Babel on, Globalization

Globalization is the phenomenon of people around the world affecting one another and exchanging their culture, among other things, which is made possible in part by modern technology. Alejandro Inarritu’s Babel interweaves four interconnected storylines that take place in four different countries. However, just because the movie is about people around the world who are affected by each other one way or another doesn’t mean the movie is about globalization.
The term “globalization” implies a much deeper connection than the coincidental interconnectedness of the characters. Globalization involves a certain level of interdependence, where, for example, the United States imports products made in China and China has McDonalds. The United States’ economy is the way it is because so much of the products are made in China, and in return, China’s culture is Americanized to the point that they’re eating hamburgers. Babel doesn’t achieve this kind of interdependence, much of what ties the four plotlines together is pure coincidence. Just because the Japanese man gave his gun to a Moroccan man doesn’t mean the boy who used the gun to shoot the American woman will learn anything about or be affected by Japanese culture.
The film does make a statement about globalization, even though it isn’t necessarily about globalization. Modern day technology makes it possible for people to communicate with each other from across the world, transferring their cultures, but there’s still a lot of miscommunication happening in the film, and that causes most of the conflicts between the characters. For example, the Moroccan police were searching for a murder suspect when the American woman didn’t die, and one of the Moroccan kids was shot, which could’ve been avoided but wasn’t because they didn’t turn themselves in in the first place and say it was an accident. Just because we can interact with people across the world, does that mean we’re really affected by them?
In his essay “The Politics of Utopia,” Jameson describes utopia as “non-fictional” but also “non-existent.” In Randy Martin’s essay “Where Did the Future Go?” he describes how presently a utopia where the entire world shares the same economy is unachievable. Maybe what Babel is saying about utopia is that it is unachievable. If people keep miscommunicating with each other across their different languages, cultures, and traditions, then the world can’t possibly unite under one roof known as capitalism.
Even though Babel isn’t about globalization, it is about universality—the universality of miscommunication but also the universality of emotions. All of the characters experience a helplessness that can be felt by everyone. Each of the characters is relatable regardless of their setting because of their situations. The Japanese girl’s mother committing suicide is something that happens all over the world, not just in Japan, and how she feels unable to communicate her pain shows how helpless she is. Brad Pitt’s character’s helplessness when his wife is shot is a feeling all people feel when their loved ones are about to die and they can’t do anything about it. Amelia feels helpless when she is stranded in the desert with the kids.
In conclusion, Babel isn’t about globalization. The connections between the characters aren’t deep enough to symbolize globalization. The ever present miscommunication between the characters and the people around them show that globalization is unachievable. People can never be on the same page on anything. However, Babel is about some kind of universality. All of the characters feel helplessness, even though they’re all around the world. Their situations are not far off from what people go through in real life all the time. Babel finds value in its accurate portrayals of real life.

A Couple of Poems of Mine

These are works in progress, but in a way, every poem is never finished, you can always go back to it and make it better no matter how long ago you originally jotted it down.

“The hospital”

has been abandoned
except for terminal patients
ticking time-bombs
inside their bodies

You are one of them

When the meteor was seen
headed towards our city
of stars in our sidewalks
and blacktops on our skies

we knew even the angels
wouldn’t stop it

When the evacuation call came
we had two days to leave
with only what we could carry
in dirty blankets on our backs

When the rush began
streets and highways flooded
cars and people fleeing
but they’re gone now

I walk through halls empty
doctors nurses patients visitors
miles and miles away by now

I open the door to your room
sit beside you
hold your hands in mine

I ask you how you are
and you say you’ve been better
You ask me why I came back
and I say I couldn’t leave you

You say I have to save myself
and it’s okay because we know
you’ll die anyway and—Stop.

