Expressing these class tentions, there was a tradition of plebeian anti-clericalism and irreligion. To go no further back, the Lollards carried a popular version of John Wyclif’s heresies into the sixteenth century. Lollard influence survived in a popular materialist skepticism which makes one feel appreciably nearer to the age of Voltaire than is normal in the 16th century. A carpenter in 1491 rejected transubstantiation, baptism, confession, and said men would not be damed for sin; in 1512 a Wakefield man said ‘that if a calf were upon the altar, I would rather worship that than the holy sacrament. The date was past that God determined him to be in form of bread.’ The clergy, an earlier Lollard had declared, were worse than Judas, who sold Christ for thirty pence, while priests sold masses for a halfpenny. The commons, said another, ‘would never be until they had stricken off all the priests’ heads.’ There was a saying in the country, a north Yorkshireman pleaded in 1542, ‘that a man might lift up his heart and confess himself to God Almighty and needed not to be confessed at a priest’. A shearman of Dewsbury elaborated on this point: he would not confess is offenses with a woman to a priest, ‘for the priest would be as ready within two or three days after to use her as he’.
Such men tended to be called Anabaptists or Familists by their enemies. These names — familiar enough on the continent — were very loosely applied in England: most of our evidence comes from hostile accounts in the church courts. The essential doctrine of Anabaptism was that infants should not be baptized. Acceptance of baptism — reception into the church — should be the voluntary act of an adult. This clearly subverted the concept of a national church to which ever English man and woman belonged: it envisaged instead the formation of voluntary congregations by those who believed themselves to be the elect. An Anabaptist much logically object to the payment of tithes, the ten per cent of everyone’s earnings which, in theory at least, went to support the ministers of the state church. Many Anabaptists refused to swear oaths, since they objected to a religious ceremony being used for secular judicial purposes; others rejected war and military service. Still more were alleged to carry egalitarianism to the extent of denying a right to private property. The name came to be used in a general pejorative sense to describe those who were believed to oppose the existing social and political order.
Familists, members of the Family of Love, can be defined a little more precisely. They were followers of Henry Niclaes, born in Münster in 1502, who taught that heaven and hell were to be found in this world. Niclaes was alleged to have been a collaborator of Thomas Münzer in insurrection at Amsterdam. The Puritan divine John Knewstub said of him: ’H.N. turns religion upside down. He buildeth heaven here on earth; he maketh God man and man God.’ Like Francis Bacon, Familists believed that men and women might recapture on earth the state of innocence which existed before the Fall: their enemies said they claimed to attain the perfection of Christ. They held their property in common, believed that all things come in nature, and that only the spirit of God within the believer can properly understand Scripture. They turned the Bible into allegories, even the Fall of Man, complained William Perkins. Familism was spread in England by Christopher Vittels, an itinerant joiner of Dutch origin. In the 1750s English Familists were noted to be wayfaring traders, or ‘cowherds, clothiers and such-like mean people’. They believed in principle that ministers should be itinerants, like the Apostles. They were increasing daily by1759, numerous in the dicese of ELy in 1584, also in East Anglia and the north of England. They were particularly difficult for the ecclesiastical authorities to root out because — like many Lollards before them — they were ready to recant when caught, but not to give up their opinions. The Family of the Mount held even more subversive views. They were alleged to reject prayer, to deny the resurrection of the body. They questioned whether any heaven or hell existed apart from this life: heaven was when men laugh and are merry, hell was sorrow, grief, and pain.
The opening words of Bishop Cooper’s Admonition to the People of England (1589) speak of ‘the loathsome contempt, hatred and disdain that the most part of men in these days bear towards the ministers of the church of God’. He attributed such views especially to the common people, who ‘have conceived an heathenish contempt of religion and a disdainful loathing of the ministers thereof’. ’The ministers of the world,’ Archbishop Sandys confirmed, ‘are become contemptible in the eyes of the bases sort of people’. In 1606 a man was presented to the church courts for saying that he would rather trust a thief than a priest, a lawyer or a Welshman.
‘If we maintain things that are established,’ complained Richard Hooker, ‘we have to strive with a number of heavy prejudices deeply rooted in the hearts of men, who think that herein we serve the time and seek the favor of the present state because thereby we either hold or seek preferment.’ Thomas Brightman in 1615 confirmed that hostility to the hierarchy ‘is now favored much of the people and multitude’. We recall the oatmeal-maker who, on trial before the High Commission in April 1630, said that he would never take of his hat to bishops. ’But you will to Privy Councillors’, he was urged. ’Then as you are Privy Councillors,’ quoth he, ‘I put off my hat; but as you are the rags of the beast, lo! I put it on again.’ Joan Hoby of Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, said four years later that she ‘did not care a pin nor a fart for my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury, and she did hope that she should live long enough to see him hanged.’ (Laud was in fact executed eleven years later, but we do not know whether Joan Hoby was still alive then.)
(Christopher Hill, from The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution.)
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Parker, the amoral and ultra-efficient criminal featured in 24 novels by Donald Westlake, has been kicked around Hollywood almost as much as he’s been kicked around in his books. He was luckiest in his earliest and latest adaptations; Point Blank, the 1967 film that adapted Parker’s debut in The Hunter, was only the second and still the best on-screen version of the character, with a grim-faced portrayal by Lee Marvin and directed with a stark, chilly rhythm by John Boorman. And recently, just before Westlake kicked the bucket, comics artist Darwyn Cooke completed the first of what would become an ongoing series of adaptations of the Parker novels, and they, too, nicely capture the cool noir grace notes of the source material.
In between, though, there were an awful lot of mediocrities cranked out of Hollywood purporting to bring us the stories of the determined, if unlucky, heist man. Due to one of those innumerable legal niceties that keep Los Angeles entertainment lawyers in sports cars, the character had to be given a different name on screen, and in Brian Helgeland’s 1999 adaptation of The Hunter entitled Payback, Mel Gibson portrays him as “Porter”. The plot follows a somewhat faithful read of the novel, with all the familiar names in place and a similar set-up, but the devil is in the details, and as with most second-rate thrillers adapted from good books, this one gets them mostly wrong.
The film has a promising start, with Parker undergoing back-alley surgery following a near-fatal shooting and slowly crawling his way back out of the gutter, gaining just enough respectability to begin his campaign of revenge after his wife and his partner in a heist betray him and leave him for dead. This entire sequence has a tense energy we never really see again, and it’s also the only time Chris Boardman and Moe Jaffe’s score sounds like a legit piece of noir film music and not something that they couldn’t find a use for in the latest Law & Order: SVU. (It’s also a bit hard to tell when, exactly, the film is meant to take place; most cues, from the automobiles to the clothes to the by-the-numbers soundtrack, suggest a setting contemporary to Payback‘s 1999 release date, but no one has a computer, credit card technology seems stuck in the 1970s, and there are no cell phones — indeed, one major plot point at the end of the movie involves a car phone and an indoor land line, and both of them are rotary dials!)
Payback has tonal problems all over the place. Helgeland, in the first place, doesn’t seem to know whether the thing is supposed to be a dark revenge thriller or an Elmore Leonard-esque mob comedy, populated with colorful characters with a sinister side; Gibson plays the scenes where he’s being beaten and tortured like he’s auditioning for an open slot with the Three Stooges, and James Coburn seems to have gotten hold of a script with “wacky” written extensively in the notes. Other times, though, the film seems to be going for a straightforward adaptation of the source, and this uncertainty about how it wants us to react at any given moment really starts to hobble the film, especially when it gets really violent.
There isn’t much sense to be made of the plot, either. The Hunter relies for its powerful effect on a straight-faced identification with the notion that Parker is a cold-blooded enough son of a bitch to lay waste to everything in his path just to get the (stolen) money that is owed him, and Boorman correctly figured that could only be accomplished by making him an existential cypher, a serpent who’d rather gorge himself on something that will choke him than go hungry. Helgeland’s Porter, on the other hand, is so flippant and short, with a collection of sympathies and tics that stand in for a forceful personality, that his behavior in pursuit of $70,000 just seems ridiculous. A subplot involving the Tong serves only as an excuse for the movie’s silliest action scene, a flashback early on fills in some story details but is as awkwardly wedged into the overall structure as the clumsy voice-overs, and another subplot with a pair of crooked cops not only wastes two decent character actors in Bill Duke and Jack Conley, but is also resolved so easily, and so stupidly, that it shouldn’t have been in the movie at all. None of this accomplishes anything but pull focus away from Porter’s singularity of purpose, and makes the whole movie seem scattered.
Wasting Duke and Conley seems like an even greater crime when you consider that good acting is at a premium in Payback. Gibson, for all his hamming it up, isn’t bad enough to be a distraction, but almost the entire remainder of the cast is a disaster. Kris Kristofferson appears late in the film to effectively balance out Coburn’s overbaked goofiness, but Gregg Henry is ridiculously over the top as Gibson’s ex-partner; Jon Glover isn’t on screen long enough to make any difference; William Devane is in full-blown TV movie mode; and Lucy Liu, playing a criminal dominatrix, delivers the most offensive yellowface this side of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Maria Bello plays the female lead/romantic interest, but she and Gibson have a charisma rating in the negative teens; they both seem bored with the whole arrangement and eager to move on to the next scene. I can’t blame them.
The internet informs me that an alternate “director’s cut” of Payback exists, consisting of Helgeland’s ideal version of the film, which went unreleased due to him being fired late in the production and replaced with Paul Abascal. Reading the summary, it sounds like a mild improvement, but I’m guessing it’s more mild than improvement. This wasn’t really a movie that seemed to be suffering because of reshoots or a betrayal of the director’s vision; it just seemed like kind of a third-rate movie. Nothing in Helgeland’s filmography suggests that he’s capable of genius, so I doubt a more improved version of Payback would be all that worthwhile, and replacing Kris Kristofferson, who delivers one of the only passable performances on screen with Sally Kellerman would be a mistake on the level of, well, replacing anyone with Sally Kellerman.
Seen as homework for the upcoming Parker, with Jason Statham as the title character, Payback may shine by comparison. Parker is directed by the appropriately named Taylor Hackford, a perpetual underachiever who will be hugely overpraised when he dies because he directed a lot of moneymaking films in the ’80s and ’90s; and while it’s got a much better cast (including Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr., Wendell Pierce, and Jennifer Lopez’s hiney), the trailers promise maximum stupidity as well as a profound misunderstanding of who Parker is and what he does. Taken on its own, it seems like a curious attempt to bridge the action hero tropes of the ’80s and ’90s with the coming nihilistic revenge pictures of the 2010s — and a somewhat depressing reminder that we had this figured out as long ago as 1967.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
This is the kind of entry I hate to write — not only because I know nobody’s listening, but because it’s about issues that I fear that there may be no solution to, or at least not the starkly delineated solution that people who think they’ve figured it out seem to think there is. We are supposed to know the right way to act, the right direction in which to step, wherever we stand on the political spectrum; if we are unable to realize change, it is not because we do not have a solution, but because forces are arrayed against us, keeping us from putting it into place. And it is true that I, too, think I’ve got it sussed most of the time, but the older I get, the more I relate to Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, explaining how he’d lost the calling: ”I got nothing to preach no more, that’s all. I ain’t so sure of things…a preacher got to know. I don’t. I got to ask.”
I was lucky enough to have been born in 1969 – a year after the most world-shaking period of the latter half of the century — and raised in a time when a great many of the painful prejudices of the past were being, if not wiped away, at least questioned, analyzed, and provoked. The old and ugly was not being overthrown (it still hasn’t been), but it was growing nervous; the men with their hands on the throats of the world were used not only to getting their way, but doing so without impertinence. Now, everywhere the bosses turned, someone was getting in their faces and asking them to justify their behavior. We were (and still are) engaged in one of the most important process of human thought: that of questioning things, of analyzing and reorganizing them, and giving them new names based upon what we had learned.
The burden of traditional male roles, still so heavy when I was born, has been lightened, and the notion that homosexuality is a sin punishable by death is now no longer universally accepted; indeed, it is now a surprising thing, relegated to backwards-seeming African despotisms, and encouraged only by fanatical religious zealots. We have advanced enough to call racism an infamy, even if few of us are willing to admit our complicity in it. We now invoke words of great power and great shame — colonialism, imperialism, privilege — upon what was once considered to be nothing more than seizing our natural birthright, and if we have not fully come to terms with these things, we have at least developed a new way of talking about them. The idea that one group has an inherent and eternal superiority over another has hardly been eliminated, but it has become uncomfortable to champion in too loud a voice. All these things represent a progress that is frustratingly slow, but exceedingly fine.
And now, we hear from some quarters, we are living in something called a “rape culture”. According to the knee-jerk, privileged worldview of the men’s rights crowd, I ought to take instant offense at the phrase. But after hundreds of years of rape being ignored, excused or minimized by the men who run the world, and thousands of years before that of rape being barely recognized as a concept, I figure we’ve just come around to another example of seeing things clearly and giving them the names they deserve. The self-identified “nice guys” who have never sexually assaulted anyone don’t get to exempt themselves from having to contribute to solving the problem of rape, any more than the millions of southerners who supported the Confederacy get a free pass just because they didn’t personally own slaves. The problem of rape, regardless of your feelings about the phrase “rape culture” and your own culpability, is a real one — and, even more, it is a manifestation of the unequal status that is still forced upon women in what is still a male-dominated society.
Then, there is this — an essay that has been met with great praise in some quarters, but with which I find myself having decidedly mixed feelings. Of course, the author is right to feel the way that she feels, and she, along with far too many women of my personal acquaintance, have made it painfully clear what it is like to live in fear, or at the very least in sadness and stress, at how the simplest walk around the neighborhood can turn into a gauntlet of harassment. It also fills me with one of the worst sensations: that of helplessness, of frustration. It makes me almost understand the defensive, hostile reaction of the MR creeps; because at least they’re in control of their reactions. I just flail around helplessly, consumed with shame, not knowing what to do. It makes no difference that I have never engaged in that kind of oppressive objectification; I swim in the same polluted waters.
But it’s also an essay that seems to be preaching to the choir. The final paragraph, where the author lists the many ways women must invent uncomfortable coping strategies to avoid street harassment and asks the men who hassled her if they want to be that guy, seems a bit naïve; certainly that is the goal, certainly that is the question, certainly that is the struggle. But the answer, were she to pose the question to those men in person instead of in the more welcoming surrounds of her own blog, would likely have been shut up, bitch. It’s applying a progressive shine of reason to something too old and ugly to bear the treatment. I’m reminded of the widely propagated posters and infographics that deliver a message along the lines of “don’t teach women self-defense; teach men not to rape”. It’s a wonderful sentiment, not to be disagreed with, and certainly a society where men are taught from childhood to respect women and recognize sexual boundaries is one we should forever strive for. But we’re a long way from getting there, and in the meantime, there are a lot of men who will rape. Asking them why their parents didn’t teach them not to is going to prove a lot less effective than giving them a face full of phenacyl chloride.
This is where I’d normally try to synthesize all of these thoughts into a conclusion, but I can’t. All I see is a problem that I’m part of, and a solution that means not only real political action, but constant and personal self-appraisal of ourselves and our cultural standards. Feeling helpless doesn’t mean being helpless, but we can’t figure out what to do in our heads. We have to talk to the people we don’t want to talk to about the subjects we don’t want to breach. We have to let go of our own defensive reaction that a problem of society is a personal accusation; and we should know who our allies are, and who our real enemies are. We have to come up with the right words and ideas to envision the equality of women as we know it ought to be, but we also have to bear down and do the uglier work of dealing with the inequality of women as it currently is. We have to stop being so sure we already know the answers, because the person who thinks he’s got all the answers is the one who doesn’t care what happens to people who don’t agree with those answers.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
This evening poised quite a theological conundrum. On the one hand, American Idol is only an hour long, which seems to be evidence that God loves me and wants me to be happy. On the other hand, the reason American Idol is only an hour long is that Glee is back, which is an equally convincing argument that God hates me and wants me to suffer. I guess we’ll just have to split the difference and go with “there is no God”.
I originally thought that tonight’s episode was taking place in the wonderful city of New Orleans. Why did I think that? Because the internet is a liar and not to be trusted. It turns out that in fact, these auditions will be transpiring in Baton Rogue, which, it is pointed with a curiously boisterous pride, is where Randy Jackson was born — that is to say, it is “the home of the Dawg”. I am not down with this thing where we call Randy “Dawg” all the time, because the perfectly good word “buffoon” is just sitting there waiting for us. Randy’s makeup is done by self-professed “beauty school dropout” Mariah Carey, and wardrobe equips him with a shirt made out of a soiled Wonder Bread bag. Keith Urban is showing off his chest tattoo in a way that would get him called slutty if he were a woman, and Nicki Minaj has become the leader of a marching band comprised entirely of Oompa-Loompas.
Our first contestant is former Miss Red Stick Megan Miller, who sports a ’70s-style headband and a blue leg brace, which does not match her temple-prostitute clothes. She does have some vocal talent, though, and tons of charm; she puts plenty of sass into her performance, and even sings into her crutch as if it were a microphone, prompting Nicki to say that “you used it; it didn’t use you”. Okay then. Charlie Askew is next, and he is suffering from what his parents call “Charlie Askew Syndrome”, known to the rest of the world, at least for now, as Asperger’s. For some reason, Idol decides that he is charming and admirable and inspiring, which might come as news to the five hundred other obviously autistic people they have made cruel sport of this season alone. Initially, the panel is kind of mean to this bird-calling, Little-Rock based man-child, but then he sings the entirely too on-the-nose “Nature Boy” by ur-hobbit Eden Ahbez, and everyone loves him. Keith calls Charlie’s voice “not of a gender”, which he assures us is meant to be a compliment. The whole thing has a fun aura of ‘let’s see how uncomfortable everyone can be’, and the judges all call Charlie “mysterious”, which I think is like when you call a black guy “articulate”.
Maddie Assel is a nominated local who triggers an embarrassing montage of New Orleans’ shittiest tourist traps. She sings “Oh! Darling” by low-budget Liverpudlian trad combo ‘The Beatles’ in that jazzy, breathy, up-and-down sound that sometimes works on this show, but more importantly, she’s the kind of mousy girl who turns out to be super-hot in all your favorite Disney Family Channel shows. That means she will “improve”, or at least look different, which the judges always love. Keith pays another backhanded compliment by asking Maddie what her influences are and then saying she doesn’t sound like any of them.
After a commercial break in which a Russian woman claims America’s capitalist system made her fat but Weight Watchers gave her “the butt”, we see a cheap, shitty True Blood montage in which bad singers are compared to hog callers and which may be the crummiest, laziest thing Idol has ever done. Then Paul Jolley arrives. He is a handsome, slightly twinky fellow whose own personal idol, his grandfather, recently died. “I want to be half the man he was,” Paul says, betraying no false ambition; he then reveals the old man was an Army First Sergeant, meaning, I assume, that he wants to be a Half Sergeant. He sings a Rascal Flatts song. Stop happening, Rascal Flatts. Still, it’s a lock for this guy and his turquoise shirt, who are off to Hollywood.
Tonight’s high-larious comedy contestant is a tubby homosexual with dexedrine instead of blood named Chris Barthel. Nicki decides to call him “Mushroom”, after which he has a small heart attack. Calvin Peters, a doctor who deals in the muscular-skeletal issues of disabled people, is all “fuck you sick-ass bitches” and decides to be on a televised singing competition instead. He sings a Maxwell song and Mariah decides she wants to make the sex with him. Then we get a montage of successful auditions with slightly awkward names, including Breanna Steer and Danielle Hotard. Finally, Nicki gets her own chance to start riding some dick when coon-ass fireman hunk Dustin Watts arrives. He sings a Garth Brooks song that gives Nicki the feelings; Keith eyeballs him like he’s the competition. Dustin is boring, but at least he’s polite. He heads back to the fire station to announce to his buddies that he’s made it to Hollywood; they all high-five him, then they head off together on a firefighting call AND DUSTIN IS KILLED, oh no! That’s just a joke, folks, work with me here.
I’m a total chump for Katrina survivor stories, and Burnell Taylor’s is a heartbreaker. His family lost everything in the storm, and he’s never been able to get a job, and is unemployed and living with relatives at 19. It’s a story that hits pretty close to home; when Ryan Toothpaste asks him how he overcomes something like that, he says, bluntly, “It ain’t happenin’. You just have to live with it.” He even comes into the audition looking like he’s down to his last outfit, in a plain white tee and a truly unfortunate pair of mint green shorts, but once he opens his mouth, it’s all over. He’s got a simply gorgeous tone, beautiful control, and a thick gospel vibe that is far and away the best I’ve heard from any of the male contestants so far. Keith says his voice could convert an atheist; Mariah can’t stop crying; and he gets the most ringing endorsement of the season from the judges, to which he reacts with refreshing humility and gratitude instead of entitlement: “I’m speechless,” is all he can get out, “but I’m thankful.” If this kid doesn’t go deep, I just don’t know what.
Next week, Idol chronicles a trip to my home of San Antonio, for auditions I wanted to go to but was probably too drunk. Another thing I have in common with Paula Abdul. Join me, why don’t you?
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Tonight promises to be a volatile episode of American Idol, if that combination of words makes sense in the English language, because this is the infamous Nicki Minaj Meltdown audition. Yes, we’re stranded in Charlotte-town, North Kakalaka, home of the North American Car Racing Car Sports Car Association. You can tell, because they give Ryan Toothpaste a bunch of NASCAR-related catchphrases to say, so the hicks will know he’s a man of the people: ”Kick it into overdrive! Start your engines! Fatal pile-up!” You are so gifted, Ryan. We get some B-roll of Ryan allegedly driving a pace car, after which he is declared the “RACE WINNER”, and gets a plastic toy to play with.
