36 Questions to Fall in Love: A New Age Love Potion No. 8

A few weeks ago I posted a story on Facebook from the New York Times about a scientific study that analyzed the power of knowing, specifically intentional knowing and its consequences which is love. The study, conducted by psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron 20 years ago, involved a man and a woman answering a series of increasingly personal questions and concluded with them staring, silently, into each others eyes for four minutes. Through this process Dr. Aron discovered that the likelihood of the two people falling in love was high because of the intensity and intention behind their getting to know one another. Mandy Len Catron, the young woman who wrote the NY Times article, tried Dr. Aron’s experiment with a university colleague changing the setting from a laboratory to a bar and she found love. As she puts it, “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we chose to be.” From that the title of the article arose, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” It was a click-bait headline tailored not only to a trigger-happy audience but people who are looking and longing for love. I wondered what the outcome of this would be. Would people just read it for the scientific study or would they ignore the original study and use it to accelerate the possibility of love like a new-age Love Potion No. 8. Much to my dismay, the latter is happening.

Good Morning America featured Dr. Aron’s study, specifically the 36 questions, and brought two strangers together to answer the questions and stare into each others eyes. It was lights, camera, action for two strangers and in the end, though it wasn’t certain the two found love, it seemed as though they found something. The two said they would “see what happens” and the GMA segment directed viewers to their website where the 36 questions for falling in love were listed. But GMA is not the only outlet to publicize the questions. Over the last few weeks many media outlets from Vogue to Nigerian website Naij.com picked up on Dr. Aron’s experiment, sharing the background but emphasizing the 36 questions and their ability to make people, even perfect strangers, fall in love. I find this somewhat problematic.

Don’t get me wrong, as a 34-year-old single woman with no immediate prospects this sounds tempting. I’d (almost) love nothing more than to be in love and on my way to marrying the love of my life. I say “almost” because I have a vision of love that is more about the slow and steady over the fast and furious. Being not too far removed from my last relationship, which I liked to call a “growmance,” I prefer the slow-cooked process of falling in love. In my previous relationship, we spent three years in a friendship that though, early on, we both confessed feelings for each other, we didn’t immediately advance on them by choice and circumstance. Throughout the three years we grew to know and love one another as more than friends and we fell into a relationship–we quite literally looked up one day and realized we were in one. Though I would change the way we fell into the relationship, I wouldn’t change our love primarily because there was nothing manipulated about it. It happened to us as much as it happened through us and we then made a decision to see where it took us. We were two people who grew into love but, unfortunately, weren’t two people who could sustain one another in a relationship. Were we “in love”? I’ll be honest in that I don’t understand what that means and I think the concept is often muddied by romantic tropes and fatalism that aren’t altogether realistic for two rational people. But I can say we loved one another–although I believe we did so differently and in a way that couldn’t carry us any further than we went. And so this is why I’m concerned about what it means to set the world on fire with the idea that falling in love by asking a series of questions is advisable. Because, in my experience, loving someone doesn’t always mean you should be in a relationship with them. Love has no guarantees and surely love manipulated may have less guarantees.

In her run with Dr. Aron’s experiment, Len Catron points out that the love that manifested between her and her university colleague happened because they chose it not because it happened to them. Indeed that’s a primary difference between her situation and mine because, as I articulated above, love happened to me and my friend and we fell into a relationship. The absence of making explicit choices about the relationship–save for when he chose to breakup with me and when I chose to take a break from a friendship thereafter–is what weakens the argument for the slow and steady love I prefer and that’d I’d suggest to more people than not. I take issue with the masses using Dr. Aron’s experiment as a love accelerator because it could, at worst, result in people objectifying and manipulating one another and, at best–well someone might actually fall in love and create a sustainable relationship but that is yet to be seen (Seriously, have we heard from the original couple in Dr. Aron’s experiment?). Anyways back to this issue of objectification and manipulation of love. I surmise that people might first look for someone who they could love, then ask the questions and stare into their hopeful beloved eyes, and make the experiment do more work than they actually have to do themselves. That is the over-manipulation of love that is unfolding before our eyes. As a single person on the market I’d be afraid that my dates would be made of men asking the 36 questions they found on the internet instead of asking their own questions and taking the time it takes to truly know someone.

