WWI

Posted: 29th September 2015 by Christian in Blog

The first experience I had of rotting bodies had been at Serre, where, as a battalion, we dealt with the best part of a thousand dead who came to pieces in our hands. As you lifted a body by its arms and legs they detached themselves from the torso, and this was not the worst thing. Each body was covered inches deep with a black fur of flies which flew up into your face, into your mouth, eyes and nostrils, as you approached. The bodies crawled with maggots. … We stopped every now and then to vomit. … The bodies had the consistency of Camembert cheese. I once fell and put my hand through the belly of a man. It was days before I got the smell out of my hands.

— British lieutenant Stuart Cloete on a burial party after the Somme, from his autobiography A Victorian Son

Posted: 28th September 2015 by Christian in Blog

“I give and bequeath the annual sum of ten pounds, to be paid in perpetuity out of my estate, to the following purpose. It is my will and pleasure that this sum shall be spent in the purchase of a certain quantity of the liquor vulgarly called whisky, and it shall be publicly given out that a certain number of persons, Irish only, not to exceed twenty, who may choose to assemble in the cemetery in which I shall be interred, on the anniversary of my death, shall have the same distributed to them. Further, it is my desire that each shall receive it by half-a-pint at a time till the whole is consumed, each being likewise provided with a stout oaken stick and a knife, and that they shall drink it all on the spot. Knowing what I know of the Irish character, my conviction is, that with these materials given, they will not fail to destroy each other, and when in the course of time the race comes to be exterminated, this neighbourhood at least may, perhaps, be colonized by civilized and respectable Englishmen.”

From Virgil McClure Harris, Ancient, Curious and Famous Wills, 1911.

Black Mirror

Posted: 10th September 2015 by Christian in Blog

Tried getting in to Black Mirror but… I dunno. These near future sf morality plays… seem easy.
“Woman locates God’s Vine page. Vomits.”

“The man who put his penis in google.”

“When a chap’s google class splinters into his brain, he can’t stop watching racist child vloggers.”

“Friendster rises from the grave. Bites the new iphone.”

“Woman attempt to kill self. Bleeds her own Safe Search porn history on High Street.”

“Bing gets AIDS.”

“Yahoo Answers becomes baby-sitter.”

“The man who’s balls were Wi-Fi.”

“Man’s future self tweets him dick pics, a dire warning.”

“Chill and Netflix secret code for ‘Kill me, I’m pointless.’.”

“Man mixes tasty beats on free mixing software. Hears own self screaming in hell as in-app purchase. Buys.”

“Harry Potter fansite takes virginity of LOLcat.”

“Man illegally downloads immigrants.”

“A meme killed my wife.”

“Tinder account becomes sentient. Right-swipes world leaders from world. Convinced to left-swipe self in wank/suicide pact.”

Hannibal 3

Posted: 30th August 2015 by Christian in Blog

Do Hannibal and Will love each other?

“We have both been his bride”, after all.

No, of course not. Will’s empathy is so highly tuned he’s probably in love with ten people at once. Hannibal is a malignant narcissist. The show likes to pretend he’s some sort of super human but, as we’ve discussed, Hannibal isn’t really human.

He’s the demon lover.

“O what a black, dark hill is yon,
“That looks so dark to me?”
“O it is the hill of hell,” he said,
“Where you and I shall be.”

That’s from a poem called The Daemon Lover. It’s an old Ballad. A saturnine man comes, seduces a fair maiden. Because she’s so sinned, she gets dragged off to hell. Before that, all cultures have sexy fox ghosts or incubi who’ll come and seduce you into death or damnation. The same with Hannibal, but, because at the end of the day, this is American telly, it’s murder not sex these high-cheekboned bastards comes offering.

So I’m not sure you can call Hannibal a love story. But then again, I’m not sure you can’t. At the end, Hannibal admits ‘my compassion for you is inconvenient, Will.’ (Not that it stopped him taking an angle grinder to Will’s skull.)

A tamed Satan. Perhaps. A chaste devil lover.

As for Francis Dollarhyde… I don’t think that worked very well. Season 3 Hannibal backed away from it’s virtuoso black surrealism. While it never quite went back to ‘realism’, removing Will as a strict point of view character meant his luscious hallucinations were far less in evidence.

And because of it, and because no other character shares his visions, we miss out on what could have been something magnificent. Hallucinating William Blake.

