Genocide in a Theme Restaurant

When I was in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago I noticed, while we were driving through a commercial zone, that there was a car wash named after an Indian tribe.   I don’t remember what tribe, but it struck me as both tragic and comic at the same time.  Oklahoma was once the home of many tribes, including the Kiowa, Pawnee, and Shawnee.  (There are obviously still Native Americans in Oklahoma, but not as they once were of course.) The white man came into Oklahoma, killed or displaced its indigenous people, and now uses their images and names to promote cheap commerce.  It would be like Germans deciding to paint the faces of Jews on the inside of beer halls, just to provide some quaint atmosphere.  Oklahoma is not alone, by any means, in this kind of behavior, it is just where the idea crystalized itself in my mind.  People commit genocide and then name some tacky businesses after the victims.  If that’s not insult to injury I don’t know what is.  Next time you go to a family restaurant with your kids, make sure to tell them that the Indian on the wall was probably killed right there!  That will add some interesting vibes to an otherwise drab family occasion!

John Oliver On Standardized Testing

The always brilliant John Oliver on Standardized Testing in America.  Any teacher that I have ever talked to, and I know a lot, my Mom having been a teacher for her whole career, talks about what a waste of time this testing is.  It eats away at things that could be more beneficial to students, while giving a skewered look as to what is really going on in our schools.  There is huge difference between intelligence, learning, and just memorizing.

Matthew Weiner Discusses Mad Men Ending

Major spoilers for Mad Men are involved in this post.

Matthew Weiner Discusses Mad Men Ending

Mattew Weiner has done a discussion about the last season of Mad Men and the final images displayed.  The whole article is worth reading if you are a fan of the show.  He claims that the last image of the show was not meant in any kind of cynical way:

“My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is,” Mr. Hamm said. “And who he is, is an advertising man.”

Mr. Weiner didn’t touch on how the Coke ad did or did not fit within the show’s narrative. But he defended the ad, with its notably multicultural cast, against those who would now dismiss it as “corny.”

Now, I definitely interpreted it that way.  However, Weiner is defending the ad in it’s place and time and not ours.  He talks about how five years before the ad you couldn’t even have black and white people in the same ad.

In one way, if the creator of something says something is so and so, you could say I was wrong.  However, I think it is a credit to Weiner that the end was interpretive enough, so well put together, that its interpretations are more varied than just what he was thinking when he put it together.

I remember one time I wrote a song and someone misheard the lyrics.  What they heard was even more compelling than what I wrote.  Often when writing or doing anything, one goes on intuition more than reason.  David Lynch is a director that is really interesting to watch work, as he operates almost wholly on intuition.  Some of the things I have written that I’m most proud of, I don’t even know what they are till later on.  Also, there is the argument that once created, something is the audience’s as much as it is the creator’s.

A friend of mine said that the ending also hinted at the artistic process.  That so much goes into one song, or scene, etc.  Nothing is created in a vacuum.  It took Draper his whole life to arrive at a place where he could create that commercial.  I think this is another brilliant way to interpret the ending.

I remember reading another interview with Weiner where he talked about how there was positive and negative advertising.  There was advertising that tried to make what was being sold look appealing.  Then there was negative ads that tried to make people feel like they would be losers if they didn’t by the product.  Think of all of the male deodorant commercials that basically say if you don’t buy this you will never get laid.  Draper was someone that believed in creating positive ads.

Now I still stick with my original interpretation of the ending.  Even though the show takes place in the past, the viewing takes place in the now.  Advertising has consumed and co-opted so many things by this point that it is hard not to be cynical about ads.  In my mind tying peace and love to a Coke diminishes peace and love.  If you take my friend’s interpretation about art, art is at least trying to communicate something of value.  It is trying to represent the real experience as best it can so that other people can understand it.  It is trying to build communication.  Meanwhile, commercials end goal are to get you to buy a product.  In the case of the Coke ad, peace and love are being used to try to get you to buy something that causes tooth decay and childhood obesity.  It is turning peace and love into nothing more than a marketable commodity.

