In a further attempt to find humour in the fast-approaching nuptials, I've been watching some scenes from a few of my favourite movies which feature weddings. There's Father of the Bride, with Spencer Tracey:
As well as Here Comes the Groom, starring Bing Crosby:
One of my favourite Cary Grant films, Arsenic and Old Lace, begins with a wedding:
And I love the wedding scene in Fiddler On the Roof:
Really, I'm beginning to think the best idea is to forget about an elaborate wedding reception, pop a lot of corn and show old movies. It certainly would be less fraught with stress- and less expensive to boot.
My sister's wedding is only a week-and-a-half away, and we're rapidly approaching critical mass...
Well, it's not quite that bad- yet- although the woman my sister asked to organize the reception dinner is acting like she's coordinating the D-Day landings, and is pretty much on my last nerve. But, as I tell myself every time she turns up waving her binder full of instructions, it will soon be over. In the meantime, I'm attempting to improve my attitude by reading some romantic passages from classic books. Here's one from George Eliot's Adam Bede:
"What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life- to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?"
What a nice description of marriage. I must remember to think about it the next time I'm being lectured on the proper way to cook a turkey.
In Part II of my review of The Giver, I closed with a question: what could be wrong with a society which has managed to eliminate violence, war, inequality, and need? Who could quibble with people being given employment to which they are suited and for which they've received training? And why would anyone have a problem with a code which required people to be conscientious citizens- honest, polite, and dutiful? Well, as it happens, I've got a problem with it- all of it. This is not to be taken to mean that I'm advocating for people to be rude, violent, and dishonest- quite the opposite, in fact. I frequently lament the coarseness and vulgarity which now permeates our culture and discourse. However, my desire to see people behave and speak in a more civil and courteous way doesn't lead me to believe that they should be required to conform to my standards. This is what forming such a society would demand: enforced obedience to the regulations and strictures of a ruling body- in this case, the Council of Elders. All the best dystopian fiction identifies problems or issues in our present day society and magnifies them, or extrapolates from them, providing an exaggerated view of their consequences or outcomes which can cause us to consider and question our opinions and responses to these things. Though by no means a perfect movie, The Giver does this, which makes me willing to overlook its flaws and give serious thought to its subject matter. So with that in mind, here are some of the issues contained in the film, and my opinions on them.
The stated goal of the community in The Giveris "sameness," which essentially means removing anything from their society which could foster preferential treatment of certain individuals, envy, racism, etc. This is the rationale behind removing colour from their world, having a dress code, and discouraging close family ties. It is their belief that by eliminating variables which could cause unrest in the community, they will eliminate the possibility of strife and even war. So why is this a problem? Well, to begin with, this sort of system actively discourages any individual inspiration or genius. In a society where the individual must be subservient to the community, standing out- whether positively or negatively- is not just frowned upon, it's punishable. In addition, this so-called "equality" is a false one, because not everyone is equal. For example, the Council of Elders holds all the authority in the community, making decisions for each person: everything from their employment to the make-up of their family unit. This is certainly not equality of power, especially since there is no appeals process for their decisions, even those which condemn people to death- oh wait, to Elsewhere.
This disparity in authority is preserved by means of an enforced inequality of technology. The community members- even the adults- must all ride bicycles, but the Elders' security team has motorized ones. They also have piloted drones to police the community and enforce their rules. Also, while no community members have access to any kind of weapons, the security force is armed, as we see when they use some sort of taser on the Giver. It is hard for anyone to successfully rebel against a system where all authority and the power to enforce it is held by a single group or ruling class. And yes, it's my contention that no country, however peaceful, should allow itself to be disarmed by its government.
The authority of the Elders is also enforced by the use of surveillance technology. The members of the community have no expectation of privacy, either indoors or out. There are cameras recording their movements and actions everywhere, even in their dwellings, with no off switch. The only person who has a partial exemption from this is the Giver and, as we see, the Elders are quick to override it when he steps out of line. No one-until Jonas defies the Chief Elder- seems to resent this... after all, if the definition family has been reduced to an affiliation of community members living together, then their abode is only an enclosed section of the community. There is no sanctity of the home.
There is also an inequality of knowledge, which is deliberately maintained by the Elders. Community members are only allowed to know as much as necessary to function in their carefully controlled roles in their society. This, for example, is why all books are warehoused in the Giver's residence, and no one is allowed access to them. Books contain ideas and concepts which can cause people to question their own preconceived notions, or challenge what they've been told is the "correct" way to think. And no one wants that. This is also why the citizens are not allowed to know their history, or travel beyond the boundaries of their community... you're less likely to be discontent with your life if you don't know that there's any other way to live. It's very convenient for the Elders to keep everyone else in happy ignorance- and compliance.
