Paradise of Storm

Category: Pop Culture

The Last Temptation of Empire

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.

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Self-Help and the Cult of Banality

(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

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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

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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.

The Transcendence of Hillary Clinton

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by Guy Walker

Everyone was busy watching Kavanaugh. His embalmed hairless face flickering against the light, his slippery greased-up coating penetrating against his accuser, like the slime on a newt or a poisonous mushroom, like he just emerged from a bathtub of K-Y jelly, his tits cold and heavy. His lips were pulled back in a menacing snarl, so as to show off his calcium-fortified teeth, and the type of predation only his kind can achieve. The country couldn’t take their collective eyes off him, nor his pitiful fraternal greed for beer or pussy or god.

What the country missed was something even more agonizing—if that is even possible. Hillary Clinton cameoed on CBS’s revival of Murphy Brown, episode one titled blandly, “Fake News”. It was only a couple of minutes, but there she was, flouting her petrified glee across our television screens once again, this squeamish reminder that she is alive somewhere, breathing, plotting to solidify her entitlement once again. Her appearance went like this: she entered the news offices of Murphy Brown, applying for a secretarial job. The balmy drollery ensued—jokes about her secretarial qualifications, her experience with email, her awesome resemblance to the presidential candidate of 2016. After all, Clinton informs, she’s not the famous Hillary Clinton. No, she spells her first name with one “l”. She then hands Brown her business card, who then reads her email address aloud: Hilary@youcouldahadme.com.

We coulda had her. What happened. She knows her name is forever ruined, but she doesn’t know why.

A study published in The Journal of Social Psychology in 1948, written by two Harvard professors, looked at 3,320 recent male graduates, and the effect their given names had on their academic performance. Those with more unusual names—say, Kipling, Bexley, Severus—were more likely to develop psychological neurosis or drop out of school. Alternately, those named John, Robert, William, had less to worry about. With this in mind, it’s important to note that Hilary isn’t a name. It’s a grotesque fragmentation of another name she ruined. As much as she wants to, she can’t change her name or identity. Her carnivorous Clintonian smile, gleaming for war, cackling for mass incarceration of blacks, advocating for further deregulation of banks. Knocking off an “l” only deepens the cannibalistic void of the insane.

Her continued pandering condescension eats away at daily posture of normal citizens. In her memoir, What Happened, immediately proceeding her failed campaign, she repeated this same smutty denialism, casting much of the blame on Bernie Sanders for not conceding quickly enough during the primaries, while at the same time echoing the same soft and heartless quips of personableness: “I have a weakness for Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers and was delighted to find out that 55 goldfish were only 150 calories—not bad!” You can hear the strategists whispering these suggestions over her shoulder: “Be relatable. Goldfish are awesome!” Like in her Twitter bio that mentions she’s a “hair icon” and used to include “pantsuit aficionado.” The predictably contrived self-flattery combusts under its own exploding nausea. Every presidential debate requires candidates to talk about their working-class parents, their first job, their overall croaking sympathy for humankind. Soon enough, candidates will discuss their favorite searches on Pornhub, their most overused emojis, their self-immolating tendencies and Netflix binges to make it through another day.

“Pay close attention to what the kids are into these days,” is the general theme of every political strategy—an overburdened hipness, degrading into the rubble of illiteracy. “One of the wettest we’ve ever seen, from the standpoint of water,” is finally more literate than every time Hillary Clinton repeated Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” moment. Every time Trump opens his mouth and lashes words together, they are the utterances of a vile and gelded ringmaster, his lips squeezing and pulsing like a collapsed sphincter. But at least everyone knows this, himself included. Hillary Clinton is different. She’s more similar to Mark Zuckerberg, a misshapen automaton who drinks water only to make us believe she drinks water, or to cool the firing electrodes behind the scanning glass eyeballs.

