Today I saw this article from Newsweek about a hypothetical Senate vote on Trump’s maybe future impeachment with one important twist: it’s a secret ballot where no one’s vote is made public. Long story short, according to a GOP insider, they believe that up to 30 Republican Senators would defect from their party’s leader—as long as their vote remained secret. That part is italicized so we don’t blow past it, I think it means everything.
Every once in a while, there’s a Trump story that makes me roll my eyes like why are you talking about this silly thing and making a big deal out of, for example, a handshake he has with some foreign whoever. Those stories help no one but they get a lot of views from the most uninformed b/c it’s a Shiny Object. It’s a result of the creep of Entertainment trappings into news media, brought on by the market forces that gave us the maxim, “if it bleeds, it leads.”
I think the media does a huge disservice when they devote so much time to frivolous stories instead of more important things. Is Sharpie-Gate totally frivolous? Not totally, but who cares? MAGA people don’t care about this, even if it’s a Federal Crime. Anti-Trumpers, #TheResistance, reasonable people, whatever we call ourselves, didn’t need this story to convince us that Trump’s a bad guy.
This whole thing is a pep rally for low-info people to yell at one another over. It’s politics for babies.
There is a relevant story in #SharpieGate: this is another in a long line of cases of Trump denying reality. This should be filed with the rest of the #25thAmendment takes, and more or less be done with. His continued insistence helps that 25th Amendment case immensely. What in the fuck is the President of The United States of America, North America, doing going on and on and on about this?
Right here. This is where I’m at when I read this story. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. This lout, this utter buffoon, is in a position to do this and we’re just captive, watching it, hanging on every word. Worse, our captivity is such that we don’t recognize it, we’re drawn to these stories like lemmings. The media prattles on endlessly about how it’s a Federal Offense and how the Trump admin is bad and they need to go, just like Send Her Back, Shithole Countries, Stable Genius, President of Puerto Rico, all the McCain attacks, Grab em By The Pussy, Inauguration Crowd, Blood Out Of Her Wherever, Good People on Both Sides, and on and on. In any other time, an entertainer who had so many moments of incoherence, stupidity, or blatant narcissistic cruelty would not be able to parlay their fame into major political office.
Everybody points to Reagan for this entertainer => POTUS pipeline, but that comparison is not apples to apples. At the time of his presidential election, Reagan had been active in politics for decades even to the point of being Governor of CA in the 60s. While we can say that Trump’s been active in politics for a long time, playing a Rich Person on TV, his role has been much less active, even if we throw in his very brief presidential run in 2000. So that’s a non-starter.
In any other time, an entertainer who tried to bluster their way through like that would get hung up on something. One of those would cause their public profile to capsize past any point of recovery. At least we’d like to think that.
Anyway, when stories like this happen, stories where Trump is literally the baby with a shitty diaper insisting that he didn’t do a poopy while the whole fucking room can smell it, these stories break me just a little bit more, to the point where I say:
Please, can we fuck off about this story already, the amount of attention it’s getting is obscene in the face of so many other real problems. So many other crises that are caused or made worse by Trump. There’s a whole world of shit going on and we’ve welded our tuner in place on WKKK, all Trump, all the time (did you see what I did with that radio callsign?) You think it’s anti-Trump but what’s going on? These callouts, they’re meaningless, MAGA people swat them away like flies. The media’s show of “holding Trump’s feet to the fire” are toothless. I feel like I’m watching a shitty horror movie where the people are so stupid, like they’re fighting Freddy Kruger by taking sleeping pills, and no matter how I yell at the screen it just keeps going.
I hate that it’s happening. I hate how it’s being covered. I hate how it’s shaping conversations to be dumber and dumber. I hate how that drive, to dumb down conversation, is driven by Capital interests. The more people yell at each other about these Shiny Object stories, the less mind they’re paying to all the much larger and much more impactful things going on in our government and around the world.
So I watched some of the new Black Mirror feature, Bandersnatch. This one is rather unique because of the interactivity. This way, no two audiences will see the same sequence of events. It gives you an involved feeling that you don’t normally have. After you reach one “end,” it takes you back to the last significant choice and allows you to choose differently to see a different outcome. My family and I quit watching after running through several different endings, and I’m curious to continue trying different choices to see what other scenarios there are.
