Sunday, March 30, 2014



Anyone who's seen Aronofsky's previous film might be wondering what is up with this one, for it's about the inverse of "Black Swan." In "Black Swan," a parent's control over her child has to be breached in order for her to realize her potential. To facilitate this is another ballerina, who consistently prompts her to explore her rebellious side, to live a little. No snake in the garden is she, but someone with good intentions -- and who is in fact necessary to assist Natalie Portman's Nina in shoving her mother aside and embracing her own fate. 

In "Noah," Noah is the parent determined to have his will hold over his children, and he is leveraged powerfully; impossibly powerfully -- by God. One of his boys -- Ham -- to some extent plays the equivalent of Natalie Portman's rebellious child Nina, in that he shows signs of wanting to step outside of his father's influence and discover the world for himself. But those he'd discover there to enwisen him -- specifically Ray Winstone's formidable near half-god, Tubal-Cain -- tempt for a variety of legitimate reasons, but not in the least for any goodness of heart. Basically he's the one guy left -- other than a rapidly aging grandfather -- who is a serious rival to Noah in presence and will, so is appealing, drawing, mostly on this score. When Ham slays Tubal-Cain, to frustrate his own self-development and to grant Noah his ongoing dominion over his whole family's fate, it might read a little bit as if Portman's swan had relapsed and handed herself over to her mother; but Tubal-Cain just can't register as someone other than someone who mostly just has to be destroyed -- let loose, all Ham's sisters would be under his concubinage, and all the other boys, no doubt slain. In fact, the only reason you can believe Ham went along with Tubal-Cain to the extent that he did was because some pent up need to rebel against his father was having to play out with material far too hot for the matter: There's a sense that he's just the kid who wants to balk back against his overdetermining parents by bringing unwelcome company home for dinner, but that this instinct has to play out with his escorting to the table the most dangerous of men. In this early, heavily macho universe, rightful child rebellion has to play distant second fiddle to letting the one good man heavily laden in rightful purpose, escort everyone through to an environment where they might breathe a bit easier. 

So Ham relapses to Noah, and the women do too -- they plead with him as powerfully as possible, threaten him their rejection of their love if he slays the two newly born girls. But however much they were both responsible for introducing the possibility of new human life to the fore, they offer no sense that they can really do anything to ultimately thwart him if he means for the human race to perish. However, when Noah sees the girls, he can't bring himself to kill them. It's not failure in nerve, but that he saw only goodness in them. 

Once they've struck land, their main odyssey is over. And as Ham goes off alone, he'll surely be reconsidering a lot of what went on in that dense period of time from the beginning to completion of the arc, with the first thing being his father's conviction that each of them were full of sin. To his father, the baby girls were clear of it. But one would have thought that compared to whom they as a family were being likened to, Noah would have realized how comparatively free they all were. Every other human they come across is pure mongrel -- absolutely terrifying, daunting in motive: rape-and-cannibalism-for-kicks types. Noah pairs his family with them, likens them to them, even though their difference is so obvious and extreme the only thing they ever do when they stumble upon them is flee. As film watchers, it's obvious that Noah has likened a very decent nuclear family to what you'd only become once lost to the human race -- zombies from humans, a la "World War Z."  

He might also ask himself if his father's finding all good in infants but only corrupted souls with the rest of them, fits with his incrementally harsh response to their independent actions as they age. The youngest boy plucks a flower to claim its beauty, and Noah tells him not to do so, but kindly, and with explanation. The middling -- Ham himself -- introductorily hefts an axe he's been given, and Noah yells at him to drop it immediately. The eldest builds a raft so to flee with his wife, and Noah strides forward and launches a fire bomb at it. Regarding the axe, knowledge of the close-call Tubal-Cain presented to their freedom might ebb, and he might keep faith that his desire to continue holding the axe, to keep it, had nothing to do with some innate desire for violence but just possessing something party to the fully self-realized Tubal-Cain. Regarding his anger at his father for not letting him continue to try and free the girl he had just "claimed," he might realize it wasn't so much about virtues of the girl herself but that she represented something he'd obtained -- won -- independently. And he might realize that his decision to lead his father down a path where he might be slain, owed not to sin, nor to his fealty to the girl, but to the fact that Tubal-Cain was legitimately beguiling him as a preferable leader for suggesting that life isn't about obeisance but about exhilarating, incorrigible appropriation. 