Anyway, those who have been paying attention to the big personnel changeover know that it was during the Charlotte auditions that Nicki Minaj threw a major hissy-fit, reading Mariah Carey the riot act and storming off the set. Idol swore they would not exploit this in order to drum up interest, and I admit that they didn’t, except when they did. After some ominous teasers, we get to see the judges in all their finery: Randy Jackson, resplendent in his cut-rate self-branded Big Man tees; Keith Urban, reminding us of his existence when we can hear him breathing; Mariah Carey, doing her finest Norma Desmond impersonation; and Nicki herself, in a rose-colored wig, decked out like a Japanese holographic newsreader.
The first Idol hopeful is Naomi “Omi” Morris, who spent all of her money on drugstore makeup and was thus forced to design her own clothing, including heels she can’t walk in and an armored Red Sonja bustier that looks like someone from Gallhammer should be wearing it. She sings the most off-key version of “Respect” ever attempted, as Aretha Franklin makes advance plans to turn over in her grave. Mariah gives her the “but you’re so pretty” brush-off, which hasn’t worked on anyone since the first time Paula Abdul tried it way back in season 1. As she runs off crying through the giant pillars filled with re-agent that decorate the set, the seeds of the great meltdown are planted as Mariah makes some dangerous remarks about Nicki’s breast size.
Next up is the beloved-by-Idol-producers “let’s make fun of someone who’s severely autistic” segment, this time around featuring one Joel Nemoyer, who resembles Kenneth from 30 Rock if he were kept in a dungeon for sixteen years. Joel, who is wearing a wooden cross around his neck in case of a vampire uprising, thinks it’s a special accomplishment to be able to sing better while lying on his back, instead of something that everyone can do. He tells Nicki she looks like cotton candy, then bellows out a tune, after which Randy hurts his feelings by staring at him as if he has just crawled up through the ground from the deepest pits of Hell. He then has a brain seizure like if you had put a paper grocery back over his head, and it’s off to the races with Speed Zoom Ryan.
Brian Rittenberry is a big fat hulk with a big fat kid and a wife who had a big fat tumor. He spiels his sob story about how he didn’t know how he’s explain to his five-year-old that mommy was going to Heaven, but then she short-circuits his chances when it turns out his wife didn’t die after all. Brian sings “Let It Be” by the obscure skiffle group the Beatles, with his vocal attack portending a guaranteed showdown with ROCKER GABE BROWN. Keith Urban says he “has a light about him”. He’s not Jesus, Keith, he’s just a fat guy on a singing competition. Brian’s wife gets rewarded for to being dead by getting to make out with Keith; Ryan Toothpaste goes into the-lady-doth-protest-too-much mode when Keith jokingly suggests that they make out as well. Keith then scolds Mariah for not keeping up, but she ignores him, probably because she is having a victorious showdown in her mind with all the critics who hated Glitter.
Jimmy Smith, a garbage-disposal version of Sammy Hagar, also likes Keith Urban. Doesn’t anybody on this show like Nicki Minaj? Hmmmmm. (For that matter, doesn’t anyone go “Man, you rocked the shit out of the bassline on ‘Girl Can’t Help It’” to Randy?) He sings a Rascal Flatts song that I don’t recognize because I don’t hang around in gas stations, but he does passably well. Mariah gives him a “yup”, further demonstrating her mastery of accents, and then, as they break for lunch (Keith gets almost as aggressive when he’s hungry as Randy does), Jimmy makes a very weird remark about how he didn’t think he’d be able to get Nicki “on board” with his average country crooning, and Keith makes a comment about “missing out” on Billie Holiday, and there’s just a whole weird racial thing going on.
There is some Scotty McCreery on this show, and some Scotty McCreery is too much Scotty McCreery. Next up is a cowboy-hatted monstrosity named Matthew Muse, who seems to be stricken with acromegaly. He, too, loves Keith Urban and wears a Jesus piece, but adds a seriously psychotic laugh to the mix. Matthew opens his spiel by saying “I’m honored to be sitting among you”, even though he is not sitting. He does that thing where you sort of physically act out the lyrics to the song, which Mariah finds boring but I think is the most interesting thing that has happened so far on this Dullsville episode. Since his singing sucks, Nicki decides to use him as some sort of sex mannequin, and he dances around while the Idol producers put a yugga-dugga banjo on the soundtrack to remind us of how he’s a dumb hillbilly.
Our next ‘Idol Small Town Tour’ segment takes us down south to meet Isabel Gonzalez, the pride of Alpharetta, Georgia. Randy hops on a school bus and says “That’s right, the Dawg is on a school bus”, which actually sounds kind of sad, like they sent him back to learn how to spell or something. Isabel looks like she’s about ten years old, but she’s cute and exuberant and has great pipes and knows Sam Cooke songs. She’s an obvious ringer and might even be a dark horse in this race; everyone loves her, and when she gets her golden ticket, her family attacks her with chemicals. Nicki says she looks like a young Phoebe Cates, prompting millions of Idol watchers to go “Who?”. Then we get Sarina-Joi Crowe, a sassy little whelp with long-ass melismatic runs; Na’chelle Fullins-Lavelle, who does a crazy Yma Sumac-style octave hop; and Haley Davis, who looks and sounds exactly like every other girl named Haley in North America.
Our first clue as to what the big Nicki outburst might have really been about comes in the form of Taisha Bethea, an African-American girl who’s in the unfortunately named band “Carson”. She is wearing jeggings, but it’s hard to hold that against her, because she’s a pretty sharp singer. Her thing, you see, is that she’s a “rock singer — let’s make that happen”, but she also happens to enjoy country music (her first song choice is “Folsom Prison Blues”) and soul. Now, of course, it is perfectly ordinary for a person to like more than one style of music. But Keith, Mariah, and Randy — all over 40 years old and not, in their own careers, marked by a particular diversity of style — are all like WHUUUUUUUT when a girl in an indie-style rock band sings a country song, and they pester her to cram herself in one box or another. Nicki, on the other hand, who is relatively young and whose own style is completely predicated on the blending and mixing of soul, pop, and hip-hop, finds absolutely nothing odd about a girl, even — gasp! — an African-American girl, who shows an interest in non-black music. This will become very important in the next segment.
The next contestant is a Summer Cunningham, a generic-looking blonde with a generic-sounding voice who does a generic version of “Stand By Me”. When the judges ask her what kind of singer she wants to be, she says that she’s “done the country thing” and wants to move on to a more soulful style; just as they did when a black girl wanted to sing rock and country, the whole panel save Nicki flips out when a white girl wants to sing soul music. Nicki busts out her English accent and throws Randy some shine, but to no avail; Keith, in particular, gets his knickers in a knot over the “country thing” remark and compares himself to a brain surgeon. Mariah and Randy both badger her into saying she wants to sing country, because they want her to sing country; this is where Nicki starts to get (appropriately, to me) pissy and ask them why they want to keep putting people in compartments that they may not be comfortable in. This makes Mariah all defensive, and she accuses Nicki of not caring about anything but fashion; Randy, in particular, won’t fuckin’ shut up about his “30 years of experience” in the biz, and how he’s just trying to help by making people sing in a way they don’t want to sing. It’s here that Nicki storms off, but it’s pretty hard to see her as the villain.
We then get a little montage of the press coverage over her shit-fit (although they leave out the TMZ clip where she’s cussing like she was in GoodFellas), and when we return, we get a montage of happy contestants to assure us that all is well in Idol-land. Fuck you, tabloids, this montage seems to say; we are allowed to be dicks, because we make dozens of people happy for a very short period before crushing their dreams. We are also treated to some footage of Nicki, who judging by her outfit has used the time off from the show to join the LSD Air Force, engaging in her favorite habit of giving all the guys funny nicknames and calling all the women “ladybug”. The first post-spat contestant is Brandy Alexandria Hamilton, whose name is such a minefield of references that Nicki calls her “honey pie” instead; she sings an Etta James song with a good voice and a ton of personality. Randy says she “is being true to herself”, which I don’t know how he knows that since he just met her three minutes ago, and Mariah says she was “pippity-pow A+”.
Ashley Smith is kind of like what Nicki Minaj might be like if she — well, I guess I can’t think of what chain of circumstance might have led to that outcome, but I promise you it happened in some alternate universe, maybe the one where Roxxon Oil got Nelson Rockefeller elected president with the Serpent Crown. She sings Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” and is actually pretty great; the whole panel completely forgets that yesterday they drove Nicki screaming from the room when another black girl sang a country song, and call her “effervescent”, a word they only seem to use to describe fat people. Janelle Arthur of Oliver Springs, Tennessee, who is a fitness instructor because that is a job now that adults can have, is pretty good, but there are so many girl country singers who sound like that. It’s become utterly generic, like all the girls who do the characterless Whitney runs. Still, Keith, who is wearing a deeply goofy-looking duck hunting t-shirt, loves her, so she gets through to Hollywood.
After a parade of shitty singers, the less said about which the better, is big ol’ bouncer Rodney Barber, a.k.a. “The Voice of Charlotte”. Rodney is a street busker who seems high as a kite, but I instantly love his funky soul-man voice, his attitude, and his potential; but there’s something else: I normally can’t stand sob stories. But Rodney helps the homeless, because he himself was homeless just a few years ago. The reason why this works for me is that he uses his misfortune to aid other people, to relate to them and help them deal with their circumstances, instead of to reflect on his own sorrow. I hate to get too heavy here, because it’s Idol, but learn a lesson, folks. Keith gets to leave early again because his movie star wife is winning an award, the fuckin’ punk.
Candice Glover was on season 11 — I remember her singing with the creepily super-talented Jessica Sanchez — but I guess there must have been some technicality that let her come back. It’s hard for me to give a shit, despite the fact that she’s got a sterling voice, because she’s already been on the show, and if she was that great, she would have won, right? But Nicki loves her: “I want to skin you and wear you”, she says, making this manage to sound adorable instead of horrifying. Ja’bria Barber is next and I don’t care about anything except the fact that she and her family like to go frog-giggin’. “Girl, you got a little spunk in you,” says Randy, and whoops, there’s the horrifying after all. Brad Harris has brain damage from smashing his head into things, and naturally the Idol producers think he’s hilarious. Finally, a woman with a pretty fucking cute kid named London gives Nicki, who she calls Dun Dun and says is her best friend, a stuffed pink bear. Nicki basks in this precious tot’s adoration while Mariah sulks, thus imparting this week’s lesson: throw a massive fit and you will be rewarded, as it should be.
Join me tomorrow night, won’t you, when these idiots gunk up New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the world? It’s a date.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
For reasons I don’t enjoy being yelled at enough to go into, the subject of violence has been much on the minds of my fellow Americans the last few months. The current way of thinking seems to be that certain types of violence exist as a sort of protected category, and that the best way to deal with them is to focus our attentions on the proximate cause, in the form of firearms that hold 11 rounds in a clip rather than 10. A cynic, were any to be found lurking around this very serious subject, might detect the hand of magical thinking stirring the rhetoric of both sides.
But then, as Barbara Holland pointed out in her wonderful 2005 book Gentlemen’s Blood: A History of Dueling, “blood is magical”. The history of organized murder, which reaches back to a time when law as we know it scarcely existed, suggests that the desire to spill the blood of one’s fellows may not, in fact, be something new under the sun, and that our current fretful attitude towards it may have more to do with its having been placed in the hands of amateurs than with the actual taking of lives. In the genteel days of dueling, after all, the ability to fight well, or even to afford the tools of killing, was largely restricted to the upper classes, as opposed to our current sorry state of affairs, when any angry plebeian with a week’s salary to spend can acquire an instrument of death.
Holland’s book, written in a breezy, almost whimsical style that seems largely at peace with the fact that murder is as much a component of the human male’s genetic profile as pattern baldness, the urge to procreate, and prostate cancer, is chock-full of surprising revelations about the history of the duel. The endless proliferation of cheap handguns may have made it easier for one man to kill another over minor offenses like being cut off in traffic or treading on an expensive sneaker, but only the lack of a formal structure and a set of (largely arbitrary) rules makes the process any different from the days when a gentleman might run another through with three feet of cold steel over the shape of his nose, or his tendency to talk out of turn.
So accustomed are we to the notion of the rule of law, and so much have we alienated ourselves from the belief that might makes right (though, of course, might still makes its presence felt everywhere we look), that we forget that for thousands of years, it was considered perfectly acceptable to settle matters not only of honor, but of justice, by a trial of arms. Remedies for civil and criminal injuries were sought by suiting up, grabbing the nearest implement of destruction, and having at it, and if you were the one left alive, there would no longer be any question of who held the moral high ground. Should you be incapable, due to age, infirmity, or the lack of a Y chromosome, of taking arms in your own defense, you had the prerogative of hiring some bloodthirsty lout to make your argument for you, and this additional level of abstraction was rarely, if ever, questioned.
Any who might argue that our modern era, with its easy death at the barrel of a gun, has outbloodied the civilized days of the duel would be wise to reconsider; the slicing of heads and splitting of sides conducted over the quaint concepts of “truth, honor, freedome, and curtesie” cost a shocking number of lives. Holland notes that in France, over 10,000 men were butchered in duels over a twenty-year period from 1590 to 1610 — a potent enough number by itself, but even more so when one realizes that the population of that nation was a third of what it is today. One particular nobleman, the Chevalier d’Andrieux, racked up a staggering death toll of 72 before he reached his thirtieth year; and yet the idea of doing anything to restrict this behavior was unthinkable. Voltaire once challenged a nobleman to a duel, and was agog when he was instead clapped in the cooler; he considered it an affront not only to himself, but to dueling itself, that integral aspect of the very character of the nation.
Naturally, this sort of thing was only acceptable for the toffs. The lower classes were little more than toiling apes; it might have been bad form to kill one for no reason, but it wasn’t something you’d really get into much trouble over. Commoners, on the other hand, were no more allowed to duel than then were allowed to make laws; they could be thrown in prison merely for fighting, and of one of them even began to approach the valiant d’Andrieux’s heroic body count, he would have an appointment made for him at the headsman’s with all haste. The only time it was acceptable for the peasantry to kill one another was in a war duly authorized by the authorities, and even then, if they were to accidentally dispatch an enemy nobleman, they would likely be severely punished rather than rewarded. Mustn’t give the plebes any ideas about murdering their betters, after all; officers of the same army could safely off one another in a duel — indeed, in the Russian military, it was a serious crime to refuse to answer a challenge — but an enlisted man who thought to do the same would be up against the wall in no time.
Endless vade mecums were thrown together in order to lend a patina of gentlemanly order to the art of honor killing. Rules so abstruse and and detailed that they might come out of a rulebook for the sort of war games that eventually displaced them were assayed to make the duel seem like it was a highly civilized affair, and, indeed, why wouldn’t it be? It was the best of society who engaged in dueling, after all. In our own very proper and democratic republic, Andrew Jackson, a notoriously hot-tempered duelist, developed a reputation for cheating on his way to sending as many as 18 men to their graves. Aaron Burr, of course, owns the distinction of being the only man to kill another in a duel while he was vice-president of the United States, having fatally gutshot founding father Alexander Hamilton in a political dispute; but most sources agree that both parties strictly followed the code duello and that the entire affair was therefore above board and indeed a point of pride for the bourgeoning democracy. (Hamilton supplied the guns; they were the same ones that had caused the death of his own son, murdered in a duel not three years before.)
Holland died in 2010 of lung cancer; Gentleman’s Blood was one of the last books she wrote. She was a chain smoker (hence her demise), an inveterate drinker who hoisted “a half-gallon of Scotch a week” at her remote Virginia cabin, and a cantankerous defender of the old vices of meat-eating, frank language, and fucking in an age increasingly characterized by the language of polite evasion. She didn’t think much of the idea of ritualized murder, but she at least approached it with an ironic good humor. New Orleans, she explains, was addicted to dueling; at its antebellum peak, City Park would witness more than a half-dozen fatal confrontations a day, and one cemetery was founded specifically to house the victims of a single aggressive southern gentleman. When she explains how the Crescent City experienced a profound medical crisis when two of its most prominent doctors killed one another in a duel, she does so with the heavy sigh and resigned twisted smile of someone telling a very dark, but very funny, joke.
When the tide finally turned for dueling, it was not because any restrictions had been placed on that mighty democratizing instrument, the personal firearm. Dueling stopped (well, mostly; it still crops up from time to time, especially in South America) because people changed, and because the idea of honor didn’t seem too drastically important anymore, and because we rid ourselves — at least in theory — of the idea that different rules should apply to the rich and the poor, and because it suddenly seemed terribly unjust, not to mention distinctly silly, to settle disputes by a punctilious show of arms. A simple and brutal problem resolved itself through a complex and often nebulous set of social and philosophical changes. There may be a lesson in that; but Barbara Holland is dead.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
POOR-SELLING CELEBRITY COOKBOOKS
1. Jackie Mason’s Sculpting with Chopped Liver
2. Someone’s in the Kitchen with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero
3. Vincent Gallo’s Cooking for Faggots
4. My Hands Hurt with Jennifer Aniston
5. Journey to the Center of John Madden’s Unthinkable Gullet
FROM BAD TO WORST #1
1. 2Pac: The Lost Recordings
2. 2Pac: The Last Recordings
3. 2Pac: The Least Recordings
4. 2Pac: The Lust Recordings
5. 2Pac: The New Recordings
1. Fuzzy Toenail
2. Rob Zombie
3. Bloody Nipple
4. Non-Consensual Sex on the Beach
5. Screaming Neck Spasm
FROM BAD TO WORST #2
1. The Godfather Part III
2. The Godfather Part IV: The Funeral of Mary Corleone
3. The Godfather Part V: Avenging Dubstep Godfather
4. The Godfather Part VI: Enzo’s Revenge
5. The Godfather Part VII: Fredo vs. Jason
LITTLE-KNOWN GHOSTWRITING ASSIGNMENTS
1. William Faulkner: wrote a Popeye short in 1938 entitled “If I Should Forsake Thee, O Sea Haggie”
2. Abigail Van Buren: guest-pencilled several issues of Blood Carnival for EC comics
3. Rush: were actually the Sex Pistols
4. Kurt Cobain: ghosted the introduction to the 1991 revised edition of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking
5. Jesus: wrote early version of Ben-Hur as a vanity project
FROM BAD TO WORST #3
1. Everybody Loves Raymond
2. Everybody Loves Raymond Chandler
3. Everybody Loves Tyson Chandler
4. Everybody Loves Chandler Bing
5. Everybody Loves Bing Crosby or He Beats Them
THAT AND A DOLLAR WILL GET YOU…
1. …one twelve-thousandth of an hour of Alex Rodriguez’ time
2. …most of a Haitian baby
3. …a kid down at the playground to eat a wadded-up ball of aluminum foil
4. …six thousand shares of Zynga
5. …the words “a cup of coffee” written on a morning newspaper
FROM BAD TO WORST #4
1. The Museum of Contemporary Art
2. The Museum of Temporary Art
3. The Museum of Temporary Workers
4. The Museum of Temporary Insanity
5. The Museum of Pimp-o-rary Badassery
PIRATE BEHAVIORS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN PICKED UP ON BY TRENDY PEOPLE
1. forcible sodomy
2. contracting scurvy
3. burying one’s life savings on a sand shoal off the Spanish Main
4. “timbers”, generally
5. being hanged by the British Navy
FROM BAD TO WORST #5
1. Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code
2. Dan Brown’s The Kandinsky Cypher
3. Dan Brown’s The Rockwell Enigma
4. Dan Brown’s The Kinkade Dilemma
5. Dan Brown’s The Dan Brown Quarterly Earnings Statement
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Last night’s Idol premiere took place in New York, and for me, it didn’t illicit much in the way of sympathy. It was filmed too long ago to get any endearing post-Sandy sob stories, so my overall impression was one of schadenfreude whenever someone would get sent packing: yeah! Take that, you stupid living-in-the-center-of-the-cultural-uni
But first, a few notes and corrections from last night:
1. I apparently spelled everyone’s name wrong. I am sorry about that, but not sorry enough to make a correction.
2. One of the most adorable things about the burbling Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey feud is the way the former speaks in a fake British accent just to crawl straight up the latter’s ass. This led Mariah, at one point, to ‘retaliate’ by doing a British accent of her own; naturally, it was straight awful, but I think Mariah thought she was great because after all, she is an actress.
3. The more I think about Rozanna Shindelman, the more bizarre her parents seem to me. They were like every parody of a cartoon Yiddish couple Woody Allen has ever left out of a screenplay for being too broad. Her mother says things like “So beautiful, our daughter, like an angel she is”, and her dad looks like he works at a 19th-century pickle works; and that would be fine if either of them were older than 55, but they clearly are not. These people were born in the 1960s. Why do they act like extras from the original version of The Jazz Singer? We may never know.
4. I have been reliably informed that Mariah Carey might still be a nursing mother, which would explain the forbidding mystery of her tits. We’ll see. We’ll just see.
5. Finally, it turns out — and I missed this because I was busy teaching medically complex children how to sign “I LOVE YOU” to puppies, so don’t judge me — the girl who claimed she was fat even though she wasn’t fat used to be fatter. She is haunted by the ghosts of her vanished fat, like Europe was once stalked by the specter of Marxism. This explains her otherwise inexplicable terror of being judged as the resident fatty-pants, even though her pants are currently low-fat. I’m glad we got that cleared up.
