Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Does It Feel: Annie, New Order, Grief and the Dance Floor

While wishing Don't Stop would start already, "Songs Remind Me of You" got prematurely imbued with Anniemal's second coming. Something retrospectively necessary as the rest of the album was not, though when it comes to the dancefloor, the 12" means more than the LP anyways. Standalone, the single crystallized the underlying thrust of Annie's larger thread, the healing power of really good dance music. On its surface it renditions that residual flickering of a burnt out old flame, but really picks up right where Anniemal left off, with the residual flickering of a phantom.

Back in 1999 Annie broke through with a false start. After kicking around the Bergen music scene as a DJ, her penchant for melodies and a voice made for singles locked up with the talents of house producer Tore Andreas Kroknes. Madonna-sampling The Greatest Hit seemed to echo their subsequent coupling, with their made for each other revelation substituted by the song's "why'd we ever break up?/this moment probably won't last forever" abandon. The real world counterpart didn't. In 2000, Tore's degenerative heart condition kicked in with unprecedented malice and by 2001 he was dead at 23.

After that, I was so depressed I just wasn't able to do anything. I stayed at home, away from everyone, completely in my own world. I wanted to make the album with Tore — that was the plan. After he died I just didn't think I had the heart. But then I thought, 'Right, you're really depressed now but you have to make this album. Tore would be quite pissed off if you just stopped doing anything.'

"Sssh! Let's start the record!"

Kicking off with the coyest, most playful clarion call, Anniemal's intro met Animal Collective at their Wild Things Are fountainhead, yet the rumpus she was starting didn't forsake immediate gratification for Kid A knob twaddling and ruptured tribal thumps. A solid dance record straight up instead of straightforward it proved the form didn't belie the function with an emotional convalescence that denied no history.

The Greatest Hit's "you are my" now also reads "you were." No Easy Love's skeptical commitment issues are saturated with a broken engagement, but Chewing Gum's bubble yum suitor disposal doesn't insist on crying out "versions of you." First of the album's songs proper, it's Annie pep talking herself from her subconscious, chimney sweeping "settling down" into the aether, owing guilt to no one, owning up to heretofore buried fun. It's the wide, mischievous grin playfully hidden on the LP cover, ruse ready with a hole under the rug and an edge sharpened by a too soon trip around the block. At the same time it's an expression easily capable of answering Foreigner's 1984 power-ballad plea. re: Heartbeat. An autumnal reverie of what The Greatest Hit's dancefloor reunion hearkens back to, sweet moves at a dance party before the rest was history. *

But it's Come Together where the preceding activity's potential gets set in stone with a paean to the communal power of dance music. That the final track, My Best Friend, is about the aforementioned residual haunts, Tore figuring prominently, it's also uncharacteristically not made for the dancefloor. Not that off the dance floor the music's jurisdiction fades, but the rest of the album's m.o. reworked the lyric "last night a DJ saved my life" and brought it full circle so that last night the dj might have saved their own life, too, with a window into the artistic process before the record a la the tomato sauce stain in that Daft Punk video.

In total it distilled the trajectory of an unlikely but fitting historical precedent, New Order, into one knockout debut. Consider their impetus, the death of Ian Curtis. Stroszek and the Idiot might have filled out the ritual aspect of his suicide, but the denouement is at odds with the sly, wicked humor embedded in both. Joy Division's catalog on the other hand, connects the sendoff with the pantheon of death it belongs to. Outside of Disorder's liberatory potential, Curtis lived in black clouds with black linings, his baritone at the level of the focal point he viewed things from, a looming concern duly revered with depression and exacerbated in real life by the physical trauma of epilepsy. On their unanimous decision to carry on:

"The first meeting we all had, which was the Sunday night [Curtis committed suicide], we agreed that. We didn't sit there crying. We didn't cry at his funeral. It came out as anger at the start. We were absolutely devastated: not only had we lost someone we considered our friend, we'd lost the group. Our life basically."

It didn't hit me until I sat down with Substance, but the initially murky hesitance of New Order's first rumblings had turned into one of the most touching responses to suicide. Superseding The Myth of Sisyphus' narrow definition of the absurd, New Order inverted the doom and gloom of Joy Division's paradigm and created MDMA worthy dance tracks brimming with reasons to live.

