Friday, August 28, 2015

Ten Best Music Videos of All Time

Hey, Pitchfork put up some crappy list that people are whining about. Don't pay attention to those lists, it just encourages them. Here's a better, far more objective list:

10. Roxy Music - Avalon

Hello, my name is Bryan. These are my friends. When the samba takes you out of nowhere, you must be ready. In order to be ready, you must wear a tuxedo at all times. Do you see the other people in the band? You must not look at the other people in the band. They do not know how to talk to people, not like you and me, my friend. Do you like my falcon? It has been highly trained. Twirl as if your life depends.

9. Pavement - Carrot Rope

What are you doing, you scamps. Scampering around in your yellow raincoats. SCAMPER.

8. Bananarama - Cruel Summer

OK, girls. You're in New York. You are mechanics. You work at a service station. Sometimes. You don't have to know how to do anything with cars. Yes, it's possible you might not even know how to drive a car, from the way you seem to be interacting with the car in the video. It doesn't matter. You are in New York and when you're not working on cars you are skipping around. You don't need to skip, just do this little stutter step thing that sort of looks like you maybe practiced it but really you didn't because it's OK whatever, just throw some banana peels, because you're BANANArama, get it? Tease it. Tease it some more.

7. Kool Moe Dee - Wild Wild West

Imagine for a moment that this is the first time in your life you've ever been exposed to hip hop music. It's 1987 and you're watching MTV and suddenly this video comes on and you don't know what it is, but you like it, and you want more of it. FOr the rest of your life that's what hip hop is in your mind, mechanical cowboy music. And then this happened.

6. The Replacements - Bastards of Young

The audience for the video is people who are into alternative rock. I would say that the age of the audience varies from a teen age to a mid-adult age. The song is very simple and does not have a lot of movement or emotion during the video. It mainly comprises of the speaker and a guy who is sitting on a couch smoking some cigarettes. However, towards the end of the video the guy gets up and kicks his speaker, then walks out the door. The audience for the video would have to be people who are somewhat inspired to be punk rockers who don’t follow the mainstream music. I would say that the audience for the song would be people who are interested in hard-edge music and often has views not conforming with society and how things are run. The audience would be people who are in the young age because the song is edgy with an upbeat tone and man who looks fairly young. On the other hand, the song is in black and white and has pictures of being somewhat old so it may appeal to the mid-age. I would say that the audience that listens to the band has to be an older audience because of the vulgar language involved in the video. Overall, the audience appeals to alternative-punk rock mid-aged adults and teens.

5. Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer

Peter Gabriel was born in Thistle-On-Downshire, Bottomsly Court, Mivern, in the Year of Our Lord 1823. He worked in a coal mine until the Reform Bill passed at which point he learned how to play the flute in a traveling carnival. He played flute for that carnival for over one hundred years, before finding a basket with a baby Phil Collins hanging from the branch of a tall tree. Phil Collin was not a child like normal men. He was a tiny man from the moment of his creation, and only grew larger, not older. When Peter Gabriel found him in his basket Phil Collins was eighteen inches tall, and now he is nine feet tall.

4. Bone Thugs N Harmony - Tha Crossroads

We all have to live with the fact that when we die, no one will love us enough to make anything 1/100th as awesome as this video to commemorate our passing.

3. Beach House - Wishes

What's that, you say? It's been 25 years? It's time to leave the Black Lodge and ride the wind once more? Prepare my stallion.

2. The Chemical Brothers - Elektrobank

Spike Jonze and Sophia Coppola used to be married. That means, at some point, they probably had sex. I wonder if, at the time of the filming of this video, they had done so. "You see, daddy, I was able to get something out of the ten years of gymnastics you paid for. I did this techno video. I danced for you, daddy. Listen to me, daddy. Love me, daddy. I'm sorry I ruined your movie. I'm sorry. It was a long time ago daddy. Please." "It's OK, I'm totally not marrying you in an effort to try to steal your father's spirit, once removed. No, this is not a ceramic pot designed for the purpose of trapping souls, why do you ask?" If Sophia Copolla had directed this video, all you would see would be the gymnist, played by Kirsten Dunst because why not, looking in the mirror in the locker room with a blank look on her face. She's listening to her Discman and you hear the beginning of "Elektrobank." But she does not like dance music, so she takes out the CD and and replaces it with Television's Marquee Moon. And then you would hear "See No Evil" begin. Kirsten Dunst would stand there looking at her face in the mirror, motionless, with her headphones on, for the entire running time of Marquee Moon, which is 45:54. Then when "Torn Curtain" was over Kirsten would slowly turn her head in the mirror to look into the camera. A single tear rolls down her cheek. ELEKTROBANK. Cut to black.

