Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fly Eagles Fly

Usually I wouldn't address something that is just sports but the recent Superbowl between the Eagles and the Patriots is a very special case. Very personal. My wife is a huge Eagles fan and Tom Brady is the Devil, so this was the one game I've been most invested in since the last one I played myself back in high school. That direct experience, which I've mentioned before, is also how I plan to show that this game has some interesting socio-political implications, as well as this whole post just being an exercise in self-indulgence.

Brandon Graham

First, let's look at the politics of this game as they are just within the world of professional football. Everyone with a lick of sense already hated the Patriots - even their own fans resent them for their cheating - and the Eagles came in as the scrappy underdog Americans are conditioned from birth to cheer for. But as anyone who's followed an NFL season knows, uplifting narratives don't have half the staying power as the demoralizing success of teams like the Patriots, who were shooting for their sixth Superbowl victory, which is currently a club of just one. For all that old timey grit and hometown love driving the Eagles, these sorts of contests in America have historically gone to the crass and the sleazy, as best personified in the Brady-Belichek tenure of the Patriots.

Bill Belichik and Tom Brady represent a common wisdom that is much too common in America. The power of the single, unencumbered superstar to drive a franchise to ever greater heights of wealth and fame. It's the logic that got Donald Trump elected and caused the housing market crash, the logic of ubermensch capitalism that has been harder to kill than Rasputin or Dracula. Tom Brady himself is exactly the sort of hero Ayn Rand would dream up, a completely self-certain and self-satisfied prick who's sole skill - throwing a goddamn ball - is presented as justification for his rich vampire lifestyle. This is aided and abetted by Belichik's management style, where every Patriot player is just a cog in the Fordist machine. This is visible not just in Patriots' fans' own dismal slogans, like "Do Your Job," but also in how Belichik's machine revolves around the arm and ego of Tom Brady.

Nick Foles

When it comes together, the Patriots offense really is worth the hype. Brady proved this with some of the longest Superbowl throws in history, usually to high-functioning freight rain Gronkwoski. The Brady-Gronk pairing, as sports journalism knobs have dubbed them, carried the majority of the scoring during the game and, when the stars were right, proved unstoppable.

But building a franchise around one or two star players is as risky as building a political movement around the mythology of the strong leader. The Patriots proved that too, in all their pre-game hagiography of Brady which was both reminiscent and reflective of the typical American presidential campaign circus, where whatever tired old hack the party's money-men agree on is puffed up and deified like a Roman Emperor. It's the Great Man theory in history, which has looked more and more like a fantasy for power-worshipping nerds ever since Election 2016. And since the collapse of the Patriots offense in Superbowl LII.

Jay Ajayi

Whereas the Eagles' offense proved the old mantra of "four yards and a cloud of dust." Every other first down, they sent the ball up the middle, which will never clear ten yards but will always close the distance a little, giving a team more flexibility with their passing. Nick Foles didn't throw as many passes as Brady, let alone throw as far, but he didn't need to as the rest of the Eagles' offense could be counted on to keep moving the ball down the field. This makes for a slow but inevitable advance, bringing the Eagles close enough for field goals even when the Patriots managed to stop the run.

Teamwork, as the after school specials like to say, but it bears repeating as so much of popular American myth revolves around a single rugged individualist, rather than the long grind of group effort. It may not be as photogenic as Brady's long bombs but, as demonstrated, it gets the job done better. All it takes to make a good quarterback is a good arm, but a good offense needs a quarterback who knows when to swallow his own ego and get out of the way. That's how a good team can carry a mediocre quarterback, but not the other way around.

Chris Long

The Eagles still couldn't have pulled it off, though, if their defense wasn't so scary. A good defense isn't a wall, it's a grenade that sows terror and confusion. A great defense is a white squall descending on Tom Brady's stupid preppy face. The pressure they kept bearing down on him had him throwing for the stands more often than not, anything to save himself from a blitz that would make even Jack "The Assassin" Tatum wince. With Brady in retreat, the morale of the whole team collapsed because, like all tyrants, they had everything to lose in this game and no support from their bloodless oligarch of a coach.

