The Shape of Hogwash

As I sit here, watching another worthless piece of drivel on the outdated tube-TV in our overcrowded living room, the denouement (if you can call it that) of the 2003 cinematic production of “The Shape of Things” unfolds before my eyes.  As I watch this entirely unrealistic finale take place (in which the female antagonist of the film commits acts against the protagonist male that are not only unethical, but entirely impossible in the academic situation she presents herself in), I look to my husband and I see that he is absolutely gripped by the moment of emotion taking place on the screen.  His hand is to his chest; he looks completely horrified – I think to myself: “my God, is he gullible.”

But you cannot blame him for being the gullible hubs that he is – he, like all other worker-bees in the film industry – have been trained to fall for this sappy, unrealistic melodrama that permeates the on-screen action today.  Granted, “The Shape of Things” was produced seven years ago; however, we can point to this as the early onset of the new style of filmmaking, which we see hackneyed and overdone today.

The Pattern

“The Shape of Things” sets up the pattern that seemingly all films do today:  we begin with a bizarre and quirky scene.  Sometimes it involves a couple (such as in this film) meeting for the first time; often it involves an action sequence or something that is odd but sets up the plot.  Our hero is now always an awkward male – in the Pauly Bleaker style of awkward linguistics and stereotypically undesirable physical features.  In “The Shape of Things,” we are given Adam, who is overweight, strange, nerdy, and just plain socially awkward.

The bizarre and quirky scene, of course moves on to the incessant dialogue, which also seems to be a contemporary phenomenon in filmmaking.  As was the case in Dogville (which had me begging the TV to end the film by the point where we find out Nicole Kidman is the daughter of a mobster), “The Shape of Things” engages us in an unending series of dialogues in which we witness useless and irrelevant discussion points, that do nothing other than add meaningless details to a meaningless story.   The worst of these is the dialougue between Adam and his soon-to-be-married friends, where we listen to them talk about how they want to get married underwater – a detail which bears absolutely no consequence to the story at large, in any way, shape, or form.

The Plot

You would think that a film which lasts for almost two, whopping and laborious hours would have something of a plot; yet, since we are bogged down with endless dialogue, it is difficult to tell.  The undercurrent of the film, though, is that Adam’s new girlfriend (introduced in the opening, awkward scene), is “changing” him.  The interesting thing about this, though, is that statistically all people in relationships change (and, to be honest, Adam changes for the better).  He starts to take better care of himself, physically.  He dresses with a little more self-respect.  He starts to gain more confidence.  These are things that happen when everyone is in a relationship; yet, for some reason our authors imply from the get-go that this is an intentional doing on the part of the girlfriend.  It is true that there are a few changes that are a little more major and could be attributed to the girlfriend (ala a nose job), but ultimately they are all natural occurences.

In the end, though, we find that she has done this all on purpose, as a means to use him as an art project for her Master’s Thesis.  And so enters the destruction of this film.

The Problem

Evelyn (please note the obvious ‘Adam and Eve’ reference) presents this portion of her Master’s Thesis Project to a portion of the student body, wherein she announces that she entered into this relationship with poor Adam as a means to see if she could “sculpt” a human being.  She has photographs of him.  She has pieces of his diary.  She has his old clothing.  She has films of their sex life.  She makes a mockery of him at this presentation as she turns down a marriage proposal (adding his grandmother’s ring to the art display), and he (of course) had no clue of any of this until this final moment of truth.

The problem, though, is that for this to be even remotely believable, she would have had to do something a little more ethical and sane.  In the real world, Evelyn would have been both expelled from the university and sued for slander and liable.  In the real world, Evelyn would have been required by a judge to take psych meds.  In the real world, Adam would not have just stood there and agreed to allow her art project to remain on display for an indefinite period of time.  The problem is that the “shock and awe” denouement of this film is in no way shocking, and does not inspire any awe – for it is completely unbelievable.

It is one thing for the contemporary film industry to present a style of film that both empathizes with its audience (the awkwardness of being a person in the world) and creates an unexpected twist at the end.  But there is something to be said for doing the latter in a way that people can still relate.  The mark of a successful play, film, or other piece of performance art is that the audience is so engaged, and so affected, that they feel it truly touched a part of their life that they may have previously thought no one could understand.  Long, drawn out conversation about nothing and completely unrealistic scenarios does not achieve this.  Shame on the makers of “The Shape of Things” for taking a potentially interesting idea (the moulding of a human being, and the art of human interaction) and turning it into nothing more than hogwash.