New Order didn't drop the concerns Curtis previously articulated, but the increasing integration of electronic material, as well as brightened flips to atmosphere, into the song structures ended up creating what would have been the proper backbeat for Curtis' legendary epileptic pantomimes. By Brotherhood it became an ebullient forward motion, that when underscoring philosophical panic attacks like Weirdo and Broken Promise instead emphasized the freedom exhibited in confusedly scratching against the void, the boundaries of one's processing skills overshadowed by the act of processing itself. Sumner described the act of writing lyrics as haphazardly subconscious, jostling epiphanies and going "wtf" after intentionally not trying to figure out the Ian Curtis songwriting method.

In retrospect, Sumner's described the darkness that permeated Joy Division as not just a reflection of Curtis' inner turmoil in that nearly every person in the band had some kind of external issue (like many in Sumner's family dying off from physical illness) that hampered lots of the potential for pleasantry in growing up. Completely out of context and totally pretentious on my part, this quote from V. seems to echo Joy Division's mindframe from the standpoint of New Order's, looking back at those moments in youth when becoming acquainted with the world makes hopeless angst a coping mechanism.

For that moment at least they seemed to give up external plans, theories, and codes, even the inescapable romantic curiosity about one another, to indulge in being simply and purely young, to share that sense of the world’s affliction, that outgoing sorrow at the spectacle of Our Human Condition which anyone this age regards as reward or gratuity for having survived adolescence.

"That outgoing sorrow," while not necessarily a universal trajectory, is a statement I greeted with momentarily relief when I read the book at 19 before I realized bated breath is exhausting in itself. New Order plays out like the process of the outgoing sorrow, mitigation as maturation in the face of "the spectacle."

Cue Blue Monday. The song was made as a ruse to sate fans' demand for an encore, something they could play without having to stick around to finish, but its structure is hardly tossed off. The bassline is potentially lifted from Sylvester's You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), the beat from Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's Our Love, and that synth line in the beginning from Kraftwerk. Perhaps not original, but not tossed off. I bring these up also on account of the lyrical content.

Defiantly flamboyant (drag) Queen of Disco Sylverster James' HiNRG powerhouse is stripped/slowed down and lyrically reversed, but with confusion. Donna Summer's contention that "our love will last forever" doesn't seem to pan out. Kraftwerk actually turn out to be robots. And Peter Hook is not helpful: "They're not about Ian Curtis; we wanted it to be vague. I was reading about Fats Domino. He had a song called Blue Monday and it was a Monday and we were all miserable so I thought, 'Oh that's quite apt.'" All the same, Blue Order came out in '83, and while their public image gave off bad vibes (mercilessly short sets, declined interviews, the pall of Curtis) their music was already picking up the italo disco they turned to in the wake of post-punk's newly dour stain. Blue Monday was bookended by Temptation and Confusion, and it defies its thematic content with a less dark, lively vitality, dancing the pain away in action if not in thought. In turn, the two became one long before Technique.

And so, "Songs Remind Me of You"

Blue Monday's metareferentiality as identity fortification is here reiterated by Annie. While the spite in Blue Monday is better complemented by Happy Without You*, the melody and the drum patterns recall the band's makeshift rummaging. While for Annie this music's her bread and butter, that it provides comfort was a remedial factor for both of them. True, New Order were subsumed under the subset's potential aegis only after Curtis died, whereas Annie's attempts at being in a straightforward band were over far before she met Tore, but both find the trappings of italo-disco/disco disco/house/etc. as the most inviting framework within which to work out their grief, transforming it into something of great import.

"Songs..." brings us to My Best Friend, back to the beginning. While convalescence entails recovery, phantom ailment still creeps up.

once upon a time there was a girl
met a boy that said he'd change the world
promises he only made for me
vanished into what he cannot be

The song's chorus nods to how their mutual musical affinities created an association that undercuts the innocuity of listening to something as arbitrary as the radio. Blue Monday's rhetorical question of "How does it feel" in which the other person is guilted for mistreating the narrator is here directed at the self, but the agony of the question is implicitly a burden on the (de)parted. Yet it doesn't come on like the end of the world. Its omnipresence instead fuels the desire to play it back, repeatedly, as something therapeutic, "so good" and "so clear."

it doesn't matter where I seem to be
the sound of you remains eternally
rewind it back so I can start again
and play it 'till I reach the very end

Don't Stop: Redux

I'm not sure of Annie's standing in Norway, but her presence in the States is curious. A DJ who paired up with a house producer to put out a Norwegian variation on the dance record, her primary circulation stateside was within the indie community. While indie® might not be as insular as it used to be, there's a difference between indie fame and Kylie fame, where Kylie Minogue's popularity isn't predicated on the dispatching of irony. Now that i've heard Don't Stop i'm afraid the potential for that has been somewhat jeopardized. "Songs Remind Me of You" is a singular presence. The previously stated thematic concerns and reconfigurations are still apparent, but the primary outlet for elation is for the most part no longer part of the dancefloor pantheon, but a different kind of radio pop altogether.

