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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The truth about the Mickey Mouse Club

Here is one of the greatest things I have ever seen: a fantastic article explaining the “wild” behavior of the “top pop stars” as the consequence of Satanic Ritual Abuse perpetrated by the Illuminati.

The Illuminati become very tired after planning all historical events and plotting for the creation of a tyrannical world government, so they need to unwind at the end of the day with some underage sex slaves. The best way to mass-produce sex slaves, of course, is to encourage all parents to be pedophiles and molest their children in grand Satanic rituals. One expert in this process was the “bastard child” Walt Disney, who worked his magic on Britney, Christina and Justin Timberlake, in the mind control program known as the Mickey Mouse Club.

Another culturally relevant exploration of the same themes can be found in the explanations available online of what is surely the greatest Stanley Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut. This film is probably the only one I know of that executes a plot twist effectively, simply by refusing to decide whether or not the puzzle we see belongs to objective reality or the interior psychology of its major character.

Eyes Wide Shut, unlike the Mickey Mouse Club, does explicitly depict an elite society of perverts who participate in occult rituals and seem to control everything. The allusions described by armchair political theorists to the actual practices of the Illuminati no doubt have some correlation to real secret societies that must involve the rich and powerful.

But what is interesting is why people feel it is necessary to construct these complex explanations of random events that occur in a random reality. Fredric Jameson approaches conspiracy as a form of totality, a way of constructing a “map” of a reality that just doesn’t make sense. We live in a democratic, free society, so why did we have a CIA mind control program called MKULTRA in the 1950s and 1960s in which unwitting experimental subjects were dosed with LSD, various drugs were used on human subjects in dangerous ways (for example, combining uppers and downers in combinations that have probably killed many rock stars), and which had the ultimate goal of brainwashing and controlling the minds of citizens?

Why are there political assassinations? Why are there secret bombing campaigns? Why are all of the people in the government rich? Why are there industrial poisons in my chicken McNugget? This is America, the land of the free.

One explanation is that all of these strange things happen because a secret society of perverts wants to take over America and use its military to create a totalitarian world government. Another explanation is that extraterrestrials want to colonize the earth and are acting in cooperation with unscrupulous humans who want to avoid being probed like the rest of us.

Considering what an irrational reality we live in, these are actually fairly reasonable explanations. Especially when explanations that could really explain what’s going on—American democracy is a class society, in which the great masses of people are exploited and must be kept from understanding this reality and acting on it—are forbidden.

The real question is: why do we feel an overwhelming need to rationalize the fairly tame behavior of irresponsible young people who get too much attention? Perhaps celebrities are just our replacements for artists, who were really just replacements for prophets: people who are allowed to be crazy so that we can stay normal. Let's please get over this and start acting crazy like we should. Conspiracy theories are probably a good step in this direction.

Here's an awesome video that claims to show us the way that The Wizard of Oz is used as a mind control tool. This guy can't get over the pyramids...

Monday, March 9, 2009

White folks got nothin' on me

Let's hope that Obama lives up to this YouTube remix, of dialogue culled from the audio version of Dreams from My Father.

Friday, March 6, 2009


So recently I went to see the new My Bloody Valentine in 3D, because, in the tradition of any good horror movie, I expected to see lots of blood and breasts, but this time popping out of the screen and invading my personal space. I got to the theater and found out that the film was playing, but it was not in 3D.

Hollywood's imagination is becoming narrower by the day. A 3D film is simple enough, and not even that is universal. Once, there was a time when film makers would try to turn the experience of watching a movie into something truly strange, something radically separate from everyday reality.

One of the most creative of these artists was William Castle, whose "Fright Break" in his 1961 film Homicidal was used to great effect by Gaspar NoƩ in his Seul Contre Tous. This was a ticking 45 second timer superimposed onto the image during the film's final scene, in which we approached a house containing the killer. The audience was informed by a voiceover that if they were too scared to watch the ending, they could leave and get a refund. This was advertised in the trailer, which explained that if you weren't able to handle the ending, you would have to sign a "Coward's Certificate," and that you would have to make sure not give the ending away to your friends, or William Castle would kill you. This didn't stop about 1% of patrons from demanding refunds. John Waters, a careful student of Castle, describes the results (quoted in the informative Wikipedia entry):
William Castle simply went nuts. He came up with "Coward's Corner," a yellow cardboard booth, manned by a bewildered theater employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn't take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward's Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stenciled message: "Cowards Keep Walking." You passed a nurse (in a yellow uniform?...I wonder), who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring, "'Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward's Corner'!" As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity -- at Coward's Corner you were forced to sign a yellow card stating, 'I am a bona fide coward.' Very, very few were masochistic enough to endure this. The one percent refund dribbled away to a zero percent, and I'm sure that in many cities a plant had to be paid to go through this torture. No wonder theater owners balked at booking a William Castle film. It was all just too damn complicated.
Other excellent gimmicks are described in the entry here. Let's demand that contemporary filmmakers bring some of this back—along, hopefully, with Smell-O-Vision.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Diablo Cody?

