Saturday, February 27, 2010

Red Words From the Little Black Book

I'll support this Lady Gaga if it's what the people want. - Sen. Scott Brown

Sure my constituents were upset when I killed the public option, but I was promised 30 years of margarine and I will have it if I have to walk over a river of boys. - Joe Lieberman

Moose! Indians! - Jimmy Carter on his deathbed

"Nothing in the world is desirable, yet everything is so bitterly fought over." Even Markel on the BBC television series The Office

Why let a secret prison go to waste? - Pres. Barack Obama

No Hungarian will ever truly be happy! - Bela Tarr

I will flesh search all the communists!- Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs. - Jay Leno

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Sam Tanenhaus wrote a if blundering article in the NYT (truly our dependence on the NYT is the most disgusting aspect of this blog) about the cultural implications of Harvard PhD biologist Amy Bishop's senseless murder of her colleagues. The article is most interesting for its disturbing insight that "Dr. Bishop... provides an index to the evolved status of women in 21st-century America", that is, the fact that sexual victimization and gender-based discrimination are no longer necessarily the most likely reasons that a woman might become a pyschopathic killer. Now, thanks to the advancement of women in the workplace and universities, women have the privilege of potentially becoming psychopaths for the same reasons as any normal (male), potential psychopath: social alienation, economic marginalization, prolonged work-related stress, professional failure, and a dash of neurological imbalance. Tanenhaus astutely points out the way that the macho bias of our collective imagination (and crime fiction in particular) has foreclosed our ability to imagine this insidious development of (particularly middle-class) female emancipation. However, if all Tanenhaus' demand for equal representation for "normal" female psychopaths amounts to inscribing this new development into "ancient figure[s]" of the "mother lioness" protecting her cubs, as Tanenhaus approvingly quotes crime writer Chelsea Cain, then it seems we've made no progress at all. Dr. Bishops achievements will prove for naught.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bad Leftenant

"In the most recent turn of the dialectical screw, there seems to be emerging a trend of European art film directors making Miramax-level sequels to macho American crime films. First there was Herzog's brilliant "reimagining" (as the marketing vampires say) of Abel Ferrera's Bad Lieutenant, and now rumors are circulating that Danish provocateur Lars von Trier has been talking to Martin Scorcese about making a sequel to the latter's 1976 film Taxi Driver. The rumor is that the film would feature the now-sexagenarian Robert DeNiro reprising his role as the homicidal loner Travis Bickle. I've always regarded Taxi Driver as the most interesting example of a fundamentally repugnant cinema. Scorcese's early work, with its machismo and depoliticized narratives of urban poverty, can be reduced to a thought experiment: what if we took the revolutionary political consciousness out of Italian neorealism? Taxi Driver is certainly his most critical film, by which I mean, since Scorcese is the Enemy, his most self-critical film, even if it is so in a merely 'unconscious' way, that is, in a way that is only real for me as I project my beliefs onto the film. One would think that the only reason von Trier would take on a classic of American (sorry, "United Statesian") cinema would be to destroy the cinema of this country which he so openly reviles from the inside, as he attempted more modestly in his "Land of Opportunity" films Dogville and Manderlay (the misogyny of which is probably the only thing Scorcese and von Trier have in common: can you imagine them having a conversation?). But maybe not. Perhaps von Trier, like Herzog, is genuinely drawn to that one really transcendentally great thing about American crime cinema: its misanthropy."

- Roger Ebert

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bathetic Fallacy

"Thanks to man-made climate change, the bathetic fallacy--the literary technique of using inclement weather to suggest an atmosphere of dread, corruption, amorality, or impending doom (eg the heatwaves in Kurosawa's Stray Dog or Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing)--can no longer be considered a mere poetic contrivance. The volatility of local weather patterns not only provides the perfect metaphor for the state of terror and moral anarchy we live in today, it is a causal result of the latter, of our gluttonous consumption of hydrocargons and our lack of desire or political will enough to limit our decadent ways."

- Al Gore, in a speech to the National People's Congress of China

One Divides Into Two

When trying to know your enemy, don’t look to where you disagree. This is why they are your enemy, and you know all this already. Look to where you agree.

This article, about widespread bipartisan support for food stamps, states pretty clearly (though, as always, by accident) why the right and the liberal left can agree on funding food stamps.

