“Kierkegaard was right – there is an awful precipice before us. But he was wrong about the leap – there’s a difference between jumping and being pushed. You reach a point where you are forced to face your own needs, and the fact that you can’t terminate the situation settles on you with full force.”
Kathleen Conklin, in The Addiction (1995)
In the film The Addiction (1995) the director Abel Ferarra uses the metaphor of the vampire to examine issues of power, free will, good, and evil in the human (and not so human) condition. One of the very first scenes is the most significant. Doctoral student Kathleen Conklin played by Lili Taylor is dragged into a dark ally of New York City by a beautiful vampire named Casanova (played by Annabella Sciorra). Casanova presses Kathleen against a wall and sternly states, “Tell me to go away.” Sensing Kathleen’s confusion she adds, “Don’t ask. Tell me.”
Not heeding this direction, Kathleen merely whispers, “Please don’t hurt me.” Of course, having failed the instructions, Casanova states, “You think that’s gonna stop me?” She leans in, bites her neck, and drinks her blood. Then with erotic flair, she pulls back, gingerly wipes her lips and laughingly utters the word, “Collaborator.”
One way to analyze this scene is to consider how in Kathleen’s failure to demand that Casanova “go away” she became a collaborator in her own demise.
Prior to that, there is a scene where Kathleen and her friend are seated in class watching a film about international incidents of genocide:
Kathleen Conklin: It was the whole country. They were all guilty. How can you single out one man?
Jean: Well, you can’t jail a whole country, you know. They needed a scapegoat. He was the unlucky one who got caught.
Kathleen Conklin: No, I don’t think luck had anything to do with it. I mean, how did he get over there? Who put the gun in his hand? They say that he was guilty of killing women and babies. How many bombs were dropped that did the exact same thing? How many homes were destroyed? And who’s in, who’s in jail for that?
Being a collaborator, as in Kathleen’s case (if one agrees with Casanova that is), doesn’t mean engaging in conscious acts of aiding or abetting the evil-doers. Being a collaborator in Kathleen’s case was in not having the courage- or the willingness- or the ability to out-right REFUSE Casanova; a failure to exercise her “will to power,” or to have the willingness to fight back. Does this make it her fault that she was thus bitten (and became a vampire?) Maybe, maybe not. That is a matter of debate which I will leave for the film/philosophy majors.
The film wanders into a dangerous territory of blaming victims, something which I refuse to do. In so many gut-wrenching instances of oppression, people DO fight back, or try as best they can. And most importantly, no human beings would even become victims if there were no perpetrators. The victim should never have to defend whether or not events that befall them are somehow their fault. But wish as I might for them not to exist, oppressive inhuman acts continue to go on around us every day. And so the rest of us are stuck with the dilemma of determining how we choose to respond when faced with such moments or events.
That being said, we need to consider the role of the by stander. The one who waits, who watches, who wonders…but who never acts.
Right now, the victims from the assault of education of reform (including children, teachers, parents, communities) are too many to count. But the story of Kathleen, and her defining moment with Casanova, suggest to me that when cornered by the threat of corporate takeover of public education (which will, like a vampire, suck us intellectually, financially, socially, and emotionally dry; and leave us, and our children for dead), pleading, “Please don’t hurt me” will not suffice.
If we remain by-standers long enough we will become victims.
For those of you with your boots on the ground resisting corporate reform, please share this blog perhaps with those around you who are not quite yet there!
Later in the film, now a vampire embracing her own evil powers, Kathleen draws a young grad student back to her apartment and then bites her:
Anthropology Student: Look what you’ve done to me! How could you do this? Doesn’t this affect you at all?
Kathleen Conklin: No. It was your decision. Your friend Feuerbach wrote that all men counting stars are equivalent in every way to God. My indifference is not the concern here. It’s your astonishment that needs studying.
The testing companies like Pearson, the hedge fund managers investing in McCharter schools, the giant corporations profiting by marketing their for-profit wares and products, and the textbook companies shoving poor quality curriculum down the throats of teachers and children are not affected at all by the ill-effects of their actions on your child. Indeed it is our astonishment that needs examining. Why would we naively assume that they have your child’s or mine’s best interest at heart? Why are we astonished when they do not?
It cannot be because of the insurmountable evidence and the facts, all of which indicate that education reform players not only operate in spite of the ill-effects on children, but that in some instances they count on it. There are too many to mention, so I simply included some references here:
If we fail to concede these truths, we are fooling ourselves. We are the astonished Anthropology student.
Waiting, hoping, and asking “pretty please don’t harm our children, please don’t destroy our schools” WILL…NOT…SUFFICE.
We all must TELL THEM TO GO AWAY. Don’t ask. Tell them.
While the people, corporations, and organizations we battle have power, legal connections, and billions of dollars, it might seem an impossible folly. Like the vampire Casanova, they have super- human powers to do whatever they want, where ever they want. Unless… yes folks it is this simple … unless, we TELL THEM TO GO AWAY. To that extent, while most of us did not (or do not) consciously or willingly participate in the demise of quality education and our democratic right to public education, and nor do any of our children deserve what is happening to their schools, we DO have a choice in what we do about it. That IS our responsibility. We must not become collaborators. It is possible to refuse. It is time to DEMAND.
How do we tell them go away?
We OPT our children OUT of the high stakes tests: Tests that garner billions in profit for companies like Pearson, that sort and track our children like defective socks on factory conveyor belt, diminish the possibility of the possibilities of the education they could have had, and sell our schools out to the highest for profit (no bid contract) bidders.
We DEMAND an end to the behind closed doors legislation that is privatizing public education into corporate hands.
We REFUSE to teach material and curricula that we know to be destructive to learning, to children’s well-being; we REFUSE to teach that which we know to be biased, racist, soul crushing, and mind numbing crap.
We (re)OCCUPY educational spaces where ever we can with acts of possibility, hope, liberation and imagination.
We SHARE what we know with the public (because waiting for mainstream media to speak the truth is like waiting for Godot). Once we have the facts, we have to act.
Join us at Occupy the Department of Education, April 4-7th where we can as one large and loud voice TELL education DE/reform TO GO AWAY.
The biggest enemy to overcome is not the vampires, it is our own fear. Tell it to go away.