Damnation Alley (1977)

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Jack Smight’s adaptation of the Roger Zelazny novel, Damnation Alley, is an unsung classic of post-apocalyptic SF. Following the precedent set by the similarly themed television show, Ark II, Damnation Alley is the story of a group of WWIII nuclear holocaust survivors traversing the radioactive wastelands of a blasted out America in search of the remnants of humanity. Yes, its cheeseball B-movie reputation is not without some validity, but I maintain that its virtues outweigh its demerits. Post-apocalyptic SF is roughly analogous to the Western. In other words, a post-flood Biblical allegory. How do you rebuild civilization after all has been destroyed? 

Laying out the prototype for his role as Colonel Hannibal Smith in The A-Team, George Peppard is pitch perfect as grizzled hard ass, Major Eugene Denton. Jan-Michael Vincent plays his subordinate, Tanner, who’s just a little too uppity for Denton. Rounding out the cast of heroes are Paul Winfield as Keegan, a young Jackie Earle Haley as Billy and token female, Dominique Sanda as Jackie. The film opens at a nuclear missile facility at which our two main heroes are stationed as missile combat officers. What begins as a training exercise ends up as a Defcon 1 scramble to fire defensive strikes at an incoming volley of warheads from the other side of the globe. The spectre of nuclear war was a theme found throughout lots of film and television made throughout the Cold War era, but there’s something genuinely harrowing about the nuclear cataclysm in Damnation Alley.  In a scene that surely provided the inspiration for the arcade game, Missile Command, the commanding officers listen in stunned silence as the technical officer reads off the names of American cities while we watch blips of the electronic map signal each warhead strike. A montage of actual mushroom cloud atomic explosions follows as most life on earth is extinguished. 

After the conflict, the globe is an irradiated hellscape and natural weather patterns have been disrupted as a consequence of the bombing.  Using techniques that made SF films from the 70’s so great, color filters and effects transform the skies into a roiling cauldron of psychedelic radiation and are accompanied by ominous analog synth howls. A short text frame sets up the appropriate vibe.

The Third World War left the planet shrouded in a pall of radioactive dust, under skies lurid and angry, in a climate gone insane. Tilted on its axis as a result of the nuclear holocaust the Earth lived through a reign of terror, with storms and floods of unprecedented severity. When this epoch began to wind down, the remnants of life once more ventured forth to commence the struggle for survival and dominance. This is the story of some of them.

After surviving yet another catastrophe resulting from a porno mag that caught fire next to some explosive materials, our heroes set out to find what remains of civilization in the other star of the film, the Landmaster. Designed as a fully functional all-terrain military vehicle, the Landmaster is a glorious 12-wheel feat of vehicular badassery.  Most people probably consider the Mad Max films ground zero for futuristic car porn, but Damnation Alley clearly set the precedent. The various location shots of the Landmaster barreling through the canyons and desert plains of American southwest are indeed pretty righteous. 

In contrast to just about anything made today, this vision of post-apocalyptic earth retains a remarkable amount of civility, respect for military order, and concern for the welfare of the one woman and teenage boy. There is some heartwarming paternalism exhibited by both Peppard and Vincent towards the young Haley. Even the run-in with hillbilly mutants is remarkably civil. For all the pedants bemoaning the lack of realism, it’s important to bear in mind that this was made during a time when traditional heroic archetypes and acts of patriarchal chivalry were still considered worthy of canonization in cinema. It’s not the story that Zelazny told, but it’s worthwhile on its own terms.

There are, of course, some rather delightful post-apocalyptic thrills, too. Overgrown scorpions, flesh eating cockroaches, and radioactive dust storms are among the travails that our band of heroes must overcome.  And no SF action movie would be complete without a few lines of pure hardboiled tough guy grit. Naturally, that honor belongs to Peppard’s Denton.

Maj. Eugene Denton: There are areas of radiation we couldn’t get through. It’s not a matter of wrong turns though – “Damnation Alley” is a hundred miles wide a lot of the way. 

Tanner: “Damnation Alley?” Who named it that? 

Maj. Eugene Denton: I did.

The ending is a bit of a surprise, but the signal that indicates that they’ve reached civilization is the sweet sound of jazz-rock pumping through the radio transmitter. Hallelujah!

Damnation Alley is a piece of post-apocalyptic SF that you just don’t see anymore; an optimistic view of humanity and its ability to reclaim civilization. As the genre progressed over the years since the release of the film, one sees an increasingly despairing and cynical view of humanity. One could say these were more realistic visions of human nature, but people sometimes forget that an occasional uplifting ending gives people a sense of hope and an ideal to which to aspire. Cynicism is the norm.  Affirming positive values is a lot harder than it is to sit back and sneer at pollyanna idealism.

Despite being paired with another personal favorite from that year, Wizards, Damnation Alley tanked. Not only was the film a commercial flop, but Zelazny apparently hated it. Not even the tidal wave of Star Wars’ popularity was sufficient to boost its prospects.  It won’t do anything for you if you have no taste for this kind of film in the first place, but if post-apocalyptic SF is in your wheelhouse at all, the trip down Damnation Alley is worth taking. 

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Since the Hollywood reboot of the 1995 classic is likely to disappoint, I revisited the original to see how it holds up. Unsurprisingly, the 1995 Ghost in the Shell directed by Mamoru Oshii more than earns its spot in the pantheon of SF classics with its highly plausible technological speculations, dazzling visuals as well as its political and philosophical commentary.

GITS was an early cinematic entry into the what was, at the time, a new subgenre of SF dubbed cyberpunk.  With the advent of the home computer connected to a vast global information superhighway, SF writers turned their attention to previously unimagined futurescapes of mass surveillance, cybercriminal underworlds, technocratic corporatism, information trafficking, and cybernetic engineering. By weaving all these elements together, GITS established itself as an influential example of the genre. Add in some government deep state machinations, immigration terrorism and globalism, and the themes only accumulate strength and relevance. 

Despite the absence of alien civilizations and interstellar travel, one of the main ideas in cyberpunk which connects it to the broader legacy of SF is the exploration of the idea of artificial intelligence. This is the central idea in GITS, and Major Motoko Kusanagi’s quest to uncover the identity of Puppet Master is simultaneously a quest to attain that which defines humanity in the end. 

Like William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, GITS is a high tech crime/espionage thriller which delves into some meaty questions pertaining to race, biological diversity, genetic memories and the nature of consciousness itself. The film opens by delineating the broad conflict between the globalist elites building a vast, decentralized network of technocratic control versus the proles who still claim selfhood through nationalism and racial identity. 

In the near future – corporate networks reach out to the stars. Electrons and light flow throughout the universe. The advance of computerisation, however, has not yet wiped out nations and ethnic groups.

The film centers around Major Motoko Kusanagi; a cyborg who works in Section 9 and is pursuing a cyber-hacker called the Puppet Master. She possesses a human consciousness, a “ghost”, but her body (i.e. “shell”) is fully cybernetic. The Puppet Master has the ability to hack human brains and overwrite their memories and identity. She and her supercyborg partner, Batoh, are charged with finding the Puppet Master.

The opening scene sets up the intrigue. Major Kusanagi is monitoring a set of diplomats in a hotel room discussing Project 2501 with a programmer.  The Section 6 police force moves into place to storm the room. One of the diplomats claims immunity as the cops enter the room and the bullets start flying. The head of Section 6 announces that it’s illegal to take programmers out of the country just as an invisible attacker from outside the hotel room takes out the foreign diplomat in a rather gruesome manner. The programmer is denied asylum and the diplomat is taken out by the Major without a trail. Two different police agencies working from different ends of the legal spectrum to quash corporate espionage and thwart emigration.  

It’s handled very subtly, but Japan’s tight control of immigration and sense of national identity is very clearly spelled out. After the Major dispatched the diplomat, the Japanese Prime Minister expresses his gratitude to Section 9 leader, Aramaki, that the programmer’s attempt at defection was handled without going through standard bureaucratic channels. He goes on to explain that the he’d love to deport the recently deposed leader of the Gavel Republic if he had a good political excuse. In addition to the references to Section 9’s ongoing crackdowns on immigration terrorists, these pieces of the story strongly suggest that this future Japan is still maintaining a relatively homogeneous population and national identity. Based on what I’ve read about the reboot, this theme has been inverted to serve the globalist mantras around multiculturalism. 

