Novels, Movies and Songs that are Widely Misinterpreted

Writing a story or song to send a message is really hard. You really have to make it obvious, or it will fly over the heads of your audience. And even if you have no message, sometimes people will look for hidden messages that aren’t there. And so, this week I honor those writers, filmmakers and songwriters whose work nobody got.

WARNING – THIS ARTICLE IS SPOILER CITY

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

This American classic is the fourth most banned book in U.S. schools and libraries. It appears American parents get offended by the prevalent use of the n-word, and call the book racist because of it. This is nothing new; the book has been controversial since 1885.

But having read the book myself, I feel most of the people who take offense to the book completely missed the point. They just see the bad words and some offensive behavior by the characters and don’t look at the context.

Mark Twain’s big thing was always satire. He wrote satirical works like The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County or The Prince and the Pauper, and in between his writings he did stand-up comedy. One of his favorite things to make fun of was the antebellum south he grew up in.

The note on the first page should have been a clue to what Twain was doing:

NOTICE

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR,
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.


EXPLANATORY
IN this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a hap- hazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.
I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

THE AUTHOR.

Does that not scream, “I am not being serious here”? Isn’t that the kind of warning you might get in a South Park novel?
Twain’s use of the N-word is part of a larger context where he is showing how ludicrous racism is, as well as how ludicrous most behaviors of “respectable” southerners were at the time. The story is about our title character helping a slave escape, for crying out loud. In between getting in the middle of a family feud, and hanging out with some frauds who prey on people’s religious sensibilities for cash. Twain was using the book as a mirror to his fellow southerners, to show them their follies, including racism.
Gone With the Wind

The highest-grossing movie of all time (if you take into account a little thing called inflation), Gone With the Wind was a film based on a book about the changes in the South surrounding the Civil War. Its main character was Scarlett O’Hara, one of the most popular fictional characters of all time. For generations, she has been a feminist icon for her supposed pragmatism and self-confidence. But is this picture accurate at all?
Let’s think about what she does in the movie and book. She starts out a spoiled brat who can’t get enough attention. She competes with her sisters for men, and is rude to absolutely everybody. Then, her home town of Atlanta is burned by the Union armies. She becomes determined to save her estate, a decision that is often interpreted as “protecting her family”. But her family isn’t all that interested in keeping the estate, and the way she saves it is marrying her sister’s lover. Oh, and did I mention she is rude and inconsiderate toward her family’s ex-slaves, who have voluntarily stayed on to help them out? And is chastised for it by her father who is in the early stages of dementia? And that she starts a business that saves money by employing Confederate POWs who are forced to work for her as slaves?
Eventually, we all know she marries Clark Gable, er, I mean, Rhett Butler, and in short order her selfishness and attention-seeking, as well as her unsavory business practices, alienates her from the rest of Georgia. And although she is married to Butler, she still pursues the actual man of her dreams, who is also married. To her best friend. Even in the end, as her daughter and best friend both die, she still seeks attention from everyone around her, and her husband is so off-put by all this he utters that famous line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” If I had lived with such a manipulative, selfish, wretched woman for so long, I think I’d react the same way.
Randy Newman’s Short People and Rednecks
That song offended a LOT of people. Many radio stations refused to play the song, and the state of Maryland considered a bill to ban the song (it didn’t pass). Randy Newman even received threats over it. What people didn’t understand was that Newman was not condemning people by their height. In interviews, he explained that the lyrics are supposed to sound like the ravings of an insane person. But this was far from the only controversial song that Newman would write.
Rednecks was controversial for using the N-word nine times (I counted), the same thing that gets Huck Finn in trouble. The song also offended a whole lot of people in the South, because its lyrics read like a list of all the negative stereotypes of southerners. Actually, that’s kind of the point, Newman was not making fun of the South but of northern stereotypes of the South. Once again, Newman’s satire went over everyone’s heads.
Superman Returns
The story you heard about this movie was probably something along the lines of this:
After the disaster that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Warner Bros. basically mulled about for decades trying to figure out what it wanted to do with the Superman franchise. Then, after the September 11 attacks and the success of the Smallville TV show, America was “ready” for a new Superman film, and Warner Bros. decided to go with a sequel to the classic 1970s movies instead of a reboot. The film was an utter disappointment with fans, because it only showed Superman taking on yet another Lex Luthor plot and throw a giant Kryptonite mountain into space. No big action sequences, no toe-to-toe fight with a super-villain. The film did poorly at the box office, and will go down in history as a flop.
But was this really fair? I actually liked Superman Returns, and I disagree with its critics. Here’s why.
If we are to assume that Superman Returns is a sequel to the classic series, then we should assume the film will have the same tone, thematic elements, and storytelling style, even if these are “updated” somewhat. The classic Superman films were not action schlock. They were dramatic movies written by the same guy behind the Godfather series, and even starring some of the same actors. They didn’t feel the need for Superman to beat anyone down – in fact, that would have gone against his character. In Superman he stops Lex Luthor by reversing time (silly, I know), and in the second film, no matter which of the two versions you watch, Superman wins by outsmarting his enemies instead of defeating them with brawn. Superman III sees him take on Richard Pryor. No, seriously.

