Sunday, November 27, 2011

This Ain't Your Daddies Corporation: Musings on Power in the Occupy Movements

The problem with writing and talking about Occupy is that it is so different from what most Americans are used to. As I understand it Occupy movements are not structured in the way the US government, IBM, GE, Microsoft, the Methodist Church, the Mormon Church, the New York Times, or CBS are. All of those institutions are hierarchical bureaucracies. Occupy, on the other hand, drawing on radical democratic forms of the past, are democratic and leaderless, at least officially.

Occupy, in Weberian terms, is a charismatic movement like Quakerism where charisma was conceptualised as spread throughout the entire group Occupy is highly democratic and decision making works within it like it works in a Quaker silent meeting for business. Decision making is by consensus and decision making is local.

Since Occupy doesn't work, like economic, political, and cultural bureaucracies, from the top down, from the leader down, Occupy doesn't centre around a cult of hierarchical celebrity personality. occupy consciously avoid cults of celebrity personality with leaders celebrated by the media and the masses.

For this reason the media, as was the case with the early SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in the 1960s which was, like Occupy, consensus oriented and non-hierarchical, can't get their head around this movement. They can't imagine a world without bureaucracies, hierarchies, celebritised leaders. They can't understand why some leader of the movement cannot issue a position paper. They simply can't comprehend how positions in real democratic movements originate out of consensus rather than decision making by celebrity leaders.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Our Masters Voices...Musings on Doublespeak in Corporate America

Living in Corporate America, which, George Calin once said, "was bought and sold and paid for years ago", is a trip. Here in the land of doublespeak some people can be beaten and pepper sprayed simply for "camping" in parks while those who camp and wait for Black Friday deals, entertainment tickets, or sports tickets, often on public sidewalks, are a media item as Naomi Wolf says in her recent article. And most citizens, or should I say most consumers since that is what corporate America sees us as, don't even see or hear the corporate lies right in front of them.

Naomi Wolf in her Guardian piece lists several things Occupy has called for. "...No 1: get the money out of politics". Occupy protestors urge this reform as a response to the Citizens United court ruling "which allowed boundless sums of [corporate] monies to enter the campaign process". Number 2 "reform...the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation." In particular Occupy calls for the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, "the Depression-era law, eliminated during the Clinton administration, "that separates investment banks from commercial banks". "This law", claims Occupy, "would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create...derivatives out of thin air and wipe out the commercial and savings bank" sector. Number 3 Occupy pass "laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors”. Number 4, one Wolf doesn't discuss, to move your monies from too big to fail banks like CitiBank and Bank of America, banks involved in creating derivative and real estate bubbles out of thin air and banks which continue to pay their investment labour force millions in bonuses, to local credit unions and community banks. Clearly, as Wolf notes and as anyone with eyes can see, Occupy has a political programme.

So why is it that the talking heads on TV, on the radio, and in the blogosphere keep claiming that Occupy has no "plan" when Occupy, as Wolf notes again and again, clearly has several plans to reform Washington? So why this charade? Could it be that corporate America and its political minions, particularly on the right, and its demagogues are sticking to a message and keep promoting it even in the face of empirical data to the contrary? Could it be that the fiction that Occupy has no plan is exactly what America's elites want to manipulate the "silent majority" into believing? Is this fiction becoming reality just another example of postmodernist manipulation in the service of corporate control and power? And why are the media not challenging the falsehoods being peddled and parroted by the the handmaidens of Corporate America? Is it because media news readers and news men and women simply aren't aware of this data? If so why not? Or is it because the media are simply parroting the corporate party line manufactured by the public relations courtiers of the corporate class in a regimented way that was not even possible in the Stalin era USSR? After all Big Media are controlled by and large by corporations and America's public broadcaster, PBS, has to be careful that it doesn't bite the hand that feeds it too hard because the hand that feeds sometimes bites back as PBS occasionally finds out? Is this the way the corporate media world goes round? And about that additional significant question: why are the masses swallowing this elite generated crap as though it was a chocolate truffle? Because postmodernist demagoguery in the service of economic and political elites creates reality even if that reality is patently false?

I am sure that Lee Atwater, the Republican strategist who once claimed that reality doesn't matter, that what really matters is what you can convince people is true, is enjoying all this doublespeak from the corporate class and its media acolytes about the Occupy movement and the fact that so many Americans seem to be eating it up wherever he is. After all before he died he trained a number of Corporate American technocratic spin doctors in the fine arts of demagoguery and reality manipulation including George W. Bush and Karl Rove.

Postscript
One blogger questioned Wolf's speculation that the Department of Homeland Security may have helped coordinate the military operations against Occupy movements in several American cities (http://crooksandliars.com/karoli/shocking-truth-about-factless-assertions). However I find it hard to escape the thesis that there was coordination between the police departments who ran Occupy out of Seattle, Portland, Oakland, the City. If not, why did they occur at around same time? Winter coming? They all realised that tents and tenters were hazardous to human health simultaneously? Jean Quan, the "activist" mayor of Oakland has, in fact, admitted that the offensive against Occupy was coordinated by "proper" authorities in eighteen cities (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpElRNEJPXshttp://www.mediaite.com/online/did-oakland-mayor-jean-quan-admit-cities-coordinated-to-bust-occupy-protests/, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I87roZGeGhw, ).

This raises the question of why did the militarised "forces of order" brutally push Occupy out of public and private spaces in similar ways? Coincidence? Accident? While Wolf's thesis is tentative and based on "coincidences" like those above it is an interesting thesis particularly given what we know about how the government worked in the past. Remember the centralised campaigns against dissidents in the 60s and 70s? Recall that the CIA and FBI helped quash dissidents? during the 60's and 70's?

Bibliography
Naomi Wolf, The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy, 25 November 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/nov/25/shocking-truth-about-crackdown-occupy?fb=optOut

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thimble Full of Snarky Ron...

Forgive me but as you will see I am in a really snarky mood today. It happens sometimes, perhaps too often...

*In response to a Globe and Mail question on facebook (23 November 2011) as to whether Occupy Toronto should have been evicted from a "public" park Snarky Ron wrote: Oh god yes. Nothing is more dangerous than tents in parks in the morning, evening, or afternoon. It is more dangerous than the avian flu, mustard gas, anthrax, and sexually transmitted diseases. We must protect our law abiding citizens from such health hazards.

And of course while a wonderful democracy like Canada allows public displays of political and economic non-affection we simply can't allow people in tents to threaten our national bodily fluids just like fluoridation once did.

Bravo, virtuous police men and women of Toronto for protecting us from such menaces. But could you use a bit more pepper spray and beat a few more heads the next time? I mean we must keep up unhumanitarian appearances and we can't look wussier than our American cousins. And remember where they lead we will follow.

Ah, country love. Do I hear a Captain and Tennille song coming? Everybody sing.

By the way, can we evict these mother nature loving granola eating and starbucks slurping hippie types from Jasper and Banff too? I mean who do they think owns this country? Citizens? And what do they think parks are for? Camping?

*The muse hit Snarky Ron again about this subject and he wrote,
Obligations of class, culture, and civilisation mandate that I ask what is happening to this country. Who is this rabble that thinks it can occupy and set up tents in our parks? Who do they think parks are for? The rabble? Certainly not. Our parks are, or should be for, proper Canadians. For proper Canadians to stroll in. For proper Canadians to acknowledge with that civilised tip of the head to other proper Canadians of an equal social station that we are indeed civilised. That this long-haired and ill-washed rabble thinks they can take over these parks to protest against the economic system God and nature put in place for time and eternity is what happens when a civilisation has fallen into a state of decay and decline. We need to return, fellow proper Canadians, to those days when kings were kings and H.R.H. Victoria ruled the waves and she and Prince Albert modeled for us how proper English gentlewomen and gentlemen should behave even in the dominions.

Ah the joys of mythic and simple minded nostalgia...

*And it hit him again thanks to Ken Harper comment: "Of course they [the Occupy Toronto protestors camping in a St. James Park] should be evicted. They are encroaching on public park space and their point is ridiculous at best. They'd be better off to pool their resources and hire a communications consultant." Snarky Ron replied with, ah yes indeed mr. harper all proper Canadians should behave like good little economic and political bureaucrats since god and nature has indeed ordained that the PROPER Canadian way is his and nature's way and the only way. When will citizens learn that all proper Canadians should defer all of their decisions to those elect economic and political elites god and nature in their infinite wisdom have put in place like the stars in the heavens.

