Thursday, May 28, 2015

High Tides- "Sunware"

High Tides appears to be another side project of Black Moth Super Rainbow's Tobacco. Hot of the heels of reading this profile/history of Hipster Runoff's Carles at Motherboard,  this popped into my inbox. Maybe chillwave is gearing up for another Deadbeat Summer?

In that article, Carles notes that: “Chillwave music is still great… I still find my musical sensibilities going back towards the aural, pure vibes of chillwave. I will probably be like 'the old guy who thinks the Beatles r awesome' except with chillwave.”

I may be too. I still listen to a lot of this stuff often.

Oh, BTW, this came this week too, take it or leave it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


In an update to a previous post, Mark Harris at Grantland perfectly sums up the world-destructive violence that was waiting in the Age of Ultron when I eventually got around to seeing it:

"At the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the titular supervillain portrayed by 8 million CGI artists and the voice of James Spader launches an attack on a large part of an Eastern European country called Sokovia.1 Basically, he scissors a border around a big section of a Sokovian city and then lifts it into midair. Because he can, and also because of something about how the only way to save mankind is to destroy it, yada yada yada. It’s a messy business, because all of that city-scissoring is slightly imprecise. High-rise buildings tend to fall off the borders; there’s lots of dirt and crumbling and stuff tumbling either into the hole that’s left or onto the city around the hole. But this is Marvel, so the stakes are at once preposterously high (it’s the end of the world as we know it) and calculatedly low (you’ll feel fine). “Sokovia,” after all, isn’t real; the city isn’t real; the threat isn’t real. The Sokovian populace is basically a stand-in for “Worried-looking white extras in a country really far from the U.S. that probably isn’t even that much of an ally.” It’s only a movie — in fact, it’s a movie in which the characters all seem to have a general sense that it’s only a movie and that things will work out in movie terms. (Iron Man to himself: “Please be a secret door … Yay!”)
Anyway, they’re all OK. Really. In a couple of lines that sound rather hastily spackled-in, one or another of the Avengers pauses during all of this world-saving to mention that they’ve gotten just about everyone out of a building.3 So, lots of destruction, little death. It’s Teflon Apocalypse. Then, at the end, there’s a kind of efficient evacuation in which everyone who’s left on the floating-island part of the city intuitively races over to the same edge in order to get on the equivalent of four or five space buses. In a very meta nod to the long-prevailing need to protect delicate sensibilities, even a dog gets to jump onto the rescue convoy. If Age of Ultron were a plane-crash movie, it would offer a lot of mayhem interspersed with affable discussions and would climax with the orderly inflation of life vests and deployment of yellow slides."

I recall from my younger days reading G.I. Joe comics, identified now to be little more than pro-military propaganda to help recover from the malaise of 70s skepticism and institutional distrust, that the invention of far-away countries to concurrently terrorize and rescue was a common tactic in those forced narratives.  It allowed for the illusion of ill will (off-panel, off-screen) that was only as gruesome as your fantasies allowed, but securely allocated to a country whose imaginary borders were far from our own and whose unknown customs and cultures were exoticized enough to be dispensable anyway.  The stakes are high for Sovokia, but all that really accounts for is a bigger thank you owed to our Randian supermen.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron actually introduces fantasy lands like this twice, once in "Sokovia" and once in "Wakanda", a fictionalized African nation known in the comics as the home country of Black Panther*.  After being set off by Scarlet Witch's telepathy, the Hulk goes on a rampage, ravaging the streets of an urban center in Wakanda, throwing cars, busting holes in buildings, and running afoul of mostly black faces instead of the white ones we see in Sovokia.

The parallels between Ultron and the Hulk's rampages should be crystal clear.  Clearly, this seems  a narrative choice on Whedon's behalf, a chance to either contrast reaction or demonstrate the thin line separate madness of righteous zealotry, but in one of the most hypocritical moves of a superhero franchise thus far, it's none of those thing.  The Hulk is meant to be forgiven, since he is bestial and destructive by nature, while Ultron is scheming and deliberate.  While Ultron seems to be acting in an aggressively punitive, fatherly mode, punishing the world for its misdeeds, Hulk is in some snare of shellshock, wanting to be a do-gooder but unable to reconcile how awesome it feels to just smash shit up.  We're expected to condemn one- the fracturing logic of megalomania; and condone another- intrinsic violence bubbled up to its breaking point.**

But in the People's History of the Marvel Universe, would anyone in Wakanda or Sovokia know the difference?  Does intentionality play that vital a role to the collateral damage on the sidelines?  What winds up happening instead is a marginalization of African lives, which would already be quite a thing were African lives not already the most expendable of all lives in the current Western geopolitcal landscape.  The disappearance of their stories and their struggles, the off-panel/off-screen tragedies, is a daily occurrence.