In emails released by Wikileaks, we know the Clinton campaign deliberately elevated Donald Trump’s chances of winning the Republican primaries, under the self-described “pied piper” strategy. In an email to the Democratic National Committee, their stated number one goal was to “Force all Republican candidates to lock themselves into extreme conservative positions that will hurt them in a general election.” And here we are, locked in a Gumby hellworld, with no way out.

Kavanaugh is clearly guilty, but if he had even a modicum of self-respect, he would just say Fuck all y’all, I don’t want the job anymore, and quietly slumber off and melt into a puddle of milky phlegm. Hillary Clinton should have done the same. She’s the Gwyneth Paltrow of politics—one of the most collectively despised individuals who refuses to accept this. So instead, she started Onward Together, another ineffective establishment Democratic project that aims to “encourage people to organize, get involved, and run for office.” She cameos in sitcoms. She declares, with cold brutality, that she’s now part of the resistance.

The horror.

The resistance. Like the anonymous White House insider who penned the New York Times op-ed about what a scoundrel Donald Trump is, and that he or she, along with many on the inside, are also part of the resistance, trying to maintain some order for refined elites.

Perhaps it was displayed best at John McCain’s funeral. The florid nostalgia of war criminals and war hawks coming together, interacting with such decorum, people liked to emphasize. Isn’t it nice, their decency, reaching across aisles? The public seemed especially swooned when George Bush handed Michelle Obama a candy. They cheered when he put his underwear on over his pants, and somehow jammed the wooden triangle block through the square hole. They threw their arms in the sky and cried with paralyzing beauty when he showed them a painting of a doggy he finished. “His ears were floppy!” he grinned. “Floppy doggy!”

Perhaps the Iraq war cost trillions of dollars, and perhaps it cost half a million Iraqi lives, and perhaps Bush was a fool at times; but at least he maintained the standard vernacular of English-speaking adults, most of the time. Hillary Clinton is the same: maybe she’s a closeted racist, maybe she didn’t support same-sex marriage until the public pressure of 2013, maybe she’s a war hawk who would only escalate military operations overseas. But at least she can poke fun of herself. And that pantsuit, it’s to die for!

When Steve Bannon most recently appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, he predicted the next Democratic presidential candidate wouldn’t come from the establishment political arena. It will be someone like Oprah or Michael Avenatti, he said, someone who’s already a celebrity, someone with a more accessible personality than the dull bromidic fuckery of previous candidates. Because Donald Trump didn’t kill politics; Hillary Clinton did. She operates in an overly calculated impossibility, a self-scripted world, in an age when too many people can see through the drawn velveteen curtains into the self-hatred and paranoiac suppression of what is referred to as decorum and decency. Because we know Hillary Clinton hates all of her supporters their rice milk enthusiasm, their genuine concern for equal opportunity, their care for other humans. We know she only sees her thronging evangelists as a gross and infected puddle of sperm, a necessary collective sin she must entertain in order to advance her way to true power, where finally, after all these painful and patient years she can stand at the cliff’s edge of a flattened world and declare herself god.

But it’s over. It’s all too late for these pallid attempts of revival. There won’t be another generation of her type, of the Wolf Blitzers reciting testaments like drowning holograms. Only the dead and dying watch Murphy Brown, like only the dead and dying watched Rosanne. The illuminated overhead signs directing our laughter and applause; the warm-up comedian massaging the festering wits of the audience. No, instead of cameos on Murphy Brown, two thousand reality stars will be outcompeting one another for the next viral video, vying for the presidency, a sudden explosion of VR Snapchat confessionals that exclaim what flavor of goldfish is their favorite. Standing in front of a rented Lamborghini, a generation of Iggy Azaleas will say, “It’s three in morn, and I’ll be dir to git dat fone biiitch!!!”

And then we will cheer.

Jordan Peterson and the Last 12 Commandments

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by Guy Walker

In the end, Jordan Peterson tore his own flesh off until he was just a sobbing human scab, warning the world of a postmodernist nightmare in which everyone had shitty posture and didn’t pet the neighborhood cats.

