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Who am I to tell this story in the Huffington Post

Advice for filmmakers from a filmmaker who shouldn't give advice on Film Courage

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Power's cool use of force on Media Commons

Realism: Gustave Courbet to Jerry Springer

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Dinh Q. Le

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Slow down

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Slow down

It’s been a while since I noticed how much slower things are now. I just found a video I must have shot when I was twenty or something. New York, just like it used to be. People rushing around, moving fast. The sun shining and nobody cared, just running to a meeting or dinner or whatever. Jen and Lars act like statues in the middle of Times Squares and it shines so bright you can’t tell if it’s sunlight or the signs or even them. They’re both dead now, but in the video they’re pretty happy. It was Lars’ first day in New York. Jen invited him over after her year abroad in Copenhagen. So it must have been 2008. I haven’t been to Times Square in a while, but I’m pretty sure it’s not like it was then. But I guess nothing is.

Jen wasn’t the first person I knew who died, but she was early on. She got one of those colds we always used to be so surprised about, the ones that went on for what seemed like forever. Two weeks, three weeks. Now everybody wishes they had a cold for only three weeks. Or really, that they only had a cold. It makes you realize how things change. But man, that is the dumbest thing you could say after all this. Now everything makes you realize how things change. Any of those history classes I took, really every single one of them, tried to impress us with the same things. Change. With the invention of the printing press communication expanded on a level never before conceived… With the Copernican revolution, man could never see himself as the center of the universe again… The downfall of the Roman Empire is a mirror of what we can see repeated again and again throughout history: birth, rise, decline… Even now it all seems a bit boring. As if knowing history would have helped us any more than it might have helped the people during the black plague seven hundred years ago. (You see Professor Carlsen? I did remember the dates.) Those unaware of history are destined to repeat it? I say those aware of history are destined to know they are repeating it. Just look around.

I got my first cold a few years after Jen got bad. She was going into treatment and the doctors kept giving her antibiotics and then she went to herbal stuff and acupuncture. When she was really bad, she just stopped going out. She said she was too tired to do anything and so really, who cared? I spoke to her once in a while saying I could come over and cheer her up but she was always like, “You know what? Why bother? You know?” And I was not going to argue because sick as she was, and not knowing what she had, I didn’t really want to go over there anyway. I guess I just felt guilty. And a little weird because seeing someone who was so beautiful and funny and wild all of a sudden be unable to care about anything was a bit of a bring down. Even talking on the phone took all the energy I had. When she stopped answering her phone or texting or emailing I stopped by her place and buzzed but she didn’t answer so I texted her and said, you know, call me if you feel better. I hope you’re OK and whatever.

My cold was kind of like hers but it took a bit longer to really kick in and it wasn’t so bad like hers. It felt like the flu and I remember thinking, “Fuck. I can’t get the flu now, I have too much to do.” I had just started my first real job, not an assistant or anything, and I knew if I got sick they would think, ‘Oh he’s gonna be sick all the time isn’t he,’ and if I went in they would think, ‘Oh crap, is he gonna make the whole place sick?’ so I was kinda fucked either way. I tried pretty hard to cover up but when they found me sleeping on the desk in the middle of the day they sent me home. They were pretty nice about it too. I guess by then it was starting to seem a bit more normal what with everybody being sick a little bit more. I went home and finally got a better and they didn’t replace me or anything, I just went straight back to my work and it was fine. Actually, I think they might have replaced me but the girl they replaced me with got sick too so when she left I just came back and everybody acted like that was the plan all along anyway.

Jen died about three months later and it turns out Lars died on the same day but about six thousand miles away. Him and Jen had fallen in love and then he went on a big job as a relief worker for a few months. Apparently they emailed and texted everyday, all day, even till the very end and their last text messages were ‘I love you’ sent at the same time. Supposedly they died like, within five minutes of each other so it’s kind of sweet. I mean, not to be creepy, but it is.

But they were early on. It was in May of 2012. By then the stories were floating around on blogs and at conferences held by the same people who wouldn’t let the 9/11 conspiracy theories rest and were always on about the connection between the water schism and the waste problem. But really, they just seemed like whackos, like they always did. It didn’t matter if they were talking about politics or baseball: everything was a massive plot. Even if it was true, did they have to be so annoying? It wasn’t even what they were saying but, well, everything. It was ridiculous. Stupid thing is that a lot of it wasn’t. I wonder if they actually knew something or just happened to take a lucky guess because it was kind of weird that a few paranoid hippies or whatever were right when everyone else was in the dark. Maybe they were right about Kennedy and all the other theories they never wanted to let go of. It could be. Now anything was possible, not that it matters all that much really.