We open tonight with a Price is Right fakeout, because this show loves cheap reversals like I like hot dinners. I see from the credits that producer Cécile Frot-Coutaz is still on board, which means the Best Name in Hollywood Award is sewn up for another year. Nicki Minaj is dressed up like an admiral in the leopard Sea Org, and we get “My Kind of Town” out of the way right from the get-go. The first contestant is Mackenzie Wasner of Tennessee, or, as I intend to call her, the Bright Orange Dork from Lipper’s Fork. Her dad has a job playing piano for Vince Gill, which may be why she has the tragic hair and errant makeup of someone on a trajectory towards amateur porn. She’s a real comer, though; Keith Urban loves her, and she can really sell the country stuff. She needs a little polish, but she could definitely go places, albeit not places I would want to accompany her. (I was just kidding about the amateur porn. Mackenzie says “oh my goodness” and is probably going to Heaven.)
Austin Earles, a lifetime shake machine cleaner with Johnny Bravo hair, is a write-off, but he gets Nicki started on a delightful new tactic for annoying Mariah: pretending she likes crap singers so Mariah will have to say something mean about them. I’m really starting to dig on Nicki. Next up is Kiara Lanier, a tall drink of water from the old home town who got to sing for Mister President Man; she initially pisses off Nicki for sucking up to Mariah (a common theme on this episode), but once she gets going, no one can stay mad at her because her voice is just killer. She’s got a soft and controlled tone, but she shapes like an old-school gospel singer, in that big rangy way, and she impresses me more for sheer poise and vocal talent than anyone we’ve seen so far. Kiara is the kind of singer who is better than everyone else but never wins, so 2013 could be the year of the Great Kiara Lanier Betrayal.
Stephanie Schmiel works at a lingerie store in Milwaukee, so there’s really no point in my describing her appearance. The male judges embarrass themselves because the word ‘lingerie’ makes them jump in the air and hit themselves in the head with dinosaur bones, but Mariah correctly sizes her up as “a pretty girl, but not star power, nothing extra”. She is mostly notable for the fact that she sets off a huge bitch-off between Nicki and Mariah which ends in a TKO for Ms. Superbad of Trinidad. Melissa Bush is a massage therapist who shows up in a wonderful Wonder Woman-disco tramp outfit; Nicki seems repelled at the possibility that she might be related to “former President George W. Bush”, which she enunciates as if she is about to send someone to the big house. Despite trying to bribe Randy with a t-shirt, Melissa is terrible; after she leaves, the boys say something dirty about her. We are not made privy to what it is, but it leads to an accusation by an improbably haughty Mariah that they are “vulgar”.
Apparently, there is a new and deeply misguided Idol “initiative” called the American Idol Small Town Tour, and it vomits forth a hearty lad in Wal-Mart jeans and Harpo Marx hair who shall henceforth be known as ROCKER GABE BROWN. He does that Joe-Cocker-in-a-wind-tunnel thing that passes for male rock vocals on this show, but lest anyone get too excited about that, let me remind you whose else that shtick belonged to: that’s right, the walking, talking, singing mistake that is Taylor Hicks. ROCKER GABE BROWN isn’t that bad, but there are two things that will likely keep him from being the token rock guy this year: he’s fat, and he can’t seem to tone it down. Nicki helpfully dubs him “Curly” instead of “Fatty”, but just in case we forget that he’s fat, the Idol cameramen helpfully shake the camera up and down when he runs out to announce he’s going to Hollywood.
Tonight’s featured ‘let’s laugh at people who are deep into the autism spectrum’ candidate is Kevin Nabity, a kung-fu tweaker junkie made of animated denim. His bo stick falls into Lake Michigan. Then Idol rips off the ‘bad lip-reading’ gag when he sings, because they want to prove for the 927,823rd time that they are really bad at humor. After Kevin we get a crying montage, because this show hates all that is decent in the human soul. Stay out of Iowa, Idol; it is not the place for you. Redeeming this segment slightly is the appearance of dowdy-shirted, mature-looking 15-year-old Isabelle Parrell, who duets on the beloved date-rape anthem “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Keith Urban. I was prepared to hate Isabelle, but she’s got a solid voice and is pretty charming and composed for someone her age. Perhaps infuriated that he was forced to sing without being paid, Keith leaves Chicago to perform his Las Vegas saloon act.
With Keith gone, Nicki and Mariah grow ever colder and more distant, and hapless Randy is forced to stop thinking about cheeseburgers and assume the role of frank-speaking dick. We are exposed to a montage of pretty-boys meant to establish that Nicki Minaj has an active vagina, and it ends with Griffin Peterson. If Nicki plans to pull a Paula and get it on with one of the contestants, I think she’s barking up the wrong tree with Griffin; he is a Jesus-jumper and will not permit her to sully the divine purity of his God-gifted wingwang until they are married by a duly appointed Earthly representative of our Heavenly Father. (I’m not sure why there’s such a preponderance of these ‘praise music’ dingbats in Chicago; the only people I met there who believed in God were genetically Catholic.) Mariah lets Griffin get through to the next round, though, in an attempt to break Nicki’s spirit. Curtis Finch Jr., the next candidate, is a teacher from St. Louis who talks a good game but may be punching above his weight. By which I mean he is gay. No, wait, fat. Oh, I don’t even remember any more what cheap joke I was going for. Anyway, Randy blorps out that he has “crazy vocals”, which I cannot deny is true; he’s got that soaring gospel tone that I am a total chump for. Afterwards, Nicki ranks out Mariah so hard that Mariah resorts to her ‘angry mom’ voice.
This evening promises one sob story after another and Mariah Pulice’s is a pretty good one: she’s a recovering anorexic. She’s making progress, but let me tell you, young lady, blue fingernails are no substitute for a non-dysmorphic body image. She makes it through because Keith is not around to keep the panel in line, and she gets so completely hysterical at how great it is and how happy she is to have turned her life around and how this is the culmination of all her dreams and aspirations that it pains me to say that Idol is immediately going to stop talking about her when it turns out she’s not that great, so we don’t remember feeling so sorry for her. I am sorry to say this because anorexia is a serious issue but my job here is to be a capering clown and anyway, Idol hates Asian people. Good luck in Hollywood, Mariah (yeah, she probably just got through because of that name, if I’m being even more of an asshole); try to stay away from Umami Burger.
Day Two: “Sweet Home Chicago”: two for two on the zero-effort Chicago songs! Nicki has changed into a rhinestone-studded outer space brain surgeon suit, and a wig which I can’t even muster any comment about because I believe it to be a creature of myth which will be drawn to me if I speak its name. Next up: Brandy Neelly was adopted. Is this supposed to be a sob story? Jesus, I was adopted, and I am the living worst. Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of her voice or style (there’s far too many jean vests this year), but she does have a lot of personality, and that goes far on this show. Mariah thought her song choice was “A-plus-mazing”, and Nicki gives her “a thousand percent yes”, which is the yes of ten entire people. Josh Holiday, from the nowheresville of Celeste, Texas, is a “caregiver”. That has to mean gay, right? That’s what it means? Come on, kids, you can tell me, I’m hep! Anyway, he’s got fancy runs, but I don’t think he’ll go too deep, although he does inspire Nicki to use her fakey British accent again, and that’s just fine.
Courtney Williams is a belter in lime green pantaloons who leaves some notes hanging in the air for so long they’re probably still there four months later; she could be a fun one to watch. Ditto Andrew Jones, who soul-croons “Knock on Wood” and gets his tap on. Not so, though, with Clifton Duffin from the less-glamourous-than-it-sounds Country Club Hills; his gimmick is that his parents have never seen him sing, leading Nicki to call him a “secret squirrel”. He’s a little shouty, but not terrible; but the judges send him home. Mariah says she “enjoyed your journey” and his song “hit her heart”, but she doesn’t mean in an awesome, fatal, karate way. Ieisha Cotton is a stripper (sorry, “dancer”) who bears a striking resemblance to Shardene Innes from The Wire, only a worse singer, and I say that without ever having heard Shardene sing. Sorry, Ieisha, back to selling $95 bottles of flat champagne for you. Johnny Keyser is a hunk-papa from Florida who has that Wally Cleaver chunkhead thing going, and wears too much eyeliner; the vocals on his eminently Caucasian version of “Try a Little Tenderness” are okay, but he gets his golden ticket mostly on account of Nicki and Mariah like his abs.
The less said about the parade of the horribles in the Les Misérables parody, the better; the only thing worse that their singing is the jokey framing device Idol comes up with. Next up is Kez Ban, who is a “fire performer” — why do you keep making me learn all these stupid new words, Idol? She’s a hipster singer-songwriter type, on the older side (27!) and with that ‘I don’t really give a shit whether I’m on this show or not’ demeanor that can be fun for a while but quickly grows wearisome (c.f. Crystal Bowersox). She barely makes it through, but provides some entertainment, as she seems to represent the Idol crew’s first-ever encounter with irony. Ashely Curry is a musical theatre major from Flossmoor (WHAT WHAT), but she’s a little sketchy on the ‘musical’ part as she keeps belting out the loudest version of “Mama Knows Best” that has ever been made. Her voice sounds like someone running around your front yard swinging an axe in both hands. In a desperate attempt to keep her from singing any further, Mariah and Nicki suggest that they engage in an improvised acting scene, but thank God Ashley just starts hollering again and this does not happen.
Finally, they bring in Lazaro Arbos, who they’ve been hyping all night as the paragon of sob stories. Not only does it turn out that his big sob story is that he has a stutter, but he wears a bright purple satin bow tie and works as an ‘ice cream scooper’. It’s the biggest letdown imaginable given that they’ve been yapping for two hours about how inspirational and weep-worthy his story is. I thought at least he’d have cancer or an ugly baby or something. The judges express amazement at the actually quite commonplace phenomenon that he stutters when he talks but not when he sings. I know I am a terrible person, but not only did I find his story hugely less inspiring than I was obviously meant to, but, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but given what a tyrant Ryan Toothpaste is about getting the show in on time, I pretty much guarantee that we will never, ever hear from Lazaro again.
I hope you’ll join me next week for the Idol auditions in North Kakalaka. This was where the notorious TMZ-leaked gun battle between Mariah and Nicki took place, and where their deep, intense, cleansing hatred for one another really began. Will Idol sit on it, or exploit it for all it’s worth? Stay tuned!
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Oh, my dearests. If I told you how excited I was about the season premiere of American Idol, would you think less of me? If I told you that I plan on blogging about it for the rest of the season, would you stop reading this site? If I said you had a beautiful body, would you give me a hand-job? So many questions. So few answers.
With the caveat that I’ll be staying away from the recap shows (there are only so many clever things one can say about a bunch of fame-hungry teenagers pretending to be super into a Ford Focus), yes, I am so thrilled about AI starting up again that I’ll be writing about it in this space for the duration. While I have no expectations that we will get anything but another blandly handsome guitar-strumming non-entity who appeals to sheltered 13-year-old-girls again this year, it should be fun based on the major overhaul to the panel of judges.
Gone are ass-positive triple-threat Jennifer Lopez and desiccated Diane Warren repository Steven Tyler. In their place will be Mariah Carey, who will be filling the ‘overly emotional, mentally damaged mixed-race pop sensation’ slot; Nicki Minaj, a wondrous Trinidadian elf-thing who will be insufficiently able to assume Simon Cowell’s stern taskmaster role; and the deceptively named Keith Urban, a foreign-born country singer and professional Nicole Kidman impregnator who will be assisting gregarious human coin toss Randy Jackson in his role as a dumb oaf. It’s a combination of inexperience, indifference, and utter madness that’s sure to result in mirth.
The opening making-of sequence, where last year’s mistake, Phillip “Phillip” Phillips, sings a song that will someday be used in the montage scene of a WB post-apocalypse drama, is the last quiet moment of the night, because then Ryan Toothpaste starts giving us a bunch of depressing statistics about how there are more Mariah Carey records in existence than there were people killed in the Holocaust. The first episode takes place in New York, where a billion people show up to look at Keith Urban because their boutique beer store in Greenpoint was rendered unacceptably soggy during Hurricane Sandy. Now, because the captions on this show only show up for a picosecond and God made marijuana delicious, I missed some of the names here, but I ain’t Keith Sweat, so don’t sweat me. Let’s pause for a few seconds of fake bitchiness between Mariah and Nicki, which hopefully by the end of the season will blossom into genuine, soul-harrowing, unrehearsed hatred, and then it’s off to the races!
Our first no-hopeful is Mike, a goateed punching bag who does a freestyle rap about how cute Nicki’s face is. Nicki agrees that her face is cute, but she doesn’t need some cookie-dough honky telling her that, so he gets sent packing. After some more fake hostility as Nicki gets her wig steamed, next up is Tina Tennant, who once attended the terrifyingly named “Camp Mariah”, where I can assume that young children are taught melismatic runs in preparation for the fascist nightmare that is to come when Mariah Carey overthrows the government. She doesn’t know how to walk in heels, but Keith Urban thinks she has “patience and pace” (coming soon to the WB, with songs by Phillip Phillips), and she gets through. We are then favored with a montage of people who get through by singing songs Idol has failed to license, including one guy who looks like he became homeless after spending his rent money on afro picks.
Something is going on with Mariah Carey’s tits. I cannot say what it is, but it seems like it might reach a crisis point in the near future. As the judges sip from special jumbo-sized Coca-Cola cups, we are treated to a terrible performance by the little kid from the PSY video, who gets the ‘we are sad but we are laughing’ treatment and is condemned to a future of selling cell phone accessories. The second girl pretends that she is fat, when she probably weighs 130 pounds at the absolute max, but still finds it necessary, when she gets her golden ticket to Hollywood, to emit sounds of gratitude that people of “all shapes and sizes” can get on American Idol. Way to bravely cope with being maybe ten pounds overweight, lady. She went to Berklee, which prompts Mariah to claim that she went to “the school of fuckin’ life”.
The mortal lock of the night seems to be a dancing New Jerseyite in Loverboy pants who (a) sings a Bon Jovi song, (b) seems kind of gay and (c) lost a leg to cancer! Yes, he’s a cowboy, and on a steel stump he rides. He’s not even a bad singer, but this panel seems to be trying to establish a hard-ass reputation and they send him home. Sorry, cancer man. Next up is Jessica, a folky Staten Islander in a jean vest who “doesn’t want to define herself yet”, possibly because the best definition for her would be “mediocre singer”. She is sad to be kicked to the curb and makes some my-career-is-over noises, but Nicki drops some wisdom, saying “nothing is ever your only shot”. Then there is a commercial for Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream, which is one of many things I have needed explained to me today.
Shira is next; she had a number-one hit in Israel, which makes her sort of a ringer, but at any rate I am too blinded by anti-Semitism to give her a fair shake. As she croons away, all I can think of is the blood of my slaughtered Arab brethren, and also how I wish I had Pringles. Frankie from Brooklyn lives in a rough neighborhood, which they establish by filming him sitting in front of a computer surfing the internet. Way to get B-roll, American Idol directors. He tries to sing “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics, but he’s way, way too high; this would get most people booted, but Nicki likes people from Brooklyn, and she’s in a good mood because she just Americansplained busking to Keith Urban. Frankie has pipes, if not an iota of control, and they let him through as everybody smiles. The background music switches to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, because his name is Frankie and he is going to Hollywood and not because he enjoys gay bathhouse sex. Or not only for that reason.
Flash forward to the next day, and Nicki has changed into a wig made of spun lava, because she is the Queen of the Mole People. Our next contestant is Benjamin, a tubbo in a Thriller outfit, only it is made out of linoleum, and the greatest post-’80s Jheri curl since Pedro Martinez. The panel dumps him while putting on the same sad-serious face they did for cancer man, and he squeaks away into the lonely city after sitting forlornly on a stool while a PA tries to think of something to say to him. This is easily the most hilarious segment of Idol all season. Then a commercial instructs viewers to send a get-well card to the AFLAC duck, who would actually do that.
Roseanne Shindelman is the first hatchi-matchi candidate of the night, and her parents are a pair of stock characters from regional Yiddish theater circa 1924, because they actually say stuff like “So nice, she sings”. She’s all over the place, though, and the judges send her home in shame. She will show them all when she is America’s best-loved female cantor. After another montage of shitty, angry singers with damaged hair, we get South Jersey melon-farmer Sarah, who is just one blueberry patch away from being a mob princess. She shoots a bow and arrow, rides a tractor, and appeals mightily to Keith Urban, because they are both clearly the kinds of people who should never sing country songs. She has an adequate pop-goes-the-Nashville voice, but then she busts out rapping and is much better at it than she is at singing. Sadly, this is American Idol and not American Rapper, a great show I just made up in my head that stars Canibus and a talking jaguar. She touches off a debate during which Mariah and Nicki both start talking so fast that time starts moving backwards, and I don’t know if she made it through or not because all of a sudden there was a Civil War battle on my TV.
Then Randy wants to eat lunch, and you don’t stand between that guy and a craft table burrito unless you want your legs broke. After lunch comes Albert, who is from Rego Park, a.k.a. the least gangsta neighborhood in Queens; Albert is Chinese and, in addition to not being able to sing, can’t speak English very well. I’m not sure if they’re trying to recapture the lightning of William Hung or what, but I am 100% sure I ain’t down with the Asian-minstrel-show shit Idol is doing here. Brett is a Phila homeboy who looks like he should be working at the Boys’ Club keeping young fellows on the straight and narrow; before he gets tossed, they do a bunch of bullshit Inception fakeouts which make this segment the most aggressively annoying of the night.
Fashion-forward Sikh Gurpreet, a.k.a. “The Turbanator”, almost doesn’t get through because this panel hates everybody, especially Keith Urban, who seems to be opting for a personality-free Simon Cowell jawn. But wait! The final vote falls to Nicki, who gives him a pass to Hollywood! This should be fun, because not only will he get eaten alive there, but he will be subject to some excitingly misguided Islamophobic slurs from the fans. Finally, Ashlee Felciano, who comes from a family of 200,000 people and looks like a Cosby Kid, shows up. Her parents foster “medically complex children”, which is a thing I have to know about now, I guess. Anyway, apparently, if she doesn’t get on American Idol, an adorable sick toddler will die, but luckily for him she’s easily the best singer of the night and gets through. She says “Oh, my word” because she is the heroine of a novel written in 1892. There is a brief moment of panic when Keith Urban threatens to say something perceptive about her voice but then YAY RANDY JACKSON IS DANCING WITH CUTE KIDS WHO ARE “MEDICALLY COMPLEX”, HOORAY.
Tomorrow: Chicago. Join me as I cry real tears for my vanished youth in the old home town.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
ON THE INTERNET
To Do and Say
- TO THINK: ”I have not been completely inundated with self-validation about _____.”
- TO SAY: ”Am I the only person in the world who thinks _____?”
- TO THINK: ”I am irrationally excited by the overly familiar.”
- TO SAY: ”Squeeee“
- TO THINK: ”I do not know the facts.”
- TO SAY: ”I’m sorry, but those are just the facts.”
- TO THINK: ”I have insufficient information to have an informed opinion about _____.”
- TO SAY: ”The problem is that you’re focused on _____, when the real problem is _____”
- TO THINK: ”My job and/or home life is extremely unfulfilling.”
- TO SAY: ”This altered photograph of Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka should make my feelings on this matter clear.”
TO DO: A woman has asked to be treated with a modicum of respect. Explain why she is a dirty whore.
- TO THINK: ”It is really a matter of public health.”
- TO SAY: ”You are fat.”
- TO THINK: ”I cannot be bothered to articulate my thoughts on this issue, because I am playing Angry Birds.”
- TO SAY: ”Meh.”
- TO THINK: ”I am having an affair with your sister.”
- TO SAY: ”I think it’s sad that you can’t learn to trust other people.”
- TO THINK: ”I am desperately insecure.”
- TO SAY: ”I have just checked in as the new Mayor of _____.”
- TO THINK: ”Everyone is wrong but me.”
- TO SAY: ”There are extremists on both sides of this issue.”
TO DO: Justify your own constant appropriation of other peoples’ work while scolding someone about creator’s rights.
- TO THINK: ”I cannot comfortably conceive of a person whose tastes are at variance with my own.”
- TO SAY: ”If you don’t like _____, I don’t think we can be friends.”
- TO THINK: ”I take offense at everything.”
- TO SAY: ”I take offense at that.”
- TO THINK: ”I am a dolt.”
- TO SAY: ”tl;dr”
- TO THINK: ”I find my own neuroses endlessly fascinating.”
- TO SAY: ”I guess I just don’t conform to your mainstream standards.”
- TO THINK: ”I am a huge asshole.”
- TO SAY: ”I am the moderator of a Men’s Rights forum.”
TO DO: Oh, no, it’s raining! Tell your friends in other parts of the country how they have no idea what bad weather is really like.
- TO THINK: ”I have no idea what is happening, what is happening, make things stop happening”
- TO SAY: ”Reply: All”
- TO THINK: ”I think of other people primarily as marketing tools for my personal obsessions.”
- TO SAY: ”Please RT”
- TO THINK: ”I have just read the Wikipedia entry about _____.”
- TO SAY: ”Obviously, you don’t know anything about _____.”
- TO THINK: ”I did not write this.”
- TO SAY: ”This is problematic.”
- TO THINK: ”I am a hypocrite.”
