When Kings Become Cartoons

Current Events, Philosophy, Politics, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

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Before his death, a distinctly outlined orange sun sets behind President Xi Jinping, his ears flopping forward like a toddler’s mittens, his tiny red shirt riding up and sticking into the damp fold of flesh between his belly and his tits. He’s not wearing any pants. He never has; but there appears to be just a smooth golden fuzz where his genitals are supposed to be. The smoldering cartoon audience seems unimpressed, so he makes a wimpish attempt to cheer them up, the kind only the doodle of a bear’s gruesome acumen can muster. “Nobody,” he softly exclaims to the benevolent hues of green, and the many other countryside animals of opaque neons, “nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.”

It didn’t take long after images of Winnie the Pooh were banned in China because of his uncanny resemblance to their human leader, for other rulers of other countries to preemptively ban their self-declared animated body doubles.

Amid whizzing gunfire between the rocky throats of canyon, and across some indistinct expanse of desert where Syrian rebels bounce along in their military-retrofitted pickup trucks, the roads just rotted into boiling moats of asphalt and debris, not much other life exists. Perhaps a lizard or two, gasping under the shade of pulverized rubble and rebar; perhaps a lone mushroom, plunging upward in the center of an abandoned city, displaying the phallic victory of nature and her promised resilience. The bombed-out cavern of world echoes the muffled cries from babies, their mothers sifting through the spread-out hunks of concrete with antiqued gold miners pans. This part of the Middle East somehow turned into an awful proxy war, the final realization of Mad Max, with Turkey now invading northern Syria, completing the last orgy of death before the upper atmosphere converts permanently to sulphuric farts, and tendril-strings of superbugs rain down into our cereal bowls of gruel.

But there’s important issues to discuss. And so Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Erdoğan convene in a dark alley, the walls fortified with garlands of rusted barbed wire and shards of glass. A distant organ player has passed out with his head fallen on three keys out of tune that only produces an excruciating barely audible dog whistle. It’s not peace talks their discussing. It’s not a plan to pull millions out from the charred misery. It’s both an allied and adversarial pact to ban all images of their closest cartoon doppelgängers.

Assad asks sheepishly if they agree to ban Mister Geppetto, Pinocchio’s father. “Oh, and both Super Mario Brothers. They all haunt me, and I’m not even Italian.” The others nod their heads as if this were obvious. Putin demands they agree to ban Porky the Pig. But he won’t even say his name. “Ze pinky,” he says over and over, as the other two make hundreds of random guesses until they finally stumble upon the correct answer, and Putin just closes his eyes slowly, and exhales silently. Erdoğan writes his on a piece of paper, and passes it to them. It reads, “Angelica Pickles, from Rugrats.” Putin and Assad grunt with amusement, the closest thing they’ve come to laughter since Assad dropped nerve gas in Damascus, killing hundreds of his own people. The beams of morning span the horizon as the rapid gunfire draws nearer, and the teeming nostalgia for the wild life becomes unbearable.

Then there’s Donald Trump. He sits hunched over in the Situation Room, the hump of his neck sprouting meaty beds of bleach-blonde hair, his earlobes flopping like sails in the windless sea, the glossy sheen of the lacquered oak table reflecting like a private bowling lane. He leans over the smooth reflecting wood, mimicking Narcissus staring into the still pond, trying to decipher his own resemblance. His pointed and sculpted tufts of eyebrows whipped into miniature waves, his scalded marshmallow face bubbling with hapless glee, crusted mounds of oatmeal coated the edges of his flared nostrils. And the awful trademarked hair woven into a spider’s Halloween thicket, with buzzards and carrion feasting on scraps of flesh inside somewhere. He wouldn’t give the trolls what they wanted. The casino-loser peasantry who only wanted to make him look bad, to subtract from his coruscating flex that swelled like the blood-packed erection of an Aryan wet dream. He would turn the task on its head, and make the people willfully not disperse the images of cartoon’s masculine heroes like Simba from The Lion King, Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, John Smith from Pocahontas. “Etc.,” he wrote at the end.

What purpose is there for any effective resistance? In the 2016 election, it was initially reported that 11,000 people voted for Harambe, the dead gorilla. Although later proven an exaggeration (these types of votes are never actually tallied), Mickey Mouse is famous for being a favorite protest vote each election cycle. But the famed authoritarians of the modern world know better than to call it a protest vote amongst themselves. The literal manifestation of a cartoon hellworld is upon us, the squeaking and yapping laughter of episodic delirium, simply drawn animals with drooping snouts and eyeballs the size of frisbees, mocking its citizenry who are trapped in an overly saturated nightmare, running between a maze of galloping pianos the size of a city block, rugs heaving into tidal waves that are only trying to toss us by the bum into an empty flower vase the relative size of a skyscraper, so amidst this profane and formulaic squalor, some likable fanged beast can snatch us up by the tail and drop us into his mouth whole.

In the end, in a last ditch effort to bring peace, President Xi Jinping staggers aimlessly under his Winnie-the-Pooh costume. He came to the bombed-out streets of Hong Kong to greet throngs of protestors, clouds of lethal tear gas drifting low in their multi-colored sherbet flavors, another attempt to convince the kids that tear gas is fun and flavorful. All of the protestors were waving banners of their honey-loving god, riding the tops of huge automated floats of Tigger and Piglet and others. If he could actually become the buoyant and lighthearted protagonist of the celebrated bedtime story, maybe he could settle their unrest once and for all. At least, that is what he thought, stupidly. Because they weren’t here to protest the Chinese judicial system, or its encroaching mangled edifice of legislated doom; rather, they wanted the impostor to unzip himself, to step out from his sweaty and awkward disguise.

“Ooo whooo,” Xi Jinping muttered with fake jubilance from behind his Pooh costume, patting his belly of stained and rotten polyester fur. It was of no use. The throngs pressed in, beating him with sticks, pulling him from that panoply of failed innocence, naked and hog-tied by comic irony, his plump adorability now backfired without any chance of its reversal. Before everything went pitch-black and silent forever, before he could feel his gurgling lungs get drowned by the slow motion stomping of boots, a pure white butterfly balanced delicately on his wet nose, opening and closing its wings in the serene beauty of a cartoon. And Trump and the others gathered round, their makeup and costumes half finished, peering down at his limp body wasted away in the mud.

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Conjuring the Dead: “Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood” Is Upon Us

Current Events, Film, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

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I went to drink another Negroni at Musso & Frank with a couple of close friends immediately after watching Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood.” It was supposed to be a stewed nod to the director and film, a phlegmed gasp of deference that we were sitting in possibly the same swiveling barstools that Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton—or rather, laconically, just Brad and Leo—sat their firm, libidinal, starlet-asses on, as they finally croaked their lines in front of a camera. You can picture Tarantino controlling this space, kneeling behind the counters, talking so enthusiastically with his hands until they ignite a miniature summer squall, his determinate chin-erection as a glossy and pointed hump prodding at whatever stands in front of it. The white-haired bartenders here were at ease in their decorously soiled red blazers; they didn’t give a shit about our expulsions of theory and decay. We were drunk, throwing money, begging the open sky to make us drunker. They had all been in the film, as themselves, and had also been serving these cocktails for decades. This one hundred square-foot runway behind the counter that my friends and I hunched over was where they spent unnumbered hours, totaling many years, mixing Old Fashions, Negronis, Latin Manhattans, King Robbs, Ginger Gold Rushes, watermelon daiquiris, et al., oceans of sweetened ferment that made us dumber and sad. The people around were comparable: a young white man with a manicured aryan fro, and an “I Am the NRA” pullover with a huge American flag printed on the back; he was trying to get laid, leaning into his date with a desperation comparable to homeless children begging with their hands cupped to tourists. A fat man in a bright Hawaiian shirt sat near me; his face was red from busted capillaries, from decades of alcohol I guess. There was a group of female models in a booth behind me; they kept fixing their hair while staring pointedly into their phones as Magic Mirrors of more eupeptic fates than this one here.

