Virunga — Nobility and heroism in the struggle for peace and justice

Film:Virunga Movie Poster

Virunga, 2014

Synopsis (from the official website):

VIRUNGA IS THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF A GROUP OF BRAVE PEOPLE RISKING THEIR LIVES TO BUILD A BETTER FUTURE IN A PART OF AFRICA THE WORLD’S FORGOTTEN AND A GRIPPING EXPOSE OF THE REALITIES OF LIFE IN THE CONGO.

In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth and home to the planet’s last remaining mountain gorillas. In this wild, but enchanted environment, a small and embattled team of park rangers – including an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a caretaker of orphan gorillas and a dedicated conservationist – protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and the dark forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources. When the newly formed M23 rebel group declares war, a new conflict threatens the lives and stability of everyone and everything they’ve worked so hard to protect, with the filmmakers and the film’s participants caught in the crossfire.

A powerful combination of investigative journalism and nature documentary, VIRUNGA is the incredible true story of a group of courageous people risking their lives to build a better future in a part of Africa the world’s forgotten, and a gripping exposé of the realities of life in the Congo.

From director Orlando von Einsiedel and executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio.

My Thoughts:

My first thought is if you have not seen this film, please go watch it.  It is a beautiful documentary that combines investigative journalism with stunning imagery and deserves every award it has won.  I am very thankful to a friend for recommending it to me.

The thing that really struck me about this film was how it was able to show the nobility of the Virunga Park Rangers in both large and small moments.  These people face incredible adversity and over 100 have died in their struggle to protect this park, which is a beacon of hope in a violent and corrupt region with a complex history.  They face bribes, death threats, and ambushes on a daily basis from all sides, even from supposed allies, and yet continue to do their job to enforce the law and protect this World Heritage Site.  They put not just themselves but their families at risk in the effort to resist corruption and maintain order.

The entire time I was watching I kept thinking about the Hidden Words, and how the rangers/journalists and the rebels/business interests seemed to exemplify to two opposite poles of the nobility we should strive for and the abasement we bring upon ourselves:

O SON OF SPIRIT!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

O SON OF SPIRIT!

The bird seeketh its nest; the nightingale the charm of the rose; whilst those birds, the hearts of men, content with transient dust, have strayed far from their eternal nest, and with eyes turned towards the slough of heedlessness are bereft of the glory of the divine presence. Alas! How strange and pitiful; for a mere cupful, they have turned away from the billowing seas of the Most High, and remained far from the most effulgent horizon.

O SON OF SPIRIT!
Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.

There were moments that simply touched my heart while watching this film, moments that showed you just why the Rangers were doing what they were doing.  The 800 or so remaining gorillas have their own nobility.  They too have families and they too react with fear to the sound of shelling as the rebels set off bombs.  Some poachers strive to kill gorillas not even for profit but simply because they think that if all the gorillas are gone then there will be no reason to protect the park any more and they can plunder the resources there.  These animals showed traits that we share, such as kindness and grief at the loss of loved ones.

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”—Malcolm S. Forbes.

But it isn’t just the gorillas who benefit from the park, but the people in the region.  The tourism generated from the park helps provide a positive source of income, which is unfortunately disrupted by the militants in the region.  Additionally there are people who live within the park who live off of sustainable subsistence fishing from the lake, which they have done since before colonization.  If the oil drilling in the lake commences, their whole way of life will be destroyed, and while SOCO has offered them money, they too aren’t in it for the money but instead want to continue living in harmony with the park around them in a way that allows both themselves and the endangered wildlife to thrive.  Unfortunately these advocates have been forced to evacuate due to the violence the rebels have brought.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”—Edmund Burke

So rather than doing nothing, what can we do to assist the triumph of justice over injustice in Virunga?  Watching the film is a great first step.  It is streaming on NetFlix right now.  Going to the website is a great second step.  There they outline several action steps, from getting the word out, to donating to the Park, to checking your investments to make sure your portfolio does not support companies like SOCO, which profit from the regional instability and are looking to plunder the park.