Blake lived fairly in a Gothic era, where capitalism was beginning it’s conquest of the world, war was mechanised into brutality, religion was, for the first time ever, really, facing real challenges against it’s magesteria. And all across Europe, social unrest. Revolution was in the air. In Blake’s London too. From these conditions, the Gothic, a genre we must locate Hannibal in.

Where others made their fears known in genres of creaking stairs, mad monks, evil twins… Blake saw visions.

James Barry, a contemporary of Blake’s, who also worked with mythological themes wrote “reasonable men look for nothing further than mere information in the writings of artists.”

Blake couldn’t have disagreed more.

Fiercely religious but with his own elaborate mythologies, Blake saw visions. His beloved brother, dead in youth, was a constant companion to Blake. He saw angels on the High Street. Literally saw them. And so, his work is marked by both familiar religious images, such as Dante’s Inferno and, of course, the Great Red Dragon from Revelations.

We could talk about Blake all day. Suffice to say, he was not only one of the most startlingly original artists of his or any other day, but was also one obsessed with the spiritual world. A working class Cockney visionary.

In his life, he had one review. He was called “An unfortunate lunatic.”

 

But Dollarhyde is a man almost without imagination. He perceives the Great Red Dragon not as an engine of annihilation and eschaton, but as a bestial killer. The Dragon is just a savage secondary personality.

While, yes, we see the odd image of the Dragon as Satanic Majesty through Will’s eyes, it seems a wasted opportunity to weld a murder’s bleak visions to Blake’s apposite energetic, sacred work.

A shame.

Indeed, Dollahyde seems almost an imposition. He flirts with Hannibal but it’s only a dalliance for the cannibal. Someone he uses to make Will jealous. His crimes are uninspired and uninspiring.

In the books, in the Manhunter movie, Hannibal is more suited to make use of dull instruments. He’s crueler. Even in the Silence film, urbanity barely covers a seething, hateful core. Dollarhyde suits that Hannibal.

But we’ve seen none of that in the television show.

I still liked Hannibal but I felt some of that sacred energy drained of it.

I appreciated the murky, half-world of half-light in the first part. Watching people literally taken apart, putting themselves together.
The unraveling of Bedelia, a woman with a spectre’s self-discipline, slowly realising that here’s a man who can touch her, physically and emotionally.

And that she’s been his for a long, long while. Her new-found arrogance is holding back a host of complex terrors.
Remarkable work from Anderson.

Here be spoilers.

But it did become somewhat… moral. In a narrative where morality was a dim secondary concern to pathology and control. Yes, it’s fun that Francis, become a Batman villain, cops it up the jacksie and then dies a weirdly phallic death. It’s nice the pretty gay women got all that cash and a baby. A perfect sitcom ending.

Yes, it’s cool that, just like in the wrestling, Will and Hannibal teamed up against the really worst baddie. Then, Sherlock and Moriarty and the Falls.

And Hannibal’s whispered ‘that’s all I ever wanted for you, Will’ suggests that he’s ultimately won. But Will’s fought off an attacker. It’s hardly a pre-meditated act of murder. Bedelia saw a chance to make someone die for her pleasure but Will was fighting off a giant nutbag with knives who’d threatened to eat his spine.

It’s no victory for Hannibal.

But neither is self-extinction a victory for Will. Because he’ll never know if giving in is what he wants to do. Or if he’s just seduced by Hannibal.

Will never resists or surrenders to Hannibal. Hannibal never seduces Will. I would have been curious to see a clingy, heart-broken Hannibal, myself. Or a spurned lover. It did not feel like Will’s design.

But in some ways, Hannibal was never about dramatic finales or resolutions. It was about radical aesthetics. It was about one of the strangest love stories ever to be on television.

And like Blake’s work, about the power of the imagination in all it’s draconic terror and majesty.

I think it will be some time before we see it’s like again. A whole new way to see supernatural fiction. And if I’m dissatisfied with the last ten minutes, no matter.

And a new Siouxie song ain’t nothing to disdain.

 

Tell me
what makes your
blood boil
and what makes
your skin soft.

I want to
know how your
soul tastes
before you take
your clothes off.