The real philosophical meat of the movie revolves around the true identity of the Puppet Master and Major Kusanagi’s existential ruminations over her own fate. What defines the essence of selfhood? Identitarians tend to claim immutable characteristics like skin pigmentation, racial heritage, genitalia and sexual preferences. Not far behind are religious tradition and national or regional identity. Peel away those labels and then you’re left with ideals and abstractions like belief, pride, and morality.

Section 6 Department Chief Nakamura: Nonsense! There’s no proof at all that you are a living, thinking life form! 

Puppet Master: And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?

More specifically, it addresses the extent to which intergenerational memory defines selfhood and ensures the propagation of genetics.

Puppet Master: It can also be argued that DNA is nothing more than a program designed to preserve itself. Life has become more complex in the overwhelming sea of information. And life, when organized into species, relies upon genes to be its memory system. So, man is an individual only because of his intangible memory… and memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. The advent of computers, and the subsequent accumulation of incalculable data has given rise to a new system of memory and thought parallel to your own. Humanity has underestimated the consequences of computerization.

GITS is posing questions pertaining to the nature of man found throughout the SF canon since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Are humans just a bag of chemicals and organic tissue guided by laws of determinism? Or is the human capacity for thought a unique phenomenon? Are we caretakers and guardians of generations of genetic memory which are passed through procreation and family tradition? Can man become God by replicating life itself through technology?  

Speciation is defined as the evolutionary process by which new genetic lines are created. Since the Puppet Master can only replicate its own code, the only way it can truly live on is by reproducing with another being. After a climactic battle scene, the Major and the Puppet Master conjoin their consciousness to produce a new post-human species merging human and digital being.  

The features which distinguish SF as a genre are the usage of far reaching technological and imaginative speculation to ask the deepest philosophical questions pertaining to the individual and the State. It is a genre that has appealed to our highest ideals and given us some of the most dire warnings.  The fact that GITS has been given the Hollywood reboot treatment is an indication of the strength of the original vision.  

Major Motoko Kusanagi: There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.

John Stuart Mill: The Subjection of Women

In a recent talk, Christina Sommers was asked why she still claims the mantle of feminism after spending so many years trying to defeat the bad ideas that have seemingly consumed its ideological center. She responded that she felt that the classical liberal model of feminism for which she advocates has proven itself a triumph of human emancipation and she wants to see it returned to its former glory. Among the champions of classical liberal feminism on whose work she models her own vision, Sommers cited the writings of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, and John Stuart Mill. By reclaiming these ideas, she quipped that she wanted to Make Feminism Great Again. When I picked up this book, a piece of me hoped that I was going to find that inspirational core that Ms. Sommers wants to reclaim. Though it is considered a canonical work of classical liberal feminism, the few worthwhile arguments contained in John Stuart Mill’s famous essay, The Subjection of Women, are overshadowed by what mostly sounds like a foundational text for much of the rhetoric one hears in modern intersectional feminism. 

Published in 1869, Mill’s essay ran contrary to the cultural and political norms of 19th century England. Just as Voltaire’s and Thomas Paine’s broadsides against the religious establishment were transgressive in their time, Mill’s argument was provocative in its time albeit for slightly different reasons. The colossal irony is that the arguments Mill makes that are genuinely liberal would be considered absolute heresy to the modern intersectional feminist. Some of Mill’s claims have aged well while others have been utterly demolished by the passage of time and the availability of empirical data. What’s perhaps most annoying is that almost 150 years have passed since this essay was written, women have been granted the voting franchise along with a host of legal privileges, and despite dominating academia and media, feminists still act as though their ideas are challenging and heterodox.  If anything, modern feminism is not interested in emancipation at all. It’s about according unquestioned deference to the idea that women are still living in subjection and any gains that have been made are either insufficient, suspect or to be disregarded altogether. Even worse, it’s about making men pay penance over the belief that women are presently held in subjection despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

Besides being a plea for political equality, The Subjection of Women touches on the psychology of obedience, the connection between morality, liberty and Christian faith, gender differences in skill and nature, and ways in which the patriarchal hierarchy of authority within the family manifested in the democratic state. At the time of its writing, the voting franchise was granted exclusively to men who owned property. Women were, in fact, subject to a fairly rigid set of cultural norms and standards which simultaneously created the foundations for a stable social order and fueled enough angst for female Victorian-era authors and feminist academics for decades to come. Mill rightfully takes aim at the various ways in which law specifically sanctioned such subjection and subordination, but otherwise veers off into unfounded assumption and muddled sophistry. Throughout the essay, Mill repeatedly refers to the subordinate role of women in the most dire terms. By Mill’s reasoning, women apparently possess little or no ability to freely express love, affection nor do they have any genuine willingness to be wives or mothers. He invokes words like “slavery” and “control” while simultaneously recognizing that there has been an ongoing improvement for the lives of men and women alike. Marriage is, at best, a benevolent form of “bondage”. His entire case hinges on speculation over what could be under equal enfranchisement; the results of which can now be measured with approximately 150 years of political history to survey. 

All that is proved in its favour by direct experience, is that mankind have been able to exist under it, and to attain the degree of improvement and prosperity which we now see; but whether that prosperity has been attained sooner, or is now greater, than it would have been under the other system, experience does not say.

Mill often sounds like a social constructionist throughout the piece.  He seems to be dismissive of biological differences while placing an inordinate emphasis on the degree to which convention shapes female nature. If anything, this betrays the low opinion he holds of female agency or the degree to which women were equal partners in constructing social convention. Admittedly, the social conventions were rigidly upheld and women were encouraged to marry during the time he wrote the essay, but this is also partially due to the fact that, at the time of publication, women outnumbered men as a result of military conscription. Once again, feminists mysteriously overlook the “privilege” of being conscripted to die in a war simply for being born male and able bodied.  

It may be asserted without scruple, that no other class of dependents have had their character so entirely distorted from its natural proportions by their relation with their masters; for, if conquered and slave races have been, in some respects, more forcibly repressed, whatever in them has not been crushed down by an iron heel has generally been let alone, and if left with any liberty of development, it has developed itself according to its own laws; but in the case of women, a hot-house and stove cultivation has always been carried on of some of the capabilities of their nature, for the benefit and pleasure of their masters.

The distinction between female nature and skill is somewhat blurry throughout the piece, but he’s basically arguing that female nature has been so thwarted by law and convention, no man knows of what women are truly capable. He makes no meaningful distinction between the skills one needs to employ in a government role versus those necessary in a private sector job.  Is there a female “nature”? In other words, is there a set of characteristics one could broadly describe as feminine? I believe the answer is Yes and these capacities have been confirmed through empirical observations and neurological research. The same holds true for men. Skills, on the other hand, are learned. Mill’s entreaties to remove barriers of entry to private sector employment are unimpeachable, but even after almost 150 years, inequality of representation within the workplace is prima facie evidence of patriarchal social conditioning to the modern feminist. With respect to private sector employment, women have proven themselves as capable as men in professions where there’s skill parity and are also subject to the same moral and ethical failures as men. Whether one wishes to attribute excellence (or mediocrity) in a particular field to male or female nature diminishes the larger importance of maintaining a universal standard of excellence to which any individual should be measured. Is it fair to assert that female nature has contributed to the employment choices women have made despite an omnipresent feminist narrative of crushing patriarchal social pressures? Without a doubt. If women were genuinely interested in construction, street sanitation, military combat training, high tech and petroleum extraction, we’d see it reflected in the data. But we don’t. Are you likely to find a single gender studies paper which attributes this disparity to anything other than patriarchal brainwashing? Probably not. 

The exercise of political power is another skill set altogether. Political power entails the ability to elicit loyalty and command obedience; the accumulation of which certainly does not preclude, and may even necessitate, the usage of coercion, psychological manipulation, blackmail and bribery.

The moral education of mankind has hitherto emanated chiefly from the law of force, and is adapted almost solely to the relations which force creates.

Mill invokes historical examples of female regents and heads of state as evidence that women possess the requisite skills necessary to hold political power and govern the nation state. He simultaneously repudiates the denial of the voting franchise to women as an injustice while claiming that there’s no reason to believe that women would have contrary interests if granted the vote. This is a claim which can and has been tested empirically, and has been proven categorically false. What Mill seems to overlook is the simple reality that with the voting franchise comes not only the question of the nature of rights themselves, but the responsibility for upholding the law. The nation state is, first and foremost, an institution endowed with the ability to exert military and police powers. Historically and presently, this responsibility has been borne predominantly by men. It’s easy to advocate for laws when the duty of enforcement and the cost of legislation is shouldered disproportionately by men. The centuries-long march towards the emancipation of the individual has been a balancing act between the degree to which the State compels moral behavior or reserves to the free exercise of individual agency. Mill earns his liberal credentials by taking an unequivocal stand in favor of the latter. The voting patterns and governing philosophies exhibited by women since the time this was written reveal a strong tendency against individual liberty in favor of legal positivism, redistribution, and laws that are generally more socialistic in nature.