All of this becomes increasingly frustrating when the All Night EP and other discarded tracks are taken into account. A 5 song bonus disc attached to the special edition of Don't Stop, the songs contained there actually correspond to Anniemal in a way that that expands on it instead of recycling for diminished effect. While Don't Stop's association with Alex Kapranos more closely associates it with the 2005 indie community she got saddled with, the 5 songs (or 3 of them, at least), along with at least three others that didn't make the EP, constitute what would have been an amazing second album. Thus I offer you, the ideal version of Don't Stop:

1. Hey Annie - As an intro track and a bridge from the last album this functions perfectly, with both the thematic continuation of Come Together's communal power, grappling with post-recovery notions of reverence, cheeky come ons, and a stated commitment to something new, all weaving through a killer drumline pattern.

2. Don't Stop - The bubbling effect on the synths, the time after time cyndi lauper vocal stylings over a beat to put you in the mood for tearing it up, it's warm.

3. I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me - Yeah, the Chewing Gum redux, this is wicked, and perfect for flippant posturing on the dancefloor.

4.. I Don't Like Your Band - This song finally has an appropriate revue to appear in, as telling someone to get a sequencer and hit up Kraftwerk, Bobby O and Moroder had no place on the actual album.

5. Two of Hearts - the awesomely beefed up power hour assault of a cover, subtextual relevance obscured by surface ecstacy.

6. Ferret Summer - A breather, slight interlude with a winding hallway vibe, "sitting in an empty room, late in December" is preparatory for the glacial italo sheen of Anthonio (plus weirdo line "the touch of your ferret" layered in for intrigue).

7. Anthonio - coupled with Ferret Summer, Anthonio displays the other realms Don't Stop could have dabbled in for diversification of the Anniemal template, this could be a Sally Shapiro song.

8. Songs Remind Me of You - Hearkening back to Two of Hearts, the subtextual relevance of an arbitrary classic becomes the surface tension worked out on repeat in hook heaven here.

9. All Night - From the talkbox intro/backing pipes, to the double layered main vox, to the numero group roller jam comp backbeat, yet again Annie's potential trajectory is glimpsed. This also echoes Come Together, but with the action instead of the demand.

10. I Will Get On - For nostalgia, rarity, and dearth of tracks to choose from, the other track Annie and Tore made before he passed on. It's also a good flip side to The Greatest Hit, in that it plays like the breakup before that song's one night reunion.

This will probably make my top ten. Considering what she was working out in the chaff re-instated above, Don't Stop could have continued the conversation being had in Roisin Murphy's Overpowered and Hercules and Love Affair's debut, Antony's vocals in the latter especially, which underscored the roiling maelstrom underneath the surface of that good time luster, its inevitable fixture in life and that one method for imbueing it with tractability - the dance floor.

*Happy Without You's hypothetical disillusionment doesn't easily lend itself to her public record, and it agitates the previous paragraph's conception of the album's grieving process, At the same time, it's recovery from another kind of tragedy, the Alvy Singer-type breeder of in-their-image companions. Tore appeared in her life no earlier than 20, and the song looks back at 16, so if autobiographical it gives credence to the notion that Chewing Gum style dating isn't without merits.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Which Side Of The Goldstone The Boldface Lies

The feigned incredulity in response to the goldstone report is embarassing. There is an acute multiple personality disorder in the backseat driver wing of the IDF that vacillates between might is right culpability and dissociatively exculpatory denial. Either they embrace military violence in all its transgressive glory with a distorted Machiavellian relish or play dumb with the ADL at their fingertips when that transgressive glory is delineated and reflected.

