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Conservative Minority Outreach Initiative … GO!

[ 36 ] August 2, 2012 |

The mind boggles:

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) delivered his opening statement in Spanish at a hearing on Thursday about an English-only bill proposed by House Republicans.

Republicans at the panel said Conyers’ speech actually supported their point.

“I would ask the gentleman in the interest of fairness here. Would you repeat that in Yiddish and Vietnamese and French, please,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) said after Conyers’ speech.

Because I’m sure Franks would’ve understood him had he made his statement in Kike-speak, Gook-tongue, or Frog-croak. I’m sure all the Hispanic voters Rep. Franks tried to court by not including their language in his ill-born list won’t notice that Rep. Conyers was delivering his statement in Spanish. It saddens me that the campaign against The Aborted Lesbian Walrus may be one of the smarter propositions conservatives forward this week.

Then it makes me really happy.

“Wrigley Co. Uses Bestiality to Sell Skittles”

[ 166 ] August 1, 2012 |

I lack the parodic skills required to improve the title or content of John Nolte’s latest screed. But I’ll try to shorter it anyway:

I used to laugh at loud at the term “slippery slope.”

Then I grew up.

AND WHEN I GREW UP LESBIANS WERE MAKING OUT WITH WALRUSES.

Can you tell which sentence I wrote? Me neither. Did I write this?

If you don’t think there’s an agenda behind this, you haven’t been paying attention the last 40 years. And if you don’t think that there are those who hold the levers of power in our popular culture that would like to remove the stigma from bestiality, you don’t understand the depths of sexual depravity the human animal is capable of.

Or what about this?

Again, what was the point of feminism?  Here’s your real war on women.  Waving enough money in front of an actress and have her do whatever depravities you can dream of.  Liberated?  If by that you mean women are to be accorded no respect and you can expect any female to do anything because to say no would be so uncool. Abortion liberates men because it allows them to walk away.  And if they pay for the abortion then they’re the good guy, taking responsibility.

Parody is dead. Long live actresses who kiss aborted walruses!

… and I support this message.*

[ 16 ] August 1, 2012 |

I’m not sure why conservatives are panicking about the responses of Romney’s spokeperson, Al Swearengen. They seem rote enough to me:

CNN: Governor Romney are you concerned about some of the mishaps of your trip?

AL SWEARENGEN: We’re forming a fucking government, you loopy fucking cunt.

NEW YORK TIMES: Governor Romney, do you have a statement for the Palestinians?

AL SWEARENGEN: You’re the cocksucker. Change the fucking angle.

WASHINGTON POST: What about your gaffes?

AL SWEARENGEN: Get a fucking haircut. Looks like your mother fucked a monkey.

CNN: Governor Romney just a few questions sir, you haven’t taken but three questions on this trip from the press.

AL SWEARENGEN: We’re illegal. Our whole goal is to get presidented to the United fucking States. We start answering questions, what’s to keep the United States fucking Congress from saying, “Oh, excuse us. We didn’t realize you were a fucking sovereign community out there. Where’s your cocksucker’s flag? Where’s your fucking navy, or the like?”

CNN: Would it hurt to let us …

AL SWEARENGEN: …  say you’re a pain in my balls that can’t desist from inquiry till told to shut his fucking mouth?

CNN: I’d rather not any of that.

AL SWEARENGEN: Don’t I yearn for the days when a draw across the throat made fucking resolution. Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair, or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back. That’s the fucking sum and substance of it.

CNN: So you support—

AL SWEARENGEN: I will profane your fucking remains, CNN.

*I do so love literature.

Walking and talking with Louie and Liz

[ 24 ] July 31, 2012 |

Jim Emerson’s appreciation of Louie captures something I don’t think I quite did in my initial comments about the relationship of form to content in The Dark Knight Rises. The episode, “Daddy’s Girlfriend II,” largely consists of a slow-motion Sorkinian walk-and-talk around New York City. The key features of the typical Sorkinian walk-and-talk are present in the linked clip: the characters approach a camera at a brisk clip and end up in a medium or medium close-up with a shallow focus. The world recedes into blurriness because the emphasis is on the dialogue and the characters’ reaction to it. The blurriness also imparts an unearned importance to the dialogue because it creates the impression that the characters have no time to waste and people with no time to waste are very important people. The viewer knows exactly where to look and how long to be looking there because there are, essentially, only faces in the frames and the one with words departing its mouth is the one to be paying attention to. But whatever narrative momentum the Sorkinian variation provides to what amounts to endless conversations between bureaucrats in the hallways of the Circumlocution Office comes at a high price: boredom.

