The Last Detail, Francis Ford Coppola, and the Market Forces of New Hollywood

The Last Detail

Last night I watched the movie The Last Detail staring Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, and an extremely young Randy Quaid.  The movie is about two men in the Navy (Nicholson and Young) who are supposed to take the character played by Quaid to a military prison.  Not liking the task they are given from the beginning, and growing to like it even less as the movie progresses, they take longer then they need to complete it.  As the task at hand grows more distasteful, they decide to show Quaid’s character a good time, taking him out drinking and to a whore house, among other things.  The movie was directed by Hal Ashby and written by Robert Towne.

I found out about the movie by reading Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.  This is a book that examines New Hollywood, a period that runs roughly from the late 60’s with Easy Rider and up through the 70’s.  Ashby was one of the directors who came up during this period, along with Paul Schrader, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and others.

This movie is a good example of the character driven films being made during this period.  The camera barely moves compared to modern filmmaking.  Other than a few scuffles, there is very little action.  Most of the movie revolves around the personality of the characters and the dialogue, which is fantastic.  There is also a strong anti-authoritarian streak running in this film and others from this period.  Watching this film is closer to, if not reading a novel, at least reading a well written short story.  The language is realistic for the time, in markedly different contrast to older Hollywood films.

I wanted to mention the movie, as I believe, if you are interested in well written character driven films, that it is worth seeking out.  However, this isn’t a review.  I would just feel amiss if I didn’t mention it.  Although I was at least aware of many of the movies in the book, this is one that I had never heard mentioned before.

I’m always interested in why certain forms of art flourish in different time periods.  Although there are many reasons why the 60’s were great for music, the 70’s for film, and modern times have been described as the golden age of television, I think that the economics of a given era are always something to be considered.  The more money that flows to creativity, the more interesting and creative things we will see made.  Not only will those in a given field have more resources to give birth to their dreams, but more creative people will seek out a given medium.  Again, although this is not the only thing that influences culture, this is a big factor that has been proven time and again.  Biskind even talks about this near the end of the book:

Could another group of directors have done it differently, broken the back of studio power, created little islands of self-sufficiency that would have supported them in the work they wanted to do?  Could a hundred flowers ever have bloomed?  Probably not.  The strength of the economic forces arrayed against them was too great.  “We had the naive notion that it was the equipment which would give us the means of production,” said Coppola.  “Of course, we learned much later that it wasn’t the equipment, it was the money.”  Because the fact of the matter is that although individual revolutionaries succeeded, the revolution failed.  The New Hollywood directors were like free-range chickens; they were let out of the coop to run around the barnyard and imagined they were free.  But when they ceased laying those eggs, they were slaughtered.  

The book goes on to talk about how the directors, even the truly great ones like Coppola, were selected by market forces.  However, another interesting point is that the directors that were able to marry the personal with the commercial lasted longer than the ones that were making strictly personal films.  Success seems to be dictated by those that had the strength to create something personal, melded with a flexibility to bend to the commercial forces.  The Godfather is a perfect example.  It was a studio picture that Coppola took, even though at the time he would have rather been making movies that were even more personal to him.  However, he was able to infuse that studio film with enough personality to make it popular and unique for its time.

I don’t know if I have reached any definitive conclusion in all of this.  But I think these things are interesting to think about.  Another thing to consider is now, with so many people wanting intellectual property and artistic products for free, how does that affect the kind of culture around us?  Many people lament the fact that films and music aren’t what they used to be.  Why is this?  Is this simply nostalgia for a time that didn’t exist?  Or have we simply devalued things to the point where they can’t be created at the rate that we would like?

P.S.  I couldn’t help but think that the movie, which I don’t want to spoil, is in some ways a great commentary on this whole period of creativity in Hollywood.  (Even though the movie was created during the middle of this period.)  If you watch it, pay close attention to the relationship between freedom and authority.  


