Category Archives: male filmmakers

Black ’47 (2018)


The Irish potato famine of the late 1840s is widely misunderstood in the United States.  First of all, it wasn’t a famine, and it wasn’t about potatoes. That it was a genocide carried out by the English and their collaborators against the Irish peasantry, who needed to be cleared off the land to make way for capitalism and the British Empire, is probably the mainstream view on Bainbridge Avenue or in South Boston. But for most of us, it’s almost always spoken of as if it were a tribal feud between Celt and Anglo Saxon, or as a religious conflict between Catholic and Protestant. There are also a lot of Irish Americans, all English speaking, culturally Anglo Saxon, and mostly part of the middle or upper-middle-class. Don’t expect to hear Joe Biden talking about the crimes of the British Empire on the campaign trail in 2020.

Most American film critics have labeled the Irish film Black ’47 either as a revenge film in the mold of First Blood, or as a “western.” They’re not entirely wrong. Black ’47’s hero Martin Feeney, a veteran of the British invasion of Afghanistan, does resemble Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. He’s an elite soldier the local cops push a little too far, and when he finally decides to take his revenge, they have no idea what they’re up against. Australian actor James Frecheville, tall, dark, intense, looks a bit like a young Clint Eastwood. If Hollywood decides to reboot Dirty Harry they don’t have to look very far for their leading man. He, and costar Hugo Weaving, are perfect for the film’s high key cinematography, a style that recalls John Ford or Akira Kurosawa. If I were directing a remake of The Searchers, I know who I’d cast as Ethan Edwards.

These same critics, while correctly pointing out some of Black ‘47’s aesthetic influences, often miss the forest through the trees. Yes. It’s a western. But the best American westerns, like the above-mentioned The Searchers, are dealing with the same process that was going on in Ireland in the 1840s, genocide, the Anglo-American empire clearing “empty” land of its aboriginal inhabitants to make way for capitalism. Every American can tell you all about the “communist famine” in Ukraine or during the Great Leap Forward in China.  But how many Americans know that the population actually increased in China under Mao, so much so that the Chinese government in the 1980s had to implement a “one-child policy” to deal with overpopulation? The capitalist genocide in Ireland was a lot more effective. There were 8 million people in Ireland in 1840. There were 4 million in 1876. In 1923, there were only 3 million. What’s more, the staggering loss of life in Ireland would be dwarfed by the tens of millions of people who died in India under the British Empire in the 1870s and 1880s. Take that Stalin. Take that Mao. Compared to British ruling class, you’re amateurs. Yet try to tell this to an American. He’ll probably just start babbling on about Venezuela.

When Martin Feeney deserts the British Army in Afghanistan, and returns “home” to western Ireland, he may be a better killer than the typical British enlisted man of the day, but he’s not at all unusual. If the typical Irish American – like the typical German or Polish American — is a bit of a racist, this has to be seen within the context of Anglo-American imperialism. After Protestant England destroyed the indigenous, and Catholic, culture of the Irish and Highland Scots, they recruited Irishmen and Scotsmen as muscle for the British empire. The very best imperial stormtroopers in India, or in the American west, were the descendants of the very people who were subjected to the capitalist genocide of the Highland Clearances or the Irish “potato famine.” But what would happen, Black ’47 asks, if one of these Celtic supermen turned on his English and Anglo-Irish collaborationist masters? After Martin Feeney deserts the British Army and comes home to a home that’s no longer his and a family that’s been systematically dismantled and driven into madness and death by the local courts and the local police, that’s exactly what happens.

The first thing we notice that the landscape, a landscape a British Lord calls “too beautiful for the Irish,” is a landscape of death, Hieronymus Bosch damped by the filter of an austere desaturated, high key  photography. It is beautiful, but we also see row after row of stone houses, all of which had probably existed for centuries, with their roofs torn off. The collaborationist judicial system has been systematically arresting people for any reason, then using it as an excuse to evict them from their homes, tearing the wood and straw off the top of each house to make sure that anybody who remained would either freeze to death or get rained on and die of the fever. One family of squatters consists of the wife, teenage son, and young daughter of his brother Michael, who was hanged after he violently resisted the evictions. The teenage boy resents Martin’s service with the British Army, but Michael has food and money, and a plan to emigrate to the United States, which was probably the best course of action for the Irish in 1847. Better to deal with WASP American prejudice or even getting drafted into the Union Army and sent to Antietam or Fredericksburg than to stay put in the middle of an ongoing genocide. A few minutes later, however, just like that, Michael’s sister in law, nieces and nephews are all dead. That’s how cheap life was in Ireland in 1847.

When Michael sees his brave, militant nephew, a hotheaded young man on the cusp of adulthood, gunned down by local police, and his dark, beautiful sister in law frozen to death with his little niece after they lose their only shelter, the die is cast. What else could he possibly become but a remorseless killing machine dedicated to bringing the same death and destruction on the English and their local collaborators that they’ve brought to Ireland?

Most of the reviews I’ve seen of Black ‘47 have criticized Hugo Weaving’s character Hannah, another British Army veteran who knew Feeney in Afghanistan, but they largely miss the point. Hannah’s transformation from a brutal police detective who strangles a member of “Young Ireland” for defying his authority to revolutionary who aids Feeney’s escape from the British authorities than participates in an insurrection against a racist landlord, is perfectly logical when you understand that he’s a soldier, not a politician. He’s spent years enforcing British “law” against the natives in Afghanistan as part of a small core of white men who depended on fear to keep them alive. Killing a recalcitrant prisoner has become second nature. Nevertheless, like the young English private Hobson – who coincidentally or not has the same last name as the great English anti-imperialist writer who influenced Lenin – soldiers will rebel. For Hobson, it’s the shock of seeing grain being transported out of the country in the middle of a famine, and the gut-wrenching sight of bags of skin and bones following after the wagons hoping to get a taste of a bit of grain that might fall off. For Hannah it’s seeing Hobson, a fellow soldier, gunned down in cold blood, and knowing that he faces a moral choice. Does he betray a fellow elite imperial soldier to the piggish local police, or does he turn against the empire that formerly employed him. That it’s not an easy choice does the film credit. Hannah is an Englishman. Feeney is an Irishman. Feeney knows he’s going to die. Hannah wants to live, but in the end the old cliché, that soldiers don’t fight for a country or for an ideology, but for their fellow soldiers, is turned on its head. Hannah becomes a revolutionary precisely because he cannot betray a fellow soldier who saved his life back in Afghanistan. It’s not about the English vs. the Irish, or even about capitalism or imperialism. It’s about the bond two men develop during wartime. Turned against the ruling class, it can become deadly.

The genocide against the Irish in the 19th Century was a genocide against white men carried out by white men, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t involve racism. There’s an arrogant, young blond English captain who looks like he was pulled right out of a Nuremberg Rally.  Black ’47 consciously invokes the similarities between the genocide in Ireland and the ongoing genocide against the Indians in North America. “Some men live for the day when a Celtic Irishman is as rare in Ireland as a red Indian in Manhattan,” the most brutal of the film’s Anglo-Irish land lords remarks. When he sees a pretty Irish barmaid, he can barely control his dirty old man’s lust, mainly because he thinks she looks more English than Irish. The English in Ireland clearly believed the Irish were an inferior race, not their close genetic cousins. Irish Catholics in the United States have “white privilege.” Joe Biden will enforce American capitalism as brutally as any WASP. They sure as hell didn’t have it in Ireland back in 1847.