*Upon learning that Fox's Bill O'Reilly had recently, but not surprisingly, defended the actions of the University of California, Davis police who pepper sprayed non-violent student protestors, and I quote "I don’t think we have the right to Monday-morning quarterback the police. Particularly at a place like U.C. Davis, which is, you know, a fairly liberal campus, and they’re not running around. They camp to the point where … the Chancellor said “Look, you gotta get them out of there. We can’t operate a college like this”--Snarky Ron said, Casablanca Moment 5,987,897,775: I'm shocked, shocked, that Bill O'Reilly and Fox news would defend police brutality in the US. I didn't realise the F in Fox stood for fascism and fabrication. Does anyone know whether the knee jerk ideologically correct demagogues at Fox are bashing the attempts by the police to restore order in Cairo? God don't you just love the smell of dayglo orange doublespeak in the morning?

*Learning that some 40 plus Hoosiers are suing the country folk band Sugarland after the collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair in August of 2011, a collapse that killed several Hoosiers and Hoosierettes, Snarky Ron wrote, hmm, I would think that Hoosiers would sue god instead. But hey, you can't potentially roll in the dough if you sue god can you? This suit leaves Snarky Ron wondering, why Hoosiers, well known for their love of small government and promoters of good old boy Southern states rights, aren't suing the state of Indiana? Does it not own the State Fair Grounds in Indianapolis? Or has it rented out the State Fair to Australians who raise the entrance fees significantly from what they had been when the state ran?

*Learning that David Cameron, the prime minister of Great Britain, wanted parents to take their children to work during public sector strikes in the UK, Snarky Ron wrote: Question, can the western world get any more looney??? Answer: yes. Cameron now wants children to help break strikes. Got to teach those younguns about the joys of casino capitalism and its distaste for, eww, dare I say it, worker organisations early on.

Of course, we also have to teach the young that workers acting to protect pensions are acting irresponsibly while those political and economic elites who spend trillions of taxpayers dollars and pounds on wars that kill civilian workers, leave countries crippled and destroyed, and enrich the killing "privately owned" industries of the western world act in totally responsible ways. Yeah right.

See we don't live in a surreal world turned upside down.

*In a post on a friend of mine's Facebook page Linda Gee, speaking of Republican plans to force everyone in the state of Wisconsin to have a photo ID with them when they vote said, "Why don't they simply require a Republican voter registration card? You can keep it in your pocket next to your gun. (Of course your gun doesn't need to be hidden in your pocket.)" I responded with this: Hey Linda they can also stick it next to their Obamacare Death Panel card. I am hoping that the death panel cards will have a image of a Dalek on them. Card technologists can, I am sure, develop a chip which can be embedded within the credit card like Death Panel card which, when pressed in just the right place, proclaims, in Dalekese, "exterminate...exterminate...exterminate". And hey perhaps the Republicans, when they regain control of corporate imperial America, can figure out a Death Panel card that when pressed will automatically exterminate liberals. I know our government will have to pay that evil socialist BBC significant sums of money to use the Dalek image but hey wouldn't it be cool?

*On reading about a woman in who pepper sprayed her competition at a Los Angeles area WalMart during the annual fun for consumer goods on Black Friday (25 November 2011),http://news.yahoo.com/woman-pepper-sprays-other-black-friday-shoppers-110009506.html, Snarky Ron wrote, hey if the cops can do it even to nonviolent protestors why can't we use it on "competitors" on one of the most important days of America's civil religious calendar in order to get those much sought after and sacred consumer goods? I mean if the the divine corporation didn't want us to fight over consumer goods why would they give us Black Friday and pepper spray anyway?

*On reading a post about the joys of Blu Ray Snarky Ron wrote: Some time ago Dave Kehr wrote a piece on the DVD and Blu Ray formats which appeared in the NY Times. He raised, I thought, several valid questions about the supposed superiority of Blu Ray to the DVD.

Personally, I am not that taken with Blu-Ray yet. I don't think that newer technologies (digital, cd) are better than earlier technologies (film, vinyl). In fact I think the old way of blowing up cars done in the era before CGI, the era when they blew up real cars, is more "realistic" than CGI big bang car explosions. Moreover, I am skeptical of industries which sometimes seem to pimp "newer and better" remasters/masters/restorations/technologies to sell you the same stuff you already bought. Ah, modern consumer capitalism.

As to the quality of Blu Ray transfers, I have read a goodly number of reviews of poor quality Blu-Ray transfers particularly from corporations like MGM, Universal recently. These companies, after all, are the same corporations that produce very poor quality DVD transfers and I wouldn't expect anything more than mediocrity from them.

Criterion and MoC, clearly, don't fall into this category. Those companies still have a sense that quality matters and that a not every consumer is an opiated semi-automaton that will buy anything regardless of the quality because they have to have it.

Have you seen some of these DVD sets that corporations release? Sets where DVDs are stuck into cardboard slats and ruined in the process. "Consumers" still buy this crap and corporations take this as votes of consumer confidence. And that is exactly what they want. On that note, happy Black Friday (I wrote this on 25 November 2011).

By the way, I find it interesting that so many reviews rarely talk about the packaging or even the quality of DVD or Blu-Ray packages and transfers. They tend to concentrate exclusively on the film or TV programme assuming, I guess, that nothing else matters. This a rather weird kind of fetishisation that occurs far too often in a consumer society.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PBS Does Woody: Musings on Woody Allen: A Documentary

I spent part of Sunday and Monday watching the four hour two part Woody Allen: A Documentary on PBS. I enjoyed it a lot. It certainly didn't, as more and more PBS documentaries are doing these days, whitewash its subject. And I liked that.

When I first went to college way back in the 1970s I usually made it a point to see all of Woody's films. I saw the wonderful mockumentary Take the Money and Run, the satirically hilarious Bananas, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Sleeper, and Love and Death. Like so many others I recall being disappointed when Woody seemed to make the transition from comedy films to serious films in Interiors and Stardust Memories. It is been a long time since I have seen either so my memory of both is rather hazy but I think I was among those who saw both films as retreads of Bergman and Fellini in American guise. I recall loving Annie Hall and Manhattan (a film that takes on new meaning, perhaps, in the wake of later events in Woody's life), both of which I thought nicely mixed Woody's comedic and serious sides.

I haven't seen many of Woody's films since Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy, a film I loved. I saw Sweet Lowdown and thought it was good though it didn't move me. I saw Manhattan Murder Mystery but again it didn't move me. I did like the Welles Lady of Shanghai redo at the end of the film, however. I have many of his later films thanks to the $3 dollar bin at Big Lots, but haven't seen them yet. Perhaps this documentary will push me to watch them. I would like to see Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig, and Midnight in Manhattan.
Like so many bio-documentaries these days Woody Allen: A Documentary was limitedly critical. There is no engagement in the documentary, for instance, with the claim of some critics, most notably Jonathan Rosenbaum, that Allen has become an auteur who is acceptable to Americans who simply refuse to watch foreign films for a variety of reasons, parochialism, a bizarre fear of subtitles, their slow pace, their intellectualism.

By the way, one of the things I, at least in part a New Yorker, found really interesting in Woody Allen: A Documentary was Martin Scorsese's quip that he didn't really understand Woody's Manhattan. It was not, he said, his New York City. I found Scorsese's statement interesting because Woody's cinema is more like my life, the life of the nerd, and Woody's Manhattan is more like my Manhattan. To turn the tables a bit I just don't quite understand Scorsese's violent mob New York City and am not sure I really want to. I have never really been into the mafia and gangster film and television genre beyond Once Upon a Time in America. But hey, that's me.

Musings on Due Process and Human Rights Violators

Hello Dear unreaders. I know that by calling for the immediate firing of the police officers who perpetrated a violent crime against a number of students protesting wealth inequality and the cuts in education that America's most recent economic bust has brought about nonviolently at the University of California, Davis will be met by cries of what about due process and what about union and management agreements and process from my critics.

Let me say straight off that I fully understand the concerns of my critics. I am a member of a proud union, United University Professors, and am normally in favour of due process in such matters. However, in the case of the cops at UC Davis who perpetrated this violent act against students and in the case of a professor of law at UC Berkeley who was complicit in the torture of human beings I am not sure I am in favour of union due process within, and this is an important distinction, academic institutions.

Academic institutions should be places where freedom of speech is cherished, within limits, and where freedom to protest is cherished, again within limits. I do, by the way realise that historically academic institutions have often cherished neither. Academic institutions, however, should not be places where violence perpetrated against students for no good reason is acceptable. And this is why I strongly believe that the cops who violated the human and civil, rights of students at Davis, and the chancellor, who set in motion the events which violated the human rights of Davis students, should immediately be fired and stripped of all benefits they have accrued at the university over the years. Violent violations of the human and civil rights of others by those who have an obligation to protect them (in loco parentis) are simply beyond, or should be, the pale of civilised behaviour. As a result their presence on college campuses should not be tolerated. By firing those who violate human rights, even if the dismissal is purely symbolic, the university is making a statement about the importance of protecting human rights. They are making a statement that the violation of human rights on college campuses is simply unacceptable.

