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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‘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.

Mid90s is the Beginning and Ending of Our Lives

Current Events, Film, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

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by Guy Walker

Growing up in Los Angeles in the mid nineties was supposed to be a time of perspiring boredom. There was no Great War to protest against, no major cultural upheaval, no new mind-expanding drugs to try. There was just the day-to-day unfolding monotony of being a kid, wading through the creamy smog the way grandmothers swim, swinging lunch pails, conceding that yo-yos and Pokémon were scenes of glamour and social footing.

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s, observes so much more than the fragmented trademarks of growing up in this strange and passionless orgy—the standardized confusion of slang, the Teenage Ninja Turtles ubiquity, the stapled fortresses bunched together into a barren and broken purlieu. Most representations of the nineties serve more like they were accruements of nostalgia organized neatly on the fireplace mantle. And within the context of skateboarding (as well as surfing and snowboarding), Hollywood has never achieved anything worthwhile. For the most part, these types of films have come across as one blurred and contrived iteration of Dazed and Confused, which in itself was feigned nostalgia.

What makes Mid90s the delicate masterpiece that it is, is our own obsession with authenticity. We’ll scour endless hours of interview footage and Twitter feeds to find a person’s single public stumble, and confidently write them off as a counterfeit icon. Jonah Hill rightly stated that a single Kowabunga! in a film that’s really only peripherally about skateboarding would disembowel the whole work, lump it along with the rest of the ridiculous genre.

But there’s none of this caricaturized glee. Thirteen-year-old Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic, comes from a moderately broken home—with a single mother, and an older brother who beats on him, he turns to a new group of friends. He stops watching movies with his mom; he starts smoking cigarettes, and drinking forties in the bathroom in order to catch up with the older kids; he’s deflowered in a sense, vaunting his success of fingering a girl for the first time. But Mid90s is a return to innocence. The resounding meliorism in Hill’s picture is finding family outside one’s own, in the ramshackled guardians who roam around like us, searching for some invocation of purpose. It seems negligible at times to try to pontificate on why a film is so successful in its delivery, in how it was molded over four years into its nice 84-minute package of what it means to grow up in a broken home. And maybe this was unintended. Director Paul Thomas Anderson said it was only well after he completed Boogie Nights did he realize it was about family—about finding it in the most unexpected places.

The return to innocence is what drives so much of the American adult narrative. It’s why so many of us have children, so we can vicariously relive life’s gleaming optimism through our children’s eyes. The innocence is summarized neatly in a scene when Fuckshit, a rhapsodic long-haired skater a few years older than Stevie, played by Olan Prenatt, explains to a genuinely engrossed homeless man about why they skateboard all day: “[It’s] why we ride a piece of wood—like, what that does to somebody’s spirit.” If an adult uttered those words, we could aptly scoff at their own self-indulgence; but the unprompted candidness of the young is what makes it good and true. That same scene was inspired by a moment just before the end credits in Plan B’s 1993 skate video, Virtual Reality, when one of the skaters sings along to Here Comes The Sun with a homeless man playing on his guitar. There was no mockery, no escaped abuse; just a moment of genuine kinship for the streets.

Because the treatment of the homeless and of skaters at the time were similar. Especially a young black man like Na-kel Smith who plays Ray, the oldest and most talented of the group, who occasionally nudges Stevie in a direction that an older brother or father should. He offers gentle encouragements that could only have been learned from his own time living and falling.

Mid90s has been compared much with the 1995 classic, Kids, for the obvious superficial similarities. Kids is about a day in the life of a group of New York City teenagers, their experimentation with dirty words, their required exaggerations of those novel sexual exploits, when every kiss and touch of a nipple felt like Rocky Balboa’s celebration at the top of the stairs. But as accurate as the youth’s depiction in Kids may have been, it was the product of generational cynicism, a sort of updated Reefer Madness that terrified parents on every friendless cul-de-sac than it did inspire more of an introspective art form. The similarities are there: Telly, the main teenage stalwart of awkwardness, intones to his friend about virgins. “I love ‘em. No diseases, no loose as a goose pussy, no skank. No nothin. Just pure pleasure.” It’s two excruciating hours of this. Watching it today, you don’t cringe for him and his clumsy gloating, but for yourself. We remember when this was the way it was—a collective effort of mentally inscribing the most irreverent displays from our older brothers and drunk uncles and coming to school each day as if to share our dirtiest vocal capabilities, gluing “pussy” with “cocksucker” with “your mom” like they were loose interchangeable Scrabble pieces. There’s a moment in Mid90s when Stevie first steps foot in the Motor Avenue skate shop, where he glimpses from behind a t-shirt rack at the private dialogue of his soon-to-be friends. They debate if they’d rather suck their dad’s dick or eat their mom out. Life or death. It’s as accurate of a moment as ever could be. Lunch hour was an endless joust of hypotheticals: would you rather break both legs or let your sister shit in your mouth. Debates that could run on for hours, fissuring our unrealized ideological confines. But there was always the bleary self-awareness that the whole thing was in jest, that life itself is just some strange ephemeral quip, fueled by waggery and drunkenness. Mid90s captured that integral lightheartedness within its dialogue that Kids didn’t.

