Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Feet 2 and Latino Love

November 29, 2011 – Happy Feet 2 and Latino Love
I go with Rodney and Steve to the movies. In our taxi ride over to the theater I try to remember the last time I went out to see a film. It’s been so long that it takes me a really long ride down memory lane to come up with the answer. At the dead end of that trip, I figure it must have been back in the summer of 2010 when I went with this guy Raul to see The Prince of Persia. Throughout the movie Raul kept asking me questions about what was going to happen, what had happened, or why something had happened. I whispered my responses or my “shhhhhh”es and he was shocked when all my predictions came true.

I didn’t go to the theater much, mostly because movie tickets prices had gotten so ridiculous in the States that I couldn’t handle the expense. I preferred to spend my extra dollars on buying overpriced raw chocolate bars, carrots and hummus, and organic coconut products. And when the Colorado Springs library system offered recently released movies for free check out and I could watch them in the privacy and comfort of my own home, I saw no reason to be anything other than a hermit.

Also my latent OCD tendencies tend to raise their fists in protest when I head into a theater room. My shoes stick to the coca-colaed floors and my hair stands on end with the thought of the high lice acquisition potential of theater seats. That doesn’t even bring into account the loud popcorn chewing noise, the seat-kicking or the lightning storm flashes of people texting and the disruption of their making cell phones calls. I’ve got issues, whether latent or not, I acknowledge that they’re still issues.
However, usually once the lights go out and the screen comes to life these thoughts fade behind the curtains. I settle into my chair and absorb the visual enactments of other worlds, other lives.

When Rodney, Steve and I walk into the mall area that houses the theater, I have a feeling of displacement like I’ve been pulled up out of my own life and plopped back down in a zoo. There are strange clusters of people loitering all around. Pods are bunched together around food stands. Packs have stopped dead in the middle of the walkways to talk. Gaggles are waddling about like geese.
Ochlophobia swarms up my larynx and settles like cotton in my mouth. People are so weird, I think.

You’re so weird, I tell myself.
Yeah, I know, I reply.

I act normal, as if I don’t have two-sided conversations with myself on a regular basis. I act normal as if many of the other mall-denizens and movie-goers aren’t staring at white-skinned, light haired me like I really am a zoo animal. Rodney, being over six feet tall, gets a lot of attention as well. What strange beasts we are. Peruvian Steve receives appraising looks as if these people are wondering how he got lucky (or unlucky) enough to be our handler.
This is life in Peru. This is my life in the human zoo.
Thus watched, we wend our way over to the ticket line. Because I don’t view much TV, I have no idea what movies are even out. So when we scan the times and titles I’m pretty clueless as to plots and genres. I’m along for the fun of it and content to let the boys pick something out.

The one movie with Ryan Reynolds that Steve and Rodney had been intending to see for some time won’t start for another hour and forty minutes. We decide we don’t want to wait that long. Happy Feet 2 is only thirty minutes from show time and we all shrug and say, “Sure, sounds good.”

Steve treats us to the movie. While he’s buying the tickets, the cashier sees Rodney and me for the gringos we are and tells Steve that the movie is in Spanish.
“It’s in Spanish,” Steve says.

“That’s okay with me,” I say and look over to Rodney to see what he thinks.
“If I don’t understand it well enough,” Rodney says, “I’ll just buy it and watch it in English later.”

We’re all good with it then and Steve completes the purchase. Rodney buys the popcorn and sodas for him and Steve while Steve and I go to secure seats among the multitude of children and their parents.
The seats have orange cloth covers over them advertising Fanta and as I sit, I think about lice. Yeah, yeah, I know, theaters are lice transferring grounds, I’ve heard it before. “What will you look like with a shaved head?” my imagination asks. I tell it and my paranoia to take a hike. I’ll develop my own eccentricities, thank you very much.

Rodney finds us in the semi-darkness and we all get settled in and ready for the show.
I’d actually, and amazingly enough, seen the original Happy Feet so I know it’s about Penguins and about young Mumble’s discovery of his happy feet and subsequently his place in the universe. It’s with ease that I can jump right back into this animated world.

Happy Feet 2 is much the same as Happy Feet. It’s a sweet-messaged movie about Mumble’s son Erik who can’t yet sing or dance, about working together, doing good for the world, being kind to your neighbors, and learning who you are and how you express that you-ness.
One of the sub-plot points revolves around the Latino penguin character Ramon actively pursuing a beautiful, snobby penguin named Carmen. The audience laughs at his antics. The adults in the theater seem to come to life when Ramon’s scenes come on. They understand this. This is their culture. This is the Latino male-- que romantico--pursuing the Latina female.

