The New McCarthyism

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/report-russian-propaganda-effort-spread-fake-news/2016/11/25/72eb461c-b33a-11e6-bc2d-19b3d759cfe7_story.html

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(I will not be using the term “liberal” because the historical meaning of that word is two-fold: either economic liberalism meaning free-trade capitalism or a focus on the civil rights of the individual. This current wave of Leftism does doesn’t seem to care about either of these things).

I’ve watched for some time as the American Left has drifted further and further away from any kind of historically leftist philosophy that deals with issues of the working class, protecting unions and social justice. Instead, the New Left focuses on groups of people defined by their difference. This is not social tolerance. Historically, the Left in America fought for social progress, which meant applying individual rights as detailed in the Constitution to those had been disenfranchised. This meant winning women the right to vote, it meant securing the rights of black children to go to the same public schools as white children. It meant protecting the rights of labor unions to meet and express their issues with management. It meant a lot of things, many of them beneficial for all Americans. This is no longer so in the New Left.

In the New Left, some groups are not tolerated. Some groups are not accepted. Even if the rationale for this is that some groups have oppressed other groups, it doesn’t work to punish the oppressor groups, any more than it works to punish all police officers for the horrible, deadly actions of a few.

These groups no longer have meaning in our system of protected cronyism and media-filtered echo chambers. We as groups and as individuals have made silos for ourselves in the public sphere, in order to not have to face the very ugly reality of American life.

Sometimes, I like to torture myself by watching videos on YouTube of millennials melting down from some perceived oppressive action or, more often, words. So often, the students I see are simply responding to words from those whose views they see as invalid. Check out videos of university students protesting lectures given by Ben Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro is one of the most reasonable, non-incendiary  of the conservative apologists. He is an author, radio show host, and frequent lecturer. Yet, at many of the American colleges he visited last year, he was met with dozens of protesters, who were calling him things like “white supremacist,” and “misogynist.” From what I can tell, he is neither of those things. He simply believes in smaller government and personal responsibility. He is not a fan of social welfare programs and feels they create cultures of entitlement and dependence. He is a fan of personal freedom, individualism and other traditional conservative values. He is not a radical right-wing thinker.

However, during his 2015 tour of American colleges, he was repeatedly met with protesters shouting extreme accusations. It seems these people  had made up their minds about him and did not want to hear what he had to say. Here’s the scary thing: they did not want others to hear him either. Plenty of students came out to hear him. College Republicans, conservative groups or whatnot. But the protests by these Social Justice Warriors stopped or put on hold many of his lectures. Shapiro is a smart enough guy to know he has to engage people with whom he disagrees. And he’s a good debater. His lectures include a Q&A period after he talks, so that wasn’t the objection. The objection made was that as a right-leaning Republican he was by definition a misogynistic, hate-mongering, and racist.

This is where this activity passes from protest into censorship. These leftists don’t wont debate. they want to shut down debate. We’ve gone from agreeing to have a political discourse where different viewpoints can be safely presented to a place where one side feels entitled to shut down those who do not agree with them.

During the insanity of this last election cycle that saw the rise of Donald Trump, there were countless protests against him. in general, these protests centered around him being a “racist” and “misogynist”. There was a lot of anger, but very few ideas. Is the man racist? I don’t know. Nothing he has said against illegal immigration meets the definition, in my opinion. But there is some murky stuff in his past as a landlord. So, maybe. Is he misogynist? Very likely. He certainly seems to have a distaste for fat or bossy women, and especially Rosy O’Donnell. I found what he said about being able to grope women at will due to his great wealth to be gross, inappropriate and entirely in character with the Trump America has known for the past 40 years. So, no surprise there.

I found most of Trump’s speeches to be pandering and jingoistic. He promises a better tomorrow through a return to the past. Nothing new there. It’s one of the age-old tropes politicians use to engage disenfranchised voters. Is there danger here? Danger that a demagogue will ignite nationalist fires, stoke the flames of xenophobia and other hidden things? Yep, you bet there is. But denying these things exist, or willing them away doesn’t really make them go away. There still there.

