Pilgrim’s Progressivism

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

The leaks are real. The news is fake. The sky
is blue. Love always lasts. The dead return
to life at night. The fire will not burn
the true believer’s flesh. The pig can fly.
Use whiskey when a teething baby cries.
No matter what good wages workers earn
they can no longer save enough; they yearn
only for the slightest ease, which we deny
them, spouting instead our stupid incantations:
be enterprising; learn new skills; a man
no longer works to live, he loves his work
and works unto his soul’s attenuation;
pays tax to keep the drones in distant lands;
becomes, faute de mieux, at last, a jerk.

The Art of the Bona Dea

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Media, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

When he is thirty, Caesar comes upon
a bust of Alexander Magnus and
laments his rather lacking personal brand;
Alexander’d conquered Babylon,
while Caesar suffers Clodius’ carrying on
in a bad frock, soon revealed as a man.
He calls his aides. Please help me understand
how some horse-loving twink in chaps had gone
by now from Greece to India and back,
built self-named cities, fought with elephants,
stymied at last by the sheer immeasurable size
of the globed earth and encircling sea, you hacks.
Torment was the thought of irrelevance:
unmade by age, conquestless, Caesar dies.

Extremism in Defense of Liberty Is No Vice dot Com

Art, Culture, Justice, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

for Amber A’Lee Frost and Brandy Jensen

Don’t have sex. All it can offer you
is joy at best, at worst the awkward scratching
of an itch. Love yourself, girl! Instead of catching
the downtown train to meet your boozy crew
and find some cis, white, toxic male to screw
you could be at home wildly dispatching
problematizing tweets, thereby smashing
the patriarchy. Oh, by the way, your boo
told you he was in love on the second date.
He lied. It wasn’t until the third or fourth.
You were unwittingly trafficked all that time.
You have no agency. Your life is fate.
You’re nothing but a compass pointing north.
Just think! Each time you fuck you’re doing crime.

Skinks for Rump

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Milo Yiannopoulos, the sort of post-Warholian Z-list celebrity aspirant that the anti-social era of social media hocks up with silly frequency, is a public face—a mascot is maybe the better word—of an equally irrelevant but sociologically and aesthetically interesting not-quite-a-movement called Twinks for Trump.

Twinks—some of you already know this, so bear with me—are a gay sub-genre characterized by being young, thin, mostly hairless: the acceptable contemporary for the classically desired pubescent or pre-pubescent boy. The enduring beauty and sexual attractiveness of the adolescent male is one of those things that we’re very careful not to talk about too plainly in the age of gay respectability and marriage and the HRC (that’s the Human Rights Campaign, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, though if you squint, there’s not much difference). The preferred image of gay men specifically and queer people generally is of two fit, mid-thirties, slightly be-stubbled white professional studs who look disturbingly fraternal being married by Joe Biden. But the fact that there is a large gay sub-culture and a mountain of pornography that sexually fetishizes 19-year-olds who look like 15-year-olds is unavoidable, and the defense mechanism is to wink at it as a kind of joke. All those barely legal boys may be barely legal, but they are legal nonetheless.

Also note that twinks, by and large, are white. There are black twinks and Asian twinks and latino twinks, etc., but the group is definitely racially coded as Caucasian: its default setting so to speak.

The twink is a ubiquitous figure within the complex erotic taxonomy of gay male pornographic desire, but unless he is paired with another twink, his function is almost always the same: he is the actor whose youthful effeminacy and receptive position (i.e., he’s the bottom) serve as a highlighting counterpart to the masculine virility of his partner(s). So a common scenario would be to pair a twink with a jock: a slightly older, more muscular, more traditionally and recognizably masculine character. You can imagine the setup. The video is called “My Older Sister’s Boyfriend” or some such.

