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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Man’s Got to Know his Limitations

‘Firefox’ is a strange blend of ‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ and ‘Star Wars’ that fails at either being a paranoid nail biter of a spy story or a fetishistic techno-thriller because Clint Eastwood clearly had no clue how either genre works.

Imagine a Michael Mann film about a secret Princess, or a Sidney Lumet Sword and Sorcery Flick. Imagine Sam Peckinpah directing a screwball comedy, or Stanley Kubrick making a sequel to ‘Caddyshack’. Picture Sylvester Stallone penning and lensing an English drawing room comedy of manners. Jane Campion making a male oriented special forces action flick...

Eastwood is, in my opinion, a fairly limited film maker whose real talent was a good eye for properties, a keen eye for character actors and a willingness to let his thespians make ‘moments’ in his films. Think back to any classic Eastwood flick, and you remember those moments when he lets his cast treat Eastwood as the straight man counterpart to their monologues. This works for Westerns and crime dramas, which are primarily about confrontations and character moments, but fails spectacularly in subtle paranoid espionage films and in high tech gizmo thrillers.

What both genres require is a flair for exposition. You can get away with dropping the audience in the middle of a western with no introduction. We’re all familiar with the basic tropes and archetypes of the western story. Same with a typical rogue cop thriller or a story about a hardassed marine, and his goofy recruits. Artful exposition, however, is absolutely essential for bringing an audience up to speed with the world of cloak and dagger, and bleeding edge military technology.

In ‘Firefox’ Eastwood treats the film like a 1970s low budget police potboiler. Most of the details concerning Eastwood’s past can only be determined after that fact based on circumstantial evidence. His character, ex-Vietnam airforce major Mitchell Grant, is brought out of some kind of idyllic retirement in the Alaska Wilderness to sneak into Russia using a complex dissident network, and steal a brand new Russian fighter jet that’s invisible to radar and can fly at Mach 6. He’s chosen because he has the same build as the Russian test pilot, and he can speak Russian.

The first problem with the film is that nobody involved with the production figured out when Russian’s are supposed to talk with Russian accents, and when they’re supposed to talk Russian with subtitles. Some scenes are subtitled and in some scenes, they speak with Boris accents and Eastwood doesn’t even bother with that in his performance. He seemed content to act as if nobody in the Soviet Union would notices Dirty Harry wandering around their country. A drama set in Russia could get away with this, but not an espionage film. Even ‘The Great Escape’ got a lot of mileage out of the pitfalls of going incognito in a foreign land with a feigned foreign tongue. Here the inconsistency speaks of laziness and a style better suited for a film about a trucker and his best bud orangutan.

Taking away the threat of language betraying the infiltrator, ‘Firefox’ becomes a film about Soviet Jewish dissidents risking their lives to speed the downfall of the oppressive U.S.S.R. followed by Top Gun style fighter-jet action. Imagine if the X-Wing attack in Star Wars had occurred after Obi Wan dies of gunshot wounds, looking into the eyes of his dead wife who sacrificed for a cause. 

It’s even more ridiculous when Clint Eastwood just strolls over to an experimental Soviet fighter jet and steals it with all the urgency of a guy taking an idling dump truck out of a construction on a dare. He seems to know how to operate this jet that he’s never flown before, where the instructions are in a foreign language with no difficulty operating the thought based weapon’s system or getting a feel for the flight dynamics. In a mid-80s canon film with Chuck Norris, this would be part of the show, but it looks preposterous after a grimly realistic cloak and dagger action that precedes it.

The final act of ‘Firefox’ is one long dog fight between Eastwood and a Soviet Pilot in fictional MIG-31s over icy arctic landscapes. The sci-fi thriller spectacle of the fight is undercut by scenes featuring old men repeatedly narrating the action as if he were presenting slides at an association of tax accountants. Eastwood’s heart just isn’t in the spectacle of supersonic jets in combat, which is ironic because the special effects department knew what kind of film ‘Firefox’ was supposed to be, even if Eastwood didn’t. 

The models for the fictional MIG-31 Firefox of the film’s title was clearly designed by people with a Tom Clancy like appreciation for the fine products of the Military Industrial Complex. With its’ long fuselage, forward canards and double-delta wings, the model planes bear a close resemblance to never built Mach 3 fighter-interceptor concepts from the 1960s, but shaped with an eye for stealth. The production department had clearly studied the theory of low radar visibility reflected in the internal weapons bays and baffled engine air-intakes so that their mockup looks like it was ready for a mid-80s next generation fighter presentation. Hell, take the full scale mockup they constructed for the film and bring it to defense industry trade show for next generation stealth fighters and it still wouldn’t look out of place. Like with Robocop II, this is an example of the special effects department granting the film a deeper artistic resonance than it actually deserves.

The other problem is that Clint Eastwood is never, for a single moment, believable as a man who could infiltrate a cold-war era Soviet Union. Never an actor of any great range, his face, his walk, his squint, his voice, his gestures and even his choice of inflections just screams silent generation American male. The rest of the cast is made up of solid character actors who would seem right at home in an Ipcress File movie. They look and sound passably Russian, which brings even more attention to how incongruous Eastwood is in the Le Carre segments. He looks as out of place as Dolph Lundgren would look in a drama about the IRA, or The Rock in an Edward Albee play as a put upon alcoholic.

