Pundits On Drugs

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Pundits On Drugs

Pundits on drugs. Image via The Telegraph.

Politics is an idiot’s game. In fact, it’s been an idiot’s game ever since the first 2 ‘geniuses’ got together in an attempt to solve a very simple issue: how, at a time when things were a bit more, well, visceral, a couple of poltroons might scheme to overthrow their supposed betters. This is, of course, a good thing, for when aristocrats conk, people will be forced to cooperate. They’ll get smarter and better organized, until a new dilemma emerges. People, after all, still need to be led. People, who’ve improved, as a whole, are still and always will be a mob, ruled by intangibles few can ever hope to master. And people, whether they’ve got their heads in the clouds or their asses in the mud, are still aristocrats at heart, and forever part of this transaction.

So what now? Enter theatrics. Sure, ‘force’ may now be out of the question, but one of the reasons why force has worked so well is that it’s just so dazzling, and not entirely predictable. There’s a mystery both to retaliation as well as its aftermath that grips society and keeps it in check. In a way, then, force is also the politics of the amphitheater, and few things are as theatrical as moral indignation, whether it’s directed at music, unpopular opinions, or the final bogeyman: drugs. The last one is especially touchy, since control (of oneself, of others) is such a deep part of the human condition, to our survival instinct, and, in people’s seemingly never-ending well of insecurity, it is never quite enough to disapprove of something. This disapproval must be elevated to policy, and the policy, in turn, must transform back into a well-cherished value, as to not ‘merely’ be law. This is why drug policy is so backwards the world over, and why, when the police is under attack, drug regulation crumbling, and the old, misplaced, child-like, rococo ‘need’ to keep everything — including people’s bodies  — under one’s own thumb is no longer so obvious, the pundits try to dazzle us, instead.

Drugs, to me, are a very clear-cut thing. And, more than a thing, they are a decision — a mode of being, really — for the thinking behind an indulgence is far more important than the decision itself. Drug addicts are sick, and I don’t mean this in the silly, PC sense of ‘diseased,’ but that they have an existential crisis that’s overtaken them, and an immaturity that feeds upon every other aspect of their lives. For every drug addict, however, there’s a dozen (if not more) drug users, because, well, people want to feel nice, and a few bucks is easier to come by, now, than in any other point in human history. Yes, the consequences of such can be destructive, but 1) the same can be said of a million other things that good sense tells us not to regulate, many … Continue reading →

Donald Trump And The Paralytic Gaze

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Donald Trump Alex Sheremet Paralytic Gaze

Image via BGR.

It may have taken quite a while, but the Republican Party has finally been booed off stage…or at least close to it. There is, after all, one last Act before the curtain, even as most actors have effectively been reduced to audience. Let us observe:

A mediocre businessman who, like most politicians, does not much believe in his Party’s stated goals, has, unlike most politicians, ditched the serious stuff for a burlesque on the Republicans themselves. Day, night, for practically a year now, Donald Trump has run the sweep of Republican history: from the right-wing populism of small towns, to the surprising social liberalism that was once immaterial to ‘real’ issues, to racism, evangelism, alt-right, and the affinity for switching sides and picking and choosing one’s politics as from a koldtbord. The GOP has worn all of these identities at some point, for the GOP — like any conservative entity — is by its nature volatile. It must adapt to change, but rarely engenders it; must, despite its values, accommodate the new mainstream, if only to hold on to other values still. I suppose, then, that the Republicans once knew the value of being flexible, of being able to renege on minor things without suffering a blow to their identity. The issue now is that Trump, in his pantomime of things past, understands the value of being flexible, as well, even as both parties scratch their heads at him, forgetting that the only reason he was allowed on stage is because they, at some point, decided to take a seat.