But equally common and more germane to the erotics of Twinks for Trump is the twink—the boi—and the daddy. The jock will be 29 or 30; the daddy will be 40 and up. In professional porn, the daddy will be somewhere between beefily athletic and totally ripped, a figure of obvious domination; in amateur porn, he’s probably got a gut and some unsightly hair in the small of his back. Either way, this is a sort of recapitulation of the same classical arrangement I mentioned above, where a grown and probably ostensibly heterosexual man gets to take care of his non-procreative sexual energy while the youth gets a figure of, if not wisdom, then at least strength and authority. Obviously this is all overlaid with the titillation of an aestheticized violation of the incest taboo. The video is called “My Mom’s New Boyfriend” or some such.

Unlike straight porn, with its inevitable ugliness and recapitulation of all the weird power pathologies of that strangest of afflictions, heterosexuality, gay porn, though it certainly can be ugly and exploitative, tends to read as good-natured and consensual, and most of these daddy-son scenarios are harmless fun. That said, there is something slightly depressing about the attempted sexual valorization of the daddy figure as an avatar of sexual potency and an object of youthful desire; it can’t avoid a tinge of self-parody, like an ex-NFL coach tossing a football through a tire swing as a euphemism for his pharmaceutical erection, and you can’t help but remember the other part of the exchange: that this older guy who probably can’t get it up without some pretty serious chemical assistance is also the guy with the money and the house and the reservations at the fancy restaurant.

So what you actually end up with is a superficially transgressive erotic exchange as a veneer for the most boring straight cliché: the hot young woman who dates the older guy for his money. And what’s sad about it is exactly what’s sad about Mike Ditka and that fucking tire swing: the exaggerated enacting of male virility only serves to show all the rest of the giggling world just how limp and pathetic daddy really is. No one other than another limply desirous daddy looks at this scenario from the outside and concludes that daddy is a hard, throbbing man’s man; quite the opposite. And the younger and more beautiful daddy’s boi, the less potent he appears, and the more we all titter when he excuses himself from the dinner party to re-up his Cialis in the restroom.

This is the excellent irony of Milo and the twinks for Daddy Trump. These little blond racist shitbirds have got it in their heads that they can help present him as a figure of phallic power, when in reality he—and they—become even more figures of fun. (Interestingly, by the way, the Classical world considered both impotence and well-endowed-ness to be pretty much equally hilarious and unmanly.) They are a punchline that comes to life and imagines itself as the comedian.

Peter Thiel Sues Gawker

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

Every night, lonely and scared, a Crassus
retires to a private screening room to view
a phony gladiator in a natty do-
rag fuck a forum-screamer’s wife. He passes
a hand across his lap and wipes his glasses.
Aroused, confused, he hates and loves these few
pornographic pleasures and the voyeurs who
provided them; the fortune he amasses
endlessly cannot touch him, cannot keep
his bed warm or the plebs beyond the walls
from peering through the keyhole at the sad rich wreck
who can’t decide to masturbate or weep
when the show ends and the grim shadow falls:
death’s debit, unpayable by cash or check.

Vagina . . . Without Previous Approval

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

District officials sent WWMT a quote from a school handbook that says teachers are required to get approval before discussing any topic related to reproductive health.

The Washington Post

The word itself makes some men uncomfortable.

-Maude Lebowski

Imagine the spring. Imagine the tulip trees
in the garden—still a chance of morning frost,
the gold-black baby spiders, the first bees
betting on dew instead by instincts that we’ve lost.
Consult the Farmer’s almanac; consult
the weather on the internet; we are obsessed
with warnings, dire predictions; with results
whose precursors embarrass us. Confess:
you too, sex-positive and libertine,
are slightly squeamish at the ordinary bits
a flower represents: fecund, gene-
wet, vaginal. Marble tits?
Appropriate. But a flower is a stealth
lesson in the forbidden: “reproductive health.”

Her Rude Conquerer

Art, Culture, Economy, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, War and Politics

Contra Horace, captive Greece was captive.
The empire smashed you good and made you slaves.
Instructing some patrician’s louche, attractive
son in meter while he misbehaves
and mocks your accent; father drinks and raves
that lazy immigrants won’t take an active
hand in their own assimilation, saves
for his servants a grudging, wholly retroactive
permission to be as you were made to be:
this is the rude conqueror’s capture:
only to be burdened by your surrender, ever
to pretend to regret that you’re no longer free,
amputation cast as hairline fracture,
always and inescapable as never.

