The Party Line

****This post was originally published in my Morgan State University blog, Mind Over Morgan.****

WARNING:  This post contains images that some individuals may consider to be offensive.

The beginning of the academic year is a time of tremendous hope – a natural response to a campus suddenly filled with new students and the promise of marvelous things to come both in and out of class.  But like many things in life, this rosy image is quickly tarnished by reality and our own human frailties.

College is and should be a time for experimentation and pushing familiar boundaries.  For it is here that many students try on adulthood for the first time.  New friends, new experiences, and new temptations are absolutely par for the course.  And the veritable ground zero for this rite of passage is the campus party (or the off-campus bash which, of course, is even freer of the restrictions imposed by university or parental authority).

The images above are from a postcard that I found last week on the Welcome Bridge.  The postcard promoted a party that was to occur last Friday night.  To say that these images are suggestive is a laughable understatement.  The clear implication – at least to young heterosexual males – is that attending this party might result in an encounter with a partner quite willing to indulge in some very adult behavior.

I am and have been called many things, but “prude” has never been among the terms used to describe me.  Yet especially in the evolving aftermath of the Ray Rice scandal and the Federal investigation of sexual violence on college campuses, this portrayal of women is at least wildly inappropriate and tasteless, and at worst, an endorsement of the objectification and abuse of women.

I do not know if the organizers of “Caribbean Candy Crush” were cognizant of how their advertisement fit into the maelstrom of recent events.  My guess is that they only wanted to tease us into parting with our money and consuming cheap alcohol.  What could be the harm in that?  Yeah.  Right.

I hope that what they actually did was stir feelings of concern — and perhaps a fair amount of good old-fashioned disgust and anger.  Violence against women does not occur in a vacuum.  It is, however, nurtured by silence and complacency.  The campus of Morgan State University cannot allow itself to become an incubator for misogyny.  I call upon the entire Morgan Community to come together and develop policies and procedures that balance our commitment to the First Amendment right to free speech with our moral obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of women.

Let us show our daughters – and our sons – that freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.

Crimea River

There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

— Sting, “Russians”

The post-911 world is some sort of demented wonderland populated by Muslim extremists, increasingly unpredictable and dangerously weird North Korean dictators, and petty despots so determined to cling to power that they would rather commit genocide with poison gas and barrel bombs than risk even the slightest whiff of democracy in their countries. And let us not forget the rise of “moderates” in Iran who appear finally to be ready to negotiate a reduction in its nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions. In this topsy-turvy new world order, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send Russian troops into the Crimea is an almost refreshing return to the geopolitics of the Cold War.

Putin has made no secret of his desire to restore Russia to the level of international power it held before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the post-Soviet era he has been adept in using “soft power” in the form of Russia’s huge energy reserves and bribes barely disguised as loans to keep the former Soviet republics in the Russian orbit and beyond the influence of the West. Indeed, even the most powerful member of the European Union, Germany, can only push Russia so far, as it too is dependent upon Russian natural gas to power its economy.

For its part, the United States has few cards to play in this crisis. With a nation weary of and bloodied by thirteen years of war, and a Congress unable to agree upon the day of the week, President Obama is not about to commit military forces to moving Putin out of the Crimea. So instead, he must rely upon diplomacy and threats to freeze visas and assets of Russian individuals. Putin undoubtedly knew that he had the stronger position than his American counterpart; and this emboldened him to invade the Crimea.

Putin has been careful to describe his move into the Crimea as a defensive action to protect the lives and interests of the Russian-speaking minority in the region; and he has assured anyone who will listen that he has no designs upon the rest of Ukraine. But make no mistake: Putin is sending a strong signal to Ukraine and its newly-installed and terribly weak government in Kiev. Like Glenn Close’s unforgettable Alex Forrest in the 1987 film “Fatal Attraction,” Putin wants Ukraine to know that Russia will not be ignored.

