Paradise of Storm

Taylor Swift Devours Our Demon-Haunted World

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by Guy Walker

It was with strange and grotesque flamboyance that Taylor Swift rebranded herself. As admitted in the music video to her newest, much-anticipated hit single, Look What You Made Me Do, this is the seventh, maybe eighth time she’s changed outfits—a methodological norm for the world’s most popular artists. In order to stay relevant, our gluttonous feathered heroes change the color of their glitter, manufacture scandal, even change sexes. We demand to be entertained, herding into bulging damp fortresses with the expectancy to be coddled in awe.

In a sense, it’s completely understandable: the all-Trump, all-the-time circus devours any sense of normalcy. Watching any news on the tube is like gazing stupidly at a ghoulish doughboy as he violently shakes his loose buttered neck back-and-forth like some menacing predatory tactic. Every day, for two years now, CNN hosts Brady Bunch-sized panels trying to psychoanalyze the snarling clown. Neo-Nazis and Klansmen have come out of their fetid dark closets, chanting with overtly flamboyant lisps, “We’re racist, and we’re proud…Heeey!” We need a reprieve, a place and opportunity to just idolize the wonderful, to twirl vicariously in a pop star haven.

Pop music fills that void. As a child, my mother used to regularly toss me in the backyard, where I would reliably attack ants with my favorite action figures, and she would lock all the doors and close all the curtains, and blast the same Tina Turner classics on the record player. I peaked through the slip of a curtain once, and there she was, pirouetting her arms every which way, seizuring determinedly as if her mom-twerks could generate electricity. There’s something strangely normal about this: how many house moms are trapped in a Sahara of cul-de-sacs, dancing tirelessly in private because of the ameliorative catharsis?We’re all just trying to dance away the encroaching madness. It’s not escapism; it’s a necessary and imminent remedy in a world lost of meaning. Pig-tailed teeny boppers singing along to Taylor Swift’s Love Story exhibit the same phenomenological tendencies to articulate the profound: You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess; It’s a love story, baby, just say “Yes.” We march en masse to her concerts, or her Youtube page with songs well over 2 billion views, because we need to join the sing-along about what it’s like to have a crush on someone.

But somehow, her latest hit Look What You Made Me Do, went violently astray. It reads more like a shunned tyrant’s eulogy, like Stalin’s perverse affectation on why he starved millions. It’s necessary plunder, you’ll all thank me later. After all these years of the public’s obsession with her, she’s saddled us upright on an intimate tour of her life in duress. We encounter new Taylors and old Taylors, dead Taylors, idol-feuding Taylors, like one amorphous orgy of Taylor consummating the world.

The song’s primary intent was to communicate a degree of self-awareness, a croaking anthem that can be summarized as I’m woke cuz I know how basic I am! At the end of the music video, the new Taylor stands alongside her several former Taylors, in front of a private jet that’s been awkwardly spray painted “Reputation” on the side like a defiled advert of her own narcissism, essentially disavowing these other versions of herself, as if they were just bitchy girls from Fashion Week forced to stand in a police lineup. She’s letting her fans and critics know that she knows what they think of her. Self-awareness about one’s own more deprecating characteristics is meant to heighten the quality of its commentary. We insult ourselves so others won’t insult us first.

It was in this last scene that we’re forced to grapple with our own Swiftonian emotions—it’s a costume change convention with every Taylor Swift there ever was. Are we nostalgic for innocent country music star Taylor Swift? Fantasize much for classy dominatrix Swift? It’s a kaleidoscope of teenage malevolence. Are we seeing things? Perhaps not. Taylor Swift’s confession about coming into a new Taylor phase seems peculiarly out of place. It’d be like if when Madonna got over her coned bra phase, and instead of just quietly changing styles, she belched to her adoring masses, Coned bras just ain’t hip no more; now it’s frizzy hair and pink lipstick galore! A bit strange perhaps, but I get it—as a kid, I made people call me Batman one week, then demand to be identified as Penguin the next. We’re watching the high definition swirling psyche of a woman amidst a terrifying identity crisis. Which one is the real Taylor Swift?

Prior to this scene, Swift picks up a telephone and says “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why?…’Cause she’s dead.” For an adult with at least the peripheral attention of every person on the planet, it’s tempting to mock this for its glamorized edginess, like a goth teenager staring at the solar eclipse with no eclipse glasses, and simply muttering “Fuck ‘em,” as his eyeballs sizzle and foam. But Taylor is doing something entirely different. She’s not trying to be edgy, not making a New Age remark that she’s rebranding herself—no, she’s making a marvelously candid admission that there is no real Taylor Swift. She’s a caricature of herself, a symbol of schizophrenia nuanced by sex appeal. She’s been corralled into a puppeteer’s fetid stall, like an over-played-with doll tearing at its seams, cotton bulging from the ends. It’s the story of Pinocchio in reverse: born a real girl who gradually mutates into a wooden relic, everything controlled and organized from the gurning money-grubbing producers above.

Every major media outlet online has published some sort of analysis of the video—the hidden references to ex-boyfriends, fights with Kim Kardashian’s ass, conspiracy theories about her closeted support for Donald Trump, the passive-aggressive between-the-lines disses to all the naysayers and haters. They dissect the minor undulations of an adult woman’s voyeuristic temper tantrum, and they do so with more perseverance and patience than a veteran tour guide in the Louvre’s collection of antiquities. What will she do next? Who will she be next? It’s episodic drama, something all successful television drama series entangle their viewers in—the constant titillation and anticipation of what will happen next episode.

The rest of us are left with the collective penitence of what we made Taylor Swift do. Her previous hits—Love Story, Bad Blood, Blank Space, Shake It Off—were harmless interludes in the machinery of one girl’s life—her highly dramatized feuds with other hot girls were like a normal catfight in the girl’s locker room that’s been magnified across the vastness of the cosmos. We’re all hapless bystanders in the Roman Colosseum of teenage pettiness. Still, those were good clean pop songs, peppered with the smutty gossipry of boys and make up, relatable enough for the rest of us to sing along to. Look What You Made Me Do is different—it’s the last croak before madness. Its brash narcissism doesn’t care anymore about things outside itself—the pulsating forces of love, the vague empathies and their yearning enterprise of heartbreak. Look at what we made her do—the swelling vastness of all-Taylor, all-the-time is our fault. We appropriated her indistinct sex appeal, we orchestrated her failed relationships, we fed the monster-inhabited tabloids with the allure of celebrity catfights. Her wretchedness is on us now; her porcelain effigy stomping through the wasteland for her next big hit.

But it’s not her fault. Taylor Swift is a generational outcry, a representative of our cosmic ubiquitary pettiness. There is no real Taylor because every young white middle-upper-class woman and man is Taylor Swift, proselytizing why their non-problems matter. Taylor Swift is simply a cretinous skin-grafted Bambi, an android-like creature with prosthetic private parts. For years, the more conspiratorial corners of the Internet alleged she had no belly-button, like a reprogrammable sex bot in Ex Machina. She just may be. When she stands there, waving her arms haphazardly to some sick beat, lamenting about what other girls have said about her, she’s simply channeling every girl before her, believing the world is here for them and them alone. It will never end. This is the world now. Look what we made us do.

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The Sad Truth About White Nationalism

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by Guy Walker

Vice News probably covered it best. In their 22-minute segment on the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, they begin with the night prior. At the University of Virginia, a group of what looks like predominately young white men have equipped themselves with tiki torches that would normally line the entryway of a New Age cocaine party in Laurel Canyon. This is almost all someone needs to see in order to understand the anxious virility of America’s most ardent hate groups. They’re more caricatures of hate, bulking their shoulders out, adorning themselves with fashionable anger like they watched too many grainy t.v. reenactments of mobs marching into town to burn witches. It seems put on, overly contrived—after all, political anger is trending these days, like an emotional hashtag many are trying to embody. But toughness mostly died out with cowboy movies and the dawn of social media. Gangster rappers today star in family comedies, or at the very best, have inconclusive Twitter feuds with other rappers. White revolutionists don’t actually engage in any meaningful revolution—they buy tiki torches in bulk from Home Depot and grimace for the cameras to see, hoping their march, too, will go viral.

White nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKK members—they have preferred names they identify by, little different from the sexless liberals who want to be named by their preferred non-binary pronouns. You can imagine them stuffing their mother’s warm meatloaf in their underwear just out of boredom, or tying an earthworm in a complicated knot and calling it stupid for not untying itself. They’re the type of aspiring ogres who get ketamine enemas, drink a case of Natty Ice just with the boys, and talk about chicks and fags. Because, they are the most superior race, marching to reunify the New World as the proper land to spread their Vitamin D deficient skin, like they’re a race of milky cum ejaculating across the frontier. Nostalgia for Manifest Destiny, a cheapened romance about how cool your symbolism is.