Gender and Abuse in Cinema: Lessons that Hollywood Should Learn From Malayalam Film Industry.

The Harvey Weinstein (and others) revelations are emotionally devastating but should not be understood from an ‘immediacy’ perspective. There exist structural inadequacies in Hollywood that are much more complex than the victim-offender perspective from which we are addressing the problem today. These inadequacies are not limited to incidents of sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances.  The problem is all pervasive because it emanates from the gendered operation of this film making industry which is inherently discriminatory against women and people of different ethnicities.

With no intention to undermine the traumatic nature of the cases of sexual harassment that have come up, it should be made clear that it is just a small part of the larger problem. If we only focus our attention to cases of sexual harassment, and that too of specific actresses, we tend to ignore the core structural problem with Hollywood by addressing only a part of that structure. This has two significant drawbacks:

  1. It carries a potential of dividing the larger political stand of women within the industry into victims and non-victims. This division not only dissipates the political nature of the cause but also potentially put these two classes in a clash against each other. For example, the #SheKnew trend that was started against Meryl Streep.
  2. It might help in curbing the issue of sexual harassment in the shorter run by punishing the perpetrators such as Harvey but such issues, along with others, will crop up again in the longer run due to no change in the structure of how gender operates in Hollywood

The victimization of women in cinema is caused by the realities of deprivation, representation and categorization of the same both outside and inside the industry. Women are deprived of many lucrative opportunities in the different processes involved in filmmaking due to lack of representation at decision making positions. This lack of representation is founded upon the categorization of women in both acting and non-acting jobs in the film industry. Since these issues are structural, they require an adjustment at the structural level itself to enhance the mobility and accommodation of diversity in cinema.

One fact that supports the structural argument is that the problem currently faced by women in Hollywood is not limited to Hollywood itself. For the past many years, Malayalam film industry in India, one of the biggest and most lucrative in both the country and the world, has been criticized of its unfounded representation of women both on and off the screen. Due to continuous ignorance at the structural level, the problem of representation got worse resulting into a series of actresses complaining about sexual harassment. In order to address the issue of crimes against of women in cinema, a Collective was formed demanding structural and all-pervasive analysis of issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry.

The government of Kerala finally addressed the demands of the Collective and formed a Judicial Committee to look into the structural issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry. The committee highlighted lack of pay parity and inadequate representation as major reasons behind mistreatment of women in cinema. The Committee suggested various recommendations such as making equal pay obligatory, providing reservation to women in non-acting jobs in the state-owned film companies, fund for women who cannot work during their pregnancies, and many more. Most importantly, it recommended for setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee at the film set, which is interpreted to be nothing short of a ‘workplace’ for women in cinema.

While the government is still evaluating the recommendations, the very endeavour of coming up with such initiative should be appreciated. Women in film industries are also citizens of their respective countries and therefore no artificial discrimination should stop them from enjoying their rights which they are assured of in other industries or workplace. While some of the suggestions might seem too ambitious to be implemented in Hollywood considering most of the production companies are private in nature, the larger idea of state regulation of treatment of women in these companies and the consideration of these companies as a workplace are structural changes that cannot be ignored.

















































Revisiting The Oeuvre of Bazaar-e-Husn

There aren’t many works of cinematic art that become cinematic in their own right. The legacy of these works transcends what is projected on the screen and venture into the arenas of popularity that was quite unintended by the creator itself.

Pakeezah, a Hindi Cinema classic that took almost 15 years to complete, is one such movie whose legacy is unparalleled and finesse unmatched. The fervour around the film was as much due to the stories that revolved around each and every person associated with it as the climactic plot of the film itself.

The journey of making Pakeezah is no less of an odyssey for its director Kamal Amrohi and the lead actress Meena Kumari. They both were in the romantic company of each other both during the commencement and the conclusion of the film, however, going through a judicial separation and an alleged extra-marital affair in between. As much as I would love to delve more into the depths of this theme, the main focus of this work is rather centred upon one of the most intelligently designed sets from the movie – Bazaar-e-Husn.

Translated as a ‘fair of beauty’, Bazaar-e-Husn reflects the budgetary prowess of Pakeezah’s production. Often termed as a perfectionist, Kamal Amrohi had to shed almost a million rupees to build a perfect settlement for a desired reality of erstwhile Muslim royality.


The set for Bazaar-e-Husn took six months to complete with over 600 men working on it. A publicity material for the film described it as:

“There is nothing make believe in this set. Dozens of genuine shops from the various parts of the country were bodily shifted to the set to lend it the authenticity it demanded. These shops remained on the sets for more than a year involving a payment of huge compensation to their owners. Nothing so fantastic was ever attempted or achieved in a single film.”

Despite involving investment of such magnitude, the set has only been used for just one dance sequence in the entire movie. Since the plot of the movie shifts from Delhi to Lucknow, the only display of Bazaar-e-Husn that we get to see is during the opening mujra of Sahibjaan in Inhi Logon Nai. Despite having such a brief presence, the choreography of Inhi Logon imbued with the charm of Meena Kumari, makes the scenic experience of the establishment quite unforgettable.

In the only dance sequence where the glimpse of Bazaar-e-Husn is shown, we can see the flavour of the tawaif (courtesan) culture of Delhi in its maturity. As Sahibjaan (Meena Kumari) is performing her teasing dance number, we can see a lot of motion behind her that manifests itself as daily routine at such establishments. We can see parallel mujras being performed at other courts and commodities such as betel nuts, ornaments and fruits being sold. Despite the commotion in the streets, one finds it really difficult to take his eyes off from the leading lady and take a moment to ponder upon the life at Bazaar-e-Husn. However, as a myriad of vivacity and vividness, Bazaar-e-Husn not just beautifully merges with the choreography of the mujra but goes on to enhance the aesthetics of it. It provides it with a context that paints a picture in the viewer’s conscience which is like a medieval portrait of a desired escape.


Apart from the monetary shelling, a lot of artistic capital also went on to contribute to the making of this enchanting establishment. Hundreds of dancers were specifically trained for months just for the picturization of that brief mujra sequence of Inhi Login Ne. This not only gives us a glimpse of Kamal Amrohi’s traits of perfection but also goes on to expose his tremendous respect for the art that he intended to pursue.

If Pakeezah was Amrohi’s dearest creation, Bazaar-e-Husn would undoubtedly be his most vivid fantasy. As the making of the movie saw no signs of completion, and while being intertwined in a personal turmoil, Amrohi never shed a single shade of doubt on his brainchild. In an interview which he gave to Time Magazine for the project that he had penned, directed and also intended to act in, he said –

‘Jab tak Pakeezah khatm nahi ho jaati, tab tak mujhe maut bhi nahi aayegi’

(Even death is waiting for me to finish Pakeezah)


Pictures: National Film Archives of India

The Seventh Seal (1956)


Every Halloween here in suburban New Jersey offers a good opportunity to observe the distant, often aloof attitude middle-class Americans have towards death. For the liberal, cafeteria Catholics and mainline Protestants that populate my little corner of the world, Halloween is a secular holiday, something for children. The decorations, the fake graveyards and the inflatable giant spiders that everybody seems to have on the front lawn, indicate but do not adequately express a consciousness of death.  Every time I see one of those bumper stickers that tell me to “put Christ back in Christmas” I wonder why they don’t also say “keep Halloween demonic.”