It is incredibly fortunate that thus far there have been no violent altercations between Russian and Ukrainian troops in the Crimea. It would, however, be foolish to rely upon the continued good sense of commanders on the ground to avoid disaster. While it is true that no one is worried that the current crisis will escalate into a nuclear confrontation, we should not forget that a century ago, a devastating global war ignited from what began as a regional conflict (which also happened to involve Russia).

Reagan, Thatcher, and the other great Cold Warriors of the West are now gone; and one would be hard-pressed to find any current president or prime minister of their stature who can oppose Putin and assert the leadership that could inspire the people in struggling democracies like that of Ukraine, and remind tyrants everywhere that their days are numbered.

Barack Obama may have won the Nobel Peace Prize; but in the global game of chess with Vladimir Putin, he is being schooled by a true Grandmaster.

Running on Empty

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, that two become a law firm, and that three or more become a congress.” — John Adams

There are two enduring images from my childhood. The first is my grandfather’s description of the end of the world as a fiery catastrophe revealed to us in the Bible. The second is the infamous Doomsday Clock that counted the minutes until nuclear annihilation. Honestly, growing up as a Black Baptist in the shadow of the Cold War, I cannot say which outcome was more frightening to me then. Yet as luck would have it, Communism collapsed, taking with it the threat of mutually-assured destruction; and the Biblical apocalypse so vividly described from the pulpit of my neighborhood church assumed its place alongside other cultural myths shelved in my mind.

Having thus fallen out of the habit of thinking about the END OF TIME (except for the Zombie Apocalypse, I desperately want a Zombie Apocalypse), I was more than a little surprised to see a return of cataclysmic visions and predictions arising from the Federal Government shutdown and unsuccessful (to date) negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

Now I am the first to admit that I am not an expert in the intricacies of the Federal budget and the politics behind it. That said, it is perfectly clear even to an Ivy League poseur like me that people are suffering and that both the power and image of the United States are in serious jeopardy. To be sure, there is plenty of blame to go around for this deplorable situation; but the House Republicans have achieved savant status in the art of self-destruction.

As a Republican, I agree with the desire to control spending and reform entitlement programs. I can even understand the urge to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. (In my view, the effort to do so, however, was a waste of precious time and goodwill.) But I am simply stunned that the Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan seems content to bring about fiscal ruin under the guise of “upholding principle.” Make no mistake. If our financial house collapses, the GOP will be MUD.

At the risk of summoning the ire of my fellow Republicans, I lay the blame for this calamity at the feet of one person: Speaker John Boehner. Call me Old School, but I fervently believe that if “Tip” O’Neill were still alive and Speaker of the House, there would be no “Tea Party Overlords.” (Thank you, Harry Reid, for one of the best phrases of 2013.) The Tea Party would be just another caucus of House members with a particular agenda. We would have a deal — and not one that would expire in a mere six weeks. And perhaps most importantly, the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States would appear together on camera to announce that they had reached an agreement. The American people and the world would see and understand that the Republic had emerged even stronger for having endured tough but fair negotiations.

But alas, Tip, the Gipper, and the great deal-makers of Congresses past are gone. Our nation is now being run by petulant children for whom compromise is as odious as castor oil.

The fiscal doomsday clock ticks on. Yes, there is still time to avoid, in the words of a classic R.E.M. song, “the end of the world as we know it.” But our so-called leaders should be ashamed that their endless bickering has brought us all to the brink of oblivion – again. We the People deserve better.

The South Will Rise Again

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees

Oh there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

      “A Change is Gonna Come” — Sam Cooke

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has left the building for the summer, but not before handing down a pair of significant and — depending upon your orientation (pun intended) — earth-shaking decisions. By striking down both a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the High Court might appear to some observers to be suffering from some sort of judicial schizophrenia. Others may see these rulings as reflections of American society’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality on the one hand and its deep ambivalence about race on the other.

I am not a legal scholar and am by no means qualified to expound upon the Constitutional implications of these decisions. Rather, I am fascinated by the possibility that these judgments could have a profound effect upon my native region of the country: the South.

