Not long ago Netflix delivered I Am Sam
to my mailbox, and I saw it yesterday.
For those of you who missed it in 2001 as I did, I Am Sam stars Sean Penn as a somewhat retarded man named Sam who, through peculiar and barely explained circumstances, fathers a child that he raises by himself in a not-too-shabby LA apartment he mysteriously affords on his $8-per-hour busing job – with the assistance of a seemingly agoraphobic friend from time to time – until the age of seven. Then the state of California takes away the child. (The really remarkable thing was why it took the state that long; but then again, the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly.) Many weepy scenes ensue. Plus dramatic family court scenes, as Sam and a stereotypically selfish lawyer (who learns life lessons from simple Sam in not being so selfish) fight to get his daughter back.
The movie would have the audience believe, in almost literal terms, that “all you need is love,” and that if you believe that a grown man with “the mental capacity of a seven-year-old” might not be an adequate sole parent for a child of any age, then you’re just a big meanie (as Sam might say). If you love your kids a lot, then all those other little details will work out.
This is Hollywood baloney of the worst sort. The movie went to great lengths to assert that you don't need to be Einstein to raise children, as if anyone really believed you do. You do, however, have to have the capacity to do the grunt work involved in child-raising, not to mention the forbearance necessary to put up with the whelps at their worst moments, and enough experience with the world to anticipate ordinary dangers. My experience with people “with a mental capacity of seven years old” – that is, with my older daughter, until she turned eight – tells me that someone like Sam, alas, doesn’t quite have what it takes, even though he wuws his little girl.
Of course, my daughter isn’t a 40-year-old retarded man, but somehow the comparison is apt. “Mental age” might be a nebulous construct foisted by an uncaring mental-health-industrial complex on the differently-abled, but somehow I can’t shake the notion that it has real meaning. There are half a dozen good reasons I don’t tell Lilly (8), “Your mom and I are going somewhere warm for a few weeks. Here’s a few hundred dollars. Take care of Ann.” (3)
But Sam I Am... no, I Do Not Like Them, Sam I Am... no, the movie, also goes to considerable length to say that people of more ordinary intelligence, or even (gasp) high intelligence, can make lousy parents. In fact, that message is hammered home repeatedly, as if it were startling news. And as if it means that people of more limited mental skills must therefore be OK parents, provided they love their kids (a lot!).
There’s formal a name for that kind of fallacy, but I forget my college logic training just now. The informal name for that kind of thinking is “wrong.” To draw a comparison: Sometimes people with functioning eyesight have problems seeing – Sun’s in their eyes, they misplace their glasses, it’s a dark and foggy night, and so on. Therefore it follows that a legally blind person ought to be able to get a driver’s license, because hey, so-called “normal” people can have trouble seeing.
Enough of that. But I haven’t disliked a movie so much since Patch Adams.
On the other hand, I do like Mimi Smartypants. She keeps an on-line diary that’s a lot of fun to read. My friend Ed recommended her to me recently, and he did not steer me wrong. Naturally, she’s been writing for years, has written a book, and has been featured in more conventional media, and yet I’ve never heard of her. Things dribble down to me pretty slowly. Anyway, here are a few samples:
“My soup was good, but someone at the grill might possibly be from Neptune and never heard of a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe because Neptune cows give a sort of crystalline milk and thus cheese is only meltable under certain atmospheric conditions. Or maybe the grill guy was just really stoned.”
“I noticed that a Red Lobster, of all things, has opened downtown at Dearborn and Ontario. [She lives and works in Chicago.] I did a literal double-take on the street since I could not believe my eyes.* Who in their right minds is going to eat at a Red Lobster in downtown Chicago? There is exponentially better food mere steps away, everywhere you turn. Food that was not freeze-dried and reconstituted in boiling water, even.
*Okay, I have had one beer and my associations are all loose and muffled, but you don't even really want to know how long I kicked around some weirdo Macbeth allusion ("Is this a Red Lobster I see before me, the door handle toward my hand?")”
The next day's celebration [for her birthday] was much better, although since I had spent part of the day reading the latest issue of Brain, Child I was a little off-kilter when it came to the candle-blowing birthday wish. They should have renamed the magazine Death, Child just for that one issue---at least two articles dealt with the topic… and the child-deaths were not even statistically-improbable, make-you-feel-better deaths like "I Took My 6-Month-Old Scuba Diving And He Touched A Poison Rockfish Even Though I Repeatedly Made The Sign For 'No' Underwater" or "Live Crocodile Playland: McDonald's Issues Formal Apology." They were things like slight cold = meningitis = death!
Labels: movies, web sites