Showing 271 - 280 of 386 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cross-Cultural Issues"

Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Set in a future when genetic engineering allows many couples to arrange for perfected babies, Gattaca tells the story of one imperfect man's successful fight against the odds. Born "naturally" with several serious imperfections, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) nevertheless grows up dreaming only of being an astronaut. As a member of the genetic underclass, he is able to work only as a custodian at Gattaca, the future version of NASA.

Vincent's frustration drives him to engage a sort of identity broker who arranges for him to appear to change his physical identity with Jerome (Jude Law), a member of the elite who has been paralyzed in an accident. Through this complex deception Vincent finally succeeds in being selected as an astronaut for an upcoming mission to a moon of Saturn. A large part of this future thriller consists of Vincent's heroic attempts to continue to pass as Jerome through a series of genetic checks.

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Summary:

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) comes from Southie, a rough district of Boston, and works at night as a janitor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Will writes on some math class blackboards when no one’s looking, and Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) discovers that Will is a natural mathematical genius. Lambeau tries to bring Will out of his go-nowhere environment into the academic world where his talent will be appreciated.

Will half-agrees, but he still hangs out with his tough crowd in Southie (including Ben Affleck as Chuckie), and he winds up getting arrested after a fight. Lambeau keeps Will out of jail through an arrangement that includes his mentoring plus Will’s going for psychotherapy with Sean McGuire (Robin Williams). That course of psychotherapy is the core of the film.

Sean’s treatment of Will in therapy involves lots of risks, but through a combination of empathy, rule-giving, self-revelation, and provocation, Sean manages to bring Will to understand that the severe physical abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his foster parents is not his fault, and that he really is a good person who has a lot to offer. (This can sound corny unless you are the one who is making the discovery.)

Sean gains some credibility with Will when he admits that he, too, had suffered abuse as a child. Will’s realization makes possible a much more positive self-image and a whole new vision of life. He decides to stop denying his talents and to recognize that he might be good enough after all for brilliant and charming (and independently wealthy) MIT student Skylar (Minnie Driver), who loves him, and whom he finally leaves Southie to follow as she heads west for graduate school.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Set in 19th-century Japan, the film’s action centers on the experience of the young doctor Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) in his work as an intern at a hospital-clinic for the poor run by the experienced and wise Dr. Kyojo Niide (Toshiro Mifune), nicknamed "Red Beard." Coming from a wealthy and influential family, and fresh from a Western-influenced medical education at Nagasaki, Yasumoto had believed he was on the path to become physician to the shogun (equivalent to a king).

He is initially insulted and deeply unhappy with conditions at the distinctly inglorious clinic. The poverty and suffering (and smell) of the clinic’s patients disgust him, and he tries his hardest to get fired. The mysterious Red Beard, however, is extremely patient, and simply waits. While he waits, we see Dr. Yasumoto slowly being converted as he is brought into close contact with the suffering in the lives of several patients.

Initially rebellious and emotionally unable to watch patients die or assist in surgery, Yasumoto gradually becomes a seasoned and enthusiastic member of the clinic’s medical team and announces that Red Beard is his idol. At the end, when Yasumoto is actually offered the position of physician to the shogun, he refuses, in order to continue his work at the clinic.

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The Drowned and the Saved

Levi, Primo

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Primo Levi was imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. He survived the experience, probably in part because he was a trained chemist and as such, useful to the Nazis. Soon after the war ended, he wrote several books about his experience. The Drowned and the Saved, however, was written 40 years later and is the work of memory and reflection not only on the original events, but also on how the world has dealt with the Holocaust in the intervening years. Fundamental to his purpose is the fear that what happened once can happen (and in some respects, has happened) again.

Chapter 1, "The Memory of the Offense," dissects out the vagaries of memory, rejection of responsibility, denial of unacceptable trauma and out and out lying among those who were held to account by tribunals as well as among the victimized. Levi does not spare himself: "This very book is drenched in memory . . . it draws from a suspect source and must be protected against itself" (34). Even so, he insists, memory and the historical record are crucial to combating Nazi assumptions that their deeds would go unnoticed (they were destroying the evidence), or disbelieved.