I was going open this review by saying something like “in 1956 when Ingmar Bergman released The Seventh Seal the threat of nuclear holocaust was very real,” but that would have been absurd. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the threat of a nuclear holocaust will remain every bit as much a possibility as it was during the height of the Cold War. A more accurate opening sentence would have read “in 1956 when Ingmar Bergman released The Seventh Seal the threat of a nuclear holocaust felt very real.” We have not eliminated the threat of extinction. We have merely papered it over with a collective sense of denial. Many of us live with a barely subconscious dread of dissolution and oblivion, that “quiet desperation” Thoreau talks about in Walden, yet we cannot, or dare not express what we fear.

For Ingmar Bergman the answer was to go back to the Fourteenth Century. Antonius Block, the tall, stern, philosophical knight played by a very young Max von Sydow – he was only twenty-six when he starred in Bergman’s classic film – returns to northern Europe after ten years in the Holy Land on a Crusade. Not only has he lost his faith in God. Scandinavia is being ravaged by the Black Plague. The end of the world is at hand. The opening scenes of the Seventh Seal are a tour de force in black and white photography. Block and his squire Jöns, who like his master has lost his faith, wake up on the stark, rock strewn Baltic coastline. Their horses stand knee deep in the sea. We notice that Jöns has slept on a pile of rocks, a quietly vivid image that makes it clear that he’s a rugged man accustomed to a harsh life on the road. Then Block sees Death himself. Death is not an abstraction. On the contrary, he’s a man, a terrifyingly strange man with a ghostly face and dressed all in black, but a man nonetheless. If the promise of eternal life was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, Block’s dread of eternal oblivion has been made flesh in Bengt Ekerot‘s Grim Reaper.


Ingmar Bergman’s vision of death.


Those of you know know me online have probably seen this portrait.

Block’s reaction is not fear. Rather, it’s a renewed will to live. That death is a man like himself means that death can also be challenged to single combat, or to a game of chess. The two men cut a deal. Death will play a game of chess with the erstwhile Crusader. As long as the knight resists, he can remain on earth. If he wins, if he checksmates death himself, he will be released. If he loses, if death checkmates him, he will be taken away, perhaps to heaven, perhap to hell, perhap to simple oblivion, to non-existence. After Block wins the first round, he continues on his way, desperate to find an answer to the question we all ask. “Is there life after death?” Along the way they meet Albertus Pictor, a church painter who, unlike Ingmar Bergman, believes in a good, crude horror story, Raval, the theologian who had originally convinced Block to go on the Crusade, but who has now become a lowlife who robs the dead, a deaf woman played by Gunnel Lindlbom, Mia and Joff, a pair of traveling minstrels, and a teenage girl played by Maud Hansson, an accused witch who has been sentenced to be burned alive at the stake for consorting with Satan.

Block questions the girl. Have you spoken to the devil? An affirmative answer would give him hope. If the devil exists, then perhaps God exists. There are of course no answers be had from a mentally ill teenager who has been set up as a scapegoat for causing the plague. She genuinely seems to believe she’s seen the devil, but Block can’t be sure. Perhaps she’s simply delusional. Later, just before her immolation, he makes no attempt to interfere with her executioners, but does feed her a drug that will ease her pain, a little bit of oblivion to save her from the hell on earth that will probably end with her death. His encouner with Joff and Mia yields more. Block is touched by the sight of their year old son, the future, and Mia’s fleshy, womanly vitality. She offers him milk and wild strawberries on the beach where he had previously met death himself. The knight savors the milk and wild strawberries, pausing to enjoy a very tangible part of his last few days on earth.

I shall remember this moment. The silence, the twilight, the bowls of strawberries and milk, your faces in the evening light. Mikael sleeping, Jof with his lyre. I’ll try to remember what we have talked about. I’ll carry this memory between my hands as carefully as if it were a bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk.

For Block, however, the pagan mindset that would allow him to enjoy the last few traces of light before he descends into night and oblivion will never be sufficient. He must have answers, and since Death has made a second appearance, disguising himself as a confessor in a church, and tricking Block into revealing his strategy, the knight knows he doesn’t have much time. He will get no answers from Mia and Joff, but perhaps he can save them from the apocalypse. Mia, played by a beautiful young Bibi Andersson, is a simple woman content with that pagan enjoyment in her physical, mortal form that can’t satisfy Block. Joff who serves as Bergman’s commentary on the place of the artist, is a comic, not a tragic actor, basically a clown. There’s a magnificent set piece where Joff and Mia are performing a song about death, a smiling, satirical take on the idea of death not so very different from the silly Halloween decorations that pop up every year in suburban, New Jersey. They are interrupted by a religious procession, a terrifying, intense parade of people singing dias irae, flagellating themselves, trying to beat the understanding of death into their mortal bodies so they can save their souls before death consumes them. A priest gives a speech, a harrowing fire and brimstone sermon that recalls Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards.

It’s Joff, however, the clown married to the woman far too beautiful for him, or for any other man, who sees the truth long enough to save himself and his family. Joff’s visions, which Mia doesn’t take seriously, indicate that while he may be a buffoon, he understands what the knight does not. Antonius Block, like the priest at the dias irae procession sees only death. Joff has already had a vision of the Virgin Mary and even though his wife laughed at him and accused him of being drunk, he does not doubt his own eyes. He is secure in his faith, and Block, who cannot save himself, saves Joff and Mia, playing a last game of chess with Death. Death checkmates Block but Block overturns the board, forcing Death to pick up and replace the pieces, giving Joff and Mia those precious few seconds they need to steal away into the night, away from the plague and the apocalypse. Antonius Block, who has lost his faith in Christ has, nevertheless, become Christ, an existential, not a Christian Christ, a man who has given his own life so that a family can go on living in a world that has no answers.

It is the consciousness of death, in other words, not the idea of eternal life, that gives meaning to our mortal lives. That is probably why when I was twenty six, the same age as von Sydow in 1956, I was so anxious to make the idea of my own mortality real. I did not want to die. I was nowhere near death. It may have been lurking around the next corner, but in reality that corner was still very far down the road, but I needed to know it was there. You cannot live if you think your life will go on forever. It works the same way with a people, a culture. We Americans are largely protected from death, including and especially including the death caused y our own government. Do we Americans ever think about the trail of destruction we’ve left in the Middle East? Do we ever think about global warming, which could end us as a species, or the ongoing threat of nuclear war? Or do we simply deny the reality of death, even as we contemplate death, those inane secular Halloween decorations, mock graveyards and inflatable giant spiders the closest we ever get to the mortality always present in our everyday lives?

