____________________________________ On Hiatus ___________________________________

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bully Bully

So…this topic came about in the usual round-about way that topics seem to catch me.

I was thinking of a movie.  I happened to have a free Netflix trial.  I was going to search for said movie, but first, I thought I’d just browse, see what was available.  And there it was.  But I didn’t feel like watching it right then.  So I didn’t.  Then Netflix started to recommend the movie to me.  After a week, I was finally in the mood, so I gave in and watched the movie.

Why’d I wait so long?  Because I was pretty sure that I knew the ending, and that it would be heartbreaking.  And I just have to be in the mood for that kind of emotional torment.

I hadn’t seen the movie before, so how did I know?—I read the book of course.

10 years ago.

I love Kevin Spacey, and when I saw the previews for Pay It Forward, it instantly went on my MUST SEE list.  It looked SO good.

SO GOOD that I did the one thing I never do.  I read the book first.

Bad move.

After that I couldn't bear to watch the movie—The book was that AMAZING.  And heart wrenching.  And after I’d read it, I just couldn’t imagine how the movie could be anything like this masterpiece of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s.

Especially because Kevin Spacey isn’t a black guy.  And nobody is going to mistake Haley Joel Osment for Hispanic.  From the previews alone, I could tell that Eugene’s scars were nowhere near as severe as what I imagined Rueben’s looked like in the book.  Oh, and in the book, Eugene’s name is Reuben.

On the face of it, the movie seemed whitewashed compared to Hyde’s melting pot of characters.  It made me wonder if the movie’s willingness to change such superficial details as a character’s name, race, and identity were indicators of far more significant changes.  I kept going back and forth, unable to decide how superficial the changes brought on by casting really were.

I don’t think it makes too big a difference whether or not a character is blonde or brunette.  Big deal.  But whether we want to admit it or not, a person’s skin color colors their formative years, how they interpret the world, and in turn, how the world sees them as a person.

Eugene was a victim of abuse, whereas Reuben was a Vietnam vet—Both situations evoke strong notions of what kind of battles that these characters have fought in their lives.  But Eugene’s history doesn’t necessarily preclude him having a similar development to the book’s character.

And then there’s the matter of the actors versus the characters.  Does an actor have to fit a certain race, sex, or age to portray a character?  Doesn’t that depend on the ability and caliber of the actor?

While I do feel a certain authenticity is added to movies when actors perform their own stunts—If an actor is REALLY climbing a mountain, or jumping from a plane, or being eaten by a shark—Is it still ACTING?  Or does it start to blur the lines between fiction and reality?

I am a strong proponent of staying as close to the book as possible; my feeling is that if you wanted to rewrite the story, then why not make whatever story you want?—Why bother using the book?

But if an actor can recreate the character from the book, his essence, his feelings, and bring the audience the same kind of feelings as the author does for her readership, well, then I think the actor’s capacity to tell the story should trump any physical shortcomings.

So…It’s ten years later, and all of a sudden I find myself thinking about the movie, again.  Thinking that maybe a decade is enough time to watch the movie objectively.  And then, there’s also Netflix, with its not so subtle nudges, urging me to watch the movie.

So I do.

And it was as absolutely heart-tearing and gut-wrenching as I’d hoped it would be.  The book and the movie are different.  But the things that they made me feel were the same.  The story was still there.

And, of course, it made me want to read the book again.  And, of course, my copy was somewhere back home at my parents’ house, on a bookshelf with a bunch of other books that haven’t quite caught up with me as an adult.

So, I thought about the book all night, but as much as I wanted to read it, I hate re-buying books I already have.  I went to sleep thinking it was a moot point.  I’d just have to pick it up the next time I was home.

But I didn’t have to wait that long—The very next day, my sister nudged me into stopping at a second-hand store with her.  25 cents later, a slightly-used copy of Pay It Forward was in my hands.

I went to add my little find to my In My Mailbox post, planning to do a little review of the book, or a comparison of the book and movie, you know, things us bloggers do.  But when I went to add a link to the author’s web page, I stumbled onto something that has made me very uncomfortable, something that made me change what I wanted to write about and share with you.

Catherine Ryan Hyde had a note on her blog about her newest book, Jumpstart the World, and a recent statement released by estranged biological relative, Leslie Feinberg.

The post made me curious, and I was nosy, so I read another post, and another, which only made me more and more curious.  Hyde sounded so hurt and I immediately felt for her—But I still didn’t know what had precipitated these posts, what the catalyst was.  So I googled it—Leslie, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Jumpstart the World.