A throwaway line suggests that no one will be fired, suspended, and charges won't be pressed, but to whom do the Avengers answer exactly?  The International Criminal Court?  S.H.I.E.L.D.'s internal auditors?  The Baltimore PD?  In the comics, Wakanda becomes independently wealthy thanks to its clever harnessing of resources, but in the film there's little evidence that the country is any more rich than its neighbors.  Best case scenario, the property damage alone would surely bankrupt the country.

And at this point in the film, this is only the second war crime that Hulk's Bruce Banner has committed.  Earlier, it's actually him and Iron Man/Tony Stark who, without oversight or authorization or so much as a second glance in the barely-regulated Stark labs, create Ultron, which is in every sense of the word a weapon of mass destruction.  Again, intentionality alone seems to get them off the hook, because despite the seemingly eviler wreckage that Ultron induces, Stark and Banner are never treated like the war criminals/terrorists they most certainly are.  Purest intentions don't count for shit for those laying in the body bags.

Of course, as the tone of the Grantland quote above suggests, this would a silly thing to argue, except that Age of Ultron precisely mirrors existing hegemony; a world were Africans are bystanders to our most destructive impulses, ignored to the mercy of tyrants, Ebola, HIV, famine, poverty, et al. while the security council nations take what they need; where war crimes perpetrated either intentionally or as a goof go unpunished; and where the death of 2000 people in a lucky strike terror attack by a gaggle of Saudi half-wits is still given more credence than the millions of war dead launched in its wake in a calculated global war on/of terror.

Look, you know how we've been trying to create a super advanced
robot AI to protect the world from aliens? Well, this technology
from those exact same aliens, used by the leader of those aliens to
nearly destroy us all, might be the key to stopping future aliens!
I'm going to load the computer stuff and see what happens.

What?! Are you seriously the dipshit that finds a random
USB key in your office parking lot and immediately
plugs it into your work computer?
OK, I ran not_a_virus.exe. Now let's go party.
A.I. Paul Bettany can finish this up.

The muse to Stark's Reaganite vision of creating an A.I. Star Wars defense shield in Ultron was a vision implanted in him by Scarlet Witch, not of a world where the Avengers had failed to protect the populace, but a neatly stacked altar of superhero corpses, the self-anointed elite crumbled under their own impotence.  A world without those to simultaneously protect us and destroy us.  Would that really be so bad?

*I'd always assumed Black Panther was a badass ode to the black nationalists of the 60s and 70s, but Wikipedia seems to signal that the name preceded it. I'd be curious to know if there was any intersection between the two in the comics.

**The inevitability and essentialism of the Hulk's aggression is particularly problematic given the recent antics of the superhero franchise's fanboy audience.  Since it has little to no effect on world diplomatic relationships or the rest of the Avengers, this behavior's main impact is on Black Widow, Banner's love interest.    Black Widow is tasked with "taming" Banner and, as well-publicized elsewhere, becomes more of a sexual prize than an autonomous character with her own desires and agency, let alone a superhero. Everything about their pairing has the air of an abusive relationship. "He's not so bad.  He has a temper.  Deep down, he's all fluff" she says at one point.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."- Fredrick Douglass

Nice Feelings- "Fresh"

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Late to the Meme

Actually tweeted these when the Catholic Vote tweet went online.  Posted here for posterity. From Duran Duran's  "Wild Boys" song, which was to be the theme song to Russell Mulcahy's film adaptation of William S. Burroughs's novel of the same name, which is about a violent, sadistic homosexual gang trying to bring about the end of the world.  Amazing to think about that film.  Would they have had to tone it down or would Mulcahy have gone full throttle into it?

The Powerpoint Version

Just remembered a bit of counter-programming to the previous post from back in the early naughts. In the episode of Veronica Mars called "Drinking the Kool Aid", the titular teenage detective investigates an "09er" (a network of the elite 1%ers with rich parents) who disappears into a cult.  The scenario appears at first glance to be playing out like you would assume it might, with a naive teenager being brainwashed by an intrinsically evil organization with apocalyptic intentions.  However, the group winds up being a benevolent and idealistic lot, while it is the parents tracking down Casey (the 09er) (who stem from the executive class) who actually have malevolent intent. In fact while the cult allows its membership to come and go as they please without any pressure, the parents hire intelligence agents to counterprogram  Casey's newfound distaste for capitalism out of him. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fear of Cults

Next week will see the debut of Aquarius, an NBC TV series modeled after the Manson family murders of the late 1960s.  While one would hope for a more sympathetic and ambiguous reading along the lines of that same channel's absolutely brilliant Hannibal, previews and early reviews indicate different with the focus mainly on a hard-nosed cop played by David Duchovny, who doesn't understand the (ugh) "Flower Generation", and his more sympathetic, younger partner who apparently thinks the kids are alright.  Let's hope this is the sugar pill to make the rest go down smoother, but leave it at that.

