Y Marks the Spot: Conservatives, Heal Thyselves

Only this man is exempt from what I'm about to say.

Any group of any kind is only as legitimate as its loudest, dumbest, most destructive member.  When this rule is applied to today’s Republican Party, well, shit.  America’s doomed.  Let’s call a spade a spade: the official party of the right wing has become the party for ignorance, the party for imposed desperation, the party for small affluence and widespread poverty, the party for theocracy, the party for serfhood and feudalism, and most importantly the party that cannot exist without an ocean of second-class citizens.  It’s not even that good at enacting its much-professed ideals of fiscal responsibility and anti-bureaucracy anymore.  And somehow, this party tends to get its way.

What pisses me off most about all this is that the Republican Party is now the party of the insane.  The political buzzword used to be the naïve, idealistic Bleeding Heart Liberal, but with the infestation of the Tea Party into Republican politics, today’s political jackasses tend to be Heart Attack Conservatives, people who care less about facts and self-interest than they do about having a platform to screech and hate.

The worst thing about the real life internet trolls of the Tea Party is that they’ve become a black hole in the public discourse.  They’re the loud, disruptive kids in class who derail the teacher and prevent everyone else from learning.  Scratch that; they’re the loud, disruptive kids in class who infect everyone else in class until all that’s left is a classroom full of shrieking idiots drawing dicks on the blackboard.  And like all things zombie-related, there’s a huge audience that hangs on their every act of faux-rebellious douchebaggery.

The obvious victims of this outbreak are gays, Mexicans, Muslims, women, the poor, the compassionate, and the sane.  But I’m wondering if an equally important victim of the unhinging of the right wing is the right wing itself.

I’ve been watching the looming embarrassment that is the 2012 presidential election cycle, in which the few Republicans who are gearing up to run against Obama are doing their best to out-crazy one another.  It’s awful.  Only in a politically retarded landscape as ours could a batshit vampire lady like Michelle Bachmann gain any sort of credence among those who don’t sleep in padded cells.  Worse still, we have one of the richest men in the world, Donald Trump, running on a platform of lowest common denominator and howling about Obama’s birth certificate in a thin attempt to slum with the crazies.  At the moment, these people are the front-runners, which to me speaks ill of America on the whole, not just the Republicans.

It might be satisfying to anticipate the Wagnerian spanking the Republicans will receive in 2012 if these candidates are the best it has to offer, but I can’t shake this sense of something approaching disgusted pity for them.  (The image in my head is of how I’d react to a shit-covered schizophrenic who just punched me in the mouth, if that helps.)  I’ve never, ever liked the Republicans, but when there’s an election, I expect each party to put forth the most competent candidate they have to offer.  I demand real Republican candidates, not crackheads who would have been laughed out of any other race in history.

The problem is ultimately larger than the right wing.  The public doesn’t want competence or ability; they want elected officials whom they can have a beer with, representatives who are just folks, rulers who are just like them.  Let me say, at the top of my text lungs, that the Beer Standard is the most bullshit criteria in politics (and not just because I’m a vodka drinker).  I don’t want elected officials to be just as good as everyone else.  I’d like them to be a damn sight better.

I never believe that a political pundit is as nuts as he or she appears to be.  I guarantee that if the Beer Standard wasn’t the law of the land, most of our Republican candidates for president wouldn’t be locked in this quagmire of Tea Party-calculated psychosis.  Our country might have a good deal more self-respect.

I might be wrong, though.  Maybe it is a good thing that the worst of the right wingers have gained the overconfidence to expose themselves as the repressive cavemen they are.  I know that time gives things that were intolerable in the present a sort of respectability in the past (see: George W. Bush, the Backstreet Boys), but the McCarthy, Goldwater, and Reagan Republicans weren’t any more saintly for not having to appease all the raving lunatics.  It’s not as though most of the Tea Party’s cells, despite their claims to be grassroots movements, aren’t corporate funded screechshows.  The tactics may have changed, but maybe the right wing is running the same plan as ever.

Yet assuming that the madness of the last decade isn’t an insidious Republican conspiracy to keep people angry and distracted, it’s not the liberals who must be the key players in curbing the Tea Party.  In his conflicts with the wild and populist movements during his presidency, Nixon appealed to a “silent majority” of sober, conservative Americans to stand up and be heard.  That’s precisely what is called for in this moment – a real conservative movement, comprised of people more concerned with policy over polarization, which will stand up and put the Tea Party infants (and, ideally, the Republicans they rose up against) back in their cribs.  The liberals can laugh and mock and loathe all they want, but ultimately it is the right wing which is responsible for cleaning up its own mess.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: RoboCop

PUNK AS FUCK.

Film: RoboCop (1987)

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith

Written by: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner

It can be a great thing to watch a movie as a child and see one film, and then watch it again as an adult and see something completely different.  It’s kind of appropriate, given the current state of our country, that I recently rediscovered this classic tale of American decline.  The dirty cyborg ultra-violence in the RoboCop film series morbidly evolved into a sleek kid’s franchise (which I, as a one-time aspiring robot policeman, loved), but the real genius of this toy robot flick is in the subtext.  Like John Carpenter’s They Live, which on the surface is an alien invasion story and an epic alleyway brawl, RoboCop has a heart of punk.

Its great subversion is envisioning the end result of Reaganomics, a world of gas-guzzling wrecks and corporate feudalism.  Detroit and its media serve as a microcosm for the rest of the nation, with talking heads attempting to distract the peasantry from the cataclysm surrounding them.  The Benny Hill-esque TV pervert who chuckles “I’d buy that for a dollar!” is actually a fairly sinister figure in a society where businesses own everything worth having and leave everything else to rot.

