Saturday, February 28, 2009

Class One - Other films dealing with this subject

My mother always told me "seek and ye shall find." I suspect she stole the wording from someplace. But I took her advice anyway, and I discovered another film that addresses the Japanese-American experience during World War II.

The cast of
Only the Brave included Tamlyn Tomita, who played Lily in Come See the Paradise. There's an extensive plot summary at IMDB, the Internet Movie Database website. Producers have created a detailed website to publicize and market the film.

When I tried to find it on, I came up empty, but I found a bunch more films that relate to the subject. So I guess I lied on Monday when I said Come See the Paradise was the only popular culture film of its sort. You can do a search for Only the Brave at Amazon and see for yourself. One that caught my eye was American Pastime. The review by A. T. Hurley at sounded intriguing. It reads, in part:
The DVD's making-of featurette, "Go for Broke: Behind American Pastime," is in some ways even more moving than the film, since it features interviews with real survivors of the internment camps, including Topaz and Manzanar. Also interviewed are several Japanese American soldiers from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who courageously fought for America in World War II even as their family members and friends were detained in the camps. Cole says in the featurette, "America really wanted to sweep [the internment camps] under the rug"--but thanks to the film and the documentary, the real history can be illuminated.

There is a wealth of material that's come out in the past decade. It would be interesting to contrast it with the popular culture depictions of Hollywood propaganda films like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Tora! Tora! Tora!

As one of you commented in class on Monday, we could make the subject of the Japanese-Americans in WWII a course all by itself.

Five points to anyone who can find some other good films to watch about this topic.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Class One - February 23: History Repeats Itself - Civil Liberty Violations

Slate Magazine had an interesting article a couple of years ago, The Bill of Wrongs, The 10 Most Outrageous Civil Liberties Violations of 2006. I doubt it will surprise you to know that Guantanamo Bay makes the list.

At the BBC News site, there's a video clip of an interview with a former guard about conditions at Guantanamo. The young man, Chris Arendt, has some pretty shocking things to say about the treatment of detainees. The Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas provides the text of his testimony at the Winter Soldier Hearings in 2008.

When we discussed the internments during WWII, I asked if anyone thought the actions of the government were justifiable. No one responded initially, but as we talked more, one of you made the excellent point that whilst not "justifiable," it was understandable. That fear makes us do and accept things which normally we would find abhorrent to our system of beliefs.

Someone else opined that such things could not happen in present times, that we have moved forward and respect and protect civil liberties. What do YOU think?

The American Civil Liberties Union is an interesting site to visit if you're wondering what's going on these days. Their banner reads "Because Freedom Can't Protect Itself."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Class One - Dr. Seuss on WW II - Japanese Internment cartoons

I found a great article about Dr. Seuss' World War II cartoons on a blog called Parableman. It includes a link to a piece at the blog The Volokh Conspiracy, where one of the commenters provides a link to the cartoon above.

What do YOU think? Were the Japanese Americans just "Waiting for the Signal From Home?" You're probably more certain of your own opinion than of Dr. Seuss'. I know I am! I think it's sort of ambiguous. Does the good doctor really think that there's a threat from a "Fifth Column?"

I found this cartoon below reassuring that I hadn't
misunderstood the heart of the creator of the Sneetches and the Lorax:

You can see more of his work in the book Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel. The review of the book acknowledges that Seuss did some pretty nasty pieces about Japanese Americans despite his usual anti-racist mentality:
He also turned his pen against America's internal enemies--isolationists, hoarders, complainers, anti-Semites, and anti-black racists--and urged Americans to work together to win the war. The cartoons are often funny, peopled with bowler-hatted "everymen" and what author Art Spiegelman calls "Seussian fauna" in his preface. They are also often very disturbing--Seuss draws brutally racist images of the Japanese and even attacks Japanese Americans on numerous occasions. Perhaps most disturbing is the realization that Seuss was just reflecting the wartime zeitgeist.

Another site judges Seuss pretty harshly, with varying reactions from commenters. I was struck by the points made by kbrichards:

You still have cartoonist with seeming good set of morals and then something happens and they are convinced that a little racism is OK.

In 2005 Danzinger created an editorial cartoon showing scientist unearthing a roulette wheel at an Abenaki archaeological site. Examining the “artwork” carefully one finds in very small print “Sweat Lodge Casino.” This racist portrayal of Indians heritage as casino operators outraged Native Americans across the country. Previously a respected editorialist, he currently is seldom featured in any of Vermont’s newspapers.

Being a little bit racist is like being a little bit pregnant.

Have you seen similar, seemingly contradictory messages about more recent issues? Did cartoonists who normally support human rights attack middle easterners and Muslims because of September 11th? What do you think about that?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Class One: Historical Overview of Japanese Americans in the Columbia River Basin

Washington State University has developed a great website about the history of Japanese Americans in our region. This should keep you busy for a few days!