To be sure, Donald Trump’s complaints are many: illegal immigration, Islam, America’s growing debt, the observation that as our day-to-day reality has hardened, all people — including poor people who tend to vote against their own interests — have hardened, as well, into a kind of stasis. Liberals can’t stand him, but fail to admit how much political correctness has encouraged Trump: how much in poor, dumb, white people’s denunciations of clear ills, they had searched for the inevitable target, and being poor, dumb, and white, believed they had found it in Others (black, religious, irreligious, foreign) rather than in the PC ideas that have so tokenized them as beneficiaries. Conservatives are shocked by his rise, writing silly articles that, for all their technical rightness, miss the entire reason why he has become popular in the first place. Indeed, it has taken a fraud to expose the fraud of the Republican Party, which ignorantly continues the paeans to decades of failure that’s most responsible for his ascent. And while the GOP hopes for a fall, a blunder, some weakness, anything, they fail to see that Trump’s inevitable demise will take them, too. Unless, of course, they grow, adapt; unless they see that the choice is either more pandering or a shift back to a Center that, no matter the dilution, creates an average from which some good ideas can emerge.

The issue, then, is Continue reading →

Pulp Fiction Is The 1990s, Two Decades On

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Pulp Fiction Logo TarantinoLooking at some of the more popular books, films, and songs over the last few decades, it is obvious that there are works of art that come to define every half-generation as being ‘of’ the time: works that tally up the culture, and still leave room for that culture’s response. This is a cliche, I know, but what is less understood is how a work of art comes to play that role in the first place, and, even more importantly, WHY these roles are so often conflated with immanent worth. For the 90s, in cinema, I’d put
Fight Club, The Matrix, Clerks, American Beauty, and Office Space in that category, not necessarily for their execution — most of those films are atrocities — but in what they say about the viewers that have accepted them. Yes, American Beauty eventually came to derision, and Office Space was relegated to a cult classic, but, at some point, fans had responded to them and still wanted ‘more’. After all, the comic-book stuff in Matrix wasn’t serious enough; Fight Club lacked realism, even if it was catchy. So, fans — ‘serious’ fans, I mean — needed something else to rally behind, and prop up as a true artist’s masterpiece. Yet they also needed to be able to understand it, too, to have it refract their interests, their personal view of the world, a stipulation that eliminated a number of great films and narrowed things down to what was termed the ‘masterpiece’ of 1994.

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was that film, and makes up the sixth work I’d argue as representative — for better or worse! — of the 1990s. It is, to be fair, a solid film, with a number of good moments, but just as many flaws clinched by one overriding defect that keeps even the good in a kind of stasis. In short, Pulp Fiction has neither purpose nor depth, which is further marred by its indecisiveness over being a comedy, drama, or something in between. Yes, there have always been successful fusions, but they come not at the expense of a genre’s individual strengths, and work in synergy to enhance the innovations within. By contrast, Pulp Fiction attempts drama without well-defined characters, comedy without a ‘deeper’ sort of humor (a la Fellini’s Amarcord), and stylizations without a final, totalizing point. It is an almost wholly reflexive film, referring back only to itself, as if it were an island crumbed and set adrift from its archipelago. At best, it is a good snapshot of what innovation passed for in the 1990s, replete not only with that era’s fun and interminable flaws, but also a handful of ‘what-if?’ moments that point to something higher, had there only been an artist Artist enough to capitalize upon them.

The film starts at its chronological middle with two criminals, Ringo (Tim Roth), and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer), publicly discussing their next heist before settling on robbing the very diner that they’re Continue reading →

Race And The Oscars

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race and the oscars

Image via Wikipedia.

Over the last decade or so, the Academy Awards have received a long-deserved thrashing for their sameness. The people all look the same, the names all roll off the tongue with the same ol’ thump, and — at least for the more discriminating among us — the films, themselves, are pretty much identical, year after year. Nor does it help things that the winners are overwhelmingly white, and part of a medium that, more than books, television, or music, utterly forges people’s conceptions of art, relationships, and our day-to-day human drama. It is (rightfully) assumed, then, that the life depicted on screen is NOT the life ‘we’ lead: a trite point, really. More relevant, however, is the fact that those who end up constructing this screen-life, from the sound-people to the actors, the directors, technicians, and apparatchiks, aren’t drawn from reality either, but a tiny slice of it, and can, therefore, give very little back to us. Enter thus the ‘race’ that is race and the Oscars.

