Category Archives: Culture

It’s Getting Uglier

The events last night and this morning in Virginia are terrible signs of the dark evil current running in our culture.

Yes, I said evil.

If while marching by torchlight you wave Nazi flag, give the Nazi salute, shout racist and anti-Semitic epithets, and proclaim Nazi slogans ‘Blood and Soil’, then you are a flippin’ Nazi and you are evil.

That these people are shouting praises top Trump should give ever single member of the GOP serious pause. These are the evil men you have wedded your movement to in order to secure political power. Do you remember when the GOP proudly stood as the ‘moral’ party? What morality are you defending today? What virtue?

The ends do not justify the means.

When the Republicans embraced torture I foreswore all association with that party. You cannot do evil to achieve good and sadly in the dozen years that have passed they have only gotten worse.

I agreed with President Reagan when he named the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire.’ That was categorically true, and now the GOP are becoming their enemies. Not the Democratic Party, and not liberalism, those are not the enemy of Conservatism, the toxic, deadly, and evil ideology of ethno-nationalism, racism, and authoritarianism are the enemies of the Enlightenment, the enemies of true western civilizations. Not that forgery that is nothing more than naked racism behind a modern mask of ‘alt-right.’

This is not about spending bills, and this program or that program; this is a fight for our cultural soul.

Will be you proud of your party, of your movement, of your personal stand?

 

(There are reports that a car, perhaps intentionally, has plowed into a packed crowd protesting our American Nazis. If it was an attack, and one should always wait and watch as early reports are terrible in the reliability, it will not be the last. Overseas we have seen repeated use of cars and truck as weapons are cars are far easier to obtain than firearms. Once the spectacular coverage begins the technique spreads.)

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Details Matter

Last weekends I went with a friend to see the movie Dunkirk. It was his first time seeing the film and my second. (it worked on a second viewing all well as the first.) After the screening as we walked out the theater he pointed to the lobby display and spoke about the rifles carried by the UK and French forces. If I recall what he said correctly the British carried rifles that were made for WWI but that they really weren’t that common in the army by the time of the evacuation and that in the film the French carried newer rifles but in reality they had been equipped with an older model. I theorized that perhaps the director selected these long guns for their distinctive shapes and while they were period correct he went ahead and let them appear in period incorrect numbers.

This has gotten me thinking about accuracy in historical films.

The issue of accuracy in historically set stories is far larger than a single blog post. Hell if you want to dive into the weeds watch the YouTube channel History Buffs which is dedicated to reviewing historical films from an accuracy perspective. What I did think about is how often the details that matter to us are the ones that touch on the subjects and aspects that engage us.

Someone with an interest in fashion will noticed that the character reaching in a pocket shouldn’t be able to because pockets hadn’t been developed yet.

That the battle of Sterling Bridge really should have a bridge will annoy some but not others.

That the destroyers seen at Pearl harbor are ships that will not be built until decades after the war.

That the yellow noses of the German fighters didn’t start until years after the evacuation of Dunkirk.

That the vast sea of white faces on the beach of Dunkirk really should have had more color.

What’s fascinating is that sure if you have an interest in one subject sure you’ll notice the errors there, after all it is your thing but so often the other errors a person will wave aside. That shouldn’t be.

Really, even if you enjoyed Braveheart, and its a thrilling film, or if you are moved by the madness of Amadeus, one should be aware of how they lie about history. If they lie about an area that isn’t your special interest, you should still care.

Accuracy matters, details matters. It is better to get it right and the best case is where art and history are in sync but know when they are not.

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Decidedly Mixed Feelings

When my sweetie-wife and I went to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets one of the previews shown before the film was for Logan Lucky a new heist movie from director Steven Soderbergh. Set in North Carolina against a fictional NASCAR race it is the story of two brothers and their attempt to rob the racetrack on the big day of the race. The trailer had all the requisite elements to spark interest; the troubles the characters are facing, the excitement of the heist, and what looks to be plenty of comedy. The movie boasts an impressive cast, Channing Tatum, a man with fine comedic skills, Adam Driver, Hillary Swank, and Daniel Craig about as far from Bond as I think he can get.

So with all that going for it, why do I have mixed feelings?

Because it looks like that is going to be another film where the elite take a crap on southerners.