It’s why we watch movies instead. And as Tarantino has declared himself, “Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood” is his love letter to Hollywood; it’s his most personal film, in that he’s displaying his encyclopedic knowledge of the world he loves so much. “Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood” takes place in 1969, the year of the Manson murders, the end of the so-called love generation, when the besotted delirium of bare feet and acid and tie-dye splattered like multi-colored ejaculations across their chests gave way to the paranoias of cults and charismatic serial killers, an era analogous to the aftermath of a bad acid trip, when the spindly reverberations are still all around you, but the wide-eyed blinking and inability to follow social cues remains dominant.

The night a very pregnant Sharon Tate and her friends got slaughtered was the night the beautiful colors and uncontrollable love and laughter turned schizophrenic, when the politicians got even crazier, when the wars somehow got even more demented. It’s understandable why Tarantino picked this event. It wasn’t necessarily the death of our innocence, because we were already the furthest thing from innocent. But the rich, and famous, and white were now vulnerable, and therefore the spell had been broken. The America that’s been killing its youth, ordering them to fight their insane wars, the America that bludgeons against the black and brown and poor and female finally turned against itself in ways it hadn’t before.

To get as close as one can to the way a director thinks, to his or her psychoses and tempered perversions, in a psychoanalytic arrangement more akin to a sprawling Rorschach journey, you watch all or as many of their films through, as chronologically as you can. Bergman, Fellini, Louis Malle, Agnés Varde, Tarkovsky, Jacques Tati—they and countless others smashed their old successful conventions, creating entirely new ways of telling stories through film. Because telling stories is not the superficial task of carrying the viewer through the glugging pool of characters and plot through some undulating act structure; the filmmaking is equally embraced to the story being told, and Tarantino has been telling the exact same story with only the surface scum of ornamental characters and plot as the remaining difference. His filmography resembles something closer to an Andy Warhol exhibition—a grandiose monoculture of hype with its extravagant blast of color and flair.

His films are just like his soundtracks. It’s about replaying the old hits—the lint-dusted vinyl spun backwards, a bubblebath of glitter and lube so we can no longer identify our nuts from our nipples. It is, of course, about nostalgia. It always has with Tarantino. He’s a doctor Frankenstein of film trivia that’s been shoved through a wood chipper, pasting together old movie posters and cereal boxes and radio commercials and beer cans and cars into one gleaming orgy of cinema only because these things are cool. Perhaps they’re lacking any substantive value in the overall narrative, but at least they remind us of the way things used to be, and more importantly that Tarantino knows about them. And he wants desperately to tell us that he knows about this remote paraphernalia, as if only he is privy to this knowledge, and only he is resurfacing it for your viewing pleasure. The reason he doesn’t create new music for his films isn’t because he wants to authenticate his world with time-appropriate music, but rather because Tarantino doesn’t create anything new in his films as a whole.

That’s not to say that Tarantino doesn’t immerse you in a world of its own. But in “Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood,” he created a world that only exists as its tiny exclusive snow-globe existence, purposely leaving out race riots, Vietnam War protests, the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, general civil upheaval that was the collective antithesis of its protagonists. There were only the white Hollywood stars, and the hippies. Two worlds of opportunistic self-loathing at war with one another. Every time Cliff Booth or Rick Dalton uttered the word “hippie” it was with a brackish disdain for the voluntary lower class, a predatory resentment of their collective decision to turn on, tune in, and drop out. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” also emphasized this indelible snobbery amongst the class of responsibles, with Bigfoot Bjornsen taking every opportunity he could to denigrate hippie scum. But it was part of the pun, amidst the stoned Pynchonian haze teeming from a circus of languid heroes. It wasn’t actually cynical, but part of a private desire to believe in the trip; it was a clumsy jealousy that grown men with military-issued lapels and flattop haircuts couldn’t grapple with. Tarantino’s treatment of this was an emphasis entirely on the Manson family, on the monstrosity that gave an altar to the Nancy Reagan types and their religiosity of squareness, to just say no, and no, again and again.

Besides the obvious informalities when Cliff Booth tells Rick Dalton not to cry in front of the Mexicans, or contorting Bruce Lee into a brash caricature of egomania, contemptuous and irrational, like a schoolyard bully who picks fights he can’t win, or making Sharon Tate the self-admitted klutz who bobs around town stupidly amused with herself, going to the movies to watch herself on the big screen, and glancing around in the dark movie theater, smiling to herself when the other audience members laugh at her falling to the ground and reciting bad jokes, there’s not much offered as countenance for importance characters, much less heroes.

That’s why Tarantino’s portrayal of hippies is so ill-informed. At one point, when Cliff Booth is hanging out with Rick Dalton at his house, watching old episodes of the hit western television series “Bounty Law,” in which Dalton stars, Booth brings out a joint that’s been dipped in acid. He saves it until the end of the film, when the climactic twist comes to a head, and he takes a long deep hit, and mutters, “And away we go.” This is, of course, impossible. LSD evaporates when exposed to light or heat, and so burning it would be a complete waste of the chemical, and if you felt anything close to the coruscating explosions of ego-death, it would be more related to those videos of teenagers pretending to act blackout drunk when all they had was in fact nonalcoholic beer from unmarked kegs. It’s evidential that Tarantino has only been a film nerd, and nothing more. The characters in his films are often great, and especially great for cinema; but they’re always just characters, not quite human enough to jump off the screen and fill us with the reverential charity of a whiskey-soaked communion, even a banal decency brushed up in the dust. The aftermath of his films feel like getting mild enjoyment from a good sneeze.

Cultural critics are obsessed with identifying the point or purpose of things. As they should. The point of a film or song or painting doesn’t need to be prophetic; there’s not enough geographical expanse in our Promethean hungers for everything to be a Guernica or a “Stalker.” And that’s fine. Most films are bad, but at least most of the time you know they’re going to be bad—simple farts honked from the factory windows of an industry already so consumed with itself, The very worst of cinema is when it takes itself as serious as a Kurosawa or a David Lean, but merely achieves the same frustrating pedantry as everything else, as a garrulous drunk who will just not shut the fuck up.

“Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood” doesn’t quite meet the criteria for being terrible. It’s messy, as are all his films, in the way a toddler’s bib is messy, or a porno film’s overall narrative is messy. I want to know why Tarantino made the ending the way it is, why a two and a half hour buildup of tension between the hippies and the Hollywood heroes had to be so prosaically Tarantino, why he couldn’t contain his turrets for overly stylized violence just once. We’re being pandered for cheap laughs, like children at a marionette show who scream gleefully and clap their flat palms together when the good knight parades victoriously on his floppy horse, our mouths and fingers sticky from so much dribbling Coca-Cola and pulverized popcorn debris. Do we not deserve better? Have we reduced ourselves to the delicacies of bucktoothed yokels, juggling potatoes at the county fair, doing body shots every time a firework makes a patriotic allusion to its fearless immortality?

