Over the past few weeks, it has become painfully apparent to the community within Claremont consortium that change does not come easily. Change is constant, often challenging or even unwanted, and ever present within this community, but when demanded it tends to come slowly. Although a slew of groups are in the midst of making a call for progress across the different colleges, the one that has had the biggest impact of late is the Scripps RA strike. In the wake of a loss on campus, the RA’s drafted a list of grievances. They felt that resolving these issues would have averted the death of a valued member of the community and that it was far past time that they were remedied. Though the history of the issues surrounding their demands is infuriatingly complex, their solutions are well thought out and reasonably straightforward. Their strike ignited a school wide solidarity movement, leading to a tour guide boycott days in advance of admitted students day. It seemed as though the Scripps administration had been forced into a corner where they would give into the students’ demands and we would finally see the changes we had hoped for.
The president met with the RAs to discuss their demands, assured them that these things take time, and sent them on their way by saying the college was trying to improve things to the best of their abilities. Life on campus resumed as usual.
Aristophanes’ famed comedy Lysistrata has served for centuries as a humorous example of a protest movement. The role of Athenian comedies was to offer criticism of an unresolved political problem without fear of punishment. Generally, the solution within the end of the play was not meant to be taken seriously but did shed light on the correct course of action to resolve the issue at hand. Though the issue at stake in Lysistrata –and Athens in reality– was a war between the Athenians and their rival city, Sparta, the parallels can be seen between this and recent events within our own lives. Often in the face of an unrelenting systematic problem, the best form of protest seems to be drastic action that forces those in power to enact change. In ancient Athens, the solution was for the women on both sides of the war to go on a sex strike until the men made peace. The 2015 film Chi-Raq mirrors the plot of Lysistrata in modern day Chicago, where the girlfriends of rival gangs go on a sex strike of their own until all the men declare peace.
Though both Lysistrata and Chi-Raq are primarily comedic in the way they present real issues, the strike, and the resolution, the conclusion of both leaves something to be desired. The simplistic way in which the film and the play conclude with a tidy resolution to an incredibly complex issue is not only unrealistic but it seems to demean the suffering of those who endured the violence and how difficult it can truly be to enact meaningful change.
In Lysistrata this abrupt ending and resolution seems more impactful than in Chi-Raq. The intricacies of the Peloponnesian War are now lost on us, since the war occurred centuries ago, which makes the inherent message behind the play far less complex. The way we see it, there was a lengthy and pointless war that would not end because of men’s pride and stubbornness. Once the women used their assets and ingenuity to force a resolution, it was pretty easy to force the men to agree to peace. In all likelihood, this issue was a significantly more complex for the Greeks and if a sex strike had happened in reality it would not have fixed the war. However, it seems as though the point of this comedy was to poke fun at a war that everyone would be happy to see the end of. The solution was, essentially, that simple– everything would be better if there was peace. It is ridiculous how rapidly it is resolved but it is, at the end of the day, a ridiculous play.
Chi-Raq follows the framework of Lysistrata but it is a completely different story. Black on black violence in the south side of Chicago is not an issue to be trivialized because to us, it is a far more complicated issue than the Peloponnesian War. There are two forces at war in Ancient Greece: the Athenians and the Spartans. Gang violence in America can never just be simplified to two rival gangs; there will always be greater forces at play that are deeply rooted in America’s racist history. Spike Lee attempts to acknowledge this in fleeting serious moments throughout the film, yet they never fully flesh out these issues. The moments of severity feel awkward when mixed in with the comedic, raunchy sex strike. On top of all this, the film ends with all of these complex issues tied to systematic racism being magically resolved somehow. All the men in Chicago give in to the women, the gangs lay down their guns, and peace reigns. Yet no explanation is given about how exactly everyone’s problems are now fixed. Instead Demetrius, one gang leader, is arrested in some bizarre gesture of resolution. Ultimately, the conclusion to Chi-Raq is more insulting and disappointing than anything. While the rapid spoof ending to Lysistrata matches up with the inherently comedic nature of the play, the ending of Chi-Raq does not seem to do justice to the modern issues and struggles that it attempts to encapsulate.