Posts Tagged ‘domination’

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retaliate?

July 15, 2010

On Monday night I spent the evening with Mike and Caroline and their adorable 3 year old son Billy, and we had Dominos pizzas, played with Claire’s cat (they were house-sitting for her while she was on holiday for her boyfriend’s birthday) and watched TV.  Between the friendly insults between Mike and myself, the yummy food and the cute trots around the garden with Billy, we ended up having an interesting conversation / I watched an incipient argument between Mike and Caroline about whether it is right to teach your child to hit back when they are hit.

A bit more background to the story: Billy goes to nursery on afternoons during the week, and is in a class with various other kids who are the same age.  His initial reluctance to go to nursery has more or less faded now, and he seems to enjoy himself there and plays well with most of the other kids (as well as trying to sneak home toys in his socks!).  However, there are two little girls called Paris and Jayla who have behavioural issues in the group, and because of these girls’ issues with the rest of the group, they are currently under watch from the head of the nursery.  Now, I don’t really know too much of the details beyond the fact that these girls act mean towards the rest of the children, and Caroline said that she has observed Jayla (the girl in question) acting menacingly towards all of the children and trying to bully them into giving her their toys, or pushing them around.

On Monday, Caroline mentioned that she had asked Billy how he had got on with Jayla that day, and he said that she tried to take a toy away from him and snatch it out of his hands, but he held on to it; in addition, when they were lining up after playtime, she tried to push him out of the line several times but he just stood back in it.  Caroline was proud of this, as it meant that Billy had stood his ground without making a scene or responding directly to Jayla’s behaviour; at no point did Caroline suggest that the girl was personally targeting Billy; rather, it’s a case of her trying to dominate whoever is around in a childish display of power.  Nevertheless Billy has been one of the victims of her behaviour, and although he’s handled it well, who knows if it will escalate or how much it affects or upsets him below his happy-go-lucky demeanour?

Caroline and Mike were discussing this during the evening and it became clear that they had different viewpoints on how to handle this problem.  On the one hand, Caroline was pleased with Billy for turning the other cheek, but she was worried that Jayla might not stop harassing her son and that it might end up really upsetting Billy and ruining his time at nursery.  Mike was worried about the same, but his solution for dealing with Jayla once and for all was for Billy to push her back when she pushed him or tried to take his stuff. Caroline didn’t like this (for what precise reason I don’t know, though I think it has less to do with ramifications from teachers or Jayla’s mother – Caroline can stand her ground and apparently Jayla’s mother is your average young chav woman – and more to do with the ethics of teaching a child to counter violence with violence) and refused to tell Billy this course of action; Mike said that that was fine and that he would tell Billy himself, but it became clear that Caroline didn’t want him to do this either.

Mike could tell that Caroline was getting agitated, and said that responding in a more direct manner might nip the problem in the bud; he was adamant that Billy should not and would not remain unhappy at nursery, and pushing this girl back in retaliation was the best way to get her to leave him alone once and for all. He supported this with a story from his own childhood which resulted in him triumphing over bullies who had made his school life miserable in a similar way; however, in Mike’s anecdote he was 11; Billy is 3.  How young is too young to advocate violence? Is one child pushing another in retaliation considered “violence”?  Does it mean that Billy is lowering himself to Jayla’s level by responding to her intimidation in kind? What might happen if Jayla decides to step her threatening behaviour up a notch?