Law and government do not undertake to prescribe by whom any social or industrial operation shall or shall not be conducted, or what modes of conducting them shall be lawful. These things are left to the unfettered choice of individuals.

He sounds only a few degrees removed from your average gender scholar whe he argues that the patriarchal social order is thwarting men’s perception of female capabilities and the range of what can be expressed. Despite dominating academia and being the targets of a global ego stroking campaign spanning every Western country on the planet, feminists endlessly flog the notion that women remain crushed under the bootheel of a soul destroying patriarchal social order. All disparities in outcome are also evidence of patriarchal sexism and subjugation. Virtually every barrier to private sector and government service has been opened to women, but feminists refuse to accept the reality that having a uterus doesn’t automatically make your art good or give you marketable job skills. Mill likely did not anticipate the vast art and entertainment industry we have today nor women’s ability to succeed wildly within it. Unsurprisingly, no quantity of female success is enough for the feminist and they seem unwilling to accept that paintings of menstrual blood and feminist poetry tend only to please feminists. Mill’s argument has metastasized into its own article of faith and has only served to rationalize feminist bigotry, inflame feelings of gender supremacy and claim a mantle of permanent victimhood. 

But they have not yet produced any of those great and luminous new ideas which form an era in thought, nor those fundamentally new conceptions in art, which open a vista of possible effects not before thought of, and found a new school. Their compositions are mostly grounded on the existing fund of thought, and their creations do-not deviate widely from existing types.

One of Mill’s most egregious errors is in his underestimation of the female tendency to chase abstraction and use it to collectivize the plight of womanhood under a pretense of emancipation. The entire field of gender studies is arguably dedicated to the singleminded pursuit of chasing an abstraction called “patriarchy” and establishing a definitive and irrefutable causal link between this omnipresent oppression and all adverse outcomes affecting womanhood. 

Feminism in one meme

A woman seldom runs wild after an abstraction. The habitual direction of her mind to dealing with things as individuals rather than in groups, and (what is closely connected with it) her more lively interest in the present feelings of persons, which makes her consider first of all, in anything which claims to be applied to practice, in what manner persons will be affected by it — these two things make her extremely unlikely to put faith in any speculation which loses sight of individuals, and deals with things as if they existed for the benefit of some imaginary entity, some mere creation of the mind, not resolvable into the feelings of living beings.

Worst of all, Mill appears to be one of the progenitors of the notion of “male privilege”. In the Mill worldview, all of men’s worst moral failings are compounded by the social order. He fixates almost exclusively on the idea that men automatically adopt an attitude of superiority while completely ignoring the sacrifices and responsibilities borne by men in order to raise a family.  Excluding the abusive or excessively pathological, is there any love deeper or more profound than that of a mother and a son?  Do sons not love their sisters? Is there no 19th century Englishman who sacrifices every fiber of his being to ensure the best possible life for his wife and daughters? How dismal is Mill’s worldview that he frames male and female relations in such bleak terms? How dim is his view of female initiative and agency that he places the burden disproportionately on the shoulders of men? While there was undoubtedly some truth to what he was saying, the hope for greater emancipation has mostly devolved into an obnoxious global guilt trip. 

Women cannot be expected to devote themselves to the emancipation of women, until men in considerable number are prepared to join with them in the undertaking.


As a footnote, Mill was surprisingly astute in his observations about Islam’s resistance to reform and the resultant stagnation this inflexibility has bred within Islamic culture. Ironically, the liberal ideal of equality has proven itself a bottomless pit.  The equality for which Mill advocated in this essay has become a pathological pursuit for feminists and the progressive Left in general. The idea of male privilege that Mill introduced in this piece has been extended into every aspect of Western culture to the point where it is an act of bigotry to assert that some cultures hold superior values than others. If he were to utter these sentiments today, he’d be vilified as a white supremacist and a racist. 

To pretend that Christianity was intended to stereotype existing forms of government and society, and protect them against change, is to reduce it to the level of Islamism or of Brahminism.

When citizens of Western democracies are asked whether they are supportive of “equal rights” for women, you’re likely to hear an unequivocal and resounding Yes. The fact that many people will insist that this hasn’t yet been achieved speaks to the true legacy of Mill’s essay: the idea that women are living in a state of subjection. Mill undoubtedly wanted political and social egalitarianism, but what he actually wrought was a cult of perpetual grievance. Clearly, Mill’s essay was a catalyst for change. In 1870, the Married Women’s Property Act was passed which allowed women to inherit property and own money. In 1884, a second act of the same name granted married women the right to own property apart from their husbands. While most would likely agree that these were true triumphs of liberalism, the same cannot be said of the broader legacy of feminism that this essay helped usher into the world.  

On Modernism, Postmodernism and the Degradation of Western Values in Art

Salvador Dali

Concomitant with the ascendancy of the trends themselves, conservatives and liberty-minded intellectuals ranging from Ayn Rand to Dennis Prager have inveighed against modernist and postmodernist trends in art on the grounds that it represents a degradation of aesthetic standards and, by extension, Western values. As an artist myself and one who is and has been sympathetic to these modes of expression, this is an argument to which I’ve devoted considerable thought. While I agree with the central propositions put forth by these individuals, I’m not ready to throw the modernist baby out with the bathwater. Art can and should affirm immutable, transcendent values that will carry on beyond the lifetimes of their creators. Art should also be grounded in tradition and those who pursue it should be held to the highest standards.  I propose that modernist and postmodernist trends, or what was once regarded as avant-garde, have largely supplanted any notions of Western traditionalism. Objective standards of beauty and excellence have indeed given way to a bottomless relativism. Contemporary art is a little too consumed by nihilism, ugliness and abstraction for its own sake.  If artists consume themselves with rebellion against values and standards to which no one is holding them accountable, then it’s little more than empty posturing.

Modernism was transgressive in its day because the standard bearers of traditionalism were the mainstream in art. When the impressionists departed from classical realism, it was transgressive because classical realism was the standard. The various movements that defined the 20th century saw art moving further and further away from these traditions to the point where avant-garde no longer has any meaning other than to signify a broad body of artistic expression defined by a departure from or outright annihilation of any semblance of traditionalism.

Pablo Picasso

If artists have no commitment to uphold anything sacred or beautiful and the profane and ugly are the default settings, then it reflects a rottenness in the cultural soul just as Ayn Rand asserted.

Art (including literature) is the barometer of a culture. It reflects the sum of a society’s deepest philosophical values: not its professed notions and slogans, but its actual view of man and of existence. – Ayn Rand

Art, at some level, must edify and exalt the divine spirit or some universal idea of cosmic Oneness. Without it, humanity drifts towards solipsism and nihilism. The avant-garde only has power to shock when it serves as a counterweight to an overbearance of traditionalism. In the world of art, there is literally no boundary which has not been transgressed, no sacred idol undesecrated nor profanity unspoken. We’re pretty far away from any kind of hegemony of traditionalism in the art world. Just as atheism and anarchism may be philosophically and logically untenable positions, each argument serves as a permanent counterpoint to institutional power. I believe that the avant-garde is the active attempt to concretize these philosophical positions.

Jackson Pollock

People are generally attracted to art, music and literature that has identifiable structure, steady rhythms, heroism and the pursuit of justice, themes which address relatable slices of life in memorable and clever ways, and emotional content that’s somehow uplifting. For better and worse, the avant-garde has generally eschewed these conventions. Conversely, people generally do not want to consume art that is too abstract or dwells on humanity’s tendency towards depravity.

That said, the avant-garde has produced a wealth of innovation which cannot be denied. There is a place for expressionism, abstraction and pastiche. The surreal and the grotesque have their place in a panorama of artistic expression in which the traditionally beautiful occupies a prominent position. Admittedly, avant-garde has rebel cache because it was used as both anti-communist propaganda by the CIA and was repudiated by the Nazis as “degeneracy”. Anything that scandalizes the upper crust intelligentsia, pisses off the Nazis, and gets subsidized to fight communism despite being created by artists largely sympathetic to communism is going to have some built-in appeal. The avant-garde’s associations with dubious ideologies should not be ignored, but that should not preclude exploration or reevaluation of the ideas either.

