Wynton Marsalis and the Paradox of Artistic Conservatism in the Progressive Age

Wynton Marsalis has positioned himself as a jazz conservationist and all purpose pop culture reactionary for the past several decades. From his lofty perch ensconced in the Lincoln Center, Marsalis has inveighed against the pernicious influence of avant garde, R&B and hip hop to howls of outrage on numerous occasions. Reviled by many in the musician community as a self-appointed authoritarian schoolmarm, effete royalist and uptight poindexter, Wynton is an easy target for any artist with modernist sympathies. As one would expect, Marsalis’ latest foray into the white hot culture wars has provoked yet another collective spasm of indignation from the social media commentariat. Brace yourself, proles. In an interview with Jonathan Capehart, Marsalis posited that hip hop is “more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.” Cue autistic screeching.

Marsalis has been just as outspoken in his opposition to the degrading influence of popular music as he has been in defense of what he considers a more edifying, uplifting, and yes, traditional vision of black art. While his statement does not represent a radical departure from any previous public claims, it is yet another noteworthy cultural moment in our current climate of supercharged identity politics and battles over free speech. Not only does it parallel the absolute shitstorm that followed Kanye West’s recent public statements in support of Trump and Candace Owens, it draws attention to some deeper questions over whether being an artistic conservative of any stripe is even possible in the techno-progressive age.

Just as you can roughly divide people along conservative and progressive lines in the political sphere, the same can be said for the artistic. An artistic conservative would generally subscribe to the notion that tradition should be respected, have objective aesthetic criteria, and its practitioners should be held to the highest standards of excellence. The artistic conservative would not buy into the idea that good art is completely subjective nor should it be completely democratized. Conversely, the artistic progressive would hold that traditions only exist to be inverted, reinvented, cherry picked or demolished outright. Art is always in a state of forward motion and flux. Change is an unassailable good while stasis is oppressive and confining.

Given these two competing worldviews, I contend that Marsalis finds himself in a position roughly analogous to the position Christina Sommers found herself when writing Who Stole Feminism. In other words, Wynton has the thankless task of attempting to consolidate and conserve an artistic form which was already a modernist amalgam of numerous traditions long after the wild horses of modernity had broken down the stables and overrun the barricades.

This is the main reason I find the outrage from the progressive camp to be both laughable and redundant. As usual, progressives are blind to their triumphs. The modernist genie is already out of the bottle. Wynton has neither the ability nor the desire to squelch any artist from making the music he wants to make. He is simply voicing an opinion. How many young hip hop fans are even paying attention let alone being persuaded by his point? Is there any reason to believe that even one person will stop listening to Lil Wayne after hearing Wynton Marsalis’ opinion? And even if he did manage to persuade someone, why would anyone who disagrees with him even care? Isn’t music the province of individual taste?

Yet, I’d argue that this is where the progressives are shortchanging Marsalis and also shooting themselves in the foot. Since I’m a musician myself, most of the reaction I observed on social media came from other musicians. Predictably, progressives assailed his comments as fusty and clueless. The reaction to his thrashing of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Miles Davis’ electric period in Ken Burns’ jazz documentary was met with a similarly hostile backlash. Despite the fact that numerous musicians chuckle at Miles Davis’ savage putdowns of Steve Miller, the Grateful Dead, and even Marsalis himself in his autobiography, Marsalis’ knocks on rock and pop music get a completely different treatment simply because he’s attacking from a different ideological vantage point. Miles was a trailblazing badass whereas Marsalis is the backward looking stuffed suit. What’s also odd is that these very same musicians, even if working within the new music circles, generally value a certain degree of musical proficiency and historical perspective. These skills and knowledge are the products of the study of some kind of musical tradition. Generally, it’s the jazz, blues, country or classical tradition. As in the ones Marsalis venerates and wants to conserve for posterity.

The unquestioned deference to a culture of pure individual expression untethered to any kind of traditionalism has resulted in an increasingly atomized marketplace. Just as religion provides a set of shared values and norms, a common tradition in arts can also serve a similar purpose. The irony is that musicians tend to denigrate pop music just like Wynton, but for slightly different reasons. They’ll shit on its lack of originality, the absence of real musicianship or its blatant commercialism. If anything, it was precisely because Marsalis put hip hop in his sights that prompted this particular bout of fauxtrage. Despite being a multibillion dollar industry, hip hop enjoys a permanent monopoly on being perceived as an edgy street art form that gives a voice to the Oppressed. Therefore, Marsalis was blind to the fact that racist old farts from bygone eras said the exact same thing about the music he currently canonizes. Get #WOKE, Wynton.

As expected, progressives seem to imagine Wynton as this quasi-fascist dictator who’s attempting to tell artists what art to make. Since we live in an age of liberal hegemony where unquestioned deference to progress is the orthodoxy, anyone who even suggests the idea of a conserved tradition with boundaries, limits and standards is branded a hidebound reactionary and a heretic. The reaction Marsalis is receiving also has parallels to the reactions Jordan Peterson is currently receiving over his secular defense of Christianity and traditionalism.

Is the knee jerk defense of artistic progressivism fostering a deeper appreciation for music with artistic aspirations that extend beyond the pop sphere? Or music which requires a higher level of complexity? Will the average hip hop fan give a shit about the numerous starving jazz musicians who stormed social media to denounce Marsalis as a retrograde dimwit? Even if Marsalis wants cordon off the jazz tradition and build an ideological border wall around it, will that prevent anyone from discovering Sun Ra or Albert Ayler? Or even J Dilla?

And then there’s the issue of preserving historical integrity when facing an onslaught of selective outrage that defines our Age of #SocialJustice. Current social justice narratives cast the entire sweep of history as nothing but a long chain of oppression and subjugation. We’re already seeing pop music being consigned to the memory hole for failing to the pass the hashtag friendly litmus tests. If an artist doesn’t live up to the feminist #MeToo standards, progressives are completely unmoved by calls for removal from streaming platforms. If Robert E. Lee gets sent to the dustbin for failing to meet ever shifting standards of woke piety, who’s to say that the records treasured by the progressive establishment won’t also be consumed in the fires of revolution eventually?

Marsalis has already responded to the considerable backlash with a lengthy and thoughtful post on Facebook. Anyone who doesn’t grasp his intent or the substance of his argument is being willfully ignorant, dishonest or both. But does his thoughtful response even register for anyone who reacted negatively to his argument? Like Sam Harris’ quixotic attempt to dismantle Ezra Klein’s hit pieces in Vox, Harris was forced to stave off the SJW zombie hordes simply for defending his right to voice an unconventional opinion.

Though they likely share opposing views, Wynton Marsalis has become a more genteel version of Ted Nugent. Every time he opines, it elicits paroxysms of contempt, but once you get past the vitriol, you’ll find an occasional grudging admission of respect.

At the same time, this controversy reveals the reason there has been a decades long conflict over who will have control over the levers of cultural consensus. Progressives reacted with customary autistic myopia as though the mere utterance of a controversial opinion would topple the secular liberal order. Each side knows that culture matters, but only progressives continue to affect the pretense of being underdogs despite the polar opposite being true. You are more likely to see progressives collectively high five one another over Black Panther than consider the possibility that NWA might have had an adverse effect on the black community.

In an anything goes culture of radical subjectivity, the artistic conservative faces an extraordinarily difficult task. When contemporary woke consensus considers gender a social construct, what chance does the artistic conservative have in promoting the idea of an objective aesthetic standard? Progressives are being myopic and greedy about the cultural marketplace. The progressive paradigm has triumphed unequivocally. So lighten up, progressives. The fire of artistic radicalism will not be extinguished if Wynton Marsalis takes a few shots at the hip hop empire.

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Mercury 13 (2018)

Regardless of whether you think NASA is a Masonic front agency that shields any number of black budget deep state projects, there can be little doubt that it serves as a very potent propaganda arm for at least three key pillars of progressive piety: environmentalism, scientism and social justice. Arriving a mere two years after the comparably themed and equally hamfisted agitprop known as Hidden Figures, Mercury 13 is a documentary chronicling the abortive attempt at a program aimed at preparing women for space flight. Though it is an interesting nugget of hidden history, it’s hard to imagine the information presented without the filmmakers leaning on so much communist, progressive and feminist preaching. What is revealed through interviews and archival footage is fascinating, but there are deeper questions behind the surface details that go unexamined. And in the case of John Glenn, a distinctly different and far less charitable picture is painted than the gender egalitarian we were given in Hidden Figures.

The documentary lays its cards on the table right out of the gate. It opens with a female voice intoning the feminist homily as we watch a female body float in the zero-g simulation tank. We’re given some very standard and tiresome twaddle about how fear is what motivates men to preserve their stature in society. If only the patriarchy wouldn’t be so fearful, we’d already have women on the moon, dammit! Mind numbingly stupid stuff. It’s also hard to avoid the water symbolism. Besides the water’s numerous associations with the moon and various goddesses, it also foreshadows the quasi-baptismal initiation rites to which these women were subjected.