Compare ‘Firefox’ to ‘The Hunt for Red October’ to see the difference between a competent techno-thriller and a film that could use a goofy orangutan to liven it up.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Conventional Wisdom is Always Wrong

What is conventional wisdom? Think the about the questions you don’t ask because the answer is obvious. Think about the assumptions that you rarely articulate but just assume to be true.
‘You should buy a house and build equity’

‘You should go to college and study what you love!’

‘You should explore yourself in your youth’

‘You just have to show initiative, what boss couldn’t love that’

‘You should be a lawyer, they make a lot of money’

It’s deeper than that. We all have a loose movie script in our heads about how our life is supposed to turn out. This is not an explicit script with a plot, but a collection of vague bits of unsourced trivia, group identification, and repeated lessons with a few sign posts indicating institutions and cultural references of great import: universities, prestigious career tracks, accoutrements of aspiration.

When we’re young, this script is informed by our parents and our teachers, the people who make television programming and market to children. These people are a generation older than the children their passing these messages to in both overt and unconsciously subtle ways. The intellectual world of children is established by the adults in their society.

But then you grow older and try to establish your persona. You make your first independent experience with the world you realize that those adults were either clueless or they were lying to you. The struggles of your twenties and early thirties, when you’re out and about in the world, inevitably shape your entire world view for the rest of your life. You grow older, you have kids and retreat into the well worn patterns that worked out for you once you figured out your path. How many middle-aged people take the effort to change their basic premises to more closely match reality?

But those are the people who control institutions, who run colleges, who greenlight movies, who run the legal system and manage our militaries. It’s the middle-aged who’ve begun losing their hair and have given up the battle of the bulge who shape the messages that we absorb as reality. Younger adults aspire to have their power but they’re merely the shock troops of messaging, still absorbing whatever lessons they’ll pass on to their equivalents when they start worrying about wrinkles and graying hair.

The Conventional Wisdom wasn’t always wrong, it was a collection of useful messages at one point in history. The Conventional Wisdom is usually about a generation out of date. It’s the wisdom of middle-aged people developed when those same people were young and fresh faced. It’s based on their heartbreak and the paths of success that worked for them at one point.

The Conventional wisdom is an unconscious nostalgia, a mental reassurance that the world is at it has always been when you’re old enough to worry about what you can lose.

The Conventional Wisdom of the Greatest Generation included a desire for conformity and stability following their experience in the great depression and a massive war. It also assumed that honor and the appearance of proper decorum were of great importance.

The Conventional Wisdom of the Boomers included is based on two contradictory beliefs.

1) You follow your own path and do what you love. Fight the power that wants to hold you back

2) The institutions that make our society function are fundamentally sound, competent and you should trust them to take care of you.

It’s a conventional wisdom that comes from growing up in a country so prosperous that you could spend your youth breaking the rules and still expect that system to come to your rescue when you wanted to grow up. The Baby boomers enjoyed a country with competently run schools and universities, government manned by people who folks who were hired during the good governance movement. They may know our institutions are corrupt on some intellectual level, but mentally, they still believe that everything will turn out alright in the end, because it worked out for them. Their rebellion and cries to tear down the system were the equivalent of a sixteen year old rich girl who screams vitriol at her father for not getting her a nose job. The hate is real but shallow, deep down she knows that he won’t toss her on the street to live with the ruffians.
They got into the culture wars because the lived in a secure, wealthy, peaceful country that could afford to. Compared to the generations that preceded them, and history in other countries, the boomers lived in a country that functioned so well on a day to day level, that they never had to put serious thought into why the lights turn on or who manned the institutions that made that prosperity possible. The early Boomers who’ve known relative prosperity their whole lives probably can’t believe that the symbols, institutions and organizations they thought were implacable, have been hollowed out with entryism, and corrupted by thieving elites and bitter social rejects. Asking them to accept the failure of everything we call ‘The Cathedral’ is akin to convincing a man that his dear mother who was always a proper lady in his eyes was actually a skank who sucked off entire football teams for tip money. It’s a mental bridge gone too far, it’s almost blasphemy. The world is a different place but the boomers are still mentally in the 60s and 70s when you could screw around for fifteen years and then hop onto a slot in the middle-class in the suburbs with your kids. More than nostalgia for the idealism or the memory of great change it’s an unspoken belief that the people in charge know what they’re doing that defines the boomer conventional wisdom. I don’t mean that they believed the folks in charge were good people or progressive, just that Boomers assumed that replacing people would change nothing else about the prestige or functionality of the organizations they stormed into. They still think that a bachelors degree and a fancy job title mean something.
The folks who suspect that everything’s falling apart and that institutions are rotten to the core, ready to be buried are a lot younger than Boomers. Whatever memory they have of a functional, consensus America is a memory of that country in decline, its’ best days either a hazy memory or golden age stories from boomer created media.

Overtime, that conventional wisdom will date us as much as it dates all generations. We may never truly be capable of the kind of innocent idealism that early boomers remember with such fondness. We’ll probably never lose our inherent skepticism of any institutions, no matter how seemingly benign. The generations that follow us will probably blame us for perpetually sounding ‘Doom and Gloom’ when making predictions about the future.
Change happens on the scale of generations growing into prominence and then dying off. We’re still in the world of boomers until they start to retire and become a memory.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Sheep aren't ignorant, and you're not their Shepherd

The rise of social media has convinced everyone to believe that they’re somehow above the fray where ‘the sheep’ lap up whatever propaganda you supposedly see right through.

