Thursday, December 20, 2007


Salomon Huerta, Untitled

Interesting, isn't it, that the shaved head should have come to be in such vogue as a statement about personal freedom and power? Back in the sixties, it was... hair. Remember? An abundance of it. A strange reversal, specific to our times, perhaps, because hair has been associated with power throughout the ages. Just think of Samson and Delilah. I'm waiting for the Broadway musical, "Bald." Interesting, too, that the shaved head should find practitioners at both ends of the social spectrum, the saints and the reprobates, the monks and the skinheads. Which begs the question as to whether its popularity is any way associated with the popularization of Buddhism. Clearly, in both cases, cutting off one's hair is an act of renunciation of material and social values, as well as a powerful visual statement about identity. For a monk, I suppose, it's a positive act of liberation; for skinheads, we tend to read the same statement as angry and aggressive.

We have talked before, in The Buddha Diaries, about the phenomenon of tattoos in this same context. The two come together in a gripping movie that we watched last night, "This Is England." It's about the bonding of young males, about bullying and fierce tenderness, about the grief and deprivation and despair that contribute to acts of violence and retribution. It's about the fears and fury of young men when their masculinity is threatened, about rivalry and racism. While it's set in contemporary England, it could just have well been set in the United States.

Shades of "A Clockwork Orange"--that terrible, compelling story about the adolescent male ego gone amok. But here the alienation is of a different, less glaringly surreal, more socially realistic kind.

Shaun is a twelve year old whose father has just been killed in Margaret Thatcher's senseless invasion of the Falkland Islands. He is adopted as a kind of gusty little mascot, first by a relatively harmless gang of hooligans, then by a seriously sociopathic hoodlum recently released from jail and bent on taking his revenge on society with a gang of demented skinheads. Drummed into a racist frenzy by an England-first ideologue, they wreak havoc with their anti-Pakistani agenda, and little Shaun learns to his cost about the consequences of rage and hatred.

For those who choose to avoid movies that show violence, it should be noted that there is one scene in this film where rage explodes into explicit, momentarily uncontrolled brutality. Generally, though, we are shown the damage wrought by rage and hatred on the human psyche, less so on the human body. Violence is below the surface, omnipresent, threatening, but expressed more in language and attitude than in blood and gore. I kept thinking about this country, about Minutemen, about the shameless exploitation of the immigration issue by Republican demagogues in the presidential campaign, about not so deeply buried racial fears and hatreds, about not so deeply buried rage... "This Is England" is as much about America as it is about the country of my birth, as much about the growing global problems of population growth, wealth and resource distribution, climate change, and consequent migration patterns as it is about Merrie Olde... A disturbing, thought-provoking piece of work, and easily accessible thanks to Netflix.


roger said...

there were skinheads who went for paki-bashing, and long-hair bashing, in england in 1969 when i lived there. now they have ever so many more pakis to bash. as i recall, the skinhead thing likely began in germany as a neonazi outbreak.

TaraDharma said...

I'll add this film to my Netflix list. American History X is another good one along these lines - Edward Norton is splendid.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Thank you. I must see "This Is England."