Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reality Leaks

“The oil will come ashore for weeks yet”. That is a quote from the Economist. 'Weeks' should be in italics. The Economist is a news weekly with a circulation of millions, most of the millions are middle class and up. What do weeks more oil spills entail? I don’t know they only advised me about my earnings if I push the euro against the dollar.

I had an even better quote, but The Economist seems to have taken it down off of their site. It was a technology quote. I paraphrase, quite easily inviting a libel suite, “ this shows our mastery over nature”. That quote had to do with creating artificial life. They didn’t say how it would profit me.

The Economist: if only it could be trusted to relate to reality in some way, is always informing me that as a western white person, I can shuffle my earnings around to avoid the pitfalls of varying headlines about regular people or the environment.

Unfortunately, I routinely scour small sources that have little to no effect over world affairs or bank accounts. Sometimes these sources are inflammatory, but sometimes they have deadly accurate reporting that I can’t read in my national newsies. Some of these sources are very well sourced, others not. So, I have to weigh what I read, the same way we do with our national newspapers(we do weigh what we read, don’t we?). Fine enough, I don’t expect the gospel source of information to be shovelled on high into my mouth.

In fact, I normally lean on the left side of expectorating issues, or at least am curious about the full impact of issues that are under reported or not reported at all in corporate owned newspapers. I expect huge coverage of a sports event to bury a banking scandal that effects millions. I expect some small detail of an ecological disaster to be reported in lieu of the real cause, real damage or the real culprits. The real culprits are often “everybody”, and who wants to read a story like that? I don’t want my reporting too accurate, that would be depressing.

Would you follow a magazine or newspaper that reported things like “Record Suicides in Chinese Factories Due To Your Shopping At Best Buy(yes the people building our toys are killing themselves because conditions are so bad). Or “Polar Bears Starving Because You Drove To The Supermarket”. Gah, I don’t want to read that. What about “Great swathes of the ocean and all its denizens dead after you plead for cheaper gas and home air conditioning” No way, I certainly don’t want to read that. What about “African Drought Will Kill More People Than The Entire North American Population Due To Your Obsession With Material Consumption”, holy fuck I really don’t want to hear that, especially after just enjoying, “the market is up in gold, diamonds, and fertilizers.”. Why should I give a shit about fucking brown people on another continent, I have enough of them here trying to sell meth to my children for gods sakes.

I could play this game all day and into the night. As long as the presses are still running, they will feed you. They will feed you whatever you need to hear to not worry that your way of life is ending, or that your way of life is not destroying peoples and cultures around the world.

Imagine that: you, not thinking hard, just doing your normal daily routines: brushing your teeth with 18 gallons of water, throwing out 3 kilos of packaging over a breakfast of 2500 calories(half more than most people get to eat all day, and just a tad less than the recommended amount for a whole day of survival). During your toast, and orange juice and bacon you glance through the paper and contemplate your allegiance to one party or the other, confident that either one will keep vitamins pouring into you from warm poor countries, and will keep fuel pouring in from very hot, super poor countries. There is very little time to read about how much high tech warfare keeps these backward sheep herding countries supplying the oil and fruit.

You scold your children for playing Wii over the table, and the eldest scolds you for driving a SUV, and you all live happily ever after in your theme-land life. Asians are dying trying to bring you the consoles for your games, and being killed to proffer you fertilizers for your orange juice and fuel for your vehicle. But who has time to think of the Chinese when you have to hire a new cleaner and you are worried about minor theft?

Your politics are offering you the chance to crunch down on factory vitamin enriched toast while tisk tisking right wing factions invading middle eastern countries, and you indulge yourself in a deep scowl over the mess in the Mexican gulf while never wondering if you will never again taste lobster in your favourite restaurant. You certainly don’t spoil your appetite wondering if there will be gas at the pump, or whether the grocery store will be abundantly overflowing with sales, as usual. It never occurs to you to wonder whether your children will inherit this bounty.

If you live an upright, moral life, don’t you have a right to drive your children to violin lessons and then stop at a fancy palace where they will give you a single use polyester bib so you don’t spoil yourself with food shipped in from half way around the globe?

On the way home, shouldn’t you be able to drive through a Timmy’s and drink a coffee brewed from starving people and then swoop in for a very cheap DVD of the newest sci-fi flic at a best-buy without wondering how much soil died to bring it to you? Shouldn’t you be able to watch it and feel camaraderie with the hero who fights for the rights of the people and their ecology.