Nobody knows what Jordan Peterson wants. His sad enthusiasm for pedantry seems to be all that he’s capable of—his strange and gruesome moanings are like that of a schizophrenic homeless man screaming endlessly about the color of the paint used in an alleyway. “It’s not scarlet!! It’s a deep vermillion!!!” It’s just this that makes him seem so useful—he is so tirelessly eager to talk about mysticism and Bible stories and peoples’ preferred pronouns, that some people actually pay attention for a while, more just to see if the Toronto-based professor will collapse in a self-made reservoir of tears, or if he’ll explain a pumpkin’s sexual proclivities. He tours from under the gleaming shamble of academic superstardom, as mobs of college-age males gather to see him speak; his mighty edifice of reason and purpose—the very reason his name erupted into the mainstream—is his refusal to ever mention non-binary pronouns, things like ‘zim’ and ’zir’ instead of ‘him’ and ‘her.’ And a storm of grotesque and frolicsome self-flagellation ensued, everyone protesting everyone else

But it’s his recently published book that has finally blueprinted a path of self-help for intelligent people, not the parading outrageous eulogies and feel-good confidence that everyone else corrals around. The Tony Robbins types. The sociopathic calmness of Wayne Dyer. The fanatical grandfather approach of Zig Ziglar. Peterson’s book is 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Its initial burst sold well, perhaps enough to ignite its own cultural revolution, a steaming courtship of suited-up bros hustling to get laid like real men, their pomaded hair-dos gone solid with bacon grease, their long noodle fingers reaching out like a Tim Burton animation figure, reaching for anything, reaching to pet every cat they can get their hands on (Rule #12), reaching to cover their mouths so they don’t bother children skateboarding (Rule #11), reaching to clean their room (Rule #6).

Cleaning your room is a contrarian dangerous act—this is actually what Peterson argues—because it’s going to upset your other filthy plebeian family members. They will resent your aristocratic order, resist against your clean dishes because clean dishes are shiny ornaments defying the laws of decay—the universe is a driving rod spiraling out of control, with supernovas of dirty bed linens and used condoms exploding with entropic infinity.  Entropy says that dogs’ natural state is defecating on the street, cracks in the asphalt burst into forests. It says every window eventually smashes into a million little pieces, instead of the other way around—instead of the sandy beaches magically forming themselves into polished rectangles. It can take years of labor and a lifetime of money to build yourself a house, but only minutes to destroy it in a fire. The fetid extravagance and overall weariness of the world would swell into mountains of feces summiting over the roofs of houses, and canopies of morning glories would suffocate the tallest buildings; the extraordinary granite faces of El Capitan will turn to helpless farts of dust taken away by the winds. Cleaning your room is the great defiant act for young white men in the early twenty-first century; it’s the ostended philosopher’s cry that has made all too real Nietzche’s Will to Power. The compounding evolution of history’s great thinkers and influencers have climaxed with the enunciation of Rule #1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back, and the rest follows.

Jordan Peterson is only trying to make this world more orderly. When he comes, clasping the metal bathroom handle with his delicate bone-peaked fingers, he screams something indecipherable about Carl Jung being a god. He doesn’t ejaculate across the backside of the upturned toilet seat; rather, he floods himself into a funnel, which diverts everything neatly into a mason jar—a clean organized system of Monday to Sunday bathroom vessels, stacking them in chronological order, and shipping them down the Euphrates. On weekends, he heads to the desert with a broom and goats pulling a cart of human chattel, sweeping the dirt into perfectly symmetrical cone piles, instructing his men to organize the granules from smallest to largest, and from shade to hue. He goose steps loudly into toy stores in the middle of the day and constructs all the puzzles in the most brazen defiant manner, afterwards laying the cardboard sceneries out side-by-side. “Get your store in order, Bucko,” he croaks, leaving with a few more greased-up men than before, the kind who see Patrick Bateman in American Psycho as a heartrending icon, a misunderstood hero of sorts.

