Sunday, July 20, 2008

Here's Why So Serious

How to explain the oxymoron of THE DARK KNIGHT?

The hero must become an outcast in order best to serve his chosen community, while the villain is neither evil nor mad, merely free.

A psychological depth resonates throughout this film. All the characters get to be human, with flaws, foibles, and admirable qualities. All get to make life choices we can relate to.

Joker is getting the attention and perhaps rightfully so, not just because Mr. Ledger died in January of an accidental drug mix and pneumonia.

Heath Ledger's final performance as Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT is being hailed because he so perfectly captures our misery, our anger, and our madness at seeing through the hypocrisy of rules as civilization stumbles and society's controls and controllers enact draconian extremes to keep the reigns of power in their grip. His villain is not evil, and not even malicious. It just wants to clear away the lies and have some blunt truth for once.

His villainy is of a liberating nature, whereas Batman's heroism stands for control, even fascism.

Go figure. It’s all right there for you, if you can count that high while gasping in awe. Moral dilemmas, ethical toss-ups, and even the balance of action with inaction all strip away pretense. Poses won’t do suddenly. That's why an angry man fails and a prisoner and presumed criminal succeeds at one point: only the criminal can think far enough outside the box of imposed rules to do something both perfectly obvious and utterly right. Everyone else is stymied, and this is telling.

There is no room for the free individual anymore. Repent, Harlequin, said the Ticktockman, as Harlan Ellison once put it.

Ledger's Joker is all too sane. That's part of what makes him so scary. He has actually thought it all out and knows full well what he's doing and why, and he understands the rules and definitions he'll be breaking, and goes ahead anyway because to do anything else is to be untrue to himself.

He moves quickly sometimes, but mostly is still or posed, and warily predatory. It's an amazingly complex performance.

He simply is a free individual in a locked-down, fearful world of total control freakism. Which makes him a freak.

His clown makeup says it all: I'm dead to you, hence the whiteface, but I'm just a joke to you, because you've all surrendered already to the fascists. Now watch me burn.

He says at one point: "Everything burns."

Whether it wants to or not, he might have added.

And so THE DARK KNIGHT puts it, too. Lie to the citizens and hold secret meetings to decide how things will be? Spy on 30 million people to find one person labeled a terrorist? Violate rights to cut through red tape and even law? Torture to get information regardless how reliable it is?

Why so serious? Indeed, why such tight collective control? Because we fear the wild creature within each of us, the Free Individual, which is to say the one free from restraints and restrictions, rules and regulations, free from control by others.

Fear of someone doing what ever they want.

And the funny thing is, those at the top, in power, do exactly that, all in the name of protecting us from such people. All in the name of restoring order, which means control.

THE DARK KNIGHT, especially via Joker’s rational anarchy and reasoned chaos, lets us question all this and much more. It is simultaneously a very public and very private kind of movie. Part of it demands yelling and fists raised in strong feeling, but much of it insists upon silent reflection and some deep, hard thinking.

That's Ledger's legacy, a role allowing us all to hope for oblivion while ignoring the pain and courting a final, all-out confrontation with society's extremes.

At one point Joker mutters for Batman to hit him with a speeding motorcycle. He genuinely wants release from the misery of existence, and he knows only when they collide will they touch the essence of the yin-yang dilemma.

Because then light and dark is One. For however brief an instant, that touch, that merging of forces, is all that counts, and will obliterate all the lies and compromises, all the shortcomings and cheats, all the deceptions and hidden agendas that have brought it all to this.

The image of our world may well be a jackboot's heel being ground into a human face, but the spark of life, and the only moment of truth in our world, is when face meets face in equal confrontation at full speed.

Anything less is another loss.

Do we want to settle for letting our outcasts enforce our imprisonment, or do we want to break free and act on our own behalf to change the slaughter to laughter?