For that matter, shouldn’t you be able to feel angry when you fumble to uncrease a morning newspaper that landed on your pesticided lawn instead of being inserted in your mailbox very carefully at no extra charge. Couldn’t the whole affair be more efficient because you are a busy person who has no time for the logistics of unfolding your 2 lb paper, only to find that after your efforts someone is trying to depress you with predictions of oil prices and single digit death news regarding North American soldiers in the middle east wars.

Can you imagine starting your day fresh and new only to learn that a single soldier was killed in your efforts to keep cheap fuel flowing at any cost of life to the “axis of evil”. You just took a shower and already fretted with a choice of hair conditioners, and then you step down to your breakfast only to be faced with depressing news. What fucking nerve.

My god, what kind of heathen would subject you to that? You are only at page four when you read about some new information that suggests climate change is progressing magnitudes faster than all the harsh warnings you were forced to read about over the last ten years. Its preposterous, they are only quoting four international peer reviewed institutions.

Fortunately though you remember a blog you read four months ago saying climate change is a financial boondoggle posed by bought scientists whose credentials wouldn’t hold up to your discerning gaze. You sigh relief at not having to consider the matter further. Can’t trust the papers anyway, right?

Luckily, your boss wants a better quarterly report on your pen cap sales, so you are only half reading. You are really thinking of how to lay off 4 towns worth of people who used to farm until they were subsidized out of the business of providing food, and pushed into manufacturing petroleum products. They never understood that they would get sidelined from that too. You don’t worry about who is responsible for the food now, nor how those towns people will fare since you learned that you wouldn’t have to cope with Mexican unions (what a headache) and the whole affair could move to a north-western province of China for a fraction of the cost and you would never again smell the casting machines molding pen lids. Not only that, but you won’t have to visit any plants, you could practically do your job from home with your shitty spreadsheet program. Now that’s an idea, a good income, a low interest mortgage, and a job that doesn’t require a tie. God bless America.

That makes it a really good day regardless of the price of gas.

You get really angry for 3 minutes about homeless people washing your windows then expecting money. Mostly you feel afraid for your life and therefore angry that your wealth might not protect you, but then you move on to the next hurdle and feel upset that someone standing dirtily on the street wants your toll booth stash, and that you will have to hit a drive thru a bank machine again before bringing your kids to Iron Man 2 this weekend.

Welcome to the present, please enjoy it while it lasts, I cannot predict the future except to say it will arrive whether you are paying attention or not. It certainly won’t be so funny.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Apocalypse Please, Hold the Propaganda.

Now, I like me some horror films. I like the silly creature features that prophesize giant insects to address human hubris. Sometimes they even scare me. I like the prurient slasher films, meeting our worst empty nest fears. I especially love supernatural and theological horror films, that fill you with true unease and dread about unseen forces that resonate within your cultural psyche, regardless of religious denomination. Give me catholic fear of The Exorcist and The Omen and I will quake.

Those films that tap into our deepest cultural and religious mythology really scare the hell out of me. And going deeper, they touch my perennial fears of the beyond. . . touch my ghost fears like Stir of Echoes or White Noise. They touch my existential dread of nightmares beyond our world. I eat them up as nice safe fears. Cathartic. Just as they were intended. Whether it is atomic ants in Them, or Norman Bates channeling his mother in Psycho, ghostly sailors in The Fog, a fear demon in the Boogey Man, or vengeful spirits in Mirrors, I like getting scared stupid, sitting in the dark in front of the magic shadows. And I usually thank the filmmakers afterwards for making me sweat.

Unfortunately, there are films that scare me far more. We have war movies that glorify the extension of empire, dramas that romanticize exploitive capitalism. Romantic comedies that project magic elixirs for relationships There really are no shortage of scary movies that aren’t the fun kind. The worst kind, are the ones that disguise themselves as nice genre escapes, the ones that pretend to alleviate our fears by indulging them.

Take the apocalypse film. It is usually so delectably fun. Mad Max, or Waterworld. Even A Boy And His Dog which had interesting gender commentary was still mostly an adolescent festival.

But I just watched one tonight, The Book of Eli. It turned my delicious dinner into a bad bout of sphincter clenching dashes to the bathroom.

These films look the same from the outside, but it’s what particular dreamy realities are being sold to us quietly that differentiates healthy pleasures from poisons. It’s all about the mythology. And it is all about the psychological hooks for the audience. Slasher films give us some sophomore morality plays about average behaviour—drugs, booze, sex—in the mythology its all capital punishment bad news, leading to an unstoppable killer coming to get you in unique cinematic ways. It reminds teens of the fears they have, as they begin the decision making part of their lives, and gives release to parental fears. Their crimes are not real, and neither are their punishments. It’s all about the fear.

