Saturday, January 31, 2004
MTV is now playing the new Incubus video "Megalomaniac" in fairly heavy rotation, and children all over the world (including here in the United States) are watching and listening to it. Ordinarily this wouldn't be too big a deal: MTV has pushed the envelope on sex, drugs and avant-garde camerawork for over two decades. But in this case, MTV just hit a new low, for this song and its accompanying video deliver the propagandistic message that George W. Bush is (*guess who?) Adolf Hitler.
Incubus hasn't really entered this territory before. The band's songs tend toward the autobiographical, documenting the life of lead singer Brandon Boyd (who writes or co-writes their material). But with lyrics like these, presumably addressed to George W. Bush, Boyd makes his views on current events clear ... sort of:
You're no Jesus
Yeah, you're no fucking Elvis
Special, As you know yourself
As you may have guessed, this song could be construed as referring to Boyd himself. After al, he's neither Jesus nor Elvis, but he seems to believe he has the special, personal insight that only hardcore left-wingers can attain.
Best of all, Boyd has incorporated a barely concealed physical threat against the president in: "It's unkind, but if I met you in a scissor fight / I'd cut off both your wings on principle alone ...." Considering that Boyd's attempt at "hard rock" is -- aside from the occasional f-bomb -- so discreet and well-mannered, I don't think the Secret Service need investigate. The allegedly "hard-driving" music of "Megalomaniac" has a patina of electronic distortion and primal screaming, but beneath it is the same cliched, vaguely whiny emo-rock the band has been delivering all along. It's Hoobastank, if you will, without the "stank."
The jittery, sepia-toned "Megalomaniac" video has a bit more bite to it. It seems to come straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson acid trip, with lizard men (or were they piranhas?), hordes of crow-like angels, and a big mushroom cloud at the end, largely rendered in elaborate Monty Python-style animation. The plot, such as it is, involves a winged Hitler that transforms into a George W. Bush clone. Perched on a red-and-white striped gas tank, the Bush clone turns into a eagle who devours several lizard people -- and then, if I remember rightly, he turns into Hitler again. I'm not sure about this part, though, as I was pretty nauseated by then. Backgrounds feature subliminal messages about brainwashing and the US military.
I'm informed that at the end of the video the eagle is finally pecked to death by fish, though I think the version of the video I saw replaced this cathartic moment with color photos of civilians fleeing in terror. I understood their feeling.
So it's official, gentle reader. "Bush is Hitler" agitprop has finally entered the cultural mainstream, thanks to billionaire financiers like George Soros, well-funded left-wing collectives like MoveOn.org, rock-and-roll superstars like Brandon Boyd ... and MTV.
What do these people and organizations have in common with the leading Democratic candidates? Hint: It's not poverty. More later on the American Left's new "common touch."
(By the way, you don't have to take my word about the "Megalomaniac" video. Click here to see it for yourself. Step down, Brandon.)
Thursday, January 29, 2004
Ordinarily, I'd dismiss this story about John Kerry as character assassination. But how does one assassinate a suicide?
Money quote: "On that same day he led ... a protest during which they threw their medals and ribbons over a fence in front of the U.S. Capitol. Kerry later admitted the medals he threw were not his. To this day they hang on the wall of his office."
A guy who leads anti-war demonstrations but keeps all his medals must have serious commitment issues. I wonder what he really threw over that fence.
Republican Deathwatch: Pink elephants on parade
Our fearless, feckless president has just proposed an extra $15 million for the National Endowment of the Arts -- which, if approved (as it always is, yes?), will swell next year's federal arts budget by a little more than twelve percent. By Washington standards, this is chump change, but it's still the largest single increase the NEA has seen in over two decades. I'm sure America's artists will show their gratitude. After all, they do love him so.
Maybe, in honor of Bush's drunken-sailor spending, they could paint the GOP mascot pink.
Come November, can I just vote for none of the above?
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
It's hard not to feel pity for our favorite Generalissimo, especially when the hecklers start tossing questions like these. If anyone in the mainstream press starts talking about what America really did in Kosovo, poor Wes will be toast.
SOTU Watch: More F-Bombs!
Only this time I swear, they're not from me, gentle reader. The man who invented the now-common practice of "outing" has returned.
I haven't heard anything from Mike Signorile in quite a while -- in fact, the last piece I read of his was a vile, defamatory attack on Andrew Sullivan's personal life. Now, he has another trademark rant -- only NOT IN ALL CAPS, as was his annoying trademark in the early '90s.
