One of the most eye-opening encounters ever for me was back after Occupy Wall Street was broken up forcibly by the cops (history repeats itself), when I was talking to a friend about that whole mess, particularly the time when campus cops at UC Davis maced 20 people for refusing to disperse. This person had very briefly been a police officer but had quite liberal opinions on the whole, and was both a person of color and a queer person to boot. He’d even attended UC Davis and still lived in the area. So I was fairly surprised to hear the opinion that it was the damn kids’ fault, particularly since this thing came out called the Moreno Report—an independent investigation led by a retired California Supreme Court justice—which came to the opposite conclusion, that the cops overreacted and that the administration gave them confusing orders in the first place. Still, hearing this soon-to-be former friend was a real revelation. To empathize with the inflictor of pointless violence rather than the victims just points to an ugly sort of solidarity that many cops feel, one seen all across the policing culture of the USA as recent events show. Typically military/police comparisons are inappropriate and attitudes toward the military in this country are all kinds of problematic but damn if the army doesn’t have an effective system of dealing with soldiers who break the rules, and while that system gets shortcircuited in a context where the commander-in-chief is a sociopath who likes war criminals, it does work and it is valued as a way to keep soldiery an honorable profession. If people in actual wars are still expected to follow the rules of war, then surely cops can be as well, and should be held accountable for the civilian equivalent of war crimes.

            I submit to you that, when we talk about good cops, simply not being brutal to black people is not enough. Refusing to stand in solidarity with brutes and killers and demanding effective accountability for all police officers is what the definition of being a good cop should be. I’m certain that it’s a nonzero number of police officers who feel that way, but until they all do, things aren’t going to change.

            Lev filed this under:  

            The idea that it is or could be a thing is just a lie. Where articles get placed in the paper, what the headlines are, what word choices and details the stories include are all inherently political decisions, though admittedly not entirely political decisions. With op-eds, things are even more inherently political because some perspectives are being included and others are being excluded and these choices are inevitably political. Giving so much attention to NeverTrump Republicans despite their representing maybe 5% of the GOP is a political decision, as is ignoring the quite large portion of the country who are socially conservative and fiscally liberal. Not only are there not enough op-ed slots to represent all the views in the nation, there’s not an equal amount of emphasis for all of them. Better to just be transparent about your politics and why you’re giving your platform over to certain people than to pretend that politics has nothing to do with it.

            Some people were surprised by Tom Cotton’s violent authoritarian op-ed. I wasn’t. It’s pretty much par for the course for an elite which still thinks that the problem with politics is politics, and that what we should be doing is taking the politics out of politics, because politics is divisive and we should be unifying. (Why unity is inherently better than division is one of those questions that is never asked, it’s just obvious, apparently.) Advocates of this view have developed an impressive number of candidates for substitution with politics: disinterested expertise, inclusivity, discourse and deliberation, and obviously that all-important obsession with “tone.” And look, most of those things are good things (less so the tone business). But they are no substitution for politics. It’s great when you can get everybody in the room to agree with you but usually you can’t, so what do you do? Maybe an expert convinces them, maybe listening to their complaints does it, maybe being nice does it. But if not, what then? Politics is the answer to that question, of course, but if your assumption is that politics is bad, what do you do? Basically, you hate people who don’t share your hatred of politics, and who are wrecking the tone and preventing the wise and disinterested wise old men from fixing things in a calm and cerebral fashion. That is the emotion behind the Cotton op-ed (which does not care about the distinction between legitimate protesters and opportunists taking advantage) and it is one that the media obviously shares. The violence of it is not their usual style but if politics is not an option, what other option is there besides violence?

            I truly despise this whole worldview. It’s a philosophy I associate with the Boomers, though powerful Boomers have inculcated it into their younger proteges in hopes that it will continue to be the dominant perspective in the non right-wing dominated institutions. The flailing of the?New York Times?over Cotton gives me some hope that this noxious garbage is on its way out, and that the Millennials—who predominantly do not see politics as bad or evil in the same way—will soon be setting the pace here.