No, really. This actually happened.

The only Superman film to feature him actually in a toe-to-toe beat-down with a super-villain is Superman IV, the universally-deemed worst of the set.
See, Superman was always about there being a moral to the story. It was about doing the right thing. I think Superman Returns delivered on that score. The lesson I got from it was “You don’t have to be Superman to do something good”. Lois discovers Lex Luthor’s evil plot; her fiancé attempts to save her from Luthor’s henchmen; Lois and Richard save Superman; and even Luthor’s girlfriend dumps the crystals Luthor was using for his scheme so that they can’t hurt anyone again.
But no. America didn’t want to see a moral lesson, they wanted to see an action movie recreation of Superman beat someone down. Now they are working on a reboot of the franchise to be released in 2013, that will be directed by Zach Snyder. The guy who directed 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch. And if there is any doubt as to where the film is going with the story, this is what Superman will look like:
Information from Wikipedia and other sources.

Little-known facts about America (That are kind of obvious)


I think most people know that we are the world’s third-largest and third-most-populous country, that our military spending and incarceration rates are the largest in the world by far, and that we have the second-oldest written constitution still in use.

That said, there are a few facts about the good ol’ U. S. of A. that aren’t as well-known, though they should seem kind of obvious with a little thought. Here are some facts I didn’t know until recently, and most people I’ve told didn’t know, either, but are kind of a “duh” when you think about them.

The United States has examples of nearly every climate and environment on planet Earth

Why it’s kind of obvious: Let’s see… we have arctic tundra and taiga (in Alaska), tropical rain forests (Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Florida Keys), subtropical swamps (the Gulf coast) and temperate marshes (parts of Ohio), deserts (the southwest), alpine mountain ranges (the Rockies and Sierras), steppes (the Great Plains), and a variety of temperate deciduous and coniferous forests (the east coast).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We even have some unusual and rare climates, like temperate rain forests (the Pacific Northwest)

and Mediterranean (in California, one of only five places on earth that has it).

I guess that’s what happens when you expand across an entire continent, and then some!

The United States has more than 200 languages unique to this country and nowhere else

Why it’s kind of obvious: Before Europeans arrived, the Native Americans living here were a myriad of hundreds of nations, tribes, clans, and other groups, with widely different cultures and, naturally, widely different languages. These languages are so diverse that linguists group them into dozens of language families.

As if those were not enough, we can’t forget the native Hawaiian language, or Chamorro, the language of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, two U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean.

Polynesia, here I come!

And things get even more interesting after European contact. There’s Pennsylvania Dutch, a language unique to the American Midwest that evolved from German and is still widely spoken by the Amish community. Or Louisiana Creole French, which is actually quite distinct from the French language. I could go on. We just don’t think about it, because, well, this is America. And in America, we speak English, of course. Or do we?

The United States has the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking population

Why it’s kind of obvious: There are more than 35 million native Spanish speakers in the United States. That’s equal to the entire population of California, and more than 10% of the total population.

Many of these native speakers are immigrants, of course. Then again, Spanish is the everyday language of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. And New Mexico has a centuries-old community of native Spanish speakers with their own dialect.

To these native speakers, add the millions of Americans who learn Spanish as a second language. Most American schoolchildren (and adults) who learn a second language pick Spanish, and Spanish is chosen by 53% of college and university students seeking to learn a second language. When you add non-native speakers to the equation, you get about 50 million Spanish speakers in the United States. That is higher than the population of Spain. Only Mexico has more Spanish speakers than us, and that is largely because of its population of more than 100 million.

Estados Unidos! Estados Unidos! Woooooooo!

Información recibido por Wikipedia.

On a personal note 2

Hey, Catflaggers!

Yesterday I returned to Cal Poly for what is to be my last quarter before I graduate. With me was my younger brother, who is just starting out his college experience. I’ve been using this first week to help him get adjusted to the new lifestyle and campus.

I’m taking two classes and working, and I also have my Senior Project to work on. I’m leaning toward doing a documentary on homelessness for my Senior Project, and I will be posting updates on my progress to this blog. But with all of that work, I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to post as often as I have over the summer.

I may be scaling back to one blog post a week, though I will wait and see how my workload looks before making that decision. If I don’t update for a few days, just be patient. I have no intention of stopping our little experiment – you can be sure I’ll have plenty more news stories, editorials, random facts, and Awesome People In History for you. And you can always check out Coastal Cooking Online or The Average Life as well.