Curb Your Enthusiasm 70’s Style

I was reading Easy Riders and Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind.   It’s a book about the era of New Hollywood, when directors like Hal Ashby,  Roger Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, and others were at the height of their powers.  Anyway, the following passage, about director Peter Bogdanovich and actress Cybill Shepherd,  reminded me of the concept for Larry David’s  Curb Your Enthusiasm:

When Peter talked about Cybill, he patronized her. “Cybill stared out as a whim, an instinct, a little voice in my ear that I listened to.  I had an itch, and she scratched it….She’s very malleable.  You can bend her in any direction.  She does what she’s told.”  It became impossible to pick up a magazine without seeing the two of them beaming toothily from the cover, winsome and smug, as if to say, We’re Peter and Cybill, and you’re not.  Cary Grant told him to shut up.  “Will you stop telling people you’re in love.  Stop telling people you’re happy.”


“Because they are not in love and they’re not happy.  And they don’t want to hear it.  

“But Cary, I thought the world loves a lover.”

“Don’t you believe it.  It isn’t true.  Just remember one thing, Peter, people do not like beautiful people. “

Why Do We Change Our Mind About What We Find Beautiful?

One of the books I am reading right now is Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness.  I found the following passage interesting, where he tries to come to grips with why we find certain things beautiful:

Why do we change our minds about what we find beautiful?

In 1907 a young German art historian named Wihelm Worringer published an essay entitled ‘Abstraction and Empathy’, in which he attempted to explain our shifts from a psychological perspective.

He began by suggesting that during the span of human history there  had only been two basic types of art, ‘abstract’ and ‘realistic’, either one of which might, at any given time in a particular society, be favored over the other.  Through millennia, the abstract had enjoyed popularity in Byzantium, Persia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Congo, Mali and Zaire, and it was just then, at the opening of the twentieth century, returning to prominence in the West.  This was an art governed by a spirit of symmetry, order, regularity and geometry.  Whether in the form of sculpture or carpets, mosaics or pottery, whether in the work of a basket weaver from Weak or that of a painter from New York, abstract art aspired to create a tranquil atmosphere marked by flat, repetitive visual planes, the whole being free of any allusion to the living world.  

By contrast, Worringer noted, realistic art, which had dominated aesthetics in the Ancient Greek and Roman eras and held sway in Europe from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century, sought to evoke the vibrancy and color of tangible experience.  Artists of this stripe strove to capture the atmosphere  of a threatening pine forest, the texture of human blood, the swelling of a teardrop or the ferocity of a lion.  

The most compelling aspect of Worringer’s theory – a point as readily applicable to architecture as it is to painting – was his explanation of why a society might transfer its loyalty from one aesthetic mode to the other.  The determinant lay, he believed, in those values which the society in question was lacking, for it would love in art whatever it did not possess in sufficient supply within itself.  Abstract art, infused as it was with harmony, stillness and rhythm, would appeal chiefly to societies yearning for calm – societies in which law and order were fraying, ideologies were shifting, and a sense of physical danger was compounded by moral and spiritual confusion.  Against such turbulent background (the sort of atmosphere to be found in many of the metropolises of twentieth century-America or in New Guinean villages enervated by generations of internecine strife), inhabitants would experience what Worringer termed ‘an immense need for tranquillity’, and so would turn to the abstract, to patterned baskets or the minimalist galleries of Lower Manhattan.  

But in societies which had achieved high standards of internal and external order, so that life therein had come to seem predictable and overly secure, an opposing hunger would emerge: citizens would long to escape from the suffocating grasp of routine and predictability – and would turn to realistic art to quench their psychic thirst and reacquaint themselves with an elusive intensity of feeling.  

He goes on to talk about how different people even in the same country, people in different classes, might find different things beautiful based on their psychological needs.

Now there are obviously arguments that can be made against this.  (Though he is talking specifically about architecture and visual art in his book.)  One could make cases that certain kinds of religion influenced art in different ways.  Technology and materials allow for different art to be created.  Also the history of design and art, how one artist influences another as an example, comes into play.