While some may regard this as a violation of due process I don't. It is not that the cops and the chancellor have no other recourse to challenge their dismissals. They can go to the union if they are part of a union. They can go to the courts to challenge their dismissal. They can, in other words, get their due process.

I recognise that what I am calling for raises a number of issues. I recognise that protecting freedom of speech requires protecting the freedom of speech of those who verbally express the worst form of speech, the White Supremacist speech of Nazis, for instance. In the past I have actually argued that freedom of speech is a zero plus game and that as a community we must protect the speech even of racists because if we don't we could be on the slippery slope toward criminalising other less offensive forms of speech. 1984. However, and this in my mind is an important thing to realise, protecting freedom of speech doesn't require that we protect those racists whose speech and ideologies lead them to attack those who they categorise as subhumans. For me firing those who physically violate the human rights of others by pepper spraying them fall into the same category. They have engaged in violent acts and, in my mind, have abrogated, in the process, their right to due process at a university and to hold a job at an institution that should appreciate and vouchsafe freedom of speech and freedom of protest.

As I said, the perpetrators of such violence still have the option of going to the unions, if they are in a union and I recommend that all Americans join a union if they can. If the unions want to fight for the civil rights of the perpetrators of human rights violators, fine. I would just say, however, that fighting for the rights of violent "perps", to use a term the cops and the media love to throw around, may give and probably will give unions even more of a bad name than they already have. It is important to recognise, as much as I like and appreciate what unions do (and there are limits to what unions can do given inequalities of power as I well know), that unions, particularly police unions, sometimes do things to protect workers at the expense of justice and what is right. In the case of the cops at Davis who perpetrated violence on peaceful students, what is right is that they lose their jobs. In the case of John Yoo, official in the Department of Justice during the Bush pere years who gave his approval to the violations of the human rights of others and now law professor at Berkeley, what is right is that this massive human rights abuser should not be allowed to teach students about the law, the very law he so blatantly and violently violated.

Alternatively, perhaps we can make the punishment fit the crime. Perhaps we can let the students, with the agreement of the cop perps, pepper spray the cops in the same way the cops pepper sprayed them. And perhaps we can let those tortured on the basis of judgments given by a John Yoo, again with the perps permission, torture him in the same way that they were tortured thanks to him. But that would be eye for an eye justice, wouldn't it? And we can't have that in an increasingly dixiefornicated America, can we?.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Tragedy of the Republican Party: How the Republicans Went From Honest Abe to Cynical Newt

I have long thought that one of the most interesting historical transformations that has taken place since World War II was the transformation of the Republican Party from the once upon a time party of anti-slavery, free labour, and progressivism into a somewhat kinder and gentler, or at least more politically correct, version of the Dixiecrats, a transformation that is clearly on display for all to see in the Republican primary at the moment.

There were two major events which turned the Republican Party into the Dixiecrats. The first was Harry Truman's integration of the military after World War II. The second was Lyndon Baines Johnson's push for and eventual passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. Both events led to challenges to the Democratic coalition that Al Smith and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had built in the early and mid-twentieth century, a coalition which included Northern ethnic machine Democrats, reformist progressive Democrats, and the Dixiecrats.

The Dixiecrats were, of course, a Southern White Supremicist party that governed the American South where slavery by another name continued under the guise of Jim Crow laws which, to paraphrase singer Randy Newman, kept Blacks down by segregating Blacks and Whites and criminalising certain Black behaviours (the law in the service of racial apartheid). It was all justified by White Supremicist Dixiecrats on the basis of notions of White superiority and "states rights", and "law and order" rhetoric. Truman's integration of the military and LBJ's civil rights and voting rights legislation struck at the heart of the Dixiecrat apartheid system in the South and their ideological justifications for their racist system. Both played major roles in alienating the solid White Democratic South from the broader Democratic Party. Truman's decision to integrate the military led directly to Democratic Strom Thurmond challenging him for president in 1948, one of the reasons that most pundits didn't give Truman much of a chance to win the election, on the States Rights Democratic Party ticket. Truman surprised almost everyone when he defeated Dewey and Thurmond despite Thurmond taking 39 electoral votes of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina.

The revolt of the Dixiecrat South from the national Democratic Party did not end with Thurmond and Truman. Illinois liberal Democrat Adlai Stevenson recovered most of the South for Democrats in 1952 and 1956 winning the electoral votes of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in 1952 and the electoral votes of Arkansas, Mississippi, all but one of the electoral votes of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in 1956. In 1960 former Virginia governor and Virginia senator Harry S. Byrd, a segregationist who was never an official candidate for president, took the electoral votes of Mississippi and more than half of the electoral votes of Alabama. Democrat John F. Kennedy won all of the Southern states save Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida. In the 1964 election Republican Barry Goldwater, in a foreshadowing of things to come, won the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

LBJ's attempt to put an end to Jim Crow likewise led to challenges within the Democratic Party from the Dixiecrats. This challenge and its role in bringing Johnson down has been masked, at least in popular understanding, by another factor which helped bring Johnson crashing down, the Vietnam War and the growing animosity toward that war in the United States. Vietnam and Johnson's Second Reconstruction both helped force Johnson, the man who helped revive the New Deal, out of the 1968 race for the Democratic nomination for president.

Johnson's mantle was picked up by his surrogate in the 1968 Democratic primaries, vice-president Hubert H. Humphrey. Humphrey was a politician who had long been a proponent of civil rights and who helped get Johnson's civil rights bill through the US Senate. After winning the Democratic nomination for president (one of his main rivals, the anti-war and anti-segregationist Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June) was, like Truman, challenged not only by a Republican candidate for president, in this instance Richard Milhous Nixon, but also by a Dixiecrat, Alabama governor George Wallace, the man probably most famous for standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama in order to turn back a Black man who had, thanks in part to the federal courts, been admitted to the university. Remember Brown v. Board of Education (1954) had made the separate but "equal" segregation of the US unconstitutional but also remember that the South simply ignored the rulings of the Supreme Court related to segregation. Wallace, of course, was the man who once promised that Jim Crow segregation in the South would exist now, tomorrow, and forever. In one of the closest elections in terms of popular vote in American history Nixon defeated Humphrey by 43.$5 to 42.7%. Wallace took 46 electoral votes all of them in the solid Democratic South.

Wallace's success in the South, one that paralleled Thurmond's, is not, at least in my mind, the most interesting aspect of the 1968 election. The most interesting aspect of the election is that except for Texas, which went for Humphrey, Nixon took the electoral votes of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina,and Florida as well as the lions share of North Carolina's electoral votes (12 of 13).

Nixon and Republican strategists took note of the problems the Democrats, now seen as the party of anti-war and civil rights, the latter a position the Republican Party, the party of the First Reconstruction, the party Southerners, in the wake of the Civil War, once regarded as the party of carpetbaggers, had once held. As a result Nixon and in particular Republican strategist Kevin Phillips developed a strategy that would lead to the Republican conquest of the South and, as a result, take them into national political dominance.

The strategy worked at least in part. Today the Republican Party, the party that had led the attempt to desegregate the South after the Civil War, the party that had once been the party of American blacks, the party that once had a significant progressive wing, has become the second coming of the Dixiecrats and has been transformed into a party of states rights, law and order, damn those liberal courts which keep legislating from the bench, and White evangelicals and today the party dominates political culture in the South just like the Dixiecrats once did from 1877 to the 1980s.

The former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, symbolises well this transformation. Gingrich was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1979 at the height of the Southern backlash against one of their own, the evangelical Democrat Jimmy Carter. Today there is a lot of Dixiecrat George Wallace, before his conversion, in Gingrich's recent statements that Occupy Wall Street protestors need to go home, take a bath, and get a job. Wallace had once said the same thing about hippies in the 1960s. Nixon, of course, took Wallace's sentiments and translated them into a more highbrow and dignified form, if that is the term for it, in his references to the "silent majority" and the "silent majorities" demand for "law and order" in the streets, code words, of course, for getting tough on hippies, anti-war activists, and Black power activists. Republicans in the wake of Nixon have become very good at uttering code words and phrases.

Gingrich and other Republicans continue to play the Nixon law and order card for the simple reason that it seems to work. Presumably Gingrich thinks that by following the Wallace and Nixon and Archie Bunker playbook by telling Occupy Wall Street and education activists to go home, take a bath, and get a job (does he know that some of them are in college?) that he thinks it can take him to the promised land of the Republican nomination.