One might suppose that many disaffected people, seeing so little of themselves and their lives reflected in the MSM, were ripe for exploitation by a media master like Trump. Mr. “I love the uneducated” learned how to speak in almost magical tones, with just the right vocabulary, just the right cadence, to reach a forgotten demographic in America.

When you disengage from millions of people. When you imply that they aren’t needed anymore. That one-third of Americans are a “basket of deplorables,” it seems likely they will divest from the mainstream culture. That they will stop trusting what the pundits and news anchors tell them. It tends to make the distrust and paranoia surrounding modern politics worse. Is that what we need right now?

 

The New McCarthyism

Voting in Bellingham: America on November 8, 2016

download.jpgSo, America isn’t looking so great these days, huh?

People are angry. People are entitled. The economy sucks. People are suffering. People are blaming other people for all that is wrong with our country.

But here, in Bellingham, Massachusetts, I witness Election Day 2016. Thousands of people coming and going peacefully, voting, holding the door for each other, making sure wheel chairs are on hand for the disabled or elderly. A member of the local PTA selling doughnuts and coffee to support the high school’s sports teams.

A few hardcore politicos standing by the entrance of the driveway. Four or five Clinton supporters, for some reason all elderly men, holding blue “Clinton/Kane” signs and waving in a friendly manner as we drove by.  A little ways away from them, a single Trump supporter, his sign on a long stake, so he could hold it up high. As I drove by him, with my window rolled down, he calls out amicably, “Thanks for voting today!”

Sure, the choices (if you only consider the major part candidates) are egregious. They are both nasty, selfish, power hungry, sociopathic individuals. One, a career politician who honestly feels she is entitled to the oval office because she has done her time in the political machinery, has kowtowed to the current president, — because it’s her turn. One the other hand, we have a phony populist, a reality TV star, a huckster, the P.T. Barnum of modern day politics. Between the two of them, they’ve pretty much destroyed any chance of discussing real issues during this election cycle. Instead we are left the choice to vote for whomever we consider to be the lesser of two evils.

But as bad as the discourse has become, as sucked dry of meaning or as mean-spirited, we are still a democratic republic, the only one in the world that explicitly protects the rights of individual people to speak their mind, practice their religion, and pursue their happiness.

And we are voting in peace, without fear of recourse. And somehow, against all odds, I feel a surge of hope.

 

 

 

Voting in Bellingham: America on November 8, 2016

The End

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/21/trump-booed-for-calling-clinton-corrupt-as-bipartisan-dinner-turns-sour

2016. The year America gave up the ghost.

Are the two people running for president actively trying to destroy our republic? One is asserting that our election system is not sound. The other is suggesting that Russia has a hand in the elections. Do these selfish fools not realize how crazy, how dangerous, this kind of talk is?

It seems that nothing, no concern for the state of our democracy, will stop these two old, out-of-touch bumbling fools from wagging their ancient gums at each other. You know what? if I acted like either of these idiots at my job, I’d be fired. And these are running to be the leader of the country. Can you believe this shit?

Hillary is right there in the mud with Donald, slinging away.And I know, I know, she’s the smart one, she’s the experienced one, she’s the one who knows what she’s doing. And yes, she is. But she’s also evil. Attempting to shut down Assange and Wikileaks (site), rigging the primary election, being as corrupt and compromised as Richard Nixon — these are bad things, very bad thing. And this is not even counting the Benghazi affair, her constant chicken hawking for more wars and military intervention, her acceptance of money (lots of money) from billionaires such as Saudi Arabian princes and oil magnates (http://www.wsj.com/articles/foreign-government-gifts-to-clinton-foundation-on-the-rise-1424223031).

I’m so afraid for our country right now. Our political discourse is in the gutter. All we can do is yell at each other, use hateful speech with each other, there’s no empathy, no understanding, and no focus on the real, serious issues facing the middle class and poor people of this country.

Both sides in the current debate are corrupt and fueled by anger.

At its worst the “left” in America is obsessed with identity politics but devoid of justice, obsessed with equality but uninterested in economic opportunity. Yes, we had Bernie and some real progressives supporting him. He did talk about the economy and how the working class is suffering in this country. But he had the primary taken from him by a crooked system and was forced to support HRC.