For a minute, you think none of this actually real—the European colonialists enslaved Africans to build their homes and estates, they massacred the natives, they forced the Chinese to build the railroads, they stole an enormous portion of Mexico in the Mexican-American War, they elected a literal fascist. And they’re feeling at risk of becoming minorities. But it’s clear nobody is here to think historically and rationally. They just want to chant. The group marched towards the site of the statue of Confederate superstar Robert E. Lee, chanting things like “Jews will not replace us,” “Blood and soil,” and other hoggish self-immolating phrases.

At the site of the statue, there are counter protestors surrounding Robert E. Lee, as if, counter to all conceivable logic, they were the ones trying to protect the Confederate general. There is a back-and-forth of the two teams chanting Black Lives Matter! and White Lives Matter! at each other, like the shittiest rap battle ever, with only a three-word sentence they yell over and over. It’s the adult equivalent of booger-encrusted toddlers squabbling over which color crayon they like most in the crayon box. No, turquoise is prettier! Yes, we are horribly stupid beasts, gathering like armies of swine because it’s easier than engaging in meaningful conversation.

If the white nationalists had only read their Foucault they would have known that power is not obtained by ‘episodic’ and ‘sovereign’ acts of hostile coercion, but rather that power pervades society altogether, like an invisible and inevitable force of knowledge and truth. We’re engaging in little more than deadly food fights while the cafeteria itself is closing in. In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the French postmodernist compares the violent public torture of Robert-François Damiens for attempting to assassinate King Louis XV,  and the strictly enforced routines of prison inmates in the early 19th century. Foucault’s point is that the structural disciplines found in prisons, schools, hospitals, and military barracks are for the continuing subjection of all members of society. While the obvious public display of violence carried out by the state over its persons has subsided into an almost indetectable form, our subjection has calcified to the point of society as a whole is now far easier to coerce.

Where Foucault goes wrong is he illustrates power as a deep state enterprise, a consciously Orwellian command of design. It’s not. It’s far more Huxlian, in that apathy is self-imposed, and thus our petty squabbles erupt out of stupidity. In Brave New World, the World State is built by its worship of Henry Ford. The homogeneity and predictability of our lives are like that of the assembly line: we demand the cheap production and consumption of things. Books become meaningless. Soma, an opioid-like substance, is the stuff for the masses. Aldous Huxley’s grim novel takes place in AD 2540 (or 632 AF, for After Ford), but the picture today is already eerily similar: the commands of routine, our daily banalities—these have prevented us from a second Enlightenment, from the restless curiosities that elevate our inquiries for truth.

In the Vice News episode of the white nationalist rally (some have called it a ‘planned race riot’), the reporter interviews leading figures in the alt-right community, as well as overt racists and neo-Nazis. They sound paranoid, demonic, everything you’d expect from men with faces like stapled-back scrotums, who carry several concealed guns on them at any given time. It follows the car slamming into counter demonstrators, killing one and injuring twenty others; and the drearily amusing press conference the following day by Unite The Right’s organizer Jason Kessler: he was punched, chased through an overgrown clump of daffodils, and tackled by a woman, before being protected and escorted to safety by police. The most poignant moment was when in the protection of police, Kessler told a news reporter that the police were the reason things got violent, that they are the ones to blame. He was literally in their arms, hugged with protection from the State, criticizing them for not doing their jobs.

This is clearly just the beginning, something that has the potential to escalate into a full-out race war. The following rally planned is to be held at Texas A&M on September 11th, organized by alt-right meme-champ Richard Spencer. It was immediately canceled by A&M, but it will still undoubtedly happen. White nationalism isn’t some fart of anger that will dissipate after a bit of time; it’s not like the tepid protests of the Occupy movement that quickly died off, everyone returning home to watch porn on their iPads. It’s a deeply resolute ideology that only functions in a slavishly illiterate society.

Yes, the resurgence of white pride is partly bred and inspired by Trump—his encouragement for violence during his campaign rallies, his political legacy beginning with the Birtherism around President Obama, his defense of Klansmen and neo-Nazis during Tuesday’s address to the press—but he’s some blundering fool who’s proud he’s never finished a book. The phenomenon of Trump is testament to our solecistic era and the regression of human intellect. I’m sure Make America Great Again insinuates Make America White Again for some of his supporters, and perhaps for many who attended in support of the Unite The Right rally. But in our Huxlian world, the phrase completes the entirety of its substance. The vocabulary of thought has been reduced to three and four word chants.

White Lives Matter! was the most predictable reaction to Black Lives Matter. It’s an alliance of boorishness that says wait, what about us. Yes, it’s stupidly adolescent, but the dimming of the mind turns us back into tribal brutes who beat in the heads of the other colored team. Blame it on the opioid crisis, blame it on a weakened education system, blame it on religion’s hostility to scientific literacy, blame it on reaction to the terrible ideology of Islam, or the obsession of political correctness on the left—there’s many reasons for America’s resurgence of fatuity, and hence white nationalism, and its deep commitment to apathy of reason. Under Foucauldian analysis, we’re committing ourselves to being pawns of petty squabble under a power system of subjection and coercion. The capitalism of mass production turns us into predictable consumers.

While the press is scrambling to criticize the President for saying “many sides” were violent, instead of the “white nationalists,” as if this was the great fuckup that was going to finally due him in, or by enabling the neo-Nazis who marched to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee while chanting their hatred of Jews, the love of spectacle and outrage hardens its citizens into reliable consumers of political quarreling. It’s what Aldous Huxley shoved against, encouraging a more tempered nuanced literacy that might bring a second, much-needed Enlightenment.


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Let the Beautiful People Rule the World

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by Guy Walker

You may have begun to notice the looming end of politics. It’s overwhelmed us like a marching band of wild rodents, a huge spectacularized circus of dysfunction. It happened so suddenly and so powerfully, there’s almost no memory of when things were normal. You tune in to the news not because you want to understand the nuances of public policy currently underway, or so you can better debate the advantages of a single-payer health care system—you just want to see Donald Trump stumble around like a mangled half-shaven sasquatch, smashing windows over his head, kidnapping women sunbathing on the beach, lighting off fireworks in the Oval Office. There’s no going back to the dreary ashen-faced days of passing bills and submitting formal disagreements. Especially now that a band of other celebrities have joined the elegiac cantus firmus and announced their plans for political office.

Most recently, it was Caitlyn Jenner, who told radio host John Catsimatidis that she “would look for a senatorial run.” Before her it was Kid Rock who announced he would also run for the U.S. Senate in Michigan. Soap opera star and underwear model, Antonio Sabáto Jr., is running for Congress. The Rock might bypass the whole bumbling peasantry and just run for President. If elected, he’ll sit there in the Situation Room in his neon highlighter panties and leather vest, and plot drone attacks on Wrestlemania enemies. Stone Cold Steve Austin will be blown to smithereens, body parts ablaze, the crowd screaming for more. Kanye West might also run for President, where he’ll campaign solely about the importance of cool shoes, as the First Lady’s chronic steatopygia gobbles up terrorists whole.

As the list of celebrity contenders grow, regular politicians are growing more concerned. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) warned about Kid Rock’s announcement: “There were a lot of people who weren’t concerned about Donald Trump running for the presidency…So, I take it all seriously right now.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in an email to his supporters, “I’ll be honest, we don’t know if this is real, a joke, or a bizarre publicity stunt. But I’ll tell you this: I don’t find it funny.”

By now, it’s obvious that the dull hubris of establishment politics is passed its prime, out of touch with the star-studded appetites of younger generations. Their awfully brittle logic ignores the successes of Saturday Night Live comedian turned senator, Al Franken, or the Tugboat Annie Sails Again movie star, Ronald Reagan, who rightfully matured into his political role and funded far right-wing terrorists in Nicaragua. Arnold Schwarzenegger arguably did as well as most governors before him. The problem is that our political beliefs have been condensed perversely into two camps: pro-Trump and anti-Trump. There’s no room for moderation, no slight left or right of center; just the ravenous schizophrenia of a public who is completely consumed by the wild orange beast in front of us. So when Warren and Schumer say they don’t find Kid Rock’s announcement for a senatorial run funny, they just mean that because he’s not on their team, he is a viable sensationalistic threat.

We’re not supposed to care this much about politics; it was never supposed to be front and center entertainment. Government policy is what only the most boring, moth-eaten cretins are capable of, allowing the rest of us to carry on our business of meandering through hobbies and escapism until we die. When President Trump tweeted the video of him wrestling down the spindly embodiment of CNN, his testosterone-bloated fists wailing into the emojilike head of the news organization, he wasn’t ‘insinuating violence’ or hurling metaphoric rage like a character on Street Fighter; he was tossing another morsel of entertainment to his deeply loyal fans, persuading by means of his cult of personality. Scott Adams—creator of the most lifeless, unimaginative comic strip, Dilbert, and likely the most rational of all Trump supporters—describes the aching dichotomy of responses to Trump as a “two-movie reality,” in that, between the pro-Trump and anti-Trump camps, we are all watching “two movies on one screen.” When Trump smashes in the head of CNN, his fans see their leader as the dominant alpha he already is while simultaneously working as a catastrophic blow to the frail sensitivities of liberals. His critics see another version, something akin to a deep-fried Michelin man who ejaculates fountains of Tang onto his own family members.