Sorkin’s shows are exhausting not because of the amount of information his characters breathlessly provide, but because Sorkin leaves his audience with nothing to do. In any given sequence, he indicates exactly where we should be looking and dictates exactly how long our eyes should linger there. Thinking is not required to watch an episode of Sorkin’s shows, and not thinking for forty-two consecutive minutes dulls the wits. Not so with Louie. The stills Emerson pulled from the episode bear this out. Consider this medium shot of Louie and his date, Liz, stopping-and-chatting in front of a pool hall:

Louie02
Note the depth of field. We can clearly see what’s happening behind Louie and Liz, and even though the director, one Louis C.K., wants us to pay attention to the conversation. The movement of the pool players—which occurs, significantly, in the dead center of the screen—threatens distraction throughout the entire conversation. Our attention shifts from the conversation to the pool and back to the conversation and then back to the pool. It makes for uncomfortable viewing because we aren’t entirely sure what we’re supposed to be paying attention to. But it makes for compelling viewing for the same reason: when we don’t know what we’re supposed to be paying attention to, we start scouring the frame for visual cues. As our eyes dart from Louie to Liz to the pool players, unsure of where to find safe harbor, it becomes possible for us to be surprised. Because when we don’t know where to look it becomes possible to not see something coming.

The formal qualities of this stopping-and-chatting sequence create an awkwardness that borders on discomfort, but despite our misgivings we want to keep watching because we have no idea what might happen next. Do you know what that situation happens to be? Identical to the one Louie is experiencing during this conversation. Liz had informed him that him that her name was actually “Tape Recorder,” and as she spins out the story of how her parents named her that Louie is visibly uncomfortable. The medium shot allows us to watch his face as her increasingly improbable tale develops, and what his face tells us is that a mental assessment of Liz is being performed behind it.

In this sequence, then, Louis C.K., the director, replicates the discomfort felt by the characters in his audience via the formal elements of his shot composition. Which, to bring this post full circle, is why the formal incoherence of The Dark Knight enhances the film while a very similar one nearly ruins The Dark Knight Rises.

Only, there’s no such thing as Social Darwinism.

[ 83 ] July 30, 2012 |

Erik’s posts (here and here) on the seemingly Darwinian politics of modern conservativism aren’t wrong about the lilt of these contemporary thinkers, but they do a bit of injustice to the historical ones, because there was no such thing as “Social Darwinism” during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. There was such a thing as William Graham Sumner, and his collected essays bear the title Social Darwinism, but those essays were collected in and published in 1963. The editor of those essays was following the lead established by the historian Richard Hofstadter, whose Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944) identified Sumner as the brains behind the social Darwinist movement in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. The problem is that there wasn’t a Social Darwinist movement during the Gilded Age or the Progressive Era. I’m not just kicking against the pricks here—as people writing dissertations are wont to do—as will become clear if you ask yourself a simple question:

When was the Modern Synthesis formulated?

The Modern Synthesis, if you don’t know, is the combination of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian evolutionary theory, and represents the moment when the previously theoretical Darwinian model finally found itself a mechanism of transmission. Darwin’s theory of natural selection was elegant, but prior to the Modern Synthesis scientists lacked a means of proving that it could exist in nature. When was it formulated? Between 1936 and 1942. Why is that significant?

Because prior to the Modern Synthesis there was little consensus as to the driving force behind the development of species. Russian scientists, for example, were working under Lamarckian assumptions about the heritability of acquired characteristics well into the 1960s. (The had an ideological commitment to keeping the Lamarckian faith after the Modern Synthesis, but eventually even they relented.) Point being, during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Darwinian thought wasn’t the dominant strain of evolutionary theory. It lacked the evidence required to back up its elegance, and so its status in the scientific community was as tenuous then as its competitors are now. Vernon Kellogg, then president of Stanford (or not?), wrote a book entitled Darwinism Today (1908) that basically argued that there really wasn’t any. It devoted itself to explicating “the various new theories of species-forming with … names, such as heterogenesis, orthogenesis, metakinesis, geographic isolation, biologic isolation, organic selection, or orthoplasty.” So why do we associate Darwinism with this period?

