George Orwell: Animal Farm

I remember being assigned Animal Farm sometime around late grade school. I also remember coming away from it knowing that it had an important message, but not necessarily grasping the full weight of its implications. Whether it was the naïveté of youth or the institutional bias of public education, the poignancy of Animal Farm was mostly lost on me at the time. After having the benefit of the passage of time, a willingness to challenge my own ideological biases and the accumulation of a bit of knowledge since then, I can unequivocally say this. If there is a more cutting and incisive critique of the entire spectrum of radical Leftism than Animal Farm, I haven’t yet read it. Concise yet sweeping in scope, Animal Farm’s sting applies just as sharply to Stalinism as it does to contemporary intersectional feminism and #SocialJustice activism. It’s hard to believe that Orwell considered himself a socialist after reading this and 1984, but as the saying goes, life is sometimes stranger than fiction. Published in 1945, Animal Farm is widely perceived to be a critique of the Bolsheviks and Stalinism, but it more than adequately covers the entire spectrum of Marxist and neo-Marxist thought since the underlying pillars of the ideology remain the same regardless of how the parameters are modified to fit the times and demographics.

One imagines that an allegory filled with anthropomorphized animals would be geared towards kids, but I had definitely forgotten just how heavy the subject matter actually was. Besides being full of surprisingly grim detail leavened ever so slightly by some very dark humor, Animal Farm packs a lot of ideas into a small narrative space. Set somewhere in the English countryside, the animals of Manor Farm live under the occasionally negligent yet basically benign stewardship of Mr. Jones. The boar elder of the farm, Old Major, gathers the collective livestock together to share his revolutionary dream of emancipation for all of the animals living under the oppression of human ownership. Old Major proclaims all of humanity to be cruel oppressors and animals will only be liberated if they band together and rebel against their human owners. Once they’ve cast off the yoke of human ownership, they will finally enjoy a life of unimaginable plenitude and brotherly harmony.

Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.

Orwell’s ability to synthesize the core essence of Marxist and neo-Marxist thought in such a short space cannot be overstated. Despite the daunting voluminosity and aura of unfathomable depth to this vein of thought, Orwell cuts through the pretentious excesses and insufferable sanctimony and spins out its inevitable conclusions with devastating accuracy. Not only is this anti-capitalist mentality the sole article of faith for anarcho-communists, socialists, and seemingly everyone in the ranks of Antifa, you can simply add a racial component and transport the entire template over to the BLM or feminist worldview in order to have the same readymade good versus evil dichotomy.

Old Major is essentially the Karl Marx of the animal revolution. Like Marx himself, Major had been well cared for by his human patrons. He’d lived a long life and fathered lots of children. He had suffered no cruel treatment that would warrant the creation of a revolutionary doctrine that called for the extermination of humanity. Also like Marx, he sends them off towards their revolutionary future by portraying himself as a prophet who’s been bestowed with a quasi-divine revelation. He recalls a song he heard as a young piglet the words to which he’d long forgotten. Casting away the veil of bourgeois false consciousness that had clouded his thought throughout his life, the full glory of this liberated animal utopia had returned to him in the form of a song called “Beasts of England”.

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland
Beasts of every land and clime
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time

Soon or late the day is coming
Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone

Orwell is keenly attuned to the various tools of propaganda that are deployed by demagogues, and the inclusion of this song is one of many brilliant details which exposes the mechanics of socialism when it is implemented. The entire book is a goldmine of metaphorical and symbolic masterstrokes, but putting “Beasts of England” into the mouths of the sheep simply cannot be topped. Anyone who’s ever tweeted about “sheeple” ironically or not owes it all to Orwell. Modeled very closely off the “Socialist Internationale“, the invocation of “Beasts of England” throughout the novel perfectly captures how socialism reduces men to mindless bleating herds and completely short circuits the capacity for independent thought. Whether it’s the various campus outrage mobs who swarm together to shout down the slightest perception of WrongThink or the cult-like mantras of BLM activists, the contemporary manifestations of “Beasts of England” aren’t hard to find.

The Major eventually dies, but the dream of realizing an animal utopia invigorates the minds of the Manor Farm livestock. For some, “Beasts of England” all by itself is sufficient to keep the revolutionary dream alive. After the Major’s death, his pig disciples, Napoleon and Snowball, condense his thought into a doctrine called Animalism. Not only does Animalism serve as a pitch perfect proxy for Marxism, it could easily be seen as dogmatic adherence to any set of ideas used for the purpose of manufacturing a moral consensus, enforcing ideological conformity and consolidating state power. In order to ensure that the utopian dream is fulfilled, the two pigs take it upon themselves to educate their comrades to adopt a revolutionary spirit.

All the animals nodded in complete agreement, and the cleverer ones at once began to learn the Commandments by heart.

These two had great difficulty in thinking anything out for themselves, but having once accepted the pigs as their teachers, they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals by simple arguments. 

The adoption of a revolutionary mindset requires constant education and reinforcement of dogma, so the pigs set out to propagandize their livestock comrades. To their dismay, they discover wide disparities in intelligence, interest and attention. They’re also none too pleased with animals who ask too many questions. Mollie doesn’t understand why she must prepare for the revolution if the revolution is a historical inevitability. Snowball doesn’t have time to get into the details of dialectical materialism, so he just tells her to STFU and stop thinking counter-revolutionary thoughts. Despite the fact that the doctrine of Animalism is comprised of only seven rules, this was a bit much for some. The sheep are the least able to memorize the tenets of Animalism, so the entire doctrine is reduced to one very simplistic dichotomy:

Four legs good, two legs bad!


It sounds even better if you imitate the bleating of sheep when you say the word “bad”. At the end of the day, this is all that Marxism and progressivism inculcates. Proletariat good, bourgeoisie bad! 99% good, 1% bad! Progressives good, conservatives bad! POC good, wypipo bad! Womyn good, m*n bad! Science good, faith bad! Orwell is making a supremely important point about the psychological levers that any ideology pulls. The entire apparatus of human consciousness filters the world through a moral lens of one kind or another. The success of the adoption of Animalism hinged on its ability to ascribe evil and deceit to an entire group. It doesn’t matter if it’s the bourgeoisie, the patriarchy or white supremacy. Ultimately, this mentality would be applied to anyone deemed a traitor to the Animalist revolution. Including animals themselves.

It seemed to them as though Snowball were some kind of invisible influence, pervading the air about them and menacing them with all kinds of dangers.

The revolution comes rather swiftly because they are able to exploit Jones’ drunken negligence. After a brief but violent coup d’état, the animals take control of the farm. They celebrate by destroying all artifacts and materials that were associated with humanity. This thirst for purging and destroying the relics of the Enemy is a pattern that has played out in both the French and Bolshevik Revolutions, and is mirrored today in the vandalistic rampages of ISIS, Antifa and campus Jacobins alike.

All the animals capered with joy when they saw the whips going up in flames.

Their first act was to gallop in a body right round the boundaries of the farm, as though to make quite sure that no human being was hiding anywhere upon it; then they raced back to the farm buildings to wipe out the last traces of Jones’s hated reign.

After Snowball is driven off the farm and branded an enemy of the Animal Farm State, not only is he blamed for all their misfortune, but his historically heroic role in the Battle of the Cowshed is erased. Even worse, collaboration with Snowball, or suspicion thereof, is a treasonous act punishable by death. I had definitely forgotten just how dark Animal Farm was because I had to pick my jaw off the floor after reading the gruesome details of Napoleon’s purge of counter-revolutionaries. I don’t know which demographic Orwell had in mind when he wrote Animal Farm, but even the psychological distance of anthropomorphic animals doesn’t really diminish the sheer brutality of these scenes. But it’s both appropriate and true. Whether it’s the trial of Bukharin or the racial supremacist neo-Bolsheviks at Evergreen or the hypersensitive Yale triggerkin berating Nicholas Christakis, the Animalist pursuit of WrongThink always looks the same. The only real difference is the severity of the punishment.