And it’s all nonsense.

Whenever you hear a statement that contains the term ‘the sheep’ being oblivious to some devious scheme that the speaker claims to be able to see through, you’re not hearing a deep thought, but a plea. You’re hearing a nobody make a claim that he or she is special, unique. You may not have elite physical abilities, you may not be rich, you may not be famous, beautiful or impossibly charismatic, but at least you can look down your nose at the ignorant rubes who watch Fox News or MSNBC. When you have no real talent or attributes to mark you as a special snowflake, you cling to virtue signaling and being a pseudo-intellect who sees through the lies, whatever lies they may be. This is especially true in todays’ perpetual mass culture where excellence in any endeavor is broadcast for all to experience.

We’re all the sheep, and the sheep are way smarter and better informed than you think. You’re not special, you’re not abnormally smart, you’re not wiser than everyone else, you just have an ego. Some people get their political opinion from dumb sources and talk radio, others want their gossip with a patina of aspirational intellectual sophistication and wave around the New Yorker or the Atlantic as if they were more substantial.

The truth is our hyper-connected world has created a desire for two ideals that contradict each other. We don’t want to appear, innocent or na├»ve to our peers. Those virginal people are just rubes, they’re not ‘sophisticated’ like I am. On the other hand, the age of atomization creates a great need to belong to something, whether an imagined tribe or an ideological movement. But joining a movement means tamping down on your desire to stand out as special, and more importantly, more insightful and unique than the communal spirit you yearn to be a part of.

This election cycle has really drawn out the narcissism out of the electorate, the online commentators, the pundits, the politicians and their enablers. Everyone who receives a salary for offering their opinion on political matters is just shilling for their pay master, or opining within the implied confines that the Carlos Slims, Jeff Bezos, AIPACs and Saudi funds set for them. They’ve always been the same, except this is the first time they’ve had to turn the rhetoric up to 11 and prove that their worth the sugar daddy money that keeps their media outlets afloat.

Then there are the regular folks, the types of people who keep the most recent editions of the New Yorker, the Economist, the Weekly Standard and the National Review on their coffee tables so that you know they are serious intellects. The folks who advertise their sophistication by mocking the supposedly coarse culture of the masses, who describe in condescending terms the unsophisticated masses who buy up whatever political snake oil is up for sale this cycle. We’re all desperate to present the illusion that were experts and there are now entire media outlets built around selling you that delusion at a discount.

What do the Daily Show and their ilk really sell? A deep understanding of the body politic? An honest appreciation of the local concerns of American voters? A thorough accounting of who funds the opinions that filter up to the foreign policy establishment? Of course not, that would be humbling. Nobody watches a show to be humbled. Humbling a person doesn’t get repeat viewers or convince them to buy stuff they don’t need. No those shows sell condescending snark against people the core audience needs to feel better than. When you don’t like yourself, you don’t like other people either, especially other people who live far away that you’re allowed to mock without fear of shame. How else do you know that you’ve got status worth envying if there aren’t groups that you consider to be below you?

These are the kinds of folks that I know well living in a large blue city. The kind of limousine liberals that quietly condescend when speaking about the Republican Party base, and the dorky grown up campus Republican who despises the street fighting ways of the alt-right, because it’s a perceived affront to some class system that he (always a he) imagines himself to accepted in. But that’s not the actual message they’re telling, primarily, to themselves.

I previously wrote about Trump’s ascendancy representing the death of the old consensus America that the boomers implicitly accepted as a perpetual and robust. Along with the death of that staid world, is the death of all the perceived hierarchies that came with it. Titles, degrees and other markers of prestige just don’t have the same cache that they did even 20 years ago. Younger folks aren’t nearly as impressed that you’re a Yale graduate or that you have a prestigious law degree as they were a generation ago.

Nor do high dollar indicators of high class mean what they did a generation ago, except with folks who can afford to buy giant yachts in an age of cut throat retail competition. So all that’s left is elevating yourself by having the right opinions, and when that’s taken away, acting as if the entire process, even having enthusiasm, is so far beneath you because you see through the lies that rubes don’t.

It’s why you hear so many people talking about how horrible both candidates are as if they were interchangeable representatives of a clueless mass of rubes. Or they comment about the supposed crassness of Trump to avoid talking about any grand policy differences between him and the establishment. But it’s all the same narrative. How could such a great country disappoint you by getting two odious senior citizens to lead this country. Where are the true statesmen who live up to my high ideals? Who’ll make me believe in the ideals of our republic like children whom I hope make me proud for raising them right?

I always ask, compared to whom and in what time period? Ignore the history books and read the primary sources from campaigns going back to the founding of the nation and you’ll see a lot of our current political rhetoric packaged in the writing style of the times. Politicians were always perceived as scumbags, liars, degenerates and immoral scolds.

-But I don’t really like Trump, but… But what? You think you’re smarter than his supporters? You think he’s uniquely crude compared to McCain, Bush? How are his supporters dumber than Obama’s supporters in 2008?
-Well he’s had four bankruptcies
-How’s that relevant to running for high office. Many great political figures were failed business men or class traitors
-He’s a racist
-What color are your neighbor’s faces? The classmates that your children have in that nice suburban school district?
-How’s that relevant?
-Words are meaningless, what you do, especially when you have options, is your opinion…
-Well Trump just seems vulgar, he doesn’t appeal to me. He’s disappointed me by not acting Presidential.

