December 14, 2011

Do Not Eyeball the Bear

We have established stories/narratives. The invasion of Iraq. Often these stories are used to reach an end the people in power already know and want. We are seeing that now with the mounting pressure to “do something” about Iran. It is a dangerous place! We hear. They want nuclear weapons. Nevermind that America, Russia, and China already have nuclear weapons. Nevermind that during the Cold War we came again and again to the brink of destroying ourselves. That’s not the story.
The story is that Iran is a bad place run by bad people and nuclear weapons are bad things so we have to stop them. We do - the good guys. And anyone who says otherwise is, clearly, a bad guy. Which is where I bring up: the Senate voted to allow executive power to indefinitely detain American citizens. They did this because “we are at war” and when at war sometimes hard things must be done. You have to fight the bad guys.
The bad guys, however, are American citizens. You and I. The established story here is that Iran is a bad guy, and people who don’t want to invade Iran might be bad guys, because terrorists are bad guys, and maybe this isn’t all connected but it probably is with a big capital-e Evil. Got that? That’s the story. Now I’m going to talk about movies.
Kill Bill is the traditional revenge movie. The Bride goes on a rampage of revenge, and in the end succeeds. She at times seems just as bad as the people she’s after - she was one of them, until recently - but she turned her back on it, and is killing bad guys, so she’s a good guy. The Bride is how we see ourselves. Maybe not great - certainly not saintly - but on the side of the righteous.
We are actually closer to the plot of Old Boy. And we’re not Oh Dae-su, either (he’s the guy taking revenge for being kidnapped and held captive for what, ten years? A long ass time). We’re the captor. In Old Boy, Oh Dae-su is released after a lengthy captivity, and seeks revenge. He hurts a lot of people. He finds his captor. And he discovers why the captor did this to him. Sorry for calling him the captor, I looked it up on Imdb, but I can’t tell which was the bad guy (I am awful with names).
The bad guy did all this to Dae-su because, when both were young, Dae-su saw the bad guy fucking his own sister, and told his friend - not out of malice, but in an offhand way. He didn't see the bad guy (then just the sister-fucking guy) again, because Dae-su moved away. The sister killed herself. The bad guy dedicated himself to revenge. This is a disruption of an established story. It’s why the movie initially upset me so much. I expected an established story of revenge, and I got a disrupted story. Think of America in this context with Iran and Iraq. Recently there was a survey that discovered most Iraqis and Afghanis did not know why America was there. They did not know what 9/11 was. Our apparent revenge meant as much to them as the bad guy’s did to Dae-su - taken for a slight that Dae-su (representing the Iraqis, Afghanis, and hopefully not the Iranians) did not remember. The bad guy took revenge for something the hero didn’t actually remember. The whole goddam movie is about him trying to find the reason for his suffering.
This, as I said, is a disrupted story. It’s an uncomfortable story (with a lot of incest, besides). Disrupting an established story can feel akin to killing god. We know our stories, we like them. But after so many years at war, after the financial collapse, many people do not accept the established story. They don’t accept that we must go to war with Iran; nor that the “boom and bust” cycle of capitalism is the best thing for America. And that so many don’t accept the established story tastes bitter to those who do accept it. It's the comfort of the established story against the change of the disrupted story.
I don’t want to pull self-righteous bullshit here. I am often wrong. I may be wrong about the threat Iran poses, or about the financial reform I’d like to see. But I look. I examine the stories I hold near and dear, even about myself. Because you can’t move past the limits imposed by the established story, until you tear it down, disrupt it, and see the larger story - possibly the real story, possibly just another well-entrenched story that must be torn down in turn - until you are willing to destroy the things you believe, with no doubt, to be true.

The Civil War link: (

December 3, 2011

The Ineffable Montgomery Watson

Really I just wanted this post to have a fancy-sounding title. Watson Montgomery does not sound fancy at all.

I had a hard time with this one, but once I got going (as I said I recorded the main rant twice, trying to cut down the second time [and it's still overlong] because talking about human nature is tricky, goddammit) I found myself ranting in my less-self-conscious haze of semi-facts and undeserved confidence that is KEY to producing these podcasts. I've not mentioned them before, which is stupid of me, but several friends have blogs you should be aware of.

Hogue's: Which I enjoy because Hogue writes in a clear, simple style that is... um, good. I's not so good at describinating. It would be better, if it had more than two entries. HOGUE.

Goodly James's: He mentioned in a recent post that he is looking for short play ideas, so drop one in if you've got 'em. I did. It is reprehensible. (Fun fact: this blog may be the only thing that keeps Evil James from breaking free to rule the earth).

Someone I don't know, but it's good: Probably the best all-around blog writer I've mentioned.

Go forth and read these. Since I cut my rants short (as much as I am capable of doing) I'll post the notes I wrote on nature vs. nurture, and the oblique stories. If someone has a better term than "oblique" (ye can write it but say it and you sound kinda like an asshole) lemme know.

