Harlan County, USA: An Unbiased Film?

April 19, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Here is a paper I wrote about a documentary, Harlan County, USA, and was screened during one of my MFA classes back in 2009:

During the late seventies, a female filmmaker by the name of Barbara Kopple set out to Harlan County to shoot a mine worker’s strike. When the film was complete, she had created a rather moving story about the struggle of the coal miner’s against a big corporation named Duke Power. In an essay by E. Ann Kaplan, there is an idea that is put forth that even though this documentary is constructed out of footage of real events, the film itself is presented as a highly structured argument about this strike from the miners’ point of view (Kaplan, 2). The film gives much credence to this statement, because of the way the footage is edited together. How does this film support Kaplan’s statement? If the film does have a narrative structure, then what separates it from a fiction film? Whose point of view is this film from, the miners’ or the filmmaker’s?

The most obvious piece of evidence to support Kaplan’s claim is the fact that the film possesses a story arc. Every film and television series that is written possesses a story arc. The arc begins with an opening or introduction and is then followed by an ascending action, which eventually leads to the climax of the story and is then followed by descending action and the conclusion of the story. The structure of this film follows this arc. First, there is the opening with the miners working in the mines and the elderly man and his daughter singing about the history of mining in Harlan County. Then the ascending action comes as the film introduces the protest and focuses on the escalation of threats against the miners by “scabs.” The climax of the film is clearly shown in the scene where the filmmaker is shooting a protest at night and the “scabs” start firing into the crowds and even the filmmaker gets injured in this madness. The descending action occurs when the film shows an old woman who lost her son in that scuffle. The conclusion, however, does not seem apparent in the film. In a sense, this is where Kopple breaks from the traditional Hollywood form of storytelling. Instead of letting the coal miner’s victory in getting a better contract to be the end, she takes this a step further. She talks to some of the coal miners further to see how happy they are with the contract. Some of the older miners are not as enthusiastic about it as the younger miners (Biskind, 7). From their interviews, the audience can understand that the fight between the coal companies and the miners is almost a never ending one. In other words, this story has a very open- ending (Biskind, 7).

Also, Barbara Kopple’s structured argument in her is apparent in another way. Her film seems to be influenced by a fiction film named Salt of the Earth, directed by Henry Biberman (Kaplan, 2). Biberman directed a film presenting a similar argument to Harlan County, USA, in which a group of Latino miners protested against a big power company. With the help of their wives, they were able to get a better contract. One example of this influence in Kopple’s film is the fact that both films set up the big company owners as the “villains” of the story (Kaplan, 2). The people who owned the mine in Salt of the Earth were the antagonists and the owners of Duke Power were portrayed as the heartless owners of the company (Kaplan, 2). This is shown in the press conferences of the film after the audience is introduced to the “scabs” where they talk about the miners refusing the contract, but not mentioning the “scabs.” The scabs are also portrayed as the villains, especially in the climax when the “scabs” attack the protesting miners, there is one shot of one of the main scabs with a smile on his face ordering another scab to shoot a black man. The miners, however, are portrayed as heroes just like in Biberman’s film (Kaplan, 2). One scene where this is apparent is when the striking miners decide to join with miners from other counties and put together a massive protest against Duke Power. Another scene is when the miners decide to take their fight all the way to New York City and hold demonstrations on the sidewalk in front of the Wall Street stock exchange building.

The miners in Kopple’s film are essentially its rooting interest. This can be seen in the opening sequence of the film where Kopple shows the miners entering the mine and carrying out their work. At first glance, one might think that this opening would introduce a movie about how to mine, but it slowly progresses into a story about the miner’s struggle for a fair and better contract. The film, however, does manage to shift focus at times from the male protestors to the female ones as well. This is also influenced by Salt of the Earth (Kaplan, 2). One main example of Kopple’s attention being focused on the women as sources of strength for the protests takes place in the trial of Duke Power and the protestors, which include the men and women protestors. One woman stands up and tells the judge that the law is not fair and would always lean in favor of huge companies like Duke Power. Interestingly enough, Kopple does not zoom in or try to get a close up of the woman’s face, but instead it is blurred and her identity remains anonymous. Kopple is perhaps “using” this woman as a icon for the strength of the women in the protest.

With all of this said, is this film really told from the miners’ point of view or from the filmmaker’s? This film actually seems to be from the filmmaker’s point of view. The best way of proving this is the evidence of feminism that it portrays. One example of this is the scene where the women meet in the gymnasium to discuss how they are going to help the men with the strike after the severe attack in the climax of the film. At one point in the scene, one woman pulls out a gun from her bra and shows it to the rest of the women, indicating that she is saying that it is time to fight back. Also, there are other scenes where the women are shown protesting when the men could not and showed the women in their jail cells after they were arrested for doing so. These moving scenes give the film a strong feminist voice.

Even though Kopple’s film is a structured argument, how do we know that the footage is real? This question is best answered through her camera work. One could even say that her documentary is participatory in a sense. In one scene where this is apparent is when the lead scab questions her about a press pass and she in turn begins to ask him questions. This scene alone calls attention to the fact that the filmmaker is present on the scene with the protesting workers and could possibly be supporting them by refusing to give her press badge to the lead scab. Another scene that calls attention to her presence is the scene where the sheriff comes out to arrest the protestors for protesting on a hill and in turn they present him with an arrest warrant for the lead scab. The camera pans as the sheriff walks over to the scabs and reveals a young man doing sound for the film. Finally, there are the one-on-one interviews with the miners and sometimes we can hear her asking the questions. Interviews are one of the hallmarks of a participatory documentary (Nichols, 121). According to Bill Nichols, “the interview allows the filmmaker to address people who appear in the film formally rather than address the audience through voice-over commentary” (Nichols, 121). One example of this occurs when Kopple is interviewing the women protestors in jail. Through the interview, the audience could see that Kopple is trying to convey the message that these women are just as strong as the male protestors, without having to directly tell the audience. Her decision to shoot in the jail cell with the women protestors could also show her solidarity for their cause. According to Peter Biskind’s article, “Harlan County, USA: The Miners’ Struggle”, “We don’t learn much about what it feels like to work beneath the earth or get much sense of the texture of daily life lived in the shadow of the mine. The film is not an ethnographic study of a quaint community of mining folk” (Biskind, 3). We see more images of the struggle, which includes the picket lines, the meetings in the gymnasium, the funerals, and the one on one interviews, than images of the miners working in the mine (Biskind, 3). The shots are definitely not stylized, especially in terms of the camera (Biskind, 3). For example, in one meeting where a miner’s wife pulls a gun out of her bra, the filmmaker has the camera zoom into her face while she explains herself. At this time, the woman’s face temporarily goes out of focus and is then adjusted while the camera is still recording. The film also follows the strike in a chronological pattern. In other words, the film follows the strike from its inception to its “conclusion” at the end of the film (Biskind, 3).

Finally, there are the dramatic scenes that Kopple includes in her film. One example of this is in the scene where the workers hold another meeting in the gymnasium to discuss some of the weaknesses within their movement that might be impeding its progress. During this meeting, some of the women begin to accuse one another of not pulling their weight in the strike. One woman accuses another of staying in bed while one of the protests was taking place, who in turn told her accuser that she was sleeping around with other women’s husbands. The conflict was finally resolved when one of the women, who was smoking a cigarette, told a tearful story about the difficulty of her father’s life as a miner. Another dramatic scene that Kopple uses in her film comes towards the end of the film itself. This scene is the funeral of the young man who shot in the early morning protest by a scab. During the viewing of the body, his mother has a breakdown due to her immense grief, in which she has to be carried out of the room by some of the townspeople.

In conclusion, Barbara Kopple’s film is not just about the miners, but about the importance of standing up for one’s rights and against poverty. It may be debatable whether Kopple’s film is a documentary or not, but one thing remains true. There is a strong narrative structure to this film with a strong message.

 

Works Cited.

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 2001.

Biskind, Peter. “Harlan County, USA: The Miners’ Struggle.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. 14. 1977. 3-4.

Kaplan, E. Ann. “Harlan County, USA: The Documentary Form.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. 15. 1977. 11-12.

Food Inc. Review.

April 18, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Here is a film review for a documentary named, Food Inc, and was screened during one of my MFA classes back in 2009:

When we buy foods at a local grocery store, we tend to see the word “fresh” with the picture of a farm or farmer on a sign hanging above the food products. We take this as a stamp of approval by the supermarket and willingly purchase the food product without even realizing the amount of labor and processing that product went through. In the film, Food Inc., director Robert Kenner takes on a journey through food industry and reveals just who is providing our food for us and how they do it. Kenner exposes the horrors of the food industry from genetically modifying chickens to have bigger breasts to feeding livestock chemical enriched feed, which thereby creates new strains of E. Coli bacteria. Kenner, however, does not lose sight of the human aspect of the industry where illegal immigrants are forced to work long hours with little or no pay and innocent people end up dying from E.Coli strains in their processed meat.

The way Robert Kenner divided each of the sequences in the film was simple. He used moving titles to tell the audience what the subject of each sequence was. For example, the first sequence in the film was called “Fast Food to all Food”, in which Kenner shows the squalid living conditions of chickens in industrially owned farms and how the fast food industry profits from genetically modifying the chickens to make their breasts larger so that they can get a bigger cut of white meat from each chicken. His next sequence was titled “A Cornucopia of Choices”, where Kenner covers the illusion of diversity in the food products of supermarkets and that most of these products are corn based. Separating each scene with moving titles was an excellent idea on Kenner’s part, because it leaves the audience intrigued about the topic of the upcoming sequence. In each sequence of the film, Kenner separates the scenes visually through the use of wide-angle aerial shots. One example of an aerial shot in the film occurs in the second sequence, where Michael Pollan is describing how corn is being shipped around the country to CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). While Pollan is talking about the shipping methods, Kenner shows an aerial shot of a moving train and when Pollan talks about the CAFO’s being the destination of the corn, Kenner then cuts to an aerial shot of a CAFO field.