I am thankful for those who strive to practice their inherent nobility and rise to make the right and ethical choice in the face of both economic incentive and violent threats to do otherwise.  I am also thankful that I have never been put in a position to have to make such choices myself so directly, but hope that if ever I were, I would also honor the nobility within me and not abase myself.  My thoughts and prayers go to the Rangers who have lost their lives protecting justice and their families.

The Judge — Seeking Justice and Clarity

Film:

The Judge Movie Poster

The Judge Movie Poster

The Judge, 2014

Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall

Synopsis (from IMDB):

Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

My Thoughts:

This film had my attention from the first second and held it rapt until it ended 141 minutes later.  The phenomenal acting, cinematography and musical score added to the artistry of the entire work.  The story may seem like a simple one, a variation of the classic prodigal son, but the nuances in this film really portrayed the characters in a rich and layered way and transported you into their world to deal with their dilemmas.  What truly is justice?  How can we keep our integrity?  Can one truly get the ‘correct’ outcome if you use incorrect means to do so?

“O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Through out the film the director made excellent use of light to indicate points in which characters reached clarity or a higher level of understanding, as well as changes in focus to indicate confusion or the strong weight of stress that fully brought to life the thoughts and emotions of the characters in a way that helped the viewer really wrestle with the same issues.  Family relationships and dynamics are complex, and sometimes, try as we may, we are unable to practice the same levels of justice and compassion we strive for externally within our own family.  When we realize this it can take both effort and humility to repair the damage we have done to each other and the people we love most.

“O Lord! Have pity on these ignorant ones and look upon them with the eye of forgiveness and pardon. Extinguish this fire, so that these dense clouds which obscure the horizon may be scattered, the Sun of Reality shine forth with the rays of conciliation, this intense gloom be dispelled and the resplendent light of peace shed its radiance upon all…” ~‘Abdu’l‑Bahá

Watching this film made we want to go home and hug my Dad.  That being said, it wasn’t overly sentimental.  It just touched upon the inherent complexity within familial relationships in a beautiful, powerful yet subtle way.  If you have not seen this film I highly recommend you watch in and then think about how we each can treat the people around us more justly and more mercifully.

Your thoughts?

The Power of One — Working toward Unity

I recently had a film night with a few friends and we watched this movie which I’d never seen before and it reminded me of my blog.  It’s been a long time readers.  Please forgive my hiatus.  I shall reward you with one of my classic style reviews.

 

Film:The Power of One

The Power of One, 1992

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Freeman

Synopsis:

Based on the book by Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One is set in South Africa during the 1930s-40s, and follows an English orphan named P.K. who faces prejudice from his Afrikaaner classmates.  Taken on by an elderly German pianist who, upon the outbreak of WWII, is interned in prison, P.K befriends black inmates, learns how to box, and listens to stories about a mythical rainmaker who is to bring unity and stop the infighting among the tribes.  P.K. works to fight injustice and challenge adversity while befriending people based on the content of their character rather than their skin color or ethnic background.

 

My Thoughts (mild spoilers):

The film came out while South Africa was still in the throws of Apartheid, an incredibly oppressive system of racial segregation, and the movie covers the time period of the genesis of apartheid.  At first I thought the title was a reference to the power of one individual, especially since it follows the exploits of one boy who through facing shameful bullying based on prejudice developed incredible empathy for those who experienced even more systematic oppression.  P.K. then works to provide training for black teachers so that they can teach people how to read and write English, education that was illegal.  However knowing history it might look as if P.Ks efforts were for naught.  Apartheid continued for another 50 years after all.

 But in reality I think the title is actually a reference to the power of becoming one, the power of unity.

So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. ~Bahá’u’lláh

Throughout the film the biggest accomplishments were when people came together despite their differences.  Whether it was a German pianist helping a Zulu prisoner, or an English boy conducting a concert of people from all tribes, or an Afrikaaner girl joining English and black South Africans to teach literacy, it was when diverse people came together for a united purpose that we saw beauty, that we saw hope.  Unfortunately there were many times in the film, and even more so in the history of South Africa and the world more generally, that people were unable to come together and instead were blinded by difference into conflict, often brutal and sometimes even lethal.

