Mark Palermo

What is Community?

He Was Our S.O.B.
Long Ago Saturday Nights at the Circle 9
The Dark Side of Vaccinations
Wine: Where Ignorance and Pretension Find their Loudest Voice
A 1976 Journey in Search of Self
The Machinery of Mass Dreams
The Outlaw Georgie Bush
Sex Offender Registries Out of Control
Extreme Makeover for Airheads
The Fault Lies not in the Stars, but in Ourselves
Reconsidering George Carlin
If You Think Liberals Are Jerks...
She Couldn't Do Her Chores
Remembering Viktor Frankl
One Day on the Farm-1977
A Fresh Look at Meat
How the Real World Works: A Lesson
30 Bucks for the Human Touch
1929 All Over Again
An Old Man's War, A Young Man's Fight
More Things in Heaven and Earth...
Our Dumbed-down Public Discourse
Bread, But No Roses
Earth's the Right Place for Love
Read This Before Enlisting
Poison Is Good for You: The Fluoridation Scam
Ron Paul:He Makes Too Much Sense
War Is a Racket
Brazil's National Orgasm Day
Calling all Liberals!
Why I Don't Get Flu Shots
What is Community?
Haverhillicus Homocrisicum
If You Wanna Be a Junkie, Why?
Do We Know His Family?
Scam: Youth Sports
A Subsidy for the Human Touch?
How Not to Be Boring
If the Bread and Roses Strike Were NOW
America's Problem with the Body
Columbus Day? or Renaissance Day?
Depleted Uranium Weapons
Mitt Romney: A Clintonian Republican
A Checklist for Conservatives
On Torture and Torturers
Pimp of the Nation
Romney is a Jerk
Hypocrisy and its Champions
The Dumb Society
The Men's Taverns of Yesteryear
On Dittoheads!
Let China Sleep
2004 McDebates
Animal Rights Page
US Wealth Distribution Chart
Public Grief, Private Lives

April 7 marks the tenth anniversary of  the Northern Essex Foreign Film Festival, which my wife, Esther, and I started with the help of the former dean of the Lawrence campus, Kathy Rodger. The idea behind it was simple. Provide community college students a social experience that they miss because they don’t live on a university campus. And do something to build community, because a community college should be more than just a vocational and educational resource, but a cultural presence as well.


Building community. What exactly does that mean? Many young people nowadays have no clue. One student asked me the following question: “Why should I attend a film festival if I can rent the DVD and watch it in the privacy of my own home?” He obviously doesn’t get it. And it’s not his fault. His generation has never known a time without electronic messaging, video games, email and Internet. They communicate through machines. They live mostly in standardized suburban communities, hermetically sealed off from the experiences-both good and bad- that characterized the human interactions of the old ethnic neighborhoods.  In Lawrence, where I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, my generation was the last  to know their old-world grandparents, most of whom were born in 19th century Europe.


One of my grandmothers, for example, was a Lithuanian babushka, and I still remember the delicious black peasant bread she would bake in her kitchen. And from the Italian side of my family, I  remember my grandfather making his own wine in the basement of his three-decker. Looking back on experiences like these, which I took for granted at the time, I feel enriched to have had these connections to people. I go through my life with the memory of the obstacles they overcame, the challenges they faced and their aspirations, and these memories are integrated into who I am, not just intellectually, but viscerally- right down to the soul level. But kids nowadays are confused about what a community is, who they are, where they come from. Too often unconnected to others and to nature, their time and energy are displaced by Internet and television where nothing has context. Some actually believe the Internet is their community. No wonder then that the spirit of our times is underscored by depression, boredom and loneliness.


Something is isolating about modern life in America- and perhaps all industrialized countries. Unless people actively seek and build relationships, they can easily become islands.  The era of private electronic entertainment is upon us, where people are more adept at communicating with and being entertained by machines than with other people. Even the ultimate human contact of real sex is being displaced by the pornography industry, whose worldwide revenues hit 97 billion dollars last year, most of it made on the Internet.


A bestseller came out a few years ago called “Bowling Alone,” by Robert Putnam who was a guest speaker a few years ago at NECC.  Bowling was always a fun sport, which few people took very seriously, and practiced to have a  fun night out with others. But an unprecedented trend has emerged in recent years in the bowling industry in which people have started coming to bowling alleys alone. The author uses this phenomenon as a metaphor for disengagement with community,  the inhibition of  collective  participation in society or what he calls “the erosion of social capital.”


I was reminded what social capital is when my mother-in-law was staying with us a couple of summers ago. My wife is Latin American, as is her mother. And when her mother got sick, a continuing parade of her friends came to our door  to bring food, flowers, to visit, to inquire if they could help her. It continued  every day until she was well again. Latin Americans so often have a finely developed sense of community, possibly because their governments do so little for them, except by default to leave them alone. So people must form associations and build relationships to resolve problems. We Americans used to do that here, but we don’t anymore.


For most of human history, there was the family circle, and its extensions of  kinship and the larger social group- all reinforced by codes, obligations and rituals. People of yesteryear had no choice but to form communities –and fit into them-or find themselves abandoned to nature. That’s the way it was, but buried within the complexities of  today’s mass society, one of our deepest needs is still for community and connection with others.


So where does the film festival come in? We won’t change the world anytime soon by holding  film festivals. But to build community where there was none,  means to start where you are. A cultural renaissance has been emerging  in Lawrence for the past dozen or so years. People want shared experiences. The Taoist sage, Lao-tse, said, “A  journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


April 2007

  • Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.
    C.G. Jung