Saturday, February 12, 2011

G.I. Jane & D.H. Lawrence

A couple of weeks ago, P&PC noticed that The Expen- dables—Sylvester Stallone's 2010 testos- terone-filled vehicle for a fraternity house of fading action heroes— unexpectedly ends with a poem. Well, wouldn't you know it: right after that post went up, the P&PC Office interns were having their annual Demi Moore film festival, and they came back to report that Moore's 1997 flick G.I. Jane ends with a poem too. Early in the movie (see clip #1 below) Navy SEAL Master Chief John Urgayle recites D.H. Lawrence's "Self-Pity" while inspecting his recruits:

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Then, sort of like a Chekhovian gun, Lawrence's poem reappears in the film's final scene—after Moore has shaved her head, after she's endured brutal hazing and abuse during training, and after she's distinguished herself in action in part by saving Urgayle's life—where it becomes part of a gift that, along with the Navy Cross, Urgayle gives to Moore as an expression of gratitude and apology (clip #2 below).

We're proud of the interns for noticing this, of course, but we're even more proud for what they had to say about it. The gift, they argued, is obviously meant to signal the transformation that's taken place in Urgayle—he's accepted a woman into the masculine world of the SEALS, is now a bigger and better person, and is apologizing for the abuse Moore suffered at his hands—but that transformation is expressed not simply because Lawrence's poem is present but because Urgayle interprets it differently than he did earlier in the film. That is, his transformation is visible not only because he acts (and promises to act) differently than before, but because he reads (and promises to read) differently as well.

Early in the film, Urgayle uses "Self-Pity" to model soldier comportment by comparing human activity to that of the animal kingdom; soldiers, he suggests—drawing a one to one correspondence between humans and the poem's wild things—should be like animals and not feel sorry for themselves. But as the camerawork in the final scene indicates, however, Urgayle's changed self reads the poem in reverse—that human beings are capable of emotional and communicative heights that the animal kingdom of "Self-Pity" is not. We see this especially when the camera, under Ridley Scott's direction, focuses in on Urgayle's marked-up copy of "Self-Pity" and especially on the repeated word "sorry." While the camera doesn't quite cut off the poem's final two words ("for itself"), it certainly comes close, centering our attention instead on the apology Urgayle is using the poem to express. Wild things, the camera helps us understand, don't feel sorry, but human beings like Urgayle do. In the process of becoming a different human being, the movie suggests, Urgayle's become a different reader too.

The P&PC interns liked the look of Urgayle's heavily-marked paperback; both the ballpoint underlining of "The Mosquito Knows" and the red pencil circling of "Self-Pity" suggest he's read and thought about the poems many times. What stood out for them, therefore, was how his final reading of the poem went unmarked by pen. He could, they argued, have very easily circled the word "sorry" in order to make his new interpretation clear. What ultimately "underlines" the text, however, is the camera, so that if this final scene is in fact an act of literary interpretation, that activity is not conducted on the page by Urgayle himself, but, instead, by the filmmaker for the benefit of the viewer. (Could we therefore read G.I. Jane not as a movie about women in the military but as an English Department lecture about how to read Lawrence's poem?) In the process, the pencil markings on the page (and the act of handwriting marginalia) become remnants of Urgayle's earlier and reprehensible self, while the acts of seeing and filming are linked to his later, more sophisticated and certainly more human self. So, while the end of G.I. Jane is designed to demonstrate Urgayle's transformation, the movie uses that narrative cover to wage a sort of smear campaign against the page and the power of the pen, casting them as remedial and less human technologies when compared to the more sophisticated interpretive and emotional technology of film. At the end of the day, it's Hollywood—not Urgayle, not Moore, and not even your English teacher—who is the most credible literary critic.

See what you think about this by watching the two clips here. Sorry about the low quality of the second one, but it's the only version of the film's final scene we could find.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ronald Reagan's ABC's

Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911 - June 5, 2004)

Note: If an image is blurry, click on it once to isolate it; then click on it again to magnify it.

A is for Auto:
As the profits rise higher,
I'll help out the bosses
Not workers or buyers.

B stands for Big Business
And Bankruptcies, too.
We're making it easy
To cut wages for you.

C's Civil Rights
And the sins of Commission.
Those equality fights,
We've put in remission.

D stands for big Deficit:
Why does it get harder
To stop it from growing?
I'll just blame it on Carter!

E's for Ecology:
A liberal plot
To put shackles on industry.
Let's bring back Jim Watt!

F's Full Employment,
A nice thought, but yikes...
Without lots of jobless,
Who'd we get to break strikes?

G's for General Dynamics
And the Pentagon's frills.
They rake in profits,
And you pay the bills!

H stands for Health Care,
"No problem," I say,
As long as you're there
With the money to pay.

I—watch the Imports
And Interest rates rise!
We're not selling you short:
It's just free enterprise!

J stands for Jobs.
You'll get one some day,
As long as you're willing
To take lower pay.

K stands for Kids,
I like them all, but...
Funds for their schools
I've just got to cut.

L is for Labor,
It's giving me pains.
They'll either play my way, or
I'll put them in chains.

M is for Ed Meese,
A misunderstood soul.
For the hungry, he's got cheese,
For the rich, more loopholes.

N's for Nicaragua:
If they don't toe my line,
I'll shoot first and talk later,
Send the CIA to lay mines.

O is for OSHA:
It's better ignored.
To put lives before profits,
We just can't afford.

P is for PATCO,
I sure gave 'em hell.
If they'd only been Polish,
I'd have wished them all well.

Q stands for Quality
Of Life (for a few).
It's great if you're wealthy,
But we can't include you.

R is for Runaway
Plants in far lands,
Where they cut workers' pay
Because unions are banned.

Social Security
It's an awful expense.
Why subsidize the elderly
With tax dollars and cents?

T's for my Tax bill
And Trickle-down, too.
Don't worry, the rich will
Pass their cuts on to you.

U's for Utilities:
Let's de-regulate!
Oil, gas, and electricity—
We'll let them raise rates!

V's for my Veto
Of the auto content bill.
The Republicans don't like it, so
Kill it, yes, I will!

W stands for Women—
I won't give them ERA.
In our economic system,
Equality's too high a price to pay.

Put an X right by my name.
Forget your silly fears.
You think my program's been too tame?
Well, just watch my next four years!

Y is for the Japanese Yen,
Whose value will get lower
As I push up the dollar; watch
The imports gain more power.

Z is for my Zig-zag course:
I stay it all the while.
In foreign countries, I'll use force;
While at home, I nod and smile.