1. Unsane - Scrape











Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Munchausen Weekend

Trainwreck (2015)

"I will show you fear in a handful of dust." - T.S. Eliot
It was around hour fourteen of the two-hour screening of Trainwreck that I noticed something peculiar. Amy Schumer's face doesn't really move. It's strange, really. She appears to have the same expression whether she's laughing, or weeping, or thinking, or having sex. One must assume that this is a deliberate choice.

The most dangerous moment in any comedian's career is that moment when, flush with the first intimation of success, they recognize that in order to further their career it may be necessary to make the leap into films. Some, such as those who find great success in television, wisely never feel the need to stake their careers on such a potentially fraught transition. Those who do feel this need, however, soon realize that the skills necessary to succeed on TV and the stage do not necessarily translate to the silver screen. You can build a TV show around a stand-up act. You can't necessarily do that with a movie.

There's nothing like seeing a two-hour vehicle for a television comedian on the big screen to convince you that not everyone is meant to be a movie star. What might seem amusing or even perceptive in twenty-minute chunks becomes grating and dull stretched out to cinematic proportions. This is particularly true if you are a stand-up with a distinct persona that allows little room for elaboration or digression. Richard Pryor, even given the fact that much of his movie career was flawed, was nonetheless a very versatile performer whose comedic talents enabled him to succeed in multiple kinds of roles.

Amy Schumer, you are no Richard Pryor.

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde
It hasn't been a good couple months for Ms. Schumer. Although the premiere of the third season of Inside Amy Schumer was met with characteristic fanfare, a backlash was in the offing. Although she has been lauded for presenting a staunchly feminist voice at a time when such voices are rare in the mainstream entertainment industry, her meteoric rise also coincided with a number of corollary developments in the field of feminism, and leftist politics in general.

Much of the criticism amounts to an interrogation of privilege: if one accepts that Schumer's comedy is at least putatively feminist in nature, doesn't it seem questionable that many of her jokes seem predicated on racial or ethnic stereotypes? Is feminism an idea that belongs to upper-middle-class white women at the expense of, well, every other type of woman? The defense for much of her racial humor has often been that the jokes are supposed to be read as an indictment of her stage persona - that is, the clueless judgmental pseudo-bimbo whose words reveal more about her prejudices than about the supposed subject of her jokes. The problem with this construction is that even if you accept this rationale on face value, you must still acknowledge that she is able to get away with saying these jokes in the first place because of her privileged position as a pretty white woman being paid a lot of money to tell jokes about other, less privileged demographics. The supposed sincerity of her desire to lampoon herself or her own demographic does nothing to efface the fact that she can frame her self-criticism in such racialized language because of her position of relative privilege.

This isn't a merely academic issue. (Or rather, it is a very academic issue, at least for me.) In Spring of this year I taught an introductory class on feminism. It turned out really well, actually, despite my natural trepidation. The most depressing aspect was how few students in the class - women especially - had ever actually encountered feminist ideas or literature. The most encouraging aspect was the number of students who told me how much they learned from the class, how much they enjoyed it, and how much of it they'll take with them going forward. I change up the topic of my Composition classes every quarter - to keep myself interested as much as anything - and this is the first time I have ever had students tell me that they thought I should teach this same class again.

I tried to structure the class at least somewhat inclusively. We began with fairly standard feminist texts: Sylvia Plath's poetry and A Vindication of the Rights of Women, as well as the slightly leftfield Margaret Cavendish, and even Jane Austen. (Persuasion is really fascinating in an explicitly feminist context.) But in the last third of the class I tried to introduce the concept of intersectionality, to get away from the idea of feminism as the exclusive province of the white upper-middle-class. Se we read Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye for two examples of trying to read feminism outside of the context of, well, people other than white upper-middle-class heterosexual cisgender women.

One sour note, in hindsight at least, is the fact that - for a contemporary representation of feminist discourse - I played the class an episode of Inside Amy Schumer. To my discredit I presented the episode fairly uncritically, noting her critique of rape culture (and providing a definition of rape culture) and beauty standards. But what I didn't pay enough attention to at the time was something that sticks out like a giant red flag to me now: all the sketches exclusively featured white upper-middle-class women, except for the "Milk-Milk-Lemonade" video, which presents WOC as voiceless dancers shaking their asses. Again, it's not hard to see how this is "satire," but it's also not hard to see that this "satire" still places the WoC in the position of being passive objects in the discourse of white feminism. I didn't call this out at the time and I deeply regret it.

In any event, even though - in fairness - Schumer herself never actually asked to be considered a role model or feminist spokesperson, she has still found herself in the unenviable position of being one of the most prominent outspoken feminists in the entertainment industry. Despite what Charles Barkley might say, putting yourself out in the media has consequences, and being taken seriously is one of them.