Do not take me wrong. I am no confederate battle flag waving, myth spouting, son of the south, but I am from the south. Slavery was an abject evil and that war was about slavery pure and simply. Racism however is endemic throughout our country and because of the South’s sin of slavery that region has become out national sin eater. All that is wrong can be projected upon the south and very little protest is voiced. How many admirable southern white men are depicted in mass media? Just as with the rest of the national people from the south come in all of humanity’s dazzling varieties, good, evil, brilliant, stupid, kind, cruel, all of it.

I hope that Soderbergh’s film has a more nuanced approach to its characters because it looks like a fun film and I want it to be an honest one as well.

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It is not a Distraction

Yesterday President Trump tweeted about banning transgendered persons from the U.S. Military and a number of people declared that the tweets were meant as a distraction, either from the Senate attempting to repeal the ACA or from the Russian election interference investigation. I am not persuaded. Chiefly I don’t agree because it would require a level of coordination and competence that this administration had not displayed but also because it doesn’t fit with what I believe is going on inside this very dysfunctional White House.

In my opinion there are thee factions vying for access, influence, and attention from our man-baby narcissistic president. When you see the president making statements or signing executive orders it can usually be seen as a victory by one of these factions. Understand the factions and you understand who is winning at the moment. Here are the factions presented in no particular order.

GOP Establishment: Centered around Chief of Staff Reince Priebus this faction represents the core Republican Party, you can be assured it’s looking to undo what the Obama Administration had done, cut taxes, and defer to big business in many matters. The recent hiring of a new communications director outside of the traditional GOP personnel along with spokesperson’s Spicer resignations might indicate that this faction is losing influence.

Family Interests: Centered around Ivanka Trump, Jarad Kushner and the president’s other adult children this faction is all about what is good, personally and financially for the Trumps. Their aim appears the be to make the post of president yields as much money as possible for their various enterprises and leverage its prestige to expand their financial dealings. Currently this faction is at the heart of the Russian scandal and appears to be having serious difficulties.

Alt-Right/Ethno-Nationalist: Centered around Steve Bannon this faction represents , in opinion, the most dangerous elements within the Trump administration. This faction is concerned with ‘a clash of civilization’, ‘The West’ versus other cultures, and a near maniacal reverence for a historical version of white western culture that never truly existed. Hostile to diversity, equality, and the modern nation/state they appear to be more interested in tearing down than creation.

(The Legislative Branch has its own factions and they have their own goals and motivations. Perhaps I’ll cover them in another post someday.)

Yesterdays announcement may have come from Trump’s phone but it reeks of Bannon and the alt-right. Of the three factions they are the most focused on traditional masculine and feminine roles. (I think that Vice-President Pence and his social evangelicals have only minimal influence in this administrations and his presence was the work of the GOP establishment.) The wide-scope of the immigration bans is also the work of the Bannon Faction, this latest ban, an attempt to turn back the clock on rights and enforce traditional gender roles, is precisely the sort of thing that motivates the alt-right. It’s not coordination it is that we have several factions in and outside of the administration trying to do all sorts of things and we need to fight several fronts at once.

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What is it About the Genre Movies of the 1950s?

If you are a fan of genre films, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror there a better than even bet that no matter your age the movies produced during the decade of the 50s holds a special place in your heart.

While Universal Horror started in the 1930s with Frankenstein and Dracula by the 1940s they were already being seen as kids movies with their stories becoming more simple and more focused on spectacle. Remember the first ‘shared universe’ of movie is the Universal Horror franchise as the monsters frequently were thrown into the same movie for bigger and bigger fights and thrills.

However once we get to the 50s there is change in the movies. There still were not ‘prestige’ pictures. These productions did not boast A list stars, they struggled with budgets that were too small, and were rarely taken seriously by the critics. And yet these films are ones we still watched more than half a century later. These are the films, beloved and respected, that soulless corporate executives, produced from business universities and without creative artistic drive, that are rebooted, reimagined, and recreated into tent-pole films without the heart, soul, or intelligence of the originals. But why do we love those originals so much? What makes them so different from the bigger budget, more star-driven, and more elaborate movies of later decades? After all how many 70s SF movies, a prolific decade even before the KT Impact of Star Wars, are still being rediscovered today?