There's a lesson in all of this. The lesson I've been circling around in all the football talk - that the powers that be are not gods, not invulnerable, just contemptible little schemers like Brady and Belichik. No different from a crooked auto mechanic or a Brooklyn hustler, mortal and alone. A great mass movement can unseat everyone from the Patriots to the Senate, if they follow the example set by the Eagles in Superbowl LII: keep driving forward and never give your opponent the space to breath. It won't be an easy victory but it'll still win elections like it wins games.

*sad trombone music*

Also, Justin Timberlake is a twat.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Fiction Friday Returns!

A small boy with a kiddie-hawk haircut and holograph of happy cartoon mutants on his shirt gaped at Jerome. “Mommy, what’s wrong with that man?” he asked in innocent wonderment.

His mother, one of those high-strung yuppie sorts with a severe haircut, reluctantly looked up from her phone. “I’m so sorry,” she said automatically. Adding, grudgingly, because it was expected, “Would you like to sit down?”

As much as he enjoyed watching these sorts squirm, Jerome’s knee just couldn’t keep up with the train today. “Thank you. Yes, thanks.”

The woman tried her best to politely ignore him once he was settled on the seat, between a grumbling fat man in a heavy suit and a fatter woman who sniffed with indignation at Jerome, the train, and just the whole world in general. They all tried their passive aggressive best but the little boy just couldn’t let things go - “But what’s wrong with him? Why’s his skin look like that?” His little voice carried up and down the subway car, even over the squeal of the rusty tracks.

“Mason, stop it!” his mother hissed back. And again to Jerome, she said with repressed bitterness, “I’m so sorry. He knows better than this.”

He clearly didn’t but Jerome just chuckled. “It’s fine, really,” he assured her, making a magnanimous gesture with one gnarled hand. Then, addressing the little boy directly, “Hey Mason, want to know how my skin got like this?”

The boy answered with an excited "Yeah!" while his mother tittered "No he doesn't – No you don't!"

Ignoring her, Jerome told Mason with more than a hint of pride, "I let it happen! I let myself grow old!"

Learn Jerome's shameful secret here, exclusively at Eastern Iowa Review!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Willard Goes West

It's refreshing at a time when Hollywood can't stop congratulating itself on its progressivism to see an uncompromising look at the era of the Indian Wars. As the War Nerd so aptly put it, the First Peoples of the Americas and those 19th Century Americans were engaged in a war of extermination on both sides, with no quarter asked or given. That people speak English and Spanish in New Mexico rather than Comanche or Apache has nothing to do with who was right or wrong but simply who had the industrial base and the birthrate.

Hostiles kicks off with this cold, clear view of the Old West right away with a Comanche gang massacring Rosamund Pike's homesteader family. It won't be the last time she's brutalized in the course of the film and it sets a very deliberate formula for the ensuing two hours: people are cruel, there are no heroes, and gunfights are a matter of sheer dumb luck.

It's a far cry from the usual genre fare at the multiplex and thank Christ for that. I blissfully skipped the latest Star Wars and Marvel film and all those other Disney properties, opting instead for something both old fashioned and on the bleeding cultural edge.

The Western is really the quintessential American movie genre - and it still reflects the cultural zeitgeist even with all the changes from Unforgiven on. The old adventure pictures with noble white hats battling dastardly black hats reflected a popular imagination embracing the post-war vision of a nation as a global leader, the wide open plane representative of the potential and optimistic future just as much as science fiction's rocketry. Now, that plane is just as wide but reminds us how small we all are, how weak and mortal in the face of this great big world.

