Saturday, February 4, 2012

Let Me Help You---Part 1

I could seriously talk for hours about my opinion on The Help---and I will...well I won't talk for hours, just write something you can read in 5 minutes before moving on with life. And I'll do that. Next week...I think. Right now I’m getting ready for Chicago Bear Lance Briggs to read at Elk Grove Library for Dr. Seuss Day on Friday, March 2nd at 3:30 pm, and that prep takes precedence over my opinion. For now you’ll have to be satisfied with info on how to prep book-t0-movie programs.

The Help

The book
A copy of the book discussion questions
A copy of movie discussion questions (see below)
Popcorn (food is always good)

1. Advertise. Since we’re not allowed to actually say the title online, this can be tricky. In the past I’ve called for clarification, and their guidelines DO change from time to time, but in general you can mention the movie’s year, the main actors, and a general summary of what the movie is about---plus put in the Telis phone number for those who can’t figure out that the latest animated feature with the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen is Toy Story 3. (If you have kids around you probably can’t even remember where you set your keys.) Put flyers up around the branch, and push programs at other programs. Example: I’ve set out flyers for programs in the meeting room while they’re doing tax help. I also pressed more flesh than a politician in hopes I wouldn't be talking to an empty room.

2. Read the book. Seriously. It helps when it comes to discussing things. Otherwise you sound like an ill-prepared high school student. (“I love The Chocolate War because I love chocolate. Chocolate is the best thing in the world. Don’t you love chocolate, too? I ate some this morning.”) With 15-20 programs to deal with per storytime month, I set aside storytime-free December to read it before I was once again bombarded by toddlers.

3. Go over the book discussion questions. There are others online, but I started with these.

4. After watching the movie be prepared to discuss the book and the movie for a loooooong time. The meat of our discussion lasted for over 40 minutes. It was nearly 4 pm when the last people straggled out of the room---the movie had started at 12 noon! But, the plus side of viewing The Help is that everyone feels guilty about leaving you to clean up by yourself, so you suddenly have all these people putting away chairs and asking if they could sweep.

Before doing this program I was concerned patrons might come in upset about the movie. Then I realized that most people hate trying to park in our parking lot and wouldn't come here unless it was for something good. The people who showed up in general had read the book and they were ready to articulate their feelings without beating one another with sticks. I started out with the book questions, and we continued on from there.

My made up questions:

What was your favorite scene in the movie?

What book scenes would you have liked to have seen included in the movie but were omitted?

What parts of the movie/book bothered/disturbed you?

How do you feel the movie could have been better?

Describe your reaction to hearing Skeeter’s mother, who did not work, cook, clean, run errands, raise her own children, or even provide her own food items for fundraisers denigrate African American domestic workers as “only being in it for the money.”

Upon finding Jim Crow literature in Skeeter’s bag, Hilly confronts her and states, “There are some real racists in this town.” Did you see this as Hilly being a hypocrite, or did you take this as a veiled threat? Please explain your reasons why.

What type of stereotypes did you see in the movie?

Minny mentioned that the maids were afraid to ask for minimum wage and their employers were not doing Social Security set asides. What are the implications of such practices today?

What do you feel would best describe your interactions with “The Help” of today?

Do you feel, in regards to today’s domestic labor, that our interactions with them are fine or are they tinged more with racism, sexism, classism, or something else? Explain your answer.

Motherhood is described as the “toughest job in the world.” People say if mothers were paid they would receive anywhere from $40,000 to over $100,000. Yet the median wage of a child care worker in 2008 was $9.12, or less than $19,000. Why do you feel there is such a large discrepancy between the two numbers?

Are you the help? How do you feel you are treated?

What are some things we can do to better our interaction of those serving us today? (Hint, if you come into the library and don’t get your way, don’t scream, “My taxes pay for your job!”)

General topics discussed:

Hypocrisy. The white employers were raising money to feed African children yet were demeaning their African American employees. Was it that they just didn’t get it, or that fundraising was all part of the show?

Race. That actually took up a lot of our time.

Mothers as being universal figures. (Skeeter’s mom sounded like half of our mother’s---“You’re eggs are dying!”)

Other movies that had unsettling relationships between employers and domestics. (Crash stood out.)

Redlining and segregation. I learned in one college class that upper class blacks actually live in neighborhoods with greater poverty than lower class whites due to segregation. One a neighborhood reaches about 12% black, white flight takes place. My hometown (Chicago) was recently declared the most segregated city in America. When you look around your neighborhood, what color faces do you see? Have they changed dramatically?

Female roles and sexism. Skeeter wanted a career. Elizabeth Leefolt was clearly not cut out for motherhood. Yet during this time period women were not only expected to get married and have children, women were commonly fired once their pregnancies started to show. One patron discussed how not only did potential employers ask her if she was pregnant when applying for an interview, they asked her for the date of her last period!

For my opinion on The Help, stay tuned…

Happy Super Bowl!

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