Always tell the truth; or, at least, never tell a lie. Rule number whatever. It doesn’t matter anymore. Jordan Peterson has triumphantly binded the most sordid avenues in plastic wrap, the animality and bivouacs of sweat are now sterilized packages of saltine crackers. People line the glistening streets, waving a million kekistani flags, tossing handfuls of rice at the sun, asking Peterson what he will do next, now that his cheese-guzzling victory for meagerness has spread everywhere, now that skateboarders can do synchronized kick flips, now that the once terraqueous throes of the outdoors have been turned into a cathedral of cruel lividity. There’s nothing interesting anymore. The whores have become Youtube personalities, doing makeup tutorials to become Pepe the Frog. The jazz players are teaching basic chords to three-year-olds, vowing no further refittings of their once popular improvisations. The beggars and schizophrenics have bundled their pubes into charity hair depositories; they wear three-piece suits, and host Bible study groups. Everyone quit school, and just watches Jordan Peterson videos on the Internet, because “education is so easy now.”

It’s very clear where this is all headed. Jordan Peterson has corralled an army, men of coruscating morality have strapped themselves to two-by-fours to keep their backs straight. They are forever panicked about the spread of postmodernism, unclear of what it actually is, occasionally sobbing into brutal fits and extended months of anorexia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—author of The Gulag Archipelago—is the only other author they know, and they repeat the name over and over, like men with a single and severe mention in their turrets. The intellectual Mount Everest has finally been summited by a pristine masculinity, a polished thousand-foot cock standing perfectly straight in the storm of diversity. Jordan Peterson stands atop of the violet shiny bald head, his stance spread wide, the brittle gusts of wind billowing his long coattails, the crooked pulsing veins zig-zagging down like bolts of lightning, and the final and extraordinary explosion of cum rocketing Jordan Peterson to the stars.


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15:17 to Paris and the Banality of Valor

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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

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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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The Faux Patriot Phenomenon

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by Guy Walker

On a dank fetid afternoon in the middle of August, as the sweltering torridity encouraged record-breaking fires to spread even further across the American frontier, Donald Trump emerged for a group of journalists, their questions frantic, as if each one were trying to clammer over the another. His skin was more opaque than usual, like a mangled sun-roasted apricot, a glob of hellish torture that housed his gleaming white blocks of teeth. He kept his lips pulled back in order to show off his teeth like a prey trying to scare off its enemy, and answered questions about the racial-infused violence that occurred just days prior, famously uttering there “were very fine people” amongst the Klansmen, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis that stormed through Charlottesville.

It was a simple seditionary remark, another snort of his trademark grandiose ignorance, the kind he exhibited when denying he knew who David Duke was while initially running his presidential primary campaign.

Fast forward a little more than a month, when Trump is speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. His skin is softer; he’s surrounded by his unwavering compatriots peering up at their charismatic hero; he’s more at ease, and therefore even more reckless in speech, encouraging the firing of any athlete who kneels during the national anthem. “You’re FIRED!” he screams, as the crowd roars with approval, a deluge of blood rushing to his emaciated genitals.

Responses to Trump’s more treacherous remarks incite the usual bursts of outrage like they were little anger-filled ejaculations glazing the screens of countless blogs and social media platforms. Likewise, it positions any number of Trump whisperers to pontificate on what he really meant, as they condemn the media for always listening to him incorrectly. But it’s not an issue of Donald Trump as master villain or gilded hero; it’s the present manifestation of tribalism gone mad.

In The Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno and his accompanying authors posited a theory on the phenomenon of the authoritarian figure, including the unwavering patriotism of the masses that contribute to his manifestation. The authoritarian figure himself is the result of a Freudian developmental model, a sexually impulsive, insecure man, catapulting with outward hostility in order to overcome his shortcomings. With overwhelming impulses from the id (disorganized instinctual drives), and an incapable mediator of reason—known as the ego—the authoritarian shoves his way to power like a desperate and lonely drunk finally grabbing an old pumpkin to fuck. Hideous perhaps, but nevertheless inevitable.

