These two were acting like complete teenagers. When I walked up, she was nuzzling her head against his shoulder. She giggled the entire time I talked with them, while he kept a big goofy grin on his face. And whenever I asked about their relationship, she clutched his arm, looked at him just like this, giggled, then said: “We’re not telling!”
Secret from PostSecret.com
By Alex Jenkins
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the two-tiered system of justice in the U.S. There is one set of standards for wealthy white people, and there is another standard for the poor and for people of color. We were reminded of this last month when details emerged about Robert H. Richards IV, the wealthy heir to the Du Pont family fortune who was spared jail time after being found guilty of raping his three-year-old daughter. A month before that, we were all outraged by the case of Ethan Couch, a 16-year old Texas boy, who killed four motorists while on a drunken joyride in 2013. Instead of being sent to jail, Couch was sentenced to attend a residential treatment facility, where the rehabilitation methods included mixed martial arts lessons and horseback riding.
These cases enraged the public and prompted demands for harsher sentencing. In the case of Ethan Couch, my own personal outrage was heightened by the fact that, just one year earlier, the judge in his case, Jean Boyd, had sentenced a 14-year old black boy to 10 years in juvenile detention for punching a man, causing him to hit his head on the pavement. The victim in that case would ultimately succumb to his injuries, but his death was clearly unintended and, arguably, incidental. The fact that this black boy’s case made no headlines, while Ethan Boyd’s case became a national scandal, speaks to the extent to which the nation is consumed by its thirst for punishment.
I share the sentiment that both Couch and Richards should have been incarcerated for what they did. But I fear that when privileged Americans call for harsh sentences, they simply throw out numbers that sound reasonable based on prior punishments for similar crimes. But for the majority of Americans, who are not poor and who enjoy a certain amount of economic and racial privilege, they have the luxury of knowing that they will likely never to serve one of those sentences. Consequently, the sentences that get handed down remain abstract numbers in their collective consciousness. Seldom do we stop to consider that young men and boys are being consigned to spend 10 years (three thousand, six hundred and fifty-two days) in a cage for non-violent crimes like drug possession and shoplifting.
Unfortunately, most lawmakers fall in that category of people who will never experience the legal system from the other side, which is why laws that are widely known to be disproportionately punitive (sentencing laws for crack cocaine are a good example) have been so slow to change. From the bubble of their legal ivory towers, judges hand out years in prison as though it were Halloween candy, completely detached from the reality that those numbers represent years of someone’s life that will be taken forever.
When Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry were rescued in 2013 after being forcibly imprisoned and tortured for 10 years in the basement of their captor, the nation was horrified at the notion of three innocent (mostly) white young girls being held captive for such an agonizingly long period. Yet similar fates are routinely assigned to innocent men and women by the penal system and seldom is there any protest.
Some may accuse me of being callous for comparing being locked up in the basement of a killer, with being locked up in a state penitentiary. But most people have no idea how bad prison can actually be. More and more, prisons rely on solitary confinement to house prisoners who are at risk of attack or to further punish prisoners who’ve committed crimes in prison. A 2005 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that more than 81 622 inmates were being held in “restricted housing”. This is despite the fact that solitary confinement is considered to be a form a psychological torture when enforced continuously for more than a few weeks.
In California, where they have an archaic “three-strikes” system, people are routinely sentenced to decades-long prison terms for crimes as trivial as stealing socks from the store. Reading stories like this highlights the irony of American’s propensity for self-righteousness when admonishing the penal systems of foreign countries. I recall back in the early 90’s an 18-year old American named Michael P. Fay was convicted of theft and vandalism while living with his mother and stepfather in Singapore. Fay was sentenced to several months in jail and six lashes with a cane, which was standard punishment in Singapore. Americans were up in arms, and President Clinton intervened to ask for leniency. Eventually the sentence was reduced to four lashes and four months in jail. At the time, I shared the mainstream view that caning was barbaric and had no place in a civilized society. But looking back, caning seems much more civilized than a ten-year prison sentence, and if given the choice, I’d gladly opt for caning over spending years in a cage.
One of the primary criticisms of the death penalty is that it is irreversible. But that’s also true of all prison time. When you put someone is a cage for years at a time, you are depriving them of a significant chunk of their life that they will never get back. When a society routinely and casually exacts this punishment, even for victimless crimes like drug possession, I can’t think of what could be more uncivilized than that.
By Max Arambulo
I was telling Colin and Anthony that we might have disserviced ourselves by having left too much time in-between watching Nymphomaniac Part I and Nymphomaniac Part II. That the connections and parallels might have lost a little bit of edge. Part I ended with Joe having sex with Jerome when, in an instant, she realizes that she’s lost the ability to physically feel sex. Joy, pain, all that good shit. Part II opens with the following morning, Joe still, in the midday light, stretched-out on disheveled sheets. Bunched, crumpled tissues on the nightstand (I’m going to guess only for tears?). So since Joe is in no state, it’s up to Jerome to manage her day’s schedule of suitors. He chases one dude off her alcove and tells another to stop fucking calling before finally just unplugging the phone. Part I was obsessed with the ease at which a young pert girl could line these suitors up by the dozens and make them dance. That all she needed was a breezily curated outfit of cut-off jeans, a crop top, a smile, and some eye contact. But after this particular morning and for the rest of Part II, Joe will be hard-up to find suitors. They’ll be hard to come (by). It’s the end of a part of her life.
