A convergence of complex systems nearly buried our plans for the Tejano screening of ‘Human Terrain’. First my connecting flight to San Antonio was cancelled after the ‘Snowpocalypse of 2010’ brought DC to standstill. Re-routed the next day through O’Hare, I cooled my heels during an interminable layover, watching CNN as Republican congressmen standing in snowdrifts smugly asserted that global warming was a myth promulgated by Big Government, punctuated by fellow travelers’ stories of co-workers stuck for days in airport hotels without Wi-Fi (the horror, the horror…).
Witnessing the 60/60/24/7/365 news cycle cover the perfect storm (und drang) of natural and unnatural disasters would be mildly amusing were it not for the state of semi-incarceration one now suffers in the post-9/11 airport matrix. Here the barbarians are not just at the gates where TSA drones exercise their exceptional powers but on the ubiquitous screens distilling the high anxiety of cancelled flights, unpredictable weather, and potentially explosive underwear into the simulacrum precedes and engenders the terror to come. It’s a toss-up whether O’Hare or Dulles fills me with greater existential dread these days.
But my mood immediately elevated upon arrival when John Phillip Santos, co-founder of the Global Media Project and, according to the press covering our screening, ‘San Antonio author’, picked me up for a late dinner and drinks at the crazily tilted Liberty Bar. It was going to be a full schedule, a good mix of business and fun: a screening of Human Terrain presented by Bihl Haus Arts Gallery (a stone massif built from the outer mission walls of the Alamo), to be held at Trinity University on Friday, followed by a screening and panel at University of Texas – San Antonio on Monday. On the weekend we would head out to Enchanted Rock for a hike and climb.
The Trinity screening was full of anthropologists and other social scientists, poets and literati, pierced and unpierced students, a sprinkling of military from the many bases ringing the city, the head of the local PBS station, and the usual conspiracy crackpots: in other words, the perfect mix. When the first question you get is what kind of kool-aid we’re drinking at Watson to produce such a far-out documentary, you know you’re not in Providence anymore – and in for a good time. We could have stayed all night taking questions, but there was a reception and dinner to follow, where I got to meet, drink, eat, and drink some with the local arts community, surrounded by great Mexican-American art interspersed with framed album covers of the classic bands of my youth, from Sgt. Peppers to Creedence to Blind Spirit.
The next day John and I headed out in his pick-up for Enchanted Rock, but as is often the case, the battle plan did not survive our first encounter, in this case a nostalgic trip to the backwoods music mecca, Luckenbach, Texas. Then we spotted a sign for the new WWII George H. W. Bush Museum of the Pacific in Fredericksburg (adjacent to the birthplace of Admiral Nimitz, itself museologically commemorated), requiring another detour to make our way through a comprehensive exhibition that stretched from Pearl Harbor (historical note: only 39 civilian casualties) to Hiroshima (over 100,000 casualties). It seems on every one of these screenings I stumble upon yet another collective effort to record and celebrate the human capacity for ritualistic killing.
But thank the gods for Enchanted Rock and the high winds that swept all dark thoughts and bad karma to the lowlands below (see pic of Santos in flight, plus group shot taken by German tourist). We descended in a fine state of bliss until we encountered what looked to be Hitlerjugend ascending, boys from the age of five or six at most to teenagers decked out in full fatigues and boots. Upon our query, informed they were the local chapter of the ‘Marine Youth Auxilary’. There’s no escape.
Nothing left to do but find some shredded barbecue pork, head to the local Becker Vineyard, and watch the sun set over some surprisingly good pinot.
The screening on Monday at UT-San Antonio was a mixed bag. The auditorium had been leafleted beforehand – ‘From Marja to San Antonio: Unite Against Imperialist Oil Wars’ – and the crowd seemed ready to rumble at the first hint of any wobbly claim of ‘balance’ in the documentary. It didn’t help that the ‘emergency’ lights added a fluorescent hue to the screen, the low-def projection unit gave out toward the end of the film, and one of my co-panelists announced her animus to white gringos before I had uttered a word. That said, I enjoyed the clarity of the hard line presented by members of the panel and audience, and the Q and A was certainly no more hostile than what I’ve experienced in some of the more homogeneous academic audiences in the Northeast. Some post-panel margaritas smoothed any feathers that were ruffled, the libations serving as omen for our next screening that week, at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Café in New Orleans…