Films of emphasized nostalgia meet the cravings of today. Modernity doesn’t offer us the splendors and blooming appetites that the sci-fi films of the past based in our present decade promised. The films that predicted the future failed us. Or what is more likely, we failed them. Like all our other failed dreams. There’s no Hal 9000 trying to disrupt our autonomy and mission to explore other planets, tossing our best mates into the eternal depths of outer space; instead, we have Alexa who will order us more protein powder when we ask it ten times, yelling louder and slower with each successive attempt. Philip K. Dick’s androids aren’t seducing our wits into murderous paranoias; there’s no javelins of lasers between monarchs with emerald-encrusted pith helmets; what we got instead was a planet that’s breaking out in volcanic blisters, whales washing up dead on the beach with a stomach full of our plastic filth; we got Tinder; Hulu automatically binging your free nights into some bleary pixellation; a growing slouch in your neck, gums that have begun to bleed, the jubilance of youth drying up a little more every successive day; blog posts that jumble into a Mount Everest built with scribbled confetti; a glowing, pleading circus inside this rectangle in your back pocket, sucking your face like a vampire squid; fake plants from Ikea, drywall and fiberglass that looks like cotton candy that separate us from our neighbor we’ve never met; marriages that drag out like skid marks; the incomprehensible mass of other bodies, every one of them seeing the world as you see yours now, that the world is happening to you, and then the occasional assurance that when you melt back into the phlegm of rotted earth under some stump of termites, all your drunken camaraderie was nothing more than a desert fart.

So we’ve given up on the future. Instead, Tarantino turns our attention to vintage beer cans, root beer float commercials, tanning butter commercials, and something remotely bland from Paul Revere & The Raiders. Because the past is alterable. It’s a trinket shop of cool bracelets and some old records that we can rifle through. He’s often criticized for his sensationalized gore—the streams of blood that surge like a firehose nozzle when a limb is chopped off, heads exploding with atomic force, bodies that are violently tossed more as ragged dolls. But it’s the gore of nostalgia that really makes me hysterical, in which his cinema is so caricaturized, it’s more cartoon than live action. It’s what we deserve. Enthusiasm for the mundane is god. Make us rich for a few smothering seconds. And then roll the credits.


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Anti-Abortion Laws Discussed in a Bath House

Current Events, Politics, Satire and Cynicism, Uncategorized

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The following is the unannotated transcript of a discussion in a high-end bath house about the recent anti-abortion laws sweeping through several states of the country. SHARIA KENDOLL is an almost entirely hairless man, with a cavern of a dimple in the bullseye of his chin. He’s a pastor at a nondescript megachurch in Oklahoma not destroyed by surrounding floods, and has been struggling with depression and a test of faith after recently walking in on his only son watching Top Gun—a film of notorious gay propaganda—with another boy. JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA is a part-time sorcerer, and a big fan of spoiled meat and expired produce, who spends his free time shouting obscenities at stray cats and children walking to school. He has a pigeon named HOBBLES. MITCH MCCONNELL is also there, his face and neck sagging like plastered vomit passed his tits; his lips are entirely gone, so all that remains is a black hole, gasping like the violent and muted tremors of an asshole immediately after a gangbang. No one knows why he is here. He mostly just stares at the floor, and thinks about when he would tie worms in complicated knots as a child. JORDAN PETERSON, although Canadian, forced himself in the room for reasons unknown. He’s been on a strict meat-only diet for years, but now just throws a couple of dead pheasants on the table in the middle of the room, and sinks his teeth into them, feathers and all. CLARENCE THOMAS has a beard now, and scratches it furiously, and wipes his runny nose with the back of his hand. This has become a habitual tic. We begin.

SHARIA KENDOLL: So, um, yeah. Thank you all for coming. Thank you for gathering here, I mean. We’re here to discuss the recent abortion bills passing through such states as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio—can I get an “Oh, HEYOOOO!”?

This obligatory introductory attempt at humor falls to complete silence. The others are staring at the feet of MITCH MCCONNELL, where a pool of flesh-colored slime has formed around his ankles. He tries to speak, but his incoherent Southern drawl just splurts out animal sounds, like a cow giving birth in the hottest day of summer.

JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA: What the hell are we looking at? The man is melting. And he just moaning shrieks of death. Would someone put this poor bastard out of his misery?

SHARIA KENDOLL: No, no. He’s by no means melting. And don’t you hear what he’s saying? He’s mapping out a superbly fascinating strategy on how to win back the House. How can the Evangelical community—how can America—expect to win back the House, if we can’t get the houses of America to live by the law of God? We need babies now more than ever. We need babies to crawl out of their mommies already waving American flags. Gosh darnit! If I ever had an idea, by golly that’s it. Clarence, you’re a lawyer. What if you propose mandatory miniature American flags transplanted in with the babies in their little cubbies—what do you call those things?—those liquid jello-sacks they bob around in. Inside the mother…Anyways, we staked the American flag in the virgin soil of the New World, didn’t we? Well, maybe these mothers don’t want their babies because the babies don’t know they gonna be born in the United States of Awesome! Huh guys? Ammirite?

CLARENCE THOMAS: Eat shit.

JORDAN PETERSON: Uh, yes, well, you see, to have American flags planted, Mr. Kendoll—I would like to extoll you the importance of uttering such unsavory mishaps as “trans” anything, as the young postmodern neo-marxists in America are trying to subliminally indoctrinate our minds with these bloody…these bloody words. And I’m not being rhetorical when I say that. Words do have blood, and I have sucked their throats…Anyways, transplanted is not accurate, as it suggests to the subconscious of the deep recesses of the mind that a man can make me call him a her. Well I’m not bloody doing it! Because next a baby is going to tell me it’s not a baby. It’s going to say it’s a booby, one of those blue-footed birds in the Galapagos. And on and on, until nothing means anything anymore. And we may as well not speak because these radical leftists have hijacked language, and then all of a sudden we’re trapped in a jetliner headed straight for the building of meaninglessness. [He starts crying uncontrollably. Then slaps himself across the face, falling to the floor, before eventually collecting himself, continuing as if nothing happened.] But anyways, these are complicated matters that just can’t be succinctly summarized in just a few phrases. As you were saying, put it in the woman’s, um, in her, stomach lining. Whatever it’s called.

JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA: Tummy!

CLARENCE THOMAS: No, not her tummy, you idiot.

JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA: Her midriff! The whores have midriff! That’s where the babies are.

JORDAN PETERSON: Thank you, in her midriff. To get an American flag planted in her midriff is no simple matter, Mr. Kendoll. And for starters, let’s be reasonable. America was never loved for being miniature. A big American flag represents big ideas, big freedoms, big trucks, slaughtered pigs the size of sumo wrestlers, and so on. The bigger it is, the freer we are. A dead cow, with her guts spilled across the floor—it’s a beautiful thing. It’s what I love most about your country—all the dead animals. What are we doing here talking about saving dead babies when we can be talking about the virtues of overflowing hog lagoons. They contain vital nutrients that the environmentalists conveniently ignore…[to JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA, pointing at HOBBLES] Are you going to eat that?

JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA: Hobbles? He’s my best friend!?

CLARENCE THOMAS: Plebeians! The last half of “friend” is “end.” It’s the bird’s fate to be eaten!!

[MITCH MCCONNELL’S neck is now just a flesh-waterfall that has finally reached the floor. His bellicose gargling suffocates him, and what’s structurally left of him falls to the floor, mimicking something like Gumby getting hit with a baseball bat. He’s probably dead, but no one seems to notice except for JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA, who looks around nervously at the others.]

