A Doll’s House and Mojada: Tradition, Ambition, and Being Humane

A Doll’s House and Mojada: Tradition, Ambition, and Being Humane

Art & Culture, Cultural Commentary, Essays

As a country, we are less compassionate and unmotivated to help others.  From the litany of sexual harassment cases to the reckless acts of celebrities and politicians, these public examples in American society illustrate larger, more disturbing themes.  At some point, we started only taking care of ourselves, partially due to “American ambition,” something deeply ingrained in our culture. No one kept count of the damages that kept slowly accumulating. Now, we’re paying for it—and it’s time to take a look around.

I don’t think Luis Alfaro’s Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles could have come at a better time. Luis Alfaro takes Medea, a Greek tragedy, and sets it in modern day Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Medea, Hason, their son Acan, and Medea’s nanny Tita move there from Michoacan under tragic circumstances, making the arduous journey from Mexico to the U.S. that approximately 350 migrants die from each year.    

The conflict driving the story is between Hason’s career ambitions in America and Medea’s desire to preserve the traditions and culture of her homeland. Hason’s ambition is as American as it gets: he dreams of moving up the ladder in his contracting job, presumably so he and Medea can live like royalty. He doesn’t mind using whatever he can get his hands on to move up, including the affections of his boss, Armida. Medea is reserved, and characters frequently comment on how she looks like the physical embodiment of Michoacan. She treats everyone with care, making her new friend Josefina beautiful dresses and nurturing her son and husband.  Yet it’s clear that she doesn’t want to make anything of her skills or assimilate into American society.

The play’s central dilemma contrasts with antiquated plays where the conflict was flipped upside down. Women with ambition similar to Hason’s were stifled by their gender roles and society, silenced and allotted a husband. A popular example is Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, where Nora, the wife to Torvald, a respectable banker, tries to work under her husband’s nose to pay off a debt. When Torvald discovers her secret, he readily abandons her. Stories like these highlight the element of choice women in free countries experience today. A woman like Nora, who courageously stepped away from her domestic confines to see the world at the end of the play, would be revered.

So, where does that leave people who still respect their traditional cultures where the community is priority? If we are truly a society that respects differences, especially differences in choice (and yes, Medea is making a choice), should we not have a place for a woman like Medea?

The play ends with its own answer: a bloody, vengeful resounding: “NO.” This is because our society is driven by hypercompetitiveness, for building “brands” and empires, chasing gold rushes. It is the thrill of the American life but it is becoming its greatest downfall as we witness millions of people lose health care, live lives with untreated mental and physical health problems, and the planet go to waste. According to a Gallup poll, people in Mexico are the happiest in the world, prizing social ties over careers, despite political and economic turmoil. But space for traditions, family, and kindness between the busy work schedule and the next leg up is hard to come by here.  

When humans are blinded with power, enmeshed in the status games, other people become obstacles, assets, or zeros. They’re either in one’s way, helping them score, or entirely irrelevant, and thus, without identity. Hason openly admits Medea that Armida, his boss has a crush on him. He claims to exploit her feelings “for the family.” Medea slow becomes irrelevant. Her friend Josefina, the local gossip, tells Medea what she’s been hearing around the neighborhood: “Hason is like, well, like a king. You know, someone powerful and with ambition. But, well… I hear you’re not really like, his queen?” Medea denies this out of blind conviction, but Hason’s priorities become clear: he stays away from home and spends more time with Armida.

That we chose our ambitions over people isn’t news (the original Medea is now over 2,000 years old) nor is it intrinsically harmful. A Doll’s House is clearly proof of thisNora was trapped in a loveless marriage, used by her husband for entertainment, and left for her higher calling. What is harmful is when our choices have an increasing negative impact on our friends, family, and community. When we’ve become so absorbed in ourselves that we’ve forgotten about our responsibilities to others, and maybe our own values.

