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Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge of Free Speech, Commentary 3

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

This segment of Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech tells about the experience of a San Diego High School student Chase Harper in 2004.  He worse a shirt to school that said “Homosexuality is Shameful” with a biblical citation.  Later on, during the LGBT-made event Day of Silence, he wore a stronger shirt that claims what the school is supporting is something God says is wrong.  Eventually he was suspended for several days for what was deemed disruptively hateful speech.

1. Should a student be allowed to wear offensive t-shirts in High School?

High School is a place where students seriously lack discipline.  Teachers often struggle to make their kids not want to deliberately misbehave.  In American public schools, where there is no dress code aside from established subconscious standards about revealing-ness, I believe being too outspoken about anything controversial shows a lack of respect, and encourages misbehavior and distractions from the class.

College?

I think the guidelines should be less strict in college about offensive messages in clothing, because from my experience, the students already act respectful.  They no longer feel forced into the prison of education, and the professors are actually more generally more qualified to teach about their fields.  If the class actually does get distracted and a provocative discussion ensues, it may be best to make the student change dress.  

2. Is High School a marketplace for ideas?  Can anyone wear anything?

High School is not a marketplace for ideas.  It is a place for learning the material in class, and making friends.  People that young probably won’t even have the same views they did in a few years.  We don’t let fourteen-year-olds vote.  If there is anything else that can’t be worn, it’s what the particular society deems overly sexually revealing, or images of severe violence, or strong hate of peer groups (excluding generic cliques and hobbies, who will forever be comically at war with each other without repercussions, even in children’s television programs of the youngest possible demographic).

3. Should Chase have been suspended, expelled, or disciplined?

I think he should have been disciplined before being suspended.  Although I personally hate anti-LGBT sentiment, having and expressing it is not so outrageous.  It is pretty sensible to interpret the Bible as anti-homosexual.  There are sodomy laws in several states.  Many Americans consider homosexuality a disgusting and sinful thing like theft, murder, and kidnapping, if not a socially destructive bad habit like gambling and alcoholism.  There is not enough empathy for anti-gay people and Bible Belt communities on the part of us progressivist urbanites.  We just think they are backward and ignorant.  Yet still, I believe Chase wanted to promote a deep loathing of students who defied no rules, and that is not justified.

4. Does a t-shirt incite or do words?  (is this question spelled correctly, professor?)  I’ll assume it means, “Does a t-shirt incite or do no justice to words?”

I don’t think t-shirts incite the immediate discomfort and/or rage the way spoken words can do.  However, they are often far more practical- you won’t get called to stop talking, or punched, or accused of “hate speech”, and you can capture support gradually.

It is important to realize that the type of group condemned in any hateful speech or sign affects (and helps the choice of whether or not to express at all) the displayer of it.  Anti-terrorism shirts will get you patriotic nods.  Anti-(insert race) might get blasts of even-more-hateful-speech or a beating.  Anti-atheism clothing could be beyond acceptable in one American community, or incite the need for discipline in a multicultural one.  Anti-marijuana may provoke opinions, but likely no dialogue.  What is considered good-to-hate and bad-to-hate evolves, but mostly for the better.

5. What would you do if you were a teacher, a student or a jury member?

If I were a teacher, I would have told Chase to leave his homosexual peers alone, even if it means they are to be punished by God, because religious judgments don’t apply to the good of the school setting.

As a student at that age, I probably wouldn’t do anything, because I have no power to change the ethics of anyone in this kind of issue. 

If were being tried by a jury, I would not have him convicted of any crimes.

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Profit, Episode 5: Cupid

March 15, 2010 2 comments

Ray Kestrel refuses to sign the acquisitions deal until his wife gets back together with him, setting up the episode's conflict.

The fifth episode boasts a new type of strength- the fleshing out of characters and their chaotic relationships.  The plot centers around a married couple- Anna and Ray Kestrel.  An increasingly stressed and frustrated Chaz tries to get the husband to sign a Gracen & Gracen acquisitions deal together with his wife for Dynamite Industries.  But Anna is being stalked by a man named Michael, and Jim Profit has plans of his own.  They include posing as the stalker to bring them together, and manipulating Sykes’s curiosity and conscience to bring them apart.  It all may require some review to make sense of.  It ends with the abusive and murderous, but loving Ray committing suicide, Anna fleeing, Michael arrested with cash and lawyer-ly compensation, and Sykes’s employment status ambiguous.  It’s also unclear whether the company has benefited or not from what transpired.  But I think this will be neatly explained in the next episode.  Also, watching the interrelated struggles of so many realistic characters is enjoyable.

