My Name is Odysseus

My name is Odysseus; it is my birthday today and I have much to be thankful for.”For a long time, I felt I couldn’t add anything to what has already been said in books, poetry, fine art and cinema by predecessors. Not knowing my listeners’ lives and experience, how was I to relevantly inform them? I spoke accurately and openly of my own experience in my work, hoping, I would at least allow others to see how I view similar experiences of happiness, pain, joy, grief, hatred, love and God. I made commercial films and films used in schools across the land, made paintings, sculptures and some documentary films, which few people have seen but those who have seen them have been important to me.”My reticence to speak of things about which I had no direct knowledge, to people, whom, in their own ways might have more knowledge than I led me to go into other fields, for a while, building homes for poor families that respect their pride and developing infrastructure and technology that respects the environment. I authored a book explaining computer and telecommunication technologies and how this will change our communities. And in my personal life, I struggled to understand the emotional underpinnings of the way I and other human beings intimately relate. Then a perfect storm of personal catastrophes occurred all within a short period.

“First, my aortic valve gave out; it was an earlier model designed for shorter spans of life than we enjoy now. During the corrective surgery, I awakened for a minute, while my chest was being sawed. While recovering from the surgery, my fiancé left me. I’d lost interest in nonprofit work and my attempt at private development ended in losing my home and I left town in an old Ford truck with Sammy, a cat I inherited from my mother and my good dog, a pomeranian called, Bear.

“For four years, I traveled from town to town, anticipating I would find a community, where my creativity could be a contribution, where I would feel included with the love, respect and brotherhood essential to life. I lived on a modest pension from my nonprofit development work and occasional gifts of strangers of a place to park my truck and social welfare program I’d learned about in my previous work. One summer, when I was managing an undeveloped public campground in a redwood forest in Mendocino County, in exchange for a campsite, Sammy died from Lyme’s disease. A veterinarian told me it was a deer tick. A week later, Bear succumbed as well. My despair was infinite.

“My response was apathy, however, and that opened a door to my return, which is a story for another time, about Telemachus and my wife and how my unexpected return interrupted their revelry. Such stories are interesting and instructive but this is my birthday and this story is about what I’m thankful for, which is something I can contribute to those of you who aspire to write stories for plays and cinema: what I’ve learned from life that is relevant to all fiction and screenplay writing, which can empower you in manifesting your aspiration.

“When I started making radio plays in college and later, as a professional, films for children, commercials and documentaries, I was lost in the excitement of discovering how it works. It felt the same as, when opening the door of a kiln, I saw how fire transformed my handwork. As I learned more, this excitement dissipated and I grew more critical about content. The question, “Why this film?” grew more relevant as my capacity improved. I could see no reason why my work shouldn’t be compared to that of any writer or filmmaker whose work I admire. This led me to read, and to read again, the literary fiction of the last few thousand years and to read what others had said about them; to visit great museums of Europe and view fine arts; see hundreds of plays and cinema and listen to music of enduring value, all with the purpose of learning what about them has made them endure. This odyssey is what I call, my life.

“If I could sum up an idea that will empower your odyssey, it might be the name, de MaupassantWhy this writer in the galaxy of talent in all civilization? Not for his style, which is beautiful, nor originality of metaphor, which is lively, nor his technical skill, on a par with any great writer whose work has endured, but something more relevant to a particular issue. You are aware of congressional debates about media promulgating warfare and desensitizing the population to gore and morbidity. When you are considering a war story or gore, sexuality and morbidity in your work, you might first read Guy de Maupassant’s story, Epiphany. Another example, where de Maupassant is brief and poignant about sexual fidelity and sexual politics, which are go-to themes of mainstream as well as independent TV, stage plays and cinema, you might read de Maupassant’s A Wife’s Confession when you approach the subject.

“I point to de Maupassant about “Why this film?” rather than many other good writers, whose work I respect love and respect as well because of his economy. The poetry of his language, characters and stories isn’t lovelier than I see in works by Cervantes, Homer, Gilbert & Sullivan, Madeline Kahn, Dahl, Mann, Dostoevsky, Dinesen, De Sica, Chekhov, Williams, Faulkner, Hesse, Shakespeare, McCullers, Marquez and so on and so on. You may worship other stars and that is good, but the pleasure you take or that you’ve learned something from them is beside the point I’m making. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Wisdom is another matter.