Obviously, it is not necessary to review here the South’s disgraceful history of racism and homophobia. Academic and legal careers have been and continue to be built upon these twin pillars of shame; and the popular media have made and continue to reap billions depicting Southern culture and exporting it to the world. Southerners continue to be the butt of jokes and are pitied/hated as hopeless relics of an age long past and best forgotten. (Consider the latest Exhibit A: the Paula Deen controversy.) Black Southerners, in particular, are in a bind. On the one hand they decry the Voting Rights Act decision as a blatant attempt by a conservative Court to roll back one of the most momentous outcomes of the Civil Rights Era. On the other, they denounce same-sex marriage — not to mention the very existence of homosexuality itself — as an abomination before God. (I have more to say about Black people and homophobia, but will save those comments for another time.)

As I pondered the consequences of the Supreme Court’s rulings in these cases, it occurred to me that SCOTUS has handed the Southland a unique opportunity to change not only its “brand” (to use modern parlance), but also its soul. Finally in the second decade of the twenty-first century, my beloved Dixie can lead the nation into the post-racial, post-sexual orientation Promised Land. Who will be the New Moses to lead us on this fantastic journey? Perhaps it will not be a politician or a preacher or a prophet who will (or should) do this. Perhaps this Utopian goal will be achieved instead by neighbors meeting and getting to know each other in the sames ways our parents and grandparents did — and through the new platforms brought to us in the Age of Social Media. If change is gonna come, it must start at the kitchen table, around the water cooler, in the pews, on main street, in Google+ Hangouts, on Twitter, on Facebook, and anywhere else that We the People gather and exchange opinions.

Let me be the first to admit that this idea — this fervent prayer — seems at best far-fetched. But then, sometimes the best ideas are like that — just beyond our grasp, but not beyond our imagination. And to my fellow pessimists out there, I leave you with this grain of hope: it was a loyal son of the South who, as President, signed Civil Rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act, into law. Surely, we can be as tough, determined, persuasive, and creative as Lyndon Johnson was half a century ago.

At Whit’s End

“Fame can never make us lie down contentedly on a deathbed.”

– Alexander Pope, 1713

On the Monday following the death of pop music diva Whitney Houston, I was approached by a young woman who inquired whether I had heard that Ms. Houston had died.  I replied in the affirmative and, miraculously, somehow managed to refrain from saying something like, “Why are you surprised at the ‘sudden’ death of a person who had abused drugs for decades?”  I am glad that I held my sarcasm in check because the woman then said that the news was so upsetting that “she cried all weekend.”

I was stunned into silence and could only nod.  At the risk of sounding callous, the demise of Ms. Houston barely rippled the surface of my consciousness.  While I admit that I liked a few of the songs that she released in the 1980s and 1990s, for some time Whitney Houston had been little more to me than another pampered, drug-addled celebrity whose career had seen better days.  Her marriage to Bobby Brown and their reality television show did nothing to improve her image n my eyes.  Of course, none of this matters to the people who loved her before she became a star and, perhaps, in spite of her fame.  Their grief is real and deserves more respect than a soundbite on tabloid TV shows.

Perhaps we are too quick to accept the mortal departure of singers, musicians, comedians, actors, and other people who entertain us.  Do we expect — indeed, demand — that these individuals burn out in tragically spectacular fashion?  There are, of course, those stars who dance close to the line of self-destruction and are fortunate enough not to tumble irrevocably into oblivion.  (Yes, Robert Downey, Jr., I am talking about you.  And yes, I am eagerly awaiting the Avengers movie later this year.)  Redemption is big business, and always has been, especially in America.  Martin Luther understood that; and the rest is history.

The loss of Ms. Houston reminds us that prodigious talent often cannot shield those who possess it from the devastation of personal demons or bad choices.  To be sure, we mere mortals who cannot sing, act, or do anything else worthy of the blinding light of fame have many of the same burdens.  And with any luck, our secrets and slip-ups will never be the lead stories on the evening news or TMZ.

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People (Don’t) Like Me!