In terms of its production value, the film was well shot using little artificial lighting and consisting of mostly hand-held shots.   The little use of artificial lighting and hand-held camera shots are extremely important in an activist documentary, because they convey a sense of realism not only for the film, but also for the message that the film is trying to convey. The natural lighting and the hand-held camera shots, therefore, help the audience to understand that the message of the film is real and does impact their lives. In Food Inc., the hand-held camerawork and natural lighting impacted me, because the realism they conveyed showed me that the horrors of the food industry are real and can hurt or even kill people. A second production value, which stood out in the film was the animation used in a couple scenes in the film. One example of an animation used in the film appears in the second sequence where Kenner explains that all of our food products are corn based. This scene is very problematic due to all of the facts and information being presented in the voice over, but Kenner intercuts the voice over with an animation of a corn kernel morphing into different snack products such as chips, cereal, candy, etc… The animation makes the voice over more interesting, because it visually lists most of the food products that have corn in them, therefore, making the information presented in the scene easier to understand.

Food, Inc is the best film screened this semester, mostly due in part to the film’s strong story structure.   Robert Kenner’s story structure is extremely well organized, because Kenner starts out the film by giving the audience a visual tour inside unsanitary corporately owned farms, which raises the livestock and grows the vegetables used in our food products. Then he moves into the harm that industrial farming methods have on the animals and plants being raised on the farm. Finally, he ends with the harm that industrial farming methods have had on humans. The final segments of the film, which deal with the cost to human health by these food products, become very personal not just for the subjects, but for the director as well. In the scene where Kenner is interviewing the mother of a young boy who died from eating a hamburger infected with E.Coli, the director can be heard asking a personal question off camera. The mother responds by asking the director why he would ask such a question and she also calls him “Robby.” By calling him Robby, the mother conveys her sense of comfort around the director, which means that their relationship is much more comfortable than just being a director and subject relationship. Having a more comfortable relationship with a director portrays the director as being more open and honest with the people around them and this is the case with Robert Kenner’s film.

 

 

The Boondocks Revolution?

April 18, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Here is a paper I did for a media activism class for college back in 2008:

“Excuse me everyone. I have a brief announcement to make. Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9-11. Thank you.” (Huey Freeman via Aaron McGruder).  These were the words out of the mouth of a ten year old revolutionary named Huey Freeman and yes, he is a comic strip character. Comic strips have been a staple in print media. From comic books to the daily comic strips we read in the newspapers, we are surrounded by comics. Sometimes comic strips can provide controversial humor especially when it comes to gender or race. One such comic strip is making waves in the world of print media and now in the world of television. This comic strip is called The Boondocks created by Aaron McGruder. Some people have argued that this comic is revolutionary, because it gives its audience an unusual and not often seen view into the lives of African- Americans. In what way is this cartoon revolutionary? Does it succeed in espousing the views of other radical social critics such as Marx, Gramsci, or Che Guevara? Or does it espouse a cloak and dagger approach in terms of its revolutionary message? Actually, Aaron McGruder is revolutionary when it comes to race, but his work seems to reflect his class bias.

The Boondocks is a cartoon show based on the comic strip by Aaron McGruder that centers around a ten year old African American revolutionary named Huey Freeman and his brother Riley and their grandfather. In the story, Grandad moves to the suburbs and brings his two grandchildren with him. The show’s humor is built on the nonsensical array of parodied African American caricatures portrayed in the media. There is Uncle Ruckus, who is a self hating black man resembling an Uncle Tom figure and the neighbor Tom DuBois who is black, but acts white and is married to a white wife and has a daughter. Even though the show is filled with humorous antics and encounters, it does seem to have a profound effect on its audience.

Aaron McGruder has received praise, especially from liberal media, that he is one of the few “angry” black voices in the media (Press, 1). Even Michael Moore praised this aspect of McGruder’s career in his foreword to a book by Aaron McGruder called A Right to be Hostile. In his foreword, Moore points out that comic strips like The Boondocks have a great potential to turn its audiences on to the discussion of race and will eventually lead to discussions of class which could end up revolutionizing society as we know it (Moore, 2). Moore, however, needs to hold his horses for a moment. While McGruder may be able to address race issues, his main weakness seems to be his class bias.

Can The Boondocks be considered revolutionary even with this class bias? The answer is no. According to Marx, in order to bring about change or a revolution, revolutionary activities must be used (Duncombe, 42). In The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder does show revolutionary activity. In one episode called “The Return of the King”, McGruder displays his most revolutionary stance against the system. In this episode, McGruder explores what reaction Martin Luther King Jr. would have in response to today’s post 9-11 culture. During the episode, he is branded as a traitor by the American public when he states that we should forgive Al-Qaeda and becomes extremely appalled by the “booty shaking” music found in today’s African American music. At the end of the show, after Martin Luther King Jr. calls the African Americans of today the n- word in order to urge them to continue to push for change and a nation wide revolution occurs. He even goes so far as wishing for a black woman president, namely Oprah.

According to Marx, this message would not be exactly revolutionary, because of McGruder’s apparent class bias especially in this episode. In this episode, like many others, McGruder rebukes the gangsta rap culture and even goes as far as saying that those who are involved with this culture give true meaning to the n-word. McGruder does not seem to realize that rap in and of itself is a revolutionary tool. According to Lawrence Levine, the use of songs to express African- American consciousness goes back all the way to the times of American slavery (Duncombe, 215). According to Levine, slaves used these religious songs to not only relate back to their African heritage, but to project a brighter future for themselves (Duncombe, 215). By including religious themes into their songs, slaves were able to turn their masters’ culture against them (Duncombe, 215). Similarly, rap is used to convey the harsh reality of lower class black life.

Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks artistic style does seem to play a role in helping to spread its “revolutionary” message and it is through McGruder’s use of hip- hop in his cartoon series that achieves this. According to an article by Oliver Wang called “Reading the Boondocks”, McGruder stated that he believes hip- hop serves the function of expressing the collective experience of the African American community (Wang, 2). In the article, Wang talks about how early hip- hop artists used their albums to disseminate black political thought. In the same way, McGruder is using The Boondocks in a similar fashion in order to disseminate his thoughts on black politics and culture (Wang, 3).

McGruder, however, also shares some of the same problems as hip- hop does and would further weaken his chance to win the hearts and minds of the “countrymen” in terms of Guevara. First of all, hip- hop has been accused of by critics as portraying women, especially African American women, in a degrading fashion (Wang, 3). In The Boondocks, there is not a strong female presence except for Jazmine who is portrayed as being confused about her ethnicity (Wang, 3). Huey’s mother and grandmother seem to be missing from the picture entirely (Wang, 3). In one episode titled “Attack of the Killer Kung- Fu Wolf Bitch”, Grandad tries online dating and finally meets the girl of his dreams. However, she turns out to be a psychopath who is constantly dependent on her girlfriend’s advice. This episode portrays women who know kung- fu as being dangerous and possibly psychotic. Secondly, The Boondocks only seems to cover relations between black and white characters, but there are rarely, if any inclusion of other races and their relationship to this race issue portrayed in the show (Wang, 3). Even the character of Riley can be seen as an internal critique of hip- hop’s use of excess materialism (Wang, 3). However, McGruder uses hip- hop’s in your face attitude as a wake- up call to many readers (Wang, 3).

Marx also points out that most of the money that the poor classes should be earning actually goes to the wealthy elite (Duncombe, 42). In The Boondocks season 1, this concept is never mentioned and never really gives the root of the problem of a racist government and unfair class system. In other words, the show manages to critique African American society along with white society, but does not mention how the African American community came to be so impoverished. It even pokes fun at the upper class (hence the title of the show) without explaining to the audience what warranted such strong criticisms. However, in a recent episode called “The Block is Hot”, McGruder actually managed to portray this concept. In the episode, Ed Wuncler buys Jazmine’s lemonade stand, which has been very successful. Jazmine is trying to save her money to buy a pony and Ed agrees to give it to her if she sells him her lemonade stand and becomes his employee. She is soon turned into an overworked and underpaid employee. He does not give her the pony he had promised. Instead, he reaps all the financial profits from the stand and makes his own lemonade product. Jazmine, however, is left empty handed. According to Marx, the powerful business man who abused Jazmine’s service ended up reaping all of the profits, while Jazmine is left with a burning lemonade stand. This reflects Marx’s view that the upper classes (Ed Wuncler) reaps the most profits, while the working classes that do most of the work (Jazmine) only receives a small fraction of that profit.

McGruder’s use of the n word in his series also remains at the center of controversy, especially among many African Americans. In an article for The Chicago Defender by Roland S. Martin, McGruder is chastised (along with many others) for using the word so laxly (Martin, 1). According to Martin, the word should not be used at all and accuses those of using it as degrading to African American culture (Martin, 2). These same critics have a valid point that Aaron McGruder’s portrayal of African Americans in the show undermines the ability of African Americans to think for themselves. According to an article by Mark P. Fancher called “Say It Ain’t So Huey- Say It Ain’t So”, Fancher describes how Aaron McGruder uses his character Huey Freeman as a means to dismiss the “nigga” community as being ignorant, but having to put up with them anyway (Fancher, 1). He also says that this distinguishes the Huey Freeman on the show from the one found in the comic strip (Fancher, 1). In the comic strip, he argues, Huey Freeman would humorously provide a background to the so called “nigga” community (Fancher, 1). He also argues that this could lead a young black audience to think that the working class on a whole are worthless (Fancher, 2). He even goes as far as to say that this is exactly what white owned corporate America is trying to do (Fancher, 2). Fancher quotes Frantz Fanon by saying that McGruder’s work, like every other work by African American artists, should serve to uplift the African American community rather than just critique it (Fancher, 2).