That old fashioned terror gets a good workout with Pike as she goes from getting massacred to kidnapped and raped to just the generally crummy life on the trail in late 1800s America. She's really the core of the film, emotionally and thematically, even though much of the actual plot revolves around Captain Joe Block chaperoning a dying Apache chief to his ancestral burial ground. It's forty miles of bad road, as Cameron said of Aliens, but much further than that and with fewer respites from the elements or - the greater threat - other human beings.

These sorts of travelling narratives are common - it makes up half of The Lord of The Rings - but many of those embody the threat of the open road in some persistent antagonist, always nipping at the heroes heels until the climactic battle just as they finish their journey. Hostiles has no such over-arching conflict because that sort of thing never happens in our dreary Real World. If it's not Comanches it's poachers, if it's not poachers it's some Army sergeant gone rogue. Or it's just the punishing rain. By the time Block is facing down the gun-toting libertarians - who sneer at his presidential order, proudly racist but happy to shoot other white men over their God-given property rights - you can feel not just his weariness but his bitter incredulity at these constant hurdles. "Great, now this..."

Block himself is just as far from the traditional Western hero as the film is from any redemptive message. Played by Christian Bale with the sort of big filthy mustache they only had in those days, he's much less the gunslinger than the morally apathetic veteran of a counter-insurgency war with no end. Captain Willard on the river, knowing damn well if they search the local's sampan they'll have to kill everyone. But where Apocalypse Now was still enamored with the American Dream and how it supposedly died in Vietnam, Block is on the front lines of the dirty wars that carved a United States out of the wild and free North American continent. He's right there where the Good Old Days were born and it's the bloodiest birth since the aforementioned Alien franchise.

A contrast to Block appears at times. Soft-hand intellectuals and bureaucrats from the East Coast, bleeding hearts for the poor put-upon Red Man. What might have been a reactionary's dichotomy is muddier though, as these are the same pillars of civilization who dispatched soldiers like Block to the Indian Wars in the first place, now full of sympathy and sentiment since the poor put-upon Red Man doesn't look like a threat by 1892. Not to the big cities at least. Most of the serious things never register with the cities, which is how climate change is already sinking Miami into the Atlantic.

But Hostiles admirably does not stake out a morality one way or the other. Comanches massacre the farmers, soldiers torment and murder Apaches, it's a Shankill road gang fight played out across sagebrush and valleys. Hostiles feels like a longer movie than it is but it's a rare case of this being a good thing. It brings you closer to the psychology of the characters, whose common humanity is ground downward with every passing mile by such common human cruelties, until the brutality of everyone from the soldiers to the Native tribes is comprehensible. It's not so much some innate or socially normative evil as just frustration, lashing out in ever more gruesome ways because why the hell not? Screw it, burn the world and God too.

It was the best time I've had at the cinema since Get Out.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

This Is You

This article about the cloying hit show This Is Us is what happens when you raise a generation of middle-class middle-brows on the notion Jane Austen novels were anything more than 19th Century soap operas. The author, and her audience, have just enough education to know this is hokey and culturally regressive, but that's exactly what they crave in their shallow Wal-Mart souls.

They know from the books they read in college that they should be skeptical of the family as an institution and critical of patriarchal structures which mandate all women choose motherhood, especially since it's not always really a choice...

But they're too much a product of contemporary suburban mores and norms to take that truly courageous step out of the Normal and into the sort of rootless bohemianism which the iconoclasts in their Norton anthologies embraced. Their critical articles, their social justice cant, their entire "wokeness" is so much virtue signalling. A mating call from the bland to the bland, so they can go in-hoc on a 4,000 square foot vinyl-sideded fuck-box, as the late Joe Bageant called American middle class housing. And all for the sake of recreating the family holidays and barbecues of their memories, despite how anxious and miserable they really were as children.

The media they consume - I hesitate to call it "art" - reflects this. A few well-timed fart and dick jokes to add a juvenile level of transgression to what is really a stuffy square's morality talking to itself. The Leave It To Beaver ethos, decked out in a few memes so these professional bores can pretend it's something new.