Yves Tanguy

From my perspective, the avant-garde only occurs as such in proportion to the degree to which the tradition from which it departs is recognizable. Oftentimes, the most innovative artists walk a fine line between tradition and modernism and find a way to reconcile seemingly disparate aesthetics.

The critics of the avant-garde have a point. If nothing else, the central proposition that animates nearly every avant-garde movement is the departure from objective reality.  As much as I am supportive of a revival of classical standards in art, I’m equally enthusiastic about the renewed vitality it will bring to the avant-garde.

René François Ghislain Magritte

Wonder Woman (2017)

After years in development, Wonder Woman has finally gotten her big budget Hollywood screen adaptation with a female director at the helm. Gal Gadot carries off the role with a sufficient level of likeability and physical prowess. One would not be unreasonable to ask “Have we finally reached peak cinematic feminism?” I mean, it’s 2017 fer chrissakes! The answer is most likely a resounding No, but I’ll be damned if Wonder Woman doesn’t set a new standard in feminist pandering and wish fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong. The film definitely has entertainment value, but you are well advised to brace yourself for some serious next level Hollywood-style proselytizing for the Church of Feminism.

In contrast to the annoying trend toward gender swapping revisionism and the near ubiquity of blockbuster heroines, the feminist editorial in Wonder Woman is expected because it was written into the character’s source code from the start. In fact, not only is the Wonder Woman character a pretty explicit piece of feminist mythology, this film is easily the most overt attempt to canonize feminism as a globalist secular religion. Though it eventually resolves with a respectful nod towards Wonder Woman’s origins, it is chock full of contemporary talking points, groan inducing PC orthodoxy and heavily loaded religious symbolism.  I’m not an expert on every aspect of Marston’s original vision, but I know enough to know that they made some pretty dubious revisions to the original mythology in order to cater to current political narratives. 

The film lays it on pretty thick right out of the gate. After delivering a voiceover in which Diana Prince confesses that her idealism had been blunted upon entering the world of mankind, a Wayne Industries armored carrier service delivers a package to our heroine working at what appears to be a cushy curator gig at the Louvre. Instead of an American patriot working from the inside of military intelligence, we have an aesthete working in a key EU member state at the world’s most renowned art museum. The package contains a WW1 photo of Wonder Woman and a note from Bruce Wayne indicating his desire to hear the story behind it. Cue the time warp back to Diana’s childhood in the matriarchal paradise of Themyscira. 

If you thought the Vuvalini in Mad Max: Fury Road was pandering to radfem matriarchal fantasies, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen Themyscira. Presumably modeled after Marston’s vision, the Amazons of Themyscira live in a utopia of pure feminine bliss and order. The gigantic architecture resembles classical Greek design and was expertly carved from marble and stone. Young Diana is enthralled by the combat training exercises being carried out under the iron discipline of Robin Wright’s Antiope. Naturally, every Amazon possesses balletic, superhuman combat skills with and without perfectly crafted metal weapons. Young Diana pleads with her mother, Hippolyta, to begin combat training but she forbids it.  “Don’t you think she should learn to defend herself?”, asks Antiope. Absolutely not, says Hippolyta. After all, she is protected by Antiope’s Amazon army of super soldiers. Right away, we’re presented with a matriarchy in which there is perfectly crafted stone architecture, expertly wrought metal weaponry, abundant resources, peace, order, beauty, art, education, military might, cultural tradition, multiracial harmony, political equality and apparently, procreation. We aren’t privy to the details of the male eugenics program which weeds out male births, but it’s safe to assume it’s fully funded by taxpayers. Of course, all of these marvels are achieved without the aid of men. I realize this is superhero mythology, but this level of pandering seems geared towards appeasing the Julie Bindels and Laurie Pennys of the world. 

While putting her to bed, Hippolyta attempts to disabuse young Diana of her desire to learn combat.  I mean, it’s great that you’re breaking gender stereotypes and setting an example for young girls, but you need to get #WOKE to all this war stuff, Diana. Hippolyta busts out the Amazonian Bible and lays down the origins of civilization itself.  Zeus made man in his image and, at first, they lived together in peace and harmony.  Ares, the God of War and a white male, filled the hearts of men with fear and suspicion which put them in conflict one another. Ares killed all the gods, but was vanquished by Zeus and doomed to roam in the world of men. Zeus then created the Amazons to protect mankind from the scourge of Ares. The only way to stop Ares is by wielding the mythical God Killer sword; a sword whose phallic nature can be used to kill Greek and Christian gods alike. Step aside King Arthur and make way for Diana of Themyscira, PYGS! So to recap, a fucking white male poisons the hearts of mankind and fills the world with hatred and strife, but a peaceful civilization of women descended from Zeus lies in wait to redeem and defend the world from evil Ares.  In short, womyn are goddesses, saviors and redeemers, but m*n have only poisoned the world with war because of their toxic masculinity. Kneel before the Church of Feminism and repent! 

Naturally, gender studies are mandatory in Themyscira so Diana is completely unencumbered by harmful gender stereotypes and pursues combat training against Hippolyta’s wishes. Diana rises to the head of the class and not only can she kick everyone’s ass, she has magical bracelet powers and shit.  Clearly, Diana has a little more goddess mojo than her Amazonian counterparts. 

While contemplating her supernatural abilities by the beach, a fighter plane crashes into the ocean.  Its pilot is in danger, so she dives into the ocean to save this hapless dolt. Upon dragging his helpless ass on to the shore, she realizes why this mysterious being has fallen into a state of misfortune and requires the rescue of an Amazonian goddess.  “You’re a m*n”, realizes Diana. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor exhibits his utter cluelessness to gender expression by saying, “Don’t I look like one?” And with this simple exchange, meme #hxstory was made.  

After fending off an invasion in which the Amazons’ balletic badassery is barely sufficient to repel m*n with g*ns, Diana realizes that Ares has plunged the world into a deadly conflagration that threatens to consume all of mankind. Under inducement of the magical Lasso of Hestia, Steve Trevor reveals that he is a spy who stole plans to a deadly bioweapon being developed by….wait for it…..THE GERMANS! Because there has apparently never been a country in the history of the world which has bred genocidal and totalitarian ambitions quite like Germany. Under the command of General Ludendorff and the evil Dr. Isabel Maru, the German army will wreak destruction on countless women and children. Maybe some men, too, but who cares about them, amirite? Knowing that the lives of women and children are at stake, Diana resolves to leave Themyscira with Trevor in order to kill Ares and vanquish evil from the hearts of men. Hippolyta is saddened, but resigns herself to accepting Diana’s choice by reinforcing the valuable lessons in gender supremacy and misandry that the Amazons have cultivated for so long.  “Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you. You have been my greatest love. Today, you are my greatest sorrow,” says a tearful Hippolyta. Determined to uphold the tenets of #SocialJustice, Diana sets out to check privilege, smash gender norms, and generally kick the patriarchy’s ass. “I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves,” she promises. And just think. This was WAY before Tumblr. Watch out, fascists! 

Diana and Steve set sail for London to get Dr. Poison’s plans into the hands of British military commanders. While at sea, Steve reveals himself as the patriarchal piece of shit that he is with an antiquated bit of “chivalry”; he makes a comfortable bed for Diana while confining himself to a cramped edge of the deck. She invites him to join her, but he hesitates because it’s not proper to sleep with women outside of marriage. This is an admirable amount of restraint for a rapist who doesn’t understand consent, but Diana persists. Diana reveals that she doesn’t understand why men and women get married and commit their lives to one another if they don’t keep the promise. Steve is stumped, and quite frankly, so are we. Who wants children and families or any of that patriarchal enslavement?  I mean, gender scholars have pulled the veil from all this heteronormative bullshit. After raising Steve’s hopes of getting some Amazonian action, Diana leaves him blue balled by telling him that she’s read all of the works on sexuality written by Themysciran gender scholars. They concluded that m*n were necessary for reproduction but unnecessary for sexual gratification. Guess you’ll have to resort to self-service, Trevor.

Upon arriving in London, Diana is instantly appalled by rampant pollution, shitty architecture, catcalling, and m*n everywhere. In another nod to the Marston mythology, we meet Steve Trevor’s body positive secretary, Etta Candy.  Diana is puzzled by the phenomenon of a secretary and asks what that entails. “Oh, well, I do everything. I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do,” she says. “Well, where I’m from that’s called slavery,” retorts Diana. Oh snap! Burned again, shitlords! EMPLOYMENT is slavery! I mean, it’s not like Themyscira had a very strict military and government hierarchy or anything! It’s not like the cultivation of resources, development of military discipline, or the building of civilization requires some level of submission to leadership or anything. It’s ALL ARBITRARY PATRIARCHAL ENSLAVEMENT. 