This strategy may work. Gingrich, however, does have a potential problem on the horizon with his attempt to sell his right wing populist message to the Republican masses and this problem says much about who Republicans on the national level really are. Like Nixon Gingrich is, at least in part, a Washington insider. Gingrich for all his reform Washington rhetoric has benefited financially from his Washington insider status. For instance, Gingrich was apparently paid a "consulting fee" of $1.6 million dollars by one of the institutions that helped bring yet another bust to America in 2007 and 2008, and one of the institutions that right wingers in the Republican Party have long railed against, the home mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Additionally, Gingrich's dealings with the elite jeweler Tiffany's--he once owed them some $500,000--may raise questions among the Republican faithful about just how populist Gingrich is. On the other hand, Gingrich's cynical strategy may, as is often the case, work because the American voting public and Americans in general have often shown themselves to be more than willing swallowers again and again of the demagogic populist rhetoric that now dominates the Republicrats. I guess only time will tell whether Gingrich's strategy will work.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Culture of Law and Order: Musings on Police Brutality



The pepper spraying of students by police officers at the University of California, Davis police force recently (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/19/uc-davis-police-pepper-spray-students_n_1102728.html) has forced me reflect about how one human being can engage in such brutality against other, in this case non-violent, human beings.

The brutal actions of these cops can only be explained, in my opinion, by reference to a culture and a sentiment that is not dissimilar from that which we saw in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. When one "human being", and I use that term advisedly here, can pepper spray protesters in the way the cop did here this clearly means that the person engaging in such violence against protestors sees protestors not as human beings but as non-human in some way, shape, or form just as the Nazi's saw Jews as subhumans if not non-humans.

How did the cops justify their aggressive actions against those protesting education cuts and police brutality at the University of California, Davis? The students locking of arms apparently was interpreted by the cops as an act of aggression. Interpretations like this show what a surreal world we live, a surreal world where the locking of arms can be seen by elites and their minions as violent, where protestors can be regarded by the powers that be as health hazards (a demagogic strategy to get mass support via the tried and true method of doublespeaking?).

That so many Americans accept the justifications the authorities are offering for their actions, do nothing to stop such police brutality, or simply ignore the violence that is being perpetrated by the police is not unlike those many Germans in the 1930s and 1940s who knew about the genocide of Jews, leftists, and homosexuals but did nothing to stop it and even participated in it later claiming that they were just following orders suggests that they too were socialised into a culture that dehaminised certain others. It also means that they have abrogated any sense of moral obligation or moral responsibility for their or their nation's actions.

Whoever is responsible for setting the cops on these young people like this should take responsibility for it, apologise for it, and immediately resign. The cop perp who engaged in this brutality should be immediately be fired and stripped of all of his benefits if he has any. And what of UC Davis's finest who stood and watched while violence was being done and did nothing? As for me I don't think I could ever, in good conscience, work at a university that allows their cops to engage in such brutal and immoral behaviour. I guess this is what you get in a culture that has increasingly militarised its police force, a culture which gives police extraordinary power, a culture in which the cops appear to get their rocks off by brutalising others. Power, as the old saying goes, corrupts and it corrupts absolutely. That such militarisation is occurring now on college campuses, a space often regarded as a haven of free speech, should frighten and offend anyone connected in some way, shape, or form with the academy.

This police violence against dissidents in the US (and in the Western world in general) is hardly new. In the US it certainly goes back in form at least to the crusades against loyalists during the revolutionary era, crusades against religious dissidents like Mormons, crusades against religious outsiders like the Catholics and outsider groups like the Freemasons in early nineteenth century America. In the late nineteenth century vigilantism and state brutality against dissidents (Weber explores the process by which state violence is given universal legitimisation) were allied in the anti-leftist and anti-union elite and populist (the elites as pied pipers) crusades during which the police, the national guard, and the military were used to try to crush worker movements. Some pro-union anarchists were even executed by authorities in the jihad against left and union dissidents. After the Haymarket Square protests of 1886 turned "violent" a number of anarchists were tried, found guilty, and executed without any evidence against them whatsoever. Such things can happen, I guess, when political and economic elites whip up a culture of fear and hate and the masses eat this fear and hate demagogeury up as though it was chocolate candy.

Elite jihads against dissidents did not end in the nineteenth century. Crusades against communism were common in the US after the Bolsheviks took power in Russia and during the paranoid years of the Cold War. It continued into the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s cops beat, set dogs on, and sometimes killed protestors, some of them teens. In Chicago in 1968 Mayor Richard Daley set Chicago's "finest" on protestors resulting in protestors and journalists and passers by being beaten in the streets of that city in what an Illinois state commission later said was a police riot. At Kent State University over 13 seconds four students were killed by the National Guard in 1970. Today miltarised police violence is being directed against those protesting increasing inequality in the United States and the results of that inequality, the savage cuts to America's educational system, in New York City, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Oakland, California, Berkley, California, and Davis, California. I think it is hard to see this elite brutality against dissidents and the vigilantism that often accompanies it as anything other than a long term policy of political and economic elites (the one percent). America's own culture of the banality of evil? Oh and speaking of Oakland I hope that voters make sure that we have seen the last of Jean Quan, Oakland's liberal leaning former activist Democrat mayor who seems to have become a soldier in the violent police war against dissidents.

On a different subject: Why do I sneaking suspicion that the same people who decry and rail against police brutality in say Cairo or in Syria are the same people who justify police brutality right here at home, in our backyards at places like UC Davis, Oakland, Seattle, and Portland?

Links:
Call for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi by UC professor Nathan Brown, http://occupyca.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/open-letter-to-chancellor-linda-p-b-katehi/

UC Davis Aggie coverage, http://www.theaggie.org/2011/11/19/community-responds-to-police-actions-supports-non-violent-protesters-httpgoo-gl3bjgu-occupyucdavis-ucdavis/

Davis Enterprise coverage, http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/crime-fire-courts/protests-again-gathering-steam-on-campus/

The New Disaster Movie: The Celebratory Documentary

I watched the PBS Fall Art Festival centring on Cleveland, Ohio last night (18 November 2011) because as a historian, social scientist, and cultural studies nerd interested in the history rock and roll I thought the documentary that was at the heart of Cleveland night, "Women Who Rock", might be interesting, educational, and insightful. It was definitely interesting but I am not sure it was particularly educational, save in a very simplistic and surfacy way, nor am I sure it was particularly insightful.

In an earlier blog I wrote that I thought that one of the failings of the PBS documentary series "Pioneers of Television" was its too celebratory tone about the medium of television and its practitioners and that this celebratory quality of the series undermined, at least in part, "Pioneers" potential for educating viewers about television genres. The same problem and others undermined the PBS "Women Who Rock" as well.

As is sometimes the case with PBS documentaries and documentary series "Women Who Rock", like the PBS Fall Arts Festival programmes in general up to this point, has been more celebratory than analytical and critical. Granted the Fall Arts Festival is meant to celebrate a contemporary American art scene under threat from decreasing funding and an animosity toward funding for the arts these days--funding was perhaps contingent on celebration and PBS's Fall Art Festival has celebrated arts scenes in Minneapolis, Seattle, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Cleveland. And while I am not opposed to celebration I also like to see, at least in documentaries, a more critical appreciation of their subject. I didn't find much in the way of a critical sensibility in "Women Who Rock". It was largely just a you go girl celebration.

The celebratory nature of "Women Who Rock" was not the only problem with the documentary. As is often the case with one hour documentaries, 55 minutes or so was simply not enough time to really explore the important role women have played in rock even before there was "rock". The programme's history of women and rock, as a result, was sketchy and perfunctory. If it was meant to be a documentary history of American women in rock then where were the Runaways? Where was Joan Jett and why was she absent save for the playing of her song "I Love Rock and Roll" in the background as the documentary celebrated a summer rock camp for young women? Where was another one of those early hard rockers Pat Benatar? Where were the Bangles, the Go-Gos, and the Donnas?

Another problem with "Women Who Rock" was its focus. By and large the focus of the documentary was on American women who rock, which makes sense given that "Women Who Rock" was part of Cleveland night. However, the occasional Canadian woman (Joni Mitchell), Icelandic woman (Bjork), and British women (P.J. Harvey and Adele) were thrown into the mix for some reason during the documentaries 55 minutes raising the question that if this documentary was intended to be an international history of women in rock.

If the focus of "Women Who Rock" was intended to be international or Anglo-North American then where were Dusty Springfield? Where was Petulia Clark? Where were those British women who fronted and wrote songs for punk bands in 1970s and 1980s Britain, women like Poly Styrene, the front woman of X-Ray Spex who turned punk almost singlehandedly in the direction of a critique of consumer culture, Siouxie Sue, front woman of Siouxie and the Banshees who brought a filmic sensibility to punk, and the all female punk band The Slits? As front women for their bands and as primary songwriters Polystyrene and Siouxie Sue opened up roles for women in rock, transformative roles for women in rock, that had not, for the most part, been available to women before the late 1970s, the pouty Leslie "You Don't Own Me" Gore from New Jersey and the tough and streetwise Shangri-las (Remember (Walking in the Sand" and "Leader of the Pack") from Queens both of whom made no appearance in "Women Who Rock", aside. Was an acknowledgment of the fact that women like Polystyrene and Siouxie Sue had an immense influence on American female punkers like Kathleen Hanna of Olympia, Washington's seminal riot grrrl punk band Bikini Kill, enough of an acknowledgment given the significance of their impact on women who rock?.