I ask you to remember a song
we listened to way back when

Ben singing what someone said
drums and keys desperate
like the rise and fall of your chest
and you understand

I love you too much
to let you die alone

We wait in silence
for the dust to consume us

There is a brilliant red light
rising off in the distance
A cloud expands over the city

The earth shakes into
a whirlpool of rocks
You fall into the dark
through its cracks

I follow

“Mulch”

If I could, I would shrink myself,
Sink through your skin to your blood cells
Remove whatever makes you hurt,
But I am too weak to be your cure.
-Brand New

My mother told me that back in your homeland they didn’t really keep track of birthdays, because when New Year’s came along, everyone would celebrate as though that were the day they all grew one year older. Around the turn of this year, I got a call from my brother saying you were in the hospital. You had an accident while trying to fix your car. Two of your fingers were cut badly, and the flesh was almost gone. I was reminded of something, a story I was once told a long time ago. I’m not sure how true it is, but it keeps creeping into my mind. It goes that for an old tree to make new ones, its branches must fall from its deteriorating trunk. They sink into the soil to become trunks of their own. When a dead tree is cut across its body, you can count the rings inside it, each one a year the tree lived. You are a like the maple tree in our front yard, grand and tall, with countless branches as your tip reaches for the sky. But the old trees here are disappearing. I remember how your fingers looked, so frail the skin and bone, almost as though they’d fall off at any second. I am only a twig attached to a branch on your trunk, ever still sturdy yet so slightly on the surface threatening to collapse. Every year, I hope you gain a new ring within, all the while I hold the secret fear
this will be
the year
I will lose
you. I am
not ready to
take the fall,
separate from
your support,
grow out my
own   roots   in   the   soil   and   be
my   own   trunk,   reaching   up.   But   this
perpetual   cycle   of   growth   and   decline   must
go       on,       and       no       matter       how       much
I         want          to          stop          it,          I          can’t.

Three Poetry Writing Exercises… One Poem

Exercises from: [link]

I didn’t realize I was supposed to write a poem for each exercise, so the poem I came up with at the end was… kind of weird and also kind of made its own little sense… I don’t really know, I guess that’s for you to decide.

1. Alliteration and Assonance Lists
Clearly camping
Bells blasting
Bulls stampeding
Carry candy
Defend dearly
Fear nearing
Amy staring
Nothing funny
Something missing
Ending presently

2. Metaphors for Life
Being born is like lighting the campfire
Taking your first steps is like catching a fish in the river
Falling for the first time is like forgetting to bear-proof food
Dying is like reaching the end of the hiking trail
Being mourned is like coming back from it

3. Lyrics and Musicality
The Camping Trip
to “Always Summer” by Yellowcard [link]

When we arrived we put up all our tents
It got dark so we lighted campfires
Then Amy stared as though the flames
Ignited her insides

And in the night you heard the bells blasting
We looked around and saw bears wandering
It felt as though the fear itself neared in on me

When the next day came
We walked the longest trails
Reached the highest place
You said I want to jump
But I held your hand
We went on our way

We went to the river and cast our lines
Not knowing if we’d catch the biggest prize
But there we were our hopes and dreams
Just hanging underwater

And there it was a tugging on Kate’s pole
We pulled and pulled and out came the big fish
We were so proud
Like when she just took her first steps

When we got back to
The campsite you told me
There was something weird
So I looked around
And saw that something was
Missing from our tent

There’s nothing funny about bears attacking us
To find some candy carried in by our daughters

The bears will come
Again tonight
And we could die
But still I will
Defend us dear
We will survive

When we reached the end
Another trail you said
You couldn’t go on
So we took a break
Before we headed back
Feeling like we won

There were bulls stampeding on our way back home
So we just stopped our car to watch them come and go
We’re clearly camping if we come and then we go
Well we can’t live here it’s been fun but it’s not home

Teaching from the 100 Best Loved Poems

100 Best Loved Poems is a compilation of famous poems, many of which you’re likely to encounter in school before you reach college.  There is a time and place for poets like Wordsworth, Frost, and Poe.  They are all canonical writers that everyone should be exposed to during their K-12 education.  I know I’d feel like my education failed me if I got to college without ever reading any of their poems (I feel this way about The Great Gatsby–yes, I’ve still never read it, what a shocker).

However, these guys are white males that lived close to 100 years ago.  Not only are their styles outdated, but the content of their poems are nothing close to being universal when you consider the racial diversity of our schools today.  As an Asian American living in Los Angeles in the 21st century, I sometimes wonder, what do these guys’ poems have anything to do with my life, why should I bother reading any of their work?

If I become a teacher, I will of course make sure to cover these poets from way back when, but I will also add in some contemporary poets like Kim Adinizio and Michael and Matthew Dickman, and also some ethnic poets, and maybe even some poetry from gay/lesbian writers, to give students a taste of both what’s being written much more recently and how race and other social identifications can affect people’s writing.