It’s always a personal disappointment, as if the country were your inconsiderate children forever failing to live up to your high standards. As if you have the great answers and everything would be good if everyone else was more like you. There’s a deep narcissism in holding oneself above the reality of politics. An implied message that the speaker is better than those mouth breathers who support a representative, warts and all, and hopes for the best.

When you say the country disappoints you, you delude yourself into thinking anyone else was obligated to care.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

You knew the Illuminati in High School

Bob Woodward: The story is dry. All we've got are pieces. We can't seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like. John Mitchell resigns as the head of CREEP, and says that he wants to spend more time with his family. I mean, it sounds like bullshit, we don't exactly believe that...

Deep Throat: No, heh, but it's touching. Forget the myths the media's created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.

I always remember Deep Throat’s line whenever I hear some story about a devious scheme cooked up the elites that’s been planned for decades to reshape some new world order. I don’t doubt the masters of the Universe have a plan. Lots of people have plans that mean nothing. You can plot out an elaborate plan to get into top shape and start a business that will sit on your desk for ten years while you watch Breaking Bad and eat ice cream. Nobody how far reaching their schemes appear to be, these are just people.

I can write an elaborate plan involving a web of associates to make Emily Ratajkowski my wife. It could be an elaborate plan with graphs, figures and footnotes. I could die in a freak accident and when the plan is discovered years in the future it could used as proof that Fenton Skeegs was part of some conspiracy. All it would mean is that at one point, I wrote stuff down on a piece of paper that probably never amounted to anything.

I don’t doubt the powers that be have this desire, or even that they’ve cooked up some elaborate plans but the truth is, most grand conspiracies don’t need an elaborate plan to work, just group think and the same dynamics you remember from high school. They don’t hold secret meetings, they hold big public meetings in Davos and fund Ted Talks to spread their supposed wisdom to the masses.

I have a lot of friends who’ve worked in the restaurant industry in Washington DC. They cook food, serve booze and wait on these powerful people. I know other folks who fix things in their homes. I know their children who deal weed out of the basement and get stuck in dead end lives. These aren’t masters of the Universe, just people with family connections who’ve been fawned over their entire lives because they have the money. The supposedly devious heads of our security state are people who checked the right boxes from kindergarten through grad school and kissed the right asses. They’re smart and capable… at playing institutional politics and working up the career ladder, not playing Game of Thrones level back stabbing and far reaching societal transformation.

Spend enough time reading through alt-right websites and you’ll come across well articulated conspiracy theories related to white genocide, rigging global markets, creating a giant global world government, ushering a totalitarian state… But remember, these folks aren’t that bright and they have roughly the long term planning ability of high school cheerleaders. These conspiracies, may be true on some level in the long term effects of whatever policies they happen to be pushing, but I doubt many members of any tribe have thought through the long term consequences in any kind of hard headed manner.

Do they want to eliminate white people? That wouldn’t make any sense, I think the elites consider the white working class like an endless Ocean, an infinite resource to absorb their virtue signaling and asset strip mining in the nations, and not a finite group of productive citizens that make. This isn’t ethnic hatred of your lesser, it’s tragedy of the commons on a demographic scale. The globalized elites have the same attitude to productive economies that boomers have to great institutions that they’ve progressively ruined, an assumption that those resources will always be there to exploit and someone will always be able to clean up the mess and keep the hordes with pitchforks safely away from their front gates. Thinking about long term limits really gets in the way of virtue signaling to your fellow travelers on the Davos circuit and it may impact your ability to get your idiot kids into the vaunted class.

On top of that, caring about white working class people is just low class and your peers might make fun of you. Never forget that high school never ends for people who enter a world of social jockeying. As long as the actual consequences of the policies you push are far away from your front door, you never have to do the hard work of figuring out why they don’t work or risk losing face with the cool world your desperate to remain part of.

Consider the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To believe the Truthers, that was an inside job planned by connected people who wanted to forment a global war and start a police state in America. There’ve always been those people in government, but to assume that a government that let the Pentagon Papers walk out the Pentagon, that let an army private leak State Department cables, and which announced its’ plans for a Neocon foreign policy in clear English with giant glowing letters before that ever happened to secrete conspiring is lunacy.

I used supervise maintenance and upkeep in a small building. If random people came into the building and placed demolition charges around the support columns and then wired those charges to a central detonator, I would’ve notice it. The electricians who service the building would’ve noticed. The elevator maintenance techs would’ve noticed it as would the cleaning crews, building inspectors, carpet restorers, and the IT department. That’s a lot of people to either bribe or to organize convenient accidents and ‘suicides’.

Think about it 9/11 if the all the players had about the same level of forethought as the characters in ‘Seinfeld’. A police state in a clan based society like Saudi Arabia is in the business of knowing what its’ citizens are doing in the country and abroad. People high up in the Saudi Government were clearly aware that citizens from their country were planning something in America but they probably kept mum about it because it would be embarrassing to admit it. They took a light touch internally because admitting that would be a quiet confession that you don’t really care about terrorism in other countries and that looks bad for PR. They probably hoped that these guys were a bunch of blowhards who talk a big game and then fizzle out when dad buys him another Ferrari.