Critics call his CNN video unpresidential behavior, but what they mean is it’s not their movie of presidential behavior. Because there’s been many like him. Teddy Roosevelt wrestled and killed a cougar with a knife. Alexander Hamilton, though never president, was killed in a duel with then sitting Vice President Aaron Burr. Andrew Jackson—the man who Trump sees himself as the burly reincarnation of—killed a man in a duel who accused Jackson of cheating on a horse race. John F. Kennedy is well-known for his compulsive womanizing, fucking everything beautiful in site with his inescapable fury of charisma. So Trump’s behavior certainly is, to an extent, presidential—it’s just not the version his critics want to see in our languid arena of old men politely shuffling around in grey suits. What Trump is doing in all his orgiastic madness is being the celebrity showman his supporters want him to be. He is the caricature we all want him to be, because he fits our chosen narrative of hero or villain.

We used to judge a presidential candidate’s competency on the beer test: they could likely negotiate a peace deal with a hostile nuclear threat if they seemed like a dope person to have a beer with. We’re beyond that now. We want our government leaders to be glossy overlords, greased up with coconut oil and a stringy goatee, commanding over 320 million screaming fans with a burning trident. We’re a generation who grew up on American Idol and Internet porn—the dull bromidic fuckery of Nixonian politics is over. And although there have long been celebrities who later became politicians, Trump galvanized the celebrity persona and showmanship within modern politics. He brought the celebrity with him, as others before him separated themselves from their starry personas. The Rock, Caitlyn Jenner, Antonio Sabáto Jr., Kanye West—these are the gods of youth and sex we’ve always gawked at up on a high stage or ohuge television screen; now they are the obvious chosen ones who can fix health care, resolve the climate crisis, pardon turkeys, do whatever it is our government does.

When you go to the cinema and see another heroic war drama projected monstrously in front of you, there’s a subtle, yet gnawing depression when the film ends and the overhead lights come back on, and you have to shamefully walk back to your car and then your thankless life back home. The tragedy and ecstasy has ended, and the verdant luxury of escape along with it. It doesn’t have to be that way. Because we’re in a movie now. It’s likely all a computer simulation anyways, freewill just an imaginary fart in the VR imaging system; so let the big-titted celebrities roam like they were always meant to, declaring war on octopus demons and fucking supermodels in space. Reality will be so much better. Caitlyn will put on his Bruce costume whenever he wants to fuck with other leaders at G20 summits. Kid Rock will Snapchat himself in a wife-beater, masturbating into sinks and killing rodents with a hammer. Kanye West once made a music video of him in bed with wax figurines of Taylor Swift, Bill Cosby, and other celebrities and world leaders—now it will be real life, striking a peace deal with Bibi Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by humping their legs like a dog underneath the bed linens. The show must go on.


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Inside the Awful Hell of Urban Sweat Lodges

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by Guy Walker

There’s no longer any need to exercise. The days of calloused gallantry are behind us; beauty, fitness, health—mere trifles to be acquired, like items on a grocery list that are quickly scribbled out. Modern city-dwelling man doesn’t need to step outside into the putrid stink of the real world to get the body he wants. He doesn’t even need to hold a downward dog in stretch pants as he simultaneously feeds himself large spoonfuls of granola. He can transform himself into a sinewed Herculean masterpiece merely by wrapping himself in a bed sheet of tinfoil and watching television. They call it “sweating”—the banal inactive act of doing absolutely nothing and still getting fit.

Probably the most prominent sweating establishment is Shape House—with four locations in the greater Los Angeles area, it is poised to spread across the country as the new way to get your body the way it was always meant to look. The business model is sensible enough: you pay $50 to lay on a massage table and cook your innards with what they call FAR infrared, which, as they define it, is a “radiant form of natural energy” that results in not just any normal sweat, but in an “intense, detoxifying, health-boosting sweat that helps you look and feel healthier, happier, and brighter.” A bit verbose, perhaps, and promising maybe more than seems reasonable; but in a way, you can’t blame them. We live in a culture of microwave dinners and pornography on demand—we want nothing more than for our most congenital desires to be met instantly, as well as all-inclusively. There was ephedra, the dietary supplement popular in the 90’s, which promised a fat-burning energy boost for body builders. There was 8 Minute Abs; or the electric ab belt. Today, there’s Soylent, the colorless powdered water that advertises itself as the “Food That Frees You,” rousing many to go on a Soylent-only diet. So it was only a matter of time until the phenomenon of instant microwavable fitness came to the front of New Age popularity.

This is the most opportune place and time to begin a trend like sweating. Los Angeles is a desert of silicone-festered boutiques, the streets crowded with swollen-lipped hominids that are begging desperately to be famous. In the 1970’s, people overran an ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard because Marlon Brando frequented it, sometimes seen licking off globs from an ice cream cone in the privacy of his limousine. Countless people fly from the other side of the world to visit the Walk of Fame so they can take a picture with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator or step on the sticky gum-covered gold star of their favorite actor. Shape House knows the libidinal cajolery that celebrities have on us plebeians: they begin their informational video with pasted together clips of the Kardashians wrapped in the metal suits, or LL Cool J promoting it on Ellen. They know we can’t resist the idea—maybe I too will lay where Kim’s ass poured sweat.

I went to Shape House myself, of course, to see what it was like to burn 1200 calories by not lifting a finger. The grounds resembled a barren utopia: a few isolated cacti stood in an otherwise empty yard of rocks. The front door was bright orange against an otherwise gray and nondescript structure—the obvious scintillating portal to the perfect summer bod. There was no one at the front desk when I entered, but a folded notecard informed me they were “tucking in other clients” and would be right with me. The front lobby and waiting room were also orange—lit dimly with Ikea shade baskets wrapped around every lightbulb; semi-pornographic posters lined one wall—black-and-white photographs of anonymous sweat-dazzled bodies, each poster inscribed with “weight,” “fitness,” “life,” and other vaguely forward-looking profanities, the post-sex dew drops on their skin just titillating enough to convince you to get out your credit card. Eventually, a woman with a greased-up bun and gleaming white teeth greeted me. She smiled enthusiastically as she handed me a waiver to sign, forcing me to surrender to the possibility of a heart attack or stroke. The Shape House provides you an intense, health-boosting sweat that could also kill you—“please, follow me,” the nurse said.

I changed into the provided gray workout clothes, and finally got into bed, zipping the contraption up past my neck. There’s something intrinsically horrid and lonely about being rolled up in a sleeping bag of heated tin foil, your testicles suffocated and ablaze, your head propped up just enough to watch the latest episode of Fuller House. You paid $50 to just lay there and cook in your own pool of steamed alcoholic residue, clothed in pajamas that so many before you have soiled, trying not to think about your decades of squalor and waste that are now perspiring out of you. Yes, I did pay for this sordid humiliation, but I really didn’t—I laid there because I had to; it was the only reasonable thing left to do.

Shape House fancies itself as a quiet sanctuary in today’s arena of political and social chaos—a place to let go of all of your problems. The founder of Shape House, Sophie Chiche, said she wanted to create a space for people to “rejuvenate … have some me-time, and somehow recharge.” Its moody lighting and musky perfumes allow you to forget about the looming death spiral happening directly outside. We get the cathartic rejuvenation of sweating away the all-consuming problem of Reality.

After an hour of laying in a bag of my own filth, it was all over. The nurse hovered over me once more, smiled, then pulled off my headphones, and asked, “How was your sweat?!” A cloud of farts and steam billowed from my unzipped bag, and I was then directed to the Relax Room, where I was given an orange slice and a cup of tea. This was it. Sitting in a dark room with my knees pulled up to my chin, cupping a mug of chamomile tea with both hands, recovering from my sweat. I made it—the untraversed peak of evolution. The great white man emerges from his cocoon like a newly evolved species of butterfly. Where do we go from here, except deeper into limp insouciance of modern man?

These “urban sweat houses,” as Shape House calls itself, are an inevitable phenomenon of our culture’s celebration of laziness. We don’t want to do anything ever again, unless we can Instagram it. This is what Shape House was always meant for—to make us feel like we are part of a community of spiritual elitism—like a plastic shaman blessing you with incense, we’ll drink every kind of kool-aid we can get our hands on.

It’s obvious what Shape House wants in the end: a skyline of towering orange skyscrapers, each one inhabiting millions of FAR infrared bunkbeds. Everyone in the world will be zipped up like Chipotle burritos, streaming HBO for eternity, getting fitter than they’ve ever been in their life. Outside will be a barren wasteland of rocks and ashen fortresses; flying cars will whiz in and out between the buildings; and you’ll barely lean your head forward, taking another sip of the alkaline water as you turn up the volume, drowning out reality forever.