"When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Trainwreck was directed by Judd Apatow. This is an important fact to remember, especially if - like me - you walk into a movie advertised as a comedy expecting to see a comedy.

In the years since his initial successes (The Forty-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up), Apatow has fallen into the grip of the delusion that he is a filmmaker of some gravity. His last three films - Funny People, This is Forty, and Trainwreck - while advertised as comedies, would more accurately be described as exercises in public encopresis. They are messy movies that, you suspect, are meant to be messy, which doesn't make the process of watching them any less unpleasant.

I admit I have a soft spot for Funny People, for a couple reasons. One, I'm a sucker for the "comedians are really sad" genre. The movie is built around Adam Sandler playing an Adam Sandler-esque comedian who recognizes that he hasn't been legitimately funny in a very long time, but keeps signing up for progressively more idiotic "family" movies because the paychecks are simply too big. It was an adept performance in a saggy movie, one that actually succeeds in tempering my disgust at Sandler's latter day output with the acknowledgement that, at least on some level, Sandler recognizes that he inhabits a hell of his own making. The movie is overlong, poorly edited, thematically scattershot and rarely funny, but it was at least interesting.

So, despite the fact that Trainwreck is ostensibly an Amy Schumer vehicle, it is primarily a Judd Apatow film, one which slots in nicely with all his other "growing up" movies. The plot, such as it is, is pure Apatow: Schumer plays a woman with a permanent case of arrested development, having taken her father's resentful attitudes towards the impracticality of monogamy to heart. The one mildly - well, not "interesting," but at least relatively novel - idea is that the movie presents an inversion of the conventional romantic comedy formula. Schumer is the irresponsible, irrepressible wild child who actually does seem to be enjoying her life before running into a dour, slightly stuffy but somehow (I'm not sure how?) charming Responsible Adult (Bill Hader, playing against type) who convinces her that settled domesticity is the hip scene.

Did I mention the movie is two hours long?

There are two conflicting drives here. On the one hand, the movie wants to be a showcase for Schumer's comedy. Politics notwithstanding, she is (or can be) a talented stand-up with an ear for timing and confident stage presence. None of that is on display here. But even if that's what the movie wants to be, what it actually is is a Judd Apatow dramedy about the need to grow up and the selfishness of maintaining youthful pursuits past the societally-sanctioned deadline for domestic settlement. The result is a movie where the comedic elements float atop a rather turgid family drama like a wad of tissue on the placid surface of a clogged toilet.

To Apatow's credit, he's able to fill the movie with a number of talented actors and comedians who do their best to overcome his shortcomings as a director, and Schumer's shortcomings as a leading lady. It would be fair to say that Schumer has no screen presence whatsoever. This is a problem considering that she is onscreen and the center of focus for almost every scene. Surrounding her with supporting players like Vanessa Beyer, Brie Larson, and Tilda Swinton - motherfucking Tilda Swinton! - hammers home at every turn the fact that every other woman in the film would make a more interesting, appealing, and convincing lead than Schumer herself. Whatever may make her an appealing presence on stage or TV just disappears - vanishes in a wisp of smoke - the moment she steps onscreen.

Apatow's attitude towards directing is, at least in theory, generous to his actors. He is fond of setting up a camera and letting his actors go, unhurriedly, without a lot of quick cuts or distracting camera angles. In practice, this is a terrible way to film a comedy. The actors don't seem to have been given any kind of direction in terms of tempo, leaving many instances with two or more actors left to interact for extended periods of time without any perceptible acknowledgment of the passing of time. The laconic pace comes close in places to replicating a conversational feel, a creative decision which represents a tonal misjudgment of cyclopean proportions. Comedy, like horror, is all about pacing. Colin Quinn is someone who I usually enjoy seeing. But in this movie, he flops around like a fish onscreen, telling jokes without punchlines, comedic monologues without any laugh lines. He just . . . goes on, talking in a vaguely comedic way until the camera pans over to a delayed reaction shot from Schumer. It's depressing, which is fitting considering that Quinn's character is slowly dying of MS and finally kills himself with an overdose of smuggled pain medication. Which undercuts the humor considerably, but does provide a necessary beat in Schumer's character's growing-up narrative.

Some characters, like Beyer and Swinton, seem to think they're in a broad satire. Larson and Hader play the material completely straight. Method Man - motherfucking Method Man! - shows up with all of three lines, saddled with an over-the-top Caribbean accent for no discernable reason, but his interaction with Meyer at Colin Quinn's funeral kills. Barely three lines, but his joke at the funeral kills.

