October 12, 2008

What if They End Up in Front of the Wrong Theater?


I must admit, I always get a good chuckle out of those people who prowl their way through life, their eyes constantly peeled for something they can be really, really offended about—some song or movie or work of art or book that presents such an outrageous affront to their personal belief system that they can once again take out a full-page ad in the Times, or start calling for a boycott, or best of all, carry a picket sign and get on the news to share their moral indignation with the world.

            I never fully understood the motivation; simply ignoring those things you don’t like seems a much less stressful approach. But I guess all that perpetual indignation gives their lives some meaning for a little while (enough, anyway, to hold them over until the next offensive show comes along).

            Yeah, they always make me smile. Such sad, pathetic little lives they must lead. I bet they don’t get invited to many parties.

            Now, when the offendees (offendeds?) in question are representatives of a group I ostensibly belong to myself, it just makes the whole scene that much more hilarious. Case in point, the angry protests from the blindo community over Blindness—the new science fiction film based on Nobel laureate José Saramago’s 1995 novel. Oooh, but they’re just pig-biting mad over that movie!

            Of course the obvious question here is, “it’s not like they’ll actually be going to see the movie, so why are they getting so upset?” But minor details like that—actually seeing, reading or hearing the thing they’re so offended about has never been a big issue with this mentality. They heard the movie shows blindos in a bad light, so there you go—get those picket signs ready.

            I knew the protests were coming, and sure enough on the day the film opened I received a note from my old friend Grinch, who forwarded me a news story about the uproar being organized by the National Federation for the Blind. In general, the NFB and I don’t exactly see eye to eye on most things, so this beet-faced sputtering on their part came as little surprise.

            At the end of the story, Grinch added his own analysis of the specific complaints raised by the protesters:

            I think I need to do a fact check on this. I cannot speak for all blind people. To tell you the truth, I only really know one really well.

            Here goes:

            “The movie portrays blind people as monsters, and I believe it to be a lie.”

            I suppose it depends on what you have to do to be considered a monster. Would randomly, and I do mean entirely randomly, giving an undergraduate student an undeserved “F” on a term paper, and finding it hilarious, qualify?

            “The blind cannot care for themselves and are perpetually disoriented.”

            Jim, this was you BEFORE you lost your eyesight.

            “Blind people are quarantined in a mental asylum . . .”


            “ . . . attacking each other”


            “ . . . soiling themselves”

            How did these Hollywood types find out about that?

            “ . . . trading sex for food”


            Well, there you have it. I think that the National Federation for the Blind owes Miramax an apology.


            Last week another friend, Ryan Knighton, was in town from Vancouver, and we met up for a couple of beers. Ryan’s another one of those blind writers, but unlike most of them, he’s, you know—good. And he’s got the proper attitude.

            One of the reasons he was in town, in fact, was to attend a cast and crew screening of Blindness. He wasn’t there to hold up a picket sign or cause any other kind of self-righteous ruckus—he was there to see the movie, given that his good friend Don Mckellar had written the script.

            We had talked a bit about the film, and the irksome angry blindos, that night at the bar, so I sent Grinch’s comments along to him.

            Ryan had read the script after McKellar finished it, and hadn’t noticed much of anything to get all uppity about. Mostly, I’m guessing, because he understood what the movie was about.

            “I mean, how do you argue with a fundamental misreading like theirs?“, he wrote me later. “Especially when the misreading is motivated by postures about blindness and independence and so on that are real, but have nothing to do with the story itself. Nothing.”

            It was the equivalent, he said, of the California Transit Authority complaining that the end of Thelma and Louise neglected to take into account the fact that the CTA makes every effort to put up good signage warning of any nearby cliffs, and have spent a whole bunch of money installing sturdy guardrails to prevent such things from happening.

            I haven’t seen Blindness myself yet, but expect to go sometime soon. I won’t make any judgments before that, but I honestly don’t believe that I’ll be terribly offended. You know what Blind Guy Film offends me more than any other? If You Could See What I Hear, the 1982 biopic of that fucking Tom Sullivan—the singing, dancing blindo who made guest appearances on damn near every television show in the ‘70s.

            Ignoring for a moment the simple fact that the blindness in Blindness is intended to be, you know, a metaphor, consider this:

            Which is actually more harmful to the fragile collective ego of the blind population—images of angry, disoriented blind people stumbling about and crapping themselves—because, let’s face it, it happens—or images of a blind guy riding bikes, driving cars, banging a lot of hot chicks, skydiving, becoming a world famous entertainer, and saving drowning babies (as happens in If You Could See . . . )?

            I thought so. Overcompensating fucker. Sometimes I wonder how many accidental deaths could be blamed directly on his showboating shenanigans.

            Myself, I think the only thing that would offend me about Blindness would be if it doesn’t include a scene in which a blind person steps in a bucket or a coiled garden hose, then drags it around for the rest of the picture.


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