- TO SAY: ”I am on the internet.”
TO DO: Explain someone else’s joke to them.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Hey, folks. Do you know Fiasco? You should: Jason Morningstar‘s cleverly constructed, tonally perfect role-playing game (available from Bully Pulpit Games) is one of the greatest things going these days. Built for 3-5 players, with minimal dice-rolling, few rules, and no game-master, it’s perfect if you enjoy dark, cynical crime movies, film noir, the work of the Coen Brothers, interactive storytelling, and having a fiendishly good time.
I’m a huge fan of the game, and because of Bully Pulpit’s admirably collaborative approach to the gaming world, it was only a matter of time before I tried my hand at writing my own “playset” — the scenario around which a game of Fiasco is built. Not finding it well-addressed in the official or fan-made playsets I found on line, I decided mine would take place in the dangerous, unpredictable world of a decaying Mexican border town. Playing “Fronterizo” should put you in mind of many bad-things-get-worse films set on the U.S./Mexico border, from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia to No Country for Old Men.
If you’re a Fiasco player and would like to give “Fronterizo” a try, I invite you to do so. It’s free of charge and in the public domain, so you can get it for nothin’ and do whatever you want with it. If you’re not a Fiasco player, head over to Bully Pulpit, reward Jason for writing such a great game by buying a copy, and then pick up “Fronterizo” as your first playset, why not? Here’s the download link, which gets you a ZIP file containing both a Word and a PDF version:
Thanks for gaming, thanks for reading my stuff, and remember: Estáte trucha; hay chivatos por todas partes.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that being a witness to even the most electrifying events is no guarantee of recalling them accurately. The men and women who survived the sinking of the Titanic disagreed as to exactly how the great ship went down, even though they all saw it at the same time; victims of great disasters and horrific crimes, who presumably have had the smallest memories burned into their cortices by trauma, will often give entirely different accounts. On a lesser scale, our sporting press has always managed to wrest their own legendary interpretations out of events they personally witnessed, but those interpretations frequently bear no resemblance to what actually happened. This essay on the Jack Dempsey/Georges Carpentier fight, written by H.L. Mencken, has thus always been a favorite of mine, illustrating both the tendency of storytellers to aggrandize their own narrative at the expense of the facts, as well as the unreliability of the eye-witness. Neither factor has changed much since Mencken wrote about them, almost a hundred years ago.
The late herculean combat between Prof. Dempsey and Mons. Carpentier, in addition to all its other usufructs, also had some lessons in it for the psychologist — that is, if any psychologist can be found who is not an idiot. One was a lesson in the ways and means whereby legends are made, that man may be kept misinformed and happy on this earth, and hence not too willing to go to Hell. I allude specifically to a legend already in full credit throughout the length and breadth of Christendom, to wit, the legend that Carpentier gave Dempsey some fearful wallops in the second round of their joust, and came within a micromillimeter of knocking him out. Loving the truth for its own sake, I now tell it simply and hopelessly. No such wallops were actually delivered. Dempsey was never in any more danger of being knocked out than I was, sitting there in the stand with a very pretty gal just behind me and five or six just in front.
In brief, the whole story is apocryphal, bogus, hollow and null, imbecile, devoid of substance. The gallant Frog himself, an honest as well as reckless man, has testified clearly that, by the time he came to the second round, he was already substantially done for, and hence quite incapable of doing any execution upon so solid an aurochs as Dempsey. His true finish came, in fact, in the first round, when Dempsey, after one of Carpentier’s flashy rights, feinted to his head, caused him to duck, and then delivered a devastating depth-bomb upon the back of his neck. This blow, says Carpentier, produced a general agglutination of his blood corpuscles, telescoped his vertebræ, and left him palsied and on the verge of Cheyne-Stokes breathing. To say that any pug unaided by supernatural assistance, after such a colossal shock, could hit Von Dempsey hard enough to hurt him is to say that a Sunday-school superintendent could throw a hippopotamus. Nevertheless, there stands the legend, and Christendom will probably believe it as firmly as it believes that Jonah swallowed the whale. It has been printed multitudinously. It has been cabled to all the four quarters of the earth. It enters into the intellectual heritage of the human race*. How is it to be accounted for? What was the process of its genesis?
Having no belief in simple answers to the great problems of being and becoming, I attempt a somewhat complex one. It may be conveniently boiled down to the following propositions:
(a) The sympathies of a majority of the intelligentsia present were with M. Carpentier, because (1) he was matched with a man plainly his superior, (2) he had come a long way to fight, (3) he was the challenger, (4) he was an ex-soldier, whereas his opponent had ducked the draft.
(b) He was (1) a Frenchman, and hence a beneficiary of the romantic air which hangs about all things French, particularly to Americans who question the constitutionality of Prohibition and the Mann Act; he was (2) of a certain modest social pretension, and hence palpably above Professor Dempsey, a low-brow.
(c) He was polite to newspaper reporters, the surest means to favorable public notice in America, whereas the oaf, Dempsey, was too much afraid of them to court them.
(d) He was a handsome fellow, and made love to all the sob-sisters.
(e) His style of fighting was open and graceful, and grounded itself upon active footwork and swinging blows that made a smack when they landed, and so struck the inexperienced as deft and effective.
All these advantages resided within M. Carpentier himself. Now for a few lying outside him:
(a) The sporting reporters, despite their experience, often succumb to (e) above. That is, they constantly overestimate the force and effect of spectacular blows, and as constantly underestimate the force and effect of short, close and apparently unplanned blows.
(b) They are all in favor of prize-fighting as a sport, and seek to make it appear fair, highly technical and romantic; hence their subconscious prejudice is against a capital fight that is one-sided and without dramatic moments.
(c) They are fond, like all the rest of us, of airing their technical knowledge, and so try to gild their reports with accounts of mysterious transactions that the boobery looked at but did not see.
(d) After they have predicted confidently that a given pug will give a good account of himself, they have to save their faces by describing him as doing it.
(e) They are, like all other human beings, sheep-like, and docilely accept any nonsense that is launched by a man who knowns how to impress them.
I could fish up other elements out of the hocus-pocus, but here are enough. Boiled down, the thing simply amounts to this: that Carpentier practiced a style of fighting that was more spectacular and attractive than Dempsey’s, both to the laiety present and to the experts; that he was much more popular than Dempsey, at least among the literati and the nobility and gentry; and that, in the face of his depressing defeat, all his partisans grasped eagerly at the apparent recovery he made in the second round — when, by his own confession, he was already quite out of it — and converted that apparent recovery into an onslaught which came within an ace of turning the tide for him.
But why did all the reporters and spectators agree upon the same fiction? The answer is easily given: all of them did not agree upon it. Fully a half of them knew nothing about it when they left the stand; it was not until the next day that they began to help it along. As for those who fell upon it at once, they did so for the simple reason that the second round presented the only practicable opportunity for arguing that Carpentier was in the fight at all, save perhaps as an unfortunate spectator. If they didn’t say that he had come hear to knocking out Dempsey in that round, they couldn’t say it at all. So they said it — and now every human being on this favorite planet of Heaven believes it, from remote missionaries on the Upper Amazon to lonely socialists in the catacombs of Leavenworth, and from the Hon. Warren Gamaliel Harding on his alabaster throne to the meanest Slovak in the bowels of the earth. I sweat and groan on this hot night to tell you the truth, but you will not believe me. The preponderance of evidence is against me. In six more days, no doubt, I’ll be with you, rid of my indigestible facts and stuffed with the bosh that soothes and nourishes man…Aye, why wait six days? Tomorrow I’ll kiss the book, and purge my conscience.
Meanwhile, I take advantage of my hours of grace to state the ribald and immortal truth in plain terms, that an occasional misanthrope may be rejoiced. Carpentier never for a single instant showed the slightest chance of knocking out Dempsey. His fighting was prettier than Dempsey’s; his blows swung from the shoulder; he moved about gracefully; when he struct the spot he aimed at (which was very seldom), it was with a jaunty and charming air. But he was half paralyzed by that clout on the posterior neck in the very first round, and thereafter his wallops were no more dangerous to Dempsey than so many cracks with a bag stuffed with liberty cabbage. When, in the second round, he rushed in and delivered the two or three blows to the jaw that are alleged to have shaken up the ex-n0n-conscript, he got in exchange for them so rapid and so powerful a series of knocks that he came out of the round a solid mass of bruises from the latitude of McBurney’s point to the bulge of the frontal escarpment.
Nor did Dempsey, as they say, knock him out finally with a right to the jaw, or with a left to the jaw, or with any single blow to any other place. Dempsey knocked him out by beating him steadily and fearfully, chiefly with short-arm jabs — to the jaw, to the nose, to the eyes, to the neck front and back, to the ears, to the arms, to the ribs, to the kishkas. His collapse was gradual. He died by inches. In the end he simply dropped in his tracks, and was unable to get up again — perhaps the most scientifically and thoroughly beaten a man that ever fought in a championship mill. It was, to my taste, almost the ideal fight. There was absolutely no chance to talk of an accidental blow, or of a foul. Carpentier fought bravely, and for the first minute or two, brilliantly. But after that he went steadily down hill, and there was never a moment when the result was in doubt. The spectators applauded the swinging blows and the agile footwork, but it was the relentless pummeling that won the fight.
Such are the facts. I apologize for the Babylonian indecency of printing them.
*: It even appears to this day on Wikipedia, thus forever ensuring its sacrosanct status as an unvarnished truth. — LP
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
The soul of man is forever striving, straining for victory, for glory, for transcendence beyond his mere base physicality, to become one with a universal whole. But it is this very striving that grounds him to the ordinary, by mussing his hair, coating his tongue, and causing various antisocial odors to issue forth from his bodily openings. Even the most enlightened man, whose spirit has brushed against the eternal consciousness of the universe, may find his insights go unheeded if he fails to properly groom his beard, or smells like the underside of a herd animal. It is to further the evolution of the human psyche in all its noblest aspirations that we here at PopuCleanse, the personal health and beauty care division of Zeddco, have been isolating the elements of bodily foulness since 1963, and discovering ways to eliminate them since 1971. We are pleased to announce the following extensions to our already distressingly comprehensive line of products.
THE SCIENCE OF TECHNOLOGY
Skin: it is the problem. It thus follows that lack of skin is the solution. Science once taught us that mixing acids and bases was dangerous and unpredictable, but in our modern era, when science has properly been rendered the handmaiden of consumerism, we have learned that the “base” of so many dermatological ailments — acne, rosacea, dermatitis, psoriasis, geographic tongue, racquet thumb, Brunsting-Perry cicatricial pemphigoid — are easily dealt with by applying the “acid” of perchloric acid. By using one of the strongest inorganic compounds known to man, as well as organic herbs and fruit extracts to leave the resulting chemical burns smelling morning-fresh, you can achieve the kind of flawless, perfect skin usually only seen on infants and people who have been involved in industrial mishaps. With the regular and thorough application of Chlorismooth, our new liquid flaw-searing solution, you can harness the same technology used to make rocket fuels to burn your skin problems away. Look for it in the secured closet the pharmacist is afraid to go near.
SMELL LIKE AN ATHLETE
Here at PopuCleanse, we have known for years that, counterintuitively, our customers believe that it is to their advantage to olfactorially resemble someone who has just spent two hours running at high speeds and crashing into the bodies of other people while rolling around on the ground. Mephitol, our leading deodorant brand, first took advantage of this in 1958, with its highly successful “Smell Like Bob Turley” campaign, and ever since then, we have been at the vanguard of sports-themed armpit defunkification. Our special Olympic-themed scents in 1992 and 1996 were incredibly popular (unlike our Special Olympic-themed scents in 2004, which didn’t go over quite as well), and we have also launched celebrated campaigns featuring such beloved athletes as Cammi Granato, Parker Kligerman, and Butterbean. But now, building on our success in 2009 with the “Concepts” Series, in which conceptual fragrance-branding was applied to competitive intangibles to create such memorable scents as Play Through the Pain, Training Table, and Good Effort Today, we are excited to roll out Mephitol’s SPORTIFEX line, in which you can actually smell like your favorite sport. Initially available in eight dynamic flavor-odors:
- Football (Not American Football, But Soccer)
- Pole Vault
- Indoor Field Hockey
- Competitive Eating
FOR THE PERSON INSIDE
Since its inception, PopuCleanse’s mission statement has been a simple one: assert the existence of odors emanating from your body that might cause social anxiety, and sell you products designed to conceal those odors. Up until now, we have focused almost exclusively on odors exuded by the exterior of the body (under-arms, groin adjacencies) or the near-exterior (the insides of the mouth and anus). But this year, our researchers and marketers have teamed up to tackle the final frontier of body odor masking products: the vast interior of the human body. Did you know that, according to research we commissioned from the non-partisan Mary In Product Development’s Nephew Research Institute, the liver is the stankiest of all organs? Did you know that in a survey conducted of people who might as well be you, 94% of respondents said they would rather eat poison than go around with a pair of yucky-smelling lungs? Did you know that in terms of things that will get you disinvited to all the best parties, the vast majority are, so to speak, coming from inside the house? That’s why we developed Organ Breeze, a delicious and effective oral tonic in six flavors, eight scents, and fifteen colors designed to keep all of your internal parts smelling alpine-fresh, 24 hours a day. It may not sound like a big deal, but do you really want to risk going to the hospital after a serious accident and having the surgeon flee the room, leaving you without medical attention in those critical moments that may spell the difference between life and death, because he opened you up and found out your peritoneum smells like a horse’s butthole? Stop worrying about how your viscera smell. Let us worry about that, and you worry about giving us $8.99 every 2-3 weeks. From PopuCleanse.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Another Mayan apocalypse come and gone, and here we still are, writing end-of-year recaps. Searching for an overarching metaphor for the most annoying year in the history of music criticism proved difficult, as no comparison seemed worth of encapsulating the unique blend of lazy and self-righteous that characterized 2012. Was this the year that the chickens came home to roost, only to have their heads bitten off by the carny geeks that now pass for journalists? Was this the year that cultural criticism finally disappeared up its own ass, only to find the space hopelessly crowded by music bloggers, who find the stench tolerable given how cheap rent? Was this yet another Year of the Woman?
Let’s call it the Year the Music Critics Died. Let’s remember how we drove our Chevy to the levee but the levee was crammed full of anonymous comments-section trolls arguing about authenticity. Let’s admit that music can save your mortal soul, but half-assed bloviating about music can get you plenty of retweets. Forearmed with the knowledge that we are fully aware of the irony of making a critical list on the Internet to complain about list-based Internet criticism, let’s clench our hands in fists of rage and take a look at ten of the most noxious trends in music ‘writing’, before something even worse comes along.
1. THE REALNESS.
Anyone dreading that the slow fade of hip-hop’s pop-culture dominance might signal an invigoration of the critical discourse surrounding it will be relieved to know that, by and large, critics are still fighting the same pointless battles they were fifteen years ago. Even as the music itself goes through a rap-without-all-that-rap phase, the Snoop Lion’s share of writing about hip-hop either looks back wistfully at the long-vanished past or engages in achy hand-wringing about the death of the medium. (Hip-hop may be the only musical form that went from crazy new thing with these kids today to straight-up museum piece with no interval of just being an actual thing people could enjoy while it was happening.) Public Enemy’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is championed as a long-overdue correction of course instead of an injury added to an insult; critics decry developments of their own making, like the primacy of blog-hyping and the need for a video to make a song break; and endless amounts of fret-beading over personalities and the ‘problematic’ spares us from having to actually talk about the music. We’re still plagued with dozens of white critics arguing over whether some aspect of rap is too black or not black enough. And the #1 hip-hop site on the internet is Rap Genius, a piece of career leverage built around the idea (based on a joke that was already feeling tired in 1992) that the best way to appreciate rap is to ignore all the elements that make it so darn rappy.
2. BELIEVING THE HYPE.
The relationship between critics and publicists has never been a comfortable one, but it’s become a pretty lazy one. Publicists, whose jobs depend on robust profits for the music industry, are getting increasingly nervous and desperate, while critics, whose jobs depend on newspapers and websites making money off of advertising, are sharing Lexapro with them. This makes both groups especially vulnerable to the machinations of media companies, with the result that endless millions of words, of no possible interest to anyone but critics and publicists, get written about the year’s big upcoming releases. The result of this incestuous feedback loop is to suck every bit of surprise out of the process of writing about – or reading about – music. Predicting which albums will wind up on the year-end Top Ten lists of most magazines and websites has become so easy that Vegas wouldn’t give you odds on it; and the need for publicists to earn their keep – and for writers to fill up the day’s blank space – has led to an unprecedented disappearance of music journalism up its own ass. It would be bad enough if music ‘news’ was merely the art of rewording press releases, but now it’s not even that challenging: it’s the art of thinking of a clever way of phrasing your link to someone else’s reworded press release. When a publication swallows its own tongue to the point where it’s predicting what its own opinion about a raft of as-yet-unreleased albums will be – in April, no less – what they’re doing isn’t criticism, or even journalism; it’s advertising.
3. THINKPIECES OF SHIT.
When you get right down to it, being a pop music writer is a pretty ridiculous job. Getting paid to tell someone what music they should listen to is great work if you can get it, and maybe even worth the cost of having to interview some vapid bass player who just woke up at 4PM about why his band’s new album rocks harder than ever, but it’s a dying profession, and one that even at its best you’d have a hard time explaining to your grandparents. Still, it is a form of criticism, and criticism, at its finest, deserves at seat at the table with any other kind of art. The best critics use music as a springboard to tell us something profound, something savage, something vital about the human condition, so you’d think the current trend towards thinkpieces would be a welcome thing – a chance for deep reads, bold insights, and the making transcendent out of what was only beautiful. Unfortunately, in practice, it’s turned into the worst kind of navel-gazing, largely because most writers don’t have anything insightful to say, and think that they can turn their frivolous enthusiasms into something meaningful through the power of personal anecdotes. Which is fine if your life is more interesting than the thing that you’re talking about, but instead, we get articles about how iPods are Hitler, or how Saturday Night Live is our nation’s most sacred shared cultural space, or whatever this ungodly piece of crap is supposed to be. A great mind can make a three-minute pop song into something vast and strange; a small mind make a 2000-word essay into millions of dead brain cells.
4. RISE OF THE RAD DADS.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with getting older. It happens to almost everybody. And if you’re not a complete lowlife like me, you’ll want to grow as you age by finding someone to settle down with, having some kids, and turning into a responsible adult. This is totally fine and desirable. It’s also boring. Nobody but a few boorish college kids are going to make fun of you for having better things to do than listen to every album that Jagjaguwar releases. But it’s time to stop pretending that it’s the music that left you and not you that left the music. The sorry state of indie rock, plagued as it is with nurturing thirtysomethings in bands named for woodland creatures who act like they can’t turn up their amplifiers lest they wake the baby, is entirely creditable to the graying of the last generation of hip kids; they’re the ones responsible for thinking that the qualities that make you a good parent are also the qualities that make you a good rock star. You can talk all you want about the generational havoc wreaked by the self-absorbed Boomers, but at least at a certain point most of them gave up and realized their kids weren’t going to be impressed by their Grateful Dead stories. The children of the Boomers are engaging in worse cultural nostalgia than their parents ever did, exhuming every last band that got played on their college rock stations and thinking their toddlers won’t roll their eyes 15 years from now when they see pictures of the Ramones onesie dad bought them. It’s okay, fellas: you’re old, you’re dads, you’re lame. Nobody hates you for that. But retarding music criticism to suit the needs of your neighborhood association is the cultural equivalent of buying a red convertible sports car.
5. REDEEMING THE IRREDEEMABLE.
If there’s one sure-fire, can’t miss method of getting some attention for your terrible writing, it’s engaging in what is politely called ‘contrarianism’. Do you have no particular insight, a prose style as dull as a butter knife, and an inability to articulate what you like or dislike about music? None of this will bar you from a non-lucrative career in music writing as long as you can take some universally despised album or performer and write a ‘reassessment’. The game once had different rules, but the days when you could make a name for yourself by despising a record everyone else loved are long gone, driven to disreputable corners of the internet due to overcrowding. Now, “nothing sucks” is the way to go. There’s almost no performer, however lengthy their rap sheet of insipid, boring, grating, or forgettable releases, that some critic hasn’t taken to heart and defended with a passionate re-evaluation. There’s no need to even name names: if you’re reading this, just think of any musician you find utterly worthless, then head to Google, and on the first page of results you’ll discover some hot-headed young critic gunning you down in the street, out to polish that badge and make his name. It’s not even that these critics are insincere; many of them may genuinely love whatever hapless dud they’ve chosen to champion, or are at least engaging in some kind of impenetrable performance art a la Armond White, who pioneered this kind of behavior in his film writing. But at a certain point, it has to occur to you that if you’re afraid to call anything bad, then you’re useless for determining whether anything is good, and you’ve thus failed at the only possible function of a critic.
