~ “Numero trois” and the passage of 40,000 reasons.
Another night, another movie; this time it was “Juno”, a remarkable film in a time of unremarkable movies. It was my last desperate ‘hope’ at allowing a small continuing place in ‘my’ life for movies; it worked, there has been a ‘short stay’ of execution, a chance to watch a few more before ‘the end’ is near or really here (movies, I’m talking about movies?).
The movie (assuming that it is at all real or ‘legitimate’; given the topic perhaps one might wonder) very successfully reminded me of how ‘old’ I have become; ‘my’ 16 (‘sweet’ sixteen years old) is not ‘this gens’ ‘16’. I was in (mild or severe) ‘shock’. I was moved to (viewed and watched) “culture shock”.
There were at least “42,000” names, terms, and references that I had either never heard before or had little or no real idea of what they ‘really’ meant imbedded into the movie script. It was like my grandmother watching a Chubby Checker ‘twist’ movie in 1962 (not that she ever did); the movie depicted “twisting” in the aisles of “picture palaces”; not something ‘she’ did as a teenager, not something that she ever conceived of doing as an ‘adult’. Things ended differently for Chubby Checker, he must have really made (the mob) mad because he (and all twist sounds) were forever banned from the airwaves; he and ‘the twist’ were ‘disappeared’ from history (effectively and permanently). Some ‘sixteen year olds’ experiences were to become ‘forbidden’ topics; culturally unacceptable.
Someone should ask “Hillary®” if she ever ‘did the twist’; might gain her a few votes. It also might ‘bridge the divide’ that is so divisively dividing America, the ‘Culture Gap’ (Kennedy ‘won’ in the 1960 ‘election’; Cook County contest; by claiming that a ‘Missile Gap’ existed between the US and the USSR / CCCP; after the election it was revealed that there was no ‘missile gap’). There (however) really is a Culture Gap; really “Culture Gaps”. America has degenerated into so many ‘cultures’ and ‘sub-cultures’ that ‘cross-cultural’ communication is getting all but impossible (OK, very difficult already). There are simply too many cultures and not enough translators.
In the movie (Juno) this was symbolically presented by the line “numero trois” (Spanish and French for ‘number three’, a deeper meaning probably exists, but I’m ‘culturally removed’ from the movie actors being portrayed). The movie makes no effort at ‘translating’ anything; it just presents ‘the facts’ hard and cold (and warm of course, it is a ‘happy’ movie). The movie is a ‘wake-up’ call; it depicts (to me) a generation that has had to hammer out a real world existence (in mind, vocabulary, and icons) in the rubble of a failed civilization preoccupied with ‘the mafia’, ‘capitalists’, ‘communists’, ‘fascists and is llamas’ (‘animals’ in / from South America), and ‘democracy’ movements (sounds like ‘bowel’ movements the word being so overused and left so devoid of real meaning).
Juno is left without clichés, without pander or panter. She never talks about “doing the right thing”, “safe sex”, or “registering to vote” when she’s ‘old and married’ (or ‘18’ even). Juno does not ‘wail and whine’ about how ‘free’ she is and how ‘unfree’ others are (she is clearly both ‘free’ and ‘unfree’; like all the 7 billion ‘rest of us’ on this struggling planet). She (Juno and the movie) clearly has ‘zero, nothing’ in common with George Bush or Hillary Clinton; Mike Huckabee or Rudy Guilliani; which is why I really think that it is time to give 16 year olds the ‘right to vote’! I do mean this.
I also think that all those over 60 should be ‘banned from voting’. They miss the point, they miss the mark. The purpose of ‘elders’ is to inspire and to ‘impart’; not to cling to power and by ‘clinging’, to corrupt. Star trek was right; the “Cling Ons” are the enemy. If one has no wisdom in the ‘older’ years they have (one has) ‘learned nothing’ and thereby has nothing to offer; they should not ‘lead’ nor vote. On the other hand, if one has ‘wisdom’ leadership (real) is inherent and one has no need to vote (individually); they (one) can vote a thousand times through others, through their ideas and through wise council.
The ‘wars’ between all the ‘theories and systems’ mentioned three paragraphs above ‘are over’ as Yoko Ono might rightly say. What is left is ‘the shouting’ (and enough money and weaponry to keep us all ‘living in the past’). If you ever again ‘vote’ for anyone even sixty (much less older) you hate both ‘term limits’ and ‘cultural diversity’; you favor reliving forever a past that is forever broken (and should be gone; ‘move on’). The future belongs to those younger than I am (I am 59 and ‘closing fast’ on sixty). These ‘new people’ need my (and your, if you’re older) support, and to ‘have translated’ what we learned (Beam Me Down, Scotty). We are the ‘old people’ now (which is not bad, just different); we need to learn to do things ‘differently’, things are not the same anymore. Let us “let go”. If nothing else it saves these younger folk the need of ‘taking’ it all from us when the need arrives. The need will arrive.
In ‘giving’ there is dignity; in ‘taking’ (and buying and selling) most or all is lost.