Russell Crowe's Noah is a giant of a man. When Tubal-Cain arrives to challenge him, asking how he would dare challenge his army all alone, his response -- "I'm not alone" -- could of had him motioning his biceps and his barrel chest rather than to their accents -- the rock ogres at his behest -- and still seemed half credible. A man like that is going to do well for himself in any age associated primarily with the type of weapons that can be forged -- a stone-aged, a bronze-aged, an iron-aged one. But not necessarily when even a man of a build like that could be conclusively stopped by a phone call to the police made by any wimpy lad, and what is visceral and compelling is more likely to be the perfectly played ballet. That is, you put Noah into the early 21st century, shepherding, domineering his children, directing them not to touch, try, experiment with "that," to obey his will in all things, then he'd be more like Nina's mother -- Barbara Hershey's Erica. And the axe Ham so wants to experiment as his own becomes the cosmetics Nina steals from the dressing quarters of the long-reigning star of the New York ballet -- Winona Ryder's Beth -- one of the first things she does to show she isn't content to forever be the accent-role player her narcissist mother would be happy for her to be, for it meaning her never growing outside her orbit. And the journey into the wild lands he undertakes alone, would be Nina's letting herself stay late at the bar, ignoring her mother's phone calls, experimenting with a space where for the first time her mother doesn't exist for her. And Tubal-Cain's casually snatching one of precious only-two-of-each-species beasts in the arc to snack upon, which drew Ham's stunned, admonishing but also admiring "you're not allowed to do that," would be Mila Kunis's Lilly's smoking where she wasn't supposed to: evidence not so much of sin but of being undaunted by one's surroundings. And Ham's leading his father to where Tubal-Cain might kill him, would be Nina crushing the door on her mother's hand, beating her until she intuits where her mother had hid the key to the door confining her, fully prepared for this to be the last contact she ever has with her. And Tubal-Cain's "I am your king" … would of course be Nina's "I'm the swan queen, you're the one who never left the corps!" Not hubris, that is, but self-actualization, self-completion. 

Set in the 21st-century, the flower that mustn't be plucked becomes the one that must be, that actually wants to be, even as much as its mostly about the thrill of appropriating a world to suit your own delight, even if it means incurring damage and harm. It becomes Nina's digging her teeth into her instructor's lip, hurting him, and later seducing him like a succubus; it's about awing an audience, quite prepared to have them leave so affected they're distraught, showing how she's become all bite and them, the performance, her prey. 

"Black Swan" can be found in the virile moments of resistance of "Noah," including Tubal-Cain's fantastic declaration that he isn't afraid of magic, nor -- quite obviously -- of God. But as enlivened as it often is, you almost have a sense that here there's no time for it, for what is key is that Noah himself remains immune to influence outside of God -- that he remains the stalwart who doesn't change at all. The strange result is that if I was to encapsulate this film with two images it isn't really what I've done here, but rather just of Noah and Tubal-Cain: the two giant hefts of will and muscle. At the finish I'm not sure if the thrill you experience from the film owes much different from what you'd get from a Arnold Schwarzenegger "Conan" flick, which I should relish only if I'm in the mood for a stripped down, simplified time, where bludgeoning meaty patriarchs not visceral rebellious swan queens ruled. 

Monday, March 24, 2014



There are five factions everyone gets to choose to count part of. One of them dresses in modest clothing, and are deathly afraid of over-spicing their food for fear of sin -- Abnegation, of course. They look showered … which is about their only physical difference to what lies outside the factions -- the homeless, who've gone whole-hog destitute. When choosing day comes, they hope their children will choose their clan, even when they'll be baited with the Dauntless, who are totally bad-ass and own the streets, and Erudite, who are essentially the officer's club, absent the brandy. Since the parental bond is a nest of sympathy the society seems bent on showing it can rape, at the moment of choosing kids really do feel like they've got a choice -- and so of course flee their parents' pathetic asses left and right. Their parents pretend they're happy, which is hard to do, after being raped, and so just look like they've just been.

The main protagonist Tris chooses Dauntless. If she doesn't perform well in her initiation, she'll fall blow the bar and join the homeless. Half the recruits in every faction, that is, will quickly follow their enthusiastically being embraced by their faction at the moment of their choosing, by being dumped down the garbage shoot. Something about them shows that, if they'd been in on this, it wouldn't have daunted their pleasure and gratitude one bit. Tris starts poorly but gets better and is counted in. If I remember correctly, we're spared seeing the bottom half dumped down the shoot, and forced to work retail or something. Tris actually gets in barely, but actually she's the best there is: she's not aptituded for any particular class, but for all of them. She's got a lateral mind; she's divergent.

At this point you have to wonder how she could be friends with anyone but other divergents, because the way divergence is shown means everyone else is autistic -- great at mathematics, say, but completely dumb outside their genius. I mean this; in one of her tests a landscape is on fire and she's being attacked by birds, and she jumps deep into water -- this would be divergent for a Dauntless to do, for a reason that isn't entirely clear. In an other, her glass cage is filling up with water, and she contrives to break the glass, which is something, again -- divergent, even though it was more forthright than the pause-and-assess, make-your-clothing-into-counter-its-original-purpose, "divergent" problem-solving actually expected. Truth is being divergent looks an awful lot like not cooperating, something more childishly truculent than exceptional. But anyway, sex would for her be with the 4/5ths lobotomized, which should be more ucky than child-sex. Good thing the victim of child abuse she falls in love with is actually a divergent as well, or things would have compounded deep into the ghoulish. 

Last part of their training is that they need to show they can shoot their parents straight through the head. This will show they're undaunted. They all apparently are able to do this, with the most empathic of them needing only to look away when they nevertheless shoot bullets through their craniums -- they're equivalent to the more emphatic Nazis, that is. But it's okay, because the only parents we see shot are the ones from Abnegation, who, truth be told, probably are unconsciously pleading to be put out of their misery. They. are. afraid. to. spice. their. foods -- and they chose this! Of course they want to be put out of their misery.