6. POP WARS.
Ever since the balkanization of popular music starting in the mid-1980s, and especially since the rise of the internet, the decline of the music industry, and the digital revolution, critics have completely lost their shit over how to deal with popular music. Though there was always an underground scene, it was once possible to contemplate music that was commercially popular and music that was critically praised as occupying the same aesthetic space. Music today, however, with its infinite micro-genres, increasingly amateur critical establishment, and much smaller commercial arena, is no longer reconcilable in this manner, and that’s caused even some of the best music writers to flail around helplessly. As can be seen in the reaction to popular music as divergent as Carly Rae Jepsen, PSY, and Taylor Swift, there seem only to be two possible approaches to what the kids like: either you denigrate it all as degraded, unlistenable pabulum that makes a mockery of music as defined by the sort of thing you prefer to listen to, or you champion it as the best thing that has ever happened to music and vilify its detractors as haters who have forgotten what pop is supposed to be all about. The more moderate approach, that most hit pop songs are generally well-crafted and enjoyable pieces of music that effectively appeal to the people they’re supposed to appeal to even if they don’t shatter any paradigms or rewire the way our brains connect to our ears, seems to be off the table. There’s nothing brave – at least not at this stage of our cultural development – about hating a top 10 single, any more than there’s something courageous about liking what 50 million other people like; the fight, like far too much criticism today, isn’t about music, it’s about self-image.
7. THE FUTURE OF MUSIC.
There are three groups of people who will determine the future of music: the people who make music, the people who buy music, and the people who sell the work of the former to the latter. The group who does the most whining and stressing about the future of music are the ones who will have absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it, all the time, without cease, no matter how ridiculous and wrong their predictions tend to be. Whether optimists or doomsayers, these pop prognosticators seem always to find a venue for their speculations about What We Are Going To Be Talking About When We Talk About Music Five Years From Now. Which is odd, because pretty much none of them have ever correctly predicted any of the major cultural trends, demographic shifts, or industry developments in pop music, well, ever. They never form an opinion about where music is going until it has already gotten there, and even then, they often do so in the most ham-handed, incompetent way imaginable. The pessimists are probably the worst, with their doomsaying about how every important development in music has already happened and it’s all downhill from here, but the optimists can be just as annoying, predicting great things from some far-off development that they hope no one will remember they mentioned in a year’s time. Let’s save the agonizing over the future of music for after we figure out a way to write intelligently about the present of music.
8. THE DEATH OF THE MP3 BLOG.
This isn’t a development that can be blamed on critics and writers, but it’s one that’s definitely made criticism and writing worse. The golden age of mp3 blogs – websites that hosted obscure and often unavailable music for download by the public, and which usually specialized in a particular genre or style – has passed us by, for a variety of reasons which are ably discussed here. Even those with the knowledge and patience to seek out these materials themselves are becoming increasingly frustrated, as even reliable search engines like FilesTube and hosting services like MediaFire fall victim to pressure from the music industry, the government, and new media delivery vectors. (This latter development is also taking its toll elsewhere, as the rise of services like Spotify and the increasing tendency of record companies to release music previews in a streaming format encourages critics to listen to music only once. Not owning music, and making it more difficult to re-listen to an album, discourages thoughtful criticism and gradually eats away at our ability to place music in a historical context.) Debates can be had about the legal, economic and ethical issues behind file-sharing – this year alone, we’ve had a nausea-inducing number of them – but the slow disappearance of mp3 blogs, especially ones who dealt with out-of-print, obscure music that would be hard or impossible to buy legally even if you wanted to – has been damaging to fans and critics alike, and has derailed the kind of exploration, curiosity and inquiry that helps critics gain depth and perspective and break out of the cycle of hype.
I am not, as a rule, a hater of Twitter. It’s fun, it’s free, and it lends itself extremely well to certain types of communication – it’s a great marketing tool, it’s terrific at breaking news, and it’s a great format for a particularly stylized type of written humor. As a medium of criticism, however, it’s a fucking disaster, and as a means of developing any kind of coherent sense of the culture or business of music, it’s absolutely horrible. And that’s too bad, because music writers and critics use it like made for just those purposes. Far from focusing and refining the language of criticism, the character limit just makes for glib, thoughtless, and reductive judgments, leaving no room or patience for exception or nuance. The phrase “echo chamber” is worn to death in our hyper-mediated society, but Twitter fits the bill like nothing else: tempests in musical teapots arise every single day, and are bounced around endlessly until they fill up all the available space, making some meaningless industry development take on unseemly significance. Petty beefs between writers and critics become lines in the sand; comments that would be forgotten within a few days in the pre-Twitter era assume the significance of the Communist Manifesto. It’s even created phenomena that are unthinkable in their utter lack of interest: Twitter ‘feuds’ have suddenly become something thought worthy of writing an article about, and not only is it considered a good use of time to live-tweet something, it’s now commonplace to live-tweet something you aren’t interested in or actively hate. And that’s why we still have the Grammy Awards.
10. THAT, AND A PAIR OF LISTICLES.
Let’s get this straight: I understand that the urge to make hierarchal lists of music and pretend that they have some definitive value is deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness, and I realize that I’m on the losing end of history in my objection to them. I also appreciate that folks gotta eat, and gross as it may be, the link-baiting list is particularly well-suited towards the current revenue models of the kind of publications that employ music writers. But do they have to be so relentlessly awful? Bad enough that, and here I refer you to the irony awareness disclaimer at the beginning of this piece, lists have begun to replace actual content rather than enhance it – hence, “listicle”; but now, it’s proven so effective that it’s scuttling the whole notion of intelligent writing (the word count necessary to provoke a dismissive “tl;dr” has shrunk to around 500). Listicles aren’t just stupid; they make us stupid, and they’re bringing the whole art of criticism down with them. This piece from the heinous Complex is not only 25 pages of ad-soaked click-throughs, but features not a single interesting observation about hip-hop, preferring instead to earn its pennies with non-shocking truths about how rap music often glorifies drugs (!) and some MCs are better at self-promotion than rapping (!!). And not since the East Coast/West Coast beef of the 1990s has there been a rivalry as bloody as the race between the Village Voice and the L.A. Weekly to produce the most painfully stupid examples of the genre; the once-respectable Voice music section, which, in its post-Maura Johnston era sank so low that it gave us Michael Musto griping about the young people today and their crazy music, were nonetheless outpaced by the Weekly and witless fare like this and this. Not to be outdone, the Voice brought in Ben Westhoff – the very man responsible for those moronic L.A. Weekly pieces – to replace Johnston, and the result was tripe like this (a list of five “drumless rap” songs, three of which, as this publication’s article pointed out, feature drums), and this, which may be the absolute worst piece of music writing I have seen in a decade. I could easily have made this whole article a list of the top ten worst music lists of the year, if the irony of that wasn’t too mordant even for me. List-making is bar none the easiest kind of music ‘writing’ there is; if you can’t even do that right, why do it at all?
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Every month, this site will be stricken with insomnia and provide content in the form of letting its iTunes shuffle go berserk and jotting down a few notes on the resulting 6 songs. It will do this in hopes of disguising the fact that it no longer finds keeping up with the new-music hype cycle either rewarding or remunerative, and that it is, at any rate, a very old website that throws its back out when it tries to dance. What will you get out of it? Something to keep you occupied, a good song now and again, and maybe a few laughs. Worth it on both ends, I hope you’ll agree.
Dizzy Gillespie & His Orchestra, “Anthropology” (from The Original RCA/Victor Recordings, 1945). One of the classics from Dizzy’s big band days, this one has become a standard, and one of the most recognizable compositions he made during his rich collaboration with Charlie Parker. Unmistakably of that period when swing was giving way to bebop and solo-laden dance music was turning into looser rhythmic changes, it seems particularly of its time, though not necessarily dated. Bird isn’t around for this version, which instead relies for its signature sound on Milt Jackson’s flawless vibraphones; the first half of the song, where Diz delivers some hopping, tripping trumpet over a steady plunking chord progression by pianist Mtume Forman and Jackson’s soaring vibes, attains the weird sonic quality of someone rhythmically making change. Of course, Diz knew better than to let anyone steal the rug out from under him, so in its second half, rather than let Jackson take over the whole song, he delivers a series of stunning peaks on a trumpet solo that seals up the whole song. Even without any of the historical background, you can tell this is a player at the height of his powers here.
Hank Williams, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” (from Honky Tonkin’, 1949). Recorded at the time when he was tearing up the country charts and becoming the most enduring of the genre’s stars, this is one of Hank’s good-time numbers, and has become as widely recorded a standard in its own was as did “Anthropology”. Delivered in a much smoother voice than a lot of his more famous songs, which he roughened up with hard living or sweetened with high-lonesome whoops, “Bucket” — with its clear descent from old blues numbers — finds him on the prowl, frustratingly sober and “looking for a woman who ain’t got no man”. Although it fits more in his honky-tonk repertoire than with the gospel or lonely-hearts material, the overall musical tone of the song delivers a downcast mood; the lowering, bent chords of the opening guitar riff, which usually signals lighter content, is slowed up and the minor-key configuration of the song gives it a distinctly bluesy quality (as does the unusually loose guitar solo midway through). Regardless, Hank sounds like he’s having a good time for once, delivering sly lyrics like “what’s the use of me workin’ so hard when I got a woman in the bossman’s yard?”.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, “Jenny & the Ess-Dog” (from Stephen Malkmus, 2001). You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger Pavement fan than me, and I was genuinely crushed when the band finally fell apart. Malkmus’ solo album was hotly anticipated in many quarters, but for me, I depart with the common consensus that the Pave hasn’t aged well. To me, it’s Malkmus’ solo work that seems to have grayed poorly; his experiments with ’70s pop-rock fidelity strike me as uninspired attempts at a faded authenticity. This was the first big single from a solo career many thought would end up proving that Malkmus was the supreme genius of the band all along, and there’s some evidence to support that: the song is nearly perfect as a pop-rock creation, with a stellar hook, a clever composition (the choogling break gives it just the right touch of variety, at just the right time), and some swell aching romantic tragedy in the lyrics, with a typically Malkmus postmodern twist. It’s definitely a great song. But there’s so much missing: the instrumentation is studio-perfect, with none of the raw edge that sharpened Pavement’s best material; Malkmus’ voice on its own sounds weak without his mates adding clamorous harmonies, and no compression or distortion to cover the blandness; and after all this while, the lyrics seem to have taken on a parodic meanness instead of the clever twists of his prior work. ”Jenny & the Ess-Dog” was a great beginning to a solo career, but it contained the seeds of what made that career end up lacking.
Louis Prima, “Banana Split for My Baby” (from The Wildest!, 1956). Recorded during the same session that produced Prima’s best-remembered material from his king-of-Vegas phase, this is a number that wasn’t restored to The Wildest! until its re-release in 2002. At the time, Prima had distilled his swing and jump blues material into a fine mash and distilled it along with then-popular trends in jazz-pop and dance songs, and the result was tons of songs like this, abetted by Sam Butera and his backing band, the Witnesses, who were starting to get hip to the whole rock ‘n’ roll thing. Prima burbles out the lyrics, a goofy mishmash of pure corn and raunchy double-entendres centered around an attempt to get his girlfriend fat, with all the lack of seriousness they deserve, while Butera and the Witnesses chug politely along in the background, giving all the drunken businessmen and their wives at the Sahara something to shake it to in between trips to the tables. Butera and Prima both stay out of the way musically, giving the solo to Willie McCumber’s tinkling piano. This isn’t anything special, just a very representative slice of Prima’s Vegas show act of the time and therefore plenty of fun at parties.
Doc Watson, “Talk About Suffering” (from Doc Watson, 1964). Doc Watson was the man to talk about suffering: his pure-bred country/folk credentials were unimpeachable, coming from a poor family in Deep Gap, North Carolina and overcoming an eye infection that rendered him blind from childhood to become a towering figure in his idiom. He trained himself to become a fantastic guitar player with a distinctively intricate flat-picking style. His debut album contained original material mixed with some well-known standards; this age-old traditional gospel number may have been its most unusual track. The transformational quality of so many of Watson’s greatest songs come from his ability to invigorate the folk form with his amazing guitar playing, but here, he lets his voice do all the work: unaccompanied by any instrumentation, he simply lets the message of the song, imploring followers to let go of their miseries and come to Jesus, do all the work. (If some of the phrasing sounds familiar, it’s because, in the great drifting tradition of folk music, some of the lyrics turn up in the version of “Down to the River to Pray” from the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou?.) His voice is often only serviceable, but the long stretches of mournful tone that end each verse are downright chilling.
Niney the Observer, “Scattered Dub” (from Space Flight Dub, 1972). I’m always leery of using the context-resistant word “underrated”, but Winston Holness, a.k.a. Niney the Observer, does tend to get overlooked when the great producers and composers of dub are mentioned. (Like Gary Condit’s wife, he had no thumbs, which probably accounts for the prejudice against him.) His solo albums tended to be grand, fun affairs; here, he assembled a top-notch band (including Style Scott, Chinna Smith and Flabba Holt) to dub up a bunch of songs and give them a vaguely space-travel-themed concept. On this, the third track on the album, Niney begins with some patois and then makes a bunch of crazy engine noises, which he then soaks in echo and speeds up until they become surreal washes of sound that lead into a terrific dub number supported by a lively, bouncing horn riff. Placing gated echoes on Scott’s drums and bringing Flabba Holt’s bass way up in the mix fixes it into Space Flight Dub‘s primary sound, and a persistent echo from Deadly Headley’s sax leads it into a particularly memorable racket in the middle passage. This is a great one to blast out of bass-capable speakers on a late night drive.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
The Most Beautiful Fraud: Devils On The Doorstep
“The darkest place is under the candlestick.” — ‘Me’
Devils on the Doorstep manages to pull off, with near-total success, something so frustratingly difficult to do in film, no one has really managed to accomplish it since Kubrick made Dr. Strangelove: make a work of art that fully captures the insanity and horror of war, while simultaneously being an achingly funny black comedy.
Set in the waning days of the Second World War, the film takes place in a tiny village at the end of the Great Wall by the name of Rack Armor Terrace — a seemingly nonsensical name that, as will many other elements of Devils on the Doorstep, transform in character, meaning and importance later on. The Japanese have occupied China for over seven years, and, in an object lesson about how even the worst traumas can accrue comfort through the familiarity of routine, things have settled into a simple rut for both sides. Every day, a Japanese commander leads his clattering marching band on a trek around the village, waves unacknowledged greetings to a gunboat forever patrolling the harbor, and hands out candy to the local kids and threats to the town toady, Er Bozi. Life continues more or less as usual under the thumb of the Imperial Army; no one is pleased to see symbols of Japanese nationalist furor pasted to the Great Wall, but farmers still farm, fishermen still fish, and a level-headed peasant, Dasan Ma(played by the film’s director, Wen Jiang) still carries on a slightly scandalous affair with his sister-in-law.
The reality of war sets in, as it so often does, when a shadowy resistance fighter (identifying himself only as “me”, which provides a running gag as Ma develops an absolute phobia about the word) dumps two captured Japanese in the peasant’s hut and vanishes into the night, vaguely encouraging their interrogation and promising dire consequences if they’re harmed. ”What were you doing up so late?”, barks the invisible interrogator, pressing the barrel of a broom-handle automatic in Ma’s face; the truth is, he was fucking his brother’s wife, but he settles for the safer answer: ”Thinking.” The pistol-wielding enigma responds: ”Think away!” Thinking, unfortunately, isn’t Ma’s strong suit, and he immediately squeals to a collection of his fellow villagers — including some timid youngsters, the sniveling Er Bozi, elder statesman “Old Uncle” (who’s forever blabbing meaningless proverbs), and his lover’s crippled, crazy old father.
Ma is paralyzed with fear, since the nameless rebel has made it quite clear that he’ll be held responsible if anything happens to the captives, but the other villagers are just as terrified and just as afraid of being blamed — a message that’s critical to Jiang’s message that in times of crisis, inaction, fear and the desire not to be accountable can cripple even the best intentions. The captives, meanwhile, each resist in their own ways: the Japanese sergeant Kosaburo Hanaya is a fierce killer, filled with patriotic fervor, who screams dire threats at his captors in hopes of receiving an honorable death, while his translator, a Chinese collaborator named Hanchen Dong, is a conniving self-preservationist who tries, with some success, to convince the village elders that Hanaya’s enraged screaming is actually cooperative pleading. In one of the film’s funniest moments, Hanaya, hoping to provoke his keepers into killing him (he’s spent several hours dutifully bashing his own head into a post), instructs Dong to teach him certain phrases, as he’s heard that the Chinese will not tolerate any slandering of their ancestors. Instead, Dong feeds him a handful of stock travel-brochure banalities; when the villagers return, Hanaya twists his face into cartoonish spite while screaming at the top of his lungs “I AM YOUR SON! YOU ARE MY SISTER-IN-LAW! HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
Devils at the Doorstep is one of the more sophisticated comedies I’ve seen in recent years in this treatment of language; much of the comedy — and later, the drama — stems from the ambiguity of the spoken word, not only in the translation of Chinese to Japanese and back, but in various characters’ misunderstanding of threats, orders, and attitudes. Dong excuses Hanaya’s inexplicable behavior to Ma by claiming the Japanese sound the same whether they’re happy or angry; “Why do you think we call them devils?” In a later scene, two Japanese soldiers echo this dialogue as one explains to another that they must act like devils in order to get what they want from the simple-minded Chinese when, in fact, the locals are all to willing to go along to get along with their occupiers. Even the ‘interrogation’ of the Chinese prisoners is strangled by linguistic ambiguity: Old Uncle is determined to follow the letter of the law when it comes to questioning his prisoners, but since he knows nothing about warfare, strategy, tactics or the current military disposition of the Japanese forces, he repeatedly violates its spirit, dutifully transcribing Dong’s panicky translations of Hanaya’s impotent threats and filling up pages of text with vital information like “He’s afraid!” and “Please don’t kill us!”
Eventually, though, something must be done about the prisoners as the risk of holding onto them grows greater and the mysterious resistance fighters fail to return for him. Ma’s father-in-law scoots along on a wheeled platform, madly threatening to throttle them himself; but while his threats are hollow, at least he’s decisive. Everyone else, desperate to not put themselves at risk, vacillates endlessly, proposing impractical plans and offering to help only in the most helpless way possible. Keeping the prisoners alive is costing money, time, resources, and peace of mind, but the villagers continue to argue themselves into inertia. An attempt to have a legendary local swordsman execute the captives comes to naught, and eventually, the villagers simply decide to return them to the Japanese base. From there, the movie takes a dreadful turn into the horrible, as most forcefully seen when the occupied and occupiers come together for a big party. The villagers, who are determined to believe that the worst days are behind them, think it represents the end of the affair, but the Japanese commander knows better. It’s a masterful moment of audience manipulation, as everyone watching is aware that the whole thing will end in disaster but everyone on screen refuses to believe it.
Even at the very end, Devils on the Doorstep doesn’t let go of its pitch-black comic tone. The return of the prisoners to the Japanese HQ is marked by a inopportune donkey-fucking (of course, is there ever really a well-timed donkey-fucking?) that almost goes over the top in terms of comedy — it’s not quite the pie fight that wasn’t in Dr. Strangelove, but it comes close. In the denouement, when the government liberates the village, a pompous official named Major Gao spews out egotistical pontifications about heroism and patriotic duty while he carries out brutal reprisals against Chinese and Japanese alike, but he fails to hold the crowd’s attention; they laugh at runaway pigs, clumsy old men, and other absurdities while his two American handlers stand behind him, looking bored and chewing gum. Even the final scene is deflated of its seriousness by the untimely arrival of a fly, but while it still provides laughs, it’s saturated in tragedy and loss.
Jiang, who’s also well-known as an actor, questioned many of his own acting decisions throughout filming, especially as he was surrounded by more experienced screen veterans, but he made the right call: his performance isn’t the best in the movie, but it’s the one that holds everything together. He’s also got a terrific eye; for all its play with language, Devils is also a lovely movie to look at. He’s got a keen sense of details, from a donkey loaded down with fuel cans clanking down a dusty road to the haphazard path of a young child as he mindlessly recites a potentially deadly bit of information fed to him by Hanaya. His decision to stock the cast with a number of non-professionals, including crew members and locals, pays off, as the black & white camerawork transforms them into a convincingly realistic gaggle of curious and weathered faces. And his shot composition is reliably excellent; the area where the captured Japanese are kept is filmed, depending on the time and context, like a noir film streaked with shafts of light slashing through deep shadow, like a bit of European expressionism staffed with unseen darkened faces behind fluttering gauzy curtains, and like a slice of post-war realist cinema, with grimy faces shot just close enough to register their pain and confusion.
This is typical of the aforementioned sense of reversal that haunts the whole movie. While the transformations are rarely obvious, almost everyone and everything changes throughout the course of the film’s events, while the situation itself changes not at all. Ma begins as a simple man desperate to save his own skin; he ends as a man broken by his own knowledge and experience who seeks nothing but obliteration. Hayana starts out reviling the Chinese and screaming at them non-stop, while Dong plays the voice of conciliation, trying to seduce people into any action that will spare him; but as events progress, Hayana is humanized and repentant, while Dong lets his resentment of the Japanese curdle into raw, self-destructive hatred. Even Yu’er (played by Hongbo Jiang) undergoes a pleasant transformation: she begins with a largely thankless role as the timid lover of Ma, who exists only to be protected, but she gradually becomes a furious voice of reason, taking the men of the town to task for their paralytic inaction.