Turns out, Signorile's even angrier about Bush's SOTU speech than I am (though, as more than one reader has pointed out, not half as angry as I was). No surprise there: Mike's always been an angry guy. Unfortunately, he takes his rage out on the wrong target. Another game of "blame the victim," anyone?
Update (1/30): The red meat isn't supposed to fight back
Charles Karel Bouley II is one of the more staid, quietly critical voices in the Gay press. He's never supported Gay marriage as such, preferring "marriage-lite" options like civil unions. But he's still plenty ticked off at last week's SOTU address. You can practically feel the steam rise as his column progresses, though in a Herculean effort of self-control, he manages to quit just before the boilers explode.
The effect is like watching a PG-13 edit of Raging Bull, where every f-bomb has been replaced with the word "thank." ("Did you thank my wife? Did you thank my wife?") Bouley's column may be the angriest one I've seen yet.
"Thank you, Mr. President," indeed.
Last September, at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference, African-American legislators gathered on Capitol Hill to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of a controversial film, The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Though seldom seen since its initial release, the movie has become legendary in the annals of Black cinema. To cap off the event, the Caucus invited Sam Greenlee as special guest of honor -- a fitting gesture, for Greenlee wrote the novel on which the film was based and co-authored the script.
One minor problem: This film (along with its writer) advocates terrorism, race warfare, and the violent overthrow of the United States government. In a way, it's a photonegative of The Turner Diaries, the book whose race-baiting vision of an all-White, theocratic America inspired the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Now that Tim Reid's company, Obsidian Home Entertainment, has just released Spook on DVD, you may want to learn just where the Congressional Black Caucus has placed its collective foot.
I'd like to speak of this film's artistic merits for a moment. There aren't any. The best thing I can say is that the shots match; the worst is that the movie would be more enjoyable if they didn't. With a visibly low budget, cruddy mise-en-scene, mediocre actors, clunky direction, a preachy script, and TV-movie pacing, Spook looks like a fairly typical "blaxploitation" picture from the 1970s. But the film's vitriolic, race-baiting content make it unique in American cinema. Even Griffith's Birth of a Nation never stooped this low.
The hero of Spook, suggestively named "Dan Freeman," encounters rampant racial discrimination at the Central Intelligence Agency, where he becomes its first and only Black agent. As dubious as this sounds, the next plot twist is even more implausible. For even though there are plenty of countries whose predominantly non-White populations could use some US infiltration, poor Dan Freeman is never permitted to leave his office. He becomes, in his own words, "the spook who sat by the door." Greenlee claims this section of the film is based on his own experience as a CIA operative -- yet he also claims to have traveled throughout much of the Third World on missions for the US government. Most of Greenlee's complaints about intractable American racism bear a similar stamp of personal authority.
But at last, tired of office life, Freeman quits the CIA and moves to Chicago, where, disguised as a mild-mannered social worker, he recruits a merry band of urban guerillas for an all-out war against America. The mayor of Chicago forbade the filmmakers from "shooting" inside the city limits because of the film's violent, pro-terrorist content. So the exteriors were filmed in nearby Gary, Indiana. I doubt Gary will be touting this film on its tourism brochures anytime soon, for the dilapidated cityscapes in Spook are beyond bleak. Ironically, the Black mayor of Gary allowed the filmmakers to work there partly as a gesture of racial solidarity, never imagining that the filmmakers would portray his town in such a damning light.
Spook offers several episodes in which our hero Freeman successfully masterminds paramilitary assaults on police, National Guardsmen, and army personnel -- all the while spelling out race-war tactics which, co-writer Greenlee notes, could be used for similar operations in real life. One key scene, a weapons-gathering raid on a National Guard armory, reportedly inspired a similar attack in California at the time of the film's release.
Yet the film portrays the victims of these raids as mostly Black, which gives Greenlee a slight case of cognitive dissonance. (There may be a practical consideration involved here: I doubt many White actors would have willingly volunteered as extras on this project, since it would have involved traveling to some very dicey neighborhoods.) But Freeman, as Greenlee's mouthpiece, attempts to resolve the problem by claiming that any Black person who opposes race war has been duped into fighting for the wrong side, and must therefore be killed or frightened into submission. Slowly but surely, the film's visions of race war lead Freeman/Greenlee to turn against Black people themselves. Blacks are insufficiently militant, Greenlee implies; their oppression is their own fault for not taking up arms (or wishing to take up arms) sooner. Counterrevolutionaries must be destroyed, or at least put in their place, in the name of a greater liberation. Considering that Greenlee limited his own race warfare to writing, one might detect a certain self-loathing in this critique as well.