O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God’s grace. It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straight forwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This film highlights the intense desire that despite the conflict in the world many people hold out hope for unity and recognize its beauty and power.  It is a call to action for us all to be aware of what unites us rather than what divides us, to work toward building a better world together.  The point is not whether or not this story is realistic, but that we want it to be, which to me is a sign of progress, for in time:

If you desire with all your heart friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger until it reaches the minds of all men. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Your thoughts?

 

 

TiMER — Is ignorance bliss?

If society invented the technology for you to know exactly when you would meet your soul mate would you get it?  This is the question posed in the film TiMER.  In this world science has invented a biotechnological implant that a person can get installed after puberty.  Once installed in sets a timer that counts down to the day you will meet your soul mate.  There are two catches – 1) it does not tell you who it just tells you when and 2) it only works if your soul mate also has one installed.

Imagine the joy and bliss of knowing just when you would meet “the one” and to no longer have to worry about it.  With all the dating websites and self-help books out there, and with the divorce rate being what it is, its clear that some people would find this very enticing.  But like anything, technology is a tool, and what if that tool doesn’t work? Imagine the knowledge that you would not meet your ‘one’ until you were in your 50s, effectively ruling out biological parenthood, or the anxiety and terror of a blank timer, of not knowing.  It would be pretty much exactly how someone would feel today on the dating scene, only add the fact that other people could know for certain… and you don’t.  Would you feel inadequate? Unlovable?

TiMER is a great thought piece, and whether or not you agree with how the characters choose to live their lives, or their reactions to the TiMER, it forces us to think about relationships and how, particularly in western culture, we go searching for ‘the one’.  Music, books, films, and art in general fuel this desire, this longing to find our beloved.  It expresses our longing to seek.

But what is it we are truly seeking?  Because in reality there is no such thing as a ‘soul mate’.  Our soul’s true mate is God, it’s creator, and that is who we long for.  When we try to find that in another person, of course the relationship will struggle because unlike God humans are imperfect.

TiMER makes us think about this notion of ‘the One’ in a warped take on a romantic comedy.  As we watch the characters in the film some reject the notion of the TiMER all together and either never get one, or remove theirs after being unable to deal with the waiting and/or not knowing.

So instead of trying to solve the notion of love through technology, like in the world of the film, how can we go about finding partners in love and creating successful relationships?  What should we look for out there since we are not blessed with knowing ‘when’?  We may not have the TiMER but luckily we have guidance in the Holy Writings to help us find a partner in love and marriage.  Perhaps not “the” one but someone to make a life with, so I leave you with this quote on marriage:

“Bahá’í marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity….
The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá’í marriage.”

How To Be Alone — Succumbing to Loneliness or Embracing Solitude

Go out from the solitary place like unto a shining star blazing on its horizon. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I discovered this video on a post from SoulPancake and it spoke to me so I decided to share it with you.  I have always be more comfortable being alone then most people I know but perhaps its because I’ve had more practice.  I go to restaurants alone with a book, and am willing to go to a concert or a movie I want to see, even if nobody will go with me.  That’s not to say that I necessarily want to be alone, and there are times when I’m lonely, but I am used to being alone and comfortable being alone and embrace it.  And there are there are definitely times when solitude is refreshing and can lead to growth, through study, prayer, or contemplation.  But it can be scary.

I think we are conditioned to think it’s weird to be alone, to be single.  Or rather, it’s ok to be alone in private but weird to be in public.  But when you move across the country and don’t know anyone you have to start somewhere, and perhaps it’s the fear of being alone that keeps people from taking big steps like that.  Humans are social creatures.  We are not solitary creatures and we strive for companionship.  That being said, when faced with being alone one can be sad, or one can embrace it.  There are ways to connect with humanity even if you happen to be alone, and there are ways to connect with strangers that can only happen if you are alone to begin with, and I think this film speaks to that.

Blog Action Day — Water!!! Blue Gold

Film:

Blue Gold: World Water Wars, 2008

Synopsis (from the film’s homepage):

In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.

Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.

We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, “This is our revolution, this is our war”. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity. Will we survive?

My Thoughts:

In the whole world there is nothing softer and weaker than water.

And yet nothing measures up to it

In the way it works upon that which is hard.

Nothing can change it.