Wisconsin’s former governor, Tommy G. Thompson, a Republican, boasted of cutting the cash rolls, but advertised the food stamp rise. “Leading the Way to Make Work Pay,” a 2000 news release said… In a given month, nearly 90 percent of food stamp recipients still have incomes below the federal poverty line, according to the Department of Agriculture. But among families with children, the share working rose to 47 percent in 2008, from 26 percent in the mid-1990s, and the share getting cash welfare fell by two-thirds.

Force people into low paying jobs and then make sure they can eat. A hungry worker is a revolutionary; a dead slave is useless.

- No Innocents

Monday, February 8, 2010

Stupor Bowl

Ah, the Superbowl, the one day of the year where Americans sit on their asses for five hours, gorging themselves and watching tv, and actually critically engage the commercials that every minute destroy consumer choice and rob Americans of their individual desires. In a society where importance and expense are synonymous, it is the ‘most important’ advertising day of the year. In short, Superbowl commercials are the most concentrated spectacular display of American fears and desires, (“fears” because what do commercials do other than replace fear with desire?) as seen by the capitalists who produce them.

This year the most controversial ad was supposed to be Focus on the Family’s anti-choice propaganda, but it played almost even-handed in comparison to the onslaught of misogyny, alienation and misanthropy on display in the other ads. Audi presented a fascistic future in which “green police” would arrest you for using the wrong light bulb. Dodge offered up a series of men staring straight into the camera, while a voiceover droned in miserable monotone about submitting all of their free will and happiness to their bosses and their wives, with the car being tagged “Man’s last stand”. Budweiser had a thousand people turn themselves into a human bridge a la Buzby Berkely, or more accurately Albert Speer, so that a Bud truck could arrive at their bar, where they could then buy the beer.

Perhaps the most symptomatic ad of the evening was one from Bridgestone tires. A car speeds across a post-apocalyptic landscape, and stops at a roadblock, where a leather-clad cyborg-ish man declares in a menacing accent “Your tires or your life.” Suddenly, the passenger door opens, and a sexy, post-apocalyptically (which is to say scantily) clad woman stands, bewildered, outside the door. The car screams away, and the man cries :“Your life, not your wife!”

On display last night in commercials by Doritos, Budweiser, FloTV, Dockers, and others was not the standard misogyny of advertising: ie, a sexy, bikini-clad girl standing next to pizza. These were narrative ads depicting men being made miserable by their wives and girlfriends, with the product being promoted as a solution to this misery. Rarely since the end of the Bush administration has such straightforward contempt been on display in every home in America.

The New York Times, in a typically weak critique, has pointed out this misogyny: “There seems to be a theme in many of the Super Bowl spots: the need to reassure men that they are as manly as they hope they are… [the Dodge ad] showed men thinking to themselves about the women in their lives. The thoughts were not of the type to win plaudits from feminists; they were grudging and stereotyped.” But the Times failed to realize why these men need to be ‘reassured’. Or rather the Times, as always, failed to ask.

Today, with unemployment, political impotence, debt and fear for the future at an all time high, Madison Avenue can no longer sell with images of affluence and happiness. The distance between the reality of working class lives and the dream image of superbourgeois luxury has become too great. Even Coke ran an ad with the Simpsons’ Mr. Burns, archetypal arch capitalist, being foreclosed out of home and possessions. Americans (men and women, because in a society in which misogyny is so deeply ingrained, women self-identify as sexy hate-objects, and like it) see themselves in the landscape of the apocalyptic Bridgestone ad, which echoes the worlds of such recent movies as The Road, Book of Eli, 2012, etc. This year advertisers could not even promise the lie of affluence and happiness being one new car away. Instead, they can only offer their products as ameliorators against the degradation of 21st century America. Desperate to increase sales, advertising must make visible and obvious its most powerful tools, hate and alienation, in order to rationalize buying new tires, or more beer, or better pants.

But if advertisers feel the need to turn up the heat, perhaps it is because they unconsciously sense that the current state of affairs will be bad enough to allow the alienation they now visibly exploit to slip away. Advertisers fear an awakening of Americans to the material reasons for their suffering and thus to a moving away from the mad, spiraling self-consumption of the last thirty years. To prevent this, advertisers must make sure that the misery of American consumers remains a spectacle, an image that can be bought and sold, so Americans keep groping for their wallets instead of their guns.

-- No Innocents