Monthly Archives: July 2019

Atomic Blonde (2017)

It belongs to the current New Wave of Hollywood Wokegnosis, but it’s better than I expected. This is clearly Charlize Theron’s bid for the female equivalent of a 007 or John Wick franchise. To her credit, she carries off the role of MI6 superspy, Lorraine Broughton, fairly convincingly. Part of me was just happy that the film and character was based on an original property and wasn’t just another tiresome gender swap from an existing franchise.

Atomic Blonde is a Cold War espionage thriller which centers around a list of double agents which has fallen into the wrong hands. The events of the plot are set against the rising tide of democratic populism which culminated in the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Communism 1.0. Since espionage thrillers exist to propagandize clandestine services, it raises some interesting questions about the degree to which the entire Cold War was being stage managed by intelligence agencies. James McAvoy is a double agent named Percival who is also a black marketeer. He is the one who provides all of the Western consumer decadence to the cultural vacuum of East Berlin. From jeans to booze to porn, Percival helped stoke the appetite for Western capitalism and pop culture. Naturally, the film places your sympathies solidly with the burgeoning underground punk culture who are just trying to get some kicks but keep getting terrorized by Stasi and KGB thugs.

There are also several very obvious product placements throughout the film. Given the film’s tacit emphasis on the influence of consumer culture in hastening the collapse of communism, I think that these are more than advertisements. I suggest they reveal the role that these shadow elites played in moving geopolitical power blocs.

Take the nine times Stolichnaya is featured prominently. Yes, Lorraine looks very cool when she’s drinking vodka on the rocks, but why Stoli? Perhaps because the Pepsi Corporation was able to enter the Russian market in exchange for vodka and several naval military vessels. Considering the film’s anti-Russian tone, it could be an additional subtle form of mockery.

Then there are the deeper cultural references. The cutthroat moral nihilism of the film makes the inclusion of Machiavelli’s Prince an obvious choice. A prominent fight scene takes place in a theater playing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Since Stalker reads (to me) as an indictment of communism, it’s very possible that David Leitch was reaching for some kind of arch metacommentary by using it as a backdrop for a fight scene. However, I believe that the inclusion of the film all by itself suggests the depth of the role that it, and consumer culture in general, had in turning sentiment against communism.

It’s surely a subject that’s been broached by many others, but the idea of a woman who is a cold blooded killer and can dispatch men bigger and stronger than her requires a greater suspension of disbelief than most other films with male leads. It seems a little too tailor made for wokescolds in the press to regurgitate the standard idiocy about “manbabies who can’t stand #STRONG womyn”. I don’t want to get too pedantic when I’m watching movies, but when every role that was intended for men gets a gender swap, it gets a little stupid.

Furthermore, we’re expected to believe that a woman with highly specialized combat skills was doing elite espionage and black operations in Berlin in the late 80’s and 90’s. Given that approximately .00002% of the current female population are seeking assignments in elite military units in 2019, the starting point is a bit of a reach. Again, I’m not saying that I’m expecting pure realism when I watch a spy thriller, but you shouldn’t have to leap this high just to buy into the initial premise.

There’s also an unfortunate humorlessness to Lorraine. Part of 007’s appeal was his charm and dry one liners. And he smiled, too. Of course, Mx. Theron can’t be bothered to enact that kind of emotional labor for us entitled dudebros, but there’s something just perverse about casting one of Hollywood’s most attractive women in roles where she exhibits no feminine charm. The lesbian makeout scene doesn’t make up the deficit either.

Even the fight scenes create a psychic dissonance that seems calculated to fuel feminist griping over “toxic masculinity”. Every normal man wouldn’t think of physically assaulting a woman. It goes completely against everything decent you’ve ever been taught. Here, you’re seeing men who are fighting Lorraine to the death. At one point in time, men fell in love with actresses in films. Now, men seem relegated to seeing themselves portrayed as dolts and villains while simultaneously watching the most beautiful actresses portrayed as potential deadly adversaries who also happen to be lesbians. Hooray for #EQUALITY.

It’s also kind of funny how schizophrenic Hollywood is in its portraits of communism. If you’re watching Trumbo or Reds, communism is a brave and principled set of ideals. If you’re watching Atomic Blonde or the latest season of Stranger Things, they’re diabolical jackbooted thugs. As someone who grew up during the 80’s, I can firmly attest to the overwhelming prevalence of Cold War hysteria. However, the fever pitch of Russophobia that has permeated every corner of the mediasphere since 2016 feels just a tad forced.