            { 1 comment }
            Lev filed this under: ,  

            I went ahead and pulled the confirmation vote roll call for Bill Barr today just out of curiosity. There was one Republican opposed and three Democrats were in favor. The Republican opposed was Rand Paul, I guess in one of his occasional moments of pretending to care about the rule of law and civil liberties. The three Democrats were Joe Manchin (natch), Doug Jones, and Kyrsten Sinema. Probably the three I would have guessed had I known there were three. And while two would be difficult to hold accountable for confirming a corrupt fascist to the nation’s top law enforcement post (Jones’s fluky stint is nearly at an end, Manchin sucks but we can’t do better in West Virginia), Sinema is a perfect choice! I’m really unsure how a former Nader 2000 staffer managed to break into Democratic electoral politics—though such a person becoming a Blue Dog is almost painfully on the nose when considering how phony a leftist Nader has always been—but she did and she’s been the most minimally acceptable Democrat possible her entire career. You know the type, the one who finds division and polarization appalling, and who adores consensus and bipartisanship. Voting to confirm Barr shows just how poor this sort of judgment is, particularly given that her Democratic colleagues from Montana and Ohio managed to vote against confirmation despite coming from states that went much more heavily for Trump than did Arizona. Maybe Sens. Tester and Brown actually give a shit about something other than burnishing an image of moderation. Who knows?

            This leads to my second point: we don’t need Sinema to win Arizona. A lot of the discussion around Sinema was that she was basically a bad ‘90s Democrat, but that Arizona is a tough state and Sinema is the right person to run there. That seems to have been wrong since?Mark Kelly is running against the exact same opponent that Sinema had and is absolutely crushing her. Again, the exact same opponent that Sinema very narrowly defeated. Sure, the environment may be a little bit worse for Republicans now than it was in late 2018, but not that much worse. Trump’s base has not abandoned him, and while a couple of Republican Senate seats have become more competitive, it’s not as though any evenly split states from 2018 are now double-digit romps now. Given that Democrats did well generally in 2018, it stands to reason that Kelly is an actually good candidate and Sinema is a poor one who got lucky with the fundamentals and a bad opponent. And Kelly is, among other things, strongly identified with gun control as an issue, which in the not too recent past would have been impossible in Arizona. The sort of politics that Kelly represents is the politics of the Democratic coalition all over, while Sinema is a throwback to when Dems hemmed and hawed over every issue, and just hoped that Republicans would trip over their own rake and let them win by default. Obviously, Kelly hasn’t won anything yet, but even winning by half of the margin he currently has in the polls would make a strong statement about how well bland centrism and straightforward progressivism sell to a general electorate.

            Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if a challenge eventually occurs. Hopefully by 2024, Trump is so far in the rear view that there’s little salience to this issue, but accountability really should be served. Arizona deserves better and so do we.

            Lev filed this under:  

            There’s a certain amount of privilege to the idea of treating politics as entertainment in the sense that your immediate life-or-death needs have to be met for you to see it all as a big game. That equation changes dramatically in a literal life-or-death crisis but Trump can’t switch gears from circus clown to serious president, and he can’t just hand the task over to someone better suited to handle it because he would resent the attention that the other person gets. Since people are a bit less interested in his usual nonsense, Trump is having to up the ante to get attention paid to him, which is why we’re seeing what we’re seeing: pure desperation. For the first three years, Trump was remarkably successful in turning us all into FOX News viewers regardless of politics: addicts to information that made us unhappier. Absent the privilege of treating it all as a game with no stakes, though, the Trump show becomes an absolute bore, which Trump can’t stand, so…

            I have this idea about Trump, which is that he so monopolizes attention that nobody can remember what life was like before him or picture life without him, which is why like 1/3 of Democrats think he’s going to win re-election in spite of having spent his entire presidency at the same level of popularity that George W. Bush was at after Katrina and the collapse of Iraq. It was never very likely that he was going to win another term, even before this, but deep down a lot of people have adjusted to the new normal and literally can’t imagine it changing. With a health crisis and a cratering economy, though, peoples’ attention habits are naturally going to change, which means the context under which Trump “succeeded” no longer exists. Probably doesn’t directly change Trump’s odds of re-election but it will change perceptions of it, though there really is something to the idea that people who think they’re going to fail will find a way to make it so. And given that the odds of being back at the status quo ante in five months are nearly zero, I wouldn’t bet on the return of the dominance of poli-tainment either. Not that Trump won’t resort to ever-crazier attempts to bring it back. But if he can’t control his favorite toy the TV anymore, his abrupt quitting begins to seem more likely. Would be nice.