The writing is very clever at parts, weaving similar phrases and themes into different scenarios. This has an, “all roads lead to Rome,” effect without being boring; the scenery changes in unexpected ways. There’s some really fun explorations of things like the nature of free will, multiverse theory, maybe even a little commentary on Guy Debord’s Society of The Spectacle (props to Peter Coffin for introducing me to that concept). Those unfamiliar with the idea of meta may have a galaxy brain moment or two, but for extremely online people, it’s like, oh neat, meta. It’s fun to see something with such a large target audience being so overtly meta. It’s not subtext or Easter Eggs, it’s right there. That couldn’t have been done 5 years ago, credit to the film makers for recognizing and going for it.
It ain’t all good, though. Bandersnatch suffers from the same problems that any veteran of Choose Your Own Adventure books will recall. The feeling that you can’t escape a certain plot point is probably the biggest gripe I have. There was a rather important seeming choice early on that seemed to be a non choice; I picked one way and the story kind of said fuck you and sent me to the other choice. Another big issue, when you think you’ve really turned a corner and gotten the story into some crazy shit, they revert to a quick cut to our POV character waking up, indicating that the preceding sequence was a dream. In my viewing, I saw this device being used twice, which is like one and a half times too many. It was interesting how the dream elements played into the scenes that followed, but it felt like a real tease.
Another, albeit minor complaint is the relative weight of decisions from time to time. Like, what’s it matter what breakfast cereal he had, or what music he rocks on the bus? Other times, your POV character does some crazy shit without any input from us. This compounds the earlier problem, where you can’t seem to choose something that really changes the course of events. Still, I’m interested to see what happens if I eat Sugar Snaps instead of Frosty Flakes.
Overall, I give this a 6/10 on film making, 8/10 for originality and rewatch potential. Decent acting and camera work, I felt invested in the characters during most of the main story. I am going to continue watching, as was my habit with the Choose Your Own Adventure books; I had to go down all the paths.
I watched BlacKkKlansman a few nights ago. Briefly, it’s a film that tells a story that we need to hear. It’s a well executed film with some moments of artistic flair. It’s got a pithy script brought to life by an excellent ensemble cast.
Early on, there’s a really neat parallel of minimizing potential violence in the group that you more closely identify with. This theme continues, forming part of the central message. Ron (John David Washington) goes undercover to a speech by Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), who tells him, among other things, to get a gun. In the debrief, the other officers, all white, make a big deal out of this, but Ron thinks it’s just big talk. Later, Flip (Adam Driver) meets with the Klan pretending to be Ron, where he hears talk about a possible bombing attack. Similarly, Flip tries to downplay the seriousness of the threat, using almost the same language.
During Kwame Ture’s speech we see shots of the faces of the black people in the crowd. The faces show the sparks of inspiration firing as Ture talks along lines popularized by Malcolm X, the rhetoric imploring black people to refuse to play the game of self loathing imposed by the white world.
Flip has to face his own identity as a Jewish man while he pretends to be joining the Klan. Ron also faces an identity crisis as he develops a relationship with Patrice (Laura Harrier), the president of the Black Student Union, a group that detests police officers.
The critical sequence of the film is a concurrent following of events at two locations; the full ceremony of the Klu Klux Klan meeting and the meeting of the Black Student Union with Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte). We cut back and forth between the two scenes, sometimes with Turner’s narration over the solemn rituals acted out by the hate group.
The climax is executed wonderfully, in a way that is at once dramatically satisfying and tragic. Ron tackles Connie (Ashlie Atkinson) after she’s planted a bomb on Patrice’s car. At the same time, two white police officers show up, see a black man accosting a white woman, and instantly make the wrong judgment. Only when Flip shows up do the officers listen and release Ron from custody. I feel like this might have been dramatically exaggerated from real life, but also that they could have gone much further; beaten Ron more severely, apologized profusely to Connie, even as her murder attempt is in progress.
But the good guys win, more from the baddies committing an own goal than from any direct intervention, but it’s clear that the investigation helped to thwart the Klan’s hateful actions throughout.
The end of the investigation, where Ron is instructed to destroy all his files and cease all contact with the KKK, is, in my opinion, the real tragedy. This is a gut punch to the heroes, turning their win into a Pyrrhic victory.