I'd edit these but, y'know, I already edited the podcast once.
The notes:
Harry Potter in nature vs. nurture debate. Are we born a certain way? Or does our upbringing and experience determine who we are, or is it a combination? It seems like it has to be one way or the other. Are you born a little evil and then turn good? Are you tugged at, constantly, evil nagging at you to go ahead, just blow something up for Chrissakes. Do serial killers have one puny angel on a shoulder saying they should probably put the knife down?
This goes back to Calvinism and predetermination. That’s with a C not a G. Galvanism is for a discussion on Frankenstein, not religious or sociological bullshit - though, since Frankenstein played God, Galvanism could sneak a foot in the door, if I wanted it to. But no! Calvinism was a branch of Christianity that believed in predetermination, that everyone born was determined, at birth, to go to heaven or hell. The individual had no choice in the matter, though supposedly good works would expose someone as being predetermined for heavenly bliss (and evil would show ye were meant for le Devil).  So everyone was good or evil, by virtue of what afterlife they got, at birth (which is still technically better than Catholicism that, thanks to original sin, labels every brand new mewling shit-factory that we call children as EVIL, all capitals bitches). And we’ve kinda been debating it ever since.
We like to think that people are born one way - good or evil - and that we can tell who is good and who is evil. We can’t, obviously - John Wayne Gacy was well respected by his neighbors. Does that mean no one is born one way or the other? Then it must be nurture! His parents abused him,  he killed a dog one day and never got over it, his peers abused him, whatever. The nurture side definitely has stronger contentions for legitimacy.
Which is where I bring up Harry Potter.
Harry Potter was left in an abusive situation for 11 years, after some asshole tried to kill him. We know this because, when Harry mentions even strange dreams, his uncle screams at him. Also they lock him up in a cramped, spider-filled broom closet. The beatings are implied (Dudley beating Harry is explicit) but there. So why is Harry a good kid, and not setting the neighbor’s cat on fire with his mind? Also, Dumbledore is a dick for leaving Harry in this mess.
Is it his nature? If so, what must this nature be like, to weather all the abuse? Harry is in a home in which everyone hates him, resents him, and hurts him. But he’s a good guy. Draco Malfoy, who has everything (including, we discover by the last book, loving parents, so don’t give me that shit)  is a real dickweed. Both boys are predetermined to fulfill certain roles, indicating that nature is paramount in determining character. But there is Harry’s scar to consider. It does more than piss off Voldemort. It protects him from evil, including evil in himself. Evil thoughts are not allowed in Harry. The bastard can’t even pull off an unforgivable curse right, though he tries so hard. And in the middle of a war he refuses to kill, instead preferring to disarm, even against Voldy-Satan-Hitler himself. Something, not nature is keeping Harry “good”.
Let’s look at the Joker. He’s evil, he knows it, he has a reason. In talking with Jeremy we discussed the idea that the Joker exists within everyone, an idea Jeremy originally posted on facebook. We came to the conclusion that maybe the Joker is like a virus, or a gene - a gene, that exists in everyone, only awaiting the correct set of circumstances to release it. It needs that because people, born neither good nor evil, cannot choose one extreme or the other without justification; we need cause, we think, so that when we behave as evilly as does the Joker, we think we can point back and say “this is it! This is why I did it! I’m not really a monster! Or if I am, it’s beyond my control! Something MADE ME THIS WAY”. We need this justification, before turning evil (or, in Harry’s case, before being so fucking good we won’t even kill to save our friends, which again is caused by his scar).
Pull back and look at the Joker. He commits horrible crimes. He explains the joke: terrible things happen everyday, and are accepted. When something terrible and unexpected occurs is when people get upset. That’s his point, his grand joke.
And he has no reason for it. No justification. Because, while we require justification on this side of madness (whether good or evil) once we’re there, we know the reasoning doesn’t matter. Joker gives several origin stories, each worse than the last. He says that this is why he is the way he is. All of the stories are lies. That’s the joke. That’s what Batman comes to understand. Joker, evil, knows that there is a cause for it - something that wakes up that malignant gene. And Joker, evil, knows that the cause doesn’t matter. It just is. Harry Potter is the same way. He is good because his opposite, Voldemort is evil - and when he marked Harry, with the scar from his mother’s protection, he marked Harry as good. And once that gene, good or evil, is woken up, fiction suggests that there is no turning back from it - not until death.

Oblique stories - the Magicians, by Lev Grossman, and Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling.
These stories contain protagonists who seem to be the heroes, but they are not. The witch and Martin, in the Magicians, are the main players, hero and villain respectively. Similarly, in the last three Harry Potter books, Harry remains the protagonist, the person through whose eyes we see, but the heroes shift to Dumbledore and Snape, and the villain is obviously Voldemort. Harry is playing out a role crafted by the bravery and skill of Dumbledore and Snape; he is a pawn, a brave pawn, but not a player and therefore not a hero. He is taking actions determined for him by others. The same thing occurs in the Magicians. The kids, assholes, hedonistic jackasses, are sideliners. They are there to be used by the real players. This works, sort of, in Harry Potter, though it makes the last book, in which we find it all out, kind of a drag. It does not work in the Magicians. The book does a good job of portraying stuck-up, bullying, worried, gifted kids thrust into an ominous world, but it sucks as a story. It’s boring, and the reader has no reason to care whether the kids succeed - which kinda happens in HP too. Who cares if Harry wins out, it’s Dumbledore and Snape who have held the real cards this whole time, we wanta know what happens with them. In the Magicians, I wanted, after the end, to know about the war between the time witch and her corrupt brother Martin - instead we stick with the fucking kids. Christ, I wish they had died. Oblique stories, stories that look at the real hero only from an angle, just do not work for me. At least Rowling saved that shit for the last book, and as a last minute revelation - though that’s a kick in the teeth. “Hey Harry! Nothing you do matters! My plans within plans can proceed without you! And wasn’t it funny how I left you with your dick aunt and uncle for 11 years?” Fuck YOU, Dumblydore.