God Bless America

So, I’ve read the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.  I’ve read articles and pamphlets written by the Founding Fathers.  I’ve read Thomas Payne, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington – I’ve taken American politics and American history.  I have even watched the HBO mini-series on John Adams.  Now, despite the fact that I was not alive at the time these great men in American history were making history, and that I am not an historian and have not done extensive research in the field – I think it is safe for me to say that my credentials (just listed) at least give me the right to say the following:
There is absolutely no way in hell the Founding Father envisioned the American dream as celebrating the birth of the country with blowing off each other’s arms and drinking Coors Light.  Fuck yeah, America – fuck yeah.
And it is not just the celebration of the independence of this nation that has turned into a drunken festival of debauchery, yelling, and carcinogen-rich bar-be-que.  Almost every holiday in the United States, today (even ones that are celebrating the holidays of other counties – e.g. Saint Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo), is accompanied by nonsense I find it highly unlikely the Founding Fathers would have condoned.  If we are going to commemorate the achievements of these great figures in history, shouldn’t we at least consider how they would have preferred we do so?  As humorous as it may be, I find it difficult to envision John Adams and Thomas Jefferson celebrating the independence of our country by doning their best pair of overalls and shooting fireworks off each other – all while seeing who can guzzle more Bud Light Lime before smashing the cans on their foreheads.
Why has this happened?  Is it that the pressures of American society (with a floundering economy, a destroyed housing market, and an endless series of international and domestic hot and cold wars since the early 1900’s) have just driven people to let loose and embrace this seemingly unhealthy behavior?  It would seem this to be likely, except that the holidays ala Bud Light and an unprecedented numbers of “Driving Under the Influence”-arrests have been going on for decades now – for decades before America became the pitiable nation it is now.  On the 4th of July, Americans have been blowing off body parts with unsafe fireworks displays for well over sixty years.
Perhaps it is the Founding Fathers for whom we are to actually blame for this sense of unrestrained freedom we feel we have – this freedom to celebrate in whatever way we want.  If it weren’t for them, we would not have the freedom to set off fireworks, or to even necessarily celebrate for that matter.  If they had not fought for our independence, we may still be paying taxes on -literally- everything, and might not be able to afford the alcohol we consume on this fine holiday in copious amounts.  Maybe if the Founding Fathers had not sacrificed blood, sweat, and (in some cases) their lives, we would not have been as rich with resources and freedom to engourge ourselves on bar-be-que and as lavishly caloric feasts as we do at our holidays.  Every Thanksgiving, the average American consumes over 6,000 calories (three times the daily recommendation).  This would certainly not be possible if it weren’t for the contribution the Founding Fathers made to our freedom and liberty.  Freedom from oppression; liberty to consume and destroy.  Celebrate these American achievements by eating and drinking as much as we possibly can.
There is no way those great men in American history could have foresaw the disastrous affects of creating a nation founded on a cut-throat capitalism and a freedom in democracy that would allow the absolute worst of the state of nature to become commonplace.  At the turn of this 234th anniversary of the founding of our great country, though, we must stop and consider whether they took us along the right path.  Would we rather have our freedom to do whatever we want – to blow off each other’s limbs with fireworks we are not qualified to use; to drink so much alcohol we don’t even know who we are; to eat as many greasy fried foods as we can in a day?  Or would we rather have a little more of a moderation, yet sacrifice some of our freedom?  It is more than that, though, for it is our freedom that destroyed our economy (the freedom of banks from restraints on loans; the freedom of consumers to buy on credit without any concern for paying the bills).

I would definitely have to argue that we must preserve and cherish our freedoms and our liberties; but at the same time, perhaps America still is not ready to have the freedom it has had for over 200 years now.  For the most principle thing that must come with gaining freedom to do all of these things is responsibility – Americans must also take responsibility for the things they are free to have.  I think by and large Americans fail to do this.

