are simply looking after number one and sod the rest of you. This is hardly civilised behaviour.
But I’m not here to bash Trump and his rich political buddies – there are plenty in line before me to do that. The USA still has the death penalty (is that civilised?) – does it work? No it doesn’t – how many of those executed by lethal drug injections last thoughts were “Well I guess that will teach me a lesson?” Probably none. Has the threat of the death penalty stopped people committing crimes that will mean that they will get the death penalty? Does a mugger worry about death row when he shoves a gun in your ribs, is prepared to pull the trigger, and demands your wallet? Nope. Is it civilised for one human to kill another by hiding behind “the law” to administer a lethal injection? Is it civilised to spend a trillion dollars on arms and armaments and go blowing up and destroying thousands of people in foreign lands each year just because they are the “wrong colour” or follow the “wrong god”? A civilised society would insist on that money being spent on things like health, education and welfare for its own people, who are in desperate need – instead of on war. But America, like the majority of western nations, is a capitalist country and will always put big business and profit for shareholders over the needs and well being of its own citizens. These are not signs of a civilised country. The USA still tortures prisoners of war and “suspected” terrorists – something banned by the Geneva Convention but being the strongest military might in the world, rules don’t apply to them. No proof of terrorism is needed, just suspicion. It’s a very slippery slope folks. Kind of reminiscent of the days of witch hunts and witch trials – suspicion of being a witch brought you the death penalty. Have we made any progress since the Salem witch trials? Don’t we know any better……really?
They – the USA – are backed up by the members of Nato and the United Nations. Surely all who support the acts of criminals are themselves as guilty as those committing the acts. Warfare is not something that civilised peoples subscribe to.
We as citizens of these countries, we who vote in the idiots who make the big decisions, could be deemed equally guilty of being uncivilised. But what can we do to stop the insanity? Sign a petition? Take to the streets and protest like “we the people” have done in the past – marching against war, marching for peace, marching for equality of race, gender or sexual orientation? I’ve done it all. Sometimes we make small gains, but mostly it’s like throwing custard pies at an advancing enemy armed with tanks…..(to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut when referencing the futility of protest marches against the Vietnam War). Peaceful protest seldom works, violent protest as with the Yellow Vests recently in Paris also doesn’t work. Hey we’re pissed off with the government – let’s burn some poor schmuck’s car or trash their shop – oh yeah that’ll work! The entire system as it stands doesn’t work.
As capitalists, as fully signed up members of the consumer economy, we endorse unlimited growth and to hell with the environment, to hell with the planet. We allow the corporate’s to lay waste to the planet, to destroy habitats of other species simply to provide more stuff for us greedy humans and to make money for company shareholders. Our support of this system is definitely not civilised.
But we also claim to be the most intelligent species here on earth – how can that possibly be true? We are the only species on the planet capable of wiping out of existence not only ourselves, but every other living thing on planet earth, thanks to our “superior intelligence” – and we’re the only species stupid enough to allow the people in charge to put us all in this position in the first place. The system is broken, it doesn’t work and we need a new plan.
Getting back to Vonnegut’s book – Armageddon in Retrospect.
It’s a book made up of selected essays/short stories all centred around war. Some of the stories are based on his own personal experience as an American soldier – prisoner of war in Germany. One of the stories concerns the bombing of Dresden toward the end of WW2. Although many other major German cities had been bombed by the US and British throughout the war, Dresden was not considered to be a target because it had no military, industrial or strategic purpose – did not manufacture steel or armaments. It was a city of universities, churches, hospitals, theatres, museums, libraries, the arts and beautiful architecture. It had become a haven for the weak and displaced. BUT someone high up in the US military decided that the rail-yards at Dresden needed to be bombed. It should be pointed out at this time that every able bodied male aged between his mid teens and late 40’s had already been conscripted into the German army and were fighting on the various “fronts”. The city of Dresden was populated by the very old, the very young, the infirm and women. In bombing the rail yards, what actually happened was that the entire city was flattened. Up to 200,000 ordinary people were murdered by the bombers during that time. And if the massive loss of life is not enough, so much history, art and heritage was also lost for ever. The rail yards however were repaired and up and running again in two days. Two days! Was it worth it? Was it the civilised thing to do?
Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners of war had the gruesome task of pulling the bodies of those dead children, wives, mothers and grandmothers out of the twisted wreckage of what had been the beautiful city of Dresden. This very much turned him against war and warfare. War should at best be an absolute last resort when everything else has been tried to keep the peace – not the first consideration, nor should it be a way to settle a political argument, or to simply prove who is strongest, or as a means to take what “we” want from other, weaker nations. The murder of innocents and the destruction of beautiful things is not what a civilised society condones.
Like I said earlier I am not bashing America in particular – just using it as an example, as did Vonnegut in his book. I know many Americans – even have some as family – and they are wonderful, warm, kind people…..but the decisions of those leading them….!! NOR am I bashing the military or those who serve or have served. Many of my own family have served in the military including my father, uncles, cousin and grandfathers. They were fighting for what they considered to be a just cause. It’s not usually the military who bring one country into armed conflict with another – they just have to go where they are told and do what they are told to do – it’s usually politics and political leaders who are at fault…..and those who provide finance to the political parties. Big business runs politics by financing political campaigns and therefore buy and own the politicians. It shouldn’t be allowed. As I said before, the system is broken and does not work – certainly not for the average Joe. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. The system is rigged that way.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the silver bullet is. But we could start by being kinder to one another. We can start by trying to reconnect with our neighbours, our community. We could start by simply smiling and giving a friendly greeting to a stranger. Welcome people instead of shooing them away. Offer the hand of friendship instead of holding up the fist of fury. We could bring back things like trust, integrity, understanding and peace. We could, and should, be civil and civilised. But do we want to be?