From Slate’s Troy Patterson, a near-mathematical formula for the dialogue written by the rising ex-stripper author of Juno:
The ideal specimen of a Diablo Cody line will feature a tension between diction and form. Though assembled with a literary wit, it will drop either a pop-culture allusion (often chosen for its kitsch value) or slang that's just slightly anachronistic, and it will flaunt the casualness of the dropping. It is pleased with its own cleverness almost to the point of hostility, sneering as it snaps past.

So, here, we get, "Sometimes you make me feel like I'm living in a Lifetime lady-tampon movie"; "That dude is such a waste of hair product"; "I've been diggin' around your closest for an hour, and I still can't fuckin' get to Narnia"; "cluck-cluck" (as a synonym for fried chicken); "Sudoku" (as a racial slur); "Jell-O Pudding is for the children" (said in Bill Cosby's voice); and—this is T explaining how Tara found out that her daughter took a morning-after pill—"She went all CSI in that pubic thatch you call a backpack." For whatever reason, Cody has front-loaded her scripts with this stuff—is she trying to alienate the audience?
It is mystifying that more viewers don’t find this style impossibly unpleasant. One-liners used to be a kind of feat of mental strength, the comedy equivalent of watching a man pull a truck across the road with his teeth. Nobody is as witty as Groucho Marx—you watch a Marx Brothers movie to see, among other things, a remarkable intellect at work, someone who speaks in an endless string of witticisms and obliterates anyone who attempts conversation with him.

Now we watch insufferable comic stars babbling in a way that can only be described with the unfortunate buzzword of postmodern social interactions: “awkward.” But a kind of meta-awkward, a spastic conversation about how awkward the conversation is. You will see this in The Office, Saturday Night Live, and every Will Ferrell movie.

Cody’s lines go a step further: they turn wit into a pretentiousness contest—who can make the most arcane reference possible and turn weirdness into an affable quirk. This woman is abolishing subcultures right and left—actually, she’s waging war against culture in general. We will no longer be able to use culture to represent our commitments. No longer can people simply say, “I listen to Joy Division,” when they mean to say, “I cut myself.” Gone are the days that I could go to a cocktail party and say “I think ‘Hollaback Girl’ is the a greater musical achievement than the entire corpus of Bob Dylan,” and have the satisfaction of everyone leaving me alone. Now, thanks to cynical postmodern comedy, these very profound cultural significations have dissolved into the meaningless banter and quirky individualistic personalities that make us “awkward.”

It could be nice if life imitated art. It doesn’t. Art is stupid and unoriginal, and ends up stealing its ideas from life. I have to spend the whole day listening to people dropping cynical textual references and saying things like “I’m kind of a big deal.” Please stop putting me through it at the movies.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Love and death in the network society

Two products by people I know:

From Wendell Marsh, Textual Seduction, a charming YouTube drama with well-placed book covers:

And from Ranju and Sanjit Majumdar, the trailer for their upcoming film Determinism:

Monday, December 29, 2008

I want a new drug

We have been living in the age of serotonin. Bad moods, say the experts, result from a deficiency of serotonin, and are corrected by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—Prozac is the celebrity. But the discovery came from outside the pharmaceuticals, from guerilla drug warriors, in the form of MDMA—ecstasy—the substance that lets us swim in the sea of serotonin that our brains hide from us.

Finally science is surpassing this paradigm. From The New Scientist, the hormone that is now capturing the attention of researchers: oxytocin.

Emotions have structural relationships to drugs in the brain. Our brains, of course, produce drugs—people who run marathons are essentially junkies, who have found a less constipating way of encouraging their brains to produce opiods. When we fall in love, experience orgasm, or feel affection for our families, oxytocin is at work. When we take ecstasy, not all the credit can go to serotonin; the magic also comes from oxytocin.