Soul Deep by Ming D. Lau

Possibly my favourite Jack Kirby interview

Posted: 30th August 2015 by Christian in Blog

“Oh, you mean what drove me as a person; two things, my childhood in the Lower East Side, and the war.”
[…]

He grabbed a book, opened it up and showed me a picture I recognized as the planet Apokolips, from the New Gods series. “That’s where I grew up. No one lives in that horror and doesn’t get changed by it. That’s why so many entertainers came out of my neighborhood, because the only way to get out was by making others notice you and making them laugh, see? And the war, I wasn’t there long, but it didn’t take long to realize what we can do to each other. It never leaves you.

You know what, make that three things, the other is meeting Roz, she is what got me out of the ghetto, and kept me alive in Europe.”

http://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/effect/category/looking-for-the-awesome/

Cargo Cult

Posted: 25th August 2015 by Christian in Blog

I watched a television show this evening. I like to work with the television on. It just works better for me than music some times. Just a show with people talking is good.

This show was called Mr. Robot. Unwisely recommended to me because ‘it’s political’. About an anarchist hacker who destroys the lives of the wicked, up against ‘the world’s biggest conglomerate’, nicknamed Evilcorp.

It was laughable. A liberal idea of what good, fringe politics looks like. Some lip service to corporations being ‘evil’. ‘Fuck society!’ thinks our angry cybergod hacktivist, above it all, never apparently realising where the internet came from. He scorns money, despite living in a Manhattan apartment which seems big enough for a family of three. Oh, it screamed discontent with the world and reveled in the power that one Nietzschean youngster could have! That’s how revolutions work, after all. Right?

It was hilariously naive.

By you or the bad secret capitalists? I don't get this. Stop staring at me. No, seriously, fuck off.

We’ll leave aside it’s deep misunderstanding of autistic disorders. Anonymous social movements. Computers. How humans talk. Let’s just focus on the politics.

It spoke of a sinister cabal of business types who ran the world to a shadowy agenda. Evil puppetmasters who lurk in the shadows. Someone mentioned to me that a show I’ve never seen, The Blacklist, has a shocking finale that reveals that business and the military are in bed together doing dodgy deals all across the world, in defiance even of the law. Or, salute now, the President.

This is Cargo Cult leftism. You’ve seen it performed. You know it’s there working for someone but you never really want to understand it or perform it. You never want to say things like ‘yeah, we should outlaw profit,’ or ‘yeah, no private property,’ though. That’s all just a bit too much come on now.  You just make it all about taking out The Corporations, who are less socio-political entities in your fiction than they are Gnostic Archons. Just shadowy, massive evil entities who cannot be understood on our plane of existence. And you make the masters of these corporations as tangible as any demon from the Bible.

The thing is, this is an absurd notion – the idea of a secret cabal of capitalists and military people who scorn Government oversight and play with the lives of millions as if they were toys.

In real life, they don’t bother to hide.

I’m not a Bond fan but I watched Quantum of Solace. The last video shop in the world used to rent five for a tenner and I’ll give most things a go. It’s got the usual Bond nonsense and isn’t worth discussing. It’s Bond. Kill foreigners, shag their women, repeat. But this was interesting because it’s about an evil businessman who plans to seize control of Bolivia’s water. Not exactly a moon-laser but the new Bond films wanted to be down to earth. Which is fine, although putting a violent British intelligent agent on a rampage across Europe is best handled in a more… fantastic way, removing any connection with, say, British Intelligence’s real history.

Bond has his usual adventures and the bad guys end up dead and no one ever thinks of the dastardly plot again. Hooray.

But here’s the thing. This malevolent Bond villain plan actually happened.

Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2000 and the World Bank had offered a loan to Bolivia if they privatised, well, pretty much everything. That’s how the World Bank rolls, after all. The people owning their own assets is no good anywhere. But in Bolivia, this specifically included the water company. Water prices started going up and the World Bank refused to subsidies the rising prices of water. Water company is eventually bought by Aguas del Tunari, a subsidiary of Bechtel. The sole bidder by the way.

Aguas del Tunari now controls all water. Sanitation, drinking water, irrigation. Oh and electricity too. They’ve got it for 4o years. Oh, and it’s all going to go up by 93% in cost of 5 years.

Now, you might be thinking ‘hang on, isn’t drinking water, well, sort of a human right?’

But, pinko, you’d be wrong! It’s just another asset that you can attach capital too, you peacenik hippy! You want the most basic ingredient of life on this planet, you gots ta pay!