Everyone on earth knows

That the weak conquers the strong

And the soft conquers the hard —

But no one is capable of acting accordingly.

~Tao Te Ching, II:68

Watch this film now.  It is available on Netflix Instant, through iTunes, or Amazon On Demand.   Humans need fresh water.  Without it we will die.  Yet water is increasingly being treated as a commodity, privatized, and being controlled by water cartels.  Why are we giving away water only to have it sold back to us?  We are using our groundwater faster than we can replace it.  It takes 24 gallons to make one microchip.  117 gallons to make a banana.  This is a global problem.  It’s effecting agriculture, development, global warming. There are corporations that make money cleaning up pollution and therefore don’t want to prevent it.

This is an ethical, moral, and social problem.  Until we recognize that we are a united world, that water unites us but as it becomes scarce if we don’t work together we will end up fighting.  Already water scarcity has effected the West Bank issue.  It’s effected the relationship between Egypt and Sudan. And in Bolivia and in Tamil Nadu… yet often these resource wars are presented as religious or ethnic wars. (To see a map of water conflicts click here)

Everyone needs water and water is central to life, regardless of race or faith.  The hydrological cycle connects us all.  There are reasons that throughout the Holy Writings of every religion that water is used as a spiritual metaphor due to its power in this world.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.   ~ John 3:5

When in the Gospels, Christ speaks of ‘water’, He means that which causes life, for without water no worldly creature can live—mineral, vegetable, animal and man, one and all, depend upon water for their very being.  ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

O servants! Ye are even as saplings in a garden, which are near to perishing for want of water. Wherefore, revive your souls with the heavenly water that is raining down from the clouds of divine bounty. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world ~ The Buddha

We need to come together to solve this water problem by recognizing each others humanity.  In order to become ‘unsoiled’ we must work together, live more sustainably, and overcome the greed that leads to abuse of water use.  Please meditate on what you can do and the choices you can make to help us deal with the growing problem of water.

500 Mountains — Greed vs. Responsibility

My friend Bryan created this music video to promote environmental responsibility and raise knowledge of a problem.  I would like to share it with you here.

Here is an email he sent to give it some context.  I hope you take a moment to watch the video and read about Mountaintop Removal.  Thank you!

Hi everyone.


Today, I am happy to share with you a music video I’ve wanted to make for over a year.  Last Spring, after learning about a destructive form of coal mining called “Mountaintop Removal (MTR),” I composed a song called “500 Mountains” to draw attention to the 500+ mountains that have been destroyed in West Virginia and surrounding States.  This process has resulted in thousands of miles of streams being buried, the pollution of the drinking water of millions, floods of coal slurry (water + coal waste) poisoning communities and the flattening of some of our nation’s most biologically diverse land, a size the equivalent of Delaware.

I first heard about mountaintop removal through my cousin, who lived in West Virginia for many months and witnessed first hand what MTR is doing to our country.  It went from being an issue I’ve never heard of to an issue at the forefront of my mind.  That’s why I am so grateful to be able to share this with you today.  Through word of mouth, social networking and email, this issue can receive the urgent awareness and attention it desperately needs.

To view this short 2 minute film / music video, please go to www.youtube.com/bryanwebermusic or click here.  This will give you a powerful visual introduction to mountaintop removal.

If you’d like to learn more about this issue and find out how you can break your State’s connection to mountaintop removal coal, please visit:  www.ilovemountains.org

Thank you for taking the time to watch my video and learn more about this important cause.

Please forward on to family and friends and share anyway you can.

Regards,

Bryan
Montclair, NJ


What is mountaintop removal? According to EarthJustice.org, Mountaintop removal coal mining, is an extremely destructive form of mining that is devastating Appalachia. Coal companies first raze an entire mountainside, ripping trees from the ground and clearing brush with huge tractors. This debris is then set ablaze as deep holes are dug for explosives. An explosive is poured into these holes and mountaintops are literally blown apart. In the past few decades, over 2,000 miles of streams and headwaters that provide drinking water for millions of Americans have been permanently buried and destroyed. An area the size of Delaware has been flattened. Local coal field communities routinely face devastating floods and adverse health effects. Natural habitats in some our country’s oldest forests are laid to waste.”