Perhaps the real question, now, is not whether it is all worth it, or whether the Founding Fathers would have been happy.  For there is no way they could have known what would happen over 200 years after they were all six feet under.  The real question is that with all of the hardships America has now; and with all of the concern we see in the faces of the Americans, at the hands of our freedom; with the amount of self-destruction we see ourselves engage in just in a mere celebration: what are we even commemorating?  A nation-wide depression?  An all-time high unemployment rate?  Starving children?  The loss of our bodily parts in fireworks accidents?  Binge-drinking?  Obesity?  When we are literally incapable of taking responsibility for the implications of our unrestrained freedoms, what is there really for us to be celebrating?
Fuck yeah, America.  Fuck yeah.

I Abstain

Since the beginning of time, people who have spoken truth have been persecuted by the majority.  Perhaps the earliest and best example (academically speaking) would be Socrates.  For merely setting out on a quest for capital-T Truth, Socrates is tried and sentenced to death by hemlock.
Over 1200 years later, Boethius writes in The Consolation of Philosophy
“And now you see the outcome of my innocence – instead of reward for true goodness, punishment for a crime I did not commit … here I am, nearly five hundred miles away, condemned to death and to have my property confiscated, silenced, and with no opportunity to offer a defence, all because of a somewhat too willing support of the Senate.”
Yet, as Boethius also claims, it is only natural that the philosopher put his philosophy into the state-politik, if only for the sake of attempting to further a sense of goodness in humanity.
But Politicians Are Not Humans
Flashing centuries forward, Elizabeth Hawes remembers well Albert Camus’ early reticence towards all things political.  She says in her 2009 biography, Camus:  A Romance:
“Referring to these … matters, he had confided two remarks in his journal in 1937.  ‘Every time I hear a political speech or read those of one of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing that sounded human.’  One month later, even more emphatically he wrote, ‘Politics and the shape of mankind are shaped by men without ideals and without greatness.  Men who have greatness within them don’t go in for politics.'”
Of course, in the case of Camus we have an utter contradiction, for as we see unfold later in his life, he delves right in to politics to try and prevent the further desecration of post-war France, and to try and liberate the Algerian people and secure their rightful place in world society.  But as with most philosophers-gone-politicians, Camus swiftly fell, even more abruptly and harshly than when he rose.  We can thus use him as an accurate portrayal of the truth to politics.
Camus’ fall, so to speak, occurred simply as a result of his insistence on publishing the truth in an editorial on a situation in Madagascar.  He upset many of the politicians he was working with at the time, though, and thus thrown from political grace to absolute obscurity.  With (literally) the blink of an eye, he fell from the graces of the popular majority and left reeling with the harsh reality that he spoke of in his early journals – that mankind is not shaped by anything human.  Mankind and society is shaped by something that is for the majority, for the betterment of those in charge – shaped by men (and women) lacking greatness to the utmost degree.
But We All Get Sucked In At One Point Or Another
If you were to look at my profile of a life, you would find someone that has recently recovered from the bloody wounds inflicting upon me by the local political vultures – waiting to feast on someone else (or perhaps me again).  I – in the same manner as many others before me – was eaten alive by a group of local political-junkies.  Junkies who could not even get their facts straight; and often supported each other without even knowing the reasoning why.
As a young, fledgling politician, I entered the party of the people, and thought I would be able to make a difference by merely showing up and “pounding the pavement” to reach the voters and influence them to get out and sound their voices.  Soon enough, though, I learned that not only do the voters statistically have no voice; but even in local elections, their voice is only as loud as their pocketbook.  In other words, regardless of what issues are being voted on; regardless of what your candidate says in campaigning, it is an undeniable fact that in American politics it is at least 85% governed by the money.  So much in the way of Camus, if the people who you work with do not want the truth to be heard, it will not be – even if it is merely by way of a slanderous rumor or two through the grassroots of the party.
I went the way of the political dinosaurs in this fashion.  At some point or another, I said something that the “party” did not agree with (and by “party,” I mean a group of paranoid people, all of whom were so busy arguing about who was going to be in charge that they often had no idea what their ideals were, or what, exactly, they were fighting for).  Specifically, I stated that I did not agree with slandering the opposition on our bumper stickers; and, that I would publicly support the candidates with whom I personally support, not only who the party told me to.  This caused great controversy, because by my mere silence in the case of one candidate, I was saying he was a fraud.  Then, I made clear that the party was not as supportive of (us) young people as they could (or were claiming to) be.  In other words, the sum of these three minor incidences equalled (for me) speaking the truth; (for the “party”) speaking in opposition of them.  For this, I was slandered, slaughtered, insulted, accused of being an infiltrator, and a turn-coat; I was brought before the head of the party and asked if I was working for the opposition; and it was said I was off my rocker.  Politically I was blacklisted.
Two months later I was phoned by one of my slanderers and offered a job working on his campaign.  He said he needed someone with my inside know-how; and was willing to “let bygones be bygones.”  I have not talked to any politicians since.
Thus, We Must Abstain