Now just ignore, for a second, that a cursory look through the Oscar wins from 1929 on will leave most filmgoers confused. Indeed, just as with the Nobel Prize for Literature — another trendsetter for ‘serious’ artistic work — most of these names are now unknowns, probably for good reason, in the same way that best-selling books from a century ago are but missing quanta today. This is because awards are, by their very nature, popularity contests, and whimsical ones at that. But while some things are better left to mass perception, art is, historically, best evaluated (and leveled!) by time. These days, I hear very little of Crash, Million Dollar Baby, or even Slumdog Millionaire, despite the fact that they’re fairly recent wins, and seemed to utterly control people’s conceptions of cinema only a decade back. You’d see articles, analyses, and academic discussions, even, of nothing in particular, yet still providing so much small-talk for the parties and the after-parties that those on the outside wished to be a part of, if only to joke with the stars, to hobnob with bad directors, to get the taste of, if not outright caviar, then downright shit: because when art is reduced to a mere vote of confidence, it all looks the same from such a vantage, anyway. For too long this cocktail party — of politics, wealth, and now, the human image — has tended to the same guests. It is predictable, then, that the rest of the world, the real world, perhaps, wants in, if only to do the same ol’ shit, to entertain with the same idiotic tricks, that everyone else has done, hoping for the same reaction.

And, ok: that’s fair enough, I guess. My issue, of course, is not with racial justice, but with a few, ah, human tendencies that have not been properly addressed, by ANY side. Blacks, recall, got tired of getting beaten up by cops, but when … Continue reading →

Review Of Alex Gibney’s “Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer”

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Client 9 Alex Gibney Eliot Spitzer

Alex Gibney’s Client 9. Image via Wikipedia.

Although the Eliot Spitzer scandal elicited 3 responses — support, hostility, and puritanism — Alex Gibney’s excellent 2010 documentary, Client 9, hammers home how idiotic all 3 really were, revealing, as it does, how such extremes arise in the first place, as well as the costs of norms that stray too far from the mean. Yes, Spitzer is in the middle of it all, but in a sense, the film’s periphery shows men and women exhibiting precisely the things hated in him and that Spitzer hated in turn: selfishness, hypocrisy, single-mindedness, and the way that culture, on all sides, tends to refract such. And while Spitzer is painted as an extremist, in ways necessary, in ways not, he is also revelatory of the things around him, something that the ‘middle’ — in its  dilution of itself — often cannot do.

Client 9 begins on such a note, with a Spitzer ad extolling ‘right’ bore alongside mock advertisements for the scandal, as if New York is celebrating both the man’s importance and his downfall. Spitzer is immediately apologetic, calling his story a “classic tale of hubris,” which is nicely paralleled with the paintings of New York artist and former pimp Hulbert Waldroup, who muses on human beings’ dual nature. None of this is particularly deep, but still sets up a controlling metaphor for the film’s remainder, ensuring that Gibney has much opportunity to play with images and ideas as the film goes on. Spitzer then gives a brief ‘in’ to his childhood, noting how his father “cruelly” beat him in Monopoly to teach his son a lesson. This leads to Spitzer’s distinction between violent and white collar crime: that while violent crime is glamorized, and visible, white collar crime is neglected but just as important (in fact, I’d argue it is worse overall, for feeds and enlivens the former). And, indeed, for the film’s many examples of white collar crime sum to trillions in damage, millions of cumulative years shaven off of workers’ lifespans due to the related stressors, and other abuses that — rarely punished — point to a discrepancy that favors one class of thug over another. This offers an informational edge for those that want illumination. More importantly for the film’s narrative, however, its focus on real, named criminals props up a number of characters, many of them interesting and mysterious in their own right, that will serve as antagonists to Spitzer and offer some hints to the ‘how’ of his eventual downfall.

As the film progresses, these names come fast, reminding one of the jigsaw-like quality of Gibney’s earlier Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room. There is Henry Blodget from Merrill Lynch, whose fraud — while merely a scapegoat for a much bigger problem — shows how ingrained the thug mentality really is, with Blodget privately poo-pooing the criminal investigation since fraud was so prevalent, and, therefore, a kind of entitlement. Then there’s Richard Continue reading →