SHARIA KENDOLL: This has been an extremely productive conversation. Justice Thomas, you always seem to declare such enlightening truths. We are all indebted to your lifelong commitment to the law.

CLARENCE THOMAS: Fuck off.

SHARIA KENDOLL: Exactly. So, to conclude, Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat are made from aborted bambinos. Little sprouts, I like to call them. Little buggers, for fun, when I’m feeling cheeky. You get the point. No, no: teenagers, with bad breath, actually. Ha! Ha! I crack myself up. Heck, may as well be graduates of West Point, fighting for the freedoms of the malnourished. Which is why all vegans are the infernal children of Satan.

JAY WALKIN’ DRACULA: This is awful.

SHARIA KENDOLL: I want to thank our sponsors, the protein smoothie startup Loaded Phlegm, and the nightclub The Pulse of God, found in your hometown—actually, in every living room—for making this conversation possible. Thank you all, and I look forward to sweating with you all next week.


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The Last Temptation of Empire

Current Events, Philosophy, Politics, Pop Culture, Uncategorized
Westward the course of empire take its way;
The four first acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day;
Time’s noblest offspring is the last
-George Berkeley

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What role do the arts actually play? The Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, David Mamet, thinks it’s all just for entertainment, which is fine, he says—the kids need a good puppet show to scream and cackle at. The cannibalizing weight of the world strangles us; the tropical depressions swirl like miniaturized cyclones inside. There’s nothing wrong with teasing ourselves with the beautiful and profane. Writer-director, Paul Schrader, sees it differently: the arts are tools no different than a hammer and saw, to build some edifying totem that tells us about ourselves. He wrote Taxi Driver as a story about a man colonized by loneliness in order for Schrader himself not to become that man. And it clearly struck a nerve with the public. The audience of 1976 didn’t crowd around that film with evangelical fanfare because it was simply a well-executed puppet show, only serving us piecemeal entertainment. But who’s to say where the sustained reverence comes from—is it just a necessary and immanent thing to proclaim to everyone that you saw, and you “absolutely loved it!”, no different from posting artfully stained selfies in front of The Starry Night and gloating confessions about how moved it you? You may as well accost every stranger you can on the street, gushing about Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup cans, saying you saw them once…and they’re a-mazing!

Schrader and Mamet agree on this: the arts haven’t changed, but the audience has. Schrader’s 2017 environmental-noir film, First Reformed, received comparable critical accolades to Taxi Driver, and is almost mandatorily a more important film, but it came and went, failing to constitute a wider dialogue about faith and environmental stewardship. I happened to read Mamet’s Theatre before sitting down to write this, in which he states that when he was in acting school in New York more than fifty years ago, there were seventy-two new Broadway plays produced. Half of the forty-three plays in 2009—when he wrote the book—were revivals. Most of the modern art museums today are filled with the abstract expressionists of the 1950’s rather than any new, crusading work that fundamentally changes how we see the world.

I have asked myself this innumerable times as a painter—in the lonely, alcohol-soaked hours of the night, hunched in front the twisted splinters of an easel: what am I actually painting for? Should there be a cultural, topical relevancy, or does all anyone want is glorified hotel art? An expensive ejaculation smeared in the confines of a framed rectangle, arranged so guests can gawk at, eat their rotten cheese, letting the chihuahua lick their hand. Picasso’s Guernica inserted itself into the real world, where war, starvation, rape, general hell exists. But what does one do today, without achieving only inevitable triteness, or just being ignored? Thomas Cole painted The Course of Empire, a five-painting-series on the cyclical propensity for the rise and fall of civilizations, a masterpiece of millenarian form, foreboding the circus of bile and cruelty. It should be studied, and painted again a thousand times.

The timescale represented in the five paintings span over many centuries, perhaps millennia. They’re also single flashes over the course of a day—the rising of the morning sun in the first painting, The Savage State, where man consists of just a few subjects in an otherwise verdant, all-consuming landscape. The sun draws higher in The Arcadian or Pastoral State, where boat-building and the herding of sheep frequent a scene that is still dominated by nature. The third frame, The Consummation of Empire, at high noon, is a towering broadcast with obvious resemblance to Greek and Roman civilizations. All the human achievement collapses in Destruction, where a statue of a headless soldier careens forward with a broken shield. The city around him is burning; women are being brutalized and raped; men killed; and somehow, a child’s toy boat forcibly sunk. The day finally settles into the dreary cycle of return, as the full moon sinks back under the horizon in the last of the series, Desolation. The tangled ivies and clumping herds of trees are finally swallowing man’s phallic landmarks to himself; his bridges and temples how just crumbling relics, mere mineral deposits for mosses and lichens to slowly suck on. Birds have returned, nesting atop the lone column standing in the foreground.

Of course we have our own markers today—this week, this month, this presidency—that make the series seem like a relevant scrying stone. Yes, of course, Donald Trump is what is causing the collapse of our sacred American system, is the guttural temptation, like a pavlovian scapegoat that we can blame all our degeneracies one. But it’s always been. Thomas Cole was responding to Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party carrying out their Manifest Destiny and its slaughter of the so-called savage state. Our corrupted history, our original sin. The innumerable frames not included between The Arcadian or Pastoral State and The Consummation of Empire also necessarily include these same scenes that are shown in Destruction. An American empire built on the backs of slaves, corralling the natives into ever-tightening, sordid paddocks of spoiled land. And Thomas Cole was surely aware of this. The cyclical theory of history spins into rapidly dizzying circles the more you look at history, the more localized and personal you trace the origins of wealth and plunder.

It’s everywhere. Of the five mass extinctions on this earth (most ecologists say we’re causing the sixth), between seventy-five and ninety-five percent of life was wiped out during each one—a near return to the origins of biological life, like a cosmic intervention that decides it’s going to start all over again and try something completely different. This time, we humans are roleplaying the astroid or the sun flare or the unstoppable plague. We have always sort of fetishized the end of the world, building billion dollar cinematic franchises to pawn off a bleak garbage munching future as something to look forward to. A romanticized version of roughened heroes battling their way through fields of angry holograms, limping pigeons, general anarchy.

The Course of Empire was created between 1833 and 1836, a time of seemingly relative innocence compared to our present-day frat party of an existence, the spongey, vomit-soaked legacy of our privileged upbringing, the mess of humanity more resembling the binary fission of some mutant cannibalizing bacteria. Today, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have repositioned the Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight (the nearest to self-annihilation it’s ever been, including this same time, positioned in 1953). It’s been maintained since 1947, when a devastating nuclear exchange was the only global threat possible to take place. Now, it includes climate change, and the innumerable threats that it includes, from decades-long drought, to flooding of major cities, to wars over dwindling resources, to billionaires clutching onto power with private armies, to the release of zombie viruses thawing in the permafrost. Clearly none of this was a concern when Thomas Cole created his series. The time of Cole was Walt Whitman and Henry Thoreau—a splendorous dance of garlands, a big gay festival of erudition. It’s not what we typically think of as fodder of forewarning to our self-destruction. Nevertheless, he was aware that our death drive merely took different forms, that it doesn’t matter how we kill ourselves, because we’ll always be thinking of new, more inventive ways to do it.

Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, and his most recent, Enlightenment Now, make the case that life in general is vastly improving over the course of our domain—that our pessimism about ourselves is more generally a self-indulgent fad. It’s cooler to pontificate some Nietzchean quip of how we’re all fucked as you smoke an American Spirit cigarette you rolled all by yourself, than to look at the encyclopedic data of why things are actually improving, why poverty, violent crime, rape, war, domestic violence, have all declined dramatically over time. And yet, still, clearly we are fucked. The consummation of misery as a ubiquitous norm may have improved; but the extent of our death drive has drowned out these superficial improvements. Killing the ecological backbone necessary for our survival—the bugs and weird bacteria in the jungle—is far more creative, psychoanalytically, than the direct slaughter of each other. War by machete still happens of course, but our death drive has evolved to outwit these antiquated ways, like a horror of mist and function that turns these hellish moth-eaten tweeds to dust.

What is happening in The Consummation of Empire that leads inevitably to the swirling chaos and misery depicted in the next panel, Destruction? Nothing is out of the ordinary: a velvet-robed king is ushered across the bridge by an enormous flock of supporters; an opulent fountain spurts its excess. Children play in its shores, splashing, pushing toy boats. Unbeknownst to them, disaster looms. It will all morph into an inferno of self-destruction, as if we are administering, perhaps unwittingly, the cyclical theory of history through periodic extinctions and new beginnings.

And here, today, at least from my vantage point, nothing is out of the ordinary. The scientific consensus may be that we have triumphantly fucked ourselves for good, but there’s nothing obvious, nothing experientially that demonstrates it such. I’m drinking a foamy latte in a sunny outdoor patio, as every other wannabe prophet of cool writes their screenplays around me. A generation raised by pornstars singing karaoke; the slow drip of dopamine easing everything to a gradual acceptance. I’m headed to surf at Malibu once I finish this piece; herds of others are performing their iterations of the same. And yet, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity stated that up to 150 species are lost every day. An ecological genocide that makes Rwanda look acquiescent, every single day; and most of us who are privileged enough to choose not to notice carry on with a passive awareness at best, our dicks shoved in some glory hole of philosophic pretension.

Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, published fifteen years before the first of Cole’s Empire paintings, famously depicted man’s will to life as the source of all our suffering. The possession of more things serves only as the representation of happiness, and quenches the Will ephemerally, this momentary escape soon evaporating like a fart on the windy ocean shores. The insatiable Will makes Destruction and Desolation inevitable. Schopenhauer thought that man’s dismissal of any reasonable stewardship of nature was a guarantor of our general moral collapse.

If Cole painted his series today, it would be ignored. Schopenauer would be ignored. Because First Reformed was ignored, the mass of attention given to the masturbatory ennui of A Star is Born and Bohemian fucking Rhapsody. Schrader strongly believes we are beyond saving ourselves, that we’ve catapulted passed every tipping point, and there’s no turning it back the other way. But he still makes films. He may be a bitter, angry doomsdayer, but he still lectures on filmmaking, teaching young storytellers how to be better, more effective in their craft. David Mamet believes everything is fine, and we should just carry more guns and let Israel conquer the entire Middle East, but he still writes drama, dosing the world with magnified versions of ourselves. That’s all we can hope to do—as an audience, to pay a little more attention, for attention’s sake; and as artists, to lash whatever wands we have, to let the world putter through us, and see what we can make of it.

Self-Help and the Cult of Banality

Pop Culture, Satire and Cynicism

(originally published in 2015)

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night. -Dylan Thomas

The operation runs smoothly. Hundreds of Chinese child laborers sit hunched over on the cold concrete basement floor, the florescent lights flickering, each of the children scribbling hundreds of inspirational quotes per day. The skittering of a cockroach is heard, and the sudden heartless thud of a stiletto stabs the thing in the center, a white paste oozing out onto the shivering floor. Tony Robbins—motivational speaker extraordinaire—stands over the children, pacing the aisles in his stripper heels, his whip dragging on the floor beside him. Only the sound of frantic scribbling can be heard, along with Tony Robbins’ heels clicking on the impenetrable callousness beneath him. His thin porno mustache twitches. He opens his mouth, white saliva pooling at the corners of his lips, making a smutty moist sound as it smacks open, and he booms, “MAKE MEEEE MONAYYYYYY!!!”  And the little children scribble furiously. “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped,” one bucktoothed boy writes. “We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish,” a five year old with a bowl cut and a runny nose, writes.

This place was a fortune cookie factory for years, with the same child laborers previously scribbling good common sense and lotto numbers, but Tony Robbins highjacked the place years ago, and uses the kids to write his books. He’s worth $480 million, and suffers from illiteracy and adulthood ugliness. But over the years, he’s inspired millions to buy his books and pay for his courses and motivational lectures on how to become rich. It’s something the Cult of Scientology excels at, convincing throngs of boorishly inept humans to give the institution all their money to become free from all their problems.

There have been countless others before Robbins, promising you heaven, health, love, money, tits, happiness. There was Robert Tilton, the famous televangelist, who’s demographic was predominately old women in the American South and Midwest with only a high school education and an average income of between $15,000 and $25,000. Tilton raked in $80 million a year from contributions, one hundred percent tax free. Discovered in a Primetime special in 1990, donations and pleas for prayer didn’t go to Tilton at all, but rather straight to his bank, depositing the money directly and tossing the personal letters into the dumpster behind the bank. There’s Creflo Dollar, another MegaChurch pastor, who started a fundraising campaign to buy a $65 million private jet. There’s Kenneth Copeland, who used his private jet not to preach, but to ski and hunt and kill endangered animals. But Tilton, Dollar, and Copeland used and use religion as their face, pandering to the incorrigible stolid masses in order to lift themselves from their flaccid arrangements of manhood. What Tony Robbins has accomplished is a mastery over the vulnerable without using religion. The philosophia perennis generalized for any woman or man.

You don’t need to listen that closely to realize they are selling you dog shit wrapped in Reynolds wrap. But then again, men like Robbins are attracting tens of millions of people to their bro-ish fallow theater. You have to wonder why he keeps coming out with books promising you these are the steps to your financial freedom, as opposed to his previous ones. Tony Robbins is the high priest of all the others. There is Tai Lopez, a pubic-bearded general of sexless adulthood, showing you his Lambourghuini (which turned out to be a rental) in his garage, next to his “seven new book shelves” of two thousand new books appropriately also in his garage. Because I always go to my garage when I need a new book. He reads a book a day, because  .  .  .  because he reads good. He quotes Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, (who was also a charged rapist), and tells you to remain an optimist, that optimism will eventually get you your new Lambo.

Then there is Lewis Howes, a regular guy who still dreams of being a high school jock, who played two games of arena football before breaking his wrist, thus ending his career. He starred on my college’s football team, a Division III Christian Science school who lost to the worst college football team in the country. He called up a girl I know very well, and asked her to buy him a plane ticket to fly him out to see her so he could fuck her. And he recently made the New York Times Bestseller list with his book about how to be great. It’s called the School of Greatness. In his highlighted Facebook video, he teaches you the ten best ways to make money on the internet: 1) teaching and training. 2) providing a service. 3) creating and selling a product. These are his top three, in his words. The androgynous auto-objectification of such a vaguely non-comedic skit, along with the brittle hysteria of telling someone the best way to make money is to make something and sell it, is so horridly adolescent, so mockingly stupid and obvious, you ought to punch a male stripper in the dick. You can purchase an hour conference call with Lewis for $497. I have $14 to my name and a pack of condoms I got for free at Planned Parenthood. A kid from my college bought thirty copies of his book, like a lost evangelical, passing out copies to homeless people at the airport. I just don’t know anymore. Here at Paradise of Storm headquarters, we know the importance of intellectual bravery. Last week, someone found my blog by searching for “throbbing dick.” Another found it by searching for “rob palm oil with penis before fucking besides a dead man in my home town.” Another was “iggy azalea yoga pants fit a little too well naked.” I pride my readers in asking about the big issues, and together we try to nudge ourselves closer to the answers.