David Leitch manages to imbue the whole affair with enough style and storytelling panache to remain entertaining. The jams are pretty righteous too. In fact, I’m convinced that the inclusion of “The Politics of Dancing” by 80s one-hit synth poppers, Re-Flex, tells us everything we need to know about the role of intelligence operatives in waging psychological warfare and toppling regimes without ever firing a bullet. Despite the film’s final twist which would lead you to believe that it was Lorraine’s cunning badassery that made dupes out of the dirty commies, I suggest that Re-Flex really delivered the overriding message of the film.
We got the message
I heard it on the airwaves
The politicians
Are now DJs

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A Response to an Academic Researching American Sentiment Toward Ayn Rand’s Novels

I was recently contacted by a woman who was researching American views of Ayn Rand’s work. My initial concern was that she had an ideological axe to grind and that this was going to be a cherry picked study designed to confirm the biases of progressives. She assured me this wasn’t the case so I responded in good faith. These are my responses.

Q: When and how did you first come in contact with Ayn Rand’s work?

A: I remember seeing copies of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged at the college bookstore. I was vaguely aware that Neil Peart of Rush was sympathetic to her ideas. I actually read my first Rand book in 2014.

Q: Which among Rand’s fictional works have you read?

A: Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged.

Q: How would you describe the effect of Rand’s writing on your beliefs concerning society and politics?

A: Her work affirmed and solidified certain convictions, but her worldview as a whole doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

Q: Which work(s) of fiction have you found most compelling – for example, the one you would be most likely to read again or that you have read several times?

A: The Fountainhead. I have others on the shelf which I intend to read at some point.

Q: For each work listed above, identify the reading experience that impressed itself most strongly on your mind, i.e. that you remember most vividly. This could be a character, an event, a description of a scene or object, a speech or a piece of dialogue, etc.

A: I got a kick out of the first trial against Howard Roark. He refuses every opportunity to cross examine and then drops the photos of his building on the judge’s desk as his final defense.

Q: What do you think accounts for the relative power of this reading experience?

A: It demonstrates that if you are grounded your convictions and certain of the quality of your work, you don’t need to be cowed and intimidated by opportunistic and vindictive jackals who thrive on defamation and the debasement of others in order to accumulate power.

Q: What meaning does this experience have for you?

A: It demonstrates that there are higher ideals that exist beyond the transitory, fickle and often malevolent vagaries of those who hold institutional power. Ironically, Rand’s worldview tries to justify this through materialism, but it’s a metaphysical and ultimately theological proposition.

Q: Please feel free to add your own comments on your experience with Ayn Rand’s work here.

A: Ayn Rand’s work is an attempt to reconcile the dialectic of post-Enlightenment liberalism. She sees the will of the individual inexorably pitted against the will of the collective, and ultimately the nation state. She holds that objective moral truth (and beauty) exists while at the same time asserting that these virtues are accessible through a process of pure reason and the sublimation of emotion. It’s an absurd proposition on its face because she presupposes the existence of things that are inherently metaphysical while suggesting that the observation of the natural world alone will lead others to reach the same conclusions she did. I don’t think she was wrong about everything and I do believe that there are powerful insights in her novels. I understand why people find her work repellent and I certainly think there’s plenty to criticize from a literary and philosophical point of view. The thing I find ironic is that if you strip away her contempt for altruism and her veneration of the capitalist entrepreneur, she’s not that far away from your average progressive. She wasn’t a conservative by any measure and her social outlook was completely cosmopolitan and libertine. So the progressive Rand hate mill can go shove their hit pieces right up their asses. In short, I think her work has merit. It’s not without flaws, but I think that the majority of the criticism out there is uncharitable and often completely dishonest.