So make yourselves some quesadillas and enjoy! Hope everyone has a happy autumn!

Upcoming Elections (Besides Ours) That Could Change Everything

A News Analysis

It’s only September of 2011 and already we are being flooded with news and analysis and updates about the 2012 election, to the point where it feels overwhelming.

Time to bust out the red state/blue state maps again.

But there are a number of other upcoming elections around the world that are worth paying attention to, because their impact may well be just as serious and long-lasting.

Egypt 2012

What it is: The first presidential election since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last spring.

When it is: No date is set, but the candidates are asking for a date as early as possible, perhaps in February or March

Who is running: There are seven candidates, including Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who is a long-time democracy advocate and a key figure in the Tahrir Square protests,

and Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group with an ideology similar to that of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and similar groups.

Why it will change everything: Essentially, the 2012 Egyptian election will be the first real test of the “Arab spring” and how much it has gained. Just how pro-Western, or not, are people in the Middle East? Now that they are free to choose, will Egyptians side with the radical demonstrators and demand far-reaching reforms, or will they feel they have been forced to accept too much change at once and elect someone more conservative to tone things down? Will the new government be pro-Western, anti-Western, or somewhat ambiguous on the matter? How will that impact Egypt’s role in the Israeli-Arab peace process?

Essentially, the legacy of the Arab spring will be determined on that as-yet-unscheduled election day, and the ripple effects will be felt throughout the Middle East. It will set a precedent for other countries in uprising, like Libya. If Egypt can have a stable, democratic transition of power, it might serve as an example for Iraq and Afghanistan and help those countries regain peace and stability. US foreign policy in the region is already feeling the changes brought by the revolutions. How far things change, and where the new leaders stand in regard to the West, will impact our troops on the ground and the cost of putting gas in the tank.

Germany 2013

What it is: Elections to the German Bundestag. After the election, the political party or coalition with the most seats will choose a Chancellor and form a government.

When it is: Between September 1 and October 27, 2013; possibly earlier if current chancellor loses a vote of no confidence (a rare procedure).

Who is running: Although it is too early for candidates to be announced, the election will almost certainly pit the coalition of current Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured, above) against the Social Democratic Party and The Left, two liberal parties that have been winning elections on the local level. Small parties on the political fringe have also been winning a surprising number of local elections. One of the political parties in Merkel’s coalition is considering breaking rank and running on its own. It’s looking like the election will be a menagerie of different groups competing for influence, and when the results are in it may be some time before a “winner” is clear.

Why it will change everything: For the past six years, Merkel has been the most powerful voice in the European Union, and whenever a problem arose, she has taken the center stage in mediating a resolution. But the current euro debt crisis is threatening to send German voters over the edge. As Greece, Ireland, and Portugal come close to defaulting on their debts, Europe’s leaders have been trying to stop up the leaks with expensive bailouts. Guess which country has had to pay the most to bail out their neighbors.

Germans, naturally, are getting tired of this. Some are seriously considering dropping the euro entirely. Or somehow getting Greece to leave the euro. But there is also pressure to try to solve the crisis by increasing the EU’s powers, not decreasing them.

As I mentioned above, voters in Germany have in recent local elections decided to vote for anyone but Merkel’s party. But who takes over in 2013 may not just decide the future of Germany, but of all of Europe. If a new chancellor decides to just ignore the EU’s demands and refuse to pay up, or if the EU’s most populous member state abandons the euro, it could be the beginning of the end of union itself. On the other hand, we still have two years to go, and by then the whole situation may have changed. Maybe the EU would have sorted this euro crisis out, and Germans would be forgiving and reelect Merkel’s coalition. In that case, we may be on our way to seeing an EU team at an Olympics in our lifetimes. Either way, the implications for a United States that depends on Europe for trade, travel, military support, diplomacy, and almost everything else will be affected by the seismic shifts across the Atlantic.

Scotland 2014

What it is: A referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.

When it is: Sometime in the second half of the Scottish Parliament’s term, meaning 2014 at the earliest.

What are the issues?: In 1603, King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England. Although the two countries now had a common monarch, they were still fully sovereign, independent nations with their own governments, laws, institutions, militaries, currencies, and religions. The border between the two was still as tightly controlled as before, and Scottish nationals in England were legally treated as foreigners.

It wasn’t until a century later that a bankrupt, desperate Scottish Parliament was bullied by the English one into accepting the Acts of Union, a treaty that merged England and Scotland into the United Kingdom. The two countries were, on paper, equals in this merger. Except the capital was to be London, and the currency was to be the English pound, and the Scottish military was absorbed into the English one, and the Scottish government was disbanded and the English one was to rule the combined kingdom, and the “new” British Parliament was just the old English one with a few extra seats for Scottish delegates. Naturally, more than a few in Scotland didn’t like the plan at all, but two failed uprisings later they were compelled to acquiesce.

