Category Archives: culture

Clown World Woke Revisionism: John Legend and Kelly Clarkson play Donnie and Marie for Cancel Culture

Back in the day, all the cool kids were unanimous in their opposition to puritanical scolds of the time, the PMRC. For those who didn’t live through it or simply don’t recall, the Parents Music Resource Center was a committee comprised predominantly of the wives of Washington elites who were Deeply Troubled by the lack of content warnings on major recordings. In short, they wanted a warning label on pop and rock records which contained racy lyrical content so they could theoretically police their kids’ purchases. Needless to say, the PMRC created a shitstorm of controversy, and the ensuing schism predictably arrayed public sentiment into two camps. The forces of secular liberal rock n’ roll freedom were set against the forces of stodgy, repressive secular conservatism. The PMRC’s crowning achievement was a televised Senate hearing in 1985 which ultimately ushered in the era of the Parental Advisory sticker warning on albums.

Despite the industry concession, the hearing produced three of the most memorable and pugilistic anti-censorship speeches ever delivered by modern musicians. Not the least of which was Frank Zappa’s combative diatribe. Who didn’t relish hearing Frank Zappa dish out such well deserved scorn and contempt on this self-appointed group of busybodies?

The PMRC got their warning sticker, but the entire crusade seemed like a pyrrhic victory. All it did was incentivize rockers to make records that would earn them the sticker. The Parental Advisory became a new badge of honor for the edgy rocker or rapper. What kid didn’t want to buy the album with the Parental Advisory warning? Musicians boasted about its instant appeal. At the end of the day, the PMRC seemed like an orchestrated stunt which ultimately emboldened and sanctified the rebellious rocker who gleefully held his middle finger aloft in permanent defiance of all would-be establishment moral authority. “Fuck off, prudes” was rock n’ roll’s permanent answer to any pleas for restraint from morality cops.

However, I believe the PMRC was a harbinger of a far more pernicious trend that has achieved its ultimate and inevitable conclusion in what has now been deemed Cancel Culture. The abiding lesson that the social engineer class likely recognized (planned?) from this exercise is that top down enforcement of morality doesn’t work. Subsequently, the various gatekeepers of cultural consensus who inhabit the academic, media and entertainment spheres have cleverly smuggled a tightly knit package of woke pieties into the public consciousness through a multigenerational indoctrination campaign that is now reaping its harvest. If you can succeed at encapsulating vast social evils into omnipresent yet infinitely subjective terms like “patriarchy”, “toxic masculinity” or “rape culture”, people won’t just accept censorship. They’ll actively police content for signs of transgression and demand it. It’s the type of Pavlovian style psychological conditioning that Aldous Huxley portrayed in vivid detail in Brave New World.

All of which brings me to John Legend and Kelly Clarkson’s abominable turd of a remake of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. To anyone who’s attuned to methods of the Missionaries of Wokegnosis, this is a sad inevitability. Any time you see a steady drip of woke thinkpieces in the media or gender studies papers bitching about something being “problematic” on one or more grounds of woke sin, you can predict with absolute and ironclad certainty that this particular piece of pop culture has been slated for demolition.

The ways that this remake is a pointless, hypocritical and destructive affront to a wonderful song are manifold, but the most egregious of which is the sanctimonious aura of moral authority that is implied by its very existence. The entire realm of rock and pop has maintained a posture of unrepentant hedonism and decadence since Elvis gyrated his hips on Ed Sullivan. “Fuck off, prudes” and “Don’t be rapey, you misogynistic bigot” are mutually exclusive positions. You can’t have it both ways, assholes.

Are they taking aim at Cardi b’s “Stripper Hoe” or Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side”? Of course not. Instead, they create a shitty revision of a beloved song just to virtue signal and score a few cheap #MeToo points from blue checkmarks on Twitter. Why? Because it’s easy. They can point the finger at The Past and tear down the achievements of others for failing to pass the fake moral purity test of the hashtag warriors.

The worldview which gave rise to this posture of pious censoriousness is straight out of the Herbert Marcuse School of Repressive Intolerance. It thrives on a presumption of an irreconcilable Left/Right dialectic in which all forms of convention or tradition which can be even loosely attributed to the Judeo-Christian worldview are forms of false consciousness which must be summarily torn down and remade in a progressive mold. Sadly, this is why the Missionaries of Wokegnosis cannot actually create anything of lasting value let alone anything people really want to consume. All they can do is infiltrate the legacy of works created by others and tear them down by imposing their idiotic and misguided ideology. These people simply cannot create original works that stand on their own merits. They can only desecrate the works of minds far superior to their own.

In retrospect, the PMRC seemed far more honorable than the woke revisionists of today because at least they were reasonably consistent about which songs they believed contained morally questionable or reprehensible content.

The same cannot be said about the phony #WOKE posturing of John Legend and Kelly Clarkson in their pointless and wretched revision of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. In an utterly shameless grab for virtue points from their online echo chamber, the song is nothing but a cavalcade of the same dumb clichés and platitudes that already permeate the culture. It’s bad enough that a company which manufactures shaving products for men has to push this toxic gruel into the public square, but it’s even worse that the simple pleasures that everyone could once enjoy during Christmas have to get a woke makeover.

This is ultimately what makes John Legend and Kelly Clarkson’s transformation into the Donnie and Marie of Cancel Culture just another contemptible manifestation of America’s descent into Clown World. The most decadent and compromised people on earth are dispensing moral lectures by ruining Christmas songs. Men and women can’t be flirtatious and fall in love anymore. Courtship and chivalry don’t exist. Subsequently, the ultimate virtue is for the man to treat women like radioactive material while encouraging her to #shoutyourabortion and be a “self-partnered” wine aunt. The sheer cynicism and hubris is what makes this truly detestable. It is designed to be the turd in the Christmas punchbowl. They knew it would spark a backlash and they’ll respond with some other predictably idiotic cliche about how they’re “just trying to start a conversation” or “raise awareness”. We’re not buying it, assholes. Do us all a favor and cancel your shitty and unnecessary remake.

Apocalypse Now Redux (1979)

When Apocalypse Now was released, it was heralded as a scathing indictment of the amorality of the Vietnam War. The war that divided America and defined an entire generation of alleged revolutionaries had finally been seen through the unflinching gaze of one of cinema’s greatest artists. In the wake of the release of Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut, the cinematic auteur himself has come clean and said that he doesn’t see it as an antiwar film. This is precisely the feeling with which I was left upon reviewing the film. It reveals the hot war in Vietnam as the merely the overt flipside to the domestic psychological degradation and debasement of the American soul being perpetrated through the media and the culture. If anything, Apocalypse Now reveals the savagery, futility and moral vacuum of modern warfare as its own form of psychological propaganda. The decadence and hedonism that had been unleashed in the counterculture were the exact same tools that were used to keep the ground forces numb to their own pain, loneliness and guilt. Sex, drugs and rock and roll weren’t the signifiers of rebellion that gatekeepers of culture would lead us to believe. The narcotic nihilism of The Doors’ “The End” playing against the symphony of destruction in the film’s opening isn’t really a lament. It’s a psychedelic sedative that’s meant to inoculate you to the juggernaut of inhumanity to which you are about to be subjected. These were the new chains of enslavement deployed by social engineers who had built their careers perfecting the means by which to erode the foundations of a healthy society. The combat was simply the laboratory in which the ideas were tested and the means by which the process was hastened.

Apocalypse Now makes this abundantly clear throughout the film in several different ways. The most obvious of which is the scene that Coppola himself concedes is a glorification of aerial combat. Lt. Colonel Kilgore revels in the fact that the Vietnamese are terrified by the sound of Wagner blaring over the helicopter squadron’s loudspeakers as they mercilessly slaughter the terrified civilians. The combination of aural psyops and aerial bombardment feels less like a rebuke and more like a celebration of American military dominance. Hell, you can even find articles discussing the possibility of video game adaptations. The practice of musical psyops has been extended into the era of Middle Eastern warfare with the only significant difference being the switch to heavy metal instead of 19th century operatic pagan mysticism. Same idea, different expressions.