Because at that age you’re still learning to form words, trying to croak out some meaning from your smutty orifice. As if there’s a vague awareness that we’ve only recently been weened off the teet, and our mouth is now told to perform, to interact casually and senselessly like normal adults do. Before you become a caricature of yourself, miming the sayings of pristine lawnmower American suburbia, drinking a light beer at your buddy’s bar-b-que, saying things like, “just nod your head and say she’s right,” as you all laugh together like you’ve never heard that witticism before. Mid90s is also the last hurrah of innocence before we start acting out these manufactured identities.

At its core, Mid90s is far more related to Hoop Dreams, the nearly three hour documentary that follows two inner-city Chicago teenagers, and their quest to make it into the NBA. Both films have a similar dialectic between chasing some endless victory lap of a debonair adolescence, sinking deeper into the impishness of being young and drunk forever, and pursuing the original dream of doing what you love professionally. In Hill’s film, Ray and Fuckshit begin as best friends, both with exceptional talent, who gradually drift apart amid their differing interests: Ray pursuing skating as a real, tangible career, and Fuckshit just getting more and more fucked up. This same wrestling of temptations underlies Hoop Dreams—it underlies our daily life. Every momentary lull gnawing with the beckoning of sabotage: am I going to drink more chamomile tea and finish this article, or overdose on ghb with my overweight landlord?

I was never much of a skateboarder, but I’ve surfed most of my life. And walking down the steps to the beach parking lot, there’s always the expected coven of old men, softly shuffling around the dusty blasphemous edge of the world with their shirts off, their dark brown beer-tits mummified forever by the sun, the scaled wrinkles folded over themselves. They still wear flip flops. They still ask me for pot. They still even surf on occasion. But most of all, they stand around like human seagulls, scavenging for the last morsels of cool, talking about their hippest days. It’s why a coming of age story with skateboarding serving as the glaring interest that the plot swirls around is so apt—we know this too will change, that our beloved maple-eyed protagonist lays in his hospital bed at the end of the film with two families that love him, with a myriad directions forward.

The skate documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys showed it without categorically declaring it so: the archived footage was of the Z-Boys as handsome sun-tendrilled kids; but their present day interviews were noticeably different. Stacey Peralta became a famous and respectable filmmaker, while Jay Adams slogged in and out of prison serving drug-related sentences, eventually dying at age 53. The blithe enviability of blond-haired grommets sneaking into backyard pools to skateboard disappears with old age.

Mid90s ends soon after the thwarting romance has fallen apart. These decisions are just beginning to be considered, when the audiences’ own desires for self-correction anticipates for a more comprehensive last verdict. It ends when it needs to end, before the rush of school shootings, before one or more of the friends gets addicted to meth, before the shuttering jolt into the next millennium and all its grotesque calamity. Jonah Hill lets us remember the last redeemable decade as it was, before the lights went out on us for good.

15:17 to Paris and the Banality of Valor

American military, Current Events, Film, Politics, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

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by Guy Walker

Spencer Stone wasn’t supposed to be good at anything. He was deficient in his academics, overwhelmed with sloth, obese as a child, consumed with his love for toy guns and camo. In other words, a great American in the making. He eventually joined the Air Force where he was deferential and persevering, but kept failing in the most menial tasks assigned. But then on August 21, 2015, Stone proved what he was capable of when he helped thwart a potentially bloody massacre on a Paris-bound train.

He was with with his lifelong best friends Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, traveling through Europe together, unknowingly boarding the same train car that Moroccan-born Ayoub El Khazzani was readying an attack. He armed himself in the bathroom with an assault rifle and three-hundred rounds of ammunition, a pistol, a box cutter, and no shirt, like a self-hating Rambo pantomimist, the sweaty discharge of nerves dripping from his tits. When he emerged from the toilet with gun in hands, he was immediately met with the struggle and force from another passenger, American-born Frenchman, Mark Moogalian. After much hassle, in what looked like a deadly version of musical chairs with the disheveled handing-off of guns, Moogalian was shot in the neck with the pistol, and Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos seized the weapons from Khazzani, beat his face in with the butt of the rifle, and tied him up. They nursed Moogalian’s severe neck wound until the train stopped, and French police and doctors boarded, and all order was restored.

Clint Eastwood’s new movie, The 15:17 to Paris, centers around these suspenseful moments, contextualizing the episode with a strange selection of biographical accuracy. It’s been widely reviewed as a bold, yet mostly failed experiment. By casting the real heroes as the actors, their stultifying charisma is not equatable to bad acting—necessarily, the acting can’t be bad. Criticism of their performance is instead criticism of them as self-conscious young men—a hollow pointless objection that simply says they didn’t entertain the way a real hero would. These complaints are, of course, wrong. Eastwood’s experiment is neo-Stanislavskian idealism, a higher methodology of never breaking character, a newfound commitment towards death. Our heroes will never be in another movie not because they are loathsome as actors, but because they will never be able to prepare for another role.

