Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Untying the Knots — Reagan is to Trump as Spielberg is to Tarantino

Reagan is to Trump
Spielberg is to Tarantino

by the High Priest of Prickly Bog


 But wait… hear me out before you dismiss the idea as a completely ludicrous postulation. I’m not saying that Reagan and Spielberg are similar in any other way than the way in which they relate to Trump and Tarantino (although I leave that for you to judge yourselves) but that something has happened in the American/human consciousness in the last thirty or so years, that has changed the way in which we discuss our problems.

It is an idea that popped into my head whilst watching “Amistad” directly after having seen bits of “The Hateful Eight” – a film I cannot seem to watch entirely in one piece as my hand keeps switching it off. It is a similar reaction I have when listening to Trump speaking, and episodes of Jerry Springer
or Howard Stern and, in fact, most all Tarantino movies after “Jackie Brown,” (which I surprisingly felt was a fairly decent bit of storytelling).

And yet, I always find myself compelled to understand the reasons behind the widespread appeal of pop-culture, even when (or should I say especially when) I find it personally repellent. And so, as a dedicated student of that which I find myself hating, I must wonder if it is indeed society I am seeking to understand… or myself. (Although those two things may be entirely enmeshed.)

To start off, let’s eliminate the argument as to whether any of them are personally intelligent or not. Whatever you (or I) think of what they have to offer, all four of these men are hugely successful. They are also all unique, and each one has achieved his success by going against conventional wisdom. Whether or not they are wise in a traditional way is probably less important, in this discussion, as the intelligence it takes to see clearly that winding silver line leading through the uncertainty, straight to the top of the heap. It is a pathway which seems to elude most of the rest of us comparative “thickos.”

However, we can (and probably should) make a judgment as to whether the message they proffer is intelligent, and if it is useful to the society as a whole; if it is something that needs to be questioned, or at least examined and fleshed out. Even if we agree with it, are we not duty bound to assure ourselves that it is true, wholly true, and completely true.

It is in this way that the similarities between these men start to formulate within my mind. It occurs to me that all of them have the ability to start off with an obvious simple truth at the beginning, and to convolute the discussion in such a way that the end result is not necessarily true anymore. We find
these truths to be self evident… but why are they self evident? What each of these men do is to exploit a tendency within the human mind to have arrived at a conclusion, and then to materialize the substance and the proof of that conclusion into a permanent reality in which we live, without questioning the foundations of the truth. We hardly ever remember where it was that we first learned those “truths,” and so it becomes even more convincing that they must be objective truths… or else why would we believe them? They are, self evident.

And yet a hundred years after the Founding Fathers had declared that it was “self evident that all men are created equal,” a civil war to end slavery had to be fought. It was what John Quincy Adams (as played by Anthony Hopkins in the Spielberg movie) predicts will be the final battle of the American Revolution. But was it really? Isn’t that ignoring the draconian future that was to come. The history, as we see it, of Jim Crow, mob lynchings, and cross burnings leading through the civil rights era… all the way to cops killing Eric Garner, and Trump followers punching blacks at political rallies.

Perhaps nothing is as “self evident” as it first seems. Perhaps a simple truth like , “slavery is bad” — requires more than us just saying it. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Why do we think it is bad?” and “What is so bad about it?” Is it the violence? Is it the lack of freedom? Is it that we incur the loss of cultural identity? Is it that children are brutalized so that generations to come will feel the negative effects? Is it that slavery is an extreme expression of capitalism without controls? Is it that it inevitably leads to poverty and ghettoism even centuries after it has ceased to exist? And then we could ask ourselves where else in our lives do these qualities also exist. Are some of these necessary in certain situations… violence, for example? How do we go about justifying certain elements of things we would otherwise revile.

The similarity I find in these four men, is that they each talk about things in a way that doesn’t sweat the details. That wants to “make America great again” or simply believes that America is and always has been great, without actually elucidating us at to what makes America great, and conversely what makes it less than so. We are constantly expected to keep up in the discussion by remembering that which is self evident. Nazis— bad,  World War Two— good.  Ku Klux Klan— bad,  black cowboy shooting people— good.  Mexican immigrants taking jobs from Americans— bad,  my ancestors as immigrants— good. Now I know most people reading this are saying, “But Nazis and the Ku Klux
Companies who worked with the Nazis
Klan ARE bad!”
And therefore anyone shooting them must be good, I presume.  
Well... I don’t necessarily disagree with you.

