Views in brief

January 26, 2016

What the Oscars are about

BRITISH ACTRESS Charlotte Rampling has made a splash on social media for her unbelievably tone-deaf "reverse racism" rhetoric in relation to the controversy surrounding the lack of Black actors nominated for the 2016 Oscars. Rampling called the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite "racist to whites."

Upon rereading her comments, I found something even more disturbing. She stated, "One can never really know, but perhaps the Black actors did not deserve to make the final list."

"Deserve." What does that mean exactly?

What does it mean to deserve an Academy Award nomination? How much does Idris Elba, Teyonah Parris, Mya Taylor, Michael B. Jordan or Will Smith have to prove to be in the running for Rampling to acknowledge their caliber? What about Oscar Isaac, Bencio Del Toro or Shu Qui--non-Black people of color acting contenders?

Even more insidious than her blatant racism is how the Academy has manifested itself to become the crème de la crème of the film world. So much so that for a person of color to deserve a nomination makes them credible as an artist.

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The Academy Awards should not be (and have never been) indicative of the greater cinematic landscape. The Oscars were created by major Hollywood studio heads to bypass growing workers' power unions in the late 1920s, creating a competitive market where awarding creatives arbitrary pieces of metal elevated their talent for the continued profit of über-capitalist studio heads and networks.

The Oscars also have historically shut out women, people of color, and LBGTQI+ talent in all categories, and awarded the little gold man to minorities when their pain is blatantly projected on the screen for the consumption of the white (cisgender, heterosexual, male) gaze.

This is the glaring hole in the greater Oscar boycott debate, but one I was hesitant to comment on until today. Critiques of racism and representation aren't new to mass media, but how they have been taken up in the public discourse as of late should be used to push a greater critique about abolishing the competitive nature so prevalent in the arts.
Rooney Hassan, Columbus, Ohio

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

He touched the lives of many

IN RESPONSE to "Our lives are richer for having known him": Thank you for sharing this lovely article about Aaron Hess. I did not know him personally, but my sister did. He was a very special friend to her, and it's nice to have a better idea of the person he was. It sounds like he touched the lives of many and will be greatly missed. My condolences to all!
Alison Dildine, Newcastle, Washington

Missing his smile and stories

IN RESPONSE to "Our lives are richer for having known him": I don't know how I'm not crying, but I'm not.

I will miss Aaron for all the love that he had and gave to me, for always being a listening ear with real advice, for Persepolis and Michael Pollan, for his scars and his stories, for the smile on his face when he had something good he wanted to say. I will miss him. R.I.P.
Sommer Darland, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Bernie can win

IN RESPONSE to "The problem with Bernie Sanders": This article is based on the premise that Bernie can't win. It ignores the great contribution that Bernie has made in giving people hope for change. He has reached the young, the disenfranchised and the elderly, like myself. He has a record of bravely opposing the U.S. in the evils of imperialism in Central America and his followers are known as "Sandernistas."

Is he as left as he should be? Who's to say? Has he supported Israel? Yes. Is this what I prefer? No. Is he changing on this? Yes.

He is focusing first on changing the grip that the system has upon we the people. We have been helplessly captured by corporately bought candidates and felt helpless. You have to break the paralyzing grip that the corporate elite have upon us, and he is changing the very language that we think in and act by.

I have been volunteering in Iowa, and the last time I saw him in Ottumwa, Iowa, he looked like a runner who had hit the wall. He had given three speeches that day and pushes himself unmercifully. I spoke with his volunteer bodyguard who described how it was difficult to keep up with him--and the bodyguard was 6' 7" and an athlete.

Don't tell Bernie he isn't bent on winning. He is predicted to win. His strategy has been brilliant, and if he had run as an independent, he would have made a statement, but like Nader--whom I admire--it would have been a symbolic gesture.

Bernie's in the race for more than just a gesture.
Patricia Patterson Tursi, Springfield, Missouri

Public-sector unions provide a voice

IN RESPONSE to "Labor's fight-or-die moment": This was a well-written article.

Andrew Dobson has a great response to the "free-rider" problem that may provide a different "social logic" useful to union activists. Dobson's formulation of this alternate social logic grasps that what we need is participation in and an expansion of the public sphere. A voice at work is the union equivalent of having free speech in the public square.

In the U.S., workers don't have the protection of the First Amendment at work. To speak out about terms and conditions of employment is possible only if you have collective bargaining, and then, if you have the tools to monitor implementation, holding the employer accountable.

The Koch brothers and their ilk have been attacking the public sphere brutally, while trying to buy elections and promote policy changes that allow resources to flow away from working people to the 1 Percent. Dobson's solution to the problem of the free-rider comes up against the dominance of a libertarian logic that would privatize public resources--e.g., universities, libraries, national parks, etc. Data show that unionized workers have higher earnings, but it's not just individual self-interest that's at stake.

We need to defend the freedom to have a real collective voice at work. Borrowing from Dobson's green language of "common-pool resource," the space to exercise our democratic rights to organize and build strength among ourselves as workers, collectively, is our common-pool resource.

Without a union that can defend fair treatment through due process rights, employees have their jobs at the will of the employer with only a few legal means to fight back. Therefore, unions provide affordable access to quality legal defense, but they can also be a training ground for how to create a better world.
Catherine Stanford, New Brunswick, New Jersey

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