And this deep unconscious craving for the hokey and traditional that they so publicly roll their eyes at is exactly why we have the political climate we do now. Not hot enough to turn Red, but not cold enough to embrace the neo-feudal project of Conservatism, they are as lukewarm as piss in a swimming pool. They can't stand against the madness at this late stage of capitalism because they cannot bring themselves to conceive of a world beyond white picket fences, 2.5 kids, and lifelong consumer debt.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Big Man With A Gun

American Conservatives appear to be engaged in cognitive dissonance when they defend the "right to bear arms" in the wake of yet another mass shooting. This is the one non-negotiable Right for them, all else being easily sacrificed to the Patriot Act should some swarthy foreigner happen to have a shoe-bomb or underwear bomb or no bomb at all, just an expired work visa. None of these people are murdering Americans at the same rate as American Citizens with legally purchased firearms, so earnest Liberals think they can shame the Red Staters and Reactionaries into adopting gun control laws.

"From my cold, sweaty hands!"

But this is a misreading of Conservatism - one which Conservatives encourage. The animus against Muslims and Latinos does not come from any concern for security but rather for preserving the hierarchy of Real Americans over and above Everyone Else. Within this paradigm, frequent flare ups like Las Vegas are acceptable and so is Trump's latest Muslim Ban, as both maintain the primacy of Real Americans over foreign and alien Others, whether from Syria or San Francisco. Further, the untouchable Right To Bear Arms ensures the hierarchy of private, local regimes of power exercised with all the impulsive terror of a medieval manor lord - a "democratic feudalism" in which the boss rules you but you can still rule the wife, who rules the kids, who set fire to the dog because that's how all these little pyramids of "order" play out. Assuming you don't decide to expand your own rule with an Armalite and duffle bag of spare mags, like Stephen Paddock.

So when Conservatives howl about Muslims and immigrants but turn into muddling Constitutionalists at any mention of gun control, they're not being disingenuous. They are being principled, but it's the principles of fascist assholes. And they deserve the same as any fascist.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Great White Nope

The armies of this age are weak.

That was the takeaway from the neo-nazi march in Virginia this weekend, a spectacle of sound and fury signifying nothing but the weakness of the marchers themselves. They came, they saw, they scurried off when the kids talked back. A wave of preppies with tiki torches, bands of right-wing militia carrying their street-legal AR-15s, and they retreated from mouthy, unbowed college students without firing a shot. And even the Republicans are demanding criminal investigation after the one loser out of all the other losers staged a terrorist attack with his car, like a feckless European jihadi.

Keep that in mind as all the polite media types ring their hands over this terrible excuse for political violence: The armed right-wing militia never fired a shot, the worst violence being delivered by some chipmunk-faced shmuck from Ohio driving into a pedestrian mall. As terrible and tragic as that attack on the Downtown Mall was, it netted only a single casualty. Nineteen injured and one dead is a typical Cavaliers victory party.

Comparisons to ISIS are even more accurate than they typically are when talking about these alt-right types. ISIS sympathizers who plow through pedestrians in Paris and Berlin are making a tactical decision, using the best weapon they have available. Contrast this with Virginia, where you can buy guns. Loads and loads of guns. There's a gun show somewhere in the Commonwealth every month, so if you're serious about revolutionary violence you and your buddies can get strapped right quick. That's what many of the alt-reichers did for this march:

Veterans for Bernie like to point out these guys aren't actual soldiers, despite all their tacticool gear. They showed up to menace everyone who isn't a nazi into silence.

It didn't work, as you can clearly see. But no one going to C-Ville knew that, especially not the UVa kids and locals who turned out to counter-protest without any weapons beyond hairspray. And it speaks all the more to their bravery  that they took on these self-styled brownshirts without any hope of protection from the Charlottesville police.