Mitt Romney must feel as if he has truly entered the Twilight Zone, or that he is Stewart Smalley’s evil twin.  He is accomplished, intelligent, (sometimes) well-spoken, attractive, focused, determined, and very, very rich.  His opponents for the Republican nomination include a brilliant, but erratic and irascible former Speaker of the House, a conservative zealot trying to revive a derailed political career, and a libertarian maverick.  By any stretch of the conventional political imagination, Romney should be the poster child for a resounding victory against a weakened incumbent Democrat in November.  (What would the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater have done with a hand of cards like these?)  And yet…he seems unable to close the deal.  Or rather, the Republican rank and file just do not seem to be convinced that he is the man to lead them to the Promised Land of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Indeed, the latest polls of Republican voters place former Senator Rick “Sweater vest” Santorum ahead of Romney. How can this be so?  By most accounts, Romney has done just about everything right in his pursuit to become the standard-bearer for the Republican Party: he has piles of money, a disciplined organization, and a message that should resonate in hard economic times.  (And he has fabulous hair!)  To be sure, he as made some foolish statements; but to my knowledge he has neither said nor done anything that has made him unelectable.  Some say that the reason for the unease about Romney is that he is “not conservative enough.”  Others think that there may be a lingering prejudice against Mormons.  (I suspect, however, that these may be the same people who persist in believing that President Obama is a Muslim.)  Still others maintain that Romney’s capitalist success story has made it impossible for him to comprehend the plight of the struggling middle and lower classes of American society.  I do not pretend to have an answer for this baffling state of affairs.  Many people with bigger brains and even bigger paychecks are working around the clock on this one.  I have little doubt that the Romney Machine will find a way into the hearts — as well as the minds — of the GOP faithful.  The Man from Massachusetts may get a little bloody, and his perfectly pressed shirt and blue jeans may show a bit of mud from the campaign trail; but he will capture the nomination — and perhaps even the respect and devotion of his fellow Republicans. But Romney may find the 2012 Election to be the “dark, drizzly November of [his] soul.”  Why?  He just might win.  As the old adage goes, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”

Better Red Than Dead

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,

Climbing high into the sun;

Here they come zooming to meet our thunder,

At ‘em boys, Give ‘er the gun! (Give ‘er the gun!)*

Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,

Off with one helluva roar!**

We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!***

Nothing’ll stop the Army Air Corps!1 

1 Robert MacArthur Crawford wrote what is now known as the “U.S. Air Force Song” in 1939. The original title and lyrics contained the words “Army Air Corps,” which I have used here.

Last weekend I finally made time to see Red Tails, George Lucas’ long-awaited and much-discussed epic about the experience of Tuskegee Airmen serving in Italy during World War II.  I was vaguely aware of the controversy swirling around the film: Lucas’ difficulty in securing financial and promotional backing for a “Black” project that had nothing to do with Tyler Perry; the interracial romance between two characters; the less-than-impressive box office receipts, etc.  However, none of these things explained why I was slow to add my pennies to George the Great’s coffers.  Rather, I was already quite familiar with the story of the Airmen and believed that I would not learn anything new from the movie.  I was, it turned out, wrong.

On the night I saw “Red Tails,” the audience was small but diverse.  Several young people of color were in the crowd, a fact that assaulted me with ambivalence.  On the one hand, I was glad to see people who might have a slight interest in learning some history, albeit served up in a form “based on actual events.”  On the other, I was apprehensive that the assembled masses would engage in a running — and loud — dialogue with the movie’s characters.  (Do not act surprised.  Black people are famous such cinematic interaction.)  I am pleased to report that my mixed emotions soon melted away as my senses were overwhelmed by scenes of the beautiful Italian countryside and the exhilaration of flight.

The movie took me back to a time when the freedoms I now enjoy without the slightest thought were denied to people who look like me.  Racism was not a theory; it was real, terrible, and an accepted fact of life.  The intelligence, ability, and patriotism of African-Americans were openly questioned, even in the face of a world-wide struggle against the unparalleled evil of fascism.  Indeed, there were moments when it was hard for me to tell which enemy was more reprehensible: the American officers who doubted and belittled the Tuskegee Airmen or the ruthless German pilots whom the Airmen desperately wanted to meet in battle.