American government wasn’t compelled to ask too many questions because the Saudis spend a lot of money that pays for a lot of three-bedroom homes in good Northern Virginia school districts. Accusing them of not being on the ball with terrorists in their own country might make them wonder why they send checks to think tanks, lobbyists, news networks, defense contractors and political action committees that fund the ecosystem where you swim. So you hope that these are a bunch of phonies who talk a big game but never follow it up. Besides, there are no good hotels in the middle-east and they speak a language that’s hard to learn, and it’s nothing but dessert. You can focus on eco-terrorists in the Pacific Northwest or go undercover with a militia or a biker gang where your white face and English language skills can be just as effective in working up the GS paygrade as a far more dangerous assignment south of the border and in the middle-east. Biker gangs don’t behead people, they’re a nice safe bogeyman to stroke fears.

And then 9/11 happened and everyone was caught with their pants down. Conspiracy theorists say that there was a cover up and of course there was a cover up, but this wasn’t some grand cover up to pool the wool over our eyes. This was good old-fashioned CYA (cover your ass). Just the pathetic spin from thousands of over credentialed professionals and moneyed interests justifying why they have a job or why they still deserve access and at top dollar mixers. A great deal was at stake in the 9/11 CYA, I mean cover up, like getting your kids into Thomas Jefferson school and getting that promotion to senior project manager because your daughter got into Virginia Tech but they didn’t offer any scholarship money this year. All accomplished by hiding any evidence that you actually worked with people close to the terrorists or that they slipped right under your nose while just about announcing their plans with a giant banner.

It’s more realistic and way more depressing because it reveals that we’re being ruled by a confederacy of dunces who stumble from one crisis to another, held together only by their fear of joiners of getting shamed out of the right social circles and an instinctual desire to shame and punish outsiders who would spoil the party.

Son of Brock Landers over at the blog 28sherman has written about his belief that President Nixon was brought down by in a soft coup by what we would call ‘The Cathedral’. In his telling, Nixon had made a lot of enemies by trying to reform the bureaucracy within the Federal Government and his antagonism to entrenched fiefdoms within external agencies. Their opportunity came with the Watergate break ins, typical second semester shenanigans by a President who knew there were spies in the Whitehouse, but something that could be blown up.

What makes his conspiracy theory compelling is that it doesn’t need a grand mastermind to make sense of it. All it took was people with damaging information willing to leak it to the Press and the right conduits with the press to know what do with those leaks. In this narrative, the CIA serves as an informal underground network that would’ve put the right people together in the right people together and bought good will by spreading money around the right folks to get a sympathetic ear.

There may even have been some planning. It was awfully convenient that Bob Woodward, a new reporter with previous intelligence connections from his time in the Navy was put on the metro beat by Ben Bradlee who had CIA connections, but this is low level plotting, more akin to trading favors and building a good network than step seventeen in an elaborate chess game. They didn’t need an elaborate plot to want to take down Nixon, or any coordination and pull the trigger, just dependence on the same bloated system and a common enemy who was a real threat to their cushy lives.

And this is how, in my opinion, we should view all of these supposed conspiracies that bubble out of the more paranoid corners of the alt-right. Not well thought out, multi-generation plots out of a science fiction novel, but loose consensus thinking that happens when the anointed ones spend too much time with each other and remain completely ignorant in a life that discourages real deep reflection, but rewards faux sophistication and surface level thinking about all things.

Do the elites have a plan to remake the world into a New World Order with globalized elites? Of course, but it doesn’t take some Illuminati scale organization to make that happen, just bringing together smart ass kissers from around the world to work in Multi-nationals.

Do they have a plan to downplay crime rates by certain groups? Without a doubt, but that has as much to do with our new concepts of blasphemy (speaking the truth about race) and peer enforced social conventions as any conspiracy to start a race war.

Did the Rockerfeller foundation think feminism would prevent a global population explosion? It probably helped but what else would you think was going to happen when post war prosperity, anti-biotics, reliable birth control and increasingly sexualized mass media hit a generation with more personal autonomy than any previous group of young people enjoyed in their lives?  Ideologies are rationalizations of what technology has already made possible. Try promoting second wave feminism in the 1910s and it would've gone nowhere in a world without television, good medical care, labor saving devices or decent birth control.

These folks just aren’t bright enough to plan that far ahead, nor have their lives equipped them with any desire to truly stare into the abyss. They’re too busy following the latest trend and jockeying for a better position in their little status games.

And just like in high school, the rulers of the social sphere aren’t the smartest or the most deserving, but the kids who spent their whole lives thinking about what it takes to join the cool group.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Beauty is the one thing they'll never have

What’s the most important trait to have in life? You could say great intellect and talent or a great drive for success, but I think those are overrated if you’re the person with those traits. Others may value the effect from those traits, but rarely does anyone care about how smart you are. I think being good looking is the most important trait you can have in our image saturated world. Not necessarily top 0.5% looks, but being in the ball park of the loosely defined tribe called ‘good looking’, ‘handsome’, ‘hot’ within the milieu in which you inhabit. Lena Dunham may fit in the mainstream in a small town out in the hinterlands, but surround her with the drop dead gorgeous women who inhabit the arts world in NYC and none of her accomplishments can silent her subconscious comparing her dumpy body in a negative manner.