There is so much more I could say about the brilliant, beautiful, and somewhat disturbing, to me at least, ending of this great show.  But the whole thing about such a great ending is that you don’t have to decide.  You don’t have to tell yourself that this ending represents one interpretation and that nothing else is correct.  The ending raises more questions, connects with more ideas, than Weiner, my friend, or myself have about it.  The ending is art and that is a beautiful thing.  It is not a final destination, but a river than can lead you to so many different places.  Cast off from shore and explore this world and others on your own.

Not Everything is Equal

I read an article the other day where it was criticizing Simon Pegg because he claimed that sci-fi wasn’t as good as it used to be.  It then went into some argument that critiquing populist art was elitism.  I call bullshit loud and clear.  Pegg was making maybe too much of a blanket claim, but criticism is valid.

Art, like people, should never be judged as a group.  You don’t want to say hip-hop isn’t valid, but classical music is, or art house movies are valid, but summer blockbusters aren’t, etc.  But you can say, “so and so is vapid or such and such has merit”, when it comes to specific pieces.  Opinion always plays a role.  So does understanding.  There have been plenty of times I didn’t get something, only to get it later based on increasing knowledge.  Things also work on different levels.  Something may be excellent escapism and something might be excellent in making you think.  Different pieces for different moods and times.

The door is always left open to screw up in an assessment of something.  Rigidity is a mistake.  But all that being said, you can sure as shit argue that one thing is more worthy than another.

First of all popularity is no proof of validity.   Hitler’s ideas were popular at one point.  Especially in the modern world, when marketing plays such a huge roll in getting above the din, popularity just means exposure half the time.  This does not mean popular stuff is bad, only that popular is not the equivalent of good.

So whoever wrote that article with Simon Pegg is a clown.  You have to try to discern good from the bad.  Everything is not equal. The Kardashians are not Macbeth.   Life is short.  You need to have some kind of measurement of worth so that you don’t spend what little time you have turning your brain into mush.    Again, popular entertainment can be fantastic, but just the fact it is popular doesn’t mean anything.  Elite can infer stuck up, but it can also infer the best.  “They were elite soldiers.”  I wish more people would spend a little time asking for the best, and not settling for the banal:  Putting on whatever comes on TV or the radio without questioning it, drifting into the American night, lost and unaware, primed to lose.

How Apocalypto Relates to the News

When I watch the news I often think of the movie Apocalypto.   This is a Mel Gibson directed movie that deals with the Mayans.  The movie is an insane spectacle filled with ideas and blood.  The characters speak in ancient Mayan dialogue, but the movie is brilliant because it manages to tell the story in ways that are mostly visual.  It is an extremely intelligent piece of entertainment, an action movie with ideas.  It is barbarous, batshit insane, kinetic entertainment.  

Now why do I think of this movie when I see the news?  This is not due to the themes of the movie.  The Mayan empire is depicted as a civilization on the verge of collapse due to environmental calamity and human exploitation.  It came out during the Bush years and the Iraq War.  Gibson even commented that the Mayan rulers were very similar to Bush in his boys.  Sure, the invading Europeans put the nail in the coffin of the Mayans, but the Europeans are aided by the Mayan leaders’ tyrannical rule.  That is not to say that is true in history, but Gibson is trying to draw a parallel through art.  He is saying if we don’t quit oppressing people, if we don’t protect the environment, history shows that we and our way of life is in trouble.

However, none of that crosses my mind when I watch the news.  The greatest emotional quality of Apocalypto is insanity.  When I watch the news and they focus on the trivial and ignore the important, I feel emotionally like I do when I watch Apocalypto.   When I see war and oppression trumpeted as normal, when I see global warming treated as not real, when I see celebrity eclipse the common good, I feel the same as when I watch Apocalypto.  

There is intellectual truth and emotional truth in art.  Even if you argue that the movie doesn’t have the former, it has the latter in spades.  It feels like what happens when the world turns upside down.  It’s why the movie makes me happy, even though it is largely an action movie and a quite dark one at that.  Someone connected to an emotion that is all too common in the modern world.  It’s always uplifting to know someone feels like you do.  If there are others, you might just stand a chance. 