The documentary offers up a mixture of archival news footage and interviews with the surviving members of the original Mercury 13 program. The backstories of the various women are compelling, but the Mercury 13 program was never officially part of NASA and received funding from the husband of world renowned aviator, Jacqueline Cochran. Jackie Cochran’s husband was industrialist and RKO media mogul, Floyd Bostwick Odlum. The interview footage pours on layers of sentimentality over the fact that these women were eminently qualified, but were ultimately denied by the horrible, sexist good old boys at NASA. More feminist pablum. It’s totally predictable, but the deeper story appears to be Odlum and his very Bruce Wayne-esque investment trust, Atlas. Funding the Mercury 13 was undoubtedly chump change for a high roller like Odlum, but one wonders what someone with so many industrial, utility, and media interests is up to by funding a group of women for space flight. Given his proximity to the Wall Street/Bolshevik funding network, his interest in the Mercury 13 project seems to make more sense. Nowadays, tech moguls like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are getting into the private space race in earnest. Even if it was a small investment, it’s hard to imagine someone as shrewd in business as Odlum throwing money at something without some larger payoff in mind.

The other unexplored story is the prime mover of the Mercury 13, William Randolph Lovelace II and his Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute. Lovelace’s daughter, Jackie, is a featured interview subject and dispenses some crucial backstory plus all the requisite feminist talking points. His involvement in the development of Project Oxcart is perhaps the real story beneath the surface. Oxcart was a code name given to the high speed surveillance aircraft program. Not only does the Oxcart project mostly explain the entire Project Blue Book disinformation campaign, but it also explains the mythology behind Area 51 since it has been revealed as a staging area for testing.

And then there’s Lovelace’s rather mysterious death. A small private plane crash is a story that’s occurred on more than a couple occasions involving people who were close to the military/intelligence complex. It seems more innocent than the numerous dark clouds which hover over Frank Olson’s mysterious death as we discover in Erroll Morris’ excellent Wormwood documentary. Given his involvement in such secretive military programs, the nature of his demise begs a few questions.

Where Hidden Figures plied the racial angle of identity politics, Mercury 13 is very explicitly a piece of feminist and communist propaganda. It appears most blatantly through the story of aviator, mother and militant political activist, Jane Hart. Wife of Senator Philip Hart and mother of eight children, Jane became deeply disillusioned with what she perceived as an unjust prejudice against the women of the Mercury 13 program. Subsequently, in the words of her own children, she became “more radicalized” and joined the National Organization for Women. While NOW may not have the distinction of being founded by a known CIA asset, it receives funding from known globalist organizations such as the Open Society Foundation and the Rockefeller Family Fund. But the major blow to the future of women in the space program comes from an unexpected source: the congressional testimony of Jacqueline Cochran. A crestfallen Jackie Lovelace reads her testimony as though feminist Jesus instantly became Judas. Disingenuously claiming that “feminism means you advocate for women”, Lovelace restrains her incredulity as she reads from the congressional record. Cochran insisted that allowing women into the space program would have a negative effect on birth rates. Ooh. The truth hurts. Naturally, Lovelace and the other subjects attribute her motivations to self-interest by not-so-subtly insinuating that the patriarchal pressures of NASA were too great to withstand. Right. That’s the explanation for every disparity and misfortune that befalls women. I look forward to the documentary which chronicles all of the women being shut out of sanitation, mining, construction, and armed combat.

Naturally, the subjects heap piles of praise over the USSR’s decision to send Valentina Tereshkova into space while venting their exasperation over America’s patriarchal backwardness. It’s the perennial rhetorical grift of feminism coupled with a tacit endorsement of communism. All disparities in outcome can be chalked up to sexism and discrimination, and if we just got #WOKE to communism, we might EVOLVE. Read some Catharine MacKinnon, bigots.

Lastly, there’s the question of esoteric symbolism and numerology embedded in the program. From an alchemical standpoint, Mercury is symbolized by a serpent. Exoterically speaking, the serpent symbolizes the deceiver who brought about fall of man. From an adept esoteric point of view, the serpent is the symbol of the divine spark of gnosis. From a numerology perspective, both 7 and 13 have significance in the hermetic and esoteric tradition. Why did they make these decisions?

The documentary brings us up to the present by offering the testimony of Eileen Collins who gushes about the inspiration she drew from the original Mercury 13. Naturally, we’re dutifully reminded that it was feminist extraordinaire, Bill Clinton, who named her the first female to command a space shuttle. Man, the Clintons are #WOKE. Juanita who?

History matters and there’s a lot to learn from history, but ideology shapes the filter through which history is perceived. Mercury 13 is an interesting piece of history, but it’s too cluttered by its editorializing. The final sequence actually uses CGI to paste in the image of a female astronaut over John Glenn’s image. They cut to the footage of the Apollo astronauts on the moon and overdub female voices in place of the voices of the original astronauts. It’s so seamlessly done, it’s very easy to imagine someone thinking that this was real footage. Or maybe reinforce the belief held by some that the moon landing was faked. Like Hidden Figures, it blurs the line between fact and fiction. You can have propaganda or historical integrity. Not both. Which film stretched the truth more in order to advance its ideological goals? Hard to say despite one being a “documentary”. Is the distinction between documentary and historical drama being blurred on purpose for the express purpose of dumbing down the population? I think yes. The line between the synthetic and real is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish in the digital age and Mercury 13 is hastening this collapse. Perhaps this was the goal from the start. Maybe the Mercury 13 project was doomed from the outset, but was intended to be unearthed from the historical record and utilized as a propaganda tool for this moment in history. Call me a cynic, but given how carefully the architects of globalism tend to their designs, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Sam Harris v. Ezra Klein, Vox and the SJW Hive Mind

Nothing captures the self-implosion of liberalism quite like the phenomenon of the SJW and the ever proliferating mind contagion known as intersectional social justice. The revolution eventually eats its own, and even its most venerated voices get sent to the gulag if they trangress the boundaries of Party approved thought. I certainly don’t agree with Sam Harris on the foundational presuppositions of his worldview, but I’m always willing to give credit where credit is due. Politically, Harris is a fairly doctrinaire old school liberal. However, he has demonstrated an ability to step beyond the boundaries of Approved Thought and take positions that are laudable and even courageous. Needless to say, when an influential voice like Harris commits ThoughtCrime, retribution is sure to follow. Harris stepped on what is perhaps the Left’s most heavily fortified and highly electrified Third Rail about a year ago when he invited AEI scholar, Charles Murray, on to his podcast to discuss race and IQ. For the uninitiated, Murray’s book, The Bell Curve, which was written in collaboration with Richard Herrnstein and published in 1994, unleashed a hellstorm of controversy because it broached the dreaded subject of IQ differences between racial and ethnic groups in one chapter. The pitchfork wielding PC zombie hordes howled in outrage at the time it was published and the deranged and predictable shrieks of racism have only intensified. So much so that Murray was assaulted at a recent appearance at Middlebury College. For having the temerity to invite Murray on to his podcast and admit that he too was swept up in the mob outrage, Harris was tarred by the intelligentsia and their Twitter goon squads for guilt by association and giving a platform to Dangerous Views. The ever vigilant gatekeepers of GoodThink at Vox proceeded to publish four pieces chastising Harris and Murray for having a reasonable conversation and violating woke protocols. Any reasonable person would find the podcast a rational, dispassionate conversation about scientific evidence, but we simply don’t live in that world anymore. According to our woke superior at Vox, Ezra Klein, we must genuflect at the altar of Past Injustices and Institutional Racism and consider the Great Harm that these conversations have precipitated in the past. Not only that, Harris must confront the reality that conversations of this nature will inevitably trigger the frothing, closeted national socialists who were just waiting for the right scientific rationale to start the lynchings and reopen the death camps all over again. Years from now, after the racial pogroms, the architects of genocide will remove the gold encased flash drive from its velvety pillow, hoist it aloft in tribute to Odin, and shout their ecstatic homilies to the prophecies of Sam Harris and Charles Murray for providing the scientific guidance they so badly lacked back in the dark days of 2017.

A chain of emails and some Twitter sparring eventually resulted in a full two hour podcast between Harris and Klein in which they proceeded to air their respective positions over the entire supercharged controversy. For his part, it was among Sam Harris’ finest hours. He was sharp and emphatic, but appropriately focused on the right issues while constantly trying to sift through Klein’s prevarications, distractions and smoke screens. Sadly, I’m doubtful that a single point penetrated the fortress of insularity and smugness with which Klein has so carefully erected about himself.

Throughout the entire exchange, Klein was the epitome of the sanctimonious, condescending progressive SJW cunt. Willfully dishonest, cunningly deceptive, infinitely detestable, and outrageously obtuse about the mob mentality which he actively cultivates, Klein is the quintessential establishment con man. His entire argument against Harris amounted to a question begging assumption of nebulously defined harm that these conversations inflict on blacks. We’re to recoil in horror at the supposed inevitability of a collective white uprising if such conversations carried on without the requisite deference to woke protocols. No matter how cleverly he tried to hedge his statements, he was basically insinuating that Murray, and Harris by extension, were little more than white supremacists and crypto-Nazis. Klein accuses Harris of playing his own brand of identity politics which are certain to lead to dangerous repressions and rollbacks of hard won progress. In Klein’s view, blacks are children who must be shielded from conversations about scientific data pertaining to biology. All disparities in outcome are the result of an inescapable ghost of past oppressions, an omnipresent boogeyman called “systemic racism” or material privation of one form or another.