However, the main point that de Botton is trying to get at is that, while we still may prefer one kind of design over another, we at least might be able to get a glimpse at why people we disagree with might prefer something based on who they are and where they come from.  He talks bout a factory owner that had sleek modern dwellings built for his factory workers to inhabit.  However, they spent their whole day working in a modern factory.  They wanted their houses to have a more traditional look, to feel like the places that they did not to get to spend enough time in, to look more like where they were from.  They added wooden shutters, picket fences and garden gnomes.  He also talks about how different people, depending on where they live and how they live, might want to spend their leisure time in a different environment, depending on what they are lacking in their everyday life.

I think you can still make value judgments on aesthetics.  The point is not to say that everything is as good as everything else.  A big part of the reason I write is because I believe there are things that are worth championing over others.  However, I think understanding where someone else is coming from is obviously a good thing.  It can at least maybe take something that would be filled with animosity to a level of friendly disagreement.  And one never knows, maybe something new will reveal itself and become beautiful for the first time.

More Posts On Alain de Botton Include:  Why Writing Should Often Be Simple

‘In the Garden of Beasts’ Review and Scenes that Should Be in the Movie

1933 Tier

I finished Erik Larson’s unbelievably great In the Garden of Beasts.  I’ve read and watched a lot about Nazi Germany, especially the period leading up to World War II, including most of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  I also took a history class that focused explicitly on that time period.  I have always been transfixed on how a culture that created so many great minds, from Beethoven to Goethe, could become perverted on seemingly every level.  As screwed up as the Weimar Republic was from a political and economic standpoint, the political period before the Third Reich, it had a lot to offer culturally.  What I have never read, and I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, was something with a novelistic quality that actually made one feel like they were there.

One of the most intriguing things about the Nazi Leadership is that they have become, through the looking glass of history, more than human.  They have become monsters when they were really men, even if they were men who possessed monstrous qualities.  While this book doesn’t completely close the gap between man and monster, it does as good a job as I have seen.  (Although there is one particular passage with Hermann Goring that is so strange that it seems unreal.)  These men are presented at dinner parties, private meetings, etc.  The book also makes the history of this time period accessible to those that might not have as great of a grasp of it as I do.  (Though I am by no means an expert.  I have simply read more than I imagine the average person to have read concerning this historical moment.)  It is written more like a novel than a history book and it is a true page turner.

There is a lot to recommend this book, but I want to focus on few things.  The first is that even the main protagonists are flawed.  This would be Ambassador William E. Dodd and his daughter Martha.  Larson does not attempt to trim away their moral failings.  However, this does not mean that, for their time period, they weren’t largely decent people.  Ambassador Dodd was one of the few to recognize the true threat of Hitler.  One of the things that Larson tries and succeeds in doing is to create a sense of the world as it was at that moment.  You can’t judge Ambassador Dodd by what we know now.  (Martha is a bit more complicated, but one could argue that she was also young and naive.)  A low level of anti-semitism was common in that period, even in some people that were otherwise decent.  (This does not completely excuse it as there are those, even in that period, that were not.  But I think the gay marriage debate is a good prism to view this through.  Even many people that were on the side of gay rights were often pushing civil unions instead of full marriage equality as short as a couple years ago.)  But in getting a sense of the failings of even some of the more decent people in this time period one gets an idea how Hitler, before his full qualities were shown, was able to rise to power.  (One last aside:  These kinds of things are endlessly debated amongst historians.  Hitler’s true nature was displayed in his autobiography, but because of other things going on, which are too numerous to mention, many people of that time period believed that Hitler would be more moderate once he had real power.)