Charles Gracen becomes more intimidating and adamant, but at the same time more insecure.  Bobbi- who seduces him so far as to gently help him cry- continues to blur the line between affection and treachery.  Joanne, apparently ignorant of the then-new thing called cellular phones, tries to do her own investigation onto payphones with the help of a man named Ernie, and succeeds to stay out of Profit’s knowledge.  Pete, who later leaves to see his uncle, is even more secretive by hiding his sobriety, and Nora reveals her sick past involving being molested by said uncle.  Sykes compromises his enlightened suspicion of Profit with his sense of right and wrong.  Profit himself becomes more friendly with Gail, who shows apprehensions about her deeds.  Our three episode exclusive characters- the Ray, Anna, and Michael-help show of Jim’s ever-strong powers to humiliate, befriend, and strike deals.

The suspense, the bitter humor, dire dialogue, and messages are packed tighter into the show.  Characters sneak up on each other from out of the camera’s view.  Profit explains the susceptibility of ex-lovers to murder and manipulation, and trash-talks Sykes in voice-overs.  Son and mother pretend to meet up for the first time in order to deceive.  Son deals with mother’s increased unpredictable plots, including the rescue of Chaz.  Chaz tightly hugs brother Pete after seeming to get ready to assault him.  Gail tests her fibbing ability with a call to Ray.  Everyone is doing their best- whether for moral reasons, selfish reasons, or responsibility.  Jim Profit seems very pleased at how intense his life has gotten.  I imagine Episode 6 will offer a unique 5/5 experience as well.

Notable quotes:

“Guard your morals, Mr. Sykes.  They tend to disappear around here pretty fast.” – Joanne

“Anyone who thinks controlling people is a science is dead wrong- It’s an art.” – Jim Profit voice over

Watched: March 14, 2010, before the morning, in my bedroom

Overall Rating: 5/5

Categories: Uncategorized

Profit, Episode 4: Healing

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

As I predicted, Profit continues to get better.  Although Jim Profit does not face anyone as clever as Sykes, the situations he puts himself him get tougher, and the suspense and drama grow through that.  This is what happens:   Profit and Joanne get summoned by his boss Charles Gracen, who is fed up with suspicious activity, to inform them of a lie detector test scheduled for in a few days.  Profit spies on Joanne’s bearded, proud psychiatrist, Dr. Grant, and, with information about his sexual relationships with his patients- some bordering on rape, some even resulting in warding to get them silenced- blackmails him into manipulating Joanne.  This seems to be for ruining her test.  Grant has to use hypnosis, which Profit knows will work only on people willing to believe hypnosis works.  With some direct help from Jim, Joanne activates repressed memories about her father’s suicide when she was very young, resulting in her fleeing home to be hospitalized (which Profit pretends to finds shocking).  Grant gets arrested, and Jim frees Joanne, and seemingly befriends her.  Maybe he did this because he felt sorry, or maybe because his plan was to win her over all along and not have Chaz get suspicious.  Joanne, armed with a gun, finds Grant, who seems to have escaped from jail, but the doctor convinces her not to let herself be manipulated by Profit.

Throughout the episode, Profit also gets close to impotent and unimportant Pete Gracen, who actually seems to be planning something with Jeffrey Sykes- who claims he wants Profit to get off his case.  He gets to have whipping-belt-enhanced sex with Bobbi, while rekindling romance with Nora, wife of Pete Gracen, his recent fling and comrade.  Jim prepares for the lie-detector test by stamping one of his feet into a spike in his shoe.  Joanne, with her sanity regained, eagerly takes the test as well.  Both pass.  Chaz assures them this could be a problem much greater than he could comprehend.  Profit tells us about fighting hard battles and the comfort of sleep as he enters his box and bids us goodnight.

more scenes from Profit, including Jim's bizarre bed

Like I said, Profit continues to improve its passion and polish all the way through this episode.  My disgust for Jim Profit came back when it seemed he reached yet another level of evil- he was apparently willing to destroy an essentially innocent person’s dignity and sanity.  There were many twists in the plot.  The important events were kept in a linear structure, and the side stories- to of course be expanded upon in the near future- were kept somewhat separate.  The cliffhanger where Jim closes the screaming mouth of Joanne was intense, as was the scene where we fear Jim and Nora might get caught making sexual advances on each other.  The cutting back and forth of the camera, the slow panning and tracking around individual characters, and other techniques show masterful television production.  “Healing” loses all traces of campiness. The dark themes and events don’t lack sincerity anymore.  The acting is now at Law & Order: Special Victims Unit quality.  Even Profit’s totally cool visits to cyberspace are kept to a minimum. And there is still some nice humor- mostly through the southern-style quips of Bobbi.

