Obligatory Halloween Round-up: X-Files Short List

October 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

We’re in the run-up to Halloween here and I, like everyone else, am busy cramming as much horror and sci-fi as I can during the month in which it’s deemed socially acceptable. We’ve also got the X-Files revival series just a few short months away so I can imagine a lot of folks are, like me, trying to cram as many of the “key” episodes in as they can.

Why now? Who cares? These questions are ridiculous. Revelations of the shocking breadth of the USG’s surveillance programs are still fresh in our minds. Now that social media is a thing, we are bombarded with conspiracy theories from our charmingly benighted friends on Facebook that read a book that one time. We are constantly subject to a startlingly illiterate and childish debate about what is better: faith or science? X Files, in a way, paved the way for this as well as serialized TV like Breaking Bad and crap moody police procedurals like the various CSIs. So really, the show almost feels more relevant than it was even in it’s heyday.

Should that be a surprise? With the public less and less able to draw a cohesive, meaningful lesson from the mass of information that shapes their lives, wouldn’t a conspiracy theory just make things simple enough to process? History is a process without subject. There is no one at the wheel. It’s a hard truth to grasp so it would sure as shit be a comfort to believe in a shady cabal or lone intriguer, someone that was actually steering this bloody thing to some fantastic terrifying purpose. Just watching the recent debates among Republican presidential hopefuls assures us: there is no want for paranoia in this country as we hurtle toward 2016.

So, if you’re anything like me, you know that it behooves us to pour seriously over which episodes of the X-Files were inarguably the finest (If only to help us separate the wheat from the chaff because, I mean, no way, no one wants to sit through 201 episodes and two feature-length films by January 24, 2016 – there’s simply too much TV out there). That is why I’m going to take a moment to insist you make time for some of my absolute favorites. Allow me to be a gushing fanboy for once: (spoiler alert: I think all of the cult favorite episodes – Postmodern Prometheus, Home, etc. – belong in the wastebasket) « Read the rest of this entry »

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“When I look at Facebook, I see a video-poker room in Vegas.”

September 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

Courtesy of The Atlantic

Illustration by Doug Maclean. Courtesy of The Atlantic

I am sympathetic with Franzen’s hatred of social media. I know you’re basically excommunicated from the human community for saying you agree with anything from Franzen but whatever.

It’s not that I’m a Luddite, it’s not that I think somehow our online engagements aren’t “real” and that we’re killing ourselves by looking at our phones or whatever other romantic bullshit keeps getting trotted out because you actually don’t really fucking love science or technology. It’s more because the way these forms of communicative exchange only encourage the sharing of reflexive moral outrage and public shaming when people go “off message,” a sort of “journalism” that is meant to shore up the fragile egos of those reading it. Therefore, if you look at your newsfeed, we are only talking about 3 or 4 things in one of two ways. That is, everyone is:

  1. certain of their own moral righteousness,
  2. shrill, and
  3. intensely repetitive.

When that happens, we are no longer thinking of our positions and they are empty formulas. « Read the rest of this entry »

“Whiplash” Is an Ideological Mess

March 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

Whiplash-4But it was awfully entertaining. Part of the monstrosity derived from the fact that it was so entertaining. The drama which depicts an aspiring musician (whose aspirations are themselves a bit bewildering) being pushed by an abusive teacher tickles a sort of reptilian Horatio Alger reflex in the back of the mind. I know it did for me. For a little while I thrilled to the sight of this young hero rise to overcome this fictional adversity in a fictional America where being the next Charlie Parker is somehow culturally significant.

The film isn’t without its subtle pleasures. Besides the charming, embarrassed performances that went to compose Andrew, the awkward first year student at an elite conservatory, and the eyebrow-scorching invective delivered by J.K. Simmons as Fletcher, the school’s most tyrannical and gifted teacher, the movie was loaded with textural detail. There is the way the instrument cases are lovingly observed as we savor the crisp way the snaps unlock, the reeds are studiously moistened, and the drum kit earnestly adjusted. It’s hard not to feel pleasure watching all of the tools arrayed before us and inventoried.

Then, in a moment near the beginning, we are transported into Andrew’s longing for feminine contact when we watch him watch the core drummer in his class, a competitor throughout the film, delicately brush hair behind his girlfriend’s ear, the camera lingers for a moment on the ear, the organ Andrew will be working to seduce. But he won’t be seducing the ear of the jock’s girl, or even that of his intended girlfriend, Nicole. He is aiming to lure Fletcher.

We see Andrew in his room and in empty studios at all hours practicing until he’s bloody. He is alone, working on himself, building callouses, striving over and against all competitors. But this isn’t a particularly accurate portrayal of jazz or learning. As Richard Brody put it recently in The New Yorker,

In “Whiplash,” the young musicians don’t play much music. Andrew isn’t in a band or a combo, doesn’t get together with his fellow-students and jam—not in a park, not in a subway station, not in a café, not even in a basement. He doesn’t study music theory, not alone and not (as Parker did) with his peers. There’s no obsessive comparing of recordings and styles, no sense of a wide-ranging appreciation of jazz history—no Elvin Jones, no Tony Williams, no Max Roach, no Ed Blackwell. In short, the musician’s life is about pure competitive ambition—the concert band and the exposure it provides—and nothing else. The movie has no music in its soul—and, for that matter, it has no music in its images.