And while we're on the subject, Schumer's funeral oration for Quinn's character focuses on the fact that her father was an un-PC asshole who offended everyone he met, but was nevertheless remarkably funny and universally appealing, even to the black nurse who cared for him at the end of his life and whom he insulted on a daily basis (this is Method Man, incidentally). All of which is to say: it's OK for white people to be terribly racist and offensive if their hearts are in the right place. God bless them for telling it like it is. The world needs more of these blessed, brave souls.

One of the frustrating problems with Apatow's script and direction is that he's at least trying to do something interesting. For all the side characters and stereotypes that pass unremarked through most romantic comedies, he's trying to give them something in his movie, some kind of background or motivation or set-piece, all with the hopes of adding verisimilitude, some idea that this movie isn't taking place on an empty sound stage. You do walk away with a good feel - or at least familiarity - for many of the supporting characters in this movie, but this comes at the price of any coherence or forward momentum the movie may ever have had. By all means, give Dave Attell's witty homeless guy more lines. It won't hurt the movie at all to check in with him every half our or so to get his Hot Take on the action.

The most rounded and appealing characters in the movie are the stunt-cast athletes, John Cena, and especially LeBron James. Motherfucking LeBron James! He's not an experienced actor and his line readings are a bit stiff, but damn, he looks like he's a least having a good time! He's can tell a joke, and has good chemistry with Hader. He pokes fun at himself like a pro. Based solely on the evidence here, I can say with confidence that if James wanted a side career in the movies, he could do worse than emulating Jim Brown or Carl Weathers. He's got more screen presence than Amy Schumer by many orders of magnitude. If seeing Trainwreck has had one positive effect on my life, it has made me optimistic about the prospects of Space Jam 2.

(It does leave open the question, however, of just why LeBron James spends so much time hanging out in New York with Bill Hader, including apparently having free reign of Madison Square Garden and the Knicks' training facilities. And John Cena, while funny in his small part, is nonetheless saddled with a series of homophobic jokes that strongly imply that, because he actually cares about his relationship with his girlfriend and is not actively trying to sleep with other women, he must be gay.)

But everything else just brings us back to the gaping void at the center of this movie, one of the worst actresses who has ever been lucky enough to star in her own star vehicle, Amy Schumer. If this had been a different movie she might not have come out looking so badly. If this were actually, you know, a comedy, then maybe building a movie around Schumer's stand-up routine (as this one tries to do, complete with a recurring voiceover) wouldn't have been such a bad idea. As it is, the movie is left in the strange position of presenting a funny (or "funny") character in a series of progressively less funny circumstances.

Adam Sandler's career offers a refreshing contrast: instead of going for the gold with a heavy dramedy first time out of the gate, his first film was Billy Madison. That was a complete farce that summed up everything funny about Sandler's act up to that point in a neat 90-minute package that, wouldn't you know, has held up remarkably well. (Admit it, you still stop and laugh when you come across it on cable.) It was also, unfortunately, Sandler's peak, as every subsequent comedy would become an increasingly faded and increasingly more shrill photocopy of Billy Madison, and almost every decent attempt to stretch his acting chops would be undercut by terrible scripts (Spanglish, Funny People). (The exception being, of course, Punch Drunk Love, wherein Paul Thomas Anderson lit upon the brilliant idea of having Sandler play his trademark man-child comedy character in a realistic milieu, to tragicomic results. Who knows if Adam Sandler can actually act? Not me. But it really doesn't matter, because he's already insanely wealthy.) Schumer's attempts at acting are, frankly, embarrassing. There are a couple moments - as in, more than one - where we have to see a close up of her sphinx-link, never changing face crying. A single tear runs down her cheek, and her voice catches. You can almost hear, just offscreen, her acting coach mouth the words, "great job, Amy! You nailed it!"

"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." - Abraham Lincoln
Schumer seems likely to follow in Sandler's lucrative footsteps. While not a blockbuster, Trainwreck has nonetheless proven quite successful. More Schumer vehicles are sure to follow. In a market woefully starved for female-driven comedies, she is sure to find great success.

Would it be too much to observe that Trainwreck is, like its namesake, a catastrophic accident leaving countless fatalities in its wake? This is Nick Cassavetes directing a John Cassavetes script - or is it the other way around? This is an attempt to make a serious movie about grown-up feelings, not so carefully constructed over the shaky foundations of a bawdy star vehicle.

This is a movie in which the most interesting performance is LeBron James. It ends with a musical dance number wherein Schumer performs with the Knicks City Dancers. Schumer's character, having been fired as a staff writer at a Maxim knock-off for attempted statutory rape and assault of the magazine's sixteen-year-old intern, is able to walk across town to a new job at Vanity Fair, which is happy to publish her hagiographical account of Bill Hader's career as superstar orthopedic surgeon to the stars. Matthew Broderick and Marv Albert show up, as themselves, in the last reel, just because. The best part of the movie - legitimately, no-caveats funny - is a movie-within-a-movie that recurs throughout the film, The Dogwalker, a black & white drama starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei. Radcliffe plays the titular dogwalker, brought back to life and love by Tomei. Why is this a thing?