 

Huge riots break out in the region, spread across the country. 96% of people vote ‘no’ against it in opinion polls. State gets up to the usual shenanigans against protesters.  Citizens killed but, as always happens when the people unite, the corporation was forced out. Then, a few years later, it’s all happening again but with national gas.

(It’s obviously a lot more complicated than this, so please go read more about it.)

These days the World Wildlife Fund have teamed up with Coca-Cola to make Coke the most efficient user of water in the world! Coca-Cola leaves villages with drinking water all around the world. Shell hires mercenaries to kill people who don’t want oil companies to come in, take their only resources, and fuck off out of the country, not even paying minimum wage. Goldman Sachs was selling billions of dollars worth of mortgages, bundled up into bonds that were meant to fail. Selling those on to masses of their own clients.  Then made insane money betting against the very bonds they had created.

And they don’t go to jail. No one goes to jail for these things. They all drink at the same clubs and their kids go to the same schools and if you sentence one of them, well, that’ll just maybe disrupt the whole fucking rotten core, wouldn’t it? And you can have a politician who says he’ll end it all but you just send in a lobbyist. And that lobbyist drops two grand on dinners twice a week and hey, have you got tickets to the game? You’re going on holiday? Look, the corporate jet is free that week and why not stay at a little place we own down by the beach! 

So now let’s talk about those new banking laws. Don’t they seem a little harsh?

Britain and the USA talk about how terrible ISIS are (don’t look at our death penalty, no sir) and buy cheap oil from their front companies. Russia and the States sell guns to a torture-state like Syria and then pretend to act shocked when they’re used. Christ, pick your own favourite and write it down in the comments! For more incredibly demoralising facts, google up ‘The White Book of Capitalism’. Good start.

 

Like a wise man said ‘it’s all in the game.’

So the next time some fiction reveals a terrible conspiracy, understand that this fiction is the enemy.  They are making the worst thing the people of earth have to deal with, Looters and Gangsters and Banksters and Collaborating Government Cowards and turning them into boogiemen. They turn hegemonic structures into magic baddies and make real activism into something that sounds like fighting werewolves. They are worthless cultural products.

There’s a terrible sinister conspiracy in the world today no doubt.
It’s called Just Business.

 No Bono. That is not how history works. You are thinking of cameras. Also you are a tax-cheat spanner.

Seconds

Posted: 10th August 2015 by Christian in Blog

In Alan Moore’s memorable phrase, ‘serial killers are dreadful little men with perms.’ They are indeed. Boring failures. Killing people is no great skill. ‘Anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death,’ as William Burroughs put it. Torturing people, mainly women, there’s nothing interesting there.

But Hannibal Lecter isn’t a serial killer. He’s a demon.

Not literally of course. I’m not implying that he’s got a tail under his immaculately-tailored trousers. But he fulfills the same role as a demon in the story. An Uncanny figure, bringing transmissions of information from the Half-World.

In the books, he’s an extra finger and reddish eyes that flash, with senses that are not human. This is never carried over into the films and it’s a shame. When we first meet him, he’s bound into a prison, a magic circle, snapping. Seething. Frustrated. Cruel.

And dangerous. Tiger dangerous.

I don’t like serial killer fiction. So much of it is located upon sexualised suffering by women, whimpering in freezers or wells, in only underpants, most commonly. It always ends with a brave investigator in a showdown with a monster. Based on lies, anyway. Police never go in alone, and the fiction becomes an ugly dance between realism and drama.  Here’s a fun fact. FBI profiling has never caught a single suspect. Ever. Those scenes in films where a fraught, disturbed profiler with eerie insights into the minds of beasts say, often into a dictaphone in a dimly lit room ‘White male, thirty to fourty’ are about as realistic as ‘Female Unicorn, white, forced sexual entry indicates it hates it’s own horn.’

And of course, there’s issues of glamourisation. Dino Hopkins did a good job of making him fascinating but then, everyone gave in to the temptations of making him an anti-hero.
Giving him sympathies.
Destroying him.

No, realism has no truck with Hannibal’s outre world.

So I didn’t like the Hannibal tv show much in the first season. I’d seen it before, after all, in Millennium, because I am old. A man with preternatural insight into these godlike monsters, who goes in and deals with them alone. At least in that, I got Lance Henriksen. Hannibal annoyed me with it’s gritty realism and it’s nonsensical leaps of symbolic logic. ‘By liquifying and chugging his own father in a yardglass, we can see he was angry at God .’