Steve insists that Etta help Diana blend in by getting her some new clothes.  Cue the montage in which we’re treated to Gal Gadot sporting early 20th century British fashion while chuckling at the high hilarity of the many patriarchal restrictions it places on her Amazonian combat capabilities. There aren’t any free bleeding-friendly yoga pants which would raise awareness of period shaming, but Diana settles on a smart corporate business suit that comes with glasses. The glasses are essential in order to forestall sexist assumptions that she’s a clueless dumbass because that’s obviously the first thought a m*n thinks when seeing a woman. 

Steve scandalizes the British high command by daring to bring Diana, a woman, into their top secret meeting. They’re totally triggered because of their fragile masculinity, but they listen to his plea to take the bioweapon plans and destroy the secret lab. David Thewlis’ Sir Patrick assures him it’s unnecessary because they’re on the cusp of signing an armistice deal. Diana isn’t buying it. Because she’s been educated in Themyscira University with a degree in postmodern gender theory, she can read Babylonian cuneiform and shit. She tells these clueless dumbshits that they’re risking the lives of innocent women and children. Subsequently, they should send all the men to the front to save them because what good have men ever done in the world? The commanders are too triggered by the presence of such a #STRONG womyn, but Trevor resolves to keep his promise to bring her to the front. As the enthusiasm amongst American feminists for mandatory selective service indicates, women are CLAMORING to fill combat roles and reach the heights of military command positions.  

Before they undertake this dangerous mission, they need to assemble a diverse, multicultural team of men to bumble their way through the mission while marveling at Diana’s Amazonian voluptuousness. Among the mercenary heroes are an English drunkard marksman, an Arabic guy to school everyone on #RACISM, and of course, a Native American(?!?!) dude to remind everyone about the evils of colonialism perpetrated by the American white man.  

With the blessing and patronage of Sir Patrick, the heroes set out to the battlefront to kick some proto-Nazi ass. Upon reaching the front, Diana is unfazed by the bullets and ordnances flying around her and can’t understand why these cowards won’t just advance their position.  The lives of women and children are at stake! Steve tries to spell it out for her. 

Steve Trevor: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine g*ns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.

Diana Prince: So… what? So we do nothing? 

Steve Trevor: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do. 

Diana Prince: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.

Checkmate, shitlords.  Cue slow motion robe removal and step ladder climb on to the battlefield.  It’s cheesy as hell, but it works. 

In an unusual concession to patriarchal norms, Wonder Woman actually allows some romantic affection to develop between Diana and Steve.  After liberating a French village from occupation, the heroes enjoy a moment of peace and celebratory revelry. Marksman Charlie attempts to entertain the crowd with some sweet piano ballads and his crude but spirited singing voice.  In what is probably one of the more poignant commentaries on the true legacy of modern feminism, Steve Trevor reveals something remarkably honest about the state of manhood in 2017. It’s a confession that’s probably meant to be another indictment of the shallowness of men, but I suggest that it reveals the dearth of positive paternal examples for young men in general. 

Diana Prince: What do people do when there isn’t a war? 

Steve Trevor: They get a job, get married, have children. 

Diana Prince: What is that like? 

Steve Trevor: I… don’t know.

As much as I enjoyed Gal Gadot’s martial vision of Wonder Woman, I can’t help but think that it lacks the joyful cheeseball patriotism that Lynda Carter brought to the 70’s version of the character. Like Superman and Captain America, Wonder Woman was most definitely a patriotic superhero.  Even her Israeli accent makes her seem more Euro-cosmopolitan and less American. Instead of the bright primary colors of Lynda Carter’s Old Glory-inspired two-piece, Gal Gadot sports an armor-like combat skirt which mutes the traditional blue, gold and red with dull metallic overtones. It looks cool, but it definitely says Globalist Wonder Woman instead of America’s Wonder Woman. 

The film is entertaining enough, but I never felt that Wonder Woman was in danger at any point nor did I sense that she had any real weaknesses or flaws. Besides her bombshell good looks and physicality, Gadot alternates between adequate and bland on the charisma scale. Whether it’s that the role has been flattened by the necessity of fulfilling every item on the feminist checklist or that she’s not that great an actress in the first place, there’s an absence of any real personality. The responses to the film from feminist media have been predictably hilarious.  If it’s not the outrage of Wonder Woman’s shaved armpits, it’s the hope that one day Wonder Woman will be a fat, queer, non-binary WOC.  One gets the distinct impression that the more you pander to feminists, the more petty the complaints become. 

Above all else, Wonder Woman is a hymn to the twin religions of Globalism and Feminism. The one plot twist in the film could easily be seen as a slam on Nigel Farage, UKIP and #Brexit. As for the feminist proselytizing, Wonder Woman represents a new high water mark for religious symbolism. In one of the early battle scenes, Wonder Woman bounds through a church steeple to take out the German snipers endangering the civilians below.  After dispatching them handily, Wonder Woman emerges from the rubble of the Christian Church to bask in the glow of her devout and grateful flock. Symbolism doesn’t get more blatant than that.

The ending of the film is respectful towards the character legacy, but also rife with theological overtones.  Diana recognizes that she may never conquer the evil that lies in the hearts of humanity. As a goddess of love, they are always free to choose the salvation she provides if they just listen and believe. Praise Wonder Woman and get ready for Justice League, PYGS. 

Diana Prince: I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know… that only love can truly save the world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.

Thomas Paine: The Age of Reason

The period of European history known as The Enlightenment was the period in which many of the hallowed values that define classical liberalism were canonized. Among these values were constitutionalism, freedom of speech, and most importantly, separation of church and state. Thomas Paine remains one of the most celebrated exponents of liberal thought. Capping off a trifecta of canonical liberal texts which included Common Sense and Rights of Man, The Age of Reason represents Paine’s defense of freedom of conscience in matters of faith. More specifically, this book is a rejection of religious institutions and an attack on the historicity of the Bible, divine revelation and miracles. Paine is explicit about his belief in God and is affirming deism, but the arguments he sets forth are scarcely different from those we hear from contemporary religious skeptics. It is, in effect, a work of proto-atheism. It’s a very short hop from Paine’s presumed skepticism and mind numbing pedantry to Dawkins and Hitchens. 

Published in three parts in 1794, 1795 and 1807, The Age of Reason rattled a few cages due to the perceived proximity to French Jacobinism. Like Voltaire, Paine’s writing was a sort of intellectual punk rock of its day. Despite this reputation for being a work of heresy, it is an exceedingly tedious and tendentious treatise. The Age of Reason, both the book and the broader Enlightenment consensus are perhaps slightly overrated. Common Sense might have helped build a consensus for the American Revolution, but Paine wasn’t necessarily held in high esteem by some of the Founders. This book opens a window of insight on why this might be so. The elevation of reason as the principle method by which we obtain knowledge and derive universal principles has arguably laid a foundation for moral relativism and a purely materialistic view of the world.

I am willing you should call this the Age of Frivolity as you do, and would not object if you had named it the Age of Folly, Vice, Frenzy, Brutality, Daemons, Buonaparte, Tom Paine, or the Age of the Burning Brand from the Bottomless Pit, or anything but the Age of Reason. I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Thomas Paine. There can be no severer satyr on the age. For such a mongrel between pig and puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf, never before in any age of the world was suffered by the poltroonery of mankind, to run through such a career of mischief. Call it then the Age of Paine. – John Adams on Thomas Paine

Perhaps more significantly, it also appears to be a stepping stone on the pathway to scientism. He openly asserts that the study of natural philosophy, mathematics and mechanical science is the “true theology”. This conflation of moral virtue with the pursuit of scientific discovery is essentially an article of faith for progressives and atheists alike. The laws of the natural world are discovered. How the human mind chooses to apply these discoveries is up for grabs. This pursuit may be moral and ethical, but it may be completely malevolent. The methods by which data is gathered may be ethical or they may be cherry picked in order to confirm a bias or a preconceived conclusion. Whether it’s the first time such criticisms and claims have been committed to print I cannot say, but The Age of Reason cements a perception of antagonism between science and faith that persists to this day.

