“It’s life that’s violent, not the text.”

March 25, 2012

Just saw Rachel Maddow on Meet the Press, discussing her new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. I’m looking forward to reading it, but one facet of the argument seems to be that, along with making the waging of war more palatable to the American public, the dangerous consequence has been removing war from the national experience and conscience.  We’re so scared of talking about what war is that 99% of us no longer bear any of the burden. And there are some burdens that need to be shared, somehow.

Pundits and experts (adults of all stripes who are lacking imagination) do a lot of blaming of narrative. Bands, movies, books, are all blamed for having an impact on the lives and thoughts of children.

Monsieur Lazhar is a film about adults and children experiencing violence. The title character is an Algerian seeking asylum in Montreal; he takes over a class of 11- and 12-year-olds whose teacher commited suicide. Although Bachir Lazhar is reticent about his own trauma (the loss of his wife and children), he is dedicated to providing the children a space to experience theirs.

The film eloquently captures the confusion caused by zero tolerance environments (a boy thinks he drove the teacher to suicide because he complained about her), without pretending to have the answers. A child’s paper that describes the suicide as a violent act towards the class–the teacher hanged herself in her classroom–is then discussed by the school administrator as being violent. Lazhar upholds the student’s right to express her grief and trauma: “It’s life that’s violent, not the text.”

How backwards do we have things when the cultural products that help us deal with violence and death (the student’s paper, Bridge to Terebithia, a national conversation about war) are seen as the problem?

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