From the above questions, it might sound like I fall on Caroline’s side of the fence, but actually I don’t.  I am not a parent, and I have not met Jayla; nor is it my place to offer advice to Mike and Caroline.  However, the way that I see it is that Billy, to his credit, has already tried turning the other cheek (as do, from the sound of it, the other kids) and Jayla isn’t giving up. She is a nasty piece of work, and although I don’t think that Billy is a weak child, he is a nice boy and perhaps pushing Jayla back is a primal way of demonstrating that he has some grit to his character.  Moreover, in life you have to protect yourself by any means necessary; at this point Billy has already tried a non-violent approach which has been mature and classy, but it’s not working… now is the time, in my opinion, to send a short, sharp message loud and clear.  Like Caroline, I don’t believe in using violence to get your point across, but at the same time if someone hits me then I will hit them back and I believe that their attack gives me licence to do so.  In the context of retaliation, I don’t think there is anything wrong with Billy pushing Jayla – to sound schoolyard, she pushed him first. He’s tried the passive approach, now it’s time to send a clearer message using a different approach. Although I think that Mike is projecting somewhat when he talks about his own childhood and says that he doesn’t want Billy to be seen as weak (which I think is a little bit of over-psycho-analysis), the result is the same: the goal is to get this girl to piss off, and turnabout is fair play. Like Mike, I have a feeling that from the sound of her, Jayla can dish it out but she won’t be able to take it, and I’m in favour of Billy giving her a taste of her own medicine.

In my childhood, there was one instance in particular when I lifted a boy up by his shirt and ended up ripping all the buttons off it in the process; I was 6 years old.  However, although my mother and his mother (who, thankfully, were friends) did have to come and resolve the situation after class (and we had to sew the buttons back on his shirt!), I didn’t get in trouble because my teacher had seen that my action was a retaliation; the child who got his shirt ripped had yelled in my ear. The moral of this story is that teachers, good teachers know dynamics between their children, and I didn’t get in trouble for a simple act of retaliation. I think therefore that the teachers at the nursery know the score and they wouldn’t hold any retaliatory action from Billy against him; so although I would always go with Caroline’s non-violent, rise above it attitude first, if that fails then I agree with Mike and it is time to hit back.

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Alicia Keys – The Element Of Freedom (album review).

December 6, 2009

Alicia Keys’ new album The Element Of Freedom comes after her biggest success so far, As I Am, in a career which hasn’t had any troughs or lows to date.  Every album she’s released, from Songs In A Minor to the present has explored depth and soul, has combined traditional elements of R&B with current, up to date production and lyrical exploration of love, loss and self-esteem in a genuinely mature fashion that is beyond Keys’ years.  She’s consistently walked the fine line between critical and commercial success, effectively having her cake and eating it since 2002.  Alicia Keys plays the piano like a professional, but is not an entertainer who hides behind her instrument – she takes risks, sings and dances on stage, and has always commanded respect with an element of political and social awareness to boot.  So what does her new album bring to the table?

Like Rihanna’s Rated R, The Element Of Freedom is impossible to divorce from the singer’s personal life context. Keys has suffered some backlash for her love affair with separated-but-not-divorced super-producer Swizz Beatz.  Fans have turned away from Keys’ maturity and moral standpoints expressed in her material to date, saying that she was phony, that she was no better than the singers who dressed and acted like hos, and the lackluster success (i.e. it didn’t shoot straight to #1 as people presumed it would) of first single “Doesn’t Mean Anything” is perhaps because of this.  Despite a simple yet effective video which sticks to the album concept of being free of material things and going beyond all boundaries, the song was solid but seemed like a softer retread of her previous hit “No One”.  Nevertheless, especially since I’m certainly not in a position to judge Keys’ being in love with a man who is attached, the music is far from bad, and second single “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” as well as her collaborations with Jay-Z, “Empire State Of Mind (Parts 1 & 2)” seem to be coming closer to replicating her usual success.

Here’s to hoping that The Element Of Freedom continues Keys’ string of successes.  Alicia said of the album that “”The way that the songs progress are gonna take you on a natural high. I just want you to feel a sense of freedom, I want you to feel out-of-the-box, feel inspired, You’re definitely going to be taken on a trip, I know you’re going to be shocked, you’re going to hear things that you probably didn’t think that I would sound like. It’s a journey.”  Some of this I agree with, some of it I don’t hear myself.  “Doesn’t Mean Anything” and “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” both build to exhilarating climaxes, not because the music is especially bombastic (it’s anything but, though “Broken Heart” has a compelling drum loop that comes closer to bringing Kanye West’s 808 fascination into the 21st century than he himself seems to be able to manage).  Standout tracks “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Love Is My Disease”, “Distance And Time” and closer “Empire State Of Mind (Part II)” all employ soaring melodies that propel the listener to think and to ride their own emotions; Keys’ production and piano backing compliment each song without ever taking centre stage (as happened on occasion in her first two albums).  Its undeniable that Alicia Keys knows how to write a song, knows how to sing a song and knows how to express a song even with a voice that sometimes is limited – she wrings the emotion out of every syllable be it with a whisper (“Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”) or a throaty, heartfelt plea (“Love Is My Disease”).