In the end we're left with the question, why did I do this? Why did I willingly subject myself to this movie? Simple, really: Tuesdays are $5 days at the local multiplex.

I'll watch anything for $5.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Oh hey there

What's up? Not much, just chilling with my pal Alan, talking about Cerebus, as one does.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sometimes I Feel So Deserted

It was a big week for comics over at the AV Club, for whose annual Comics Week I contributed a few articles of note to faithful readers.
I wrote a brief(ish) history of one my favorite superheroes, Ant-Man. Even at 2500 words there was still a lot I had to leave out.

I contributed five write-ups for this week's comics panel, dedicated to the week's theme of "Loser Superheroes." I think we each approached our entries differently - I went for the yuks, mostly. I supposedly got one of my editors to snort milk all over her keyboard, so there's that.

I interviewed one of my favorite comics people - and one of two great inspirations for this site (along with Abhay Khosla) - Jon Morris, in celebration of the release of his first book, The League of Regrettable Superheroes (which I also reviewed here a few weeks back). One thing I didn't get the chance to ask Jon about, because I only found out literally the day after the interview was posted, is that his book (or a special edition thereof) was selected for this month's Loot Crate. Given the type of sales boosts we usually see for Loot Crate orders in the Direct Market, I think its fair to say The League of Regrettable Superheroes is doing pretty well, and a sequel might not be entirely beyond the realm of possibility. Still, if you haven't purchased your copy yet, you should do so at your earliest opportunity.

Even though it's connection to comics is tangential at best, my review of The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker / Pinhead obituary was inexplicably published under the "Comics Week" banner as well. If you like my writing on Hellraiser - of which I am still the Comics Blogosphere's #1 Authority, lest ye forget - this one's for you.

And don't forget to check out my unfairly neglected exclusive excerpt of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman, while you're at it. Personally, I don't understand the big controversy - makes sense to me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Go Set A Watchman

Chapter One

It was a quiet southern night, hot and humid like a woolen blanket pulled over the head of a sleeping person. It was comfortable but it was also not comfortable, a little bit like being suffocated by pudding.

Jem sat on the porch looking at the fireflies dancing across the lawn. He was holding a mason jar filled with sweet tea, the kind made just for sipping while sitting on the porch looking at the fireflies dancing across the lawn. The whistle from the evening train sounded in the distance as the locomotive pulled out of the station on its way to Macomb or Atlanta or another location somewhere in the South.

From a distance there appeared a figure walking on the road towards Jem's house. It was a woman - a female - carrying a suitcase. She appeared to be about the same height and build as Jem's sister, Scout, on whom he had been waiting to arrive home on a trip from the North, where she had settled after leaving the South. She didn't live in the South anymore, because she had left for the North, and had lived there for a while prior to her returning down South for what she had told him was a short trip. On second examination, however, it actually was Scott herself just then, carrying a suitcase and walking down the road.

"Howdy, Scout," Jem said to his sister Scout as she walked up the walkway to the porch.

"Hello, Jem," she replied. "What are you doing on this fine southern night?"

"Just sitting on the porch looking at those fireflies dance across the lawn. Thinking about things, you know. About the South. About history, and the wages of prejudice, and why men cannot be good to one another, as one does."

"I see nothing has changed here in the South, brother."

"One could almost say that the South was a region where history never quite moved forward, almost," he replied, "at least that is the conclusion that I often reach on my musings about the unique historical destiny of the the region we call home, the American South."

Scout sat on the porch swing next to Jem (Jem was sitting on a porch swing) and laughed. She was four years younger than her brother, but in many ways she was wiser. One of those ways was that she was smarter than him.

"Silly Jem, always worrying." Jem was, in fact, often worrying about things.

"Well, you know, Scout, we didn't all leave for the fancy North."

"No, we all didn't," Scout concurred.

"But since you ask, I was thinking about our childhood, and the events of our childhood. Do you remember that Atticus used to tell us that you should never kill a mockingbird, because it is a sin to do so?"

"Why yes I do, Jem. In fact, I remember it often because father spoke of it often."

"Yes. It was such a resonant and thematically significant statement."

"But like many things relating to our beloved father, Atticus Finch, I see now that the sentiment was flawed."

"Why, how is that, sister?"

"Because it is not factually true that one should never kill a mockingbird. There are circumstances under which it is in fact permitted to shoot a mockingbird."

"Such as when, Scout?"