I always like thinking the idea that a pretty-young-thing has this life-force that makes her the most powerful being in existence; that is, for a good 6 or 7 years. Part II, I think, tries to show the transition out of that, using Joe as case-study. Early in Part I, Joe’s friend explains the idea that “the secret ingredient to sex is love”, an idea that Joe finds ideologically repellant. She goes her teenaged-years and her early-20s compartmentalizing and keeping the two thangs separate. Love-less sex. Fun! That is, until she meets Jerome again, years later in early-adult life, and gets a job at his company. She starts imagining herself as a piece of his office furniture or stationery. She watches him use a cake fork on his pastry and imagines being moved by his hands, imagines submitting to him. Sort of like love. Sort of. More years later, the morning Jerome chases off the other suitors and becomes her one and only, Joe loses feeling in her cunt. There’s a scene when, one night soon after, she rolls in bed under Jerome’s spooning arm and rubs violently between her legs, the itchy frustration showing in her face. She goes to the sink, soaks a dishrag, and starts whipping at her pubis. I’d read a recent New York Times article that argues that the respect and egalitarian spirit (love?) that makes for successful modern households eventually becomes anathema to sex, to the necessary disrespect and animus that underlies. Love and companionship stop being the special ingredient. Eventually, after having Jerome’s child, Joe’s libido does return and there’s a short scene where she ravages Jerome. Later, Jerome, tearful and shaking, tells her that though he loves her, loves her hunger and desire and voraciousness, he can’t keep up and pretend to be able to satisfy her. He suggests that she see other men.
A shift follows and Charlotte Gainsbourg (and no longer Stacy Martin) portrays Joe in the rest of the film’s flashbacks. Only about a year passes in filmic time after Jerome had suggested an open marriage (we can tell by how their baby has aged), but Young Joe is quite visibly no longer Young. Her appetite is the same, but it no longer belongs to a girl whose beauty is a streamlined and a priori sort, no longer of smooth skin over-rich with collagen. It belongs to a woman whose breasts have fed, whose slimness involves muscles and sinews hardened by regular exercise. Probably yoga. This older Joe is still beautiful, arguably even more interesting to look at and watch, as the actress who portrayed Young Joe had a deliberate blankness to her. Love and motherhood have far from obliterated Joe’s desire but older Joe no longer provokes with the same immediacy. She doesn’t elicit the same automatic doofus reaction from men. This has a lot of implications, the most primary, perhaps, is that she’s no longer pursued. It’s hard to picture a guy, at first glance, finding this version of Joe, rolling her baby’s carriage down the street, anything before motherly.
On one morning walk with her baby, Joe passes a group of young black men on the corner just below her apartment. She notices one in particular, in a baseball cap and cargos with shoulders that can bear loads. In a different part of her life, she would have had no trouble reeding the water, but on this occasion, she has to be quite a bit more active. Instead of setting a lure and waiting, she just has to go to the fish-monger and buy the thing pre-filleted. In actual fact, Joe hires an interpreter, a dude with a flimsy blazer and lazy haircut, to tell the African that this white woman wants to fuck. The African looks at Joe across the street and is pretty nonchalant about it all as he gives the interpreter the address and time. He doesn’t crack a smile, flirty or otherwise. And he shows up at the rendezvous-point with the same business-manner and doesn’t bother to explain the presence of his younger brother (Joe does explain in voiceover: “A sandwich is a sensitive thing as the men can apparently feel each other through the membrane”). The two men negotiate in some pidgin-sounding language. They move Joe around, unbutton her blouse, and point at her ass and lower back. They’re opening the hood and kicking the tires. Funny, the look on Joe’s face, not of fear or desire, but of curious-waiting, like that of a tourist watching two local cab-drivers babbling over who’ll get the fare. The men try and then they mount her for about 10 seconds before hopping off to continue their negotiation over the membrane. Joe in the background of the shot framed by two black dicks in the foreground. The men will go on babbling even when she’s put on her coat and snuck out the room.
Part II does feel a bit less dynamic than Part I as our protagonist no longer has the same immense power. The comedy of how she can twist men has disappeared. Part II deals with age and time-passing, more dour ideas. Back in the present, in that stuffy apartment where Joe tells her story, Seligman even points out that had she been not an older woman, but an older man, a man who’d chosen appetite over family and love, it wouldn’t have been an issue or even made for an interesting question. If she’d been a man, the movie might not have opened with Joe unconscious in an alley and smelling of urine. A man would not make for either comedy or tragedy. He would be the new normal. There’s even a parallel between Joe’s last night ever with her husband and son to the scene in Part I, the night when one of Young Joe’s suitors, his wife, and their sons showed up at her den of iniquity (that scene where Uma says to her son to bring his father that handmade gift, the embroidered pillow, where she asks if she can show the boys the whoring bed; part I’s funniest sequence). When the reverse happens to Older-Joe in Part II, when she chooses sex over her family, it’s not funny at all. There’s nothing to laugh about when Jerome wakes up their infant son and forces Joe to look at him and say goodbye before she leaves for some S&M. On Christmas Eve. She grips the crib-bars and doesn’t look at her baby’s face, just storms out in tears.
Part II is just heavier than the first. It’s partly because it’s unpacking the societal reaction to the idea of the still-voracious older woman-mother. It’s partly because of a kind of power that a young-woman possesses and an older one doesn’t. It’s stark the way Young Joe had to just struggle to manage her appointments and how older Joe has to search out her sex. She’s not admired in the same way anymore, has to get a translator to enlist her African. Has to wait in a holding room for an S&M session. And throughout both Part I and II, through hardcore-anecdote and flirting, Older Joe fails to get Seligman to bite and take the bait. Obviously, a bruised, used, older woman isn’t total catnip, but maybe he’d give her a shot if the circumstances were right. I mean, if she really wanted it, like as a favor to her.