I remember my mother talking about Cindy Crawford when the rise of the Supermodels made her the ‘it girl’ of the moment. She said that Crawford was in her own way as much of a genetic freak as Shaquile O’Neal, a combination of features that yielded not far right side of the bell curve abilities, but near perfection in classically female features. She didn’t make this comment with any bitterness, but as an observation when the Mass Media started really making celebrities out of the truly beautiful.

Looking at pictures of the supermodels from the 1990s they certainly appear to be a completely different species form the women featured in National Geographic at the same time. Those old issues would feature photo-essays about some hunter gatherer tribe from the hot jungles or desserts that were too primitive to invent bras for their women, but nobody cared about their kids seeing these topless images. There’s nothing erotic or sexual about prematurely aged hunter gatherers with crooked teeth and pan-cake titties that appear to reach their waste.

But consider a world before mass media when those are the only women you’ve ever seen in your life. Imagine you live as part of a small tribe, every day spent living, communing and conducting ceremonies with the same couple of dozen folks who make up your loose kin-based tribe. The status differentials are minor, some look better than others or have more talent, but the ranges are small. You’d probably grow content with that life if that’s all you’ve ever known.

Then imagine that I visit your village with 1990s era Cindy Crawford in a bikini or the woman with gravity defying breasts from the Blurred Lines video in her thong. I don’t offer any treasures from another world, or even say much, I just show up with a woman who came from a very different environment and then I leave. There are some things that you can’t un-see, especially that which reveals the existence of desires you’d never even known. Would you be as content with those national geographic women after that? Would the men in the tribe be as motivated in their normal life now that they’ve witnessed such a creature? For the rest of your life you’d never be able to get the image of that that extreme combination of feminine beauty out of your mind, and the women of your tribe would always seem impossibly dowdy in comparison.

Would you have been happier had you never had that visit in the first place?

Take it several stages of progression forward to a small town somewhere in the first world during the 18th or 19th century. You probably encountered a few hundred different women during your entire life, what are the chances that you witnessed a woman that far beyond the mean in beauty, at her peak? You may have had a few glimpses of her out and about before she was married off by some big wig in your world. You certainly didn’t see her dressed in thong panties and strutting behind a crooner. The plain woman who you married was probably a great beauty to your eyes, because those eyes had never seen glamour magazines, nudie spreads, porn or even witnessed modern cities with scantily clad young women all about during the summer months.

Now images of young women, the freaks on the far right side of the bell curve for female beauty in the most sexually alluring poses and lack of outfits are everywhere, and the pace is only accelerating. Twenty-five years ago you only had television, magazines and billboards. Now you can see those images, however you like them on your smart phone. Hot chicks have Instagram accounts to celebrate their peak of youth. At the same time the obesity crisis is greatly expanding the proportion of straight up ugly humans who are drowned in this media landscape every day.

Now imagine the life of the typical inhabitant of the big city. Not the movie character version of that young man or woman, the actual one you see at the coffee counter in the morning. The young people working in your office that you barely remember, their friends that you meet at parties or the folks at the bar trivia night who don’t merit a second glance. Instead of living in limited world where they could consider themselves to be in the mainstream of beauty for their age, they’re either overtly or subconsciously comparing themselves and their romantic options against images from a media industry that scours the entire globe looking for the most beautiful humans that can be found.

For all the benefits that technology has given us: clean drinking water, abundant safe food, the continual expansion of knowledge… every development has done two things:

1) Increased the disconnect between the haves and the have nots in the grand status race

2) Increased our awareness that there are other people who: have what we don’t have, look like we wished we look, appears to live the kinds of lives we can’t help but envy.

Back in the analog days, it took supreme effort to the find the Bridget Bardots, Laetitia Castas, Grace Kellys and Christie Brinkleys of the world. It took a lot of effort to glam them up and then send messages of them around the world to sell whatever product needed sex appeal to moves off the shelves. Now they create their own media empires and their images are everywhere.

But our monkey brains evolved to compare who we are and what we have against what we perceive is our peer group. This is what people are really talking about when they bring up beauty standards. The media doesn’t create beauty standards, it shows us the extremes of attractiveness and we perceive that as the standard because those images lodge in our brains and become part of how we sort people on the attractiveness hierarchy.

I actually checked out a copy of the Naomi Wolf’s book the beauty myth when I was in college because I’d fallen into way too many debates where it was used as a talisman prove something about the oppressive world we were in. The book is a fairly standard boilerplate discussion about the advertising and fashion industries but there was one comment in the book that I still remember, when Wolf drops the mask for a moment. There’s a passage where she stops talking about the beauty industry and mentions that she had an eating disorder as a teenager that arose because she didn’t want to puberty to finish and then imprison her in a fixed position on the school girl hotness hierarchy. It’s an awfully revealing anecdote that subverts the thesis of her book, but it speaks to her insecurities.

All of us are plugged into the matrix in some way or the other just by existing in Western culture. Whatever other achievements you may have, whatever traits you’re praised for, you can’t help but judge yourself negatively if what you see in the mirror every morning is ugly in comparison to the faces and bodies of the ‘it people’. Look at the faces of most virulent online trolls, the loudest protestors and the most humorless scolds you’ve encountered? Can any of them be considered even moderately attractive?