The enforcement of Animalist orthodoxy resulted in the destruction of free speech and eventually gave way to despotism. The phenomenon to which Orwell alludes is bone chilling in its ramifications; secular liberalism and the pure pursuit of equality taken to its fullest conclusion necessarily leads to totalitarianism. After Snowball is deposed, Napoleon shuts down all public debate. Under Animalism, the individual not only cannot be trusted to self-govern, but must subordinate himself to the diktats of the anointed vanguard and their emissaries. The animal proles want to contest the edict, but they lack the critical thinking skills that can only be cultivated in a system which encourages a competition of thought. Since Animalist doctrine required strict fealty to core principles in order to forge a unified consensus, post-revolution Animal Farm could not forestall its inexorable slide towards totalitarianism and absolute thought control.

The animals would still assemble on Sunday mornings to salute the flag, sing Beasts of England, and receive their orders for the week; but there would be no more debates.

The prohibition of free speech also liberated Napoleon and his cohorts to completely control information, alter the tenets of Animalism, and rewrite history itself. When Napoleon eventually declares that trade with humans must be permitted in order to procure necessities that the farm simply could not produce, it also required the abandonment of previously sacred Animalist commandments. After Napoleon changed one tenet, it was merely a matter of time until all of Animalism had been rewritten to the point where the porcine politburo had exempted themselves from every commandment they imposed on the proles.

Among its many pointed critiques, post-revolution Animal Farm is yet another righteous kick in the teeth to the failure of economic planning. Though the animals were somewhat successful in carrying out the duties of managing Animal Farm in the beginning, the age old problems of thwarted incentives, mismanaged resources, and inadequate technology that have plagued socialist economies throughout the ages reared their ugly heads. Food shortages and rationing became a way of life for all the proles except for the porcine Kremlin and their canine goon squad.

In addition to being throttled by the absence of price signals and normal forces of supply and demand, the revolutionary ruminants of Animal Farm had to contend with the problem of producing a harvest using a population of animals with wildly disparate skill and intelligence levels and none of the humane incentives normally cultivated under a healthy market economy. Since Animalist (Marxist) orthodoxy proclaimed humanity to be parasitic, it blinded the hidebound herd to the laws of market economics. As clever as the cloven hooved revolutionary clerisy were in fomenting animosity towards humans, what they failed to grasp was that humans possessed skills they simply did not have. Animalism had nothing to say about how exactly economic life would carry on after the revolution. It simply indoctrinated the idea that the act of comandeering the means of production by force would somehow magically bring about an era of unbounded abundance.

The storyline pertaining to Mollie the horse offers a scathing rebuke to contemporary feminism. Mollie is a mare who likes the attention of humans (men), likes to accentuate her beauty with ribbons, and likes the indulgences (sugar) that are created by humans (men). Prior to the revolution, Orwell describes Mollie’s questions as the “stupidest” ones, but they’re only stupid to Animalist elites like Snowball who care only about submission and obedience from the herd. Mollie quite reasonably wonders about the availability of sugar and the permissibility of ribbons after the revolution. Snowball haughtily mansplains to her that neither will be permitted because they are the product of mankind and indulging either pleasure is counter-revolutionary. Mollie finds her fears of post-revolution Animal Farm confirmed when she discovers that the very creature comforts and attention she enjoyed from humans had been outlawed by the porcine politburo. Mollie defects and returns to human ownership, but her existence is never acknowledged again by the remainder of Animal Farm.

Snowball’s dismissal of Mollie’s concern perfectly encapsulates feminism’s sheer hostility to marriage, feminine beauty and manhood itself as it is expressed through the entire “body positivity” movement. Feminists are hostile to women who are naturally attractive and physically fit. Especially towards those who allow themselves to be “objectified” by the male gaze. Mollie wants the attention and companionship of humans (men) while Boxer and Snowball treat her with suspicion and contempt for having these desires. Fat positive activists promote the idea that losing weight and exercising restraint around eating is some patriarchal conspiracy to force body size conformity, but so-called “body positivity” is simply an overt attempt to normalize a natural tendency in women to seek indulgence and remove any accountability to make themselves more attractive to men. It is also a potent reminder that, by and large, women like to beautify themselves and to be recognized for it. Even the most fat positive, pierced, tattooed, blue haired, non-binary, black lipstick wearing feminist is looking for validation of her looks even if it only comes from their personal online hugbox of sycophants.

For anyone who thinks that Orwell belongs to the Left and his seemingly inexplicable attachment to democratic socialism somehow exonerates socialism, the joke’s on you. Over the years, many of the most trenchant critiques of leftism have come from within the ranks of the Left. The message of Animal Farm couldn’t be more explicit or urgent. If I knew why people, Orwell included, remained committed to the Left after enduring an ideological wrecking ball like Animal Farm, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this piece. Regardless, Animal Farm is happening right before our eyes. The first step towards actual liberation is recognizing that the only chains that exist are the ones that the ideology itself places within your own mind.

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The Red Pill (2016)

Generally speaking, documentary filmmaking is the realm of cinema that sets out to dive deeply into a story that isn’t being told or is poorly understood. Needless to say, it is a genre rife with progressive political agenda building. As films like Inside Job, An Inconvenient Truth and the entire Michael Moore oeuvre attest, there’s no shortage of documentaries which promote a standard leftist narrative. However, when done properly, a documentary film genuinely opens people’s eyes to an issue hidden from public discourse and provokes real debate. It maybe even changes a few minds. Without a doubt, Cassie Jaye’s exploration of the Men’s Rights Movement, The Red Pill, is one of those documentaries. 

The Red Pill is appropriately named and the net effect of the film is best summed up by the explanation given by MRM activist, Paul Elam, in response to Jaye’s inquiry about the the origins of the popular usage of the term “red pill”. In a pivotal scene from the 1999 classic, The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo two choices. He can take the red pill and have the veil of illusion permanently lifted in order to see reality as it truly is. Or he can take the blue pill and remain anaesthetized and asleep. If being “red pilled” represents being awakened to the plight of men in the Western world, Jaye then asks Elam what the blue pill represents. Elam proceeds to explain that the blue pill is the matriarchal political matrix constructed by the feminist media-academic industrial complex. This matrix is comprised of every article of faith in the contemporary Feminist Bible: the wage gap, rape culture, the epidemic of female domestic abuse, “reproductive freedom” for women, and child custody law. 

By making what amounts to nearly two hours of cinematic kryptonite for the entire feminist movement, Cassie Jaye has made one of the most fearless and important films in recent memory. Rather than being a shrill diatribe against feminism, Cassie Jaye sets up the film by sharing about how her own feminist convictions piqued her curiosity about the Men’s Rights Movement. She opens with a brilliant montage of standard MRM hatemongering found throughout the feminist mediasphere which predictably portrays the hate and bigotry coming exclusively from men. Despite being repulsed by the tone and appearance of actual misogyny, she confides that she found herself drawn in by the magnetic pull of leading MRM website, A Voice for Men. Throughout the film, Jaye shares her own video diaries in which she finds her beliefs and biases repeatedly challenged. And understandably so. As she proceeds to interview the most visible voices of the MRM, you can hear the entire edifice of feminist narrative getting demolished like Godzilla rampaging through the streets of Tokyo. 

Paul Elam

A significant portion of the MRM interview time is allotted to the founder of A Voice for Men, Paul Elam. He begins by letting the gas out of feminism’s hot air balloon of hyperbole. The feminist mediasphere almost uniformly portrays the MRM as a movement of knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, misogynistic Neanderthals who want women barefoot and pregnant. The net result of this sustained campaign of hatred and dehumanization is that men’s issues have been completely ignored. Elam lays out the dire state of manhood in clear and dispassionate terms. Rising rates of suicide, depression, drug addiction, pornography consumption, and unemployment are all well documented trends that are routinely buried under the omnipresent narrative of female oppression. When it comes to workplace fatalities, combat deaths, jobs involving hard physical labor, men are the overwhelming majority in each category yet you hear a deafening silence from the feminist establishment when it comes promoting equality in these pursuits.