The role of the media in advancing the domestic propaganda effort receives emphasis as well. When Willard arrives at the beachhead where Kilgore’s division is stationed, he is immediately met by a television crew directed by Coppola himself. In a meta moment, he instructs Willard to look like he’s engaged in combat. It’s a brief but highly effective scene because Coppola is revealing that the footage that would eventually be culled by Ken Burns and repackaged as hard hitting documentary was arguably just as stage managed as the fictitious effort you are viewing.

Despite the prevalence of Domino Effect narratives promulgated by the political class and official histories, Coppola goes one better by suggesting that the Viet Cong were yet another enemy created by the US government in a century that would be defined by wars fought for the express purpose of taking down manufactured boogeymen in service of the expansion of the Pax Americana. When Willard visits with the French colonists, he is given a lecture on American proxy warfare by Gaston de Marais.

Gaston de Marais: You Americans. In 1945, yeah, after the Japanese war, your president Roosevelt didn’t want the French people to stay in Indochina. So, you Americans implant the Vietnam.

Willard: [to Hubert] What’s he mean?

Hubert: Yeah, that’s true. The Vietcong were invented by the Americans, sir.

Willard: The Americans?

Gaston de Marais: And now you take the French place. And the Vietnam fight you. And what can you do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Later in the film, Kurtz’s sardonic reading of a Time magazine article suggests the naked and sanitized deception and the media were routinely peddling. The mention of Sir Robert Thompson’s affiliation with the neocons of the RAND Corporation simultaneously hints at the technocratic administration of the war effort while foreshadowing the eventual controlled release of the Pentagon Papers. As films like Wag the Dog and Network have so brilliantly illustrated, Hollywood has been completely forthright about the media’s rank mendacity and captured allegiance on numerous occasions. You need people as skillful as Steven Spielberg who can churn out agitprop like The Post to make the shills in the media seem heroic. This is ultimately what I believe Coppola was saying with Dennis Hopper’s drug addled photojournalist. Despite Kurtz’s murderous megalomania, Hopper remained enthralled by his poetic mystique. Hardly the behavior of an allegedly objective chronicler of America’s long term commitment in Vietnam.

Apocalypse Now offers what can now be seen as a fleeting moment in the ongoing politicization of sex. Once upon a time, liberals were actually promoting sexual liberation. They still do, but it’s been overshadowed by a lot of #MeToo moral grandstanding. Libidinous displays of female sexuality were simultaneously hailed as evidence of the liberated modern woman as well as a way to stick it to the conservative prudes. Coppola brings this to the forefront by portraying what amounts to a DOD sponsored strip show featuring Playboy playmates. Not only does it show how liberalism actively promotes sexual degeneracy, but it reveals Playboy as one of many forms of legal prostitution embedded within the entertainment complex.

If this seems like it’s a world away from the current cultural moment, it’s because liberals are a clever bunch. They carefully tend to the maintenance of both sides of the dialectic by deploying assets who can push the opposing perspective. They’ll happily peddle a former stripper like Cardi b in the mainstream while the entire feminist media complex will breathlessly extol the bravery of the #MeToo “movement”. Don’t believe me? Just ask feminist extraordinaire Gloria Steinem about her stint as a CIA asset and Playboy bunny.

Much like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now is a study in the real dynamics of American power. In one of many of Willard’s voice overs, he puzzles over the seemingly arbitrary decision to take Kurtz out. Kurtz was being groomed to take his place in the highest echelons of the American power structure. Because he had made the decision to step out of line and build his own cult of personality, he became a liability. His decorated status also made it necessary to make Kurtz’s retirement a black operation. It couldn’t be conducted through official channels because it would have been bad PR. It’s not about upholding any sacred honor or fixed morality. It’s about the preservation of the power structure at any cost.

Coppola also strongly suggests the link between the occult and the deep state. Kurtz had taken his considerable military training and transformed himself into a cult leader. I also believe that the appearances of Sir James George Frazer’s Golden Bough and Willard’s discovery of a newspaper article about Charles Manson were not accidents. Kurtz ended up being sacrificed at the altar of the death cult that bred him. His only transgression was carrying out his training without the sanction of his superiors.

In the paganistic final scene, Willard is immediately recognized as the new cult leader simply by virtue of slaughtering Kurtz. Three years after the release of Apocalypse Now, screenwriter John Milius directed a little sword and sorcery film called Conan the Barbarian starring a bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the film, he seeks vengeance against a cult leader who murdered his family. The final scene of Conan is deeply reminiscent of the conclusion of Apocalypse Now. The exact same premise of the gritty Vietnam War drama is effortlessly transferred over to the pulp fantasy epic. Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of tricks up its sleeve. If they’re recycling the same idea in two major motion pictures, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s a message they’re deeply invested in promoting.

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

I suppose I have to give Jim Jarmusch some credit. I watched another one of his films, and I was so disarmed by its laconic detachment and deadpan humor, I almost forgot that it masked his utter hatred for middle America. Almost. Admittedly, it’s a skill every Hollywood filmmaker needs to master, but like Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, Jarmusch’s skill is above average. Not perfect mind you, but certainly above average. Almost no one knows how to write real characters or craft real drama in a screenplay anymore. Subsequently, any director who can imitate the gestures of actual filmmakers gets considered an auteur and attracts a loyal following amongst Hollywood’s A-listers. His films have a distinct directorial POV, but he’s also one of those guys who has made the terms “indie” and “quirky” into pejoratives. That’s Jarmusch in a nutshell.

The Dead Don’t Die is a quintessentially postmodern zombie film. Similar to Tarantino, the whole thing is simply layers of meta-references to other films and pieces of pop culture which ultimately reveal a hollow core of contempt. Adam Driver’s Officer Ronnie Peterson foreshadows the ending by repeating the refrain “This is definitely going to end badly”. With this wink and nod, Jarmusch is signaling that there are no dramatic stakes whatsoever. He even wrangles a cheap laugh by using it as a device for breaking the fourth wall and making some self-congratulatory inside jokes. It’s the Waiting for Godot of zombie films. Whatever pleasure you derive from the film rests on your enjoyment of the deadpan banter between the characters.

The film is essentially a giant pisstake on small town Middle America. With the Cohen brothers, you at least get a kernel of residual affection. No such luck with Jarmusch. To him, these people are just contemptible hicks and hayseeds who deserve the zombie apocalypse that’s coming. Naturally, he engages in some standard Hollywood virtue signaling. The minority characters are all plucky, intelligent, and interesting. The white characters are slow witted, unsophisticated, and charmless. Steve Buscemi is bestowed with the dubious honor of perpetuating Hollywood’s deathless strawman of the provincial, racist MAGA dirtbag. He stoops to a Sarah Silverman-esque depth of hatred by giving him a hat which reads “Make America White Again” and naming his dog Rumsfeld. OMG! IT’S A REFERENCE TO DONALD RUMSFELD. AND IT’S HIS DOG! ISN’T THAT FUCKING HILARIOUS YOU GUYS! Fuck you, Jarmusch. It’s bad enough that no one in Hollywood knows or cares about anyone in middle America, but the fact that this lazy, royalist condescension is so commonplace is just beyond the pale.

On the positive side, the film can be read as subtle nod to the role of geoengineering’s effect on climate change. The zombie apocalypse is triggered by something called “polar fracking”. In the film, it messes with earth’s rotation. What it probably refers to is some kind of tech that manipulates the electromagnetic spectrum since it messes with everyone’s devices. Jarmusch undoubtedly wants it to be seen as comeuppance for middle America’s indifference to or skepticism of The Climate Crisis. Like the globalist elites they represent, if you just get past the smoke and mirrors, Hollywood is always tipping its hand.

I believe the title of the film reveals the establishment’s exasperation with middle America. After years and years of global trade polcy which has decimated rural America, a flood of opoids into the communities, agribusiness consolidation and a neverending onslaught of propaganda which consistently casts flyover country in the most negative light possible, the global elites cannot stand that middle America will not just roll over and capitulate to their progressive overlords. To them, they’re already dead. And yet, they won’t die. So let’s pile on one more insult by just portraying them as zombies that need to be culled by some righteous Malthusians who are just being responsible stewards of Mother Earth.