Ceaselessly funny, relentlessly black, extremely well-made and filled with valuable lessons about what a crisis can do to a community that fails to face up to it, Devils on the Doorstep had the bad luck to debut at Cannes in 2000, when it was up against Lars Von Trier’s celebrated Dancer in the Dark for the big prize. Jiang was granted the consolation of a Jury Grand Prize, but that was only the beginning of the film’s problems. As if to drive home the point about how international cooperation can be subverted by selfishness and self-regard, the film’s producers were unhappy with the final product; its Chinese backers were displeased with the cynical depiction of Chinese citizens during the war, while its Japanese backers disliked the portrayal of their soldiers as engaging in war crimes. Both threatened to pull their funding, which alone would have been enough to jeopardize the chance of the film receiving international distribution, but then, the real boom was lowered: the Chinese government was unhappy with Devils for political reasons, and was angry that Jiang brought it to Cannes without official approval. It was yanked out of international release, and Jiang wouldn’t direct another movie for seven years as punishment. But time and reputation won out, and now that the nationalistic blather of Major Gao has died down both in the film’s fiction and in real life, Devils on the Doorstep is easily seen by anyone who wants to see the razor-fine line of black comedy and wartime drama drawn like a samurai sword.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Ever since the first e-mail was sent, it was only a matter of time before governments worldwide would find a way to monetize the internet. Its commercial potential revolutionized capitalism, but it fiercely resisted the inevitability of the state taking its traditional cut; despite the way it ran roughshod over traditional market models — or perhaps because of it — it soon developed the reputation as the one truly free market.
It was easy to see why e-commerce proved so appealing to doctrinaire libertarians: if anything could be aptly describe as the last frontier of unregulated capitalism, it was the storefronts of the internet. Right from the start, e-commerce was able to avoid the traditional pitfalls of local taxes, international trade restrictions, and even various forms of regulation that had so often taken a bite out of profitable industries like gambling, finance and telecommunications. ”Information wants to be free”, went the rhetoric of the day; but judging from their behavior, the owners of the world’s most profitable websites meant ‘free from regulation’ as much as they did ‘free from restriction’.
As the 2010s dawned, everyone know that something had to give. The web had been a mixed blessing for government revenue; it had created a whole new generation of multi-millionaires, but they were too well-versed in the mechanics of ‘avoison’ to add much value to the tax base. Their favored forms of commerce allowed them to dance rings around sales and luxury taxes, and the new cycles of boom and bust they created threw hundreds of thousands out of work, creating widespread social dependency and a consequent drain on the federal coffers. It couldn’t keep up this way forever; there had to be some way for the government to get a cut of all that sweetly intangible e-money. The question was, how?
The answer didn’t come until summer of 2013, and it came not from a seasoned government functionary, but from a radical refugee from the world of e-commerce. Victor Benavides, the junior senator from New Mexico, had been responsible for several initially profitable though ultimately doomed start-ups, including cybersodas.com, telescarves.com, TierWasser.com (a mineral water delivery service for pets), and AtYourService.com, a company where, for a small fee, operators would pretend to be customer service representatives for a different company you were angry with and allow you to yell at them for a half-hour at a time. Coming from the private sector, he knew from firsthand experience that any internet start-up worth its salt was prepared from the time the ink dried on the incorporation papers to devote significant resources to dodging taxation.
Benavides also knew that internet users were also a highly organized, extremely stubborn group of consumers when it came to added costs. They expected to use the web for free, and while they paid for quality, convenience and/or usability, they had been traditionally very strongly against any kind of across-the-board user fee for internet access, even if it targeted high-volume internet users over casual surfers. How to resolve this problem? How to reconcile the government’s need for increased revenue with the fact that most of the wealthiest individual who owed their largess to ducking any kind of authority?
The Utilities Self-Righteousness Excise Revenue, or USER tax, was the solution. Its various provisions were implemented, it is true, in a somewhat stealthy fashion, being attached as riders to elder-care safety acts, collective bargaining agreement protocols, public transportation bills, and other legislation of no interest to the voting public. Even such electronic-freedom watchdog organizations as noticed the elements of the USER tax raised relatively few objections; it was not a form of censorship, after all, and, as Benavides had predicted all along, everyone simply assumed it would apply only to other people.
Within six months of its initial passage, the USER tax — a simple pay-as-you-go program that generated revenue based on the frequency and intensity of self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, smug, patrician, sanctimonious, prescriptive, and self-flatteringly glib and spurious statements made in the internet — had generated so much income that the federal government was predicting its largest revenue surplus since the 1990s. By year’s end, the amount of money generated by parenting sites, foodie blogs and music critic message boards alone was projected as enough to wipe out the entire federal debt.
The most important factor in USER’s success was that any movement against it only strengthened it. Every outraged comment quoting Thomas Jefferson was posted on-line in protest of the idea of taxing self-righteousness added another few pennies to the federal coffers. Perpetual outrage machines like mises.org, freerepublic.com, and the various Breitbart organizations soon found themselves fully funding the government agencies they had long sought to abolish. Even the mighty Anonymous fell before the might of Victor Benavides’ brainchild; so addicted were they to grandiose statements of righteous striving that their very first attempt to strike back at the USER tax bankrupted them completely.
Like many ambitious internet entrepreneurs before him, Benavides eventually became a victim of his own success. Plans to institute similar measures that would tax the use of phony tough-guy rhetoric met with great hostility from pretend veterans’ groups, and a proposed scheme to fine men who complain about fat chicks one dollar for each pound they themselves exceed the obesity limit would have placed the entire country into receivership. Japan had recently undergone a massive debt crisis after placing a similar tax on posting photos of quirky-looking food, and Britain’s attempt to litigate the copyright of “Keep Calm and Carry On” parodies was tied up in unending and costly court proceedings. And a temporary rise in reasoned, respectful on-line communication had its ugly mirror in a growing underground economy of self-righteousness, to which a huge spike in suicides amongst service industry employees had been linked.
But the massive success of the initial project led to worldwide fame for its founder. Soon after being named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 2014, he retired from public service and rededicated himself to the private sector — specifically, the field of green energy, where he has recently seen great success in generating electricity from people who begin sentences by saying “I’m the kind of person who…”.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
As you know, the holiday season is upon us. Posting has been light around here of late due to professional obligations, health care issues, and the usual hubbly bubbly of the season, but we should be back in full swing by the start of 2013 with all your favorite features: impotent political posturing, incomprehensible quasi-’jokes’, and in-depth reviews of things you’ve never heard of.
In the meantime, though, if you’re at a loss for what to give your loved ones, family members, co-workers, or resentful neighbors for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ashura, Winter Solstice or Taiwanese Constitution Day, why not consider one of the many fine products and services offered by this very website? They’ll make your holidays happier, and mine too, because money!
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Perhaps you are so lazy that you are unwilling to even get up off of your big ass and go to a thrift store to buy some crazy cheap shit that used to belong to someone even lazier than you. In that case, you’re a man/woman/other after my own heart! My thrift plunder service gets you a small box of randomly selected items from a second-hand store here in San Antonio delivered to your door for only $20, or, for $30, a large box of even more randomly selected items from a retailer of despair from another town altogether! Be part of an astonishing experiment in post-modern consumerism. Details here, or e-mail me: leonard dot pierce @ gmail dot com.
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Thanks for your kind custom, folks, and happy holidays!
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Sure, friend. I’m just like you. Oh, I know, I seem unapproachable, with my thriving career as a failed writer, my jutting stomach and chiseled spine, and my daunting command of most of the English language. But I put my condoms on one foot at a time, just like anyone else. Like you, I’ve had my problems with women, when I’m feeling insecure or they can see what I look like. Like you, I’ve had money trouble, usually because of that stupid phosphorescent dye the banks use these days. And like you, sure, I’ve been arrested two or three dozen times.
But last week, when I was busy missing an appointment with my parole officer, something struck me. We all remember what we were arrested for: we remember what we did, who we did it to, and how much time we did for doing it. But how many of us take the time to stop and think of the person who got the whole thing started?
No, I don’t mean the victims. Personally, I remember them plenty when they come to haunt my dreams at night. Besides, there’s so many of them! I can barely keep track of my surviving relatives at the family reunion at Chino; how am I supposed to remember the names of each and every person on that Greyhound I hijacked back in ’92? I’m talking about the ones who get the party started in the first place. The ones who do so much for us, and to whom we can do so little. I’m talking about our good friends, the arresting officers.
It’s particularly strange that we don’t pay much attention to these heroic civic busybodies who make their job interrupting our jobs. After all, they’re as diverse and varied as the crimes we commit! They’re usually the first on the scene, the first to testify, and, sadly, the last person we remember when we finally get sprung.
And, like any large group (mine numbers in the high double digits), they’re a colorful bunch. From Officer Karpinski, who pinched me when I was eight for shanking old man Carpenter in the ass at the 7-11 so I could get at the Slurpee machine, to Detective Coleman, who nailed me only a week and a half ago for smuggling dope in those immigrant corpses, they’re as rich and fascinating a group as you’re likely to find in any other high-pressure occupation, like professional assassin, organ mule, or video game tester.
Thinking back on it now, I’m stunned by the vivid array of personalities I’ve encountered when I page through the yellowing leaves of my arrest record. There was Officer Carrel, who busted me for the first time as a legal adult. There was Officer Korbel, who busted me for beating Officer Carrel over the head with a flashlight after I got out. There was Officer Oakum, who taught me what police brutality was really all about, and Officer Englewood, who I taught why police brutality is so vitally necessary.
Officer Crandall, do you remember shoving my face in the communal toilet? I do, like it was yesterday, instead of three whole months ago. Sgt. Molensky, do you recall how you called me a fat Dago fuck, and how happy you’d be to see me spend the next six months in the hole? And when I told you I wasn’t Italian, you said to make it a year? How right you were; how naïve I was.
From Officer Carbajal, who ruined my first Christmas in jail by crushing tree lights in my sliced turkey dinner, to Lt. Miller, who still sends me a card even though I ruined all those senior citizens’ Christmas by setting fire to his grandfather’s care facility, I’ve been blessed with a whole lot of luck, a whole lot of love, and a wide interpretation of the meaning of the word ‘torture’ by my arresting officers. But I’ve never taken the time to remember them all in the way they deserve to be remembered. That’s all going to change.
Starting now, I’m going to remember them all. I’ve written them thank-you cards with little memorabilia of all my arrests, and tracked down all their addresses (risking, I might add, further arrest) so I can send them something special. It’s time to remember every brave officer who’s shown me the downside of tri-state crime sprees, and remember them good. One by one.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Program note: ages ago, some internet fiends and I used to play a constrained writing game called “Mad Ape Den”, where you’d have to re-tell a well-known story (novel, movie, TV show, play, etc.) using only words of three letters or fewer. I’d completely forgotten about it until today, when I dug up this Mad Ape Den version of Blade Runner. I’ve updated it and fixed a few, er, gaffes, so enjoy, and take a crack at the game yourself — it’s a wonderful tool for developing mental focus, if completely frivolous.
In L.A., ’19, all is not so OK. If a man has $, he can buy a cat or dog, get a bot to do a job, or fly to far-off orb. If a man has not got $, in a cot he can nap, and for him no far-off orb, but L.A., w/mud fog and all the bad men.
Ty Co. did get $ for use of Rep bots. Rep bot is as man, but is not man: Rep bot has + STR, AGI and CON, but man has +WIS and tho Rep bot die, man can go on. On far-off orb, man has Rep bot do war job, so Rep bot say: Up yrs, man, now you die! So now man has law: no Rep bot in L.A.
We see Ty Co.: man at one end and cop at one end. Cop say to man: “Are you Rep bot?”
Man say to cop: “I am not Rep bot!”
Cop say to man: “It may be. I do V-K, and we see. Say to me all re: mom.”
Man (who is Leo) say to cop: “Ho ho! Oh, I say re: mom!” And BAM!, cop has rip in gut by gun of Leo. Bye-bye, cop.
Cut to Rik, an old cop – and I say he was a cop, but now is not a cop no mo’. All day Rik see an ad: GO TO FAR-OFF ORB! IT IS SO, SO DEF! But Rik has no $ to go to far-off orb. Sad, sad Rik.
Now we see Gaf, a Mex-Jap cop who say his rap in Mad Yak. Gaf to Rik: “You A+ bot cop! Hup-hup w/me to HQ.”
Rik to Gaf: “No way, man. I am no cop, let me be.”
Gaf to Rik: “Lo fa, ne-ko, shi-ma, de va-ja bot cop!” And so Rik and Gaf jet to cop HQ.
Top cop Bry did lay out the fax: a Rep bot set, two and two, did go ape and ace the men who did fly an orb-jet. Now the set is in L.A., vs. the law. “You, Rik, can ice the Rep bot set.”
Rik did say nay; “No cop am I, no mo’.”
But top cop did say, “If you no cop, you li’l’ man, and you do as I say or it do go bad for you.” Gaf did do bok-bok in Jap art, as if to say: you got no say. So off Rik did go, to ice Leo, Zo, P., and Roy.
“#1, Rik did go to Ty Co. Ty, top man at Ty Co, has owl (a bot) and R., a hot gal Fri. NEX-6 Rep bot (so Ty did say) is A+ top bot, but for it is 365 x 4 and no mo’.
“Why is it so, pre-die?”
“It is so bot do not try to be as man”. But Ty did say, too, bot is as man, and so did say “nay!” to Ty as Ol’ Nik did say to God.
“How as man are Rep bot?”, Rik did ask.
“As man in all way,” say Ty; “Do a V-K, you can see. But now do V-K on my hot gal Fri, R., to see how it can do on 100% gal w/DNA and not bot.”
So Rik did do V-K on R. In V-K, R’s eye did go red, and she did say “so and so” and “not so and so”.
100+ Qs and 5+ hrs, R. did go, and Rik did say to Ty: ”She is bot! How can it be?” To Rik, Rep bot is not as man, but now he did see fax not fit w/his vue.
Ty say: ”The bad re: Rep bot is, it is as man, but it has no pre-now. W/my gal R., we did put in her pre-now mem, of kid of my sis. So she has pre-now mem, and she do not ken she is bot, but gal. For all she ken she is gal, she can not say to man, ‘Up yrs! Now you die!’.” All the new fax, Rik did not dig.
Off Rik did go to pad of Leo. At the pad, Rik did spy in tub a bit of asp, and say, “Ah ha!” Gaf did do a Jap art of man with big hog.
Cut to: Leo and Roy. Roy is sad: in pad was pix of his fam, and the cop did nab the pix. Roy did say, “Pah!”, for he did ken pix are of pre-now mem – but a lie.
“Now to get an eye, we go.”, Leo say. Leo, Roy and P. did go see Chu, a man who do the eye for bot.
Roy and his set, as NEX-6 Rep bot, get A++ eye, and ask Chu: ”Who buy the eye you do? Say, or you get bad ice.”
Chu is all, “Brr! OK, I say! My eye is got by one man: Ty.”
Roy did say, “You get me to Ty? He is not so E-Z to see (w/my eye you did).”
Chu say: “I can not get you to see Ty, but I can get you to see J.F. Seb. He is the man to see.”
Now at pad of Rik, we see R. She say, “I am not bot! I ken Ty did say I am bot, but see? A pic of me w/mom!”
“It is not mom of you,” say Rik. “Is mom of old gal, now R.I.P. It is all a lie: you are a bot.”
“But in me is mem of pre-now! How can it be?”, R. did ask.
“I say of pre-now mem: a lie. Dig: you do got mem of you and bro, at age six – doc fun. He did pop out his hog, and you did run. And, too, a pre-now mem: kid bug did eat mom bug.”
“How do you ken?” ask R., all eye pop.
“All the pre-now mem a lie, I say. I do ken, for Ty did say to me. Too bad, kid, but you are a bot.” R. was sad and did cry, and as R. did go, he did ask: why is she so as gal, tho I ken she is bot?
Cut to: P., a sex bot, who did go to see J.F. Seb, a man who did do bot – bod and mem. P. did lie to Seb, and say, “I am sad. I got no $ and I got no pad, can I be w/you and be a pal?”
Seb is sad and in in big pad with bot toy, who are as pal, for he has no pal who is man. So Seb did say “OK, P., you are my pal, in we go.”
In apt. of Rik, he did hit the gin and on 88-key box did tap out an air. And now he did ZZZ, and in the ZZZ, he did see a uni. On the 88-key box, we do see a lot of pix, but no pix w/Rik. Now do we go: Are his pre-now mem a lie? Is Rik, too, a bot? It is not for us to say, not yet.
Rik did get up and use PC to dig the pix of Leo; and he did see a gal in hot tog w/tat of asp. Rik did get pic of gal – it is Zo – and bit of asp to an old hag who did do the bot cod. “It is a bot asp”, she did say, “You go see Ben, in fez.” And Ben did say one gal did buy a bot asp: Zo, who is at the Asp Pit.
At the Asp Pit (run by Taf, and Lou at the bar), Rik did say: “You got an asp gal? Say, or you get bad cop act.”
Taf did say OK, and Zo – as Ms. Sal – has fun w/bot asp. Rik did see Zo, and did say, “I am rep of AFL-CIO” – a lie.
Zo did say “No way – you are a cop” and did go on to hit Rik in the gut and try to get him to die. He did not die, so she did run, and Rik did run too. In the end Rik did get a gun and go bam-bam-bam at her: oh no! No mo’ Zo.
Now did Bry and Gaf say to Rik: you do OK to ice this Zo, but you got to ice two and two mo’.
Rik did say, “Do wha? Not two and two, but two and one!”
“No way,”" Bry did say: “Uh uh. You got to ace the gal R., who is a bot but did not ken. Now she do ken she is a bot, and did run.”
Rik did not ken how to act on job to ice the gal R., who he dug a lot. He did go up the ave. in L.A. and put it to his I.Q. As he did go, he did see R., and he ran to her – but he did not get to her, as Leo did bat his mug w/a big end-of-arm ham.
“How old am I?”, Leo did say.
“I do not ken,” Rik did say, “but it is 365 x 4 ere you die.”
“You do not get 365 x 4, sez I,” Leo did say, and he did hit Rik w/18 STR ’til Rik was set to pop. “Get up! It is Die P.M.!”
But Leo did not ace Rik, for BAM! did go the gun of Rik, now w/R. And so it was R. did ace Leo, and did see she may be a bot, but she was a gal too, and it did not do for a bot to ice a man. Now did Rik and R. go to his pad, and he and she did yak.
“If I go,” she did say, “Do you run for me, to ice me?”
“Not me,” he did say, “But it may be Gaf or Bry. You can not get by a cop.”
R. was sad and she did cry, but Rik got hot and say to R., “Say you luv me.” So she did say, and Rik and R. did ‘do it’.
At the pad of J.F. Seb, P. and Seb did yak too. Seb did say “I yen to go off the orb, but see: I am 25, but I am ill too, and if you see me, you say, ‘He is 70. He is so old!’ So I am in L.A. ’til I die.”
“Me too,” P. did say, and as she did say, to the pad of Seb the top bot Roy did go.
“We are now two,” top bot Roy did say, “you and me. Zo did die and Leo too.”
“Do we now die?”, P. did ask.
“No way,” Roy did say. “Not if Seb can let us see the big bot man, Ty.” Seb is not so hep, for at Roy he did eek – but he did say OK.
Seb did see off Roy to see big bot man Ty in the A.M. “Q to B6,” Seb did say (tho Roy did say for Seb to say).
“K6, Q”, Ty did say, but Seb did say “B to K7 – the end!” So Seb (and Roy) won, and in to see Ty did go.
“I dig to be as man,” Roy did say to Ty. “I do not dig to die after 365 x 4. You get for me mo’ 365!”
“No can do,” Ty did say. “You are a bot, and a bot is not a man. You are, as a bot, A++, but it’s all, no mo’.” So did Ty say, but Roy did not dig the A. to his Q., and so he did go ape-poo and did ice Ty and Seb.
Now did Rik go to pad of Seb. P. was at the pad, and she did try to ice Rik: his top, w/her leg, she did try to pop like zit. But Rik is A-OK cop, and he did ace her w/his gun: bam, bam, bam. No mo’ P.
Now Roy had no pal, and he did say to Rik: “Are you not bad, man? You did ace two Rep bot, but fem. Now try a bot who is a man.” And we see it is no lie: Roy, a bot, is to a man as Rik, a man, is to an ant. Roy did toy w/Rik, and did do him all pop, pop, pop: two and one ows for P. and Zo and Leo.
Now Rik did dig: Roy did luv P., and to him Leo was as a bro and Zo as a sis. To him his set was not a Rep bot set, but as a fam of man. But he can not say so: he has to run, to not die.
Roy, too, did not dig to die, but his 365 x 4 is up: he put a rod in his arm like J.C., but he can not but die. Roy did say to Rik, “I see as a man can see; my Rh is as the Rh of a man, and tho I die, I do not ice you, so you can see I die as a man can die and not a bot.” All he did ken is now to go, to be no mo’: how sad. And so Roy did die, not as a bot but as a man, and so we do ken too.
Now did Gaf fly by in jet: “You are as a man,” he did say to Rik (a bot?). “Now you go. It’s too bad she has to die. But so do we all!”
Rik did go to see R. at his pad, for he did ken it was no lie. “Do you luv me?” he did ask.
“Yes,” she did say.
“Do you ken I do not dig to see you die?” he did ask.
“Yes,” she did say.
So the two did go, out of his pad to run by the cop. Rik did see a bit by Gaf: a Jap art uni. Gaf did ken, too, who is R. and who is Rik, and he did let the two run. “It’s too bad she has to die. But so do we all!”
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
If there are three things that militaries worldwide love to do, it’s spend huge amounts of money, kill people for no good reason, and tell the civilian leadership to shut up and mind its own business. But if there are four things that militaries worldwide love to do, the next one is give their latest massacre-in-the-making a hilariously juvenile G.I.-Joe-style nickname. When Israel announced that the latest phase in its program of punishing the Palestinian people for their continued existence would be called “Operation Pillar of Defense”, I was as delighted as a man can be while simultaneously being suicidally depressed.
