I saw a look on the face of a woman this week that I have seen far too often.
The first time I saw that look it was on the face of my grade two teacher in Minto, New Brunswick. She had asked us to draw stick figures of men and women. “You have a dirty mind,” she said when she saw mine. She beat me. They could do that then.
I knew the problem was not with me but with her.
My first grade teacher the year before had asked the same thing. I drew nudes. “Ah,” she said, “you are an artist.”
She gave me bits of used chalk to draw with. She was the wife of the principal.
I saw that same look again that year. We moved from the town I was brought up in to another town sixteen miles away. My father worked for the railroad. They moved him.
“Do you want to go to school or would you like to spend that day with me?” he asked.
The next day when I was seated in the classroom the teacher looked straight at me as she said to the class, “I will give a prize to every student who does not miss a day.”
“Where’s my prize?” I asked at term’s end.
“You missed your first day,” she said.
The look on her face of smug pride at having pulled off her trick was chilling.
I saw that look again the next year when I took my sister to school. For two years she had watched me leave home and leave her behind. Now she got to go. She was dressed in her best. She was full of hope and joy.
We saw the principal entering the school. My sister played with her niece who lived across the street from us.
I told her to say hello.
At noon when I picked her up to bring her home her face was red with tears. The principal had had her brought from the classroom on her first day of school and had given her the strap for speaking to her.
She liked to give the strap that woman did. My sister was not the only child wounded by her.
Over the years I have seen that look many times.
A woman who showed up for one of my screenings of Leni Riefenstahl‘s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL
was put off by the venue and by myself. “Do you know who Jane Jacobs is?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said haughtily.
She had a look on her face that would have more fitted my passing her a dirty, filthy rag instead of a letter of 100% endorsement from a woman recognized around the world as possessing one of the finest minds ever.
She let it drop to the ground as she walked off in a huff.
I have seen that look far too many times.
I had a young man living here for a time whose grandfather had been a member of Hitler’s SS. The fellow showed up for a screening of Leni Riefenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL in his grandfather’s SS uniform. He had ridden the bus wearing the thing.
I moved him in here with the hope that I might undo the damage done by the grandfather.
One day a Jewish man came to see the film who had celebrated his 14th birthday as a prisoner at Auschwitz.
The lad walked in. He was drunk beyond drunk.
In vino veritas.
I introduced them. In that moment I saw something I had never imagined I would see.
I saw the look of complete contempt an SS man would have cast at a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp.
Nothing by any actor in Steven Spielberg’s SCHINDLER’S LIST came close to it.
But then, Spielberg lacks gravitas.
My friend, Bernie Hashmall, whom I have known since he was 18 and I was 22, said, after we saw the film together, “It is ET of the Holocaust.”
I saw the same look on the face of a local journalist who had written a poison pen piece for TORONTO LIFE on Gino Empry when she walked in here to do the same to me.
I was posting flyers for my programs on a local campus. I stopped by the gate of a college that had once had me as an honored guest. They had even created a special T-shirt to mark the occasion.
“Would you give these to the person in charge to post inside, please,” I said to the woman in the porter’s office.
“No,” she said, adding after she had scanned them, “There is nothing here of interest to the people here.”
Before her were flyers for programs on Jacques Tati, the Marx Brothers, The Hollywood Cartoon, Charles Chaplin, Salvador Dali, John Herbert’s FORTUNE AND MEN’S EYES, Jane Jacobs and much more.
“I was asked to leave these here,” I told her.
“By who?” she said with contempt.
Looking at her I saw how much she had struggled to make herself look as much like a certain kind of man as she could.
“You know, the only thing I have against lesbians…”
“I am not a lesbian. I am a grandmother with grandchildren,” she shouted.
Seeing the vehemence behind her remark I realized I had hit a long buried truth.
Being a lesbian has never stopped a woman from being a grandmother.
Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with being a lesbian.
There is something wrong when a person makes themselves into a caricature of either gender or lacks the fire to be what they are.
What I should have said, perhaps, was, “I loathe it when women adopt the worst characteristics of men.”
That look is not the face of evil.
It is the look of a profoundly stupid person.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of them.
That is all evil is or ever has been: profound stupidity.
That profound stupidity is found chiefly among the educated.
In THE UPANISHADS a father want his son to have an education. He sends the boy off to school. When he returns he is stiff, stern, conceited and proud.
In the thousands of years that have passed since THE UPANISHADS were composed the fruit of the tree of knowledge has remained what it was in Eden: death.
For more go here:
Left: Massey College created a special T-shirt to mark the occasion they honoured me.
“Men are born ignorant not stupid. They are made stupid by education.”–Bertrand Russell.
“Being knowing and blasé is really the sign of a very unsophisticated person. The most sophisticated thing one person can say to another is, ‘I know nothing about that. Please tell me.’”–Oscar Hammerstein III.
Nazis are made not born.
Postscript: The dragon at the gate was hired as a porter not a censor (as well, only VERY stupid people become censors).