So, why was the movie so unbearable?

Eastwood has long made clear his political leanings. His queer imbecilic performance at the 2012 Republican National Convention, in which he delivered a stumbling hallucinatory interrogation of Barack Obama sitting in a chair, made everything he did in the future a political act. The 15:17 to Paris wasn’t just shameless military propaganda, or an advocacy of mass distribution of guns and war games for children; it was a landmark entry in the anthology of alternative facts. The single most thoughtful and literary sentence of dialogue was also its worst: my God is bigger than your statistics. It was a moment in the film when our heroes are children; they’re acting up in school, and two of the mothers are speaking privately with their sons’ teacher. She flagrantly and brashly diagnoses the children with ADD, saying they need to be medicated, subdued. The film’s commentary on the reckless haphazard medication of children could have been poignant; but Eastwood’s screenwriter, Dorothy Blyskal, instead diverts it to a gratuitous pandering to Christian conservatism. My God is bigger than your statistics is part of the defiant eulogy in Christian politics—it’s a reactionary crack that’s widely distributed in its application, saying gays are faggots, abortion is murder, war is peace, and so on, until the whole American experience is a porcelain infancy.

There’s about a twenty minutes sequence of Stone and Sadler ambling around Venice, Italy with a selfie stick, posing with the puerile occupation of “Americans in Italy.” There’s no plot here, no advancement of conflict, no foreshadowing of obstacle or goal. But in Eastwood’s obvious senility, in his dithering worship of films about strong men, in his attempt to remain modern and relevant, he inserts the selfie stick as a totem to this is what kids do these days, like a grandfather trying to stay hip with his runny-nosed grandsons: Man, this ice cream is the tits! he says, slobbering everywhere, embarrassing the world.

This has always been an illuminating hallmark of Eastwood’s. His entire career has been about re-characterizing his glory days as the elusive cowboy in the Sergio Leone films, characters that Donald Trump has purportedly idolized himself after—a trick-stopping showman who shoots from the hip and says it like it is. American Sniper was merely an episode in the gradual milk-lacquered entropy of Western heroism, the masturbatory fatigue weighing everything down with the onset of chronic blockbuster depression.

There’s a moment when our three heroes wake up together in a sunlit room after a night of dancing in some club in Amsterdam. One of them mutters the well-known adage: last night was crazy, but man, this morning I’m so hungover. The problem isn’t just that this is profanely hollow dialogue that doesn’t do anything to advance the story; rather, it unearths the more brazenly solecistic aspects of ourselves we’d prefer to edit out; it is unnervingly accurate in its portrayal of human simplicity. In truth, the vast majority of us speak the way an illiterate would write. If an invisible transcriber followed us as we went about our day, and we had to read ourselves in dialogue form each night before going to bed, most of us would shrink into the deepest folds of the sheets, cowering in the face of our brutish parody. A choked starling and her impish gasps is all we get; the rest is theater. The home-loving dramaturges that Chekhov and Arthur Miller beautified give an unrealistic advantage to their kind. Those everyday homely characters that we are supposed to relate to are too pictorial and precise in their structure. Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos are relatable in their doughy normalcy, their artless glorification of helping others.

It’s interesting to compare the incident on the Paris-bound train with a similar, more gruesomely intimate tale of everyday heroism. On May 26th, 2017, on a train in Portland, Oregon, Jeremy Joseph Christian, an ugly mullet-loving white suprematist, was spluttering his yokel philistinism at two teenage girls, one Muslim, the other African American. Strangers in the crowded train intervened, defending the girls, two men of which ultimately sacrificing their lives, and a third man surviving with a severe stab wound to the neck. It’s heroic, but not cinematic. Dead heroes don’t inspire others. But more importantly, there is no flag worship in this type of action; the Other is the victim and not the perpetrator. The messaging in The 15:17 to Paris is clear that these are our boys. Focusing on an incident like that on the train in Portland would confuse that dialogue.

The 15:17 to Paris feels cruel and inept because it is. It never should have been made. It feels like a movie built with stock footage, the kind you see in pharmaceutical commercials with couples walking their doggie on the beach, flying a kite, mowing the lawn—the everyday tedium that we are actually programed to forget. This is all stacked around a single moment of competence, when the shooter’s gun jams, and our hero tackles him. Actually, both of his guns jam. Eastwood makes a nod at the monumental luck, when Skarlatos inspects the guns immediately after the attempted attack, and comments on their “one in a million” fortitude; but Eastwood never fully illuminates this, that the grandiosity of one man’s valor swirls chaotically in our collective farts of ephemerality.

It brings it back to when they are children—my God is bigger than your statistics. “One in a million” is prophecy along this quixotic brand of Pulp Fiction divine intervention moment—it marries Stone’s awesome bravery to run headfirst at the barrel of a loaded assault rifle with the omnipotence of God’s hand at work, ending with the victorious ejaculation of hero-worship dripping off the screen, a hundred flag-waving hard-ons watching determinedly in the theater, their dicks overflowing like lava cakes. What the film achieves in is explicating the pedestrian nature of heroism—it’s something that everyday citizens like you and I can achieve—be fat, suck at school, stop terrorists. It’s the American way.