Alfaro’s contemporary Medea shows us the consequences of the discordant relationship in America between the pursuit of ambition and the preservation of community in Medea’s tragic ending. A deep existential torment takes over her life when it’s revealed that Hason married Armida. The real estate tycoon she is, Armida kicks Medea out on the streets without remorse. Without the love of Hason, Medea is desperate, hystericaland ends the play by killing her son.

Have we lost in lost the “village”? We’ve been quick to expand in industry without providing cushions for those who have lost their ways of life. We’ve become immersed in a fantasy of a better tomorrow for ourselves lost a sense of the people surrounding us, their humanity as it relates with our own. It may be a complicated way back—is it worth the search?

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Should we Be Stoic About Assholes?

Moments of Impact: Should we Be Stoic About Assholes?

Cultural Commentary, Moments of Impact

41nduvval-l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Anyone who read Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit or On Truth couldn’t wait to read its seemingly logical counterpart, Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James. Both philosophers cover alarming American cultural trends, such as the insidious force of “bullshit,” a noted lack of appreciation for the truth, and the so-called freedoms that we abuse on a daily basis in a truly asshole-like fashion. In his poignant taxonomy, Aaron James technically defines the asshole in this way:

Our theory is simply this: a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.

As examples to back, James cites the notorious line-cutter, entitled surfers, righteous media personalities (on both sides of the political spectrum1), bankers, politicians, our current president, Ayn Rand, and more, whilst making the distinction between a mere “prick,” an asshole, and a dangerous psychopath.

Along with meeting the criteria set above, assholes have one thing in common: they incite a righteous fury within us. An idiot is easily dismissed: they obviously don’t know any better, which is why they don’t have the capacity to offend us so. But an asshole? An asshole sets up their “wall,” the entrenched sense of entitlement James refers to, rendering us completely invisible in the moral playing field. When someone is “asshole-ish,” they have their moments but are usually, at one point or another, willing to bend and hear the perspective of the one who has been slighted by their actions. The asshole? The asshole leaves us banging at the door.

This is where James poses an interesting question that was lacking in Frankfurt’s accounts: can, and should we, accept the asshole’s behavior?

James weighs in with a Stoic perspective. Stoicism arose when Athenian society was in complete social upheaval, a response to (or even coping mechanism for) the chaos that surrounded them. In other words, at a time when you would expect many civilians be angry and upset. Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, lived an objectively wretched life as a slave and cripple, though believed that true freedom was to be found in a complete disregard for external things:

That alone is in our power, which is our own work; and in this class are our opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions. What, on the contrary, is not in our power, are our bodies, possessions, glory, and power. Any delusion on this point leads to the greatest errors, misfortunes, and troubles, and to the slavery of the soul…We have no power over external things, and the good that ought to be the object of our earnest pursuit, is to be found only within ourselves.

This includes all other living, breathing, messy human beings. And yes—this includes the asshole. And didn’t Epictetus, a slave, accept his master’s enslavement over him? Didn’t the Greeks accept that Alexander the Great, the leader of the world’s then-largest empire, was an incompetent leader and, most likely, an asshole in his own right? And did life not go on? No doubt, I think Americans are puzzling over a similar problem. Should we relinquish control and let the “all-powerful” play the same reckless and stupid game they have been playing for centuries? Or do we try knocking at the door?

And what if we do neither? What if we were to find a path in between? The asshole will never see us. They’ll never play by the rules. So the question then becomes: what does it look like, at this moment in history, to stop playing the game?

Footnotes

1. Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly, to be precise.