Since that time, there has been a current in Scottish politics known as the Scottish nationalist movement, that seeks a Scotland under Scottish control, though there is some disagreement over what that entails. In the 1970s, the political watchword was “devolution” – giving Scotland its own government to handle some local matters while staying within the United Kingdom. In 1999, Scotland was given its own Parliament and government again.

For the Scottish National Party and a handful of smaller political factions, though, nothing short of independence is acceptable. So when the SNP won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in the last election, they naturally promised a referendum on independence.

At first, this might seem a simple issue, but it really isn’t. Scotland is economically linked to England in many, many ways, not the least of which being that Scotland is a huge source of oil. Would independence mean their own currency? Their own military? What about Scotsmen and women in the British armed services right now?

There is also the question of whether Scotland would keep the monarchy or become a republic, and the question of whether they would try to stay in the European Union or not.

Why it will change everything: If Scottish voters vote “yes”, it won’t mean anything will be done right away. The election is nonbinding, as nowhere in British law is there a provision for breaking up the United Kingdom. That said, it would be political suicide for the British government to go, “You know, I understand you want independence, but we’re just not going to give it to you.”

We all know...

...how that has worked out...

...for the British in the past

So, most likely, there will probably be a few years of debate over the issues I pointed out above, but in the end Scotland would be an independent country again. If that happens, it could be quickly followed by an independent Wales. Then there is Northern Ireland, which is disputed between the UK and Ireland. In essence, the United Kingdom would cease to be and England would be all on its jolly lonesome.

Aww, poor guy.

But let’s say Scotland votes “no”. Repeated polls put support of independence at only between 20 and 40%. If the results show an overwhelming “no” vote, it would probably devastate, or even kill, the Scottish nationalist movement. It would also mark an important historic turning point: ever since World War II, the number of countries on the planet has steadily increased. Perhaps Scotland’s decision could put an end to that trend, and make it even less likely that any new countries would be created. Considering the UN had to rearrange the seats to fit South Sudan, I think this might be a welcome relief for some.

You must buy new maps every year or two! Muwahahaha!

Information from BBC News, CNN, Wikipedia, and other sites.

Libya’s New Government seeks unity, Gaddafi loyalists hold out in three key towns

China has become the last member of the UN Security Council to recognize the National Transitional Council as Libya’s new government, making official what has already transpired on the ground: Libya’s rebels are no longer rebels at all. They now control almost all of Libya, including the capital, Tripoli.

In his first speech from Tripoli, the NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, warned against factionalism and in-fighting, and called on the people to reject extremist groups. “We are a Muslim nation, with a moderate Islam, and we will maintain that. You are with us and support us – you are our weapon against whoever tries to hijack the revolution from right or left,” Abdul Jalil said.

Yet three key towns remain in the hands of the remnants of Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime: Sirte (Gaddafi’s birthplace), Bani Walid, and Sabha. There is already fierce fighting to control those towns, and residents have been warned to leave within 48 hours for their protection.

Fighters for the new regime's National Liberation Army arrive at Bani Walid. Image from CNN.

Many members of Gaddafi’s family have fled abroad. His son Saadi Gaddafi has taken refuge in Niger, while many of his relatives fled to Algeria. Gaddafi himself has not been seen in months, and it is unclear where he is hiding, though he has stated in audio messages released by a Syrian broadcaster that he is still in Libya and would rather fight on than flee. Also missing is Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, who made some brief public appearances during the Battle of Tripoli. Gaddafi himself and several of his family members are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Already, businesses and Libyans are hoping the end of the war will bring an economic boom. Not only is Libya rich in oil, it was once a major tourist destination before Gaddafi’s takeover and there is hope the tourist industry could be reborn. Hadi Elayeb, head of the Horizons Travel Agency, told the Associated Press “Libya, in good hands, will be even better than Hong Kong.”

However, there are already tensions between different groups within the new regime. The US State Department claims it has heard reports of persecution of non-Muslims in Libya, and warns against “backsliding”. The commander of the National Liberation Army in Tripoli is an ex-al-Qaeda operative, according to CNN. There are conflicts emerging between military and political leaders about how to proceed. Rivalries are emerging between different regions and military units over who should take credit for victory and who should have the most influence in the new power structure. And all while the NTC struggles to establish its authority.

In spite of these tensions, the NTC plans to establish a functioning government in 10 days, and to hold an election within eight months. As ex-CIA director Michael V. Hayden put it,

“The Libyan experience has already demonstrated to the people and leaders of Syria and Yemen that revolutionary movements can persist, that seemingly powerful regimes can be brittle and that short-term repression does not guarantee a dictator’s long-term survival. A Libya that descends into chaos, however, would give these very same dictators a powerful argument as to why they must remain.”

Information primarily from BBC News.