And in a way, 15:17 to Paris transcends above all other films. The exhausting banalities of our heroes’ day-to-day are all part of the unsentimental realism of how we live our lives. We’re shitty at nearly everything that’s interesting. We go to Europe—to the safe big cities, and to the hostels in those cities—out of some last-ditch desperation for menial indulgence. The 15:17 to Paris is Westernized avant-garde, an unintended masterpiece of social criticism; it forces its viewers to plug along with the careful representation of themselves—an hour-and-a-half autobiographical biopic in which we stand in front of the mirror staring at the religion of monotony that has overcome us, the utter boredom. It’s a sobering moment, when we realize none of us actually orate like the baroque Tarantino dialogues, that the extravagant fictions of our favorite films are exactly that—fantastic, impossible, award winning in their artistry.

Finally, we can continue as normal. Because this is who we are. Heroes are everyone everywhere, shuffling across the wide open range, consuming things like mac ’n’ cheese and Coca Cola. Our cinematic gallantry always just a moment away.


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The Future of Desire

Current Events, Film, Philosophy, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

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by Guy Walker

What actually did happen to the sexual revolution? It wasn’t long after one of Freud’s most noteworthy students, Wilhelm Reich, landed on New York’s squalid shores in August of 1939, that the generation of prurience and free love was born. His most noteworthy invention and physical contribution apart from his writings now seems like an artifact of dereliction, some shambled box from an abandoned carnival: the Orgone Energy Accumulator. It looks like a boarded up telephone booth, an unexciting trunk turned on its side that you were supposed to sit in and wait to receive the brilliant and spontaneous orgasms it provided.

Sex from some obscure unknown realm has long been a preferred subject of science fiction. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a bounty hunter Phil Resch (a phonetic cousin of the Austrian psychoanalyst), who works for a fictitious police agency, and could be another android, remarks to Deckard with a tone of austere advice, “If it’s love toward a woman or an android imitation, it’s sex.” The reader is propelled into the obvious: how does it actually feel to be in a storm of eroticism with a robot?

Blade Runner 2049 offered another installment of this fantasy. Our hero’s girlfriend, Joi, is a three-dimensional hologram resembling an evolutionary masterpiece; you can watch the movie in what is seemingly another layer of 3-D, gaping up at her seductive digitization swaying into the bedroom, your mouth hanging open stupidly, staring up at the huge screen with your flimsy paper sunglasses. Joi’s character is a reincarnation of a character we know well.

In the 1956 French drama, …And God Created Woman, Juliette, the subliminally catastrophic temptress played by Brigitte Bardot, believed “the future was invented only to spoil the present.” Sixty years later, it’s the present that wants to spoil the future—it wants to give it all up for us, tell us of the trenchant nihilism ahead, popularize the ultimate ghosts of technology. In the film, she lays around naked, walks everywhere barefoot, undisturbed by the male forces and societal norms around her, causing a moral panic amongst those nearest her. The men in the film conclude she “was made to destroy men,” as they try to repel the inevitable gravity of her enchantment.

The destruction of man by the strange and impossible intrigue of the woman is a common theme now. Hollywood is smitten with this fantasy. How will people, you know, “do it”, in the future? Spike Jones’s 2014 dystopic interlude, Her, brought the same titillating futurism conceptualized in the bedroom to the big screen. The envisioned communing between Theodore and the computer operating system, Samantha, was little more than a banal exclamation that mimicked the snorts and grunts of pleasure. It was phone sex, mildly elaborated, only for the sake of the pronouncement of orgasm, leaving the fluids, sweat, bullwhips, fuzzy handcuffs, and every other physical attributor of touch, in question and out of the picture.

Ex Machina notioned that the most beautiful women of the future will be an invasive species of silicon chips molded in our most alluring fashion—they’ll be prowling amongst us, like a digitized playmate who could calmly and regularly beat the Kasparovs of chess, and then lock them in a cellar until they rot. There’s nothing more thrilling than taking someone home from the bar who might turn out to have a survival glitch that would necessarily have to kill you to succeed. BDSM for existentialists; the abstract fetishizing would turn a whole generation into a sex-themed Russian roulette game.

Or there’s HBO’s Westworld series, which featured robot prostitutes that would kill their way to freedom. Thus far, our popularized interest in artificial intelligence goes as far as what sort of envious bloom their reproductive organs will look like, how lusting and lifelike the interplay could and should be. Especially the women. Movie producers and audiences alike don’t desire the other possibility in quite the same way. There’s something deeply unsettling about their male counterparts that would only be used for sex—their dangling rubberized testicles waving in the dusty anarchy of the wild west, their smutty reprogrammable libido under spasms of defect, wreaking havoc on innocent female victims who only wanted a bit of cathartic delight.

It’s clear what’s happening. When Lacan famously announced “there is no sexual relation,” he wasn’t attempting a contrarian view of desire without features. He was iterating how we split ourselves up in the act of sex, between “its being and its semblance, between itself and that paper tiger it shows to the other.” In this, as in a combative death drive, we either give or receive a mask, “a thrown-off skin,” in order to protect our real being.