The episode titled “Grandad’s Fight” clearly demonstrates this point. In this episode, McGruder (through his character Huey) discusses a “phenomenon” called a nigga moment. The episode opens with an audiovisual explanation of a nigga moment. During the opening, there are African American gentlemen walking past each other on the street. One is dressed casually with a red du-rag and the other is only wearing a vest and a pair of jeans. These two characters accidentally bump into each other. A voice over comes on (Huey’s voice) and explains that a nigga moment occurs when one “nigga” commits an ignorant act (i.e. stepping on someone’s shoe) against another “nigga.” The two begin arguing and then get into a gun fight. Before they could fully come to their senses and stop their feuding, the cops arrive and shoot them down. This scene depicts “niggas” or rather working class blacks as ignorant animals who fight over every little thing. Even the artwork depicts these characters as animals with their bulging lower lips, their macho strides, and having them toting guns tucked into their belts.

Aaron McGruder seems to have struck out with Marx, but can he be a successful guerilla? To answer this question, one must turn to Che Guevara’s book called Guerilla Warfare. In his book, Che Guevara outlines what it takes to be a guerilla. One of the most important aspects of guerilla warfare, according to Che Guevara is to win the support of the country people (Guevara, 10). As mentioned above, McGruder would not be able to accomplish this, because of his apparent class bias towards the African American working class or “niggas” as he might see them.

Also, Che Guevara points out that the ultimate aim of guerilla warfare is to destroy the enemy (Guevara, 13). The Boondocks does not show or aim for the destruction of whatever causes the problems of African Americans (i.e. racist government). In the show, McGruder has created many “enemy” characters for Huey such as Ed Wuncler, who represents American big business men. In one episode titled “The Block is Hot”, Huey does take action against Wuncler by trying to tear down his lemonade stand that he stole from a little girl. With him are a group of protestors who he thinks will aid him in his battle, but is surprised to see that they are unwilling to join him taking action. In the end, Huey is able to liberate Jazmine from the prison of underpaid work. However, he does not succeed in defeating Ed Wuncler, who buys over everyone through his new lemonade product he claims is no longer made by child labor. Rather than sending a message about taking down the unfair practices of big business, McGruder portrays Ed Wuncler as an “omnipotent” figure who will always find a way to deceive the masses and may leave the audience with a sense of hopelessness when it comes to regulating big business.

McGruder’s critique of his own community does not work in his favor in terms of Antonio Gramsci. According to Gramsci’s book, The Prison Notebooks, Gramsci strays from the Marixst explanation of how the upper class “controls” the working masses. In his eyes, the upper class does not have to force or impose their ideas on the working class but is able to disseminate them through consent (Duncombe, 58). This is what is known as cultural hegemony (Duncombe, 58). According to Gramsci, the only way to effectively battle this is only through the collective consciousness of the working class (Duncombe, 58). Aaron McGruder’s critiques of the African American community could be seen as degrading to working class African Americans.

In addition to the Gramsci argument, there was a study conducted by Naomi R. Rockler which concluded that Aaron McGruder seems to have a stronger hold with African American audiences rather than with whites (Rockler, 399). According to the article, Rockler interviewed several people who come from either white European American background or African American background and asked them about their thoughts on two different comic strips (Rockler, 399). One was called Jump Start, which took a Bill Cosby approach to African American representation and portrayed their African American characters as leading upper middle- class lives with little mention about race (Rockler, 399). The other strip was The Boondocks, which did the exact opposite of Jump Start and strongly brought up the race issue (Rockler, 399). According to the study’s data, many of the white audiences preferred Jump Start due to its “positive” portrayal of African Americans and for leaving the race issue at the door and disliked The Boondocks for its strong stance on race (Rockler, 399). Among the African American participants, however, there was disagreement on whether these strips accurately portrayed their race or not (Rockler, 399). Most of the African American subjects did feel that The Boondocks more accurately portrayed their lives than the Jump Start comic strip (Rockler, 399). However, many of the African American participants agreed that The Boondocks was filled with stereotypes of its own, especially in its diction (Rockler, 409). Some participants believed that the cynical attitude of Huey and Riley would lead audiences (mainly whites) to believe that all black people had a bad attitude (Rockler, 409).

So, if The Boondocks cannot be considered revolutionary in terms of Marx, Gramsci, or Guevara, then what form of resistance is it? This show closely shares qualities with that of the carnival described in Mikhail Bakhtin’s article called “Rabelais and His World.” In the article, Bakhtin describes how the clownish skits at the carnival would indirectly serve to critique the king and his rule (Duncombe, 83). The Boondocks character that this is achieved through the most is Riley Freeman. Riley is at best a caricature of the “gangsta” rapper. In the show, Riley’s silly antics garner much humor for most of the show, but also serves to show the degrading aspect of gangsta culture. However, as Marx would probably point out, in the carnival, the king would view this as harmless entertainment and the critical aspect of the performance would be totally dismissed (Duncombe, 83). The same is with The Boondocks. While serving as a character that can be seen as serving to critique gangsta culture, he stands the chance of being dismissed as just another funny character rather than a wake up message to the audience about the degrading image of the gangsta rap culture.

Aaron McGruder clearly does not accomplish this in The Boondocks, especially in one episode called “Invasion of the Katrinians.” In the episode, Grandad’s second cousin from New Orleans moves in with his family after losing their house during Hurricane Katrina. Throughout the episode, they are portrayed as lazy, superstitious, and lying people. This would be very offensive to those who survived Hurricane Katrina and would not be considered as winning the support of countrymen as in this case are Southern African Americans. In that same episode, McGruder, through his character Huey, urges his Southern uncle and family to go back to New Orleans and to rebuild their lives. It is almost as if McGruder is telling Katrina victims that they need to help themselves. What McGurder does not take into account is the fact that most of the African Americans who lost homes in New Orleans suffered even more, because of their low class standing (Green, 6). Many of their homes were not insured and finding a job to help pay for the damages was slim to none for these families (Green, 7). According to Marx, the fact that these African Americans were having such a hard time rebuilding and some even leaving New Orleans has a lot to do with their low class status (Green, 7). The message of this episode of The Boondocks constitutes more of a neo-liberal stance than a Marxist one.

This carnival aspect of the show puts it at risk as being seen as a form of entertainment rather than a call for revolution. According to the article by Robin D.G. Kelley called “Race Rebels”, Aaron McGruder’s cartoon can be seen as an act of resisting without really resisting. In his article, Kelley points out the various forms of sabotage performed by a group of McDonald’s workers in Pasadena, California (Duncombe, 96). The workers would dance or sing while they did their work and would even end up entertaining some of the customers (Duncombe, 96). This aspect of resistance can be seen in McGruder’s television series, in which he states that the focus is on the characters more than just the content. This leads to more of a focus on the hilarious situations of the characters like that of a sitcom rather than the message itself. In an interview with NPR Radio’s Tavis Smiley, McGruder admits that the show is more centered on the characters than it is around its strong political message (pbs.org, 5). For a “revolutionary”, this would be a dangerous path to follow. During the show’s theme song, Huey’s picture is drawn to match that of Che Guevara’s and to make him look like a revolutionary, but the show does not mention what factors lead to his way of thinking. Instead, unlike his comic strip counterpart, Huey Freeman’s revolutionary passion is turned into an image of cool and humor rather than being accepted as a serious way of thinking. In fact, that is exactly what Aaron McGruder wants to accomplish through The Boondocks. Aaron McGruder admits in an interview with Chicago Weekend that he considers himself more of an entertainer rather than a revolutionary leader (Chicago Weekend, 3). He states the importance of communicating a revolutionary message in an entertaining way and he even labels this as being “effective communication” between the artist and the audience (Chicago Weekend, 3). In other words, if the message is not entertaining, the audience will not want hear it (Chicago Weekend, 3).

This aspect of the cartoon is critiqued in an article by Adolph Reed Jr. called “Why is There No Black Political Movement?” In his article, Reed argues that these forms of everyday resistance are just mere survival tactics by a weak minority (Duncombe, 99). Instead, he says there should be more of a push for change rather than a pursuit of small scale forms of resistance (Duncombe, 100). There are several different factors that can prove that The Boondocks can be seen as a small scale form of resistance. The first factor is that The Boondocks is a television series, which means it can be fitted into a desired time slot by those in charge of the media. The Boondocks premiered and is still played on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network (owned by Ted Turner), which is mostly viewed by a late night teenage and college audience rather than the broader audience viewership of prime time where the revolutionary voice of The Boondocks would be more widespread.

In conclusion, The Boondocks by Aaron McGruder is not exactly what Marx or Guevara would call revolutionary, but it can be seen as revolutionary in terms of Gramsci. However, the show seems to be more of a form of everyday resistance. With its strong political message encased by its humor and satire of not only white, but black America as well, the show serves to inform and critique the powers that be and does not offer any means to change them. Just like other forms of carnival resistance such as the Yes Men, the characters in The Boondocks use their humorous antics to express strong political critiques. However, McGruder still has a long way to go in terms of class.

 

Works Cited.

Martin, Roland S. “Use of N- Word by Boondocks Creators, Blacks Just Doesn’t Fly.” Chicago Defender. Chicago Nov. 14- 15. Vol. XCIX. 373. 2.

Wang, Oliver. “Black and White and Hip- Hop All Over: Reading “The Boondocks.” ColorLines. Oakland Jan. 31, 2000. Vol. 2. Issue 4. 38.

Press, Joy. “Black Power Rangers.” The Village Voice. Oct. 25, 2005. 1-2.

Pbs. Org. Tavis Smiley’s Aaron McGruder Interview for NPR. Archives. Nov. 2005. 1-8.

Gramsci, Antonio. The Prison Notebooks. Cultural Resistance Reader. Ed. Stephen Duncombe. Verso, N.Y. 2002.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The German Ideology. Cultural Resistance Reader. Ed. Stephen Duncombe. Verso, N.Y. 2002.

Kelley, Robin D.G. Race Rebels. Cultural Resistance Reader. Ed. Stephen Duncombe. Verso, N.Y. 2002.

Guevara, Che Ernesto. Guerilla Warfare. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, Nebraska. 1961.

Rockler, Naomi R. “Race, Whiteness, “Lightness,” and Relevance: African American and European American Interpretations of Jump Start and The Boondocks. Critical Studies in Media Communications. Dec. 2002. Vol. 19. No. 4. 398- 418.

“The Africana Q& A with Aaron McGruder.” Chicago Weekend. Chicago, Ill. Oct. 2, 2003. Vol. 33. Issue 37. 10.