The twin cancers of unchecked privatization and overblown defense spending come to a head in RoboCop, as Detroit’s largest corporation buys out the city’s police force and begins a process of replacing the beat cops with massively weaponized machines.  Executives scheme against each other in each one’s attempt to get his pet project greenlit, yet the flaws of a drone police force are immediately realized when a boardroom demonstration ends with a walking tank glitching and gunning down a hapless executive.

RoboCop comes about as a direct result of that incompetence.  He’s a step up from the walking tank due to his consisting of a human mind placed in a robot’s body.  The acquisition of the murdered policeman who would be RoboCop leads to another interesting moral dilemma: the question of human beings as property.  It’s assured by the tech people that RoboCop will not have the memories of his former life, but of course that isn’t how things turn out.  However, that doesn’t stop the corporation from treating RoboCop, memories or no memories, as their product, to use and abuse at will.

Of course, RoboCop gets all triumphant action hero, putting his boot in Red Forman’s ass, causing one of the most disturbing toxic waste spills in film history, and generally saving the day.  Yet the underlying theme of unchecked corporatism in RoboCop is much more interesting (and relevant) than the game of Cyborg Cops and Robbers that it disguised itself as.  Clever trick!

The Designer’s Drugs: Tina Fey – Bossypants

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Tina Fey – Bossypants

Anno: 2011

This half-biography, half humor book from America’s reigning comedic mind alternates between being too short and running at just the right length.  If one is looking for Tina Fey to give a detailed, minute by minute account of her life and career, well, that didn’t happen.  When she does talk about herself, Fey gives a Cliff’s Notes version of her life: childhood, awkward dates, Second City, getting hired at Saturday Night Live, the process of creating 30 Rock, and her Sarah Palin impersonation that became one of the most notorious aspects of the 2008 presidential election.  Yet it seems obvious that the biography parts, especially the personal, serious bits, were written with great reluctance and as necessary evils.  With the exception of describing work-related stress, she tends not to dwell on feelings and sticks to the facts when the big picture is called for.  As such, there are brief moments when Bossypants gets more biography than autobiography, with “I” being substituted for “she.”  In contrast, it’s clear that the goof off parts of the book, the weird asides and ridiculous lists, are where Fey’s heart really lies.

This isn’t to say that the tone of the book is harshly bipolar, but that the most personal parts of Bossypants often come with a healthy dose of deflection.  Humor is the easy disguise, but Fey exposes herself most in describing others, whether it’s talking her dad up to tall tale proportions or describing her husband’s travel hang-ups and their disastrous journeys together.  It’s in keeping with this lack of self-centeredness that the book’s strongest statement about the potential of women in comedy is a story in which Fey watches from the sidelines as a female castmate tells off a male castmate.

The book does end sort of awkwardly.  The coda begins with Fey musing about being a woman getting older in a business that sycophantically worships youth.  Yet as it progresses, a growing part of that musing involves whether or not Fey should have a second child.  Ultimately it becomes a question Fey asks the reader.  It’s a strange enough ending point on its face, but its gets stranger when one discovers that Fey announced, around the time of this book’s publication, that she is in fact pregnant.  This may be a case of strange and highly appropriate timing or an intentional art-into-life narrative, but the end effect comes off like asking people to vote in an election that was decided the previous week.

Bossypants may not be the greatest comedian’s memoir of all time, but it is a very good supplement to the rest of Tina Fey’s work.

The Designer’s Drugs: Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

Anno: 2011

 

This collection of Australian-themed tunes features Amanda Palmer mixing her signature foul-mouthed piano cabaret with her recent attraction to the ukulele.  Alternating between live tracks and crowdless songs of varying levels of production, the album as a whole has a feeling of incredible inconsistency that gives Down Under a veneer not unlike that of a stand-up comedy record.

The live tracks in particular are pure personality, featuring Palmer baiting and prodding and joking with the crowd.  At some points the monologue and asides get so thick (“Vegemite” is a particularly vehement and wonderful offender) that it seems that she forgets that she was in the middle of a song.  Yet the resulting effect is not derailment; instead, Palmer’s whimsy gives the show a spontaneity and warmth that most live recordings lack.

Of course, it helps that the music’s good.  Aside from a single track, the synthy and slick “Map of Tasmania,” the orchestration on these songs is minimal.  A few friends guest on certain songs, but Down Under largely runs on the sole strength of Palmer’s voice and instrument of the moment.  And that works out rather well.

The Designer’s Drugs: Epigene – A Wall Street Odyssey

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Epigene – A Wall Street Odyssey

Anno: 2011

 

It’s difficult to listen to this sprawling, ambitious work as anything other than a musical.  The narrative that runs throughout A Wall Street Odyssey, one chronicling a yuppie named Yossarian’s break from privileged aristocracy to become – and let’s not mince words here – a full blown utopian pagan hippie, is so heavy-handed that one really can’t listen to these songs as songs.  This is a shame, because there are a few tracks on A Wall Street Odyssey that would stand very well on their own were they not weighed down so much by the big picture.

The main story is divided almost right down the middle into two halves with completely different styles.  The first side describes Yossarian’s slow meltdown as a result of being such a corporate drone, and the songs are often very speedy electronic compositions.  While the lyricism, with all of Yossarian’s gnashing and wailing, can get a bit out of hand, the music in this stretch of songs is very good.  Unfortunately, this makes things all the more unsettling when “Brother, Take My Hand” starts the hero’s sharp veer into becoming a rather smug, rose-colored ruralist, paralleling the album’s mellowing out.  Again, the music on this second half isn’t bad; the songs are just too preoccupied with getting a point across to be entertaining.

Maybe the conceptual aspects of A Wall Street Episode would be better portrayed in a live musical performance.  As an album, it’s more than a bit thorny.