To this end, it is necessary to deceive the community members about certain aspects of their lives, which is in direct contradiction to one of the cardinal rules of their society- that no one is allowed to lie. When Jonas becomes the new Receiver, he is told that it is now free from this restriction- in fact, it has become necessary for him to lie in order to keep others from learning the truth. And, as he learns, he's not the only one who is required to lie. Those, like his father and mother, who are in professions which involve them sending people to Elsewhere obviously know that these people are actually being killed, but must maintain the facade. Also, we see that the Elders engage in the deception of the community members without hesitation to preserve their way of life... demonstrated by the Chief elder admitting to Asher that the release ceremony for Jonas was a "necessary charade". This is also exemplified by the "vitamin injections" everyone gets, which are actually drugs to suppress emotion. Obviously the Elders and those involved in the drug's production know what it does, but everyone else must be lied to. So, what we have is an outwardly peaceful society which is based on lies and misinformation, in which the rules are selectively applied. Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others, a la Animal Farm.
Closely related to this policy of misinformation is the requirement for "precision of language". At first this appears harmless, if nit-picky: Jonas' mother reprimanding him for saying he's terrified, when he really means anxious, or for saying that he's starving when he's hungry. But as the movie progresses, we see the true purpose of this insidious rule, which is to control thought. Words are powerful things, and those who control the language can control the narrative. Anyone who's read Orwell's 1984 will remember how the language was gradually shrunk, words removed, in order to prevent people from questioning certain issues: how do you discuss something that there are no words to describe? Precision of language in The Giver is used for the same purpose- to obfuscate and deceive. People aren't executed or euthanized, they're "sent to Elsewhere". The word "history" no longer seems to exist, no doubt because it implies that there is some story to be told about it. Instead, the past is awkwardly referred to as "back and back and back", as though nothing has ever changed. We especially see this policy of polite euphamism in practice when dealing with the newborns at the nurturing center. They are not given their names until they are assigned to a family. Up until that time, they are referred to as "uncertains". Why is this? Well, if they have names, they are people, and deciding to kill them because they were not developing at the expected rate, or because there is an excess of babies (ie. twins) would be wrong. But if they're not yet people, well, it doesn't really matter, does it? This is also the reason when someone is sent to Elsewhere, like Jonas or the previous Receiver, their names are no longer allowed to be said. They've been un-personed.
This is why Jonas' mother refuses to call Gabe anything but Uncertain, because it allows her to feel nothing when he is taken away to be euthanized. Also, this is why she reprimands Jonas for not using precise language when he asks his father if he loves him. "Love" is a word which has been rendered obsolete. In my previous post, I discussed how this was a way to discourage preferential treatment based on emotion, but it is also a method used to maintain control of the people. Because if you don't love someone, you probably won't fight for them. Jonas' father tells him that they "enjoy" him and "take pride in his accomplishments". This isn't love. Their "family" has been put together by the state, in order to preserve and maintain the state, and so their most important relationship is with the state. The good of the community is placed above the good of any individual, which is why they can accept- with regret- the decree that Gabe, a baby they have cared for and played with, must be done away with. It is why they also accept the condemnation of Jonas... his mother even informs on him. Love would demand quite a different response to the Elders: it would require a fight- to the death if necessary- to preserve the life of your child.
We see that Jonas is willing to risk everything to save Gabe's life. He breaks rules, he defies the Elders, he punches Asher when his friend tries to stop him, and risks his own life to rescue the baby. Why? Because as he says, Gabe is family and he loves him. This is exactly what the Elders wanted to avoid by suppressing emotion and diluting the meaning and importance of family.
So, following some sort of human-caused disaster, the survivors looked at the rubble and concluded that the only way to have a peaceful, non-violent society free from want and need was to build one without all the human faults which cause these things: greed, hate, envy, fear, etc. The only problem was, to do this, the leaders (the original Elders)- had to assume complete control of every portion of people's lives. Family, education, employment, transportation, health, leisure activities, knowledge, words, thoughts, and emotions-even life and death- must be carefully managed and monitored in order to save people from themselves. Because, as the Chief Elder says, if people are given the freedom to choose how they live their lives, they'll choose wrong every single time. Yeah, it's so much better for them to have their lives controlled by a few wise and powerful elites who know just how everyone should live.
When the Giver advocates giving people back the ability to experience life- all of life- to the fullest, the Chief Elder is aghast. She says that he, of all people, should know what that would lead to- what it caused in the past: violence, and people killing each other "over a line in the sand". The Giver argues that people could be taught to make better choices. But my response to her would be: 'Lady, you're killing babies because they don't weigh quite enough, and adults because they don't fit into the role you've assigned them, or because they've reached a certain age. You've got your nerve condemning people who fought and killed over land, or anything else. At the very least, they were doing that openly and honestly, not sneaking around pretending it wasn't happening.' I don't need someone who advocates state-sanctioned murder preaching morality to me. The Chief Elder says that all these things are necessary to preserve their community, but in my opinion, their way of life isn't worth preserving. At best it's half a life, one built on control, deceit, and ignorance... it's merely a polite, solicitous form of tyranny. In Part IV, I'll discuss how I think the issues raised in The Giver relate to our present day society, and give my final thoughts on this film.