Hyde, herself never told us Leslie’s last name, nor more than that Leslie was an estranged sibling.  I had no idea of knowing if my search was enough to go on.  It turned out to be more than enough.

Entranced, I read Leslie’s statement to the public—I found myself feeling just as passionately for Leslie as for Catherine, as both are fraught with anguish and hurt.

I went back and forth over my thoughts, wanting to reach out in support of both, wanting to take sides; feeling as emotionally compelled and torn as I was while reading Hyde’s novel, but much sadder knowing that this matter is all too real for its protagonists.

I meant to leave it alone and stop reading, but my curiosity got the better of me, wondering if perhaps there was any resolution, if there were any happy endings out there.  And so I kept clicking on the other search results, and clicking.  Most were reviews for Jumpstart the World,

I went back and reread the statements made by both, and I started reading the comments.

I haven’t read Hyde’s newest book, so I can’t comment on it other than to say many of the reviews are very positive.

But something else surprised and unsettled me—every single review I found was accompanied by a comment about Hyde and a link to Feinberg’s statement—Many reviews are linking and referring to the matter.  But what I find so unsettling is that some bloggers are being criticized for not doing so—for laying aside a matter, that while not unrelated, can be considered out of context when someone is concentrating on a review of the book at hand.

I had a hard time sleeping; tossing and turning, feeling acid build up in my stomach.  It kept nagging at me.

Hadn’t enough people already weighed in on this matter?  Hadn’t enough been said?

What could I say that that hadn’t been said?  What could I contribute?

At first I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I had strong opinions after reading both statements—I had a lot to say.  But I also felt like it was none of my business.  I like to read books, but when it came down to it, this felt more personal, and my strongest opinion, was that the matter at issue, when all was said and done, doesn’t have anything to do with the story itself.  I felt that the side issues raised offered very good topics for discussion.  And at the same time it still left me unsettled.

What was it that I couldn’t let go of?

I kept going over and over everything in my head, when it finally hit me what didn’t feel right.  EVERY SINGLE REVIEW had unflattering comments about Hyde in conjunction with links to Feinberg’s statement.  Bloggers were being admonished over their REVIEWS for not including information about Feinberg’s statement.  Ugly rants appeared with tabloid titles and defamatory, derogatory, and libelous statements made about Hyde, taking quotes from Hyde out of context and presenting them alongside Feinberg’s statement.  Hyde was assaulted in the comment section on her own blog, attacking and picking apart anything she’s ever said.  Or if Hyde’s words weren’t incriminating enough, she was attacked because she HADN’T said things.  No matter how Hyde explained and defended herself, or how she tried to clarify things, Feinberg supporters continued to pick Hyde apart.  And after Hyde closed her comment sections on the post, Feinberg supporters used that as another example to denounce Hyde.

I have no objection to open discussion, except, suddenly it feels more like bullying.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about bullying and cyber-bullying.  I’m not in school anymore and I don’t have any children, so I didn’t really think this was a topic that affected me.  When I pictured bullies, I pictured the jocks and the mean girls.  When I thought of their victims, I thought of the nerd and the fat kid, the insecure ones, the unpopular ones.  I pictured it happening on playgrounds and in dark alleys, and on facebook.

I certainly didn’t picture it happening to published authors or on book blogs.  But that’s what it feels like.  It feels like all of a sudden a few of Feinberg’s supporters have gone from spreading awareness of a sensitive and deeply emotional topic, to ATTACKING Hyde, leaving her unable to defend herself without leaving herself open to more attack.

That’s bullying.

The people I’m talking about aren’t interested in discussion—Unless you share their opinion.  Their tactics have gone beyond spreading awareness about a sensitive issue, to drawing others into a matter of contention, abetting anger and argument and blame.  The most prominent of these critics openly admit to not having read the book in question and seem to have no problem openly denouncing it and dismissing it as without merit.  These critics seem bent on forcing the issue, and I object to these bullies subverting our book reviews to promote their own agenda—not an agenda of stimulating dialogue, of encouraging civil debate, or of awareness, but attacks of vitriol, condemnation, and defamation.

Maybe my saying this doesn’t change anything that’s been said, but my only hope is that by saying something, maybe it will change how things are said.

Our words are just as powerful as our actions; I don’t wish any voice to be silenced, but I wish every voice the opportunity to be heard.


Here is a Facebook link I feel addresses the matter in a beautiful and thoughtful manner:

Danielle at There's A Book has also written a great post: Jumpstarting the World One Book at a Time


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