Sunday, August 19, 2012

Compliance: Sir! Permission to Bully, Sir! The Last Minority



Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, a novella about two women who died and became legends in the historic seacoast town of Marblehead, MA, available now on Amazon.







I haven’t seen the movie Compliance directed by Craig Zobel – yet. However, I am familiar with the real life story of 18 year-old Louise Ogborn’s terrifying ordeal at a Mount Washington, Kentucky McDonald’s as shown on ABC’s 20/20, a report unbelievably illustrated by the actual security film of the incident. In fact, if it were not for this security tape and police records, no one would believe this sordid incident happened. It reminds me of when General Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the death camps at the end of World War II: he ordered photos to be taken of every atrocity because, he explained, "The day will come when some 'son of 
a bitch' will say this never happened." There is a Nazi connection to this story, which comes later.
During the real life 2004 incident at the Kentucky McDonald’s, a male caller held Louise Ogborn hostage for several hours via her older female manager, Donna Summers, while communicating to Summers that he was a policeman, that the girl had stolen a purse from a customer and that she needed to be strip-searched. He ordered several other people around as well until the girl was sexually assaulted and humiliated. Incredibly, this is a true crime. Nearly 70 other incidents like it have occurred in 30 states, in rural areas such as Devil’s Lake, North Dakota; Fallon, Nebraska; Hinesville, Georgia; Fargo, North Dakota and Juneau, Alaska.
I have also seen the Law & Order SVU episode based on the 2004 crime, “Authority” starring Robin Williams as the caller, Professor Milgram, a character named after the Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram who conducted experiments on the willingness of subjects to follow orders, believed to be a study on whether people in general would comply with immoral acts or acts they knew were wrong, when - as the Nazis said they, in World War II, were  - just “following orders.” In the Milgram experiment, electric shocks were supposedly delivered to subjects who screamed, squirmed and begged the authority figure to stop. These subjects were never shocked. They were acting. Yet, in the experiment, subjects in “authority” were still willing to hurt their fellow human beings even though those suffering begged for mercy.
The implication of this movie, and the title Compliance, is that people will follow authority. Okay, sure, most people have cow genes in them. They follow the herd and the herd follows the shepherd, and I’m not talking about real authority here. Not God or His Son. Just “their manager.” Add to that herd mentality the fact that people in rural areas are taught obedience to all authority figures, however minor. Notice that the real life incidents of this horrendous crime did not occur in a major city where a more sophisticated young girl might have absolutely no shame in running down the street naked to escape this dilemma, nor would she have taken off her clothes in the first place. These incidents were always perpetrated in a rural town where there is only one job, one place to work, real embarrassment in losing a job, and - kids are taught obedience and respect. I always told my daughter that if any of her teachers or any authority figure, like a boss or a priest or a policeman asked her to do anything she felt was wrong or made her the least bit uncomfortable, I would tear down there and stand up for her, so she need never worry about saying, “No fuckin’ way!”
I digress. Ah, the soothing passion of rebellion.
I’m not going to talk about stupidity. That’s obvious. Or, is it?
You see, I think that this crime is not about following authority. I think it’s about taking part in violence against what I have always felt was The Last Minority – that is, beautiful, young women. No, scratch the young. Young only makes it more titillating. The woman does not need to be young. However, let’s say she is in order to discuss this movie, where the woman is young. In fact, she is a pretty, young girl.
Why are beautiful, young women The Last Minority? Simple. No one really cares about them, and no one will ever care whether they live or die except that “they look so good doing it.” (I’m quoting myself, a poem I wrote called “The Pretty Door” in my book Atlantis, poems about the United States being another Atlantis.)
Consider the news media. People who criticize the news media’s extensive coverage of the murders of beautiful women over the many other people who are killed are missing the real atrocity that’s going on. The criticism usually generated at the media is that only beautiful victims get coverage, but what’s really happening is that only beautiful victims look really good dead. Why? It’s about power.
Everyone, including the people watching this movie, wants power over the pretty young girl. The caller – Like most rapists, rape, even phone rape, is the only way he can have a “relationship” with a pretty girl. Her manager – This incident is her chance to have some real power over this pretty, young girl sparkling with promise and youthful energy just beginning her life, instead of coming to terms with sad, unfulfilled dreams, as her manager might be – in real life the female manager giggled when the perp asked if she were married, and though she was engaged at the time, her fiancé’s actions brought that dream to an abrupt halt. The creepy fiancé - like the rapist, would never have seen such a pretty young girl naked or touched such a girl ever in his life if it had not been for this perverse event. (At the very least, Walter Nix, the real life fiancé, was remorseful. He called a friend that very night and said he had done a bad thing.)
Each and every participant wanted power over the young girl, both in the movie and in real life. And, the movie viewers are also participating. We always do.
Power over each other is what we do every day.
We bully each other. There’s cyber-bullying, sibling rivalry, school bullying and bullying by managers on the job to both sexes for many different reasons that boil down to just one - we enjoy having power over someone, even for a minute.