Another thing that is really interesting, if not new in this book, is how big money stood in the way of challenging Hitler early on.  Germany owed America a large amount of money in debt. It has been widely documented that many of the now called one percenters had sympathies with Germany.  However, this book shows the continued pressure that Dodd was under to get Germany to pay its debts.  Because of this many of those in the foreign service, who were Ivy League graduates with ties to the upper class, tried to undercut Dodd when he chose to take a tougher stand against Germany that also risked the debts going unpaid.

If this time period interests you, and it should, this is actually a great place to start.  It’s not an overview by any means, but it is a vivid description of a time period when the world was on the verge of total insanity.  I could only think that this book would make you want to learn more.  At the very least it gives you an entrance point to this period in a highly compelling way.

There are rumors to make this into a movie.  If I would direct this movie I would choose the following two scenes to start and end the film, as a way of showing what Germany was and the destruction that Hitler brought to it.  Strangely enough for a country that was so cruel to people, they were extremely kind to animals, with laws preventing cruelty to those of the domestic variety.

Opening Scene:  Ambassador Dodd went to school in Leipzig, Germany, during his university years.  He found Germany charming, although he did sense its taste for militarism. But overall these were very fond years for him.  Later in the book Dodd remarks on how well cared for the horses in Germany were before World War II.  His specific remake is:

“Only horses seem to be equally happy, never the children or the youth,”he wrote.  “I often stop as I walk to my office and have a word with a pair of beautiful horses waiting while their wagon is being unloaded.  They are so clean and fat and happy that one feels that they are the point of speaking.”  

I would start the movie with Dodd as a young man in his idyllic Germany.  I would make the focus of this scene Dodd noticing those beautiful animals which he later remarked upon.

Closing Scene:  For the final image I would create a scene based on the following paragraph (As the once city beautiful city of Berlin is left in total ruin):

Five years later, during the final assault on Berlin, a Russian shell scored a direct hit on a stable at the western end of the Tiergarten.  (The Tiergarten is a large park in Berlin.) The adjacent Kurfurstendamm, once one of Berlin’s prime shopping and entertainment streets, now became the stage for the utterly macabre – horses, those happiest creatures of Nazi Germany, tearing wildly down the street with manes and tails aflame.  

More posts that include In the Garden of Beasts:  When Entertainment Conquers Reality



When Entertainment Conquers Reality

Today is day two on tour.  (And no I am not going to keep a daily tour diary. As soon as I promised to do that it would end in failure!)   We drove through Moab, Utah, for the second time in a month.  It looks like a Road Runner cartoon come to life.  I was actually thinking about how comparing it to cartoon was the only way to make the geography make sense to a lot of people.  Art is its own kind of communication.

When you drive out of New York, into New Jersey, you see all of these factories and plants.  Kevin Russell says it looks like the work of H.R. Giger and my Dad compares it to scenes from the Mad Max movies.  Either way you get the idea.

I mentioned yesterday that I was reading Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, about Nazi Germany.  Someone from that time period mentions that some of the events in Germany then seemed a lot like the things that people saw in American cinema.  (I totally could not find the page that was from to make the example more illuminating.  Hey if you were in a van for 10 hours today, you wouldn’t give a fuck either!)

I know that I have often told people that a certain event was just like so and so movie or TV show.  I’m sure that you have done the same as something surreal or exciting happens.

Stories have always been a way for people to communicate ideas to one another.  At the same time, I think it is interesting to think about that line where fiction and reality blur.  At what point is a story a means of communicating a reality and at what point does the story start to take over for reality, as people use a story as the basis for what they do in reality?

A really great book that deals with these kinds of ideas and more is Neal Gabler’s Life: The Movie.  The subtitle is How Entertainment Conquered Reality.  I think Gabler is one of our best critics.  He understands how popular culture is influenced by history, but also how history is influenced by popular culture.  (Gabler’s biography of Disney and his book about Jews in early Hollywood, An Empire of Their Own, are also must reads if you are interested in how history and pop culture intersect and influence each other.