In 1959 this planet had about 102 ‘nations’, often thought of as ‘national cultures’. There were also a few unresolved colonies, territories, and possessions (unrequited cultural areas). The world was in many ways far more ‘diverse’ then; cultures were still in tact, ‘cultural dress’ was a fact and not a fashion. In Kabul (and in all Afghanistan) all clothes (99%) were hand-made within the country. Virtually no one bought ‘store bought’ clothes; things made by machines and ‘sweat shops’ owned by ‘capitalists and banks and bankers’. There were (virtually) no banks (no banks to burn, like now in Pakistan).
The dress was cotton mostly, supplemented with fur (real fur) in winter and a little hemp for hardwear clothes. The fur was trimmed and lightly combed (not brushed, as are the coats and wraps in America). The fur was still attached to the skin of the ‘fat-tailed’ sheep that grew it, unlined skin, touching the outside air and winter; a leather shield against the waves and elements for women or man as it had been for the sheep that once first wore it. The fur faced inside, practical; not ‘fashion’.
I could go on, about the food, or other things. Everything natural and not just “natural®”; organic and not just “organic®”; nothing in boxes, not lists of ‘ingredients’; just whole foods, nothing like “Whole Foods®”. You could not buy meat in the market that was less than five or seven hours fresh (no refrigerated storage, no preservatives or ‘red‘ dyes). All the bread was baked in ovens fueled by wood, not natural gas, whole grains, not ‘white’ bread with bleach; no “polished” rice.
Everything (almost) in Afghanistan was the ‘reverse’ of what it was in America. When many Americans were sent to Afghanistan (by their government) they experienced “cultural shock” (a State Department term). Often, they could not cope with this new reality, certainly could not ‘do work’ in Afghanistan; things were just ‘too strange’ (the ‘stranger in a strange land’ thing; ‘out of this world’, and all).
So the State Department (and ICA, the International Cooperation Administration) set up long and lengthy ‘orientation’ sessions before one left for Kabul or Kandahar. The idea was ‘cultural acclimation’; an introduction to the culture (reality, and ‘ways’) before one was ‘immersed’ (and drowning) in the land (of Afghanistan) itself. If one could not ’make the cut’ during orientation, one did not ’ship out’ to the nation.
My parents were “orientated”. I was a ‘kid’, a ‘dependant’; I went (was sent) (to Afghanistan) ‘cold turkey’; which is the way America always (almost) treats (or treated) its young people. “Tell them nothing,” “Keep it all secret,” “They will learn from experience (not from us).” My parents fortunately were different, they taught and shared; they did not ‘model’ the governments behavior. My father went first (his job, as in it was his job, meaning ‘employment’). When he knew enough, he told his family everything; so we might be prepared). Still, I saw Afghanistan first through my own eyes, and not the ‘eyes’ of my government. That perhaps, is all the difference, and what ‘makes a difference’.
There was a term about in Afghanistan in about 1958; by ‘59 it was disappearing. It was an ‘old Brit’ term probably, from the days of Victoria or the British invasion and the storming of Ghazni (when they stole the Cities gates, didn’t like the Ghazni poetry or poets I suppose, too peaceful in their message). The term was “an old Afghan hand”; it was about a person, not body parts.
The British involvement in Afghanistan did not end well (something I guess the current Queen never learned, advisor and all). The march (of retreat) from Kabul to Peshawar (now Pakistan) was much like the Bataan Death March of the Americans (WW II); the difference being that technically the Brits were not ‘prisoners’. Nonetheless they died along the march in great and dismal numbers; there was no “Light Brigade” poem of honor or victory; there was no ‘honor’ and certainly no ‘victory’. An ‘old Afghan hand’ might talk of the reality of such things, of mistakes made by ‘the foreign office’, or the ‘military’, or the ‘diplomats’, or Parliament perhaps. ‘The Hand’ might kick around a bit, travel back sometimes, share a word of wisdom (or experience); for ‘no reason’, but with a reason.
It was a term of respect; “Old Afghan hand”. Something I thought I would never be; never dreaming in my youth that I would ever ‘get old’; never dreaming that almost everyone ‘older’ than I would be killed or would die in wars inconceivable in their effectiveness and savagery (in population annihilation) in cultural obliteration (near). For me there was no “culture shock” in living in Kabul. It was just ‘my life’, I acted and reacted to conditions around me; some American, some Afghan, some British, a few Russian and a few more from India and Pakistan. Alexander had an influence, so did the lesser Khan. I ‘borrowed’ what was at my door and at my feet on ‘my way to school’.
My passport (this is the month for ‘passports’) says that “I am an American” (born here, papers to prove it). I am not so sure; sometimes I feel more the ‘immigrant’, more like Kurt Vonnegut in his final days, “A Man Without A Country”. If America (with a little help from Russia) had not destroyed the nation I would probably consider myself more the ’Afghan’; a product of the melting pot and cultural mosaic, a person ’free’ from British rule, a person from a country that honored “freedom of religion” and had a giant Buddha for a national symbol at a place where disciples of Jesus (the original ones) freely walked and taught and exchanged ideas.
The ‘way to win’ is not to destroy all alternatives, all cultures and all counter-cultures. America is wrong in this attempt. The reality of Juno points out that each time one ‘destroys’ a culture one brings birth to a new and different one. An old Afghan hand might have said the same thing. Are you listening? “Sixteen to Sixty”; that is the political message to “bring back America”, to make “every vote count”. Go Juno! (And let’s ‘go’ for a ‘happy’ New Year!)
[2007.12.30 / Sunday – Culture Shock]