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The Tribe of Newspapers

There’s a great article on the ongoing arguments over the news media’s use of the word “tribe” to analyze what’s happening in Kenya at allafrica, which is worth checking out. It includes some quotes from the journalists in question; one of the things that’s most illuminating in all this is the great disregard so many people seem to have in the kind of approach academics tend to take towards, for example, the Kenyan debacle. If you ask me why things are hitting the shit-fan, I’d start talking about Kenyatta’s initial Kenyan government, or the reactions to Moi’s dictatorship and Western complicity in the both of them. I’d talk about how “tribes” are exactly as fictitious and as real as political parties, and would go on at some length about how they get used as political armies. But journalists find all that to be beside the point; in order to tell you what is happening now, apparently, there is no time to talk about anything but right now, and since there’s only so much room and audience attention span to do so (especially for something as foreign as Africa) they practically have to reach for quick quasi-racist structure of feeling like “tribe.” In fact, maybe that’s exactly what they have to do, rather than  actually delving into the histories that might make some sense of the chaos. It’s always disappointing to read the same errors over and over again, but I think it should disillusion us too; what, after all, can we really expect from a daily newspaper? The constraints of the medium seem to line up exactly with the symptoms we diagnose, and any doctor knows that identifying the cause of a disease is not the same as eliminating it.  We should be as wise.  

Rushmore commonplace

Near the ending of Rushmore, Max introduces his father to his former teacher crush, making sure to mention that “He’s a barber.” It’s cruel qualification to make, and I winced. Even given how ultra class conscious Max is, the fact that the father (like Mr. Littlejeans, the Indian groundskeeper) can’t seem to be a character because he has to be a symbol seems to reflect badly on the movie and WA. After all, what must it be like for that poor man to know how much his son despises him? The film can’t ask that, because the figure of the uneducated, unambitious failure of a father has to represent Max’s worst fears, the rock bottom of which a genius like him lives in fear. There’s an earlier scene when the father is urging Max to go back to school, go back to his dreams of being (the father says, with an innocent earnestness) a diplomat or a senator. And Max just sighs dramatically: “Pipe dreams, dad. I’m a barber’s son.” It’s a reflection of how much more Max has to grow, of course, but it also reflects the depth of his pain (and this is a movie that uses pain the way cereal uses milk), so the father can only nod, mute and ashamed, anesthetized to his son’s vicious barb by his own pathos.

And then, at the very end of the movie, there’s an almost throwaway line, where Luke Wilson walks up to the elder Fischer, and tries to make casual conversation. “I understand you’re a neurosurgeon?” Without missing a beat, the father casually shoots back: “No I‘m a barber,” unsurprised, and laughs as he walks away “But a lot of people make that mistake.” I didn’t get until later. Of course. He’s known all along. He knows his son despises him. And he knows why. And he loves him.

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