And yet the problems of politicians, politics and the government in American society today are much deeper, and more systemic, than just the way campaigns are run.  At its very core, American politics are fed by the American obsession with change, with a better life – and it is only by abstaining from raising our voices that we will be able to let the truth reign free.  In order to be free of the corruption in politics as they are now, we must rid ourselves of them entirely.
A case in point is with President Obama.  He enacted a spirit of drive and change to such a degree that voting in the 2008 election was at unprecedented levels; and yet he has fallen the way of many politicians, and is (in many ways) governed by the interests that support him.  As with all politicians, his political success is determined by how much money he can raise; thus, he is stuck conceding many things in the interest of being able to make so-called change.
But more than that, a politician will argue that “at least Obama is there to make some changes, even if he has to concede others.”  However, the problem is again on a larger scale, for it is in the tying of the hands of our politicians that we see an injustice to people who otherwise deserve the same as those with the money.  For example, why should one lobby group with more money be deserved of a particular legislation, while another lobby group with less money be deserved of nothing?  Why are the people of Iraq being liberated while the people of Sudan are left to be slaughtered?
Yet, to keep it in a more local light – on a scale with which we can actually affect, to argue that we can make change in our community is a matter-of-fact falsity.  And this is for two reasons:  (1) that local politics, down to the most miniscule and seemingly meaningless waterboard position, are run by the example of politics on the grander, more national scale; and, (2) politicians on a local level always have their sights set on the bigger goal, thus they will always act in a way that is advantageous to them – even if it is stepping over and slaughtering other’s character in the process.
Thus the only way to truly make change is to abstain from voting altogether.  For when you vote a candidate into the system as it currently is, you drive them straight into the beast for which they will have to conform to only to survive.  Only by abstaining can we call for a complete reform of the way our politics are handled; only by abstaining can we enact systemic change and make a difference in our community and in our country.  Voting for change sends the message that all we need is a little political propaganda, or flashy logos, to secure a footholding in public office.  By contrast, not voting for anything sends a message that we will not feed the beast any longer.
It is not an anarchy that I am advocating; nor am I advocating for a communism, or a socialism – or really any sort of an -ism (at least in the context of this conversation).  And it is not an overthrow, or a change in governmental systems that I am calling to action.  Merely, I am asking that we act by inaction; that we change our corrupted system by refusing to participate in something so corrupt words like “inhuman” do not even begin to scratch its true nature.
Since the dawn of time, anyone who spoke truth about corruption within the system was persecuted.  In democratic Athens, Socrates was sentenced to death for just inquiring of the locals.  In the Holy Roman empire, Boethius was condemned for speaking truthfully in the Senate.  The likes of Camus, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Chomsky, Rorty (and some of the most contemporary and well-respected activists and philosophers) are often shunned for speaking out loud the truths they know all too well.  It is one thing to be patriotic and to do your civic duty; it is another to turn a blind eye to what is going on right in front of you.  Abstaining from voting out of ignorance is an altogether different issue; but abstaining to make your voice heard is logically equivalent to attending a rally, writing an editorial, or testifying before the Senate.  If we are really wishing to preserve our “rights” and “happiness,” as we are guaranteed in the most precious words of the United States Constitution, then we must consider what our vote does to that.  If we vote for hiding the truth, we are dealing with a complete denial of those rights.

I Ain’t No Poet

Seriously … I haven’t the foggiest idea how to write poetry.  I don’t know the first thing about poetry.  I do know I like Rilke, Plath and Frost.