And in so many theologic films, we’re given a blood freezing tale, that finally in the end gives us a rerun to order and justice in a world of powers beyond our reach. We are given to understand that there are force we cannot understand(whether political or supernatural), but we are also given to understand there are safeguards in place(in the case of theologic horror films they are usually hermetic priests and innocents, with the odd jaded sinner, and in reality, they are teams of scientists,journalists and activists).

All of these genre tropes were born in a wealthy culture riding the greatest tide of wealth and power that there ever was in history. The greatest wealth and power there ever will be. The greatest wealth and power that is now slipping away, inexorably, with nothing in human imagination to stop it or slow it down.

In the fifties, there was an atomic fear, which gave us all our glorious mutated bug movies. The thing is, it was an anxiety over a possibility, an outside chance that the technological optimism of the era might prove wrong, that the military guard dogs of empirical wealth might gamble poorly. It still may play out, but so far it has mostly been a fear. It is the parable of technology out of control.

The thing is now, people make glib comparisons of those anxieties to today’s, and there is an error. Atomic spiders were a symbol of unknown fears. Ghosts stealing children expressed anxiety of childhood disease—a possibility, but unlikely conclusion.

There is a huge difference between allegorical, or metaphorical expressions of emotional fear, and fantastic dreams about real issues.

A few years ago we were given The Day After Tomorrow, expressing our fears about global warming. But it projected a single defining event, and offered the panacea that an oppressed overpopulated country, weak on resources would welcome hundreds of millions of refugees and somehow be able to sustain them. Personally, I have an easier time believing in the giant Ants.

More recently we had 2012. A mystic prophecy foretells a random event, something in technobabble having to do with solar neutrinos, up there with Lucas’ midichlorians, that makes earth unfit for humans—but luckily “arcs” are built, saving the best and brightest, and the most tenacious. Well that's a yummy gene pool for a happy ending. All the worst of humanity weeded out, and a new earth for all our captains of industry and science, nicely wrapped up in a biblical bow. It’s not cathartic release. It’s opiates for real fears.

This is a trend. Most recently we are delivered The Book of Eli. The earth is devastated by who knows what. Nuclear war, shredded ozone, a blistered drought brought on by carbonized atmosphere. Who cares, the apocalypse has come and it is dusty and desperate, except that one man is on a mission carrying a bible. Yes, a bible, not a book of Eli, just a bible like you would find in any motel on the way to the apocalypse. God knows it didn’t help us over the last couple thousand years. It’s been prone to causing wars, secrecy, lynchings, witch hangings, empirical justification; damn, the whole thing is based on an extended torture followed by lynching for that matter. But somehow, instead of cathartic release from our fears, we are given saccharine succour that our tawdry religious remnants have it all in hand. It’s all part of the plan. That’s what is disgusting about these films. They don't make ridiculous, our fears. Nor do they validate them. The seek to neutralize them with pathetic justifications based on nihilism and fantasy.

The internet is full of journalists pleading for people to listen to the fact that some of our most powerful people believe the earth is worthless, and this life is transitory, and that all our warring efforts, poisons and industry are simply a step on the path to some heavenly purpose. And now, instead of even being given some catharsis for our fears, we are supposed to swallow some last ditch dust ridden god mission proving this so?

I had to stop the film, despite being a hardened fan of apocalypse films. I would rather have rooted for the sycophantic opportunistic mafia type leader of the burgeoning post-world communities who wants some consolidation of his leadership so things can be reorganized than a god driven shepherd bringing the holy bible wherever it needed to go.

I couldn’t finish watching the Hollywood maniac machinery deliver its tired version of a desired ending for apocalyptic christians. I didn’t give up too prematurely. But I realized we had Denzel as Adam, and his needy bride (from That Seventies Show), blazing the way, bleeding and stoic, to carry the word of god, and I just couldn’t take it. Or maybe they are both Moses. It doesn't matter. that frightening audience will take a mash up as long as they get the right signifiers. But, I just wasn't buying the ugliest ending of our world(too close to real possibility) being made relevant by the continuance of an ugly religion that paved the way for the destruction.

I had an easier time swallowing pagan gods assisting the salvation of Christian Word in The Secret of Kells. At least that was told in a beautiful myth that combined mythology and adventure with a digestible version of cultural succession in an ongoing world that we did not rule or pretend to rule.

A long fan of all forms of narrative, I am becoming wary of any use for it. I fear narrative no longer informs, but simply deludes. apocalypse with popcorn.