Because of the Whigs and their history. The aforementioned Hofstadter wrote Social Darwinism in American Thought in 1944 in order to create a bogeyman whose existence would justify the policies of the New Deal. From what Stephen J. Gould called the “maximal diversity” of evoultionary thought during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Hofstadter selected those thinkers whose work contained implications dire enough that politicians in the 1940s could point to them to frighten the masses. Darwinism, as I demonstrated above, wasn’t regnant during the period, much less the social application of it, but Hofstadter had handed New Deal liberals their bogeyman and they weren’t about to give it up.

Ironically, the scientific community bolstered Hofstadter’s claim during the centennial of the Origin in 1959. In a book titled Darwin’s Century, Loren Eiseley and his fellow scientists created a teleological narrative of Darwinism’s development in which all evolutionary thinkers were groping their way towards the Modern Synthesis. Which is ironic because the key insight of Darwinian thought is that development isn’t teleological—that natural selection isn’t based on forethought and doesn’t working according to a plan. Eiseley and his colleagues transformed the development of Darwinian thought into the stuff of Intelligent Design, and when that narrative was welded onto Hofstadter’s, the result was the impression that Darwinism reigned supreme during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

It didn’t. It only seems to have because people have forgotten all the other evolutionary theories that were in play at the time, the most prominent of which was Lamarckian, not Darwinian, prompting prominent medical thinkers (and popular novelists) like Silas Weir Mitchell to declare:

I have sometimes been led to think that over brain-work tends not only to stunt the body and to contract the pelvis, but, by the law of evolution, to develop bigger headed offspring, or at least offspring with heads relatively disproportioned to the pelvis of the mother.

That’s correct. The most prominent neurologist in America opposed educating women because they would become smarter, pass on their larger brains to their children, then die during childbirth. Outside of giraffes, it’s difficult to find a more classic formulation of Lamarckian thought. I could go on for ages—or pages, hundreds of them—but I think I’ve established that “the Social Darwinism movement” is an ahistorical construct designed to justify policies and theories with which I otherwise agree.

Sorry, there’s just no good on it.

[ 33 ] July 29, 2012 |

[It appears the only site that had this available was scuttled in December 2010. I first read a version of this during my BBS days, but as you can tell from DISADVENTURE!, DISADDENDUM!, DISMORALIZED!, DISINSOMNIA!, WHARTON!, GRADING! and DISBELIEF! the form stuck with me. It’s an inspiring tale of nerd from a time when nerdiness lacked its current cultural capital. So without further ado I return to the living Internets the glory that is The Tale of Eric and the Dread Gazebo.]

ED: You see a well groomed garden. In the middle, on a small hill, you see a gazebo.

ERIC: A gazebo? What color is it?

ED: (pauses) It’s white, Eric.

ERIC: How far away is it?

ED: About 50 yards.

ERIC: How big is it?

ED: (pauses) It’s about 30 ft across, 15 ft high, with a pointed top.

ERIC: I use my sword to detect good on it.

ED: It’s not good, Eric. It’s a gazebo.

ERIC: (pauses) I call out to it.

ED: It won’t answer. It’s a gazebo.

ERIC: (pauses) I sheathe my sword and draw my bow and arrows. Does it respond in any way?

ED: No, Eric, it’s a gazebo.

ERIC: I shoot it with my bow. (rolls for hit) What happened?

ED: There is now a gazebo with an arrow sticking out of it.

ERIC: (pauses) Wasn’t it wounded?

ED: OF COURSE NOT. IT’S A GAZEBO.

ERIC: But that was a +3 arrow!

ED: It’s a gazebo, Eric, a GAZEBO. If you really want to try to destroy it, you could try to chop it with an axe, I suppose, or you could try to burn it, but I don’t know why anybody would even try. It’s a FUCKING GAZEBO.

ERIC: I run away.

ED: It’s too late. You’ve awakened the gazebo. It catches you and eats you.