A Love Poem Awkwardly Inspired By a Stupid Video Feature at Slate.Com

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Media, Poetry, Things that Actually Happen

Do the rights and freedoms we currently enjoy mean that now is the best time in history to be gay?

When was the best time ever to be gay?
It was when we met. Before that we
were accidents of sex taxonomy;
now we’re texts and winks throughout the day.
Were we to travel back through history,
find ourselves in Death in Venice’s day,
or lounging like ancient Greeks carved in clay
as charms against queer specificity,
I’d still measure the good from when I first
swiveled a barstool so our knees would touch
and laughed too loud and hard and talked too much
and covered my nerves with beer and was the worst.
You still came home with me, and stayed, and here
we are regardless of the marked and measured year.

Simulacra and Simian

Art, Movies

Ape . . . not . . . kill . . . ape . . . unless . . . situational . . . ethical . . . concerns . . . dictate . . . a . . . temporary . . . revision . . . of . . . practical . . . application . . . of . . . apes’ . . . moral . . . code. I suppose it lacks the declarative grandeur of the more abbreviated thou-shalt-not, but it has the more singular advantage of being accurate. That Whatever of the Planet of the Apes finds itself praised as a great movie, a great scifi movie, or even just a pretty good summer action flick for what it’s worth is testimony mostly to just what a lot of lousy crap Hollywood puts out these days. At least the Marvel flicks are buoyed—most of them—by a degree of humor and insouciant pleasure at bringing a grab-bag of oddball superpowers to life; Planet of the Apes is dour, rain-soaked, and cod-epic: grim, overlong, humorless, and suffused with an utter weariness that comes to life only when it butts up against an even more boring stuffing of cliché.

What was it that Chekov said? If in the first act there’s a moral precept on the wall, then in the second or third act there’d better be a father vowing crazy revenge? I dunno. A global pandemic of MacGuffins has rendered humanity nearly extinct and apes, or at least, a cadre of apes, super smart. I am quite convinced that our childrens’ generations will regard our belief that laboratory viruses will perform such dubious miracles with the same amused contempt we reserve for the giant atomic insects of the 1950s. The apes have decamped from San Francisco to Muir Woods, and despite the fact that there are hundreds or thousands of apes and hundreds or thousands of surviving humans not twenty miles apart, they’ve gone ten years without noticing one another. Then they happen upon each other. Violence ensues. The Leninite apes overthrow the Trotskyite apes in a manufactured coup that image-checks the Reichstag fire. I shit you not. The whole thing would be a glorious hash if it managed a single joke over its geologic running time. The preceding are not jokes, by the way. They’re carried off with the gravity of a Bayreuth production of Parsifal.

Briefly—and I suppose these are spoilers, if you’re an idiot—the movie takes as its central principle that in acquiring human intelligence, so too have the apes acquired our human flaws. Their society is destined to recapitulate our own. Four legs good, two legs bad, but some animals are more . . . oh, fuck it. The apes, in living memory the captive medical test subjects of we vicious, baldy simians, don’t trust us and have an interest in self-preservation. There are good guys on both sides whose efforts to broker a peace are doomed to fail because of the plot of the movie. “If . . . no . . . inevitable . . . conflict . . . then . . . no . . . third-act . . . CGI . . . battle . . . scene,” the apes’ soon-to-be-deposed leader grunts at one moment. I thought it was a little weird that they included that line in the script, but hey, you know. What do the kids say these days? That’s so meta? Personally, I thought it was pretty ratchet.