Concurrently, this week  indie superstar director Todd Haynes announced he's developing a far more promising series about the far more benign Source Family cult, known mostly for their vegetarian food and psychedelic music.  Both of these series however underscore a trend I've been noticing in recent years.  Mainstream culture seems oddly hung up on the idea of cults, which, in the 21st century is peculiar and anachronistic.  It's not that cults don't exist anymore, but their prevalence, particularly those operating in the apocalyptic faith-based way they're portrayed in these mediums, is far less momentous than it has been in decades.

Cults became a huge issue in the late 60s and the early 70s as children began deviating from the belief systems of their parents and adopting new ideas in new formations.  Communes and collectives, both spiritual and not, came and went with varying degrees of success, but their arrival signaled an overall dissatisfaction with the old order.  Manson, of course, was the first huge cult scare, but cult ideology of singular charismatic leaders with specific edicts and codes of induction began infiltrating its way into mainstream ideology by way of support groups and self-help/self-actualization communities, such as EST (as seen on the Americans) or Esalen (as seen on the final episode of Mad Men).

Mind control was only a concern insofar as cults could be seen to be operating on behalf of Soviet state powers.  Still, there was huge trepidation about cults due to the more political-styled terrorist organizations that operated like cults (Symbionese Liberation Army, Baader Meinhof, Weather Underground, et. al.) and that anxiety was, in part, paid off in the form of the People's Temple wherein Jim Jones horrifically encouraged his followers to commit mass suicide.  In recording captured during the last few hours in the Jonestown compound, Jones considered this a symbolic act, a moment of collective despair at a world that refused to listen to the poor and disadvantaged.  Which surely would've been powerful and hard to dismiss, had they not poisoned the fucking children too.

With the rise of the reactionary Christian Coalition and the evangelical movement, paranoia about cults rose to a fever pitch in the 80s as dozens of unmitigated lawsuits destroyed the lives of caretakers as community members rose against what they feared to be satanic cult ritual abuse in suburban daycare centers.  Cults seemed to fade from fashion to the fringes in the years that followed, but the 90s saw a resurgence of truly destructive activity with high body counts from the likes of the Branch Davidians, Solar Temple, and Heaven's Gate cults.

In the twenty years since then, the main cult of any major concern has been the Westboro Baptist Church, a proto-trolling group whose antics are more obnoxious than frightening.  So why, at this late hour, have cults come surging back into the popular consciousness?  In the past few years, cults have become a significant force on Helix, The Following, True Detective, Orphan Black, Game of Thrones, The Blacklist, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt*.  And those are just the ones I either watch or have had some interaction with.   Film seems to have not broached the subject too much, which can likely be explained away by the fact that Hollywood is more monolithic and remake-based than it has been at any point in its history, but it's notable to point out the fantastic Martha Marcy May Marlene (about a woman who escapes a cult),  The Master (about a relationship between an L.Ron-like guru and a sociopath who wants to belong but refuses to be stabilized), The Sacrament (an Eli Roth story that's apparently a stylized take on Jonestown), and Red State (whose antagonists are very thinly veiled takes on Westboro).

So, what gives?  Why at the moment of disaster capitalism, endless police brutality, cyberbullying, flying killer robots, omniscient surveillance states, corporate control and austerity, et al., does now seem the moment to make cults a thing?  There hasn't been a real cult tragedy in some time and in many ways the idea of physical community and union for outsiders has dissipated as online locales like Reddit seem to foster every known subculture from the safety and comfort of one's own home.

Beyond Westboro, whose numbers are small and whose support is negligible, but whose publicity is aggressive, a couple theories.

1. Prevalence of Scientology in the media/entertainment community has begun to backlash (re: recent parodies of the religion and the popularity of the HBO doc Going Clear)

2. Railing against cults is a safe, somewhat inoffensive way to rail against faith-based belief systems in general.  The rising New Atheism and anti-theism texts must surely be more popular reading material in Television boardrooms, than say heartland America.

3. Children of the 90s whose first experiences of collective trauma involved Koresh or Heaven's Gate are now growing up and processing those experiences

4. More speculatively, and perhaps more contentiously, a society that bows to the alter of the individual and particularly the self is scared of a 60s style splintering into new factions that may threaten the established order.  Cults are in essence the new Romero-style Zombie, a communality of thought that threatens to extinguish great men from being the single inheritors of history.  Or alternately, cult shows are threatened by any new thoughts at all.  Anything that doesn't pluck from the existing dustbin of history is obscene.  The ways social media is allowing those with shared experience and shared thought to instantaneously unite and challenge one another, for good or ill, is substantially a threat to a system that relies on social control as it main doctrine.

What are your thoughts?  Are there any other writings on why so many cults have been popping up on TV screens?

*Though Kimmy Schmidt is a comedy, it actually very maturely and honestly deals with the ramifications of abuse.  So much so, it could be considered the first PTSD or post-rape culture comedy.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ventila- For Human Consumption

Muzak Sounds Better With You