American Bolshevism: The Tragedy and Inevitability of the Destruction of San Francisco’s Counterrevolutionary Arnautoff Mural

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece arguing in favor of Trump’s aborted threat to defund the federal arts apparatus. Like so many conservatives who preceded him, Trump didn’t deliver on this promise and the progressive outrage mob was placated for at least five full seconds. I stand behind the argument I made in the piece, but the recent decision in San Francisco to destroy Victor Arnautoff’s New Deal era George Washington mural prompted a reappraisal of the underlying assumptions of my original argument. Specifically, the possibility that a publicly funded work of art portaying Washington in a less than heroic light holds value in a world of indiscriminate cultural destruction.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the San Francisco city council voted to allocate $600k in taxpayer money to destroy a mural that was commissioned by FDR’s Works Progress Administration and painted by a communist. Why? Because it’s a painful reminder to San Francisco’s Oppressed POCs that AmeriKKKa subjugated and murdered indigenous and brown people, you disgusting bigot. DUH.

For anyone with a rightward perspective, this is yet another moment of vindication and schadenfreude. The self-proclaimed champions of publicly funded art, and the guardians of culture itself by extension, who once celebrated this piece as a triumph of what enlightened and progressive government can achieve have done a full 180. Now, they want to destroy what is presently condemned by the #WOKE proletariat as a symbol of AmeriKKKa’s irredeemable wickedness. Because what else would you expect? Such is the nature of the #SocialJustice ratchet effect.

Let’s pause to do a brief recap and allow ourselves to take in the fullness of the cognitive dissonance. Here we have a mural painted by a communist which views Washington’s legacy through the highly parsimonious lens of Marxist historical revisionism. In other words, it’s a view of Washington designed to emphasize the oppression and misery versus the heroic achievements. This piece was commissioned by FDR’S Works Progress Administration and funded with federal tax dollars yet is now officially Counterrevolutionary Hate Speech according to San Francisco’s #WOKE Revolutionary Commissars. The layers of irony boggle the imagination. Arnautoff’s mural doubtless had numerous detractors both conservative and radical at its inception and since its installment. Regardless, it was piece funded by taxpayers presumably to commemorate both the New Deal and Washington for posterity, but is now being destroyed at taxpayer expense.

Alrighty then.

On one hand, it perfectly validates the case against publicly funded art. When art is funded by taxpayers it can’t avoid being politicized and becomes fodder for the fickle winds of contemporary sentiment. In this case, yesterday’s progressivism isn’t progressive enough for today’s revolutionaries. Case closed. If you think we’ve already entered the 9th circle of Clown World hell, think again. For some on the radical Left, this is seen either as bourgeois oppression of communist culture or an excuse to double down on revolutionary goals!

But let’s take a step back and consider the magnitude of this loss in the wake of today’s neverending slow motion Cultural Revolution. Regardless of your opinion of the NEA, FDR or the painting itself, I invite you to consider that this was an attempt, however niggardly, at canonizing Washington and his legacy for all Americans. Subsequently, it can rightfully be viewed as a contribution to America’s cultural heritage, and by extension, a source of national pride. In contrast to the Left’s overt attempts to troll conservatives with taxpayer money with pieces like “Piss Christ” or Mapplethorpe’s Corcoran Gallery exhibit, Arnautoff’s piece had enough of a veneer of earnestness that any American could, in theory, take a small measure of pride in our first POTUS. It is more likely that the mural was yet another way for spiteful leftists to troll conservatives by forcing them to fund communist propaganda, but for the sake of argument, let’s take the most charitable interpretation of the original intent and grant that this effort was animated by a sense of real national pride. I concede that it’s a stretch of imagination, but let’s give it a shot.

The Left has been carrying out a slow motion Cultural Revolution for the past couple years. In contrast to yesterday’s liberals who could at least pretend that they cared about expressions and symbols of national pride, contemporary progressives make no effort to conceal their utter disdain for America. Whether it’s the idiotic preening of Megan Rapinoe and Colin Kaepernick, the demolition of Confederate statues or the routine flag burnings, these acts of vandalism are the acts of cultural destruction one expects from totalitarian ideologues who wish to erase all vestiges of national unity and pride. It’s behavior we saw in Mao’s regime, the Khmer Rouge, the Bolsheviks, the Jacobins as well as their Islamic counterparts in ISIS and Boko Haram. It’s a steady erosion of the past to pave the way for another Year Zero.

People want and crave heroic ideals and individuals who embodied these ideals. In contrast to just about every other nation, America is young country built on what were believed to be pure and noble philosophical abstractions completely divorced from metaphysics and theology. However, people do not follow abstractions. They follow leaders who best embody heroic ideals. This is precisely why America’s founders are idealized in works of art, national symbols and monuments. Despite their human foibles and errors in judgment, America’s founders are intentionally romanticized for the express purpose of concretizing American ideals and binding the citizenry together in their preservation for posterity.

