Monthly Archives: October 2017

Mass Shootings As Republican Anti-Politics

The several hundred mass shootings that have happened since Columbine have produced some literature from the shooters detailing their political ideologies or lack thereof. Given that a common complaint from the right leading up to their current moment of hysterical mass psychosis was “why does everything have to be political?” despite their clearly saying so for political reasons about everything from Colin Kaepernik to an imagined war on Christmas leaves me wondering whether these acts can and should be taken as acts of political terrorism and warning signs of our current situation in retrospect.

Columbine as Political Terrorism, Anti-Politics as Politics

The Oklahoma City Bombing, ostensibly a white supremacist response to FBI overreach in the handling of the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas, was framed by the Columbine shooters in the numerous written and taped materials later confiscated by the FBI as the opening shot of a “political revolution” of…well…there wasn’t an ideology, simply resentment and bloodlust. No one at the time looked at Columbine as a political act because it was politically incoherent. Yet over time, future shooters ranging from the V-Tech shooter to Vester Flanagan would cite the Columbine shooters as “inspirations” while carrying out similarly cold-blooded and politically incoherent shootings. These spiked in frequency in the years leading up to the current crisis to where there was nearly one per day, and met their official counterpart in a rash of racially motivated killings of unarmed black people, many of them disabled or children.

We are now stuck with a president who lacks any ideology beyond the glorification of resentment and violent displays of power. We are now stuck with a Congress and Senate that state their supposed remorse for the children killed in Newtown, the thousands of others in Las Vegas and elsewhere, then refuse to do anything to stop or even slow down their occurrence. They are essentially tossing Puerto Rico out the airlock as I type this. Our Republican representatives are sadistic voyeurs, mesmerized by the spectacle of their own deepest violent fantasies being offered as tributes from a distributed gestapo the way people burn goats as offerings to the devil.

If I might be allowed to play a game of id, ego, super-ego:

-The Congress and Senate Republicans are the super-ego who pose as the moral authority but are in fact just getting off on both the authoritarian thrill of screaming at the spectacle and the cozy, insular benefits it disproportionately accrues to them.

-The base is the id. The Republican base, perhaps best exemplified by Sandy Hook trutherism and Pizzagate, has grown increasingly schizophrenic and detached from reality. They aren’t guided by conscious concerns or their surroundings; they reimagine their surroundings in order to justify wanton indulgence of base impulses. It’s not a coincidence the people claiming they need guns “for their safety” are the ones assaulting people with them, that they believe they’re the chosen agents of Jesus Christ when they worship wealth.

-The ego is…irrelevant at this point? John McCain?

While much of the rise of the right could be seen as simply a perfect storm merger of the collective interests of white supremacists, Christian fascists, internet trolls, individual billionaires and large corporations, what ultimately brought them together were sustained outbursts of mass psychosis defined by mob violence and outright denial of reality-Gamergate, the police shootings of blacks*, the genocide by neglect going on in Puerto Rico, the denial that any children were shot in Sandy Hook.

The NRA, the 2nd largest right wing organization in the US behind the Republican Party, has a financial incentive to want mass shootings, because every time one happens, gun and gun accessory sales spike. Yet I think their hearty embrace of Trump and the violence of the current moment isn’t exclusively financial, though they have every financial interest in guerilla civil war breaking out and have even basically threatened it in recent advertising. This is after all an organization that exists as much as a culture of violent paranoid fantasy as a gun rights advocacy organization. They have been incredibly racist for most of their existence. They use “thugs” and “home intruders” as dog whistles to mean “black people” in tons of their literature. Their most famous spokesperson got the job because he was famous for screaming “Those damn dirty apes!” for fucks sake.

Violence as anti-politics is hardly a new phenomena, but has been accelerated through the return to tribal politics facilitated by the internet hive-mind and the slight decline in the financial fortunes of the privileged non-oligarch class.

Two years ago I wrote about the exceptionally banal manifesto that accompanied Elliott Rodger’s drive-by shooting in Santa Barbara, CA:

Rodger’s “manifesto” tells us a bit more. The MRAs, like Roof’s Stormfront folks, are the product of white men revolting over the fact they might not be as privileged as they once were. But Rodger more clearly outlines the surreal banality of the spiritually dead culture of privilege he was an extension of.

Rodger spends portions of his manifesto nostalgically lamenting how everything was fair and right with the world when he was a young man playing Pokemon, and how happy he was there was brand synergy between the cans of Mountain Dew he was drinking and the World of Warcraft MMOs he was playing. I’m not making this shit up, it’s all there. Rodger may have been the most boring person who ever lived.

By being more boring, Rodger takes on a weird interest. His privilege, and he had tons, is not enough. He fears the universe is manifestly unjust; that maybe women can’t actually be bought. In more optimistic moments he clings to the hope that maybe they can be bought but he just can’t afford them yet.

