Thursday, August 19, 2010
Werner Herzog found the mentally unstable Bruno Schleinstein, who was known briefly to the world as Bruno S., in a 1970 documentary called Bruno der Shwarze (Bruno the Black). At the time Bruno was a street musician, playing traditional ballads; he played piano, glockenspiel, accordion and hand bells. He spoke in declarative bursts of idiosyncratic phrasings, often referring to himself in the third person, a curious--or not so curious--affect considering the subject was often his history of suffering and despair at his state of estrangement from society. The authentic voice of the psychically wounded, which artists can only approximate, never become. Herzog cast him in two films, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek, where he played the lead characters in his own enigmatic persona, his level of awareness and engagement with the process never quite certain.
Born in 1932, Bruno may have been beaten partly deaf by his prostitute mother before being abandoned at a very young age. He ended up in an orphanage run by the Nazis, where mentally retarded children and other Reichsausschusskinder (literally "Reich Committee Children"--wards of the state) were subjected to medical experimentation. As an adult Bruno worked days as a forklift driver and nights he made music. His primary neurosis was paranoia.
Bruno's difficulty hearing may have led to a mistaken diagnosis of retardation early on (fetal alcohol syndrome must be suspected here as well); he may have lost some mental faculties as a result of beatings either at the hands of his mother or the authorities; or he may have merely been damaged psychologically by the trauma of his early life, as Herzog believes.
His strange speech produced a spontaneous poetry of woe and anguish. He was paranoid and self-pitying--and for every good reason. He walked among us as a mangled specter from a barbarous yesterday, channeling the brutality of his history in through the sputtering device that was his damaged psyche. A living reproach from a past and a capacity for evil that are both too near.
Herzog wrote Stroszek specifically to place this strange character he’d found in a grim satire of nineteen-Seventies America. Herzog uses mostly non-professional actors throughout the film as the often grotesque characters Bruno-as-Stroszek encounters in Germany and America. He escapes a murderous pimp in Berlin to the indifference of a bleak plain in rural Wisconsin. The location and locals cast in Stroszek Herzog found while lurking about the hometown of Ed Gein (something about exhuming the grave of the killer’s mother). Herzog’s view of America is much like Bruno’s view of the world, morose and bemused, but compelling for its alien, distorted-lens focus and difficult to resist. A sort of retard strength.
Bruno believed he had been exploited and abandoned by Herzog, and many agree. There’s no doubt it was exploitation, but Bruno may have nonetheless benefited in the end from his fleeting celebrity. He resented Herzog for abandoning him along with the fair weather of celebrity he brought, but for Bruno happiness, as we understand it, was not a possibility.
It is fitting that Bruno should encompass also the shifty question of what constitutes exploitation. A reality television celebrity chooses to be exploited, often to extremes; society hasn't yet an answer for these--people whose individual actions become our collective embarrassments. Bruno S. was an early “reality” figure who chose his exploitation with an awareness that may or may not be less than that shown by the average current type we've come to know. But unlike them he lost no dignity, neither his nor ours, in the process. His ability to master the world was limited, but his capacity to feel was keen; in this sense he is the opposite of the modern reality figure—who games the world, sometimes skillfully, in blithe and childlike emotional indifference.
Bruno lived on the same installment plan of contingency and compromise with an ultimately indifferent world, as we all do, but on far harsher terms. Maybe that's what transfixed us, for a time; he was like us, visible and walking about, but farther down the abyss of human cruelty. Maybe that's why he was so easily forgotten.
He unsettled and mesmerized us because what we saw, in his unguarded and expressive face, was human cruelty expressing itself as the suffering of the living host that bears it along, like a germ planted long ago and thriving still.
At some terrifying level, within us all, the suffering and cruelty are indistinguishable. How else to understand this human constant that is evil? It is in the nuances of personality that we see these awful things, make these unwanted realizations. Personality was invented in the movie theater, where the living visage, in its endless expressions, is the subject.
Bruno's face was a hopeless plea, a perpetual surrender, and a haunting reproach. May he rest, at long last.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
loss of contact with reality: a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia or mania that is marked by delusions, hallucinations, incoherence, and distorted perceptions of reality.
Is it too soon, for decency, or too late, because things move fast nowadays, to speculate on the potential for an Omar Thornton fan page? Due to the solemn credulity with which the media addressed the accusations—of a killer against his still dying victims—no mass murderer has so quickly gained so high a platform for so petty a charge. When the crimination is “white racism” no decent interval is allowed. Neither, skepticism. Omar’s hearing was immediately and dutifully granted in response to his crimes, with the usual suspect “experts” weighing in—only this time on workplace discrimination, not, as we've come to expect, workplace violence.