The Republicans and independent conservatives who have latched onto Trump seem to view him as some type of last great hope for America. The nature of their identification with him is strange. Why do poorer and less educated people identify with him? An entitled rich person, real estate mogul with a trophy wife on his arm. Could it be that he represents what they want out of life? What they could have had if their lives had gone better? Is it a coincidence that Trump is a reality television star who famous for being flamboyantly rich? They seem to believe in him and his message (though it’s not always clear to me what that is) so firmly that they don’t hear some of the troubling things he says.

Why is it a surprise to anyone that Trump is disrespectful to women, that he may even be guilty of sexual assault? Hasn’t he always had a reputation as a womanizer and something of a creep? Is it Trump’s anti-PC rhetoric that attracts them? Is it the fact that he says whatever comes into his head?

But what really makes me angry is Trump is a creation of our mainstream media. the very media that seems to revile him so much. Were it not for thousands of hours of free coverage, and constant regurgitation of every stupid thing he’s said during this election process we wouldn’t have him running as the Republican candidate right now. Yes, he hijacked the primary process, hijacked the Republican party, but where did his power to do this come from? Was it his millions of dollars he was spending? Was it a concentrated media campaign, focused ads, airtime? No, it was free coverage by CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc. that brought us this monster. And you know why? Because Trump sells. People enjoy being outraged. They enjoy watching the train wreck.

Do we really consider this a free and open election? A democratic election? When we are forced to choose between two such terrible candidates. I this really the best we as a society can do? Is the enforced narrative that is repeated by our MSM over and over reality? Or is it just politics as entertainment? Just another echo following us down an empty chamber, while both our civil liberties and our standing in the world slide right down the toilet.

The End

Bloodline: Obfuscate Much, Ya’ll?

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Netflix’s Bloodline is created by the same team that gave us Damages and, as in that show, characters create a massive web of deceit and treachery and then try to weasel their way out of it. As in that series, things don’t so much happen as get talked about. Scene after scene will include semi-sincere admissions about some past event, partially uncovering somebody’s wrongdoing, while leaving a bit of the truth still distorted and yet to be revealed. It makes sense to focus a show like this on a family with a dark past and a ton of secrets; however, as the number of surviving members dwindles, the story has started to stagnate, as it simply runs out of places to go.

But let’s start at the beginning. First, we have John. The good son, he at first seems responsible, generous, even kind. Then comes Meg. She’s narcissistic and deceptive and cunning. And tougher than she looks. Then comes Kevin, who is…uh, what’s the word? Oh, right. A total idiot.

Into their comfortable south Florida life wanders their big brother, who has been gone for several years. From what I can tell, no one except his mother missed him very much. Ah, the mother, Sally. She’s an interesting character. At times, she seems warm and full of backbone, a real matriarch. at other times, she seems to be the coldest, most calculating one of them all.

But back to Danny. Played by the phenomenal Ben Mendelsohn, it’s hard to take your eyes of this guy. Whether moping about, complaining about his lot in life, or scheming some sort of revenge on his family members, Mendelsohn’s laconic expression and deep, menacing tones are easily the best thing about this series. From behind an ever-present cigarette, Danny oozes contempt all over his comfortable, affluent siblings. He’s at his best when going up against really strong actors like Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek. His scheming intelligence and penchant for irony are wonderful to behold. The whole of season 1 is a slow burn where Danny goes from battered brother to evil genius. Seriously, this guy needs his own Breaking Bad!

Which leads us to season 2. Danny is still here and there, as he pulls a “Dexter’s dad” and haunts the shit out of John. And we have his son,  Nolan, played by a very good Owen Teague. However, the show’s creators make the unfortunate choice of having Teague essentially imitate Mendelsohn. It’s as if we need to be visually reminded that this is Danny’s son at every turn. His tall, lanky frame, constant smoking, and general demeanor is meant to look like exactly like Danny, and Teague pulls it off, but it’s a cheap ploy, and it’s in the scenes where he really gets to mix it up with his fellow actors that he’s at his best. An early scene between him and Spacek is especially good, when she remonstrates him for cursing by hissing at him: “Watch your fucking mouth!”