Harris repeatedly mentioned the fact that his podcast had landed him in the crosshairs of the SPLC, and Klein dismissed this without mention as though this was utterly inconsequential. Klein knows damn well that his social media shock troops have been trained to view the word of the SPLC as holy writ, yet he blithely handwaved away Harris’ justified anger in what amounted to a verbal pat on the head for his insolent outburst. There, there Sam. Stop being so SENSITIVE. Utterly repulsive and infuriating.

What was fascinating and predictable about Klein’s appeal was that it exemplifies the Left’s selective scientific skepticism when it comes to the issue of IQ differences. On an issue like climate change, Vox are a model of credulousness and pack their Voxplainer pieces with copious links and lots of quotes from really smart people. If you don’t accept the science, you’re a knuckle dragging retard. Like, obvi. Do you even know who Bill Nye is, bro?

The issue which illuminates the real crux of Klein’s gripe against Harris can be found in this Vox piece discussing gender dysphoria. Klein is adamant that Harris is insensitive to historical harm and oblivious to the supposed future harm his podcast will inevitably wreak. This is because the Left is actively engaged in reengineering language and perception. Klein and his coterie of media propagandists are thoroughly invested in preventing people from thinking for themselves. Klein and his cohorts have conditioned their base to be hypersensitive to words. An inappropriate usage of pronouns is violence. A poorly worded question is a microaggression. The Vox piece quotes the APA by stating that “part of removing the stigma is choosing the right words”. If you just call it gender dysphoria and stop using that bigoted, patriarchal hate speech term, gender identity disorder, IT WON’T HAVE THE STIGMA AND IT WON’T CAUSE SO MUCH HARM. See? Easy peasy. Was that so difficult, conservatards?

Klein’s manipulative usage of language was on full display when he poured on the supercharged rhetoric cataloging Our Past Oppressions of People of Color. This technique is so hackneyed and overplayed, it shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but Klein wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t effective at some level. No one disputes that what was done to blacks was horrific and unjust and those who think it was justified are an insignificant minority. But in his infinite condescension, Klein brings these things up as though Harris is an uninformed dolt who hasn’t gotten the memo. Again, Klein and his ilk continue to flog this meme because they want to simultaneously provoke indignation in blacks and guilt in whites. Progressives are pathologically fixated on sanctifying oppression and deviance while promoting themselves as ever vigilant champions of the Underdog. If you are on any of the lower rungs of the oppression hierarchy, it accords you some kind of universal moral sanction to go out into the world and lecture everyone about how unenlightened, stupid and backwards they are. It would be amazing if Klein could demonstrate a multicultural society who’ve miraculously transcended their historical racial strife and attained mass wokeness, but he can’t because America and Europe must be the torchbearers of post-Enlightenment multiracial cosmopolitanism. Does he bring up racism between Hispanics and blacks? Asians and blacks? Of course he doesn’t because he’s working from a script from which no deviation is allowed. Besides, blacks can’t be racist against whites because they have no institutional power. Checkmate, Trumptards. Now go read Michael Eric Dyson.

Klein kept the conversation centered around the black/white racial dialectic despite Harris’ attempts to broaden the scope and discuss inconvenient facts pertaining to Asians. Does Klein ever broach the subject of black success in America relative to African nations or black majority countries? Does he mention how many generations it took the Jews to rise from immigrants to middle class? Asians? All other racial and ethnic groups of European extraction? Of course he doesn’t. The narrative must remain focused on past injustices and the irredeemable sin of white racism. Where is the real world Wakanda? It doesn’t exist because the white man won’t allow it. Tariq Nasheed said so, racists.

The underlying agenda behind what Klein is saying is easy enough to discern. The Left consistently presents bigotry and differences as a seemingly ineradicable and intractable malady at the heart of Western civilization. A problem whose depths are uniquely apprehended by woke progressives like Klein. Meanwhile, they exacerbate the problem by carefully engineering the entire dialogue around race and portraying themselves as uniquely sensitive to its severity. Then, after constantly moving the goalposts around what can and cannot be discussed, they determine who is allowed to broach the subject properly and under what terms based on arbitrary designations of privilege or “allyship”. Then they gerrymander and denounce the science that doesn’t fit the narrative, and bully and defame anyone who doesn’t toe the line. Finally, in a fit of exasperation, they present themselves as the enlightened saviors who have to once again school the unwashed rubes about Systemic Racism and Historical Oppression because the lower life forms just won’t have The Difficult Conversations About Race. How many black people have you had on your podcast, Sam? We’re keeping track, you know. The quantity of black faces really matters here. Why haven’t you invited Ta Nehisi Coates? Too much white fragility? Afraid of having your PRIVILEGE challenged, are you? Hmmmmmmm??????

But it goes further. While doing all these things, they will insist that differences don’t really exist. Racism is a horrible scourge on the human soul and yet simultaneously, race is also completely socially constructed. It’s just a tool of the oppressive white man which was used to justify slavery and shit. Conservatards are too fucking stupid to grasp this high rung of wokeness though. Black History Month is Important and Necessary, but always remember that race is just a social construct, bigots. Western societies need to dispel their outdated notions of nationalism and cultural identity and just accept that cosmopolitan multiculturalism will hasten the alchemical transformation in attitudes that awaits us. But probably after the mandatory oxytocin shots kick in. White people also need to forever prostrate themselves in penitence by ensuring that the entire welfare state/affirmative action industrial complex continues to thrive irrespective of the results it produces. If you just provide more material benefit to people despite being little more than quasi-deterministic bags of biological matter, you can rest assured you’re doing something to dismantle Systemic Racism. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t produce any tangible results either. Family stability doesn’t matter. Illegitimacy doesn’t matter. Moral education doesn’t matter. All that matters is a continuous flow of government support. Klein repeatedly uttered his fear that Murray’s conclusions would result in some great unraveling of the welfare state/affirmative action industrial complex, but there’s zero evidence that anything like that happened under previous Republican presidents. Not a single Republican president has lifted a finger to dismantle the welfare state, and Trump’s call for reform is presently in the alarm bell stage. A sober appraisal of his current efforts to rehabilitate Clinton era reforms would invite a “We’ll see” at best. The only time spending dipped was under Clinton and even progressives acknowledge that it either backfired or failed. Predictably, they’re backpedaling from one of the signature issues of the Clinton administration that Slick Willy himself has repeatedly touted as a triumph. Yet Klein acts like he’s this champion of the beleaguered underdog speaking for the huddled and voiceless masses shuddering in fear of the coming Trumpocalypse. Contemptible and pathetic.

The Left is very durable because it has allowances for deviations from the orthodoxy and gives an impression of being capable of reform and reined in from overreach. Christina Sommers, Camille Paglia, and Jonathan Haidt are a few notable voices who’ve been valiantly swimming against the tide of PC tyranny. But they’re waging their battles on single issue fronts while never relinquishing their ultimate political allegiance or challenging their core assumptions.

As much as I feel Harris dominated and landed solid points at every opportunity, this should make Harris and anyone who subscribes to his veneration of reason question the efficacy of this belief. In the face of a decades long indoctrination campaign which casts the entire sweep of Western progress as a shameful past rife with irredeemable racial injustice, how much confidence can you place in rationalism to reverse the tide? Especially after hearing Harris deploy his best defense against one of the gatekeepers of cultural consensus. I’d like to believe we can reset the classical liberal assumptions of materialism and empiricism, roll back cultural Marxism and move ahead. But it’s increasingly apparent that those foundational presuppositions are exactly what has precipitated this calamity. Harris is a bright man, but going too far off the reservation of approved thought might have consequences he’s not prepared to shoulder. So he’ll join the ranks of leftists who are bound together by a single quixotic and doomed quest: to save the Left from itself. Nice try, Sam. I know you gave it your best shot.

Wizards (1977)

I suppose I’m no different from others in that I hold the belief that the pop culture of my youth is vastly superior to today’s. I’m at a point where all I see is an odd mixture of hyper-PC agitprop and a mind numbing conveyor belt of destructathons that are bereft of meaning. Or a combination of both. Admittedly, my elders undoubtedly held the pop culture of my youth in disdain, but I still perceive a sharp contrast between then and now. Among the films for which I reserve a great deal of affection is Ralph Bakshi’s animated sci-fi fantasy epic from 1977, Wizards. In contrast to the sanitized, monolithic preachiness found in the messaging of today’s animation, Wizards is a relic from an era where liberals were trying to transgress the boundaries of cultural norms and it actually felt rebellious. That’s not to say Wizards is devoid of ideological programming, but it is remarkable to observe how yesterday’s radical vision would never see the light of day in today’s climate of supercharged cultural politics.