But it had one saving grace. As Will Graham descended into madness, his own literally diseased and hurt psyche manifested in increasingly surrealistic visions. Those I liked. But it was not enough. Hannibal was a serial killer show. Beautifully shot and magnificently art designed, but no amount of aesthetic engagement with cooking could elevate all the dull corpses.

However, and no shock, I’m quite devoted to William Blake and have long loved The Red Dragon novel. It’s better than Silence of the Lambs and Brian Cox’s vicious, sneering interpretation is my favourite.
When someone told me that this novel was up to be directly interpreted, I hummed and hummed. Until someone said to me ‘They turn up the weirdness, Christian. It’s gets a lot stranger.’

Which is, you know, what I like the best

Hannibal season 2 is definitely an improvement on the first season. There’s still of course imagery of murder and torture but it seems to have abandoned shocks and gross-outs and become more about evil aesthetics. Vast tapestries of human flesh are unrelated to human murders.  The murders becoming ritual acts of theurgy, not pop psychology, not hastily assembled apriori X is Y.

Hannibal is a more Uncanny figure. Untouchable, unknowable. A demon without a name, unbound, filled with knowledge from hell that no one can tame. Mikkelsen has relaxed his smirking ‘I know more than you know’ dickishness and settled on a far more confident, Luciferean bearing. His supernatural senses less ‘unrealistic’ and more ‘virtually supernatural’. He’s Stolas, the Great Prince, who teaches poison. No risk of glamour, here because he’s not a man. Hannibal moves through this story performing black miracles that are impossible to reconcile with human agency and the show is better for it.

Will is sharper edged, spikier, changed for the better. He’s a shamanic figure in an endless initiation. And that relationship, between sorcerer and demon, is far more adversarial, as it should be. Or perhaps sorcerer and familiar. Though which is which?

Certainly, they’re artists and each other’s only critics. Aesthetics are everything in this show. How many television directors care about beauty?

I’m only halfway through but this is how to do shows like this. I wish I could do away entirely with the politicking of the FBI and the dreary crime scene labs but… no matter. I like Gillian Andersen’s almost unreal poise, walking as if under water, too. No quotidian interpretation for her. She’s a living ghost, making other actors look lumpen.

Leave the absurd ghastliness of the real world behind. Go into the otherworlds of dreams and illogic, oineric hallucinatory marches. True Detective, the first season, should have lived here but fell away, giving into to boring Christian morality and serial killer nonsense.

If this show stays in haunted territories, I’ll be glad to go with it. If it retains a it’s Black Painting eye for the macabre beauty and keeps away from the pain, I’ll be glad to fellow-travel.

There is no God, says an ambitious, murderous artist in charnel house.
Not with that attitude, replies a cheerful Dr. Lecter, happy to be in hell.

More of that.

Tensions

Posted: 21st July 2015 by Christian in Blog
Tags: ,

In the 18th to the early 20th century, horror fiction was Gothic fiction. From England to Russia, Gothic was king.
Romanticism, which was know for it’s powerful emphasis on aesthetics, beauty, wonder, and it’s embrace of emotions, was the big thing back then. Weld that to morbidity, gloom, fear, doubt, dread and you’ve got a Gothic. (It’s all a bit more complex than that, of course, but I’m not a literary critic, or historian.)

 

You know the big ones. Frankenstein, of course. Dracula, the most popular of all the Gothics.  The Yellow Wallpaper,  the Devil’s Elixir. Poe and his collection of madmen and dead beauties, sums up to me one of the pivotal themes of the whole genre. “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” Sexist, sure, but it’s combination of the visually pleasing with the morbid is perfection.
The Gothic is dark dungeons and sinister doubles, and shadows, and locked rooms, and sexually attractive predators, and darkness and shadow and mad monks and weak priests and eerie buildings. Rookeries, castles, monasteries, mountains, forests, the location is Gothic. It’s doubt and power and sex and fine velvet and madness is Gothic.

You know what Gothic is. Freud called it ‘the uncanny’, the opposite of familiarity.

But then came the 20th century and the romantic and aesthetic quickly gave away to the industrial and the Modern and books got cheaper and it was no longer just aristos and high bourgeois types who would read and so the immediate impact of Gothic was blunted for newer generations of readers. They craved new horrors.