Male privilege

Warren Farrell

Former feminist activist, Warren Farrell, pulls the rug from under the entire feminist mythology of patriarchal oppression by simply pointing out the inverse corollary to the axiom of female objectification: female hypergamy. Farrell found himself excommunicated from the Church of Feminism by attempting to point out what’s readily apparent to anyone who isn’t looking at life blinkered by feminist dogma. Women are valued for their sexual appeal and fertility, but men are valued for their ability to gather resources and provide for a family. While feminists seemingly never tire from flogging the notion that a man working 50 to 70 hours a week is part of some nefarious conspiracy to keep womanhood subjugated, there’s little willingness to recognize that this is how men express love and it’s what gives their lives meaning. 

Marc Angelucci

The demolition of feminist dogma accelerates when Jaye offers the mic to men’s rights attorney, Marc Angelucci, and president of the National Coalition for Men, Harry Crouch. While we’ve become accustomed to the narrative of deadbeat dads and absentee fathers, Crouch and Angelucci both provide a sobering reminder about how the legal playing field is overwhelmingly tilted towards women in issues of child custody, paternal suits and domestic abuse. If a man wants to be a father or wants child custody, good luck, pal. The feminist establishment has been very successful in turning the legal system against men in every legal dispute. If you’re socked with a paternity suit, brace yourself because the odds are not in your favor. The founder of Men’s Rights Inc., Fred Taylor, tells the heartbreaking story of his failed attempt at gaining custody of his son despite being the better equipped parent. Given feminism’s current crusade to rewrite gender roles, it’s ironic that feminists want to consign women to the motherhood role by legal fiat. 

Erin Pizzey and Cassie Jaye

Permanently laying waste to the one-sided narrative of female domestic abuse perpetrated exclusively by men, Erin Pizzey shares the story of her pathbreaking work in forming the first domestic abuse shelter for women in the UK. On the surface, Pizzey’s story makes her a prime candidate for the Feminism Hall of Fame. But Pizzey’s blasphemy is that she refused to remain silent about the reality of the women that she took into her shelter. Almost without exception, these abuse victims were violent themselves and often initiated violence against their husbands and children. Since Pizzey was unwilling to give these women a moral pass on their problems, she found herself vilified as an apostate by the Church of Feminism. 

After falling so far down the MRM rabbit hole, Jaye seeks the feminist perspective for some counterpoint. Jaye is subtle, but devastatingly effective as she sets up her meeting with Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine, Katherine Spillar. Jaye gives us a brief montage of the plush and very exclusive headquarters of the FMF in Beverly Hills, California. Using around 10 seconds worth of footage, the irony is readily apparent. Feminism consistently portrays itself as a radical and heterodox ideology. On the contrary, it is a deeply resourced interest group and a highly organized establishment orthodoxy governed by moneyed elites. 

Katherine Spillar

Spillar comes across as a classic hidebound ideologue gripped by cognitive bias with touches of smug condescension and religious zealotry. Jaye sets up the interview by saying that she’d like to hear a feminist rebuttal to the MRM grievances and arguments. Spillar expresses what sounds like a mixture of relief and revulsion; relief that she has finally sought the Truth from the Church of Feminism, but revulsion at the fact that Jaye has deigned to consort with, let alone make a film which features such degenerates. Every single response she gives is straight out of Feminism Incorporated and is made even more creepy by her bug eyed fanaticism. Men’s reproductive rights end after conception. Women are still oppressed. There is no real male domestic abuse problem. The wage gap is real. Men need to get over the dissolution of traditional gender roles. Case closed. Discussion over. 


Naturally, no proper feminist perspective would be complete without consultation with the Experts® in academia. Jaye managed to get two male professors of sociology and gender studies to offer their scholarly “expertise”. There’s a reason that pejoratives like “cuck” and “mangina” have escalated in usage and I have little doubt it’s because of guys like Michael Messner and Michael Kimmel. There’s a reason that people are paying more attention to the work of evolutionary psychologists like Gad Saad and social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt, too. It’s because people know they’re being force fed mealy mouthed dogma and canned ideological talking points by stooges like Messner and Kimmel. When Jaye shows the opening ceremony the new Center for Studies of Men and Masculinities at SUNY Stony Brook, you’ll be laughing right along with Elam and the other MRM activists in attendance. 

Chanty Binx aka Big Red

By far, the crown jewel of the feminist portion of The Red Pill is the interview with Chanty Binx, aka Big Red. Binx has become a living meme factory and along with Trigglypuff, is perhaps the ultimate self-parody of third wave feminism. Her dyed red hair perfectly complements the artificial indignation and canned outrage she spews. She reinforces all of the worst stereotypes about feminists by hurling invective and abuse at her presumed audience in a voice that would make nails on a chalkboard seem like sweet relief. 

Patriarchy, fuckface!

Karen Straughan

The final coup de grâce against feminism is delivered by the redoubtable Karen Straughan in two devastating segments. Straughan exposes the ways that feminists endanger the lives of women in countries like Nigeria by focusing exclusively on the plight of girls. Boko Haram have repeatedly brutalized men and boys for years, but this atrocity has received zero attention on the international stage because the Church of Feminism won’t allow the world to sympathize with boys. Boko Haram exploited this cultural bias by kidnapping girls when they’d normally allow them to escape. So just keep that in mind when you virtue signal with a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. 

But the final blow is delivered when Jaye asks Straughan why she thinks feminism has such enduring appeal. Her response is succinct and dead on. When you attribute the very notion of Justice with womanhood and Oppression with manhood, you’ve got the building blocks for a religious faith. Not a scientific pursuit. Rather, you have an ideology of Good versus Evil which offers no real emancipation for either gender and is permanently welded to the political apparatus. A combination that’s been remarkably effective and durable. 

As expected, the reaction to the film from the feminist establishment has ranged from disdainful and dismissive to full on autistic screeching and calls for censorship. Film screenings have been cancelled as a result of the online feminist hate mob campaigns not unlike those Jaye filmed outside the Warren Farrell lectures. If any additional proof of the overwhelming bias towards the Church of Feminism is needed, the bumbling idiots from Australia’s Weekend Sunrise provide ample evidence. 

Unlike the propagandistic twaddle proffered by the Michael Moores of the world, The Red Pill is vital and important because it’s a film that tells the truth. It’s a film that refuses to pander to feminist bigotry and elitism. Cassie Jaye has actually lived up to the promise of documentary filmmaking by making a film which draws attention to real problems and the rank hypocrisy of feminism’s hollow rhetoric around “equality”. While some still subscribe to the idea that feminism is still simply about gender equality, the words and deeds of the feminist establishment in relation to the issues raised by the MRM speak for themselves. With The Red Pill, Jaye joins Christina Sommers, Camille Paglia, and Erin Pizzey on the blacklist of apostates who committed blasphemy against the Church of Feminism. And if you’ve made that blacklist, chances are better than good that some sanity, civility, objectivity and genuine compassion has been restored. 

Social Justice is the Death Knell of Comedy

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It’s a point that’s been made by comedians and cultural commentators alike, but it bears repeating: #SocialJustice is the death knell of comedy. Over the years, the increasing encroachment of political correctness in the pop culture sphere has been assailed by everyone from George Carlin to John Cleese. And rightfully so. To be fair, neo-Marxist, postmodern PC culture is destroying pretty much everything that’s beautiful, ennobling and fun, but the toll it’s exacting on the realms of pop culture and entertainment that I always considered sacrosanct zones of unfettered creativity cannot be gainsaid. Comedy will always be judged based on subjective tastes and preferences, but we can distinguish a few core principles which make comedy funny. Moreover, it’s important to draw these distinctions because the goals of the neo-Marxist Left are completely at odds with making actual comedy.