Are we a generation so longing for love that we are more willing to put love in someone else’s hands rather than trust ourselves to manifest it? I understand that given our own efforts love will evade us for longer than we want, but I wonder if having love evade us until just the right time is more worthwhile and sustaining than manipulating love. Indeed we take risks when we decide that we don’t want 36-question love because then love in not a guarantee. But we may also take risks with 36-question love in that the love manifested from that experiment may not be sustainable, or, authentic.

I may have overstated my case against Dr. Aron’s experiment as an over-manipulation of love but I’ve done so because I find it problematic. I don’t find his original experiment problematic, I can’t because he was a scientist doing what scientist do, testing out a theory. I doubt he thought that 20 years later people would take his experiment, make it into click-bait stories, television segments, and get-love quick schemes. But, it seems, that’s where we are now and it probably won’t be long until it is made into a book about how to sustain the love birthed out of 36-questions. So I’ll leave you with this…

Tate Donovan and Sandra Bullock in “Love Potion No.9.” (Photo Credit: Gawker Media)

Earlier I compared Dr. Aron’s experiment and what is happening with it now to a new age Love Potion No. 8 which is a reference to the 90s film “Love Potion No. 9.” In the film, Tate Donovan (Paul) and Sandra Bullock (Diane) play two scientists who are unlucky in love until they discover Love Potion No. 8. Under the effects of LPN8, both Paul and Diane attract whoever they want and, at one point, they attract one another until the potion fades. What breaks the cycle of LPN8 is Love Potion No. 9 a serum that doesn’t create love but destroys any obstacles to it. The caveat to LPN9 though is that the person it is used on must already be in love or else they will eternally hate the hopeful beloved. The potion repeatedly falls into the wrong hands and then, at the conclusion of the film when just a little of it is left, Paul drinks it and kisses Diane and waits the requisite five minutes. Unfortunately it’s too late for the formula, but it ends up not being too late for love because Diane always loved Paul.

I use that illustration to demonstrate the efficacy, not of the potion or of the 36-questions, but of love. Call it alchemy if you must. Love Potion No. 8 didn’t work for Paul and Diane, neither did Love Potion No. 9. What worked for them the pre-existing condition of love, nurtured through work and determination. I suggest that love, unaided by scientific chemistry or experimentation, but love aided by authentic, sometimes awkward, risky, intentional knowing over time is the more worthwhile, sustainable love. And that’s what we ought to be after.

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On Second Thought, Selma Was Snubbed

On MLK Day I finally had an opportunity to see “Selma.” Yes, my last post on this blog was that “Selma” wasn’t snubbed and I wrote it having not seen the movie and I don’t regret it. I didn’t write it as someone who believed the movie wasn’t good, I knew “Selma” was good from the moment I saw the trailer during a “Scandal” commercial break on November 6. So when the Oscar nominations came and went with “Selma” only being nominated in two categories I really just felt it was par for the course. I honestly don’t expect the academy to rally around us every year–sad but true–and feel like they think they gave us our glory last year and we’ll have to wait another few years–also sad but probably true. But now that I’ve seen and felt “Selma” I do believe it was snubbed. Why?

1. It wasted no time. The first five minutes of the film alone made it worth a direction and cinematography nomination. To move from the calm of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepting his Nobel Peace Prize and then cut to the chaos of little girls bodies drifting in the back draft of a church explosion was an incredible feat. It was not only visually arresting but it was emotionally gripping. How quickly those little girls went from wishing for hair like Coretta’s to meeting their maker. Reality struck. The moment thrusts viewers into the narrative arc of the film and of history establishing that in the midst of seeming moments of calm there is chaos somewhere and this should set us on edge. DuVernay wasted no time.

2. “Selma” gave us a look at the march from several different angles without ever seeming aimless and disjointed. We saw the story from the perspective of King and the SCLC, SNCC, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gov. Wallace, and the media. I may be missing a few other perspectives but, suffice to say, the view of all of the aforementioned provided for a multilayered understanding of the issues at hand for all involved. It did all of this without being heavy-handed, losing focus, or confusing the viewer. There are times when a film seeks to do too much and it shows, but it never showed in “Selma.”