Wizards is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy reimagining of the story of Cain and Abel stripped of its theistic underpinnings. As hard as it tries to conjure its own moral mysticism engaged in an epic clash of good and evil, it retains a nihilistic inertia at its core. Though it is satisfying on its own terms as a work of fantasy, the fact that it is a piece of cultural programming with a presumed youth oriented message requires that we evaluate its merits. When you open your film with a monologue which reengineers Genesis, you’re not exactly making agenda-free entertainment.

The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs. The first blast was set off by five terrorists. It took two million years for some of the radioactive clouds to allow some sun in. By then, only a handful of humans survived.

In place of some kind of creation event, Bakshi is giving us mass annihilation while suggesting the concept of eternal return. Man is trapped in a deterministic wheel of time which is marked by an inescapable struggle between the forces of technology and magic. Why bother even trying to make the world a better place if mutual mass destruction is an inevitability? The reference to five terrorists is also an interesting piece of predictive programming because Bakshi is already hinting at the world of independent acts of terrorism we currently inhabit. Whether it’s a reference to a past act of terrorism like the Munich Massacre or the Entebbe incident is an open question.

Two million years after the nuclear armageddon, actual humans remain mutated monsters. In the good lands, the “true ancestors of man”, elves and fairies, resurfaced. As humanity’s primeval ancestors, elves and fairies are apparently good by default simply as a result of their belief in magic and being in tune with nature and shit. At a big celebration, the Eve of this post-apocalyptic ancient future, Delia, is mysteriously drawn back to her home to give birth her immaculately conceived wizard twins. The moral character of Avatar and Blackwolf is apparent right away. Avatar is handsome and sweet and therefore fated to be good. Blackwolf is a surly and mean spirited mutant who apparently has nothing but hatred and malevolence in his heart. There’s no attempt to portray morality as something with an independent metaphysical reality in the divine mind. Instead, it’s simply biological luck of the draw and Blackwolf got the bad hand.

Upon Delia’s death, Avatar and Blackwolf engage in a cataclysmic struggle for global supremacy. Blackwolf is vanquished and is forced to retreat into the radioactive wasteland while Avatar presides over the peaceful land of Montagar. Just like every other piece of sci-fi or fantasy, Bakshi is solely concerned with the struggle for political dominion in this world.

Ensconced at his castle headquarters, Scortch One, Blackwolf begins his preparations for conquest. Using black magic, he summons a high command of demonic generals to lead an army of mutants who are initially enslaved through his Nietzschean will. Whether this period of research and experimentation in Blackwolf’s career of evil is Bakshi’s encoded reference to the alleged Nazi fascination with Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s mystical works is also up for grabs.

He then formed an army whose generals were called up from the black shadows of hell. Souls who waited for untold eternities for a new leader, Blackwolf’s tremendous power enslaved them all to carry out his will.

His armies lacked the motivation and inspiration necessary to carry out mass extermination so he sends his minions out to uncover the lost technology of the pre-apocalyptic world. Not only does he begin to build actual military vehicles and weapons, he harnesses the most powerful weapon of all: mass media. By unearthing the propaganda and iconography of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, Blackwolf becomes a post-apocalyptic, mutant wizard fascist. Though the usage of technology and media is presented in a one dimensional way, this is arguably the great editorial masterstroke of Wizards. Bakshi himself is imprinting the one absolute moral negative in the postmodern, multicultural, materialist consensus: Nazism. In 2018, the spectre of fascism is perhaps the one and only universally denounced evil for anyone living in a Western country. In the wrong hands, a demagogue can use mass media to awaken the racial and national consciousness of the white race and drive them to commit unspeakable violence against Jews, blacks, Muslims, LGBTQIAPP2 folx, liberals and socialists. No one else is capable of comparable levels of evil though. Especially not communists. What’s less explicit is that Bakshi is using the exact same tools as Blackwolf to promote this very one sided view of evil, propaganda and the abuse of state power.

Analogous to Vaughn Bode’s futuristic killer in name and design, Blackwolf deploys Necron 99 to carry out an assassination against the president of Montagar. Pushing the envelope of the PG rating, Bakshi portrays prostitute fairies working their trade as Necron 99 plods through the streets of occupied territories. On his journey, he takes out hapless elves and fairies simply for their belief in magic. Apparently, only certain elves are willing to take up arms in defense of people and country. After suffering a devastating loss to Blackwolf’s newly propagandized and armed mutant forces and usage of media psy-ops, the elves quickly realize that the generations of peace are imperiled by this rising threat. Bakshi is also giving a voice to the rising tide of environmentalism and eco-consciousness that now comprises one of the pillars of progressive piety.

My children, the only true technology is nature. All the other forms of manmade technology are perversions.The ancient dictators used technology to enslave the masses.

Voiced by Bob Holt and living in one of Ian Miller’s surrealist castles nested amidst the pastoral bliss of Montagar, Avatar has become a curmudgeonly, cigar smoking facsimile of Peter Falk. He is joined by the voluptuous and highly sexualized fairy princess, Elinore. Wearing an impossibly skimpy outfit that has surely triggered an angry gender studies graduate thesis, Elinore is Avatar’s MK Ultra subject training for her initiation into the Masonic Lodge of Montagar. Upon hearing news that Blackwolf’s forces are advancing, Necron 99 guns down the president of Montagar who happens to be dressed like a harlequin. Even in the idyllic paradise of Montagar, the political leader is a clown. Another piece of predictive programming? You decide.

Mirroring an idea that would be duplicated in the Terminator films, Avatar reprograms Necron 99 to be their protector and rechristens him Peace. Avatar, Elinore and elven warrior Weehawk set off to Scortch One in order to save civilization from ruin. Magic is an unalloyed force for good, and it enables those who wield it to reprogram the technology of the bad people who only believe in technology. Or something.

Bakshi’s bleak cynicism reveals itself in the little vignettes of Blackwolf’s goons interspersed throughout the film. In one scene, two of Blackwolf’s soldiers seek the charity of religious leaders to feed their POWs. As they enter the temple, what they discover are relics of pop culture. When they finally enter the sanctuary, they find two priests/rabbis asleep in front of a tapestry of the CBS logo/eye of Horus. Bakshi is essentially telling you that pop culture and media has completely supplanted the role of religion. The two priests/rabbis manage to forestall captivity by invoking the necessity for prayer. They engage in an increasingly absurd pantomime of religious rituals which leaves little doubt over Bakshi’s utter disdain for religion. Their antics lull the soldiers to sleep, and upon awakening, they resolve to move to Plan B to fully secure control of the temple. After signaling to the soldiers outside the temple to initiate Plan B, the temple is blown to smithereens. Take that, religion.

Bakshi’s handling of Blackwolf’s belief in eugenics seems contradictory. He orders his unborn child destroyed because it would be a mutant, but he propagandizes his mutant armies with the belief that they will be the new master race. So either Bakshi is saying he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying to his own armies or that “bad” humans themselves are descendants of Blackwolf. As was originally established, morality is a biological certainty. The theme of mutation has been extended and inverted in recent years. Where Wizards paints it as physical and moral deformation, films like X-Men have elevated mutation to full blown hero status.

Wizards culminates in an epic battle between the remainder of the elven world against Blackwolf’s armies. He combines rotoscoped footage of older war films with an orgy of Frank Frazetta inspired fantasy carnage and death. It’s pretty gruesome for a PG, but it looks cool and it’s yet another example of how Wizards pushed the envelope. While this battle rages, Avatar and Blackwolf face off against one another in what amounts to a rather anticlimactic showdown. Given that the this was framed as a struggle between technology and magic, the manner in which Blackwolf is killed doesn’t make this chasm as irreconcilable as he originally presented it.

Once Blackwolf is vanquished, the armies lose their will to fight and Scortch One collapses and explodes as Weehawk declares that “The world is free!” It’s an idea that would be repeated that same year in a little space opera called Star Wars as well as films too numerous to count. It’s not a proper reflection of our post-national world, but the idea of vanquishing evil and liberating humanity by killing the leader and destroying his stronghold has retained its strength. But remember. It’s only a respite before the next iteration of evil on the eternal wheel of time.

In the end, Bakshi’s final message is summed up in the beautiful but despairing final song, “Only Time Will Tell”. It boils down to little more than Let’s Hope for The Best.

Elinore: [singing “Only Time Will Tell”] Time renews tomorrow. When we’ve used today. It will find the sorrow and wish it all away. Love can play a new tune. On this carousel. It may be tomorrow. But only time will tell. Somewhere in the darkness. There must be a light. Leading us together. Through the misty night. And maybe in the new dawn. We can break the spell. It may be tomorrow. But only time will tell. There can be a new dream. One for us to hold. Made with peace and hope and built upon the old. No one has the answer. To give away or sell. Tomorrow holds the secret. But only time will tell.

Despite its flaws, Wizards retains an appeal that I cannot deny. Whether it’s the psychedelic flanged synth swells, the orchestral battle funk, or the various Ian Miller background illustrations, Wizards still occupies a very special place in my heart. Like the two other sci-fi films from that year, Damnation Alley and Star Wars, Wizards has a vitality that transcends its narrative flaws. It’s both of its time and beyond it. The allure of magic and magicians has only taken deeper root in the public mind as the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises amply attest. But the fear of technological enslavement seems fully abandoned. If anything, the proliferation of transhumanist themed cyberpunk seems to suggest that technology and magic can coexist. I guess it’s just a question of whether or not you think that’s a positive development for civilization.