Comedy is an essential art form because it provides a necessary escape valve from the pressure cooker of daily life. When done well, comedy transforms the deepest miseries and the most forbidden taboos into laughter. It serves as a coping mechanism and as a release.  In order to do this properly, the comedian can only invite the audience to see its own reflection in proportion to the degree that the comedian is doing it for himself.  In other words, the comedian’s jokes are funny because you recognize the truth of the comedian’s experience and empathize with him. This may even include judgments and caricatures that will make people uncomfortable. The job of the comedian is to put thoughts that remain hidden from view of normal discussion on loudspeakers. Generally speaking, the more uncomfortable the confession, the greater the comedy payoff. Even in the case of insult comedians like Don Rickles and Joan Rivers, the insults were funny because at some level, you had that thought yourself. The comedian must have a sufficient level of self-awareness about his own foibles and limitations in addition to being well attuned to the judgments and opinions he holds about others.

Most importantly, comedy is meant to be the province of breaking cultural taboos. Comedy is the art form that’s going to go there if that’s where the laugh is going to be found. Especially if it’s painful or uncomfortable subject matter.  It’s a cliché, but laughter is the best medicine. Of course, comedy is a vast art form and for the sake of concision, I’m not including slapstick, sight gags, and pranks nor do I intend to make this essay an extended exploration of every comedic style. My intention is merely to underscore the psychological mechanics of comedy which make it tick and the ways intersectional social justice completely undermines comedy’s most fundamental building blocks.

Given that comedy requires both emotional honesty and unconstrained access to every realm of life where jokes might be found, this dual mandate puts the entire art form of comedy on a collision course with #SocialJustice. The success of neo-Marxist Left hinges on carving society into groups and placing everyone within the hierarchy of oppression. Subsequently, anything done or said by the privileged group that is perceived to be disparaging of the oppressed groups creates an unacceptable perpetuation of oppression which must be condemned and silenced. Since this now includes pretty much everything that is a product of Western civilization, everything that was once considered funny is now in the crosshairs.

Take Mel Brooks’ 1967 lampoon of the show business industry, The Producers. Anyone with a functioning brain knows that Brooks made a Nazi musical the object of the producers’ quest because it was the epitome of bad taste. That’s the joke. Apparently, it’s not good enough for the pearl clutching moralists of the #SocialJustice Left.  Despite Blazing Saddles being a satire of racism and bigotry, how long before his 1974 classic gets the same puritanical reprimand from the Church Ladies of the Left?

Making matters worse is the ever shifting standards of #SocialJustice piety. The nature of intersectional social justice is to constantly move the goalposts of oppression in order to find the group believed to be the most aggrieved. The Kids in the Hall perfectly ridiculed the PC culture Oppression Olympics in 1992, but with the exception of South Park, you won’t find a single mainstream comedy show touch this stuff today. Back in the 90’s, Julia Sweeney managed to get a lot of mileage from her gender ambiguous SNL character, Pat. The comedy came from watching the confused reactions of everyone who wasn’t sure about Pat’s gender. It would be a perfect character to revive today given the white hot controversies over transgender bathrooms and military service, but I have little confidence that SNL would move beyond the self imposed confines of their ideological bubble.

All of which brings us to the core of the problem. Intersectional social justice is a microcosm of the moral relativism, situational ethics, and absence of principle that’s emblematic the Left. The Left has so badly corrupted and destroyed the idea of individual liberty and equality before the law that the only way one can express moral virtue is by circumscribing what you think and what you say to the realm of politics. It encourages people to be overly self-conscious and to self-censor. Needless to say, this is a recipe for totalitarianism. Intersectional social justice is breeding a police state mentality in which people are actively looking for WrongThink and stoking the thirst for retribution and punishment. It’s even more pernicious than if it was a top down legislation because people are freely adopting the mindset as a mark of moral virtue.

Unfunny partisan stooge, Trevor Noah, recently appeared on The View to make the following pronouncement about jokes he and his comedy peers made in the past.

“There were things we shouldn’t have been saying”

Unbelievable! A so-called “liberal” comedian delineating boundaries around what can be proper subjects for humor and calling it “progress”. Even Joy Behar concedes the constraints PC culture has imposed on today’s comedians. Lenny Bruce is surely turning in his grave.

The most odious and detestable pearl clutching SJW to rise to semi-prominence is the painfully irritating Dylan Marron. A sanctimonious prig who affects an utterly repellent pretense of cheeky irreverence and edgy contrarianism, Marron looks at older films and judges them through the lens of intersectional social justice. And SURPRISE! He finds them #PROBLEMATIC. Just like his feminist analogue, Anita Sarkeesian, Marron is one of the Left’s new self-appointed Culture Cops.

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The Left would argue that protesting offense is itself an exercise of free speech. It’s an argument to which I would respond by offering that you just not attend the performance and allow those who want to consume the comedy to enjoy it without being hectored by obnoxious scolds. It’s one thing to protest a comedian or a film screening, but if you are actively trying to prevent others from exercising their right through riots or threats, then you can’t really call that “free speech”. That’s the behavior of a complete totalitarian. Trevor Noah and the media dittoheads within the progressive echo chamber laughably argue that these arbitrary constraints on topics are improving comedy. How about you stop trying to define what’s acceptable in comedy and just allow the art form to progress organically? But we all know that’s not how the intersectional social justice game is played. It’s a one-sided particularist argument and if you’re on the side of oppression, you get the muzzle.
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If you go back through the past 50 years of television and cinematic comedy alone, there’s nothing that passes the #SocialJustice litmus test. Whether it’s Monty Python, Mel Brooks, Cheech and Chong, Sam Kinison, Eddie Murphy or Airplane!, today’s #SocialJustice activists will find nothing redeeming in the comedy tradition.

Comedy can’t take one ideological position nor can it cordon off select people or topics as subjects of potential ridicule while exempting others. When it does that it stops being comedy and metastasizes into propaganda. The traditional comedy television axis of late night talk, Comedy Central and SNL has become a dull and monolithic bastion of partisan talking points and smug condescension. The Amy Schumers and Sarah Silvermans are lionized as torchbearers of new school PC comedy, but shrill anti-Trump diatribes and vagina jokes will only get you so far. If anything, the quasi-McCarthyist, anti-Trump hysteria that has gripped the Left for well over a year deserves to be viciously ridiculed.  As do the idiotic straw men that are constantly being built and recycled by the media lackeys.

The Left’s de facto speech cops in Silicon Valley aren’t helping by throttling conservatives, classical liberals and libertarians on social media. The nascent shitlord community on YouTube has been kneecapped by the Google Gestapo and are seeing their videos flagged for demonetization and sequestered from trending algorithms. Facebook’s Politburo has been equally aggressive in policing meme pages that deviate from leftist orthodoxy.  Milo Yiannopolous and Sargon of Akkad are the latest people who’ve been disappeared by the Twitter Stasi. Comedy needs to be wrested from the deadening chokehold of the Puritans, scolds, and killjoys of Left. Progressives affect a pretense of being anti-authoritarian while simultaneously ignoring the vast institutional power they possess. You can’t claim a monopoly on pushing the envelope when your ideas already pervade every corner of culture. The real heroes of comedy today are the meme warriors and YouTube shitlords who dare to commit blasphemy against the Imams of #SocialJustice. The best comedy always comes from people who push back against the prudes, scolds and the killjoys. So fear not, shitlords. Kekistan will rise again. 

Stalker (Сталкер) (1979)

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s enigmatic, brooding and grindingly slow sci-fi film from 1979 is a favorite among artsy film connoisseurs and tastemakers, but the praise that has been heaped upon it needs to be taken with several grains of salt. Stalker is indeed a masterfully made film, and as far as I can tell, is a fairly explicit metaphor for the crushing despair of life under socialism. It is also an extended exploration of the nihilistic mindset that gave birth to one of the most repressive regimes in the 20th century. Criterion has just released a newly remastered blu-ray, so the world can now enjoy its bleak splendor as never before. That said, I don’t know that it will appeal to anyone beyond the hardcore cinephile set due to its grim aesthetics, cerebral artiness and glacial tempo.