In "The Gray Zone" (2) Levi challenges the tendency to over-simplify and gloss over unpleasant truths of the inmate hierarchy that inevitably developed in the camps, and that was exacerbated by the Nazi methodology of singling some out for special privileges. He outlines the coercive conditions that cause people to become so demoralized that they will harm each other just to survive. (And when they refused to collaborate, they were killed and immediately replaced.)

Chapter 3, " Shame," is, in my opinion, the most profound and moving section of the book. Levi begins it by discussing a phenomenon that occurred following liberation from the camps: many who had been incarcerated committed suicide or were profoundly depressed. This Levi attributes to shame and feelings of guilt. "Coming out of the darkness, one suffered because of the reacquired consciousness of having been diminished . . . Our moral yardstick had changed [while in the camps]" (75). Beyond that, there is the sense that "each one of us (but this time I say 'us' in a . . . universal sense) has usurped his neighbor's place and lived in his stead" (81-82).

In the concentration camp, says Levi, it was usually "the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators of the 'gray zone,' the spies" who survived ["the saved"] while the others did not ["the drowned"] (82). Only the drowned could know the totality of the concentration camp experience, but they cannot testify; hence, the saved must do their best to render it. Since Levi was one of those saved, he is "in permanent search of a justification . . . " and although he feels compelled to bear witness, he does not consider doing so sufficient justification for having survived. In this chapter Levi also discusses why inmates did not commit suicide during their incarceration:" . . . suicide is an act of man and not of the animal . . . because of the constant imminence of death there was no time to concentrate on the idea of death" (76).

"Communicating" (4) deals with the emotional and practical consequences of not being able to understand the German commands of the captors, or the conversation of the mostly German speaking prisoners (Levi was Italian but spoke some German). Levi also describes the additional suffering of those who were cut off from all communication with friends and family. "Useless Violence" (5) gives examples of how the Nazis tormented their prisoners with "stupid and symbolic violence."

In "The Intellectual in Auschwitz" (6) Levi speculates about how and in what circumstances being educated or cultured was a help or hindrance to coping with the situation. In this chapter he considers also whether religious belief was useful or comforting, concluding that believers "better resisted the seduction of power [resisted collaborating]" (145) and were less prone to despair. Levi, however, was never a believer, although he admits to having almost prayed for help once, but caught himself because "one does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, not when you were losing" (146).

Chapter 7, "Stereotypes," addresses those who question why many concentration camp inmates or ghetto inhabitants did not attempt to escape or rebel, and why many German Jews remained in Germany during Hitler's ascendance. As in all the other chapters of his book, Levi discusses the complexity of these situations. "Letters from Germans" summarizes his correspondence with Germans who read his earlier books. The book ends ("Conclusion") with the exhortation that "It happened, therefore it can happen again . . . " (199).

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

In this rich opening chapter of his work on the Nazi doctors, Lifton lays out the groundwork for answering the question of how German doctors became the agents of Hitler’s vision of the purified Aryan race, sterilizing involuntarily several hundred thousand citizens with a variety of mental and physical deficiencies. His answer, in brief: a romanticized genetics coupled with total political control.

Amazingly, the Nazi medical atrocities were carried out not against the opposition of Germany’s medical establishment, but with its approval. (Of course, there were individual dissenters, the more vocal of whom were removed from positions of authority or put to death). Nazi leaders worked hard to convert medical people to the official position. This was accomplished partly by force, but also partly by metaphor, as the normal language of medicine was used to hide the unethical nature of what doctors were being asked to do.

Individual patients were replaced by the racial term "Volk," meaning the (Aryan) people, and their rights were superceded by their doctors’ new duty to assure the health of this collective political idea. According to Nazi publicity, the Aryan race was in grave danger of "Volkstod," of dying out, because its genetic pool had been contaminated both by the transmission of inherited genetic defects and by the "foreign invasion" of Jews and their intermingling with members of the "superior" Aryan race.

To save their new patient, German doctors were expected to carry out the sterilizations, medical experiments, and, later, the euthanasia required by Nazi doctrine, which, in the words of one Nazi writer, declared that "misery can only be removed from the world by painless extermination of the miserable." Doctors were urged not to worry about ethical issues, because Nazi medicine was "nothing but applied biology."