Green, Rodney D. and Beverly Wright and Tiffany Hamelin. “Strategies for Recovery from Katrina: Corporate Capitalism, NGOs, Racism, and Class.” January 2008.

Levine, Lawrence. “Slave Songs and Slave Consciousness.” Cultural Resistance Reader. Ed. Stephen Duncombe. Verso, N.Y. 2002.

Social Activist Documentaries

April 18, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Here is a paper I did for an MFA writing class back in 2009:

Documentaries have been known to possess great revolutionary potential. From the provocative films of John Grierson in the 1930s to Michael Moore’s films, documentary has had a rich history of expressing the need for social change. Even today, social activist documentaries are held in high regard and still talk about many of the social situations that face society, some even resembling those in the thirties such as a collapsing economy. During the thirties, Britain became a hot bed of social change and with it came the rise of one of the most famous documentarians named John Grierson. Grierson produced a variety of social activist documentaries such as Industrial Britain and Housing Problems. Another British director by the name of Watts directed a documentary called Night Mail, which raised the issue of the intricacies of mail delivery. In America, however, there was another filmmaker who also created a social activist film. His name was Pare Lorentz and the name of his film was The Plow that Broke the Plains. What are some of the differences and similarities between the films of both these iconic filmmakers?

First of all and most obviously, is the fact that both filmmakers create their films to raise social awareness of certain problems or issues facing their countries during their time. For example, Housing Problems dealt with the plight of the slum tenants who were forced to live under inhumane conditions. In Industrial Britain, Grierson raises the issue that a new age of Britain has arrived and that even though different jobs are becoming more technologically advanced, the workers who used previous methods will not be discarded. Instead, they would be instrumental in helping to bring about this new age of industrialization of Britain. In The Plow That Broke the Plains, Midwestern farmers along with the misleading real estate advertisements of the U.S. government are to blame for turning the Great Plains area into desolate land. Both filmmakers also manage to point out solutions in their films as well. For example, in Housing Problems, Grierson shows a scene where a gentleman from a housing commission is lecturing about remodeling the slums while shots of different models for building proposals are being shown to the audience. In The Plow That Broke the Plains, the film seems to suggest that conservation is the key to preventing another Dust Bowl from acting out. Housing Problems, however, also differs from all the other films, because it is the only one that includes direct interviews with the tenants of these slums. According to Ellis and McLane, “Most notable among these is the direct interview- with slum dwellers in Housing Problems, for example- presaging the much later cinema-verite method” (Ellis and McLane, 68).

There is another striking similarity between Grierson’s films and those of Pare Lorentz. This lies in the fact that they are both financially supported by government programs (Nichols, 145). Groups such as the Empire Marketing Board and the Government Post Office were among Grierson’s financial backers (Nichols, 145). Housing Problems was sponsored by the British Commercial Gas Association (Ellis and McLane, 68).

Night Mail, however, greatly differs from all of the other films mentioned above. Even though Night Mail raises awareness of the amount of work put into over night delivery, it seems to come across more as a process video rather than a social activist film. One example of this is the behind-the-scenes feel of the camera work and the editing. The workers do not look into the camera and carry on their work as usual. The film seems to be more focused on the job that the workers are performing rather than the workers themselves. There also seems to be some scenes that include dialogue between the workers. Why would this be considered important? More importantly, what “issue” is trying to be raised during the workers’ conversations? The answer to these questions lies in the fact that this film is also part of a rising major trend of that time, known as the narrative film (Ellis and McLane, 69). In essence, this film combines aspects of both Grierson (social activism) and elements of drama (Ellis and McLane, 69). According to Ellis and McLane, Night Mail shows the long and complicated process of mail delivery which requires the government’s attention (Ellis and McLane, 69). Secondly, the film tries to convey the message that this mail service is a wonderful thing provided by the government. Finally, this film tries to portray the workers as a decent and hard working group (Ellis and McLane, 69).

Finally, there is one quality that all of these films have in common and that is their editing style. One example of this lies in the rhythmic placements of certain visuals with the voice over. In Housing Problems, as the voice over is informing the audience of the dilapidated conditions of the slums, the camera pans across poorly constructed roof tiles, then cuts to longs shots of alley ways, and then cuts to the poorly constructed and damaged walls of the buildings. At the end of Night Mail, as the voice over reads an Auden poem, the screen shows the wheels of the train rotating as nauseating speeds and cutting to long shots and medium shots of the country landscape whizzing by. In Industrial Britain, as the narrator talks about how the industrial workers are crucial to this new industrial age for Britain, there is an ending montage sequence with close-ups of individual workers’ faces. Finally, in Pare Lorentz’s film, The Plow That Broke the Plains, near the end, there is a sequence where farmers plowing the land are cross cut with footage that have tanks firing and various explosions, expressing the war that is being declared on the land by the farmers and the U.S. government there.

While all of these films had their differences, they also had their similarities as well. They all served a social purpose and used similar editing styles. There may be one other thing they have in common though and that is the fact that they have laid the foundations for today’s social activist documentaries.

 

Works Cited.

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 2001.

Ellis, Jack C. and Betsy A. McLane. A New History of Documentary Film. New York and London: Continuum. 2005.

Truth, Justice, and Who’s Way?

April 18, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Here’s a final report I did for a  college media criticism course back in 2007:

Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman! For seventy five years, Superman has been a legend among many circles in the comic book industry. In fact, he has become not only a national icon, but an international one as well. The only thing that can rival this hero’s strength is his popularity. After all, who does not respect a hero who fights for truth, justice, and the American way? However, who’s version of truth, justice, and the American way does he fight for? Is it his own? In other words, does Superman accurately represent America? To answer these questions, it is necessary to analyze a Superman comic book in order to see certain media representations from the World War II era, which would show that Superman does not represent the actual America. In other words, how are gender and race represented? Finally, how is Superman portrayed today? Does he still fight for truth, justice, and the American way or has he been turned into a super advertising icon?

First, it would be wise to explain the Man of Steel’s biography and the history of DC Comics Co. to those who might be unfamiliar with both of them. The idea of the Man of Steel or rather, the Man of Tomorrow was conceived of by two Jewish immigrants by the names of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Together, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster used to work on school newspaper strips and read science fiction magazines. Jerry Siegel was a writer and Joe Schuster was more of an artist. After their school years, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster create stories for science fiction magazines. However, the Great Depression hit and its effects were felt by everyone. Siegel and Schuster witnessed and felt the devastating effects of the Depression and decided to create a superhero comic strip. They decided to look back on their previous brainchild, “The Reign of the Supermen”, which was a story about a man who inherits the power of mind control and ends up using it for his own selfish gain. They would now redefine the concept of Nietzche’s Superman in order to create someone who would fight for good and not evil. And thus, Superman was born! Superman was a being from a planet called Krypton. On his birth world, his mother (Lara) and his father (Jor-El) knew him as Kal-El. Krypton could best be described as an intergalactic utopian society. The Kryptonians were beings who looked like humans, but surpassed our civilization in almost everything. They were literally a race of supermen. Jor-El was one of Krypton’s top scientists and had just made a horrifying scientific discovery about their great world. It was about to be destroyed. However, the rest of his colleagues laughed at him and thought he was crazy. Their laughing soon turned to sorrow as their planet became riddled with natural disasters like major earthquakes. Jor-El, however, had a plan to send his wife and child to a planet called Earth. Jor-El did not want to leave out of loyalty for his planet and his wife wanted to stay by his side. So, they placed their child into a rocket and sent him to his new home. After that, their planet exploded and was no more. Kal-El landed safely on Earth and was found by a couple named Jonathan and Martha Kent. With his new adoptive Earth parents, Clark lived on their farm, became familiar with his world, and discovered his “unique” powers. The boy then grows up and moves to Metropolis, but in order to keep his powers a secret; he needs to keep his true identity a secret. He invents for himself a weaker side, Clark Kent, which is what his adoptive parents had named him. As Clark Kent, he finds a job at a local Metropolitan newspaper called the Daily Planet, where he meets the love of his life, Lois Lane. The two become co-workers and the legend begins.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster had developed a fantastic idea and were able to put it to paper, however there was one obstacle left. Trying to find a newspaper company to print their comic in the comic strips section was the last thing left to do. However, they faced rejection after rejection from various newspaper companies. Siegel and Schuster finally found a break when they went to McLure Syndicate to get their strip published (Wright, 7). The editor was about to reject them, however, he did like the strip and decided to send it to Harry Donenfeld , who was then manager of DC Comics and was looking for a feature to put in their new series, Action Comics (Wright, 7).

DC Comics at this point was in its early history and had evolved from earlier comic strips. Comics first came about in the 1890s, which were newspaper comic strips (Wright, 2). These parts of the newspaper became known as the “funnies.” (Wright, 2). As comic strips became more increasingly popular, pulp magazines began to evolve (Wright, 2). They were called “pulp” due to the fact that they were printed on cheap paper (Wright, 2). Pulp magazines also increased in popularity like the comic strips, but they would only cater to a certain audience (Wright, 2). Pulps also did not demand much from its writers or its audience (Wright, 2). However, in 1929, pulp heroes like Buck Rogers and Tarzan appeared as newspaper comic strips (Wright, 3). Also, Dell Publishing became the first to experiment with weekly comic magazines that were distributed to newsstands (Wright, 3). This led other companies to explore the commercial potential of comic magazines (Wright, 3). One example of this is when two sales employees at Eastern Color Printing Company in 1933 came up with the idea of the standard seven-by-nine-inch printing plates, which were used to print Sunday comic pages that were twice that size, could also print two reduced comic pages side-by-side on a tabloid- sized page (Wright, 3). This means that when folded in half and bound together, the pages would fit into an eight-by-eleven-inch pulp magazine of color comics (Wright, 3). The two salesmen told their company to print these types of magazines for manufacturers who would use them as advertising premiums and giveaways there (Wright, 3). Eastern Color agreed to support them and printed 10,000 copies of Funnies on Parade for Proctor and Gamble (Wright, 3). This idea was a success and Eastern Color continued this method with its other comic magazines (Wright, 3). One of the two salesmen, Max Gaines saw that these comic books had great market potential, which could help him and his family out of the Depression (Wright, 3). He persuaded Dell Publishing to finance Eastern Color’s printing of 35,000 copies of Famous Funnies, Series I, which was distributed to chain stores at a dime an issue (Wright, 3). The move proved to be a success, but Dell Publishing was very skeptical, so it ended up withdrawing its deal with Eastern Color and made a deal with American News, who cautiously distributed 250,000 copies of Famous Funnies, Series 2 (Wright, 3-4). That move generated a huge amount of wealth for Dell Publishing and put them ahead of Eastern Color (Wright, 4). However, this success did not last very long as other publishing companies caught on to the idea (Wright, 4). By 1936, newspaper syndicates began to publish their own comic books (Wright, 4).

