I knew that the language of Valerie’s imprisoned autobiography in the book was powerful, but that her story was not explicitly about language. As such, to hear her story from her voice through on film, and to hear her speak of language specifically, changed the focus of the speech dramatically for me. It shifted my attention from her pain as one of the not-united to her world as one of terror, in which “war comes [and] the meanings of words begin to change.” Labeling certain demographics as threatening and acting upon such a change is blatantly catastrophic. Destabilizing the very lexicon, the ideological and actual vocabulary through which we live our lives, may quietly be even more destructive. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but from Valerie’s speech to V’s in the film, the discussion of language is one that resonated inescapably well with me.
But I’m not sure I like this talk of language as it distracts from the intimate pain of Valerie’s life (which of course reflects it the lives of many others). But I’m not sure I would have done it any differently from the film.
My intention here is not to cast normative judgments. Cuts must be made, and without doubt a change in media / medium forces adaptations. A fuller picture (like the one painted in the movie, which works through Valerie to expose elements of the world in which she lives) transfers better to soundbytes and the YouTube clips I visited. A (selectively) fuller picture offers more footholds for people from different walks of life to use to gain some traction; it stands to resonate with more people.
My intention here is not to cast normative judgments. Rather, it is to communicate how this discrepancy and this MCM course have served as a wonderfully challenging platform upon which I myself can engage some of the harder questions.
I spent one or two too many formative years in rural Tennessee, in a small self-segregated town in which my neighbor (in the one small area where the business people and academics all lived) taught me that it was against God’s law for “blacks” to marry “whites.” My mother once proposed such a union as we played Barbies. I, blonde curls bobbing and flowery drawl reaching out through our basement and burrowing deep into my reconstructed memory of myself, objected. “You can’t do that, Momma. He will hurt her; it’s against God’s Law.”
I am lucky that my family recognized this as deeply problematic and took decisive steps to remove my brothers and me from this environment. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to grow up well in rural Tennessee; it’s just to say that my small impressionable self was well-served by moving to urban Kentucky and then Austin.