And it works for both genders, look at the faces of the weak twitter trolls and asinine opinion writers who always preach surrender to whatever trend they fear. Do you see any chiseled jaw lines or good cheek bones among that crowd? Or a set of shoulders that can fill out a decent sports coat. No matter how much they scream about the injustice of the world. No matter how loud that they say they won’t be swayed or made to feel bad about our current beauty standards. Every morning they look in the mirror, and they’re reminded of what they hate, of what they wish to have and never will. Now they recognize themselves as part of the shuffling, overweight masses they despise.

Flunking puberty is an insult for which they can never forgive the Gods.

The beautiful, and those who are in the ballpark, have their concerns but they’re not ignored by the world. They see themselves in at least some of the people we admire for their look and presence. They go to pool parties and look good in their trunks and bikinis and life is good, or at least bad on a shallow level that doesn’t bring up a crisis of the soul.

That’s why beauty is the most important trait to have in our modern world. We constantly aware of beauty in all our waking life, we’re constantly aware of how we fit into that world, even if we deny it.

All the screaming about the injustice or attempts to find an emotional outlet won’t silence the voice that wishes you looked like someone else.

Monday, August 15, 2016

They want to ignore the world that made Trump inevitable

I’ve been amusing myself during this election cycle by casually discussing trump with rabid the anti-Trumpers I encounter. In my own context, these are mostly older boomers who've avoided the pitfalls of our treacherous political system. Within fifteen minutes Trump will defined as a rabid conservative, a democrat plant, a racist, an idiot, a schemer and a Manchurian Hitler like candidate who wants to run concentration camps.

I should preface subsequent comments by stating that I do support Trump, mostly realizing that he’s a symptom of our current malaise and not the cause of it. I do accept reasoned opposition to his ascendancy to the Republican nomination, if only I could find it.


A typical conversation will go like this:

‘Trump is personally rude with no concept of acting Presidential’
‘Like Lyndon Johnson? That guy whipped out his wang in front of foreign dignitaries’
‘He also addressed his staff while sitting on the toilet, dropping a duece’
‘I mean he’s irrational, he’s a loose cannon’
‘Like JFK who was getting regular doses of speed and was a sex maniac to boot? Probably the most black-mail able guy we’ve ever had in the Whitehouse’
‘I guess, but Trump’s a fascist, he’s just like Hitler’
‘Like FDR, the only President to actually put American citizens in internment camps’
‘He also had a cabinet rife with Stalin Loyalists who facilitated a genocidal, gulag operating man getting atomic weapons’
‘Well… Hitler came to power the same way’
‘In what way? Hitler was a loner in Germany, an outsider to his adopted country’s mainstream who first came to prominence with an autobiography about his personal struggle for identify. A guy who played a cult of personality during a period of economic crisis. Doesn’t that sound like Obama?’
‘Obama’s no Hitler’
‘I agree, it’s a stupid comparison. Hitler is Hitler, Stalin is Stalin, Mao was Mao, Mussolini was Mussolini, Obama’s Obama and Trump is Trump. How else is he like Hitler?...’
‘Well… He says things you’re not supposed to say’
‘According to whom?’
At this point he or she goes quiet and we change the subject. I’m sure minds haven’t been changed because this conversation isn’t about Trump but attempting to be ignorant of the world that made him possible.

On one level, your old school Democrat voting boomer parents are right. Trump is a buffoon, he’s an opportunist and a crass carnival barker. He’s a salesman who has a history of promising more than he can deliver. The Trump of today running a Presidential candidacy in 1988 would be a joke. He’d get maybe 10% of the vote in the primaries and get Ralph Nader levels of support in a general election. Listen to the campaign rhetoric that came out of the Clinton and Dukakis camps and you’ll hear a lot of pandering to middle-class, specifically white middle-class, economic concerns. Trump would sound like a fringe candidate, a nutty Cassandra to a boomer electorate who are comfortable in their appreciating suburban homes with cushy corporate jobs. He’d do about as well as Pat Buchanan did in 1992.

That’s really the best comparison with Trump. Trump is basically running on Pat Buchanan’s 1992 primary campaign combined with a Sun Tzu like approach to dealing with a hostile press and the kinds of natural retail political skills of persuasion that Bill Clinton had in his prime. And this is where the Boomers your parents and uncles and aunts, have a real problem.


If Trump’s a serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States, then the world has gone in insane and you didn’t notice it. Using 1988 Presidential elections, or earlier ones that people think they remembered, as the standard upon which you judge today’s politics is about convincing yourself that the world is still as it was twenty or thirty-years ago with some minor cosmetic changes. Comprehending Trump’s appeal in sober terms is to accept that the world is a very different place than the one you grew up in, the prepared your children to navigate, the world of implicit assumptions you’ve made about how things work and how the future will look when you’re old and infirm.

But that can’t be right. The rot hasn’t reached your doorstep yet. You have a house that’s worth a lot of money, you’re 401k plan is flush. Your kids are in grad school and they’re having all kinds of adventures in the big city with new restaurants and cultural outings that you can follow on Facebook. They talk about their student loan debt and the employment situation but they don’t seem poor on first glance, not your mental conception of it. You read about crime and violence but that always seems to be happening somewhere else. You know what’s going on, you read the New York Times like other smart people, you watch CNN and those serious sounding talking heads remind you that everything’s fine, only some extremism that you’re too smart to fall for.