In 1935, a U.S. Army Major and a pulp magazine writer named Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson started National Allied Publishing (Wright, 4-5). They distributed comic books created by free lance artists, which resembled newspaper comic strips (Wright, 5). However, because Wheeler was not a business man, his companied struggled in its beginning years (Wright, 5). However, in 1937, Independent News, Wheeler’s distributors, partnered up with Wheeler and made Detective Comics, which would later be known as DC Comics (Wright, 5). DC Comics was different from any other comic book at the time, especially since its first cover had a sinister looking Oriental face on their cover (Wright, 5). It also had more adventure, more inventive page lay-outs, larger panels, and heavier shading to create atmosphere (Wright, 5). In 1938, Independent News bought Wheeler’s interests and DC became more of a viable publishing operation. DC Comics also opened up several comic book studios (Wright, 5-6). Creating comic books in the studios was a collaborative process and involved many freelance cartoonists (Wright, 6). It would be with DC that Siegel and Schuster would create Superman in their Action Comics series. The feature had Superman on the cover and was the lead story and was very successful by its seventh issue, which sold half a million copies (Wright, 9).

In the comic books, Superman would go around fighting crime with adolescent glee and would even sometimes taunt his opponent (Eagan, 89). In many ways, Superman is a real American hero, especially when it comes to other races. It would not be until World War II, when the comic book industry decided to support the war effort by creating stories where American superheroes would fight against the Nazis. Comic books at this time were very successful. Since there were more jobs created by the war, the income of many parents went up and more kids could afford to buy comic books (Wright, 60). Throughout the war, the Nazis and Japanese would be portrayed in a negative light. For example, in the commemorative comic book, The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, Superman becomes an active participant in the war. He even goes into a war zone to help troops by bending the nozzles of tanks, bringing down airplanes, and beating up Nazi soldiers. In the last part of the comic, Superman picks Hitler up by his neck and says, “I’d like to land a strictly non-Aryan sock in your jaw.” It is clear that Superman, who represents America, is mocking Hitler and his Aryan ideology. On the cover of many comic books at this time, the Nazis and the Japanese were portrayed as vampires, animals, the “enemy” or “them.” It is also interesting that a story like this would end up in a fifty year commemorative issue published in 1985 and is considered one of Superman’s greatest stories. It shows that even today, Nazis are hated especially in the United States.

At this time during World War II, there were no other representations of race found in Superman comic books other than those of Nazi or Japanese. Every character was white from Superman to Jimmy Olsen, there were no African American characters. Even on the planet Krypton, there were only white people portrayed. This “tradition” continues still today, however with racially stereotyped representations of the African American citizens of Metropolis. According to Marc Singer’s article, ““Black Skins” and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race”, white people were always portrayed as handsome and heroic, but non-whites are inferior and subhuman (Singer, 108). In the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, most of the comics from the World War II era did not even have any African American representations. However, this could be due to the fact that most of the racial stereotypes were focused on the enemies of America at that time. According to Marc Singer, “Comic books, and particularly the dominant genre of super-hero comic books, have proven fertile ground for stereotyped depictions of race.” (Singer, 107). This is true in the case of the Nazis and Japanese, especially since DC started out with a sinister looking Oriental face on their cover. In the case of African Americans and other immigrants, there were no representations of them in Superman comic books at the time. Psychologist Fredric Wertham stated that these representations not only motivated children towards prejudice, but “normalizes” racial stereotypes through repetition (Singer, 109). By constantly showing racial stereotypes of Nazis and Japanese, many children would grow to hate them even more.

One question remains: Has anything changed? In the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, a comic called “The Death of Superman” appeared. The artists and staff wanted to represent everyone from around the world and in one part, there was a picture of an African American male viewing Superman’s body and under it read this caption: “The sea of faces slowly eddies by…faces of every race and nationality…young faces…old faces…each face sorrowful at the passing of a great man…” It is interesting that it took Superman’s funeral to represent every nation or “face” of the world. Where were they when Superman was alive? It is obvious that until this time (the sixties) when The Death of Superman was created, African Americans were not even represented in DC Comics. Also, looking at a Superman comic book from 1993, Superman: The Man of Steel, African Americans are represented, however the representations are still stereotyped, including the superhero Steel, who is an African American superhero and one of Superman’s closest allies. In one scene, Steel is shown fighting off a group of thugs without his armor. He would have lost the fight if Superman had not come and shoved the thugs against a wall. All of the thugs in this incident were African Americans. Steel was extremely well built and when he was fighting his face looked like an animal growling. The faces of the thugs also looked like growling animals when Superman shoved them against a wall. Superman looked more human that anyone in that panel. Of course, he was the only white person there. Another depiction is when two African American children, who appear to be wearing clothing resembling Fubu gear, are spray painting graffiti in the middle of railroad tracks. First of all, the children looked old enough to know that playing in the middle of railroad tracks is a foolish idea. Secondly, they were spraying some insult about Superman when all of a sudden a train comes out of nowhere and Superman rescues them. Finally, their response to Superman is that of remorse and gratitude. They vow they would never do that again. It was apparent that these children had negative ideas about Superman, but were not allowed to voice them due to some outward threat, namely the train. However, Superman saves the children and instead of telling Superman how they actually feel about him, they literally ask him for mercy. It is clear the artists wanted to put down Superman’s critics, but it is interesting that they would use two African American children to portray this.

Superman’s relationship with other races is questionable, but the relationship that is not questionable is Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane. In fact, it is downright obvious. From the early comic books, Lois Lane had a certain degree of independence. She is the best reporter for the Daily Planet, she gets all the good stories, and likes to do things on her own. However, when she does go off chasing a story, she always seems to get into trouble. It is always up to Superman to rescue his “damsel in distress”. For example, in the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, in a comic from 1941, Lois Lane is trying to escape from a mad archer. Just when the archer fires an arrow at Lois’ back, Superman swoops out of the sky and shields her. He then says, “What a genius you are, Lois—for getting into trouble.” Superman is really mocking at the fact that he needs to save Lois most of the time. Also, when Superman appears on the scene, Lois turns into somewhat of a giggling schoolgirl with a huge crush on the “handsome jock.” There is no doubt about Superman’s role as the handsome hero, but what does this tell about Superman? Why is Superman always so good looking? One of the most important factors here is Superman’s muscular body. According to Jeffrey A. Brown, “One of the most obvious and central focal points for characterizing masculinity has been the male body.” (Brown, 27). Brown has described the male body as an external signifier for masculine superiority and muscles being a sign of masculinity (Brown, 27). The masculine body serves the purpose of differentiating the hard male body from the delicate female body (Brown, 27). Race also affects how masculinity is portrayed in comic books (Brown, 28). For example, Jews or Asians were portrayed in feminized bodies, which are not at all muscular like the white superhero (Brown, 28). Superman’s X-ray vision also serves to boast his masculinity, because it gives him the ultimate male gaze. He can always keep an “eye” on Lois Lane if he needs to. In fact, Superman’s ability to fly has an erotic connotation to it (Connors, 109). Many dreams about flying actually have a sexual nature to them, according to Freud (Connors, 109). This might explain why Lois Lane becomes so giddy when Superman takes her flying.

However, there is something unique about Superman’s masculinity and that is his alter- ego Clark Kent. Clark and Superman are one in the same person, but have two entirely different personalities. Clark is the exact opposite of Superman. In fact, Clark seems to possess a “feminized” body rather than Superman, who possesses a very masculine body. Clark Kent could be a sign portraying the fact that all men have a delicate feminine side and Superman is a sign that all men have a tough masculine side as well. Superman and Clark, however, do have one thing in common: Lois Lane. Lois Lane loves Superman, but he knows he could never have her due to his superhero career. This could be a sign that also has a connotative meaning suggesting that Superman wants to remain “pure” by not having sexual contact with a woman (Connors, 111). However, Clark Kent always vies for Lois’ affection, but is always is too shy to tell her how he feels. This shows that in comparison to Superman, Clark is basically weak and is incapable of getting the woman he loves. However, Clark Kent trying to date Lois Lane could be Superman’s attempt to test Lois Lane to see if she could truly love the man he really is: a bumbling gentleman with a soft heart (Connors, 110). However, it is apparent that Lois Lane does not see through this guise and is blinded by the manly alter-ego of Clark Kent (Connors, 110).

Superman is still as popular today as he was seventy years ago. However, Superman’s popularity has turned him into somewhat of a pop culture icon. He has appeared on cereal boxes, Pepsi cans, and has just recently premiered in his fourth movie, Superman Returns. In many ways, Superman has become a super advertising icon. He has even appeared in Visa credit card commercials with his “pal” comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Superman Returns toys were also being given out with every Kids Meal at Burger King. Superman even has a show on the CW 11 named Smallville, which is about the superhero’s teenage years in his hometown. Finally, it should be mentioned that Superman has recently come under religious influence. For example, on the cover of the Smallville first season DVD box set, Clark is shown in a crucified position, alluding to Christ on the cross. Some Christian writers, including Stephen Skelton, who wrote the book, the Gospel According the World’s Greatest Superhero, have stated that Superman can bring Christians and non-Christians alike to appreciate Jesus Christ.