But the reason all the members of Abnegation are actually on route to be slaughtered by some conniving Erudites and their legions of drugged Daunted stormtroopers, is because they look so damn vulnerable. It's foremost why all their kids fled them -- they join the two overly phallic groups, physical or mental "muscle," and feel like they've spurned all their own troubling child vulnerability for good. But just to be sure, it's best to dispatch Abnegation out of the faction system altogether, through death, which they get about doing, or by just dropping them down a slight notch and having them joining their fellow rags on the streets. 

Don't know about the film yet, but the book is apparently very popular. Ah, our glorious future!

Gee, I wonder if we should stay with this drab group of pathetic forlorn?

Or jump ship as fast as possible ...

And be this?
Or this?

Hmmm ...

The beginning of time

Lawrence Krauss wrote:

At rare moments in scientific history, a new window on the universe opens up that changes everything. Today was quite possibly such a day. At a press conference on Monday morning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a team of scientists operating a sensitive microwave telescope at the South Pole announced the discovery of polarization distortions in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, which is the observable afterglow of the Big Bang. The distortions appear to be due to the presence of gravitational waves, which would date back to almost the beginning of time.


For some people, the possibility that the laws of physics might illuminate even the creation of our own universe, without the need for supernatural intervention or any demonstration of purpose, is truly terrifying. But Monday’s announcement heralds the possible beginning of a new era, where even such cosmic existential questions are becoming accessible to experiment. (“A scientific breakthrough lets us see to the very beginning of time,”



For some people, the possibility that the laws of physics might illuminate even the creation of our own universe, without the need for supernatural intervention or any demonstration of purpose, is truly terrifying.

I doubt it. It'll just be interpreted as further hemming God in, which doesn't get rid of Him but inflates the needs of acolytes to clear Him some room. 

God suits an emotional need, born out of the kind of care we received as children. He likes you …  so long as you masochistically subject yourself to Him. If you had more loving parents, the sky is cleared of gods; and while you'll thrill at further learning how the universe was born, the truth is it could accidentally be revealed to have at its core some awful Demon, or bizarro God, and, as long as now tamed, might not instruct how we go about our life all that much.

Better health coverage might be a bigger deal, as well that artists get the funding to introduce new things in the universe for us to get excited about. New things, built out of our current matrix -- and thus most especially relevant to us, our current desires/needs, not one which way predates a conditionally loving God, child-sacrificing neolithics, barely empathic first mammals, dumb, ridiculous-sized reptiles, clumps of cells with no cognation, bare planets, heat, waves, dust.

With the protagonist, or with those she sucked off?

Richard Brody wrote:
What the four-hour run of the two “volumes” of Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” shows and says about its protagonist is trivial, but what it reveals about von Trier and his method is worth considering.
A man returning from a small convenience store finds a woman lying—torpid and bleeding—in a sepulchral courtyard. She refuses medical care, refuses the police, but will accept a cup of tea, and goes with him to his apartment. She’s Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg); he’s Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). After getting cleaned up, she rests in his bed and tells him the story of her life, which is mainly the story of her sex life. Throughout the telling, the quietly fanciful Joe, a sort of erotic Scheherazade, intently affirms a vague and unnamed guilt that the polymathic scholar Seligman tries to reason her out of.
Joe’s precocious genital consciousness led her to follow the lead of a high-school friend, called B (Sophie Kennedy Clark), in a game of sexual conquests aboard a train. (Young-adult Joe is played by Stacy Martin.) In her independent life, Joe often took as many as ten lovers in a single night. Some of them are young, some old; some handsome, some plain; some fit, some flabby; some stylish, some lumpish. And if there’s any doubt of their variety, a montage of lovers’ genitals, seen in close-up, makes the point: Joe doesn’t pursue a parade of groomed beauties or well-endowed studs, she has sex with a seemingly representative slice of the male demographic. And Joe, apparently, is not alone—she’s only one member of a group that formed in school, a secret sect of young women, or, as B called it, a “little flock,” that chants “mea vulva, mea maxima vulva,” and repudiates love in the sole pursuit of sex.
This indiscriminacy—the choice of partners not by beauty, charm, or charisma but on the basis of what Joe calls “morphological studies”—is the key to the movie’s pitch. Von Trier is the best advertising person in the movie business, and he has come up with a movie that is an ingenious commercial for itself. The average male art-house viewer emerges from the first part of Volume I filled with the pleasant idea that there are young women out there—young, pretty, sleek, and determined—who will suck him off in a random train compartment even though he’s forty, married, and faithful, or sleep with him on a regular basis despite his bald pate, bad clothing, bland affect, and blubbery gut.
“Nymphomaniac” is von Trier’s sexual tantrum, a cinematic declaration against faithfulness. For von Trier, love means having to do things you don’t want to do at a given moment, whether it’s sleeping at home beside your spouse when a momentarily more enticing lover awaits or having Sunday dinner at the in-laws. Love means always having to say you’re sorry. And far from being sorry, he’s cavalierly indifferent. Along the way, he offers repellently racist words and gags along with a sophistical endorsement of them; a definition of a good Jew (wanna guess? “anti-Zionist”); a repudiation of therapy (old news chez von Trier); a revulsion at parenthood; and a generalized sense (rendered as a specific visual metaphor in Vol. II) that any attempt to defer or deflect immediate sexual gratification is a mortification that leads swiftly to a total monastic repudiation of life itself.
Actually, there is one sequence that von Trier films with care and passion.
The masochistic relationship is what von Trier films with an almost palpable sense of excitement. What’s notable about those scenes is the way that they define the sadist (a man, called K, played by Jamie Bell) and leave his motives undefined. He, not Joe (now the adult, maternal Joe, played by Gainsbourg), is the focus of these scenes, and the meticulous practicality of his ministrations, as well as his overt, robust, nearly gleeful vigor in inflicting pain, is the sole focus of von Trier’s visual pleasure.
The core fantasy is of a woman who is man’s random source of pleasure and who, when she withholds herself from manhood at large because of her emotional bonds (or would take other action resulting from those bonds), von Trier sees fit to punish her for it, brutally. And the woman finds that punishment just and apt, not requiring redress of any sort.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston
She comes across mostly as a rebel -- I'm not sure how well male viewers are avoiding situating themselves inside her, experiencing her as their avatar. Going through the train might have brought to the fore our own memories of having done something generically akin to that -- the specifics concerning the man who had to be sucked off to win the candy might not be that important if we were conceptualizing him mostly as the tough-get we were once obligated to chase down to make up for previous losses. In regards to the man with the blubbery gut, this was the part of the film where after shucking off societal norms she was figuring out what actually would meet her needs -- I'm wondering if even this male viewer was too much indulging in this "Groundhog Day," what if there are no rules? possibility to be stepping outside her much, even when his likeness in physique and affect is draped into view as a draw. 