Framing The Goldstone Report hubbub around Operation Cast Lead, and in turn Operation Cast Lead around The Goldstone report (it's one of many, dating back to the war itself***) allows for the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to perpetuate its relegation to incidents. When an incident occurs the territorial damage extends beyond the occupied territories and seeps into Israel. Be it a suicide bombing or rockets on Sderot the discourse is maneuvered into a disrupted equilibrium as opposed to a "continuum,"as the report itself states. Considering the imbalance of power that exists in an occupation, the dominance of this analysis isn't surprising, the discourse and its lexicon are controlled by the occupying power.

For instance, Operation Cast Lead began at the end of December 2008 and ended in late January 2009 - here's where rhetorical flourish obscures a central, ignored reality in the situation. An occupation is an act of war, everything that happens under an occupation is a continuation of that war. When standard conflict breaks out between non-traditional armed factions (here, Hamas, unarmed collateral) and the Israeli army, it is not a deviation from the norm, but an escalation. Not to say that the term "escalation" and "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" are foreign to each other in all realms of media coverage, but when the escalation ends and the term "cease-fire" enters the discussion, the excursion becomes an incident that transpired and is now over, and the escalation of "what" isn't broached, it's conveniently ignored. It's a compartmentalization of transgressions and abuses whose segmentation obscures the comprehensive totality of their penetration into occupied society.

Conversely, Israeli society generally has three direct interactions with the conflict - army duty (combat/checkpoint), suicide bombings, and rocket attacks. The lag time between these incidents, and there is a lag time, allows for discontinued engagement with the reality of the situation. The relative distance from the rockets and bombings most of the population experiences allows for the actual engagement to be relative in itself. Not to trivialize the suffering caused by all this via one Chickens Come Home To Roost framing device, the arbitrary casualties and surrounding physical/mental trauma civilians suffer is awful, but also on the dime of perpetually backwards policymaking with an apparent causal relation to the conflict. So when the damage caused is objectively, individually assessed, revealing its universal implications (anyone would suffer from this), it doesn't lend legitimacy to the compliance with and support for perpetual occupational policy with its attendant escalations by the general Israeli population, it's trivialization as a rule.

The dissociation has a few precedents. Part of it is born out of habitual denial from suppressing memories of what army duty entails i.e. what abuses one is capable of both committing and justifying in the moment, the other part is born out of denial from self-congratulatory indifference to those abuses based on adulterated darwinian aphorisms and a reversal of the historical Jewish archetype's association with weakness, as formerly progressive historian Benny Morris did when he recontextualized the damage done to the Palestinians as the few broken eggs required to make an omelette, like the Indians on the way to America.

Since army duty is conscripted, four years at 18 and annual reserve duty until 45, a direct engagement with the conflict is eventual, but comes from the vantage point of a world-class military and never within Israeli territory i.e. around one's home, unless you're being symbolic. Instead, it comes into Palestinian living space from above and around as the parameters for Palestinian territory are controlled and operated by the Israeli army, which exemplifies the discrepancy between the Palestinian constant and the Israeli variable. The Palestinians live under an occupation, the Israelis do not. Where civilian life and combatant life can be separated for the average Israeli citizen, a person occupied is a precision-targeted possibility from multiple angles, and a potential abductee on a perpetual year round basis.

When Israel exchanges hundreds of political prisoners for a single digit variable of kidnapped soldiers, dead or alive, the assumption is that Israel is making a ridiculously large sacrifice. What's not considered are the grounds on which the hundreds of exchanged prisoners were arrested and detained and what their numerically large disposability reveals about Israel's Palestinian prison population. According to B'Tselem, by February 2008 there were 8,400 Palestinian prisoners (11,000 by Adalah's count) in Israeli custody. At that point over 5,100 were serving sentences, over 2,100 awaiting trial and about 790 were in administrative detention, the last of which has steadily declined since but still contains 42 holdovers from two years back, a large majority of which have been held twice with 2 of them female minors.

While this refers to present statistics, between now and 1967 at least one-fifth of the population has at some point been imprisoned, with thousands over time in administrative detention. The option of administrative detention at the IDF's disposal, while already an excuse to bypass the legal system, is repeatedly abused (and abusing in itself) as a no-holds barred, indefinitely extendable imprisonment with the option of a detainee contention but only under the condition they and their legal counsel remain unaware of what it is they are refuting about the legitimacy of their detention.