The surreal climax to his autobiography/manifesto describes his staking whether he’s going to kill himself and go on a shooting spree or not on whether he wins the Powerball lottery. He spends his time driving 8 hours across state lines because the Powerball tickets weren’t available in California. He can’t buy other lottery tickets because he doesn’t consider anything less than a couple hundred million dollars capable of making his life anything other than a story of someone tragically wronged by fate.

Part of how he’s wronged is by being a white man who can’t get literally everything he wants right this second. This being wronged doubles over on itself because his mother committed the cardinal sin of not being “white” so he can’t feel as fully wronged about his not getting everything he wants as he could if he were unambiguously “white”. Rodger spreads white supremacist diatribes all over his manifesto despite his being mixed race because white supremacy is an aspirational ideology.

Remember when Charles Koch, a man whose net worth equals a couple dozen Powerball jackpots and whose whiteness probably attracts moths, said when he was caught stealing oil from an Indian reservation: “I want what’s coming to me, and that’s all of it”?

Maybe Rodger was right about himself. He wasn’t crazy. He was just a loser.

Of course the opening shots of a revolution of anti-politics would be incoherent. That was the point. The longer we keep pretending the right is acting on rationales of anything besides the naked display of power through spectacles of opulence and terror, the more shit we’re gonna have to deal with later.

*It seems worth noting that Trump thinks the Central Park five did it but OJ Simpson is innocent. Perhaps by killing and sexually abusing Nicole Brown as violent tributes to the patriarchy, Simpson became honorarily “white” in Trump’s eyes. Trump clearly sees some of himself in Simpson and therefore could never believe Simpson was guilty.

Sarah Polley and Hollywood Rape Culture

Fans of the Armenian Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan will recognize Sarah Polley from Exotica, where she played a victim of emotional abuse, and The Sweet Hereafter, where she played a victim of sexual abuse. You might also remember her as Abigail Adams Smith, an intelligent and sensitive young woman unable to come out from under the shadow of her domineering father, in the TV miniseries John Adams. Although Polley is well-known in Canada as a left-wing activist and socialist member of the New Democratic Party (NDP), most people will probably agree that she never quite made the transition from successful child-star to adults roles.

When Polley was 20, she had the lead role in Doug Limon’s film Go. Go, which also featured Katie Holmes, and Timothy Olyphant, could have been a good film. Polley’s character, a supermarket cashier who gets in over her head when she attempts to get the money for her back rent by drugs, is just the kind of part an already experienced, socially progressive actress might want. Sadly, however, Liman lost control of the script. Go –except for a hilarious scene involving a talking (or to be more accurate subtitled) cat — is to be perfectly honest an exploitative piece of shit. Liman seems more worried about getting Katie Holmes out of her clothes than he does with telling what could have been a great story about economic desperation that would have resonated with the millennial generation.

I thought about Go when I read Polley’s editorial about Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood rape culture in the New York Times. Like just about every young actress in Hollywood, Polley had a run in with the Miramax founder where he first propositioned her, then threatened to destroy her career. But it’s not necessarily the monstrous Weinstein she’s most interested in. It is rather the “men you meet making movies.”

Most directors are insensitive men. And while I’ve met quite a few humane, kind, sensitive male directors and producers in my life, sadly they are the exception and not the rule. This industry doesn’t tend to attract the most gentle and principled among us. I had two experiences in the same year in which I went into a film as an actor with an open heart and was humiliated, violated, dismissed and then, in one instance, called overly sensitive when I complained. One producer, when I mentioned I didn’t feel a rape scene was being handled sensitively, barked that Dakota Fanning had done a rape scene when she was 12 — “And she’s fine!” A debatable conjecture, surely.

Is Doug Liman one of those “humane, kind, sensitive male directors” or is he more like the asshole who tried to mansplain the idea of playing a rape victim to Polley by reminding her that well, after all, a 12-year-old can do it? I suspect that while not a serial kidnapper and rapist like Weinstein, Liman is closer to the typical “insensitive man” you meet in Hollywood than to Polley’s ideal of a good male director. One scene from Go in particular stands out. Polley’s character Ronna has come to the apartment of Todd, a sleazy drug dealer played by Timothy Olyphant, to get “20 hits of ecstasy” to resell to a couple of soap opera actors who had approached her earlier. Since 20 hits, as Todd reminds Ronna, is the amount of ecstasy where “possession” becomes “trafficking” he accuses her of being a police spy and demands that she remove her top to prove she’s not wearing a wire.