Repost – Movie Review : Human Footprint

Hi everyone!  It’s been a while since I’ve written, but I figure you might enjoy this post from an eco-blog called Worldchanging.  Environmental stewardship and personal responsibility are spiritual and moral issues that we all struggle with. Here is a quote before but it’s worth repeating since I think it fits so nicely with the theme:

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

So without further ado, enjoy!

Movie Review: Human Footprint

from WorldChanging by Amanda Reed

4 people liked this


Two years ago, Worldchanging listed “Human Footprint” in its Holiday Gift Guide, but as far as I could tell no one here had offered a review of the film. Due to a recent flu that left me bed bound, I was able to watch the movie and I thought it would be of interest to Worldchanging readers if I offered a bit more information about it.

In true National Geographic fashion the film is a visual feast, with both captivating still life images and dramatic video sequences used to illustrate the vast quantity of stuff the average American uses over the course of a lifetime (where a lifetime = 77 years 9 months). The narrative is simple: the film follows an American boy and girl from birth to death and shows their average consumptive footprint. For example, at the beginning we learn that the average baby requires 1,898 pints of crude oil and 4.5 trees just to make their diapers; and then as teenagers the boy and girl develop hygiene habits that will lead to the use of over 156 toothbrushes, 389 tubes of toothpaste, 656 bars of soap, and 198 bottles of shampoo over their lives; and as adults it’s estimated that the young man and woman will live in a 2,000 square foot home and move about 10 times, with each home requiring 13,837ft of lumber, 17 tons of concrete, 400 lbs of copper piping, and 30 gallons of paint to construct. That’s a lot of awesome data, and the strength of the film is in how it visually demonstrates these abstract footprint values. As a primarily visual learner, this documentary really helped me to see how much stuff I potentially use in my life, both directly and indirectly.

Here are a selection of screen shots of some of the more impressive visual sequences that I took while watching the movie online at Snag Films:


(Screenshot of sequence showing a lifetime of showers with 28,433 rubber duckies.)

(Screenshot of a lifetime’s worth of appliances put on a wall.)

(Screenshot of sequence where a typical sports shoe is dismantled to highlight how many parts, materials and resources one shoe requires.)

(Screenshot of sequence where a Ford car’s parts are removed and arranged on a map of the world to show the global scope of the resource extraction and production of the car.)

In addition to simply making visual the hard-to-visualize large quantities of food and products I potentially consume over my lifetime, I thought the best parts of the “Human Footprint” film were in the scenes where they reveal the backstories of products or otherwise break down the sub-footprints of the things we use (see the above images of the dismantled car and sneaker, for examples). As the movie narrator says, “Without even thinking about it Americans are tapped into a global infrastructure.” This placement within a global infrastructure is of course true for all people and not just Americans. Hopefully after watching this film more people will think more about the global infrastructure within which they’re enmeshed.

The “Human Footprint” does not make a a strong argument about how you can reduce your carbon footprint or human footprint, but as a compilation of data coupled with dramatic and eye-catching images, I think the film serves as a good introduction to how big an impact our direct and indirect consumption of goods and services has on the planet. This knowledge can in turn lead to more solutions for revealing product back stories like in Patagonia’s The Footprint Chronicles project, or in providing eco-labels on products that show the materials, processes, transportation, energy, and water used in production, or through increased research into and mapping of supply chains, such as with Sourcemap and Tacoshed.

If you like The Story of Stuff or No Impact Man I think you’d also like this movie. You can view the “Human Footprint” online at Snag Films.

For more information on ecological footprints and product back stories, see the Worldchanging archives…

Previous stories about ecological footprints at Worldchanging include (in chronological order):
Ecological Footprints

City Limits London

Biocapacity and Ecological Footprints: Graph, Thousand Words

Principle 2: Ecological Footprints and One Planet Thinking

Personal Planets and the Little Prince

Ecological Footprint 2.0

Ecological Debt Day
Previous stories about product back stories at Worldchanging include (in chronological order):
Principle 1: The Backstory

The Eco-Nutrition Label

The Footprint Chronicles, Grey Matters

The Backstory of Stuff: New Sites Enable More Transparency in the Supply Chain

Help us change the world – DONATE NOW!