ERIC: (reaching for his die) Maybe I’ll roll up a fire-using mage so I can avenge my Paladin.

[UPDATE: I made a good-faith stupid on the Internets. Traditional awareness and what-all were likely violated. Please forgive me my anti-plagiaristic sins.]

Batman is racist, as is the South, pass it on.

[ 59 ] July 29, 2012 |

If you don’t care whether Batman’s not a spanked up Newt or not, that’s fine. Fine. But riddle me this: people in Mississippi are still apparently racist. What do you make of that? Is that fine?

Being that I’m from the South and know exactly what to make of that, I’m just amused by the archaic language that racists employ when declaring, I say, declaring their right to opinionating:

The church congregation had decided no black could be married at that church, and that if he went on to marry her, then they would vote him out the church.

Articles are rare commodities in the South, much like sugar cane and cotton, so no black should be offended by the articular parsimoniousness of this particular gentleman who, it should be said, should be applauded for his dire commitment to democracy, as evinced by the bringing of this opinion to his congregation to be voted upon.

The Dark Knight Rises is not a conservative film.

[ 58 ] July 28, 2012 |

At least not in the way that conservatives think it is. Christian Toto contends that “everyone not blinded by liberal ideology” can see that The Dark Knight Rises is critical of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that the film is therefore “downright conserative.” There are two significant problems with his claim: logically, it is not necessarily true that any cultural artifact that’s critical of the Occupy movement is conservative; and visually, the optics of Bane and his followers don’t correspond to those of the Occupy movement. The logical problem is easy enough to dismiss: I can criticize the rhetoric and tactics of the Occupy movement without being instantly transformed into a conservative. The visual problem isn’t that much more complicated, because this is what Bane and his followers look like:

The-dark-knight-rises1
I would like to ask Toto and John Nolte and every other conservative whose claim that the object of the film’s critique is the Occupy movement is predicated on obviousness whether the heavily armed fatigue-garbed lot pictured above look more like this:

Occupy wall street
Or this:

Mujahideen-afghanistan-1984
I would like to ask them to examine these images closely and count the number of raised weapons in the first and compare that to the number being raised in the second and the third. Then they can tally up the number of bandoliers and re-purposed fatigues and wrapped heads there are in each of these images and compare those too. If they possess a shred of intellectual honesty they’ll have no choice but concede that Bane and his cohorts more closely resemble Afghan mujahideen from the 1980s than Occupy protestors from last year. Toto claims that only those “blinded” by ideology could fail to recognize the similarity between the people in the first and second images. But it seems to me that only someone who is actually blind could be convinced that there’s a greater correspondence between the first and second than the first and third.

There’s a solid reason that Bane and company more closely resemble the mujahideen than the Occupy protestors: they’re from the same part of the world. Batman Begins opens with Bruce Wayne being recruited in a Bhutanese prison and then scaling the Himalayas to train with the League of Shadows. The prison pit in The Dark Knight Rises is located near the northern Indian border with Pakistan, and the majority of those imprisoned in it aren’t chiroptophobic American billionaires. That Fu Manchu mustache sported by Ra’s al Ghul belongs to a tradition of racist caricature of people who come from China and Japan and India. The geographic and narrative cues align with the visual to demand that the League of Shadows be seen as an old school Oriental menace whose politics amount to whatever-frightens-white-people.

Only in this last sense can the projection of conservative politics onto The Dark Knight Rises be understood:the only thing the League of Shadows shares with the Occupy movement is an ideological commitment to frightening white people. That both are successful says nothing about the film, but speaks volumes about the conservatives watching it, who have invested so heavily in their illegible projection that they makes claims like:

Gotham City is thriving as the third film in the trilogy opens. Harvey Dent’s legal legacy is so profound there’s no longer a need for Batman. He’s retired, bum knees and all, while crime continues to decline. So clearly the city’s punitive system isn’t corrupt, and we certainly don’t see mass economic woes.

