A friend turned me on to a couple of documentaries recently, which I summarily chucked into my netflix queue. Both films were fascinating, horrifying, and slightly nauseating. Yet I couldn't stop watching.
The first one I picked up was this 1996 film, Paradise Lost (and its 2000 follow-up). It's the story of three eight-year-olds murdered in Arkansas and the three teenagers arrested and charged with the crime. You follow the subsequent legal process and get a glimpse at all sides of the story--the police, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, the defendants, the victim's families, and the defendants' families. On the basis of a (coerced?) confession by one of the defendants, who has an IQ of 72, and the habit of the defendants to wear black and listen to heavy metal, a prosecution theory emerges of a ritualized Satanic killing. For those who grew up in small-town America as slightly "different," it's an uncomfortable view into a rush to judgment of the Other and the role that religion can play in helping economically powerless people have control over their world (what did Obama say about downscale whites "clinging" to guns and god?). After watching both of these films, I was spurred to research what has changed since 2000 (answer: precious little).
The other documentary, Crazy Love, ties into my recent Margaret Atwood-related musings on the way that women are limited by societal expectations and their own conditioned behavior in response to same. The film unfolds as follows. Man meets woman. Man lies to woman, strings her along, and woman finally gives him the heave-ho. Man goes stark-raving mad. And the results and fallout of his actions are head scratching, horrifying, and very, very sad. And as my friend and I talked about the film, it seemed to me that so much of what happened in this story (which begins in 1959) was, if not a particularly likely, then not completely illogical outcome of certain social norms at the time. Women get married unless they want to be sad old maids. Good girls don't do that, and they certainly aren't mistresses (I don't defend anything on this score, but it seems to me that, say, another time period, say the 1970s, looser ideas of monogamy might be more thinkable). Beauty is a woman's greatest asset, and once she loses that, it's a sad state of affairs for her. It makes complete sense to behave in certain ways, given all of those messages.
So, friends, watch these so that we may discuss, and you can tell me that I'm full of nonsense.