This is the message of BlacKkKlansman: these stories need to be told. We need to hear about these hate groups and what they are doing, what they’re capable of, and what methods they employ in recruiting. To neglect to tell these stories is to open the door to future extremists. The identity crises we see Ron and Flip (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the police force) go through are what we as a people need to do; we need to realize how much a part of us these hate groups really are.
Not long ago, I watched Oklahoma City on Netflix, a documentary about the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The film gives a great amount of detail regarding the extremist right wing groups that helped spawn Timothy McVeigh. It also explains Waco as part of the inspiration for the attack. As I think back on my experience as a high school student when the news of this bombing broke, I don’t remember much being made of the extremist groups and their influence. Then again, I wasn’t paying much attention, being a dumb ass high school student.
The fact that this investigation was shuttered and all the reports shredded, represents the basic attitude of most Americans toward these hate groups. Their presence is not a blight on society so much as they are themselves society. We’d much plug our ears and go “lalalalalalala,” when it comes to these groups because to face their existence means to confront our racism in a way far too personal for most.
Think of the uber-patriotism that was abound in the aftermath of 9/11. We were all unified against a common enemy. Chief among that enemy’s attributes was that they were outsiders. There was no similar gung-ho feeling about hunting down the people responsible for OK City, especially when it was revealed that the calls were coming from inside the house, so to speak. The enemy, in that case, were Americans, fueled by an extremism that was American in character. True, there were a variety of differences in the two attacks that have nothing to do with who did it. To compare the two attacks is very much apples to oranges.
The film ends with real life scenes of Charlottesville, tying the above tragic covering up of this story to the outcomes that we’re seeing today. Membership in hate groups is surging as they haven’t in half a century. These groups didn’t go away, they just went underground. They cleaned up their image. David Duke (Topher Grace) talks about optics in the film, and today we have Richard Spencer and other alt right figures living up to that description.
Because this story wasn’t told 40 years ago, the hate groups got to rewrite their own narrative. They got to keep telling their twisted story to initiates in their living rooms, pool halls, and shooting ranges. And there was nothing to counter it.
Trump supporters and “enlightened centrists” will likely howl about the subtle and not so subtle nods to the current administration. Of note is Duke basically invoking the MAGA slogan, just slightly changing the words; in another scene, klansmen chant, “America First!” It’s a shame that most of that crowd will give this one a pass based on reviews and the plot synopsis. If there’s anyone that needs to hear what this film is trying to tell us, it’s the Trump supporter who insists that he (and it’s definitely a he) is not racist.
Recently, this vid was posted to /r/PlayItAgainSam, a subreddit dedicated to clips that have to be watched more than once to fully appreciate. I admit I only needed to watch this one once to get what was going on and laugh, and I recommend any one do check out the link. It made me think of the following story from around 1997:
I’ll never forget the first time I’d seen this whole “shout a question to which the next lyric is the answer” thing. It was the late 90s and me and my bros went to a show with a triple bill, Bad Company, somebody else, and Foreigner I think. They were all bands that peaked in the 80s, so these bands were all doing late career, yeah-there’s-a-new-album-but-everyone-is-here-for-your-old-hits type of tours.
Anyway, we were near the front of the lawn seating section and these two older guys (we were teenagers, so these guys were probably in their 30s or something) were right nearby. This one guy, I still remember he looked like Ben Stiller’s orderly character in Happy Gilmore with a manscaped handlebar moustache, he would do the shouting thing ahead of every lyric. I can’t even remember the songs exactly, other than being quite surprised that Bad Company had many more hits than just Bad Company.
It would go something like this:
Singer: Johnny was a schoolboy/ When he heard his first Beatles song
Guy: What song was it and how long did it take?!
Singer: ‘Love Me Do’ I think it was/ And from there it didn’t take him long
Guy: What did he get and how often did he play it!?
Singer: Got himself a guitar/ Used to play every night
Guy: What’s he in now and how’s everything?!
Singer: Now he’s in a rock and roll outfit/ And everything’s all right/ Don’t ya know
You could tell this guy lived for this shit and that he was not ready to let go of a time in his life that had clearly passed him by. We got great laughs from this and started doing it from time to time as a goof, but never with this guy’s level of passion. For Bad Company. Who gets super-passionate about a mid tier 70s/80s cock rock band?