I’m disgusted. I don’t like the character. He’s the comic relief, but I don’t laugh along. I prefer the Krill characters Will and Bill.

Ramon’s actions are a little too much like real life to me. His character reminds me of what I’ve discovered to be the hardest part of living in South America; fending off advances and making these Latino guys realize I’m not going to change my mind. I’m not just playing hard to get. I’m not telling them to prove themselves to me. I’m just not interested.
“Latin men make good lovers,” someone recently told me.

“I’m sure they do,” I replied. “But I’ll pass. I just can’t handle the clingy obsessiveness and sentimental attention.”

I’m not anti-love. I believe, as Mel Gibson’s character Jerry says in Conspiracy Theory, that, “Love gives you wings.” And that, “True love is the greatest thing in the world—except for a nice MLT—mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. They’re so perky, I love that,” as Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride, though I have some doubts about that MLT.

Up until this moment I hadn’t really understood what my problem was.

I’d thought I hated this Latino Attentive Love because it makes me feel like an object instead of an equal. I thought it was my feminism asserting itself. I thought it was my need for freedom and individualism that resisted these guys’ sappy, sugary, clinging love.  
The interaction between Ramon and Carmen is enlightening. The resolution of their story shows me the why which I’d been pondering for so long.

Carmen spurns Ramon’s advances. Blindly, passionately, oblivious to her cruelty, Ramon chases after her. He spouts poetry and calls her pet names. Through it all, Carmen turns her beak up into the air. Then separated by a suddenly risen snowcapped cliff, Ramon wails, “No! Not a long distance relationship!” In this moment of crisis, his ardor dominates. When Ramon throws himself from the high peak to land at Carmen’s feet, she suddenly realizes that he’s proven his love enough for her to take notice of him.
And I’m sure they live happily ever after. Que lindo (how beautiful). True love conquers all.

Or does it?

What I discover by watching Happy Feet 2 is that my problem is with the “you have to prove yourself to me” nature of the Latino and South American male female relationships.

I contemplate this over the ride back to Rodney and Steve’s apartment, while I say thanks and bye, on my bus trip home, and on the ten block walk back to my place. The next day I tell Katrina about the movie (which I really did like overall) and then about Ramon, my least favorite character.
“I think Carmen would be mine,” she says, not having seen the movie to fully judge for herself. “Because it’s women like her, those types of Latina women who encourage that behavior from these men. They’re enabling it, they’re allowing it.”

I shiver. “And they probably like it.”
It’s a power play. That’s what it is.

It’s dominance and submission from both sides.
It’s male feathery display and female shopping selection.

Happy Feet 2 is a classic example of how it goes here so often in South America. Ramon sees Carmen, become enamored, throws open the love throttles and goes for it. She is suddenly his entire world. For Ramon, he’ll do anything to prove his love. If he’s spurned forever by Carmen, eventually he’ll either kill himself in his efforts to win her over or go find another female to pursue. It gets a bit stalkerish. And this process will go on ad infinitum until he dies or some female accepts his advances. Maybe this is just the evolutionary mating process, maybe. In this movie’s case, Ramon is rewarded with Carmen’s acceptance and his pursuing days come to an end. At least until Happy Feet 3 comes out.

For Carmen (and perhaps the generalized and stereotyped Latina woman), Ramon isn’t even her equal until he risks death for her. Her acceptance of his advances has nothing to do with who he is. Nothing at all. All she knows is that he’s persistent. The value she places on their relationship is based solely on his obsessive attention to her. In reality, she doesn’t accept him for the kind of man (or penguin) that he is, she accepts him for paying more attention to her than she does to herself.
This is what I don’t like. The pedestaled quality of the female. The permission the male feels he has that allows him to pursue a female indefinitely even when told no. The breakdown of resistance due to absurdity. It’s this age-old ancient animalistic ritual of sex and love. For the South American men and women this ritual may work just fine. It’s a routine they know by heart and can throw themselves into, or up-nosedly scorn. It’s a dance and a game.

But not a dance that I want to learn the steps to, or a game I want to memorize the rules for. Let these women be pursued and scorn whom they will. Let these men throw themselves off proverbial ice cliffs for these outwardly cold women. As for me, I’ll continue to have my affairs with words, and if one day I find a love that fits my kind of crazy, I’ll maybe look back on this time and see what a judgmental fool I was and laugh at myself.

And that’s what I learned from Happy Feet 2.

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