Dock Ellis As Icarus

The truth is never simple and yet it is. The truth is we did kill him. By silence we consented… because we couldn’t go on. But by Ares, what did we have to look forward to but to be discarded in the end like Cleitus? After all this time, to give away our wealth to Asian sycophants we despised? Mixing the races? Harmony? Oh, he talked of these things. I never believe in his dream. None of us did. That’s the truth of his life. The dreamers exhaust us. They must die before they kill us with their blasted dreams. – Old Ptolemy, regarding Alexander the Great, in the movie Alexander

Last night I watched No No: A Dockumentary, a documentary about the baseball player Dock Ellis.  He was famous for, among many things, throwing a no hitter on LSD.  The documentary was worth watching, really good even, but not exceptional.  The footage and the interviews were fantastic, but something about the way the different pieces were put together, the narrative arc, seemed a little loose and unfocused.

One of the things that I found disappointing, but did not take away from my enjoyment of the film, was the end of the film’s focus on Ellis getting clean and teaching prisoners how to reenter life.  Now this is true to life. I also don’t wish to discount what is obviously a noble pursuit for anyone.  But for most of the film Ellis is Icarus before the crash.  You know, because he is mortal, that his wings will melt, but you can’t help but enjoy watching him fly to close to the sun.  So often society wants the outcome of the Icarus myth.  They show a brief shot of his obituary and the newspaper’s headline says something about how he overcame drugs.  For much of his life Ellis was the black ball player that, during a time of extreme racial prejudice, refused to keep his head down.  He not only was a physical mutant, succeeding in MLB while being extremely high, but also quite fearless in his behavior.  When black ball players were expected to keep their mouths shut, enduring things that can only be seen as outright ignorance, Ellis refused to play by the rules of society.  He was never one of the silent masses, guilty by consent.

Early in the movie the film talks about how black ball players, in certain parts of the country, were supposed to stay in different hotels than the white players.  This is obviously insanely stupid.  Black ball players also had to deal with everything from racial epithets to threatening letters.  Ellis never let this kind of discrimination water down his personality.  He was bold and proud when the world wanted him to be meek, quiet, and safe.

Society, even today, wants people to know their place.  I don’t even necessarily mean this in a racial way.  It wants people to tow the line.  It wants people to apologize for their personal transgressions.  But the world needs people like Ellis.  It needs freaks and mutants that by design or will can’t conform.  Although there are many ways to challenge the absurdity of the world, one way is to match its absurdity blow by blow, to refuse to bend to the will of the ignorant.  For a longtime Ellis out-crazied the whirlwind.

He eventually takes it too far.  As one ages their body can no longer handle the excess of youth.  Society is more powerful than the individual and it eventually will take the edges off someone or destroy them.  Very few, like George Carlin, actually get bolder with age.  Even if you refuse to bend to the will of society, life will eventually defeat you.  But for a little while he was out their defying the powerful, even defying the gods.  He was up there in the clouds, free and beautiful, a mythic character in the flesh.

I’m not saying his later deeds do not deserve commendation.  His work with those on the outskirts of society were noble, good, and worthy of respect.  But don’t for a second discount his earlier accomplishments.  He was a heroic mutant, momentarily shaking off the shackles of the mortal.  I’m glad he was out there, for a little while…

The Pope On The Military Industrial Complex

The Pope On The Military Industrial Complex

From the article at Daily Kos

Pope Francis said Monday that “many powerful people don’t want peace because they live off war”. The Argentine pontiff made the hard-hitting comment in response to a question from one of the 7,000 children taking part in an audience held with the Peace Factory organisation. “This is serious,” Francis told the children.

“Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms.

“It’s the industry of death”.

Pope Francis has said so many things that make sense.  Although I’m not joining anytime soon, or any other religious organization, he has made me think of the Catholic Church in a new light.  Although I know there are still views that he has that I don’t agree with, he seems by and large a true force for good, someone that is striving for economic justice, environmental sanity, and peace.

A note to people of other sects and faiths:  If you want to be taken seriously outside of your bubble of fellow believers, do things in the name of your religion that actually bring about a better world.

Why should it be that Pope Francis seems to tower above so many religious leaders?  Why is it such a shock that an extremely high ranking religious leader is actually standing against so many of the things that cause human suffering?