Unfortunately, moments like these are few and far between in season 2 of Bloodline. Mostly the characters are stuck attempting to move forward the turgid plot with dialogue that doesn’t always serve them well. Poor Kevin, in particular, gets stuck with a plot twist that just doesn’t add up, but it’s there to set up a cliffhanger ending that, for me, ruined what little enjoyment I was getting out of the show. I was bummed to see this happen to a show that held such promise. Maybe the mistake was bringing the show back at all after the very good first season. What was a neat little package was blown up when Danny’s son walked into the frame at the end of the first season, and I hoped for more of the same. Unfortunately, Bloodline couldn’t deliver on that promise.

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodline: Obfuscate Much, Ya’ll?

The Americans

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It seems to have become obligatory at this point to say that The Americans is the best show on television, and I wanted to look at why that might be.

First off, the actors. Both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give fascinating, subtle performances, with plenty of humor, sex and pathos in them. Elizabeth Jennings is at times ferocious and downright scary, both as a spy and as a mother. Her husband Philip is the calmer and more sensitive of the two, and while ready to kill as needed, he has become the show’s conscience, as the two characters get dragged deeper and deeper into the dangerous world of cold-war espionage. In spite of everything, Philip seems to want to keep some sense of his family as his family, separate from his identity as KGB. And it’s this that provides the core conflict of the show.

While both of them seduce and murder to provide Soviet intelligence with information, an episode is as likely to deal with Philip’s friendship with neighbor/FBI agent Stan, or their handling of assorted issues with their two children: one, a savvy teenaged girl who knows perhaps more than she should, the other decidedly still a child, whose interest resides mostly in eating pizza and playing Intellivision.

Each week, we watch as Elizabeth and Philip deal with all the problems that come with being a Russian spy in Reagan’s America, the fear of capture and death, handling their multiple identities and costumes. Into this dynamic gets thrown problems at school, EST, Epcot Center and, of course, laundry. Seriously, for anyone who grew up in the 80’s, this show will have you reliving that culture with the added complexity of spying.

Whether or not The Americans is the best show on television, I can honestly say it does a hell of a job of combining all of these elements while never losing its narrative thread or suspenseful tone.

The Americans

Reliving the OJ Trial: Watching American Crime Story

 

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“All media work us over completely.” – Marshall McLuhan

 

So, I’ve started watching “American Crime Story” and boy, oh boy, is it good.

I don’t think I ever experienced a television show in quite this way, where the whole time I’m watching it I’m remembering viewing the actual trial in 1994. So, while on one hand I’m watching this new show with its sophisticated sense of style and character, there’s this extra layer of understanding and questioning my own experience of the real world events as they originally unfolded.

Because ACS portrays televised real world events, events I watched and discussed with others at the time, it resonates with me in a way that no other television has. Surely, this must hold true for an entire generation of viewers who witnessed this

It’s like i’m watching myself watch the trial. I’m becoming aware of my biases and beliefs a the time and finding out how those have evolved and changed as I have grown up (hopefully), had children, worked a job, etc. I admit, the younger me was much more likely to judge and react negatively towards people. I lacked much of the empathy I have now for people and their struggles.

At the time, Marcia Clark seemed hard nosed, even bitchy. I disliked her because she didn’t seem “nice”. Now, I see her as a single mother and as the only woman in a court full of very large egos, some of whom were intent on making her look bad. On top of that, the tabloid media was in a froth about the case, and constantly picking apart her looks and behavior, even digging through every possible embarrassing moment from her past. So, yeah, no wonder she had to be tough and gave off a “don’t mess with me” vibe.

So, what’s changed in 22 years? Why do I see these people in such a different light? The answer is: I’ve changed. I’ve lived 22 years, grown up (at least somewhat), raised two children, worked different jobs, met a lot of different people, etc. It’s these experiences from my own life that bring richness and resonance to the show. It’s me, the reader, the makes the difference. Where before I was inexperienced and prone to black and white perceptions of people, now I see the shades of grays. Lots and lots of grays.

