Friday, February 24, 2006

Freedomland by Richard Price

I have had trouble lately getting into reading. It happens. Something has to spark my interest and pull me back into making the effort to follow a book to its conclusion. This time, it was a combination of seeing a preview of a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson called "Freedomland" and seeing the hardcover book among the used books available at the bookstore.

So I took the book home and started to read. Why? Because I was more than impressed when I first encountered Jackson acting in a movie based on John Grisham's book, "A Time to Kill." The character Jackson played was fascinating. So after seeing the movie, I read the book and discovered that the character was not to be found on the page. It was a creation of the screenwriter and the actor and I wanted more. So that translated into a respect for Jackson and his choices. I saw him in "The Negotiator" -- another melodramatic film that I can watch again and again because the character Jackson plays fascinates me.

So, thank you, Mr. Jackson, for getting me back to reading. Freedomland is a "ripped from the headlines" book about a white woman who appears at a hospital, hurt and disheveled. It is revealed that she is a victim of a carjack by a black man near the projects where the woman works as a teacher for disadvantaged children. The twist: her toddler son was in the back seat and now the car and the child are missing.

The author expresses it quite well in an interview from the website linked above:

What stayed with me was the intersection of racial paranoia, media frenzy, and personal tragedy. I was really interested in what type of woman could get into a jam like this, a woman that is not a sociopath, that is not evil. It's just, life has done this and she moved left when she should have moved right. I was very interested in trying to set up a balance between the small, intimate things of a person's life, and the gargantuan chain reaction that affects the world.

It is fascinating to read this book while watching media accounts of Muslim demonstrations against racist cartoons printed by a Dutch right-wing newspaper. This small, otherwise uninteresting event -- this provocation by a newspaper editor -- has been transformed into a media frenzy with effects around the world.

The book questions whether it is possible to see the human tragedy once an act becomes the focus of mass media consumption and racial controversy.

In the end, of course, nothing changes fundamentally. Because media frenzy does not produce change for the good or for the bad. What it produces is a spectacle in and of itself. The majority of us choose sides and pick and choose the facts that confirm our own point of view. It is a perfect example of cooptation in practice.