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How the G20 Summit Summarized the Death of Politics

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by Guy Walker

Now that the G20 summit has come and gone, everyone returns to their chronic tedium back home, either proud and spritely of their own performance, or disheartened that international politics are in a state of seemingly permanent gridlock. Donald Trump shuffles away with his head slouched, his fingers impulsively clasping at the squalid air, anxious to tweet brazen threats again behind the comfort of locked doors. Angela Merkel simply sighs as she stares into empty space; to her, the whole world looks like a huge school project that’s barely held together with Elmer’s glue and Scotch tape. Protestors return to their chic flats and coffee shops; they untie their black hankies, throw their anti-capitalist banners away, and begin sipping green tea lattes from oversized mugs. Everyone feels the same faint confusion: what actually happened? and what was it all for?

The summit and accompanying protests were both nonevents not just because they lacked any substantive content or messaging, but also because of the way they were covered by the press—by the way we demand they be covered. All people want is something to gossip about. We want our leaders to either steal the show through charisma and desirability, or to trip and roll down the stairs. Justin Trudeau can just stand there, and do nothing but smile his gorgeous glistening smile, and his approval ratings climb ever upward. In the United States, however, people only pay attention to Trump now because they want to see him actually bodyslam a reporter. There’s no middle ground. Nobody cares about diplomacy anymore—we just need a tabloid headline to blather over.

Political commentators and body language experts spent endless collective hours analyzing the position and angle of the Putin-Trump handshake. It was like the wild-eyed frenzy of sports analysts drawing arrows and X’s all over the still frames of a last second, game-winning shot. Did Angela Merkel just roll her eyes at Putin’s mansplaining? Why did Trump just walk up to Narendra Modi for an impromptu chat? When Putin and Trump sat down for the press, Putin had his hand partially covering his chest, while Trump’s hand was partially covering his pelvis—or was it the other way around—who’s dominant?

It’s true: the world’s great leaders are actually this weary and dull. The sheer pedantry of such summits must be gut-wrenching to actually attend: regarding climate change and the Paris Accords for example, other nations agreed they wouldn’t go so far as endorsing Trump’s language of including fossil fuels, but they would recognize it. These types of semantic compromises are the cornerstone of political atrophy—they degrade men into shuttering relics of themselves, as journalists scribble furiously, and anarchists’ scrawny pale arms chuck rocks at anything that moves.

If you search online for news about this year’s G20 summit, you’re offered a banquet of tepid reports that have nothing to do with international affairs or trade policy. Sure, most of what is discussed amongst the nations’ leaders is done so without the press present, and so we’re left to gawk at their orgiastic meet-and-greets; but nevertheless, what the press does cover and emphasize inspires little more than a fart-drenched cynicism. It’s lo-fi drama, cheapened with the dull bromidic fuckery of men and women shuffling around like penguins, trying to position themselves in the best place for a photograph.

It’s why Donald Trump got elected in the first place—everyone was either resentful against establishment politics, or they were so wretchedly bored by politics-as-usual. And as much of a mad despotic clown that Trump is, he has enlivened politics for everybody. He gave our feverishly short attention spans something to latch onto, like staring at some grotesque baggy mass that consumes everything around it and swells and morphs like cold beef gelatin—we can’t stop watching the thing amass weight and disease. Trump might have record low ratings, but he’s the most popular man in the world—he’s the excuse kids use when they just want to throw a chair through a window.

The lack of spectacle and excitement at a G20 summit used to be acceptable. That’s what politics was—old, tired men (and a woman or two) sitting in rooms, discussing the fate of the world. Donald Trump changed that for everybody, and there’s no going back to the way things used to be. I don’t know if it was the Republican National Convention in July of last year that permanently shifted everything for the worse, but it stands out as a pivotal moment of masturbatory ennui, as the cowboy’s triumphant scream into the void of human dignity. It was a pageant from hell, full of ornate hats and body glitter, grown men twerking because it seemed patriotic in the moment. It ignited a newfound appreciation for whorish theater, a huge party at which to say, “You seem reasonable. Here, take the codes that can blow up the world!”

There’s no recovering from that. We want the next thousand years to be a Jerry Springer episode—it’ll be good for ratings, fuck diplomacy.

The protests were equally prosaic. By now, we expect our leaders to be as predictable as motorized bobbleheads, nodding and shaking hands in a performance of masked propriety; but even the angriest of the demonstrations around this year’s summit were as banal as a kid from Brentwood’s temper tantrum. Yes, in their wake, protestors left burned vehicles and looted stores; they took selfies in front of burning heaps on the street; they chanted anti-globalist idioms, and consequently got hosed down with pepper spray and water cannons. But in the end, it amounted to very little—perhaps a glorified, cathartic version of giving your Facebook profile pic a positively-themed filter. But this sort of feel-good activism that lets you feel like you made your voice heard and that you are part of something larger than yourself is tenuous at best.

The problem isn’t so much that the protestors were weak at protesting, but rather that it was the same predictable thing as before. These self-styled marches don’t work the same way that they used to. They worked in the 60’s. Even the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle quantified a historic level of popular mobilization against the colluding elites. But the WTO protests were historic for another reason: it was the first major modern example of the beginnings of a mass movement that went nowhere. It had all the right ingredients: unwarranted police brutality, the unification of blue-collar workers and indigenous peoples, the relatively focused messaging of something specific within their anti-globalist agenda. But it fizzled out to a few distant croaks of dissent.

Our present generation has adopted this legacy of expecting failure. The Occupy movement could have developed into something significant, but white dudes with dreads and girls with blue armpit hair just wanted to dance. The left always loses because they relish in their own failure. When Jon Ossoff lost the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, the Democrat’s response essentially was, “we may have lost, but we barely lost,” as if that was worth celebrating.

From the press coverage, to the protests, to the summit itself, the G20 as a whole knows politics-as-we-once-knew-it is over. It was a last gasp of diplomacy, a relatively civil weigh-in before an epoch of Wrestlmania. After all, The Rock says he’s going to run for president.


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How Trump Rallies are America’s Last Circus

Donald Trump

by Guy Walker

Donald Trump is still campaigning to be president. He’d rather assure his last dreary-eyed supporters that his “Promises Made” are “Promises Kept”—as huge banners read at his rallies—than actually try to understand the complexities of tax code or health care reform.

Trump’s rallies have always had this same desperate tone, like a house party for high school dropouts who managed to beat the nerds in World of Warcraft. From the beginning, it was only about the rallies—a Trump-frenzied gala where he could stand over everybody and flail his arms and ramble on unintelligibly. If it wasn’t about him, then there was no point in going. In February of last year, Trump didn’t attend the Conservative Political Action Conference because it was rumored that around 300 attendees were going to walk out if he came to the stage. This time, he was the star.

And now he didn’t go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner because he didn’t want to sit as a Muslim comedian stood, because he knew he would be publicly caricatured as a human pumpkin, a lasso-twirling madman who doesn’t know what he’s doing. He didn’t want to face the press because they don’t howl his name with smeared American flags painted on their chests; they don’t shove their newborns in his face, demanding that he autograph their little bald heads. The Correspondents’ Dinner was a black tie event, not the usual pageantry of red hats. Besides, Trump was in need of another hurrah, one more orgiastic blowout of nationwide tailgate parties.

Celebrating his 100th day in office, naturally, he wanted a party.  And, per usual, his speech wasn’t about anything other than why his party was better than the one in Washington he refused to go to.

“A large group of Hollywood actors” he retorts, pausing for the expected boos and sneers from people who unanimously forgot their conservative hero Ronald Reagan starred in such movies as Tugboat Annie Sails Again and Bedtime for Bonzo, “and Washington media,” he continued, pausing again, “are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital.” A girl can be seen in the background, looking around, booing because others boo, waving her thumb down in unison with everyone else, like a crowd waving the same gesture at a Roman gladiator about to make the kill.

This is normal and expected. During his campaign rallies, he didn’t wait for hired security to drag protestors out—he instructed his fans to “knock the crap out” of them. “I promise you,” he said, “I will pay for the legal fees.”

And now he might have to. During a 2016 campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky, 75-year-old Alvin Bamberger shoved a black female protestor repeatedly, pushing her through the crowd. He was still wearing his Korean War regalia, his barracks cap as crisp and white as a burger flipper’s hat at In-N-Out, his shirt as stiff as cardboard. The woman is now suing Bamberger for assault; and he, in return, is suing Trump for his “urging and inspiration” to shove the woman. In other words, Bamberger is claiming to be a victim of ideological kidnapping—he’s just a slobbering troglodyte anesthetized under Stockholm syndrome. It’s the same helplessness that Patty Hearst claimed when she was supposedly brainwashed by the Symbionese Liberation Army, consequently robbing banks and later described as “a low-IQ, low-affect zombie” by clinical psychologist Dr. Margaret Singer.

How many more—and how soon—will admit under the open scabby firmament that they too are low-IQ zombies, barely literate, mesmerized by an orange mad clown with anemic circles around his eyes, blubbering upon his high stage about how rich he is? He currently has around a forty percent approval rating, which is notably high given how sloppy and thunderous his psychopathy is. More than anything, it illustrates the strength of Trump’s cult of personality—the more demonic and perverse he becomes, the more devout his followers are. In the preface to the psychoanalytic masterwork Anti-Oedipus, Michel Foucault refers to man’s innate lust for fascism—and not an external political fascism, but the inexorable fascism within us all that causes us to “desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.” It’s why Trump’s comment during the campaign about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing a single supporter is so true. Man loves a good despot, and he will do anything he can to touch even the fringes of his garments.