And one writer in particular would give it to them. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft broke with the Gothic absolutely. Among his peers, Clark Ashton Smith undoubtedly writes a better sentence and has much better characters, but he keeps one foot in a world of vampire women and old bleak castles. His vision overlaps with Lovecraft but is not as pure. Robert Howard, writing his Conan stories, seemed totally unaware that there was such a thing as a literary convention, writing what seems a short every week about macho dudes.

But it was Lovecraft, himself a Romantic, but who’s fiction seemed to quite reject aesthetic and beauty. His lonely scholar rarely discuss their food, their music, their friendships. (Although they like buildings.) They certainly are never sexual, although they are often frightened by things sexual.

But of ghosts, sinister madmen, priests, all the Gothic  elements, we find little or nothing. Sex is a horrifying prospect, not a darkly hidden treasure. The body is no longer a location of desire and sinful joy, but a location of disgust. In the Weird, we find the old elements of fear have little power.

We find the tentacle.

What Lovecraft represented was The Weird.

H.P didn’t create the use of tentacle as a symbol of Weirdness. I’d argue H.G Wells’ Martian invaders were the first. Those misshapen, monstrous colonists in their tripods. Then the proto-Weird stories. William Hope Hodgson, a maritime man, who bought in the recurring link between the sea and Weird horror with his “Boats of the ‘Glen Garrig”‘. Let’s not forget Captain Nemo and Ned versus that bastard squid. But it’s Lovecraft and Cthulhu that solidify the Weird as a new form of horror.

What do we have now? Boring things. Men in masks, eager to slash us. Zombies, our own participation in capitalism come to taunt us. One more camera recording us, making us voyeurs, obsessed with looking, looking, like we look at wars. It’s not a great time for horror if your tastes run to ought but watching people get hurt in rooms.Horror comes alive when it melds to science-fiction these days. From the delirious B-movies of the 50s, to the chilly, clever Aliens and The Thing. And aren’t they Weird?

Gothic never left us, of course. It stays around. From Christopher Lee and his girls in white dresses to, God help us, I, Frankenstein, we still have sexy dread. But when we want something perfectly suited for our tastes, the old, lumbering death-zombie Cybermen are cool, but the tentacular, Brutalist Daleks are what really loom in our imagination.

My next project, I want to look at this a bit more, this explosion of the Weird into the Gothic.
I think it’s going to have Martians in it.

Which will be terrifying cause that Jeff Wayne thing still fucking spooks me, thanks to being played it many times as a child, in car, scared but fascinated by those tentacles.

Looking over my script for Dread Empire…

Posted: 16th July 2015 by Christian in Blog

“…Today… nobody seriously considers possible alternatives to capitalism any longer, whereas popular imagination is persecuted by the visions of the forthcoming ‘breakdown of nature’, the stoppage of all life on earth– it seems easier to imagine the ‘end of the world’ than a far more modest change in the mode of production, as if liberal capitalism is the ‘real’ that will somehow survive even under conditions of a global ecological catastrophe.”

Slavoj Zizek, ‘Mapping Ideology’

Fascist aesthetics

Posted: 14th July 2015 by Christian in Blog

Part II

Last time we spoke of how superheroes had moved into territories I thought they had no business being. I let them be.
Then, the movies came.
Arguably, with the first X-Men film.

The genre ‘superhero’ film is inescapable. They dominate the discourse concerning any fan of fantastic cinema. Even trying to avoid them seems a fool’s errand. I try hard not to give money to the big corporations but like everyone, I live in Capital and cannot be expected a perfect record. So, I’ve seen a few and was dismayed.

The neoliberal school of thought jumped from comic to film in a single bound. Iron Man was again a weapon’s merchant. But he felt bad about it so he made the ultimate weapon and, like any good Western citizen of the world, illegally invaded countries, killing terrorists. While drones strike children in the name of freedom, we tell ourselves stories about the sad, but noble, necessitates of carnage.

Captain America started out as a kid who was clearly co-opted into the military that was playing on his innate sense of decency and his desire to be a social actor. But then he was quickly subsumed into the myth of WWII as a good war. But WWII was an entirely avoidable war that was fought to support the status quo, not to fight fascists and Imperialist. The Red Skull’s rogue science squad of Waffen SS bastards might well have received funding from the US government. A better character piece than the hateful, smug billionarre Tony Stark feeling sorry for himself and fixing his mistakes with colonial violence. But poor old Cap was not the troubled, thoughtful figure of the 70s and 80s comics, casting doubt on what championing America meant. Or even a werewolf.
Nice as he was, just another solider now.