Superman has been a legend for seventy years and will continue to be a legend in the eyes of children around the world. Many scholars can try to explain what it is about Superman that makes him so popular. Some will say it is his portrayal of masculinity or his superpowers. However, there is only one simple explanation: people like Superman because he is Superman. In other words, Superman is a one of a kind character. Who do people always think of as a defender for truth, justice, and the American way? It is Superman. Even though Superman does not accurately represent America, people will always respect him not only for his personality, but for the fact that he tries to make the world a better place. This sentiment is as true today as it was when his legend first began.

 

Works Cited.

Brown, Jeffrey A. “Comic Book Masculinity and the New Black Superhero.” African American American Review 33. 1 (Spring, 1999). 25-42.

Connors, Joanna. “Female Meets Supermale.” Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend. Ed. Dennis Dooley and Gary Engle. Cleveland, Ohio: Octavia Press, 1987. 108-115.

Eagan, Patrick L. “A Flag With a Human Face.” Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend. Ed. Dennis Dooley and Gary Engle. Cleveland, Ohio: Octavia Press, 1987. 88-95.

Singer, Marc. ““Black Skins” and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race.” African American Review 36. 1 (Spring, 2002). 107-119.

Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

DC Comics Inc. The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told. Canada: DC Comics, Inc., 1987.

Simonson, L. Wojtkiewicz, Janke. Superman: The Man of Steel. Issue 37. DC Comics Inc. 1993.

Skelton, Stephen. The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2006.

The Road Ahead Straight Out of Satan’s Casino.

April 16, 2016

Hello Everyone,

 

  I have something to share with you that our group discovered during Bible study.  Previously, we talked about how much fear the religious and secular authorities had about being exposed for their sinful natures in front of others, This week, we discussed Jesus’ parable about the vine and the branches and about the difference between the Law and Jesus’ Salvation and if the Law is even necessary in light of Jesus’ Salvation.  The answer was found to be that not only is the Law important, but also necessary as the Law shows us how sinful we are and pushes us closer to Jesus, who in turn not only grants us Mercy and Salvation by God’s Grace, but also the Holy Spirit to mentor us on living God-centered and not flesh-centered lives which includes obedience to God’s Law, which was something we could never do on our own. 


I began to think about the state of the economy and how everything is run like a casino.  We love to gamble as humans and Satan is very much aware of our love for it.  Even when Jesus was going to be crucified, guards were gambling His clothes away even though He is our Messiah!  I don’t know if you’ve been to Atlantic City, NJ, but if you take a tour bus there it will take you through the actual residential area outside of the casinos and the last time I saw it, it was virtually a ghetto.  It looks like everyone is not enjoying wealth and prosperity over there.

 

However, use Atlantic City, NJ as a microcosm for our economy today and it becomes clear.  We not only practice gambling in recreation, but in our financial institutions also. We have taken so many risks that it’s amazing that we haven’t lost everything…yet.  However, like anyone knows, casinos don’t just take your money immediately.  They let you win a few games to build up your excitement so that you feel like a winner!  Today, most people who are successful don’t say they are successful, they say “I’m a winner!”  Exactly and now you are a sucker.  After a few wins, most people begin to take bigger risks to win even more money, because after all, what’s better than being a winner?  MORE MONEY OBVIOUSLY!

However, the losses begin to mount, but not rapidly, because you start to win some and you start to lose some, but that’s life right?  So, now you continue hoping to revive your winning streak not realizing that it, much like Elvis, has left that building.  You continue to take bigger risks until you either lose all the money you previously won or have less money that what you had started with.

And that seems to be the general direction the economy is actually heading.  Our economy is like a gigantic casino owned by Satan and ran by his cronies and we humans are constantly pinning our hopes on being winners like them, but that’s not going to actually happen.  Jesus is like the homeless guy out side the casino, who keeps being removed by “security” Who is stretching forth His Hand to remove us from Satan’s Casino and to call others out as well.  His Kingdom will soon take over from Satan’s Casino, but for now He is still reaching out to those who desperately want Him.

If you’ve seen most game shows on TV, especially Deal or No Deal where you’re usually at the mercy of a faceless banker, then you have seen contestants on winning streaks mostly take unnecessary risks and lose everything when they could’ve have walked away with their present winnings while being content with what they had.  This is why proof of future economic struggle becomes clearer.  It seems that the next roll of the die that America makes will probably be it’s last.

Last week, I had been struggling with a major decision for my life.  I applied to three important jobs over the course of last month. I’m not sure which job God intends for me to take.  However, I’m praying about it and I’m also praying that I can attend New York’s Comic Book Convention and the Social Media Convention this October and July as I’m trying to expand my circle of friends.  Please pray for God to lead me to the right path for my uncertain life road straight ahead.

 

The Quest of Christian Faith.

March 4, 2016

After Bible study this week, my Bible teacher asked me to give a testimony to our group next week.  It dealt with the three parables told in Luke 15, which are the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son.  We realized that there were some common words like lost, found, and repentance and they had a common theme of celebration at the end where the shepherd celebrates finding his lost sheep, the woman celebrates finding her lost coin, and the father celebrates finding his lost son.

When meditating the Scripture we read that night after returning home, I realized something very important.  I am a filmmaker by profession which means storytelling is key to the work I do every day.  When reading the Bible, especially the Gospels, I saw a pattern develop that makes studying this wonderful book not only more intriguing, but also very important.

Are you familiar with the old Nintendo video games from the eighties?  If not that’s okay, because they are built on adventure stories that have been passed down through the ages.  There’s the Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, and even Super Mario Brothers.  Each of these games has a common thread running through them.

In each game, the hero has to save the world by going on lengthy journeys or quests to seek out weapons and items (or tools) that would help them accomplish their task.  In the Legend of Zelda, Link must journey to save Princess Zelda from an evil wizard by finding different weapons like the hook shot, the bow and arrows, and the magical sword to slay the wizard.  In Mega Man, a robot named Rock must defeat a mad scientists’ robot masters and copy their weapons in order to battle with the mad scientists’ doomsday machines in his fortress.  In Super Mario Bros, Brooklyn, NY plumbers and brothers, Mario and Luigi, must go through different levels to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of evil Bowser and in order to do it they use different magical flowers, mushrooms, and suits to boost their combat skills.

Have you seen the connection between these games yet?  They all have a hero/heroine embarking on a quest in order to accomplish something good and along the way, they acquire extraordinary weapons or items to aid them in achieving their noble tasks.  In a similar manner, like the heroes of these video games, we as Christians are embarking on a quest to live out our faith on a daily basis.  However, like the antagonists of our video game heroes, there are many obstacles preventing us from embarking on our faithful daily quests.  The Bible, Prayer, Meditation, and Example, like the maps, weapons, and items that aid our video game heroes, provides us with the tools necessary to overcome not only these obstacles, but also the world itself.

The Bible presents us with the armor of God, which are named by their essential pieces in Ephesians 6:10-18. “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/

 

Much like our heroes, we must have each piece of the armor of God including prayer, meditation, and praise, as they are weapons in our arsenal of faith. In the Legend of Zelda, you journey through vast dungeons to obtain magical weapons that aid in your quest and most of the time, you cannot beat the boss of the dungeon (or stronghold for Christians) without that specific weapon. In the same way, we cannot tear down certain strongholds without any of the weapons mentioned above.

Link7

courtesy of: supersmashbrosfanon.wikia.com

So, how does this connect with the three parables?  Well, it’s actually plain to see.  In the story, all three of the characters are looking for someone or something and they do not rest until they find it.  However, the Parable of the Lost Son provides us with even more specific details.  The eldest son, the father, and the youngest or “lost” son are three different people.  The eldest son is far more mature and responsible than his younger sibling, which explains his great devotion to his father.  However, he too is spiritually lost as is reflected in his envious attitude of his younger brother. Like many people, we profess loyalty to Christ, but hold things against others in our hearts. His father is a kind, patient, and loving man.  The younger brother, however, must have felt trapped by his upper class lifestyle and wanted to embrace the world wholeheartedly.  So, he decides to leave his home and live life to the fullest.  However, even though he wants to embrace the world, he realizes that the world does not reciprocate his love for it and is on the point of starvation.  He realizes this and decides that it would better to return home as a humble servant of his father than to live one more day in the cruel world.

The younger son returns home and is shocked when his father, instead of being infuriated by seeing him, instead runs to him and embraces him.  His father even organizes an immense celebration for his son’s safe return.  The boy still begs his father to be treated like a servant and not like a son.  However, his father disregards this offer and still accepts him in sonship.  All is not well though, as the older brother catches wind of this and is immediately envious of his brother’s warm welcome.  His father comes out into the field to find out why his eldest son is upset.  When his son voices his criticism of his brother, the father explains that the eldest son will inherit all that his father has, but should rejoice since their family is now whole again.

It’s a deep parable, but it begs the question: why does God allow us to not only live in, but to experience such a harsh world?  Well, the answer goes back to our previous Bible study about God’s Discipline versus Punishment.  God Disciplines us through hardships to make us stronger.  Why?  Well, as explained above, it is for the new quest of faith that we are about to embark on for the rest of our lives.  We cannot use or receive our spiritual weapons without first being trained on how to properly use them. In martial arts, a teacher never lets a student use a dangerous weapon without first teaching them on a padded version of it like a tri-staff, broad sword, staff, or nun-chucks.

learn-kungfu

courtesy of: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/

 

Our quest (which Paul calls a race) will only begin when we first approach God with true repentance like the lost son did.  Let’s look at Paul’s faith as an example of this. Before, when Paul was Saul, he hated, ridiculed, and even persecuted Christians. However, after meeting the Risen Savior Jesus Christ, he became a whole new person. He not only converted to Christianity, but also helped to shape its spread throughout Israel and the outside world through his letters, which make up a good percentage of the Gospel or the New Testament. Paul is a perfect example of what God wishes to achieve through all sinners even to today: to crucify our flesh and to achieve our purpose in serving Lord Jesus.