Lightning –
it flashes on my skin;
glows on my flesh
as I fall to the ground.

I am drenched, I am wet;
and yet as I fall I am transformed.
Once I was a bead falling through
the sky.
Now I am ashen and thick.
I have mixed with the Earth,
where always I return in utter solicitude.

There are so many around me,
falling to the ground and soaking through.
And when I merge with another,
we become indistinguishable.
Always the same.
Always falling.
But still landing alone.

It grows warm and moist –
the air is thick.
I am again transformed,
and the cycle begins again.

I am like rain.
I am water.
Ever transforming.
Forever falling.

At least you have a job!

The Australian Aborigines are an interesting tribe – still in existence today, and rich with a uniqueness beyond what is comprehend-able to even some Americans.  But they can serve as a model to us in so many ways – in their familial interactions; in their way of life and survival; and, most importantly, in their dreams. For the Aborigines of Australia are a tribe whose culture has evolved to accept their dreams as reality, and their waking life as only a bridge between dreaming states.  Their culture, their belief systems – their entire way of thinking – is based in the land of the sleeping; in the land of their dreams.
We can learn from this in a variety of ways.  Anthropologically speaking, we can study this as a uniqueness to the Aboriginal culture.  Psycho-sociologically we can look at it in terms of the way the society works, and how its peoples develop as functional human beings.  Yet there is another way that we can study this fantastical dreamland the Aborigines hold so literally, and that is in how it explains our own behavior.
The dream reality of the Australian Aborigines began simply with a statement or two, something along the lines of “I had a dream, it seemed so real,” or “I saw that in my dream, and here it is!”  And as generations passed, more and more stock was put into the statements that were made about the dreams of the people in the tribe.  From an evolutionary standpoint, it took only a few generations before these statements of what happened in the dreams of the Aborigines became a commonplace understanding that the dreams, themselves, were in fact reality.  As unintentional as it may seem, over time the Aborigines engaged in what we would call a social indoctrination.
In an example perhaps closer to home, we can consider Pavlov’s dogs.  This famous experiment has been shown to prove the effect of conditioning on even the most irrational of animals.  Hear the bell ring and get a treat so many times, this eventually means to the dog that the sound of a bell means a treat.  The very definition of “ringing bell” became “treat.”  Pavlov’s dogs is not only a psychological lesson, it too is an example of a social indoctrination.
For the Australian Aborigines, the definition of dream morphed and (in the same way as Pavlov’s dog’s) took on an all new meaning.  By calling this a social indoctrination, we signify that the society in which we speak of has (intentionally or unintentionally) conditioned itself to believe something as an absolute truth.
So what is strikingly disturbing about all this is that we are in a time of American culture when rapid modernization is imposing all new meanings on seemingly everything we have come in contact with for years.  What makes it disturbing, though, is that because of the modernization (and because of the rise in technology and the subsequent availability of information), definitions and ideas no longer require entire generations to take hold.  Sometimes it is only years or months.  Social indoctrination in American culture is happening at an unprecedented rate.
A few days ago, my husband and I were scheduled to meet his parent’s for dinner, but something came up for him at work and we had to cancel.  He called his parents to cancel, and later told me that he was really too busy to talk, but that his mother said “well, at least you have a job!”  Innocently, she was trying to be supportive and understanding – especially in an economic time where so many are unemployed and scraping to make ends meet.  In reality, though, what my mother-in-law did was the same thing that the Australian Aborigines did with their dreams, and that Pavlov did to his dogs with the treats – she merely reinforced the changing belief in what it means to be employed in America.  She unintentionally contributed to the social indoctrination of modern American employment.
Twenty, fifty, one hundred years ago, to be employed in America meant to be doing your duty to society.  To be employed meant to be a functional, productive and worthwhile human being.  To have a job in America was a right – which everyone who was capable was endowed with.  To work in America meant being a skilled and honorable individual.  And Americans who worked were treated by society and their employees accordingly – they were compensated, given benefits, given dignity, rewarded, and appreciated.
Today what it means to work has morphed for American society, which is a tragic turn for it appears to only perpetrate the problems between the classes – and commits a new social indoctrination, that work in America is really a rare commodity.  Today in America, when someone says “I have a job,” they mean that they are able to scrape by and pay their bills for another month.  When someone makes reference to their employment, they are talking about the thing they feel lucky to have, since so many people don’t have them.  When a person works in America today, their work is no longer a product of their honor and worthiness – it is something a company has graciously allowed them to do instead of someone else.  It is one resume point more than all the other qualified people.  Most alarming is that when an employer says “you’re hired,” they mean “we’ll give you this now, but just remember we’re doing you a favor.”  And in America today, no one considers working a right – it is a privilege.  “At least you have a job” is a statement of relief which does nothing more than reinforce the new belief of work in America, rather than save it.
How long will it take, though, before this idea is permanently ingrained in our minds as absolute truth, just as the dreams for the Aborigines and the treats for Pavlov’s dogs?  With the Aborigines, stock is now placed in the dreamworld as if it is reality.  If we continue to tell ourselves that to work is a privilege, and that to have a job is nothing more than a relief – in the blink of an eye we will truly believe in nothing more.  Our goals and dreams will become for us matters of luck.
Say there is a ten year old boy and he is training for a bike race by riding thirty minutes a day.  One day he is out training and falls in the road while a car is coming.  Fortunately, the car notices him and swerves, pulls over and says “boy, kid – you sure are lucky!”  From then on, though, the boy no longer wants to train, for even children are rarely willing to try their luck anymore.  So he drops out of the race and quits riding his bike altogether.  If we continue to consider ourselves lucky that we have work in America, eventually we will stop trying to achieve our goals.  Eventually we will truly believe that we are just lucky – not talented, skilled, or honorable.  Just lucky.
That we aren’t really expressing a right when we work, or that we aren’t really honorable or worthwhile; but instead that we have been done a favor and likely aren’t even deserved of that – that we are lucky – is a grave position to take.  We are at a critical juncture – for the social indoctrination of America relative to work has not truly become fact for its people.  The definitions may have molded, but it is not a complete reality just yet.  But it is the very fabric of the American experience to work and to take pride in that work – whatever it may be.  If we do not take pride in our work, though; and we never strive to achieve more for fear we will lose our streak of luck, it will not only be the definition of work in America that will have changed, but the very definition of being an American.  Are we just a mass of people struggling to survive?  Struggling to be the lucky ones this time?  Or are we people who are goal-driven, who know we are worthy and know we deserve better; people who will always strive for better and for more?  This is a systemic problem and the implications are great – but as long as there is an attitude that we really cannot do better, we will be doomed to evolve to truly believe this forever.

