Saturday, March 9, 2013

Day Sixty-eight - School Ties, or "The 90's called... it wants its teen hearthrobs back."

My parents took me to see School Ties in theaters.

I don't know if they did it as a kind of preparation for sending me to a Catholic private school (which never happened) or to broaden my horizons more as I'd never really dealt with religious discrimination before. At least, not obviously.

Being an Army Brat, I'd had plenty of exposure to all sorts of folks from all sorts of both religious and cultural backgrounds. One thing about the Army in the 80's and 90's... it was definitely a huge melting pot.

It also helped that I got kicked out of the Catholic school that my sister was already going to down the highway. I was just in kindergarten and already had problems with the catechism classes. It forced my parents to ship me across the wire to the local public schools close to the base which were 99% African-American.

If I hadn't woken up to religious discrimination thanks to the wide variety of families on base, I certainly learned about racial tensions early.

But, enough about me... this post is about School Ties.

Starring Brendan Fraser and many rising male actors of the era (Chris O'Donnell, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck), School Ties tells a very simple story about the religious and class divide that, to a certain extent, still pervades American society.

David Greene (Fraser) is a top quarterback that a prestigious private school headhunts, in his senior year, to help them beat their bitter arch-rival in football. In order to entice him, they offer him an academic scholarship (though, he still has to work as a table server to pay for his other expenses). He accepts, though his coach recommends, without actually saying it, that he hide his Jewish heritage.

It's a choice David makes that works quite well for him as he assimilates into the WASPy elite (see, even I'm guilty of bigotry) of the school. That is, of course, until he is outed by his academic and love rival, Charlie Dillon (Damon).

The movies main themes hit me hard as there isn't a week that goes by where I don't hear someone say they "totally jewed" somebody or "don't be queer."

I'd like to say that I always fight the good fight and confront such nonsense... and, I do try to make my feelings known, but more often or not, instead of seeing it for what it is, the bigots I run into just offer excuses or blow it off and I become a bad guy for pushing the issue.

I don't think I got the full extent of what was happening the first time I saw School Ties. Revisiting it on Netflix, however, everything was as plain as day.

Whether it was the prayer that Alan Greene (Ed Lauter) offers to his son as he leaves or the perhaps not so subtle disdain that Headmaster Bartram (Peter Donat) offers young David as he tries to celebrate passover alone and in secret in the school's chapel, everything that was hidden by my innocence in '92 was laid bare now.

I think what angered me the most about the mentality shift when David is outed as Jewish in the third act is just how readily everyone assumes the worst about him. It's as if everything he had done, everything he had proved about himself as a student, an athlete... as a human being... goes out the window thanks to stereotypes and deep cultural prejudice. It's one of the things that I love about America, that we strive not to be this way... but it's also one of the things I hate, because it manages to be perpetuated.

Even here, in this town, which is, itself, a melting pot of many cultures, Anglo, Latino, and Native, do we still have it... where fire alarms are pulled to disrupt LGBT dances and folks decry "drunk indian" jokes as only harmless stereotypes instead of racism.

I want School Ties to be a required part of high school curriculum, just as much as I want kids to see Bless Me, Ultima and Schindler's List and Babel... and Dead Poet's Society... and Cloud Atlas.

Back to the film, itself, there's great pacing and good focus on the leads and their conflicts. Perhaps not enough time was spent on the side characters, who would eventually decide David's fate when he gets embroiled in a cheating scandal with the film's Iago character, Charlie, but it's still a great film.

Overall, I would very much recommend School Ties. It shows how far we've come and how very much further we have yet to go.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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