            { 1 comment }
            Lev filed this under:  

            I recently saw last year’s?Cats and it is every bit as astonishing as its reputation suggests. It’s a spectacular failure in every respect, from casting to cinematography to special effects to lighting, which is a rare area to really just eat it on. And yet the lighting is not a small matter: if the movie presents you with a dance spectacular that you can’t see because the room is too dark, what is it even doing? This is a musical which thinks that the most interesting part of a dancer’s body is what’s going on from the waist up, which somehow manages to have half its cast Shatnering up the songs by speak-singing in some approximation of the melody,* and which manages to turn an upbeat, high-energy spectacle into a dreary, melancholy bummer of a film (in theory, anyway). This very much extends to famous show-stopper tune Memory, which has an able singer in Jennifer Hudson to be sure, but while Hudson hits those high notes with unquestionable power, the song matches the “dreary slog” tone of the rest of the movie. Hudson sings the bittersweet tune as a bitter dirge, ignoring its undulations between happy and sad, high and low. (Also, the casting of Hudson is a mistake just in general—are we really supposed to believe that Hudson is supposed to be this faded?grande dame of the theater in her early thirties?). Very quickly, the mind can’t help but turn to the sorts of critical questions that a successful adaptation of?Cats would keep you from thinking about, like: why does this movie exist? What’s the point of it? The point of the stage show was just to create an enjoyable spectacle, but the movie barely seems to care about the spectacle it is putting on, frequently cutting to such wide shots that you can’t even see what they’re doing. In other words, if you find yourself asking why does?Cats exist while watching?Cats, then the movie is already a failure, and it’s impossible to think of anything else.

            That said, it’s pretty unmistakeable what’s going on: Tom Hooper is a serious director who makes serious movies about serious subjects,** and his active contempt for the material means turning a fun, happy, corny show with no point besides making an audience happy into a serious, devastating drama about Serious Things. What those serious things are, I don’t fucking know, but that’s the tone of it. It’s the DC movie mentality applied to the most inappropriate property imaginable for it, and it’s clear within ten minutes that Cats doesn’t work as a movie with this approach. It probably wouldn’t work as a film with any approach. But while this mentality has created a lot of unwatchable films when applied to superhero comics, in this case it has created a comedy for the ages. Plenty of laughs are to be had at Idris Elba wrecking his last chance at playing 007 by permanently associating himself with the goofiest villain of a film this side of David Lynch’s?Dune, wondering how anybody thought that an actor getting on all fours and crawling away was ever deemed something that an audience would buy as sad, and asking the question of why it is that in the world of?Cats, catnip seems to function more like MDMA than it does like kitty crank (as it does in the real world, for all you non-cat people out there). And just why does the movie feel the need to establish that there are human beings in this world of cats while mainly taking place in a recognizable version of London’s West End replete with a bunch of?Howard The Duck-esque punny cat names? Are they trying to fuck with us? So many questions with so few answers, and with more just unrestrained omnidirectional frenzy going on per frame than any given?Transformers movie. The movie has so little faith in its underlying material or its audience that it just piles more and more layers of CGI shit just to keep you paying attention. The end result is just so very special.

            If you’re into this sort of thing but have been debating whether to take the plunge or not with?Cats, you really need to do so. You should do it instead of breaking quarantine rules like my next-door neighbors did this weekend.

            *I really don’t understand why movie musicals made these days don’t seem to give a shit about whether the actors they cast can actually sing or not. One almost might conclude from?La La Land and director Hooper’s own?Les Miserables that modern movie musicals have singing that is almost intentionally bad as a way of letting audience members who generally hate musicals have their cake and eat it too. This is obviously not a sustainable trend since it alienates the audience members who actually do like musicals, as the massive flop that is?Cats showed.

            **He’s also not a particularly good one—The King’s Speech is an okay movie that would have been better with a better director, and as for his?Les Miserables, it has most of the same technical failings as?Cats but it doesn’t try to radically change the tone of the source material, presumably because Hooper respects a work about poverty and social revolution, because it’s a Serious Issue. Then again, I really enjoyed his soccer movie?The Damned United and it’s the only one of his movies that I would recommend.