We’re never really alone with our sexual partners. There’s always a deep fantasy or weirdly-cloaked fetish lingering in the shadows, hammering away at our heads in varying degrees of distraction. In the strange and extraordinary partnership of cultural totems, Slavoj Žižek was commissioned by Abercrombie & Fitch to write for their 2003 Back to School Quarterly, where he quipped his bursting tic-filled remarks on youth and sex, the capitalized large font spread across a glossy overlay of two boys and a girl completely naked, barely of age, carousing in green fields, the sun’s yolk spilled across the whole verdant jouissance like a pagan dream: “The only successful sexual relationship occurs when the fantasies of the two partners overlap. If the man fantasizes that making love is like riding a bike and the woman wants to be penetrated by a stud, then what truly goes on when they make love is that a horse is riding a bike…With a fantasy like that, who needs a personality?”

A horse riding a bicycle is as real as Ryan Gosling passing his dick across and into the flickering static of his girlfriend, both of which are only barely less real than an undisturbed sexual communion between two people. There’s nothing remarkably novel about Hollywood’s attempts to realistically imagine the future of bodily desire. A robot’s vagina is not the exemplary nexus of modern art, not some avant-garde interpretation of Freudian psychoanalytics. But some productions have imagined a sort of post-Oedipal world, in which man creates his maker, fucks her, and then is gruesomely slain by her.

What Ex Machina and Westworld achieve is they thrust the viewer outside the obvious torments of being killed by the glamorous female lead, and they allow you to imagine the daily benign thrill of the technicians themselves, and what it must be like for them to pick and prod and quietly sculpt women of our yearning. As viewers, we know the architects of these humanoids had to at some point kneel down and masterfully sculpt the deep swelling crevasse of her reproductive organ, the realism of her sensuality more essential than any other appendage or feature. The absurd bald mounds on Barbie dolls, like they were long-legged congenital eunuchs disguised in aprons and wigs, no longer suffice for the pornographic obsessions of the modern age.

The cinema is now our most easily digested form of suggestive enterprise. We bring the whole circus of crime and drama and comedy and romance and war into our bedrooms, our gawping voyeurism permanently attached to our laptop screens. But it’s always been like this. The preferred art forms from before quietly distilled the same libidinal hankering as multi-million dollar productions filmed in front of green screens do today. What happens when Picasso or Lucian Freud paints one of their women? Are they not attempting to garner a lusciousness of dimension of the female form they never managed to see themselves? They spent countless painstaking hours leaning over their huge canvases, trying to improve on mere replication, detailing the dimpled flesh and overgrown pubic forests like things of undocumented mystery. They composed these scenes, arranged their women in candid moments of trembling bliss, and hyper-realized the overflowing smooth flesh of women as the givers of all life. The title of the painting above is “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” the model’s actual job title. The words give a humanness, a normalcy to the shapeless spill of tit over the edge of the couch, as if this could be every moderately heavy woman walking down the street. We are pressed with the overwhelming gravity of who we really are, the unflattering reality of ourselves as a gruesome patchwork of anuses and other spluttering holes, all held together with this dying membrane of sweat and pores and hair, the festering wounds of age slowly eating away at us.

What’s next, beyond each fantasy, is another. Most of us spend our days slouched in some form or another, our necks sloped like a cow grazing her fields, staring at a screen. We tap away at it endlessly, as if it will eventually do something, fetishizing the swirling blots of color, a whole universe encased in Snapchat doggy ears and nose. When you watch porn on your computer or phone, you’re signaling one half of a holographic sex doll—an illusory, yet very real, pleasure. There’s a brothel in Germany that’s already gotten rid of all the prostitutes—all the real humans, that is—and instead offers their clients a lineup of lifelike sex dolls. We’re almost there. It’s the same fantasy played out in different forms—different brands of the same product within today’s culture industry. Adorno and Horkheimer illuminated in their philosophical monument, Dialectic of Enlightenment, that the “culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises.” It usually ends in flaccid regret. Instead of the high definition fantasy playing out in front of us, we end with a white pool of mucous in a dirty sock. “The promise,” they continue, “which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory.” But it’s voluntary. We pay $17 to see someone else play out our fantasies of what the future will look like.

It could have been an interesting storyline in Blade Runner 2049, between K and his holographic girlfriend—where their moments of affection and confidentiality really lead to, what they would have done about having children, arguments around infidelity and if it’s really considered cheating. But the filmmakers never went there. That particular subplot ended in masturbatory ennui, a close indifference about the future of our relationships. Again and again, we’ll watch these films on our own screens, the clutching voyeurism of survival fluttering across the backlit rectangles, the colorful blobs of other humans superimposed. But the end is always the same. The credits roll and the screen goes black, and we’re left staring at our dark naked reflection in the glass.