Something analogous to the Napoleon complex, Adorno et al. considered that men pursuing roles of acute power and severity tended to be atoning for their bestial malformities. It seems plausible enough—a glitch in the mass outcropping of humans is bound to eventually take the form of a vainglorious sasquatch every now and then. It’s more the hysteria of support around him that is interesting—why do blundering fools such as Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler corral such aberrant loyalty? They were grotesque figures, considered buffoons before accessing power. It’s only because patriotism is more magnetic than any god. As Adorno et al. described, “patriotism…involves blind attachment to certain national cultural values, uncritical conformity with the prevailing group way, and rejection of other nations as outgroups.” It is the blind patriotism that is so fascistic—chauvinism, by its nature, is a fetid and truculent enterprise that only manifests from a long-exaggerated tribalism, when we smashed rocks and bones to establish survival over other threatening groups.

As long as we’re still human, we’ll likely never fully outgrow our tribalism. It was a survival mechanism that worked too well. Now, we clutch maniacally only onto what we know, fearing the other shaded men outside. We hate the neighboring middle school in town, then the other high schools in the league, then sports teams or religions that differ from our own—we’re seven billion tribesmen standing with crooked cheeseheads and smeared body paint, stammering why our paddock of dirt is better than theirs. What makes it far more beastly and hideous today than when our ancestors hunched on all fours, grunting and tossing their feces, is we moderns should know better. We’re the momentary products of a 200,000-year enlightenment—one would expect us to be a little more astute of our prevailing commonalities.

But there’s reason for this lingering stupidity. English essayist, Samuel Johnson famously announced that “patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel.” Patriotism works like an impenetrable edifice of one’s identity, an ideological safe space for anti-intellectuals. The more illiberal corners of the political left have been justly blamed for calling anyone they disagree with a racist or a bigot—they apply it so haphazardly that when they finally do meet a legitimate racist, the term is no longer effective; similarly, many conservatives call their opponents un-American, as if this were the towering lord of all insults. It is difficult to recover from if a politician is deemed un-American—they’re now on the defensive, having to prove that in fact they are a proud member of this relatively new land.

The Patriot Act of 2001, by its very name, challenged anyone opposed to the act as the antithesis of patriotism. It didn’t matter what the contents of the act were—indefinite detentions of immigrants, the searching of telephone and financial records without a court order, the searching of a home or property without the consent of the owner or occupant. The Patriot Act passed 98 to 1 in the Senate, the only dissenting vote coming from Russ Feingold from Wisconsin, saying its provisions violated the civil liberties of citizens.

Blind patriotism is nothing new, and its tempting to think this is just one more manifestation of our cyclical human deformity, with all its baseless love for the stars and stripes. But it’s not. The patriotism of today is far more contrived than it is blind. There’s a bombasity and overachieving loudness to American patriotism today that makes it all seem so fraudulent and miserable. Men stomping around in head-to-toe camo with semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders, women proudly flaunting their bulging muffin-tops cinched tight with America-themed body armor, red trucks lifted to the height of houses, babies drinking breast milk from Big Gulp mugs while simultaneously punching commies—American patriotism is a fashion statement no more sophisticated than girls wearing garlands and John Lennon glasses at Coachella. It’s a shitty Halloween costume that countless Americans wear everyday. The faux patriotism of today comes out of a desperate overcompensation of life-without-meaning—they wave only the symbols of those ideals without propagating the ideals themselves.

As of 2013, 94 percent of all imported American flags came from China. Polyester showered with carcinogens. But it still works. The meaningless piece of cloth still triggers something deeply primordial in good patrioteers, like a bull who sees a red bed sheet and starts blowing steam from his nostrils. It makes the authoritarian personality that much more serious.