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

3 Vitally Important Bukowski Quotes for the Depressed Creative

3 Vitally Important Charles Bukowski Quotes for the Depressed Creative

Cultural Commentary, How-to Articles

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

I have watched creative people go to places with no exit. It’s called depression. It never gets easy: there’s no icing, fluff, or extra stuff to be served on the side that will make it more than a horrid, seemingly everlasting entree. You call for the waiter to take it back; the waiter never comes. There you are, staring at this pitiful meal with a shitty garnish on the side. Just add the fact that you’re a writer, musician, or painter, and now you’re a stereotype. Cue the sad trombone.1

The Bukowkski poem you see above, The Laughing Heart, is a conquest over deadening misery. Pity. Loathing. I have never seen such hope coming from easily one of the most depressing writers of modern history. Bukowski’s early life was characterized by loneliness and abuse. His former veteran father tried swaying him to zealous patriotism and American ideals. He had severe acne which alienated him from his peers in high school. He spent ten years as a drunk on skid row in Los Angeles and started writing seriously after contracting a bleeding ulcer from excess alcohol consumption. He is a scorched, beaten up SOB, but not without a note of redemption and light.

Yet our modern portrayals of creative people are cartoonish and bland. They don’t touch mental illness with a ten foot pole. No longer are artists the martyrs of our society, exiles living in depravity, familiar with crippling depressions or brutal living conditions. They’re not rebels or deviants. Movies like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl; RENT; stars like Zooey Deschanel, Lena Dunham, and other poster-people of the “quirky creative” type make art and suffering seem… safe. Fun. Charming. (Maybe this is because contemporary, real-life artists play it safe.)

In my experience, artists who take their work very seriously are familiar with ditches, valleys, and prolonged suffering and despair. It’s essential to be brave in this way, but also to never let it destroy you as it has destroyed other famous artists. Bukowski, a depressed creative himself, makes the shitty sound hopeful and inspiring in the following three vitally important sound bytes.

1. Lifedance

The area dividing the brain and the soul
is affected in many ways by
experience –

Some lose all mind and become soul:
insane.
Some lose all soul and become mind:
intellectual.
Some lose both and become:
accepted.

Remember to be wary of feeling “accepted.” It feels great until you realize you’ve lost parts of yourself or your work to be considered something to everybody else. You should be especially cautious if you want to create something, because that something will always be new and different if you’re doing it right. You’re inherently taking the risk that people will turn their nose at your work. Instead of this becoming a preoccupation, let your work become a product of your mind and soul. Otherwise, why do it?

2. Blessed with a Crappy Life

I was blessed with a crappy life, that’s all. A crappy life to write about. A lot of writers they get famous at 22, 23 and then…they’re in the “literary world.” They’re going to cocktail parties. And nothing’s happening but…that. So then, they’re on the manure pile.

Bukowski said this in an interview a year before he passed away. When he was 23, he stopped writing and dropped out of the community college. He worked crappy jobs at a dog biscuit factory and the post office. By no means did he live an exhilarating or even outrageous existence. No matter how mundane, droll, or crappy you perceive your life to be, remember just how much beauty and humor can come of it.

3. Depression and Sleep Can Rejuvenate Creative Juices

I have periods where, you know, when I feel a little weak or depressed. Fuck it! The Wheaties aren’t going down right. I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer down and go back to bed. I come out of that completely re-enlightened for 2 or 3 months. I get power from that.

I think someday…they’ll say this psychotic guy knew something that…you know in days ahead and medicine, and how they figure these things out. Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they’re down low and give it up for three or four days. Then they’ll come back good for a while.

Easily, over-sleeping is a surefire sign of depression (though humans have, contrary to popular belief, the ability to hibernate). Research shows that sleeping more than 10 hours will likely make you feel more miserable. Yet Bukowski had a point in that sometimes, when you fret over what you should do, maybe it’s best to do nothing at all. Let your subconscious work on the grind. Let it chew on the ideas for you. If you have to force creativity out, why do it? The answer is: don’t.

Light travels faster than anything, so it won’t be too long that you spend in the dark until you see it once more. Keep doing things differently if that one thing isn’t working. Even if you’re afraid your creative pursuits won’t do you justice, that they won’t be perfect or even any good at all, let yourself fail. Then see how you feel.

Footnotes

1. The idea of the suffering and pitiful artist is a deeply ingrained one. So much so, we might conceive it as a conceptual metaphor: creativity = misery?

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.