Monthly Archives: June 2008

More than 10 Years Ago

More than 10 years ago, I was offended by an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor. My Response is pasted below. Can’t beleive it has been so long. Some things seem different, but some seem just the same . . .

from the January 12, 1998 edition

Give Hip-Hop a Chance

In response to the opinion article “For ’90s Kids, the Boom Box’s Blast Has Drowned Out the Written Word” (Dec. 24): It pains me to see an educator take such a close-minded stance. Prof. Chet Raymo’s main gripe is that listening to music has all but replaced reading for pleasure on today’s college campuses, and that the music being listened to is meaningless and just plain bad.

Mr. Raymo says, “One of the down sides to being a teacher of young people is that one must actually become aware of the existence of groups such as Wu-Tang.” Musical differences aside, my real problem is the approach in the article: Listen to as little as possible, and jump to conclusions as quickly as possible.

The author has forgotten that all good teachers are also students. I have some suggestions and questions I’d like him to consider: Take a walk across campus to the humanities department and ask about the issues of identity and voice in minority and oppressed cultures. Think about these ideas and listen to Wu-Tang again. Are the lyrics violent and obscene? If so, why?

You disdain the Wu’s “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” anthem and pine for the good old days of idealism at college. Better you should ask why idealism is tempered with such heavy doses of cynicism these days. You say the music of the ghetto is meaningless to affluent college students. Instead of condemning what seems incongruent, you should ask: Why are middle-class white kids into hip-hop and black inner-city culture?

The statement ” nothing matters except what music-industry megamasters decide will matter” is dead wrong if applied to Wu-Tang: they maintain creative control by producing and promoting their own music.

My intent is not to argue what music is good, but to urge you to listen before you judge. Hip-hop is very intelligent music; most people who don’t think so have simply not listened well enough. Check out one of my favorite rap artists, KRS-ONE (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone). Dubbing himself “the Teacher,” KRS-ONE’s lyrics contain poetry, philosophy, and history – all the things you find lacking in the music of today’s youth. When divisions between races, generations, and economic classes seem to be growing larger, it’s the place of the educator to bridge gaps, not build walls.

Jason Osder

Rollinsville, Colo.

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In the Dark with Strangers

A while back, my cousin Blaine and I were having an argument over film. In particular, I was saying that I wanted my film to have traditional distribution where it can be seen in a theater first.

Why? He wanted to know. Why would I care if my film were primarily distributed on the Internet (for instance) as long as a large number of people saw it?

Part of the answer maybe egotistical: about recognition. Part of the answer maybe traditional: adherence to a form called documentary film that I happened to have studied. And part is political: we have the right to view these films in public. But I think the most interesting part of the answer maybe a belief that film is a social medium. It is not just about the product on the screen, it is about the experience of watching that product in a group with other people – sitting in the dark with strangers and sharing the experience.

This idea has again been at the forefront of my mind at this week’s Silverdocs festival. In packed theaters, aficionados pack in to see brilliant film after brilliant film. Then, we are most often treated to a Q&A with the filmmaker(s) and often the subjects as well. I am a geek at the science fair (and I am driving my girlfriend Arin up the wall).

The idea struck home even more so several months ago at a screening of Nanking at the Avalon in North West DC. I’ll skip the usual summary of this intense film and the standard exploration of its creative license in using well-known actors to read the letters and journals of long-dead subjects on camera in an interview style. I will say that I appreciated the film and thought it powerfully affecting.

What will always make me remember the experience however was the gentleman we sat next to. The theater was crowded (an interesting fact in itself and heartening for me). Arin and I had to squeeze past many seated patrons to find two seats together.

At the last seat before the pair we found, I stumbled, nudging a man who seemed to grunt with displeasure. Only once I was seated (one seat away from him, with Arin between us) did I notice that he was quite elderly, and wearing a neck brace. I apologized again for nudging him, and was filled with a dread that I may have actually caused him pain.

As the film progressed through the troubling story of the Chinese capital under siege by the Japanese army during World War Two, this elderly man was clearly experiencing an emotional reaction. It started with small sounds: sighs a moan. By the time the film reached the first-hand telling of a mother and child being killed, the man was openly weeping. During the stories of mass rape, he leaned foreword (in his hard plastic neck brace) crying harder. I though the might become physically ill.

I was one seat away from the man, with Arin between us, and she was also affected by the film and perhaps just as much to her proximity to the man. I saw that she was also weeping and began mimicking his movements (unconsciously, I imagine) rocking forward in her seat. Perhaps she even laid a hand on him to comfort him at one point.

What was this man’s experience that was brought back by this film? He was certainly old enough to be in the war (and in fact, we must have been the youngest people in that theater, with many people older than us by 30 years or more). Had he seen these atrocities, or analogous ones in Europe? Had he been a victim? A perpetrator?

What was our experience of this film and seeing it with (or next to) him? We never exchanged a word, but emotionally we were connected. How were we all affected? What is the meaning, the emotive potential, of sitting in the dark with strangers?

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