So the album is solid – but is it really that different?  As I Am saw Keys taking risks and incorporating traditional pop and even rock elements into her smoky R&B soul with stellar results (as well as a couple of lackluster songs), and that sound continues here, but in places incorporating 80s drums and synths – this sound is definitely in vogue (I still struggle to understand why), but at least Alicia Keys sounds less like she is pandering to fashion than most artists – again, this is tribute to her genuine musicianship.  I find it hard to say that I am “shocked” by anything on this album – ok, for the first time her intro is a spoken-word explanation of the album title and concept rather than a pianist showcase.  Her collaboration with Beyoncé, “Put It In A Love Song”, is fun and the closest Keys has ever come to club-ready, and Beyoncé’s voice and swagger doesn’t dominate the song as I might have feared – the two artists compliment each other perfectly and adeptly ride the compelling bassline. But here is where the surprises end – opening track “Love Is Blind” performs the same function as previous opening tracks “Go Ahead”, “Karma” and “Girlfriend”, in that they are uptempo, loop-driven productions that display the singer’s confidence before she delves into her vulnerability later in the album.  “Unthinkable (I’m Ready)” sounds almost too similar to The Diary Of Alicia Keys‘ “Slow Down”, and while “This Bed” provides an interesting diversion on Freedom, its The-Dream-esque synths and piano are really echoing Prince (which is 80% of what The-Dream does anyway) – and Alicia Keys already covered Prince at the start of her career (“How Come U Don’t Call Me”).  The album ends on a legitimate high with “How It Feels To Fly” and “Empire State Of Mind” exploring her ideals of freedom, exhilaration and expressing her love for New York – but she’s even played those cards before, at the end of As I Am (“Sure Looks Good To Me”) and The Diary (“Streets Of New York”).

As stated earlier, the most interesting aspect of the album, lyrically speaking, is matching the songs to Alicia Keys’ newly revealed love for Swizz Beatz, never mind his marriage.  Her feelings about it resonate through the titles – “Love Is Blind”, “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Love Is My Disease” and particularly “Unthinkable”.  Lyrics such as “Some people might call me crazy for falling in love with you” (“That’s How Strong My Love Is”) and “I’m wondering maybe could I make you my baby / If we do the unthinkable, would it make us go crazy? / If you ask me, I’m ready” (“Unthinkable”) speak for themselves.  Obviously, as members of the public there’s only so much we know about the situation, and only a certain percentage of that is remotely true – but the artists put their souls on a record and we can’t help but speculate, at the same time as we feel the songs and apply them to our own lives and emotions.

So The Element Of Freedom is, generally, more of the same from Alicia Keys.  It’s not nearly as risky as Keys herself might proclaim, and it’s not the best album of 2009, but it does provide some moments of genuine exhilaration, and there are plenty of strong tracks to make the weaker ones (“Like The Sea”, “Wait Til You See My Smile”) nothing to gripe about.  What’s more, Keys has found some freedom in being brave enough to write about her love and experiences in a new way – and if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past three months, it’s that love is stronger than anything and I can feel most of what she’s singing about.  Her piano playing compliments the songs without ever becoming a gimmick.  And anyway, after all, if Alicia Keys is providing more of the same, she’s still doing a damn sight better than your average R&B chick.  The lyrics are still simple but deep, the music is still soulful yet current, the songs are still well-written and hooky.  I believe Keys has a better album in her yet (The Diary Of Alicia Keys is still my personal favourite), but I thoroughly commend her for not dipping in quality throughout the past 7 years.