Spectre (2015)

Spectre begins with a lovely tracking shot through a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City that has us follow masked figures through the pageantry, up some steps, up an elevator, through a hotel room (where one of the masked figures turns out to be none other than James Bond), and then across a series of rooftops before quickly establishing itself as a Bond film with a sequence of ludicrous c.g.i. pandemonium. This leads into a fairly spectacular scene in a helicopter (which dances manically over a suspiciously-not-fleeing Day of the Dead crowd) that cloaks whatever digital imagery is in it fairly nicely, and then we find ourselves in the new M’s (Ralph Fiennes, returning from succeeding Judi Dench in Skyfall) office, where Bond (Daniel Craig, for the fourth and presumably last time) is being berated for his Mexico City shenanigans, laughably carried out without permission. For some reason, this doesn’t get Bond arrested six times before he can say “Martini,” but it does get him injected with “smart blood” by Q (Ben Whishaw, also returning from Skyfall), nanomachines allowing MI6 to track him anywhere in the world (even though the entire point of this scene is specifically seeing Bond getting Q to subvert this smart blood tracking system). Bond also steals a car Q’s working on for 009, which doesn’t raise any red flags with MI6, but does lead to an amusing moment where Bond attempts to engage the custom “Atmosphere” switch in the car during a chase only for a readout to inform him that music customized for 009 has been enabled, which then serenades him. This is only Q’s second film since the quasi-reboot of the Bond movies with Casino Royale, and though a scene involving a plane in Spectre approaches Pierce Brosnan Bond-levels of inanity, we have yet for the new Q to provide Bond with anything really cool and wacky. That’s the perfect Q invention in these movies: something silly that nonetheless serves some kind of purpose, like a gun in one of those pens where the ink forms the lady on the pen’s bathing suit.

I would continue synopsizing, but this is about all I really care to recall with vivid detail. Bond then goes to Rome to antagonize and bang, apparently in that order, the widow (Monica Bellucci) of one of the crime bosses he was chasing in Mexico City, whom he also saves from assassination by her bodyguards, blah blah blah, then he has to go to another country, blah blah blah, he has people working on the inside for him and gets a hold of a ring all the people in this crime organization wear, so on and so forth, it’s all a rub, really. His hijinks in Rome lead to an interesting-but-overblown scene where Bond attends the crime organization’s meeting and meets with the villain (Christoph Waltz, who gets absolutely wasted by this film), who’ll later be revealed to be a past Bond villain (this film is a resuscitation of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. as a plot point, after all). The film boils down to having two villains operating on separate levels who (spoiler alert) turn out to be working toward the same end. At MI6, the existence of the entire department is threatened by C (Andrew Scott), the head of the privately-backed Joint Intelligence Service, an agency looking to form a nine-country surveillance outfit dubbed “Nine Eyes” (I will refer enthusiasts of both Orwell and of our Orwellian world to the real multi-nation intelligence-gathering agency Five Eyes, some of whose activities were leaked by Edward Snowden). “Nine Eyes,” naturally, will put the fabled Double-Oh program out of commission in favor of indiscriminate drone bombings. The Bond franchise reflects on surveillance and geopolitics for nine-tenths of a second while M laments the situation and an action-weary audience wonders if politically-aware emotional heft will ever be backdoored into a Bond movie in any substantive way. Here, it just feels like they’re hitting on the “morally-ambiguous surveillance trope” increasingly common to spy movies, particularly since the Bourne movies put the emphasis on the information-gathering element of intelligence work.

The movie manages to work in a recurring villain (Jesper Christensen) from throughout the Daniel Craig movies, whose appearance I greeted with a heavy sigh and a glance at my watch. Why is every stupid action movie now in the area of 150 minutes, and why do I always look at the time less than halfway through? Oh yeah. And Dave Bautista, better known as the wrestler Batista, whose name in the film is Dr. Hinx but who seems to be playing Oddjob-sans-hat or something, does a nice job smashing scenery. This is really where the Bond movies have come the furthest: all the smashed scenery seems incredibly real nowadays, whereas in the past it tended to look like the cheap pressboard paneling we knew it really was.

All in all, Nine Eyes turns out to be just the sort of thing that Spectre, a criminal organization with its own wide-ranging surveillance apparatus, will benefit from as well, and the plots sort of come together. That said, Spectre by no means earns its runtime, and by the end feels like it’s been bloated by an emphasis on pre-designed set pieces with a script written around them. It’s somewhat fun, but fuck is it long, and it feels wrong that the Daniel Craig series of films will come to an end with what feels very much like a modern Roger Moore Bond: silly-but-globetrotting, spectacular-but-preposterous, and wide in scope but narrow in vision. As alluded to earlier, I half-expected Pierce Brosnan to emerge from a plane after it crashed and skied its way down a snowy mountainside in pursuit of a van and its hostage. Yes, the new Bond series ultimately got too over-the-top and too silly, but at least they took their time getting there. Consider what a triumph it is for the Bond films to even be able to criticize them in such a way; they set out to create more accessible stories of spycraft with the Craig series and succeeded for a good three films. Now that we’re back to wackiness, I want to see Idris Alba dangling out of a flying BMW next movie.

Cartel Land (2015)

Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman’s Academy Award nominated documentary, is the story of two men, and two countries. Tim “Nailer” Foley is the leader of an organization in the United States called Arizona Border Recon. Dr. Manuel Mireles is the founder of a group of paramilitary self-defense groups, or “Autodefensas” in the southern Mexican state of Michoacán. Both claim to be dedicated to the defense of their people against the Mexican drug cartels. Neither might be exactly what he claims.

Tim Foley is the less consequential of the two. Heineman probably could have left him out of the documentary altogether, but I suppose he does offer some insight into the kind of men who like to dress up like soldiers and patrol the border between Mexico and the United States looking for “illegals.” In the opening scene of Cartel Land, Heineman interviews to Mexican meth cookers. We know that what we do harms people in the United States, one of the men says, but we come from poor families so we don’t have any choice. If I were from a rich family, he adds, pointing at the cameraman, I’d have a nice clean job like you people in the media. Tim Foley is one of the people in the United States the meth cooker has harmed. He’s a former meth addict. Arizona Border Recon is part of his redemption narrative.

After a near death experience, Foley tells us, he kicked drugs and started working construction, only to be put out of a job by illegal immigrants from Mexico. When he came to the border, however, he decided that the real enemy wasn’t the illegal immigrants who put him out of a job, but the Mexican drug cartels, all of whom smuggle people as well as meth. Foley indignantly talks about how the Southern Poverty Law Center lists Arizona Border Recon as a hate group, and strongly denies that he’s a racist, and I believe him, but it still doesn’t make his group worthy of half the documentary. All Foley and his followers seem to do is dress up in fatigues and try out new weapons and new electronic gadgets. We see absolutely no sign of the “invasion” that Foley, or Donald Trump, talks about. We don’t even get to see an armed member of any of the cartels. Tim Foley, I think it’s safe to say, can be summed up as a broken man who likes to play soldier.

Dr. Manuel Mireles is another story altogether. A very tall, charismatic womanizer with a big, bushy mustache and a black cowboy hat, you can easily imagine Mireles as the next Fidel Castro or Poncho Villa, as the leader of a violent revolution that overthrows the Mexican government. In fact, on a smaller scale, he does just that, travelling with an ever expanding group of Autodefensas, and liberating town after town in the southern southern Mexican state of Michoacán from the “Knights Templar,” an offshoot of the Zetas. It’s here where Matthew Heineman’s documentary really shines. Some of the camera work is on the level of some of the great photography of the Vietnam War. When the Mexican Army arrives and tries to release a group of Knights Templars that Mireles and his Autodefensas have detained, and the townspeople drive the soldiers away, it feels like the beginning of a revolution. When Mireles instructs one of his men to execute one of the Templars, to “put him in the ground,” and allows Heineman to continue filming, it feels a bit like watching Eddie Adams take his famous photo of the Vietnamese communist being shot through the head in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. Holy shit, we think, is this actually happening?

