Day 101: A Long Look in the Dark Mirror

It has been 101 days since Donald Trump took office. And yet, as I read the expected deluge of think pieces and listicles, I can’t help but feel contempt for them as well. It’s as though Donald Trump presents such a comically large target, that liberals will fail to learn why they lost the government and presidency.

Take Bill Maher. I was watching a segment focusing on 100 days of Trump, and he had a long bit about Trump supporters. Pointing to the “statistic” that all trump supporters are still satisfied with Trump, he made the “humorous” argument that facts will never change a Trump voter’s mind. That for the great unenlightened masses it’s all about the “gut feeling of change”.

What followed was one of the ugliest comedy segments I’ve seen in a long time, with Bill Maher putting on a southern accent and making redneck jokes. First, it is guilty of the cardinal sin of comedy: being unfunny. It did, however, have the added benefit of making me think. There was a time, until fairly recently, that the media kowtowed to Middle America. The lowest common denominator, culturally speaking, that would offend only the least sensible.

I think two things have changed in the information age. One is the mass devaluation of media that comes with its easy accessibility. The second is, in an ever more competitive market, one must up the ante sensationally.

So if we look at these two changes together, it equals exponentially more media exposure for the average viewer, and increasingly insulting coverage for those in rural America.

What would you do if every time you turned on the television you were represented as a criminal and thug? You’d be furious, just as African Americans rightly were, and still are, for shows like “cops”.

Now let’s say an economic recession has wiped out jobs, the market is transforming in ways no one seems to understand except that every industry you could work in is dead, and every time you turn on the television, you’re portrayed as either a rapist or an idiot.

I’d vote Trump too. Fuck um.

These are our countrymen, and Bill Maher gets to lob lazy jokes from his studio castle and get paid an outrageous sum to be the definition of a pseudo intellectual. If liberals don’t take a long hard look into the dark mirror, and have the grace to see the world of insult and fear so many of their own are relegated to, than liberals will be exposed as little more than a blue baseball cap opposite the antagonistic red.

-Jack Delaney

Day 98: No Country for Old City

Obsolescence of the City
It has to be said on of the strangest turns of the digital revolution is the revival of the American metropolis. In an age where physical location means less than any other period in human existence almost all opportunities are being concentrated in fewer locations. In an age where more options are available, more people eat making the same choices. Think of San Francisco. People pay the highest rent but are bused out of the city to their employer’s offices. Then at night, they bus back to their trendy luxury condo that matches all the others built recently across the world and consume the current global fads that score on social media by people who may or may not be near SF. How is that any different than living in a McMansion in the burbs and going to the office park?
Where is the disruption? Many gentrifiers will point to the homeless man on their stoop say his name and the cliffnotes of his life call him neighbor maybe give him a mug of coffee and a smoke before saying they want to live among the people by which they mean the poor who would be happy to afford a McMansion if they could. The truth is tech could save the rural life from the attack by industrialism. If a band can make millions from a track recorded at different times and all the members on separate continents then so can a company. If skyscrapers were needed to house the mountains of paper and the people that pushed them then what is needed after the mountains have been shredded. If our overlords can function with their money all offshore then why must we clock in to the same building.
I will admit we have a major infrastructure crisis in America. Beyond crappy roads, bridges, and dams there is an aged telecommunications network (that includes broadband even if the FCC disagrees). As I discussed previously, broadband access isn’t universal. It could be. The telephone wires and broadcast waves, we all take for granted wasn’t built by companies seeking profit but by Americans for other Americans through the New Deal. It can be done again.

 

Cities are inefficient as population centers in a wired world. Look at the response time for safety officials in LA vs rural CA and compare distances traveled and taxes paid. It isn’t pretty. If government is best decentralized then so is the population. Each community can function as it wills rather than war with political machines churning out party bench candidates for higher offices. Plenty of services can be outsourced with Sandy Springs as a strong example. Culturally digital media delivery has removed most barriers. In the past, a print was 10k a pop and an empty theater disastrous but those days are behind. No longer is a physical film print or even theater needed to share smaller and foreign movies . No longer do you need a store to buy an album or a book. You may cry wait there is still the live music experience and that is true but like with film where previously one assumed there was a full audience once population hit a certain number now we can see where the most streams or album buys are from. The band can actually find and perform for all their fans without assumption. You can show there is a fan base. But food you may say. If you can tell the difference between a cronut and a knockoff congrats you are an asshole. Food is trendier than any other entertainment these days. I saw three poke shops in a row on my commute this morning. Most restaurants fail. City or rural, why not have rotating chefs and menus, a touring residency. Of course, local cuisine favorites and landmarks will continue to be permanent and a chef could stay but on a wider level why not recognize the transient nature of taste and support tastebud adventures without anyone losing a shirt.
I don’t claim that de-urbanization will solve everything but I do think it would lead to a future rather than this remake of the 20th century we are currently playing out.
-E.C. Fiori

Day 97: The Circle will be Unbroken

Cultural critique has become irrelevant to modern society as a whole. There are occasional reviews worth the words but the garbage heap has grown thick around them. At some level, the increase of cultural production (mostly garbage) is a cause of worse critique as well as content devaluing, if people pay less for culture, they won’t spend more to hear New Yorkers talk about it. Deep though I believe the decline is from stasis within the field.
Lacan has become a plague. What was once a fresh lens 60 years ago has become the intellectual equivalent of duck tape. Lacan’s sentences support themselves so well, they can support almost any other thesis. Like an Ouroboros, his prose circles back on itself. This isn’t against Lacan but against the abuse of his work. I shouldn’t feel the need to grab a red pen and email “come see me during office hours” with the mark up. 
I get the sense that most reviewers hate their job as well. The long rambling tangents on current events, musings on societal opinions, plain old academic discourse has become the focus. The actual piece being reviewed will have a synopsis often feeling like the wikipedia entry being rehashed. While 500 words on casting choices sounds like it is about the film, it is more about the political beliefs of the reviewer. Actual discussion of the piece that exists gets peppered in to appease their editor. The reviewer knows the reader’s opinion has been set before clicking through.

 One failure is the continued reliance for reviewers to be living in New York. Before the millions of remote working options, it makes sense to hire writers near the main office. Now that the laptop is the writer’s screening room and a conference room not so much. This creates a bubble best shown by “Girls”, a show on averaged watched by 1.5% of HBO subscribers and with ratings below that of other canceled HBO shows. However it was a must watch for critics who would spend the next Monday pushing out praise and roundtables. It might be possible to find the number of employed reviewers through viewership numbers. Critics loved seeing their neighborhood and friends on screen, their current definition of a cultural moment. 
In an age of seemingly infinite content, critique has become inefficient. The major cultural commentary outlets waste their resources screening pieces with major distribution making the article, a free ad for the production. Whether franchise, remake, adaptation, or the elusive original property modern audiences know if they will see it thanks to targeted social media campaigns and mass publicity blitzes. Before Google and the marketing delivery systems of the iPhone and Facebook, these reviews did serve as an informative method of discovering recent major releases. The challenge for critics now is to not be the emperor in the Coliseum but Shackleton in Antarctica. The internet is dark and full of terror to paraphrase Game of Thrones/ A Song of Ice and Fire. If I like Vice, what’s another lesser known but similar quality option? What indie films blocked out of major festivals deserve my attention? What soundcloud/bandcamp pages should I book mark? These are the questions critique should be answering.
-E.C. Fiori

Day 96: Charlie Kaufman and the Confidence of Genius: the Acceptance of the Absurd through Strenuous Realism and Stark Portrayals of the Human Condition

E.C. Fiori made a good point today about the value of criticism in the modern media saturated society. In light of this, I’ll attempt to demonstrate what that might look like.

*Art above by peterstrainshop

Since the turn of the century, there has been something of a trend in films that spans genre: the use of internal worlds as the physical setting for the film.

We’ve seen it be the setting for horror movies for years (confirming a theory of mine that horror almost always leads the way in terms of film trends, but it has at last made the jump to action, sci-fi, comedies, and dramas. Beyond the mere setting or plot device however, I’d like to focus on the Romantic Dramedy category, since they must trade in emotion and memory as is inherent to the genre.

I’ll begin with a declaration: Charlie Kaufman is a genius. Hyperbole? Maybe, but let me make my case.

Over the past ten years there have been two films, both celebrated, that attempt to show the entire course of a relationship through non-linear storytelling the way we remember our own. The first is 500 Days of Summer. The second, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

500 Days of Summer is, I believe, a great movie. It thrills in using every tool in the genre box to tell it’s story, switching from comedy, to drama, to musical, to documentary, to music video as it fits that moment in the relationship. When seeing it in the theater I was hooked right at the credits, and would be very proud if I was the writer of it.

But for me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind excels beyond others. Today I’m going to focus on one aspect of it. And it springs, from the confidence of genius.

There is a scene, right in the beginning of the film, where Joel is giving Clementine a ride, and she is asking him if he is a stalker. He replies that she spoke to him first, and she comes back with this:

Clementine: “That’s the oldest trick in the stalker book”. Let’s pause.

As a writer, how would you have the conversation continue from here? Joel is extremely introverted and closed off. He is starting to like this girl, and the ball is in his court.

I can tell you what I would do: I would have a call back. I would have Joel say “Do they stock that at Barnes & Nobel?” which she mentioned she works at just a few minutes before. She would reply that it’s a bestseller, or she saw him buy it, and the snappy banter would continue.

Instead, Charlie Kaufman has Joel say this:

Joel: “I gotta read that one.”

For anyone who has written anything with dialogue, the temptation to skew towards the memorable or (potentially) quotable is almost irresistible. If you’re writing dialogue, chances are you love dialogue- why wouldn’t you have Joel say something that people are going to remember and want to say in their own lives?

He doesn’t have to be suave either, you can give Joel something in character to say that is much more dialogue driven: instead though, Charlie Kaufman gives him a punishingly boring line. It achingly boring, and almost a wasted opportunity.

Until you realize just how brilliant it really is.

The film is filled with moments like these, with people not knowing what to say, and fumbling with expressing how they feel. Your co-worker just admitted he stole a client’s underwear and is now dating her? Share an uncomfortable laugh. Protagonist is skeptically wondering about side effects of wiping the memories of failed relationships away? You could answer his question about brain damage with a scientific explanation about how all memories degrade in time and the process just focuses and accelerates it.

Instead, almost tenderly, Charlie Kaufman writes this line from the doctor: “Well, technically the process IS brain damage.” It isn’t some big corporation bent on destroying love, it’s a mom and pop private practice.

Why is this brilliant? For one, it makes the acceptance of the idea of memory wipes much more palatable. Any screenwriter can make up a sci-fi premise, but selling that premise as part of a real world and not a sci-fi one is nearly impossible. Kaufman makes it look natural.

And more importantly because at the end, at the cathartic moment where we see if love conquers all, we don’t get snappy one liners, or a voiceover, a neat resolution, or a call back. You get this:

Clementine: “You’ll find things wrong with me and I’ll get bored of you because that is what we do.”

Joel: “…okay.”

Clementine: “…okay.”

The script has been so well structured and woven together that this simple acceptance is like a grenade going off in our chests.

And if I was a genius, I wouldn’t have to resort to a simile. I could just tightly weave together a story about people, have every single one be familiar and raw, and end it all replaying a faded memory we’re suddenly so glad to have.
-Jack Delaney

Day 95/96: Late Socialism

France has long been the highlight of the socialist argument. Now with the party’s largest postwar failure, the limits of the socialist ideology has been shown. They have long heralded the notion of late capitalism, only to be survived by it.
Most have yet to grapple with the loss of the left and the right. It isn’t hard to understand when viewed within the context of who I refer to as “Marie Antoinette Socialists”: people from the top 20% who went to college and work as “young professionals” (workers who don’t create products as much as “value”. These roles require a strong capitalism to exist). They support hand outs to feel better about their own status. They favor system reform in any area that doesn’t require major change for them. This democratic socialism needs an open market while largely blaming that same market for any imperfection. On the reverse is blue collar workers on gov support whether farm subsides or disability/unemployment. These sons of Jefferson vote against the programs that support them in the name of freedom. They have skills that have real value outside of the market. Things people would need without the existence of dollars. It is foolish for the Gender studies professor to mock their mechanic for not understanding how the world works. They are the modern wolf being held by the ears. 
The left and right as relevant terms only continues thanks to hypocrisy of a sort. As more subjects fall off the spectrum, social issue divides become increasingly played up. As the amount of homophobes decreases to the size of the LGBTQ community, the larger middle plays referee between two minorities. This is at some level a distraction from perhaps the largest shift in work since the dawn of agriculture. 
The digital revolution will be the end of work as a source of living. Yes even for lawyers despite their smirk otherwise at reading this. Judge Watson has analyzed your interpretation of past court rulings within the framework of all legal thought ever recorded before you finish the sentence. Defendants will want a lawyer who can do the same. Computers are the professional professionals, the most knowledgable experts who don’t need a tie to hide their souls. I don’t mean that as a slight against lawyers but as an argument against those who believe human creatively to be permanently unique. Time makes John Henrys of us all. 
Just as the New Deal bought society into the industrial age, we need a new social contract that accounts for the state of the world as it is. 
-E.C. Fiori

Day 94: A Coronation Interrupted, A Hundred Days of Solitude, and The Celebrity Vote

        Ninety four days of a Trump presidency has had the expected effect. Staggering incompetence in every area, international and domestic faux pas at every turn. No nuclear war, which more and more is the yardstick for failure. Modern generations seem to have forgotten that fact that with thermonuclear war, we’re all in the trenches. Major population centers are exactly what they aim for.
        But I’d like to take a moment to return to the end of last year, when Trump won the election no one expected him to. In a way, Trump has never acted out of character. He has yet to “pivot” towards a more rational, “presidential” way of governing, instead being the brusque, uninformed cartoon we’ve known him as for decades. Campaign or President, that is the man.
        No, the person who failed was Hillary Clinton. My use of the word “failed” and not “lost” is crucial here, because I don’t think the 2016 election should have been a contest. This still isn’t a popular opinion among democrats, and I can’t figure out why. What has confirmed my suspicion is the book (first of a tidal wave I’m sure) from two Hillary Campaign staffers: Shattered.
        It is, of course, the story of a campaign going awry, complete with an increasingly tight circle of access to the queen herself, now confirming the “American Emperor” analogy as applicable on the right and left. There were loyalty tests, both for those in the campaign and in congress, and a hilarious amount of frustration at Bernie Sanders.
        What shocked me though, was the complete failure of Hillary to come up with a reason for running for president. It seems like the simplest undergraduate poly-sci major piece of advice to a candidate: “have a message”. Give people a reason to vote for you.
        And yet, this is exactly what “I’m with her” Hillary failed to do. It almost became a running joke inside the campaign, the best they were able to settle on being “It’s her turn!” When they spoke to democrats, they were pleased to find most of them agreed that Hillary wasn’t “evil”. Jesus. Trump was a godsend, allowing them to focus on his weekly scandals instead of addressing the fact that there was no reason for Hillary to be President.
        The real lesson of this election was the peril of a race between two celebrities. One a reality tv star, the other the most famous politician on the planet. Just as Trump’s celebrity fueled his rise and victory, it was Hillary’s celebrity in her own party that doomed her, the circle of advisers too tight, the alienation from the average American too great.
        If there is something that has irked me over these past 100 days, it’s the betrayal on the part of democrats in confronting Hillary’s persistent inability to be elected. Their failure is now ours. 1367 days to go.
-Jack Delaney