Carl Sagan, Scientism, and the Liberal post-Enlightenment Consensus

I was sent this quote by a friend, and as much as I’m inclined to agree, I think a more balanced perspective is in order. I still reserve a great deal of affection for Mr. Sagan, but he’s hardly the first to diagnose the decrepitude of mind and spirit that’s emblematic of the classically liberal, post-Enlightenment technocratic age.

John Henry Newman, Edwin Lawrence Godkin, Oswald Spengler and Alexis de Tocqueville were but a few people who also foresaw the American experiment headed towards this unfortunate state of affairs.

If we’re going to be fair minded, we need to redirect the critique back to the worldview espoused by Mr. Sagan. What you find in the writings of those who held a more traditionalist mindset was a warning that the dogmatic emphasis on materialism and scientism would necessarily result in a tendency toward technocratic despotism. It would necessarily result in people attributing moral transgression to objects (i.e. guns) or material privation (i.e. inequality). It would necessarily result in a pharmaceutical industry relating to people as bags of chemicals whose moods and performance can be optimized with drugs. It would necessarily result in people making endless appeals to political power in pursuit of an ever elusive notion of #EQUALITY. It would necessarily result in an education system which indoctrinates the idea that the highest virtue is to place all morality into the arena of politics and that some magical combination of bureaucracy and legislation will result in ever improving outcomes.

Regarding his subtle dig at those who are sympathetic to crystals, astrology or anything that falls under the broad umbrella of New Age mysticism or the Western esoteric tradition, the entire scientific tradition as we know it is more closely aligned with the Western esoteric tradition than it is the Christian worldview. Mind you, I’m not trying to say that Christians are hostile to science by default, but there’s an esoteric spiritual worldview that’s baked into a lot of the scientific worldview that goes mostly unacknowledged. I suggest that has more than a little to do with the longstanding antagonism we’ve been fed surrounding the Faith vs. Science dichotomy.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Carl Sagan, but he can’t have his scientistic cake and eat it too. Liberalism has been the default setting for at least the past couple centuries. We’re seeing it move towards its logical conclusion: global technocracy.

I don’t think you can make this critique in earnest without a willingness to reexamine the underlying presuppositions of the post-Enlightenment liberal consensus.

Capricorn One (1977)

No matter how you slice it, Capricorn One stands alone in the cinematic sci-fi canon. Even if you aren’t among the moon landing conspiracy theory enthusiasts or don’t think that NASA is a front for some kind of nefarious black budget secret space program, Capricorn One is an outstanding sci-fi action/drama that, at minimum, asks you to question your assumptions about NASA’s goals and Hollywood’s role in amplifying them for the masses. Capricorn One touches on one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all time by telling a story about a faked NASA mission to Mars. Once the astronauts learn the truth, they must confront some big ethical questions over the consequences of revealing the truth to the world. And outrun some black helicopters in the process.

As the film opens, we see the sun rise behind the Capricorn One rocket as the various operators at mission control go through their pre-launch protocols. After sharing his heartfelt gratitude for fulfilling his life dream, a NASA technician gives his Bible to Astronaut Brubaker as a token of appreciation. Astronauts Brubaker, Willis and Watson board the command module and begin their system checks. As mission control begins the countdown, a government agent without a NASA uniform opens the command module hatch and instructs them to exit. Dumbstruck by this turn of events, they comply. The crew are shuttled off to a secure location while the nation watches the unmanned rocket launch with rapt pride.

Meanwhile, David Huddleston’s NASA Director Hollis Peaker has a conversation with Vice President Price over the importance of continued funding for the space program. It has the air of formality but Peaker’s words carry an aura of veiled threats. As Dr. James Kelloway, the brilliant Hal Holbrook has the thankless task of revealing to the crew that the Wizard of Oz behind NASA is in fact a phony and they were expected to play along with the charade.

Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, director Peter Hyams manages to accomplish things you simply won’t see in any contemporary Hollywood NASA portrait. Rather than portraying an intrepid band of mathematicians and scientists, we’re given a NASA that’s a massive front agency perpetrating a mass deception. Instead of bold idealists pushing back against a tidal wave of cynicism and pressure from above, we’re given government bureaucrats acting like extortionists and con artists. In place of a symphonic chorus of national pride, we’re being shown an elaborate matrix of noble lies that are swallowed with gusto. This isn’t the collection of rag tag scientific heroes feverishly scribbling out telemetry calculations that you’ll see in Apollo 13, The Martian, Interstellar or Hidden Figures. This is the film that asks you to consider the possibility that you drank the KoolAid.

While it may not make everyone a full blown moon landing truther or a flat earther, the film suggests that the space program, and the entire sci-fi genre by extension, serve as an all purpose secular teleology. The mythos of space travel carries both links to our past and the hopes for our future. Whether it’s Star Trek’s dreams of boundless scientific progress, post-scarcity plenitude and intergalactic multicultural cooperation or the possibility of the earth joining together in a grand scientific enterprise as portrayed in Contact. Between Independence Day’s global rallying cry to ward off alien invaders or the creation myth of panspermia found in Prometheus, there can be little doubt that the mythology of space in all its forms serves as a sort of de facto secular religion.

Was Capricorn One the film where Hollywood tipped its hand? I can’t say for sure, but when you consider all of the space themed films leading up to the first Apollo moon mission and Disney’s involvement in promoting the space program, it’s not completely unreasonable to ask a few questions. In contrast to the numerous space themed films leading up to the Apollo 11 mission, was Capricorn One just a more honest piece of predictive programming? The film adaptation of The Martian came out in 2015, and both SpaceX and Trump have announced plans for a mission to Mars. Stories of UFO sightings and black budget programs have also ramped up in the media.

Then there’s the esoteric symbolism of Capricorn and Mars. Capricorn is associated with the planet Saturn and by extension, time, chaos and death. By contrast, Mars symbolizes war, strength and masculinity. Is Hyams revealing a long-term agenda by dramtizing the alchemical union of Capricorn with Mars? Or is it simply a reference to Saturn the demiurge and the secret ruler of this world? Or is the connection to the symbolism of the goat and Pan a veiled reference to NASA’s occult origins? All of the above?

The colossal irony of casting OJ Simpson as Astronaut John Walker only adds to the film’s poignancy. Hollywood is very much in the business of constructing myths and shaping perception. Subsequently, their collective obsession with racial #DIVERSITY has gone off the charts in recent years. Both The Martian and Hidden Figures were over the top about black representation in the space program. After all, what really matters is we fight stereotypes and ensure that any #MARGINALIZED group is represented in a completely positive light and real world outcomes will be the natural result. Back then, Simpson was a beloved black celebrity and if one were to take the case that this film is a giant reveal of the Hollywood/NASA conspiracy, one could easily imagine central casting reaching for the guy who best represented black achievement in America. The Juice. Talk about going meta.

The world of conspiracy theory and entertainment have long coexisted in the popular sphere. As is the case with Capricorn One, it gets repackaged and sold as its own entertainment thereby neutralizing and diluting any underlying truth claims in the public consciousness. “Conspiracy theorist” doesn’t carry the same weight as “racist” or “white supremacist” in the cultural lexicon, but in the hierarchy of epithets, it’s a close runner-up. Oliver Stone may have made a good JFK assassination conspiracy potpourri, but who really takes seriously these basement dwelling freaks spewing about the Illuminati plot for the coming New World Order? And perhaps that’s the point. People already consider the Jesse Venturas and Alex Joneses of the world unhinged nutters. You can dismiss these people because they’re conspiracy theorists. But the public likes a good conspiracy theory when it’s repackaged as The X-Files or a 007 film. It seems that Hollywood’s job is to continue to blur the line between reality and fiction so you can never really be certain of anything. And that’s why you can watch Capricorn One in the comfort of your home and then shake off all those crazy questions because “it’s just a movie”. Right?

THX 1138 (1971)

Dystopian sci-fi has enjoyed a popular resurgence in film in recent years. Whether it’s youth oriented, big ticket franchises like The Hunger Games and Divergent or more highbrow offerings like Blade Runner 2049 and Ghost in the Shell, it’s increasingly difficult to discern whether Hollywood wants to warn us or simply prepare us for a dystopian technocracy of one form or another. Though dystopian science fiction has been a staple of literary sci-fi for a long time, cinematic portraits have a shorter history. Certainly among the first and, for my money, unquestionably the best vision of the Orwellian technocratic dystopia is George Lucas’ first feature length film, THX 1138. Made with the modest budget of $777,777, THX 1138 is an unremittingly grim visual and technical marvel which portrays a society that micromanages and monitors every facet of human behavior. The fact that it is so nightmarishly vivid about its forecasts of a technocratic police state makes you wonder about whether or not the occultist numerological significance of the budget may have actually embued it with its oppressive malevolence.