The conspiracy theories at first seemed crazy and the CDC made them seem like that even more. They always had a pretty good explanation about why people were getting sick and making clear that these so-called theories were just crazy ideas hatched up by people who didn’t understand science. This year we seem to have miscalculated the strain of influenza, they would say, but this will help us to better fight the strains for the upcoming year. It all seemed pretty believable. Not just to me either, to everybody. Then, I guess it was just after Jen died, everybody kind of lost a little bit of faith in the vaccines. It seemed like each year they were very optimistic about next year’s solution and this year was just a slight miscalculation. But, you know, after three weeks laid out with the flu or whatever it was, you don’t really care too much about next year. I just stopped getting the shots, even when it became mandatory. It wasn’t hard to do if you knew someone. Everybody had their own way out and everybody was so tired of it all by then that even the CDC agents hardly had any energy to be knocking on doors like they were supposed to. Every once in awhile they would knock on a door and you even heard stories of them kicking in a couple of doors and force injecting people, but I wasn’t too sure it was true then. And now I don’t even know, really. Anyway, by the time it was clear to just about anybody, and I don’t mean the conspiracy nuts, but everybody, it was too late. Even the religious nuts didn’t really come out too much. They started to at first but it ended up they got too sick and too tired to really do it, so you saw less of them.

The first report I saw that seemed… well, I don’t know what it seemed. It was just that I felt like I believed it. I don’t know what it was. Sure, the rejections and proofs against it were pretty quick but it just stuck and I thought, ‘Oh shit. That’s it.’

It was on the local news station that always had a bit more black people’s news. I guess that’s why I watched it. They were also more graphic when they showed violence or sex scandals and were more jokey when they talked about politics. It seemed like they knew they were just in it for fun, so when they talked it was like, OK, I believe you cause you know it’s all stupid too.

Is your cell phone killing you?” The story followed from there. I don’t remember what they said but they were nearly sued and everybody was making fun of them. But right before she got her first cell phone, I remember my friend Celine telling me that you had to be careful because of the radiation and cancer and whatever. She was always worried about something, not paranoid conspiracy worried, but about something. Mad cow, Ebola, Avian Flu, genetically modified foods, whatever. So when she went on for a few weeks about it I was not too upset. Anyway, she got a phone and that kind of shut her up about it. I got a phone like three years before her so when she died I was really pretty guilty and upset about it.

It turns out that the phones didn’t give you cancer like Celine thought. It wasn’t like I had pictured when she first described it to me. I pictured a big black spot or tumor, that would be visible when it was too late to stop, forming just next to your ear or in your crotch where you kept the phone in your pocket. No. It was more like rabies they said. Only it was undetectable until it was full blown and then, just like rabies, it was too late. And worst of all it had a ten to fifteen year gestation period so by the time they had done all the studies and knew the phones were safe, they found out years later they were wrong.

The funny thing, even though nobody laughs about it too much, is that all those people who were the underdogs and the sad ones, the people who basically got fucked in the whole history thing, they were too poor to have cell phones so they ended up ok. I noticed that the first time I traveled to Kenya for work. All of us, the Americans and the Europeans, we were so tired and the Kenyans were running around, like we used to, just like that video I had from Times Square. I just figured they were just energetic people. What did I know? Our guides were relaxed like us, or tired, but everybody else, the poor people, they had a lot of energy and moved in a way that started to seem like fast motion. I had to go rest after watching them. I figured it was jet lag and traveling and stuff. Turns out it wasn’t. After centuries of getting fucked over, all these poor people from the mountains in Asia and the grasslands of Africa, everywhere, they all got to watch as the world slowed down. The speed and the connectivity just stopped even as the CDC developed what they thought would be a solution to the problem. They realized that it had been passed down. The virus was genetically transferred and even if the kids never used a cell phone again, it was too late for them. If your parents had a cell phone for a certain amount of time, (they guessed over three years of regular use) then, that was it. You had it too.

Pretty soon, people stopped using cell phones. At first they would talk on the few land lines left but then it just got to be stupid because no one really had a land line anymore so even if you found one, who were you going to call? And a lot of people wouldn’t answer anyway, figuring that if it was a disease spread through the cell phone, why wouldn’t the landline do it? After that theories flew around that it was happening through the computer too and so more and more people stopped using them. So it was funny how it went down because it was like going really fast in slow motion. Everybody was getting sick for longer and longer, you know, colds, flu or whatever, and then they would get better, but it would just take longer. And then people would get sick again sooner. Not like, ‘No, I was already sick this year.’ Not anymore. You could see it everywhere. People were slowing down but then the whole thing broke. Really, it seemed like in one day everyone stopped using the phones and then the next day, like a month or a year later, everybody stopped using land lines and then the next day or whatever no one wanted to use computers at all. People wouldn’t go into work and then it was chaos. But it wasn’t chaos like Mad Max or anything, there was no Attila the Hun business with rape and pillage and stuff. It was like everyone just got hungry and would be too tired to do anything about it. They would go to the store and just start eating stuff, right there, on the floor of the supermarket or whatever.

One of the problems was that all the people who had been the decision makers, the powerful people, had also been the ones who had used their cell phones the most. Just like Jen. She wasn’t popular but she talked a lot. And all those people, they went fastest. And all the lazy types, like me, who would lose their phones or not have the money to pay for it for a month, we’re going slower. We’re going but we’re going slower. The last I heard was that the ports in Kenya and Rio de Janeiro had been taken over and the airports in Mexico too. It seems like the world finally has its revenge. From what the radio says it seems like they are planning on coming here to take over or just take what they want. Apparently they are not afraid of the Internet. They just get into the planes and boats and tanks and are on their way. The end is near, that is what you hear, but it isn’t apocalyptic religious nuts saying it, it’s said on the radio in a slow laconic voice that sounds almost like a whisper. “The end is near.” But I guess there is no rush to get here.