I find myself asking about the story.  What is the fate of all these characters?  Has Grant escaped?  Has Jim changed Joanne, or was his pursuit in vain?  What are Pete and Sykes planning?  What depraved figures will we meet next?  I’m even pondering ethical questions.  Is it right when a hardcore white-collar criminal gets a sex offender punished?  After doing evil deeds, is it not justified to keep doing more, equally or less despicable deeds, to save oneself?  Am I amoral the way Jim Profit is?  His advice about working hard and understanding people is extremely useful.  He is admirable in ways that self-sacrificing heroes, reckless anti-heroes, and overly ambitious villain protagonists aren’t.  Profit cares about the challenge as much as the result, about rising to the top as well as down-time.  I don’t experience moral conflicts in my life, but rather seek the kinds of things Profit does.  I think episode 5 will be just as good.

Watched: March 13, 2010, at night, in my bedroom.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Categories: Uncategorized

Profit, Episode 3: Sykes

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The story of episode 3 is neater and easier to manage than in the previous two.  It cuts out uninteresting subplots and underwhelming plot twists.  But it’s still very dense for a television program.  I tried to make things easier- and more fun- by taking three-or-four minute breaks between the show’s actual breaks.  “Sykes” goes as follows:

Jim comes out of the shower in his fancy suite to find his stepmother Bobbi Stakowski with audio tapes to blackmail him into giving her more money for living.  At the G&G office, Chaz Gracen instructs his subordinates to acquire the business of Ian Karpov.  Jim goes to a fashion show, and gets suave African American gentleman-lawyer Jeffrey Sykes to join his team.  Sykes’s wife is in the show.   He spikes the food with an insect in order to better his own quality-striving public image.  Profit wants Sykes at G&G because- through internet research- he knows that Sykes had a vendetta against Ian Karpov, who is really a Russian mobster responsible for the deaths of many people, including one of Jeffrey’s friends.  Profit meets Karpov at his office and makes a deal to clean Karpov’s unclean records for a share of the company.  Profit now works with a timid, nerdy, fat man named Edgar as an assistant for computer-related work.  At Sykes’s home, he lightly argues with his wife about his revenge plots.

Profit sees Pete Gracen at G&G, and openly lies to him – “Who would be more qualified than you?” – about taking more power in the company.  Bobbi- acting as a designer, though totally unqualified, advises Pete about a new painting- with some help from her smarter son.    We see Sykes planning to make a virus.   Profit confronts Joanne Meltzer, who knows that this designer is his mother.  But Profit makes the convincing excuse the he does not want to break her Alcoholics Anonymous anonymity.  Sykes steals data through a disk in a dark room.  After finding more about this conspiracy, profit meets Ian again, who threatens him by pushing him into glass for being so sneaky.  Sykes saps information Profit (and Edgar) needs, so he has to find another way.  What happens next may be the best scene of the episode- Jim goes to Joanne’s door- which is secured by a chain, and tries to swift-talk his way into getting company data from her, but does not succeed.  Profit meets his sleazy mom again in her suite, but has to go back out when his secretary Gail Cohen gives him a call to action.