The monumental pettiness surrounding the national anthem debate essentially ends with the contents of the anthem itself. The entirety of “The Star-Spangled Banner” reads more like whorish pedantry, the abecedarian rhymes of which cheapen all polemics about nation and virtue. Written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, only the first verse has been extracted and used for our arduously long ceremonies preceding every major sporting event. Given that the first verse is still dragged through exaggerated undulations, minute after minute, like a glittered masturbatory spectacle in front of forty thousand exhausted beer-bloated fans, perhaps no one dare add a second verse. Adding even one more verse would compromise the attention spans for the rest of the night. Or, perhaps it was to hide the overtly racist rhymes near the end of the third verse:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Francis Scott Key was referring to something specifically annoying to him. In response to the Americans trying to hijack Canadian territory from the British Empire, the British recruited entire families of slaves, training the men to form their own regiment known as the Colonial Marines, assuring they would not return any of them to their former American owners. Not only was it an invitation to escape a life of shackles and routine whippings and sexual humiliation, but a chance to fight against the ideological perversity that enslaved them in the first place, to openly antagonize the ubiquitary of systemic despotism. Anyone in their right mind would take the British up on their offer. Francis Scott Key—a slaveowner himself—held this against slaves, scribing his paeans of death for the opportunistic men with darker skin than his.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave” is now a meaningless phrase that still triggers the most frenzied ravenous excitement. We humans are animals that attach overbearing emotions onto words. When Trump tweets “Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag” as reason for why professional athletes should be forced to stand during the national anthem, he’s serving a word salad of patriotic idioms that his base will recognize as their own. Every major word in the sentence ignites a shallow sense of pride and purpose; it assures arousal without providing any real meaning.

The word “patriot”, for example, wasn’t always used to describe the illustrious bravado of camo-obsessed Americans as it is today. Liddell & Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon) wrote that patriotes was “applied to barbarians who had only a common [fatherland].” It was a term used for derisive mockery, defined in Samuel Johnson’s fourth edition of his Dictionary as “a factious disturber of the government.”

The American journalist John Thomas Flynn wrote about it in his As We Go Marching in 1944, a time when even the most ardent American patriotism may have seemed justified: “[W]hen fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund…it will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism.” This is where we are today—the gilded dawn of fascism, when men and women march gladly into their weaponized barbarism. Flynn said “when fascism comes,” not “if,” as if it’s an entropic inevitability, as if we humans will invariably create dystopia in our pursuit of utopia.

The cult hero is the representative of this phenomenon, hoisted on his high stage, lamenting about why non-patriots are destroying the country. Trump managed to corral 81 percent of the white evangelical vote without noticeably understanding any Christian practice himself. Similarly, he successfully branded himself as the patriotic choice without having any history in serving the country. When he famously mocked John McCain for getting captured and tortured for five years in Vietnam, or snubbed the Pakastani-American parents of Army captain Humayun Khan, or announced on Twitter that transgender soldiers would not longer be allowed to serve in the military, he became the incarnate celebration of the faux patriot. We’re amidst the self-destruction of reason, a gloating dystopic tribunal of normalities. The world is a cube; sea cucumbers are just slimy cucumbers; and it’s patriotic to loathe and belittle true patriots.

Trump had five deferments during the Vietnam draft, one of which was for heel spurs—calcium buildup in the heel that can oftentimes be treated through stretching exercises. In an interview with the New York Times in July of 2016, he said “I had a doctor that gave me a letter—a very strong letter on the heels.” He never produced a copy of the letter, nor could he remember the doctor’s name; but it doesn’t matter because it was categorically the most patriotic thing he could have done. He was patriotic not to pay his taxes. He was patriotic whenever he grabbed a rogue pussy. He was patriotic under every golden shower, lathering his mangled genitals in the noxious suds. And if hard evidence does reveal that he purposefully colluded with Russia, Trump’s loyalists will not waver—the magnetism of the cult hero is fixed permanently.

This self-styled faux patriotism erodes away only through reason alone, as the demagoguery and supreme brutishness is slowly replaced with a more humane understanding of ourselves, until we fully abandon what Bertrand Russell called the “willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”


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Let the Beautiful People Rule the World

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by Guy Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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