 

 

Last I saw him, he was enthusiastically hitched up with US Intelligence, apparently aghast that a Nazi remnant existed in the Government. You have to wonder if the script-writers had even the most casual understanding of history. I guess we can only be glad we didn’t see Cap murdering Rutilio Grande or working with Pinochet.

Spider-Man was no longer the physically ungainly youth Steve Ditko imagined but rather a lovable man-child who was just waiting to take of his glasses to get the girl, sending messages out to young men everywhere that meeting a girl was less a case of being fun and respectful and just hanging around resentfully. In the next film, I can’t help but worry Peter Parker will be on Reddit, typing furious resentments.  Wolverine was not the short, hairy, stocky brawler, but a tall, lean, depilated song and dance man, fighting off secret rogue governments who killed people. What happens every day to foreign political opponents is a horrifying act of villainy against a white, liberal citizen.

The wonderful Amanda Waller was no longer ‘fat, black and menopausal’, but was a striking beauty with a bad haircut. Beauty and physical wellness became paramount. Heroes have always been about the body but in film, it was a once size fits all gym-sculpted leanness that had no interest in any physicality but lean, ‘ripped’ white flesh.
Batman was reimagined as a man set loose on the world with incalculable wealth, vast rage, and an agenda that seem blisteringly unfocused. Was he against corrupt police? Sure. But also, the physically imposing billionaire was beating the underclass in the streets. Gotham was depicted as a place where no social institute was anything but leprous with human weakness. And crippling finanical recessions weren’t a predictable, necessary part of capitalism, they were the work of foreign ninjas.

Fighting the Joker was a step in the right direction, as here was a supercriminal outside of our current social contexts. And at least the magnificent crime and chase sequences were masterfully shot.  But along came Bane, taking advantage of those fools, popular social movement, who had no idea that protesting wealth inequality was a sure path to falling in with terrorists and madmen. Who didn’t cheer when giant masked bastard destroyed Wall Street? No, he was a baddie all along, though, and you were all fooled by his rhetoric, you Two Cities scum.

The aesthetic of fascism was on us.

The People’s Poet is Dead

Fascism (or as we should call it, Corporatism) authoritarian nationalism at it’s most severe, most radical. It is the logical end to conservative and reactionary ideas and lurks at the heart of all rightist thought. It should have been destroyed forever at the end of WWII as the death camps and profound corporate influence over the State came to public knowledge. But here we are, especially in my country of Australia, openly flirting with notions that dissent from the Government is treasonous, that corporate interests are in the best interest of the folk, and that dissent from that ideology is immutably flawed. This is a hopelessly truncated list but should give you an idea of what we’re dealing with.

And fascism promoted itself through careful use of aesthetics, of notions of what was beautiful, exciting, fun.

Fascists introduced aesthetics into political life. In Germany, it was cool uniforms, cool banners, cool symbols, cool salutes, cool everything. They openly outlawed certain kinds of artists, writers, film makers and rewarded those who incorporated Nazi semiotics into their films. Strong healthy bodies, obedience to the state, the moral value of violence, extreme nationalism and… any of this sounding familiar?

Then came the worst film of them all. Superman, once the champion of working people, suspicious of any government who would aid fascists, unconvinced by patriotism, became one of the most sniveling, wretched characters in all of contemporary fiction. But perhaps it’s not his fault after father told him his private life was infinitely more important than the public service he felt compelled to perform, as a boy. The laughing, confident Kryptonian man-god who once sought to inspire, who fought slumlords and war profiteers was reborn as a petty, arrogant prick. When picked on in a bar, he excused himself to destroy a mean-truck drivers livelihood and then flew away without accounting for himself. Who murdered his foes.