THX 1138 opens with a Buck Rogers clip of Tragedy on Saturn, Chapter Two from April 18, 1939. Besides being a subtle homage to the films of his youth, its sunny optimism over the glorious future of scientific progress creates an immediate contrast to the dreary and oppressive portrait that awaits the viewer. Embedded within the introduction, Lucas is also setting up the theme of THX as a “ordinary, normal human being who keeps his wits about him”. Is the title of the episode yet another subtle Crowley reference to the Nazi crackdown on the Brotherhood of Saturn? Or is the film itself a subtle allusion to the Buck Rogers episode which foreshadows THX’ purging of his profane and egoic selfhood through his union with the Mary-Isis-Sophia avatar and crossing the abyss of the demiurgical Saturnian Matrix to attain his Promethean gnosis? It may be a reach, but given the very specific numerological significance of the budget, I’m not ruling it out.

The film is unspecific about the year in which it’s set, but it is presumed to be the early 21st century. Like Orwell and Huxley, the accuracy with which it predicts the future to which we seem headed makes you wonder whether he was offering a warning or simply telegraphing intention of a larger agenda. People have been stripped of actual names and have been assigned names that resemble UPC barcodes. Human emotions have been suppressed through a strict regime of pharmacological treatments. Sex and love have been outlawed. Subsequently, drab unisex white uniforms and shaven heads ensure that no one will stand apart nor any gender distinction be recognized. In other words, a world of perfect #EQUALITY. There is no organic life whatsoever. The entire film is a series of colorless, antiseptic interiors which resemble a laboratory or a shopping mall. Presaging the sensory overload of Ridley Scott’s future metropolis by a decade, THX 1138 is arguably the cinematic archetype for every cyberpunk dystopia since then. People are awash in a bath of electronic stimulation and automated messaging. The line between advertising and state propaganda has all but disappeared.

Female voice (over P.A.): Changeable. Alterable. Mutable. Variable. Versatile. Moldable. Movable. Fluctuate. Undulate. Flicker. Flutter. Pulsate. Vibrate. Alternate. Plastic.

As the titular character, Robert Duvall is an operator on an assembly line who uses mechanical arms to insert radioactive fuel cells into robots. Anticipating both Blade Runner 2049 and Robocop, the entire police force of THX 1138 are androids. Since all organic forms of social organization and restraint have been completely obliterated, humans essentially serve the purpose of manufacturing the machines which are programmed to police their own behavior. Extend this speculation a little further to fully sentient AI, and you have the foundation for the entire Matrix and Terminator franchises.

As we’re introduced to THX, a horrific explosion takes place in an adjoining facility resulting in many injuries. A brief shot of a mutilated corpse being dragged out of a contaminated area on a surveillance camera suggests tight control of any and all information that pertains to public safety or raises any possibility of emotional distress. A velvety smooth PA announcement immediately tries to put a spin of positivity on a deadly and toxic industrial accident by comparing the quantity of losses between sectors. It’s very black humor, but it’s a chilling commentary on the depth of society’s emotional anaesthesia.

Male voice: That accident over in Red Sector L destroyed another 63 personnel, giving them a total of 242 lost to our 195. Keep up the good work and prevent accidents. This shift is concluded.

Paired strictly on the basis of sanitation ratings, THX 1138 shares a flat with LUH 3417. Living an emotionally arid existence with another human with whom she has no connection drives her to commit one of the highest crimes in society. She begins to steadily reduce the dosage of drugs required by law which has the unexpected side effect of restoring natural emotional responses in THX. After receiving sexual gratification from a mechanical device, THX switches from the African exotica porn hologram network to the violence network. Anticipating the VR trend by several decades, THX zones out to hologram of a robocop mercilessly beating the pulp out of some poor soul with a nightstick. You see very little of the actual violence, but you don’t need to because the sound effect alone creates its own psychic trauma.

In order to unburden himself from the unexpected side effect of his restored capacity for feeling, THX goes to the proto-AI confessional. Anticipating Anthony Levandowski’s transhumanist church by several decades, OMM 0000 manifests as a screenshot of Hans Memling’s Christ Blessing, but is later revealed to be a Wizard of Oz style illusion. Similar to the Wizard of Oz, I suspect Lucas wanted to simultaneously portray religion as the Noble Lie as well as a hollowed out, postmodern One World Religion demiurge. It even has the vocal inflections and cadences necessary to convey absolute interest, concern and compassion.

OMM: My time – is yours. Go ahead.

THX 1138: What’s wrong with me? What am I to her, she to me? Nothing!

OMM: Yes, fine.

THX 1138: Just an ordinary roommate. I share rooms with her. Our relationship is normal. Conforming.

OMM: Excellent!

THX 1138: We share nothing – but space. What is she doing to me?

OMM: Yes, I understand.

Taking the #MeToo movement to its fullest conclusion, heterosexual intercourse has been outlawed. When THX and LUH finally have sex, it is filled with menace and dread. THX tries to assuage LUH’s fears that they’re being watched, but Lucas cuts to a control room of surveillance monitors transfixed on the crime being perpetrated. It is a pitch perfect foreshadowing of the social media star chamber and the myriad ways our open embrace of technology has given the surveillance state every weapon they could ever need.

LUH convinces THX that they can escape the city and run away together. They arrange to meet after LUH finishes her work shift, but she appears at THX’ sector to inform him that she’s been reassigned to a new shift and new living quarters by her superior, SEN 5241. Played by Donald Pleasance, SEN is a schizophrenic collision of nervous conformity, clenched authority and creepy obsequiousness. Unbeknownst to either THX and LUH, SEN had been monitoring their transgressions all along. Traumatized by LUH’s sudden disappearance from his world, THX nearly causes another industrial accident by dropping a nuclear fuel rod. He is placed on a mind lock and detained for criminal drug evasion.

While under detention, THX is subjected to a beating that is one of the most horrific scenes ever committed to film. The police subdue THX with cattleprod-like nightsticks which are able to inflict neurological and psychic damage without ever making physical contact.

He is pronounced guilty for drug evasion and sexual perversion and sentenced to a program of reconditioning. After being mind locked and tortured by psionic nightsticks, a couple of indifferent re-education technicians bicker amongst themselves while being completely oblivious to effects their knob twiddling is having on THX’ nervous system. What Lucas is presenting is the extent to which the technocratic overlords have constructed vast systems of management which allow them to control the minds and nervous systems of the citizens through voluntary and involuntary methods.

As THX escapes, we are introduced to other ideas that are found in numerous subsequent dystopian sci-fi films. SRT is a bored AI hologram who forms an alliance with THX. The very notion of an AI which elicits sympathy from the viewer is now a standard feature of any sci-fi film with transhumanist themes. There are also hints of both organ harvesting and laboratory grown fetuses. State controlled, scientifically managed birth rates, eugenics, genetic engineering and industrial food production gone wrong would be famously examined in Logan’s Run, Gattaca and Soylent Green among many others.

Fans of Star Wars will likely appreciate the seeds of its visual world building and sound design contained in THX 1138. Lucas’ prodigious skill was evident right out of the gate. Not only did Lucas continue to reference this film throughout the Star Wars series, THX 1138 contains the first cinematic reference to a wookiee.

After a breathtaking car and motorcycle chase, the film culminates with THX escaping the confines of the city by climbing upward through a ventilation tunnel of some kind while being chased by a robocop. The robocop eventually receives instruction to abandon the chase because it would exceed the budget allotted. All decision-making has been fully optimized around efficient usage of resources. It seems insignificant on the surface, but this final scene also has esoteric symbolic significance when seen through the lens of qabalistic mysticism. THX crossed the abyss of Da’at on the Tree of Life, and passed through his spiritual nigredo to rise phoenix-like to the surface of the world with Knowledge.

Then there’s the entire question of the hidden numerological meanings embedded in the names of the characters. Both THX 1138 and LUH 3417 add up to 29 and 2+9=11. 11 has alchemical significance in that it represents the twin pillars of Solomon’s Temple, Boaz and Jachin. These pillars signify the reconciliation of opposites into an invisible third pillar. Besides being another subtle Crowley reference, OMM converts to 14 and 14 = 7+7. If you think I’m reaching, consider the dollar amount of the budget. I don’t think there’s anything that didn’t serve a very specific purpose.

Even if Lucas was using this to transmit occult symbolism and esoteric messages, it still seems to be a film which portrays a man breaking free of the conditioning and liberating himself. That alone sets it apart from the current messaging of Blade Runner 2049 or the latest cyberpunk dystopia, Ready Player One.

Though A Clockwork Orange is a very close second, I believe THX 1138 is the quintessential sci-fi dystopian film. Not only does it contain the seeds of every dystopian sci-fi film since its creation, it foreshadows the world in which we currently live. I’d like to think that Lucas wanted to warn people of the dangers of the technological age with this film. But even if he didn’t have that goal, that’s exactly the lesson you should take from it.