Soon, however, you begin to get the impression that it all looks just a little too easy. You wonder if Heineman is writing propaganda for the NRA. Why else would he bookend the story of Manuel Mireles with the story of Tim Foley. All you need to get rid of bad men with guns, the film seems to be saying, are a few good men with guns. The story of Manuel Mireles and the Autodefensas is far more complex than right wing propaganda. Soon the Mexican government begins to resent the loss of authority in Michoacán. They send agents provocateurs to infiltrate and undermine Mireles’ organization. Mireles is gravely wounded in a plane crash, and has to spend over a year in the hospital with traumatic brain injury. When his lieutenants, men with nicknames like “Papa Smurf” and “El Gordo,” take over the day to day operations of the Autodefensas, the line between the cartels and the vigilantes, between organized crime and organized resistance to crime, is blurred. Papa Smurf allows rank and file Autodefensas to rob the houses of cartel members, supposedly to get back what the cartels stole from the people, but more likely than not, we realize, to line their own pockets. After Mireles returns to Michoacán, the Mexican government begins to play “divide and conquer,” offering Papa Smurf and El Gordo amnesty and incorporation into the Mexican army in exchange for agreeing to disarm. Mexico may be close to a failed state, but Mexican politicians are surprisingly good at counterinsurgency. El Gordo and Papa Smurf accept the deal and force Mireles into hiding, effectively breaking up the Autodefensas, and restoring the old order in Michoacán. Cartel Land ends with Mireles in prison on weapons charges, and with the viewer wondering what exactly just happened. Is Mireles a fake? Were the Autodefensas just the latest re-branding of the cartels? Or has Heineman been working to discredit Mireles all along?

In the end, Cartel Land raises more questions than it answers.

The Dialectic of Nostalgia and Irony

In putting together a dialectical analysis, casting the roles of thesis and antithesis is perhaps the single most important action taken. The rest just sort of follows; the dialectic being a template to overlay on phenomena to tease out the shapes of their interaction in the larger world; where they’re headed, and what will replace them.

With the release of the new Star Wars film, talk of nostalgia, already a thing much more discussed in this country than would seem proper were the country not in a state of decline, is at an all-time high. Articles are being written left and right about this and that; every bit of historical, speculative, and other minutia that could be dredged is being rolled out into the digital sphere like so many wooden clocks shaped like animals at a craft fair, and, dragged along with the pettiness of discourse that unfortunately marks the internet periodical culture, considerations of what this nostalgia constitutes; what it  indicates; what the actual thing being wistfully remembered is can’t help but amble around the fitful mind of a man with no emotional attachment to Star Wars whatsoever, a man such as myself.

I suppose the poles of the dialectic I’d like to analyze, the two discursive threads running through the culture at large that have been snowballing into a confrontation, the two things that seem to be the dominant tones adopted once the internet opened up and everyone had a platform to say whatever was on their mind with no editors are the cultural threads of the “ironic” and the “nostalgic”. Which is the thesis and which the antithesis I can’t say, but the culture of omnipresent irony and the culture of tone-deaf nostalgia interact as dialectic; neither should be trusted on its own as both sides are ultimately things drawing one in directions that don’t lead to destinations; each only seems to derive its claims to the authentic or worthwhile through constantly underlining the distasteful excess of the other.

Of course, positing the two as being dialectical oppositions to each other is in itself somewhat problematic as, being secret lovers like any two culturally opposed ideas, we find them folded over each other more often than not.

Let’s explore an article that was picked up by a couple other publications when it was posted that works as a kind of brilliant picture of the emptiness the constitutes the center of the image of the two threads circling each other. The article, titled “This Private Garfield Facebook Group Is the Last Irony-Free Place on the Internet” is a terrific sleight of hand; a false nostalgia for a time and place on the internet that never existed that’s not even backed up by the screenshots in the article; a thing that wants to imagine there was a pure ur-state, an Edenic cyberspace where people could appreciate things like the inexplicably long running comic strip Garfield without people pointing out that it is a bit strange and unsettling to discover middle aged people aggressively fixated on a cartoon cat who hates Mondays and loves lasagna. In the appreciation of Garfield and the unease at the unironic appreciation of Garfield exist two things that in and of themselves aren’t horrible and are understandable. It would take an absurdly authoritarian worldview to say “No! People shouldn’t enjoy Garfield!”, at the same time it would take a self entirely numbed to any sort of hopes or dreams of human progress or there being anything more to life not to be at least a bit disturbed by the soul-crushing display of fatalistic mediocrity inherent in relating to a lazy cartoon cat that does nothing but eat, complain, and be a dick to Odie, especially by people who are presumably old enough to have seen some of the world.

Of course, both positions ignore the larger point that unless your name is Jim Davis, Garfield itself is irrelevant to pretty much anything. Fixation on the irrelevant is, however, one of the few true growth industries this country has. Neither nostalgic beatification nor ironic detachment are actual engagement; while more “serious” publications might take that realization as a call to start admonishing people, I’d like to consider the practical reasons why people on the whole would rather defend their moral right to enjoy Star Wars than the ideals of parliamentary democracy, economic justice, cultural progress, or pretty much anything else. They exist.

That the US is in transition, or, if I’m not being diplomatic about it, decline, isn’t really news. I think most people in this country, even if they don’t grasp the finer cultural or economic points of why it’s in decline, have at least some intuitive notion that shit is not getting better. The distribution of wealth is not any more equitable and is in fact less equitable than it has been since the Great Depression. Etc etc. Read any article about domestic politics that’s run in Counter Punch since like 2008 and you should be able to get the broad points of that story.

It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to say that the primary pivot point of human psychology is the creation of the simulacra of a sense of control over one’s surroundings. This is not to say a person wants actual control over their surroundings but, in a way, to say the exact opposite. The mind is not a mechanism especially concerned with its own internal coherence; it wants to have its cake and eat it too; why wouldn’t it? It wants control without the responsibility that comes with said control, it wants to perform control; it wants to toil away in the low-stakes and trivial as much as possible the same way the body would usually rather store up fat in case of a threat of starvation than work itself into what is in theory a healthier condition. The trivial gives both the sense of control and the comfort of knowing that a lack of results doesn’t actually matter.

There are many examples of people whose first actions upon finding out they’d gone suddenly bankrupt was to treat themselves to an expensive and fancy meal or spend whatever’s left on drugs instead of essentials. The tendency was perhaps most memorably immortalized in fiction in the character of Hurstwood in Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. Though this is probably the last thing the person should do logically, it makes a good deal of sense; it creates the environment of normality or even prosperity, of comfort. It’s a symbolic revenge taken against the money for its sudden betrayal; a nonsensical leap of faith forces the individual to shun the money the way the money shunned them. The thrill of a large purchase, of buying a boat or a fancy car, is to proclaim, accurately or inaccurately, power over the money and absolute faith in one’s future prospects. The need to state such things would seem to exist in direct inverse relation to how true they are; the loudest public pronouncements an individual makes are usually made primarily for their personal benefit; they’re ways of screaming down the voice in their head saying the opposite and the tangibility of the object purchased, the presence of witnesses who saw them purchase it, reinforces the ironically false notion that by this enactment of ritual their financial success and security has been actually accomplished. Of course the boat or whatever usually gets repossessed by the bank a little while later.