While it obviously depended upon certain stock traits and characters, “Red Tails” also managed to depict African-American men who treated themselves and others with the respect that American society had denied them.  They were highly-trained professionals who took pride in what they did — and were willing to give the last full measure for a country in which they were, at best, step-citizens.  Moreover, the movie reintroduced us to the concept of shared national sacrifice during times of crisis, a sensibility that has proven to be elusive in the wars America has fought during the last decade.

When the last of the credits had rolled off the screen and the lights came up, I found myself feeling grateful to George Lucas for using his enormous wealth and influence to remind us that America is still very much a work in progress.  In our current age of economic dislocation, social media inundation (and alienation), and bitter partisanship in the corridors of leadership, it is encouraging to know that our heroes do not always have to come from a galaxy far, far away.



The Braveheart Is A Lonely Hunter

“The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love…A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.

It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many.”

– Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories

To me, the truly amazing thing about the audio striptease that is latest Mel Gibson scandal is the fact that people continue to be surprised by his behavior. Really? There are actually people out there who did not know that Mr. Gibson is a raving, racist lunatic? I always wondered what became of the O. J. Simpson trial jurors. Now I know.

The media is fairly choked with opinion about whether Mr. Gibson is beyond redemption, mentally ill, a danger to himself and his family, or engaged in some bizarre attempt to revive his fading career. As for myself, I prefer to see Mr. Gibson through the lens of the Southern literature class I took as a junior at Yale.

Under the marvelous tutelage of Professor Candace Wade, my classmates and I hiked through the tortured and magnificently layered landscape of the giants of Southern literature including, of course, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Robert Penn Warren, and Harper Lee. Never before had I been simultaneously so proud and terrified of my Southern heritage. Among the many things that I remember from that class is the Southerner’s unique approach to dealing with crazy people. (It was the 80s. We were not burdened by political correctness back then.) To paraphrase Professor Wade, whom I believe was quoting Eudora Welty (or was it Julia Sugarbaker?), “In the South, we do not hide our crazy people in the attic. We put them on the front porch for everyone to see.” Would anyone be paying attention to Mr. Gibson if he were, say, Mary Susan’s odd Uncle Mel who liked to sit on the porch, drink beer, and yell obscenities at passersby – and not a Hollywood star? Probably not. Indeed, Mary Susan might even try to dress Uncle Mel up on occasion and take him to church, and then to Sunday dinner at the widow Taylor’s house. Uncle Mel is, after all, still family.

I do not, of course, mean to imply at all that Mr. Gibson should be given a pass for his despicable behavior, or that the allegations of domestic abuse should be taken lightly. The proper authorities need to do their jobs; and Mr. Gibson should seriously consider finding someone who can help him deal with the issues that repeatedly erupt with such disturbing fury. In the meantime, he should stay off the telephone and away from the cameras. And, if possible, he should also find a shady porch, a nice rocking chair, a cold glass of lemonade, and some Ritz crackers. If he is going to be crazy, why not do it in style?

Where’s Waldo?

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, 1841

Shake it up is all that we know,
Using bodies up as we go
I’m waking up to fantasy
The shades all around aren’t the colors we used to see
Broken ice still melts in the sun
And ties that are broken can often be one again,
We’re soul alone and soul really matters to me…Take a look around

You’re out of touch, I’m out of time (time)
But I’m out of my head when you’re not around

— Hall and Oates, “Out of Touch”

Recently I spoke to a group of freshmen who were being inducted into several different honors societies on campus. My theme was the quest for excellence. As I have few opportunities now to actually interact with the rising generation, I was eager to say something that would have some resonance with students over twenty-five years younger than I am. For some reason, it seemed to me that the best way to do this would be to draw upon the idea of “the quest” as represented in history, mythology, and popular culture. Intoxicated by this IDEA and fortified by the power of Google, I put together a brief series of images that I believed were iconic representations of “the quest”: Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Jason and the Argonauts, the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, Indiana Jones, the original crew of the Starship Enterprise, and Mulder and Scully. I gave my talk; I got a few laughs from the audience, and left the stage thinking that it went better than I had hoped.