This isn’t even a metaphor. Remember the viral Youtube video from September 2015 when Trump’s “spiritual counselor” Paula White, and some twenty other ministers all laid their hands on Trump, praying for his victory. At some point during the blessing, a messianic Jewish rabbi groped his face, like some hideous reenactment of Hook when the little black boy identifies the Robin Williams character as Peter Pan. There you are, Donny! There he is, the deep-fried Michelin Man who has now returned their prayers by allowing churches to meddle with future elections. But it’s more than Trump himself—it’s the true power of ideology we see at work, the stalwart allegiance that is especially emblematic of the GOP.

We can scoff at countries like North Korea for deifying Kim Il-Sung, when its citizens still hang pictures of the founding supreme leader in every room of their house, when his body is perfectly preserved and embalmed for public viewing, when a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl drowned trying to save a picture of him (and posthumously given an award for her efforts). But the apotheosis of Donald Trump is equally lurid and dangerous: because he seems to represent everything anti-Obama, many of his supporters will tumultuously follow him down into the fetid depths of depravity, like a Jim Jones or David Koresh character, the facts of his insanity perhaps not yet obvious or intelligible.

The eagerness for political cannibalization of the left, on the other hand, is the other extreme of how an ideology fetishizes in destroying itself. The recent wave of protests on university campuses that have succeeded in preventing speakers with different points of view isn’t driven by anything even mildly virtuous; it’s a wave of politically correct moral panic that suffers by its own impotence. When Stephen Colbert made a joke about Trump’s mouth only being good for Putin’s cock holster, the hashtag #FireColbert immediately began trending on Twitter—self-described American nationalist, Mike Cernovich, and his sickly band of puttering cretins began fuming behind their keyboards that the late night show host should lose his job for making a dick joke about King Pussy Grabber. They knew the hysterical left would take the bait—and they did. Colbert won’t actually get fired, but it’s emblematic of a key difference between the inordinately generalization of “left” and “right” ideologies, in how each treats their television hosts: Colbert simply made us imagine two rotting dictators blow each other, whereas Bill O’Reilly had to actually sexually assault many women to finally be let go. It’s a race for political suicide, but Trump and his marching cavalry of liver-spotted perverts are leading the way.

This image reminds us of General George Custer. An overt racist who had a knack for killing natives during the American Indian Wars, it was Custer’s cavalier nescience that finally did him in. He finished last in his class at West Point, and relished as a media personality; but it was his overconfident superiority complex that caused him to stroll into an Indian encampment in the Montana Territory, assuming he would easily round up or kill all two thousand natives. He was outnumbered and overpowered, and his unprepared invasion resulted in him and his entire 7th Cavalry Regiment being killed—the event now commonly known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

We didn’t need a 100 days to know if Trump could competently govern a nation of 320 million people—we already grimly knew it would be this disastrous. But there’s more than a thousand days of this nightmarish acid trip left, and the only hope is how many more of his followers will pull back hard on his reins the way Alvin Bamberger is now doing. Whether or not there’s any habitable world left after Trump is gone, it will be determined by how many followed him into his own Last Stand, or if he was finally abandoned, left alone in the woods waving his jelly-soaked arms at the buzzing sky, yelling “Follow me this way! It’ll be so great. Believe me, believe me.”


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From Silicone Implants to Silicon Humanoids: The Body Must Die

androidcover

by Guy Walker

It’s always the same shameful exposition: standing completely naked in front of a full-length mirror, self-criticizing every lifeless pouch weighed down by gravity. If not that, there’s an extra piece of baggy skin somewhere that hangs like a kite begging for the wind. If not that, your legs are too scrawny; or your lips aren’t plump enough; or your lower-back-to-buttocks ratio isn’t what it should be. We’ve all done it—staring at ourselves in our full bleakness, wishing we had it another way.

But these peripheral fixes are mere trifles. Hacking open a woman’s chest and stuffing it with water balloons, or trimming down an obtuse nose with a metal file doesn’t suffice as a satisfactory remedy to our quaint ephemerality. Our agreed upon commitment to resent our own bodies is driven by far more than the fluttering vanity for a better figure—we’re trapped in a decomposing suit of meat, a slow entropic nightmare drawing out over many decades. A few bright years perhaps, but the window between crawling on all fours in a diaper full of your own excrement and being pushed in a wheel chair in the same embarrassing condition is excruciatingly short. In the grand scheme of things, we’re here for a few seconds and then all drop dead like flies.

Humans have always been at war with their own bodies. We want our fittest most enviable qualities to carry into the future, selfishly imprinting ourselves in as many offspring as possible. Plutarch told stories of the Spartans tossing their unhealthy babies off the mountain—a practice that was presumably meant to heighten and preserve their genetic fortitude. This is, perhaps, a display of antiqued animalism, like an unwarranted human sacrifice without the gods to accept their gifts—babies flailing and crying as they somersault down the hill, smashing into rocks as they go. It’s the human version of a mother bird eating her weakest chick. Ancient Greeks and Romans were known to leave sick infants on manure heaps, sometimes being rescued by others and turned into slaves. We like to think that things have changed, that our proud domesticity has evolved enough to care for the destitute and disadvantaged—but the 2,000 year history of female infanticide in China that still continues today is evidence that the brute is still there, that we can do the unimaginable just for the right set of genitals.

For a while, it seemed like religion’s fault. It’s always wanted to turn the human into some sort of sexless troglodyte, inhibiting the body of its most carnal features until all that’s left is a stinking abstract form of functioning organs, everything wrapped up in a colorless gown. When Catholic nuns—and virtually all women in Saudi Arabia—cover themselves from head to toe, they presumably wish to purify the body’s total libidinal sense. It’s intended as a visible sign of getting closer to their god—a display of ornate sterility, like a peacock who jumped in a bog because it was afraid of its great color. Many Orthodox Jewish married women cover their hair with a wig or half-wig (a sheitel) in order to conform to the religion’s standards of modesty. Cover yourselves, or be damned!

Female genital mutilation is clearly the result of a desperate phobia of pleasure (98% of Muslim women from Indonesia have been hacked at, 93 % of Muslim women from Malaysia, and 98% of all women from Somalia, just to name a few). Masturbation in males was long thought to have caused blindness, mental illness, and epilepsy; and circumcision was the popularized remedy, now postured under the guise of just better hygiene. John Harvey Kellogg, a Christian fundamentalist, created Corn Flakes as an anti-masturbatory breakfast cereal, also advocating for pint-sized yogurt enemas to clean the gut, consequently purifying the soul. Religion has done everything to destroy the human body in some sempiternal quest of holiness, driven by the belief that the body is inherently filthy.

The once prominent religion, Christian Science, declared that there is no body at all, that the material existence is mere illusion, and we should simply ignore growths on the body, symptoms of disease, even death itself. Because you don’t even die—you pass on, presumably to higher worthier frontiers. Nearly every ancient religion seems to have had human sacrifice as a necessary theater of gore in order to appease their gods. Even Christianity is based on the human sacrifice of one man: he had to be crucified for the sins of unwedded orgasms and envying our neighbor’s ass.

But maybe it’s not religion that is innately anti-human. Our war with ourselves has modified through the ages—it has reshaped itself to every cultural and moral custom since monkeys threw feces at each other, and now conforms to the acceleration of scientific and technological advancement. There are those who still pierce their faces with blunt sticks, or stack their necks with thick golden rings because for some reason or another they must manipulate what they were born with; the forefront of modern science basically does the same thing—people naturally indulge in the technologies available to them.

Embryo selection through in vitro fertilization (IVF) is of course the expensively high-tech way to avoid tossing our ugly crippled newborns off the mountain. From what is available from a woman’s supply of eggs, parents can curate their child to their preferred gender, eye and hair color, even selecting the “most intelligent” embryo. But this is only from what is available. Maybe one’s entire gene pool is shit.

So when a new technology called CRISPR-Cas9 emerged in 2013, everything changed. We could now begin the quest of the gods, not curating what was already available, but engineering something entirely new. The Cas-9 protein has been used as a genome editing tool, in which an unfavorable section of DNA sequence can be cut out and replaced with a more desirable section. It’s through this permanent modification of genes within organisms that we can hypothetically build superhuman immune systems, completely eliminate disease and malformities, and finally sculpt man with features from Homeric epics. CRISPR is avant-garde eugenics—it’ll be for parents who want superior babies, no different than when the Nazi’s attempted to manufacture a racially pure race in their hospitals.

For now, CRISPR has only been used to edit animal genetics: researchers have removed malaria from mosquitos, treated muscular dystrophy in mice, modified pig organs to be safer for transplantation into humans. But even now, this research seems pedestrian and passé in the shadow of what we know is possible. An all-knowing übermensch is marching on the horizon, chanting with genius and prose—man will finally achieve his god not through ancient myth and sacrifice, but through scientific excellence, turning us shit-tossing monkeys into computerized cyborgs.