Never mind the medical uses. What does the research surrounding this internal drug mean for the psychonaut, the explorer of inner space? The problem with oxytocin is that, like serotonin, simply taking the hormone has no real effect. What a drug would have to do is change the way the brain produces and absorbs the hormone, as outlined in The New Scientist:
Pharmaceutical companies are eager to find a small molecule that would enter the brain more easily and switch on oxytocin receptors long-term. An "oxytocin agonist" is the ultimate prize, says [Paul] Zak [director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies in Claremont, California]. So far, no one has announced such a discovery.

Ideally, such a substance would be beneficial but not prone to misuse. Yet given oxytocin's association with comfort, love and sex, such a molecule could turn out to be hugely pleasurable, or even make users fall in love. MDMA is often credited with unleashing the "second summer of love". Just imagine what the third could be like.
Hopefully some backyard chemist will get there first.

P.S. For the necessary background information, please take a listen to this excellent lecture by Andrew Weil, the face of "integrative health" who started out as a very serious analyst of drugs and the human mind.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fey is the new Palin

Everyone was happy to see Tina Fey take the wheel at the sinking ship Saturday Night Live with her impersonation of America's Top Politician Sarah Palin. But no one has posed the essential question: who profits? Who profits from this comedy and the unavoidable talent behind it?

What we know of Tina Fey from the profiles written of her in The New Yorker and more recently Vanity Fair is that she is a relatively shrewd and sharp square who is impatient with people who aren’t squares. She hates strippers but loves to make fun of them. She fears terrorists with anthrax as much as or more than she hates George W. Bush. She recoils at the word “cunt” but gave a new life to the words “whore” and “bitch” during her tutelage as SNL head writer.

Both her humor and morality come from the interior world of a white woman. Not, to paraphrase Seinfeld, that there’s anything wrong with that, but there is certainly no political humor left in this world of highly personalized affectations and prejudices. The clever Tina Fey may engage in gender humor, but there’s no political content—just language games that grow out of personal identity and the social anxiety that comes from being surrounded by a multiplicity of other identities. A major source of humor on Fey's primetime TV show 30 Rock is the bewilderment of Fey’s and our alter ego Liz Lemon in a multicultural world—someone is always around to ruin our day by getting offended at an innocent remark, which we didn’t mean that way (like mixing up the names of the two black people who work on your set), or not matching a stereotype that we were perfectly rational in believing (like that quiet Arab men are generally planning terrorist attacks).

So does Tina Fey show us the real stupidity of Sarah Palin? Or does Sarah Palin reveal the hidden conservatism of Tina Fey? When Fey defended Hilary Clinton on SNL, declaring that “bitch is the new black,” she summed up the roots of today’s cynical comedy and politics. Mainstream has been out for a long time, and an endless rotation of marginalities is in. “Black” isn’t an identity so much as a signifier of “outsideness,” of difference, and that’s what sells—so, for a successful white person, your personal quirks and particularities may be your ticket to politically incorrect privilege. Everyone can be The New Black, whether they are teddy-bear Republicans like Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock, or edgy, career-driven post-feminists like Tina Fey.

Fortunately, there are oppositional tendencies within the contemporary comedy world. I am always dismayed when I watch 30 Rock by what seems to be Tina Fey’s hatred of Indians—the only Indians in her world are annoying convenience-store owners, hot dog salesmen, or Jonathan, the sniveling, overachieving personal assistant to Jack Donoghy—but I am filled with renewed optimism when I remember the glorious Kevin G., from Tina Fey's most progressive (and funniest) project, Mean Girls. Here what could have been a nasty joke became a liberatory force in the hands of a talented young actor.

On 30 Rock itself, the virtuosic performances of Tracy Morgan manifest the sheer force of cultural icons that come from the outside. His character is utterly incomprehensible to the rationality of the show—he embodies every imaginable stereotype so completely that we are no longer able to pin him down to an acceptable multicultural category. When Morgan appeared on SNL to defend Obama in response to Tina Fey’s political declarations, he represented the appropriate response to the anxieties of mainstream America. The cultural forces coming from the margins of American society are not just threats to mainstream identities, they have already destroyed them; Obama just drove the point home.

The Sarah Palins of television had better move over, because it’s time to celebrate a new mainstream. Black is the new America.