If the film's repeated N-words and S-words -- some ironically deployed, some not -- don't drive the film's internalized racism home, Freeman's lectures do. In the final scene, our hero finally puts theory into practice by killing his best friend, a successful, middle-class Black police detective who discovers his secret and threatens to arrest him. Ironically, although Spook condemns the Black middle class (represented by the detective) as corrupted and complicit with racist American society, it allows Freeman to flaunt his own wealth by driving fancy cars and living in fine apartments. For Greenlee, these status symbols of high capitalism are the perfect cover for a race warrior. This might explain why real-life race warriors -- Angela Davis and others of her ilk -- have so readily accepted cushy, tenured, high-salaried positions at major public universities. Like Dan Freeman, these people are true revolutionaries, so conspicuous wealth can't, you know, corrupt them or limit their ability to relate to the oppressed people they actually detest. No, all that money just helps them hide their true revolutionary intentions. When the great race war comes, they'll be right there, man.
It's no surprise that Spook has been all but banned since its initial release: It played well enough with young African-American audiences, but once cinema owners learned what they were showing, they promptly withdrew it. Greenlee, along with many of the film's defenders, insists that the FBI had a hand in its suppression, which may be true: In the racially charged atmosphere of the early 1970s, showing this film to Black Panthers would have been like throwing a lighted match on a powderkeg, and the FBI may have attempted to persuade theater owners to avoid this film so that Black radicals would have one less excuse to burn an inner-city ghetto to the ground. Still, Spook continues to haunt discussions of "blaxploitation" film, not only as a legendary manifesto for race-war politics, but also as an example of a film financed almost entirely by African-American businessmen. (I hope the backers never realized what they were funding. Certainly United Artists didn't; although they initially agreed to distribute the film, they dropped it like a hot potato once they learned about its content.)
During a panel discussion at the Virginia Film Festival last October, audience members -- myself included -- had the chance to see this film and interview Sam Greenlee. If the man's statements are any indication, his position hasn't changed in thirty years, and he still doesn't like most Black people very much. Of today's Black leaders he is quite openly contemptuous, stating that "Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton couldn't lead me to a plate of barbecue." He sees no hope for African-American political organization, either; Spook, he claims, is "a clarion call to revolution for all the oppressed."
Greenlee says that he wrote the film, as well as the novel on which it was based, to encourage violence against the United States. "I decided to sit down and write it," he said, "so that those who do it will do it right." According to Greenlee, "The white boy don't play, and we got to be as hard as he is. I don't play either."
With all this talk of violence, I decided to ask Greenlee about September 11th. Although Greenlee noted that the terrorist attacks were a "tragedy," he approved of the terrorists' methods. "Al Qaeda did it right," said Greenlee. "They attacked the way the weak attacked the strong -- you stab in the back. Al-Qaeda attacked the Achilles heel of the American government." One could be forgiven, I think, if one sensed that Greenlee, who reproves himself for writing about Dan Freeman and never actually becoming him, also regretted not flying some jet into a very tall building on that awful day.
Only last September, the Congressional Black Caucus celebrated The Spook Who Sat by the Door as a shining example of what the African-American film industry could accomplish if it just pulled together. They honored Greenlee with a gala dinner -- which he surely must have appreciated, considering that no one has heard so much as a peep from him over the past thirty years. Perhaps the Caucus's behavior could be excused on grounds that its members had not yet seen the film, and therefore didn't understand what it was really about. But they surely would have understood this film after they saw it (or heard about it).
Let me make this point clear, gentle reader: I don't think for a moment that the Congressional Black Caucus actually supports terrorism and race warfare. However, its members have inadvertently endorsed these atrocities by promoting this film. So far, they have had three and a half months to correct the error with a simple public retraction. Why, I wonder, have they not yet made it?
Might they be waiting for the 2-disc collector's edition?
(By the way, the New York Times adores the movie -- and wouldn't they just? Read their review here. And from the same article, check out this statement on the novel from African-American studies guru Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr.: "It was a cult book for us because we all wanted to be spooks who sat by the door. We all wanted to be inside the system, integrated into the historically elite white institutions of America, transforming them from inside." This begs for a follow-up: With or without the grenades, Mr. Gates?)