But the allure of genetically reengineering human embryos is here. Once this technology is deemed safe enough, parents will swarm the editing rooms in hospitals (or just laboratories), curating their soon-to-be babies to be a blend of Mozart and Tom Brady, or Marilyn Monroe and Simone de Beauvoir. Every Little League sporting event has a squad of dads at the edge of the playing grounds, their eyes raging and cynical, their mouths frothing like wild dogs, yelling at their sons to play better ball. Soon these same dads will be hovering behind doctors, yelling at them to max out their son’s gene sequence of athleticism. And the levels of excellence will so quickly surpass anything any human has ever achieved. Of course only the richest will be able to afford these “designer babies”, consequently widening the wealth and opportunity gaps to unimaginable levels, impossible ever to recover from.

In our fury of anticipation of CRISPR’s potential, we have already begun the dramatization of where we’re headed. The ultra-fustian HBO series, Westworld, about a vacation retreat in the near future that’s populated entirely with Wild West humanoids, in which wealthy human clients pay to rape and kill anyone they choose without consequence, is a moderately fun thought experiment. Most of it seems possible. The morbid titillation of living out our Grand Theft Auto dreams would be too much for us war-crazed humans to resist—the theatrics would be too great; the ornate bloodshed would be too glorious.

The series begins simply enough: a train of new clients—who are as excited as a gaggle of frat boys headed to their first toga party—arrive in a dusty nondescript town, every detail of which has been tailored to the predictable look of every other Hollywood depiction of the Wild West. After they drink their whiskey and kill their prostitutes, they return to their boring lives back home, in the real world, plodding along on a treadmill at the end of a cul-de-sac. As viewers, of course, we don’t see that part—nobody wants to watch their own tedious lives laid out in front of them. What we see is the dramatized bloodshed, and then the repair, and then the evolution of artificial intelligence take over. Whenever a humanoid is injured or killed during a session of rampaging tourists, they are taken into laboratories and repaired by technicians, reprogrammed and erased of all the horrific memories for the next round of torture. A humanoid’s level of aggression, compassion, hostility, and so forth can be controlled with simple dials on an iPad, allowing a Westworld engineer to easily manipulate how he or she wants a character to behave. It’s little different from the Nexus-6 brain units in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in which androids can modulate any one of “fourteen basic reaction-postures” and are more intelligent than most of the humans left on earth. In Philip K. Dick’s classic dystopian novel, the robots harness their power and fight back against the humans, who are now a threat to their survival. In the HBO series, they do the same. One of the main characters, a humanoid prostitute, eventually controls her own character dials, giving her abilities her fellow characters don’t. From there, it’s all runaway chaos.

As devouring consumers of these types of shows, we’re programmed to want nothing more: three billion years of evolution and all we want to do is watch robot hookers running wild with guns as we grab another handful of Fritos. But it’s not hard to see the bridge between the CRISPR technology being used to enhance characteristics in embryos and these angry self-controlling AI bots who will do anything to control their own settings. The acceleration of this technology is compounding on itself. Look at video games. When Pong was released in 1972 as the first ever video game, it was radically advanced, capturing the obsession of every runny-nosed kid at the time. It’s only been a few decades since, and we’re already battling other players from around the world in three-dimensional high definition virtual universes.

But this already goes well beyond video games. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on an implantable chip for U.S. soldiers that will connect their brains to death-obsessed computers, consequently turning boys into military cyborgs. It’s what President Obama referred to in 2014 during a White House manufacturing innovation event when he chummily quipped, “we’re building Iron Man.” It’s easy to see where this could go. Previously, police departments have been equipped with the Pentagon’s excess—an overflow of MRAPs and grenade launchers have been used to deter protestors after a black kid gets shot and killed by the police. It doesn’t seem far out to imagine a time when cyborgs—or full on androids—police our streets, lurking in and out of alleyways, suspicious of anything that moves.

Maybe that’s where we always wanted to be: anywhere but this carnal Eden of humans wrapped in nothing but leaves. The religious want to drift amongst the heavens, whipping up clouds behind them as they smile for the rest of eternity. The futurists want to be cyborgs with superhuman strength, nostalgically reenacting their unlived pasts with gun-wielding prostitutes in the desert. We’re stuck too much in the past and the make-believe, while at the same time catapulting ourselves into a future that cannot host something that is committed to destroying itself. Religion never fixed our basic human anxieties, and CRISPR won’t either. It’s one thing for Donald Trump to go giddily insane when Mack Trucks pull onto the White House lawn, as he hoists himself up onto his high chair, blowing the horn and screaming like a chubby toddler with chocolate frosting around his mouth who just got a new toy truck. Just imagine when he gets ahold of DARPA’s Iron Man. He’ll stomp the world, holding the thing like a G.I. Joe action figure, wreaking havoc on us like we’re a city of ants.

“It’s a disaster, a total disaster,” he’ll say, looking upon the rubble of death. “Oh, I did this. Just incredible. Good work everybody, this is incredible.”


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We Worship Trump: How Religion Consumes Everything

Members of the clergy lay hands and pray over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights

by Guy Walker

Trump fatigue is already here. It’s the same Trump-only mania that began a couple of years ago—a never-ending misadventure of savagery and paranoia, a circus act of cannibalism that wants to popularize itself out on the streets. Even if we tried to avoid to him, he’d still interrupt everything, popping up his head of fried chicken meat onto the screen of your regular television shows, or into your bedroom, or in the office beside the water cooler. He’d find a way to disrupt every pondering sentiment, every moment of love and privacy, the name TRUMP branded permanently on every newborn’s forehead. Last week it was James Comey and the Russian connection; next week it will be something even more bastardly and profane.

In a way, it’s amusing. The pack of beasts rummaging inside the White House then try to pretend in front of the cameras that there is order and function within their walls. It’s like farm animals trying to look innocent after ransacking a house, tables smashed and couches torn apart, their snouts all covered in cake crumbs. But when you consider the consequences of their enacted policy, the comedy quickly wears off: the loss of healthcare for millions, mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug users, runaway climate change and environmental collapse, the rise of a theocratic state in which everyone has to follow some form of Christian Sharia Law.

With the sheer amount of shrieking profanity coming from Donald Trump and his administration, the last point—that of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy administering the rule of law—is particularly concerning because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Trump rests on a bed of nails with every new blunder, scandal, and insult dulling the seriousness of his prior ones. So he avoids the critics as much as possible, and instead goes wherever he is liked so he can continue to gloat about his victory in November. It is in this where he finds his most loyal base in the evangelical Christian community.

Over the weekend, Trump gave his first commencement speech as president, at Liberty University, his scabby cheeks shaking violently as he spoke to the group of graduates looking up at him with devout bellicism, their golden tassels furious with conservative juvenescence. Many of the 50,000 or so attendees gripped their Make America Great Again hats in their laps or under their gowns with a simple tribalistic fervor. These hats and their piousness are, of course, ideological totems, part of a phenomenon that is comparable to high school football fans in a quaint dusty town with nothing but their parades of bright body paint and dull battle cries. God! Trump! USA!—they’re all synonyms of each other—prideful apish grunts from animals who toss their fresh turds at anyone who doesn’t repeat the same chorus.

This is the same Liberty University that teaches young Earth creationism in its biology courses. It’s rumored that the dinosaur bones in its on-campus museum are labeled as being 3,000 years old. So as an institution of alternative facts, Liberty is surely the most appropriate university to host Trump—as long as what’s said sounds conservative, it’s right and should be made gospel. In a 2015 convocation speech, the president of the school, Jerry Falwell Jr., encouraged his students to carry more guns on campus, advocating that the more beer-drinking 20-year-olds with loaded guns under their belts, the safer and more secure their educational experience would be.

For as much as Donald Trump is mocked for his blustering style of speech, he knows how to speak to his audience. At Liberty, it was all about God: “When the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked ‘Our Creator’ four times. Because in America, we don’t worship government, we worship God.” The crowd proceeded to roar with approval, their glossed-over eyes affirming that religiosity dictates over everything, that their fabulous puppeteer booms his way from chugging smoke machines as we collapse to our knees, weeping with enthusiasm. The government is just a bureaucratic obstacle, they say, a rusting machine of sin that needs only to be dismantled and overcome.

His statement doesn’t provoke the shock and enormity that it usually would if it was said by a normal politician. Instead, we sigh despondently—almost indifferently now. In a few more days, we won’t even remember this speech—it will join the drunken blur of ineptitude along with everything else, the mounding scandals and investigations taking precedence over a little talk of God. If Trump were a tenth as blundering as he is now, this statement might seem worse—there would be more time to be offended, more energy and daylight to oppose the dictums of theocracy. Instead, he continues almost unnoticed. He reasoned that because the Founding Fathers invoked “Our Creator” four times, American currency is inscribed with “In God We Trust”, and why school children obediently quip “one nation, under God” every morning, their little fingers placed perfectly over their hearts, repeating it day after day until it’s burned in their memories forever.