In the end I found "Women Who Rock" interesting if fatally flawed even if its intent was to focus exclusively on the American female rockers scene. That said, and this is a big caveat, I appreciated and appreciate PBS's attempt to do a history of women in rock because very few other television networks are doing what "Women in Rock" and PBS's Fall Arts Festival are doing or trying to do. So in spite of all their flaws PBS's "Women Who Rock" and Fall Arts Festival deserve our appreciation despite all their warts. Keep thinking outside the stale over the air TV box PBS because despite all of your worthy failures you are still the cherry bomb PBS.

Oh before I forget, the reason PBS put "Women Who Rock" on PBS during Cleveland arts night is because Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Musings on the History of Hermeneutics: Reading Classical Music Reviews

I was a Biblical Studies major when I started my undergraduate college career at Indiana University in beautiful Bloomington. At the time I expected to continue doing Biblical Studies through my postgraduate academic career. But events do have a habit of sending one in directions you never imagined. It was thanks to an undergraduate seminar on the book of Exodus which I took with James Ackerman at IU that I developed an obsession with and an appreciation of something that continues to impact my intellectual life today, hermeneutics.

One thing that really struck me after taking Ackerman's seminar was the varying interpretations of the biblical text brought to Exodus by a range of Catholics of various stripes, Protestants of various stripes, Jews of various stripes, and even agnostics and atheists of various stripes. Listening and thinking about the various interpretations of the biblical text I and my student colleagues offered while analysising selected "pericopes" of the Book of Exodus foregrounded something for me that I had not entirely recognised up to that point and have never forgotten since: ideology and culture play and important role in how we interpret the Bible and how we "read" human life and our place in the world around us in general.

While I didn't continue my pursuit of a degree in Biblical Studies (too many languages to study and too few jobs) I have never lost this appreciation for how we humans read "texts", broadly defined, through cultural and ideological mental eyes. After leaving Biblical Studies I became more and more interested in the hermeneutics of social and cultural life and so began to study Sociology, Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Semiology/Semiotics, History, Film Studies, and, most recently, Television Studies since all of these "disciplines" addressed, in some way, shape, or form, the ways we humans read the world we live in and our place in it. Roland Barthes became my guide through the intellectual corridors of the history and structure of language and the semiotics of language and culture. Max Weber, who carried on the hermeneutic work of Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert, the fathers of hermeneutics, became my guide through the mental world of ideologically grounded cultural interpretations of society and their relationship to the wider social, political, and economic worlds they inhabited.

One of my favourite excursions to take in my spare time is into the realm of the ideologies underlying classical music reviews. As J. Robert Oppenheimer was able to bring together his love of physics and the New Mexico desert in the Manhattan Project I enjoy being able to bring together my love for classical music and cultural studies in my excursions into the hemeneutics of classical music recordings and performances.

I recently finally got around to buying the well known Eugene Ormandy and Philadelphia Orchestra set of Rachmaninov Symphonies recorded in stereo in the 1950s and 1960s (Sony, SB2K63257). Ormandy knew Sergei Rachmaninov and conducted recordings of Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos 1 and 4 with the maestro giving his interpretations a special authority at least in the minds of some music critics, because of his special relationship to the master who, these critics presumably assume, passed onto Ormandy orally just how his music should be played.

So how do some music critics read Ormandy's performances of Rachmaninov's Symphonies. The well-known critics who put together the well-known Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2008 (Penguin, 2007), the Brits Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, and Robert Layton, give Ormandy's readings of Rachmaninov's Symphonies (and the instrumental version of the Vocalise) four stars out of four claiming that Ormandy's interpretations of the three symphonies, including the first of Rachmaninov's symphonies to be recorded in stereo, Symphony 1, remain, "in many ways...unsurpassed". March, Greenfield, and Layton go on to describe the recent and, they claim improved, Sony transfer, as something "not to be missed" even if listeners already have more "modern versions"of Rachmaninov's symphonies" and that Ormandy's interpretations, along with those of Mikhail Pletnev, Evgeny Svetlanov, and Vladimir Ashkenazy, all Russians (essentialism?), have "special claims in this repertoire" (because they are Russians or knew Rachmaninov?). Stephen Chakwin reviewing Rachmaninov's orchestral music in Classical Music: The Listeners Companion (edited by Alexander Morin in 2002, Backbeat Books), on the other hand, writes that Ormandy's stereo Rachmaninov Symphonies set is disappointing. Ormandy's and the Philadelphia's performances, he claims, lack intensity, are perfunctory, and are inattentive to the score as compared to Ormandy's recordings of Rachmaninov's piano concertos.

So here we have several different critics with two different views of the quality of Ormandy's performances of Rachmaninov's Symphonies. And while many readers of classical music reviews would, I suspect, raise the question of which set of critics is right, the real question we analysts of hermeneutics should ask is why different individuals each, presumably, with a significant knowledge of classical music, classical music performance, and classical music recordings, came to different conclusions and what social and cultural forces may have helped construct these two violently different readings of Ormandy's Rachmaninov Symphonies set. This is, of course, one of the questions historians of interpretation attempt to or should attempt to answer.

Another question the study of the hermeneutics of reading should be able to answer is the question that has been at the heart of that eternal and far too abstract aesthetic question that we were all introduced to in Philosophy 101: is beauty in the eye of the beholder or is it universal? As the radically different interpretations of Ormandy's recordings of Rachmaninov's Symphonies shows, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, the social and cultural eyes of the beholder.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Blog Full of Cliches: Reviewing Smetana's Complete Orchestra Music

I have been listening (cliche one) to the Brilliant Smetana Complete Orchestral Works box set (Brilliant, 93634) recently. This three disc set contains some of Smetana's best known orchestral work, such as the omnipresent Ma Vlast (cliche two) and the overture to Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride, along with lesser known works like the symphonic poems Wallenstein's Camp, Hakon Jarl, Richard III, Doktor Faust, the Festive Overtures in C major and D major, the three dances to The Bartered Bride, the two polkas Venkovanka and Nasim Devam, and the two marches the March of the National guard and the Shakespeare Festival March. All of these works are conducted by Theodor Kuchar, who made a name for himself in the international recording world by conducting a number of works on that other major bargain label, Naxos, and played by the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra of Ostrava, Czech Republic.

So how did I like this set? I liked it very much (cliche three). In fact I liked it more than the well known two set disc of Smetana pieces conducted by Rafael Kubelik and James Levine on Deutsche Gramophon (cliche four). While the Janacek Philharmonic may not be Kubelik's Boston Symphony Orchestra or Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks or Levine's Wiener Philharmoniker, it plays very well (cliche six) and Kuchar's conducting is excellent (cliche six).

I highly recommend Brilliant's bargain priced Smetana set (cliche seven). So whether you are a lover of Czech nationalist music, a lover Smetana, or simply a lover of Brilliant's inexpensive box sets (I am all three), don't hesitate to pick it up (cliches eight, nine, and ten). After all much of the music on discs two and three, while rarely heard outside of the Czech Republic, is always interesting and, at least for me, oftentimes quite enjoyable (cliche eleven). I give Brilliant Classics's Smetana boxset 4.75 stars out of 5 (cliche twelve). It is my bargain disc of the week (cliche thirteen).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Philosphy on the March: Philosophy Meets Popular Culture

As many of you probably know there are a host of books on popular culture and philosophy out there in the publishing marketplace these days. I read Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, edited by James South, a professor of philosophy at Marquette University, several years back and found it typical of the ilk. These books, many of them published by Open Court, are filled with a host of essays which use TV programmes to analyse various currents in philosophy. In other words, they are more about philosophy than about the narrative, visual, or production aspects of TV programmes, things I have always assumed any good analysis of a TV programme should do.

I have always found this pop cult and philosophy genre a rather curious creature in that it, rather imperialistically, subsumes television programmes within the seemingly voracious field of philosophy regardless of whether the specific television programme warrants it or not. Buffy does, in part, but it deserves much better than the essays in Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. Ironically, and you should all know how much I love ironies by now, there was no attempt to connect BtVS to Kierkegaard in South's collection despite the subtitle. Nor is their any attempt to analyse the existentialism that Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, has said was a major influence on him and which, as a result, found its way into Whedon's television shows and films most specifically the Objects in Space episode of Firefly. But then so much criticism today avoids such empirical production analysis.