That isn’t meant to take away from the show’s brilliant display of acting, staging and storytelling. Just to say that what I’m learning about the most may just be myself. My empathy has grown significantly. My heart goes out to the sometimes awkward Christopher Darden, a young attorney who obviously hasn’t come up on the gravy train one can imagine a Bob Shapiro or some of the other oh so comfortable attorneys that we see on display. I feel for Bob Kardashian, a seemingly decent man who longs for OJ to be exonerated, while nursing doubts about his friend’s innocence.

Something else that didn’t make sense to me at the time is the issue of the gloves. Why was it so important for the prosecution to have OJ try on the gloves? Even for the naive 19 year old me, it seemed too risky to trust that the gloves would definitely fit during the televised trial. Leather gloves can shrink when exposed to liquid and heat. To us at home, the ill-fitting gloves introduced doubt where there really was none. They were almost certainly OJ’s gloves, purchased for him by his late wife. But it was hard to get a good look at OJ’s hands. Either way, it seems to have been the moment in the trial where things started going the defense’s way. All the momentum that Clark had built with the solid DNA evidence and the bloody gloves just seemed to dissipate, as we looked at OJ struggle with pulling the gloves.

It’s a strange moment. Like so many in the trial, the emotional heat of the moment seems to have trumped logic. So what the gloves didn’t fit perfectly? Maybe they shrunk. Maybe the fact the OJ was wearing latex gloves already made a difference. It would have to wouldn’t it? but all we were left with was the powerful doubt that just took all the wind out of our sails. Solid evidence presented in a responsible way was no match for television, no match for the power of spectacle.

It was all that anyone could talk about the next day, giving us a national moment where we were all talking about the same thing, but unaware that coded in that discussion were the darker subjects of systemic racism that many of us, especially on the tails on the Rodney King riots, were just becoming aware of.

During the riots, I remember being unable to process the full immensity of what I was seeing. A city on fire. Thousands of people running through the streets. My parents called them hooligans. Lazy people who wouldn’t work for a living, but would take the opportunity during a bad time to roam the streets and loot their own neighbors’ stores. It didn’t really coalesce with my world, the world of rural Vermont with small villages and towns free of a lot of same pressures as Los Angeles. We hadn’t experienced wave after wave of immigrants since the last group of Irish and Poles had moved here in large numbers to work in the marble and granite quarries. That was some time before WWII, so, for sure, Vermont presented a more assimilated culture.

We were also pretty much devoid of racial diversity. Yes, I remember the first black family who moved to our town. I remember seeing them on the bus and being mildly curious, but that was at least as much about the fact that they were the first Jehovah’s Witnesses we had ever seen, as it was about their racial identity. It’s my personal opinion that a few people of “other” races here and there doesn’t make much cultural impact. It’s when you have waves of immigrants, whole communities, that the us vs. them thinking tends to start to grow. Whatever the case, Vermont did not at the time offer much in the way of racial diversity.

So,  I couldn’t (because of my own ignorance) really comprehend the struggle between the African-American community and the LAPD as portrayed in ACS. Of course, I understood that the Rodney King trial and the riots meant that African Americans were not very pleased with the justice system. And I knew that historically black people had been disenfranchised as they moved out of slavery, up through the Jim Crow South and dispersed into the major cities across the country. I had read a few books. This just happened to be the era before Black History Month, and most of us didn’t have strong sense of what black people experienced on a daily basis.

So, watching the riots and the OJ trial, I felt for the oppressed people who I knew to live in some parts of LA. I knew they were out there, especially since becoming aware of NWA during the “Fuck tha’ Police” scandal in 1990. But I couldn’t really understand how it was a systemic racism for which Johnny Cochran was placing the LAPD and the Los Angeles justice system on trial during that time. How it was that the trial of one man was transformed by the Dream Team into something much larger, a cultural moment that would define the racial dialogue for our generation.