Bonus points for Chloe Sevigny giving one of the most honest portraits of a female cop since Tyne Daly in The Enforcer. But that’s all you get, Jarmusch.

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 a 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. Can music change the world? Of course it can. But what kind of “change” are we talking about exactly?

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.

No Country For Old Men (2007)

It’s bleak as fuck, but it’s still one of the Cohen brothers’ best films. On the surface, No Country For Old Men is a postmodern noir Western for the age of open borders and narco warfare. However, both McCarthy and the Cohens are always reaching for biblical scale symbolism and allegory, so I believe it can be convincingly viewed through a few different lenses. I read it as grand scale tragedy of the dissolution of the American social fabric as it transitions from the Greatest Generation to the Boomers. Though the film focuses on Llewelyn Moss’ attempt to outrun and survive Anton Chigurh, the film is seen through the eyes of Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell. He yearns for a time when police officers didn’t have to wear guns, the moral fault lines were clear, and the administration of justice was swift and certain.

In this film, our ostensible hero is a Boomer Vietnam vet who lives in a trailer with his girlfriend. He has no children and he’s retired from a welding career. He happens upon the scene of a drug deal which turned into a bloodbath and makes off with a suitcase full of cash. So the acquisition of his great treasure is not the product of a Joseph Campbell-esque Hero’s Journey or the result of sacrifice. Right away, we’re asked to place our sympathy with a character who came by his reward through sheer happenstance. He merely stumbled upon a random carcass that was collateral damage from the drug war.

As a Boomer archetype, Llewelyn is perfect because he has a compelling mixture of damaged patriotism, trailer park chivalry, and a perverse sense of entitlement to his ill gotten booty. Since he is rendered as a Vietnam vet, his military service represents the last gasp of collective patriotism before the nation descended into a permanent posture of malaise, cynicism and discontent in the post-Watergate era. I mean, what’s wrong with scraping a little cream of the top of drug war, amirite?! Get those Benjamins, dawg! Woot!

He is pursued mercilessly and relentlessly by Javier Bardem’s cold blooded assassin, Anton Chigurh. Resembling something in between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 and Benecio del Toro’s cartel killer in Sicario, Chigurh takes on a supernatural and superhuman quality. When we’re introduced to Anton, he kills a random motorist by using a captive bolt pistol after dispatching a police officer and stealing his car. Not only does Anton seemingly kill indiscriminately, his weapon of choice is the same one used in abattoirs to slaughter cattle. This suggests a man who sees himself at the apex of the Darwinian predator/prey dominance hierarchy. He’s not bound by quaint notions of morality. That shit is for the plebs. His purpose is to be a pure conduit for Fate. Life and death are decided at the flip of a coin. He’s just the functionary whose entire existence is about ensuring that the cosmic machinery of determinism runs smoothly.

Chigurh carries out his task with a frightening level of patience, forethought, and discipline. It brings to mind the kind of methodical planning someone like Stephen Paddock exhibited in carrying out the Las Vegas massacre. When considering these qualities along with his ability to self-administer advanced medical treatment after suffering severe gunshot wounds, Chigurh is very likely a programmed assassin with deep state military training. He exhibits the qualities we expect to see in a James Bond or Jason Bourne. There’s nothing in the film that would lead the viewer to draw this conclusion and I suggest this is by design. There’s a despairing fatalism underneath this film and I suspect the Cohens want the viewer to think Chigurh is just a natural product of the modern world.

Sheriff Bell’s final lines suggest that this film is the Cohens’ lament over the passage of a more civilized and stable America. Their employment of Roger Deakins’ cinematography leaves me with the impression of their abiding love for the beauty of America. In contrast to detestable horseshit like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the Cohens’ underlying affection for America always seemed sincere to me. They’re Boomers themselves so there’s more than a little bit of Llewelyn in each of them. They helped usher in the America in this film and, by extension, the world in which we live. Like Llewelyn, they too are just the lucky beneficiaries of America’s post-WW2 ascension to global superpower. That’s not to say they’re talentless hacks, but they are firmly ensconced in the Hollywood establishment. By default, they’re implicated in building the world we currently inhabit. We may nod in despair to Sherriff Bell’s grim ruminations, but I’m fairly confident the Cohens themselves are standing right alongside Rob Reiner and Steven Spielberg cheerleading for open borders.

David Weigel: The Show That Never Ends

Most commonly referred to by fans and detractors alike with the shorthand term “prog”, progressive rock is arguably the one branch of the pop music family tree most likely to elicit sharply divided opinions. Boasting a fanbase that has a borderline religious devotion, prog has been long overdue for a book length canonization. I don’t know if David Weigel’s latest book, The Show That Never Ends, will be the definitive statement on the history of progressive rock, but it’s a solid contender despite being in an uncrowded field. Writing a chronicle of prog’s trajectory through the pop culture sphere which begins with its early pioneers and brings us to the present is no small feat. Much like his subjects, Weigel has staked out an ambitious mandate for a 278 page book. Nevertheless, The Show That Never Ends is eminently readable and, for my money, is as satisfying an overview as one would hope for given its length and scope.

King Crimson

Yes

Genesis

ELP

As one might expect, The Show That Never Ends focuses on the biggest movers of the progressive genre. The career arcs of Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, ELP and King Crimson are given a generous space while the also-rans, second stringers, side projects, one-off supergroups and fan favorites are also given a hearing. The leading lights of the Canterbury scene are also given a fairly robust treatment. Fans of Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, and Robert Wyatt will doubtless enjoy Weigel’s respectful recognition of the significance these players made to the movement.

Rush

Weigel’s focus remains primarily centered around the genre’s British origins. When he finally turns his attention North America, it’s limited to Rush and Kansas. Any book that covers this much territory is bound to leave some people dissatisfied. One can easily imagine the indignant proclamations of outraged prog fans everywhere as they debate the exclusion of [fill in the blank]. I’ll add my indignation to the bonfire by stating that I was disappointed by the short shrift Magma received and I was absolutely gobsmacked by the twin omissions of Henry Cow and Saga.

Even at the most superficial level, Weigel’s account poses worthwhile questions. Is there a subgenre of rock more maligned than progressive rock? Was this hatred manufactured? Was punk the natural course correction rock historians have long claimed? Should rock even be “progressive” in the first place? Is prog elitist pomp or is it populist high culture? Are the pioneers of progressive rock geniuses or charlatans? Was the emergence of progressive rock an organic phenomenon or was it simply the product of upper crust Brits with too much idle time? Does prog even matter anymore?

Prog was and is ambitious music. By and large, rock’s calling card was its libidinous energy, hedonistic lyrics and its primal simplicity. It was mostly designed to piss off your parents and priests. It was also mostly a soundtrack for getting wasted, defying authority and getting laid. In the wake of the release of Sergeant Pepper’s and Pet Sounds, proggers sought new horizons. The progressive rocker wanted to liberate rock from the rigid confines of blues based harmony and the pedestrian grind of 4/4 time. The characteristics of “high art” music suddenly became raw materials for an alchemical transformation in the incantatory fires of rock’s furnace. Anglican church hymns, classical harmonies and structures, jazz improvisation, and English folk were all fair game. Lyrics no longer fixated on banalities like romance. Instead, proggers took to themes that drew from fantasy, sci-fi, history, religion and the occult. From the ferment of Britain’s rock scene in the mid and late sixties, the progressive rock genre took shape. Prog became the soundtrack to late nights, black lights, and bong hits for a mostly educated, upwardly mobile middle class in Europe and America.

There’s something about hymns, they’re simple and they’re direct but they have a kind of connection. – Tony Banks, Genesis (p. 12)

Weigel is clearly a fan and his treatment of the subject matter is very sympathetic overall. However, he is an establishment writer, and he is attempting to play the role of neutral arbitrator of events. While this approach serves to make this an entertaining and reasonably informative synthesis of a significant slice of rock subculture, it also feels painfully banal and aggressively anodyne in places. Particularly when it comes to the musicians’ proximity to the military-intelligence community, the Tavistock Institute, the Royal Society, the British aristocracy, the Labour Party or the occult.