Anyway isn't that a nice segue back to the collection Buffy and Philosophy? I found many of the essays in that book horrible particularly the essays by Neal King and Michael Levine and Steven Jay Schneider and a few moderately enlightening and educational, like the essay by Karl Schudt on the Nietzschean will to power in the character of the slayer Faith. I suppose, however, if one is a philosophy geek who reads TV programmes through the prism of philosophy one might appreciate edited collections on philosophy and popular culture like those published by Open Court even if they are heavily watered down.

I suppose this attempt to bring philosophy and popular culture together is rather similar to Robert Oppenheimer's successful attempt to bring together two of the things he loved most in the world, physics and New Mexico, physics, in the form of the atomic bomb, an atomic bomb Oppenheimer became convinced, made him the destroyer of worlds. The conjoining of philosophy and popular culture is quite similar to Oppenheimer's conjoining of physics and New Mexico since the philosophy meets popular culture genre, by enabling philosophy to colonise popular culture, has, like the a-bomb, become the destroyer of worlds, in philosophy's case the destroyer of popular culture worlds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

You Can Never Go Home Anymore: Musings on "Song of Lunch"

Last night I watched Song of Lunch, the 2010 forty-seven minute BBC adaptation of Christopher Reid's poem of the same name starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. I liked it very much. Needless to say, given the acting chops of both Rickman and Thompson, the acting and Rickman's poetic narration, were of a very high quality indeed.

Song of Lunch begins with He (Alan Rickman) leaving the publishing office at which he works in mythic Bloomsbury to make the twenty minute walk to Zanzotti's, an, in his memory, untrendy restaurant he and his lover used to frequent in once upon a time untrendy Soho. Rickman's character is returning to Zanzontti's to meet his ex-lover, for the first time in years. His ex-lover, She (Emma Thompson), is now living in another mythic literary and art centre, Paris, with her famous writer husband and her two children. As He walks through the streets of famous Bloomsbury toward Soho and Zanzotti's we hear the wickedly witty comments in his minds eye, snarky comments about the ever changing literary landscape of Bloomsbury and about the ever changing landscape of now trendy Soho, changing landscapes he does not think highly of.

At the heart of Song of Lunch is the attempt of He to recover times past, times past, as he remembers them, with his former love, She. That He sets up his meeting with his old flame in a restaurant they once frequented is, of course, part of the man's plan to go backward in time to try to recover his relationship with Her. In the final scene of the play He prepares to leave Zanzotti's alone, in a still alcoholic haze, and in a still snarky mood. Just before He walks through the door of the restaurant, however, He glances back to see, slumped in an out of the way corner of the now nouveau chic Zanzotti's, Masssimo, the owner of the restaurant, dressed in what is presumably the uniform of the new Soho, a formal suit. This tired old Massimo, this Massimo who was not in the He's minds eye as he made his way to Zanzotti's, this Massimo who no longer presses the flesh with everyone in Zanzotti's as he once did in those untrendy and boisterous old days at Zanzotti's, a pressing of the flesh the He remembers with disdain as he walks to the restaurant but recalls with a degree of nostalgic fondness as He leaves Zanzotti's, forces a revelation on He, a revelation that the play has been leading us towards since its beginning, you can never, despite nostalgia for the past, go "home" to the past anymore. On that sad note "Song of Lunch" ends.

Though Song of Lunch is, according to author Reid, a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, a tale in which Orpheus descends into the underworld in order to bring his beloved Eurydice back to life, a tale in which ends with Orpheus's failure, a tale mentioned in Song of Lunch itself, Rickman's He also reminded me of another famous character from another one of those other great epic myths of the Ancient Greek past, the Odysseus of Homer's Odyssey. The difference between Homer's Odysseus and Reid's new Odysseus is that Reid's He returns to his old haunts only to find that you really can't return to that hoped for nostalgic and romantic home of the past anymore particularly when the suffering that is life has made you into a snarky and eyes and mind often wandering and wondering alcoholic.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reading Buffy Synopitcally: Is Buffy Really Ageist?

For J.P. Williams (; “Choosing Your Own Mother: Mother-Daughter Conflicts in Buffy” in Wilcox and Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces) Buffy’s portrayal of knowing teenagers, unknowing parents (Joyce and Sheila), and the killing of Jenny Calendar, the assertive techno-pagan computer science teacher who loves Buffy’s Watcher Giles and mentors Scooby Willow, is evidence that Buffy the Vampire Slayer harbours ageist prejudices against mothers and surrogate mother figures.

Really? Honestly I don’t see it that way. Here's why.

Instead of being “ageist” adults are more than present in the Buffyverse and they aren’t always portrayed as unknowing adults on the demon menu. There are adult vampires (the Master), quasi-demons (the Mayor), witches (Catherine Madison), goddesses with consumer obsessions (Glory), practitioners of the dark arts (Ethan Rayne and Rupert Giles), cyberpagans (Jenny Calendar), minions (Luke), power hungry and power mad authoritarian former losers who rarely if ever got dates in high school (Principal Snyder), high school principals (Principal Flutie, Principal Snyder, and Principal Wood) teachers (Jenny), librarians (Giles), psychologists, counselors, doctors, interns (Ben), surgeons, high school coaches, professors (Maggie Walsh), archaeologists, werewolf hunters (Cain), military men, bankers, small business people (owners of The Pub and magic shops, Willy the Snitch, Mr. Sanderson from the bank), mayors (Richard Wilkins III), deputy mayors (Allan Finch), “advisors” to the mayor (Mr. Trick), hit men for the mayor, chauffeurs, policemen and policewomen (Detective Stein, Bob), Watchers, scholars and hit men working for the Watchers Council (Giles, Wesley Wyndham-Price, Gwendolyn Post), members of the Watchers Council (Quentin Travers), people in love (Giles and Jenny, Giles and Olivia, Giles and Joyce?), parents, parents who are tax evaders (Cordelia’s father), divorcees (Joyce Summers and Hank), absentee fathers (Hank Summers), mothers (Joyce, Sheila Rosenberg, and Catherine), mothers struggling at parenting (Joyce, Sheila), mothers and fathers unsuccessful at parenting (Joyce, Sheila, Catherine, the Harris’s), mothers with superhero daughters (Joyce), mothers who comfort their superhero daughters (Joyce), mothers who work (Joyce and Sheila), and mothers who die of natural causes (Joyce’s death in the brilliant “The Body” , the finest portrayal of the horrors of death and how family and friends deal with it I have ever seen or read). In other words, adults are presented in a great variety of ways in the Buffyverse.

And while it’s true that most of Sunnydale’s adults are generally oblivious to the evil in their midst, so are most of the “kids”. Only a very few of Sunnydale’s young people are aware or become aware of this evil and fight it (the Scoobies, Sunnydale High School graduating class in “Graduation Day, Part 2”), just as only a few adults are aware of it and fight it (Giles, Jenny, Joyce after the second season, Robin Wood) or try to keep it secret (the Mayor, Principal Snyder, Bob the Sheriff). Buffy’s mother Joyce may, at least in the First and Second seasons, be blind to her daughter’s secret identity. She is also portrayed during those years, however, as someone who is genuinely trying to be a good parent. That she is sometimes unsuccessful says less about her parenting skills and more about what it means to be human.

It is true that Buffy sees its adults through its teenager’s prejudiced eyes. Buffy, Willow, Xander, and others, such as Amy, do see adults as hapless, petty, and without much of a clue. This perception doesn’t last very long in the show, however. When Buffy came on the air it was a show about a group of high school looser outsiders struggling with the problems of being teenagers in a dangerous world. They struggle to find themselves, they struggle with various relationships, they struggle to graduate from high school, and they struggle to save the world from vampires, monsters, and demons—a lot. By the end of the third season, however, the Scoobies have not only saved the world from the mayor’s ascension they have graduated from high school.

In the fourth season, however, young adults begin to predominate in the Buffyverse. The Scoobies are growing up and are beginning to face all the problems and responsibilities that accompany young adulthood not to mention the continued threats to Sunnydale and the world. They have relationships, they deal with failed relationships, they start new relationships, and they struggle with college and life. Willow is in her element. She begins a relationship with Tara, continues to grow in witchy power, and increasingly feels that Buffy and Xander don’t take her wicca abilities seriously (“Fear, Itself”, “Hush”, “New Moon Rising”). More and more she feels that Buffy views her only as a sidekick (“Fear Itself” and “Restless”). Xander lives in his parent’s basement and cycles through a series of frustrating dead-end jobs. He becomes more deeply involved with Anya and feels alienated from Willow and Buffy and doesn’t feel that they take him seriously (“Fear, Itself”, “Beer Bad”). Giles is no longer a Watcher or a Sunnydale High School librarian since there is no Sunnydale High. He struggles to redefine himself and feels more and more unnecessary to the Slayer and less and less a part of the group (“A New Man”). Buffy has gotten over her fears, is doing well at UC-Sunnydale (she is a B minus psychology student) and in her slaying, has become deeply involved with Riley and is spending more time with him than with the Gang. When she learns that he is a member of the Initiative, she joins them, making the rest of the Scoobies feel like the proverbial fifth wheel (“The ‘I’ in Team”). Just as it seems that the Gang will fall apart (“The Yoko Factor”) Buffy discovers the evil that lurks in the depths of the Initiative and they reunite to fight Adam by magically uniting each of their gifts in Buffy (“Primeval”).