The first section is essentially the entire blueprint for modern atheism with one key difference: Paine actually believes in God. This difference is crucial, but every criticism he levels at Christian belief can be found in the rhetorical bedrock of every modern atheist and agnostic from Harris to Tyson. His contention is that the biblical teachings of belief in miracles, resurrection, the Holy Trinity and young earth creationism have engendered an antipathy towards science and paved a path for superstition over reason. He claims that this proliferation of superstitious belief has bred an open hostility to scientific advancement; a claim which is not borne out by recent polling of the scientific community. The absence of any specific examples does not lend credibility to the claim, but this omission didn’t seem to prevent the perception from spreading.

But this, the supporters or partizans of the Christian system, as if dreading the result, incessantly opposed, and not only rejected the sciences, but persecuted the professors. 

In the subsequent section, Paine proceeds to dissect the first six books of the Old Testament in painstaking detail. He lays out a trove of information which he claims falsifies the historicity of the books. It’s rather tedious stuff. When he finally gets to discussing his fondness for the Book of Job, it becomes apparent that perhaps his interpretation of the remaining texts is uncharitable and narrow. He explains why it is a text he holds in high esteem because of the lessons it imparts on human suffering and the striving towards contentment. More importantly, he is perhaps missing the fact that the Bible is not necessarily designed to impart historical knowledge, but that it represents hundreds of years of mankind striving to rise above its animal nature and reach for some ideal of divine perfection.

The one argument that sets this book apart from atheist orthodoxy is Paine’s unequivocal belief in the connection between deistic faith and the objective existence of moral truth. This also appears to be a point of agreement between Kant and Paine since Kant argued that you needed an a priori cognitive structure through which to process sense data. 

In the final section, he takes a sledgehammer to the New Testament by claiming that “Christianity only produces atheists and fanatics”, but history has proven this contention false. Worst of all, his view of the French Revolution seems deeply ahistorical. He contends that the intolerance of the Church had transferred into the realm of politics which is the exact opposite of reality. It was, in fact, secular fanaticism which culminated in the establishment of a violent, state sponsored secular religion known as the Cult of Reason. The magnitude of Jacobin violence meted out to the Church and the Christian faith during The Reign of Terror is staggering.

Paine’s criticisms sound scarcely different from the generic attacks on “religion” that one would find on an atheist meme or a Bill Maher rant. Ironically, Paine considers the New Testament itself as a work of atheism.  I’m not sure how much value the Bible has for the individual reading it in order to find historical or chronological error and contradiction. The Bible was apparently written over a span of approximately 1500 years. The individuals who wrote the scriptures and the process of collecting these works is indeed a subject worthy of scrutiny. However, I suggest that these concerns are secondary to the larger significance to human moral psychology. If one were to take a charitable view, the Bible could be viewed as a collection of works which reveals man striving for metaphysical ideals.  They are designed to reveal man struggling to articulate things beyond what his mind can know or obtain solely through the accumulation of sense data. It is meant to form the bedrock through which knowledge is assimilated so that the works of man would express the divine ideal. Paine’s exercise feels like a wrong turn.

While I can certainly appreciate that this work was transgressive in its day and probably helped pave the way for a multiplicity of views on faith both benign and malevolent, I’m strongly inclined to think that perhaps it planted the seed of destruction for Reason itself. The human capacity for reason and the discipline of logic are high level functions of the human mind. These abilities are cultivated and are certainly not evenly distributed throughout the population. The human capacity for morality, which is itself a form of faith, supersedes any concern for logic or reason. When it comes to perceptions of moral imperatives, reason is often utterly ineffectual as a mode of persuasion. The compulsion to confirm existing biases and affirm tribal alliances nullifies the possibility of reasoned debate or analysis. Moreover, the progressive Left has essentially hijacked scientific reasoning and used it as a substitute for ideological moralizing in a manner similar to Paine, but less explicit. Humanity is clearly wired for faith of some kind.  If this capacity isn’t funneled into some kind of theism or, at minimum, belief in transcendent moral absolutes, it tends to be transferred to the secular equivalent of Ultimate Authority: the State. To what extent does the capacity for reason even enter the dialogue when morality has been ceded to the secular priesthood? As current events attest, not much, if at all. 

The Age of Reason offers very little that’s meaningful or relevant to the world today. The distinctions between science and morality have been steamrolled and the floodgates of atheism have been opened since its publication. I’d argue there’s nothing in the Christian faith or the Bible that hasn’t been picked apart a thousand times. The Christian faith has already endured every criticism that can be made, and it still ended up producing the freest and most prosperous societies on earth. So free in fact, that the tools of Reason have been deployed to undermine the theological foundations of the West just as Nietzsche feared. The battle for Western civilization in which we’re currently engaged has precipitated a reappraisal and reaffirmation of the ideas at its core. Paine was correct to assert the existence of moral truth, but his dismissal of the broader metaphysical significance of scripture was perhaps a bit cavalier and hubristic. If any faith could use some more of Thomas Paine’s questioning spirit in 2017, it’s Islam.

Get Out (2017)

So you say you want to see The Stepford Wives repurposed to accommodate the latest #WOKE narratives around white privilege and white supremacy? Look no further, identity politics addicts! Get Out is here to confirm every current political narrative, every ideological bias, reinforce your racial self-loathing AND vicariously satisfy your murderous revenge fantasies! Idiotic, predictable, and supremely hateful, Get Out is one of the most vile examples of contemporary racial politics I’ve yet witnessed. Despite being the villains, the film is mostly geared for smug progressives who take Buzzfeed privilege quizzes seriously, retweet Tim Wise, think gender studies is a legitimate field of knowledge and have one or more #Blacklivesmatter merchandise items prominently displayed.  The type of p*rsxn who thinks microaggressions are a thing and genuinely gets zer panties in a twist over the usage of #AllLivesMatter. Based on some of the responses in #WOKE Twitter, it apparently served its purpose of stoking the racial animosity industry which doesn’t exist for blacks cuz white institutional power and shit. 

Black people can’t be racist. So STFU. Take some critical race theory, racist.

The premise is very straightforward and there’s not a single real surprise to be found. Daniel Kaluuya plays smart, handsome, upwardly mobile photographer, Chris Washington. As Rose Armitage, the utterly charmless, vapid and detestable Allison Williams is perfectly cast as his seemingly #WOKE, sensitive, totally-not-racist girlfriend who has taken every article from Everyday Feminism to heart. They’re presumably in love and getting ready to spend a weekend with her parents. UH OH! GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, AMIRITE? DO THEY KNOW???? “Oh, don’t worry,” assures Rose. “My dad would’ve voted for Obama for a third term.” GOT THAT, #RACISTS? THEY THINK THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT RACIST. BECAUSE THINKING YOU’RE NOT RACIST JUST PROVES THAT YOU’RE RACIST. IF YOU’RE WHITE, YOU’RE A RACIST, RACIST! With this current article of faith firmly established, it’s merely a matter of waiting to see which phantasmogoric manifestation of racial malevolence surfaces.  

Peak #WOKENESS?

When they arrive at the Armitage estate, Chris is taken aback by the presence of black servants whose behavior is strangely vacant. Bradley Whitford’s Dean Armitage tries to reassure Chris that he’s totally-not-racist by affirming his wish for a third Obama term just like Rose said. Dinner time brings some additional tension when Rose’s unhinged, nutbag brother asks a few too many uncomfortable questions and initiates an awkward invitation to wrestle. Chris’ unease heightens as as his attempts at conversation with the servants only reinforce his concern that something is deeply wrong here. The tension reaches a crescendo during an outdoor party in which all of the Armitage’s rich, effete liberal aristocrat friends are in attendance. Every performance is a cringey stereotype of shallow cosmopolitanism. Chris is relieved to find another black guest, but is taken aback yet again upon discovering that he exhibits the same vacant mannerisms as the servants. He attempts a parting fist bump, but OH SNAP THE DUDE GRABS HIS FIST INSTEAD. A REAL BROTHA WOULD HAVE RETURNED THE CULTURAL GESTURE. When Chris returns to his room, he bugs out completely when he discovers that the charger cord on his phone has been disconnected yet again. WILL CHRIS ESCAPE THIS #RACIST PRISON OF RICH, WHITE LIBERAL PROGRESSIVES?????