This, of course, is incorrect. These adages were inserted in their designated places during the “religious revival” of the 1950’s. It was the time of the Red Scare, when the Cold War slogan “better dead than red” was repeated ad nauseam, assuring the West it was better to burn up in a nuclear blast, melting off the faces of children, than live under a communistic society. But it wasn’t just communism itself that was the enemy. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed the United States should oppose the Soviet Union not because of their oppressive manipulation of communism, but rather because it was an atheist state—their leaders were godless and therefore malevolent, like vulgar troglodytes shoving their sinfulness upon the world, their parades just armies of red-cloaked brutes that were irredeemable because they had abandoned the one true faith. But the Founding Fathers were forcibly opposed to any institutionalization of religion, noting the separation of church and state in the First Amendment to the Constitution, as well as declaring that “no religious Test as a Qualification to any Office” in Article Six. And the original Pledge of Allegiance—written in 1892 by socialist Francis Bellamy—read “one nation indivisible,” as a heartening paean of bringing together the many individual states in secular unity.

Trump’s commencement speech is already old. But its reception at Liberty University is a reminder why he won 81% of the white evangelical vote in the presidential election. His charisma—however grotesque and illiterate it may be—is inescapable, like a cult leader who will inevitably convince at least some of his supporters to follow him to their graves. There’s something luridly infallible about the thundering orange beast: he surely isn’t religious himself, but offers the same impossible promises like they were ideological aperitifs, little morsels of doctrine to be consumed quickly and regularly. He’s as carnivorous as a David Koresh or a Jim Jones—just a few steps away from the great plunge.

Religion is always discussed culturally: if you’re born in a heavily Christian populated area, chances are your parents also subscribe to the faith and will raise you accordingly; or if you drew a different straw at birth and were shoved into a Muslim dominant country instead, the same pattern would occur. Our gods are malleable according to the patch of dirt we are born on; and the faith persists on through innumerable aspects of the surrounding culture. That’s why according to new analysis at the Pew Research Center, 78% of white evangelical Protestants approve of Trump’s first one hundred days. For them, there’s nothing chaotic or borderline treasonous about Trump’s possible collusion with the Russians—it’s run-of-the-mill politics, and the rest of the country is unpatriotic if they don’t support him. At a recent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, Richard Spencer and his sickly tribe of white nationalists were heard chanting “Russia is our friend!” in some sort of last ditch effort to embrace the enemy. It just shows how strong the power of belief can be when someone has fully invested themselves in a movement. Everyone’s favorite cult to shit on, Scientology, is emblematic of this phenomenon: when Scientologists have invested all their money, and sacrificed their social and professional lives for the sake of L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi, self-help wizardry, and then learn that Lord Xenu, dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, planted billions of his people in volcanoes 75 million years ago, it’s somewhat understandable that many adherents of the religion are now too immersed to be able to suddenly retract decades of reinforced belief. Trump Mania is much the same. The enthusiasm for him during the primaries and general election was often so fanatic that many will never recover; likely, it’s not that they won’t admit that they fucked up, but rather that they can’t, not even to themselves.

When Trump signed an executive order that allowed churches to more freely participate in future political campaigns and not lose their tax exemption, he likely did so at the suggestion of one of his closest aides—Jeff Sessions, or Mike Pence, or some other greased-up toad waiting in the shadows. And with the word “impeachment” fluttering around more and more, we begin to wonder what things would look like under a Pence presidency, full of gay conversion therapy and chainmail mittens, public flogging for every boner.

At this point, there is very little that will surprise the world about the American political arena. Shaved rodents high on steroids are scribing our last remaining rights into law. There’s no use in predicting anything anymore—polls are useless and preemptive, a castration of the undercurrents of America. But one thing is certain: Christian fundamentalism within the Republican Party is in its most opportune time.

For now, he’s still there, shuffling around his huge barren stage, dusting himself with a heavy compound, the lights overhead glimmering against his silky eyes. Confetti pours from the sky for years; crowds chant Trump! Trump! Trump! for decades longer. The orange beast leans in a little closer, and opens his mouth still stained with a wet residual paste: “In America, we don’t worship the government,” he says at last, “we worship Trump.”

Reza Aslan and the Pageantry of Belief

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by Guy Walker

Nothing has changed: humans are still deathly afraid of other tribes. They’re beasts that should be corralled and caged, every brown-skinned cretin identified with a cone of shame. Of course we are normal; it’s everyone else who has a funny accent, and believes in the wrong god, who should be feared. Before politics, before social structures and traditions, before we choose what we eat, how we fuck, what we wear, the world defines itself by which invisible puppeteer tugs on our strings. Everything else then falls into place.

Reza Aslan’s new show, Believer, seeks to help us better understand the myriad beliefs far unlike our own. At least, that’s what they say their show is about. The six-part CNN program describes itself as a “new spiritual adventure series,” as if it were a hit Indiana Jones and the Temple of Holy Friars television show, starring a cadre of hermetic monks and wild-eyed fire dancers who succeed in wielding our acceptance of other faiths. But Believer views more like an adolescent’s tour of a freak show, the audience gawking at what could be bearded ladies and midgets who swallow swords. It’s the most recent of many failed attempts to normalize fringe religious ideas in an era when other belief systems are widely feared and misunderstood. And the danger is, Aslan only escalates these misunderstandings.

Reza Aslan, the creative writing professor who finds any excuse to mention he has a PhD in religious studies, drew wide criticism for the series premiere in which he met with an Aghori guru, and took part in the Hindu sect’s practice of cannibalism. There was Aslan, cross-legged in the dirt on the banks of the Ganges, the ash of a cremated human smeared all over his face, eating human brain matter, proving to the world that this is what religious tolerance looks like. He later joked on his Facebook page: “Want to know what a dead guy’s brain tastes like? Charcoal . . . It was burnt to a crisp.” So here we are: watching soap commercials in between the episodic performance art of another man-eating cult, everything sensationalized with the cameras and gentle charm of the show’s host; yes, here we are, in the middle of a gruesome reality-show, all decency and reason abandoned like ash in the wind.

The Aghori man—scrawny, mostly naked, with a garland of bloody jawbones around his head—drank his own piss, and threw his feces at Aslan, because the Aghori abhor India’s caste system, and indulge in their perversions to prove how inconsequential the body actually is. This is a fascinating set of beliefs indeed, and they should be documented for those of us who are culturally intrigued to want to learn about them; but it’s not enough to simply document the practices of the Aghori—Aslan and CNN have to show us that he can eat brains too. This clearly isn’t tolerance; nor is it open-mindedness. It’s paparazzi spectacle, meant only to enhance the usually awful ratings of CNN. It creates a buzz, even if it’s a critical article like this one. Our tolerance of other beliefs opposed to (or at least different from) our own shouldn’t be participating in their practices, but rather in gathering a well-versed literacy of those belief systems, and equipping oneself for a most fruitful and lucid argument against archaism and barbarism.

Because barbarism is on the rise. The anti-immigrant reactions intensifying here in the West are as barbaric as they are ignorant. Earlier this month, a Sikh man was shot and hospitalized in Seattle, his shooter telling him to “go back to [his] own country.” Two weeks prior, another apparent hate crime killed a man of Indian decent in Kansas, the shooter also reportedly yelling “get out of my country” before firing in the busy bar. Believer—at least its episode on the Aghori—fuel the already dangerous ignorance spreading in the U.S. about brown people with strange accents. The xenophobic rhetoric most popularized under Trump’s command doesn’t marry well with Aslan’s sensationalistic illiteracy of other religions.

In its totality, Believer offers no deep understanding of cult behavior or the origins of such malfunctioned thinking. In the episode that follows the Aghori, Aslan asks a Hawaiian doomsday cult leader who calls himself JeZus, not why his ideas are so intellectually inept and poisonous, or what led him to want to corrupt the minds of others; rather, he asks him about his levels of stress to keep all his disciples in line. It feels like unqualified exposition because it is. It’s an old tactic used to entertain instead of inform. And in a way it’s understandable to see why: the overwhelming amount of entertainment shoved at us everyday requires the dying, more desperate networks to press antics of garish pageantry.

When seven billion people are simultaneously clamoring for attention, sanity and decency are never going to win. You’re going to have a stampede of fame-crazed zombies begging you to look at the goat cheese salad they had for lunch. Or they’ll croak their torpid witticism at you until you’re forced to take notice. Twitter is often little more than the defeated classes trying to be as outrageous as possible in 140 characters or less; every tweet is inscribed with the assumed precondition of vanity to get as many retweets as possible. There are asses on Instagram with more fanatic followers than all the standing armies in the world, every ass trying to be larger and juicier than the last, until implants go grotesquely awry. We’re in the middle of a global orgy, everyone trying to outperform the person next to them—if there’s a couple having sex normally, then three people are going to do a headstand and fuck in a human triangle, then a group of strangers will twirl upside down from a ceiling fan, naked, jerking off the person next to them. Anything to go viral for a second.