The TV series does such a good job of telling the story of a few individuals and the much larger and more resonant story of the cultural moment. Even while portraying Cochran as a slippery chameleon, a showman without a conscience, etc., it never gives short shrift to the issue of race  that was being confronted in that courtroom and in our living rooms. It was, honestly, a wake up call for millions of us. We were beginning to realize that we could not relegate institutional racism to the past, or just ignore it as a problem that might pop up here and there. It was the slowly dawning realization that we were going to have to confront it, in broad daylight, and that the that confrontation was likely to be ugly and uncomfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reliving the OJ Trial: Watching American Crime Story

Why The Revenant Bothers Me

download006Alejandro Inarritu manages to take one of the best stories ever told (in Michael Punke’s fascinating novel also called “The Revenant”) and somehow break it down into a series of disjointed scenes, moments of semi-horror, junky political statements, and general garbage. Instead of effective storytelling, we get moments that consistently feel unearned, as the narrative has been pulled out of its organic setting. Things are been so turned around and upside down and I’m not talking just about narrative structure. I’m talking about the very nature of the character and his story of survival.

 

In the novel, we are presented with a fictionalized version of the very true story of Hugh Glass and the bear who attacked him; the men who abandoned him; and, most incredible of all, his 200 mile trek across pure wilderness, much of which he crawled across before he was able to splint his broken leg. How he found food, made fire, found help from some native tribals, etc.

 

In this movie, things that should be powerful and affecting come across as confusing and jumbled. This Hugh Glass has a son, and he’s traveling with the band of traders. Not only did Glass not have a son, but the real problem here is what this does to the nature of Glass’s character and the tone of the story. Mountain Men as they were known, were men who did were willing to leave their homes and risk their lives for the far from guaranteed chance for profit. Inherent in their story is an undeniable motive beyond profit. After reading some of their biographies, i can attest that it has something to do with a sense of adventure, curiosity, and a very primal urge to pitch themselves against the greatest power we as humans will ever know: Mother Nature herself. They are men who are willing to leave their families for years at a time in order to perhaps bring home a small fortune, but just as likely never to return at all, to end up under a pile of rocks on the open prairie in an unmarked grave. They were largely solitary men, or men who traveled in small groups. All of them must have known that they could die in an instant from Indian attack, accident, disease, or from an interaction with one of several dangerous animals.

 

Hauling furs from fort to fort, whether on foot or in canoes, was a dangerous job, one that held countless risks. This was not the West of ranches and Deadwood-type towns. This was an expanse of land so great and unforgiving that it boggles the mind. In the 1830’s there were a few forts, but these weren’t necessarily garrisoned by Union soldiers and well-provisioned. They might just as well be a temporary and poorly provisioned assemblage of traders, merchants, and other risk-takers who might remain huddled together for a long winter, subsisting on what they could take from the land around them.

 

Oddly, I found the tone of the film to be claustrophobic, which is both good and bad. The very effective cinematography had me feeling wet and cold along with poor Glass. However, where were the vistas he must have seen, where was the overwhelming sense of wonder Punke captures in his book? Where was the sense of a showdown between nature and one very stubborn man who refuses to die? Instead we get scenes of corpses, wandering tribal folk who are barely explained, an ahistorical and gratuitous scene of murder and torture on the part of the Voyageurs. On the plus side, we get Tom Hardy’s fun if somewhat unintelligible Fitzgerald.

 

Most hated moment of the movie? When Les Voyageurs are introduced, they turn out to be a bunch of apparently insane drunkards who, having just murdered and tortured some American Indians, decide then to have a party a few yards away. Really, Inarritu? Really? You take 250 years of history, of an entire culture and way of life, and condense it into five minutes of savage bullshit. The Voyageurs didn’t go around randomly killing Indians. You know why? Because it would have made their lives far more dangerous, and, also, it would have been pretty bad for business. Imagine trying to get tribes to trade with you if you have a tendency to, well, slaughter them in droves. Jesus, dude. Read a book. In the same scene, see a sign hanging from an Indians neck saying in French, ‘Thus always to savages.” Where do they come up with this stuff? These are the kind of weak additions to the screenplay that scream “just graduated film school!”