I think the answer lies in cynicism, or rather the lack of that bitter philosophy. When we left the 50s behind America entered a period of profound cynicism. The 60’s brought the Vietnam War, civil strife, televised police brutality, and a collapse of established social conventions. The 70’s grew darker with awareness of global pollution, economic shocks, military defeat, and of course Watergate. Distrust of government and nearly all institutions infected nearly ever aspect of our culture including cinema. All our films, including genre ones, took a dark turn surrendering to nihilism and cynicism that masqueraded as wisdom. The 80’s brought us the summer blockbuster, technically born in the 70’s The Godfather, Jaws, and Star Wars, but it took the studios several years to begin chasing them in earnest. Light summer fare that ignored both the cynicism of the 60s and 70s but avoided serious thoughtful stories instead providing adventure as escape.

It’s now surprise that the movies of the 1950s appeal to an idealism that has been absent for far too long. Now we have to be honest and recognize that the 50s were not the idyllic American Summer. It was a period of repression, conformity, and suppressed individuality, but the lure of simplicity is powerful. Against that social conformity genre films of the 50s expressed not only an optimism stripped away in the follow years, but through movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Them!, and many others they critiqued the culture and ourselves. How could such films not last the ages and not continue to find new and wider audiences?

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Rejecting Labels

There are a lot of ways to label people classifying them and placing them in prescribed boxes. Some are verb based, describing people by the actions that they perform such as actor, writer, athlete and so on. Other methods of classification are trickier, relying upon what someone believes, working off their philosophical and political principles. It is this second set of labels that I do not apply to myself.

The trouble with these labels is that the moment you self identify with any one of them it does more that act a short hand for what you may believe it also acts are a boundary for what you are not allowed to believe.

If you self identify as ‘conservative’ then you are expected to not believe in universal healthcare, or social safety nets.

If you identify as ‘liberal’ then you are expected to stand against the death penalty.

The list and possible boundaries are nearly endless. As a public artist I am not going to place such labels on myself. That is not to say that I do not have strong political philosophical positions, clearly anyone who reads this blog knows that I do. But I do not want to be compared and found wanting against an arbitrary definition. Others, speaking of them or me, can use whatever classification works for them. I will continue to argue and put forth the ideas and concepts that I think are right and that work. Call me ally or not, call me an opponent or not, I will stand for what I believe in look to those principles rather than easy labels.

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Two in One Day

Sunday witnessed the passing of two cinema icons; George A. Romero and Martin Landau.

George Romero is perhaps best known as the creator of the modern zombie with the legendary movie Night of the Living Dead. It is amusing that while credited as creating the zombie as we know it today Romero never used that word to describe the monstrous revenants of his film. Due to a last minute title change and clumsy editing of the film’s credit sequences, Romero lost the copyright to his movie and it passed instantly into the public domain. Romero went on to make a number of film most either horror or horror-adjacent but it was the zombies and those movies that brought him legions of undead fans. While Night was the first of the zombie movies, and made for what you might expect to spend on a single episode of a television series, in my opinion it was not the best of his zombie movies. That honor goes to 1979’s Dawn of the Dead. Benefiting from his growth as a filmmaker, writer, and with more resources and stronger themes, Dawn is a cinema classic that is as relevant and powerful today as when it was first released.

Martin Landau had a long and lauded career as an actor and as an acting coach. Depending on your age you may best know him for his roles in Mission: Impossible the original television series, Space:1999, or from his Oscar award winning performance as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s charming biopic Ed Wood. I have read that he was originally offered the role of Spock in Star Trek but turn it down, but I suspect that may be a bit of Hollywood urban legend. It was reported that he turned down the role because he was uninterested in playing a character without emotions but Spock in the original pilot had emotions, it the cold, logical character was the female second in command, Number One.

With or without the Star Trek connection there is no doubt that Landau left his mark on the industry and on the culture.

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Universal Healthcare is not Slavery

So from the left side of the political spectrum that has been an assertion that ‘healthcare is a right.’ For the moment let’s set aside if they are in fact correct with that position. (And no the preamble to the constitution doesn’t establish it, that section has no force of law. It’s what gamers call ‘color text.’) In response to this position some on the right, generally from the libertarian wing, have counter-claimed that asserting that healthcare is a right means making an illegitimate claim on another’s person’s labor and that is de factor slavery.

Slavery? That is an absurd proposition beyond the boundaries of the asinine.

