May Madness

First, a warning. This is the type of post in which the beginning and the end has very little relation to each other except via the convoluted connections made in my unkempt mind.

So to start the post, I had hoped to give due recognition to May 1st which is an internationally recognised holiday which may be called the International Worker’s Day or Labour Day. I have to qualify this statement. Most countries in the world celebrate Labour Day on May 1st with a few notable exceptions which include the USA (September 5th) and Canada (first Monday in September). Labour Day was meant to commemorate victories and achievements in the fight for workers’ rights and in particular the adoption of an 8 hour working day.

For most of the world, May 1st was chosen to remember the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886 during which police fired upon workers taking part in a general strike in support of the 8 hour working day. The USA, on the other hand, wanted to distance itself from remembering that incident and also from the strong support of May 1st by Socialist and Communist groups and chose September 5th instead which commemorated a working man’s parade in New York by the Knights of Labour in 1882. Canada’s Labour Day in turn commemorates a different struggle, this time by the printers in Toronto in 1872 but also for a shorter work hours.

This is perhaps a rather long-winded way to say that I am on holiday today. It made me think though that so many of us take for granted the Labour Day holidays and think of it merely as an opportunity for a long weekend. In doing so, we are also taking for granted the basic workers’ rights that most of us currently enjoy and do a disservice to the memory of those who fought for these rights and who, in some cases, paid with their lives for it.

Those of us with jobs should be even more grateful as the world reels under the current economic crisis, for many will be losing their jobs and facing great difficulties. Some will come to the edge of the precipice. Some may go off the edge. We cannot tell how much damage and human suffering will result from this crisis which many are saying is as bad as and perhaps worse than the Great Depression. I read with sadness, stories of men killing their whole family before killing themselves. Recently at Jay‘s blog, we read of someone jumping to his death. While I do not know why he jumped, many others have jumped due to the pain brought on by financial despair.

While in no way do I condone these actions, I can understand to a degree, why these people have resorted to these actions. They have lost hope. The tragedy is that they cannot see the hope that may be just round the corner. All of us must be responsible to share each other’s burdens and to hold out hope to those immersed in hopelessness.

The Great Depression was certainly a time of great hardship and of great despair. An affluent America may perhaps have forgotten the hard lessons learnt back then but with the current economic crisis, some of those ugly days may be back again.

Here is where my brain makes a sharp turn and heads off into a new direction. For this, we have to return to a recent post in which I answered a question on which book, art piece, or music has been an influence on my life. Missing from the list is which movie has been an influence. As I was considering this post and my thoughts moved over to the Great Depression, this movie came to mind. It was the 1969 Sydney Pollack drama entitled “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”.

This movie was set in the Depression period and focussed on a couple taking part in a dance marathon competition. The 1,500 dollars prize money draws many other desperate individuals to participate as a way out of their dilemma. However, when our protagonists (Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin) discover that the organisers intend to cheat the winners by imposing all kinds of deductions, what fragile hope that they still harbored seemed to vanish like the morning mist.
In the aftermath, Jane’s character asks Michael’s character for help to commit suicide. He shoots her in the head and later when the police asks him why he did it, he replied, “They shoot horses, don’t they?”

This movie was very influential to me, making me realise and understand more about the state of hope and hopelessness. The last line and title of the movie was a cynical reminder that we ofter treat animals better than we treat our fellow humans. As I had said, I do not condone the actions of all those who kill their families and/or themselves because of the financial crisis. They may have lost hope but I believe hope is always just round the corner. Certainly, there is more to life that is worthwhile and which is not lost just due to financial distress. However, what they may have needed is someone to reach out to them and remind them that there is still hope; that the total darkness they find themselves in is only a temporary eclipse, to sit with them in the darkness until they can find the sun again in the smiles of their friends and the love of their families.

So to end this post, I will include this clip of some of the more significant scenes of this movie that won an Oscar for Gig Young as Best Supporting Actor and got 7 other nominations.


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