During the reception after the induction ceremony, a student approached me and admitted that she has never been able to understand a thing that I say, including the presentation of which I had been so proud just minutes before. I was stunned. She was an honors student and reasonably bright – the type of student I work hard every day to attract to my institution and inspire—and I could not reach her. Suddenly I was awash again in the disappointment and frustration that I so well remember from my days as an assistant professor of history. And like any good denizen of the Age of Social Media, I jumped onto Facebook and asked my digital friends to tell me what I had missed. Surely, I thought, they would see the brilliance of my approach and depth of my commitment to being relevant to my students.

My bruised ego was soothed by several of my friends; and I thank them for it. However, a well-respected colleague who is also an award-winning teacher chided me for failing to use cultural reference points that actually come from the world experienced by my students, not the one I remember from the last millennium. I was indignant, firm in my belief that a truly intelligent person would know and understand the examples I had used – examples which surely rose above the flotsam and jetsam of what passes for popular culture today. Why, in my day…

My colleague was absolutely correct. I had dismissed the era inhabited by my students – i.e., NOW – as irrelevant and inferior to the Golden Epoch of my youth. I had closed my eyes, willingly, to a world that was continually and stubbornly remaking itself. I was not the teacher or mentor that my students deserve. Somehow, at the ripe old age of 43, I had transformed into an embittered old codger.

I used to joke that I became an historian because I understood the dead better than the living. I cannot laugh any longer. I see now that I must embark upon my own quest out of the realm of shades and back into the world of the living. I am not sure that I am up for the challenge, but I have to try. Jim Kirk and Indiana Jones would not have it any other way.

Psycho Killer, Qu’est Que C’est?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller “Psycho”.  This milestone surprises me on two levels: first, I cannot believe that the movie was made a half-century ago; and second, I am amazed that the story has withstood the passage of time so well. (I should be so lucky when 50 kindly stops for me.) I shall not delve into the deeper meanings of “Psycho”, its place in cinematic history, or what it said (and still says) about American culture. Brighter minds than mine have already teased apart the strands of this wig. (Sorry. I could not resist.)  See, for instance, film critic David Thomson’s new book The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder (Basic Books, 2009). 

What strikes me about the movie is that it shows how ordinary people exist along the spectrum of evil.  At one end is Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane, a mild-mannered woman engaged in a clandestine affair (is there another kind?) and who decides on a Friday afternoon to change her life by stealing $40,000 in cash from her employer.  At the other end is the unassuming and slightly awkward Norman F. Bates, whose crimes are so well known to us that I need not describe them here.  (That, Dear Reader, is the definition of a true cultural icon.)  Indeed, when we first encounter each character, neither seems capable of doing anything particularly exciting or memorable.  (While it is true that Leigh’s character is engaged in a sexual relationship with a man, her character is redeemed by the fact that she wants to transform the affair into a respectable marriage.)  Thus, it is all the more terrifying when the respective stories of Marion and Norman flow together in that infamous shower scene in the Bates Motel.  Indeed, even though I have seen “Psycho” countless times, a part of me is still shocked that Norman Bates – and not his mother – is a murderer. (He is just so nice. And I am sure that he also bakes pies – just like Jeffrey Dahmer.) 

Hitchcock understood that a common stain of evil blots each of our souls.  And this “damn’d spot” is the true secret of the enduring power of “Pyscho” to frighten even the most jaded American Idol-watching, Facebook-friending, NPR-addicted, Twidiot out there.  Any one of us can steal.  Any one of us is capable of murder. The conditions that open the door to our darkness just have to be right. The only difference between us and our favorite innkeeper is that the musical score accompanying our crimes is not nearly as good.

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