We live in a culture where the news is often spin or distraction and reality TV is anything but. We often support politicians not for the intelligence of their ideas, but because of their capability to tell us coherent stories over multiple platforms.  (Often stories that greatly contrast the reality of their ideas.)  We often feel deeply about celebrities that we not only have no real connection to, but often who create nothing of value in our lives.  It’s one thing to feel strongly about someone that has given voice to a truth that we have felt but not been able to express, but it is another thing entirely to feel for someone just because they are a familiar face.

However, fiction can often get to the truth in a way that sheer facts cannot.  I have long felt that the movie There Will Be Blood demonstrates the relationship between big business and religion in a vivid way that is as powerful as any piece of journalism.  David Lynch is somehow, through moments in his films, able to communicate the strange uncanny feeling of dreams in a way that straightforward language would never be able to.

We need, now more than ever, people that can think critically, that can at least attempt to separate fact from fiction.  We need people that can tell how “reality” is often fiction.  We need people that can tell how fiction can actually have a lot to say about our reality.


Shows This Weekend and Books, Music, and Television Worth Checking Out

Shiny ribs Show Page

I’ll be performing back to back shows tonight at Strange Brew in Austin, Tx with Shinyribs.  The first one is sold out and I have a feeling the second one will be as well.  If you want to go, get your tickets now.  Tomorrow we are in the Fort Worth area.  You can get all the details up above.

Yesterday I watched the latest episodes of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher.  I also finally viewed Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.  I was struck by how all three of these programs were more informative than anything on cable news.  They were also more interesting and entertaining as well.  The documentary was a serious piece by an award winning filmmaker, so it it is no surprise there. The other two are comedy shows that talk about current events.  Comedians are still our biggest mainstream truth tellers, even after John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have gone off the air.

I’ve been reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.  It is a murder mystery that takes place in an abbey in 1327.  But it uses the genre of the murder mystery, although with a historical twist, as a jumping off point for discussions on religion and philosophy.  It’s amazing the amount of visual and historical detail he is able to pack in, while still holding the reader’s attention throughout.

Next month features a host of records that I am really excited about.  New records by Darlene Love, New Order, Iron Maiden, and Public Image Ltd. all make appearances.

Morrissey to Release Novel and Great Books by Musicians

List of the Lost

List of the Lost Press Release

I’m looking forward to reading Morrissey’s first novel.  It comes out September 24th.  The details are above.

I really enjoyed his Autobiography.  Here are five other books by musicians, in no order, that are worth checking out:

  1.  Bob Dylan – Chronicle
  2. Henry Rollins – Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag
  3. Larry Kirwan – Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyseey
  4. John Lydon – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
  5. Lou Reed – Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed

All of the books, except the Lou Reed book, which is a collection of lyrics with commentary by Reed, would qualify as autobiographies.  However, each one of them is better than the standard autobiography or biography.  Dylan’s is written with the kind of wordplay and imagery that one would expect from Dylan.  Rollin’s is as much about self-realization under duress as it is about music, though of course there is a great deal of music commentary included.  It’s jet black and deeply funny.  Kirwan is not only a musician, but also a playwright.  His book is not only expertly written, but features a great deal of really interesting information on the history and culture of Ireland.  And Lydon’s book is not only an unsentimental look at his past, but includes commentary by other people that were around him at that same time.  Even if they flat out contradict him, he seems not to give a fuck.  He is interested in getting to the truth, and the truth depends on one’s perspective.

Is Our Environmental Past Prophecy of a Dark Future?

In reading about whaling in the book In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, a great example is made of what happens when human beings destroy nature for economic pursuit.  I’m not talking about the whaleship Essex being sunk by a sperm whale, which is what the book is largely about, the true story that Moby Dick was based on.  I’m talking about how Nantucketers, in their ever increasing greed for more whale oil and their stubbornness in following tradition, built an entire economy that was doomed to eventually collapse.  The real story, which if you are interested in you should read the book, is more complex, but basically Nantucketers over-hunted whales and had to keep going further and further to find them.  Also, because they had such a closed off culture, when it did become apparent to others to seek even new hunting grounds, the Nantucketers could not adapt fast enough.