Trump’s Thwarted Revolution: The Case for Defunding Federal Arts Programs Still Applies

As Trump began implementing his agenda in the early days of his administration, the daily drumbeat of outrage was as predictable as it was consistent. Whether it was denunciations of Rex Tillerson’s perceived conflicts of interest or Betsy Devos’ lack of credentials, Trump’s agenda sparked a howl of autistic screeching that now comprises a wall of digital noise that permeates the mediasphere. Each day ushered in a new set of perceived assaults on the moral fiber of the republic, but there was one agenda item that seemed to rise above others as an especially odious affront to civilization. Trump wanted to cut funding for the ARTS AND HUMANITIES. Cue Colonel Kurtz. The tremors of terror that rippled through the arts commmuniity were palpable.

It was bad enough that Neil Gorsuch secretly wanted to repeal Roe v. Wade and Betsy Devos’ appointment was a Trojan Horse for the reinstatement for school prayer. This was something infintely worse. This was seemingly an act of sabotage on the cornerstone of culture itself: ART. The indignation that emanted from the intelligentsia played out like an ad-lib. Shame on you, President Literally Hitler! Do you know who else banned art? HITLER! How dare you propose something so barbarous and regressive! You’re obviously just an unenlightened, pussy grabbing boor for even suggesting such a thing! The calls for defunding renewed, and like clockwork, the progressive establishment revved up the outrage all over again. The condemnation from all corners was strident and unanimous.

Though Trump is not the first to threaten this funding, we have yet to see any actual results from any Republican president. Reagan famously made a similar threat only to later add it to an ever accumulating pile of broken conservative promises. Apparently, we may never see any follow through. Early reports on the latest budget agreement indicate he has already capitulated just like Reagan. Regardless, I still believe his original instincts were correct and he he should have pulled the plug from the funding of the entire federal arts establishment from the budget.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will make two confessions from the outset. First, I’m an artist myself and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you were to list out all of the recipients of federal arts funding, there’d be much I’d either support outright or find commendable at minimum. Second, this was a taxpayer endeavor to which I was once fully sympathetic and wholeheartedly endorsed. This essay represents a change in a once deeply held conviction.

There are five arguments for defunding the arts programs:

  1. Taxpayer funded art is politicized art. Progressives are very clever about rationalizing and defending these programs. They’ll portay them as universal goods. They’ll say these are apolitical programs which spread a universal appreciation for art. In fact, they’re so beneficial, they’ll reap benefits that we may not even see in our own lifetimes. It may not yield the next Picasso, but it might yield the next art conscious industrialist or technocrat. However, the truth is quite obviously the opposite. Taxpayer funded art carries implicit and often explicit political content. No matter how abstract, art serves as a transmission vessel for values and ideas. At a bare minimum, it reinforces the idea that government funding generates culture, and that without it, the will to create or appreciate art would evaporate. And in the case of taxpayer funded art, the political outcomes flow in one direction. To the urban enclaves and strongholds where the Left already enjoys a cultural hegemony. Furthermore, the art world in general is overwhelmingly dominated by the Left. To assert that decades of taxpayer funding haven’t produced a quantifiable consensus in the art world is to deny reality. The progressive elites are keenly aware that opinion can be shaped and molded more easily through art than any other means. Politics are downstream from culture and no one knows this better than the progressive Left.
  2. Taxpayer funded art does not reflect the “will of the people” or a national consensus. It’s an argument that bears repeating. When art is funded through compulsory taxation, the final recipients will be ultimately be determined by a handful of bureaucrats. Subsequently, awards will be granted based on either proximity to the political apparatus or the subjective tastes of the bureaucrats. Funds appropriated through force immediately deprive individuals the opportunity to make voluntary purchases in the marketplace.
  3. It destroys the appreciation for fine art rather than strengthening it. A common rationale for this funding goes something like this. Making truly Great Art requires that the artist forego the idea of commercial success. Therefore, We as Enlightened Citizens should subsidize these heroic efforts because people just don’t appreciate these visionaries and this funding will help foster a deeper appreciation. But where’s the evidence? Are people demanding more Shakespeare and Bach? Or are we seeing the influence of the pop culture sphere eclipse all other artistic endeavors while listening to progressives bemoan the collapse they hastened? While I will concede that there’s truth to the claim that the artist must shoulder a certain degree of risk in creating original work, this line of thinking also reinforces an orthodoxy of virtue as well as a smug elitism around the entire enterprise. Furthermore, it reduces the incentive for subsidized artists to compete honestly in the marketplace alongside other commercial endeavors and produces its own aesthetic conformity. How many conservatives end up at Kronos Quartet concerts or are interested in seeing the Sol Lewitt exhibition? I suspect it’s next to zero. Does the federal funding apparatus hope to fund the next Leonardo Davinci, Raphael, Michelangelo or Vermeer? I suspect it’s a resounding No. We live a multicultural, post-national, postmodern world now, bigot. Don’t go pushing that Western civilization supremacy on us!
  4. It contributes to federal mission creep. The government is an institution vested with the power to initiate force, jail and imprison. When you attempt to project altruistic, humanitarian or higher order values on to government policy, you are essentially transforming these benevolent impulses into compulsion. Progressives are always the first to denounce the slightest hint of tyranny from conservatives, but somehow the rhetoric that fuels the taxpayer funded art apparatus inoculates them from criticism. It’s as though the good intentions and the aura of enlightened civic engagement are winning arguments all by themselves.
  5. Once implemented, federal spending programs are hard to kill. Again, we return to failed promise of conservatism in the liberal democratic age. Even a game changing president like Trump submits to the hive mind when the chips are down.

Taxpayer funded art is yet another example of how appealing rhetoric trumps outcomes. Even if you agree with every dollar of funding alloted, there will be a segment of the population who does not. Progressives always tout the size of the budget as a pittance relative to other federal expenditures, ergo all this is much ado about nothing. But if it’s truly so inconsequential, why the indignant pronouncements of moral condemnation? Why the supercharged proclamations of barabarism and small mindedness? Deploying state coercion to compel the provision of an abstract ideal of Common Good should be viewed with the greatest skepticism and the most vigilant restraint.

The Florida Project (2017)

It seems like everything that comes out of Hollywood these days is either insufferable garbage or, at best, a mixed bag. I didn’t think I’d find a film that fills both categories, but The Florida Project may be that film. This is the tenth effort from the 47 year old writer/director, Sean Baker, and it is an excruciating chore to watch. If I were slathered in honey and pushed into a pit of fire ants, it wouldn’t adequately convey the psychic torture this film inflicts. This film completely embodies Hollywood’s loathsome and contemptible double standard and false moral preening. At the same time, it does present you with some thorny questions around societal norms, gender roles and moral standards that any honest person will have difficulty answering. Set amidst the pastel colored sprawl of Orlando, The Florida Project tells the story of single mother Hallee and her daughter Moonee as they attempt to simply survive while living in a low budget hotel amongst the “hidden homeless”. The film is intentionally shot against the backdrop of Disneyworld because Baker wants the juxtaposition of a beloved fantasyland destination for stable families to play against the broken lives of quiet and not-so-quiet desperation that carry on beyond the view of the average American.

Though it can be seen as having redeeming qualities when viewed through the right lens, it is also a film whose unrelenting unpleasantness immediately makes you wonder what exactly Mr. Baker intended to convey. Based on the available interview footage, the subject matter of his other films and the virtue signaling on his Twitter feed, we can safely conclude that this was yet another vile and repugnant moral circle jerk. Baker wants to render the emotional and societal wreckage perpetrated by the very people with whom he surrounds himself in the most vivid and realistic ways possible. Rather portray this as a tragic collapse of societal norms, he asks you to engage in an exercise in radical #EMPATHY. No, this is not an occasion in which to judge or ascribe blame. Check your privilege, bigot. This is about the #INCLUSION of #MARGINALIZED groups.

Hallee is, in many ways, the apotheosis of the progressive, feminist single mother archetype. She’s an ill mannered, foul mouthed derelict who has no business being anywhere near a child, but she is, in fact, the sole caregiver of the equally monstrous and ill mannered brat, Moonee. We no longer need to speculate about what life in the matriarchy will be like because Hallee perfectly embodies it. She don’t need no man, bitch. She won’t be slut shamed for turning tricks while her daughter bathes in the next room. You got a fuckin’ problem with how she’s raising her child, you uptight conservatard? And don’t you dare judge her for stealing from others just to make a buck. What do you expect from a womyn still struggling to liberate herself from patriarchal norms, you misogynistic bigot?

As Bobby, Willem Dafoe debases himself once again by giving us yet another warped and damaged archetype of postmodern paternalism. Dafoe is the manager at the hotel where Hallee and Moonee live, but he is also a de facto father figure. Reduced to making futile attempts to restrain her ghastly behavior and having to cover up for her numerous pathologies, Dafoe is a burned out shard of a man desperately reaching for fragments of self-respect, moral rectitude and legitimate authority.

While I can freely admit that my own childhood was far from conventional and I was accorded liberties that would have been judged very negatively by many, I would hope that the average viewer would be appalled by the adverse effects of the complete absence of real parenting for Moonee. Baker appears to be asking you to witness Hallee pass on her own pathologies to her daughter and suspend all moral judgment. He even seems to be quietly cheerleading Hallee for her “bravery”. Based on all the breathless swooning from the intelligentsia, he appears to have succeeded.