By the beginning of the fifth season Buffy’s sister arrives. Dawn is the key that allows dimensions to be opened. She has been sent to Buffy by monks and disguised as her sister so that the Slayer can protect her from the god Glory. Glory needs to bleed Dawn in order to open a portal to the world she once ruled and which, if opened, will destroy the world (“No Place Like Home”). During this season Willow’s relationship with Tara continues and deepens while her wiccan powers grow to such an extent that they become absolutely essential to the Scoobies struggle against evil. She alone is able to harm Glory before the epic final battle (“Tough Love”). Xander has settled into a relationship with Anya, a construction job, and into a nice apartment (“Tough Love”). Giles once again becomes Buffy’s mentor and plays the role of her surrogate father particularly after Joyce’s death (“The Body”). He gives himself a sense of purpose by buying The Magic Shop becoming, with this purchase, a small, independent businessman (“The Replacement”). Buffy fails to stop Riley from leaving her for the demon wilds of Belize (“Into the Woods”) and after her mom becomes ill (“Out of My Mind”, “No Place Like Home”, “Fool for Love”, “Shadow” 5008, “Listening to Fear” 5009, “Into the Woods” 5010) and eventually dies suddenly (“The Body”, “Forever”) is left to care for Dawn (with more than a little help from the Scoobies and Spike). In the final episode she gives her life so that Dawn might live. By doing so she discovers that sacrificial death is her gift (“The Gift”).

At the beginning of the sixth season Buffy is brought back from “heaven”, drops out of college, cycles through a series of meaningless jobs (“Bargaining, Part 1”, “Bargaining Part 2”, “Flooded”, “Life Serial”, ”Doublemeat Palace”), deals with life’s increasing meaninglessness, and begins a kinky boy toy relationship with Spike (“Smashed”). Throughout Season six Buffy, Willow, Tara, Giles, and Dawn live together as an alternative family in the Summers’ house each watching out for the other and all watching out for Dawn. Willow becomes increasingly addicted to magicks and her relationship with Tara suffers as a result (“Tabula Rasa”, “Smashed”, “Wrecked”). Xander, despite his apparent success in terms of jobs, apartments, and relationships remains fearful that he will turn out to be just like his Dad, abusive and alcoholic, and leaves Anya at the altar (“Hell’s Bells”). Giles returns to England after Buffy dies (“Bargaining, Part 1”) but comes back after she is resurrected and plays his role as her mentor and surrogate father again (“Flooded”). However, he is increasingly torn between his role as surrogate father to Buffy and being there when she needs him and the necessity of pulling back from her so to allow her to gain the autonomy she needs (“Tabula Rasa”). Buffy has become far too dependent on Giles. Tara leaves Willow after she discovers that Willow cannot kick her addiction to magic (“Tabula Rasa”) and moves out from under Willow’s shadow becoming a surrogate mother to both Dawn (“Wrecked”) and Buffy (“Dead Things”). Buffy is as clueless about Dawn’s sneak outs, growing interest in boys, and petty thefts as Joyce was clueless about her secret identity (“All the Way”). Throughout season six the Buffy is manipulated and attacked by the trio of Warren, Jonathan, and Andrew, the essence of immaturity and a failure to oh grow up. When Warren accidentally kills Tara while trying to shoot Buffy, Willow comes unhinged and resorts to dark witchcraft in order to try to destroy the world (“Seeing Red”, “Villains”). Buffy and Giles fail in their attempts to stop her (“Two to Go”), but Xander finally saves the day with agapic love and friendship and a little bit of help from the white magicks Willow took from Giles (“Grave”).

At the beginning of the seventh season Willow is a recovering magickaholic living in England where she is being helped in her recovery by Giles and the Coven (“Lessons”, “Beneath You”). She returns to Sunnydale fearful that her friends won’t be able to forgive her (“Same Time, Same Place”). In fact, it takes her sometime before she can begin to forgive herself for what she has done (“The Killer in Me”). Eventually she once again is using her computer (“Him”) and her magickal skills in the fight against evil (at the end of the season and the series Willow passes the powers of the scythe on to all Potential Slayers in “Chosen”). Xander is leading a crew rebuilding Sunnydale High (“Lessons” 7001, “Beneath You”). As someone who sees he helps Dawn find the extraordinary in herself (“Potential”). He loses an eye in the fight against Caleb (“Dirty Girls”). By the end of the season he and Anya have reconciled and he fights with the Scoobies, the Potentials, and the Civilians against the First Evil (“Chosen”). Buffy becomes a part-time counselor at the new Sunnydale High where Dawn is a student (“Lessons”, “Beneath You”) and begins training Little Sis (“Lessons”, “Beneath You”) and the Potentials who make their way to Sunnydale because the First and its agents are trying to kill them (“Showtime”, “Potential”, “First Date”). She struggles with her feelings of superiority and inferiority (“Conversations with Dead People”) and survives a revolt against her leadership style and its consequences (“Empty Places”). By the end of the season she has resumed her leadership role, though in a more collective way, when she finds a way to pass Slayer powers on to all Potentials with whom she helps defeat the First Evil (“Chosen”). Spike has got his soul back and is struggling with its consequences (“Two to Go”, “Grave”, “Lessons”, “Beneath You”) and the fact that the First is manipulating him (“Sleeper”, “Never Leave Me”, “Bring On the Night”, “Showtime”). His love for Buffy and his trust in her helps him withstand these struggles and to play a central role in the defeat of the First (“Bring on the Night”, “”Showtime”, and Chosen”). Anya, who has returned to the vengeance demon fold after being jilted by Xander, causes havoc as a vengeance demon (“Beneath You”, “Selfless”) forcing Buffy to try to kill her (“Selfless”). While struggling with her conscience she returns to the Scooby Gang with her patented forthrightness intact (“Selfless”, “Him”) to help once again in the fight against the evil that devours from beneath them. In the final episode of the season she gives her life in the final battle with the First Evil (“Chosen”). Dawn finally becomes a Scooby showing off her research abilities (Same Time, Same Place”) and her fighting skills (“Never Leave Me”, “Chosen”). She continues to struggle with her fear of being left alone (“Conversations with Dead People”) and her fear that she has nothing special to offer her friends (“Potential”).

As this selective synopsis makes clear, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, rather than being a show which mocks adults (though it does portray adults as having faults like all humans), actually helps viewers sympathise and empathise with those who have grown up before them by forcing us to sympathise and empathise with the Scoobies as they grow up before our TV eyes. Buffy is, in large part, about growing up, the price we pay to do it, the scars it leaves as with us as we do, the inner and outer demons we have to fight to achieve it, and the imperfections that remain when we do. This is made very clear very early on in the show when Buffy realizes that Giles faced very similar things in his past that she is now facing in her present and she is able to sympathise and empathise with him as he is with her (adults are people too she notes in “The Dark Age” 2008). Buffy is also about the struggle to maintain the much needed friendships that help you traverse the thorny path which is the road to adulthood and responsibility. Without her friends Willow would be the destroyer of worlds (“Grave”). Without his friends Xander might still be living in his parent’s basement. Without her friends Buffy would be dead or even more lost than she is during Season six. Friends, Buffy tells us, help us to survive the most difficult thing about the world, living in and growing up in it. Buffy, then, is a bildungsroman as Douglas Kellner points out in his excellent online essay, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Spectacular Allegory".

Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Nobody Should Have All That Power': Musings on the Tragedy at Penn State

I have been listing to the Dan Patrick Show on the local Fox Sports Radio Network for most of the afternoon (10 November 2011). As you can imagine virtually all of the talk, all of the interviewees Patrick has spoken to, all of those calling in to Patrick's show, and Patrick's commentary today has focused on the child abuse scandal that is sweeping across the Pennsylvania State University campus and State College, Pennsylvania, and the subsequent firing of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier as a result of the scandal.

Virtually every interviewer Patrick has spoken to and virtually every caller to Patrick's show today has rightly condemned Jerry Sandusky, the assistant Penn State football coach who allegedly sexually abused young children for years while he was a coach at Penn State and while he ran a charity for young children. Virtually every caller and interviewee believes Paterno and Penn State's president, Graham Spainier, should have been, as they were, fired. And virtually every caller and interviewee believes that Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who allegedly saw Sandusky in a shower with a young boy and who later told Paterno what he saw, should have intervened in what was happening in Penn State's locker room or should have called the police immediately.