I was so involved, I didn’t know what to think

This is very apparent when recounting Robert Fripp’s time at Sherborne House in the mid-70’s after the demise of the first iteration of King Crimson. It’s especially curious given that Fripp’s exploits within and without King Crimson comprise a fairly significant portion of the book. Along with Keith Jarrett, Kate Bush and George Russell, Fripp had developed an interest in the cultish teachings of George Gurdjieff. He had befriended Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates and had done so during a time of pure isolation from the outside world. According to Fripp, it was a time that was “both physically painful and spiritually terrifying” (p. 180) Weigel cites a quote from a 1978 interview in which Fripp confesses that “Sherborne filled its residents with the “the kind of cold that freezes the soul” (p. 180). I found myself wanting to understand more fully what Fripp might have meant by that, but Weigel drops it on the floor and explores no further. Instead, he goes on to recount the Hall and Fripp collaboration which resulted in the Hall solo record, Sacred Songs. It’s not a secret that Sacred Songs was inspired by Hall’s fascination with Aleister Crowley. Surely, Weigel knew that this was the common ground between Hall and Fripp’s interest in Gurdjieff’s esoteric teachings. Furthermore, he ignores the vast influence of John G. Bennett, the founder of the International Academy of Continuous Education, on the various strands of New Age thought we find today. Weigel abandons a juicy lead which links this artistic movement with the proliferation of what now passes for “spirituality”.

I think that whoever is listening to it should feel the same thing, that they are in tune and in time with God. – Jon Anderson, Yes (p. 72)

Sinfield reached into his notebook and pulled out “King Crimson,” a term he had come up with to fill in when “Satan” didn’t fit a rhyme. (p. 43)

Choice, choice, freedom? I have no choice, I can only do the will of God, this is freedom. – Robert Fripp (p. 197)

Fohat digs holes in space, man!

What’s gone is gone and I do not give a damn

The same superficial gloss is given to his casual mention of Jon Anderson’s spiritual beliefs, the deeper inspiration for Christian Vander’s vision, the Roches’ fascination with Wilhelm Reich, the gnostic overtones to Peter Gabriel’s focus on Carl Jung, ELP’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of Giger’s occult inspirations as well as Daevid Allen’s fairly well publicized fascination with ritual magick. This may seem like pointless muckraking, but it gets to the essence of what proggers were actually saying as artists. Weigel obviously thinks this is an unfairly maligned genre and that it should be accorded more respect. Prog is a cool soundtrack for smoking weed and most of them were first rate virtuosos, but all the proggers had something to say at some level. The messages seemed to run the gamut from an attempt to create meaning from nothing to messianic zeal. To selectively emphasize these things seems like journalistic malpractice.

The only reason I’ve been able to come up with as to why we became musicians was because there wasn’t anything to rebel or fight against. We weren’t doing it with another agenda as a means to escape. If we were seeking to escape, then it would have been from a kingdom of nothingness. Michael Giles, King Crimson (p. 10)

This tendency is especially egregious in his treatment of Rush. Weigel exposes himself as yet another progressive partisan hack when discussing Neil Peart’s affinity for Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. As usual, he appears to think the British Labour Party has nothing for which to apologize, and Neil Peart’s critics were completely justified. He ensures that the critical scorn heaped on Rush was clearly spelled out in case there’s any mystery about what the woke intelligentsia thinks of you dumbass LOLbertarians. Not only does he fail to mention that Neil Peart went on record with a softened stance on libertarianism in 2012, but he openly aligned himself with the Democratic Party in a RS interview from 2015! Weigel had ready access to this information while writing this book. Why else would you place so much emphasis on his former libertarian convictions if not to feed the already overheated Ayn Rand hate mill? He even goes out of his way to score easy ideological points by mentioning Rush’s refusal to allow Rand Paul to continue using their music on the campaign trail. See? Even Rush shut down Rand Paul. LMAO! Ooh. Sticking it to the Randian Objectivists. How #EDGY, Weigel.

Maybe his mind is for rent after all.

A casual glimpse of Weigel’s Twitter feed reveals him as a typical leftist stooge who fancies himself some kind of brave dissident embedded on the front lines of the Trump #RESISTANCE. In other words, the embodiment of kind of the anti-authoritarianism that formed the basis of the album he lionized, 2112. If Weigel had an ounce of intellectual honesty, he would cast a skeptical glance toward the Corbynistas and the Eurocrats. Ayn Rand wasn’t right about everything, but if he actually allowed himself to examine the grievances of #Brexiters without his ideological blinders, he’d recognize that Peart apprehended the harm Labour has visited on the UK with greater clarity than his fellow media lackeys. Progressives are contemptuous of libertarianism except when it’s convenient for their agenda.

His partisan allegiance is significant because it may explain his seeming unwillingness to examine the extent to which prog’s demise was driven by the very media establishment to which he belongs. It’s true that plenty of bands built careers defying the establishment consensus, but Weigel’s refusal to investigate his own people speaks volumes.

The downfall of progressive rock happened quickly, with an entire critical establishment [emphasis mine] seemingly rooting for its demise. (p. 200)

This is especially significant given that the media’s pretense of neutrality has been revealed as a contemptible lie in the Trump era. If we take the case that the media are handmaidens of the deep state who are merely taking orders from an elite class more invested in cultural engineering than journalism, Weigel’s observation suggests much, much more.

You can force people to go into trances, and tell them what to do; it’s mass hypnotism, and you’re really setting yourself up as God. – Dave Brock, Hawkwind (p. 96)

Speaking of establishment elites, his ideological blinders also stunted his ability to investigate the extent to which prog was being encouraged by the social engineers of the Tavistock Institute and Royal Society or the extent to which they were under the influence of MI6 assets. Curiously, he included a quote by Crimson alum, Gordon Haskell, which speaks directly to all of these possibilities. My suspicion is that Weigel’s decision to include this quote was to hold him up as a conspiracy obsessed lunatic with an axe to grind against Robert Fripp. Of course, Weigel doesn’t explore any of these allegations, and allows the quote to go unexamined.

“The King Crimson weapon is musical fascism, made by fascists, designed by fascists to dehumanize, to strip mankind of his dignity and soul,” he said later. “It’s pure Tavistock Institute material, financed by the Rothschild Zionists and promoted by two poncy public school boys with connections to the city of London.” Gordon Haskell, King Crimson (p. 62)

Weigel concludes with a brief overview of prog’s unlikely resurgence in the midst of the nihilistic howling that defined the 90s grunge aesthetic. Led by neo-prog revivalists like Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, The Mars Volta, Opeth and Spock’s Beard, prog had absorbed a more muscular and metallic edge from its stylistic progeny, but it seemed even more anachronistic than in its previous generation. Despite what is implied in the term “progressive” in contemporary parlance, I contend that there’s something reactionary about playing or enjoying prog in 2019.

We’ve become accustomed to the idea of the pop culture sphere being a quintessentially Darwinian ecosystem. It is the epitome of a dominance hierarchy in which the lowest common denominator generally captures the biggest market share while those who swim against the tide get bulldozed. It cannibalizes itself, but only to reflect and refract the most fashionable aesthetic trends and sensibilities of the moment. Prog’s sonic and compositional innovations were eventually flattened and absorbed into blueprints for virtually every style that comprised the 80s once the punk template had been firmly established as the new artistic orthodoxy.

While there’s usually enough bandwidth for a mass market Serious Artist or two who reaches an arena sized audience, you generally find the contemporary progger playing a 1000-seat venue or at a niche festival like ProgDay. The idea that a multibillion dollar rock industry which extends into every corner of culture is in any way rebellious or transgressive is a pathetic joke. Even if it’s loaded with odd metered rhythms, dense harmonies and extended psychedelic jams. Subsequently, the very idea of playing a form of rock music, the ultimate anti-tradition tradition, which adheres to a set of bygone ideals however loosely defined can only be seen as…well….conservative.