So the performance of capitalism, having been stripped of its practical and linear, logical dimensions since industrialization reached the point it could feasibly provide living essentials for everyone, lives on in an increasingly symbolic and religious form centered around self-flagellation in the face of its entertainments and conveniences. The state of uncritical fandom is in substance a stance of the esoteric; the ecstatic; the excitement and joy at what are visibly mediocre, manipulative, cynical and calculated works like Star Wars needs to be performed repeatedly in public as a ghost dance to hide the emptiness and dissatisfaction that increasingly lies at the heart of American capitalism. We are judged on our ability to consume in a state of ideological or spiritual purity even by the ostensibly well-intentioned and progressive voices increasingly taking various entertainments to task for their sexism and racism. While such an appraisal of mass entertainments is long overdue, the satisfaction with pandering sloppy works that repeat themselves and their cultural assumptions but with the Madlibs style insertion of figures of different groups doesn’t address the underlying problems of self-satisfaction at imperialistic attitudes; of our desire to play out with purity and fresh naive excitement the act of being duped and pandered to, of our deadly attraction to a form of congealed capitalism that grows increasingly toxic.

The nostalgic stance is problematic insofar as it holds close like the memory of a beloved parent an object that more actually resembles an inflamed appendix; a part of the person that is nonetheless toxic and should be extricated. The purely ironic stance is perhaps helpful to balance out the waves of toxic omnipresent nostalgia that grips the culture whenever something like a new Star Wars film is released but at the same time only has the sum effect of making the person question or double down on their commitment to keeping the inflamed appendix. As anyone who’s had appendicitis knows, the only thing that solves the problem is to remove the appendix entirely, even if it requires some time in the aftermath to recuperate.

Nevertheless the image returns again and again, outside comic-cons, outside movie openings, when new Iphones are released, every Black Friday at shopping outlets around the country, this strange inverted parody of either the Great Depression era bread line or the true believers lined up to kneel at Mecca, consumers who prove the purity of their devotion to the experience of purchasing an item through their will to suffer and inconvenience themselves for it; who sit through 18 hour film marathons and spend countless hours fashioning homemade outfits to celebrate their buying a movie ticket to show that they are the genuine ecstatics, that in a world increasingly cynical about the act of buying stuff they can still believe simply like pilgrims.

And so, to return to the initial question of the dialectic between the resistant ironic and the embrace of the nostalgia object, it should be pointed out that a synthesis has already been come to in the form of what I would call “high kitsch”, the embrace of the garish and hideous specifically for their being garish and hideous. While it resolves the intellectual problem I put forward at the beginning of this essay, it doesn’t solve the larger problem of the embrace of the consumer identity as that of a religious pilgrim, with purity displayed in blind love in the face of product, in capitalism and representative democracy as ideals that we perform increasingly magnificent and decadent ghost dances around because we no longer actually believe in them.

That’s a big problem. I’ll explore it here in further essays.


Death Wish (1974)

Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes you may get it. While the Hays Code, which was instituted in 1930, was designed to censor the radical left, its repeal in 1968 did not lead to a new age of socialist realism or risque, but sophisticated romantic comedies. On the contrary, it was the radical right that took advantage of the new opportunity to make films that were both hyper-violent and sexually explicit. From Sam Peckinpah’s pro-rape abomination Straw Dogs to the quasi-fascist Dirty Harry to violent horror films like The Exorcist, nihilistic conservatives hammered away at what remained of the cinematic humanism of John Ford and Preston Sturges.

One of the most representative examples of the new Hollywood fascism was Death Wish, a 1974 film based on the novel by Brian Garfield, and directed by the British Thatcherite Michael Winner. Paul Kersey, Charles Bronson, is a successful Manhattan architect and civil engineer. Like most upper-middle-class Americans in the northeast, he’s mostly apolitical, but more liberal than conservative when pushed to take a position. When a colleague suggests building concentration camps as a way to fight the relentless New York City crime wave, he dismisses him with a shrug of his shoulders. Soon, disaster hits. Joanna, his wife, and Carol, his 20-something daughter, are followed to their apartment from a local D’Agostino’s by a trio of young punks led by a 21-year-old Jeff Goldblum. What follows is 10 minutes of violent, soft-core pornography, where Joanna has her brains bashed is, and Carol is stripped naked and gang-raped. Winner, like most conservatives, has a tabloid sensibility. He wants to have his cake and eat it too, to get off on the images of two women being raped and savagely beaten, and yet paint the three”’freaks” as depraved monsters (which indeed they are) who deserve a quick summary execution (which indeed they do).

That Joanna Kersey’s murderers are white is a clever narrative trick by Michael Winner. The menace to Manhattan’s bourgeoisie, he initially suggests, does not come from blacks or Hispanics, but from the youth culture. Death Wish, like the Exorcist or Dirty Harry, is a straightforward attack on the counterculture of the 1960s. Hippies have turned New York City into a war zone, where going back and forth to the subway or the supermarket is more dangerous than walking point in Vietnam. Paul Kersey goes on a business trip to Arizona, where his client, an open carry ideologue who thinks that no real American should leave the house without packing a hand gun, gives him the present of a 38 caliber revolver. Soon after he returns, the “mild-mannered” Paul Kersey is walking the streets of Manhattan, looking for muggers, which are never in short supply, to gun down in revenge for what happened to his wife.

When applied to Paul Kersey, the term “mild-mannered” should be taken with a grain of salt. Death Wish, like the current generation of Dark Knight films, is a superhero origin story. Charles Bronson may have been 53-years old in 1974, but he also had a cut, weightlifter’s body that would have put men half his age to shame, and a quick draw with a pistol that makes Dirty Harry look like an amateur. Again and again, Kersey manages to gun down would-be muggers in broad daylight, often on the subway, and escape as easily as if he had a cloaking device. Eventually, he comes to the attention of the NYPD, who begin a round the clock surveillance operation of the man the newspapers have dubbed “the Vigilante” and turned into a hero. After the police manage to gather enough evidence to convict Kersey, however, they decide they don’t want him. His murder spree, and by this time he’s more serial killer than crime fighter, has provoked an uprising of the people of New York against the criminals who, up until then, had maintained a reign of terror over their city. Instead of arresting him, they tell him to leave town, to request a transfer to another city. In the final scene we seem him arrive in Chicago, getting ready, no doubt, to begin another killing spree, and setting up the inevitable sequel. In New York, the legend of the vigilante lives on.

So why watch Death Wish?