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50 Shades Darker: the Banality of Fetishism

Book Review, Current Events, Film, Literature and Books, Pop Culture, Satire and Cynicism, Uncategorized

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by Guy Walker

The sun finally rose enough to push through the beige lace curtains, the first rays of light shining into the visible effluvium of the bedroom, shining on the huge heaving butt cheek of a fat woman sleeping. Her breasts weighing down the bed, her blue veins beating like knotted spurts through a garden hose. A fan in the corner oscillating over and over, blowing the long draping fern, then moving towards the sleeping woman, blowing her mass of starless sordid hair like she were resting under a coastal breeze. A kitten is sitting by its empty bowl, as it had sat there for most of the night, just waiting patiently for the woman to stir, then wake, then feed him. But she didn’t stir—she just groaned like a dying antelope, scaring away the many little robins outside.

Many hours pass. The room is now full of steaming light, and the woman rolls over onto her back, naked, a million individual beads of sweat pushing from their pores. She opens her eyes finally, her eyelids encrusted with sticky yellow globs, and she stares up at a huge and absurd papier-mâché Chinese dragon hanging from the ceiling—completely lifeless, the fan not even making it stir, like it were some recoiled memory of life, an illusory modish object just hanging there in the middle of the room. The woman shoves that whole body of hers onto her feet, picks up a pair of soiled panties, and slips her legs into them one by one—they are, naturally, baggy around the bottom of the ass, seeming to always flutter loosely in that warm gap between the buttcheeks. Then her breasts—she packs them into a bra, cinching it tight around the front. She stands up and walks towards her desk, making the antique floorboards creak. She doesn’t eat, doesn’t wash her face, doesn’t piss, and doesn’t feed the little kitten. She just sits into her tufted leather chair, opens her laptop, and begins writing instantly, her fingers burning furiously, finishing page after page like a flip book. Outside, the wet temporal countryside buzzes with excitement, the satyric affairs of bugs more rupturous than all other predatory fauna; but the woman never once looks out the window. Words and love and the scenic delirium of fantasy devour her. Her heart beats with more nerve and adventure than she has felt from all the real wanton intrigue she’s had in the bedroom. She writes her next sentence: Holy crap! He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and tray flannel pants that hang from his hips. She feels the illustrious paean flood over her. It’s all too much.

She is Erika James, EL James, and she is halfway through her life epic, 50 Shades of Grey. No one knows it yet, but Erika will excite and satisfy tens of millions of desirous frenzied women seeking something far beyond their domestic passivities. In other words, Erika is going to sell books.

In its primitive stage, it started as a Twilight fan fiction series, originally titled Master of the Universe. Her pen name was, fittingly, Snowqueen Icedragon. But the story was always the same: Ana, an average-looking woman gets fucked properly by a billionaire, Christian Grey. He is young, handsome, a stalwart type who satisfies himself by tying up women, fucking them, and spanking them until their buttcheeks pulse cherry red. When performed on Ana, she at first admonishes these advances, but when he pulls off his belt and begins whipping her, she hesitates and pulls away from him. Classic boy-meets-girl-boy-whips-girl love story. But in the midst of her libidinous appetite for abuse, we are graced with Erika’s natural talent for words, something we as readers are forever in debt: I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves. As a fellow writer, I am completely aroused. My fully erect penis throbs for the next page. I read on, almost as fast as when Erika wrote the thing.

50 Shades of Grey has sold over 100 million copies, in 52 languages. At its peak, it was being sold every second somewhere in the world. They were mostly to women of course. But the sorts of women who buy and read this type of shit are an especially malnourished breed—none of them have ever been in love, and certainly none of them have ever even had great sex, but they do all fantasize about being spanked over and over, their orgasms bellowing across town like a Call to Prayer. After the first of the 50 Shades trilogy premiered in theaters on Valentines of 2015, stories began to arise of soiled cucumbers and sex toys being found in the back rows. This is clearly more than a distant fantasy, but rather a very real fetish. It seems more like a sex-deprived epidemic—women numbering the size of a large nation are paralyzed by their domestic sexual inhibitions, in which the only conceivable outlet is a terribly written novel and its equally terrible film adaptation.

With all our customized dating apps and easily accessible drugs, my generation is having less sex than men and women were 60 years ago. Our grandparents, with their prudish raisined lips and crooked genitals, fucked more than us. And the 50 Shades phenomenon is testament to that. Yes, the genders have their preferences—men are more brutish, humping and snorting like a warthog until they ejaculate all over her glossy buttocks and immediately roll over asleep. Women, it seems, read books. They join book clubs, and discuss over tea and biscuits the allure of being whipped with a belt—it’s akin to men watching hours of hazy porn as their retinas burn red, their penises sweaty and tired, still hanging flaccidly in their clammy grip. We humans are repressed animals, with too much religion, porn, and anti-depressants to manifest our fantasies. Rather than having great sex with a great partner, the women who spend $15 on a book like this—or $15 on the movie—prefer to shuffle around in sweatpants, their unruffled panties filling with the stink of resentment.