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Since the storyline of Stalker is fairly straightforward on the surface, the allure of the film lies in attempting to peel back the layers of metaphor and symbolism. Tarkovsky’s work invites painstaking analysis because his film lives mostly in the realm of abstraction and semiotics. Considering that Stalker alone has inspired reams of film school exegeses and an entire book which deconstructs every minute detail, it has gained a reputation of being a puzzle of infinite depth.  Despite having a reputation which verges on a near mystical reverence, I think the film is quite possibly much more straightforward than prevailing opinion suggests.

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First and foremost, the film cannot be disassociated from socialist context in which it was created. This was, after all, a Mosfilm production, and by default, a work of art made by people living under a socialist dictatorship. Art was tightly controlled under the Soviets, so no filmmaker could make anything that was too explicitly critical of the regime. Making a ponderously slow film which buries its editorial under abstractions but still lends itself to a multiplicity of subjective interpretations was perhaps the only way to attempt to say anything that wasn’t boilerplate party propaganda.

Writer: While I am digging for the truth, so much happens to it that instead of discovering the truth I dig up a heap of, pardon… I’d better not name it.

The degree to which Tarkovsky’s aesthetic was a purely organic phenomenon in contrast to the extent that it was an adaptation to the confines of Party diktats are questions which must be considered. Stalker poses questions about the nature and role of art, and the fact that this film’s emotional spectrum ranges from sadness to suffering certainly tells us something about how art was affected by the psychological strictures imposed by socialist rule. I propose that the sci-fi premise merely provided the necessary metaphorical pretext for the underlying editorial.  Since absolute fealty to socialist orthodoxy and groupthink was a way of life, telling the truth in a direct way was a counter-revolutionary act all by itself. In this film’s case, the ponderous pace and desolate tone was likely Tarkovsky’s way of pulling you deeply into the experience of life through Soviet eyes.

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Based loosely on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1971 book, Roadside Picnic, Stalker tells the story of three men who enter a quarantined area called the Zone. The Zone was declared off limits to the public as a result of some unknown incident that may have been paranormal in nature or simply an industrial accident. The big attraction of entering the Zone is the presumed existence of the Room; a place where all wishes can be granted. Two of the men, known only as the Writer and the Professor, enlist the services of the titular Stalker to navigate the Zone and lead them to the Room. Theoretically, this sounds like it could be a premise for a SF action thriller, but the film has more in common with existential theatre like Waiting for Godot or No Exit than anything in the conventional sci-fi cinematic canon. Needless to say, the film is completely devoid of aliens, space travel, futuristic technology or any of the features we normally associate with cinema that calls itself science fiction.

The broad themes are spelled out very clearly in the first part of the film albeit in a somewhat oblique manner. As the film opens, we’re taken into the bedroom of the Stalker over the course of roughly nine dialogue-free minutes as he awakens next to his wife and disabled child. While dressing and preparing for the day, his distressed wife joins him in the kitchen and warns him that he risks returning to his old ways and being sent back to jail. Right away, Tarkovsky is revealing an important fact of life in the Soviet Union: the USSR was essentially an open air prison camp. Socialism had criminalized freedom itself, and the citizens had become complicit in their own enslavement.

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We discover in the subsequent scene that the Stalker is being enlisted to guide two other men into the Zone to find the Room. Since the Room was a place where one’s deepest wishes could be fulfilled, the Room could be viewed as a metaphor for hope, redemption, and the attainment of human dreams. In a word, freedom. No one can reach the Room without first passing through the heavily guarded perimeter of the Zone. The Zone is both an explicit metaphor for the Soviet state as well as the psychological confinement it engendered. The State had outlawed freedom, so the Stalker’s willingness to defy the State and lead others through the Zone is what makes him an outlaw. Naturally, his wife is fearful of caring for their disabled daughter without him, so she implores him not to go.

Stalker: The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.

Tarkovsky seems to have a view of humanity that alternates between nihilism and idealism, but tilts heavily towards the former. In one of Stalker’s monologues, he describes the Zone as an entity whose malevolence is both triggered by the appearance of people and a reflection of man’s nature.

Stalker: The Zone is a very complicated system of traps, and they’re all deadly. I don’t know what’s going on here in the absence of people, but the moment someone shows up, everything comes into motion. Old traps disappear and new ones emerge. Safe spots become impassable. Now your path is easy, now it’s hopelessly involved. That’s the Zone. It may even seem capricious. But it is what we’ve made it with our condition. It happened that people had to stop halfway and go back. Some of them even died on the very threshold of the room. But everything that’s going on here depends not on the Zone, but on us!

The Stalker eventually meets the Writer and his glamorous girlfriend at the waterfront. Stalker rudely dismisses the woman as he and the Writer climb into a car to meet the Professor. Both the Writer and the Professor are quite possibly archetypes for the artistic and academic intelligentsia who have largely been conscribed to the role of being apologists for the State. The rudeness and disdain the Stalker exhibits towards his girlfriend is easily understood when examined in this light. After a contentious rendezvous with the Professor which symbolized internecine Party squabbling, the two men reveal their motivations for undertaking this treacherous journey. The Writer wishes to recover his lost inspiration while the Professor claims pure scientific curiosity. Since the arts had been completely subordinated to service of state propaganda, it makes perfect sense that the Writer would take such a dangerous risk in order to have a taste of genuine inspiration that has been so badly thwarted by demands for ideological conformity.  The Professor’s scientific curiosity is perhaps a jab at the misplaced faith that socialist society had placed in scientism.  A Room which grants your deepest wish is already an idea that lives beyond science.  Bringing a scientific mentality to such a phenomenon is misguided at best. Their desire to reach the Room was by itself an act of faith, and by extension, Tarkovsky’s affirmation of the necessity for such leaps of faith.

Upon arriving in the Zone, the color palette switches from lifeless, desaturated browns and greys to actual color. Once they had traversed past the boundaries of allowable thought, the color and vibrancy of life was accessible to them. Despite the landscape of ruin and desolation that lay before the trio, they managed to marvel at beauty. Once again, Tarkovsky reveals his cynicism towards humanity by having the Stalker note that the beauty was the product of the absence of other people.

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The Writer’s ideological convictions are challenged as they travel deeper into the Zone. As an archetype for the artistic class, Tarkovsky lays bare the psychological schism that Marxism created amongst the creatives in one of the film’s few moments of dry levity.

Writer: My conscience wants vegetarianism to win over the world. And my subconscious is yearning for a piece of juicy meat. But what do I want?

Marxism had supplanted any notion of higher morality and placed the locus of virtue squarely within the hands of the State. Subsequently, the Writer’s desire to see vegetarianism win over was merely a metaphor for the political orthodoxy he’d been trained to uphold. He views his desire for meat as bourgeois false consciousness. Ultimately, he’s conflicted because his sense of Self had been disrupted by venturing beyond the ideological boundaries that were protected and enforced by the Zone.

When the three men reach the Room, they become suspicious of one another’s motivations. The Professor produces a nuclear bomb and threatens to detonate it because he doesn’t want the power of the Room to fall into the wrong hands. Conflict ensues and recriminations are exchanged. After some tortured confessions, the Professor disassembles the bomb and the scene grinds to a halt in a cloud of defeat and resignation. I suggest that Tarkovsky is saying something about how deeply uncomfortable and distrustful Russians were with the idea of freedom. So much so that they constructed their own ideological panopticon.

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Upon returning from the Zone, the Stalker is reunited with his wife and child. In one of the monologues delivered by Stalker’s wife, Tarkovsky is attempting to access something truly primeval within the Russian soul. Some kind of deep sadness which insists that happiness can only emerge unless there is sorrow. Yet it is a sorrow leavened ever so slightly with a tiny granule of hope. Who knows exactly from where this emanates, but it does perhaps offer an additional cultural insight into the psychological legacy of the Russian people on which Marxism so hungrily feasted.