Prog was a byproduct of the 60s counterculture, and embodied the utopian idealism of the Flower Power generation which originally coronated it. As subsequent generations of rockers turned increasingly hedonistic and cynical, the Holy Mountain of progressive rock continues to attract acolytes precisely because it at least stood for something. Even if proggers had disparate goals, the fundamental message of the pursuit of a transcendent ideal seemed to be the binding force. I suggest that for today’s musicians, progressive rock is seen as something akin to a sacred calling. A spiritual cosmic journey that will always beckon mystics, dreamers, and charlatans along with the hardiest and most dedicated souls.

The existence of David Weigel’s history of progressive rock is a laudable achievement all by itself, but it also happens to be a fun read. Perhaps it is churlish to nitpick and we should simply enjoy the fact that it is here in the first place. If nothing else, we proggers are an opinionated bunch. You develop high standards when you’re an idealist.

By the time John Wetton’s Asia had sold millions of copies of its bland radio-friendly pop in the 80s, the post-hippie counterculture that was progressive rock, based on the idealistic impulses of the 60s, had finally run its course. The dream, or illusion, of individual and global enlightenment was over. Progressive rock, like the period that gave rise to it, was essentially optimistic. The whole underlying goal – to draw together rock, classical and folk into a surreal metastyle – was inherently an optimistic ideal. At its best, the genre engaged listeners in a quest for spiritual authenticity. We took ourselves too seriously, of course, and its po-faced earnestness could lapse into a moronic naivete, but it never gave way to bitterness, cynicism or self-pity. – Bill Bruford (p. 250)

Joni 75 (2019)

This concert film showcases everything that is simultaneously wonderful and loathsome about the Flower Power generation. Filmed over the course of two nights at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Joni 75 features an all star cast of peers and proteges who came to pay tribute to one of the modern era’s most unique and influential artists.

Originally hailing from Alberta, Mitchell’s career took root in the ferment of the now infamous Laurel Canyon scene. Despite her reputation as an icon of the allegedly counterculture 60’s, Joni Mitchell remains a true maverick amidst a sea of revolutionary wannabes. She has demonstrated a remarkable ability to both avoid the ideological pigeonhole that defines her more openly partisan peers and sustain artistic vitality in an industry which disfavors innovation.

With a career that spans 19 studio albums over the course of more than 50 years, Mitchell has attracted a following that draws from the worlds of pop and jazz. She’s that rare artist who can leave the listener’s heart wrenched by the immediacy of her lyrics while the musicians in the audience all puzzle over her unusual chord changes. Backed by a top notch band, Joni 75 featured performances by Brandi Carlile, Glen Hansard, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Los Lobos with La Marisoul, Cesar Castro & Xochi Flores, Graham Nash, Seal, James Taylor, and Rufus Wainwright.

On the one hand, it’s a beautifully shot, recorded and performed concert featuring some of our finest artists singing mostly successful covers from the Joni Mitchell songbook. It’s unfussy and straightforward. The footage of artists showering Joni with praise is kept to a merciful minimum. Surprisingly, Peter Gabriel’s prerecorded tribute had a rare moment of honesty when he suggested that she’s probably a raging cunt when you have to work too closely with her.

On the other hand, despite its ostensible goal of just being a straightforward concert film, it couldn’t help but draw attention to its own wokeness. The band was so #DIVERSE! The guests were so #INTERSECTIONAL! Oh snap! Rufus Wainwright just mentioned his HUSBAND! What’s Mike Pence going to think?! And of course, Graham Nash just had to politicize the whole thing. What should have been a sweet remembrance about the creation of the song “Our House” was completely poisoned when he linked it to the 2018 election results. Way to convince people you aren’t raging totalitarians underneath all that hippie horseshit, Graham.

The film also draws attention to the question of whether multiculturalism and universalism are in fact mutually exclusive propositions. While Joni has taken public positions that set her apart from the rigidity of contemporary woke orthodoxy, the concert felt like another self-congratulatory advertisement for multiculturalism and immigration. This was especially true of the treatment Los Lobos and La Marisoul gave to “Nothing Can Be Done”. It’s a vibrant and joyful rendition that gave the song a Mexican flavor while being propelled by a gentle quasi Afro-Cuban groove. Chaka Khan’s ecstatic interjections managed to elevate it even further. It’s the kind of cross cultural collaboration that we’re supposed to celebrate as sophisticated cosmopolitans. Yet at the same time, the Woke Stasi are constantly browbeating and shrieking at the unenlightened rubes about the nefarious evils of “cultural appropriation”.

Is multiculturalism a melange from which anyone and everyone can freely pick and choose? Or is it a collection of disparate subcultures which must remain within the confines of their respective people groups in order to retain uniqueness? Or is it just another excuse for SJWs to be selectively outraged over fake transgressions?

More importantly, is multiculturalism building a universal culture? Or is it appropriating different cultures only to strip mine them of their context and uniqueness? Is it just a self-reinforcing orthodoxy which operates on the presumption that there is no downside to infinite immigration? Does it inculcate an unwavering belief that there are no issues of cultural assimilation and that the future that awaits us is a rainbow hued utopia of vegan taco trucks, body positive belly dancing and gender neutral drum circles? Is it just an excuse to revel in a smug sense of cosmopolitan moral superiority? Does the obsessive liberal quest for global “oneness” degrade cultural distinctions or enhance them? Is it just an excuse for progressives to be selectively outraged over “racism” in one moment while in the next moment being selectively outraged over “cultural appropriation”?

I love Joni Mitchell’s music. The artists mostly did a great job. It was beautiful but also kind of sad that a collection of aging wealthy Boomers still affect a pretense of being edgy revolutionaries. That somehow, another collection of self-satisfied children of the establishment celebrating their engineered cultural revolution as an unqualified success was finally going to convince the unenlightened peasants of flyover country that they’re stupid and backwards. I mean come on, bigots. “Big Yellow Taxi” is the theme song for the Green New Deal! Get #WOKE!

Perhaps what I heard in Joni’s gnostic rallying cry for the Age of Aquarius was something she didn’t necessarily intend. When James Taylor delivered a heartfelt rendition of “Woodstock”, it wasn’t heralding the advent of a secular New Eden. It was, in fact, the sound of a generation that has spent its entire adult lifetime trying to convince you that its complete monopoly of institutional consensus is the height of counterculture and rebellion. That all you need to usher in the final revolution is to don the pussyhat, hoist the placard aloft and post that fist pump to Instagram, baby. And that, my friends, is the sound of exhausted desperation.

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

The Mule (2018)

Every now and then, the fanfare surrounding a film is warranted and I suggest that the praise heaped on The Mule marks such an occasion. While Earl Stone’s journey from horticulturalist to drug mule drives the top layer of the storyline, the emotional undertow of his parental and marital failings packs the hardest punch. Beginning with Unforgiven from 1992, Clint Eastwood has leveraged his storied career as an onscreen badass par excellence to limn the depths of his personal travails like no other actor. This dramatic heft is satisfying on its own terms, but like a piece written by a great jazz musician, his performance has many additional layers that are equally praiseworthy. Aside from the numerous threads of commentary on the drug war, The Mule touches on immigration, veterans affairs, the toll of globalized e-commerce on local economies, the dissolution of intergenerational wisdom, the challenge of aging in America and the corrosive effects of political correctness.

Even when he’s playing a badass, Eastwood’s characters are never one dimensional and Earl Stone is no exception. Like Ellington or Mingus, Eastwood lays out the contours of Earl’s character with clean phrases but repeatedly plays them against dissonant harmonies. When we first meet Earl in 2005, he’s a model of geriatric charisma and swagger. He is quick witted, well dressed and still knows how to charm the ladies. Earl is a law abiding citizen, appreciates old fashioned verities and is a Korean War veteran to boot. Irrespective of the personal failings in his family life, Earl Stone is a model citizen. He is the guy with whom everyone wants to have a beer and shoot the shit. When he eventually turns to smuggling drugs, your sympathies do not diminish. Earl’s ill gotten economic gains are used help finance his granddaughter’s wedding and the rehabilitation of the VFW Hall. He puts the money to work out of a genuine desire to mend fences with his estranged daughter and ex-wife as well as to uphold a place of community and refuge for his fellow soldiers.