This movie elevates the super hero movie to serious art and it does so effortlessly, largely on the shoulders of an actor whose work is done. By all means see it on the big screen and come away changed.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Not This Little Black Duck, or: That's All, Folks

Here’s what Don Hazen, editor at AlterNet, had to say about the NYer cover depicted here: “The New Yorker magazine hits the news stands today [Mon 14 July 2008] with a shocking cover -- a caricature of Barack and Michelle Obama depicting the presidential candidate in a turban, fist-bumping his wife who has a machine gun slung over her shoulder, while the American flag burns in the fireplace. The cover is shocking in that it depicts the Obamas in bizarre caricatured images and associations which reflect the very stereotypes with which the conservatives, particularly Fox News, have been trying to frame both the Obamas. Thus, instead of satire, the cover becomes a political poster for conservatives to reinforce their messages.”

The article went on to give the Obama campaign’s reaction:

Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, said in a statement: "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

So, on the grounds that Americans are too unsophisticated to get satire, and too literal to understand how a literal depiction of the right’s smear of Obama reveals its essential absurdity, they condemn the cover.

This is more revealing than the cover itself.

Why should certain things, such as Mohammed, be off-limits to political satire and cartoons? Should anything be?

What we’re seeing is Obama supporters trying to twist things not to their favor, but toward censorship. Toward political correctness as a weapon to fight free expression of complex, subtle ideas. They are demonizing irony.

If the right takes the cover up as a poster for its bigotry, so what? That merely reflects the right’s core idiocy and vile mean-spiritedness.

If the stupid among us can’t grasp the difference between a pointed political cartoon and a documentary photograph, so what? Perhaps offering actual education in place of indoctrination in America’s schools would eventually improve such a dismal performance.

To penalize the satire is not only willfully missing the point, it is to take one more step toward the fascism that is corroding what was once the USA.

Freedoms and liberty should be precious, not convenient. Are we to stand idly by as liar and lunatics dictate the terms of public discourse? To cite another satire few have ever understood: “Not this little black duck.”

Here’s what Warner Bros. says about Daffy, by the way: “As his personality gained depth at the hands of Warner Bros cartoons’ directors, the little black duck became more self-analytical, competitive, peevish, paranoid, and neurotic... Daffy, like the Greek hero Sisyphus, is a victim of injustice who continuously protests. And it’s his refusal to surrender his will to the whims of the conspiring universe that makes him heroic”.

It’s always like that for satire, and any other intelligent art. The masses never get it, and it’s used against the masses by cynical manipulators with ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

As it was with the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark, so it is now with this NYer cover cartoon. Intolerance and a lack of any sense of humor are being used in tandem to crush dissent. In this specific instance, it is also being used to suppress and condemn the unmasking of a vile right canard.

Does it occur to no one allegedly in the Obama camp, let alone anyone in favor of freedom and liberty of the First Amendment varietal, that taking the cover’s depiction seriously as a literal truth, rather than seeing it for a scathing revelation, is precisely what the right wants? That refusing to see how it explodes the absurdity of the notions it depicts is precisely what the blinkered, ditto’d right does? That embracing the cover’s mockery of the ideas the cartoon so acidly attacks would be exactly the antidote to such prejudicial stereotypes?

So either the Obama side of things isn’t as slick as its PR would have us believe, or it has cynically decided to stand with the right by playing to the Lowest Common Denominator mentality and stirring up fake, distracting controversy rather than engaging genuine issues.

Seem familiar, folks?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la méme chose.

Rush Limbaugh started out as an anti-right satirist, until the right, being literalist and stupid, took what he was saying not as mockery but as confirmation. At that point, he decided to shill for pay and became what is laughingly called a pundit. The creation of the ego-monster, the lunatic gas-bag, the mindless mouth that not even oxycontin can close, came about simply by taking satire as validation.

This failure to laugh is a failure to puncture the pretense, and only worsens the pretentious among us.

The emperor has no clothes, shouts the NYer cover, but before the crowd can laugh and clear away the compliance born of fear and the conformity born of collective silence, the laughter is cut off by shrill accusations that the little boy who cried out the emperor’s nakedness is a sexual pervert who must be punished. And so the crowd falls upon the boy, stones and beheads him, and the oppression of idiocy goes on.