            Lev filed this under: ,  

            I finally finished Veep?(which is, for the moment, up on Hulu in its entirety) and I can honestly say that the final season was the best season that the US version of?House of Cards ever produced. Shame that they thought it was better to spend their swan song achieving that extremely?modest distinction rather than doing anything related to what the show originally was, i.e. an examination of the personalities of people who work in politics, and what traits drive someone to do that with their lives (TL;DR it’s sadism or masochism or sometimes both).?Veep was a comedy of humiliation and a masterful one at that, a translocated riff on?The Thick Of It that perfectly applied the Armando Iannucci formula to a US context. Sure, it could be a little heartless at times. It made a few mistakes in terms of handling US partisan politics (there is not exactly a raging debate within the Democratic Party about abortion or same-sex marriage). It also (perhaps relatedly) refused to just say which party the characters belonged to, a constant aggravation of mine, though it was pretty obvious through context clues that these are Democrats. But these quibbles aside, Veep was a show that at its best had verisimilitude: you felt like these were what people in politics really were like, whether or not they actually were (a friend of mine who used to be in professional politics once told me that Tony Hale’s fidgety Gary character was the only one that rang true for him, so go figure). The show was frequently hilarious, not a given for shows billing themselves as comedies these days. And it was cool: its trick was that it was just ridiculous enough that what you were seeing could actually be what was really happening behind the scenes or would happen in the future, and?sometimes it actually was.

            But season seven wasn’t cool at all, it was actually a lot like another creation of Iannucci’s, Alan Partridge, someone trying so hard to keep up with what’s new without any feel for it. It’s only natural after all: the standards of ridiculousness in politics have moved a lot since the show’s debut in 2012 and many of the crazy things Selina Meyer does in the show are things that already happened, so it feels like the show is playing catch up instead of setting the trends. Am I really supposed to be shocked by the outrageous plot twist of Selina working with an illiberal foreign government to throw an election when that happened in 2016 in full public view? Then there’s Selina torching every bit of the legacy from her brief past presidency as well as giving away any plans for the next one. This season, more than any that preceded it, is dominated by the Selina story, the other characters’ arcs are largely irrelevant by comparison, and if you do not buy into the idea that Selina would do this then you don’t buy into the season. And I’m afraid I don’t buy it. It just seems so facile and uninteresting, not to mention cliched. All American television and films about politics present us with these profiles of ambition in isolation, unmoored to any political project or aspiration. I’m not saying that there are no people like this in professional politics, but not all are. At bottom this sort of Richard III-type of character is simply uninteresting, as being motivated only by power can only ever give us a character in two dimensions. It’s also a violation of the development of the character earlier in the show which, for all the shots taken at Selina, never depicted her as unqualified for the presidency or really any worse an option for the job than her rivals. The record the show gives her during her brief presidency actually sounds pretty good! The early show had a strongly-defined point of view and ample purpose for existing, while the last season has no point of view and no reason to exist. I suppose that’s better than the US?House of Cards, which seemingly only existed to “educate” dum-dums like Jared Kushner about what politics is or should be. But not by much.

            To cover some of the other elements of the season briefly:

            • I enjoyed the meteoric rise of Richard Splett mainly because Sam Richardson is one of the funniest people on the planet and every line he says gets a huge laugh out of me, but the juxtaposition of a blank slate of a man just sailing up through the ranks with Selina selling her soul for power is not quite as clever as the show thinks it is. OF COURSE it’s harder for a woman than for a man, but making the same ground floor-level deep point over and over again, it just grates.
            • I was convinced up until the last 30 seconds that Jonah Ryan, the show’s resident man-baby with a surprising talent for demagoguery, was going to wind up as President of the United States, which was an outcome I was okay with as the end of the series. Unfortunately they did something dumber and made Selina into the pseudo-Trump who becomes president. Ugh.
            • I love Andy Daly as a comedic performer but his character was the other place where I really felt the greasy fingerprints of the US?House of Cards. It’s sloppy and lazy that some rando DNC guy (and one Selina hired by accident, no less!) is going to be The Linchpin of the big conspiracy that Selina eventually turns to, but that he also commits murders as casually as a mafioso? This definitely belongs in the world of Kevin Spacey’s much beloved YouTube character Frank Underwood. (Also, given the party’s performance over the past two decades, they would really have to sell it to me that Democratic political professionals have either the brains or the balls to pull something like this off. Needless to say, I didn’t buy it.)
            • The Kamala Harris clone that Selina runs against is yet another demonstration of how ridiculous the Harris hype was. Woman didn’t even make it to Iowa in real life, but she almost becomes president here. Way to stay ahead of the curve,?Veep!