If we were to take the most charitable possible interpretation of this film, it could be argued that Baker may have inadvertently made one of the biggest red pills ever. This is what the secular progressive consensus has produced. The state of perpetual rebellion against any kind of social norm has produced a society that can no longer uphold anything as an ideal to which to aspire. All that remains is a nihilistic fixation on the dissolution and decay which is what passes for radical #EMPATHY and enlightened virtue. Hey, at least Baker HAS THE COURAGE TO TELL IT LIKE IT IS, AMIRITE? NO SUGAR COATED, ANDY GRIFFITH STYLE AMERICAN NOSTALGIA HERE, MAN! WE’RE TACKLING THE STUFF THAT’S JUST TOO REAL FOR ALL YOU SHELTERED CONSERVATARDS.

Naturally, Hollywood showered this movie with praise as a paragon of pure #WOKENESS. A 95% Fresh reviewer score on Rotten Tomatoes is full confirmation that the enlightened, sophisticated and sensitive people approve. And all the promo photos on social media will remind you that this film has the seal of approval from the Right Peoplekind. If you see this movie, you’re aware of how real the struggle is and you really should like it. You probably read Affinity, The Root and Everyday Feminism, too. And you most certainly vote the right way.

While those who watch this will congratulate themselves for enduring this psychic torture and use it as evidence of their moral superiority, the larger question is what is do be done about these phenomena? It’s too much to confront. But somehow, we’re to presume that merely watching this movie inches us closer to some kind of singularity of mass #EMPATHY. At least we’re getting more #WOKE, AMIRITE? If you’re serious about the issue, either you’re going to advocate for building stable families from the start or you’re going to get into the trenches and work on dealing with the breached levees of society. Unfortunately, most of society’s energy is trained towards mitigating the damage that’s already been done. Sean Baker would never make a film about a white, stable Christian family trying to navigate the waters of a society that’s hostile to their lifestyle in every way because he has no real moral framework. Nor would he make a film which trains its sights on the ways that Disney itself is exacerbating these problems because these are the types of people whose approval he ultimately seeks. All you really need is #EMPATHY and #INCLUSIVENESS. His films are just long form social media memes for everyone who’s already part of his ideological hugbox.

The ending of the film is obviously meant to evoke a heartfelt moment of liberation and triumphalism for two young children whose future prospects in the world are badly compromised. But I also suspect Baker is also taking a predictable jab at the average middle-class American family who makes sacrifices to take their kids to Disneyworld so that they can have some happy memories to cherish. I suspect Baker thinks he’s that brave and sensitive soul who is shaking the unwoke masses out of their slumber by ever-so-subtly insinuating that those people simply aren’t allowed to enjoy their middle-class indulgences anymore. Check your class privilege, proles. Sean Baker is here to make you feel guilty for having a relatively stable life. But at least you can tell everyone how great you thought The Hollywood Project was. Because in the end, that’s what really counts.

Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig’s debut as writer and director is a modest gynocentric bildungsroman which succeeds on its earnest affections and enjoyable performances. Like virtually every film that occupies the so-called “indie” film market, it aims to portray the unvarnished edges of deep family intimacy as well as the quiet humor of well rendered characters. Gerwig has built a reputation by appearing in Quirky Indie Films like Baghead, Frances Ha and Greenberg. Films which can occasionally come off as platforms for charmless affectation and urbane pretentions. Thankfully, Lady Bird doesn’t devolve into this black hole of solipsistic navel gazing. If anything, Gerwig deserves credit for crafting a taut story filled with brisk, direct dialogue, relatable characters and energetic exchanges. The story hinges on the affectionate but contentious relationship between Saoirse Ronan’s Christine and her mother played by Laurie Metcalf.

Lady Bird charts Christine’s trajectory of growth in her final year at high school as she attempts to carve a path towards college. Her mother Marion is a hard bitten realist who wants to rein in Christine’s tendency towards self-aggrandizement and tamp down her grandiose dreams of an East Coast liberal arts education. Christine is the defiant daughter determined to rise above the rigid confines of her Catholic School upbringing and her lower middle-class home life. So much so that she insists on being called Lady Bird.

The film opens with a very funny quarrel between Marion and Christine in which Christine ejects herself from the car in order to avoid listening to her mother. Essentially, Christine is another headstrong adolescent who is unreceptive to maternal advice. Marion’s ministrations are blunt, but like most caring parents, she’s more than willing to dispense the bitter medicine.

Aside from her tortured relationship to her family, Christine’s journey covers three significant themes: friendship, academic achievement and men. She abandons her best friend in favor of ingratiating herself with one of the cool girls. She falls in love with a guy who turns out to be gay and then ostracizes him from her life. She has a contentious relationship with her Hispanic adoptive brother. She struggles with math and honesty. In other words, there’s nothing that hasn’t been broached on the ABC Family Channel or an episode of Roseanne.

If this seems like fairly standard dramatic fare for a modern coming of age story, you’d be correct. With so little real originality, you’re left to contend with the equally standard progressive editorializing. If you go into a contemporary film knowing it’s a vehicle for leftist commentary, you won’t be exasperated. It’s just a matter of degree, and Lady Bird is relatively modest on the preaching. Relatively. Sure, it gently mocks religious people and pro-life views. It panders to gender warriors and lesbians. It ridicules Ronald Reagan and conservatives. Par for the course. But there are places where it slides in some especially pernicious and deceptive editorial.

A common tactic among progressives is to take something that’s true pertaining to the possibility of danger, and then frame it as a joke, a lie, a conspiracy theory or a byproduct of bigotry. It’s a way of simultaneously reinforcing a smug, all encompassing intellectualism and a cosmopolitan openness to the world that is beyond the reach of narrow minded conservatives. When Christine’s friend Julie questions the possibility of terrorism while attending college in New York, Christine shoots back with the admonition “Don’t be a Republican.” It’s cute and kind of funny, but Julie’s concern is not exactly unfounded. It’s as though the mere consideration of the very real possibility of terrorism is contrary to progressive orthodoxy. It somehow means you’re setting yourself on an inexorable path toward conservatism by conceding that it could happen. It’s just one of many reasons modern progressivism is such a pathetic joke. Ideological conformity takes precedent over the objective reality of escalating terrorism worldwide.

Another moment comes when Christine is attempting to woo brooding artist, Kyle Scheible. Kyle is portrayed as a stereotypical young hard leftist who smokes hand rolled cigarettes, reads Howard Zinn and plays in a band. Timothée Chalamet effectively splits the difference between laconic cool guy, detached douchebag and emotional midget. Christine asks if he has a cell phone, but when he explains his reason for not having one, he says he doesn’t want to be tracked by the government. He then goes full Alex Jones, points to his skull and says “Then they’ll put it in your brain.” Gerwig plays it for laughs and wants you see him as a conspiracy prone naïf, but I think this is a tell. The fact that the NSA is spying through all manners of mobile devices is now widely known. But now, we’re already seeing articles about people willingly taking microchip implants. Gerwig very likely wants you to chuckle at Kyle’s youthful paranoia, but attempting to anaesthetize people to uncomfortable truths with ironic distance is standard practice for progressives.

The biggest crime of progressive agenda building in Lady Bird is the symbolism. Gerwig is presenting Christine as yet another archetype of leftist feminine virtue. At a purely symbolic level, birds represent freedom, the future or messengers of God. Gerwig has even given her lead character the female equivalent of Christ by naming her Christine. Her profile eclipses the blurred out crucifix on the movie poster. It doesn’t get any more explicit than that. Christine has survived her growing pains, heartbreaks and disappointments and now she’s ready to stake her claim to political power, the executive offices of corporate America, the lofty perch of the entertainment industry or the highest echelons of academia. You know. The cushy, prestigious positions that have air conditioning, six figure salaries and no physical labor.

Even Tracy Letts’ appealing and sympathetic turn as Christine’s father, Larry, feels like yet another subtle act of vandalism on the paternal father figure. He is doting and affectionate, but he’s also depressed and unemployed. He’s able to provide a sober counterpoint to Marion’s alpha mother harangues, but it feels like an explicit attempt to portray manhood as broken and ineffectual. The job interview at the end can be read both as a commentary on the declining economic prospects for the aging middle-class white male, but also as a rather blatant and dishonest sop to the pro-immigration plank of the progressive agenda.

Lady Bird is essentially the indie film complement to the more hamfisted preaching of blockbusters like Wonder Woman. It’s quieter and it has just enough emotional depth and universal humanity to salvage it from the bin of agitprop. But just barely. It struck me as very similar to Paul Weitz’ ode to an aging feminist from 2015, Grandma. But is this Best Picture caliber filmmaking? Meh. Not so much. If I wanted to be very cynical, I’d simply call this Hollywood affirmative action. It checks off all the requisite boxes in order pass the Hollywood PC virtue test. If that’s all it takes to earn a Best Picture nod, what a sorry state of affairs that represents. But I’m going to give Greta Gerwig the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to treat this as an earnest attempt to tell a story about a young woman coming to terms with her family and childhood and what she wants to carry into adulthood. And maybe in today’s cinematic landscape, that’s saying quite a bit.

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