One publication that I love is The Best American Poetry, which is published annually, because not only does it include poems from the year it was published, making them the most recent, but it also includes writers of color.  I would want to teach this in conjunction with 100 Best Loved Poems  to show my students how vast the possibilities of poetry can be.

In Defense of “Annabel Lee”

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was one of the first poems I’ve ever read, way back in middle school.  It’s the poem that got me into Poe, and Poe is the author that got me into writing my own poetry.  Even though the poetry I write now is structurally more experimental and post-modern, I still feel a connection to Poe’s work.  It may follow conventions that today’s writing is trying to stray away from, and there may be some criticisms and skepticisms to its anonymity and originality, but I feel like the poem is still a timeless and essential piece of literature.

The poem “Annabel Lee” is about a love so grand that even death can’t stop it.  In the first stanza, the speaker explains how strong their love is, saying Annabel had “no other thought / Than to love and be loved by me.”  In the second, third, and fourth stanzas, the speaker explains how their love was so great that even the angels “went envying her and me,” which became the reason they killed Annabel.  In the final two stanzas, the speaker explains that the powers that be cannot “dissever my soul from the soul” of his lover, so he goes to “lie down by the side” of her in her tomb.  Their love was so transcendent and they were so inseparable that he was willing to die lying next to her in the place of her burial.  This poem is easy to relate to because it is saying that they loved each other to the point that he can’t live without her, something that anyone who’s been in love has felt.  For that reason, the poem has a timeless quality to it despite its age.

While the poem uses conventions that may be looked down upon in today’s standards, the poem makes up for it in its musical qualities.  One example of how the poem follows old conventions is how it has end-rhyme throughout, mostly following an ABCBDB rhyme scheme, such as the second stanza with “child,” “sea,” “love,” “Lee,” “heaven,” and “me.”  In many poetry workshops I’ve been in, we agreed that end-rhyme was something to stay away from.  The musical qualities of the poem come from how it has many repeated phrases, such as “a kingdom by the sea” and “of the beautiful Annabel Lee,” and how the lines follow a strict musical meter.  The repetition makes the poem lyrical, in the same way that a repeated chorus in the lyrics of a pop-song makes it catchy.  The meter is unstressed-unstressed-stressed almost entirely throughout, which makes it easy to read even for people unfamiliar with poetry.

Some critics have said that the anonymity of who is Annabel Lee takes away from the poem’s integrity; however, the anonymity gives the poem a sense of familiarity and leaves it open for the reader to relate to.  One such critic said the reference was so obscure, probably referencing someone in Poe’s own life, so the poem was weak as a result.  Booth goes so far to defend the poem as to narrow down the reference to Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm, but concludes his essay by saying that we don’t need the biographical information to see the conceptual importance of the poem (19).  I agree with this statement because when I read the poem, I wasn’t really thinking about who Annabel Lee was to the speaker of the poem, but more-so who she was in my life.  I think the theme in Annabel Lee of the long lost love taken away is something almost anyone can relate to (being “taken away” doesn’t necessarily have to mean death in a literal sense).  This in addition to the rhythm and rhyme scheme of the poem makes it a good place to introduce people to the genre of poetry.

The poem has been accused of “borrowing” from someone else’s work; however, I do not feel that this takes anything away from the significance of Poe’s poem. According to Law’s essay, the poem seems to draw from “The Mourner,” which shares some similarities in its lines, such as “From the cot by the side of the sea!” and “In a kingdom by the sea” in “Annabel Lee.”  However, as Law states, Poe’s reputation isn’t really at stake because of how well-written his poem is, even in comparison to what he seems to have been inspired by.  I think it is fine to draw from other sources as long as you make it your own, and Poe certainly did with his work, adding his “rich melody, its emotional strain and climactic structure” (343).  The more time passes, the more things have already been said and the more it seems evident that anything we say is just regurgitation, and only the way we say it may be original or artistic.  Poe excels in this regard with his beautifully haunting imagery in lines like “And neither the angels in heaven above, / Nor the demons down under the sea / Can ever dissever my soul from the soul / Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”

Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” may follow some conventions too traditional, like having end-rhyme and following a strict meter.  However, its musical qualities and its biographical ambiguity make it a timeless poem able to be read and enjoyed still today.  Not many works of art and literature stand the test of time, but this is an exception.