I appreciate your concerns about how love is portrayed, but somehow despite the interest von Trier takes in the sadomasochism, she still came across here as the getting-on, hopeless addict, who lost a better happiness for some mid-life crisis, crazy thrill-ride. This might say something about what Labeouf brought to the film. 

Parenting and therapy is refuted, but it can seem her loss. Seligman might not have much of a draw for her -- she can be pretty cold, brutal to him -- but I thought they both would have done well if they'd ended up friends, a la "Breakfast Club." Both decent listeners; willing to offer feedback and also open to being proven wrong. His being so excited at being able to relate his book knowledge to her experience, is pretty compelling -- and I don't think she was quite immune. I also enjoyed some of the moments she shared with her "adopted daughter," as well as with her father. Von Trier's excitement for the violence, is no friend to the human warmth that is in the film.  

specialtramp @AyeEye
If interviews are anything to go by the depression you refer to is the director's own. Why, then, make a trilogy of movies about depressed women whose sexuality goes off the rails? In Antichrist Gainsbourg's character's sexual desires lead indirectly to the death of her child (punishment) and then directly to the her murder of her husband and suicide. Here Gainsbourg abandons her family because she wants more sex, even though she gets no pleasure from it. 

IOW, why not a male protagonist? (Here's a trick, if you're not sure if something is misogynist, imagine a man in the same role/position, ask yourself "Is it degrading, humiliating or just plain wrong?" and then ask yourself why.)

What's feminist about a woman who compulsively has sex she doesn't enjoy, and yet believes she deserves punishment for it. Scratch that - what's *interesting*, new or insightful about watching a female character who compulsively has sex she doesn't enjoy, and then gets punished for it? I believe the descriptions of critics claiming the films aren't pornographic but I'm pretty sure Von Trier is getting off here. 

Patrick McEvoy-Halston@specialtramp  
I'm glad he did so, though. A mother's willingly torturing her child -- the big reveal in Antichrist  -- is pretty much beyond what any of us can tackle right now. The limits of therapy were helpfully revealed, when her husband realizes why he was having so much trouble dissuading her she was evil -- "You did ... what?!" 

This film teased at an explanation, beyond evil. The child's abandoned because it's seen as something which mocks and laughs at you when you so desperately are in need of the opposite. And the reason why you need so much, and why you'd spend your life throwing yourself at the rescuing-knight male sex, is because you had a "cold bitch" mother who turned her back on you. Isn't that why the final scene in Antichrist -- men had thus far proved irrelevant to the fates passed on through the mother-daughter dyad? Willem Dafoe was beginning to get it; Seligman was a step back. 

Impossible to defend

Andrew O’Hehir wrote:
Instead, I’d rather go beneath the surface to look at the structural function of these stories – the role they play in the cultural economy – where I think we can identify even more intriguing similarities. Both “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games” are fundamentally works of propaganda disguised as fantasy or science fiction. They’re not propaganda on behalf of the left or the right, exactly, or at least not the way we generally use those words in America. They are propaganda for the ethos of individualism, the central ideology of consumer capitalism, which also undergirds both major political parties and almost all American public discourse. It’s an ideology that transcends notions of left and right and permeates the entire atmosphere with the seeming naturalness of oxygen in the air. But at least if we acknowledge that it is an ideology, we can begin to understand that it limits political action and political debate, and restricts the heated warfare between Democrats and Republicans to a narrow stretch of policy terrain.
To begin with, if we accept the maxim that all fictional works about the imagined future are really about the present, what do these works have to say? They contain no intelligible level of social critique or social satire, as “1984” or “The Matrix” do, since the worlds they depict bear no relationship to any real or proposed society. Where, in the contemporary West, do we encounter the overtly fascistic forces of lockstep conformity, social segregation and workplace regimentation seen in these stories? I’m not asking whether these things exist, or could exist, I’m asking where we encounter them as ideology, as positive models for living.