Jim Profit, posing with his two greatest co-workers/adversaries

Profit confronts Sykes at another fashion show- and threatens him with a concocted potential drug-bust on his wife.  Sykes is distraught, and gives into the threat, submitting the data and agreeing to resign from G&G.  At Profit’s computer, the funny-looking 3D avatar of Sykes- just like the other vanquished employees- explodes.  Cut to a shocking and intense scene- Jack Meltzer, the “hero” from episode 2 and former VP of Acquisitions, is in prison.  A guard tells him to cut off his hopes of revenge on Profit- because, in a complicated move, Profit has made it so the guards can collect money if they murder Jack when Profit is not alive.  At Sykes’s home, his wife confronts him on putting him in this danger she found out about- despite some calm affection and negotiation, this woman indeed leaves him.   Jim meets Karpov in his lair again, but it is a setup- Ian gets arrested by some high-level police.   Our protagonist is happy- but then Sykes comes back.  I can’t remember exactly what happened, but Sykes either had a backup computer scheme that contributed to the arrest, or simply came back because he has other ambitions for Gracen & Gracen, and to tell his nemesis Karpov to know he got revenge.  Sykes’s avatar reforms.  Chaz reprimands Profit for acquiring Karpov’s assets through a very risky and possibly controversial means.  On his way home, Jim gets nearly hit by a car.  The driver apologizes.  But he says- to the camera- “I’ll be just fine.”  Cue the rockin’ end theme and its credits.

I am surprised at how much Profit improved in one episode.  It’s as if the writers, television directors, and actors just got more comfortable with the characters, setting, and themes.  When Sykes confronts his disappointed wife, the love and fear they both have is real.  The office of Karpov is intimately intense, filled with lies and danger.  The relationship between Profit and his stepmother is increasingly unique.  They are enemies and friends- but accept each other’s personalities and need to exploit each other.  The score is finally a healthy mix between tough-guy 80’s rock and eerie orchestral and electronic tunes.  When Profit tries to convince Joanne for help, you have to root for and feel sorry for him.  Jim and Sykes suspensefully reveal their schemes, and both make bittersweet levels of progress.  Although I despised what Profit did to Jack, his voice-overs about learning from mistakes are more inspiring than ever.  It’s also easier to like our villain protagonist when his opponents are also vengeful liars.  Profit’s audience-intimacy via camera contact and voice-over was corny before, but now it’s genuinely charming, and at the end of the episode, offers closure of today’s plot and curiosity for the next.  What foes will he take on next time?  How evil will they be, or become?  What challenges can Jim profit overcome?  According to the DVD, one is a lie-detector test with Joanne Meltzer.  I think that episode four will be even better.

Notable quotes-

“Oh please, Jim, break down the door.  Give me another excuse to blow your psychopathic head off.” -Joanne, to Profit

“Hiring a human being isn’t much different from acquiring a company.  You mount an approach and appeal to the seller.” – Profit, voice over

Watched: March 3, 2010, in my room in the evening

Overall rating- 5/5

Categories: Uncategorized

Profit, Episode 2: Hero

March 1, 2010 1 comment

In this second episode, the pace slows down a little and a more easily coherent story is told.  Jim Profit does battle with Jack Walters and Joanne Meltzer; they look up each other’s information and set traps to expose the other.  Despite getting in some rough spots, Profit is  always one step of ahead of his moral and brave colleague.  He frames Walters for business lies and a biological murder, leaving the innocent man imprisoned for thirty years and Meltzer with greater resolve to take down Profit.

Though the acting wasn’t spectacular, there were a lot of things I liked more about this episode than the first.  It seems the show seized its chance to function within just one hour smartly.  Profit pits people against each other, and when they have resolved their differences (Walters and his wife, for one), it is too late.  Profit is so sincerely passionate about and proficient with his computer research, so much that one wonders with fear how he has such omnipotent access to other people’s lives.  He makes fools out of people who get friendly with him, and reaches a level of evil I hadn’t even considered in a villain protagonist: try to get a man locked up whom you attacked first.  Still, he is endearing and and sometimes bitterly hilarious; loudly practicing his Chinese and denying his sadistic actions in a warm and sincere tone.  Also gleefully disturbing is when Jim makes ally Nora Gracen put herself down, and resolve to change her moral ways.

disc3cover

The principal characters, going clockwise, starting from left: Nora Gracen, Joanne Meltzer, Jeffrey Sykes, Jim Profit, Bobbi Stakowski, Gail Koner, Charles Gracen, Pete Gracen

Though he seems often like a shallow character who doesn’t really seem to be that interested in people he lectures to the audience about via voice-over, the voice-overs still have a good amount of meaning.  Profit tells us to enjoy life before it ends, and to not be brash or reckless.  This show makes one feel strange in this regard: we are learning deep and sensible life lessons from a man whose existence is about ruining other people’s livelihood and families.  They are warnings, yet more than warnings- he seems to want the viewer to become a better person by becoming more careful of people.  Though he himself was cursed with a dismal family, and he feels genuine pity toward his victims.    Also great is discovering the plan he had set out along- to have Walters arrested- right after a heroic confrontation with Jim in which his dark past is almost exposed- by planting medical materials in his house, while pretending to befriend his wife.  The dramatic tension works much better in Episode 2 than 1, with the tragic married couple, vengeful Joanne Meltzer, Profit, and other corporates showing relationships and desires to help or one-up the other.