50 Shades Darker, the film sequel to the original, opened Valentines, which was perfect timing if you and your date like watching sadomasochism but not actually taking part in it. You can voyeuristically watch a girl being tied up and beaten, and eat more popcorn while holding your girl’s hand. It’s something French philosopher Gilles Deleuze argued didn’t exist as a real term. Sadomasochism is of course the combination of one’s desire to be bear pain through sexual acts, and another’s desire to inflict the pain. But in Deleuze’s essay Coldness and Cruelty, he confers that the sadist attempts to destroy the ego in order to unify the id and the super-ego, while masochism alone is the desire that intensifies because of a delay of sexual gratification; its sexual frustration is ‘rewarded’ as ‘unwavering coldness.’ This is The Contract, the process of controlling another, and turning them into a cold and callous prey. In other words, because a man is sexually insecure or unsatisfied, he will be more prone to tying up girls and whipping them in order to feel closer to an illusory alpha dominance.

We all have our perversions, and there is nothing better than carrying them out with a willing partner or partners—and if ball gags and hot wax are involved, all the better—but this 100-million-person fetishism for abuse is a strangely gruesome one. It’s not who is conducting the abuse that’s important, but rather the abuse itself—because Christian Grey happens to be handsome in this case, his abuse is desirable. If he were fat and pig-snouted, the same actions would be condemned as violent and rapish. If the novel itself were written by a man, it would of course be viewed as misogynistic, as hostile against women, and possibly protested against with pussy hats and vitriolic chants. It’s the fetish itself—the sadomasochism—that every sex-driven serial killer has in common with Christian Grey—they all need to assert their dominance over their chosen inferiors. Gary Ridgeway—the Green River Killer—for example, had an insatiable sexual appetite; he would lure women (mostly prostitutes) with a picture of his son. After raping them, he strangled and killed them (totaling seventy-one in all) and then dumped their bodies in the river. Or David Berkowitz—Son of Sam—the New York serial killer who in the late seventies shot and killed several couples. Whether they were kissing in their car or having a picnic in the park, Berkowitz sought to end the romantic affection of others.

The quintessential modern-day failed masochist is Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who couldn’t get laid so he killed six people—mostly young women—near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in May of 2014. Rodger was Christian Grey’s hallmark predecessor: wealthy, the son of a movie director, good looking, and sexually frustrated. Before carrying out his killing spree, he posted a 141-page autobiographical manifesto titled My Twisted World on the internet, a scrambled barely literate diatribe of his young adult trauma of still being a virgin. He also posted videos, the last one of which he justifies his cause: I’m 22-years-old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because  .  .  .  I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.

Rodger was as much of a gentleman as Christian Grey—the only problem was that Rodger didn’t have anybody to turn cold and callous, so he just killed them instead. His misogynistic narcissism is tragic and predictable, comparable to the schoolboy reverie of Donald Trump, the title of his manifesto in ironic similarity to Mein Kampf. He wrote in his journal that he would wait outside a Dominos Pizza for hours on end waiting for a girl to walk by and smile at him so they could start talking and eventually fuck in a glorious fashion. Clearly, Dominos is mostly delivery.

Elliot Rodger was a product of American Pie derangement—the mania of some tepid conquest overpowering him. If he ever did lose his virginity, he would have been utterly disappointed, the full-steamed climax immediately evaporating into the room. Christian Grey was tirelessly charging against this same vacuous despair. He was one lonely fantasy of one lonely woman. Erika James had to keep writing about him because he kept disappearing into the same evaporation of ecstasy—without her words he would be a cloud of smoke, a fading symptom of sexual dissatisfaction, opening up space on book shelves for better writing.

Across the road from where Erika is writing her epic, there is a cherry blossom where a nest is shaking and a mother bird is tending to her chicks. Beyond that there is a garden, full of lilacs and grasses hanging heavy with dew. And beyond that there is another tall house. Inside, a bushy porcine man in a stained wife-beater is sitting back in his  couch—the foam cushions bulging out the torn ends—his hand wrapped around his sweaty penis, tugging on it like a madman as another man on the television gets whipped again, naked, screaming for more. The porcine man is so close to climax, his face contorts and then freezes in place. Everything is silent for a moment—the man, the porno on the television, the grasses and birds outside, they are all frozen in place. Erika too pauses for the first time in hours, thinking of her next word. She looks out the window with a look of devoted contemplation. Suddenly, a group of pheasants erupt from the tall grasses; the porcine man leans forward in the dim opaque room, ejaculating all over his coffee table; Erika smiles, and then writes, Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?

“Famous”: The Passion of Kanye West

Film, Pop Culture, Satire and Cynicism, Uncategorized

“Self-attachment is the first sign of madness, but it is because man is attached to himself that he accepts error as truth, lies as reality, violence and ugliness as beauty and justice.” Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization

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by Guy Walker

Kanye West’s new music video for “Famous” was a non-event. Actually, it was an awful 8 minute episode of pubescent vagary. The soporific post-coitus scenery of famous people with their clothes off, the illusory novelty of seeing a politician’s naked wrinkly body, or Taylor Swift’s elusive belly button, lacks the shock value that it so desperately craves. He’s mimicking what every young boy does when they’re first stepping into the shallows of internet porn, as they look up pictures of Britney Spears with photoshopped bare tits, as they jerk off into a dirty sock, looking behind their shoulder to make sure mom isn’t walking in to check what all the padded smacking is in the middle of the night. Kanye uses the banal and dreary antics of sex, celebrity, and scandal to cobble up some hermetic perversion, like the chubby kid in film school who decided to make amateur soft-porn instead.