In the world modeled by Apple and Facebook and Google, the answer is pretty much nowhere. The organization-man stereotype is universally mocked, from corporate boardrooms to political debates to beer commercials. They serve the function Emmanuel Goldberg served for Big Brother. Every CEO who’s spent decades in the executive suite is told he must rebrand himself as a maverick; the entire drama of the 2012 election involved Mitt Romney’s hilarious efforts to make himself look like an outsider. Every right-thinking person in our age knows her survival depends on her self-branding; we are all meant to be entrepreneurs, innovators, rebels, free spirits. The insistent theme of the consumerist economy is that we are all “divergent,” the cool-sounding label that renders Woodley’s character an outcast, and that the mechanism of the market is calibrated to thrum to our unique personal frequency.
So, no, the oppressive future societies depicted in “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games” are not allegorical representations of the present, whatever Tea Partyers may tell you. (Please observe: I am not saying there is no danger of fascism in America. But it will come in a prettier package.) Rather, they are exaggerated frames placed around works of social praise, or panegyric, to use the Athenian term, works designed to remind us how grateful we should be to live in a society where we can be “ourselves,” where we can enjoy unspecified and entirely vague freedoms. In both cases, this message arrives entangled with the symbolism of female empowerment, which lends a contemporary flavor and makes the pill go down easier. Whether that makes the pseudo-feminism of these stories an integral part of that message I’m not sure, but there’s little doubt that over its history feminism – once conceived as a social or communitarian philosophy – has acclimated itself to the individualist world order.

The model of individualism presented as so noble and so embattled in these oxygen-propaganda movies is in fact the authoritarian ideology of our time, the instrument used by the 1 percent to drive down wages, dominate and distort the political process and make all attempts at collective action by those below look stodgy, embarrassing and futile. (“Divergent” and “HungerGames” are capitalist agitprop,

Patrick McEvoy-Halston

I appreciate but am not certain about this analysis. My concern would be that if people in mass can't realize that the people supposed to be divergent actually aren't; if it doesn't concern them that every other person reading the book and everybody to the side, back, and in front of them in the theater is convinced they'd be one of the rare-bird divergents as well; then these aren't a very healthy stock of people. I'm not afraid they're malleable; but that they're built to sacrifice themselves for a group-hug.

I appreciate the observation that we won't know fascism when it arrives -- if we want it, it'll have to overtly seem the very opposite of every form we're familiar with; it'll have to come with no guilt. Fascism came to Germany, though, with people turning on Weimar individualism, its spiritual emptiness -- I'm guessing its materialism. I'm wondering that we might actually be entering a time where something still worthy is going to look increasingly impossible to defend. Wouldn't it have been better if Weimar Germany, with all its ostensible decay, had just continued? That Germany didn't go down the path it did in the 30s and "evolve" into the Volk, where you didn't contribute to secretly distinguish yourself but to display an orientation you wanted to be commonly shared; and instead capitalist individualism continued its day until about the 1960s, where collectivism took a form we can totally get behind? 

It concerns me that people like Chris Hedges has such a problem with the 1960s for its individualism -- it heavily qualifies his genuine appreciation for the progressive movements then. It concerns me that Thomas Frank has such a problem with the liberal professional class, making them seem so egotistical and greedy. I don't trust the public mood, nor that our most regressive couldn't switch on a dime to hardly caring a damn about austerity measures, nor keeping afloat a 1% -- neither of which the Nazis gave one wit about. Under their leadership, Germany recovered form the Depression first.    

Thanks for the interesting review; the good prompt to think some.  


Patrick McEvoy-Halston

I'll add that I'm certainly not making open-praise for individualism, just for people to be raised with sufficient love and nurturance that they possess a ripe, distinctive personality -- a well-developed soul. Only that the form of collectivism I liked in the 1960s seems almost hated by what's arising in the left for it's MEism -- these hippies were full of themselves, narcissitic -- gorged down on peace, happiness, and togetherness; and then when in the mood for it, coastal homes, expensive foreign cars, kids in distinguished private schools! It was always, mostly about them, the increasingly confident new "old left" is deeming them.

I listen to them and posit them as naturally oriented into that group in "Divergent" that everyone in the film has the sense to walk as far away as they can from -- the monkish, self-abnegating one, where people are afraid to temper their bare food with seasoning. 