 

Of course, I’m prejudiced. I haven’t like any of Inarritu’s films since his first Amores Perros, which took place in his native Mexico and seemed to have a real feel for the language and characters of Mexico City. To me, his subsequent movies have all seemed to be pretentious, contrived attempts to make statements, vaguely political, or, like in 21 Grams, partaking in the Crash school of, “hey, man, aren’t we all, like, connected?” So, essentially, stoner dramas. Thus in this case we end up with random tribals who wander through the forest at odd moments, apparently looking for a lost member. We learn almost nothing about them, their culture, their name; we do learn they will gladly help one white dude kill another white dude if needed, so that’s nice…

 

In short, this: way to waste some great source material, some great actors, some amazing cinematography, and so forth. And this is the kind of nonsense that’s hot in Hollywood at the moment. Inarritu has somehow been crowned the auteur of the moment. Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this piece (and my understanding). I find his compatriots Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro each a thousand times more deserving. Cuaron has made brilliant, subtle stuff like Children of Men along with blockbuster (and fun) movies like Gravity. Del Toro has a major cult following due to his ability to bring alive the horror and fantasy genres with verve and originality. For Christ’s sake, he directed The Devil’s Backbone, Hell Boy, Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as Pacific Rim. If the producer’s wanted horror or surrealism in the American West, why didn’t they hire him?

 

 

 

Why The Revenant Bothers Me

Making a Murderer

This show is bonkers. Wisconsin is bonkers. the Avery’s are bonkers. The Manitowoc county Sheriff’s department is totally bonkers. Perhaps all mid-westerners are bonkers? And, lastly, to my great detriment, this show is making me bonkers!

Currently, I’m half way through this series, and I don’t know how much more I can take. Whether it’s the smirking witnesses in the early deposition who seem to feel shielded from the truth, fairly certain that their seeming conspiracy will stay hidden, or if it’s the squirming but well-prepared witnesses in the court case who pause and ponder with seeming falsity to answer their questions.

You know who these pro-prosecution hacks remind me of? Politicians! Every damn time they speak, I’m having flashbacks of Bill Clinton asking reporters to define sex, or Clarence Thomas prevaricating his way through hours of deposition. These are political animals, and they seem to be cast in a war against the Avery family. Now, whatever you might say about the Averys (white trash, weird, perverts, outliers) they never seem to be anything but straitforward with how they feel. You ask them a question, they tell how they feel, what they believe. They are decidedly not political animals.

And it seems pretty clear from this documentary that they are the subject of a witch hunt by the power holders in Manitowoc. So much so, that the state of Wisconsin gets involved. So much so, that at the moment when Steven Avery is about to get a payout, mandated from the state legislature, for 18 years of what is universally accepted to be a false conviction, there is another county investigation of Steven Avery, linking him to a heinous murder just at that moment of recompense. To say it’s strange and shocking is an understatement. To me, it’s more of a surreal circus of blatant power abuse and corruption.

Even more shocking than the murder trial of Steven Avery is the interrogation of Brendan Dassey. Detectives bully a confession out of the obviously mentally challenged Dassey, 15 years old at the time, without a parent or a lawyer present. This is presented as a victory for the prosecution team, in spite of it being obvious from the video-taped confession this kid had no idea of the gravity of what he was admitting too.

Not only should this confession have been thrown out of court (or not have made it there at all), it is in fact the lynchpin of the case against Steven Avery. Dassey is the only eye witness the state ever offers up. Watching his interrogation was easily one of the most disturbing things i have ever seen in my life.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Dassey’s own defense attorney (yes, you read that right) has a PI force another confession out of the poor, scared child. Meant to be a wedge between Avery and his nephew, this second video-taped confession is similar to the first: the investigator tells Dassey a story, offering details and scenarios given to him by prosecutors, and then browbeats the teenager until he ferrets outs a few barely audible “yeses”. Understand this, every pertinent detail of the alleged murder case is provided by the prosecution team, not Dassey.

from there, the circus of insanity continues.

more to come….

Making a Murderer

Fear the Walking Dead Brings the Horror: Episode 5

Fear the Walking Dead delivers some real horror this time around. I’m was impressed by this episode.

