Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And they call it "news"...

Nadir Of Western Civilization To Be Reached This Friday At 3:32 P.M.
Of course, we as a species have always been fascinated with our own fates, interpreting even vaguely adverse events or signs as portents of some inescapable apocalypse. But the idea that we were hurtling at high speed towards total collapse in the immediate future used to be peddled only by fringe cranks, religious screwballs, and schizophrenics. Now, this has somehow become the consensus - though for anyone looking for ill omens, if reality does even 30% of the work, confirmation bias will do the rest.

Speaking of which, I'm currently cooking up something about how Japan's attempt to "civilize" something inherently barbaric & unnatural will someday contribute to its dissolution as a society. In the meantime, I ask y'all what you'd care to hear more: tunes about the end of days, or junk food?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Attn. Yankee Comrades

If you want to know why this is happening, then watch this - Right America: Feeling Wronged, Alexandra Pelosi's documentary about Republican supporters during the run-up to the 2008 election.

I went through a strange cycle of emotions watching the film. Beginning with gritted teeth in preparation for the inevitable litany of lies & lunacy, I soon felt an odd pity for the people in front of Pelosi's camera. Their earnest, deep-seated, and sincere love for their country, for their culture, for their future was... touching, I'll admit it! These people honestly want only the best for their homeland, and it's hard to begrudge anyone their dreams.

And then, forty-three minutes later, after having heard innumerable innuendos, inaccuracies, and willfully ignorant claims that Barack Obama is a Muslim, a non-citizen, a socialist (as though any of these are inherently bad), a fascist, a one-man sleeper cell, the Anti-Christ, an Illuminati puppet, a pimp, a mobster, a racist, an NLP-employing mass-hypnotist, and quite possibly one of David Icke's lizard people... the small step towards empathy for the right wing that I'd taken was swiftly erased with a retreat to my previous position: that America is being drawn-and-quartered by a gang of megaphone-mouthed, purposefully uneducated Christian fundamentalists, yahoos, self-styled guerrillas, selfish simpletons masquerading as civil libertarians, and sore losers, none of whom can see past their microscopically myopic cultural conservatism or straight-up, old-school racism.

I'm tempted to reiterate my post-election bipartisan stance, but instead I'll keep it civil and say simply that I'm so goddamn glad I never have to live in that country again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This Week in White People Saying Stupid Shit - now with bonus Kanye backlash!

Bill Maher on Obama's big healthcare speech, during the Friday night broadcast of his show Real Time:
It was a great speech. Y'know, when Black Elvis gets jiggy with his teleprompter... (4 second pause for a laugh that doesn't come) there's nobody better!
Elsewhere, Matt Welch of Reason Magazine found Obama's vow to push back against slanderers a "nearly Snoop Doggesque display." When Joan Walsh of called him out for his "totally gratuitous racial imagery," Welch fell back on the ol' I Have Plenty of Black Friends excuse by professing his undying admiration for Mr. Dogg: "I'm from Long Beach..."

It's a pity Maher's too in love with the sonorous hum of his own voice, and Welch is a little proud of his "keeping it fresh" to heed the pointed observation that Maher's own buddy, Chris Rock, made about Colin Powell thirteen years ago - a point that, unfortunately, is too easily tailored to fit Obama.
What do you mean, "he speaks so well"? What, did he have a stroke the other day? He's a fuckin' educated man! ...What voice were you looking to come out of his mouth? What the fuck did you expect him to sound like? I'ma drop me a bomb tuh-day! I be pray-zo-den'! Get the fuck outta here...
Updated Sept. 15th: Sweet merciful crap, this is what I get for posting about white people saying stupid shit before the MTV Awards aired on Sunday night: a tsunami of Twittered racism in the wake of Kanye West's ill-advised, alcohol-enabled (but kinda hilarious) hijacking of the spotlight from jailbait android Taylor Swift. Harry Allen has done the unenviable task of rounding up a depressing array of posts from around the web that go so far as to advocate lynching.

