Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Music From High School


Why Does Mexico Have to Pay for the Wall?

One question I've not really seen asked or answered:Why is it so important that Mexico pay for our wall? We're the ones who want it — I say "we" loosely here — and will build it. If I build a fence on my property, I don't make my neighbor pay. I don't even ask! So why is that so important, except as a means of demonstrating that "making America great" means forcing neighbors to do our will?

What ever happened to those racist white folks from those old photos?

See here.

For people of my generation, there was a narrative - not entirely spoken - that racism ended somewhere around 1968. That narrative, in turn, provided a foundation to the idea that attempts to correct for the effects of hundreds of years of racism were themselves racist — and, ironically, was allowed to suggest that problems that had their roots in racism were actually the results of the lesserness of other "cultures." The "end of racism" helped racism survive in dressed-up, yuppified form.

One ironic blessing of the Trump Era: Lots of folks don't feel the need to dress it up anymore. It's as out there as it's been in my lifetime.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Angels With Dirty Faces": My Sad Tale



So about a year ago, I started thinking about the movie ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. I'd seen it as a kid — back when you could see old 1930s movies playing on local TV on Saturday afternoons — and the ending, with Jimmy Cagney pleading for his criminal life, made a big impression on me. Maybe my son would find it interesting too.

Only...

In this era of streaming video, this classic movie is ... completely unavailable for streaming. It's not available, for purchase anyway, on Amazon or iTunes, and it's not on the Hulu or Netflix libraries. It's what made me decide to buy a DVD player after years of being a streaming-only consumer.

So.

Today, I go to my local video store — Lawrence has one, still! — find the movie in the classics section, rent it and bring it home.

Tonight, my wife and I sit down to watch it. Get about a half-hour in — to a critical, can't-skip scene where Cagney's character meets the Dead-End Kids, and it freezes, utterly.

So. The movie still isn't available to stream. New DVDs of it cost more than $30 on Amazon, which feels a bit steep. I'm starting to think I'll never get to see the whole movie again.

It's weird though. We're in an era where our entertainment options are plentiful. But finding a decent copy of this not-really-obscure movie is turning out to be a real chore. Turns out there is still scarcity, of a sorts, in our info-flooded world.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Netflix Queue: "The Lobster" and Our Authoritarian Age

Three thoughts about THE LOBSTER just as soon as I poke my eye out with a sharp stick. (Warning, some mild spoilers may be ahead.)



• The trailer of this movie doesn’t really capture the overall dystopian vibe — you might think you’re getting an eccentric romantic comedy, something like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, but this is more of a grim LOGAN’S RUN. The conceit: Instead of aging, it’s singlehood that society abhors. Singles of a certain age — whether they get there through spinsterhood, widowership or a good old-fashioned breakup — are brought to a hotel where they’re given 45 days to find a mate … or else they’ll be turned into the animal of their choosing. Colin Farrell, our protagonist, says he’ll choose to be a lobster. “That’s a good animal,” the hotel manager tells him. Everybody else, she says, wants to be a dog. That’s why there are so many dogs in the world.

• His choice of animal aside, there are other clues that Farrell doesn’t fit in. Asked to choose between homosexual or heterosexual, he asks for a third option — but that’s one recently removed from the list of choices. Even in footwear, he’s awkwardly placed: He asks for a 44-and-a-half, only to be told there are no half sizes. Meanwhile, he and every other resident of the hotel are indoctrinated in the good of couplehood, given objects lessons in the dangers of being alone, and even forced to spend a day with one hand handcuffed behind their back in order to demonstrate that pairs (hands) work better than ones. (Farrell’s character, it should be noted, even finds a way to make this work.)

If there’s a creepy authoritarian vibe to the hotel, though, it’s mirrored in the society forming outside in the woods. That’s where the Loners exist — single people who are, quite literally, hunted by the hotel residents and rounded up. But the Loners aren’t a live-and-let-live group: They enforce their singlehood through violence, warning against even mild flirtation and, in one terrifying scene, ordering Farrell’s character to dig his own grave and begin to cover himself with dirt. (I was reminded, for some reason of Khmer Rouge tactics, of the uses of mock executions to break down prisoners.) Ferrell doesn’t fit in here either, pairing off over time with a woman played by Rachel Weisz.

• Eventually, Farrell and Weisz leave the group and make their way to the city, where they’ll be expected, by law, to be paired. But they’ve learned the lessons of their disparate societies too well, and the movie concludes with Farrell’s character preparing to do something unspeakable in order to more perfectly match with Weisz. It’s horrifying.

Maybe it’s just the mood these days, but as much as this movie seems to be how society enforces its expectations of relations upon us all, it’s also a reminder that the opposite of authoritarianism isn’t necessarily freedom, but a different, opposite, even well-meaning idea that, enforced with efficiency and ruthless violence, becomes a mirror of the thing it hates. Finding a different path, even when our instincts guide us there, is so difficult that we’d quite literally mutilate ourselves rather than live and let each other live together with even the smallest differences.

THE LOBSTER is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

His Name Is Donald Trump. Keep Saying It.

I've seen this piece of "resistance" advice passed around in my precincts of the Internet, so I might as well address a problem I have with it.


I really hate item No. 1, and in fact I think it's wrong and pernicious.
There's two ways to view the de-naming effort, and I don't like either of them.

The first is that Trump has become Voldemort, and that we don't say his name because we fear him. Which, at this stage of things, is cowardly. He doesn't deserve that.

The second is that Trump's opponents, by trying to de-name him, are trying to de-person him. It's a technique that's more than a little authoritarian, and it suggests that those opposing Trump may end up becoming the thing they hate in opposing him. In which case, the resistance is no better than what it tries to replace.

Donald Trump is a lot of things. He's a fool and a boob, a vainglorious authoritarian who deserves to be mocked. He's also a person. It makes him a more convenient enemy if he's not, but that's a lie.