But I’m not saying anything new. Nobody liked it. The narcissism is obvious. The lack of artistry is obvious. The plagiarism is obvious. Kanye said he was directly inspired by Vincent Desiderio’s painting “Sleep.” This is incorrect. Being directly inspired to this extent is nothing more than stealing an artist’s original idea and posturing it as your own interpretation of it, as something more deep and enigmatic. He directly lifted the composition and concept from Desiderio and glued in the bodies of people we recognize. Art has this weird brutish tendency that says it’s okay to plagiarize as long as you say you plagiarized it. It praises this, in fact. Because it allows other oleaginous Calabasas illiterates to repeat to their doleful friends, “Oh, it was inspired by Desiderio’s painting ‘Sleep,’” and sound like they know what the fuck they’re talking about. “Desiderio” rolls off the tongue like butter on a horse dick in the scalding summer heat. You can hear Javier Bardem whisper “Desiderio, mi amor” into your ear, the moist titillation of rosebud and jasmine filling up your underwear. You can see Kanye in a moss-laden forest somewhere, screaming “Desiderio! I like art! Desiderio! Now I’m smart! Desiderio! Smell my fart!” and then scamper off to steal some bird eggs and tell his friends that Kim just laid them.

Of course it’s a pity that all the fuss and attention is directed at Kanye, because “Sleep” is a phenomenal original work of art, and “Famous” is cornfed tabloid fuckery. Comparing “Famous” to “Sleep” is like claiming “Babe” is a film adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm—we are all sadder and more cynical for seeing the former.

But as an artist, what did Kanye actually create? He obviously didn’t sculpt the waxen effigies of all the celebrities. He didn’t do the filming with a shitty camcorder. He didn’t come up with the original concept. We can give him the benefit of the doubt and say he wrote the lyrics, with all his grand Rimbaudian paean:

Bam bam, bam bam

Bam bam dilla, bam bam

Let me see you act up in this motherfucker

‘Ey what a bam bam

Bam bam dilla, bam bam

How you feelin’, how you feelin’, how you feelin’ in this motherfucker, god damn…

And on and on until you want to kill squirrels, eat pinecones, dress in those silver heatsheets, anything to take your mind off his scabrous hell of dick and meatloaf.

So what actually makes this Kanye’s video? He did after all admit it was merely a “comment on fame,” a lonely grunt in the whirlwind of theater, a shrug of troglodytic humor amongst the 7 billion handicapped tribe dragging themselves up the moor of mortality. Or is he playing a practical joke? After all, when Marcel Duchamp bought a urinal from a New York plumbing supplier and turned it upside down and signed it “R. MUTT 1917,” he was playing a Dadaist prank on the entire art world, exposing it for its appetence for sham. And every non-artist bought the bullshit, and began the conceptual revolution in the art world: Damien Hirst glued diamonds onto a human skull, Tracey Emin displayed her messy bed, Joseph Kosuth set a chair next to a photograph of a chair next to a dictionary’s definition of a chair, Piero Manzoni canned 90 tins of his own shit (and sold them for the price of gold). And Kanye West created the film to his song “Famous.”

In Either/Or, Kierkegaard says the original sin of everything is boredom. God was bored of empty space so he created the world. He was bored of algae and flies so he created Adam. He was bored with Adam so he created Eve, then the apple, then tits and lust and hunger and war. We were bored with Africa so we went to Europe, then the New World, then the moon, and now Mars. We’re bored of sobriety. Bored of whiskey. Bored of coke and strippers and love. Pop stars are known to have about three years of fame before we all get bored of them. Fortunately for Kanye, he’s not a pop star; he’s Pablo. He’s Andy Warhol. He called the wax artist for the video his Jesus, which makes him God.

For these few years of ephemeral misery, there is Kanye to show us the way forward. From the bright empyrean gates, the massive gold clouds continue to swell, overwhelming the heavens. The cloistered cum-encrusted bedsheets mummifying Bill Cosby, who giggles rudely as he humps Rihanna’s leg. Donald Trump is of course on all fours, Kanye tossing his salad, his glossy face covered in damp Cheeto dust, the moist triumph dripping down his neck. Everyone wheezes in the heavy air, Kim’s ass continuing to swell, larger than the clouds—finally, she is just one enormous ass, chomping on everything around her, smacking on the food of other bodies, all that hunger for the world. The celebrities disappear one by one, down the hatch. Taylor Swift croaks “What did I do?” as Kim’s ass gobbles her up. Soon, her ass has eaten everything. No clouds, no forests, no whales or fish or mountains. There are no more planets, no more stars. Just one stagnant black hole, her greased-up buttocks waiting in the infinity of empty space.