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Selective moral systems [Dec. 4th, 2010|02:07 am]
This is a comment I left at the ever brilliant blog of Roy Edroso in response to a specific article he linked to. However, I think it's applicable to pretty much any article about the Tea Party or the "free market Jesus" conservatives:

Savonarola - a.k.a. the Bonfire of the Vanities guy - sincerely believed that any poverty, much less the widespread poverty that was tolerated in the Florence of his day, was incompatible with any truly Christian society. So the reforms he successfully encouraged the legislature of Florence to pass included allocating state funds toward organizations providing welfare for the poor; a 10 percent tax on all property; the abolition of all existing loans; and the founding of a government office that could offer loans at very low rates.

Of course, values change radically over time, etc., but I think when the people who saw absolutely nothing wrong with, say, burning people alive for their sex lives make you look out of touch with your religious values, then you really need to have some serious self-evaluation.
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Just don't go to any out-of-the-way New England towns [Dec. 1st, 2010|02:01 am]
If you follow me on Facebook, you might have noticed I've become a little enamored (if not obsessed!) with the "Silent Hill" series, which I finally discovered once I got on the cutting edge of 2000. I'd go as far to say that at least the first three "Silent Hill" games are good proof of video games as art. At the least they do a better job presenting horrific imagery and creating suspense than most of the horror films released in the past ten years while delving in a fairly nuanced way into issues like child abuse, misogyny (the second installment in particular), violence, and guilt.

Of course, part of my admiration might just come from the fact that I love horror stories about esoteric cults, and "the Order" that's driven the plot of nearly every "Silent Hill" game is like the ultimate embodiment of that trope. By comparison, even their regular members make the most violent fundamentalist extremists of other religions look like Ned Flanders. Even the villain of the third installment, Claudia, who arranges for a brutal murder at one point, turns out to be one of the Order's more compassionate and liberal theologians. That the Order's God is demonstrated to be actually real isn't an assuring statement on the nature of the universe and the divine, but on the other hand admittedly it's not much of a God if it can be completely thwarted by a romance novelist with a hunting rifle.

Would I convert to the Order if it were around? Well, while they've had a very poor track record with bringing their God into the mortal plane, they do have all the major world religions beat in the contemporary miracle department, with a record of something like 356,592 to 0. That's not bad for a religion that seems to be completely localized to a small city, but admittedly healing the sick is generally preferable to conjuring up industrial-style torture pits that vaguely resemble hospitals and schools. Then again, it is tempting to join a religion that lets its clergy dress like this:

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is there a decline and fall of American intellectual culture? (Part I) [Nov. 29th, 2010|06:59 pm]
The words from that Wonkette screed I posted that stuck with me were "Our art is shit and our literature is empty." When you study history, one of the things you pick up unofficially is the idea that nostalgia and rose-colored glasses play a tremendous and pervasive role in shaping our perspectives of both the past and present. Not only that, but it is one of those aspects of life that people do tend to recognize on their own (and, just as likely, tend to forget if only momentarily). Luckily I learned about it from my mother, who for a while worked as a teaching assistant working in one of the area's most underfunded schools. Often she would complain about how lacking in self-control the students she had to deal with were. Not nearly as often, though, she also told stories about her own school days: drinking booze on the back of the bus on the way to school, throwing textbooks out of windows, and locking teachers outside of classrooms. Even long before I was conditioned to pay far too much attention to the nuances of life and human behavior, I couldn't help but notice the slight hypocrisy.

The classic historical example of this sort of attitude is a rather old document left by a father, lamenting the laziness of his son and vehemently asserting that the coming generation was going to lead society into oblivion. The document came out of Sumer, one of the oldest societies to leave behind a written record. There are a few points that anyone can ween from this anecdote (which I admit is one of my favorites), but historically speaking I believe it teaches us about our own personal tendencies to see the past as a Golden Age and the present as an Iron Age as well as throws suspicion on any and all claims about decline. At least, we should be very weary of any account of decline that can't be measured in economic and military terms. Admittedly degrees of generational failure is probably the most subjective of all subjective quantities, but cultural and intellectual decline isn't much easier to place in concrete, if at all.