Unfortunately, it is the spirit of negation at the core of American republicanism that makes the destruction of the Arnautoff mural both a bitter loss and an inevitability. Ideally, a publicly funded work of art would be something that would represent a universal and timeless ideal which upholds a classical standard of beauty. One would hope that such a project would be borne of a genuine spirit of national pride and would inspire unity for generations to come. However, the very possibility of either universal timeless ideals or objective aesthetics are impossible in the post-Enlightenment worldview. The current decision is likely the exact outcome the painting was intended to produce.

For the the communist, the only ideal he sanctifies is perpetual revolution. Despite America itself being a product of revolutionary ideals, the communist sees only bourgeois subjugation of the various proletariat underclass groups he chooses to recognize for the purpose of advancing his own political power. The communist is not an aberration of American republicanism. He is inextricably linked to the post-Enlightenment dialectic. A society which purports to uphold a free marketplace of ideas has to allow people who only seek to destroy and undermine the very order that allows them to pursue their absurd and nihilistic jihad. After decades of propaganda which consistently casts the leftist rebel as the beleaguered underdog desperately struggling to be given his fair hearing in the court of public opinion, it has finally reached its logical conclusion in the unfortunate destruction of what was already a flawed memorial to America’s first President.

Echo in the Canyon (2018)

(aka Establishment Gen X Aristocrat Canonizes the Boomer Would-be Revolutionaries For Other Aging Boomers)

There’s one scene in Andrew Slater’s love letter to the seminal Laurel Canyon musicians that sums up the entire film. In one of many interview segments led by Jakob Dylan, Graham Nash gets all misty eyed as he looks back on those heady days of creative ferment and unbridled hedonism. “I still believe music can change the world,” he says just barely holding back the tears. Just then, it cuts to Jakob Dylan as he let’s Nash’s words hang in the air. He stares off into the distance, but to his credit, his expression reveals nothing. Maybe he’s taking in the full weight of Nash’s sentiment and genuinely feels a sense of humility. Or maybe he’s silently scoffing at Nash’s audacity for uttering such a pitifully idiotic and painfully maudlin platitude that no one really buys. Maybe he knows that Nash is just regurgitating a mythology that needs to be perpetually reinforced through books, awards shows and rockumentaries. Maybe it’s something in between.

Much like its recent companion, Rolling Thunder Revue, Echo in the Canyon has the distinct whiff of the establishment patting itself on the back. These were musicians who presented themselves as rule breaking revolutionaries, yet the film wants you see them as the torchbearers of the rock “tradition”. Herein lies the great conundrum that the Flower Power Generation cannot reconcile. As anyone who’s read David McGowan’s excellent and far superior survey of the Canyon scene knows, these people were already children of the establishment. They made great music, but they were also trafficking a lot of social degeneracy. The film only scratches the surface of the extent of the hedonism these people were importing into the culture.

I’m sure it felt really transgressive to be for tuning in, turning on and dropping out back then. But this was the generation that turned out a generation of latchkey kids. This is the generation that ushered in higher divorce and suicide rates and enshrined abortion as an article of faith. This is the generation that got hooked on cocaine in the 80s and gave rise to innumerable cults and self-help gurus. This is the generation that colonized Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the Democratic Party.

As expected, there is no mention of the dark underbelly of the Canyon scene. They completely sidestep the body count and the mysterious deaths that amassed around these people. They completely ignore Charles Manson’s proximity to the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas. There’s no discussion of the various mob, military and CIA connections behind the clubs and the record industry. This may explain why the scene in which Beck, Regina Spektor and Dylan attempt to philosophize over the broader cultural impact of these bands feels forced, artificial and utterly laughable.

They talk about the drugs and the sex, but you know they’ve completely sanitized it. Hearing Michelle Phillips talk about her affair with Denny Doherty isn’t titillating or cute. It’s pathetic and contemptible because it radiated out into the culture and wrought tragic results. Where were the uncensored interviews with Carnie and Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips to give their unfiltered perspective on what it was like to grow up with these paragons of parental excellence? These people knew exactly what they were doing, yet we’re expected to treat them like royalty.

Right.

Go fuck yourselves, Boomers.

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