Could of had elves instead

Tim Donovon wrote:
There is a demographic group in crisis today, though they’re rarely discussed. Occasionally, they’re used as a foil on conservative cable news shows, where overpaid hosts sneer derisively at their endemic “laziness.” Sometimes, members of Congress will trot them out as straw men to drum up support in rural districts.
These are not your struggling baristas with their undergraduate degrees and mountains of debt, or your former-newsmen-turned-retail-drones. They’re not “overeducated and underemployed.” No, this demographic group, the undereducated and underemployed, are in far more dire straits. This subset of millennials might not look like the “Gen Y” that’s commonly portrayed in the media — this site included. They aren’t the duck-faced “Rich Kids of Instagram,” the Lena Dunhams or the Mark Zuckerbergs that we use as generational stand-ins (rather than, say, wealthy and successful millennials LeBron James and Kendrick Lamar).
These millennials – young, undereducated, poor and, all too often, minorities – exist in a state of permanent crisis, victims of a new economic disenfranchisement that took root in the Great Recession and, in the years since, has stubbornly remained. We’re only now beginning to grasp its full scope — and its potential implications for our nation’s future.


Patrick McEvoy-Halston

America hates its kids. I gather it's been fun sport, but they had better watch it. If somehow we all become united nationalists again, in competition against places like China, Mother Russia, and we look at our own youthful promise and see how much work has to be done to build them up in esteem and skills, we might not look so kindly on those who allowed such sad lengthy wreckage upon them. Your best-trained were slipping into retail, and you were still savoring the role of narcissistic master surrounded by fretful kids? You could of had elves but bullied them into goblins instead, because they cringe and cower to authority while proud elves don't? Your time is over, steward -- bring on the return of the king!

Re-adopting the conquerer's position

Randa Jarrar said this:
I’ve written about the Boston bomber; about the U.S. government’s attempts to deport my brother, which kept him in jail for weeks; and about Israel detaining me – a U.S. citizen – and denying me entry in March 2012, but the essay of mine that has sparked the most impassioned responses is one about …
There were amazing, supportive, beautiful emails from Arab-American sister writers.
There were also violently angry emails and tweets that, in a typically sexist and fatphobic way, criticized my appearance and my size.
I have been called a fat camel and a hairy ape and a dirty terrorist ever since I moved to the U.S. at the age of 13, so – I’m used to it. But call some people out for wearing genie pants and makeup, which are supposed to make them look Arab, and they go nuts.
In my essay, I historicized the appropriation of belly dancing, but I naively thought people knew about the British empire, about U.S. imperialism, about how these have fucked the Middle East for centuries.
And belly dancing is one of many appropriations … it can be argued that it’s so low on the scale. I mean, dancing? But look at how people are reacting to it. What happens when we start talking about Israel appropriating land illegally and settling on it? About America’s colonization and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the effects of those wars, about the current drone campaigns, and on and on?


I’ve read the following arguments, all of which ignore the systematic racism by the dominant culture:


At the end of the day, it’s not belly dance that people are protecting. It’s the right to take anything they want and not be criticized for it.
I’m thrilled that something I wrote on my dining table in a few hours, one I thought a couple of hundred people would read, has sparked such a discussion. I refuse to sit quietly in the margins and only speak when I can “calmly” educate and teach. I’m fucking angry, y’all, at decades and centuries of dehumanization, and belly dancing is just the tip of it – hate mail be damned. (“I still can’t stand white belly dancers,”

Patrick McEvoy-Halston

Her ace in the hole is that liberals won't identify with the conquerer's position -- that those they dominated weren't beautiful indigenous worthy of thorough respect but actually heavily beholden to many abhorrent, barbaric practices. Until they do, her "you've enfranchised yourselves with an art from a country your monstrous ancestors brutally, carnally ravaged, and still today favor its grotesque appropriated form over its far more beautiful original," has power. She can sashay over you with pleasure, as she so-silly-girl does here in mocking your 3000 responses to her article with it just having being some casual blow from her nose. You've got to be aligned to terrific power if when the horde masses, you in delight pro-offer a mischievous quip -- "let them eat cake." And for now, she is. 

Liberals might lose their interest in primitivism if something else helps define them against regressed conservatives/republicans. This might just be avid defense of the modern state, the early ones that colonized, which at least in European cultures was also concurrent and absolute party to the advance of science over superstition. 

Let's be honest. The author's lament has nothing to do with belly dancing and everything to do with her seething dislike for Americans of Northern European descent.

In this way, any previous wrong by anyone from their "dominant culture" makes them equally guilty and invalidates any right they have to participate in the cultural traditions of others, or object to the hateful invective hurled their way. That one person called her a "terrorist" is ample reason to rightfully consider everyone in that culture an "imperialist".
All hatred directed toward them based on their class, race, nationality or color is valid and cannot be "racism" because they are members of a "dominant culture". Whatever their personal beliefs or individual actions, they are still collectively 'guilty' by nature of their ancestry and residence. They forfeit all right to enjoy, or participate, in the traditions of other cultures and must accept that blind hatred and endless blame of their culture is an integral part of multi-culturism.

It isn't that the author can't stand white belly dancers. It's that she can't stand white people and is trying to justify her hatred with all this talk of cultures. Next she will be telling us that "some of her best friends are white people".

I write this as a member of a historically persecuted culture who have undergone years of discrimination and stereotyping based on their color, national origin, religious belief and gender. I am confronted with daily reminders of how it remains acceptable, and even encouraged, in some circles, to blame people like me for others lack of employment, financial success and family cohesion. My people are regularly characterized as ignorant, violent, drunken buffoons for the enjoyment of other cultures. I am expected to watch my cultural beliefs rendered as cartoon caricatures by Hollywood and Madison avenue and would be considered overly sensitive if I objected to how the Anglo culture has historically oppressed me and now belittles my heritage to sell children's cereal.