It is generally thought that National Socialism stands only for brutishness and terror. But this is not true. National Socialism—more broadly, fascism—also stands for an ideal or rather ideals that are persistent today under the other banners: the ideal of life as art, the cult of beauty, the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community; the repudiation of the intellect; the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders). These ideals are vivid and moving to many people, and it is dishonest as well as tautological to say that one is affected by Triumph of the Will and Olympia only because they were made by a filmmaker of genius. Riefenstahl’s films are still effective because, among other reasons, their longings are still felt, because their content is a romantic ideal to which many continue to be attached…

Susan Sontag, Fascinating Fascism
Today, I watched the trailer for Batman Vs Superman. Once, these two were the finest of friends. World’s Finest, they were called and they’d go on amazing adventures together, through time and space, respecting and admiring each other’s skills and attitudes, looking for ways to defend those who needed it. Now Batman hisses at Superman that he’ll bleed.  Superman appears before a court that, of course, has no right or ability to judge him. Society is atomised, not knowing how to deal with this man who can destroy cities in moments, who’ll grant himself powers to destroy whoever he deems an invader or criminal.

Only Batman, physically perfect Batman, brave enough to run into explosions, (like a fool) can save us.

You might care to count how many of the worrying fascist notes the two minute trailer hits. Take a shot each time and you’ll be drunk by the time the barb wire comes out.

This is art that celebrates hierarchy, state power, the moral certainty of violence. This isn’t the fantastic, this isn’t the contextless battle of Thor vs Troll or Green Lantern vs Stupid Space Thing. This is carefully, lovingly, creating images that fascists have used over and over to justify their crimes and excesses. To introduce their ideas into a culture.

Visually sampling the destruction of the Twin Towers is a dark kind of nostalgia. Fifteen years ago those blooming clouds were everywhere in action comics. Seeing them again is a sure sign that we’ll be focusing on the terrible otherness of terrorism. “Gentlemen, in one hundred years’ time they will be showing a fine color film of the terrible days we are living through,’ said Joseph Goebbels, propaganda boss of the Nazi regime, a man keenly aware of the politcal power of art. But I guess he was out 75 years.

 

But what really makes art fascist,  what really sets the scene for the trailer to be genuinely worrying, is apocalypse. In the past, things were better, there were Golden Ages. Wonder Woman, barely glanced, certainly not talking, is no longer a warrior who doesn’t use weapons. She’s a sort of Greek hoplite, a recurring symbol of a perfect past lost or stolen. Because in fascist world view, fascist art, something went wrong. Betrayl. Common to most fascist regimes is a ‘stab in the back’. (Ah, poor Metropolis. We trusted you Superman.) Then, apocalypse. A change that must overcome all society. Once again, we are greeted with images of endless destruction. An society on the fringe. Our only protectors, the wealthy and beautiful.
I am convinced of this.

Don’t take it personal

Now, I shouldn’t have to spell this out, but no, I’m not concluding the people who made this film are Nazis or fascists. I’m sure they’re all very nice people. But nice people make very bad art indeed. Often by accident. I think that they are responding to a turbulent, frightening world where old ideas of American superiority and moral clarity are openly in doubt. I suspect they are wholly apolitical film makers who are creating images the Right can and will use.

Relegating superheroes to live in a fractured, weak society is using the same imagery as fascists. This endless interchange of muscular bodies is fascist. This focus on apocalypse is fascist. This obsession with death is fascist.

Art influences life. Anyone ever moved by a book or song or, God help us, a poem, can tell you that. When we create art, especially massively popular art, we introduce ideas and moods and emotions into our culture. We create entrance points for ideas to come into our culture that we know are seductive, dangerous and ruinous.

If superheroes are symbols, they can mean what we want.
They don’t have to mean death and ruin and the failure of our bonds with each other as citizens and society as a whole. They don’t have to celebrate wealth and political power and misunderstandings of history.

Wouldn’t you like the heroes in our dreams to be the kind of people who say ‘let me help,’ rather than a pack of rich pricks? Do you want to be a part of art that in the future people will look back aghast on the way we look back on WWII comics?

In the comics, the Suicide Squad was a response to the vast absurdities of the Cold War. In their film, just sexy cool bank robbers. All-Star Superman is a comic about how a man with every power, including Super-Empathy, would love and understand us and help us come together. Not a weird stalker, deadbeat dad or wretched bully. Don’t you want an Avengers who come together to help against world-ending threats because they are good and compassionate people, and not part of a military/industrial complex that invades countries, murdering millions, takes their resources, and then leaves them to face radical fanatics? A Superman who never abuses his power who makes enemies friends, or a Batman who doesn’t abuse his physical inferiors?

Wouldn’t you like to feel rewarded by these films? Wouldn’t you like to know something good was going on inside them?