Works Cited

Booth, Bradford. “The Identity of Annabel Lee.” College English, 7.1 (1945): 17-19.  JSTOR.  Web.

Law, Robert Adger. “A Source for ‘Annabel Lee’.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 21.2 (1922): 341-346. JSTOR.  Web.

Poe, Edgar Allan.  “Annabel Lee.”  100 Best-loved Poems. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.

Thrice and the Myth of Icarus

In their 2003 album The Artist in the Ambulancethe band Thrice wrote a song called “The Melting Point of Wax” [link] about the fall of Icarus, from his point of view.  Five years later, the band released “Daedalus” [link] on The Alchemy Index Vols. III-IV, which told the same story from the father’s perspective.  These two songs are examples of when lyrics can be considered poems.

To refresh your memory, the Greek myth has it that Daedalus and his son Icarus build wings out of wax to fly off the island they’ve been imprisoned on, but Icarus flies too close to the sun and as a result, his wings melt and he falls into the ocean.

Just the fact that these two songs are written from the Greek gods’ perspectives makes them poetic.  Often what a poet would do is write a poem using a persona, a voice that isn’t the writer’s own.  Instead of saying directly what the myth means to them, the band implies it through developing persona.

But why exactly write about an ancient myth in the 21sth century, what could it possibly have to do with their lives?  That’s where the metaphors come in.  Here’s my interpretation:

In 2003, Thrice was barely beginning to find their popularity in the mainstream scene, with radio-play of some songs off Artist.  They were young, ambitious, and felt like they were able to pull off anything, and they reflected that in their song.  Icarus keeps flying higher, despite knowing it could possibly kill him.

Five years later, the band grew older, had kids, and realized that if they took too many risks, they would put lives other than their own in jeopardy.  They took on the role of the father, who encourages the son to go all out guns blazing, but then realizes his mistake.  The myth of Daedalus becomes a cautionary tale.

(The Alchemy Index, of which “Daedalus” is from, is a series of four EPs, each containing six songs that tell of how each of the four classic elements–water, fire, air, and earth–can be abused by the people who use them.  If that’s not metaphoric enough to be poetic, I’m not sure what is.)

I can’t know for sure what the song means to the band.  But I do know that I’m able to interpret these song lyrics as I would a poem.

One way of understanding poetry or even mythology is by making it your own, and lyrics can help you do just that.  In a classroom, I would share these songs to students, then get them to choose a Greek myth to reinterpret and write a poem or short story about in a way that relates to their own lives.

Film and Books in the Classroom

In my current Survey of Shakespeare class, we’re watching a movie version of A Comedy of Errors as we’re reading the play.  That’s fine because Shakespeare is hard to understand, and seeing the scenes acted out makes the text easier to understand.

What would not be fine is if a teacher were to teach, for example, Harry Potter, and show the movie as the students read the book.  Harry Potter is fairly recent, you don’t need the film to understand the text, it’s more likely that you’ll need the book to better understand the movie because they leave so much stuff out.  And you should be starting with the book in the first place; I was unfortunate enough to read the books after watching the movies, so all I saw as I read were the faces of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, etc.–not that they’re not attractive people–I just missed out on the opportunity to give the characters my own faces.

Over the years, I’ve sometimes asked classmates if they’ve read a particular book for class and one of the responses was, “Nope, but I saw the movie.  Same thing, right?”  No.  That’s such a lazy thing to do, and anyone who does that is missing out on so much. Imagining a novel is a much different experience than having it imagined for you and having it displayed on a screen.  There are always things you see that others will see differently from reading the same text.  You don’t get that experience sitting in front of a TV.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t show movies in the classroom.  It’s the 21st century, you might as well get Netflix and hook up your laptop to a projector.  But be smart about it.  Not only should you choose books that don’t have movie adaptations, but you should also choose films that at first glance have nothing to do with the books you’re teaching.

My high school English teacher taught Beowulf as an example of the genre of epics.  Instead of showing the horrible film to the class, he showed Whale Rider.  What?  How does that have anything to do with Beowulf?  Quite a bit, actually.  We soon learned that the storyline of Whale Rider shares many conventions with the epic.  If you’re going to show a movie to the class, which you should, have them make thematic connections between two texts of different media.  Pretty soon they’ll be comparing Doctor Who to Plato.  Or something, I don’t know.