While Death Wish is a vicious, pornographic, quasi-fascist movie, it’s also well-paced, and crisply written. To view Death Wish 40 years after is release it to realize just how stuck in the post-1960s right-wing backlash American cinema remains. Made for only 3 million dollars, Death Wish says exactly the same thing as the 200 million dollar Dark Knight Rises, and in a far more entertaining manner. To watch Death With is to realize that the 197 million dollar difference between it and Dark Knight Rises is spent, not only telling a story, but on cloaking a story underneath a deluge of hype and high-tech wizardry. Charles Bronson is far more convincing as a “dark avenger” with a subway token and a 38 caliber revolver than Christian Bale is with a million dollar car and a multi-million dollar bat cave. Michael Winner may have been a vicious right-wing supporter of Margaret Thatcher but, unlike Chris Nolan, he makes his intentions clear. If dreams came true, every American movie would look like Grapes of Wrath or Sullivan’s Travels. But if the choice is between honest, in your face fascism, and muddled, poorly-written fascism, I’ll take the former every time. Let’s strip the layers of obfuscation off the current generation of ponderous, hundred million dollar duds, and contemplate their real meaning.

Twitter: The Id of the Worrrrrld of Tomorrooooow!

“I got summer hating on me ’cause I’m hotter than the sun/got spring hating on me ’cause I ain’t never sprung/winter hating on me ’cause I’m colder than y’all/and I would never, I would never, I would never fall/I’m being hated by the seasons/so fuck y’all , hating for no reason.”

 – “Mr. Carter” by Lil Wayne (featuring Jay-Z) off of Tha Carter III (2008)

I don’t Tweet. I’ve tried a couple of times, but even for an aspiring obsessive-compulsive self-trained as a child to hunt for every worthless item within the fantasy worlds of obtuse Japanese RPGs, trying to catch up on the witticisms of those I followed after a lapse of checking my account for even a couple of days repeatedly dissuaded me. What I truly enjoy is reading about Twitter. It’s the sort of thing that makes the would-be intellectual confident they’ve earned their professorial beard and pessimistic ennui. It is the distillation of first-world humanity’s collective id, our frustrated inner child, the hole we leave in the wall right after we stub our toe, the reason we want that pack of dogs Michael Vick abused to be retrained so, if just for a day, they can eat Adrian Peterson, and then be retrained back. It’s also why we know that won’t happen, or, at least if it does, one of the dogs will maul another one of the dogs or something before they get retrained back to being nice dogs. Can you Manchurian Candidate dogs like that? I’m not sure. I’ve always been a cat person.

I’ve recently gone through a long piece about Vanessa Place, a person (a “conceptual poet”) doing a thing (okay, I’ve had my fun), specifically, tweeting the entirety of Gone with the Wind piece-by-piece, and the controversy this has garnered. Posted alongside racist caricatures and depictions of blacks from throughout history, the project is an apparent effort to draw litigation from the estate of Margaret Mitchell, calling attention to Gone with the Wind‘s racism in the process. On the other side are the sorts who mistake ever recalling any racism in history, even for the purposes of seeing that said racism is known of and acknowledged, as itself a horribly racist thing to do, because who the hell ever learned from history?

I find Gone with the Wind tepid. It’s boring, it’s racist in the special kind of way that only a 1930s love note to the institution of slavery that still wanted to sell tickets to well-to-do bourgeois in the North could have been, and it centers around film history’s coldest, most-inaccessible, most-put-out-about-not-being-an-ingenue villain, Scarlett O’Hara. While this reading may not be common, what is less common is the identification of the book and movie as being short only one Shirley Temple and one Bill Robinson of being “period pieces” of the “super-duper racist” period. Place’s Twitter account is plainly a series of excerpts deliberately paired with provocative and racist imagery to communicate that Gone with the Wind is racist. But unlike Birth of a Nation, the cinematic and technological achievements of its film adaptation were never ultimately looked at in the pall of the racist shadow cast by the film’s content. This in no small part due to Hollywood resting their heads comfortably up their own asses for the better part of a century, satisfied to coast by as “progressive” for having once given an Oscar to a black chick who played–if you’ve never seen Gone with the Wind, I shit you not–a slave called “Mammy.” And then they took 24 years to give an acting award to another black person. And after that, they took 19 more fucking years to do it again!

“Did you hear it? He talked about how people in Hollywood are ahead of the curve on social matters. He even took credit for the civil rights movement!”

As the internet finishes its assimilation of the first world and increasingly spreads through to the second and third worlds, Twitter may become not only the first world’s id, but humanity’s id. If Twitter as a social medium did serve some function during the Arab Spring, then the resultant political environments should only reinforce this notion of the role of Twitter as humanity’s id: your id can win a war for you, but it can not rule your country for you.

This brings us back around to Vanessa Place: Is she just a distraction? She’s not a distraction, mind you, but her role as a marginal artist doing an ongoing art project that’s marginally clever makes the controversy surrounding it ripe for amplification.

Did anything, for example, really change when Google began indexing blogs along with the “news?” Rather than being directed to specific articles at the sites of newspapers and cable news outlets, you are directed through an endless stream of backdoors to approved thoughts and information disseminated by those same major news outlets. I feel like I never fucking leave the Washington Post’s stupid blog section, and I don’t even go there without being linked first. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, every mass media outlet that was initially poised to look like so much discarded lettuce on the meat patty of the Internet has morphed into much of the patty’s bone meal substance and the nutrition-less bun containing it.

The layman who hoped to one day elevate to the sort that could gripe for money about their pet peeves by first elevating themselves into “bloggers” have become the minor leagues from which the mass media calls up its newest recruits to be drafted into the ranks of bloggers the mainstream outlets have begun to employ, working from home with no editors, no oversight except toward the avoidance of ruffled feathers, and no apparent spell-check software. Whereas the “blogosphere” was supposed to be the dream of an independent and democratic platform for expression and thought, it has become the night club from which the major label poaches the rock band willing to sell out in order to help marginalize the ones not willing to sell out, and they do so now at an ever-increasing clip so as to drown out any chorus of opposition otherwise.

Where the mainstream media spins the stories of government, these bloggers in their employ spin for them the stories of society, telling you how you should be thinking about how someone else acted, or how someone else thought, but most importantly, never telling you how you could act, never telling you what you might be able to do to take the power into your own hands. Where they talk about or live-tweet protests, even ones they cover in person, they throw up the old walls of casting those concerned as the societal “other” within whatever context the “other” is represented, to ensure you do not feel solidarity with anyone working toward having a potential effect on their surrounding environment. By seizing control of the blogosphere (gesundheit!), not through brute force but through establishment of the idea of legitimate blogs as opposed to independent blogs, they can direct the social conversation in addition to the civic conversation, choosing writers who they find inoffensive or whose views tow some narrative they benefit from popularizing to whatever degree they intend to.

It is in this way that Twitter is the id of the internet, but cannot, at least in the present world in which information and social attitudes filter from the mainstream media-down, aspire to be an outlet for the superego. On Twitter, the desires of the super-ego are argued endlessly via the id, necessitated by the false scarcity of space in which to deliver a thought that will largely be seen isolated from like ones and without context. Ultimately, this is what the whole Vanessa Place argument is about: suppression of the ego, her artistic criticism of Gone with the Wind and its lauded role in our society, by the superego, demanding that challenges to the offensive not offend by showing you what the offensive is, via the medium of the id, the knee-jerk reactions and intellectual shock and awe. The id is struggling to take control of the ego and superego, and as in life, it is failing.

