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Monday, September 1, 2008

Death Race 2008

The original Death Race 2000 (1975) is a bit of a classic dystopian critique: future America is a financial wasteland, run by a fascist government that sponsors gladiatorial games, in this case a violent car race in which the drivers kill each other and bystanders for the entertainment of the inured public.

Death Race (2008) shifts the political critique. As a sign of the times the dystopian backdrop painted in this updated version is one in which corporations run much of the public infrastructure, including the penal system. It joins Robocop and The Running Man in that particular genre of futuristic cautionary tales. The government is weak enough, or incompetent enough, to have permitted the financial collapse of the country and although it behaves fascistically, sending riot police in to stomp on riots that don't happen until the police show up to inspire them, the real villains are the amoral corporations. Running prisons and selling death to the unemployed public, the corporations at one and the same time distract the public from their plight and inspire them to spend their paltry incomes on corporate products.

The goals of the protagonists in the two films are also different. In the original, the "hero" has as his goal the destruction of the political structure of the country. In the remake, the hero's only goal is to reclaim his infant daughter from the people she has been fostered with after he is framed for murdering his wife: attacking the villain, the corporation, doesn't serve this end at all so his method of achieving his end is to escape.

At one point Joan Allen, the warden of the prison and face of the corporation for the purposes of the film, asks the hero if he is sure that his daughter isn't better off with her foster family than with him, a twice (now) incarcerated dreg whose wife was the only one who saw any good in him. She suggests that by giving his daughter up (and staying to race for the corporation) he would be performing one of the greatest, most selfless acts of love she can imagine. He rejects this without any notable conflict, remarking at the end of the film that since no one could love his daughter more than he does he is obviously the right person to raise her. Even if it's in a junkyard in Mexico.

Ignoring for the moment that I, once again went to see a movie on my own in which the main character is separated from his family (I'm such an idiot), I want to say a little self-consciously that I have a hard time agreeing with the hero about his decision.

I want it to be the case that love alone can inspire parents to be parents, and to raise children who are happy and healthy. But I find myself siding with the evil, corporate warden on this one: certainly there are cases in which the greater act of love is to give your child over into the care of someone else.

Like, perhaps, your mother.

A lot has been said in the last day and a half about Sarah Palin's fifth child, and the rumour that he is in fact her grandson, born to her seventeen year old daughter Bristol four months ago. And a lot has been said today about the announcement that Bristol is herself, currently, five months pregnant (which, if true, would mean that Trig, the infant, could not possibly be hers).

Cynics, myself included, await the announcement at some point in the future that Bristol has mysteriously 'lost' the baby (because we not-so-secretly believe that she isn't pregnant now).

But I am not so hardened that I think, as some seem to, that Palin is unequivocally stealing something from her daughter by (allegedly) raising her grandson as her son. Because the decision to keep a baby or give him up cannot be an easy one. Supportive parents, willing to step in and step up, ought to be lauded. And children in crisis shouldn't be exposed to the sneers of the jaded. I have no idea what the dynamic is in the Palin household. But I am willing to assume that if Palin has been raising her grandson that this decision was made out of love, and not out of political ambition. Further, I am willing to extend to Bristol Palin the benefit of the doubt and assume that her decisions, too, are made out of love. And to note that no matter what she shouldn't be used as a political tool by anybody.

It will be pointed out, and rightly, I think, that no matter what's been said above that doesn't change the fact that someone's judgment can be called into question about something, and that can be referenced in political discussions. For instance, McCain's decision to nominate Palin without knowing (or caring) about the effect these rumours would have on her candidacy and his run for the White House, can be examined and criticized. But Bristol's decisions about her life, and about her child or children, are not on the table. Not unless there is some definitive evidence that Sarah Palin herself has been strong-arming her daughter for her own political gain. And I'm enough of a parent that I can't make that kind of leap just because I don't like politicians.

So back off of Bristol, and if you must talk about Sarah Palin as a mother then be careful to not confuse the relevant with the irrelevant: flying with leaking amniotic fluid and selecting an inferior care center in which to give birth is poor judgment, the kind of judgment that becomes an issue if she ever holds the office of Vice President. Lying about being pregnant is questionable, but what it says about her character is ambiguous, and might not be relevant at all politically: a lie to protect her daughter says good things about her character; a lie to protect her career says some pretty sinister things about her character.

I think that sacrifice is heroic. And unlike the protagonist of Death Race I do not think that love alone makes one a superior guardian for a child. Sometimes love requires a very difficult choice. Like the choice to lie, or the choice to give up a child.

Or to vote Green in November.

23 comments:

Wendy said...

Interesting juxtaposition between Death Race and the current political situation. Cheers!