As an American male of Irish Catholic descent whose family arrived in poverty after the end of slavery and had to overcome signs that read "Irish need not apply" in order to find ways to feed their family without the benefit of a welfare system, who gave their blood and sometimes their life to defend and liberate people from true oppressors, I find this article both ignorant and highly offensive.

Theodore Rigley

@Resolute  Hey, Lucky Charms libel! And, at least your ancestral culture has been appropriated.
But overall, I think you've nailed it.


@Resolute Very well said.
Patrick McEvoy-Halston

@Resolute  I'm of Irish descent, but I'm wondering before we became historically oppressed peoples if we were all that, though. I'm wondering because Romans once gauged our most ancient ancestors as abominable child-sacrificers and cannibals, and used it to legitimize their conquest. Which was bad. Awful. Cause all they wanted to do was rape, steal, and conquest. But archaeologists did eventually reveal that they were nevertheless child-sacrificers and cannibals, though. 

Which didn't mean they should have been invaded by the Romans -- who just wanted to rape, steal, and conquest, as I said. But someone should have politely stopped them. And if reformed, their original culture disappeared or was appropriated into a different form … well, if the new version reflected the proclivities of a people who were less demon-haunted -- probably for the good . 

Sometimes I wonder if all the primitive or pre-literate art we like to glory at is all that as well. Humanity's original art in caves, the blood-red ochre paintings, were associated with human sacrifice and child rape. The Venus statues, were as it turns out probably raping wands. The author herself believes that all-female culture surrounding belly-dancing was something glorious, sexual and exotic in a superior way than when it's done for men. Women getting together can do some terrible things, though. Women chant as they gather around for clitoris removal rituals, for instance. And a lot of women --  scholars -- still say the nicest things about that. Maybe the practitioners of the original forms of belly dancing should forget what they're doing and appropriate what some of the Westerners might be up to -- especially the really nice ones we've heard from on this site; those who really empathized with the author's pain. Their version might in fact be born out of a more loving spirit than that from our collectively darker past.  


@Patrick McEvoy-Halston @Resolute "all that".....? relevant? admirable? virtuous? culturally superior?

I think I take your point, but wish you wouldn't muddy it up with an empty phrase like "all that"

But if you are talking about what Bertrand Russell described as, “The Superior Virtue Of The Oppressed", I agree that ignoring the sacrificial religious practices of the Olmec, Mayans, Aztecs and the slaving practices of West African tribes, allows one to perpetuate a myth of colonial forces destroying a an idealized culture of balance, harmony and peace.

The point being that no culture can claim a moral high ground and claiming that being oppressed somehow equates to being virtuous is flawed thinking, but nevertheless a commonly held belief on the Left.

In every example, being oppressed merely temporarily inhibited a culture from oppressing another. In almost every case, it was preceded or immediately followed a period where that same group oppressed someone else.

In the same way that Jews were certainly oppressed under the Nazis, but could also be described as oppressing the Palestinian people since. This makes neither all Germans, Jews or Palestinians guilty of oppression until the end of time. Any more than it makes any of them more virtuous for having been oppressed.

You can be on very sound footing in calling nearly anyone a racist, or for that matter a nose-picker. The dishonesty is claiming that you have never done the same.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston

@Resolute @Patrick McEvoy-Halston  I would say that the Germans oppressing the Jews was an example of actually an inferior people dominating a superior one. Nothing about DNA. Just that the thing that drew Germans to hate Jews was that they had been sufficiently better loved in childhood and so possessed an ongoing ability to enjoy and participate in Weimar-enabled societal growth. To love-deprived, brutally raised Germans, Jews, who were actually just showing remarkable ongoing emotional health, came to seem guilty for being spoiled. Jews seemed appropriate "poison-containers" for “selfishly” obtained acquisitions they wanted to disown themselves of, so they projected in mass onto them, and tried to wipe them out in order to feel pure -- what is always going on when one people tries to wipe out another. 

Europeans who had evolved to the point where they could embrace science and reject superstition, alchemy, and magic with ease, were an example of an oppressor that was superior to the still-superstition-bound peoples they dominated -- dominated, let me once again point out, principally for purposes of rape and exploitation, not for whatever enlightened purpose they saw it for. 

It's a fact, but not one to be celebrated -- for compared to where progressives are now they're pretty much barbaric peoples themselves. You look at their first advances to protect children, animals, women, the weak, and it's just paltry stuff to what better-raised, more loved descendants were readily capable of centuries later. Their anti-slavery material, as we know, for example, however still commendable for the time, served a double-purpose of pornography they got off on. 


My parents are from India, and yeah, the Brits colonized India and they did some awful stuff (just like they did to the Irish when the colonized Ireland) - the starvation of millions of Indians during a famine during which the Brits continued to export grains - similar to what they did in Ireland - comes to mind. But I seriously don't care that now in the UK they use Bollywood dance moves, the Beatles and other rock bands used sitar music, Brits eat tons of Indian take-out, etc.