Stalker’s Wife: You know, Mama was very opposed to it. You’ve probably already guessed, that he’s one of God’s fools. Everyone around here used to laugh at him. He was such a wretched muddler. Mama used to say: “he’s a stalker, a marked man, an eternal jailbird. Remember the kind of children stalkers have.” I didn’t even argue. I knew all about it, that he was a marked man, a jailbird. I knew about the kids. Only what could I do? I was sure I’d be happy with him. I knew there’d be a lot of sorrow, but I’d rather know bitter-sweet happiness, than a grey, uneventful life. Perhaps I invented all this later. But when he come up to me and said: “Come with me”, I went. And I’ve never regretted it. Never. There was a lot of grief, and fear, and pain, but I’ve never regretted it, nor envied anyone. It’s just fate. It’s life, it’s us. And if there were no sorrow in our lives, it wouldn’t be better, it would be worse. Because then there’d be no happiness, either. And there’d be no hope.

The resolution of the film reveals the Stalker’s daughter moving three glasses using what is apparently telekinetic power as a snatch of “Ode to Joy” surfaces. It’s enigmatic, but I believe this is the glimmer of hope that Tarkovsky is offering. Monkey represents a new generation which possesses abilities that were unimaginable to their forebears: the ability to cultivate and express joy. An ability so powerful it can only be represented as a paranormal psychic power.

Aesthetically, the film leverages the decrepit and dilapidated architecture of the USSR to create a post-apocalyptic vibe that’s easily among the bleakest natural settings committed to film.  The Zone was inspired by the 1957 Chelyabinsk incident which was both the first major nuclear accident prior to Chernobyl and third largest in history. Ever dedicated to the purity of his vision, Tarkovsky filmed the Zone at an abandoned Estonian power plant which quite possibly hastened his own demise along with two other members of the film crew resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals.

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I suspect that a large part of the allure of Tarkovsky and Stalker in particular is that it represents a manifestation of the great Holy Grail sought by artists across the world throughout the ages: a pure artistic expression unsullied by the taint of capitalistic profit seeking. Stalker is very much a film made with painstaking attention to the most minute details. Almost nothing that makes it into the frame seems left to chance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a film that people will actually want to watch.

Stalker is a film which elicits admiration more than enjoyment. As much as I am tempted to get lost in the labyrinth of symbolic possibility that so enraptures the cinephiles, I see this as a pretty explicit manifestation of the Russian pysche’s very fragile grasp at humanity desperately laboring under the weight of emotional and physical devastation wrought by 60 years of iron fisted subjugation and state enforced social engineering. Since this is a work of art which leans very heavily on symbolism, people will extract a meaning from it which confirms their own bias and disposition. Predictably, the progressive media in America has heaped praise on it because they see it as antidote to Trumpism and a rallying cry for socialism itself. The fact that a film that’s this unremittingly dreary and downcast is perceived as some kind of rallying cry for socialism just goes to show how deeply this ideology warps the psyche and possesses the will of the individual.  If anything, Stalker should be taken as a dire warning of the inhospitable future that awaits should we allow this ideology to hollow out what remains of our souls.

Stalker is indeed a work of Serious Art® and I completely understand the cult of devotion it has inspired. Like all good works of high modernism, it contains the possibility of extracting multitudes of meaning. However, I genuinely don’t think Tarkovsky intended this film to be another occasion for endless academic navel gazing or a self-centered circle jerk for the intelligentsia. Tarkovsky was making an earnest attempt to tell the truth of the Russian experience by using a SF premise as a metaphysical allegory. John Semley’s dumb Salon piece praises the film for all the wrong reasons. Yes, the plodding pace feels radical in contrast to the engineered dopamine rushes we get from contemporary cinema, but it’s because the film conveys a deep sense of despair. Being boring is not an aesthetic virtue that is inherently good. Good art encompasses the entirety of the human experience, but most importantly, it has intention and should actually connect with its audience. Would Stalker have been funded on the free market? Probably not. Grim meditations on the human experience don’t make for big ticket sales. Especially if they’re the product of life under socialist rule. I’m deeply sympathetic to artistic expression which challenges norms and defies expectations. Most people do not share this belief, and as a result, won’t bother watching Stalker. And that’s fine. No one is required to consume art which evokes boredom and despair. In the end, that is perhaps that is the true legacy of the film. Just as millions died chasing the abstraction that Marxism represented, few will heed the subtle warning buried under Tarkovsky’s abstractions.

Stalker: Are you awake? You were talking recently about the meaning… of our… life… unselfishness of art… Let’s take music… It’s really least of all connected; to say the truth, if it is connected at all, then in an idealess way, mechanically, with an empty sound… Without… without associations… Nonetheless the music miraculously penetrates into the very soul! What is resonating in us in answer to the harmonized noise? And turns it for us into the source of great delight… And unites us, and shakes us? What is its purpose? And, above all, for whom? You will say: for nothing, and… and for nobody, just so. Unselfish. Though it’s not so… perhaps… For everything, in the end, has its own meaning… Both the meaning and the cause…

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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Since we’re living in the Age of the Reboot and the number of films made from existing properties outpaces the number made from original scripts, some important questions need to be answered.  To what degree does the artist’s or author’s original intention matter when doing a remake? Given that every writer tells a story using a specific set of characters, themes and ideas to make a general point, can a remake which repurposes those ideas to conform to contemporary sensibilities legitimately call itself by the work’s original name? At what point do those themes and ideas become so different, that the reboot has become a different story altogether? Where is the line between respectful homage and outright sacrilege? Most importantly, at what point do the thematic reinventions have a deleterious effect? I don’t have definitive answers to all of these questions, but GITS 2017 certainly has me inclined to believe that the law of diminishing dramatic returns holds true more often than not when it comes to these reboots. This is not to say that GITS 2017 is a complete disaster because the deviations from GITS 1995 are indeed handled very cleverly.  However, this does mean that the various changeups don’t add up to a better final product even when accounting for the ramped up production values.

The broad strokes of GITS 2017 are basically the same as GITS 1995, but the changes to those original themes alter the overall message of the film in significant ways. Scarlett Johansson plays The Major, and in contrast to GITS 1995, the film is setting up an entirely different dramatic conflict by emphasizing how she was created and by whom.

In the future, the line between human and machine is disappearing. Advancements in the technology allow humans to enhance themselves with cybernetic parts. Hanka robotics, funded by the government, is developing a military operative that will blur the line even further. By transplanting a human brain into a fully synthetic body, they will combine the strongest attributes of human and robot.

This isn’t a departure from the basic premise of the original, but it marks a distinct shift in emphasis. Where the original was positing the idea of a fully sentient digital being, GITS 2017 is giving us a variation on Robocop.  Instead of OCP, we have Hanka robotics which has contracted with the government to build a cyborg super soldier.  The opening of the film shows us a fatally injured Mira Killian being carted into an operating room in which her brain is ultimately salvaged and inserted into her cybernetic shell.  There are flashes of some violent fiery trauma which may or may not be flashbacks to the incident which left her fatally injured.

 

 

Upon being fully regenerated into her new cybernetic shell, the CEO of Hanka and her designer Dr. Ouelet have a debate over her future assignment. CEO Cutter wants her assigned to the elite anti-terrorism unit, Section 9, while Dr. Ouelet insists that Mira isn’t ready for that kind of duty. This is one of the points of departure from the original and where the film goes off the rails a bit. As Dr. Ouelet, Juliette Binoche is presumably an elite robotics engineer working for the most prestigious robotics company and instead of treating her like a professional doing the job she was hired to do, the film has her projecting maternal attachment to her new creation.  So not only is the film trying to get feminist booster points by having a female character in a STEM role, they portray her exercising her female biological instincts on her cybernetic newborn. Way to smash gender stereotypes, folks.