The problem is, when things are “self evident” we tend to not assess them or break them down into component parts. And it makes any response that we might have to them feel justified. It’s what you do! Hmmm… sounds a bit like a Geico commercial I’ve seen recently. “It’s what you do” locks us into a pattern of behaviour that is acceptable to our group. What do you do when you see a Nazi? Shoot him, of course! Or at the very least… hate him! In the ’30s in Germany, many people fell into the pattern of believing that Jews were bad people. They were involved in conspiracies to rob the country of all of its money. We would all starve because of them. So what do you believe is the right thing to do with them?

Now again, we are not concerned with what is true, or what is right or wrong here. We are simply talking about what people believe… and how their culture and it’s leaders/heroes present the problem, and therefore the solutions that spring out of that simplistic presentation. I am guessing that the strongest kick-back I will get is regarding Steven Spielberg. He is a cultural icon held in great esteem by many people I know. He is also politically liberal and therefore more relevant to the type of people who might read this. Many people have grown up influenced by his movies, and he is clearly an extremely talented manipulator of human emotion. But any serious examination of movies such as
“Amistad” or “Schindler's List” or “Saving Private Ryan” should be enough to confirm my assertion that his heavy handed depictions of obvious truths are without subtlety or balance. That he often bends the truth in order to get his point across. That he manipulates the emotional levels of our anger and our sadness, so that in our discombobulated state, we will accept a message which in fact has absolutely nothing to do with the reason for our emotions in the first place. We can see that his brilliant use of symbolism often obscures the reality behind what that symbolism was originally intended to represent. Symbolism can be a wonderful thing, just like ritual can be. But they can both be perverted when we are convinced that they are the truth and not just a metaphor for it.

Perhaps if my friends were of a more conservative nature I would get into more trouble because of my my assertions regarding Reagan and Trump — that they are  simplistic, but I think I’m fairly safe in criticizing Tarantino, despite his liberal leaning tendencies, as a lot of liberals think he is just not politically correct enough in his use of violence. But that is not necessarily the problem I have with him.

So what then makes me split the four into two distinct groups. Why is Spielberg like Reagan, and Trump like Tarantino? Well, this seems to me somethings that is dictated by the times we live in. Spielberg and Reagan are from the past. They are much more polite. They have managed to couch their simplistic belief systems in a mannered and graceful approach. They use charm, and heroism to convince us of their beliefs. They use the traditions of America that many of you have grown up with, deep-fried in re-used oil and served under a thick syrup of artificial and hokey sentimentality. Trump and Tarantino are more modern. They reject that method altogether. They are basically punk rock matured to its ultimate zenith. They hate drippy sentimentality. They will say or do pretty much anything to avoid it. They are products of what our culture has become, and will become even more in the future. They spout whatever comes into their minds — it doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not. We see them as somehow authentic for that very reason. They are uncensored, they are raw, and therefore they must be honest.

But of course the problem is that they are just as manipulated by tradition as those who follow it.
Quentin Tarantino
They are victims of their own reverse psychology. They are mirror images of what has come before. And we all know, that although a mirror image is the exact opposite of what it reflects… it looks almost exactly the same. It is no more truthful than that which it disdains. But — and this is important — it is also no less truthful.

Ultimately, I suppose, this is not a thesis upon the four names I have chosen to dissect. But what our society is all about. We do see movement… especially if we are older. I remember how disturbing the sixties were for my grandparents. There was a loss of certain genteel qualities which even I tend to bemoan these days. But we youngsters believed that our culture was going to gain by a greater freedom of expression. By greater authenticity and creativity. But what we did not do was scrutinize our own words. We did not examine what we thought we needed. We believed that truth was a simple understanding of that which is self evident.  And ultimately, despite surface changes, very little that is deeply wrong about our culture has changed much. And, if anything, I think we can can all feel safe believing that in the future very little will also change — unless we really want it to.