Imagine a sequence of events like this. I wrote this with the San Bernadino attack in mind:
People do attacks like San Bernadino.
People admit they were nervous about the attackers before, and think they could have prevented the attack if they’d reported.
People didn’t report out of fear of being branded racist.
~Fast forward a few years, Trump elected, alt-right is a thing, neonazis ranks swell (not that those things are all directly related, but there are connections that aren’t hard to notice)~
People call the cops or ICE (or threaten to do so) on people of color doing nothing wrong.
People do this at least in part b/c they remember the Monday morning quarterbacking of San Bernadino.
People remember those attacks and say, “not on my watch,” or some heroic phrase, and speak up, sensing their moment of greatness.
People correctly publicly shamed for being racist.
People stop reporting things out of fear of being the next viral racist sensation.
People do attacks like San Bernadino.
I don’t think the ending would be just like that, it’s all a bit too /r/im14andthisisdeep. But where do we go from here? I have to say, these viral vids of racist people are very entertaining, and they should carry a message of caution to people everywhere: you don’t get to call the cops on people just because you don’t like someone’s skin color. Hopefully the fools these people have made of themselves will be a deterrent to future would-be crusaders against people of color going about their business.
But we still need to talk about that other thing. The actual situation where people are actually planning to do a killing spree. As with everything, there is no simple solution. Setting the bar for what it should take to alert the authorities will reveal counterexamples that disprove it. For example, say you want the new rule to be, “people moving duffel bags that appear heavy” as a sufficiently suspicious activity. It might be that heavy duffel bags contain an arsenal of guns or incendiary devices, but let’s look at it. Heavy is relative. Duffel bags could contain lots of things. On the other hand, clever attackers would find ways to evade this rule. There’s a point where anything short of seeing people with guns in their hands would be considered rude or racist.
The real answer is that there is no. Bad people are going to do bad things. I don’t want to make this about gun laws, but, let’s be honest, there are gun laws that could definitely make it harder for bad people to get so many guns. Aside from that, there’s not much to say except some mealy mouthed shit like, “know your neighbors” or, “talk to your children.” Which is not to say that those things aren’t good, but they’re not public policy.
It should be noted that, while San Bernadino is the attack I referenced at the top and I claim that it’s at least part of the reasoning of the current crop of racist cop-callers, it’s rather unique in that the attackers were not white. Most of the other mass shooters have been white males. The only other notable exceptions are Omar Mateen and the Virginia Tech shooter.
Why is this significant? Why you pointing out race, man, isn’t that racist?!
It’s significant precisely because it gives the lie to this idea that these people calling police really think they’re stopping a major tragedy.
I’m probably wrong about this connection. The people calling the cops on brown people not doing anything wrong are probably just shithead racists who have been emboldened by the alt right and Trump. And there’s no question that right wing media has helped.
So there I was, reading about the horrors faced by real people in Aleppo, and the life or death consequences being dealt by decisionmakers from various nations, when in the lower right corner of the screen, a headline about the Jags being called for a rare penalty tried to wrest my attention away. For a moment, it worked. I moused over to see what the rest of the headline said at least. A penalty that hadn’t been called in 18 years! Doesn’t that sound interesting?
Reading the Aleppo article, important as it is, took some willpower. When I finally really got some momentum going, it was quite interesting. I was nearing the end of the admittedly short article when the Jags clickbait link intervened. I am not a Jags fan, in fact I hardly care about the NFL at all. So why does that story draw my attention, threatening to tear me away from what I know is a much more important story?
I like to think of myself as bookish. Maybe I’m less of a deep reader than I think I am. Even so, I fancy myself above average for my age group when it comes to reading for, how shall I say, not exactly pleasure. Eat your vegetables type reading. Like a news story about Aleppo rather than an Onion News in Brief or a YouTube comments section.
So if I’m above average, even slightly above average for my demo, what does that say about all the other people out there who don’t even start reading the Aleppo story, who log on and go straight to /r/dankmemes? People my age vote. People at my age occupy offices at various levels of government, and make decisions that can affect people in big ways.