While I’m generally cool with suspension of disbelief in sci-fi, I can’t help but to nitpick the scientific premise they’re putting forward since Rupert Sanders and company have chosen to make the Major’s creation story the center of gravity. Hanka is presumably a sophisticated and well resourced for-profit robotics company. Albeit one that’s in bed with the government.  They want to build a super soldier by taking the human mind of a young woman with no combat experience whatsoever and place her in a cybernetic shell.  So Hanka believes that Mira’s human reflexes, spatial recognition, muscle memory, emotional disposition, neurological and biological proclivities will be a sufficient foundation for a super soldier once outfitted with a cybernetic shell. It made sense in Robocop because Murphy was a cop in the first place. I know this is sci-fi and everything, but good sci-fi generally starts with at least a generally plausible scientific premise and extrapolates.  This is saying that the all of the attributes which are either biologically hardwired or psychologically imprinted into the young female mind are simultaneously the most valuable attributes for a cyborg super soldier and can be sublimated once paired with cybernetic musculature. Alrighty then.

In the scene following Mira’s cybernetic birth, the film tips its hand by more explicitly revealing the film’s progressive editorial in what is otherwise a visually stunning reinvention of the original opening. Now operating as the fully functional cyborg super cop she was designed to be, the Major scans a meeting taking place between a Hanka executive and the African ambassador. Instead of a generic foreign diplomat negotiating a Megatech programmer defection, they give us a Hanka executive making a pitch to an African politician. Cuz multiculturalism and shit or something. Against the orders of Section 9 leader, Aramaki, the Major dons her invisibility cloak and storms the room just as a geisha-bots begin attacking the Hanka executive. Right before the Major shoots the hacked geisha-bot, it utters a warning: “Commit to the will of Hanka and be destroyed.” Where GITS 1995 left us to puzzle out the Puppet Master’s ultimate motivations, this one is telling us that this new mind hacker has it in for Hanka.  The big, bad corporation. Imagine my surprise. 

The Major and her multicultural team of Section 9 cyborgs spend the remainder of the film trying to identify the new mind hacker, Kuze.  At the same time, the Major becomes increasingly curious about her past since her flashbacks become more vivid and frequent. 

The film is making an important point about the nature of memory and the structure of human cognition, but it’s approaching the topic from a Marxist angle. By giving the Major a false memory which sharpened her killing instincts, the film is saying she had, in effect, committed to the will of the bourgeoisie. Which, in this case, was the Hanka corporation. Naturally, the false memory portrayed her as an immigrant whose parents were killed by terrorists because, after all, you need to gin up that antipathy towards terrorists artificially.  To the film’s credit, the writers portrayed the Major’s natural genetic memory as the force which compelled her to discover her birth mother and know her own story more fully. As it turns out, her ghost belonged to Motoko Kusanagi, a young Japanese radical who campaigned against cybernetic enhancements.  So Hanka figures it can fulfill the ghost requirements of its super soldier program by culling the ranks of anti-cyber-enhancement dissidents. Alrighty then.

Like many other Hollywood films, it’s trying to have it both ways by making Cutter and Hanka the bad guys. Cutter is yet another two-dimensional cardboard cutout who is all calculating menace and cartoonish malevolence.  He also happens to be….you’ll never believe it….a white male. It’s as though there’s an overriding narrative.  

Kuze threatens to destroy those who “commit to the will of Hanka”, but Hanka contracts with the government. Whose will is truly being carried out here? Section 9 is clearly some kind of special forces/homeland security unit which needed an elite cyborg and Hanka delivered. Again, one detects the distinct whiff of an agenda. 

Of course, there are some pretty obvious sops to PC sensibilities.  The film takes place in future Japan, and naturally, multicultural harmony and gender equality reign supreme. Besides the addition of another female cyborg to the Section 9 roster, the team speaks to Aramaki in English while he speaks to them in Japanese. This doesn’t make any goddamn sense, people. Also, if the Major’s ghost was Japanese, why is she speaking English? As long as there are nation states, there will be a dominant culture and language that will be upheld. The Japanese have proven themselves pretty protective of their culture and language. There’s no way Section 9 is multilingual. Sorry. 

The film emphasizes the Major’s sentience by having her verbally consent to the administration of a serum or being jacked into a digital network. It’s an interesting twist and it reminds us that the Major is still human, but once again, the aroma of a certain highly politicized issue wafts about this piece of the story.  One could certainly extend the question of consent to a wide variety of federal policies, but I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers had in mind.

The look of the film is spectacular, and it takes the arthouse cyberpunk noir of the original to another level. This is another take on the hybrid of squalid urban sprawl and holographic commercial overstimulation that we’ve been getting since Blade Runner. ScarJo has been raked over the coals for a number of aspects of this role, but she and the rest of the cast are enjoyable enough. The complaints of “whitewashing” from the #SocialJustice crowd are painfully stupid and tiresome given that these jackasses tend to be the most vocal cheerleaders for immigration and multiculturalism. 

Since both GITS films have addressed very specifically the role of memory in determining selfhood, I can’t help but to think that what Sanders and company have done here is exactly analogous to what Hanka did to the Major. By rewriting the story, they want to hack the minds of the public and implant a new memory of GITS that will supersede the memory of the original. At some level, all of this remixing of the past is saying that there is no sanctity to a any artist’s original vision. Everything must be tailored to the prevailing political winds. 

While I found it enjoyable enough, I still came away thinking that this remake failed to add anything new to the original and ultimately detracted from themes and ideas that were more provocative and original. By insisting that all films conform to progressive orthodoxy, films are increasingly taking on an aura of bland globalist cosmopolitanism. Where the original asked you to contemplate the nature of selfhood, the transmission of genetic memory, speciation and the possibility of a post-human being, this film ends up rehashing ideas that were already explored in films like Total Recall, Robocop, and Minority Report. The Major is haunted by her past, but only achieves peace after discovering the truth of who she was and from where she came. Ultimately, the film is affirming the importance of familial and cultural bonds while simultaneously affirming that one can only fulfill the process of individuation through self-discovery. Contrary to the claims of contemporary social scientists and gender “scholars”, the human being does not come into the world as a blank slate. Every person possesses an a priori cognitive structure through which the experiences of the world occur. The process of defining selfhood requires that one distinguish between whether you are the author of your own existence or a player in a drama that’s been written for you. While I can acknowledge that this is the common thread that binds the films together, I don’t know that this film is Ghost in the Shell. Or if it’s a different ghost in the shell of its predecessor. 

The Major: You are not defined by your past, but for your actions…

Fooled Again After All: The Mind Numbing Ideological Homogeneity in Rock Music

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I was smitten by a number of rock music’s many virtues.  I loved the iron studded defiance and operatic individualism in Judas Priest. I could relate to the dreamy eyed idealism and romantic yearning in Journey.  I was amused by the tongue in cheek irony and theatrical absurdity of Devo. I was captivated by the pissed off mechanized malevolence of Metallica. I was swept away by the fantastical imagery and instrumental virtuosity of Led Zeppelin. I was enthralled by the decadent spectacle and the militant rebellion of The Who. I was hypnotized by the melancholy ruminations and brooding sonics of Pink Floyd. Most importantly, I was moved by the message of unity and human universalism in Sly and the Family Stone. Even though I found the music cheesy and maudlin, I could also appreciate the good intentions behind supergroups like Artists United Against Apartheid and USA for Africa.  I figured if rock megastars could help bring about positive change in world, then perhaps this art form holds the potential for something more than fame and money. 

Rock and pop music with social and political commentary is certainly not new. It definitely didn’t start out that way, but by the time you get to the 1960’s, rock moved further away from escapism and non-conformity and increasingly towards raising social and political awareness. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. Art and music can be vessels for humanity’s highest aspirations and ideals, so it follows that artists would attempt to recreate the spiritual role that infused the gospel and R&B roots of rock in the secular sphere. Not only did rock stake a permanent claim on being the kingdom of freaks, weirdos, decadents and contrarians, it also positioned itself as the de facto moral conscience for a global secular congregation.