123.The casting was FLAWLESS. Carmen Ejogo was the best choice to play Coretta. From the minute she graced the screen in the beautiful beaded appliqué gown with her hair precisely coiffed to match the late Coretta Scott King’s, I felt that I was undoubtedly looking at a holographic image of young Coretta. But it’s not just that Ejogo looked like Coretta but that she embodied her presence. Coretta Scott King was regal. She could say much or little, but I imagine that when she walked into a room she commanded attention. Ejogo did that. Her words were few but her presence spoke volumes. But Ejogo wasn’t the only casting gold. Of course we all know that David Oyelowo as Martin was perfect in looks–despite his being a touch darker than Martin–and embodiment. Other perfect casting included Bayard Rustin played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, James Bevel played by Common, and Andrew Young played by Andre Holland. The casting is not only about the look but the embodiment and in a movie of this nature, embodiment is key. Most, if not all, of the actors were able to become their roles to the point where you forgot who they were in reality. That is the key to great casting.

4. It took the audience somewhere. I concluded my previous post on “Selma” by stating that the film convicting and moving people is an award in itself. As I watched it I was sitting between two men. A white man I didn’t know on my left and my friend, a black man from Alabama, on my right. I cannot deny the tension I felt during the film, having moments where at once my internal voice said, “I hate white people,” while wanting to hold my friend’s hand and/or rest my head on his shoulder because I was so overcome with emotion. (To be clear, I don’t hate white people I hate their privilege and their failure to recognize that they have it whether they want it or not because of the color of their skin.) DuVernay’s depiction of “Bloody Sunday” set the movie theatre on edge. I looked around and saw the man on my left wincing and wiping away his tears, my friend on the right with his hands clasped in front of his face, and many others throughout the movie theatre watching in a state of shock and sadness. The movie did and is doing affective work inside and outside of the theatre and that, I believe, should be considered among one of the highest virtues of film viewing.

5. Black people were the heroes. Often it feels like it is easier to nominate a black person for an Academy Award when they are driving a white woman around, playing a corrupt cop, begging a white man to “make me feel good,” being a crazy dictator, a slave, and the list goes on. This is not to say that we haven’t been nominated for playing other roles, but more of the roles we are nominated for and win are the roles that find us either under someone or being over someone in the most animalistic way possible. Though Martin Luther King, Jr. is not without faults, he broke some ground for us and the narrative of his work continues to make ways for us–I will not get into the issue with the problem of the narrative right now. All of this to say that to see David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo clench the nomination for best actor/actress would have been a welcome respite from many years of being nominated for the same types of roles. I would prefer to see a King awarded over a Sniper.

So what now?

no_oscarI am a loyal viewer of the Academy Awards with a longstanding tradition of live updating during the show but this year I will not watch, tweet, or do anything that supports the Academy Awards because they don’t support me.  Do you realize how many white narratives the Academy has supported over the years? Sure some of those narratives were worth the awards but year after year that show is always more liable to stick to its own–even when their own does mediocre work at best rather than considering anyone else. And that’s the thing, why should our stories not be theirs too? Why must we be “othered” even when we are in the same industry? Their stories are told and credited as worthy of numerous accolades while we are lucky if we are nominated. More of us than not support their stories in addition to our own while they continue to just support their stories. Something’s got to give.

#nooscars

Selma Wasn’t Snubbed, It Just Is What It Is

Academy Award nominations were announced this morning and with it came headlines that Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” was snubbed. Before I knew of what and who was nominated I knew that “Selma” was snubbed so I nearly assumed that the movie didn’t get any nominations, yet that wasn’t the case. “Selma” received two nominations, one for Best Picture and another for Best Original Song. This is still significant and it looks like DuVernay thought enough of the nominations to symbolically gift them to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday.

Alas, everyone else is on the snubbed life and up in arms, but I wonder if this is the reaction we need for something that is par for the course. My title says, “It is what it is,” which is what I say when I decide to just accept something as it is.

2012 demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

More often than not black films, actors, directors, etc are snubbed more than they are nominated. It is to be expected given the demographics of  organizations such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. An organization that, despite its black female president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, boasts a predominantly white and over age 60 while male voting membership. It is what it is. Thus it makes me wonder if we need to stop looking for approval by way of these white men and their awards and just affirm ourselves–and also not snub the value of awards that come from black organizations such as the NAACP Image Awards and the like. Popular opinion–also usually the opinion of white people in positions of power–would have it that a nomination and award from the Hollywood Foreign Press and/or AMPAS is proof that we’ve arrived, but to set our sights on that approval as a sign of achievement is a disservice to ourselves. Reality is, we don’t need a Golden Globe or an Academy Award to know that we’ve arrived and done well. And we have to stop hoping for “them” to pat us on the back for telling our own stories. We are worth more than a piece of globe or man-shaped gold. We are history makers and we never needed an award to be the pioneers that we are.