 

Like Paul, I also struggle with hatred in my heart and it is against those in power, especially those who are very wealthy. Why should they be saved? After all the pain and suffering through wars, poverty, and other social injustices that they force us to bear through their political decisions, I felt they did not earn the right of Salvation. If anything, I felt it was our duty to stand and fight against these Neanderthals with God’s Might by our side. However, God proved me wrong when He revealed I didn’t earn the right to Salvation either, but that Salvation is a not right, rather than a gift given by God through His Grace and I was just as sinful as those in power today. God is not looking for Sauls, who judges others while also sinning (which we seem to be very good at doing), but for Pauls who crucify their flesh daily in order to submit and follow the will of Jesus so that they may testify to others so that also they may be saved. Only then can we be accepted into God’s Family again.

2-Saul-Paul

courtesy of: myhomeschoolprintables.net

After all this, God trains us to face the future obstacles in our lives.  We are now trained and equipped with a various arsenal of spiritual weapons such as the Word of God, Prayer, and Miracles or Spiritual Authority.  With these weapons and the One Triune God with us, we then fight the daily spiritual battles that we face every day.  Without coming to Jesus humbly as the lost son did with his father, we cannot embark on our quest of Christian faith. I have felt this testimony being built up inside of me for a very long time and I feel now is the time to tell it. Fighting a spiritual battle with our strength alone never works and believe me I have tried and ended up defeated almost every time. However, when I came to Jesus through repentance, my life is starting to change spiritually for the better. Many of the past sins I used to commit frequently, I now fight daily on the spiritual battlefield of my heart as I learn to apply my spiritual weapons through hardships, which I have to come learn is actually God’s Discipline. With my spiritual growth has now come physical, mental, and emotional growth and my point of view on life itself has taken a completely different turn. Like Paul, we must crucify our flesh daily so that God may change us into strong Christian warriors and allow us to break down the spiritual strongholds that dominate our lives. Thus is the quest of our True Christian Faith! Amen.

Put on the Armor of God

Armor of God Wall Chart

courtesy of: churchleaderscampfire.com

Key Verse: Ephesians 6: 10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

 

One Word: Be Strong in God.

 

Hardship and Discipline vs Punishment.

February 2, 2016
Hello Everyone,

After attending Bible study on the night of January 20, 2016 after my job interview, I felt I should share our lesson with you as it is very important.  I know this might just be the basics of God’s Word, but then nothing is more important to any discipline than their basics.  My Bible study teacher and I studied Hebrews 11 and 12 and we discussed the relationship that faith has with hardship and God’s Discipline.  We came to the conclusion that God uses hardships to not only increase our faith, but to prepare us for future events that will have major impact on our lives.

In Hebrews chapter 11, there is a phrase that is always repeated or rather emphasized which is, “By their FAITH,…”  We are being told that even the biblical patriarchs did not accomplish what they did on THEIR own strength, but rather GOD’S Own Strength.  In chapter 12, the words “Hardship, Discipline, Sonship, and Blessing” are emphasized throughout the passage.  Why must Christians endure hardships?  Why does God sound so harsh?  Does God secretly hate us?  The answer is that God is not being harsh nor does He hate us.  God allows us to experience hardships to produce spiritual endurance within us.  Nowhere in the Bible does God promise us easy lives, which is why pursuing an easy life is a delusion.  This is backed up by the Bible when it mentions us being put through God’s Refining Fire.  Just as gold or silver is refined (or made pure) through fire, so are we made pure through struggles.  Here is a link on verse’s about God’s Refining Fire: https://www.openbible.info/topics/refiners_fire.
What does faith in an unseen God have to do with hardships or even discipline? The answer to this question can also be found in Hebrews chapters 11 and 12.  God uses hardships to not only test our faith, but to strengthen our relationship with Him.  If I had to put it out in a mathematical formula, it would look something like this: Hardship + Discipline= Endurance + Faith= Respect + Trust+ Love= Meaning+ Hope.  For those of you who detest math like I did during high school, here it is in a nutshell.  When one undergoes hardship and discipline from God, it is meant to produce endurance and faith in God.  With endurance and faith in God, we gain a respect, trust, and love for Him and for those around us.  With that respect, trust, and love, we realize that everyone’s lives (including our own), whether good or bad, has meaning (due to God having a special purpose for our lives) and we also gain hope for the future when Jesus Christ returns.  According to Hebrews chapters 11 and 12, by faith, we can accept hardship as God’s discipline (which is an expression of His Love), when we have faith.  If God didn’t Love us, then He would leave us to stagnate spiritually and not mature or grow, which means when hardships arise, we will be woefully unprepared.  This also ties in with Jesus’ parable of the seed sower from Mark 4:1-20.  If you accept God’s Discipline, then you are like the good soil that yields an abundant harvest.  If you cast aside God’s Discipline then the True Word of God does not take root and just like the rocks, the sun, and the thorns, the struggles we face daily can also strangle our faith if we allow them to.  To read the exact passage here is a link: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%204:1-20.

 

I thought about martial artists and how their masters teach them.  Many times their masters may seem harsh and the students go through many hardships to hone their skills, but later on after the lessons are over, those students feel more confident and prepared for real life confrontations or situations.  However, those who don’t bother to pay attention to what their master is teaching them, will not know how to react when confronted outside.  In an almost similar manner, God uses hardships not just to test our faith, but to increase it and to help us grow as HIS children so that we can face the future with faith in God.  Those who refuse God will stagnate and will not be prepared for future hardships.  This best explains what the Gospels mean about “finishing the race”, which is not a physical race, but a spiritual one or rather the Race of Faith in Daily Life. The hardships of the early Christians were seen as training for their lives of Testifying to the Word of God so that not only themselves, but also others may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Here is a link providing different verses on the Race of Faith in Daily Life: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+20%3A23-24%2C1+Corinthians+9%3A23-25%2C2+Timothy+4%3A7%2CHebrews+12%3A1-3&version=NIV.

 

But what happens when we don’t have faith in God, especially during those hardships?  During Bible study I thought of an excellent question, “What’s the difference between God’s Discipline and Punishment?”  My Bible study teacher revealed to me that God’s Discipline does NOT necessarily mean punishment.  As the passages mentioned that no discipline is pleasant at the time so we tend to believe that discipline is punishment.  However, here this is not the case.  My Bible study teacher gave me a story about his uncle and teenage cousin.  His uncle wanted his cousin to learn the bus system, so he gave him the directions to get home from his school and left him at the bus stop.  Most people who saw him at the bus stop would think his father had punished or even abandoned him, but if they knew his father gave him directions, they would realize his father was preparing his son to be an independent man.  The same goes for our relationship with God.

 

The Israelites were supposed to follow a designated path through the desert during Exodus that should have taken about three weeks.  However, due to their lack of faith, they spent forty years wandering in the desert.  This was a punishment.  If only they had stuck out their brief hardship than suffer a worse punishment as we do many times. When we are accepted by God, we will still face hardships where we can be disciplined to grow, especially in faith.  However, when we doubt God, we usually end up assuming our hardships are God’s punishments and make them even worse by doing so.  In conclusion, I learned that being jealous of those who reject God and have seemingly “easy” lives is meaningless as they are stagnating spiritually, while God is preparing HIS children for the future so they can stand covered with the Blood of their Savior Jesus Christ in front of God’s Judgement Throne and, with God’s Divine Approval, receive citizenship to enter God’s Holy Kingdom, which cannot be shaken or destroyed.  So while it may seem that other people may live an easy life while you experience hardship, remember (this applies to me as well) that God is training you so that you will be prepared for when He returns and those who choose to stagnate in disbelief will be unprepared when they will finally face hardships without help from God.

Key Verse: (Hebrews 12: 28) “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe…”

One word: As a good student, we should always strive to continue learning, serving, growing, and loving as children of Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Spiritual Training With God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

November 6, 2015

Hello Everyone,

Jackie Chan has been one of the most influential actors in martial arts film history ever since Bruce Lee.  Almost everyone today has heard of Jackie Chan and are familiar with the amount of hard work that goes into his films, especially his stunts.  However, most people do not stop to think about the extensive training he must have had when he was younger and the enormous amount of training he does every day to stay in shape.  Here is a video as an example of Jackie Chan’s training program montage with training scenes from his films:

I was thinking about martial arts the other night, especially UFC and I couldn’t shake the idea of cage fighting.  During my childhood, I would watch kung fu movies (I know UFC and the styles used in kung fu films are different and similar in their own respective ways) and I would be impressed with the special emphasis placed on the philosophy behind their martial arts style.  There were themes such as honor, dignity, protecting the ones you loved, etc…  However, and keep in mind that I rarely watch UFC fights so I am NOT an expert in the field, but when I see people fighting in cages, I can’t help but think that the media reduces these fighters (who are most likely regular people following their passion in life) to mere animals.  I don’t see much honor in such a portrayal.  As I said, if I am wrong, you are more than free to let me know what the purpose of the cages are.  I HATE to see people being treated as less than human.

When I look at the world today, there seems to be a certain attitude that the world expects from us.  They keep referring to the so called “animal instinct” that everyone has and that bringing this instinct out will make us “stronger.”  But what is true strength?  Is it only dealing with physical muscles or are there other, more unexplored aspects of strength that are not focused on in our daily lives?  Honestly, I think true strength comes from outside ourselves.  Let me explain.  We are taught that true strength comes from within ourselves and while we all are capable of great strength, it is still limited.  However, the Bible teaches us to humble ourselves and rely on God’s strength, which is unlimited.  As it says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “But he said to me, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  I have been struggling to gain the latter for the past couple of years now.

Let’s face facts, it’s very difficult to rely on someone else these days let alone rely on a Being that we can’t see.  However, the Gospels teach us that our goal is to persevere to accomplish what God has set us out to do on Earth.  That is a key word here: perseverance.  As James 1:12 states, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  You see, in many of his films, Jackie Chan has shown (among many others) one great character: that he perseveres to fight for justice.  That man never gives up!  Don’t believe me?  Then let’s look at the scene in Rumble in the Bronx where he is water-skiing behind a tour boat.  No matter how many obstacles he comes across in the water, he never lets go of the rope out of sheer perseverance.  Even when he falls on the beach, he finds another way to stop the out of control boat.  That kind of perseverance should be applied to studying the Gospels.