For one thing, characterizing any violent action by a country that spends a larger percentage of its budget on the military than any other nation in the world against a demoralized aggregation of impoverished minorities who don’t even have any internationally recognized legal status as “defense” is pretty hilarious right off the bat. Even the stingiest NFL defenses lack a go-to play that involves murdering their opponents’ offensive coordinator, and there is a reason that a game whose final score is 168-6 is referred to as a ‘slaughter’. The two teams aren’t playing in the same league; they aren’t playing on the same field; they aren’t even playing the same game.
But this, really, is part of the problem. I am the first to admit the phenomenal power of the metaphor to encourage thought and understanding; obviously, for this issue in particular, plenty of people agree with me, as the vast and largely pointless history of public editorializing on the rights and wrongs of the Israel/Palestine conflict is rife with metaphor. The land is a garden, thriving and blooming but rife with pests; the land is a neighborhood, where one house is full of rowdies; the land is a living room, and the kids need a swift lesson in discipline from a kind but forceful dad. Even one of the foundational statements of the nation of Israel — that it was a “land without a people for a people without a land” — is a metaphor, albeit one so poorly chosen that it has caused no end of trouble.
We have had more than enough trouble. We are tired of metaphor; we are exhausted with conflict; we are weary of making excuses. Very well then: at a certain point, metaphors — being as they are merely carefully constructed mental narratives, or, if you prefer, lies — no longer serve an argument. They can too easily be derailed, added to, subtracted from, rerouted, and decorated with irrelevancies. So we must turn to something less subject to the fripperies of interpretation and the vagaries of opinion. We must abandon metaphor; we must forsake irony; we must leave behind even the flat presentation of facts (in what other context is it acceptable to solve a problem by killing dozens of times as many people as were killed by the problem itself?), and turn instead to the cold and pitiless lessons of history.
The only thing that makes the issue unique among contemporary political issues is that so many American liberals are willing to forsake the dedication and passion they show to victims of civil rights abuses elsewhere when it comes to the occupied territories. Courtesies extended to every other oppressed other are denied the non-people of non-Palestine. Sometimes, this is attributable to Jewish heritage, or at least to an appreciation of the legitimate suffering of the Jewish people that has been allowed to fester into overcompensation; in other cases, it has to to with the game of realpolitik that the U.S. government has played with Israel since its founding, and a wish to not seem hypocritical by condemning conservative support of Israel’s terrible abuses of the civilian populace while defending it when a Democrat is in the White House. Just as five different right-wingers support Israel for five different reasons, so too do five different left-wingers have five different excuses for why what Israel does to its captive population isn’t really worthy of condemnation. But what they all have in common is that they are helping an expansionist colonial power make excuses for its behavior. They are all playing the same old game of exceptionalism, and it is a game that will always and forever lay on the wrong side of history.
For all those who like to pretend otherwise, there is literally nothing new under the sun on the baked concrete slabs of Gaza, in the crowded slums of the West Bank, in the miserable refugee camps dotting the landscape of Lebanon. Every single objection that has been made to justify the behavior of Israel’s government towards those living in its areas of military occupation, and every single objection that will be made in the future, has been made before for every other settler state. It has been made by Americans about the indigenous population they shifted into ever smaller ‘reservations’ as the needs of the white population grew, about their black slave population, and about the Filipinos they ‘liberated’ from Spain only to slaughter in vast quantities to establish a foothold in the East; it has been made by the white majorities in South Africa and Rhodesia, the colonial powers in Africa and Asia, the French in Vietnam, the British in India and Ireland, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Russians in Eastern Europe, the Japanese in China, the Christians in the Middle East and the Muslims in the Maghreb, the Romans nearly everywhere, and in every other land occupied by force, where the humanity of the native population was considered secondary to the convenience of the invader. It is so well-established a historical pattern that citing chapter and verse hardly seems necessary, but if this will not serve to convince anyone on the Israel-is-justified side (or its mealy-mouthed cousin, the both-sides-are-equally-bad side), it may at least preserve my sanity to remember.
The Palestinians say they want peace, but they violate the treaties again and again — just like the Sioux violated their treaties with Washington, forcing violent reprisals. (The government itself is blameless in all this, of course.) The government merely wants peace; it has no ulterior motive – just like the colonies were meant to spread order, prosperity and civilization, not to loot foreign lands of resources and labor. Israel means only to defend itself against an entrenched and bitter enemy – just as American soldiers ‘defended’ our sovereignty against the threat of Filipino tribesmen armed with knives. Palestine does not recognize the right of Israel to exist (never mind the reciprocity) — just as those foolish blacks would not accept the legitimate authority of their white masters in South Africa. If Israel and Palestine are at war, then the Arabs started it – just as “intolerable aggression” on the part of the occupied is always a just cassus belli throughout history, everywhere from Gleiwitz to Baghdad. The Palestinians are vile terrorists, and occupation or no, they must stop their attacks before there can be peace — just as the Irish were savage hooligans, and the IRA needed to lay down its arms before the British would stop their abuses of human rights. Palestine was an empty and unproductive desert before the Israelis arrived, and its people should be grateful for what was done for them by their conquerers — just as the Africans were little more than animals before the blessings of colonialism, which they have ungratefully flushed down the toilet, thus becoming responsible for their own miseries.
Honestly, for anyone not ignorant or deliberately blind to history, the argument becomes tiresome as soon as it is begun. Do you support the collective punishment of Palestinians by Israel for the activities of radicals? Then you must have been all right with similar collective punishment in South Africa. Do you believe that it is in the nature of Arabs to be treacherous, criminal and weak, and to respond only to force? Then you must have agreed with the Japanese Empire when it said the same thing about China. Do you think the terrorists of Hamas and the PLO deliberately hide among civilians, forcing Israel to harm women and children despite their best intentions? Then you must have been fine with Dutch bombers unleashed on Indonesia when the rebels there allegedly did the same thing. Do you feel Palestinian terrorists are a special breed of evil because they kill innocent civilians? Imperialists have said the same about every force that ever stood in their way, from the American terror of Indians and blacks and Chinese to the brute beasts the British coincidentally encountered everywhere they settled. (Women and children killed by a native resistance are always innocents cruelly targeted, and the fault of the rebels; women and children killed by the occupying forces are always regrettable but inescapable ‘collateral damage’, and also the fault of the rebels.) Do you think that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a special and unique one, created by political elements irreproducible in any other time and place? So, too, did the colonial powers in every other century, on every other continent.
What is happening to the Palestinians under Israel — and it is happening to them — is not unique. It is not special. And most of all, it is not historically defensible. It is inevitable. It is the necessary progression of colonial logic, a historical phenomenon as predictable as sunset as as destructive as a hurricane. Its excuses have always been the same, and they will always be viewed with shame when civilization progresses to the point at which it can no longer be tolerated. The only differences are the demographics and politics of the people who have been roped into special pleading for the imperialist aggressor. Defend the actions of a bullying settler state all you like; you will find increasing numbers to keep you company. But in the end, you are standing over the butchered victims of the Nat Turner rebellion and asking your fellow landowners what is wrong with the Negro, that he can do such awful things; and contemplating what further punishment you can inflict on him, so that he does not do them again.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Noirvember: Gun Crazy
“You’ll never make big money. You’re a two-bit guy. No guts, nothing! I want action!”
One of the reasons I’ve tried to stay away from well-known films during this month’s discussion of noir — especially ones as well-known as Gun Crazy — is that, well, I’m not the first horse in this rodeo, folks. Critics a lot more perceptive than I’ll ever be were dissecting and analyzing films from the shadowy age of American crime dramas for close to three decades before I was even born. And with a movie like this, it’s true that it took a while for the B-movie revisionists to get around to noticing its greatness, but it’s also true that everyone who did see it, critics and filmmakers alike, found it hugely influential. What more can I possibly add to the discussion that hasn’t been said already?
On the other hand, who doesn’t want to take on the canon every now and then? The fact is, the reason more people have written about Gun Crazy than they have Fear in the Night is that it’s a much better movie, and great movies give you more things to talk about, more avenues to explore than merely above-average ones. Not many people would have cared if François Truffaut had written a 400-page book about Gene Nelson. So, in the spirit of upping my game, please join me as I take a look at one of the most beautiful and twisted of all films noir, as well as a personal favorite of mine.
Originally released under the title Deadly is the Female, Gun Crazy was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, a perennially undervalued undercard director who would, five years later, helm The Big Combo, another of my all-time greats in the crime drama genre. His script came from then-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, working off an article by MacKinlay Kantor in the Saturday Evening Post, and the two of them together were dynamite, with Lewis finding just the right actors and images to deliver what seems like a New Wave message from the future built around Trumbo’s heavy-breathing screenplay. (To be fair, the same pair was responsible for the loopy 1958 western Terror in a Texas Town, where Sterling Hayden puts on a supernaturally silly yumpin’-yiminy accent and brings a harpoon to a gunfight. But hey, you can’t win ‘em all.)
The leads in the film are a curious pair, if only because, despite tremendous chemistry in a perfect match-up and an obvious ability to dig down to the throbbing heart of their roles, neither had much of a career. The male lead, Bart Tare, is played with a subdued, nervous energy by the lanky, intense-looking John Dall; but aside from terrific performances here and in Hitchcock’s Rope, he was primarily a stage actor and didn’t do much film work before dying of a heart attack in his early 50s. Gun Crazy‘s deadly female is Annie Laurie Starr; her sulky blonde good looks are a perfect negative image of the desperate, beaten-down character she plays. The Irish actress Peggy Cummins nails the role with that hypnotic shock that comes from the best on-screen performances, but while she had a longer career than did Dall, she too made a relatively small number of films before marrying well and retiring early. That makes the best-known actor in the movie Russ (“Rusty”) Tamblyn, who plays Bart as an adolescent, but the lack of star power doesn’t lessen its impact one bit, because the story focuses almost exclusively on the insular, fatalistic romance of Bart and Laurie, and they’re both played to the hilt.
For a movie so saturated in sex and violence, it starts out very much in the mold of a ’40s sentimental weepie: young orphan Bart is sent to reform school after smashing into a hardware store to steal a revolver. His Leave It to Beaverish friends and his emotionally overwhelmed older sister swear to the judge that Bart wouldn’t even hurt a fly — but then again, neither would Norma Bates. The truth is known to Bart himself, and perhaps suspected by the judge who sends him to juvie: Bart likes guns. He likes them a lot. And not just in the way that a lot of people find their heaviness, their danger, their menacing weight in their hands to be strangely seductive: guns turn him on, and he can no more resist grabbing for the sexiest one he can find than most kids that age can keep their hands off their own piece when they first find Dad’s Playboy in the sock drawer. Trumbo’s script, as well as the Hays Code restrictions of the time, keep the lesson from being too obviously Freudian, but the first element is in place. Bart serves out his term in reform school (a place none too likely to dull his fetishization of firearms) and then joins the Army, where he naturally becomes a sharpshooter. It’s left unsaid, but he probably proves to be a naturally gifted killer, as well, and when he returns to his small Virginia town and his old friends, he’s a bundle of jangling, unused focus. The gun is there; the chamber is open. All that is needed now is the bullets to load it and the will to fire it.
The ammunition shows up in the form of Annie Laurie Starr. She’s engaged as a trick shooter in a traveling carnival that Bart and his friends go visit one bored and boring evening, and as in all classic noir narratives, his fate is sealed from that point forward. Sure, Annie is beautiful — nothing in this post could possibly communicate how beautiful; that information, as with most of the greatness of Gun Crazy, has to come from seeing the movie — but just as importantly to Bart, she’s good with guns. It may be that he’s better; that’s established in one of the film’s most notorious scenes, an accuracy contest between the two that uses stunt shots as an on-screen substitute for the couple’s first crazy fuck. If it wasn’t so perfectly staged and, frankly, hot (it’s a tremendous example of the way film noir pushed back against the restrictions of the Code with a variety of clever feints), it would seem hokey. But regardless of the outcome, the two are fused together for life, and death, as each has finally found someone equal to their skills and desires. Bart is the gun, and Annie is the bullet, beaten down by an endless series of bad breaks, lousy lovers, and all the other implied terrors of life as an independent-spirited woman in a time that didn’t welcome them. She’s got a hate-on for the world that let her down, and she’s ready to fight back.
The two creative forces behind the film each brought something to the table that helped elevate Gun Crazy to something more than a cautionary tale about letting your kid get an NRA boner. It was Trumbo’s idea to jettison a lot of extraneous material from Kantor’s article and focus almost exclusively on Bart and Laurie’s romance, turning the story into a murderous criminal version of Romeo and Juliet long before later, weaker imitators. Lewis had originally been surprised by the idea, but once he bought into it, he went all the way, ramping up the sexuality to its breaking point. He gave his leads blunt, almost pornographic directions and then let them loose, trusting them to play the scenes like they were almost ready to eat each other, and that’s just what they do. When Laurie, in pants so tight you can practically read them, first puts her hooks into Bart, she’s licking her teeth like she’s going to tear him apart; the two can’t take their eyes off one another, and neither can we.
She sees her chance and she jumps at it. Jettisoning carnival manager Packie, her thuggish boyfriend, for being a two-bit hustler who lacks the audacious crookedness to which she aspires, she hooks up with Bart and the two of them quickly learn the career limitations for a couple who don’t know how to do anything but put bullets through things. They blow the last of Bart’s savings on a losing streak in Vegas, and when Bart suggests settling down to a square life, Laurie pushes back hard. He doesn’t want to risk hurting anyone in a stickup job, but he’s also physically addicted to her, and pretty soon, “two people are dead, just so we can live without working”. She thrives not just on the shooting, but on the violence; as everything spirals out of control, he becomes more bitter and loveless, but she sputters and burns like a torch. Eventually, nothing is left but a sad and lonely death in an empty mountain brush.
Gun Crazy is a movie with precedents, to be sure, but with far more antecedents. Scene after scene shows up in more familiar movies, from the pair’s sunglasses-and-raincoats ensemble that’s echoed in Á Bout de Souffle, to Annie’s sweater-and-beret outfit that appears later in Bonnie and Clyde (where it’s an homage to a ’50s noir appearing in a ’70s movie that takes place in the ’30s). But like all the greatest movies, it’s more borrowed from than borrowing. For a second-tier crime drama that gained its audience through a rare second-chance change of producers, its images, themes and style show up in dozens of films over the next five decades. Its cinematographer was Russ Harlan, who worked on a lot of big-time pictures but was never considered one of the greats, and didn’t possess any particular noir sensibility; but there are elements of the tight, leaping tenseness of his work on The Thing from Another World and none of the wide, closeup-bereft grandness of Rio Bravo. It’s tempting, then, although probably only half-accurate, to credit Lewis for so many of the film’s brilliant touches. Gun Crazy certainly coheres — it’s a unified piece in a way the best noir films are — but it’s also comprised of dozens of moments that the viewer locks into like a hunter’s scope. The jaw-dropping (and almost entirely improvised) one-take bank robbery scene halfway through the movie is the most sustained and most famous of these, but there are so many others:
- The intimidating closeup of the Cashville sheriff’s face, streaked with rain, after young Bart trips and drops his stolen six-shooter
- The closeup of Bart’s hand, clutching and un-clutching into a nervous fist, when his friends take careless potshots at a mountain lion
- Bart and his now-grown friends, seen as blurry shapes from a distance, drinking beer and plunking the empties off of a tree branch
- Lots of little bits of improvised dialogue (“I can’t stand a warm beer”), the kind that comes from a director who implicitly trusts his actors
- Laurie’s first tooth-baring glimpse of Bart, and the way she keeps glancing at him from the stage, culminating in a shot, from his point of view, of her targeting him straight down the barrel
- the reflection of Packie in the mirror, looking at the hole Bart just blew in it, right where his head would have been
- the outside of the “Desert Justice Cocktail Bar and Café”
- the hollow bitterness in Laurie’s voice, when she thinks Bart’s going to chicken out and leave her and says “Changed your mind, Bart?”
- the side shot of Bart gripping his head, like he’s got a migraine headache that’s about to eat his whole future, when Laurie makes it clear what she wants out of life and how she intends to get it
- the way the guns thrust in from offscreen, so blatantly sexual, in the stickup montage
- the Scorsesian overhead shot of Annie and Bart planning their last big job at the Armour meat-packing plant
- the getaway from the Armour plant, with Laurie’s hair whipping crazily in the wind with the camera perched just behind her
- Annie giving half a dozen reasons why she killed two people during the robbery, none as convincing as her shirt unbuttoned all the way down to the belly
- Bart hopelessly explaining to Laurie why they can’t use the usual methods of avoiding the cops, as the camera tracks past him while he’s still talking into the glow of the cars and streetlights behind them, like they’re already dead and no longer worth looking at
- The homely banality of Bart’s sister’s house, seeming like a whole different reality from the crazed electricity of the previous scenes, and the terrible moment when, after talking to his old friends, his head just fades out of the corner of the screen like a drowning man’s
There are few movies entirely without flaws, and Gun Crazy isn’t one of them. But there are also few movies that are every bit as good as they’re made out to be, and Gun Crazy is absolutely one of them. It’s also a particularly livid and pulsing example of what noir is supposed to be, in its purest form: dripping with blood and good intentions, throbbing with sex, and careening wildly from one striking scene to another while following a path as preordained as the path of a bullet.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
So far this Noirvember, we’ve looked at an incredibly dark noir novel masquerading as a domestic drama centered around a dance contest, and a non-fiction noir that frames a series of historical mass murderers as perfect little short stories. And today, having moved from crypto-noir to non-fiction noir, we’re going to move on to something altogether unique: the meta-noir novel. (Jesus, when are you gonna just talk about movies? Quiet, you.)
When Gary Mairs — a gentlemanly film scholar, a fine filmmaker, and a good friend — first introduced me to David Thomson’s novel Suspects (as in “the usual”), I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Now, 27 years after it was written and 5 years after I encountered it for the first time, I’m still not sure what to make of it. Thomson is a British film critic and historian who is largely known in this country for his reference books and a recent series of short, punchy biographies of leading movie stars and noteworthy directors. His reputation is mixed, even among those who like him: he has opinions that it would be overly polite to characterize as ‘eccentric’, and he’s obsessed with particular movie stars — especially women — in a way that borders on unseemly. He’s never really produced anything like a revolutionary reading of a film, and his value as a historian and scholar are more due to his voluminous capacity for remembering detail than any exceptional insight. But he’s also a very engaging writer, with a lively if not groundbreaking style, and his books are hard to put down because his enthusiasm for the medium of film is so obvious and infectious.
Gary told me, when he first hipped me to the existence of Suspects, that he actually preferred it to Thomson’s film writing. I wasn’t sure how to take this, since his film writing was all I knew of the man. (I’d later find out that he’d written screenplays for some Hollywood heavy hitters, but none of them had ever been produced — not that this is necessarily a black mark against him.) The idea sounded intriguing to me, especially given my consuming devotion to film noir, but I’d also been burned time and time again by non-fiction writers — and critics, especially — trying their hand at novels and flaming out in an embarrassing unspectacular way. So it was with more than a little trepidation that I finally picked up a copy; but I burned through its 270 pages in a single day, and while I still have decidedly mixed feelings about the book, I return to it again and again.
What is Suspects, exactly? It’s not an easy question to answer. Written in 1985 after years of false starts, it’s a novel, but almost none of its characters are original creations of Thomson’s. It’s a historical fiction, but the history it depicts is itself fictional: it delivers to readers the background and fallout of events that never happened. It’s an invention, but one that blurs the lines between fact and fiction: even its narration — putatively delivered by a character it would be churlish to identify and spoil for the potential reader — seems to flag between the person identified as the speaker and Thomson himself. Each italicized link between chapters can be read as a narrative connection between one event and another, but also as a commentary on film and its power to enthrall us by the critic who wrote the book. This device and others makes it unabashedly post-modern, another quality that I enjoyed, but is likely to rebuff readers who see it as a mere gimmick. ”Is the order of these entries significant?” the narrator asks early in the book. ”I do them as they come into my head, but my head keeps running back to system. So design and randomness bump together, skirmishing, like lovers.”
Then what, exactly, is the gimmick? What on Earth is Suspects about? Like many such exercises, it is easiest to understand in the terminology of the geek: Suspects is an attempt to impose a Wold-Newton structure on the world of film noir. But the number of people who know both noir and Wold-Newton are (hopefully) few, so a further explanation is in order: essentially, Thomson gives us fictionalized biographes, each forming a single chapter, of some of the most notorious figures in crime drama. Chinatown‘s Jake Gittes and Noah Cross; Casablanca‘s Ilsa Lund and Richard Blaine; Laura Hunt and Waldo Lydecker from Laura; Johnny Clay from The Killing and Dickson Steele from In a Lonely Place; Kit Carruthers from Badlands and Harry Lime from The Third Man; and outliers from films as diverse as Rebel without a Cause, American Gigolo, and It’s a Wonderful Life (one of the book’s most carefully constructed pieces of hidden criticism is to identify the latter as a far darker and bleaker film than it’s usually given credit for). Thomson invents histories that show us where these people came from before we picked up their stories on the big screen, and what happened to them after the cameras stopped rolling.
