Letters to the editor

Is crime the price of apartheid? Plus: The naked body is magnificent; was the plastic bag in "American Beauty" a rip-off?


Salon Staff
March 31, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)


Rape, robbery and
anguish in the new South Africa


BY JENEFER SHUTE
(03/28/00)

While I feel for Shute and the
events that have befallen her family, I
feel that it must be pointed out that
the "new South Africa" she speaks of is
not even a decade old.

The legacy of systemic, legitimated,
covert, demonic oppression over the
course of decades will also take decades
to heal. Pain will continue to be
inflicted, injustice will continue to be
rampant. But becoming cynical and giving
in to the prejudices that wrought the
oppression in the first place will not
hasten the recovery, it will delay it.

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The United States abolished slavery 135
years ago. We still struggle with the
questions of appropriate restitution,
generational reactions to past racism, a
culture of violent crime and drugs and
the resistance of white people to give
up the power and the wealth that have
kept them in an informal position of
authority no matter what the courts and
Congress have mandated. South Africa is
and will be struggling with all these
issues for a long time to come. They
will be lucky if they can deal with
their legacy in two or three
generations, or even a century.

-- Eric Oines

Jenefer Shute's article struck
the very core of my psyche. As a South
African living abroad for a year, I did
not realize the way in which South
Africans have become blasi about crime.
I have friends who have been hijacked,
robbed -- my own car in South Africa was
stolen.

Yet we take it for granted. This article
has, however, changed my perceptions. I
am shocked that I have not done more for
anti-crime work. Do all South Africans
have to leave their country before they
wake up to what is happening? I have
sent this article to as many people as I
can in South Africa; the change has to
come from within.

-- Jason le Grange

From the time that young relief
worker from the United States was pulled
from her car and stomped to death by a
rampaging mob, I have picked up bits and
pieces about the dark side of the
so-called "new South Africa." Shute's
heartfelt and profoundly disturbing
account drives it all home. My heart
goes out to Shute and her family as
her beloved country spirals into a
Hobbesian state. Shute is not alone in
her reluctance to face up to the simple
truth her mother has long recognized.
The Western press is equally culpable.

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-- Greg Foltz

What happened was obviously
horrible. But never has the expression
about reaping what was sown been more
applicable. It doesn't matter that the
author's brother and sister-in-law were
good people. The whites who brutally
oppressed South African blacks, the
people who maintained apartheid for
their benefit (e.g., the author's racist
mother) earned the brutality that the
author's family recently endured and
created the chaos that rules that
country today. So any time the author
searches for a root cause behind what
happened, she need look no further than
dear old mom.

-- James Boles

Jenefer Shute's piece worked as a
moving account of her response to her
family tragedy and as an illustration of
the extent to which South African
society is troubled. Her piece left me
with the impression that she was trying
to convey a message beyond this, and I
am unclear as to what that message was.
She finishes with the statement that
what white South Africans have to fear
is not "them" but what all South
Africans have wrought. How is this idea
different from the notion that the
disorder is a "legacy of apartheid," an
explanation that she is dismissive of?
What point is she making? Is it simply
that black South Africans bear some
responsibility for the situation? Or
does she feel that there is something
intrinsic in "them" that makes them want
to brutalize whites? Or is it something
else altogether?

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-- Kimuli Kasara

When presented with evil we must
not lose our souls. The crime described
in South Africa had nothing to do with
skin color and everything to do with a
culture of poverty, crime and hatred
that is repeated throughout the world
among all races. If you are truly
revolted by the crime described,
remember that evil is spread by hatred
creating more hatred.

-- Tom Biggs

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When the jailhouse is far from
home

BY NELL BERNSTEIN
(03/29/00)

I must ask, exactly how
nurturing is the mother strung out on
heroin, how worthy a caretaker is the
mother who opens her home to the most
vile among us to trade sex or money for
drugs? The vast majority of all those
incarcerated may be "parents" in legal
status only; I must ask how seriously
one takes his or her responsibilities as
parent or caregiver when they turn over
their lives and livelihood to the drug
culture.

