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“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, January 20, 2017

Between funny ha ha and funny peculiar: Trump and the incarnation of the american grotesque

In No Go The Bogeyman, Marina Warner takes, from the mouth of (very English) babes the distinction between “funny ha ha” and “funny peculiar”. It is an inherently unstable disjunction, having the structure of a booby trap or a slapstick routine. Between Punch the puppet and Gacy the clown serial killer, between “locker room talk” and sexual assault, there exists a subsurface resemblence, a vicious hilarity, to which we are both drawn and repelled. Warner’s book is about the large social region of the grotesque that is minimized by social scientists and made a footnote by literary critics, but that actually intrudes in our lives in a big way. The grotesque is generated by funny ha ha and funny peculiar, much as the two ends of funny pull at each othe.r
I’ve heard many people say that they can’t believe that the president we inaugurated today is really the president. That unbelievability is cousin to the grotesque, and haunts the seriousness of the ocassion. Downfalls are rarely so much like bad jokes. Rep. John Lewis called Trump an illegitimate president, which is a nice beginning, but hardly goes through the entire career. Trump is illegitimate as a public figure in every way: he’s a bogus businessman, a bogus playboy, a bogus politician, and a bogus reality tv star. He’s bogosity on a monstrous scale, sort of like some sexting Paul Bunyan, some underground comic marrying kitsch and obscenity. And in this he is an apt symbol of the American moment post – neoliberalism, post Iraq, post post –racism.  It is as if Robert Coover’s The Public Burning leaped off the page and realized fiction in cold fact. We are inaugurating a dirty joke, and we will all carry a little flake of that dirtiness with us as Americans. Between “make America great” and “America is already great”, we have chosen the compromise of making America a great horselaugh.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

toy story 2 and the communist manifesto

Not having children in the 1990s, I looked down with complete disdain at kid’s movies. Or, actually, I didn’t look at them at all, but I’m sure I would have shown some sort of snickering adolescent attitude towards them, and covered it up with a buncha five dollar words.
Now, of course, I am immersed in children’s movies, videos, tv shows, and general Youtubealia. Which brought me with a bump of recognition to Toy Story 2. I promised Adam we’d watch it, and we did, Saturday.
It surprised me. Talk about a savage attack on capitalism!  For those who haven’t seen it, the toys are dream figures of the proletariat. On the one hand, for capital, represented in the movie as white kids and parents, toys are lifeless. Whenever the gaze of some parent or adult is present, the toys fall into a dead faint, in poses characteristic of toys that are scattered across the floor on a Saturday evening (insert here picture of our floor after Adam has finished with it). In reality, though, they have a separate life of their own, a life of precarious solidarity.  Yet that toy life is riven by the attitude towards Capital.
Interestingly, in the 90s, the upper administration decided that the work force needed the inspiration of new age therapies and Harvard business school lingo to “incentivize” them.  In the Working Life, Joanne Ciulla cits a study  which polled managers about the most efficient incentives for building employee commitment: "The researchers found that most senior managers believed that celebrations and ceremonies and non-cash recognition were the best incentives for non-managers... But for senior managers, they responded that the best incentive was cash rewards tied to quality performance." The heartbreaking thing about celebrations and ceremonies is that they substitute for an intangible yet evident cure for alienation that long frustrated Marxists in the 20th century: employees really do become loyal to their companies.  As witness the phenomenon of 401ks, in which employees, given choices to invest across the spectrum, have a distinct preference for investing in the companies they work for – in touching contradistinction from their CEOs, who as often invest betting against their companies, if they aren’t loading them up with debt in order to LBO them. Similarly, the toys confess to each other that when they are selected by the kids, when they are “loved”, they feel alive. Of course, the only time they are alive is when they are with other toys. Such are the cultural contradictions of late capitalism.
Two sequences in particular have a startling realism. In one of them, Woody the cowboy toy is torn by his “owner” – in much the way say Monsanto carelessly poisoned its asbestos workers, then sold that division to haliburton. Woody’s owner is bummed about the torn arm: he drops Woody to the floor, and all sick at heart, leaves him behind as he goes to Cowboy camp. Which, it is easy to see, represents Davos. Woody, falling asleep, has a terrible dream in which his owner – Capital – tosses him in the garbage, along with all the other wounded toys, who drag him under as he is calling to his owner. Of course, here, in living color, is the whole reserve army of the unemployed,  demonized by Capital and viewed with loathing by the same workers who are simply a drop away – a profit loss away, or an “efficiency” away – from joining them.
The second sequence even gets a song. Here, the gender note is struck. Jessie the cowgirl lived in perfect love and harmony with her owner, Emily. Obviously, she thought of them as bound up forever, such is the burden of the song. But Emily turns out to be intent on cracking that glass ceiling. Yes! Instead of shaking up the patriarchal order, she’ll simply assume a higher function in it and pretend that this is equivalent to shaking up the patriarchal order. In order to make cruelly clear how this works, Emily doesn’t just throw Jessie away – she stores her in a box labelled “donations”. Of course, it is a good work, giving little Jessie to charity. One imagines Jessie will be one of the lucky “poor” people uplifted by our trade treaties so that she can go to a dangerous factory, work 16 hours a day for 18 cents an hour, and whip inflation now in these here states. This sequence is such a painfully accurate satire of Clintonism that I am surprised the film made it past Pixar’s censors.