To be perfectly fair, there is some deeper subtext pertaining to the dissolution of the black family and the deleterious effect it’s had on black culture. Catherine Keener plays the matriarch of the Armitage family and possesses the ability to induce hypnosis on the black victims. While under hypnosis, Chris finds himself imprisoned in a psychic netherworld called The Sunken Place. She exploits Chris’ guilt over a childhood trauma he experienced losing his single mother. Naturally, we have another well adjusted black male who grew up with a single mother and no father. The Sunken Place could have been explored further as a metaphor for debased state of the black family. Now before you post that Mother Jones article preaching against spreading hate facts about single mothers, the data reveals overwhelmingly negative effects for black children growing up with single mothers. The Armitage family can be seen as an archetypal legacy of white progressive elites which stretches back to Margaret Sanger through Lyndon Johnson and up to Hillary Clinton who’ve wrought vast destruction on the black population. 

If there is a genuine criticism of institutional racism in the film, the entire legacy of progressive legislation from Jim Crow to the Great Society to the 1994 Crime Bill must be put on trial. Filmmaker Jordan Peele claims that the film was meant as a poke in the eye at white, middle-class liberal elites. Fair enough. That’s an admirable aim and a deserving target, but ultimately, I doubt that anyone came out of the theater thinking about anything other than the evil, racist white man. 

The film also does some particularly idiotic cheerleading for the TSA.  LilRel Howery plays Chris’ best friend, Rod Williams, and he brings his suspicions of foul play to the authorities. He lays out his concern that a rich, white family is responsible for the abduction of his best friend. They laugh off his allegations (HAHAHA! WHITE PRIVILEGE, AMIRITE?) and Rod is left to investigate his friend’s disappearance on his own. As TSA gropefests make the news on a regular basis, it’s as though the filmmakers were intentionally stoking the racial animosity so that they could sneak in sympathy for a frequently embarrassing and increasingly intrusive government agency

There is something deeply depressing, nihilistic and slightly malevolent about this film.  It’s a film which could have been so much more surgical about connecting racism to policy outcomes presumably aimed at improving life for the black community. It could have addressed the Left’s absolute refusal to discuss things like fatherlessness, values or IQ. Instead, it was content to take a worthy target and exploit the narrative du jour. It felt like the goal was just to have progressives walk out engaging in another circle jerk of postmodern smugness. OMG! SO GOOD AND SO TRUE! THE FACT THAT WE CAN CHEER A MOVIE PORTRAYING WHITES AS RACIST VILLAINS PROVES WE’RE NOT RACIST! AND NOW WE’RE GOING TO GO TO A DECOLONIZING WORKSHOP TO PURGE OURSELVES OF OUR TOXIC WHITENESS! Could you make this very same film in which you reversed the race of the two leads? Of course you couldn’t. The Left have abandoned any notion of holding people to equal standards. They’re hypocrites and cowards who only want to construct a cultural panopticon filled with recursive loops of confirmation bias designed for the sole purpose of engineering a self-reinforcing consensus of pure ideological conformity. Make no mistake, they are actively engaged in the business of reshaping language and culture. By dominating media and the entire education apparatus, they’re constructing one-sided cultural narratives that are impervious to scrutiny, debate or facts. Racism is EXCLUSIVELY a phenomenon of the white race through the postmodern magic of “historical and institutional power”. Get Out is just the latest escalation of the Left’s cultural hegemony of boundless nihilism and obnoxious cynicism. Naturally, the critical echo chamber is gushing with praise. They’re already pushing it on Academy voters. I’m sure it’ll be Best Picture at next year’s Oscars.

The Founder (2016)

A cynic might view John Lee Hooker’s portrait of Ray Kroc, The Founder, as an indictment of the American Dream itself. McDonald’s has come to signify everything illusory, toxic and and inhuman about American capitalism and idealism. Whether it’s Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, or any of the various #FightFor15 campaigns, the progressive Left has the fast food industry squarely in the crosshairs. Depending on the outrage du jour, the fast food industry is underpaying workers, poisoning the population with toxic food, contributing to the obesity epidemic, hastening the global warming crisis and propping up oversized agribusiness conglomerates. No other restaurant chain embodies all of this amoral rapacity, soulless industrialism, and ruthless expansionism more than McDonald’s. Of course, there is some truth to the charges leveled at McDonald’s and the fast food industry. However, as this film brilliantly illustrates, these qualities were features of Ray Kroc’s personality flaws and what he injected into the McDonald’s brand rather than design flaws in the fabric of American values or even the fast food industry.  

The Founder is a fairly straightforward historical biopic which, like its subject matter, succeeds on economical storytelling and tasty performances. It’s a fascinating story because it reveals how McDonald’s and fast food became synonymous with American values. More importantly, it shows how Ray Kroc deformed those values through his own ruthless ambition. 

Hollywood films often present their subjects through an ideological lens of progressive politics, and I suspect the filmmakers of The Founder had a similar aim. As long as you recognize that, the film presents some fairly decent lessons in market economics, industrial engineering of food production, contract law ethics, and brand building. The title of the film is very loaded because it draws up an assumption in your mind about its meaning. What Ray Kroc “founded” is not exactly what you might think.

Before McDonald’s, Ray Kroc was a mediocre traveling salesman trying to hock milkshake multimixers to the burgeoning fast food industry.  The drive in was the dominant model and it included features of the fast food experience that have been long consigned to the historical memory bin. Hamburgers and fries were served on washable dinnerware and delivered to your car by waitresses on roller skates. Ray Kroc had a mass market mentality, but no one in the middle American fast food business seemed to share it. His attempts to appeal to American ingenuity and Say’s Law fell on deaf ears.

Ray Kroc: But if ya had the Prince Castle, 5-spindle, multimixer… with patented direct-drive electric motor we’d greatly increase your ability to produce… delicious, frosty milkshakes, FAST. Mark my words. Dollars to donuts, you’ll be sellin’ more of those sons of bitches… then you can shake a stick at. You increase the supply, and the demand will follow… Increase supply, demand follows. Chicken, egg. Do you follow my logic? I know you do because you’re a bright, forward thinking guy who… knows a good idea when he hears one. So… What do you say? 

When Kroc receives an order for eight multimixers from a burger joint in San Bernardino, his hopes and curiosity intensify. Kroc arrives at McDonald’s and he is thunderstruck. He receives his order instantaneously, the wrappings are completely disposable, there’s no wait staff, and there’s a line of customers as far as the eye can see. However, all of this innovation came from the minds, sacrifices and work of Dick and Mac McDonald. Through a combination of ambition, courage, and Dick McDonald’s ruthless pursuit of cost savings and production efficiency, McDonald’s changed the fast food game for all time. Kroc is captivated and ingratiates himself with the McDonald brothers. 

Kroc pitches the McDonalds a national vision for the restaurant. The Golden Arches are more than just a visual brand; they are the symbolic glue between the Christian cross and the American flag. The McDonalds aren’t sold because they tried franchising the restaurant but couldn’t maintain quality control. Dick McDonald was a master of industrial food production and a capitalist through and through, but he didn’t want to lose control over the quality of the product. Being the more sentimental of the brothers, Mac sees a possibility for the kind of national success that eluded them and persuades his hard headed brother to sign a deal with Kroc.

Kroc returns to the Midwest with his sights set on complete domination. He makes appearances at Rotary clubs, churches and synagogues and begins recruiting families into the McDonald’s franchise with the fervor of an evangelist. Kroc may not have invented the food production system, but he did succeed in grafting the idea of McDonald’s to the psychological infrastructure of American ideals: family, opportunity, optimism. 

Despite his early success, his is unable to repay his business loans due to the small percentage allotted in his contract. He grows increasingly impatient with Dick McDonald’s insistence on quality control. Kroc really turns an ethical corner when he forms a real estate holding company at the advice of Harry Sonneborn.  By owning the land on which the franchises are built, he is guaranteed a larger revenue stream and capital base. Most importantly, it offers him leverage over the McDonalds. When he sees a possibility to cut costs with milkshake mix instead of real ice cream, Kroc sets himself on a collision course with the McDonalds. Kroc amasses enough power to buy his way out of his contract. Through the process, he kicks his wife of 39 years, Ethel Kroc, to the curb and courts the wife of franchisee, Rollie Smith. 

The film tips its partisan hand in a final scene which shows Kroc rehearsing a speech he’s preparing for an event in which Governor Ronald Reagan is scheduled to attend. Kroc is rehearsing all of the catch phrases and appeals to American ideals he perfected during McDonald’s ascent. When he finally approaches the part of the speech involving the first restaurant, he stammers and stumbles. Yes, we get it, folks. Republicans are shallow hypocrites who don’t uphold the ideals they espouse. But that’s a little too simplistic. Kroc won the McDonald’s enterprise, but he sacrificed its soul in the process. He took Dick McDonald’s industrial food production innovation and replaced it with a ruthless Benthamism. The McDonalds were the Jeffersonian capitalists who wanted to keep their idea regional and decentralized, but Kroc was the Hamiltonian who wanted a strong national identity for McDonald’s.