Dear Lars,

It is very possible that last night I experienced the worst film ever made.  It was long, it was boring, and it made absolutely no sense.  It was filled with hideous imagery and contained not one logical causal connection in its actions.  The shots were done horribly; and most importantly it made post-modernism (an otherwise acceptable genre) seem just plain stupid.

Dear Lars:  please stop making bad films.  Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
It was Dancer in the Dark that my husband and I were watching – late at night, in bed.  I was looking for a tear-jerker, and my husband thought that for sure this would get the waterworks flowing.  But within a few scenes of this film – which had so much potential to be good – I was flashing back to another horrendous viewing experience months prior in which I was forced to watch a film vaguely reminiscent in its oddities, that being the Von Trier classic Dogville.
Dear Lars:  please, please, please stop making films in which the storyline is completely neglected in favor of an attempt to be avante-garde.  Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
What Von Trier seems to be doing is wonderful – he challenges the viewer to look differently at the aesthetics of film; he raises thematics that many filmmakers have not ventured into for fear of losing widespread support; he questions the traditionalism with which film continues to take – decades after postmodernism has taken a forefront in independent filmmaking.  But what Von Trier also does while doing all this is spread himself thin with abstractions to the point where he loses any shred of good-ness through the entire course of his films.
Dancer in the Dark is a story of a young woman who brings her son to America from the Czech Republic in the 1960’s for an eye operation.  She has a degenerative eye disease that is steadfastly leading to blindness, and her son will need an operation that only the American doctors and paychecks can provide.  So she works in a plant, lives in poverty, scrimps and scrapes on everything; all the while never telling anyone of her disability for two reasons:  (1) so that she can continue to work for the money she needs for his operation; and, (2) so that the son does not find out.

