[the palaverist]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

[scattered thoughts about precious]

1. OK, so who at Sunkist thought a product placement in Precious was a good idea? It's there twice: once as a can next to Precious's abusive mother as she hunkers in her gloomy apartment, then again as the label across the drink machine at the welfare office. Peculiarly, Mariah Carey's character comes back with two cans of fake-label soda, drawing all the more attention to the product placement. In fact, throughout the movie, the only brand label we ever see is Sunkist. (McDonald's and, inevitably, Oprah get mentioned, but we don't see either. Oprah had been nationally syndicated only since September 1986.) The tag lines that come to mind are not good. "Sunkist: What your incestuous mama drink while she beat you." "Thirsty? On welfare? Sunkist is for you!" This is not exactly ET eating Reece's Pieces.

2. Mariah Carey was actually very good. Mo'Nique was extraordinary. Gabourey Sidibe was just OK. Her face isn't terribly expressive.

3. There are very few men in Precious's world. I think that's probably an accurate depiction of a life like that, and it points to a very serious social problem.

4. I saw the movie with a couple of people who work in social services. It's like seeing Office Space with your cube-mates. Afterwards, one of them told me, "When I found out she was HIV-positive, I was like, 'Oh, now she can get housing!'"

5. Speaking of HIV, the film takes place in 1987, and a number of its characters are very poorly educated. When Precious tells the class that she's HIV-positive, it seems anachronistic that there's no fear, no panic, no immediate freakout, particularly considering that a number of these girls were in contact with Precious's blood earlier on. The first anti-HIV drug, AZT, was introduced only that year, so AIDS was widely perceived as an absolute death sentence. ACT UP was founded in 1987. Public understanding was primitive at best.

6. The whole welfare process, as depicted in the film, is incredibly humiliating. You're forced to answer incredibly personal questions from a case worker who has the power to take away your minimal livelihood. What's your home life like? What's your mother like? What's your father like? They're the kinds of questions it's actually illegal for the HR department of a private company to ask. It's painful to watch, and it must be painful to live through. At the same time, the process is shown to have failed utterly — Precious had never even been to a doctor — so it's largely an exercise in humiliation and enforced lying before power.

7. The teacher and her partner have a beautiful home. Was that affordable in Harlem in 1987?

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

[the plan, as it unfolds]

For a while now I've been thinking about graduate school. Here are my reasons:
  • Everyone else seems to be doing it.
  • My brother and sister are doing it, which means I'll be the least educated member of my family if I don't (dad has an MBA, mom an MA and JD, grandma a Ph.D., grandpa a JD, sister and brother both working on MAs).
  • Barack Obama asked every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education, and while this obviously meant at least one year past high school, which I have, I'm taking it to mean at least one more year than I already have.
  • It might be vaguely useful professionally to have a higher degree, though that sort of depends what it is.
Those are my reasons for thinking about grad school. So I talked to a few coworkers who'd done the whole master's thing, and one of them told me to study something I love, because it's a ton of work, and I won't want to see it through if I don't feel passionate about it (he has an MFA in creative writing).

So that got me thinking about specifics. An MBA is right out, 'cause I completely don't give a shit. International affairs? Maybe. Central Asian history or linguistics? Off chance. Asian studies?


I mean, look at what my plans were for the weekend: go to a lecture at the Korean Cultural Service on Friday night, by myself, to learn about traditional Korean music; meet a new Korean conversation partner on Saturday and study; meet an old Korean conversation partner on Saturday and study; meet a friend from the Korean Mission to the UN on Sunday; go to my Korean dance class.

Sure, I read articles from time to time on foreign policy. And sure, I'll slog my way through tomes on Central Asia. But I waded through nearly 5,000 pages of East Asian history and translated political and philosophical documents as a self-study program. And on weekends I study the Korean language and go to lectures on Korean culture for fun. When I arrived in Seoul in October, I was ecstatic to discover that here was an entire city completely dedicated to my hobby. For reasons I've never been able to pin down, the study of Korea has become my passion.

You knew that. I knew that. But I only just realized that this had a direct bearing on what I should study.

An obvious practical question arises: What will I do with an MA in Asian Studies? And a practical answer: No idea. Yes, it's a lot of work for no concrete result. Yes, it's expensive. But I want to do it. And the advantage of being passionate about the subject while not needing the degree is that I can drop out without feeling like the whole thing has been pointless.

My plan, then, is to do this ... eventually. I'm hoping to move to Manhattan when my lease is up, in September of next year. Starting grad school at the same time that I move strikes me as pointlessly exhausting. So I'm going to shoot for spring of 2011 to begin my studies. Between now and then, I'd like to make substantial progress on the language. I'll also need to talk to people at the Asian Studies programs at Columbia and NYU, and also maybe CUNY. And study for the GREs. And that, in sum, is the plan so far.

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