On the other hand, I am as much a follower as anyone. We idolize women and men of sun. Over the years, I’ve passed through phases of literary idolatry, pretending to shadow the brazen obsessions for beauty that was lived by the likes of Rimbaud and Celine and Baudelaire and Thompson. I’ve mimicked all their writing styles, drunk and drugged away endless nights, slept with as many women as I could, in some sort of vague pedantic discipleship of the great men who also put pretty words together. I began sailing strictly because of Hemingway. At one point I began writing standing up, slamming away on my typewriter, allowing the breeze to blow through the curtains and across my chest, certain that if this is how Hemingway did it, then so could I. But there is a justified egotism in our ubiquitous want for recognition. A ballet dancer could never merely dance in her bedroom. A singer could never sing to himself. And a writer strains to earn his or her laurels. The ephemeral orgasms in the daily struggle. As a young writer, Hunter S. Thompson would type out the entirety of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises over and over, just to feel what it was like to write masterpieces. When we realize we’re not becoming the sports stars and the rock stars that we first imagined we’d become, we turn to more achievable men. Bankers. Writers. Politicians. Alcoholics.

But then there are Lifestyle Entrepreneurs. Motivational speakers. Social Media experts. The smarmy inbred tanning salon men who sell snake oil on the internet. They write self-help books and host podcasts, with hundreds of thousands of listeners paying for subscriptions, writing notes on how to make it rich. They use phrases like, “Your life is your message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring,” with a picture of a footpath winding through a sodden morning forest. Or “Your greatness is not what you have, it’s what you give,” scribbled casually over the sepia stained silhouettes of girls twirling their hair. The magniloquence of their egodystonicity is something from the bowels of poetry  .  .  .  a vague enough catch-phrase stolen from a bunch of fortune cookies. They are the actual vampirish cult leaders of the modern age. Their horoscopic forgery is basic enough to inspire misandry. They steal the insanity from the beautiful. Until there is nothing but a bow tie and a forced smile. We need the gorgeous and the awful, the theater of wilderness and rage. Woman and man will always have a bowl of porridge in the drought, a last glimmering maxim that shines beyond the distance.

In Kant’s What Is Enlightenment? he describes man’s inability to free himself from the herd, from his timid nonage that prevents him from maturing into his hypothetically innate state as Übermensch. Man’s craving for instruction. Craving for “laziness and cowardice.” Kant quotes the Roman poet, Horace: Sapere aude! Dare to know! Dare to be wise! It’s a challenge for bravery, to walk into the unknown night without Tony Robbins holding your hand. Enlightenment, freedom, wisdom, knowledge itself, is the courage to find the beautiful alone, to shiver in the silver strands, to rage and rage until the sky burns spectacle.

‘Cold War’ and the Campaign for Identity

Current Events, Film, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

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by Guy Walker

It begins with optimism rising out of the rubble. Wiktor Warski, played by Tomasz Kot, and his colleague Irena (Agata Kulesza) begin as ethnomusicologists, touring Poland’s post-War ramshackled bourgs, its residents doughtily croaking out their best attempts of favorite songs they grew up learning. It’s a designated attempt to categorize and resuscitate the most deserving marks of a Polish identity, to modernize its quaintest musical traditions for a well-founded pride, like an endangered language that is then broadcasted for others to notice its potency. Country peasants are recruited to audition, baited to step out of their lives of slop and moth-eaten tweeds, and earn a spot with the newly formed national folk ensemble, learn choreographed song and dance numbers that best represent their musical heritage.

It’s important, briefly, to frame this in the context of the cannibalistic depression of the Cold War, and what it meant for cultural identity. The Youtube channel, Cuck Philosophy, presents absorbing and well-informed videos that typically analyze elements of pop culture through some applicable philosophical lens: “Hegelian Recognition and Incels;” “The Late Capitalism of K-Pop.” Or more generally, on what makes Jordan Peterson so wrong about postmodernism, which, although satisfying to watch, still requires watching Peterson squeal and whimper about Derrida’s Notion of the Centre, as he’s seemingly always on the edge of bursting into tears, his bones crumbling like saltine crackers, his hair pomaded with Crisco so a curling head-pube dangles somewhere around his forehead, trying to look whimsical. But there’s another important video that analyzes the rise of World Music in the context of the end of the Cold War and the proceeding spread of neoliberalism. When the Berlin Wall fell, it was thought by many as the final stage in our collective sociocultural evolution, that Western liberal democracy had finally claimed victory, such presumption paraphrased neatly in Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. Not that different from the First World War considered to be the war to end all wars. Much the same was believed about the Second World War. But, when much of the West’s identity was built around iterations of being “better dead than red,” and defending themselves against the insufferable Red Menace, shuffling out products of a political industry dependent on fear of the Other, the West spiraled into something resembling an identity crisis.

Much of the entertainment industry is sanctioned and propelled by careful state propaganda. Casablanca is widely regarded as the highest form of this, energizing the United States’ citizenry to join the war. In it, Rick begins as an isolationist, preferring to drink and play chess alone, declaring he “stick[s] [his] neck out for nobody,” which in turn is replied as “a wise foreign policy.” But by the end of the film, he guns down a Nazi Major, and helps the resistance leader escape with his own true love. The high artfulness of it though, is that you don’t notice you are being gently coaxed into the dutiful patriotism of going to war, because it’s woven neatly into stories of love and loss, and the velvety throes of self-worship. Remember the Duck and Cover film of 1951, featuring a cartoon of Bert the Turtle tactfully dropping inside his shell when a bomb goes off. Or any of the innumerable films throughout the Cold War that painted the human embodiment of American values succeeding above the gnarled corruption of the Soviet Union.

Cuck Philosophy’s video, “Neoliberalism, World Music, and Corporate Aesthetics,” describes a West void of identity after the end of the Cold War, scrambling like a trust fund teenager trying to find what he’s actually good at, his pimples erupting like snow-capped mountains, his fortune already splayed out in front of him, maids and servants doing everything for him. In this quest, is something inevitable—certain corners of the popular culture returning to some putrid resemblance of the past, something so desperate to look authentic and worldly. As far music, there’s no longer the necessity of the Sex Pistols or Black Sabbath, no chorus of rebellion that in turn find its meaning. Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight” was about the Doomsday Clock during the Cold War that reached that same grim hour, edging towards certain global annihilation. (With the triumphant collision of climate change and the revival of the arms race, the Clock has since returned to this same time.) But with no culturally ubiquitous fear of some ghoulish ungodly people, ours was an “aesthetics of a return to ‘simplicity’ and ‘purity’ represented by third world countries,” as described by Cuck Philosophy. The video tells of ethnomusicologist Hugo Zemp, who recorded a lullaby by a woman named Afunakwa, from the Solomon Islands near Papua New Guinea, which in turn was released by fusion band Deep Forest, and then on to many other corporate commercials. Through the meandering desperations to come across as indigenously literate, the song became known as a Pygmy melody, obviously a gross misrepresentation of where it actually came from.