Toto is wrong on all counts. Far from “thriving,” Gotham is a city in which orphans have taken to living in the sewers to survive. Dent’s legal legacy may be “profound,” but it’s also founded a lie and maintained by mass incarceration. Crime “continues to decline,” but the prisons overflow with criminals whose prosecutions were legitimate, because “the city’s punitive system isn’t corrupt,” so all those prisoners must have committed the crimes of which they’re accused. Finally, Toto fails to “see mass economic woes,” even though, to return to where this chain of inept summation began, ophans have taken to living in the sewers to survive.

In this case, the competing political interpretations of The Dark Knight Rises are not the result of the multivalenced nature of all aesthetic objects so much as simple incompetence from one of competitors. There are sophisticated arguments that the film’s politics don’t square with contemporary liberal or leftist thought—see Aaron Bady or Henry Farrell or Jeff Spross and Zack Beauchamp—but it’s no coincidence that those analyses are eminating from the left. Conservatives aren’t accustomed to considering cultural artifacts with the seriousness they merit, and so on the rare occasion they want to claim ideological kinship with one, they have no idea how.

Take my wife—please.

[ 115 ] July 27, 2012 |

The party of family values seems to having problems valuing the family sport:

It’s a big, exciting experience for my wife. I have to tell you, this is Ann’s sport. I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it, I will not be watching the event. I hope her horse does well.

Of all the many problems with this statement, the least of them is Romney’s use of a definitive article before the word “sport.” Not that suggesting you say things like “Darling, I’ll be out performing the sport this morning” doesn’t make you sound like a caricature of a half-blind aristocrat using a mallet at crutch as he bumbles toward some wickets, mind you. Because that’s a problem. But the real problem is that it demonstrates that Romney’s willing to disavow anyone who might impede his candidacy. That he’s not sure “which day the sport goes on” isn’t an indictment of him as a candidate—it’s an indictment of him as a husband. Admittedly, I only have one wife, so I’m sure if I had—what I mean is that as someone who also only has one wife, I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d be blasé about her representing America in the Olympics, especially when I was campaigning to become the President of America.

I can only assume he’s courting the calloused husband vote here, because I can’t think of who else he’d be trying to impress with this brilliant bit of campaign rhetoric.  (Which assumes this statement is intentional, being that this is part of his charm offensive and all—but of course it isn’t. This is just garden-variety faux-machismo that Romney’s using to pander to conservatives who’d never heard the word “dressage” before but immediately associated it with vaginas.)

This is not the greatest example of dishonest editing ever. (Just damn close.)

[ 55 ] July 24, 2012 |

According to Big Hollywood, “Rapper Ice-T [says] he’ll give up his guns when everybody else does.”

According to “Rapper Ice-T” in the same interview, only a few seconds later, “[t]he right to bear arms is because that’s the last form of defense against tyranny. Not to hunt. It’s to protect yourself from the police.

Big Hollywood would also like to inform you that Triumph of the Will is an excellent four-and-a-half minute long film about airplanes in the 1930s.

This is a contest. A terrible, terrible contest.*

[ 65 ] July 24, 2012 |

The first thing that I read this morning was an article insisting that “[t]he Sexual Revolution [had gotten] more totalitarian … [b]ecause Chick-fil-A executives support the traditional family.” Please respond to this post by linking to an idiocy so precious I’ll never have to worry about being responsible for having read the site to which you linked first thing tomorrow morning again.

*Your prize will be that I shutter my increasingly stuttered prose and start to write like a human being might could unless you think it’s amusing that I write otherwise because commas I say who needs commas or question marks for that matter when you can write perfectly intelligible sentences that just so happen never to end and awkwardly at that. Raise your hands if you can tell I’m wading through a modern blizzard of noise to offset mathematically the calumny that accompanies writing about a man hopping ’bout rooftops dressed like a fetish bat.**

**About which more later when I feel less boxed about the head and such than I do after learning that the quarry wings of Chick-fil-A’s natural prey were responsible for the Sexual Revolution’s totalitarian imposition on sedate American society.

Initial verdict on The Dark Knight Rises:

[ 81 ] July 23, 2012 |

Very Return of the Jedi. It’s not nearly as dark or accomplished as its predecessor, and it descends into maddening silliness at times, e.g. every time Bane “opens” his “mouth.” More on the politics, as well as some general comments of the spoiling variety, from someone the Washington Post contacted as a “Batman expert,” can be found below the fold.

Read more…