Sunday, January 25, 2004
In the Democratic party, the last refuge of a scoundrel is not patriotism. It's the Gay vote.
You may have noticed that our favorite generalissimo, weaselly Wesley Clark, is on the cover of this week's Advocate, his grey chest hairs peeking provocatively from his exposed V-neck. What sex appeal! You'd hardly know this military man was Straight -- or that he kind of supported "Don't ask, don't tell" in a Boston debate last November. His classically noncomittal remark then: "I've seen it work in some units, but I get a lot of reports where it doesn't work. And I think it depends on the service and the unit." (In other words, it's okay if some people are considered inferior, as long as their masters are kind.)
You've come a long way, baby.
Culture blogging resumes tomorrow.
A loyal reader weighs in on my deep, post-State of the Union funk:
Saw your post-SOTU posting and was going to write, but changed my mind. You were and are still very angry and hurt and I felt my response would sound condescending and beside-the-point. So I thought I?d wait. Checked in again today and found your next posting, ending "Did America ever exist"? Well, maybe waiting wasn't such a good idea. You sound even more upset now. I guess the Virginia stuff made it worse. So, for what it's worth, here's my response.
I am a recovering liberal, becoming more comfortable in my conservatism. And that conservatism has resulted from disenchantment with ideology, that is, with rational plans to organize the world based on the unfolding of an idea. It's why, although I have a libertarian streak, I am not a libertarian; that is a politics based utterly and entirely on principle, and on a single principle at that. So, being a conservative homo (instructed very usefully by philosopher John Kekes), I have started seeing the society I live in as an organism, an incredibly complex body of interlocking and interwoven habits, traditions, structures, groups, etc. And it has made me skeptical of radical alterations in this organism, especially radical alterations that happen swiftly.
Marriage, the traditional one-man and one-woman kind, strikes me as fundamental to the organism. Where that arrangement suffers, a lot of other suffering happens. (I am not at all unaware that the institution itself has caused suffering, but that's not unique to marriage, it's common to all human institutions). And it's not in good shape as it is. So I am wary of fiddling with it, especially by basically redefining it. I'd be happy to have a more convenient way for samesex couples to put together a lot of the financial and legal safeguards that marrieds have. But it just strikes me as such a major change in a fundamental and already threatened institution to make the gender of the couple irrelevant. Once you make that change, then there's no reason to limit it to a couple. Decades from now, if (God forbid) the number and influence of Muslims in this country becomes so great that they demand to have polygamous unions recognized, there would be no reason to deny it. So I "get" the hesitation of those who resist opening up the institution to samesex couples.
The Constitution denies access to the Presidency to foreign-born citizens and to people under 35. You could argue that this is discriminatory. Well, it is. But that doesn't make it wrong. And if you're, say, a foreign-born guy or a twenty-something who wants to be President, you might feel that your rights or humanity were under attack, but I would not be too sympathetic. Sometimes traditional arrangements are wise, and changing them, especially quickly and radically, can be a bad idea. Consequences are always partly unforeseen. And I am not at all clear that every time some person or group asserts a "right", that such a right actually exists. Or if it does, that it trumps every other consideration.
I'm a gay man. Out for years in every facet of my life, I think I'm just as good as anyone else and don't accept anything less than civil treatment. But I have to say I don't get the gay marriage issue. I can see making arguments for it and organizing and writing to make it happen. But what I don't get is that it's crystal clear why the Western definition of marriage should be altered for us. And why everyone who refuses to agree with that is a bigot or a tyrant, or even a homophobe.
Part of my reason for writing is in hope that you might find a way of making yourself less unhappy. You may feel yourself under attack, the object of contempt and the victim of basic injustice. But it might not be necessary to feel that way.
Tim's response: Tradition is important, and ought to be defended. Unfortunately, the self-appointed "defenders of marriage" have no idea what they're defending, which explains why many of them have proposed civil unions as an "alternative" to same-sex marriage. Yet a tiered system with several "levels" of legal recognition (depending on one's religious status, level of personal commitment, income level, gender, and so on) would constitute a far more radical redefinition of marriage than a simple inclusion of same-sex couples could possibly entail.
Opponents of Gay marriage who support the "civil unions" option have basically conceded that the "opposite-sex only" model of heterosexual marriage is no longer culturally viable. What they don't realize is that this is the product of two developments -- one from the eighteenth century, and the other from about twenty years ago.