In this sense, mainstream media stations are in a bit of quandary—they have to keep their corporate monoliths relevant, hip, and edgy amid this lawless extravaganza of entertainment when any runny-nosed teenager with a smartphone can capture the attention of the entire world. It’s hard for CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who has the charisma of a depressed ewok, to compete with figures like Gigi Gorgeous (who rose to fame giving makeup tutorials on Youtube as a teenage boy; and now, identifying as a woman, recently came out as a lesbian). The luster of celebrity far exceeds the procedural banality of talking heads. Something as bizarre and innocuous as the Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen song—a one minute song experiment combining the words “pen” and “apple,” performed by a man in gold snakeskin pajamas and a thin porno mustache—was still watched over 115 million times. So CNN is left there in the studio, cameras rolling, every news anchor screaming “Look at us! We have something important to say too!”

But they’re supposed to talk about politics, and their ratings are consistently some of the lowest amongst the major news stations, so they stick to awfully insipid topics like Trump’s tweet of the day: self-appointed specialists sit around in monkey suits analyzing the inflammatory content of his 3am outbursts. And they’re not aware of their own absurdity. This is clearly a dead end, and it’s why no one likes CNN.

So what do they do?

They hire Anthony Bourdain to travel the world and eat dumplings. Or Mike Rowe to jump out of airplanes. Or John Walsh to hunt criminals. And finally, Reza Aslan to eat brains.

This cannibal-clickbait works, of course, because the Aghori are far away in India. It allows us to distance ourselves from the idea of it, while also allowing many to reinforce their ideological hostilities against dark-skinned foreigners. If the Aghori were instead a group of white American cannibals, Aslan wouldn’t eat the brain matter even if it were legal. We’re tribal beasts, and eating our own would be unkosher.

There is a point where bad belief needs to be contested without any sensational thrill. What if Aslan came across an operative Warren Jeffs, former President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FDLS), claiming 70 wives, and sexually abusing his own children? What about Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple, and responsible for the massacre of 918 people, 304 of which were minors? What about Marshall Applewhite, who led the mass suicide of 39 members in order to get onboard a UFO? I trust Aslan and CNN wouldn’t show that he can do these things too.

We shouldn’t pretend to worship other people’s illusory demons; we shouldn’t agreeably nod our heads when others describe their favorite connect-the-dots stick figure traced in the stars. An educator’s role is to nudge us closer to truth. Everything else is just theater.


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A Dialogue of Brutes: the Successful Attack on the Free Press

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by Guy Walker

All that’s left is constant snorting, rummaging through the garbage heap for an edible morsel. Our language has degraded into a pile of censored insults and sensitivies; our press soon nothing more than congratulatory think-pieces on Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. The president’s administration has one main prerogative—more urgent than the wall, the immigration ban, or repealing healthcare: making all dissidence slander.

When Bannon spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, it was the first time he appeared in public since Trump’s inauguration, his aura of putrid steam billowing across the ballroom like a hypnotic glaze. Supporters finally saw their man—the pale greased-up beast, occasionally scratching himself under his bristled chin—as they’d nod and reassure each other how smart a human turnip actually could be.

He sat there hunched. His gelatinous belly heaved over his sweaty and suffocating crotch, the liver spots that dazzle his face almost peeling at their corners. His eyes, tired and cavernous, are the eyes of complete and impenetrable nihilism—as if he was forced to stare at nothing but cat memes for thirty years, and now seeks revenge on the entire world.

His speech made the usual allegations, posturing conservatives as the underdog, as if they are the political embodiment of Rocky Balboa, knowing well that we humans root and holler for such figures. He said they were being unjustly attacked by the “corporatist globalist media that are adamantly opposed” to their agenda. It’s more a sophomoric tantrum than political rhetoric. It’s what they always blame liberals for doing: snowflakes who “cry and weep” when things don’t go their way—then Trump turns and tweets that SNL is “really bad television” because they made fun of him.

As chief strategist of the White House, Bannon is paralyzingly void of political acumen. He’s squirmish in his suit and tie—his natural, more charitable state is in a bulging-tight wifebeater (because it’s not an undershirt, it’s a way of life)—slouched in his sticky sofa, cursing at the news personality on the television as bits of uncooked pork rocket from his mouth. His ‘strategy’ from the beginning has been to silence dissidence, to insult those who question Trump’s infallibility. In late January, he said “the media”—in general sweeping terms—“should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and listen for a while.” In a way, it makes complete sense for Bannon to hate the news. He was, after all, executive chair of Breitbart News.

The patterned formula for Trump’s cabinet positions is to nominate someone who condemns the mere existence of that position. Betsy DeVos hates public education. Scott Pruitt sued the EPA many times before being appointed its chief administrator. Rick Perry once said he wanted to dismantle the Department of Energy (he actually forgot the name of this department, but later admitted that this was what he meant). They’re like schoolchildren giggling for wearing their underwear over their pants during Backwards Day, almost purposefully mocking the public for making us accept it.

Everything is reversed. A media tycoon hates the media. A 70-year-old baby plays with his toys of the world’s most advanced nuclear arsenal. Language is meaningless. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. We’re all floundering in the dark, trying to grab hold of something real.

Writers have long waded into the depths of cliché by referring to the actions of the opposition political party as “Orwellian” (a queer and unfitting word, as George Orwell made a career of opposing tyranny). His concept of Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four is used to describe the more disparaging antics of both the left and the right ad nauseam, leveraged to whatever paranoia is most fitting: from the flailing pettiness of political correctness that spawns from scrawny self-abusing leftists, to the Nixonian litigation of the War on Drugs, condemning every magical cabbage that sprouts its head. But Trump’s administration is something entirely new: a band of shit-smeared pigs haphazardly shuffling pieces on a Scrabble board, squealing triumphantly when they get a three syllable word. When journalists from the New York Times, CNN, and Politico were recently barred from attending a Spicer press briefing—and Breitbart and America News Network greeted quickly in—a new narrative unfolds: only praise will be allowed.

Milo Yiannopoulos, Gavin McInnes, and other professional conservative trolls who pose as free speech advocates, suddenly lose their platform. Their reality-show ideologue hates the freedoms of those who disagree with the minutia of his brutish declarations of absolute power. If he could, he’d fire every dissident, every skeptic and examiner of the truth.

But he doesn’t really need to. A storm cloud of disinformation has overwhelmed the modern political dialectic. The fake news phenomenon is more a pop-culture phenomenon than anything else—it’s yet another symptom of what Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer called the “culture industry,” the churlish beast of mass culture that anesthetizes an entire generation through its pageant of entertainments. In Adorno’s 1951 book, Minima Moralia, he writes:

    “Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish.”

The bucktoothed carnies are in charge now, chanting their new vocabulary, requiring us to debate only in grunts and farts, the most repulsive one winning a garland of Easter basket nesting in order to better resemble their god. Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” moment was testament to this—a lazy-eyed performance art of Gustave Flaubert’s famous remark, “There is no truth. There is only perception.” She tours one news station after the next, her procedural drawl resembling a sticky-fanged bobblehead, a wax paper automaton smiling larger when she lies, shifting her aching buttocks in front of another green screen. It demonstrates the annihilation of truth is a necessary prerequisite for the rise of authoritarianism—it leaves a void that is naturally occupied the quickest by power and aggression.

And it clearly works. A Fox News poll marked Americans’ distrust of “reporters” deeper than their distrust of Donald Trump. The slithering reality-show host who launched his political career by alleging that Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya, and then officially endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, has more favorability than the grossly generalized populace of journalists and talking heads. Bannon’s comments are not actual threats to shut the media up—he’s simply gloating that he can say this and get away with it. He thrives on the inflammatory, on offending entire populations of fragile leftists into yet another frenzy.

Orwell never wrote anything that argued specifically against fascism. He took it for granted that Cartesian common sense wouldn’t let a generation go entirely mad. He was, however, obsessed with language. In one of the most important political essays, Politics and the English Language—written a year before Trump shoved his veiny head out of his mother—Orwell conferred that we “ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language.” He meant the hyper-intellectualization of language—speech used by many economists, politicians, academics with the intent to confuse the reader or listener under a glaze of jargon. He criticized use of ‘pretentious diction’ and ‘meaningless words’ as confabulatory, stupid, and manipulative. If Orwell could look upon today’s political arena, and listen to the level of debate and discourse, he may very well enjoy a fiendish delight in even his most pessimistic concerns being surpassed. There is nothing Daedalean or exaggerated about the Trump-Bannon-Conway approach to their speech, but rather a literal degradation of language, a dogmatically stubborn defense of adult retardation assuming the highest office in the world.

Early-stage fascism is the most opportunistic and consequential, and yet also the most fragile. As the Trump administration takes its first steps forward, it momentarily glances around to see if it can still get away with it—Trump’s affinity for Putin is obvious, as he restricts the press and puffs his chest as he does it. But he succeeds only through the sordid apathy of the public, through our splendor of the culture industry, like bugs flying stupidly towards a florescent lamp.

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