The scene itself it quite good. Olyphant and Polley are excellent. You can see his sadistic pleasure in the power he has over her and you can feel her discomfort at being topless. Theoretically it’s not extraneous to the story. It’s not gratuitous nudity. It’s just the kind of thing a desperate young woman might have to endure is she needed to sell drugs to keep herself from being homeless. Nevertheless, not only does Liman drop Polley’s character before the film is over — he seems to get sick of her and arranges a car accident that takes her out of the script so he can concentrate on Go’s other characters — it’s difficult to tell just how much Polley is acting, and just how much real discomfort she’s feeling. Did Liman browbeat her into doing a scene she objected to? Or is it simply good acting that expresses the discomfort Ronna feels about entering into an exploitative relationship with such a disreputable and sadistic young man. It’s hard to tell — and Polley doesn’t name names in her NY Times editorial — but it’s an intriguing question nonetheless.

Harvey Weinstein’s Reign of Misogynistic Terror


That Harvey Weinstein is a sexual harasser as well as a fat, gross pig — think Chris Christie as the head of a Hollywood studio waiving his dick at any available young woman — has always been Hollywood’s worst kept secret. Until Ronan Farrow published a series of interviews with his victims, however, it was hard to imagine the scope, or the outright criminality, of Weinstein’s reign of misogynistic terror at Miramax Film and The Weinstein Company. As actress after actress after actress after actress came out with her own tale of being “Weinsteined” a pattern began to emerge. This was not catcalling or unwanted propositions, or even a “hostile work environment.” This was an elaborate criminal conspiracy that arranged for the short-term kidnapping and rape of young actresses, and the subsequent coverup in the media and legal system. Conservatives, if you’re looking for the real “pizza gate,” it’s right here.

So what is Harvey Weinstein to me? Aside from being a clueless man who probably hasn’t listened closely enough to women when they talk about the issues that the Weinstein affair has raised, not much. Yet, on this blog, I have hundreds of film reviews, which I wrote, not because I’m a specialist in film or Hollywood gossip, but simply because, as a fairly serious photographer and a failed fiction writer, I’ve always loved images and narrative. I thought that, perhaps, I could some contribution to steering people from the latest superhero reboot to the Pre-Code Hollywood Hollywood or the French New Wave. It turns out that I’m an even worst film critic than I’ve always suspected, and should probably just delete this blog and everything on it.

I’m not engaging in self-indulgent, theatrical self-laceration.

The conditions that female actors work under in Hollywood are so bad — I’d chose being an undocumented immigrant landscaper over being an A-List Hollywood starlet any day — that it’s impossible for them not to have affected the aesthetics of the films themselves. Harvey Weinstein and Miramax produced some of the most acclaimed films of the 1990s, but if you look more closely, you realize most mainstream American films have a dreary, mediocre quality that, as a younger, angrier, most emotionally honest man I always recognized. It goes beyond Weinstein. As a teenager I saw Roman Polanski’s Tess, and while I could appreciate the film’s gorgeous photography, I was always vaguely creeped out by Nastassia Kinski’s zombie like performance. How could I have realized at the time that she had been sexually exploited from a very young age? Had I wanted to make a real contribution to film criticism I could have concentrated on reading that buried code in American cinema, to tracing the outlines of the criminal conspiracy hiding in plain sight. Instead, I always tried to find something I liked about any film I reviewed. “Why write about something you hate?” I would sometimes think.

That’s exactly what I should have been doing. American film?  I should have been working, in some small way, to destroy it. How could an industry that subjects women to the kind of working conditions I’ve read about in the past few days produce anything but filth?

Silence of the Lambs (1991) Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

That Silence of the Lambs is propaganda for the FBI posing as a horror movie has always been obvious but now we have the evidence. Even the film’s producer and liaison with the FBI felt some qualms about just how closely they were working with The Bureau.

“The FBI’s self-interest was evident to Ed Saxon, the Silence of the Lambs producer who was the bureau’s point person on the 1991 film. Saxon expressed some misgivings about the consulting arrangement. “We had political qualms about how closely we were working with the FBI and how much we were making the FBI look like heroes when the FBI’s history as an organ of the state has been complicated, to say the least,” he told BuzzFeed News.”

Writers Without Money

A decade after having its reputation damaged by the Church Committee and revelations about Cointelpro, the FBI turned to turned to Hollywood. In films like The Untouchables (1987), Mississippi Burning (1988), and The Fugitive (1993), federal agents no longer spy on anti-war-activists or put microphones under Martin Luther King’s bed. On the contrary, they liberate Chicago from the mob, smash the Ku Klux Klan, and help an innocent man clear his name.