This is a story that has been seen again and again.  The fur-trade wore itself out from overhunting of beavers.  Almost any American school child knows about how the Buffalo almost became extinct from overhunting.  On a different note, with something like mountaintop removal in places like West Virginia one can see how whole economies rise and fall around something environmentally destructive, leaving a populace with nothing left to show for something other than a small few making a lasting fortune.

I don’t see how one can look at something like the oil industry and climate change and not expect the same to happen on a much larger scale.  This time it will be more than a single species almost driven to extinction, a single region driven through a boom and bust cycle.  While it is true that those species mentioned did manage to rebound somewhat, the ways of life they were based on never did.

As the old quote goes, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  Humans, now more technologically advanced than ever, also have greater destructive powers than ever before.  The game we are playing is much bigger now, but the story is old.  Are we, as a species, truly capable of learning from our past?  Or is the past merely a series of small prophecies of what is to come of our future?

More Posts On the Environment Include: Entertainment Shows Growing Environmental Concerns

Nebraska and Wiseblood

I saw her standin’ on her front lawn
Just twirlin’ her baton 
Me and her went for a ride sir
And ten innocent people died 

From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska
With a sawed off .410 on my lap 
Through to the badlands of Wyoming
I killed everything in my path 

I can’t say that I’m sorry
For the things that we done 
At least for a little while sir
Me and her we had us some fun 

The jury brought in a guilty verdict
And the judge he sentenced me to death 
Midnight in a prison storeroom
With leather straps across my chest 

Sheriff when the man pulls that switch sir
And snaps my poor head back 
You make sure my pretty baby
Is sittin’ right there on my lap 

They declared me unfit to live
Said into that great void my soul’d be hurled 
They wanted to know why I did what I did 
Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.

Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen

I was looking for songs that had a lyric in them about Wyoming (We are spending the night in Laramie.), and when this came up I was reminded of how much I love the song.  In this song you can not only see the influence of cinema on Springsteen’s words, the song is based on the movie Badlands, which is itself a true story, but the language of writers like Flannery O’Connor.  She writes with the same kind of simple, powerful, haunted, almost Old Testament kind of language.  It’s a fallen world, one where you stumble into meanness just as easily as kindness.  In fact the last line in the song recalls a line at the end of O’Connor’s short story A Good Man is Hard to Find.  (A title which Springsteen later went on to use.) I’ve written about the connection between the two before.

More posts on Flannery O’Connor include: Flannery O’Connor On Mystery

More posts on Bruce Springsteen include:  The Dark Dreams of Bruce Springsteen

This is What You Want, This is What You Get

While watching DVD’s of the show Deadwood, and the special commentary featuring creator David Milch, a show that takes place in an illegal mining town, I came to understand how humans use certain kinds of language to psychologically justify certain orders of business which result in the destruction of nature. This can be found either through the use of vulgarity, to get themselves psyched up to do something which is not natural, or through euphemisms that hide the nature of what they are going to do.  Often you will see a combination of this.

Over the last two days, on tour, I have been reading the brilliant Nathaniel Philbrick book In the Heart of the Sea.  This book is a historical account that tells the story of the waleship Essex, which is the ship that inspired Moby Dick, due to the fact that it was sunk by a sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean.  At the time, the sinking of the ship was said to be as widely known as the sinking of the Titanic.  Melville, who had once been on a whaling vessel himself, used the story of the Essex as the basis for his book.

Most people now, even those that are tried and true hunters, view the killing of whales as nothing other than outright savagery, due to what we now know about whales.  However, even during the time of the Essex, the early 1800’s, those that witnessed the killing of a whale for the first time were often troubled by it.