What Patrick, Patrick's commentators, and Patrick's commentators, aren't talking about, however, is the elephant in the room, about how power plays itself out in interactions where one person in the interaction has more power than the other, as in the relationship between McQueary and Sandusky. Patrick, his commentators, and his callers need, in my opinion, to take this difference in power and the authority that emanates from this unequal distribution of power, into consideration here because, again in my estimation, it matters. Imbalances of power and authority impact relationships of unequal power and this imbalance of power and authority almost always impacts how others respond to and react to claims in which a person of lesser power makes a charge against a person of greater power particularly when that person is a sports legend on a college campus, a captain of industry, a political figure, or a celebrity. If you need an example note how Michael Jackson's worshipers, worshipers who clearly whitewash and glorify the gloved one, reacted to the conviction of Conrad Murray recently outside a Los Angeles court recently.

One thing that really galls me about Patrick's callers and commentators (and those on other Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio shows) is their holier than thou reaction to the horrible events that happened at Penn State. These folks go on and on about what the grad assistant should have done and about what they would have done in that situation. They fail to recognise or even realise, however, that it is relatively easy for someone to say what they would do in a difficult situation than it is to actually do something in a situation where there are, in particular, great power and authority imbalances, in situations where ones career is at stake (how many whistle blowers are there?), or in situations where one's life is at stake.

And I should know. When I lived in Moscow, Russia, I saw the militia hassle two young men for, what seemed to me, no good or even any real reason. What did I do? Nothing. I was too scared to do anything. Moreover, I know something about academic studies of what happens in situations of power imbalance and situations where an authority figure tells you what to do. The reality of situations where there is a power and authority difference, is that most people do what they are told to do by authority figures even if it means torturing or potentially killing someone. As Stanley Milgram showed years and years ago and as all those Germans who claimed to have been following orders from authorities to kill Jews and others before and during World War II show, is that most people, when told to do something by authority figures, simply follow the orders of their leaders even if, as I mentioned, it might result in death. They, in other words, do nothing to stop the abuse inherent in torturing someone. So for me, in the end, talk is cheap but real action against illegal and inhumane actions isn't. Unfortunately, far too few of us humans do much about either when we actually face them. Remember the Armenians? Remember the Holocaust? Remember Kitty Genovise? Remember Cambodia? Remember Rwanda? Remember Bosnia?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

'Open Your Eyes See the Lies Right in Front of You'



So the media is making hay of a conversation between US President Barack Obama and French President Sarkozy at the recent G20 meeting in Cannes in the south of France. A private conversation between the two at the meeting about Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where they referred to him as a liar was picked up on a microphone and now the media, including BBC World, is making much hay out of it. Beyond the media a host of knee jerk right wingers drunk on the demagoguery of the American right are now doing their five times a day anti-Obama catechism complaining about Obamhole, the phrase one of these civil "intellectual" types refers to the US president as on Yahoo.

Interestingly the same poster who slurs Obama goes on to make yet another slur, this one against Jews. Tom the Bomb, as our poster refers to himself--presumably this passes for wit among right wing posters--claims that Jews just love to be tortured. Presumably what Tom the Bomb is trying to say here is that Jews continue to support Obama ergo they are torturing themselves because anyone who supports Obama must revel in being tortured. I suppose Tom the Bomb thinks of this as a kind of peculiarly Jewish form of self-hatred. This Jew, however, isn't in love with Obama. But he likes the Republicans even less. Remember one of them recently, if memory serves, uttered an anti-Jewish slur. Tom the Bomb just made another.

Tom the Bomb is not alone in typing anti-Semitic slurs online. Yet another right wing Republican type has ambled to the Web and is also making anti-Semitic slurs on Yahoo. The aptly named Diablojailisco who, as his post makes clear, accuses Jews of controlling American finance including, presumably, the Wall Street investment houses that brought the US and much of the world into economic bust in 2008. Apparently in the perverted mental worlds of some right wingers the Jews were responsible for the collapse of 2008. Not derivatives, not greed, not a lack of government regulation but Jews who are apparently conspiring to destroy the American way of life. What is it with the right and Antisemitism?

Meanwhile back on the Sarkozy, Obama, and Netanyahu front. Sarkozy and Obama by calling Netanyahu a liar have actually gone up slightly in my estimation. Netanyahu is a liar. He has lied on a number of occasions for a number of reasons.

Of course, all of this raises one obvious question: do politicians lie and do they have to lie? American politicians of all stripes have been very economic with the truth on a number of occasions. LBJ lied about the Tonkin Gulf. Richard Nixon lied about far too many things to list. Ronald Reagan lied about Iran-Contra. George H.W. Bush lied about raising taxes. Bill Clinton lied about having sex with that woman. Bush le petit lied about so many things but I only have time to note one: lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Now don't get me wrong, this lying is not entirely the fault of politicians. Most Americans prefer to hear lies about the nature of war rather than to understand what war is really like. Most Americans seem to prefer to hear lies about taxation because they want government services without paying for them. Most Americans want Julia Roberts and Richard Gere to get together at the end of Pretty Woman despite the fact that street ho's rarely get glass slippers from wealthy capitalist shock and awe traders. I suspect that most of these right wing blowhards on Yahoo will continue to prefer to live with the myths and lies of right wing demagogues rather than with the truth of history. This is the pathetic ethnocentric, xenophobic, racist, and anti-intellectual world that the American right wing has created. This is the ethnocentric, xenophobic, racist, and anti-intellectual world I have to wake up to every morning.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Prime Time America Comes to Prime Time PBS: America in Primetime

PBS recently began running a four part series called America in Primetime. America in Primetime explores the changes that have occurred in American television since the 1950s and 1960s.

The first two episodes of America in Primetime, "Independent Women (30 October 2011) and "Man about the House" 6 November 2011), are an exploration of how women and men have been represented on American television and how female and male representations have changed since the 1950s and 1960s. The documentary series will conclude with "The Misfit" and "The Crusader", explorations of American TV's loosers, oddballs, and the plain weird and American TV's increasingly complexity in terms of characterisation respectively next Sunday and the following Sunday at 8 pm.

I have watched the first two episodes of the series and I have to say that America in Primetime is, in my opinion, much better than the uncritical and largely cheer leading Pioneers of Television that ran on PBS in 2008 and 2010, a series which explored various genres associated with US TV including crime dramas, situation comedies, and late night television.

My comment about the superiority of America in Primetime to the Pioneers of Television, however,is a bit of a back handed comment. I enjoyed hearing talking heads like Edie Falco, Mary-Louise Parker, Sandra Oh, Roseanne Barr, Felicity Huffman, Dick van Dyke, Ray Romano, Brian Cranston, Shonda Rhimes, Carl Reiner, Marc Cherry, David Chase, Matthew Weiner, Ron Howard (who talked about the obvious: that TV is, at its best, more like a novel), and other stars and creators of American television who talked about their shows and others that preceded and influenced them. However, and this is a big however, I can't fully take seriously a show which focuses on the transformation of women and men on American television since the 1960s that ignores Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No American television show, in my opinion, particularly in recent memory, transformed the image of both women and men on American television screens more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer with its women who sometimes exhibited traditionally masculine traits and its men who often revealed traditionally feminine traits. Do I spy that typical elite Hollywood disdain for certain genre shows in America in Primetime here? Additionally, the show ignores the representation of gender on American not in prime time soap operas like All my Children which have long played leading roles in undermining traditional depictions of women and men on American television. Do I spy yet another elite Hollywood disdain for certain genres here? Anyway, for these reasons alone America in Primetime deserves a thumb somewhat down from me at least thus far.

Additionally I have to give America in Primetime a thumb somewhat down because the show, up to this point, has ignored the fact that in many ways HBO and its fellow cable television travelers, are all, to some extent, versions of the BBC with their short and sometimes higher quality seasons and their sometimes more artistic approach to television. And I object to the caricaturing and stereotyping of two early American television shows, Father Knows Best (CBS, 1954-1960) and Leave it to Beaver (CBS, 1957-1958 and ABC, 1958-1963), in order to create straw men the art heroes of Prime Time in America could play off of and knock down. While both shows indeed presented, to some extent, 1950s images, real or imagined, of American men, women, and children, they also presented a mother who often knew more of what was best than father and a Tom Sayweresque kid in the form of "the Beaver".

Despite my thumb being slightly down on Prime Time America thus far I do look forward to watching the final two episodes of the series. After all, America in Primetime is much better than most of the stuff on American over the air television in primetime. And that is wh I suspect so few Americans watch PBS.