I do get pi**ed when ignorant Americans say that India has never contributed anything to the world - hello, we invented the zero and the numeral system that the Arabs then adopted and transferred to the West, where it replaced the Roman number system. Without the zero and the decimal number system, I doubt the Americans would have been able to send a man to the moon. Even doing division with Roman numerals is hard, let alone the calculus! Indians also invented the binary number system back in 200 BC.Also, Indians invented the spinning wheel, buttons, chess, rulers, cataract surgery, plastic surgery, ink, steel, and were the first to mine and use diamonds.  Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose first demonstrated radio waves for communication, two years before Marconi.

So when Americans say ignorant crap about Indians, I can cite some of the important discoveries made by Indians. However, I also have to admit that India has some horrible stuff too - like the caste system and suttee and the poverty of the people and the corruption. This is called intellectual honesty.

Similarly, the Arabs have given the world many great things, yet there are problems with Islam and with Arab society. Slavery still exists in the Arab world, for example. Yet without the Arabs, much of modern civilization would be lost.

The same can be said of any culture, though, because we are all human beings. Human beings all share both the capacity for greatness, innovation, discovery, compassion... and the capacity for cruelty, evil, stupidity, etc.

While it is sad that people have called the author names, spit on her (!) and so on, at the same time, I am sure that there have been numerous white Americans who have been friendly, helpful, kind, accepting, etc.

My experience in America as the daughter of Indian immigrants - yes, there are people who are racist. There are people who are unkind, mean, etc. But they are vastly outnumbered by people who are at least tolerant and sometimes kind, generous, curious about a different culture, etc. I think America is a much more open society than any other. Certainly it is easier to be an immigrant in America than it would be in say, Egypt or Japan. Or India.


@ssohara Thank you for the wide view.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston

@ssohara  The same can be said of any culture, though, because we are all human beings. Human beings all share both the capacity for greatness, innovation, discovery, compassion... and the capacity for cruelty, evil, stupidity, etc.

Apes barely recognize their children when they're off the breasts, and often starve for not being fed. That might be where we all started from -- not even yet Winnicott's good-enough child-rearing. Nobody's fault. Just evolution had this new trick called empathy, and it was like the first small mammal amongst the dinosaurs -- containing the seed of greatness, but almost worth forgetting about at this point. 

From there, we've all grown. Though cultures which remained pretty much the same for thousands of years, haven't done much to avoid keeping themselves fixated on their ghastly origins. Pre-literate societies, pre-scientific societies, probably had childrearing of such an insufficient kind that they spend quite a lot of their time in animistic dream states, merged with their inner perpetrator alters. In dream states, everything was infused with their projections, so science matched less well with their experience than magic, and would have been rejected. Plus science lead to constant growth, which wasn't permitted because the adults hadn't advanced to the point where children existed for anything more than to satisfy their own unmet needs. 

I'm sure they all had art. But I think if we honestly spent enough time in certain cultures -- without willing ourselves to see beneficent primitivism, as so many anthropologists have done, and which in fact their whole occupation depends on -- everything, even the art, might seem less about nourishing life than coping with previous trauma. Decorated pearl shells rubbed and cherished, healing their hurts, and convincing themselves they won't be eaten -- it's not motivated by as admirable an instinct, nor is it anywhere near as beautiful as Mozart, I'm afraid. 

I have no idea where the original belly dancing falls on the spectrum, what originally motivated it and the function it served. But let's not simply assume it was part of the simply beautiful of wo/mankind that counterbalances the part that's bad. Sometimes the bad, or the grossly insufficient, infuses everything. 

Patrick McEvoy-Halston

We all know this is not about convincing the author, but I would like to point out why this is. Right now, if you were to go to Russia and try and talk sense to many of them about the Ukraine, they couldn't possibly be moved. What they're doing is bonding with the nation as Mother, and preparing themselves to war against an other they've projected all of her unwanted aspects into, as well as all the aspects of themselves they need to be disowned of -- specifically, spoiledness, self-centeredness, selfishness, and vulnerability. The result is that they are pure and strong in staunch defense of a pure Mother Russia -- her favorites, as they had always hoped to be in life. And you're simply not going to be allowed to get in the way of that. 

That's what's motivating her, this author. Every time she angrily makes her point, aiming nothing short of reclaiming a whole tradition stolen from an ancestral Mother, she feels her own mother beside her, loving her for her admirable defense -- and it's the most enfranchising feeling ever. 

We all get the same way when we can fuse with something we can see as maternal as well. So if we start identifying ourselves with old clannish habits we had forgotten this long while while we gorged on "corrupt modernity," and feel refreshed for having done so, cleansed of poisons and joined anew to something more meaningful -- this is what we'll be up to. If we all identity ourselves as working-class Americans again, known foremost for our humility, our anonymity, and our deference to our nation's needs - - including, of course, eager self-sacrifice -- this is what we'll be up. 

Let's be on the watch for it, because it'll mean we too are entranced, beyond being reasoned with. 

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Essays on the Lord of the Rings Draining the Amazon's Swamp Wendy and Lucy, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings (and free at scribd...