In these ways, says Lifton, Hitler’s racial policies were ’medicalized’ and their evil made less obvious. Those who went along were billed as the "saviors of mankind," the "alert biological soldiers" whose actions would restore the purity of the Aryan race. Jewish doctors were not invited, of course, their research having been officially discredited in the mid-1930s, Lifton tells us, and their medical licenses revoked in 1939--in spite of the fact that they made up half the doctors in some large cities.

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Black Boy

Wright, Richard

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is American writer Richard Wright's story of his life as a black child in the American South (Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas) in the early decades of the 20th century. Black Boy opens with the disaster in which Richard at the age of four accidentally burns down his grandparents' house and is beaten nearly to death by his mother as punishment. The book ends with Richard's hopeful escape north to Chicago at the age of eighteen.

In between are years of heart-stopping survival stories, as Richard, an intelligent and willful child who tries to resist many of the demands of his strongly segregated environment, runs head-on into the hatred of racists and the deep poverty, hunger, and oppression that so often were the lot of the system's victims. (On the subject of hunger, one of the book's working titles was American Hunger, and Wright was chronically hungry all these years. He gets so used to extreme hunger that at one point late in the book after a short interlude with regular meals he is surprised to discover that he can suddenly read faster!)

Black Boy, originally published by Harper & Bros. in 1945, is only the first half of Wright's original manuscript. After production had begun on the complete manuscript, Wright accepted an offer from the Book-of -the-Month Club to make his book one of their selections if only the first half were published. The second half was first published in its entirety by Harper & Row as American Hunger in 1977. The 1993 edition titled Black Boy (American Hunger) brings both halves together for the first time. The second volume describes Wright's experiences in Chicago from 1926 to 1936, including his frustrating attempt to work with the Communist Party as a way of supporting unemployed workers during the Great Depression.

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My Body Politic

Linton, Simi

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Simi Linton, a major voice in disability rights activism, has written the story of her journey from car accident "victim" to college professor, disability studies scholar, and political activist. Her memoir of personal experience is interwoven with the evolution of her thinking about disability as social construct and the development of the disability studies movement and political engagement.

In 1971, Linton was a young married hippie--a college dropout hitchhiking her way to a protest march against the Vietnam War, together with her husband and best friend. Suddenly there was a car crash: her husband and best friend were killed and Simi sustained a spinal cord injury that left her legs paralyzed. There followed a year of hospitalization, surgeries, and in-house rehabilitation.

Although forced to be a recipient of attention and care, Linton even then was not inclined to play a passive role. "Even in this forest of overseers, where every move I made was scheduled . . . I had opinions. . . . Doctors . . . had saved me, and saved all my new friends, but I was outraged when they spoke for me or spoke down to a nurse I liked" (15). While still institutionalized, Linton took on the cause of petitioning the medical staff to educate patients like her about leading a sexual life as a disabled person. She determined to return to college as a psychology major so that she could eventually implement sexuality programs in rehab centers.

Linton details the activities of daily life that she had to adjust to and the strategies she adapted to maneuver, with her wheelchair, in her home, to go shopping, to travel, to attend classes. Family and friends and some social services were helpful but everywhere, life was designed for the abled body. This was a "fact of life"--"I had a feeling it could be different, but didn't know where to begin. I was having enough trouble just getting around" (28). She kept from thinking too much about her situation and her losses by staying busy and trying to be as independent as possible, but eventually needed the support of a therapist "who could bear my weight" (37).

It was in 1975 that Linton's disability rights "consciousness" was first stirred. On her own, she left her New York apartment to live in Berkeley, California for awhile. There she discovered "The Center for Independent Living" where the employees and volunteers were themselves disabled and whose goal was to assist disabled individuals to find ways of living independently. "I had been so tentative about my disability, and had, up to now, only ascribed a very personal meaning to it--this is what happened to me, this is the effect on me--that their forthright ownership of disability and their drive to take action based on the collective experience set my mind racing" (53).