These qualities endeared him to hardboiled gangsters, Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent and his immigrant gardeners while making the unvarnished edges of his personality go down easier. When he sternly admonishes his Mexican staff to fix their car so that it won’t be a “ticket to deportation”, you’re disarmed by his honesty. When he tells his cartel handlers they’re getting dirty looks because they’re “two beaners in a cracker bowl”, it comes across like a straightforward observation rather than a hateful epithet. And the fact that he’s willing to say something that risky to the faces of armed thugs is also pretty funny.

Like clockwork, the puritanical screeching over Earl’s politically incorrect coarseness has come from the SJW corners of the mediasphere. Sadly, these insufferable scolds will never grasp the point that Eastwood was making. When Earl offers to help a black couple change a tire, he refers to them as “negroes”. Instead of being thankful for the help he offered, they spent all their time being triggered and butthurt by his words. They inform him that it’s against #WOKE protocols to say such terrible things, but Earl smiles and proceeds to help them. Eastwood is cleverly pointing out what everyone outside the progressive bubble already knows. The Left has indoctrinated a posture of perpetual offense and a pathological desperation to enforce to a set of ever changing rules. “Negro” was once perfectly acceptable and Earl’s usage of the term did not carry a tinge of racial animosity.

Speaking of PC scolds, Eastwood’s demolition of progressive puritanism isn’t limited to his willingness to piss off the racism cops. He gives us something that feels increasingly rare in today’s era of hypersensitivity: unabashed Latina pulchritude. When Earl successfully completes a record run, he’s treated to a proper celebration that only a drug lord could host. Earl is flown to the Mexico compound where Andy Garcia’s Laton throws a party that’s overflowing with liquor, drugs and tons of scantily clad chicks. Eastwood’s camera lingers on their curvaceous asses as they gyrate to salsa jams. It’s a lovely sight to behold and the fact that some harpy from the online feminist stasi is seething with rage over its inclusion makes it that much more glorious.

Though somewhat softer than the grizzled hardass he played in Gran Torino, Earl is perpetually bewildered and perturbed by the fact that he lives in a world that’s increasingly disconnected from the traditions with which he grew up. “Didn’t your daddy teach you to change a tire?” he asks of the couple in distress as the man flails about haplessly searching for network connectivity. For Earl, the idea of a father not teaching basic automotive care never crosses his mind. Let alone the possibility that either of them might have grown up without a father. The #WOKE intelligentsia will probably chastise Eastwood for this attempt at cinematic paternalism, but I’m inclined to think this was also Eastwood’s stealth commentary on illegitimacy in the black community.

While Earl feels the walls closing in on the destructive trade in which he’s inserted himself, he never stops seeking redemption, grace or a few minutes to stop and smell the roses. The pressures of the cocaine trade should never supersede the opportunity to enjoy the best pulled pork sandwich in the Midwest. Just because you’re being tailed by the FBI doesn’t mean you can’t impart hard earned wisdom with the agent who has you in his sights. Even as he basks in Laton’s decadence, he counsels his handler Julio to abandon the thug life. Earl never has to face the destruction his drug running exacts on the social fabric he wants to see preserved, but he never loses sight of his culpability in the consequences of his choices.

A cynic might say that casting Alison Eastwood in the role of Earl’s daughter was an act of nepotism, but in this case, it was a masterstroke. There’s no doubt in my mind that Iris’ resentment towards her father came from a genuine place, but like Earl, Iris goes through a growth arc of her own that feels equally genuine. Dianne Weist is brilliant as Earl’s ex-wife, Mary, and the mixture of emotional anguish and love she holds for Earl is palpable.

The Mule is making some very obvious points about how the media spotlight creates perverse incentives for federal law enforcement, but I suggest that Eastwood giving us a glimpse of something even more profound. This isn’t just a skillful adaptation of a real world story. This is a window into a tightly controlled network of forces that’s been deployed and managed by the establishment. Hollywood is the propaganda arm for two sides of a dialectic that appear opposed but are more intertwined than they appear. Eastwood may have the trappings of a successful Hollywood career, but I believe Earl’s fate is a metaphor for Eastwood’s life in more ways than one.

Hollywood’s pathological fixation on youth has fueled a culture of narcissism, vacuous moral preening and increasingly impoverished filmmaking. The mere existence of this film amidst this sea of fame seeking hacks and soulless technicians feels as precious Earl’s day lillies. With The Mule, Eastwood has risen to the stature of the jazz greats he admires. This is work of an artist who breathes life into every line and frame. The entire film feels like Eastwood’s lesson in filmmaking to the up and coming generations. I can only hope they’re paying attention.

Russell Kirk: The Conservative Mind

Edmund Burke

Growing up in a progressive environment, I developed the requisite contempt for conservatism that accompanies the standard leftist political worldview. If you’re a progressive, you will regard conservative ideology as the province of regressive dullards who desperately cling to religious nostrums, rigid notions of the Constitution, and nationalistic sloganeering. This contempt for conservatism has been the hallmark of progressive and liberal reformers since the dawn of the modern democratic age. John Stuart Mill was calling conservatives “the stupid party” long before Buzzfeed and Salon were able to build clickbait empires off of articles which expound upon that single premise. After two centuries of the American experiment which has given us Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Donald J. Trump as the faces of political conservatism, one would not be unreasonable to wonder for what does conservatism stand exactly? Is there anything beyond the God, guns and country caricature that’s promulgated by the progressives? What does the conservative aim to conserve? Russell Kirk’s excellent book from 1953, The Conservative Mind, sets out to answer these questions and much more.

The Conservative Mind

Kirk’s analysis is not an examination of political parties, but an exploration of the foundations of modern conservative thought beginning with the statesman he holds in highest esteem, Edmund Burke. Kirk guides the reader through two centuries of British and American conservatives who lived up to the Burkean standard in different ways. As the title suggests, Kirk lays out a collection of conceptual pillars which comprise the foundation of what he considers the conservative mind. While not explicitly an examination of metaphysics, Kirk is attempting to elucidate the lens through which the conservative sees the world. Where the progressive sees the world through a filter of largely unexamined assumptions which he takes as a given, the conservative makes at least a cursory attempt to ground his worldview in theology or philosophy deeply informed by classical theology. Rather than being a set of rules or laws, he’s providing a detailed sketch of the framework of thought the conservative applies to the challenges of his time. As Disraeli famously said, every conservative is a “creature of his age”, so the conservative must consider the circumstances of his age and the needs of his nation. Given that each age has unique challenges and the conservative is always swimming against an orthodoxy of progress which automatically disfavors historical knowledge and precedent, the conservative is perennially saddled with the stigma of being regarded as both the regressive, inflexible dolt and the fearful, hidebound bigot.

Stephen Colbert famously ridiculed George W. Bush, and all conservatives by extension, when he introduced the word “truthiness.” The entire joke was an attack on conservatives’ alleged prioritization of feelings and instinct over factual analysis. You don’t look things up in a book he deadpanned, you “look them up in your gut.” The joke has extended into the Trump era as Kellyanne Conway’s famous insistence on “alternative facts” has served as fodder for more than a few late night 2 minutes of hate. Even if George W. Bush was a terrible conservative (and he was), the joke landed its punch because there was a grain of truth to it in terms of how the conservative views the world and governance. The true conservative doesn’t see the citizenry as dehumanized units of input to be plugged into an economist’s model or a social scientist’s data sample. The conservative is not trying to radically reorganize society or confer special rights to groups. The conservative is not trying to appeal to a scientific worldview when it comes to the job of governance or the conservation of culture. The conservative is trying to draw time honoured wisdom culled from centuries of cultural and historical knowledge combined with appeals to divine counsel, affirmations of organic social bonds and a recognition of inherent differences between nationalities and ethnicities.