I lived in Charlottesville for three years after college. I can say from personal experience that the ruling institutions of that town are a microcosm of all the mealy-mouthed poshlost that passes for respectable discourse in this country. This is best illustrated by the Downtown Mall where the attack took place, where I once saw a C-Ville police officer ticket a black man for drinking a beer while fifty yards away the wealthy white liberals of UVa swilled wine at an over-priced restaurant. C-Ville cops are not there to protect you, but to protect the image of a college town that loves to talk up it's relationship to Thomas Jefferson without ever mentioning his support of free universities. Or his slaves.

This makes C-Ville an ideal place for the Alt-Right's big debutante ball but they couldn't even do that right. They came in their macho-wannabe uniforms, trying to look united and scary, and turned right around when they met resistance. One ISIS-style hit and run and trying to gang up on a guy in a parking garage, that's what happens when these nazi thugs try to make good on their violent rhetoric.

Like ISIS and other right-wing reactionaries, the Alt-Right is much more a support group for miserable middle class failures than a competent military force. That should be everyone's takeaway from the Battle of Charlottesville, that the nazis of the 21st century are a pale imitation of the Wermacht, that they have no stomach for a real fight and what's more they're real shit at fighting anyway.

Just be sure to arm yourself, because cops won't protect you. That goes double if you're not white.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Gangster in The Mirror

I came to understand the neoliberal hatred of Russia and Trump through observing how socialism will never take root in New York City. This will be upsetting to the Jacobin crew and other optimistic reds, but we need to recognize socialism is as much a culture - an attitude - as a set of policy goals. And NYC is just not a socialist-friendly culture because it likes the hustle.

It's a word middle-class white folks learned from their, or rather their children's love of hip-hop. Because hip-hop culture celebrates the hustler mentality, as exemplified by Jay-Z's many business ventures and the swaggering confidence of hip-hop specializing academics. It's grassroots entrepreneurship, the sort of thing Clinton Democrats - and even some Republicans - claim to champion but the attendant egomania and blue collar crassness just doesn't sit well with their patrician sensibilities. Which is how you got the precursor of the current climate of russophobia in the bipartisan crusade against Gangsta Rap.

Remember that? Well, a lot of you Berners won't but it's an instructive moment of history. Everyone from Dan Quayle to Al Gore's joyless wife declared the works of Ice-T and Ice Cube and others to be the worst affront to civilized society since Hitler. Because that histrionic Austrian is always the gold standard of evil for mindless middlebrows, not the entrenched culture of racism at the LAPD, or the corrupt vampirism of Wall Street... Or the vicious looting of post-Soviet Russia in the Yeltsin years.

Americans, at least in the pundit class, recall the 1990s as the golden years of Russian democracy before Putin came in and ruined everything. Actual Russians remember a time of desperation, vaporized savings, and children falling into rusted steam pipes where they died with their skin melting off. This is why "democratsiya" is a dirty word in Moscow, even among the opposition - which is huge and doesn't give a damn about US interests. Putin initially rose to power with a few symbolic jailings of Yeltsin era oligarchs but he's since brought in just as many of his own oligarchs. Russia has been a gangster state since the Berlin Wall came down, but only under Putin does it really rankle with the masters of the universe huddled inside the Beltway.

And that's where we get to the muddled truth of all this. So far, the neoliberal love of Yeltsin and loathing of Putin would just be typical hypocrisy but remember the hip-hop precedent: gangsterism does not offend the powerful because of its wickedness but because it is an honest expression of the capitalist spirit both Democrats and Republicans claim to adore. The Moscow oligarch - just as the Flatbush hustler or the Reality TV CEO - is a living breathing rebuke to the ruling class and its pretensions to civility, while stripping rural proles of their healthcare and dropping bombs on mud huts.

The Gangster is the purest expression of the free market so often celebrated by Pelosi, McConnell, Ryan, and especially the Clintons. It is their own blackened heart and they would all sooner start World War III than admit their own ugliness.