The answer is not to empty the
jails of people too screwed up to manage
their own lives, let alone manage the
responsibilities of parenthood. We need
to adequately fund the wide variety of
programs that would help eradicate such
problems, including counseling and
treatment, family services and education
at all levels of society.

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-- Phillip T. Stewart,
Jr.

Since when is a child a
get-out-of-jail-free card? As a
childless person, why am I more
incarceration-worthy than a single
mother? If we both do the crime, we
should both do the time.

There has got to be a better way to take
care of these children than to create a
protected class of citizens who are
exempt from the laws that govern the
rest of us.

-- Patrick Solomon

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What a great article. It did
what I'm sure it intended to
do, give me a different perspective to
think about.
Kudos to the author.

-- Val Cartwright

Naked to the
world


BY PEGI TAYLOR

(03/24/00)

The portrait of you and your
daughter is simply stunning. It
perfectly captures
the unique relationship you two share.
I feel that this type of portrait,
while somewhat daring, is in the end
more meaningful and revealing of our
own humanity.

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As Americans it is sometimes difficult to
overcome our societal prudishness
about the naked body. But when we do,
we end up seeing something both hidden
and always there: our vulnerable,
magnificent and magical human form.

Thank you for bringing us your story and
for being courageous in the name of
art.

-- Matthew Bernick

I admire and even envy your
relationship
with your body.

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It seems absurd to me that emaciated,
starving
models
in underwear are acceptable to be
displayed in my
living room every night via TV ads,
while real
people's real bodies are seen as
vulgar. I have two
young daughters who are very aware of
how their
bodies
look and it is an uphill battle to try
to make them
understand that the images of women
they see
everywhere are not real. I tell them
not to look at
models or singers, but to look around
at the girls
at
school and the women in their lives. I
tell them
that
what makes us beautiful is not how
alike we are, but
how different we are.

Thank you for sharing your story and
the beautiful
picture.

-- Jennifer Schworn

Thank you for the article by Pegi
Taylor on modeling. I very much enjoyed
the portrait by John Shimon and Julie
Lindemann, photographers and former
gallery owners I have known and worked
with for many years. Taylor's story is
soulful and inspiring.

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-- Patrick McNamara

Memphis, Tenn.


Where you find it
BY
RUSS SPENCER

(03/25/00)

Geez, how naive are you? Do you
believe everything some hack
screenwriter says at a seminar?

Even the New York Times noted that the
plastic bag scene in "American Beauty"
was directly ripped off from a silent
film by Nathaniel Dorsky. Dreamworks
even rented the Dorsky film to study the
scene. Shameful that Ball feels he has
to claim credit for this -- he has
plenty to take the blame for without
pirating this.

"American Beauty" is one of the worst
films I've seen in years. It feels like
it was written and directed by aliens,
people (or creatures) with absolutely no
connection to or understanding of
American culture, class or suburbia.

-- Jeff Kreines

Coosada, Ala.

The floating plastic bag scene is
a rip-off. Or at least an eerie case of
coincidence.

It was used to the same haunting effect
by Super 8/experimental filmmaker Jem
Cohen in this piece he made about New
York. Cohen has shot many art videos
for R.E.M. as well as a recently
completed documentary for the band
Fugazi. The
guy's work is amazing. I can't remember
the name of the piece the bag scene
comes from, but it is one of his most
famous. While Jem isn't even in the
same universe
as Hollywood filmmakers, he is quite
well known and respected in the
museum/art-video film world. I am
surprised no one has made the connection
before.

-- Jim Mendiola

Russ Spencer's sentimental
panegyric for Alan Ball's vacuously
overrated "American Beauty" and its
wind-tossed bag scene nearly had me
reaching for my own bag. Of all the
portentous pieces of pseudo-lyricism
which make "American Beauty" a
bellwether of contemporary American
inanity the
I-shot-a-video-of-a-piece-of-litter is by far the worst.
Worse even than the laughable
psychobabble about "looking at the face
of God" and the saccharine gush about
maple trees and night skies. Worse even than
the tired, hackneyed suburban satire. If
this is American film criticism, we're
sunk.

-- Lawrence Osborne


Salon Staff

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