(Posted by Amanda Reed in Media at 11:00 AM)

Repost: I Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore: An Analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” Video

I thought my readers might be interested in this post and wanted to share it.  The original can be found here.

I Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore: An Analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” Video

link to telephone video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ95z6ywcBY

Lady Gaga has said that the Telephone video is about America. The Director of the video explained that the video is a continuation of the Paparazzi video. In the Paparazzi video Lady Gaga is thrown off her balcony by her boyfriend and is temporarily crippled. She is famous and even in her crippled state she clings to glamour and fame. At the end of the video, after she has recovered from her injury, she poisons her lover and is arrested for murder. The video ends with her mug shots. Interestingly, the lyrics of Paparazzi are the polar opposite of Telephone’s. We move from fervent adoration to cold apathy. “I’m your biggest fan I’ll follow you until you love me” to “Stop calling stop calling I don’t wanna talk anymore.” Together, the songs form a sort of Act One and Act Two of the popularized, modern day romance. It’s not about love or hate, but rather, a life-sucking worship of another person.

At the beginning of Telephone, Gaga is being brought into a women’s prison. Female inmates are behaving in an overtly sexual and violent manner.

While we are watching a sexy brunette stare at Gaga and lick the bars of her cell, we hear another woman say “You’re gonna swim outta here in your own blood bitch.”
Although this is a female prison and not a single male is allowed inside; the scene is a male fantasy through and through. All the women wear heavy makeup and glamorous outfits. It also represents expression. Although they are imprisoned, in a place of repression and powerlessness, they express their power through fashion, violence, and sexuality.

Gaga first makes eye contact with us while she is on the payphone, singing “I have got no service in the club you see.” In the place where she’s at, this place of lower nature and primal instincts, no one can reach her. Her annoyance at the communication attempts stem from a feeling of too-little-too-late. Her patience is gone, her mind is made up, and she’s not open to anyone’s input.

Next, we see her dancing in the aisle of the prison cells wearing only a bra, panties, fishnet hose, and healed ankle boots. Four women clad in the same uniform join her in her dance. Together they make controlled, angry movements toward us with such a stern directness it is the viewer that cowers. Although dressed provocatively, they’re dance closely resembles a march. It is very stiff, precise, and controlled; it brings to mind boot camp, military, armies, etc. She sings “Shoulda made some plans with me you knew that I was free. But now you won’t stop calling me I’m kinda busy.” No one cares until it’s too late. Staying with the militaristic theme, this could mean: the opportunity for diplomacy and peaceful resolutions are over. The signs were there but it’s too late now. The effects of self and passion are in full throttle and there’s no room for reason and virtue.

This scene is spliced with scenes of Gaga posing in a cell, naked except the crime scene tape wrapped around her body. Throughout the world, women’s bodies arouse strong opinions. No one is sure what to do with this issue of women’s bodies. Women are constantly walking the line between respectable and slutty and the qualifications for each are constantly changing. Is the female body a “crime” or is it a “scene”? We can’t decide. In this country, our values flail between fundamentalism and a strip club. A female body wrapped in crime scene tape also implies rape and sexual abuse. The police never wrap crime scene tape around a home in which a girl was sexually abused but in a way the girl herself may remain a crime scene forever; suffering the emotional residue of the crime and continuing to play the roll of a victim throughout her life.

Next, Beyonce bails Gaga out and the two women begin their journey to their crime scene. There’s a strange little scene where Gaga first gets into the truck and Beyonce feeds her a bite of the Honey Bun. This seemingly pointless scene made clear to me the reason for all the product placement in this video. At this point in the video we have already seen 6 product placements and the advertising is hardly over. After Beyonce feeds Gaga she gazes at Beyonce and says “Mm hmm Honey B.” It’s cute and stylistic and fits the southern feel they seem to be going for in this scene but I think the real reason for that is to drive home a major statement of the video. You are what you consume. Beyonce eats Honey Buns, hence she’s a Honey Bun…Honey B for short. Up to now Gaga has already been a Virgin with Virgin Mobile, she’s been all the glamour and envy or Chanel sunglasses, and as skinny as a Diet Coke. One of the prisoners was Beats headphones. The prison guard on Gaga’s exit from the prison was an HP computer and a dating website called Plenty Of Fish. This is a major trademark of American culture. Advertisers encourage us to consider not only the benefits of their products but also what they say about us and about our lifestyles.