Cliff Curtis as Travis and Kim Dickens as Madison - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 1, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Cliff Curtis as Travis and Kim Dickens as Madison – Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 1, Gallery – Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

The scariest parts of TWD are always the ones dealing with real people, not zombies. the fear, the distrust of strangers is a powerful motivator for Rick and his crew. You simply can’t be too careful. Hence, the famous three questions everyone gets asked.

FTWD did a great job tonight of creating some interesting, disturbing characters who could certainly become a problem for our protagonists. First up, what’s up with our man Daniel? we learn a lot more about him in this episode, and very little of it is good. Turns out, back in El Salvador, he wasn’t only on the receiving end of the torture he had alluded to before. Apparently, he’s kind of an expert at causing suffering, and seems very anxious to practice his skills on his daughter’s soldier boyfriend.

Then there is the mysterious man in the holding cell, the one that “saves” Nick, the one that reduces another man to an hysterical, blubbering mass using only his words. This strange fellow is tall and well-spoken, and something about the way he dresses and uses his hands suggests he’s a magician or a con artist. When Nick thanks him for bribing a guard who was going to remove him from the holding cell, he says, “I didn’t save you, I obligated you. There’s a difference.” then he goes on to give a brilliantly succinct explanation of how the rules of the game have changed. The “frequent fliers” have lost, and will now by a “buffet” for men like himself. He’s obviously a bad dude, but at the same time, he seems like someone you want to have on your side during a zombie apocalypse.

Travis has his own run in with a potentially evil character. The Army Sergeant, who up till now has seemed cold and uncaring, but relatively reasonable, starts to get aggressive when Travis demands to know where his friends have been taken. Sergeant Dickhead’s form of torture (sensing Travis’s pacifism, no doubt) is to try to force him to shoot a walker. The other soldier’s are creeped out, clearing sensing that this man is going off the rails. As it happens, after fending off a zombie attack, Sergeant Dickhead doesn’t make it back to the humvee. Funny thing, huh?

What’s happening is that things are falling apart. It’s the part of the apocalypse where people still think they can be saved, but it’s transitioning to the part where only those who realize they are on their own, and are repsonsible for their own survival, have a chance to make it. They are the strong, the one’s not afraid to get their hands dirty. As cruel as Daniel is, as sick as his actions are, we find out at the end that he was right. The soldiers have been holding a terrible secret from the civilians they were supposed to protect. It’s every man and woman for themselves. Things are about to get ugly.

Fear the Walking Dead Brings the Horror: Episode 5

Team Fortress 2: An Appreciation

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Above are a few screengrabs from one of the most beautiful, creative video games ever made. Team Fortress 2 is a classic both in terms of its art (more about that later) and its playability. Oringally a class-based mod for Quake, the updated version was created by a team of brilliant artists and engineers at Valve. However, it’s expanded so much since 2007. It’s much more than a game now: it’s a community.

Renowned for its art style, which is heavily influenced by early twentieth century commercial illustrators such as Dean Cornwell and Norman Rockwell, TF2 is both a well-crafted peaen to Americana and silly sendup of American mythology. Updates over the years have included satrical takes on Halloween, The Sorceror’s Apprentice, the Circus, and, most recently, UFO’s and Area 51-inspired madness.

Not every character is American, nor is every tradition that is deconstructed. However, there’s something about exploding pumpkins, 10 gallon hats, and the grizzled character of the Soldier declaring “Last one alive, lock the door!” that really taps into our mythos.

Other characters include an Aussie sniper with a razor sharp wit, a quintessentially mouthy Bostonian known for his speed, and a “black, Scottish cyclops” who is…pretty much constantly drunk.

As you progress in the game, the silliness piles on, as do the references to nearly everything in the universe…seriously. Movies, cartoons, other video games: the amount of items, weapons, and, yes, hats that you use to individualize your character is seemingly endless. But the best part of all this is who is making these items.

Most new maps and weapons are created by fans, members of the TF2 community. All this is done with editing tools provided by Valve. The TF2 community is one of the most vibrant and good-natured groups to be found online. Just take a look at the hub next time you’re on Steam.

Team Fortress 2: An Appreciation