            Bottom line:?Veep?should have ended after five seasons. I liked the sixth more than I should have thanks to the brilliance of putting total slimeball Dan Egan in as a co-host of the CBS Morning News (an idea which the last season repeats with a slightly different execution, man was this show out of gas), but with its last season the show lasted just long enough to descend into total irrelevance. But even at its worst, it was still better than the US?House of Cards. Fuck that show forever!

            Lev filed this under: ,  

            President Trump on Sunday responded after multiple tweets in which he railed against the Nobel Prize [for journalism, which doesn’t exist] — repeatedly spelling it as the “Noble Prize” — drew mockery online, asking, “Does sarcasm ever work?”

            What I think people are missing here is how great this all is for teenagers of Trump-supporter parents.

            Wait, you lied to me about taking the car out on Friday night!?

            I was being SARCASTIC! Jeez, Mom!

            { 1 comment }

            Die Hard was a seminal movie for me at one point but in recent years, it’s been souring on me a bit. I could chalk this up to its cynicism, which seems to find every target except for the ones that, in real world terms, are the most deserving of it. Or perhaps it’s the treatment of violence in general here. I’m certainly not against violent movies, and somehow I have less of a problem with?Commando in this day and age, which is very weird. But?Commando is cartoonish from moment one, and?Die Hard is extremely grounded and realistic in almost every way except for which the effects that violence has on the people perpetrating it. The reason for this is obvious: commercial expectations. Which is why I think I’m souring on it.

            Enter?Nothing Lasts Forever, the book by Roderick Thorp which happened to inspire the movie. I have to say that the book is excellent and addresses all my issues with the movie brilliantly. So much of what made the movie great is from the book, to a surprising degree: the feet vulnerability, the chair bomb, the cat-and-mouse game over the radio, it’s all there. But the book has depth to it that the movie doesn’t. It has a theme: the dehumanizing effects of violence. And in place of the movie’s “good guy with a gun” as our hero, we get its antithesis, a ticking time bomb of a man for whom violence is the first resort. This makes the?Nothing Lasts Forever/Die Hard nearly as intriguing an adaptation pair as the movie and book combo of?The Shining, which basically have the same plot but offer virtually the opposite takes on the theme. Kind of makes me want to see a new adaptation of?Nothing Lasts Forever that’s a lot closer to the original intent of the piece. We might be more ready for that now.

            What’s brilliant about the book is that it is told entirely from the perspective of Joe Leland (i.e. the John McClane character), so it makes its point purely through subtext. It’s not like Leland ever outright says “My God, I’ve turned into a murderous killing machine!” That would be dumb, and Leland realistically figures that he’s perfectly sane throughout. But the book keeps finding little ways for the audience to understand that he really isn’t (and, eventually, one really big one near the end of the book). It’s a lot like?Lolita in that way, and probably only in that way. The book is brilliantly structured around its theme and it appreciates the different triggers that lead to violence, from the split-second snap decision made by retired cop Leland to the desperation of the lefty terrorists invading the building—oh yeah, in the book, they actually have a solid motivation for what they are doing, though the book pretty clearly argues that their means undermine their ends. Even the ending, where Sgt. Al Powell shoots Karl, has a very different meaning in the book than it does in the movie. I can’t emphasize enough just what a satisfying book this is, how true to life it feels and how artful it is in execution. We’ve all seen?Die Hard but this feels like the more complete, the more interesting, and the more humane version of the story. It’s crazy how nobody talks about it considering the enduring popularity of the movie, because it’s truly excellent.

            Anyway, I was turned onto this book by the Pages and Popcorn Podcast, which is excellent. Go check it out.

            Lev filed this under: ,