First off, the healthcare professions, doctors, nurse and the like would still be compensated for their labor. t would not be stolen without compensation or consent, so it in now way resembles slavery. It is the height of offensiveness to even suggest such a thing.

Second, all right require the labor of others. You want a right to a trail? That means that there must be judges, District Attorneys, clerks, bailiffs, and a whole host of support personal. You want a right to vote? There has to be registers, clerks, and again a vast support network. A right which is not protected and not enforced is no right at all and that protections and enforcement requires people and their labor.

Where the questions of labor that is compelled is the taxation. Taxes represents the labor of people that has been confiscated to support the public good. There is a great and vigorous debate over what constitutes a public good and therefore what sort of things are so valuable, so essential, that collective we must take some from most in order to support the goal.

There are strong arguments on both side about healthcare and if it is a public good or an individual responsibility, but comparisons to slavery are only for the dim and the deluded.

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An American Birthday

Yesterday was the 4th of July. I spent it with my sweetie-wife in a relaxed and comfortable day off. We went to the theaters and for a second time watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, we enjoyed each other’s company, and we played games. The lack of cook-outs, picnics, and fireworks should be taken as a political statement. I believe that this is a great and flawed nation. A nation that has helped birth great ideal into the world and a nation that has failed to live up to its own great ideals.

There are those who look upon America’s history and stress only her sins. Make no mistake America have great sins upon her honor, most of them dealing with European racism towards the rest of the world. Our founding fathers possessed great insight and aspirations, but they also own people as chattel slaves. Looking only at the sins is a distortion; it is point-of-view propaganda that presents a false narrative.

There are those who ignore the sin and only promote the noble and uplifting elements of American history. With a wave of the hand they dismiss the suffering, the injustice, and the murder committed by this nations. Ignoring those terrible crimes, refusing to acknowledge them as terrible crimes, or placing them in some seal and irrelevant past with no connect to the present is also simplistic propaganda.

This nation has laid out high goals for itself and for humanity. This nation had never achieved those goal in total, it has always fallen short. Perfection cannot be achieved but people, we will also fail but we must always strive for that perfection. In the arts perfection can be the enemy. You may want the perfect prose but you cannot have it. There comes a time when you stop attempting to improve the piece and it must be what it is. This is not true of our nation. The United States of American will never be a completed project. We must always either be rising towards our ideal, or falling into decline.

With every vote to are choosing the path. Either up towards the heights or down into darkness. Where will you take us?

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An Innate Trait does not have to be Genetic

From the right side of my Facebook feed the other day I spotted an article pushing the position that people who are homosexual are not born that way and science proves it. I was skeptical of the proposition and went and read the article.

It fell far short of the bold position but it did rely on a curious fact about human sexuality; that within identical twins the sexual orientation of the pair is not always matched. It follows that if two people bearing identical genetic make-up do not share a trait then their genes do not determine that trait. Or at least is not determined solely by their genes.

The mistake is to think that because something is not solely determined by the genes then it must not be innate to the individual. The growing field of epigenetics has shown us that there are a lot of factors and traits that are set before birth but not because of the presence or absence of a gene but because of gene expression.

The position that people are choosing their sexuality was also the point of a recent conservative op-ed piece I read the other day. The main evidence supplied by the author was that more people are identifying are gay. bisexual, or transgendered than in the past and that this must represent people choosing these label simply because today’s ‘permissive’ society allows them to do so. The author goes on to argue that it our society were not so ‘permissive’ some of these people would reject such things and go on to be happy, heterosexual married people further society. That last element he presented no evidence only an assertion that matched up with his world view.

I found his argument unpersuasive. At the very least you have a diagnosis problem. People often lie on surveys and they often lie on sexual surveys getting good number on such a subject is very difficult now and was more so in years past.

As I have stated in other posts in my opinion it is better to think of human sexual desire as a spectrum, and that most individuals do not exist at the far ends Society can repress expression but that does not change the underlying predispositions. Despite human genetic make-up being basically the same throughout history and around the world the expression of sexual desire has varied greatly. The Spartans carried the same genes as we do today but had a very different set of sexual practices.

So while there is no ‘gay gene’ that doesn’t mean people who primarily are attracted to member of the same sex selected that and it also means that these people who so stridently insist on this false binary choice are very likely not so far out on the spectrum themselves.

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