Wendy said...

Oh cool! I was first! :D

Mom101 said...

"A lie to protect her daughter says good things about her character; a lie to protect her career says some pretty sinister things about her character."

Nicely done.

However I have issues with someone who advocates spending taxpayer money on abstinence-only programs and rejecting effective sex ed programs, while hiding the evidence that teaching abstinence only leads to pregnant teenagers.

I wouldn't be surprised if in part it was a lie to protect her political and religious agenda as well.

Karen at Pecked by Ducks said...

Damn this is awesome! And, you just gave every guy (and secretly gals like me, 'cause I saw it on opening day) the perfect excuse to see these near-future/sci-fi/apocalypse type movies that we hate to love. We really can come away with something profound! See honey, Backpacking Dad did, and so can I.

Fricken Fantabulous. Thank you.

Redneck Mommy said...

My heart hurts too much to comment on this latest political drama.

I will point out that I'd never let you pick a movie for me though. Your taste is questionable in movies, at best.

Wink.

Nancy said...

Well done.

My first thought when I read Briston was indeed pregnant was she'll "lose" the (?) baby. The other info sliced and diced yesterday did leave some questions unanswered.

As you said, Bristol should be left out of the political arena.

Sara's judgment is an issue, with me at least.

But I have to remember, even a mother bear (polar, wink) will do what ever to protect her cub.

anna said...

"Or to vote Green in November?"

Seriously? Hasn't the Green Party and Nader done enough already? Better to not show up at all.

Insta-mom said...

I read an article today that quoted Obama saying something along the lines of "Family is off limits...back the f*** off everyone." And good for him for saying so.

I agree that there is a bigger issue going on here with Palin's politics, but I also agree that her daughter shouldn't have to be beaten up over it.

But seriously...voting Green? There is a line. Really.

TentCamper said...

Great perspective!! I saw the trailer and then never thought about that movie again...until now.

Thanks!

anymommy said...

Sigh. I don't know what to say, or even think yet, about the political side of all of this, but I will adore you for all time for that last full paragraph. For all time.

Anonymous said...

I am a lurker. A lurker that is terrified of you voting Green. Seriously, what point will you really make. If John McCain is elected I will ... oh my god I don't know what I'll do...but I will blame you. I'll blame you for putting my darling son's future in danger. Please reconsider...do some grassroots work..fine..but don't fuck up Obama's chances by voting Green.

Backpacking Dad said...

wendy: congratulations!

mom101: abstinence-only people are blind (oh, there go some readers. Bye. Sorry I got political.)

karen at pecked by ducks: anything I can do to help.

redneck mommy: I can't believe this one. I never saw it coming.

nancy: papa bear too.

anna: I'll keep showing up until the world is a different colour instead of a different shade of ugly grey.

insta-mom: good for Obama. It takes character to avoid trashing an easily trashable opponent.

tentcamper: my pleasure

anymommy: you're making me blush. I know you can't see it, but I'm totally red right now. Not red, like Red State red. And not red like Commie Red red. But, you know.

anonymous: that particular fallacy doesn't sway me. I'm sorry that people still feel that way, but it's a logical error. Further, McCain isn't my enemy. The two-party system is. I have radically different political goals than you do. And I won't compromise them just to avoid a slightly darker version of the greyed political spectrum that we have now.

for a different kind of girl said...

I've not had enough of a chance today to really delve into the stories that are out there about today after Bristol's pregnancy was announced, but props to you with melding the story with a new film release. I can stand behind the idea that family should be off limits, but clearly, that's never been the case in the political arena, so commendable an idea as it is, it's naive.

I've never been in a position similar to what the Palin family may or may not have been, so I can't speak to what I'd do. I do know I'm not comfortable with the idea of this team impacting policy and seating judges.

Loralee Choate said...

It seems like I am the only remotely conservative person here (And I am rather middle of the road), so I will keep my mouth firmly shut.

There is enough bad judgment on BOTH sides of this hideous race to infuriate me plenty.

I WILL say that I wish you were here to go see Hamlet 2. I think I am the only person left on Twitter not to tweet "Rock me, sexy Jesus".

AEA said...

I have no comment about your having seen Death Race, other than to remind you that you promised to go see it with me. Ta, old Comanche.

Here's my single comment on the choice of Palin, sidelong and non sequitur, I know, but here it is: she is an offensive choice. Offensive to people with brains, offensive to women, offensive to offensive, but oh how: the perfect Old Boy's Club pick. So yes, "back off" the children, or whatever, but someone, somewhere needs to denounce this thinly-veiled impending disaster.

Shireen D said...