By the way, the bad evil ape is a scarred victim of torture. Needless to say, he is an Insane Psycho Killer, as are all victims of torture, as well as all disfigured people. One of the glories of cinematic science fiction is that it permits us to recreate the phenotypological shorthand for moral character content that out-of-control political correctness ruined in art and literature, sometime between Dickens and the Civil Rights Movement, if my facts are correct. The noble appear noble, the evil are orcs, and you can’t trust a man in glasses.

The movie is supposed to be a new revolution in CGI, but in fact is back in Jurrasic Park territory, ape feet that don’t quite seem to touch the ground and fur that doesn’t quite move in the wind or rain. An early stampede of elk–these, too, are computer-generated–is especially appalling. The big orangutan’s face manages to fool you most of the time, but only because the architecture of an orangutan face is alien enough that the human eye has a hard time detecting its fakeness; the more human-standard chimps and gorillas look ridiculous. As hokey as the prostheses in prior runs around this particular fictive property now appear to us, this is worse. Small inconsistencies are often worse than big ones. An overabundant realism makes it impossible to suspend your disbelief.

Anyway, this movie is bad, but it’s so emblematic of a prototypical American cultural attitude toward conflict. “Poor Africa.” “The situation in the middle east.” “President Obama needs to be tougher on Putin.” It imagines war as fundamentally gestural, a signifier rather than a graveyard. Oh, if only two leaders could learn to trust each other, then the underlying questions of land and resources could all be banged out. Alas, evil monkey and Gary Oldman can’t get along. Yeah, yeah. Meanwhile, the apes launch a frontal infantry-and-cavalry assault on a fortified position, which would be crazy were it not for the fact that apparently the humans left the armory undefended? Boy, apparently the Simian Bird Flu also genocided common sense. As it hauls itself out of its climactic battle, the movie leaves one deep philosophical question unanswered. Could a chimpanzee really survive an uncontrolled vertical fall of greater than fifty feet onto a platform of steel rebar and remain effectively unharmed? Reader, the answer to that question is also the answer to the question of whether or not you should see this movie.

Sometimes You Eat the Bear and Sometimes the Bear Tortures, Rapes, and Murders Your Entire Family for No Particular Reason ¡Boobs!

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Movies

Game of Thrones is supposed to belong to a post-Tolkienian form of fantasy that dispenses with the pewter trappings of the high-fantastic sword-and-sorcery formula, where, in Miéville’s game, funny description, “morality is absolute, and political complexities conveniently evaporate. Battles are glorious and death is noble. The good look the part, and the evil are ugly. Elves are natural aristos, hobbits are the salt of the earth, and – in a fairyland version of genetic determinism – orcs are shits by birth. This is a conservative hymn to order and reason – to the status quo.” The GoT series’ creator, George R.R. Martin, obviously and self-confessedly mined actual history as inspiration—he notably cites the War of the Roses as a source.

As literature, his writing is no better than Tolkien. If Tolkien is, per Miéville, “like opera without the music,” then Martin is Tom Clancy without the helicopters. Workmanlike would be too much praise by half. But, like Tolkien, Martin manages despite the sentence-by-sentence weakness of his work, to maintain an impressively consistent air. Tolkien’s was dread and doom; Martin’s is fear and gloom. To his credit, his most beautiful and noble (in the genealogical sense) characters are often the ugliest and most irredeemably evil and cruel. He is a misogynist, but his misogyny is at least in service of his deliberate atmosphere of unrelenting brutality, unlike Tolkien, whose Pre-Raphaelite maidens gaze virginally out of their frames while fey, faygeleh menfolk seem ever on the verge of the wrestling scene from Women in Love.

Martin’s fantasy world is distinguished by its impossibly long seasons, each lasting many years, and there’s at least some passing mention of storing up food for the long winter that approaches. HBO’s version effectively forgot about this peculiarity of its fictive setting once it killed off the majority of its Northerners—the nobly flawed Stark family’s motto (its “words”, in the in-universe terminology) were, in fact, “Winter Is Coming.” That’s fine. The show’s first season was pretty good TV, an improvement, if you ask me, over Martin’s turbid and overlong volumes, and it helped that it had a compelling central plot. Good art is frequently made not in spite of formal constraints, but because of them. Martin’s York-and-Lancaster framework keeps the story from wandering too far into the weeds. The bad guys, such as they are, win in the end, which subverts the genre but not the narrative; in fact, when the shock of it passes, it feels inevitable, which is a mark of good storytelling.