When the film was over, Adam pronounced it his favorite movie. Mine too, for the moment.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

slaves of the map, arise!

I like my friend Seth Grossman's crusade to modify the electoral college - but my heart belongs to another vision of America in which we redraw the friggin' states. During the French revolution, districts that had a much more historically concrete identity as Duchies, former kingdoms, etc., were broken up and redrawn. I think the goal should be to enclose that comprise around 11 million people OR to enclose areas that comprise around 2 million people - to create many more districts or many fewer. But all of the districts should be about equal in terms of persons. This would, at one stroke, abolish the absurdity of a senate in which 2 members from California with forty million people meet on equal terms with 2 members from South Dakota, which has ten people and a goat. The problem with the electoral college is, of course, the same problem we have with the Senate. The senate has already been reformed once, when at the turn of the century we abolished the system of Senators being appointed by state legislatures and instituted direct elections. If we had, say, one hundred states with two hundred senators, or thirty states with sixty senators, or x states, all of about equal population, with x x 2 senators, that would all work fine. Even finer would be discarding the states as the basis for senator representation at all. We could continue with the states as they are, with their reps, their petty state capitals, and their corrupt state legislatures, and keep the House of Representatives as it is. The senate districts, then, could transcend state borders - basically, they would be imposed on the grid of the US to create equally populated districts. This last idea, which wrenches the federal government away from its captivity to states that are, mostly, platforms for the movements of different people within the US, would be the best.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

read, digest, throw up

Trump's America will look like, unfortunately, what America has looked like for some time. This article, in which an ex drugdealer pins his hopes tenderly on Donald T. as he attempts to inject people with BMPEA through his supplements, looks both forward and backward . The ex drug dealer, Jared Wheat, the owner and CEO of Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, is confident that his expensive slander suit will discourage others from investigating him, even though he lost it. He told the FDA to just piss off when they told him to recall several products. True, Hi-Tech is a piker in the industrial effort to poison America. We all remember that Syngenta has outfaced studies about atrazine by presenting their own funded studies, and that nobody is too concerned, in DC. about a statistically abnormal excess of birth defects in Iowa, where atrazine is used to kill weeds in the cornfields. What's a birth defect compared to Syngenta's bottom line? Even pre-Trump, the old idea about American history that emphasized such milestones as progressive legislation against patent medicines and the like has to be changed: the trendline has reversed, and the courts and legislators could care less about the health of the less useful population of mere people.
Read, digest. throw up: the three stages of information processing in America

Thursday, January 12, 2017

weird scenes in the update of Suetonius' history, American version

The reaction to Buzzfeed letting us ugly and obscure people read what the glitterati in DC are reading - Donald Trump's Smutty Vacation in Russia - has produced more of the same from the prep school journalism crowd. The writers for the waPost and the NYT. You know the guys. The ones who watched, during the election, as a tape was released showing Trump uncautiously talking about groping pussy - and who asked not one question relating to that at the press conference, as Trump lectured the assorted sycophants about how clever he is in avoiding being tape recorded or videoed surreptitiously. I guess said sycophants didn't want to get into locker room talk. It is so not serious! This from the corps of journalists who, at the NYT, held a symposium about Mariah Carey's woes after her New Years fuckup.

Well, these are the people who carried water for the CIA after the intelligant agency was accused, correctly, of covering for coke dealers in the illegal Nicaragua affair. Who bent over collectively for Goerge Bush and licked his little Texas asshole till it was nice and shiny. Those folks.

Weirdly, though, the poobahs have been joined by other people, professional placers of the turd in the punch bowl. People like the Intercept crowd.

Who've decided it is all the Deep State attacking la Donald.