It is a false debate at hand. It is a conversation doomed to go nowhere, purveyed by bloggers trawling Twitter for non-information to distract from foreign bombings of hospitals and domestic police murders of blacks, of the inherent criminality of the current structure of the financial system and the mass spying into all of our personal lives. They profit as entities from information control, not from information dissemination. The conversation over Vanessa Place’s Twitter account is but one of thousands cherry-picked by bloggers themselves cherry-picked for their easy offense, an army of writers meant to shape the modern discourse, not serve it. And it is exactly what Time Warner, and News Corporation, and Comcast, and Jeff Bezos, and Tribune Publishing, and all the other mass media companies with everything to lose from truly democratic dissemination of information, want.

Why Did Adult Swim Pass on Pretzels 2016? The WWM Exclusive Interview


Popular nighttime programming block Adult Swim has shut down yet another promising program before it hit the pilot stage. The program, Pretzels 2016 was attached to well known producers who’ve had numerous hits with the station in the past.

The network’s summer programming block is in serious jeopardy as a result. “We’re in a bind,” reported Cartoon Network head of programming Jeff Wayblebibble at Comic Con. Summer is key for the cable networks because the big networks don’t air many new shows between May and September.

This is a shame. It looked like a fun time. The proposed show runner only goes by the enigmatic handle Scratch Corwood and he’s hard to get in touch with. Writers Without Money was granted a rare interview over Skype and got to ask about the genesis of the idea that never was. His voice sounds like a shoe stepping on gravel.

WWM: Thanks for talking with us. We know you’re a busy man.

SC: My pleasure. I’m a big fan of Writers Without Money.

WWM: Plugs already! *laughs*

SC: *laughs*…So what was it you wanted to talk about?

WWM: We were hoping to get some information for our readers about what happened to your project Pretzels 2016.

SC: Well, it just got thrown in production hell again.

WWM: We heard. So let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to make a…wait, let me find the promotional materials we were sent…this is right off the press kit: A political drama exploring truth, justice, and what it’s like to be eaten by a bear.”

SC: It was one of those things sitting in the back of my head for a while, you know. I was on a camping trip with a friend, and he tells me he got a better job and it paid more money (than his old job). He had big plans for the future. And chief among these was his intention to buy a large wild black bear and teach it to watch bad television and live on nothing but Doritos, Hot Pockets, and cheap beer. He’d dress it up in the XXXL “#1 Grandpa” t-shirts that Wal-Mart always has on clearance. The bear’s name was to be Pretzels.

WWM: Did he ever go through with this?

SC: His girlfriend is on board. Now all they need to do is find a reputable dealer of wild black bears. *laughs*. It’ll happen.

The same week he told me this, I’d had an idea for how to fix the national electoral system. I wrote this summary of it on a napkin.

WWM: Do you still have the napkin?

SC: Yeah, lemme find it. (He digs around what sounds like a messy apartment. I hear several pots clanging and things falling down.) Ok, I found it. Want me to just read it to you directly?

WWM: Sure.

SC: Ok, it says: “Put all the candidates-both parties-into a big beach bungalow like they do on Celebrity Big Brother. Have them all give speeches once a week on what they’d like to do with the country. America votes by phone once a week to kick one of them out of the house. Last one left is leader of the free world. All actual political decisions are made by direct ballot measure.”

WWM: When did these ideas cohere into what the show was going to be?

SC: Well, I had a dream the next night, the details of which I cannot remember outside that Pretzels was involved. And I had an idea for a show. Do my election idea, except feed the losers to Pretzels. Have a different sponsor every week feed Pretzels when Pretzels isn’t eating the losing candidates. So like…when Olive Garden was doing its unlimited bread sticks thing, like feed Pretzels actual unlimited bread sticks and put an Olive Garden logo in the corner while he does it. And like..a different sponsor every week. And put a giant flat screen TV in the bungalow that plays…it just plays this video of Pretzels in this dirty t-shirt devouring bread sticks.

WWM: And the candidates know that if the viewers vote them off, they’ll be fed to Pretzels?

SC: Oh yeah. That’s why it’s hilarious. One second. (Corwood runs away from the computer for a second. I hear a small crackling noise.) So the candidates are all watching this giant TV, sweating it out. And Pretzels is all chill, just wolfing down bread sticks or whatever, watching Maury. And it says “Today’s Pretzel chow is courtesy of the Olive Garden.” And we were gonna have these segments…they’d be like-

WWM: I’m sorry, what’s that noise in the background?

SC: Just a small kitchen fire, I get them all the time. One sec. (Corwood runs off again, I hear in the background: “Bad! No! Get away from that.”) Are you a cat person?

WWM: Not particularly.

SC: Good, they’re awful, the bane of my existence. Never get one. Anyway, where were we…

WWM: The show.

SC: Right, so the show would have these five minute segments every week where it cuts away from the drama in the house and we see these little clips like they play as filler about athletes during the Olympics and it’s Pretzels walking around on a beach with this really Howard Cosell kinda narration. GET OFF OF THAT! STUPID CAT! Sorry, anyway so it’d be this soft-lit stuff of Pretzels walking alone on a beach and the narrator would say stuff like: “Pretzels spent his college years immersed in the classics. By 19 he had read through the complete works of Anthony Trollope. But his true love was always show business.”

WWM: What was that loud clanging noise?

SC: That was the cat again, I think it just knocked the pan off the stove top. The one that was…something’s on fire. Oh shit.

WWM: Do you want to continue the interview some other time?

SC: No, no, just…can I put you on hold for a second GET OFF THAT YOU STUPID CAT! AND NOW YOU’RE ON FIRE? THAT’S WHAT YOU GET!!!…

At this point the phone conversation abruptly cut out. Corwood reached me on Skype an hour later.

SC: Can you hear me?

WWM: Yeah.

SC: I was just on the phone with the fire department, they’re here now. But my wi-fi is still working, so what were the rest of your questions?

WWM: Is your house alright?

SC: I’ve got insurance. I’ll be alright. I thought we were gonna talk TV.

WWM: Yes, yes…well I was just about to ask you about your show that’s currently airing on FX, You’re Almost the Worst.

SC: Right, I lucked out on that one. I pitched it to FX as a cost-saving bit of extra original programming.

WWM: It’s a novel trick, I’m surprised the other networks haven’t picked it up yet.

SC: Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. When I walked in their office and said “Well, just take that show you have, You’re the Worst, and while the characters are like…arguing about cocaine and parties and white people shit, take out the background digitally and replace it with a giant photo of Adolph Hitler,” well…I thought they were gonna kick me out of their office. But to their credit, they put it on the air. And I was right, it saved them a lot of money. And the Twitter reception has been fantastic.

WWM: What kinds of things do fans Tweet at you?

SC: I get a lot of Tweet mentions when the show’s airing, mostly like “@scratch Compared to Hitler, these hipsters is almost the worst. #yourealmosttheworst”.

WWM: It must be gratifying.

SC: Yeah, it’s good to know you’ve accomplished something. Paid for my house. Well, what was my house.

WWM: What changes can fans expect to see in season 2 of You’re Almost the Worst?

SC: Changes? No changes…just the same old show but with pictures of Hitler. Can I call you back? The EMT guys are coming over with a buncha charred shit in a pile, I think they want me to identify the cat…

At this point, Corwood’s connection went bad and we were unable to ask the rest of the questions by print time this morning. Corwood’s hit show You’re Almost the Worst begins its new season Monday.