Kanye's bumrush recalls another stage invasion during a highly-publicised awards ceremony: Ol' Dirty Bastard's considerably less topical commandeering of the 1998 Grammys. Perhaps everyone was more relaxed during those halcyon days of the Clinton era, or maybe racists were just more zipper-lipped & self-policing at the time, or quite likely Michael "SOY BOMB" Portnoy managed to steal ODB's thunder, but I recall much bemusement and no outrage (manufactured or otherwise) when Russell Jones swiped the mic to proclaim that, "Wu-Tang is for the children."

Also, that was at the Grammys, an event so devoid of tension or thunderbolts that even accidental spontaneity is met with that quietly insolent eye-roll perfected by the ruling classes and the French. The MTV Awards, on the other hand, are fueled by the screams of dumbfounded teenagers and so have to up the Faustian ante annually, concocting evermore ridiculous & grotesque spectacles to elicit shock & awe instead of yawns. But in its quest to appear freewheeling & hedonic, MTV's "events" are reduced to a dully predictable procession of micro-stage-managed cockteases - so much so that, prior to the genuine purge of badwill, many speculated that the Kayne/Swift collision was staged. Staged or not, the hysterical pitch of the proceedings doubtlessly encourages less measured & more vehement audience reactions, as per below:

There laid bare is the loathsome side of the democratization of communication. Social media as a solipsistic emetic does as much to encourage the laxative expression of people's most splenetic & debased thoughts as to enable reconnecting with old classmates. It's no mere coincidence that now the western world is awash in a rising tide of race-related violence and screeching harpies decrying the collapse of civilization as they knew it. This seedy undercurrent has always existed, as testified by the initial hoots of laughter audible at the onset of Michael Richards' infamous onstage shitfit. But it took the election of a non-white to the highest office in America to trigger the socially atavistic's Howard Beale moment. As Driftglass elaborates in this astute essay:
Because during the Bush years, people... never saw their love of their Dear Leader and their fealty to his Administration as something "political". They saw it as normal. As the Universe being at its proper, wingnut default setting: White, male, fundamentalist Christian, Conservative, flight-suit clad and killing scary brown people.

And once the Dear Leader's reign ended... the natural order of mindless obedience in exchange for a smug and blissful ignorance collapsed.

And worst of all, "their country" suddenly had a Scary Black Man living in their Dear Leader's pretty White House, probably having dirty, Muslim sex in the Dear Leader's sacred, Christian bed and putting his filthy, Kenyan hands all over "their county's" pure, white Constitution.
And thanks to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo chat groups, these reactionaries & racists can clasp hands across time & space and mobilise.

But as Newton's Third Law teaches, there can and must be a push back against this sickness. While the web can easily operate as a Stasi-esque Panopticon ordered upon intimidation & paranoia, it also offers nowhere for racists, thugs, fascists, and obstructionists to hide. There is no excuse to offer for allowing this aggression to stand uncontested. It is all of our responsibilities to live up to Obama's oath: We Will Call You Out On It.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Forget But Don't Forgive

Today marks the eighth anniversary of what was billed as the game-changing cataclysm of this generation, drawing a hard line between the antediluvian giddiness of the '90s and the steady deterioration of the Bush era, panic now seeping up past our knees as the clamor of some mad-dog future grows closer.

At the time, everyone tried with apparent earnestness to react appropriately, searching for some elusive happy medium between the agreed-upon "inappropriate" extremes of Toby Keith and Cassetteboy. And of course, everyone failed.

Eight years later, "9/11" has been reduced to the most overworked political shorthand (though its translation depends very much on which cipher it's read through), the man purportedly responsible & his semi-nonexistent network remain at large, several other nations have been struck by spectacular & tragic attacks, the most heated online argument remains whether or not there was US involvement in taking down the towers, and half the American population seems to feel their own president is a greater threat to their nation than any foreign entity.