Dear Lars:  please stop casting Bjork in your films.  Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.  
But Selma (the main character – played by none other than Bjork) needs to escape from this reality of impoverished conditions and so has to escape by means of daydreaming that her entire life is a musical.  In doing this, she ends up causing a problem at work which she gets fired for; followed by her character committing a number of ridiculous acts that culminate in her getting arrested for murder.  In short, Selma escapes from reality to a point that (in the end) only hurts her son more as a result of of her ultimate stupidity.
If Lars Von Trier was going for frustration in this film – he got it.  One cannot help but watch this film and question – “what kind of a mother is this?”  How concerned can Selma possibly be about her son if she cannot even stop daydreaming long enough to do her job right?  How concerned about his eyesight is she – in the end – if she makes decision after decision that ends in tragedy?  Selma ends up murdering her landlord because he steals her money and will not give it back  – the money she had worked so hard to save for her son’s eye operation.  But in murdering her landlord, she only does her son harm.  From this point on in the film, Selma makes one decision after another that can only lead the viewer to say – “she is not a good mother by any stretch of the imagination – she is nothing more than selfish and stubborn and insane.”
Dear Lars:  if you are going to make a film, please give your characters at least half a brain to think with. Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
It is a downward slope for Selma.  When she is on trial for the murder of her landlord, all the evidence comes out against her because she had been hiding her disability.  But when she is put on the stand and has an opportunity to redeem herself, she sits there like a complete dolt.  She answers complex questions with simple “yes and no” answers.  She does not explain herself.  And in the ultimate of offenses, when asked why her landlord stole her money, she says “I promised I wouldn’t tell.”  She is a complete and utter moron.
But it gets even worse.  Selma is given an opportunity to appeal and finds out that the money she saved for her son was going to be used for the attorney.  So she says she does not want to appeal and, instead, will accept her death sentence.  All the while, though, she is only concerned that her son will find out he has a degenerative eye disease.  She says that her principle concern is him finding out about that prior to being able to have his surgery – because “it will cause him worry to know he has an eye disease, and the worry will make the eyes worse and the operation will not work.”  So, in turn, she takes the death sentence to make sure her son has not a care in the world.  
Here is where I must ask – during the course of making this film, did Lars Von Trier ever consider the stupidity of this premise?  Selma wants her son to have no worries so his eyes do not get worse, so she accepts a completely unjust death sentence?  I am not sure about Mr. Von Trier, but I know for a fact that if my mother was sentenced to death when I was 12 year old, this would result in a lot more stress, strain and worry than the simple knowledge of a correctable, degenerative eye disease could ever cause.

Dear Lars, please stop destroying postmodern filmmaking.  Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
I can see that if Von Trier was going for a postmodern and surreal landscape in Dancer in the Dark, he would try to combine the avante-garde with a more untraditional style of filmmaking.  This would be wonderfully put together if only his storyline had a little more cohesion to it.  Or, conversely, none at all. Where Lars Von Trier errs in this film, though is when he gives the illusion or intention of cohesion, but ultimately no underlying theme at all.  It is all or it is none – there is no middle.  The viewer is left confused – is this the story of an insane woman, deluded with reality?  Or is this the tale of a loving mother who only wants the best for her son?  Is this a tale of injustice in the world?  Or is it a story of the lower class?  All these themes are introduced, and yet none are fully developed to allow the viewer to really know what is going on.  Even combining them could have been done in a better way – one in which the viewer left the film with an actual emotional response, rather than just a frustration over the mix of emotions and ambiguity of the storyline.  If not this, then Von Trier could have had no cohesion to the film.  He could have made his point quite well if only he worried less about Selma’s dramatic speeches about her son, and more about the aesthetics of a postmodern film.  
Dear Lars Von Trier, Please understand that while postmodernism is intended to enhance the subjectivist experience, there is still an objectivity in the world that your viewer needs to grasp in order for your point to get across.  You, yourself, have outlined “rules” in filmmaking, and while it is commendable to break out beyond the rules, you still must appeal to the needs of those who want very much to enjoy your films.  Ironically, by trying to enhance the subjective, you completely alienate your viewing subjects.  Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.

For a little more Von Trier entertainment: