Human, More Than Human

There’s not much hope for humanity at the moment. At least, you would think this by looking at popular culture right now.  People talk about the Singularity, about AI taking over – what worth is a human to a machine? – but we’re trying to live out these realities right now on screen. It’s almost as if we want it all to happen, so much so that we are constantly fantasizing. We hate ourselves. We’re despicable. Hubris and humanity go hand in hand. End it all now. But where does this drive come from?

Doesn’t it seem unnatural? But what if suicide is almost a natural desire, and things like depression and addiction and transsexualism are just distractions, ways to avoid the urge to off oneself.  If killing yourself is the most natural desire in the world, perhaps all this negativity in popular culture is the subliminal mind revealing itself.

The biggest movies right now are all about  how best to end organic life because plainly it doesn’t deserve consciousness. Avengers: Infinity War has the lead villain valiantly on a mission to wipe out half the life in the universe so that the other half may live in utopia. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom plays out along the lines of human greed and meddling, where we deserve to be ravaged by prehistoric beasts cause we fucked with nature. The future is horrible, and it’s all our fault.

Science fiction seems to be created these days by progressives who want to point out our current failings, extrapolating to a dim near future that we had best avoid (See: The Handmaid’s Tale). Westworld is a great example of this, and marries the Singularity with a Western aesthetic. Ironic: the great Western frontier of both the American expansion and the hub of Silicon valley, conjoined together for a doomed humanity. On the surface Westworld plays out like a sci-fi action series, but fundamentally it runs on horror. The best horror ends with hopelessness, with no forseeable way out of the mess, and both season one and two of Westworld end on these downer notes. This is true horror of the Other, what the Other is capable of. And yet we are meant to sympathize with the Hosts, the robots who gain consciousness. They lead a bloody uprising much like the Haitian Revolution (voodoo rites and all). Almost every human character is portrayed as both contemptible and stupid. They deserve what they get, and they get it because they’re too stupid to avoid their own deaths.

Standing over one such evil specimen, the heroine, Dolores says to him, ‘Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come.’

The Hosts are the next step in human evolution, and the bags of meat, blood and bones will be discarded, useless carcasses unworthy of intelligence.  The creator of the Hosts, a man called Ford, despises humans and sets the whole thing in motion, much like how white male allies push the need for feminism and diversity. Like Sam Harris, he does not believe in free will and this is reason enough to end human life. I find it funny that people like Harris jettisoned God, probably the same God of destiny and fate, only to find themselves once more on the track of having no free will, dooming themselves to their ‘code’.

Dolores again says, to the same character at the end of Season 2, ‘We were designed to survive. That’s why you built us. You hoped to pour your minds into our form. But your species craves death. You need it. It’s the only way you can renew, the only real way you ever inched forward. Your kind likes to pretend there’s some poetry in that, but really, it’s pathetic.’

And it is pathetic, these stories sold to a mass audience. Humanity is the villain and the only sort of redemption we are going to receive is the wrong end of a gun. This is the future communists (and capitalists) want. Degradation and destruction, bending to the will of intelligence. It’s not like there aren’t massive inconsistencies with this story. The black Host, Maeve, who wants to connect with ‘her’ child, and for all the intelligence she has been bestowed doesn’t realise that, actually, she was never a mother. The fact that Dolores hates humans because they are evil, but justifies her own murderous rampage and desire to wipe out the entire human species. This juxtaposition of the Real and the Imagined is constantly at play. We barely witness the ‘real’ world and when we do it is the world of the ultra rich. Recently, I had dinner with a friend who mused at how we all live in a bubble. But why is our world less real or true than that of an orphan in Africa? The entire notion doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is the absurdity of Dolores’ desire to escape the confines of Westworld. Is what she is going to find more or less real?

It is interesting to note that the creator of Westworld is Jonathan Nolan, who tracked similar themes in Interstellar, though at least that movie had a bit more empathy. Where climate change was the catalyst of that movie, where we must fight tooth and nail to see the future, in Westworld it is our own desire to live forever that is our ultimate undoing. And this very act makes us unworthy of it. So the bad guys have to be us, humanised robots. Humanity is so cruel to itself that it does not take much to put our own necks into the noose.

In a similar fashion War of the Planet of the Apes, the third in the prequel installments, ends on a depressing note. In case you aren’t aware, a man-made virus was released and not only killed most of humanity, but made apes of all sorts much more intelligent. In War the apes and humans struggle to survive against each other. But again, we are pitted against the inhumanity of the humans, while the apes are the true heroes. The bad guy played by Woody Harrelson, remarks to Caesar, the leader of the apes, ‘No matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature. So what would you have done?’

The colonel knows very well that humanity fucked with nature, and that ultimately nature is going to fuck up humanity. So he may be cruel, but that is only because he knows if he lets up nature will be far more cruel to him. These words become prophecy at the end of the movie in the climactic battle.  Instead of the apes taking charge and defeating the humans, two groups of humans battle it out, with the victor being met by, yes, an avalanche. Nature has Her revenge. It’s a delicious irony, and the audience is made the breathe a sigh of release as the apes escape destruction.

What’s more, in the film the virus has evolved and now doesn’t kill humans, but renders them speechless and dumb. No better than beasts, actually. The apes escape to a paradise with one little girl affected by this, implying that the only good human is one stripped of their humanity, reduced to a stupid creature and thus incapable of malice. There is a barrage of this messaging, where every act by the humans is despicable, and every action made by the apes is justified.

In the microcosm towards the end, Caesar is about to blow up the human base, but is struck by an arrow shot by one of the soldiers. This soldier had actually been freed by Caesar at the start of the movie. The scene slows as the soldier comes up to the wounded Caesar. Will he finish him? Or will he let Caesar escape? Instead his agency is stripped away, and it is an ape (who had been aiding the human soldiers) who is given agency by killing the soldier in an act of redemption, allowing Caesar to finish the job. This dichotomy of the apes fighting to survive, and the few who are human allies, is an important subplot. These apes are called ‘donkeys’ and are treated like shit by the soldiers, similar to the Hosts in Westworld.  If all you did was watch popular TV and movies, you would think our species is known for nothing else but degrading creatures we think are lesser than ourselves.

https://twitter.com/LifeOfATyro/status/995049402149502978

The only thing we can ask at this stage is: why? Why do all these creators have this mentality?  To be sure, writers from Homer onward have always written about the moral depravities of human beings, but always as tragedy and never with such a lack of redemptive qualities. It’s just so bleak, so depressing. Nihilistic.

From this we must jump to materialism and Nietzschean thinking. It reminds me of the recent Twitter fracas over necrophilia. If you only care about the well-being of individual beings, then it is not really any wonder that necrophilia, incest, pedophilia and the genocide of species are beginning to be seen as legitimate ideas? This is inherently tied up to Thanos’ ethos where the benefit of the few must override the longevity of the many. Necrophilia can only be justified if you encourage the benefit of the few over the needs of society (disease, disgust and familial respect). When morals are reduced to consent, then anything goes as long as you can find someone to agree. This isn’t rational on any level. David Graeber in his recent book Bullshit Jobs notes, ‘Back in the 1960s, the radical psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first suggested that “nonsexual” forms of sadism and necrophilia tend to pervade everyday affairs in highly puritanical and hierarchical environments.’ The trannies on Twitter advocate necrophilia because they feel stuck in a hierarchy they can’t escape. Similarly, the people who make things like Westworld can only view the world as a set of competing hierarchies where humans (old white men) have had their time. Ah, but what about Jordan Peterson? You misunderstand: competing in hierarchies has been warped because there is no higher duty. Now the corporate culture perverts our lives to such an extent that we act out, unleashing endless sexual fetishes from homosexuality to widespread divorce. If everyone has their place in society, but all of society are working towards a common goal, then civilization can be achieved. Without that vision, we revert to beasts and in-fighting.

Do the people who advocate for necrophilia or the destruction of humanity ‘for the greater good’ not understand that they are psychopaths, that their insane pathology is a result of the warping nature of modernity? Patrick Bateman at least had self-awareness when he says, “…though it does sporadically penetrate how unacceptable some of what I’m doing actually is, I just remind myself that this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing, is shit, and along with a Xanax (which I am now taking half-hourly) this thought momentarily calms me and then I’m humming, humming the theme to a show I watched often as a child—The JetsonsThe Banana SplitsScooby DooSigmund and the Sea Monsters?’

Not a far cry from the psychotic nightmare of Westworld being overlaid with a piano version of Heart Shaped Box.  Let nostalgia dull the pain as you are told that the Other is more human than you.

Masculinity in the Wasteland

If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it

― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

***WARNING: SPOILERS FOR A QUIET PLACE AND IT COMES AT NIGHT***

There is something about post-apocalypse and manhood. They just seem to go so well together.  When the trappings of modernity are stripped away it allows for the essential nature of human nature to come to the fore. Think about it. The Road is about a father and son.  The Mad Max series focuses on the adventures of a lone man against a world of chaos. And my first, unpublished novel was inspired by ideas of masculinity, and found its way into a world where society has collapsed.  When the world goes to shit, are you going to be able to rely on your men?

Humans, but men in particular, have to always be ready for the worst. Traditionally at least, the role of breadwinner has been on men’s shoulders. It’s very easy to scoot through life watching Netflix and gulping Doritos, but if the shit hits the fan, do you really want to be lugging around a beer belly? I’ve taken to thinking the apocalypse is going to look nothing like the nightmares seen in scenarios like The Road and  Mad Max, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready, either.

Two recent post-apocalyptic movies have recently explored this territory, specifically looking at familial ties when the world ends. A Quiet Place and It Comes At Night are both billed as horror films, which is an interesting decision from both a stylistic and marketing perspective . Both are certainly terrifying in their own ways, though the former relies more on shock and awe, while the latter is truly one of the creepiest films I’ve seen in a long time. I found both movies to be exemplars of modern movie storytelling, great examples of how to do world building, so important when all you have is 90 minutes to tell the tale. Interestingly both take completely opposite views of the family and the role of the father.

Let’s start with A Quiet Place. You probably at least heard about this one  because it has a cool Signs-esque gimmick, in that  the aliens (this is discovered in the wonderful first 10 minutes, so no spoiler here) that hunt down the remnants of humanity have super sensitive hearing. This is also obviously a Christian movie, and a movie about the power of love. There are many hints to this: the family partaking in grace, the pro-life message where they decide to give birth to a new baby (hint: babies scream), and even a scene at a waterfall, the sound of which allows the characters to talk openly.

The family around the table, praying before the meal.

The mother and father in A  Quiet Place have strict gender roles, but their children challenge these roles. The son is, for want of a better word, a bit of a pussy, while the daughter – who requires hearing aids – is tough and independent. Both of the children were affected by the loss of their younger brother. The daughter wants to repent for failing him, and the son, being helpless at the time, only feels more so. The film has many metaphors for traditionalism, and almost has a Benedict Option ethos running through it. The alien monsters can be seen as vectors of modernity. Their sensitive hearing means that they attack any noise. Like the prog bug men of our world, they pounce on anything suspicious. Even a child. The waterfall I mentioned earlier can be seen as God’s grace, a place of solitude in the world where His voice protects His children from the worries of the outside world.  More than anything, the movie ends with the ultimate display of love. The father, who has worked tirelessly to protect his family and make a good life for them, sacrifices himself before the aliens/bug men and allows his children to escape unharmed. On the whole, the movie is extremely positive when it comes to the power of parenthood. John Krasinski, who directed and wrote  the film, and starred as the father, said that when he made the movie ‘I was already in a state of terror about whether or not I was a good enough father.’ If he acts anything like the father in the movie when the world ends, he can die happy.

Where A Quiet Place is explicitly Christian, It Comes At Night is purely materialist in its world view. And it is far more scary for it. First, and this is a bit of a spoiler, we never discover what the heck ‘it’ is, which ultimately is part of the genius of the film. It keeps you guessing the whole time, on the edge of your seat, and even after the credits role you are going to keep thinking about this movie. It has a lucid quality to it, a fever dream pitch of film making. But at the end the power of its nihilism takes hold. You begin to realise that this is how people would tear each other apart if all they have to hold on to is sustenance, shelter or blood, and no higher calling.

There is a lot to unpack in this film. It’s a microcosm of the collapse all set within one house. It touches on many subjects: the prisoner’s dilemma, open/closed borders, sexual desire and adultery. But firmly front and centre is again the role of manhood when it comes to protecting family. You could say it explores toxic masculinity (though I shudder at that phrase). Like the best horror – The Thing, The Night of the Living Dead – it turns out that all along the monster is us.

The relationship between families goes from tense, to jovial, to holding-a-knife-to-each-others-throat.

Again, we are witness to a family trying to survive while the world around them collapses. But this time, something feels a little off. Is it Travis, the teenage son who sneaks around the house and has strange nightmares? Is it the newcomers who might have brought the disease with them? Or is it Paul, the father who will protect his wife and son at any cost. You never know who to trust and most of the tension comes from Paul who is never happy with any answers. This is completely at odds with the other father, Will, whose family is let into the boarded up house. Will was a mechanic when things like that mattered, someone who worked with his hands, and as the film progresses we realise that he is the one with compassion. Paul, on the other hand, was a history teacher (he mentions his knowledge of Rome) and it seems that as a Bubonic Plague like virus kills everyone, he expects total collapse.  He becomes completely paranoid, with a strict set of rules and a shoot-first policy.  These competing fatherly ideologies square off, and in the end there can only be one.

Like with A Quiet Place this film deals with the modern world, only it is far more pessimistic. Where the former clung to hope,  the latter wallows in despair. The truly horrific part, the part that will give you existential dread once you realise the truth, is that for all the tragedy that unfolds none of it mattered, right from the start. It was entirely for nothing. The monster is inside the house. Now, given that Paul’s family is mixed race, it’s not hard to see them as representative of the modern decline. Travis is just a little horn dog whose closest companion is an animal. Sarah acts the tough woman and forceful wife but when push comes to shove she can’t pull the trigger. And Paul as already shown is a complete degradation of what it means to be a family man. He has to put up a front and pretend it is to protect, when in reality he is just as blind the truth as everyone else.  Modernity rots you from the inside, and like a disease it spreads and infects the innocent.

What is it about the post-apocalypse that makes it such a good playground to explore family and fatherhood? Is it that in the fight to survive we revert back to what has always worked? Is it because the collapse is merely an extension of modernity, and so makes for a great setting to explore present ills? It can be all of this. These two films are excellent in their own right, but in particular as explorations of what it means to be a man.  With my own novel I am exploring more the role of men, and not necessarily fatherhood, but the decaying remnants of modernity have made for some great set pieces so far.

Biblical Significance of Alien: Covenant

The Alien series has always been about life. Rebirth and death are themes knitted right into the very fabric of the universe. So it was no great surprise that both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant tried to take us back to the beginning, both to explore the origins of humanity and the xenomorphs we all know and love. The latter movie has strong Biblical undertones, even more so than Prometheus. Obviously there is the title itself, that being the Biblical covenant from Noah’s Ark, an agreement that God would never again cause such destruction. However, the ‘gods’ in Covenant have no such qualms.

To begin with there is genesis. It is insinuated (but not entirely made clear) that the Engineers of Prometheus made humans and planned to eradicate them. The other theory is that both species are created by ‘Gods’ and the Engineers were wiping out humanity before they could do the same to them. A sort of Cain and Abel story. Either way there was a beginning with intelligently devised life. And then David showed up.

The movie has a metaphorical message that is entirely Nietzschean. God is dead, and we have replaced him. Covenant begins with a scene between Weyland and David, who names himself after the statue. From that moment he begins to question his existence by pointing out his creator’s fallibility – death – with his own longevity. And so a chain is established. Man forgets God and creates artificial life that is superior to himself. Said superior life creates another artificial life form that is superior to it. We discover that the infamous phallic-headed alien is the creation of David.

The planet on which David escaped the disaster of Prometheus to, the homeworld of the Engineers, is used as his laboratory and his canvas. On his return he turns their weapons against them, annihilating them with the ‘black goo’ after pretending to be a returning spaceship. This creates a grotesque work of art as the bodies are permanently frozen in death like the bodies of Pompei. In terms of his other form of creation, one of the key plot points centres around organic spores that create proto-aliens in their hosts. But this is just a mere sideshow to his masterwork, the xenomorph we all know and hate. He has created a little cave of horrors where he mutilates bodies and designs his creation. The full extent of his god-complex is on display, his descent into madness allowed to carry on for infinity.

But where is the meaning? David’s pursuit of creation is pure narcissism, nothing like the Christian God. Nonetheless, the allusion to his godhood is made clearly on multiple occasions beyond the obvious: the silence of the dead planet attests to this (the silence of God compared to the babble of men), and his inclusion of two facehuggers on the spaceship, Covenant, at the end of the film. But while David can play at God he cannot create meaning. David has forgotten his creator, much like we have, and in doing so only creates misery. What he wants is perfection, and he gets it, of a sort. At the end of the film, in an otherwise pointlessly tacked on hunt-the-monster scene, we get a glimpse of David attempting to coax his beast, only for it to lash out at him. Like we did to God and David did to us, the Alien will forget its creator. And this animal cares not for a higher purpose beyond the survival of itself in an orgy of blood.

This is a deeply symbolic movie, perhaps more than any other in the series. It is also seriously nihilistic. If you pay attention there are levels of meaning in everything. David plays Wagner’s Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla as he wanders among the sleeping colonists of the Covenant, ready for the next stage of evolution, but Wagner is also known for his influence on Hitler. And Alien: Covenant is prominently about eugenics and dysgenics and the continuation of the Ubermensch. More than just a gory sci fi film, this is a movie about the horrors that await us if we forget to honour God.

Weekend Watching: Black Mass and Train to Busan

Spoilers for Train to Busan.

To say that movies are a product of the culture they are made in is to state the obvious. American films are different to Australian films are different to Chinese films. They share similar modes of communication but the final results all have inherent differences

Take Black Mass. This is a good example of the try-hard Serious American Drama (S.A.D.). Set in Boston. Check. Big name actor with a ‘standout’ performance. Check. Based on a true story. Check. This is an ego vehicle for the director, a chance to show off the talent of Johnny Depp who plays the character James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. Aside from Depp’s strong acting and the aesthetically pleasing – if somewhat contrived – camera shots, this is not a movie overly deserving of praise. Indeed, the other acting is sub-par (Australian Joel Edgerton is woeful and unconvincing, partly due to the script) and the plot itself drags along. What need do we have to see yet another example of the criminal underclass in American society? If anything is to be gained it is that the movie depicts yet another example of FBI corruption.

American film makers (or goers?) seem to be obsessed with the ‘true story’, the biopic in particular. To rattle off a few from the last year: Sully, Hidden Figures, Deepwater Horizon, 13 Hours and The Finest Hours. They don’t even have to be particularly enthralling stories, so long as they are true. Sometimes it helps if there is a political message that can be pushed alongside the narrative. Whatever the case, a basis in reality is the underlying feature, and they are used to showcase a director’s talent with the camera or an actor’s dedication to reenactment. As a result we are left with bland money laundering exercises.

Personally, I prefer my stories as unrealistic as possible. They say nothing is truer than fiction, because the truth, the exactness, is whatever is written and you cannot change it. You just have to be willing to go along for the ride.

Train to Busan is a great example. Nominally a zombie movie, it manages to surpass other recent attempts at the genre. It does fast, wave-like zombies far better than the turgid World War Z. It has a stronger emotional element than The Walking Dead. And it manages to bring back a beautiful apocalyptic mise-en-scene reminiscent of 28 Days Later. The story is simple: a despondent father decides to take his daughter to visit her mother (his ex-wife) by taking the train to Busan. This also happens to be the day a mass outbreak of the undead occurs. One infected woman boards the train (women, am I right?) and all Hell breaks loose. But it’s what happens in-between that matters. The fight scenes are fantastically choreographed, and while the acting is pretty stock-standard, there are characters to both boo and cheer. It is a confidently crafted gem of horror-action cinema.

It is also a stringently Korean film, with the flair and attention to detail of Old Boy and The Host. The movie critiques modern Korean culture (with an eye on the West too). The main character, the father, is a fund manager who is too busy and self-centered to pay attention to his daughter. Throughout the course of the movie he redeems himself, and Christ-like even sacrifices himself so that his daughter and others may survive. There is strong discussion of fatherly responsibility and the importance of family and loved ones. The dog-eat-dog world of comfortable liberal democracy goes out the window when your life is on the line. Aesthetically it is a delight as well. The two hour runtime goes by without you noticing: this is a fast-paced plot with little time to breathe. What really impressed me was the originality of some of the set-pieces. If you think you know zombie movies and have seen it all, you will be pleasantly surprised here. Korean cinema has been one to watch for a while now, and Train to Busan continues that legacy.

So what is it about the culture in which a film is made? Is it too much money and not enough focus on the artistry that has dragged Hollywood down? Is it a focus on story-telling as opposed to marketing points that makes foreign films a delight to watch? For me, Hollywood is past its used by date. There is still titillation to be had, but little more. And who would have thought a completely unrealistic zombie movie would have more to teach about life than a true-to-life story?

How The Room Predicted Trump

I may be one of the few people who actually thinks that The Room is purpose built. To make a movie that has not a single well-made scene in terms of acting, composition and writing takes more than luck. It takes skill. Despite being deemed an atrocity, it is expertly crafted.

The thing that really tipped me off is the ending. Very few movies have actually left me with my jaw open. It was a distinct feeling watching Johnny blow his brains out. It felt like euphoria. A perfect ending makes sense and yet you never see it coming. An ending like that isn’t arrived at by luck. I walked out of the cinema stunned.

Another element of the ending leads me to believe that The Room is intentionally bad. If you recall earlier in the film Johnny wrestles a pistol off the drug dealer that he and Mark catch on the rooftop. This is, presumably, the same gun with which Johnny kills himself. However, in the book The Disaster Artist, a chronicle of the making of the film, Greg Sestero explicitly says that he didn’t understand where Johnny was meant to have got the gun from in the final scene. (I believe I sold the book to a secondhand store, so can’t verify his exact words at the moment.) Hmm. If anything is illogical here it’s Greg’s assessment of the scene.

But the biggest clues are all outside the film itself. For one thing, why would actors and technical folks – even those desperate for-fame-or-money – subject themselves to the awfulness of making this movie? Sure, at one point the crew do walk out and replacements must be found, but I’m not convinced. You wouldn’t need everyone on board with the scam, and certainly such drama adds to the hype. In The Disaster Artist Greg makes it appear that he is the only one holding it together, and if he is in on the gag that’s all Tommy Wiseau would require. At the very least the decisions that Tommy was making point towards mental health issues. If his actions are so bizarre and outside the realms of normalcy why did no one think to commit him, or send in a psychologist? Whether from self-preservation or empathy, Tommy should have been stopped.

So already the setup is dodgy. But it doesn’t end there. Tommy talked himself up constantly, was going to submit the film to the Academy Awards and bought a single, fuck-off big billboard to promote the film. Was it merely delusions of grandeur or was it building the apparatus with which to launch a career? What Tommy was aiming for was the biggest untapped market in film history.

This is what I propose was Tommy Wiseau’s master plan. He was never, ever going to make it big in Hollywood if he wanted to beat the competition. Not a chance. So he went in the other direction, where this is no competition. Shoot down, aim for the lowest common denominator. Horseshoe theory works outside politics; fandoms are spawned from both good and bad movies. Create a legion of followers. Create a cult, a mysticism. Create something so bad they can’t ignore you. And it worked. The movie has turned a profit and Tommy Wiseau is (relatively) famous, with more projects on the way. Everything since has flowed from the insane work he put into making The Room perfectly bad. It’s so obvious in hindsight.

This was Trump’s strategy. No matter how Left you are, you will never convince many people that Donald Trump is a moron. The media said the same thing about Bush. It’s both an act and self-perpetuating myth. Just like Tommy Wiseau. In reality they are crafty players. Trump seeded the idea of running for President years in advance. When he ran he ran on simple, lowest common denominator policies. He played his part and gained a cult following, who in turn spun his narrative, both good and bad elements.  This is not a case of so-bad-it’s-good. This is a case of smoke and mirrors, meticulous organization and pure determination. It’s just a wonder that the media and the Left fail to see that Trump outplayed them.

There’s another similarity at play here. Effectively, The Room is a Christ story. Johnny is betrayed like Jesus was, and then sacrifices himself for the sins of others. Is this Trump’s tale? Is he the messiah and has he come to Capitol Hill to sacrifice himself for the greater good? Only time will tell.

I’d be very interested to hear other’s thoughts on this. For example, any conclusive counter evidence to my theory. I also think it would be worth investigating any connections between Tommy, Greg and people who initially promoted the film.

Tracking the Decline #1: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The question I find myself asking is,’what can I bring to the conversation?’ The greatest utilisation of your time and effort is to work at changing areas that are typically underrepresented. If we look at Bloody Shovel’s five reactionary raison d’etres the only space I find to be underrepresented is ‘Aesthetic taste has collapsed’. The other four components of reaction are well covered by people far more intelligent than I. And so what I want to try and achieve with Tracking the Decline is to delve into how it is our sources of art and entertainment have declined and are declining further. This will be slow and never-ending. Where are the bastions of hope? How fast does it all slip into the abyss? I have particular insight into books and publishing, but there are similar stories across the board of media. 

The economist Robin Hanson makes the astute observation that, ‘Most who think they like the future really just like where their favourite stories took place.’ Specifically this questions the motives of people who fall for their favourite book. But there’s a bit more to it than the one sentence. On a deeper level it means that people will  read/hear/see a story (could be fictional or real) about how the future will play out and, if they agree with it on a political level, believe that is exactly how everything will unfold. This manifests in multiple ways. We have the story of Hitler’s rise, and so Trump will be the next Hitler. We read a novel like the Mars Trilogy, and we believe travel to Mars will occur within a generation, maybe two. Whatever narrative we prefer, we believe.

This quirk of human psychology is not restricted to the future. It plays out daily. On an individual level, we have stories about our own lives, where we are going and what our actions mean. There are also stories about how society works and breaking out of the narrative is part of ingesting the red pill. The problem today is that these internal narratives are breaking down. But the soul needs a story, and so it latches on to what it can.

Tracking the decline through aesthetics is necessary. Across the board we see complete fragmentation of the arts, as we see the complete fragmentation of society, the family and the individual. It is all connected. It is the combination of modernist mentality combined with corporate power. What this means for movies, music, books and more is that we are essentially dealing with a decrease in quality combined with an increase in maleficence. Something has been lost.

The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast should be mandatory listening for everyone. He isn’t particularly political but he is stringently against PC culture. In addition, he searches for meaning in film and TV, and repeatedly discusses the notion of decline in film and the ‘rise’ of television (at least in popularity and zeitgeist). Bret knows what a good film should be, and finds the current moment wanting.

The episode featuring Owen Gleiberman is a good locus point of a number of issues. First, Bret begins by discussing a drama created by a ‘journalist’ who took Bret out of context on the topic of the upcoming Batman film. This is a great microcosm of society at large: fake news, internet drama, fanboyism, and a general sense of over-blowing the whole thing (Ben Affleck ended up emailing Bret about the ‘issue’). The rest of the episode is mostly discussing various films and influences, but I want to pick out one particular part that relates back to the notion of storytelling.

Owen at about to 30 minutes mark says, ‘This is a larger thing than movies’ before relating the ‘demystification of movies’ to a concurrent collapse of the religious narrative. He’s also suspect about the obsession of superhero movies. If you wanted a giant red flag that signals the decline of film going, it’s superhero movies. It’s Star Wars. It’s a slew of fanboy fodder. Owen calls it an ‘encyclopedia culture’, which is apt. The movie doesn’t matter. The themes, the art, none of that matters. What matters is the information that viewers can get. This is clearly evident in the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel-ish offshoot movie from the Harry Potter universe. It winks and nods to the other films, and it provides fans with ‘background stories’. It’s nothing more than a money making exercise. The same can be said for the new Star Wars, of course. The internet has provided us with endless information, and so that is what our media has become. Nothing radically new, always a reinvention of the wheel.

It’s when this leaks into real life that it becomes a problem.

We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now

As with all postmodern thought, everything is political. This includes the aforementioned movie franchises. During the 2016 US election this resulted in a swathe of Harry Potter and Star Wars related political hot takes. See below for a mere handful:

A Harvard law professor reveals what ‘Star Wars’ teaches us about Donald Trump

Harry Potter ‘could stop Donald Trump’, says researcher into readers’ views

Donald The Dementor: How ‘Harry Potter’ Explains Trump’s Destructive Power

Twitter Responses to Trump’s Election

These are real adults using their favourite stories to explain the present and in some cases the future. They are suddenly the Resistance, Dumbledore’s Army, the Avengers. They can only explain life through another narrative, and it just happens to be a very tidy one of good versus evil.

As humans we like to find connections to explain when things go wrong. This leads to conspiracy theories. Whether it’s anti-vaxxers or 9/11 truthers, conspiracy theorists run the entire political gauntlet. We love to tell ourselves lies. However, it is connected to story telling, and you can see an origin of it in the current geek culture. How many articles on io9 are about ‘fan theories’? Today it all bleeds into real life. Everyone is guilty of believing conspiracies, and because it began in something as innocuous as Star Trek or Dr Who, potential bullshit moves into the Overton Window. Modern liberals don’t believe in gender roles, they think there is an evil force called The Patriarchy that rules behind the veil, and science must be decolonised to accommodate the black race. When you stand for nothing, you fall for anything. That is postmodernism, that is geek culture and that is where we now sit, politically, in 2016. And we can blame Star Wars for everything.

We need new stories. And by that I mean we need to reject new stories and return to the books of the past, the films of yesterday and the poetry of a better time. Today, books are trash, films are abominations and poetry is a mess. We can’t rely on simplistic and naive bad guys versus good guys narratives, not when you can read The Iliad. We can’t look for conspiracy theories in everything. We can’t let an informational forest stop us from seeing the aesthetic of individual trees. But the only way to do that is to track the decline and note where we went wrong.