In Cold War, Wiktor’s initial group who sing and dance traditional Polish songs are then instructed to integrate songs praising their country’s love of Stalin, the renegotiated purpose and identity now a stalwart propaganda. But later, Wiktor has his own identity crisis. After fleeing, and living in Paris for years, he tries to return to Poland to chase after his love, Zula. In what is presumed the Polish embassy in Paris, he is reminded he is neither Polish nor French. Frankly, they tell him, he doesn’t exist. In Paris, he plays piano numbers in the smoke-whipped amour of Parisian jazz clubs, caressing neatly into the finally realized fantasy of falling in love with a beautiful French poet, Juliette—to some of our sentimental prejudices, this achieves the highest romance, so much a cliché it somehow becomes reasonable. But writer-director Pawel Pawilowski only acknowledges their relationship. It’s mentioned, but we barely see Wiktor and his French lover together. It’s a relationship that would have been enough to fill three Godard films, or any other heavily stylized piece of masturbatory nostalgia. It’s something the immigration delegate, or ambassador, asks Wiktor: why would you want to leave? But love is the corruptive madness that would rather ruin us all than let us be together. Once, after getting broken up with, I drove through a snowstorm with broken windows rolled halfway down and no heater for seventeen hours to watch her dance in a ballet, only to be rejected again, finally driving home in the flaccid pain and dehydration, my only food being old wind-scabbed cookies from a rest stop vending machine. It’s horrible, and yet, everyone has a similar story. It connects us. We occasionally divulge these stories with one another for a bit of comically disguised sympathy; or rather, like old men bragging about the size of a fish they once caught, the most of us crow on and on with one another about who acted the stupidest amidst the intoxicated blur of heartbreak. Wiktor on the other hand, took it a step further, returning to Poland and thus being sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor at a prison camp. We don’t see much of the camp, but we nevertheless ask ourselves, more than viewers, the same: why did you leave Paris? You left a world of maple, lace-veiled tits, the velveteen ennui saturated in the heart of cosmopolitan magnetism, and traded it for a bomb-blasted hellworld, everything gross and stupid wrapped in wreaths of barbed wire.

Zula, sitting on Wiktor’s lap at the prison camp’s visiting room, as they kiss and cry in each other’s arms, remarked the rhetorically blunt question: what have we done? She was never really smitten with the overly-confident pretension of Paris. And he couldn’t live there without her. But surely, anything was better than this—his broken and swollen fingers zigzagging their way to resemble a far worse condition than the rickety men singing their best in the beginning of the film.

In their own way, Wiktor and Zula were resistance fighters, pushing back against state tyranny. But the music Zula made in Paris, with Wiktor, wasn’t her music. She called them bastard songs, without a fatherland she loved. At its simplest, Pawel Pawlikowski described Cold War as an intimate story told in a big world—an old fashioned love story where it was possible to look across the room and fall in love. We don’t have that opportunity today, he continued, because we’ve been playing an endless game of Hot or Not on our phones, staring down into oblivion as true love may be walking right by our real-life gaze. We’ve lost our own identities, searching in the blaze of madness for something to love. Cold War, maybe, is about it being right there all along.

A Future Squatting Amongst Stars

Current Events, Philosophy, Satire and Cynicism, Uncategorized

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by Guy Walker

Like a resurrected god emerging from cobwebs and gold, the tottering heroisms that only existed as lore are then redressed in the milky fog, conspiring with pigs, their buckled snorts are now for everyone to sing like prophecy.

The future is a cruel vampish remark of ourselves, either too self-complimentary of our abilities, or too elaborate in its cynicism that it’s somehow made exciting. The real monomania of man is straddling time as it hurls towards some far more theatrical hellworld, like Major King Kong riding the bomb towards global annihilation in Dr. Strangelove. We devour any new hypothesis about what the future will look like. Most are grim: men cloaked in shredded ponchos sifting through the ashen garbage of a bomb-blasted city; an all-consuming eyeball watching its slave-citizens exert their last breaths in some menial chore, when they open the mail, how much sugar they spoon into their government-regulated coffee, rationing bathroom breaks into paranoid gasps under a permanent gray sky. It’s no longer called “going to the bathroom”; instead, it’s just squatting in the minefield, shitting poisoned gumdrops into gofer holes, ducking under the propellers of crowded drone highways. Or, we envisage paradise: glowing diodes scaled in pink flesh, the libidinal Turing test coaxing millions of penises upward like miniaturized dancing tube men you see outside gas stations. Our willingness to submit ourselves to the fantasy of being controlled by AI sex demons is enough to fund clinical research into the ubiquity of our madness, a race gorging itself on a five million gallon tub of popcorn, swimming in bubble baths of Diet Coke, the half-chewed corpse of our animal selves left to die in the expanding sun.

There’s never stories of a flourishing utopia where citizens enjoy fortunes of wine and gold-leafed genitals. It’s not because stories need conflict to be deserving of telling, but rather because we all know the future is already haunted by our collective stain. “Utopia,” of course, originally translates as “nowhere” or “no place” from the Greek and Latin. The term was coined by Thomas More for a book in 1516, about an imaginary island that could never realistically exist. Because humanity is a marching band of rabies and excrement, parading our predestined death drive for everything to touch.

The Earth isn’t enough for us. We were never really meant to stay here after all, we tell ourselves. We have to expand up and out into the cosmic arena, the future suddenly become the present.

Isaac Asimov penned a piece thirty-five years ago for The Star, predicting what the world would look like today in 2019, the same timeframe from when Orwell wrote 1984, in 1949. Another pointless stream of musings by a science fiction writer, perhaps, electing himself as another voice in the orgiastic industry of fortunetellers hunched over their gleaming orbuculums. His mangled and teased sideburns curling every which way, like human velcro strips, antennas that were meant to signal his way back to the alien ship he wanted so desperately to exist. You can almost picture him, not stroking his chin like true learned men do, but rubbing the furry islands on his cheeks, one set of pointed fingers in each nest, so as to think doubly hard.

The essay is short and yet somehow achieves a grander more bestial form of tedium. He makes brief nods that the burdens of overpopulation and pollution would be “strenuous,” and at worst, “painful” to overcome, but after what amounted to a woefully self-evident position that anyone who paid any attention to the course of current events could come up with, he roared on to what you’d expect only a sci-fi writer gorging on his most reasonable conceits would write. By 2019, he predicted, we’ll have vast space colonization efforts under way, expanding solar power stations on other planets and microwaving unlimited amounts of solar energy back to Earth. An “international force” will be mining the moon and taking it to “places in space” in order to manufacture the soil into the structures we’ll then send into orbit around the Earth.

The gloating vagueness of what new undetermined spacecraft will be manufactured from the ashen rubble on the moon only illustrates that people like Asimov never really had a plan to begin with. It’s just getting closer to resembling the Jetsons without thinking what it’s all for.

Computers will revolutionize the education system, he continued, and therefore, “Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” His predictions were more optimistic than nearly anyone else who scribed their tellings, more than the self-assumptive powers of George Orwell who stated 1984 was a warning if we weren’t careful. More than Aldous Huxley who thought we’d degenerate because we enjoyed sex too much. Asimov wrote over 500 books, and around 90,000 letters, an expulsion of mostly awful fantasies exceeded only by the likes of L. Ron Hubbard. If you write that much, you are simply ravenous, your nostrils dilating like a bulls, your retinas clogged with surfaced arteries, beads of sweat squeezing through every pore. When hearing of Kerouac’s writing style, Truman Capote commented, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” But Asimov didn’t even type; he leaned over stacks of paper that were spread out randomly and stuck his fist down his throat, waterfalls of words spilling haphazardly onto the pages, books less sensical than Jack Torrance just repeating the same sentence over and over ten thousand times in The Shining.