"If a mockingbird is on your land, you can shoot it because it belongs to you. If you see a mockingbird on someone else's property, you may not shoot it because then it is not your property."

"But Scout, I don't believe Atticus was referring to who literally owns the land on which the birds are sitting."

"If he wasn't," she replied, "he should have been. All rights are merely extrapolations of property rights, after all, and without clearly delineated property rights we exist in a state of criminal anarchy."

"But there are lots of things that don't have to do with property, Scout."

"Like what?"

"Well, like justice and kindness, and being nice, and humid evenings in the South."

Scout laughed again. "Jem! You are very funny! But don't you know 'justice' is a myth and kindness is weakness?"

"I do not, because that goes against everything we were taught by our father Atticus when we were very young."

"'Justice' is a lie told by the weak in order to justify their resentment of the wealthy. The belief that the coercive power of the state can be used by the poor to even the score with the capitalist class is Communistic."

"I don't think I follow you, Scout."

"Jem," she said after pausing for a moment, "do you know about the Makers and the Takers?"

"Why, no."

"There are two kinds of people in this world. There are people who make things, who exert their will on the world in order to wrest order from chaos, to create and to guide the advancement of the human race. Do you follow me?"

"Yes Scout, so far."

"Well, the other kind of people are the Takers. They resent Makers because they are jealous and know they do not have the strength necessary in order to create things and steer the destiny of nations. So they band together in order to use the sum of their weakness to topple the strong from their position of natural superiority."

"But that doesn't make sense, Scout. There's lots of people who don't have much, and they're not all bad people."

"I don't think you understand what you're saying, Jem. If they were strong, robust, physically capable, and mentally focused, would they be poor?"

"Well, you know, some people fall down on bad luck -"

"Luck is an excuse used by Takers to describe inequality, when the only true source of inequality is nature itself. If you are wealthy, you are already strong, robust, physically capable, and mentally focused, or else how would you even be successful?"

"Well, I guess that makes sense . . . "

"Of course it does. It's self-evident - the strong rule because they are strong. A child can understand that."

"But that's not justice, Scout. Justice is . . . well, justice is right and wrong."

"Jem, what is right?"

"Why, you know. It's what Atticus told us about being kind and decent and never judging a man until you can walk a mile in their shoes."

"We were indoctrinated as children to believe that compassion was a source of strength, when in reality compassion is the wellspring of weakness."

"Well, I know that's not true."

"Why do you know that? Because Atticus told us?"

". . ."

"Think about this: you may think charity is a form of compassion, but isn't charity more accurately described as a form of slavery?"

"I really don't understand, Scout."

"It's not hard! To act selflessly - why, there is no greater obscenity in the world! To act for someone else - it's a contradiction. If a person acts against their own interests, why, they're insane. Self-interest is the highest motive of civilized mankind. Far from virtue, charity is the greatest possible sin."

"But what about kindness?"

"Just what is kindness?"

"Why, it's being good to one another, being nice and courteous and helping one another."

"Helping one another? Help yourself, brother. If you give other people the opportunity, they will take everything from you. And if you let them, well, you deserve every bad thing that happens."

"I don't believe that."

"Well, whether or not you believe it, it's the self-evident truth. The Takers are always going to be waiting to catch you when you fall, which is why you must be ever vigilant against their depredations. Never live for another, or you will find yourself their slave."

"Well, I guess if someone steals from me, they're bad."

"And it's worse still to invite the thief into your house and tell them to make themselves comfortable. You pay your taxes, right?"

"Why, of course I pay my taxes, Scout."

"We all have to pay our taxes, because the criminal government holds an advantage over us in physical strength. Through coercion, they can steal a proportion of our hard-earned assets, and the proportion of our assets they can seize with impunity is the proportion to which we are made into slaves by the criminal government."

"But taxes pay for things like roads, and bridges, and schools."

"All of which could be handled far more efficiently by the private sector. If bridges need to be built, an entrepreneur will invest the time and resources to build that bridge, and it's a certainty that his bridge will be more effective than any bridge the government could build. And if he takes the risk necessary to build the bridge, isn't it only natural that he be allowed to profit off his invention?"

"Well, I guess so . . ."

"You guess correctly! The government is in reality a cartel dedicated to corruption and wealth redistribution, and it is the responsibility of the sovereign individual to resist this act of theft however they can."

"But what about things like courts and police officers?"

"We need courts, obviously, but I don't see any reason why private institutions couldn't establish and maintain courts a lot more efficiently than the government. After all, wouldn't a private court be far better able to adjudicate contracts?"

"But it seems to me that if courts were private, the person who could buy the court would be able to get any kind of rulings he wanted."

"Exactly! So the person most deserving of 'justice,' to use your word, would be guaranteed to receive justice in 100% of all cases."