Directed by the gifted Johnathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs (1991) is probably the best of the pro-FBI films that came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Jodie Foster, who stars as the plucky young Clarice Starling, puts a feminist face on a government agency better known for conservative white men in conservative dark suits. She not only rescues the daughter of a United States Senator from a perverse, wannabee transgender serial killer, she transcends…

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The Best Years of Our Lives Punching Nazis

Whenever any debate on social media about the ethics of “punching Nazis” comes up, I often think of a scene from The Best Years of Our Lives, William Wyler’s classic film about three American veterans making a difficult transition to civilian life after the Second World War. Fred Derry, a working class man who received a battlefield commission in France and spent the war as an officer, is back working at his old low-status job as a “soda jerk” (sort of the 1940s version of a Starbucks barrista). A middle-aged man in a suit comes in, orders a sandwich and sits down. Derry’s friend Homer Parrish, who lost his hands after his ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, sits down next to him. While Derry is competently, but unenthusiastically attending to them both, the middle-aged man, having noticed Fred’s disfigured arms, takes the opportunity to strike up a conversation about the war. We quickly realize that he’s an “America Firster,” a Nazi and an antisemite masquerading as a common sense critic of American militarism. After Derry notices that his friend is visibly upset, he orders the America Firster to leave, but Homer Parrish isn’t finished. He follows the man to the counter and rips a small American flag pin off the lapel of his jacket as if to say “you don’t have the right to wear that flag you traitor.” There’s a shoving match, and Fred, an athletic man who survived the war without a scratch, leaps over the counter and clocks the America Firster in the jaw, sending him sprawling out onto a glass counter, which crashes beneath his weight.

When I saw this film as a teenager, my sympathies were actually with the America Firster. He was leaving the drug store, after all. Homer did get into his space, and Fred did wildly overreact. Mostly I was reading the scene through the lens of the Vietnam War. After growing up listening to my father and his friends denounce hippies and pacifists, I was ready to take the America Firster at his word, that he was simply a common sense critic of American militarism. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the American consensus against Nazism seemed so rock solid that it was hard to imagine anything else. If there was one thing we we could all agree about it was that Nazis deserved to be punched. But I should have known better. In 1985, Pat Buchanan had already persuaded Ronald Reagan to give a speech at the German cemetery at Bitburg, where he declared men who served in the Waffen SS were “victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.” Anticommunism, even American anticommunism, has always had a strong fascist and antisemitic quality to it. Indeed, not only did the United States get fully into the war in Western Europe at the absurdly late date of 1944, there was really never any guarantee that it would join the fight against Hitler at all. When the America Firster in The Best Years of Our Lives denounces “those radicals in Washington” he’s very specifically referring to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. When he talks about the “reds and the Limies who manipulated us into fighting on the wrong side” he never comes out and says “the Jews” but anybody in 1946 would have known what he was talking about.

Now, in 2017, we have a white supremacist President, Nazis marching in the streets of the great university town of Charlottesville, and even people on the left “debating” about whether or not we should punch Nazis. A lot of it has to do with the conservatism Ronald Reagan mainstreamed in the 1980s. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom fought the Nazis as conservative powers. Franklin Roosevelt, of course, was famously liberal. Even Churchill did not govern as a conservative, but, instead, as the leader of a coalition that was dominated by the Labor Party, who quickly threw him out after the war was over, and installed a government that passed a comprehensive system of public healthcare. That liberal, anti-fascist consensus is gone, and I am actually old enough to see it as a radical transformation of American society. We’ve gone from a world where even a popular president like Ronald Reagan was quickly denounced for going to Bitburg to a world where even people like the great radical journalist Chris Hedges draw up bogus moral equivalencies between anti-fascists and fascists. The Best Years of Our Lives is a great film because it captures how fragile that consensus was all along. If Derry overreacts to the America Firster trying to bait his friend Homer Parrish into an argument, then it’s because Derry, once a glamorous air force officer, but now confronted with the brutality of the American class system, is perhaps wondering himself if was all worth the trouble. Did Homer Parrish leave both his hands at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for nothing? Did the America Firster have a point after all?

When it came time to act, however, Fred Derry didn’t hesitate. Derry was no radical leftist, but when he had to chose between keeping his job or standing up for his friend and punching a Nazi, he didn’t have to think twice about it. He chose punching the Nazi.

The Myth of Internet Security

Computer security is big money these days. It’s also quite probably impossible.

The Most Revolutionary Act

Web Warriors

National Geographic (2008)

Film Review

Web Warriors is a documentary about the vulnerability of major computer-controlled power, communication, transport and military grids to attacks by hackers, viruses and worms that have the potential to bring regional and national economies to a standstill.

The goal of the film is to confront viewers with the stark reality that the Internet was never designed to be secure. The World Wide Web was never designed to be an engine of commerce or to safeguard bank and other financial data. At present, it’s still virtually impossible to design a 100% secure computer network.

The video opens by exploring the likelihood that the August 24 blackout that shut down the eastern US and Canada for two days in August 2003 was most likely caused by a computer worm attack, rather than a “programming error,” as claimed by company officials.

It goes own to identify…

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