I was thinking today about how I hadn’t seen the Democratic debate yet, although I have seen clips. Then I started thinking about how every clip that I saw was either about who “won” or about some joke or sensational moment from the debate. There were no clips about anything meaningful, insightful, that gave you a deeper sense of who these people are and what they believe. Then most of the commentary was about how the candidates looked, who seemed authentic, and who got the best jabs in. There was a lot of sports terminology being used. Who appears the most presidential? Not exactly the kind of stuff that helps you pick the leader of the free world. Oh well, better luck next time! I realize that this kind of thing has been going on forever. But nevertheless, it’s fucking depressing.
I am giving the new show The Bastard Executioner a try. It’s a show that focuses on Wales in the 14th Century. I haven’t seen enough of the show one way or another yet to give an opinion. However, Monty Python has made it slightly hard to watch any historical drama, especially one like The Bastard Executioner (which also has a witch!), without realizing the absurdity of human behavior. Even watching the Oscar winning The King’s Speech, which focuses on the lead-up and onset of World War II, I couldn’t help feel that the characters were, “emotional mutants.” It’s not that you can’t enjoy historical pieces, as I still very much do. It’s only that you realize the absurdity in the horrible behavior of our ancestors while doing so. You begin to notice the comedy of human behavior and error. Perhaps this is what happens when you are raised on Monty Python. If you haven’t seen any of their movies, do so. You may never again see the world the same way.
The more I think about the Republican debate the other night, the more the insanity of it seems to ratchet up in my mind. It was like some kind of propaganda rally in Stalinist Russia, or like something out of the book 1984, where the ministry of defense was called the Ministry of Peace. Everything was backwards. It was so vulgarly absurd I found myself laughing out loud while watching it.
Look, I have friends of all political stripes. A couple weeks ago a conservative friend told me a negative statistic about the Obama administration and the War On Drugs that I didn’t believe, because of the overall decriminalization of weed over the last few years in some states. However, this friend’s fact was correct. I am happy to listen to people I don’t see eye to eye on if they argue with reason. It’s good to be challenged and to be forced to think outside of your comfort zone. We need people in our lives to shake up our very human desire to feel comfortable intellectually.
But this debate wasn’t like that. This wasn’t people with a different set of beliefs trying to appeal to reason to get a point across. These were people that were alternating between ad hominem attacks and magical thinking. This was performance art. Pseudo-science, bigotry, and warmongering were all pandered to. Cut the budget, build a wall, tear up an agreement, demonstrate strength, belittle diplomacy, demonize minorities, and worship money were the themes that were brought up over and over. And this is the party that is always waving the Christian flag!
Holy fuck, it was amazing!
I meant to get a lot done here the last couple days, but unfortunately I have been sick for most of the week. It did give me time to watch the entire first season of the new Netflix series Narcos. I seriously recommend it. At first it seemed like it might just be a watered down South American version of a Scorsese film. However, whatever weaknesses it first appears to have end up serving the series in the end. The show tells the tale of Columbia during the reign of Pablo Escobar. You get a sense not only of Escobar and those close to him, on both sides of the law, but also of the politics of the time, not only of Columbia, but also of the U.S. and our role both politically and culturally in relationship to the drug trade. In the first episode the narration by a U.S. DEA agent seems like the kind of narration that would be in a B-movie. However, as the scope of the show expands, that same narration helps to make sense of what is going on as characters multiply. One thing I really like about the show is how it uses real footage at times, even for people that are represented by actors, to give one a sense of the real history behind the show. Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign looks even more ridiculous than ever in light of what was going on. If you want to watch a show that brings recent history to life in the most entertaining way possible, you will find it here.
I’ve always felt that a military presence at an NFL game was absurd. What is patriotic about watching, as George Carlin says, “300 lb millionaires kick the shit out of each other?” That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it. I still love the NFL precisely because it is ridiculous. Watching a football game is like putting on a Halloween costume. It really has nothing to do with my real life, but it is fun and allows me to act like an asshole for a couple of hours. However, the above article shows that NFL propaganda is not only absurd, but actually manipulative. It examines a particular military reunion, and shows how certain facts are left out to make people become more emotionally invested in it than they normally would be, if they knew all of the facts upfront.