In order to get the men ready to kill whales the captains and first mates of the ship would use a language, while rowing towards the whales, “that evoked the savagery, excitement, and the almost erotic bloodlust associated with pursuing one of the largest mammals on the planet.”  Here is the passage that the book uses that was spoken by a Nantucket mate (All the more interesting because those from Nantucket were Quakers, who are known in regular life for their pacifism.  A pacifism that would disappear when whales were their quarry.):

Do for heaven’s sake spring.  The boat don’t move.  You’re all asleep; see, see!  There she lies; skote, skote!  I love you, my dear fellows, yes, yes, I do;  I’ll do anything for you, I’ll give you my heart’s blood to drink; only take me up to this whale only this time, for this once, pull.  Oh, St. Peter, St. Jerome, St. Stephen, St. James, St. John, the devil on two sticks; carry me up; O, let me tickle him, let me feel of his ribs.  There, there, go on; O, O, O, most on, most on.  Stand up, Starbuck [harpooner].  Don’t hold your iron that way; put one hand over the end of the pole.  Now, now, look out.  Dart, dart.

When the book talks about the killing of the whale, it is truly horrific.  I am not one that is squeamish about violence, especially violence, no matter how real at the time of the event, that is taking place only in my imagination.  But I found the following passage, especially if you are to read the full account in the book, very troubling:

When the final lance found its mark its mark, the whale would begin to choke on its own blood, its spout transformed into a fifteen-to twenty-foot geyser of gore that prompted the mate to shout, “Chimney’s afire!”  As the blood rained down on them, the men took up the oars and backed furiously away, then paused to watch as the whale went into what was known as its flurry.  Beating the water with its tail, snapping at the air with its jaws – even as it regurgitated large chunks of fish and squid – the creature began to swim in an ever tightening circle.  Then, just as abruptly as the attack had begun with the first thrust of the harpoon, it ended.  The whale fell motionless and silent, a giant black corpse floating fin-up in a slick of its own blood and vomit.  

I highlighted “Chimney’s afire” because it is another use of language to make peace with a horrible act.  This time, unlike the first passage that was especially vulgar for its time, it is a euphemism.  Is the use of “Chimney’s afire” not a ridiculous euphemism for the act at hand?

When we perform mountaintop removal, when we steer the world towards destruction while ignoring climate change, when we kill off endangered species, what are the euphemisms that we use?  How do we justify these acts to ourself so that we can carry them out?

I also just finished the book The Consolations of Philosophy, which examines that in order to be happy, to not be crushed by life’s disappointments, we must have a  realistic view of the world.  In the book, the author is referring on how your outlook leads to how you respond to tragedy and setbacks.  If you have a rosy view of what is going on, you might not be able to handle a setback or tragedy, because you have an unrealistic viewpoint of what the world is like.  Something shocking is even more shocking if you never thought of it in the first place.  If you understand the harsh realities of life, you will still suffer and be sad at these times, but you will at least have the consolation of understanding that you are not suffering alone.  (This is an extreme simplification of what the book says, but bear with me while I make a point.)  I think also, that while one can certainly be active and fight 0r speak outagainst injustice in the world, it is extremely helpful to know exactly what is going on out there.  To solve a problem, I think it helps to know the full ramifications of what one is up against.  It might not always be necessary, but more times than not, especially in the political realm, a sharp view of reality will only aid one in their fight against injustice.

The reason I chose the Public Image Ltd. song above is that it constantly repeats the phrase, “This is What You Want, This is What You Get.”  This is what you wish the world was like, but this is how it really is.

I think this glimpse into whaling and the language used around it can help one identify the modern equivalence of it.  Again, what language are those that destroy the environment using?  What horrible acts are they concealing behind the facade of language?

Posts for Public Image Ltd. Check OutCareering

Posts for Deadwood: Deadwood and United Fruit

Posts for The Consolations of Philosophy: Socrates, Philosophy, and Why What is Popular is Not Always Right