Assoc. Prof. of History
Dr. Laurie Mercier
outlines several areas of study:

First Arrivals and Their Labors

Establishing Communities

Resisting Discrimination

Japanese American Associations and Culture

Japanese Americans and World War II

Recovering Community and Remembering History in the Postwar Era


You may have visited the nearby Japanese Gardens in Portland. But did you know that there is a memorial to the Japanese who were interned? The Japanese American Historical Plaza features stones carved with the memories of internees.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Class One - Prejudice Against Those of Japanese Ancestry Leads to Internment

The image above is from a website for the 2006 Pearl Harbor Workshop. The site states:

This initiative is a joint effort of the East-West Center, a nonprofit research and education institution established in 1960 by the U.S. Congress to promote understanding and improved relations between the United States and the Asia Pacific region; the National Park Service, which operates the USS Arizona Memorial; and the Arizona Memorial Museum Association, a nonprofit that supports the educational activities at the Arizona Memorial.

The site has a great bibliography here. One of the items which caught my eye was the Smithsonian's collection of Letters from the Japanese Internment.

Wikipedia has a fairly thorough writeup on Japanese American internment. Even if you're leery of accepting the info on that site as totally reliable, there are lots of good links to first person accounts, government sites, academic histories and other solid sources. (I happen to like Wikipedia, even if some folks sneer at it because it's user-generated.)

Another popular culture work that examined prejudice against Japanese Americans was the novel (and movie) Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. There's a good study guide which expands on the issue of internment at a teacher's website, GradeSaver. EXCEPT it contends that there was no German or Italian internment. There was! It wasn't as extensive or confining as the Japanese internment, but it did happen. I met a woman last week who told me about her uncle, who was interned because he was Greek. So I'm now officially leery of all sources, including teacher sites. The truth is out there...but so are errors.

I found a site entitled WWII Violations of German American Civil Liberties by the US Government by Karen Ebel, the daughter of a German internee, Max Ebel. The Concord Monitor reported his story in an article entitled Germans, Too, Were Imprisoned in WW II.

The internment camps are shown on a map with their operating dates at History on the Net: World War Two Japanese Internment Camps in the USA. The site's author identifies herself as "Heather Wheeler an historian and former history teacher."

The Japanese American Internment appears to be the work of an amateur historian who has assembled an impressive bibliography of materials. It includes many images, including this one.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Class One - February 23: Come See The Paradise

Raising Questions of Civil Liberties: Come See the Paradise

Come See the Paradise is a fact-based 1990 film directed by Alan Parker, starring Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita. Set before and during World War II, the film depicts the treatment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent loss of civil liberties within the framework of a love story.

Here are some good readings about this film:

Roger Ebert's Review

This is probably the best, most thorough analysis of the film I've found to date. It is very critical of the historical accuracy. But it points out that there are virtually no other films that deal with the issue. I made the decision to show the film because I thought it was noteworthy that audiences left theatres thinking they knew the facts about Japanese American internment. So the popular culture film, while exposing many to a period of history about which they'd previously known little, misinformed on some key points.

It won't be the last time you'll see a film that distorts reality. I've argued with my husband about the director's license to do this. He initially contended it was sometimes acceptable for moviemakers to make changes for dramatic purposes, like in Frost/Nixon. But I persuaded him that this movie really is a false, revisionist history.

Read the Payne article and tell me what you think.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Social Justice Film Course Schedule

Here's the lineup of films we'll be seeing. It promises to be a lively and thought-provoking next five weeks!

Contemporary World Problems:
A Passion for Social Justice
Examining Issues
Through Popular Culture Films

Class 1 – February 23 Come See the Paradise

This fact-based 1990 film directed by Alan Parker, stars Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita. Set before and during World War II, the film depicts the treatment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and their loss of civil liberties within the framework of a love story.

Class 2 – March 2 Inherit the Wind
This classic about the Scopes Monkey Trial, a galvanizing legal drama of the 1920’s, was made into a movie in the 1960’s with Spencer Tracy, Frederic March and Gene Kelly. We’ll discuss how the battle between science and religion continues to raise questions of intellectual freedom today.

Class 3 – March 9 Something the Lord Made
The emotional true story of two men who defied the rules of their time to launch a medical revolution, set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow south in the 1940’s. The two men, Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman) and African-American lab technician Vivien Thomas (Mos Def), develop a new technique for helping babies with heart problems.

Class 4 – March 16 Bread and Roses
A young Mexican woman crosses the border into LA to join her sister, who works as a janitor in some of the city's largest corporate offices. Surrounded by the machinations of big business, the sisters seek happiness on a smaller but more human scale as they try to organize a janitorial union. By British director Ken Loach, starring Adrien Brody, Pilar Padilla.

Class 5 – March 23 - Le Placard (The Closet)
A 2001 French comedy film written and directed by Francis Veber. An ordinary man’s life takes on surprisingly new dimensions when he pretends to be gay in order to keep his job at a condom factory. This amusing film takes on bourgeois prejudices which are timely, as evidenced by California’s Proposition 8. French, w/English subtitles.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Welcome, Students!

Contemporary World Problems:
A Passion for Social Justice
Examining Issues Through
Popular Culture Films

Mature Learning Program
Clark College, Vancouver, WA
Winter 2009
Mondays, Feb. 23 – March 23 2:15 – 4:45 pm
Joan Stout Hall 250

While dishing out enjoyable entertainment, popular culture films can give audiences a taste of some weighty issues. This course will serve up five juicy morsels that provide an opportunity to chew the fat. Enjoy good stories and engage in stimulating discussions on a range of topics.
I'm really excited about this new course, and will be posting a variety of supplementary material shortly. I hope you find it interesting.

Just wanted to say howdy, you've come to the right place, and I'm glad you're taking the class.