I agree with you that family should be left out of politics. My only comment, however, would be that if she is elected to office, she's not necessarily going to be raising the child. Not that she's not going to have a part, but with a job like Vice President of the United States she's going to be atypically busier than the average "working" parent and therefore absent a lot more.

Also, hi. I've been lurking for a month or so.

Stacey said...

....that particular fallacy doesn't sway me. I'm sorry that people still feel that way, but it's a logical error. Further, McCain isn't my enemy. The two-party system is. I have radically different political goals than you do. And I won't compromise them just to avoid a slightly darker version of the greyed political spectrum that we have now....

I love you! Do you need a second wife?

Heather said...

Did you know that your odds of having a child with Down's Syndrome at the age of 30 is 1 in 1000? Did you also know that having a child at age 40 increases your chances to 1 in 100? I say the baby is hers, not her daughter's simply because of the odds, but who cares really.

Redneck Mommy said...

Since Heather is throwing stats around, I'd also like to point out that one in every 800 children born have Downs.

Just wanted to add that. It has no bearing on the conversation but I feel better for having gotten that off my chest.

Heather said...

I wasn't just "throwing" them around. I was making a point. Nobody has proof that baby isn't hers, nobody has proof it is. I tend to believe it is her baby because having a baby after the age of 40 increases your chances of having a baby with Downs quite significantly. When I had my daughter at 19, the chances were "unlikely". When my sister had her daughter at 31, they tested her amnitiotic fluid.
And again, it doesn't matter if the baby is hers or her grandchild. That has no bearing on her ability to do the job. Or not do it. Won't be voting for her, so it doesn't matter.

Backpacking Dad said...

FADKOG: Seating judges! I know. We always forget about the Supreme Court until one guy gets to seat TWO justices on it during his term.

Loralee: You can always feel free to say whatever the hell you damn well please on my blog, cuz. No one will troll you for being conservative here (because if they do troll you I'll trash the comment immediately). Respectful disagreement is another thing though. And for you I would see Hamlet 2 again.

aea: there are plenty of things wrong with the choice. And plenty of things wrong with me having seen Death Race without you. But, I did take you to IKEA and talk you out of buying anything.

shireen d: Hi! And her husband will probably be able to take care of the kids just fine.

stacey: you'll have to ask my first one! ;}

heather: Awesome rumours+cynicism trumps odds for me any day :}

redneck mommy: I can see that it was bothering you to hold that in :}

heather: it absolutely has no bearing on her ability to do the job. That is correct.

The Microblogologist said...

I think you made a great point about Palin's husband being able to take care of the kid(s). Funny how people go there for a female VP candidate but don't even consider that Obama has two young girls and the president has a hell of a lot more responsibility than the VP... I think it is offensive for both sides and genders. We're more enlightened than some cultures but we have a ways to go.

I am so glad that my dad was involved in my life growing up, my sisters and I are #1 on his priorities list, and now he is raising my niece. Glad that you and other dads are standing up and fighting the negative perception of dads!

Soren said...

Wait, I'm confused...didn't you say that love doesn't conquer all (with the soaring soundtrack and the panning shot of mountains at sunset)? Basically, that love is nice, but you kind of also need to eat...or not die in a desert of diphtheria, right?

But after you make some astute arguments about keeping Bristol out of the limelight and that we shouldn't make judgments about Sarah based solely on this event, you say that Sarah's love for her family and her daughter makes everything okay. And then you say that maybe Bristol is better off not raising the baby (if it is, in fact, hers).

But maybe Sarah is better off not raising the baby, either. Actually, maybe the best solution is to give the baby up for adoption, because the baby has special needs and if Sarah's party wins the election she will have NO time for him. I think I'm siding with the evil corporate girl, too, and saying that Sarah is not in the right place to be raising her youngest.

The socio-political impact of this is that maybe there are times when an individual, man or woman, needs to put the career on hold for the good of the family. And when someone like Sarah decides to accept a nomination of such great import to the potential great detriment of her family, it speaks poorly of her judgment in general terms, not just familial ones. It also speaks of a love of self outweighing a love for others. This would be (and has been) true of many politicians.

Hmmm...maybe love DOES, in the end (queue soaring music), form the foundation of our care for a child because love for another determines the tough choices that we make, the sacrifices we endure to ensure that those who depend on us get the best chance possible to succeed and thrive.

So, without knowing the total context of the story (sorry, I'll go see it soon. The last movie I watched was Elizabeth, the Golden Age with my wie—I feel so UNmanly), I'm siding with the hero: he knows it will be tough, but he also knows how much he loves his daughter. He is willing to die for her; he will never know for sure if someone else would do that. Wait, unless he's going to Mexico to get elected?!

Vote FICUS!