The true conservative knows that man’s nature is fixed and flawed. Subsequently, he also knows that a stable social order requires permanent institutions and a healthy reverence for virtuous authority. He affirms the dual role of Church and State, and that each are natural expressions of divine Providence. He is impervious to the fickle abstractions of liberal reform and knows that true progress is a product of cultural prescription and Providential order. He knows that equality of liberty must accompany equality of virtue, but does not subscribe to the idea of full political equality as it is a recipe for economic levelling. He rejects the liberal fascination with endless innovation for its own sake, its atomistic pursuit of individualism, and its rejection of authority. He vigorously opposes the liberal reformer who seeks to acquire state power in order to confer abstract “rights” or otherwise order society through some mathematical calculation of utility. He is suspicious of the liberal belief in unbounded human progress and academic prescriptions based on positivism. He repudiates the idea that a stable social order can be attained through Reason alone, and that true Reason is ultimately subordinate to moral virtue and the slow accretion of intergenerational wisdom. The conservative is, in fact, the conservator of civilization by ensuring that the transmission of cultural values remains decentralized, localized, and oriented around family and faith. Subsequently, the conservative is a bulwark against the encroachment of overweening politicians and academic busybodies because he knows that the role of government in the democratic era is limited, and must ultimately serve the greater cause of preserving the constitutional covenant between God and the People. To this day, conservatives continue to be assailed by progressives as hidebound ideologues who live in a echo chamber despite being reviled 24/7 by a progressive media monopoly. Even if his worldview is confined to post-Enlightenment/Burkean thought, a conservative is swimming against an overwhelmingly monolithic progressive cultural consensus.

Kirk masterfully guides the reader through two centuries of conservative thought and leadership to document the successes of conservatism given the seemingly inexorable tide of liberal expansionism. The net result is a unique work of political philosophy that is not just a collection of analytical arguments. Rather, it is a painterly portrait of the achievements and contributions of men whose wisdom and insight remains largely underappreciated by a world drunk on the elixir of progressivism. With this book, Kirk attempts to catalog the various ways conservatives have sought to conserve virtuous authority over centralized reform and tradition over liberalism.

The Failure of Conservatism

Paradoxically, this is also a chronicle of the abject failure of conservatism in the liberal democratic age. Despite all of the loving care Kirk expended in carefully curating these stones of eternal wisdom to erect a monument to modern conservatism, the sad truth is that its foundation has been eroded bit by bit in the post-Enlightenment age. The entire liberal project was solely concerned with supplanting the theological and religious underpinnings of conservatism with rationalism and empiricism. Propelled by an unquestioned belief in the institutions of democracy to improve human affairs and ignite civic engagement, the liberal elite have systematically dismantled and undermined every last vestige of traditionalism. Once those foundational precepts were removed, conservatives had no other recourse but to compete in a secular political arena arguing for positions that were borne from a conservative instinct but divorced from their larger context. Subsequently, conservatives have been playing a game that was designed to be stacked against them. Progressives could always claim the mantle of being the clear headed, forward thinking, compassionate revolutionaries because in the liberal worldview, there are only political, scientistic and institutional solutions. Since progressives have monopolized the engines of cultural consensus, the very notion of government not being the central institution driving social change will be viewed as regressive and backwards from the outset. Even worse, the very notions of fixed moral principles, objective truth and conserved tradition would themselves be targeted for elimination in the final quest for global domination of the liberal imperium.

Ultimately, Kirk’s presentation is an attempt to canonize a conservatism that’s borne of the conservative instinct while simultaneously being a product of the liberal worldview to which it’s presumably opposed. Through the course of the book, Kirk continuously grasps for the strands of conservative vitality while, as a reader, you’re left with a sinking feeling that you’re reading a chronicle of defeat. No matter how incisive, how profound or how deep these thinkers were, Burkean conservativism ends up being an empty husk whose seeds of vigor have been rapaciously consumed by neocons, Rockefeller Republicans, Moral Majoritarians and other globalist shills. The glowing endorsement of William F. Buckley Jr. prominently emblazoned on the cover is doubtless meant to confer deep legitimacy to this tome, but I doubt that anyone sees the revivification of the conservative instinct taking flight on the pages of National Review. Let alone from the insipid blathering of Margaret Hoover.

What you see in each chapter is two recurring patterns that persist to this day. On the one hand, you have a cycle of political conservatives being eventually defeated and going through an ideological retrenchment process while attempting to consolidate and assimilate ground ceded to progressives. In the process, the meaning of the word “conservative” gets diluted ever further until it is reduced to a collection of platitudes. Consequently, the gulf between the conservative population and the conservative political establishment continued to widen as the culture shifts further away from any notion of conservatism. The longstanding grievance amongst the rank and file conservatives that the establishment that represents them is weak and compromised steadily accumulates more weight. Meanwhile, the progressives move the political goalposts and conservatives are forced back to playing defense while yesterday’s progressive reform is either forgotten or assailed for its inadequacy. Conservative cultural critics, artists, academics and media figures, whether they’re establishment shills or readers of Modern Age, struggle on the margins to wrest the foot of cultural consensus off the gas pedal of progress from a body politic that’s drunk on the delusion of an eschatological inevitability. That the world will be unified and perfected under progressive, scientific, and increasingly multicultural governance. Herein lies the evil genius of the liberal mindset. It supplanted the traditionally religious outlook with a secular religious outlook. Against this ideological battering ram, both political and social conservatism was and is utterly ineffectual and flat footed.

Nothing captures the absurdity of the plight of modern conservatism better than the presidency of Donald Trump. A former Democrat billionaire who lived a very public and decadent lifestyle prior to entering the political arena becomes the second coming of Hitler upon his ascendancy to the Oval Office simply by taking on the issues that should have been conservative bread and butter from the start. In Trump, we have a man whose public positions on issues were a mishmash of textbook classical liberalism, moderate conservatism and economic neoliberalism prior to his entry into the political arena yet this prompted an unprecedented and neverending howl of national outrage from the progressive establishment. Even when he takes on causes previously championed by progressives, whether rolling back the War on Terror or criminal justice reform, his mere opposition to the global elite consensus is reason alone to brand him a tyrant even if there’s no evidence to support such an assertion.

Kirk’s Oversight

All of which brings us to what is arguably the single biggest oversight in Kirk’s otherwise stellar research into the life of Burke and his intellectual progeny. Was Burke a Freemason? Given that he’s upholding Burke as a conservative gold standard, and the endorsements of known members of Skull and Bones like William F. Buckley Jr. and PNAC/#NeverTrump establishmentarians like David Frum are featured prominently on the book itself, one must ask if this is being proffered as the outer boundary of Approved Thought. Contrary to claims on prominent Masonic websites, Burke’s membership in the Brotherhood has not been confirmed. His affinity for a known Mason, John Wilkes, makes this an especially important unexplored vein of thought.

Since Burke had risen to prominence by opposing the French Revolution, his support for what amounts to the Girondin version of the Revolution which was ultimately exported to the US seems very significant. Furthermore, his opposition to the philosophy promulgated by Freemasonry, deism, and its younger and dumber progeny, atheism, leaves one bewildered that Burke or Kirk felt that “prescriptive” liberty stood any chance against “abstract” liberty in the long run. Kirk points out that both Burke and John Adams apprehended the rot at the core of liberalism early on.

Thus, at the inception of modern liberalism, Burke and Adams saw the canker of liberal decay in the flower of liberal vigor. The postulates of the new liberalism, in France, England, and America, depended on old verities which the liberals themselves already were repudiating: upon the Christian assumption that men are equal in the sight of God, and upon the idea of an enduring moral order divinely sanctioned. The Deists had discarded most of Christian teaching, and Burke and Adams knew that the Deists’ intellectual heirs would reject religious dogma, root and branch. The new liberalism would tolerate no authority.(pg. 103)

All you need to add is the preposition “except its own” to that last sentence, and this insight is flawless. Burke was completely correct, but being right didn’t matter. His temperate vision of conservatism was destined for a collision course with the Freemasonic vision of liberalism espoused by America’s founders. His belief in the primacy of Christianity in public and private affairs was never going to be compatible with an ideology committed to the dismantling of throne and altar. The conservation of faith and heritage would be subsumed by rationalism and empiricism. Within a liberal paradigm which favored scientific materialism and nominalistic reign of quantity, conservatism was destined to be little more than a brake pedal at best and a punchline at worst.