I am not totally engaged with the show’s story just yet, but I think the next episode will take this twisted tale even further.  Profit has a lot of goals left to achieve, and according to the episode descriptions, a whole gallery of enemies.

Overall rating: 4/5

Watched: Sunday, February 28, late at night in the Library Cafe

Categories: Uncategorized

Profit, Episode 1: Pilot

March 1, 2010 1 comment

Meet Jim Profit: A brimming new employee at multinational corporation Gracen & Gracen.  He’s got an intimidating but oddly rusty voice when serious.  His stare at colleagues, friends, and the camera, is unsettling but not quite genuine.  From the beginning of this awkward pilot, he tells the audience the general plan, which involves going as far upward as he can from Junior Vice President of Acquisitions as possible.  By the end, he’s made a ton of progress.  Profit’s is a casual sort of berserker: he lies very frequently, and without struggle.  He doesn’t need to contemplate morality before offering false praise to alcoholic Senior VP Pete Gracen, while seducing his wife Nora.  He isn’t afraid when arguing against the ethics of lie detector tests, after stealing company information, in front of his boss Chaz Gracen, or confronted by President of Acquistions Jack Walters.  Before we can predict how Profit will get out of trouble, he’s gained the trust of his blackmailed and would-be enemy Gail Koner by paying off her mother’s medical expenses.

A lot of things happen in this episode. So many plots and schemes are brought to fruition in such a short time.  I can hardly remember the order of it all- except for the climax, when Jim infiltrates a hospital in order to murder his helpless (though once abusive) father, to the dismay of his stepmother, whom he has been romancing, and at this point, now blackmailing.   Along the way Profit has exposed an ethically questionable choice by the company regarding baby food production, in order to ruin several people, and make antagonists out of some others. If I could have changed this pilot, I would have cut down on the stories and helpless minor antagonists.  The pacing is fast, though the dialogue is calm and hard to hear without subtitles.  But that’s one of the things I like about Profit– it doesn’t suffer from dragging on or teasing the viewer with story interruptions.  I enjoy not knowing all about the protagonist, or having his plans dictated to the viewer before they happen.  I want to find out more about the cast of characters, and their corporation,  but there isn’t much time to absorb relevant plot development.

scenes1

various scenes from Profit

But I’m not as interested in this show’s universe as I could be.  The acting is consistently mediocre.  It’s not incredibly believable, like House or Seinfeld, yet not phony like CSI or The George Lopez Show.  Nobody, not the smart nor the vulnerable characters, feel to me like honest representations of adults  (Nor are they going for a presentational style).  Maybe this is to show how corporate people are childish or lack dignity; maybe the directors lack talent.  I think I may be able to tell in future episodes, if it is not a sort of balance.  Profit himself is a powerhouse of intelligence when compared to his peers, but doesn’t seem all that engaged in his environment.  His voice over quotes are actually pretty poignant and humanly psychotic (they include “doing your best” even if it’s murder and blackmail).  However, his dark and brooding tone, along with the somber soundtrack, don’t seem to fit.  The show is a festival of depravity, but treats itself like some sophisticated tragedy.

I am unsure of whether I am supposed to be laughing when I laugh.  I can’t always tell if it’s quality dark humor, or the overplaying of Jim’s evilness.  I can’t tell is Profit is aware of its own shamelessness, or too proud of it.  A red herring of a dream in which Profit chokes someone, his sleeping in a customized box caused by an absurdly horrifying childhood, saying “Hi Mom” to the woman he just made out with, and ignoring his father’s pleas for mercy, are quite shocking, and cause me to have the slightly evil grin that Jim is too cool to even have.  But does this show want me to grin at how brutal this all is, or am I catching on to campiness they did not intend?  I hope to make sense of this in future episodes.  But regardless, I will continue to enjoy the scenery and dynamic camerawork that make Profit a spectacle worth seeing.   Even his searches into the 3D-database are entertaining.  I hope the show slows down a little and becomes more sincere, to make this good technical work used well.

Overall Rating: 2/5

Watched: Friday, February 27, on DVD player at home

Categories: Uncategorized