The only certainty, the only thing that hasn't vanished in plumes of dust & a whirlwind of dissonance is the anger. Anger at some amoebic phantom enemy, who strikes without explanation or a list of demands; anger that America learned the wrong lessons and become a greater bully that it had been in years (though not even a decade); anger at the maudlin, melodramatic tones in which the event is discussed; anger at the taboo of discussing the event with anything other than reverent, cotton-soft solemnity; anger at anyone who even appeared to exploit the event for box-office receipts or a political boost; anger at anyone who'd undermine the newfound unanimity of a nation in grief; anger at those who'd invoke God to justify either the event or that which followed; anger at those whose denial of God led to the event and that which followed.

Now, so many of those threads of rage have become interwoven that it's near impossible to remember which one we started with. We certainly can't see where it's going, and we see no way of divesting ourselves of it - nor would we want to. We've been angry this long, we want to be see only red until someone cures us (a miracle!) of our crimson blindess... just to make sure it's all been worth the wailing & gnashing of teeth.

Personally, I'm just exhausted of it. It's a beautiful day outside, so I'm going for a stroll. Meanwhile, here is one of my absolute favourite pieces of music, from Nino Rota's score to Fellini's Il Casanova.

Addendum: Anyone up for a rousing game of Jenga?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Trigger Warning

Shakesville is upset about the T-shirt below, on sale through the Onion merch site.

The T-shirt's misadventure, according to SKE, is that "If you have to explain your point, you have failed to make it." Does this make me some kind of intuitive genius that I don't need the shirt explained to find it funny - and still manage to find it funny?

SKE cracks derisive about the T-shirt ad, down to the tagline "*Prostitute Not Included", with what must be one of the most meta phrases ever committed to a webpage:
Must be "ironic".
Yes. Yes it is ironic. That's what bloody satire is: irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity. If every parody or mordant laceration of irrationality required some accompanying literal explanation, then it wouldn't be satire. If human communication were limited to straightforward conveyances of information to be received & digested at face value, what a joyless, antipoetic back-and-forth of dull, dry platitudes life would be, robbed of any antidote to lessen the sting of disappointment, tragedy, rage, or inequity.

What is it about laughter that immediately unsettles people? Why is the very hallmark of humanity so often blighted by the preceding tag "inappropriate"? And if jokes about Catholic priests being sexually predatory scum are understood by everyone except the most verklempt malcontents to be not at the expense of their victims, then why not this T-shirt?

I understand that Shakesville is a "safe space" with a clear policy about appropriate targets for disapprobation. The defining criterion for sanction from mockery is to be among those who are victims of both circumstance and real-world discrimination - homosexuals, minorities, and ergo most certainly victims of sex-trafficking. But then shouldn't stupid people & citizens of the American south also be exempt from ridicule? Surely no one chooses to be stupid (a universal & relative affliction anyway), and there are doubtlessly hundreds of denizens of the Deep South who'd really rather not be there but haven't the means to escape to most sympathetic environs. (Need I raise the spectre of Katrina's victims again?)

There is a loophole at Shakesville that allows "jokes about 'off-limits' subjects... by drawing on irony," which I'd have thought would give the Onion a pass. Oh, wait - the fine print:
Invoking “off-limits” subjects is only problematic when it’s unclear at whom we’re laughing—and if we’re laughing at a woman just because she’s a woman, it’s not funny. (Offensive and uninspired to boot.)
Well, alright then. At least it's clear that irony is allowable only at the base level of, say, anti-abortionists blowing up clinics. Uninspired to boot, indeed. To resurrect one of my favourite Christopher Hitchens quotes:
When a precious and irreplaceable word like 'irony' has become a lazy synonym for 'anomie,' there is scant room for originality.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Vampires Suck

No, this has nothing to do with the ongoing effort to tar-and-feather anyone with a contrary opinion as a metaphysical leech. This has to do with something my wife brought back from vacation.

People often worry about the various diseases we might contract or carry while en route aeronautically - everything from the common cold to swine flu. Scarcely a thought is given to the more pernicious afflictions of the mind we pick up along the way. I, for one, came back from an American wedding a few months ago convinced that super-sized portions were a step towards the palace of wisdom along the path of excess. Then I recalled that Jim Morrison was a half-wit lush, that I didn't want to die of a coronary by age 30, and that a half-dozen gyoza with a side of veggies is a perfectly delectable meal.