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.
I finally got around to watching Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the HBO documentary about Scientology. It was everything everyone said it was. The truth really is stranger than fiction. I’m not going to do a full review, there have been plenty of others, and the film is still too new in my head to give it any kind of overall analysis. There are just a few quick points and questions I wanted to address:
- Watching the movie you see an alternative reality, where people believe things that can only be described as batshit insane. Yet, many of these people are highly functioning members of society. What widely held beliefs do we hold in our society that appear absolutely ridiculous to those viewing us from afar? I don’t mean ones that differ from other societies, there are plenty of those, but ones that are provably false, yet a great deal of Americans put faith in them.
- Many of the people interviewed, the high ranking former Scientologists, that now have retired from the church, look back upon their former life with disbelief. If we were to be removed from our current station in life are there things that we would view as absurd?
- When something looks and feels like a propagandist rally, it probably is. There are creepy spectacles where the leader of the modern church, David Miscavige, and Tom Cruise speak to a stadium full of people in tuxedos and ball gowns. Fireworks go off, people wave flags, inspirational videos are shown. It looks like a megachurch combined with a political party convention combined with a sports rally. All of these things are things in which every day America people have to suspend disbelief to participate in. Sure, a sports rally is largely harmless, but you are essentially pretending that the action on the field somehow matters in your life, which unless you have money on the game, it doesn’t. I think the other two examples are self-explanatory.
My point is that the church of Scientology is ridiculously absurd. But at the same time, it is just an exaggerated version of many of the things that inhabit everyday life. In fact when compared to some of the televangelists that John Oliver recently spoofed, it really isn’t any more absurd. People in this documentary do horrible things to other people in the name of belief. So many of the ills of mankind are based on a belief of some kind, but because they are more accepted, are not recognized as absurd. The prison of belief. One of the things that makes the documentary so powerful is that it is explicitly about Scientology, but it is also implicitly about the way that people get carried away by belief. I would bet that even those of us that think we have a realistic view of the world have some pretty ridiculous notions if we look hard enough. Hopefully this documentary will make people look at their own lives and not just the lives of the freaks on view. That being said, the things Scientologists believe in are really, really, really fucking insane!
My brother showed me these clips today. They are pretty amazing. Iggy Pop and David Bowie went on The Dinah Shore Show, a daytime talkshow, in 1977 to do an interview and two songs. (Above is Sister Midnight and at the very bottom is a clip of them performing Fun Time. Between that is the actual interview.) I can’t imagine what a daytime talkshow audience would have thought of the heavy weirdness being laid down by the music those two were making back then! I mean imagine someone going on one of those vacuous daytime talkshows today and singing Iggy’s lines from Sister Midnight:
Calling sister midnight
You know, I had a dream last night
Mother was in my bed
And I made love to her
Father he gunned for me
Hunted me with his six gun
Calling sister midnight
What can I do about my dreams?
Last night, I was down in the lab
Talkin’ to Dracula and his crew
All aboard for funtime
The above article at Salon is an interesting look at the economics of modern television. Obviously, when they are looking at the future of anything, it is somewhat of a guessing game, if here at least one that seems to have some statistics to back it. However, I think one thing that everyone needs to understand is that we get the kind of culture that we support. We can either view culture as a public good and support at least part of it as a community, or we can view it as something that should live or die by the market. Right now it is economically viable for a lot of great television to be made, and a lot of bad television. I think that other art forms, for a number of reasons, are suffering compared to other times in our history.
Ever since finishing True Detective Season 2 recently, I have been rewetting scenes from Season 1. This is a great scene where the two main characters discuss religion and its role in society. Even if you are not a fan of either season, there is a great philosophical discussion at the heart of this scene.
More Posts On True Detective Include: True Detective Season 2 Review