But rock is no longer a scrappy upstart art form chafing at the edges of social acceptance. It’s the establishment. What began as music designed to piss off your parents is now the music of your parents. Or maybe even your grandparents. It has ensconced itself into every corner of consumer culture but has carefully tended to its outsider mythology. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of the political editorial in pop, rock and folk throughout the 20th century belongs to the radical Left. From Pete Seeger’s odes to Stalin to the pro-Sandinista raveups of the Clash, the soundtrack to the struggle of the underdog has been monopolized by the Left. The upheavals of the 60’s and 70’s that gave rock its sense of urgency and purpose have since been absorbed into the social, political, commercial and academic bloodstream. To the degree that the rock of yesteryear had a sense of moral purpose, today’s rock has devolved into a zombified corpse feasting from the carcass of its bygone glories. Desperately seeking the conscience which ignited the Flower Power generation, today’s artists try to maintain a pretense of youthful rebellion and relevance. Devoid of the sweeping narrative of intergenerational change that animated the Boomers, the idealism of all subsequent generations of rockers and pop artists has increasingly metastasized into rote nostrums of the progressive political and academic intelligentsia. 

Sly Stone wanted to take you higher, but Macklemore wants to telegraph the tortured solipsism of his alleged “white privilege”. The Dead Kennedys righteously lampooned the pampered collegiate class while Green Day seem content to confirm their biases. The Sex Pistols snarled out anthems for anarchy, but Rage Against the Machine would have you believe that recycled Marxist angst is an edgy and fresh perspective. Whether it’s Beyonce’s excruciating feminist infomercials or the psychic trauma of Le Tigre’s shrieking Hillary Clinton propaganda, these would-be progressive ministrations sound less like the organic rallying cries of a voiceless underclass and more like the hackneyed script of lazy, entitled royalists. 

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

The spirit of contrarianism that once defined rock has given way to an insufferable smug preachiness and an unhinged militancy in the wake of the Trump election. Pete Townsend may have been cheering the dissolution of the moral order of his parents’ generation in his anthems of rebellion, but he may not have anticipated that the children at his feet would construct a new moral order that would happily see him censored. The examples are numerous, but there are a few worth highlighting.

In his latest piece in the Observer, Tim Sommer lambasts Roger Waters for peddling impotent middle-aged angst without providing a mechanism for political action. He expresses his openness to “another” political viewpoint, but only in ironic scare quotes dusted off with a distinct whiff of elitist condescension. He also discusses what he regards as “four freedoms promised in January of 1941 by President Roosevelt” which include “freedom from want”. Anyone who has a rudimentary grasp of political philosophy knows this is a reference to positive rights. The US Constitution makes no reference to “freedom from want” nor does the General Welfare Clause justify the creation of a welfare state. You will never be free from want and the list of human wants is infinite. It’s fine to advocate for voluntary charity, but making this a political objective is a recipe for catastrophe.

Trent Reznor’s latest bromide against Trump in Vulture refers to him as a “fucking vulgarian”; a remarkably strange sentiment coming from the guy who immortalized “fuck you like an animal” in a song lyric. Is Reznor’s political philosophy so shallow that he’s evaluating political policy and politicians on a scale of “vulgarity”? Sure, Trump has broken some taboos and violated expectations around what a POTUS can or cannot say, but the discussion should be centered on actual policy and political philosophy. The fact that Reznor makes no attempt to discuss Trump’s policy ideas in contrast with his own political philosophy makes this an especially inane and counterproductive criticism. His comments in a recent Village Voice interview are only slightly more nuanced and reveal more explicitly the Manichean worldview that defines the progressive mindset. 

“Look, I don’t think he’s a good guy. Some people do,” he told his son. “I don’t think he believes in science and I don’t think he believes people should be treated decently and I don’t think he tells the truth. That’s why I don’t like him.”

Good people on one side and bad people on the other. It’s not about whether you like him, Trent. The question is over what, if any, role the federal government should play in science, healthcare, immigration policy or anything else. Science is not democratic nor does it require belief.  It does require testable hypotheses, transparent methodologies, and ethical data collection. When government money is funding science, the likelihood that we’ll see any results that might falsify the hypothesis and derail the political agenda behind it is greatly diminished. Furthermore, political policy never determines how people treat one another; it only delineates the sphere of action that’s subject to criminal or civil punishment. This points to the distinction between society and State to which Thomas Paine referred, but has since been collapsed by progressives. Obviously, Reznor is making a veiled reference to immigrants, minorities and transgender people, but political policy does not nor should not form the basis of how one comports oneself in the company of others. Political policy does not shape the opinions people hold about other people. Political policy is not a substitute for having a sound moral philosophy. The quest for political protection for the so-called transgender community is taking on an increasingly absurd and totalitarian aura. And very few politicians have good truth telling records. The Democrats certainly don’t have a lock on veracity. What’s perhaps most disconcerting is Reznor’s silence on the ongoing war for free speech versus political correctness. It would have been useful to hear a public position on the matter since his material is more than ripe for social justice jihad. Considering that Reznor has written a vulgar lyric or two and touched on some rather controversial subject matter, his silence as well as the dismissive crack he made about Gamergate says more than a little about his true priorities and biases. 

The walking billboard for the DNC formerly known as Katy Perry fares no better in her increasingly hamfisted proselytizing for the Church of Identity Politics and #DIVERSITY. Positioning herself as the torchbearer of mass market #WOKE pop, Perry’s pleas for “unity” in the wake of the Manchester terrorist bombing sound especially hollow and tone deaf.  For a pop star who has cashed in so handsomely on sugar coated pop confections and girly coquettishness, her recent turn towards #SocialJustice pandering is a disappointing downgrade. 

In what is thus far the most cringe inducing bit of Trump Derangement Syndrome, second generation nu metal shitstains, Stray From the Path, literally committed their autistic screeching to tape with a bit of prefab agitprop, “Goodnight Alt-Right”.  Filled to the brim with manufactured outrage and the deranged justifications for initiating violence against people who deviate from progressive orthodoxy, it reveals quite a bit about how leftists deal with people who stray from their path. Way to go, edgelords. So contrarian. 

Speech is “free” but it comes with a price
And if you’re speaking out some bullshit I’ll give you advice

Hit ’em with a left a left and a right

Got ’em dropping like flies with the stars in their eyes

So fuck them and fuck you too and appreciate

That if you preach hate, then expect hate

Needless to say, blasphemy against the Church of Progressivism has been met with the customary acts of censure, vindictiveness and retribution. None other than Johnny Rotten himself came out in favor of #Brexit and Trump to the dismay of many fans.  In what is thus far the biggest shitstorm in the ever widening culture war over political correctness, the little known band, The Dream Machine, were dropped from their label for committing blasphemy making “ugly” remarks about immigration and feminism. That’s right, folks. Shit on Christians, Trump, white people and conservatives all you want. That’s #EDGY because they’re privileged and shit. But if you say even one mean word about immigrants or feminists, brace yourself. Hell hath no fury like a social justice warrior triggered. 

As someone who entered the world of rock precisely because of its spirit of individualism and contrarianism, nothing disheartens me more than seeing rock musicians and rock culture breeding the worst kind of conformity; conformity of political thought.  Artists are generally an empathetic and well intentioned bunch who, like many others, want to maximize goodwill and global harmony. I suspect there’s more than a few people who set out to change the world with three chords and the truth. But what most artists fail to grasp is that government policy is not meant to be the vessel through which compassion, love, and brotherhood flow. It is a very dangerous institution whose power should not be extended to satisfy your altruistic urges. If you believe it should do something not specifically enumerated in the Constitution and for which provision can be made through voluntary means, then you bear the burden of justifying the application of its coercive powers to your fellow citizens. And if you genuinely feel justified in advocating for these policies without having to make the case to your fellow citizens, then consider the possibility that you are the one who was fooled again after all.  

Damnation Alley (1977)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maj. Eugene Denton: I did.

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

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

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

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Stuart Mill: The Subjection of Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feminism in one meme

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Salvador Dali

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

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

Pablo Picasso

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

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

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

Willem de Kooning


Jackson Pollock

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

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

Yves Tanguy

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

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

René François Ghislain Magritte