If Trump’s a serious candidate, then you’re not nearly as wise, informed or intelligent as you thought that you were. Your high class newspaper subscription was just for propaganda with a greater patina of intellectual sophistication than the papers at the working class donut shop. It means that the plumber you looked down your nose at may know something that you don’t. It means that everything that you’ve placed implicit faith in is a lie. If you’re smart ass son is right, then the news media that you’ve given your implicit trusts merely presents a limited view that’s meant to limit the range of questions you end up asking about why the status quo is the way it is.

But the mental paradigm shift is even deeper than that. If you’re an older professional who’s lived a placid life of upper middle-class existence, you’ve worked within large corporations and worked up the ranks. You were educated in well-funded Universities managed by bland, friendly people in suits. You’ve been treated by doctors who work for large insurance networks and grew up during the last days of good governance institutions. To accept Trump is serious is to accept that all the major organizations you’ve placed your implicit trust in for your entire life have rotted out from underneath you, lied to you, bamboozled you with a long con, and you didn’t even notice it. It means that the advice you gave your children was mostly bullshit that may have made their lives worse. It means that you either were a terrible steward of the country or you never had a voice in the first place.

I believe that it’s not a coincidence that the majority of the intellectual luminaries on the alt-right are from Generation X. These are people who are old enough to remember the last days of consensus America, but still young enough to accept a major paradigm shift in their entire view of reality without growing nihilistic or wanting to flee and embrace Big Brother. To folks still in the status quo, we sound like Cassandra’s bringing doom and gloom warnings to ruin their placid lives. Think about it, when do our comments ever strike an optimistic point about the world? The world isn’t an optimistic place right now, but takes a certain personality to stare into the abyss and continue to live a normal life.

It’s one thing to realize that the adults in your life have been lying to you, or simply deluded, when you’re still in your twenties and early thirties. It’s another to willfully accept this change when you’re in your fifties and you’ve been personally isolated from the worse of the societal decay. Or you just blame a spray tan who used to be a character on WWE for bringing these issues to light, and you go to sleep, ignorant and blissful.

This is all true but it’s a fixed aspect of the world we live in now. Hut how do you convince the true believer in the status quo that Trump isn’t a shallow nutcase, but populist response to elite contempt for the lumenprole masses? As I stated earlier, making rational arguments won’t go anywhere because all your out of touch boomer audience will hear is this:

‘I think you’re out of touch, ill informed and stupid. Just like you thought your parents were’.

Their mind will shut down and they’ll make some rationalization about his bankruptcies (like they know about them), his divorces (like anyone actually cares) or his rhetoric (based on a very selective reading of his speeches).

Remember people have a deep need to protect their egos at all costs. You have to give your clueless boomer a series of arguments that they can use to rationalize at least a neutral view of the man so that they can save face, even to themselves. I’ve had more success saying that this nation’s been here before and it survived. Today’s era is reflected in the Gilded age, an era defined by massive immigration flows from overseas, massive wealth divides with the robber baron class, waves of terrorist violence with the anarchist bombings in major cities. Brash populists who came out of that world would’ve appeared insane in elections held twenty years prior or after. If you’re looking for a comparison to Trump, McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt are the best analogues to the man and his present context. The country survived them, and larger, saner movements built around their examples. This argument isn’t for yourself but someone who wants to believe that Trump is an existential level threat because he would otherwise have to lose his Rose colored glasses.

They won’t learn to actually appreciate the man, because they have too much ego invested in the way things are and the way things were. But it will give them a psychological out to accept him as a viable statement of revolt from a lot of the country. By framing Trump as part of a larger cycle in American politics is to make him less of an existential threat and more like natural part of the weather cycle, something that may be damaging, but which can be weathered and recovered from. He or she may not learn to love him, but they’ll start to make hedging comments about how he’s not as bad as people say he is. That’s about all you should expect.

Avoid talking about Hillary’s banana republic scale corruption because you end directly challenging their egos. These are, mostly, people who believed in the media myth made about the Clintons. They’ll resist hearing that they were easily duped morons who placed faith in her. 

Focus on making her a victim of a corrupt process which has overwhelmed her. Don’t make a narrative of Hillary as a Machiavellian Lady MacBeth with an unquenchable thirst for power, but a normal woman who was taken advantage of by scheming advisors until she was too lost to find her own way. Make the narrative about how this woman who’s having some major health issues is being marched out into a Presidential campaign because these backers couldn’t care less about her or her family, only getting back their investments in her. Tell them that you doubt she could drop out even if she wanted to because the people in the shadows won’t take kindly to her wanting to spend time with her family (stop laughing, this isn’t to convince you!).

This is a narrative that most Boomers can place themselves in, even sympathize with. It probably has some basis in reality, but that’s not the point. The narrative of Hillary Clinton as a pathetic victim of devious traitors is ultimately a narrative of pity. We sympathize with the pitiful but we don’t respect them and we don’t want to be ruled by them. It’s also a narrative that doesn’t immediately imply that the sky is falling. Just like Trump, Hillary is a symptom of an elite that’s grown isolated and contemptuous of everyone below them in social station. Most people aren’t prepared to accept that.

What they may be able to stomach is the story a blowhard who stumbled onto a movement by accident and was clever enough to ride the tiger running against a woman who has been used as meal ticket by unscrupulous backstabbers.

The trick is to give them a narrative that allows them to believe they knew the real score all along.