In fact, the Nazis were the ultimate bullies. That’s such an understatement. I am reminded of another film, Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters in which Max Von Sydow’s artist character says about Nazis and The Holocaust, “The reason why they can never answer the question, ‘How could it possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’ Of course it does, in subtler forms.”
I think bullying is our way of life. The Director of Compliance said this, “The point of the movie is to be open to all interpretations, and the only reading that bumps with me is when certain people say, ‘Why didn’t they just not do it? Why didn’t they get another job?’” says Zobel. “I’ve had jobs like this. Some people have to eat shit for their jobs because they need the money.”  
           I submit that bullying is NOT exclusive to low paying jobs. I think the bullying goes on and on at every level to both sexes, some of it subtle, most of it direct and brutal. Brutal would be covert or overt sexual abuse and we all know that form of bullying happens mostly to beautiful women. An example on a subtle level, advice given to working moms: “Don’t ever say that you want to stay home because your child is sick. Say you are sick.” Of course, you can’t say that either after one day. No one can be sick for a week any more. That’s a luxury. Early on, I noticed a complete denial of the body and any of its needs in the business world. What do you mean you have to go to the bathroom? Comfort and convenience go out the window. Now, there are kitchens in most offices. Dare I believe things are changing? I doubt it. Every aspect of the office is a chance for bullying - from not being allowed to eat lunch or be sick to long hours and exhausting travel to good people being passed over for promotions and people being fired before their pensions are in effect  – no matter whether the pay is low or high – all of these are examples of bullying. As for “eating shit” – did you know that receptionists in some small businesses must also clean the bathrooms? That dirty little secret doesn’t show while she’s looking elegant at the entryway.
            I remember an incident that occurred while my husband and I were driving over the Mystic River Bridge, going south in Boston, MA. On the bridge, we passed about four police cars in a huddle around an Oldsmobile with its door left open. My husband asked the toll collector what had happened and she said, “Guy jumped,” without stopping for a moment her task of counting out our change, which she handed to my husband without another word or glance. Whose life was harder, that of the man who jumped or the toll collector’s? Who had been bullied worse in life?
We experience subtle bullying all day long in every day life. While waiting in line at the bank, at the DMV, the IRS, the whatever, every time even the smallest amount of power is given to a person they milk it for whatever it’s worth to torture someone else, usually in a petty way, whether holding up that person’s time, making him/her fill out another form, or just saying, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”
Hurting each other becomes entertainment. Oh, yes, even in real life, those who have the power, however petty, stand there with a little satisfied smirk on their face.
Sometimes that power is actually used to help our fellow human beings. There are millions of nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, police, firefighters, bank tellers, even store clerks and fast food wait staff who help people all day long and make their lives easier. Those would be the few good men at that Kentucky McDonald's who refused to comply with the caller. But, those few didn’t do enough.
Beautiful girls are probably most famous for bullying because in school they and their boyfriends are the cool kids and the cool kids are often the ones who bully everyone else. Again, they look so good doing it, right?  Obviously, bullying has a sexual element that is impossible to ignore. Sex is powerful. In its positive sense, loving sex is about the wonderful power of loving someone and being loved back. In its negative sense, people actually get a sexual thrill out of power over beautiful women. You can’t blame Compliance for violence against women, because Compliance is just telling the truth. The real issue is what we take away from the movie.
Is it fair for intelligent, rebellious people sitting high up in their NYC co-ops now criticizing the characters in the movie Compliance to judge those who need their jobs and are too timid to disobey authority, even petty authority?
Ah, yeah. It is.
It’s time folks to think for yourself and not “ask your manager” whether what you think is wrong is actually wrong. Doing something wrong or hurting someone is a moral decision, like following the Nazis. You can say no. I know a Vietnam vet who refused to torture someone during the war. If he can say no, anyone can. It’s time to stop zapping jolts of electricity into our fellow suffering human beings. We’re all in this together.
Here’s an interesting story about a beautiful woman – ah! I have your attention. I was a nerd in high school. The cheerleaders, who were exquisitely beautiful, used to torment us. They liked to slide down the stair bannisters when we were on our way to Accelerated English and drop us like bowling pins. I can still see their perfect, shining white teeth laughing.
One of those lovely cheerleaders came up to me in the grocery store years after high school. She said, “Patricia, I want to apologize to you for being so mean to you in school. I’ve had so much trouble in my life that I found out what it was to be hurt and I want you to know how sorry I am.”
I told her I had always admired her for her beauty and athletic skill. I also told her I didn’t remember her ever being mean to me, in fact, I thought she had been one of the nicer girls. I was saddened that her life hadn’t turned out as promising as it had seemed in high school.
We’re all in this together. Crime is crime. Hurt is hurt. Beautiful women are not made to be our victims. Compliance is not about people blindly following authority; it’s about people taking the chance to hurt someone who never hurt them instead of taking charge of their own lives.
It’s about a perverse sense of power over The Last Minority. God bless you, Louise. God keep you well and safe.