If you walk away from The Founder with the impression that American capitalism and idealism are false and hollow, you bought the cynicism that Hollywood is always selling. Fortunately, it’s a film that I believe has more meat on its bones than the average agitprop shit sandwich. Corruption, soulless industrialism, megalomaniacal ambition and hollow appeals to nationalism aren’t inextricably linked to capitalism. If that’s what the business is projecting into the world, that says more about the values of the individuals behind it. In the case of McDonald’s in its contemporary incarnation, the blame for these phenomena lies squarely at the feet of Ray Kroc. The McDonald brothers embodied American idealism without any grandiose speeches or national ambitions. Capitalism takes on the characteristics of the individuals behind it, and McDonald’s was ultimately hijacked by a particularly ruthless individual.  If there’s any overriding message of The Founder, that is surely it.  

Schooltree: Heterotopia

When I heard that Lainey Schooltree was composing a rock opera, I could hear my own inner Boromir at the Council of Elrond. It was as though I had just heard the news that the One Ring was to be brought to Mordor. 

One does not simply write a prog rock opera, Lainey. The black gates of the music industry are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. And the great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland. Riddled with Arianna Grande and DNCE and Beiber. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly!

Never one to back down from an epic musical calling, that’s precisely what she set out to do. Fortunately for us, she succeeded and Heterotopia is the prog rock opera you’ve been waiting for.  A project four years in the making, Heterotopia is a sprawling 100-minute epic which earns a place alongside Tommy, The Wall, or any other comparable effort you can name. Yes, it’s that good. 

Heterotopia is a sort of metaphysical Hero’s Journey mixed with gothic fantasy. It’s a pomo Alice in Wonderland meets Lord of the Rings by way of Neil Gaiman. It’s a story of a down and out singer named Suzi who is disillusioned with the music industry, but finds her reality shattered when she follows a 100-legged cat down a rabbit hole into an alternate reality called Otherspace. While in Otherspace, she discovers that she has detached from her physical form and may not be able to recover her corporeal self. Worse, Otherspace is slowly being overrun by an encroaching darkness which threatens to enter the physical world and Suzi finds herself faced with an existential choice.

As good as it is, Heterotopia walks a very interesting tightrope. It has a seemingly populist heart, but it’s counterpoised by an overall vibe of gothic gloom. It may be a difficult pill to swallow for those expecting the kind of ecstatic emotional peaks one might reasonably expect from a rock musical.  As a work of progressive rock, it’s an unmitigated triumph. Heterotopia is a cornucopia of musical riches for even the most rabid prog head. It has all of prog’s virtues and none of its vices. It has epic melodies, knotty riffs, angular rhythms, squiggly synth lines, dense harmonies, and plenty of odd metered nerdity. There’s also plenty of old fashioned arena sized, fist pumping rockage. None of it feels excessive, and all of it is ultimately subordinate to Schooltree’s impeccable instincts for songcraft.  It is short on any kind of extended improvisation, but when the guitar jam and synth freakout finally arrive, it’s some serious lighters-in-the-air shit. 

Schooltree’s prog bona fides are unimpeachable. She has clearly done her turntable homework. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is an obvious musical and thematic touchstone, but Schooltree hacks the prog genome and produces a refreshing and satisfying mutation of her own. Heterotopia reaches for the towering heights of Yes, Genesis, Queen, Supertramp and even deeper recesses of the family tree like Klaatu and Gentle Giant. I’m even going to second Jon Davis at Exposé by saying that Heterotopia bears some similarities to early Saga. One also detects the unmistakable DNA signature of Broadway musicals like Into the Woods and Jesus Christ Superstar coursing through its bloodstream. Musicals should be judged on the strength of the vocal storytelling, and Heterotopia doesn’t disappoint. Schooltree has an equal gift for the anthemic hook, the spectral vocal choir, and the spooky incantations of Dreaming-era Kate Bush. The songs are packed with hooks, but Schooltree always manages to subvert your expectations with a clever turn of phrase. The catchiness of the songs is offset by lyrics filled with ghosts, zombies, illusions, and pits of darkness. Schooltree is one of those artists who writes the most beautifully captivating melody or irresistible pop earworm, but when you listen to what she’s saying, the subject matter often belies the emotional tenor of the music.  

The drama of Heterotopia centers around Suzi’s quest to reclaim her corporeal self. In order to achieve this, she must confront the fallen queen of Otherspace, Enantiodromia. The mythological surface of the piece is merely a vehicle for some rather morbid existential ruminations over the nature of consciousness, death, and free will. By combining prog, epic fantasy, and abstract philosophy, Heterotopia has certainly sealed a trifecta of high concept artiness. There’s a Nietzsche reference or two to be found amidst the Foucauldian mindfuckery. The central theme seems to revolve around the line between reality versus illusion, and the extent to which the latter shapes the former. Prog has always been a platform for big ideas and epic narratives, and this conjunction of mythic storytelling and philosophical speculation places Heterotopia squarely within the canon of classic prog.  

All of which returns us to the unique position this work occupies.  Prog enjoyed a cultural moment back in the 70’s and, to a certain extent, the 80’s. Nowadays, progressive rock of this kind caters to a niche audience. The type of prog that Schooltree is offering will doubtless please the faithful, but whether this particular delivery system will move the meter beyond the prog laity remains to be seen. It’s a Hero’s Journey, but the metaphysics are pretty abstract and the tone is very dark. Beneath the patina of mythological fantasy, Suzi’s tale involves what appears to be a standard dramatic arc tracing her fall, redemption, and resurrection, but it remains strangely suspended in a state of perpetual discord. Even when it reaches its conclusion, it sounds triumphant and the music signals resolution, but you’re left with lingering questions. Suzi’s transformation is obviously meant to be a profound shift, but there’s something slightly underwhelming about it. This is where Heterotopia tilts towards postmodernism. Schooltree herself says that the central idea is that “reality is an illusion”, and this insight is supposedly what liberated Suzi to shape her reality. This is a fairly standard postmodern premise, and it’s an idea that has been explored pretty extensively in every corner of the artistic world for some time. 

However, none of these concerns detract from the heroic achievement of this record. There is a level of ambition and flat out artistic brilliance in this work that simply cannot be denied. If this sounds like your thing, buy it now

China Miéville: Perdido Street Station

If you have a taste for horror, fantasy, science fiction or just some virtuosic off-the-chain weirdness, pick up this book immediately.  Mr. Miéville has described his work as “new weird” and though it’s kind of dumb, I suppose it’ll have to do. What he’s doing feels new and original even if the influences are clearly evident. This is a next level genre mashup.

Squalid, gothic urban hellscape?  Check. Avian, insectoid and cactus humanoids? Yup. Bio-engineered mutants? Uh huh. A ghastly crime lord which would make Lovecraft squirm? Yes. A band of heroes embroiled in a tale of political intrigue trying to stave off apocalyptic doom? Got it. Dream eating moths which defecate psychotropic dung? Of course. Gonzo physics, chemistry, artificial intelligence, magic and some crazy shit about crisis energy? Sure. A dimension hopping spider which spews opaque riddle poems? Covered. Sentient mechagod which animates itself with junk from a scrapyard and speaks through a rotting corpse avatar? Got that too. Enough gruesome carnage to satisfy a rabid gorehound? Oh yeah.

Miéville’s imagination and storytelling gifts are dazzling. Perdido Street Station is overflowing with strange, vividly rendered characters and ideas. It’s the kind of material you could imagine being adapted for Heavy Metal. The cinematic detail Miéville brings to the world of Bas-Lag and New Crobuzon deserves special mention. The city is a character in and of itself and Mr. Miéville has succeeded in creating a fantasy cityscape which is simultaneously grand and squalid. 

Thematically, this book is essentially a meditation on choices and the impact our choices have on others. To a certain degree, it is also about the pursuit of individuality and the price you pay for that pursuit. Mr. Miéville’s politics are hamfisted, naïve, and cartoonish, but I’m not going to withhold my recommendation because it is such a flat out tour de force. Miéville is a self-professed Marxist, and he always manages to find ways to portray entrepreneurs and the pursuit of profit as morally degenerate. It’s dumb and predictable, but his novels are so good, it shouldn’t be a deterrence.