However, this is reality and not Hollywood, so we have a ton of reasons why we don’t read the Bible everyday, especially a lot of Christians including myself.  I have so many other things that end up distracting me.  What should my YouTube channel feature in terms of content?  How do I get said content accomplished with limited resources?  What kind of job am I really searching for?  How do get financially stable enough to live in NYC?  All these problems and more distract me each day from the real answer to those and so many problems I have: the Bible aka the Word of God.  They also distract me from something just as important as studying the Word of God: Prayer.  Little by little, God is revealing to me that no matter how many difficulties in life I face nor how huge they are, they are NO PROBLEM FOR HIM!  God has a truly mysterious way and timeline of doing things that no expert could ever truly explain.

This leads to another hindrance to our prayer lives and that is impatience. Let’s be real, there are times I find myself saying, “Jesus is moving way too slow and needs to hurry up as I am ready for an answer now!”  Only to find out that when the time comes, I was not as over-prepared as I thought I was.  You see, everything seems ready to go on our end, but with God, He sees another story.  There are many flaws, whether seen or unseen, that prevent us from truly having faith in God.  God is not our personal genie, He is Our Master and Savior.  When I use the word Master, I do not mean a slave owner as we have come to know in the traditional sense.  If you look at the old Kung Fu movies including those by Jackie Chan, we see a different application of the role of master or shifu meaning teacher.  The master is not only a teacher to his students, but almost like a second father to them.  He provides a safe place for them to live, structure for their lives, feeds them, and even clothes them.  To a martial arts master, his students are not just students, they are members of his own family.

This is how I see the role of God as our Master.  He is NOT someone who is draining every ounce of work we can give Him like a slave driver; He is our Teacher and also our Caretaker Who is willing to take up our cause when the time (according to His timing and not by our own sense of timing) is right.  According to James 5:7-8, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  Why do you think Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd?  Jesus is saying that if push comes to shove, He is willing to die for us, which He has already proven to the entire world.  Recently, I worked in a mail room and it was a pretty stressful job.  There were times I felt like giving up, but I felt that God was training me to become the man He needs me to be.  When I left the mail room, I think it was God’s way of telling me my training was over and that it was time to move on to another training situation.  I had learned so many different lessons about patience, leadership, true strength, and about perseverance.  I thought I would be able to take working there for a year, but by God’s Grace, I lasted two years instead.  So, I lasted longer than I had previously believed.  God not only surpassed my co-worker’s expectations, but my own expectations of myself as well. God is not just my Teacher, He is my Caretaker and Solace.  I get stronger, because of Him therefore the Triune God is my life or personal Shifu.  I pray that the next plateau I reach, God will be there preparing to reach the final goal, which is entrance into His Holy Kingdom.  Amen.

Be Not Afraid.

October 24, 2015

Hello Everyone,

Here is a copy of my personal life testimony that I shared at church last year and have time to upload now:

Be Not Afraid.

Key Verse:

Genesis 15: 1: Abram Promised a Son: After these things the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear Abram, I am a Shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”  (Updated New American Standard Bible aka my Grandpa’s Bible).

The temperature is warm, but is quickly nullified by a gentle breeze. I remember playing Power Rangers outside with my friends until sunset. It must have been over 14 years ago. How I miss the days of childhood. Those times were simpler back then. I grew up a Catholic and completed all my sacraments up to Confirmation. I also attended Lutheran school growing up. I was always surrounded with Bible lessons about Jesus, which intrigued me, but I eventually grew up to view church and Bible classes as part of daily life. Jesus became just a sacred icon rather than a personal savior.

Now, I am 27 about to turn 28 years old next month.   While attending Queens College, I met a man named Joseph Kim who helped shaped my view of an otherwise iconic version of Jesus. Through his Bible studies, I had learned that having faith in Jesus was something far more personal than I had believed. I always used to pray to Jesus when I was in need, but then I began praying for more deeper things, such as life direction and spiritual understanding of God’s purpose for my life.

One night, I remember praying to God for me to use my talents for media for HIS Purposes, especially seeing as I was worried about my grades that semester. Then, as I was finishing my prayer, a shooting star streaked across the sky. I took it as a sign that God had heard my prayer and was then going to lead me throughout my life to Him. Eventually, I had passed all my classes with all A’s. That was then I continued my college career in media to create films that would serve God’s purpose.

As I kept with studying the Bible and attending UBF services I grew to know Jesus as more than just a religious icon. He was no longer just a god that lived in Heaven and was too important to care about me, but rather loved me so much that He sent His Only Son Jesus to die for me. However, Jesus still had competition to deal with, because I was trying to combine my faith with other ideas from my academic studies and even those presented on television, especially with heroes such as Hercules, Superman, and so many others.

The time came for me to leave QC and I decided to attend Hofstra University’s Documentary MFA program. I had a huge list of goals to accomplish before I can get a professional career in media. Those were the toughest four academic years of college I had ever done, especially seeing as my friend and Bible teacher, Joseph, had left for Korea. However, by God’s Grace, I had completed my studies and had accomplished more than what I had on my list of goals. I felt that I was more than ready to take on the “real” world. I had overcome every obstacle and won every race to get to where I was then.

However, I did not realize that I was in for the toughest year and a half for my whole life. I was unemployed for a year and every day was the same. I kept trying to prove myself to the world, but to no avail. I couldn’t understand what went wrong, how could an MFA graduate not find a single job in NY? I kept asking God why I was being prevented from finding a job. I did not realize what was lying in wait for me during that time.

I was introduced to a new obstacle that was lying dormant from childhood. Its name is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. Now, I was up against an enemy that was more powerful than me, because it was a part of me. How could I fight against something was a part of me? The first symptoms began when I started pulling out my sofa bed multiple times a day, then it was putting on my shirt, and then it was putting on my shoes. Soon, I couldn’t even leave the house. That didn’t matter, because I was unemployed for that year and all I had done was stay at home. I go to bed at sunrise and wake up at sunset.

However, slowly, but surely my compulsive rituals began to dominate my life. The true culmination of OCD came a week after my father had returned from trip to New Orleans in September 2012. I remember going to the bathroom and sitting on the toilet to do my business. When I was done, I tried to get up, but couldn’t. No, it wasn’t something physical holding me back, but a single thought. A thought about a car accident entered my mind when I tried to get up and for the first time for all my life, I had never experienced so much fear and anxiety before. I tried to be patient and wait it out, but no matter how hard I tried or how long I waited, this fear of death would not go away. It only intensified as I could feel something inside my body touching my kidneys, which felt like the touch of death. Eventually, I called my parents for help, but they were powerless to do anything.

That’s when the screaming started. I began screaming out of rage for my unemployment, rage at the fact that I worked so hard only to be passed up for job after job, rage at the struggle my parents faced in this country just to buy a home, rage at the whole world and everyone in it who knew happiness. My dad came with my grandmother’s urn telling me to pray for her dead spirit to intercede with God on my behalf.

Finally, after hours of what seemed like Hell, I was able to get up from the toilet. I went to the bathroom at 7 pm that night and did not get off until 7 am the next morning, which amounts to 10 hours of being stuck in the bathroom. Eventually, I would end up sleeping in a corner of my parents’ room, with only my underwear on, because I couldn’t even put on my clothes. Every movement I made felt like death was stalking me. I CRIED out to Jesus most nights begging Him to lift this curse that He placed on me. At the time, I did not know this illness was OCD, so as far as I was concerned, it was a curse of craziness from God for all of my sins and for not continuing to read His Word as much as I should have.

Eventually, I was lead to a therapist named Keith who was able to diagnose my psychological condition as OCD. Now, that demon that cursed me finally had a name. However, he could not treat me so he recommended that I visit Mount Sinai’s OCD Treatment Center. I did so and given an official diagnosis and put on medication and offered behavioral therapy. I was hesitant to accept the therapy so I told my psychiatrist to give me a week to think about it.

The very next weekend, parents had convinced me to come shopping with them on Roosevelt Ave. Surprisingly, there was good mood I was experiencing that day so I decided to join them. While leaving the Indian supermarket, I was drinking some mango juice while walking with my parents. Then, out of nowhere, something or some Force opened my eyes and my mind and for the first time ever, I had experienced true personal freedom. For a 15-20 minute window, I was completely free of all my rage and anxiety. This must have been a message from God to go ahead with the therapy. I visited my psychiatrist the next week and he was surprised about how quickly my attitude had changed about therapy. I went through a year of behavioral therapy with a student therapist whose last name, ironically, was Moses. Each session, I confronted my anxieties about death and the rituals that I used to rely on to protect me from it. Each time I conquered a ritual, it brought me a step closer to knowing Jesus as my PERSONAL savior.

Since then, I have met up with Missionary Maria Kim again and continued my Bible studies with her now. I remember our study of Genesis and the story that intrigued me the most was Genesis 15.  It turned out to be one of the Bible studies I did with Joseph before he left.  What made the story so intriguing was that God alleviates Abram’s fears with a Promise of descendants.  Abram’s obsession was having children and his greatest fear was not being able to continue his lineage.  However, it’s how Abram responds to God that truly puzzled me.  He just believed Him!  How did he know this Being was going to keep His Promise?  The truth is, he didn’t at first.  It wasn’t until verse 5 where God showed him the number of his descendants by comparing them to the number of stars in the sky.  That’s what I realized what Abram probably did.  If this God could create those wondrous stars in the sky, then He must be powerful enough to carry out His Promises.  From this story, I learned that faith is a two way street, but it is up to me to have the humility to BELIEVE GOD AND HIS WONDERFUL PROMISE which he must have for my life not to be meaningless and cut short, but to be useful in glorifying Him through my talent of film-making!

One Word:  Do not fear Abram and do not fear Jason.  I, and nobody else, am your Shield.  Your reward will be very great.

I pray that this testimony will of great help, service, and inspiration to all of you, especially those of you who suffer from mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual disorders, and especially to those who are homeless in which they have been known to be affected by mental illnesses also.  Amen.