So by all means become outraged that a cartoonist on the cover of a nationally prominent magazine dared to show the plain truth about the right’s nonsensical accusations, in order to emphasize how silly they are. Because your outrage will demonize such revelations of truth, and help ensure the continued fascist dictatorship of fear, compliance, conformity, and willful ignorance and blindness that has made what’s left of this country what it is today.

The One Party of the USSA has spoken and only Big Brother is left smirking in the shadows.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

“A Slim Chance of Mimetic Redemption, or:

“A Slim Chance of Mimetic Redemption, or:
Fun With Your New Soul,
An Open Letter to
The Now Closed Thomas M. Disch”
Gene Stewart

Dear Mr. Disch,

You were, they say, depressive, and prone to the vicissitudes of being gay in a world that was not. White Fang Goes Dingo, indeed. These were things I never knew, although there were probably hints in your elegant stories too subtle for this reporter. You missed your partner, Charles Naylor, and remained kind and generous to individuals with temerity enough to approach you while maintaining a reputation as a cantankerous and often regally vicious curmudgeon.

It has, yes, occurred to me that your suicide may well prove, down the line, to be another of your seamless literary hoaxes.

You wrote and published poetry at award-winning levels and issued theater and opera criticism, all matters guaranteed to confuse this reporter, who liked his opera in space, his theater sf’nal. And it was in those realms you never disappointed. From Camp Concentration and The Puppies of Terra to 334, your work shown with intelligence, irony, and wit absent from the majority of whiz-bang dreams our stuff was made of, and always there were eye-widening ideas offered or subversive, sly angles taken to startle readers into glimpsing what science fiction could, sometimes, aspire to in the literary realm.

Even your horror -- The Businessman: A Tale of Terror for the consumer unit who likes to think about what’s being done to him; The M.D.: A Horror Story, a deliciously dark mockery of what we laughingly call medicine, which first does grave harm; The Priest: A Gothic Romance, touching, dare one say groping, on pedophilia; and The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft of the sort performed on malleable young minds by teachers -- spun new yarn from old thread, and wove it into patterns delightful and dark. Behind the fun, a cynicism breathtaking took wing, darting with the light touch of bats avoiding blows.

You were home-schooled, always advanced, and you were Catholic, always looking back in piercingly critical observations about the church and its ways, as in The Priest. You reserved your loathing perhaps too much for yourself, given how much legitimate contumely you had to spread among the types represented by your horror novels.

Like another well-known curmudgeon mysteriously called Harlan Ellison, you found the Army, and regimentation of any kind, maddening, a fact reflective of the freedom, including of sexuality, found celebrated so well in your book On Wings of Song.

You supposedly once said this: "I have a class theory of literature. I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from.” And you were as good as the best of them, those others, the snobs and elite who kept tight ranks in the literary deer park that reserves big money and, more importantly, serious acclaim and the possibility of success that lasts generations for itself, specifically withholding it from the likes of genre writers like you. Bitterness set in, did it not, sir? And your best work was as pearls before swine.

To subvert them by reaching into the delicate minds of their children, you gave us all The Brave Little Toaster, later sending him to Mars, thus luring them into science fiction as well as fantasy. Even the animated version, in a touch of grace, retained your fundamental qualities, brilliantly offering hope even to the mere appliances of a world run by other orders of being, an optimistic, if sarcastic, dream for the useful work-doers such as us. Such work detonates in young minds like 102 H-bombs.

But now we learn you have finally gotten into death, an exclusive club from which you were barred for 68 wearisome years. Your reputation will echo ‘round the bones of your work left for us to gnaw upon, and the genocidal writers among us especially will have no idea how best to remember you, even as their own work shows influences of your elegance, your antic irony, and your dry wit. You died a prisoner of neighboring lives, leaving us only the word of god pinned against the wall of America; we can but hope you have fun with your new soul as we read again and again the words you arranged for us before you left.


Black Alice (Clara & Alfred Reeve)

P.S. - Mr. Disch apparently used the sounds of the Fourth of July to cover the sound of his gunshot, a courteous celebration of a kind of freedom most of us lack the courage to engage.