"But what about police?"

"The same principle applies. Police exist to maintain the inviolability of property rights. Therefore, it makes sense that a private police force would be better positioned to protect property rights, as opposed to a public police force that must, perforce, naturally follow the illegitimate interests of the criminal government."

"Well, that's fine, but what about murder? Surely, no one can buy the right to murder?"

"Can't they, though?"

"I really don't follow you, Scout."

"Why, it's absurdly simple. Murder is an act of killing, an act wherein one sovereign individual consciously and without hesitation takes the life of another sovereign individual, therefore depriving him of life and limb. Right?" "Well, I guess so."

"So doesn't it stand to reason that truly exceptional individuals, individuals gifted with the natural strength and intelligence that places them above the ordinary run of man, already can murder as they wish?"

"That doesn't make any sense!"

"It's difficult to grasp, perhaps, because it's so simple. You agree, don't you, with the simple proposition that A=A, right?

"Well, of course, that's just common sense."

"Exactly! And so if one thing is always equal to itself, then doesn't it follow that the ability to take a life freely creates its own justification for doing so?"

". . ."

"There should be no gap between impulse and execution. Deliberation is for the weak who require rationalization to excuse their actions. The ability to act creates the necessity of action. To act otherwise is . . . why, it's just unnatural. Makers have the responsibility to act in accordance to their wills. To believe otherwise, to be swayed from self-actualization by the 'logic' of the Takers, well, that's ludicrous."

"But but that reasoning, I can do anything and claim it's right simply because I can."

"Now you get it, Jem! I knew you understood what I was saying. Does it make any sense to you that even an infinite number of negative numbers can ever equal a positive number?"

"Well, of course not."

"Then why should the will of the majority - the mass of slaves, the Takers - ever be able to counter the will of the Maker? Shouldn't the righteousness of one powerful man always be greater than the mass of parasites known as 'society'?"

"Alright, I follow you so far, but what about prejudice?"

"What about it?"

"How do these ideas eliminate prejudice?"

"They can't! Prejudice is, at its core, a market inefficiency."

"OK, Scout, I really don't understand now."

"Markets work best when all actors can act according to the best knowledge they possess, right? Therefore, acting out of prejudice, if we accept the premise that prejudice is a kind of ignorance, simply hurts those who do so."

"Well, I guess I see that . . ."

"And if the victim of prejudice can't overcome that kind of market inefficiency, well, aren't they really victims of their own weakness?"

"I don't know, Scout . . ."

"The worst thing you could do is to accept the solutions presented by the criminal government for redress in the case of racial prejudice. You can't legislate the market. The only way you can conquer the market is through strength of will."

"That seems harsh, to me."

"Maybe it does, but maybe that kind of 'harshness' is the real justice. Have you ever thought of it that way?"

"I guess not! But I still don't understand how it isn't a sin to kill a mockingbird. I mean, all they do is sing and bring music to the world, with no hope of recompense."

"A mockingbird is an animal. It is incapable of conscious thought and action. Can a mockingbird excavate the mountains and the earth to bring forth iron and stone with which to express its will through the act of creation? Can a mockingbird build factories to create smoke to blot out the sun, to serve as a reminder of the glory and strength of man? Or is a mockingbird essentially a Taker, living on your land, eating the fruit of your garden, subject to your rule?"

"I guess so!"

"If the mockingbird is alive on your property, then the mockingbird is your property. Therefore, you have every right to kill or not kill that mockingbird as you wish. If someone else kills your mockingbird, however, then they have committed a sin against you, by violating your property rights."

"Well, you sure are smarter than me, Scout. I guess you've learned something up in the big city after all. But there's one thing I'm still confused of - just how do you protect your property from the Takers who are always trying to tear you down?"

"Well, in this case, the answer is simple: if someone keeps killing your mockingbirds, you should go set a watchmen to protect them."

"It all makes perfect sense now."

"It sure does, Jem. It sure does."

Monday, July 06, 2015

Meet the New Boss

Hey, kids, do you like punk rock?

Remember back in the halcyon days of this morning when the comics internet was up in arms that DC had hired a coterie of aging white male comics writers to create new series featuring some of their signature characters? You know, like Marv Wolfman writing Raven and Len Wein writing Swamp Thing? Dan Didio has already been execrated for saying that "[their] task was to 'freshen up and contemporize' . . . We want the best writers working on our characters, and these are the best writers for these characters." If he had simply said that these were the best writers for the characters at hand, that may still have been a questionable point, but it would at least be an arguable point. You would have a hard time arguing that Len Wein, for instance, wasn't a good choice to write the character he co-created, after all. But he went a step further and said that these writers were tasked with "[freshening] up and [contemporizing]" - which brings to mind the idea that perhaps these original creators aren't the best choices to go when looking for something new. It's simply disingenuous to assert that these men are the best people for that job.