The first development is far and away the more important, because it provides the cultural basis for marriage as we understand it today. I'm referring, of course, to the "love match." For most of Western history, marriage was basically a matter of determining property and inheritance rights. The idea that love might be connected to marriage, let alone important to it, wasn't considered seriously at all until about the middle of the 18th century. (A lot of good things happened at about that time.) In English-speaking cultures, the shift can be traced to Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela, in which the lecherous Mr. B---, overcome by the title character's virtue, finally asks her to marry him. Because Mr. B--- is a wealthy nobleman, and Pamela a mere servant girl, the novel makes a daring statement about how a "love match" between two individuals can overcome the seemingly insurmoutable barrier of class distinctions. No longer were wealthy men inherently justified in taking servant wenches for mistresses (though such things still frequently occurred).
Meanwhile in America, where class leveling was the norm rather than the exception, men who took mistresses were roundly disapproved. De Tocqueville noted that the ideal of a "love match" meant that men were given substantially less sexual freedom. They had chosen their wives of their own free will, and therefore were expected to keep their sex lives as monogamous as those of their partners. Although the legal penalties for male infidelity were not the same as those for female infidelity, the levels of social indignation were at least comparable -- and that represented a major advance in the status of women during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Since no one in Western society can seriously question whether marriage ought to be a "love match" (at least, not without getting laughed off the stage), all arguments against same-sex marriage ultimately turn on the second point: Gay equality. The idea that same-sex relationships might be genuine "love matches" is far more recent than the idea that love and marriage ought to go together. Although one could trace it back roughly a hundred and fifty years -- to the initial poems of Walt Whitman, in fact -- it didn't enter the cultural mainstream until about a generation ago. By now, it's been generally conceded that persons in same-sex relationships can (and frequently do) love each other. So by the late-18th century definition of marriage as a "love match," it only makes sense to call a committed same-sex relationship a marriage. Now, instead of redefining marriage to bring Gays in, you have to redefine marriage to keep Gays out.
Which President Bush is perfectly happy to do. He contends that Gays should not participate in the "love-match" marriage as defined by 250-plus years of Western culture and tradition. He has even stated that he'll support a constitutional amendment against Gay marriage if he deems it necessary, because Gay marriage poses a clear and present danger to the institution. The assumption here, in case you haven't guessed, is that Gay relationships are inherently unworthy to be called "marriages," because Gays are naturally inferior to Straights. Thus, he has publicly endorsed the idea that Gays are entitled to fewer protections under the law than people who are Straight receive. (The more than one million Gays and Lesbians who voted for Bush are feeling pretty low right now, I'll wager.) To my knowledge, no State of the Union address has so blatantly opposed the basic American principles of individual liberty and equal protection under the law. This bilious rhetoric doesn't belong to the US -- if anything, it belongs to the "slaveocrats" of the Confederacy.
Now, on to the objections: I don't think the "love match" rule would rule out taboos against incest and polygamy. All cultural institutions permit exceptions, and these two in particular would create major problems for the State. Incest usually involves a coercive element, but even when it is clearly consensual, its presence destabilizes close familial relations and poses biological problems for offspring. Polygamy is less objectionable on the surface, at least when consensual -- but in America at least, polygamous relationships generally lead to welfare fraud. Of course, letting same-sex couples enjoy equal status under the law poses none of these threats. In fact, since many same-sex couples have adopted children, and since same-sex partners support each other financially in times of distress, it would seem that full legal recognition would save our government considerable time and trouble and benefit existing families.
Because I'm talking about equal protection under the law, the analogy about running for President simply doesn't apply. A free US citizen does not possess the inalienable right to hold an elected office. But free American citizens do possess the basic right to vote for the leaders of his or her government -- just as they possess the basic human right to marry the partner of their choice.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration, the Virginia General Assembly, and legislatures in eight other states have, over the past week, made their stand against individual liberty and equal protection under the law. America has long stood for these things, but our leadership seems not to believe in them anymore. Where did my country go? How did we come to this?
Update (11:15 p.m.): According to a Newsweek poll, Dubya has just received his long-overdue reality check. Usually, the State of the Union address gives the President a mild popularity boost. But Bush's speech last week had precisely the opposite effect: For the first time in over two years, a majority of Americans do not want to see him re-elected. Bush's SOTU effectively polarized the electorate, energizing the Democrats' liberal base while alienating fellow conservatives. In short, the President is now in major trouble -- and it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
(Many thanks to Andrewsullivan.com for finding this story.)
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