They are completely unashamed of what they’re about to do and take Polaroids of themselves on their way. When Beyonce says “Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broke” Gaga responds with, “But you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.” This reminds us that Gaga just killed her own boyfriend and her own sense of revenge is the fuel behind the next killing. Since her boyfriend pushed her off her balcony and crippled her, we don’t doubt that her revenge was justified. And now, that killing seems to lend credence to the next.

When they come to the diner, Beyonce meets up with her boyfriend while Gaga works with the kitchen crew. The preparation of the poisoned food is somewhere between a game show, a cooking show, and an advertisement. We see text pop up on the screen in pleasant and eye-catching ways. We hear pleasant sounding bells and a crowd clapping and cheering. It’s presented to us like the media that accompanies a war effort. The media presents the war action in a way that is palatable. Using words like Shock and Awe to sell us on the idea of our nation’s aggression. Similarly, the product placement in this scene consists of Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip. These words “wonder” and “miracle” remind me of the terms “Shock and Awe” used to describe the first military strike in Baghdad in 2003. It’s also reminiscent of the grand and noble titles the U.S. government gives to war efforts, i.e. Operation Enduring Freedom.

Gaga delivers the food and the poisoning of the target is a success. The boyfriend’s dead, and we viewers are fine with this since we’ve seen that he was clearly an asshole. However, the military metaphor endures when it immediately becomes obvious that the poison has spread and every patron in the restaurant has become an innocent victim. Gaga covers her mouth as if to say “Whoops.” But after all, war is messy.

Next Gaga and Beyonce, along with the entire staff of the restaurant, are dancing in Patriotic/American flag inspired outfits. The restaurant is now divided into two distinct types of people: the ones who supported the poisoning and the ones who are dead from the poisoning. This makes me think of the years following the 9/11 attack when the term “Un-American” came into existence. There was an attitude of “you’re either with us (supporting the war) or you’re against us (a terrorist). Like this attitude, the Telephone video shows a world of extremes. Throughout the video there are no “people,” only stock characters and stereotypes.

The next bizarre scene shows Gaga dressed in a skin-tight leopard skin costume wearing a general’s hat and dancing aggressively in front of a large pick up truck (the quintessential American vehicle). The animal print compliments her recent animalistic killing. The way in which she is dancing is itself ravenous and unapologetic. The general’s hat she wears is an appropriate accessory as she was the leader of a group who orchestrated an attack. Also, notice that Beyonce wears a stylized colonel’s jacket when she is dancing in the bedroom.

The last scene is strongly reminiscent of the final scene of the movie Thelma and Louise in which the two women commit suicide by driving their car off a cliff. This video uses popular film references in clever ways. This reference implies that Gaga and Beyonce represent a force that will ultimately end in it’s own destruction.

Since the release of the Telephone video, Gaga has garnered a great deal of criticism. Some people have said the video is sexually exploitive, that it’s glorifying murder, and that it’s random, bizarre, and meaningless. Such criticism reflects a clash between “high-brow art” and “low-brow art,” fine art and pop art. As a society, we typically expect music videos (especially pop music videos) to be straight-forward, entertaining, and generally frivolous. If the video was not presented as a music video to accompany a pop song and was instead presented as an art film, it would have been received quite differently.

Gaga has brought about this kind of confusion in many ways. She has stated that it is her intention to be both a commercial pop artist as well as a serious fine artist. Her public appearances are often performance art. Performance Art is a form of Fine Art that most people are either unfamiliar with or have a vague opinion of it. She continuously breaks thru the fog of banality and creates art where people aren’t used to seeing it.

Fans of fine art often view pop music as unintelligent and unsophisticated, while fans of pop music often view fine art as confusing, cold and inaccessible. Gaga has done her part to eat away at this false dichotomy. The clouds of confusion still hover in the air, but in the end both worlds will be better.