Somewhere along the next forty-five years it occurred to me that the answer does not lie in a battle between simplicity and complexity. Perhaps the basic truths of life are indeed simple. Happiness, peace, love, security. But their utilization in real life can be quite a complex game, although complexity doesn’t guarantee them either. 
Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr
The Catholic church has historically used incredibly complex dogma to prove whatever the hell they wanted you to believe. And so have most of our leaders throughout history. What we have here is simply an alteration in style, and the dogmatic substance remains pretty much what it has always been. Why even in Mr. Spielberg’s movie, “Amistad,” the President at the time, Martin Van Buren, is depicted as a half witted dunce who knows as little about statesmanship as our very own Donald Trump.
To wrap up, and in honor of Reagan, Spielberg, Tarantino and Trump, I therefore gratuitously quote French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” Possibly the most gratuitous and redundant saying of all times — the more it changes… the more it stays exactly the fucking same!

Peace out. And keep questioning everything.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Untying the knots—Black Lives Matter: Is this a racist term?

Black Lives Matter
by the High Priest of Prickly Bog


Is this a racist term?

Many people are claiming that the term “Black Lives Matter”
is a form of pro-black racism; that it consciously excludes whites
and therefore implies that white lives do not matter.

The response from “Black Lives Matter” supporters is that the statement addresses the fact that blacks lives have not seemed to matter to many in our racially biassed society, and therefore, to say “All Lives Matter” (or something similar which might be more inclusive of whites) does not convey the sentiment accurately. White lives – they state – in this society already matter, whereas black lives appear not to.

I myself have difficulty with the term, simply because it does seem to exclude anyone who isn’t “black.” And yet I support the sentiment wholeheartedly. Having been the victim of much racism during my childhood in London – I was called everything from “blacky” to “browny” to “gollywog”
to “nig-nog” and much worse – I decided at an early age that any kind of racism (or appearance of racism) was wrong, and therefore must be avoided — particularly when trying to correct the problem of racism.
I have tried to come up with alternative phrases that do not offend whites quite so much, but none quite work. “Even Black Lives Matter,” seems to further denigrate black people as if… yes, they matter… but not as much. “Black Lives Matter Too,” is a little less demeaning, but still carries some of the character of the former. So I shall leave that up to others to come up with something more suitable if it is absolutely necessary.
The issue I would like to address here is that, for me, the very idea of separating the races in this way, seems to be in itself a racist act. And “people of color,” all over the world, have been complicit with “white people” in continuing to reinforce this notion that we are divided into racial groups. The science of genetics has proven that there are no racial differences between humans. There is absolutely only one race, and we are all part of it.
One unfortunate commonality we share, is that we all seem to want to keep alive the idea of different races.

Now, on the face of it (if you’ll pardon the pun) anyone with a pair of eyes can see that there are no black people and no white people. There are only constantly varying shades of brown (or beige, if you prefer). And yet, in our ignorance we each draw this ridiculous line that anyone darker than a particular shade (depending on who is choosing) is somehow different from anyone who is lighter. It is an insane way of looking at humanity. And yet we all do it. How many comedians  (black or white) do you know who have made a living by comparing the differences between black people and white people. Personally, I’m starting to find that kind of humor rather tired and not particularly funny anymore. It was Dorothy Parker who said, “Wit is the truth; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.” 
It is simply not true that people behave differently because of their race.

Admittedly, people do behave differently because of culture or upbringing, but it seems almost incredible that in 2016 we have to be reminded that culture and race are two very different things.
It’s a widely noticed phenomenon in human behaviour, that when we stare at something, we are drawn towards it unconsciously. When we obsess upon a problem we are more likely to make the problem worse. We all know that when we pick at a wound… it will never heal. This does not in any way mean that we should ignore the problem, or try to repress it. That will also not make it go away.

There is, however, a balance to be found… as in all things in life.

In South Africa, after the fall of apartheid, they introduced a beautiful solution.
It was called “Truth and Reconciliation.” The idea behind this was that all sins would be forgiven if they were admitted to. (Very similar to the Christian idea of confession, and probably influenced strongly by Bishop Tutu.) No blame or punishment would be incurred for past acts, but an acknowledgement of the dark history of apartheid, and an airing of wrongs committed would facilitate in letting the country move on and allow change to begin.

Maybe something similar could be initiated in America and England that would allow us all to acknowledge our racists feeling about one another.

Perhaps we can all start to examine how we perpetuate a system of racism by constantly separating ourselves from each other. Maybe if we can keep on reminding ourselves that we’re not actually different from each other – no matter what our history tells us… we are all of the same family, as yet each one of us is different from every other one. I know — it’s an old cliché. But sometimes we all need a reminder.


Only one race — Human Race.
Only one love — yours and mine.
Only one disgrace — never to have loved each other.
Only one time — Now!