There is something obviously maniacal and self-loathing in our proclivities for some undetermined future. And Asimov may be an easy example of the boyish fatuity to leave this plane of banality in exchange for something much more colorful and exciting, but Elon Musk wants the same thing—he just goes about it in more adept ways. Carl Sagan wanted the same. Stephen Hawking. All those who indulge in altered states of consciousness are doing the same thing. Consuming highly powerful psychedelics like DMT isn’t really about any spiritual endeavor; it’s about rocketing yourself to the ninth dimension in an instant just because you can, because eating ramen and driving to work and jerking off to the same dreary image of a bleached asshole, and everything else is the same fist-clenching tedium we’ve been forever trying to escape.

Our economy on Earth relies on people continuing to buy meaningless shit, selling advertisements on Youtube for underwater headphones, while you wait for a video to load of a raccoon playing with a Made-In-China plastic toy. It’s too crowded here, with the voluntary onslaught of linoleum and styrofoam and dog hotels and signs pointing every direction at once. Outer space is the frozen empty void, Arena Todestrieb where human-engineered ballast phalluses cartwheel for two hundred years, the whole crew cryogenically frozen, as the distant whirring and periodic beeps sink away into a deathless midnight; and they’re doing this simply because this is the new frontier.

We speak of frontier enthusiastically, in the way our dead incest-advocate great great grandparents spoke of Manifest Destiny, that it was justified and foreordained. Even the eminent sun-tendrilled poet Walt Whitman, who wrote at length of the indelible handsomeness of nature and her things, pardoned the chugging pogrom of the natural world in his Pioneers! O Pioneers!, one of the most celebrated iconic poems of the American West: We primeval forests felling, We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within, We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving, Pioneers! O pioneers! We can’t help but plunder the untouched edges of the world, until the American West is finally completed as it was always meant to be, into one gargantuan neon shopping mall, the florescent tube lights buzzing off the polished floors like marble, runny-nosed children stretching their fingers out for another ice cream, the whole mad slippery empire swallowing up the moon, and then Mars, and then forever beyond.

Mars One is a private Dutch company of four people, pledging to colonize Mars by the 2030’s, turning the whole red-stained circus into the ultimate reality show, literally. They’re planning to send regular folk up there, so they can shuffle around like penguins on the deserted planet, seeing how long they can survive before the lonely mania sets in, before they start ripping their spacesuits off and running into the frozen landscape, naked and free at last. It has been broadly criticized as a suicide mission by the aerospace industry; and yet still, the proposed mission recruited interest from more than 200,000 people, all knowing it’s self-described as a one-way trip, just so their Real World vacation can be filmed and beamed back to Earth for our viewing pleasure. It’s the ultimate death drive. Our collective vanity perspiring into a dribbling goo, so that we were on some television sets for a few hours.

Even though SpaceX rejected Mars One’s proposal to be a part of their mission, Elon Musk also wants to die on Mars. He’s certain this planet isn’t big enough for him. The dull terraqueous hubris of nature isn’t even enough to tickle the poets—the spindly greenery suitable only for animals and peasants who still succumb to their sublunary programming. When Musk first steps off the grated ramp, and sinks his feet into the bloodshot soil, he will laugh, having successfully left one dead planet for another. It doesn’t matter what happens next—how many steps he takes like a stumbling newborn, where and how he finally falls, hugging a rock, gasping his last breaths. The point is it’ll be a return to nothingness—the whole mission a huge success in returning the human species to the rest of the dumb impartial emptiness of the universe, to the infinity of nothingness, turning back the evolutionary clock on ourselves, until before we were apes, before the first fish and microbes, before the first squiggling turds of existence, until all that’s left of us is a fading stain across the glittering mosaic of the cosmos.

There is a very real possibility we are the most intelligent and technologically advanced beings in the universe. Even though 80-100% of stars are predicted to have planets orbiting them, and an approximate 20% of those planets are thought to be in the Goldilocks zone, where life is prone to take place, there is no built-in impassioned drive towards intelligent life. With the innumerable elemental factors in place, we don’t know the odds of life going from slime on the warming shores to space-whizzing humans, but that number could be so low that we’re the only ones for now. And yet we’ve persisted in replacing the death of God with the absolute conviction that aliens visit us on a regular basis. My otherwise intelligent colleague was just recently convinced aliens put us all here, and is controlling us by having us invent smartphones for our own distraction—not all that different a theory from the Scientologists. The so-called New Atheists—Dawkins, Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, et al.—miscalculated their burden to convince the masses to abandon their silly creeds. The challenge wasn’t that we wouldn’t know where to get our morals from, but that we would then select from the library of daydreams to replace them instead of fostering the sterility of empiricism. Even amongst a serious scientific community, programs like Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are endearing iterations of our failure to be alone, our trembling fear of the dark.

But our collective fixation to leave this cannibalizing orgy and begin anew somewhere else was no worse depicted than in the 2014 epic Interstellar, a convulsive meltdown of narrative in which humanity must scramble to discover and colonize a new planet before being ravaged by an unexplained error in our crop yields. We are yanked from this planet with still many signs of life, the diversity of biomes great enough to guarantee nature’s resiliency, and travel through other dimensions, looking to settle on another dead ice rock. It doesn’t follow a sensical narrative because nearly the entire genre of futuristic sci-fi doesn’t follow standard cogency. And here we are, in real life, trying to mimic sci-fi’s worst aspects, pursuing technological feats “because we can,” because we’ve seen Kubrick’s flying bone turn into a space shuttle too many times, and we construct that as our toolmaking destiny, still masturbating our collective selves to the perceived nobility in JFK’s quip of going to the moon because “it is hard.”

In our temptation to draw out some picture of the future we either fear or hope for, we do best when at the very least we stay on this planet. The future is never epic when it is arrived upon; it’s the fantasy of it that entices us again and again to spend our time and money consuming it like a porno vision of tomorrow.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was directly inspired by 1984, even though Gilliam admitted he never read the book. The concept of dystopia is attractive enough; the details will fill themselves in after the fact. It’s tempting to compare the whole lot of futuristic books and films and the like, and idolize the most accurate and likely, the thought being with enough guesses eventually someone will get it right. And Brazil is probably the most rigorous and faultless in regard to its social aspects, at least for the time. It’s stylized humor is not actually humor and not actually stylized, but just a form of observant note taking; the most absurd accounts now looking more like accurate depictions of our present-day ennui. In Brazil, the rich stretch their faces tight with saran wrap and wear leopard-printed high-heels on their heads; we inject our asses with a toxic clotting fluid, and lay in tinfoil sleeping bags binge watching other sci-fi possibilities, imagining ourselves on another frozen rocky frontier, through another dimension, far more lonely than this one here.

We already lost the future. Now, all that’s left to fix is the present, or what we have left of it. Climate change, nuclear annihilation, never-before-seen inequality, more and more military-clad despots who sneer like baboons with opposing jeweled grills—these realities won’t go away with never-ending prophecies and productions. They won’t go away if we try to get away, to other deserts on other planets. The real life strata of decay will follow us like a shadow, until we fix it here amongst ourselves, on this lonely island bobbing in empty space.