Going to Extremes

I’ve traveled extremes this week, thanks to recommendations from those who understand my interests.

My brother called on Monday and said, “You have to watch The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Just put it at the top of your queue, now.”

I spent the next two hours, both, horrified and mesmerized. This film documents a Boone County, WV family enmeshed in a culture of daily and nightly debauchery. Sitting together, mother and son discuss their “choice of buzz”. Derek White shakes a bottle of pills and refers to this as the “Boone County mating call”. We hear about relatives murdered by relatives, the stories delivered matter-of-factly. And we see images of violence?newspaper articles reporting death and photographs shown as trial exhibits in a double murder case.

Mamie White, reacting to her mother Bertie Mae’s imminent death, says, “I don’t give a fuck to go to jail and I don’t care to kill some son of a bitch, anybody that looks at me wrong.” Yet the Whites’ lawless world includes rooms decorated with framed photographs of Jesus and the language of Biblical scripture.

When Kirk White loses her baby to Child Protective Services because of drug use, she quotes Matthew 21:22: “By believing you will receive.” Then she says that God is telling her to get her shit together.

But Jesco White, the patriarch (his father was murdered in a shootout in 1985), says it all while walking through the cemetery where so many family members are buried: “It seems like our lives has just been a party and we’re just livin’ like it’s a story that we’re already dead but we’re still alive to tell about it.”

“? already dead but we’re still alive to tell about it.” The movie is depressing and difficult to shake.

On Tuesday, I attended a lecture by Aneta Georgievska-Shine, Ph.D. The topic: Michelangelo and His Legacy IV: Painting.

Georgievska-Shine is passionate about her work. She flipped through slides of Renaissance artists’ paintings, showing a Michelangelo Sistine Chapel fresco and, then, moved forward to a Raphael. And another Raphael. Back to the Michelangelo. On to Tibaldi, including his Adoration of the Christ Child, and, then, eventually, to Titian’s Resurrection. During this presentation, Georgievska-Shine used her laser pointer to trace the form of a man, woman, a child, emphasizing an elongated limb, the shape of a muscle, the drape of fabric on the body, while she provided not just her analysis but, also, questions. She spoke of art historians who ask the wrong questions about a particular example. The question is not this or that, but why. Why was this painted? And, then, she answered her why, explaining the concept of mannerism. Immediately, I thought, mannerism is what we hear so often today?”it’s all about me”, all about the artist whose brushstrokes scream, “Look at what I can do.” Again, “it’s all about me”, because mannerism diverts attention from the art to the artist.

Essentially, this is the “legacy”. Artists studied and didn’t just imitate; they extended the perspective, exaggerating it. Georgievska-Shine referred to this as Renaissance rivalry.

I sat there gulping her words just as I had consumed the culture of the Whites of West Virginia.

Later, at home, I thought of Renaissance rivalry and drew a comparison. Occupying the highest office in our country is a man many thought would bring hope and change. Instead of Renaissance rivalry, we have New World Order rivalry. Barack Obama has examined George Bush’s workmanship, extending and exaggerating it. From expanding war, the use of drones, and US hegemony to allowing Wall Street to control our government at the expense of most of us, he is a master of political mannerism.

We might ask, “Why are you doing this?”

His answer: “Because I can. It’s all about me, now.”

A dark trajectory is ensured?the “livin’ like we’re already dead”?for more and more people on planet Earth. Tragically, the world is Obama’s canvas.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Reach her at missybeat@gmail.com.


Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com