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Professor Observer, Bin Laden and the Cinema of Revenge

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The Observer has taught school out at UALR for 10 years now, doing the adjunct thing both to support our journalism habit and because it's a hell of a lot of fun. Getting inside the heads of young folks — even the ones that don't seem to know their posterior from a hole in the ground — always makes us feel youthful and invigorated, especially when one of them admits they learned a lil' sumpin' in our class.

For the past few years, we've been teaching Film as Literature. Though profs approach that class all different kinds of ways, our way is this: Read a book that fits a broad theme — "Dracula" for vampirism and The Other; "The Great Gatsby" for the corruption of the American Dream, and so on — and then spend the next few weeks watching films based on that theme while discussing them in conjunction with the book.

So it was that the night after we heard Osama Bin Laden was (finally, finally) dead, we were preparing to show a film on a theme with quite a bit of bleed-over on current events: The Cinema of Revenge.

The Observer loves revenge flicks: "Once Upon a Time in the West," "Gangs of New York," "Carrie," "Straw Dogs," "Memento," "Old Boy," even stuff like the "Death Wish" franchise. We love 'em all. Just behind Time Travel movies, a larrupin' revenger might be our favorite kind of movie. Films are our cultural daydreams, and there is, The Observer would submit, something that calms our collective minds in settling down with a bucket of popcorn for two hours in which the victim eventually becomes the victor.

We are creatures who demand symmetry in our morality — God vs. the Devil; good vs. evil; the Big Bad Wolf vs. that trio of industrious pigs — and so human beings tend to love a film in which the karmic books are, at last, squared. We probably love those movies, The Observer would further submit, because that coldest brand of justice happens so rarely in real life. Here's the hard but terrible truth, from your Ol' Pal: Regardless of what your grandma told you, Bad People do not always get their just desserts, and there's a good chance that when they die, they won't even have Hellfire to look forward to. You should brace yourself for that possibility. That nagging suspicion might be why revenge films are so popular as well.

We've thought about this business a lot this semester, which is why we found it so odd to walk into a classroom the day after Bin Laden was killed. As luck would have it, The Observer walked into a similar classroom a few days after the towers fell in New York almost ten years ago; same school, same building, in fact. That day, we addressed the shell-shocked young folks, and tried to assure them that things like literature and art and the search for truth were still just as important as they were the week before; before CNN began airing video of fire and flames and the jumpers descending. By then, even we weren't quite sure it mattered anymore.

Last Monday night, the class was as jubilant as that congregation in 2001 had been somber. Something had, at long last, been accomplished, after a decade when it seemed that all our desires for some greater moral accounting had been shoved aside. The night before, The Observer had watched people literally dancing in the streets in front of the gates of the White House. On the one hand, our caveman brain felt like singing with them. Our more rational self, however, was prone to intrude; to say: Is this really who we are?

The Observer said as much to our class. We always like to bring dusty old literature back around to modern events, and this was one of those times, especially given the theme of the film we were about to watch.

We didn't push it too far, however. Instead, we let the discussion run where it would, which was often to some collective daydream where the great bronze balance in the sky had at last been tipped. Then, together, we turned out the lights and settled in to watch a film about revenge. Leave the philosophy to the philosophy profs, The Observer reasoned in the flickering dark. There will be time enough for reflection next semester, when we are all older, if not wiser.

Tornadoes, floods, torrential rains — the weather in the Natural State seems to be going more than a little nuts this spring. With that in mind, The Observer presents: The top five most-unwelcome weather phenomena created by global warming:

1) Typhootietang

2) Perme-sized Hail

3) The Roving Cloud of Charlie Sheen's Atomized Blood Plasma

4) Chocolate Rain

5) F-5 Urineado

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