Another defining moment came when Linton took a course on the psychology of women at Barnard College. "We examined the myths inherent in the so-called objective knowledge base" (64). Simi drew a parallel between knowledge generated from the male perspective and knowledge presented from the perspective of the abled body. "Unlike the [classroom] readings . . . which challenged traditional conceptualizations of women's roles and framed issues from an insider's perspective, the rehab literature recounted clinicians' views about disabled women's needs and experiences that seemed far removed from the way that I and the disabled women I had been meeting actually felt. It looked at us, and, it felt, through us, and I mistrusted all of it" (64).

The memoir continues with Linton's decision to work outside the realm of institutional medicine, her co-organizing the National Coalition of Sexuality in Disability, her falling in love with and marrying the man who is her (second) husband, her growing awareness of the silence surrounding disability and questions of access, and her dedication to change individual and society's discriminatory practices and to bring awareness of what we now call "the social construction of disability."

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Tear

Hogan, Linda

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrative voice (probably female) links the ancestral past of a Chickasaw heritage with the present and future, "remembering" a long, forced march to Oklahoma under military surveillance. The women sewed tear dresses "because settler cotton was torn" but the miserable circumstances generated tears "so they were called / by this other name, / for our weeping." She sees herself as the reason for their survival, and at the same time, her ancestors ". . . walk inside me." The poem is cleverly constructed to give a strong sense of the continuity of generations and of the impact of a people’s history on individual lives.

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The Shrine at Altimara

L'Heureux, John

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Written in a style resembling religious litany, this is the tale of a disastrous teen-age marriage and its criminal consequences. The setting is California. Maria is a poor Mexican-American who meets and attracts Russell, a working class Anglo. Although ambivalent, Maria sees marriage to Russell as the path to American, white respectability. Her earlier hopes of achieving this status through her own efforts have been frustrated by the reality of poor academic performance. She is eager to get away from the household of her deeply religious mother. Russell is brooding, taciturn, and carries the physical and psychic wounds of an abused childhood--his father is a partially reformed alcoholic who deliberately burned Russell's hand.

The pair are ill-equipped for marriage or parenthood and Maria soon feels trapped. Their son, John, avoids provoking them by being a "good boy," hoping to prevent their frequent arguments. Russell's deprived childhood accounts, perhaps, for his obsessively jealous fixation on Maria. He is jealous even of the attention she gives their son.

The catastrophe that seems always close at hand finally occurs: Russell sets fire to his own child. The second part of the novel is told primarily from John's perspective as he undergoes a prolonged, painful rehabilitation and tries to find meaning in these events. It is also the story of the plastic surgeon who attempts to restore John's horribly scarred body and who has come to doubt the purpose of his profession (there is nothing he can do about destructive family relationships and psychic scars). Russell, who has been brutalized in jail, is released, seeking redemption. Fire, significant throughout the story, plays a final shocking (redemptive?) role.

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The Shadow Man

Gordon, Mary

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled "A Daughter's Search for Her Father," this memoir chronicles author Mary Gordon's quest to recapture the essence that was her father, a man she idolized and adored while he was alive--and long after his death when she was only seven years old. This death she saw as the single most defining event of her life. Identification with her father was essential to the conception of self, both as a creative writer, and as a worthwhile person. So she "entered the cave of memory" but found that memory was discordant with the facts.

Gordon's father was a writer, and a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. His persona was that of an intellectual, a graduate of Harvard, a frequenter of literary circles in Oxford and Paris. He claimed to be an only child, born in Ohio. As Gordon explores her memory and the historical record, forcing herself to confront her father's political opinions--opinions which are repugnant to her, and which she had earlier chosen to ignore--she uncovers a charade.

Her father, it turns out, was an immigrant from Vilna (in Eastern Europe) and had never finished high school. He had two sisters whom he never acknowledged to his family--one spent years in a mental institution where she ultimately died. Among his published writings are pornography and political diatribe (he was an anti-Semite and a facist); his writing was stylistically flawed.

This memoir is Mary Gordon's attempt to come to terms with what she learned about her father. It is the narrative deconstruction and reconstruction of the author's self; it is both biography and autobiography; a reflection on loss and recovery.

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