Watching: “Rooted in Peace” (2016)

Like “Out of Print” and some of the other documentaries I’ve written brief posts about, I missed “Rooted in Peace” back in 2016. I rarely go to movie theaters to see things when they’re new, so good ones often slip past me unless I read about them. This one appeared among the choices when I was looking for something about Pete Seeger. I’d never heard of director Greg Reitman, but the film’s description was enticing and the runtime was not too long, so I decided to give it a try.

Reitman’s basic premise is that much of American culture is based on violence and violent attitudes. In the beginning of the movie, he goes to a comic bookstore then a video game convention, looking for works based on the value of peace— and finds that there aren’t any. As he continues looking around, he recognizes that even medicine and hygiene products are portrayed as attacking and killing what would otherwise hurt us. I’d never thought of it that way, but once I did, I realized that he’s right. We do seem to prefer the notion that we fight to preserve domination, rather than trying to understand how to coexist with what’s around us. Where the violent imagery in sports, movies, and video games might be obvious, other imagery is more subtle: we fight weeds in our gardens, our deodorant fights odor, our detergents removes stains . . . It’s all about defeating, killing, and forcing out what we don’t want around us. 

As the film’s title says, the director is looking for a life that is “rooted in peace” instead. It’s an interesting idea, albeit a hard one to sell these days. As Reitman puts it, our culture constantly reinforces the idea that a quality life is based on who and what we can defeat, suppress, or even destroy. It’s difficult to see (or take seriously) the products, clubs, media, activities, and memorials that are built on the value of cooperation, symbiosis, and respect, which leads to coexistence. 

So, what about coexistence? Some people see that question and think, Oh great, here’s another guy who wants to defund the police and abolish the military . . . That’s not what I’m driving at (though the film does use the example of Costa Rica as a nation where demilitarizing worked). What I’m talking about are personal choices: how to manage the plants in our yards, what games to play and shows to watch in our spare time, what school extracurriculars to participate in, which memorial sites to visit on vacation. What if we chose not to support violent imagery, activities, and methods? Maybe if we handle things that way, instead of regarding everything as a battle to be won . . . 


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