My gut feeling is that this crowd was, correctly, suspicious of the neo-con Putin hate nights lately staged by Clintonites and McCainites, singing in perfect harmony. But not wanting the cold war to start shouldn't mean covering up for Putin, who is a monster on the George W. Bush order. Chechnya, the false flag Moscow bombings, the hatching from the rotten vulture's nest of Yeltsin's horrible clan - it is all true. It is also true that whoever hacked the DNC did a good thing. If Clinton wanted her fuckin speeches kept private, she shouldn't have run for the presidency. And if the DNC under the thumb of establishment Dems had decided not to put another heavy thumb on the scale for Clinton in the primaries, there wouldn't have been any scandal about their doings - such that Debra Wasserman Schulz had to resign. On the same Procropian principle that secret history is what the cops and judges cram up your asshole if you don't watch it, Buzzfeed did us a service releasing that dossier. Now we know much more about what it contains, who commissioned it, and how it was constructed than we do - well, about the FBI - CIA report about the hacking of the DNC.

As for its "bizarreness" - as one of my twitter opponents phrased it this morning, dissing Buzzfeed - are you kidding me? Did the sexual assault stories, the headlines about Trump for the last thirty years, his delight in birddogging and cheating, just slip the collective media mind? Given Trump's M,O. and his sense of safety in Moscow (where he's touting the Miss Universe pageant - hey, page up those reports from Miss Universe contestants about what the son of a bitch was doing), Trump orgying with prostitutes seems pretty plausible - much more plausible than Trump becoming president of this big balled up nation.

I'm pleased to see that there is some pushback pro Buzzfeed. Not enough though. And the press, which has a huge gender problem (hence their inability to even check and see whether Trump had bit parts in Playboy movies, when I am sure as shit that if Clinton had the smallest bit part in a Playboy movie it would even have interested the moribund NYT), is going into covering an administration in which Trump and his minions will continue to pretend they are in Hugh Hefner's mansion - and they bring to this scene the morals of a Victorian judge guarding the public decency. Gonna be interesting seeing them in full sycophant mode, pretending this isn't going on. And getting shocked when internet news sites, clickbaiting away, put this shit up for Mr and Mrs. America to swing to

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

No, voxers, exploitation is not a virtue

There's a well meaning but infuriating meme going around among liberals, which is that if Trump "expels" illegal immigrants, we won't have anybody to harvest our foods. It is well meaning in that it gestures towards immigrants as part of the community. It is infuriating because it replicates the usual neo-liberal gesture of turning exploitation into virtue. In fact, the harsh reality it gestures to is an industry that depends on underpaying its labor force and providing it with not benefits. When you read that, for instance, sugar cane growers "can't find" americans to harvest sugar cane, you should read: sugar cane growers are unwilling to either pay a living wage or ameliorate conditions of labor and provide healthcare insurance for their laborers, because they are sucking off the top in enormous profits for fat cats. Under the guise of "tolerance" what is being tolerated is 19th century working conditions. To hell with that! If Pres Fuckface tries to expell illegal immigrants en masse, oppose him on human rights grounds, and then remember that we need strong labor laws that abolish exploitative work practices both in the country and the city, on the farm and in the coffee shop.

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Middle spirits, wanking, and Trump

Between 1980 and 1990, one colossus bestrode the world like… like a verminous scarecrow over a dying field of corn. Or something like that. I’m talking, of course, about his senility, Ronald Reagan.  During those years, I protested against Reagan, and my friends uniformly found him to be a joke, a turd, and a fascist.

However, I do not think of Reagan when I think of those years. Not really. One reason may be that I did not own a television in that decade. Reagan, to me, was pre-eminently a beast of print.  In a sense, I did not have that false, trans-haptic sense of knowing him which one gets from watching tv or movies and seeing, constantly, the same faces and bodies. The stars.

I’ve never been within pissing distance of a single powerful figure in my life. I’ve never been at arms end – I’ve never seen the skins and smelled the smells of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, or Obama. 
Yet they move, definitely, as images through my life. In the eighties and the nineties, even, it was possible to keep them at arm’s length, so to speak – to coldly judge them without getting them up one’s nose. So I could pretty clearly say that I knew only the parade balloon that I saw photographed in newspapers and magazines, really, and the words that were written for them by other people. They were, in a sense, “middle spirits”. Itake the phrase from Empson, who uses it in a review of Francis Yates bookabout Renaissance Hermeticism:

“C.S. Lewis, in the first chapter of his survey of English 16th-century literature (1954), said that earlier writers had treated magic as fanciful and remote, but in this period they felt it might be going on in the next street; and one reason was a thing they surprisingly called ‘Platonism’: ‘the doctrine that the region between the earth and the moon is crowded with airy creatures who are capable of fertile union with our own species.’ Another reason for feeling at home with the spirits was the doctrine ‘that the invisible population of the universe includes a whole crowd of beings who might also be called theologically neutral’. That is, they die like the beasts, and never come before the Judgment Seat; they are ‘far from Heaven, and safe from Hell’. They are not morally neutral, being a mixture of good and bad like ourselves: but they are not angels or devils, permanently engaged in a Manichean battle, wearing the uniform either of God or Satan. Clearly, this makes them likely to be useful to us, perhaps even to tell the secrets of Nature, if we have something to offer in return. It is an important change. But Dame Frances will have none of it, and so she does not mention the names of Puck or Ariel.
Lewis used his dubious phrase about neutrality to introduce the idea, I think, because the full doctrine is seldom stated. It would be considered heretical, and would anyhow be shocking: but the feeling of it, or an approach to it, is widespread in the period. One of the chief reasons for wanting some kind of belief in Middle Spirits was the reverence felt for the newly recovered classics, together with the belief, often expressed, that it would be impudent to deny experiences which had once been generally attested. Apollo could not have been nothing, and it was very disagreeable to believe him a devil. It was clear that he had lasted a long time, say two thousand years, and pretty certain that he was now dead; to believe he had been a Middle Spirit fitted very well. It would be unfitting if he were summoned to the Day of Judgment, so the educated tended to assume that this would not happen.”
I would call such creatures ontologically neutral, and I would list in this category the stars and celebs who, while “capable of fertile union” with the likes of us, definitely carry with them the hint of the faery realm in which they are most engaged.  
The Middle Spirits have, I think, come crashing down because the audio-visual media of the twentieth century that supported them have crashed into the internet. In 1980, if someone sent personal letters to some other person, a Middle Spirit, a star, this act of fandom seemed a bit eccentric; after all, there was no way to ‘know’ the person on the other end. Now, of course, on facebook and twitter, and on blogs, we are in communication with people we don’t “know” all the time. One of the happier things about keeping up a blog for fourteen years is that I “know” a lot of the people who comment on it or send me emails.
In this transformation of the confederacy of Middle spirits, my feeling about politicians has changed. It has become much more personal. When George Bush was elected, I frankly didn’t care. Bush and Gore were, to me, much like two version of the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow man in Ghostbusters: comically exaggerated dangerous monsters. But Bush’s coup came at the same time that my interaction with the computer intensified dramatically. I started a blog, a zine, and went around looking for writing jobs on the internet. 9/11 marked the beginning of my actual dislike of George Bush – and it was a change of dislikes. It was not distant, but very close. It was as if I knew the fuck up.
I knew that this was not a good thing for my mental health, but I also knew, and know, that it signaled a good thing in general. It used to be that this kind of knowing – a mook’s knowing, a sort of entrance into a faux-haptic space – was a reality for the elite alone. Now, they’ve been stripped of this perogative. The press still can’t get over that. HRC ran, curiously, as if this never happened – while Obama was hyperconscious of it. He was the candidate of these new circs. Trump, who has grabbed us by the pussy like untreatable case of clap, is, oddly, also aware of it. Probably this is due to pornography. Trump has always been a camp follower of soft-core, and probably hard-core, porn. Porn was, in the seventies and eighties, something like the parody zone of the Middle Spirits. It cashed out on faux-haptic knowing big time. Look but don’t touch turing into look but touch yourself – the cardinal rule, except for the big Mooks, like Trump. But porn, famously, made the jump to the internet and never looked back, even as the whole industry that had grown up in the seventies and eighties collapsed.  Trump, of course, has kept faith with the golden era porn creed, but as well, he followed the industry in its transmorgified form into the net.  We are supposed to think of Trump’s appeal to white nationalists as the core of his success. I think the appeal to the older wanker set was just as important.  There was a very good reason that the Republican primary consisted of a mudfight over the cock sizes of the candidates: because this was a real issue. It was the issue of knowing the candidate, and knowing where he’d put his organ. Into whose pixeled angelic hands.

I am going to have a harder time ignoring Trump than I had ignoring Reagan. But I think I can make it. I’ll blast his fuckedupness whenever I get a chance, but I am not letting him under my skin like I let Bush. I’m too tired and wary to go all the way with yesterday’s Wanker.  

Meryl Streep and President Fuckface

I have never had a lot of patience with celebrity culture, but after Meryl Streep's speech, and Prez fuckface's response, I suddenly see a use for it: bugging Trump! Every day for the next four years, some celeb should denounce Trump. In the Bush years, demonstrating did nothing. The press ignored it, the Dems rolled over for Bush, and Bush laughingly did his torture dance through Iraq. But apparently Meryl Streep can press Trump's buttons with the merest whisp of a speech. Trump's touchiness won him the presidency, but maybe it will lose him the efficiency he needs to put his monster dreams in motion. I don't know. But I do know celebs now have a duty in their interviews speeches and whatever. Make Trump mad. It is the least you can do for your country.

PS: speaking of actresses, Ray Davis at Pseudopodium riffs off of my post about HRC and Chicago to introduce his fave actress (and mine) Barbara Stanwyck as the excluded third in this discussion.