If this was Suspects‘ only accomplishment, it would be compelling enough; Thomson has a gift not only for the fictional biography, but for weaving the true and the false together: he not only works in little Easter eggs for the attentive out of the stuff of reality (the judge in Jake Gittes’ trial for criminal negligence following the death of Evelyn Mulwray, for example, is named Robert Evans), but he also cleverly incorporates events from the real lives of the actors who played the characters into those characters’ life histories. (Appropriately enough, he engages this tendency in the most pronounced way when he writes about Harry Lime and Hank Quinlan, two characters played by Orson Welles.) But it would still be nothing more than a clever collection of fantastical mini-bios, and Thomson clearly wants it to be more.
This is where the novel tends to stumble on its own ambition. What becomes clear, after a certain point, is that Thomson is not merely trying to flesh out the pasts and futures of these dwellers in the shadows: he’s also trying to connect them into a grand narrative. The links that bind them crop up almost immediately, with some of them being satisfyingly obvious (Sidney Falco as the teenage protégé of Waldo Lydecker; a tenuous, if downright operatic, connection between two of the all-time great femmes fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson and Matty Walker) and others being completely out of the blue, with varying degrees of success (Kit Carruthers traveled in his wild youth with Rev. Harry Powell; Harry Lime once worked at a car dealership run by Beat the Devil‘s Henry Oliver Peterson). These connections can get a little stretched, and Thomson has to futz around with timelines quite a bit to get all these folks in the same places at the same times, but it’s fun just to watch him try, and the central narrative reveal is a killer.
Some of the hiccups in Suspects‘ narrative aren’t Thomson’s fault. In a handful of cases, sequels to the films to which he writes a speculative ending were made after the book was published, and while his outcomes are generally superior, it’s hard to drive the memory of the big-screen version from one’s mind. Others make it something of a curate’s egg; Thomson has a gift for spotting patterns in dialogue, and often, his characterizations are terrific, sounding like scenes and snippets lifted from might-have-been deleted scenes; other times, though, he simply recycles a famous line in another context, a device that never fails to sound cheap. The worst excesses of the book are thematic, and those who have criticized Thomson for the borderline-creepy way he deals with the carnality of some of his big-screen heroines will find nothing to dissuade them in Suspects. He’s also got an obsession with incest that he wears so far down on his sleeve that the narrator tries to hang a lampshade on it, but that just makes it dangle all the more clumsily.
With all that against it, though, Suspects is a book of undeniable intrigue and charm. For all its imperfections, it’s nearly impossible to put down, and it ranks as #1 among the books I have given away to friends and replaced for myself, just because I’ve wanted to have people to talk about it with. Today’s omnivorous mash-up culture has given us far too many variations on this sort of geek-genre cross-pollination, but Suspects resembles Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen crossed with a Larousse biographical dictionary more than it does any half-assed modern what-if. It is, predictably for Thomson, meticulously researched and historically rigorous; but, unexpectedly for Thomson, it contains little wonders of style, characterization and feeling, three qualities almost always lacking in such metafictional speculation.
Of course, while I would never characterize Suspects as pandering, I probably wouldn’t rate it so highly if the characters he presented and the milieu in which they operate didn’t so precisely tickle my noir sweet spot. (Indeed, five years later, Thomson tried much the same thing, only with the Western genre, in a novel called Silverlight; the plot was stronger, but the characters were less resonant and the interplay less complex, leaving it less a daring piece of post-modern reclamation and more simply a mediocre oater.) Any book where Norma Desmond secretly bears Joe Gillis’ love child, Kaspar Gutman and Joel Cairo ride off into the sunset to become bridge columnists, Double Indemnity‘s Barton Keyes and Scarlet Street‘s Chris Cross turn out to be the same person, Evelyn Mulwray and Carmen Sternwood are best friends, Jack Torrance is born in the town from It’s a Wonderful Life, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy has a baby that turns out to be a rather famous writer of comic books — well, that book is going to get my attention.
But the greatest strength of Suspects is that it does more than that — it carries its narrative beyond the childish dream that all our favorite characters live in the same little kingdom and know each others’ names, and turns it into a cleverly paced, surprisingly deep, and undeniably adult work of fiction that folds in on itself without ever crawling up its own ass. It’s also that rarest of things, a book that, by its very nature, will never, ever be made into a movie, and thus — despite the fact that it’s constructed entirely out of characters from the movies — can be appreciated solely as a work of literary fiction. It’s newly in print after seemingly random gaps of time being unavailable; its air is not entirely clean, but it is exceptionally rare. Breathe it in while you can.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Noirvember: Murder for Profit
The notion of a non-fiction noir isn’t hard to understand — the resonance of noir fiction, after all, comes from how easily we recognize the patterns of spiraling violence, inescapable fate, and the darkness of the human soul from our real lives — but it’s rather difficult to find examples of. True crime books often shoot for a noir sensibility, but their tendency towards exploitation scuttles the attempt even on those rare occasions when the lackluster prose style doesn’t. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is probably the best-known example of the genre; there are others, like James Ellroy’s memoir My Dark Places and even some collections of tabloid photography (I recommend Local News, a batch of vividly nasty shots from Los Angeles yellow papers curated by Diane Keaton, of all people). But the finest example of a noir tone in a non-fiction crime book I’ve ever read was written a good twenty years before anyone even thought up the idea of noir.
William Bolitho began writing his masterpiece, Murder for Profit, in the early 1920s, when he was still recovering from wounds suffered during World War I. Bolitho’s identity, fittingly enough, is a bit mysterious: consensus has it that he was British by way of South Africa, that he married under somewhat scandalous circumstances, and that he assumed the name of a famous banker and mine mogul to raise his social station (his real name is usually given as Charles or William Ryall). Whatever the case, he didn’t live long — his Great War injuries never quite left him — but he developed a reputation as a sharp-witted, intellectually curious and fearless writer, a self-made journalist who dabbled in the kind of speculative editorializing that would later characterize the New Journalists that emerged thirty years later. His other works included a revisionist take on Greek mythology, a first-person account of opium addiction, and a scathing look at the early days of Fascist Italy, but Murder for Profit, his sole dalliance with true crime, is his most lively and engaging.
While recuperating and confined to a hospital bed in France, he began reading about the “French Bluebeard”, Henri Désiré Landru, who had just been arrested and was due to stand trial. Landru would later be the subject of Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, but Bolitho became obsessed with him first, finding it fascinating how he took advantage of the lax law enforcement of wartime Paris to marry, rob, and murder widow after widow. The Landru case became a succès de scandale; “returned soldiers”, Bolitho noted, “followed with delighting recollection the accounts of Landru’s crimes — this host, back from killing, or suddenly relieved from the fear of being killed, with the taste of despair still under their tongues, learnt with a roar that a little funny man had all these years, behind their backs, been conducting a private war of his own, earnestly mimicking theirs, even to the casualties.”
Finding little interest from newspapers back home in the lurid trial and its inevitable culmination beneath the guillotine, Bolitho decided instead to delve into the history of mercenary homicide with an eye towards writing a sort of poetic history of killing for money. His most famous assassins were Burke and Hare, the notorious body-snatchers who found a gruesomely profitable way to supply the demand of medical schools for fresh cadavers; they would be written about dozens of times, including by Dylan Thomas in The Doctor and the Devils. He also looked into the case of Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, the Frenchman who murdered his entire family for the inheritance and who inspired a memorable essay by Ivan Turgenev, and George Joseph Smith, another merry-widow killer who drowned women in tin bathtubs just before the Great War. By the time he was almost finished with the book in 1926, another case — that of Fritz Haarmann, the Vampire of Hanover, who sold his victims as black-market meat — emerged and demanded inclusion.
The end result was Murder for Profit. It is a book both of and out of its time; it is suffused with psychological analysis and insight of a sort that was highly unusual for a history of crime written in the mid-1920s, when such approaches were still considered quackery by both law enforcement and the medical community. But it also falls prey to a great deal of racial nonsense, class snobbery, and a disdain for social theory that is all too typical of the period. Still, it has an unmistakable noir flavor: each chapter is a perfectly crafted short story, with a doomed criminal madman as the protagonist, a bleak psychological worldview suffused in intricate period detail and immaculate characterization, and a suffusion of shadows in which the entirety of the action takes place. But most of all, in the same way as the Black Mask boys were instantly recognizable by the hard-boiled patois of their cops and hoods, Murder for Profit is the ultimate in noir non-fiction because of its spectacularly gorgeous prose.
Though it’s a thousand miles removed from the tough-guy street prose of Chandler and Hammett, it’s unmistakably perfect, precisely the sort of thing that might have spawned the noir movement in some alternate reality where the genre drew on British interwar literature instead of postwar American film. Bolitho’s writing style is simply a thing of beauty, pitch-black and elegant while suffused with a wickedly complex insight even when it’s engaged in dime-store psychology. It’s rolling and dense without ever being too prolix, complicated and clever while still written for a popular audience, engagingly archaic but never dated. It’s just magnificent, and really without peer in the world of true crime — it even makes In Cold Blood seem hokey and stumbling at times. Out of print for generations, Murder for Profit is still available for a pittance from a variety of online sources and used book shops; the case I’ve made for it can’t progress any further than just presenting some of my favorite passages and letting you judge for yourself.
On William Burke’s occupation as a second-hand dealer:
“Men such as Burke wash towards the handling of half-worn-out goods as fatally as a cork to the shore, there to wait until another tide floats them over into the lonely reach where we find them. The modern economic system is a box with two bottoms. Where the smallest regular business of making and selling goods for consumption ends, begins the vast and incoherent traffic of half-used things.”
On the character of William Hare:
“If Burke was a dog, an ill-bred country mongrel that on sight any shepherd would shoot, Hare’s appearance had somewhat of the deviltry or the insane levity of the wolf.”
On what shapes the destiny of a murderer:
“In the mental life of most men there are no free thoughts, for each as it gets up is hooked by the foot in the piled accumulation of the past. Memory, with the background of punishments, fatigues, partings, regrets, breaks our actions as it hampers our thoughts, and its weight produces the prevalent mood that we call character. On a man like Burke this incubus of the past was especially heavy.”
On Burke’s planning of his crimes:
“Night and morning she would trundle and call, while her mate sat and hammered in a back room of the Log’s, in the artificial twilight, there occupied with the fascinating construction and furnishing of a cosmos, in the centre of which sat like a Buddha a crab-shaped little Irishman, hairy and muscular, meditating impassively on the mystery of lesser beings who whirled in a circle past him in his thoughts like dust in an orbit round the sun. Street, lodgers, city, state had sunk in his mind, filled with the obsession of his own needs and plans, to a phantom of the lightest irreality. While Nell went out with the barrow, the Burke universe was in evolution. It is no more wonder the heartless petty swindler is as happy in this ambiance as a bandit in a forest. Such germinating seed was William Burke in 1818, in the days before he met Hare. He was growing daily in the art of seeing men as material objects revolving round his central reality, as juicy shadows of another creation, to be cheated, used, fought, skinned, abolished when the only need he had come to recognise – the livelihood of William Burke and Helen M’Dougal – required. And these are the first lessons in murder.”
On Hare’s trial:
“His actions were sudden and unrelated to such a degree that he found it easy to raise a laugh; his thoughts had the inferior originality of a child. He was ticklish and sudden in his passions. In court Hare laughed whenever his throat tickled, whenever a fly blundered in a pane, even while he was charging himself with nightmares of infamy.”
On the origins of George Joseph Smith:
“We have but little to set against this claim of George Joseph Smith to be the issue of a phantasmagoria and not a human family. His father, the ‘cab driver’, according to this meagre document was also an insurance agent: an insecure category that may (risking something on the observed unspontaneity of a mass-murderer’s imagination) include the practice of flower and figure painting which, in one of his marriage explanations, George Joseph claimed for him. Beyond this cloudy genealogy, it is vain to seek. The very surname is clueless, for all family trees lose themselves among the Smiths. If ants have names for each other, they must use a tiny equivalent for Smith. It has no handle for the curious to meddle with. It is a name unlimited by space or time; it is an anonymity that may cover an earl or a gipsy evangelist, and a sort of evasion of the laws of heredity. ’Smith’ suited the fantastic figure of this man who hated identification. With it his only heirloom, he could wander undetectable in the depths of any directory; he could enjoy some of the privilege of the disembodied spirit. He escapes the unplatonic ties of family, and promotes himself out of commonplace crime to the company of Mr. Hyde and Spring-Heeled Jack: a phantasm haunting the hinder terraces of the lower middle class, a subject for a new tale of wonder and imagination, where instead of hermits, are respectable spinsters; instead of dungeons, the shadows of boarding-house basements; instead of skulls, a more gruesome terror of tin baths.”
On how Smith psychologically prepared himself to murder his wife:
“To the making of this hypnosis in the few days that remain, he intensifies all his ways of thinking, as an athlete prepares his muscles for a record test. Everything that could recall to him reality, the personality of the woman beside him, he rigidly put out of mind. At all costs he must regard her as ‘raw material’, and crush out every reminder of her humanity. For fear she should put him under an obligation, he insists on doing all the housework himself, this lazy man. He does the shopping and insists on her staying in bed late, so that he can hate her. He had all the mean tidiness of routine of the incipient miser; he encouraged a hundred daily irritations of it, and he carefully concealed from her the way he liked things done, so that she could offend him. For the last few days he even paid the bills out of his own pocket, though every day he got nearer his last penny. The ways of a murderer and a boa constrictor are opposite. Where the one sweetens with his saliva, the other must carefully contrive to hate. Above all, he insisted with himself that it was business, business; and for this he forced himself to think only on the ledger-side of what he was doing. For this he haggled over the bath; if for the first time in his life he had bought a second-hand object without huckstering, it would have been to recognize that this was not business, but murder.”
On Smith’s selection of his next victim:
“So, as soon as she could help him to it, the bold spectre must have declared that he had a wild past. They parted late, she to notice the change in her room, as if all the furniture had been moved and ornamented, from the black hygienic bedstead to the row of pocket poets in limp leather. He, to exercises of deductive arithmetic, working from half-perceived rings and a brooch to the unknown resources of ladies that were ladies. Sleep sound, both of you: don’t worry that the other will not keep the rendezvous. Henceforth your lives, and your deaths, are welded together.”
On how Jean-Baptiste Troppmann’s childhood bullying shaped his murderous rage:
“He was always small for his age; his mother’s pampering had increased a congenital tendency towards indigestion. He was a yellow, spidery little boy. But his concentrated, prematurely determined nature came to the rescue. In his first fight, before the enemy had made up his mind, Jean-Baptiste was upon him and striking in the midst of the process of words and half-joking sparrings which usually precede such affairs amongst youngsters; with as much decision to hurt as a cornered rat, he overwhelmed him. Successes such as this gave him a fixed confidence in his power that made up for his weak muscles; and the exercises that it led him to undertake, especially jumping and running, let him correct them. Such was his belief in himself that no schoolboy feat of agility seemed out of his power, and each success increased his taste for astonishing the rest. His infirmity of stomach never left him; but he became a creature of leather and steel.”
On the chain of coincidence that led to Fritz Haarmann’s capture:
“A coincidence: one of those queer logical figures with which the stream of becoming sometimes playfully diversifies its course, one of life’s punning rhymes, which science hates and art abhors, but which fascinate the attention of mankind.”
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.
Noirvember: Union Station
What makes you think anyone’s taking care of the girl? I wouldn’t be lifting a finger — not one finger — if I could make myself believe she was still alive. I don’t believe it. Not for ten minutes after they grabbed her. (Inspector Donnelly)
Beginning like a classic Paramount actioner, all stark raised capital letters and swirling horns on the soundtrack, Union Station develops more like a police thriller than a real noir film, and so it more or less remains; most of the dark flavor comes from a decidedly unromantic view of the cops that’s a lot more redolent of the maverick ’70s than a movie made in the sticky middle of the Hays Code.
Sweet and innocent Joyce Willecombe (played by Nancy Olson; you can tell she’s a peach because she’s chummy with her boss’ blind daughter) hops a train to what purports to be Chicago, and is public-minded enough to think it somewhat queer when a couple of armed goons get on board with nervous haste. She convinces the conductor to phone ahead to big Bill Holden, as head railroad dick William Calhoun, who is established right off the jump as a man whose ass is made of pure granite: he berates a rookie for calling him “Willie” behind his back, glowers at the camera like it stepped out with his wife, and conducts a one-man crime sweep once he arrives at Union Station. He busts up a card game, sniffs out some con artists, nails a petty thief on a parole violation, and on top of it all, plays with some poor totsy’s heart just to be an asshole. Once he starts tailing the gun thugs, his main concern is making sure he can hammer them without getting sued. Yes, he’s that kind of a cop.
After pausing to berate Joyce for a fun diversion, it transpires that a suitcase stowed by one of the hoods contains personal items belonging to her blind pal, her boss’ daughter and heir to his substantial fortune. Since kidnapping is a federal rap, the F.B.I. as well as the local cops are brought in, the latter in the person of Barry Fitzgerald as Inspector Donnelly. Still sporting his faith-and-begorrah brogue, he takes a break from his usual friendly-old-priest routine to play Donnelly as a nasty fuck who refers to criminals as “lice” and is happy to plot their demise in ways that won’t make his force look responsible, and toss inconvenient civilians who get in his way with trumped-up nuisance charges. It’s this sort of characterization — the most cock-eyed view of cops this side of Alfred Hitchcock for its time and place — that gives Union Station most of its flavor and elevates it above a standard period procedural.
No one’s acting truly stands out here, but there are a few pretty effective scenes. When Donnelly and Calhoun are attempting to convince the kidnapped girl’s father to play along with their attempt to ensnare the kidnappers, they clearly think he’s the one being a prick — after all, they have a job to do, and he’s getting in the way with his mushy concerns about her safety — but Donnelly just rolls up his sleeves and gets to it, promising no one’s going to push things (when that’s exactly what they’re going to do), leaving Calhoun to put on his sensitive-guy rap and act like he gives a shit. Olson gets to have some fun as the only person in the movie who openly calls Holden out for being such a hard-ass, and while the lead roles are staffed by typical Hollywood faces, the railroad dicks and beat cops, though most don’t have any lines, tend to be enjoyable rock-headed goons whose faces are lined with character.
The action scenes are more interesting than most of the shoot-’em-ups of the day: there’s a satisfying subway chase early on that isn’t exceptionally exciting, but requires you to pay attention to figure out where all the players are moving, and it leads to a foot chase through a convincing mockup of the Chicago stockyards. (The cops refrain from shooting the goon they’re chasing because they want to beat information out of him, but in one of the more unexpected twists of a period thriller, he lets a bullet fly at his pursuers, panicking the herd and causing his own demise as he’s trampled to mush by few hundred head of freaked-out steak on the hoof.)
Union Station‘s pedigree is pretty slick, and came at a particularly high point for many of those involved: it’s directed by the underrated Hungarian noir stalwart Rudolph Maté, who had cranked out D.O.A. earlier in the year; and Holden and Olsen were fresh off of Sunset Blvd. Sydney Boehm’s screenplay was nominated for an Edgar award, and the novel it was based upon, Nightmare in Manhattan, won its author, Thomas Walsh, an Edgar that same year. (The title should be a tip-off of the geographical shenanigans the adaptation from stage to screen let loose: the book was set in New York’s Union Station, and the film shifts the action to Chicago‘s Union Station, but aside from a few bits of stock footage, it was filmed in Los Angeles’ Union Station.) And the studio hand behind the cameras and lights was Daniel Fapp, who’d be the D.P. on movies as diverse as West Side Story, Ice Station Zebra, and The Great Escape, but had just cut his teeth on noir by lensing The Big Clock.
The cinematography is uniformly good, with solid lighting effects and effective use of space, and the direction is well above average; Maté goes out of his way to make the mise-en-scene more authentic by populating the background with plenty of bustle and maintaining a lot of chatter, tannoy announcements, and the like. And while I wouldn’t exactly call the set design grimy, it’s at least very workaday and unglamorous; Donnelly and Calhoun may do similar jobs and have similar snub-nosed personalities, but there’s a hint of bitterness in Calhoun, probably because his crummy ‘office’ is stuck in a noisy corner of a railroad station. (I’m not sure if it was intended or just happenstance, but the cars in Union Station are a regular trade show of 1950-vintage slickmobiles: a Plymouth Deluxe coupe, a ’48 Lincoln Continental, a Chrysler Saratoga, and a handful of others show up in the street scenes.)
Whatever the actual setting, Maté and Fapp take advantage of it, throwing some sweet-looking shots of the train station in the ransom handoff scenes (as well as a flat-out gorgeous chase through an underground tunnel near the end) and making effective use of trips outdoors. The balance of light and darkness robs it of a real noir sensibility, as does the lack of any real sense of dread, the fairly standard police-prodedural set-up, and the happy ending. By these lights, it’s a pretty minor noir, but if you read it instead as a twisted cop thriller, it’s one of the better ones of its time, elevated by its stylish filming and its jaundiced view of the brutality and cynical personalities of cops and fellow travelers. The scene where Donnelly and Calhoun interrogate one of the low-level players in the kidnap scheme makes them look indistinguishable from the criminals in their casual threats of torture and death, and that alone makes Union Station stand out from the era’s usual depiction of cops as angelic guardians of order. (Lyle Bettger, as boss hood Joe Beacom, answers his moll’s question about letting the kidnapped girl go by saying “They’ll find her when they fish her out of the river” in the same casual, unconcerned tone as Inspector Donnelly does when he orders his cops to throw a captured hood in front of a train: ”Make it look accidental.”) It doesn’t quite fit in the stream of noir‘s classic period, but it’s a branch worth following.
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.