Making history is what we do. We’ve gone from the people who were the victims in history to the people who are slowly carving out victory status in history–even while we are yet still victims. Whether we are making history for turning a hashtag into a movement that declares the value of black lives or because we directed great actors and actresses to retell our history through cinematic re-interpretation, we’ve never needed an award to advance and make known the power of our voices. Who we are seeking recognition from has to change.

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As a close friend said this morning, “Winning. #thatsall”

We don’t have another moment to hope someone will nominate us or throw us an award for work we already know is good. Not another moment to speak of a “snub,” how white the Oscar will be this year, how discriminatory the academy may be, nothing. I say this because I’m tired of us waiting for someone to acknowledge our greatness when it has always been inside us. We don’t need anyone to give us an award to know we are good. We may want the award but we really don’t need it and it really shouldn’t change anything in a world where the scales are rarely tipped in our favor. The biggest mistake we can make nowadays is to be fooled into believing we’ve been snubbed because the collective “they” didn’t recognize us. We aren’t being snubbed, they are snubbing themselves in failing to acknowledge us. We lose nothing, they are the ones missing out. “Selma” was not snubbed because no value was taken away from the film in not getting an Academy Award nomination. Ava DuVernay was doing incredible work before the Hollywood Foreign Press and AMPAS ever thought to nominate her and she will continue to do incredible work. The same goes for David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, et al.

The greatness of our work doesn’t hinge on its acceptance by some board of old white men but in our confidence in our own work and its power to teach and transform our own community. I’ve seen more people talk about how “Selma” has convicted and moved them to action than anything else and I think that’s the best award.

Je Suis Charlie Ain’t For Me But Nigeria Is

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Last night I was about to go to bed when I noticed the image above posted on a friend’s Facebook page. I had just finished watching the Golden Globes for three hours and heard more white people evoke the clarion call of the moment “Je suis Charlie” than I heard them even so much as imply that “Black Lives Matter.” The latter is the prevailing topic of our days and “Je suis Charlie” just came into our consciousness about a week ago. It seemed to me that this would have been a key moment for this group to show their solidarity but instead they showed that they are more concerned about ensuring the right to free speech even when it borders on being racist and offensive to their fellow brothers and sisters than they are in protecting the lives of those same brothers and sisters. So last night the fight for freedom of speech and expression won over making true the allegedly self-evident truth, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I’ve yet to post “Je suis Charlie” anywhere for a variety of reasons not limited to being unsure that the campaign is one I need to get behind before I pump my fist more powerfully in the direction of fighting for the rights of my own who are slaughtered daily. I don’t feel compelled to say, “Je suis Charlie” because it feels like the call of those who’ve always known the privilege of freedom, such as the freedom to draw potentially racist and offensive pictures and call it entertainment. I don’t know that freedom. I know more about what it means to be the satirical cartoonist’s subject than I do to be the cartoonist. I am not free to draw. It is for that reason that I cannot, with any sense of confidence, say “Je suis Charlie.” I cannot say “Je suis Charlie” in the midst of the injustices taking place in my own backyard that are based on the harsh, unjust lived experience of being black in America. And surely I can’t part my lips to say “Je suis Charlie” when just this weekend Nigeria experienced its deadliest massacre at the hands of Boko Haram. 2,000 innocent children, women, and elderly people were allegedly massacred and now there is news of children being used as suicide bombers by the organization. Nigeria, where over 200 girls were kidnapped last year and we still don’t have them all back. How can I get behind #jesuischarlie when #bringbackourgirls and #blacklivesmatter are still at large? My brothers and sisters cannot decide not be black one day but the cartoonist and the writer can decide to use their gift differently. This is why “Je suis Charlie” ain’t for me.

My responsibility is to my people. This is not to dismiss of the importance of the lives lost in Paris or those putting themselves on the front lines to protest for a freedom–not freedom but one kind of freedom, but I acknowledge that the fight for fundamental freedom in my own backyard weighs more heavily upon me. Boiled down this is about the pen versus personhood, and even though I’m a writer my blackness compels me to the fight that I see as more essential to ensure more of my people live to see another day.

I am more Naija than I am Charlie.

I am more captive than I am free.

I am more subject of derision than I am master.

I am not Charlie.

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

As for me and my house, I will be praying for Nigeria. 

#prayforNigeria