To be honest I haven't done the homework on this, but I do think there is a good case to be made for such declines. Historians of ancient Rome have written about how Latin literature in the latter centuries of the Empire became derivative and self-cannibalizing, something that is more or less demonstrable. Then again, Western civilization, arguably more than any other society in recorded history, is practically built on this idea of progress and decline, something we only really shook off a little over a century ago (again, arguably!). So do we just look for these patterns even when they aren't even really there, like how some cultures always looked for signs of perpetual cycles?

It's worth asking, especially if we want to wonder seriously if we've gone downhill from the age of Dorothy Parker and Truman Capote or if the disappearance into twilight of the hundreds of failed and "trashy" yet successful and known artists have given their times the appearance of being dominated only by shining cultural stars. Also there is that ugly but easy danger of sounding like, say, Neil Postman, who saw the mere existence of television and rock n' roll as irrefutable symptoms of profound social decay. In other words, we could become a cross between the old-fashioned snob and the proverbial "THE END IS NEAR" sign-waving homeless guy. So the challenge isn't only to figure out if we can really seriously talk about decline, but to do so in a way that doesn't sound crazy, reactionary, or, indeed, both.

(Join me for Part II, in which I talk about soap operas and abstract art and how they sort of represent the same thing.)
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Getting shit on by a donkey is only a little better than being shit on by an elephant [Nov. 27th, 2010|03:27 am]
There's no longer any doubt in my mind that the Obama apologists are able to piss me off worse than the worst of the ideological Republicans. At least even the obvious grifters like Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell go through the trouble of pretending that they give a damn about their supporters' concerns and grievances. On our side of the aisle, a liberal who dares to find the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties and gay rights and not spilling our coffers toward blowing up brown people for increasingly obscure reasons worth more than writing down points on an arbitrary partisan scorecard gets a condescending lecture about how politics are complicated and how the President is really powerless to do anything (except when a Republican is in the White House, in which case it's more than fair to blame them completely for anything you want) at best or words like "shrill" and "self-righteous" and "unserious" thrown at them.

And then we get the likes of Mark Morford and Andrew Sullivan stomping their feet and screeching about how ungrateful and downright treasonous young liberal voters are and how, like Tinkerbell, Obama needs all the liberals to clap and cheer or he just loses all his powers and it's completely your fault - yes, even the fault of you, the minimum-wage fast food restaurant employee who takes night classes at the community college and can barely afford that studio apartment in the bad neighborhood - if he doesn't get anything done. After all, isn't it reasonable to ask who is truly responsible for the state of the country: the most popular President to enter the White House in at least over a decade, who had his political party completely in control of Congress, or you liberals, who have no authentic political representation unless you happen to be represented by the likes of Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich? You should have clapped harder! You should have been more grateful for the scraps he was willing to throw off the table while the lobbyists weren't looking! After all, a plan for health care reform touted by the Republicans fifteen years ago and that suspiciously looks a lot like a health industry bailout is better than no reform at all. Let's talk about how Social Security didn't cover everyone at first, anything that keeps us from having to talk about how Obama did everything he could to kill the public option before it was even presented and how he broke his promise not to push an insurance mandate. Speaking of Social Security, I'm sure even my mother who works a job she hates for less and less reward can appreciate the inevitable blog post or article from Ezra Klein or "The Nation," explaining how even Democrats should agree that the welfare state is unsustainable and how expanding the retirement age is a sensible compromise all "serious" liberals can get behind.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Obama apologists, those determined scamps, who have to cling to Sarah Palin jokes because she's one of the few people out there on the national scene who can still make them feel intelligent and principled by comparison. They have been on my mind thanks to amateur punditry like this. Tell me, if I had quoted a politico-blog post years ago that said things like "Civil liberties aren’t worth much when al-Qaeda blows up the plane that you are riding on", wouldn't you have assumed that it was a defense of Bush's security state policies? But, no, it's a defense of Obama! And if that isn't convincing enough, one of the commenters states confidently that Obama deserves some slack, since the machines were brought under Bush! I have no doubt in my mind that if Bush had started internment camps for Muslims late in his last term, the same people would defend them on the basis that, if they're already paid for, Bush might as well use them. (I still can't believe this is an actual argument, although it does kind of capture the "partisanship over principles no matter what" attitude liberals and conservatives in this country indulge in so much it's become a universal given).

Of course, forgetting the rule about arguing on the Internet and the Special Olympics, I opened my big digital mouth. I wasn't expecting polite debate, but what happened instead was downright surreal; immediately I was accused of "drinking the kool aid" and it was insinuated that I was somehow, someway repressing everybody's right to free speech. I can get getting pissed off when liberals vow they won't vote Democratic - I don't agree, but I can understand it, given how politics are set up in this country and how insanely far on the right even mainstream Republicans have become (the joke now seems to be not so much that we have a 1.5 party system, but that today's Democrats are the Republicans circa 1993 while the Republicans are conservatives circa 1893). However, I honestly don't get the anger over just insinuating that maybe, possibly the Obama administration is just as susceptible to business interests as the majority of American politicians out there, that their policies are not ideal, and pointing out that, when it comes to the security state and civil liberties, Obama really hasn't been much of an improvement over Bush, if at all. Not too long ago I thought Glenn Greenwald, as much as he is my political boyfriend, was exaggerating a little when he argued that many Democrats and self-described progressives are exhibiting the same mindless and uncritical worship of the Great Leader that many conservatives showed toward Bush. Now, having seen these and other antics by Obama apologists, I'm convinced he was absolutely right.

Admittedly this post and similar posts I've been on Facebook were driven by alcohol in no small part but, seriously, I'm also feeling this emotion that could only be described as "sick-of-this-bullshit-ness." Since I'm sure there are many people out there who would call me "unserious" for not assuming that Obama is right and well-intentioned about everything, no matter what my personal principles tell me, I'll close on an "unserious" note by summing up my assessment of the Obama presidency and the behavior of his most devout defenders, using the words of one of my favorite Internet personalities: "It so fucking sucks it fucks; it so sucking fucks it sucks."

Sometimes "unserious" language is just the most succinct and poetic option.
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Decline and fall [Nov. 26th, 2010|03:47 pm]
Wonkette is mostly satirical, but, like Jon Stewart, when they are "serious" they hit the bullseye.

The Edward Gibbon of the Future will be as puzzled by the Collapse of America as the historians of the 18th Century looking back on Ancient Rome. (Ha ha, maybe we are the Edward Gibbon of the Future, which is about as sad a commentary as anyone really needs about the Early 21st American Century.) How did a nation of such wealth and power and influence crumble so quickly? Was the whole American Era really just a blip on the timeline that we’ve somehow mistaken for something bigger, something more important?

In terms of military might and influence, the only true winning streak goes from the Second World War until Vietnam, a span of just two decades — and that’s ignoring the Korean stalemate. Outspending the Soviet Union on defense gave Washington an undeclared victory in the undeclared Cold War and a couple of novelty wars just to show we could still beat up any brown people who looked at us wrong, but thirty years later the United States is in a position that’s looking a lot like Moscow in the mid-1980s: fighting endless foreign wars of occupation it can’t afford as things rapidly fall apart at home.

Technologically speaking, there’s still nothing on Earth to compete with Silicon Valley. But Apple and its peers are primarily Asian engineers creating products that are manufactured in Asia. We are not being very original or clever by saying the coming wave of technology and manufacturing companies won’t need a street address in Cupertino or Palo Alto.

In human terms, the United States peaked with the hard fought Civil Rights era, nearly a half century ago. The rest of the rich world long ago left us behind in recognizing the equality of races, genders and sexual orientation — and here in 2010, we’ve just sent a bunch of yokels to Washington who would very much like to wind back the clock to the pre-civil rights era.

Our art is shit and our literature is empty, and both are ignored by all but a rapidly vanishing, self-conscious culture class. Other than a few marquee buildings thrown up in Los Angeles or New York to great fanfare from an overcompensating press, our buildings are repulsive — a mass architecture of cheap vulgarity and dinky imitation. The roads crumbling, the sewers backing up in the streets, the public schools starved of money and even the airports with their $200,000 backscatter x-ray machines are decaying and disgusting with their broken luggage conveyors and stinking toilets — this is a fading country dedicated to nothing more than building walls against invaders who don’t even want to invade. Why bother with invasion when you can cripple the most powerful military in the world with a printer cartridge shipped from Yemen or wherever?

All I'd add is that our intellectual culture has collapsed into itself in such a way that it's almost grotesque. Indeed, if someone wrote a history of American intellectual history from 1960 to 2010 or thereabouts, I'd recommend the title "From John Kennedy and Bob Dylan to Sarah Palin and Kanye West: A Story of Decay." It sums it all up nicely.
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the Gender Politics of Lady Death [Nov. 8th, 2010|01:36 am]
One of my many nerdy habits is to type in the most arcane or z-grade piece of pop culture into Google Scholar. With exceptions, I usually turn up with nothing, or at least nothing interesting, proving that academic snobbery still exists even in a post-postmodern world (I have somewhere between little and no respect for Derrida, but even I was heartbroken when he scoffed at the mere idea that "Seinfeld" could be deconstructive). Anyway, my latest search used my own favorite example of Chromium Age comic book excess, "Lady Death."

It turned up nothing, just as I expected, but I was inspired to think what would happen if some enterprising (or career-suicidal) grad student or scholar did try to tap into Brian Pulido's most cherished creation for some academic analysis:

A Founding Text for Fourth-Wave Feminism(s)?: Toward a Paglian Apologia for "Lady Death"

Hilary Clinton and Lady Death: Gender Politics in the '90s, Image and Reality

The Intersection of Violence and Power in Visual Texts: Applying "Discipline and Punish" to "Maus" and "Lady Death"

Sex in The Second Gilded Age: Sexual Hypocrisy, The Clinton Scandal, and Lady Death

Xena vs. Lady Death: Representations of the Heroic Female and the Violent Woman in Clintonian Visual Culture

I have to say, though, I really, really wish this last one were real:

The Discursive Body as a Matrix of (Re)production and De(con)struction: Judith Butler Reads "Lady Death"
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Things I find in my research [Nov. 3rd, 2010|11:26 pm]
"...a heteroclite...a hermaphrodite...amphibious...mongrel...a vile poisonous fruit...a manifest Absurdity!...It implies a Thing, that is neither a Man, nor a Wife, but a MID both! -Man-Mid-Wife, must consequently be a Monster in Nature!!!"

-Excerpts from an English pamphlet on "male-midwives"
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woe, woe, Caprica, the only sci-fi show since the X-Files that I liked a lot [Nov. 1st, 2010|04:14 pm]
Here's hoping "Caprica" won't become my "Firefly"; that is, a sci-fi show whose cancellation I whine about so much people doubt my sanity and virginity in equal measure.

At least it's proof that Americans won't accept sci-fi unless it has authoritarians in uniforms and lots of things exploding.
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Top 25 Favorite Horror Movies part 3 [Nov. 1st, 2010|02:12 am]
Part 3!Collapse )
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Top 25 Favorite Horror Movies Pt. 2 [Oct. 31st, 2010|10:25 pm]
Part 2!Collapse )
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