Indeed, that is because music is not the point. What we are witnessing is the American ideology in late capitalism par excellence. « Read the rest of this entry »

Snow Day Movies

February 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

top-20-takenSome stray reflections on watching the “Taken” movies. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the third and have little interest in it so am reserving my opinion to the first two.

Much has been made of the way the films serve as a kind of Western “revenge porn” for 9/11. It is easy to make the connection with Islamophobic trends in French thought and entertainment (as well as w/r/t the “paranoid style” of American politics, a film cycle intended for mass appeal). The movies play on fears of abduction, the trade in women, mistreatment of women (major justifications for initiating a war in Afghanistan which is still not over) by Muslim men.

But besides the obvious, easy interpretation, there is the further insult that the film is the End of History thesis rendered “entertaining.” We have the old world ideal of justice surmounted by Greek drama, a justice based on vendetta, revenge, the endless cycle of bloodshed, bloodshed that can only be circumvented by the high-minded Westerner with his non-failed-state. The Islamic world is ruled by outmoded legal philosophy, and tempestuous passion. Whereas the West is represented by a man whose major characteristic is technical precision (a certain set of skills).

Directing his daughter for a half hour over the phone, giving her specific directions, an ego free of uncertainty, absolutely sure of his technical mastery of the situation (an ideological construct if I’ve ever seen one, the prime offence of Hollywood), the efficient administrator of blood and guts. He is the rise of the technocrat, the consummate professional with a clear narrative. Worse, he is the one who is tired of struggle, he is the one who can renounce violence, yielding to the state’s monopoly on violence, law, normalcy.

The film presents a sort of poorly sublimated staging of the conflict of EU bureaucrats vs. the virile war-like man of blood feuds. If racism also imparts to the other something that is admired, qualities and capacities for enjoyment that the racist no longer experiences and jealously longs for (ancient knowledges possessed by tribespeople and pan-like abandon to urges paved over by civilization), then this film stages a racism that bids a fond farewell for the virility of the ancients while also staging the rational supremacy of modern justice.

The film fondly looks at the supposed energy left behind by Western civilization and now dominated by mechanistic death dealers operating drones. Liam Neeson[s] as the rise of the affectless drone operator.

An Insurrection of the Ordinary: On the Political Unconscious of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King

December 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

pale-king-clip“David Wallace disappears – becomes creature of the system.” – David Foster Wallace, from the appendix to The Pale King

David Foster Wallace’s last novel, The Pale King, unfinished at the time of his death, mines terrain familiar to those who have read and re-read his stirring commencement address to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. In the speech, Wallace advised students to be present to the most mundane aspects of life and that this close attention to those around them, to all of the moments that we resign to autopilot, would reverse our worst tendencies. Close attention to life would reduce our sense of self.

Accordingly, the novel presents a close examination of the unconscious reflexes that make impossible the very thing the despairing, isolated individual finds outside their grasp and hovering just at the edge of consciousness. But the novel simultaneously works to inoculate its audience against a political reading of the deadlock of liberal democracy by shifting the realm of action to the ethical, personal sphere. Railing against the effects of liberalism, Wallace’s work remains firmly planted within it. « Read the rest of this entry »

On Reading

July 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Commuters-Riding-Subway-Reading-Newspapers-Business-People-PhotoWe hear constantly that people read less because their attention spans have dwindled. But people read quite a lot, they just aren’t reading novels.

Much of this is due to our subjective compartmentalization. Our actions must be actions proper (not remaining inert for hours on end) and they must serve a purpose. We want to make use of empty time between activities. The predominant way that reading is justified is by how it enables us to manipulate the world. We read to learn how to do work on life. We read in order to perform a very specific labor that maintains our self.

We read to be flattered, to be sure we know who and what we are, that we have the right politics, the right views, the proper consideration. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Real Illness Plaguing U.S. Healthcare: Inequality

February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Here’s a piece I wrote recently for Its Our Economy. If it ticks you off, I would suggest heading over to Healthcare is a Human Right! – Maryland to find a way to link into the movement for a just alternative to the current for-profit system. If you’re not from MD, contact us anyway. We may have connections to similar movements where you are.

Nearly every week a new facet of the Affordable Care Act comes to light to support the conservative go-to homily: good intentions lead to bad policy. It was a nice idea to give freeloaders the chance to be treated for illnesses they had no chance to avoid (because, you know, genetics), but it’s time to sidle up to the grown-ups table.

The latest element of this cumbersome, overly-complicated bill to stir controversy shows how a profit-driven healthcare system has a pernicious effect on the old-time American religion of upward economic mobility and equality of opportunity. The lens of real estate and finance gives us an interesting look at how our healthcare system is part and parcel of an edifice that enables the rich to get richer and, well, you know. « Read the rest of this entry »