Subsequent seasons have dissipated into a series of parodically violent picaresques with occasional jump-cuts to various scenes of sub-Verdian scheming nobility. I’ll leave aside, for the moment, the white girl, her brown army, and her three dragons on the other side of the world. By its end, the third season resembled nothing so much as the Black Knight sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though carried off with such an air of dourly amoral self-seriousness that I half expected Kevin Spacey to stop into the capital’s whorehouse and mention his Congressional campaign. The level of violence is cartoonishly absurd; I mean, we are in, like, Itchy and Scratchy territory, here. At one point, a warrior woman fights a bear. It isn’t meant as a punch line, yuk-yuk, but it is.

Now, as we enter the fourth season, the overwhelming question is: how do these people eat? Fiction, of course, necessarily dispenses with plenty of fundamentals of actual existence in order to force life into its linear format, and no one, not even Houellebecq, wants to write a novel in which everyone spends all of their time opening doors, sleeping, pooping, and remembering that they need to buy mouthwash and paper towels on the way home. But the world of Game of Thrones is meant, despite its fantasy-genre affect, to feel lived-in and real. No one stops to wonder, amidst the depopulated and desolate marches of Middle Earth, how Rohan gets all that meat and mead, any more than they do in the middle of Beowulf, but it is impossible, as we wander into one more Westerosi tavern, rape all of the women, kill the cook, and burn down the village, just how on earth these people, from peasants to princes, manage to fill their bellies from time to time.

The portrait of feudal society as unremittingly violent and bleak, a never-ending, failed-state, crypto-Hobbesian war of all against all, is the really fantastical element of all this, far more so than a trio of squabbling adolescent dragons. This is not to say that Europe between Rome and the Enlightenment was a Hobbit-y idyll, verdant and free of war, plague, and exploitation. It was not. And yet, this fundamentally agrarian society lasted for a millennium, with the various forms of feudalism as social mechanisms for organizing productive land and the Church, for all its earthly corruptions and abuses, serving a complementary social organizing role. What is the manor, after all, if not a farm? Lords may have exploited their peasantry, overworked them, and taken too large a share of the crop, but they didn’t devote quite so much time and effort to randomly and wantonly terrorizing, raping, and murdering them, because, after all, who else is going to till the fields? Warfare in medieval Europe was limited due to primitive technology and low population, but also by the demands of the fields. It would not do to destroy all of the farms. The fundamental activity of this society was feeding itself, not, I don’t know, not mindlessly murdering everybody all the time in incoherent wars of dynastic succession. Game of Thrones makes the very worst excesses of the Crusades an hourly occurrence, an entire civilization an unrelenting, pre-mechanized Stalingrad.

The criticism of Game of Thrones—that it is a violent, sexist, rape-fantasy farrago whose fantastical-historical setting is little more than moral excuse-making for the fact that it wants naked women to beat each other with spiked clubs—is now wholly correct. The proof of this is in the fact that it has not the slightest interest in engaging with or depicting an actually realized world. How many times must it be said: realism is not the quality of set design. Nothing about this world makes any sense, unless the world is taken only as a convenient exercise in excuse-making for the dullest sort of murder-rape fantasy. Its setting is a moral excuse constructed solely to absolve viewers of their own interest in a pornography of sexualized bloodshed. Even a show as crassly, unnecessarily gory as The Walking Dead, for all its silliness and perversity, challenges its audience with some vague hint of complicity; there, but for the grace of the fact there is no such thing as a zombie apocalypse, go we. Game of Thrones just gives an otherworldly hall pass to our own unseemly tastes.


UPDATE: Commenter Patrick links a great post from cool Tumblr People of Color in European Art History that covers similar territory, and better.