Surely, he was aware that the Catholic papacy had already issued a ban on Freemasonry in 1738. Surely, he was aware of King George IV association with the United Grand Lodge. Surely, he was aware of Masonic sympathies and associations among the various American founders. Surely, he was aware that his narrow construction of the concept of equality was doomed to be crushed under the bootheel of the forward march of an unending appetite for the social and economic leveling he so vigorously opposed. Yet, Burke’s thought legacy defined the modern conception of conservatism in the post-Enlightenment era. But if Burke’s underlying thought is running on the same presuppositional operating system as the liberals, does anyone wonder why conservatism has failed? Traditionalism and liberal secularism are mutually exclusive positions. Yet, this liberal “conservatism” is exactly the virtue Kirk applauds. Why would Burke endorse the liberal project unless he was himself, and Kirk by extension, anointed to direct the other half of the Masonic dialectic?

Liberty, Burke knew, had risen through an elaborate and delicate process, and its perpetuation depended upon retaining those habits of thought and action which guided the savage in his slow and weary ascent to the state of civil social man. All his life, Burke’s chief concern had been for justice and liberty, which must stand or fall together—liberty under law, a definite liberty, the limits of which were determined by prescription. He had defended the liberties of Englishmen against their king, and the liberties of Americans against king and parliament, and the liberties of Hindus against Europeans. He had defended those liberties not because they were innovations, discovered in the Age of Reason, but because they were ancient prerogatives, guaranteed by immemorial usage. Burke was liberal because he was conservative. (pp. 20-21)

Whither Conservatism?

While Kirk certainly does a good job making his case for the conservative mind in the democratic era, it’s not unreasonable to ask what has conservatism actually conserved. What is it trying to conserve in a Western society where the legacy of secular democracy (i.e. multiculturalism, progressivism, Islamism and communism) are the default settings for a significant majority of the population? How can you claim a desire to conserve a strict construction of a collection of revolutionary ideals when the very utterance of an opinion that’s construed as conservative runs you the risk of being drummed out of society and being labeled a Nazi by the #WOKE intelligentsia? Where can you delineate the boundaries of conservatism when the progressive establishment controls the Overton Window of debate and self-identified classical liberals like Jordan Peterson and Alex Jones are routinely branded as alt-right extremists? How can you marshal a mass revival of conservatism when the progressive establishment has weaponized culture against you?

Since there is a concerted effort on the part of the establishment elites to create a technocratic superstate, conservatives have a difficult choice. In a world dominated by a liberal consensus that confines every sphere of life into the realm of politics, conservatives have two grassroots dissident right movements from which to choose: religious nationalism or ethno nationalism.

Though the alt-right consumes all the media bandwidth and are routinely propped up as an imminent threat, it’s unclear exactly how big the movement is from the social media footprint alone. Progressives will never admit it, but they need the spectre of the alt-right in order to justify their draconian agenda. They need the threat of a rising alt-right boogeyman in order to keep the flame of Trump hatred white hot. For the generations of progressives who know nothing but the technocratic administrative state, the caricature of “fascism” they’ve been spoon fed is as close to an absolute moral negative as they’re ever going to get. All moral virtue can be summed up by simply tweeting #RESIST.

While the racial arguments remain controversial and run counter to the progressive consensus, the argument for ethnic and cultural preservation strikes me as quintessentially Burkean. Perhaps it’s even Burkean conservativism taken to its fullest conclusion. Since both the Burkean and the alt-right worldview posit a very generic and unspecific metaphysic at the core which assumes the inherent dignity of people groups, the existence of higher morals, the natural existence of cultural differences, and a hierarchy of order, there is nothing incompatible between these coalitions except the stigma of advocating for racial majority or ethnostate. If prejudice and prescription emerge from a conserved tradition and hereditary knowledge, then what the alt-right propose is fully consistent with those foundational principles. Kirk even concedes as much in the final chapter.

The new laissez-faire will endeavor to create conditions “within which autonomous groups may prosper.” It will recognize as the basic social unit the group: the family, the local community, the trade union, the church, the college, the profession. It will seek not unity, not centralization, not power over masses of people, but rather diversity of culture, plurality of association, and the division of responsibilities. (pp. 489-90)

Not that anyone in the progressive establishment is paying attention, but there is more to the dissident right than the alt-right. Though some among the dissident right would probably not admit their conservative sympathies, this coalition also includes AnCap Rothbardians, paleoconservatives, civic nationalists, minarchist Libertarians, anti-globalist truthers, and increasingly, a faction of post-liberal reactionaries. While most in this latter category are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditionalists, the unifying principle behind these voices is the conviction that liberalism has failed and a return to religious belief must be the central principle animating the revival of the West.

As abhorrent as it may seem to those who still subscribe to a cosmopolitan liberal mindset, I’m increasingly inclined to believe that all these liberty minded people must also confront this stark choice. Sure, there’s a chance that QAnon isn’t a LARP or a psyop, but the likelihood that the cabal behind Q will bring the progressive establishment to its knees is slim. For those who remain committed to the liberal project, The Conservative Mind poses one big question for conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals and anarcho-capitalists alike. What are you trying to conserve given the state of the culture and the demographic transformation that’s already well underway? And if the answer is some variation on “traditional American values” or “liberty”, how do you plan on revitalizing these ideals in the face of a decades long indoctrination campaign which has demonized everything you hold dear?

Now that the Democratic Party are the party of immigrants, overeducated urbanite baristas, public sector workers, academics, tech monopolists, Wall Streeters, neocons, deep state denizens, and Hollywood elites, the Republican Party have inherited the working class that were once Democratic loyalists. And the libertarian elites of the establishment haven’t necessarily warmed up to this reality.

As brilliant as it is, The Conservative Mind already feels like the caricature of conservatism that has been emblazoned into the progressive consciousness. You can already imagine the snarky outtakes in the Borowitz Report or Colbert doing an extended riff off of any given figure Kirk lionizes. Progressives have been conditioned to view the entire conservative worldview with disdain and condemnation from the start. No matter where they align themselves on the rightward end of establishment thought, conservatives end up becoming the kickstand propping up the progressive establishment.

Ironically, Kirk also seemed to outline the walls of the prison that’s been so artfully constructed around us.

This utilitarian utopia, prophesied by Henry and Brooks Adams as the triumph of the cheapest, starves the realm of the spirit and the realm of art as no other domination can. The culmination of liberalism, the fulfillment of the aspirations of Bentham and Mill, and of the French and American spokesmen, it is also the completion of capitalism. It is communism. Rockefeller and Marx were merely two agents of the same social force – an appetite cruelly inimical to human individuation, by which man has struggled up to reason and art. (445)

This is a supremely astute observation. Every aspect of the liberal project, including conservatism itself, can be appropriated to further the final goals of the global progressive agenda. Even a show like Downton Abbey which romanticizes the twilight of the British aristocracy becomes a subtle tool for propagandizing the advent of the technocratic era.

Perhaps Kirk is correct when he suggests that tomorrow’s conservative victories will be built on the ashes of today’s failures. With libertarianism serving as little more than an arm of the progressive establishment to be selectively appropriated as the mandates of political expediency dictate, the true conservative is the only bulwark against the ever encroaching global technocratic despotism. A despotism whose magnitude and ruthlessness Kirk certainly apprehended, but whose remedies are questionable at best.

Facing a progressive establishment whose braindead foot soldiers routinely cheer the removal of dissident voices from the digital public square, the odds seem stacked against the conservative as never before. But has it ever been any different in this age of democratic supremacy? The progressives promise emancipation, but everyone outside the bubble of the true believers knows they intend pure enslavement. As the paucity of substance, principle or virtue in the liberal worldview becomes increasingly apparent, the craving for meaning, purpose, legacy and moral clarity in the traditional mindset will only grow. The Conservative Mind may not have been the barricade against the rising tide of liberalism Kirk intended, but red pills come in many different degrees of strength these days. If nothing else, Kirk allows us to take in the fullness of conservatism’s failure in the democratic age. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.