Meanwhile, my wife returned from her recent Occidental excursion enthralled by all things pallid and bloodsucking. It started simply enough when a friend passed her one of the Twilight books as a "beach read"; this very quickly crescendoed into an obsession with the popular HBO show True Blood, which is currently staining her corneas nightly as her video nightcap of choice.

Lest my wife appear a trend-swallowing idiot - she's not. As she admits, Twilight is the tripe you read when you go on vacation to a town whose lone "bookstore" is a Sheetz truckstop, and True Blood has attained the ubiquity (also enjoyed by The Sopranos or The Wire) that strong-arms you into watching at least an episode if only to be a part of your friends' conversation.

Now, Twilight is a teen Harlequin novel written by a sex-negative Mormon who hadn't even cracked Dracula when she first sat down to type her way into the wallets & hearts of hormonally-charged naifs across the heartland, so fuck that. That shit ain't even worth dignifying by discussion.

True Blood, meanwhile, is a bloody disappointment.

Yet it started so well: TV auteur Alan Ball hauls everyone's favourite libertine ghouls out of their coffins to reenact the civil rights struggle in all its heated mayhem, within the sweaty, haunted salmagundi of Louisiana. And that title sequence by Digital Kitchen is bitchin' (even if it has all the overt button-pushing & film stock/colour filter fuckery of a mid-'90s music video). The initial four minutes of the series set the scene most compellingly: as talking heads prattle about the "vampire rights" amendment on TV in the background, two all-American idiots almost provoke a convenience store massacre by a good ol' boy (complete with camo & trucker cap) who just happens to be a vampire.

I was to embarrassed to admit that maybe I was going to enjoy this: a show where people just happen sometimes to be vampires! After all, if the show intended to capture the myriad shades of the civil rights struggle, it would have to portray vampires as no less socially omnifarious & ambivalent as real people: rednecks, slackers, business people, parents, and whatnot. Hey, I want to see what kind of a dentist a vampire would make, and besides, it's hardly a leap of imagination to posit lawyers, lobbyists, and certain members of the state department as predatory bloodsuckers.

But no sooner than the star spook, Bill, appears does the show devolve into a dull retread of the cardboard-cutout characteristics worn threadbare by a century of literary & filmic flagellation: leather-bound & pasty lotharios who stare icily from beneath furrowed brows and speak with the affected elegance of a first-year drama student wallowing through a lifeless recitation of Hamlet's soliloquy. There's also apparently a law that requires vampires to listen to no music other than glossy remixes of "Tainted Love" and Nitzer Ebb. What, no Joy Division?

If True Blood's conceptual audacity was to craft a titillating analogy for the civil rights struggle, its vanilla vampires present a problem deeper than driving away seen-it-all audience members: hoary stereotypes, paper-thin & laughably caricatured, grappling for social acceptance & legal equity. In other words, if the show were stripped of its horror story facade and made a literal retelling of the civil rights movement, it would be portraying African-Americans as jitterbugging, watermelon-eating, "yessuh massa," shuck 'n' jiving buffoons. As the top-billed ghoul, Bill is afforded the screentime to develop a more nuanced social context: his efforts to conduct himself as any other rational citizen are met with suspicion by most, enmity by the ignorant, opprobium by the authorities, and even accusations of treachery by his own people (similar to being called an "Oreo"). But Bill is alone in a crowd of cadaverous lechers in black leather trenchcoats & dog collars with an enthusiasm for industrial-tinged rocktronica. How uninspired. How embarrassing.

As a parting thought, does it strike anyone else that there's a larger metaphor nestled in this? Hmm... a new arrival that once bore the promise of shifting paradigms and elevating the discourse to a higher plane of sophistication reveals itself to be little more than the moth-eaten status quo. What does that remind you of?

Just sayin'...