Which isn't to say the books might not be good. They could very well be. But whether or not they are fresh and contemporary remains to be seen.

And then the other shoe dropped and it was announced that Grant Morrison would be taking over as the new EIC of venerable hesher institution Heavy Metal. All well and good, you might say.
“We’re trying to bring back some of that ’70s punk energy of Heavy Metal, but update it and make it new again,” says Morrison, 55, adding that his first comics work, in the Scottish comics mag Near Myths, was directly inspired by Heavy Metal. “One of the things I like to do in my job is revamp properties and really get into the aesthetic of something, dig into the roots of what makes it work, then tinker with the engine and play around with it."
The average age of the writers hired by DC to head their new "fresh and contemporary" initiative is 62.3. Grant Morrison is 55, but it's that 7.3 years that makes all the difference - the difference in this case being whether you roll your joints on a Hawkwind LP or snort amphetamines off a Plasmatics 7".

But what other secrets does the press release have to offer? "Morrison plans to write comic strips and prose material for the bimonthly magazine, too. He says he’s just beginning to reach out to talent in hopes of recruiting them. On his radar: Past collaborators Chris Burnham (Nameless) and Frazer Irving (Annihilator)." When asked to name future contributors to his magazine, he lists off two artists he knows personally, both competent journeymen mainstream comics artists, neither of whose personal styles would have seemed particularly out of place in the old Heavy Metal:

If posting promotional materials from their respective Batman runs seems like a cheap shot, well, it is. Instead of occasionally interesting if mostly puerile European imports, the magazine is going to be giving us the cream of the American mainstream's occasionally interesting if mostly puerile creators, now free to draw all the tits they want.

Is that a cheap shot, too?

Grant Morrison has never been a professional editor. He likes to put his face and his name on things - books, movies, conventions, and apparently the cover of Heavy Metal. Probably more important is the announcement that Brian Witten will be the new President of Heavy Metal, the company. Witten is a Hollywood producer with copious experience in genre film - stuff like the 2009 Friday the 13th reboot, and 1997's Spawn. He got his start in Hollywood by partnering with Rob Liefeld, so he has lots of experience working with egomaniacal flakes.

Morrison doesn't have the best track record in looking outside the bubble of his immediate surroundings. His Heavy Metal - inasmuch as we will be able to call it "his" since the actual day-to-day editing work will almost certainly be someone else's responsibility - will probably not feature an influx of new indie creators ready to take real chances. This won't be Kramer's Ergot 2015 - nor should we expect it to be. It'll be a facelift designed for the express purpose of leveraging a soggy brand name into a "bleeding edge" IP farm. It will be very interesting to see when and if the new Heavy Metal contracts leak - who will own what rights, and for how long? They wouldn't be hiring someone like Witten if they weren't poised to write a new business plan as a prelude to a capital influx, and inevitably what investors are going to want is not to be attached to a creatively ambitious white elephant futurist magazine, but an established brand name with ambitions of being an adult version of Marvel Studios.

And oh, hey, what else does the EW press release explicitly say?
While Morrison works reinvigorate Heavy Metal magazine, [brand owners] Krelitz and Boxenbaum are looking to build up Heavy Metal in other media. There’s now a Heavy Metal record label with BMG. There are television shows in various stages of development. And Krelitz is mapping out a bold plan for a shared movie universe, comprised of different Heavy Metal-branded franchises, analogous to the Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment philosophy. Where Marvel and DC make PG and PG-13 films, Heavy Metal will make PG-13 and R-rated films. The goal is to develop live action movies, in the vein of Avatar, not animated films. Says Krelitz: “It’ll be a series of films leading into a Heavy Metal movie, with another series of films leading into a another Heavy Metal movie.”
Grant Morrison is a past-his-prime creator who has in the past shown great sympathy for corporate properties at the expense of the creators themselves. (The original point was made by Matt Seneca, who apparently deleted his blog a while back, which I either missed or forgot at some point.) I would seriously suggest that any creator, veteran or new, take a close look at any contract they might be offered by the company going forward.

So this is Morrison completing the career arc that began when he accepted a pseudo-editorial position at DC, finally stepping behind the lines to become The Man, an editor, fully committed to getting his pals on board to create original IP for a burgeoning content farm explicitly styling itself in the mold of Marvel Entertainment - only "for adults." Morrison built a pretty good Brand, and it works for him because he's become what he always wanted to be: a marketable meme ready to be consumed by unsuspecting customers eager to take a ride with a talented showman.

Punk rock? Actually, yeah, pretty much.