“I’m grateful for the work of all these predecessors and honored to stand with you among them.”

Stereotyping of Aging In Media

When I was a child, people of color were commonly characterized in stereotypes that are no longer tolerated. The growing intolerance for racial and ethnic slurs in the media wasn’t the result of altruism on the part of the economically dominant white Christian population but quite the opposite, it was the result of the efforts of organized movement with leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and others, who opposed the basically selfish and/or ignorant prejudicial attitudes of white majorities who control the media.

In the 1960s, when I began producing media for schools and television, in pursuit of some ethnically egalitarian standard, ethnic diversity was a requirement in casting and black, brown and Asian minorities had to be proportionately represented in school films but not native American. In commercials, however, this kind of balance was unnecessary since the media targeted a narrow demographic—the Lego commercial to be shown in African nations used black talent, except for South Africa, for which, black talent was excluded, and so on.

When we’re really engrossed in viewing a good movie, unless the story is in part about issues, such as, Raisin In The Sun, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, etc., children and naive people generally will not notice that their expectations are being shaped about people of color and all other stereotypical categorizations. Stage plays of the 19th and early 20th century regularly and fairly consistently characterize women as weaker and scatter-brained, poor people as ignorant and stupid, actors as lascivious and immoral, clergy as moral and upright, older people as infirm and incompetent, sex workers as depraved; on and on. It is significant that this stereotyping is less true of the literary and fine art works that endure through centuries.

Although demands for social justice in the civil society and demographic targeting by commercial advertisers began to force more balance in ethnic and gender representation in media, the opposite of this has occurred with regard to age stereotyping as a consequence of similar forces; e.g., since younger people are considered more susceptible to media advertising, over the last few decades, pejorative characterizations of older people and aging generally has increased. It is taken for granted that it’s fine to represent aging with symptoms of Alzheimers, dementia, infirmity..

The effect on black children of showing them racial stereotypes was that they grew up learning to view the possibilities of their lives differently than did white children. Now, examine how we grow up learning to view the possibilities of our lives after we reach the age of 60 and you will begin to understand something of great importance to you personally.

Had someone asked me to consider this thirty or forty years ago and if I’d had the sense to listen, I’d have done a few things differently because my expectations of my future would have been better informed. Here’s a few facts about your future that could be improved if the characterizations of aging in media you consume is corrected in the same way we addressed racial and ethnic slurs:

  • Unless you have a life-shortening condition of some kind, if you take reasonably good care of your body and your mind, you will be physically and mentally fit for about 100 years.
  • You are likely to be unemployed and “unemployable” for the last thirty or forty years of your life having nothing to do with your ability but rather a consequence of competition from younger but less able people.
  • You will find that people half your age have replaced you at work and they will regard your wisdom and experience as useless and irrelevant or simply, quaint.
  • Statistically, you may have some health issues, including some that impair your mobility, sight or hearing however, most of that will be the result of your health practices when you are young and risks due to genetic inclinations that could be managed early on.
  • All but a few of you will have greater mental capacity, ability to focus and your ability to understand and assess situations will be greater as you age.
  • Your children and grand children will treat you as if they think you are a doddering fool since that is how older people are characterized in the media and games they play.
  • You will experience prejudicial discrimination that is sanctioned in your community.
  • Provided that your hormonal balances are maintained, you will have a healthy sexual appetite but most people that you’re attracted to won’t be attracted to you and when you express that kind of interest, most of those who are younger will be embarrassed about it and some will be unconsciously rude to you.
  • You will suffer from depression as a consequence of all these things and statistically, your chances of suffering clinical depression are one in four if you are white, one in two if black. You will acquire other health symptoms as a bi-product of depression
  • You are likely to be expected to live outside the community of your family and go off to die in an assisted living facility rather than being a burden to your children and grand children. Depending on your resources, this will deepen your depression.