*UPDATE: Pat Healy, the actor who plays the caller, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal, "How to Survive Playing a Sadist" about what it was like to actually see, on the set, the torment he was causing, even though he was witnessing actors' reactions. He threw up. The film Compliance, and the real life incident, have many levels of psycho: another observer said that the caller, by being remote, was playing God. I wonder if he was cold and distant, or getting off. Healy also commented in his article that the remoteness of modern technology was in some way responsible, that if the caller could have seen what he was doing, he would have stopped. However, I think Healy is reacting like a good man. The caller was evil, in my estimation - a taker - a person who takes away for his own gain at the loss of another.

**UPDATE:  I was about to post this blog url on YouTube, where I am PoetryTube, until my eye caught a comment below the trailer for Compliance. This comment by spikesamurai was obscene; it had 4 likes, and it proved everything I said in this blog post. I couldn't post my url because I didn't want anyone like that coming here and reading what I hope is a heartfelt, intelligent reaction to this film.

©Patricia Goodwin, 2012



The Pretty Door


This only opens the pretty door

hair eyes nose mouth
this time
God didn’t play a joke

or did He?


Pretty opens

not the talent door

bend over, clean the bathroom, make the coffee,

here, take out the trash

not the smart door

bend over, clean the bathroom, make the coffee, here, take out the trash


Pretty opens the rich door

“You are the equal of Kings!”

when she passes
for white bread
in a white world

she’s self-educated
that’s the key

when learning to speak
She mimicked her favorite actresses:
Myrna Loy as Nora Charles
Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane
Meryl Streep as anyone

She practiced grammar and
took an etiquette book from the library

in order to pass

for a short while
angels sing

“She shall have Springtime
wherever she goes.”

“...and, as she passed,
she took the Spring.”

“Wear a veil to hide your looks - and
keep it down!”

“Women’s faces have too much power!”

Blondes are the last minority
no one will care
if they suffer
except that they look so good doing it
and, when they are murdered,
they make sexy victims on the evening news

every one of them
fears being stopped
by a cop
on a lonely highway
as much as a black man

they are about as safe as a black man

“He told me to step out of the car…
he threw me against the car
and frisked me.”

“I rested my hand on the seat next to me.
He took it as an invitation.”

“He was waiting for me…”

“you could sometimes see
her twelfth year in her cheeks or her ninth
sparkling from her eyes;
and even her fifth would flit
over the curves of her mouth
now and then”

Her face only opens the pretty door
since she was twelve, she couldn’t
walk down the street
in peace
lying in a pool of blood
she had a restraining order

don’t sit next to a man unless you want it

“They put us in a trailer, it was so hot in there,
I couldn’t breathe.
I pushed my nose into a crack in the side.
I thought, this is it.”

“She was sleeping soundly
and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.”

this still happens in Atlantis


©Patricia Goodwin
Atlantis (Plum Press, 2006)

 

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