This estimation of "racism", broadly defined, as the equivalent of violence (with the noose as a talisman and the "n-word" as incantation, both imbued with supernatural powers) is how the cultural commissariat sanctions black-on-white violence as an unfortunate but understandable means of redress.
The press response occurred at the nexus of willed ignorance and forced imagination. The sort of horrors before which this cloistered class feigns to shudder on behalf of Thornton and his ilk they can only imagine. And imagine they do, with energy and diligence. I had previously reckoned a sane man’s homicidal “breaking point” was well beyond an overheard slur, an item of graffiti, and a company’s objection to being systematically robbed by its own. Merely mentioning these charges here, even if true in their slender entirety, is to give them indecent attention. Forgive me, but this is a very dirty business.
And we still don’t know the depths to which our media will go to prove its ideological gullibility—no echoes of restraint have yet answered the pings of credulity that were the first news reports. Exhaustion, rather than shame, quelled the herd’s hysteria. We can say the farcical delusion goes at least as deep as this Christian Science Monitor headline:
Is racism at heart of Connecticut shooting? Answer still unclear.
How quaint of you, if you thought the answer all-too-clear in the case of a shooter singling out the middle-aged white men who built and sustained the company that employed and endured him (as they tend to do wherever we find productive endeavor—an unacknowledged fact explaining most of the deliberately cultivated resentment, eagerly taken up by Omar, for this, the last remaining class against which discrimination is codified into law and derision is compelled by culture). No, this "racism" doesn't interest the media. Even in the act of murder a black man isn't granted the capacity for hate that a white innocent bears like a human stain, shed not even in death. America's "original sin" is, after all, confined to white Americans in perpetuity, whoever they are and whatever they do. Sickening still, but no longer surprising.
The grotesque irony of pursuing a homicidal bigot’s complaints of racial harassment is only noticed by the irrelevant (my hand’s raised). Still, the CSM story above actually lagged the pack to the skeptical rear by featuring an authority discounting, rather than humoring or giving undue credence to, Omar’s charges. For the media the event worked like a brain-teaser, where habitual thinking leads one to miss plain meaning. You know:
one of the coins is a nickel; the doctor is the boy’s mother; the hateful murderer is the bigot.
No “but of course” moment is forthcoming. Here the press is like the ideal subject for a hypnotist’s lounge act: easily brought under, highly suggestible, shameless in its stupor, oblivious in retrospect.
This defamation of the dead isn‘t without its black comedy: the murderer was wearied, we’re told (by a callow girlfriend as oblivious to shame as the reporters encouraging her, reveling in the attention and enthusiastically adopting, as it were, the role usually reserved for a tearful mother), by the racism that just so happened to find him at every job. The chronically incompetent and stupid typically blame luck or a spiteful world for their misfortunes, and in Omar’s mind racism followed him like a personal storm cloud, manifested, I presume, in charges of tardiness, ineptitude, theft. Perhaps it is me who’s being naïve. After all, what a boundless reservoir of racism white America is!
The media’s appetite would not be sated before we were assured of the gentle nature of this man and his love for family, lovers, and handguns. One newspaper featured a photo spread of the widow (of the killer, not one of the killed), complete with an image of the tattoo consecrating her upper thigh to their love.
In this AP story some demanded (further) justice be delivered upon the dead:
Once the guilt of the dead is confirmed by the standard of federal “civil rights law”—wherein the burden of proof is on the accused (here they can be said to be doubly disadvantaged, compelled by law to prove the negative in a voice rendered silent by their accuser; damn this teacher is strict!)—remedies will be considered. Perhaps a class action suit and subsequent settlement, an injunction mandating some sort of diversity program, a donation to an activist organization (and administration ally) of the Justice Department’s selection, the hiring of some member of the elect. Ms. Sherrod is available.
Some experts said Friday that, although nothing justifies Thornton's killing spree, the allegations of workplace racism should be investigated so they can either be dealt with or laid to rest.
"You have to investigate it," said employment lawyer Kelly Scott, adding that racial harassment in the workplace is often a crime.
"Any chance you have to make your workplace a better place, a safer place, you have to take it," Scott said. "If there are people who have these attitude problems or problem dealing with other races, they should lose their jobs." [seems the company attempted just this, in firing Omar]
Sharon Toomer, founder of the website blackandbrownnews.com, called it "an accountability issue."
"If he didn't (report harassment), that's great. He's just a nut case," [but if he did...] she said. "If he did go and nobody did anything, then the company's hands are not clean." [killin' is too good for 'em]
Messages seeking comment about a potential investigation into Thornton's racism claims were left Friday for the Hartford State's Attorney's Office, the FBI's New Haven office, the chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and for the president of the Connecticut NAACP.
It has been a teachable moment.