According to Israeli officials "70% of the detainees have blood on their hands." What should be delineated in that statement is whose blood they hypothetically have on their hands. The percentage of Israelis who at some point in their career delivered a severe beating or a haste execution at a checkpoint, dropped bombs or fired on civilian and combatant alike, demolished a home or a building, or shut off/explosively sabotaged electricity and sewage at the expense of dialysis, incubation, and medical/civilian sanitary needs is rarely dished out. If done, it would severely complicate the distinction between civilian and combatant used to justify Palestinian casualties, in turn giving credence to the arbitrary destinations of Palestinian rockets. Since terror is solely the province of the Palestinian combatant and defense solely the province of the Israeli soldier, a comparative nature to their damage and its political use (as terrorism is generally defined as violence wielded for political ends) would frustrate the checklist by which assassinations are carried out when revealed as viable both ways. But it is not, violence by an existing state is legitimized, violence by non-existing state is not.

Discussion of standard imprisonment does not include the daily grievances suffered at checkpoints. IDF Judge Advocate General Menachem Finkelstein in a statement to the Knesset conceded to the legitimacy of complaints about checkpoint abuse, including beatings, physical restraints and psychological humiliation. Not that it prevents the foundation for the complaints from happening, as in the recent testimony by IDF commanders entitled “A Blow is Sometimes an Integral Part of the Mission" in which various commanding officers proceeded to explain why and how they routinely abused Palestinians, with checkpoints being one of the many outlets for said abuse.

Generally averaged at 102 existing during any given month (since some of them are temporary, or "flying"), by 2008 there were 63 permanently staffed checkpoints within the west bank with another forty serving as actual crossing points into Israel. The 40 crossing points were not on the Israeli border but a few miles into the west bank, further expropriating occupied territory into de facto Palestinian disuse by the limitation of movement involved. 18 of the interior checkpoints are in Hebron and designed specifically for the Palestinians there. Staff is not limited to the IDF but includes private security companies as well. 267 miles of the road they rest on are free roaming for Israelis at the expense of Palestinians, whose movement is restricted, with 85 miles completely prohibited. This affects not just freedom of movement in or around your village, but water supply as well, forcing costly dependency on traveling tankers.

As for Gaza, the political independence withdrawal supposedly conferred on it came to an end with the election of Hamas. Leading up to the 2009 conflict was the post-election siege in which crossing points into Gaza were cut off barring medical supplies, fuel and other basic commodities. Framing reliance on tunnels with arm-buildup intentionally ignores how indulging in illegalities was required in order to gain basic living supplies. 50 percent unemployment, 79 percent below poverty levels. The fuel shortage led to power station shortage led to 15 percent elecricity shortage led to power cuts from ceased power station operations. 80 percent of water wells didn't function at full capacity, if at all, with 80 percent of the drinking water below WHO ordained drinking standards (one of a few criticisms in the Goldstone report that predates anything that happened during the conflict). Chlorine shortage kicked up "the risk of outbreak of disease." Sewage purification was sabotaged, with "50-60 million liters of raw sewage running into the sea daily." The bar on replacement/construction parts required for infrastructure repair damaged medical institutions, already running on generators, and the maintenance of medical equipment.*

For a moment consider the tunnels. Attached to their reputation is an arms smuggling ring, an international conspiracy in which Iran among others illegally supplies Hamas with weapons as opposed to the basic necessities required for living. These basic necessities, ascribed external responsibility, exist within Israeli territory and thus the onus should not be placed on anyone else for their distribution into Palestinian territory, they're already in the vicinty. Yet the criminality of the arms smuggling is only applied one way as Palestinians do not have the option of democratically electing a party with questionable legality, something Israel succeeds in doing with every election, recycling military leaders, some of whose priors, as in successful legal convictions, are entirely ignored but if analysed would fit the bill of terror. For instance Ariel Sharon's involvement in both the bombing of Qibiya and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, not to mention being more than a mere cog in the entirety of the mess in Lebanon.

In turn, Palestinians are not allowed to erect a standing army, with standard army munition. They can't erect munitions factories, build or import fighter jets, tanks or warships. My uncle is a manager at a Rafael bomb making factory in a civilian area, which covers all of those. It's not singular on any level, there are many bomb factories in civilian areas. A standing army, which trains its soldiers in methods of combat, including the operation of highly destructive weapons and bomb deploying mechanisms, has bases all over Israel's civilian areas. Any external monetary boost to Hamas is dwarfed by an annual American tradition that far outdates Hamas itself, as Israel recieves 3 billion dollars in military aid from the United States every year.
Israel's civilian embedded military buildup also includes the high-tech industry on which Israel's economy is highly reliant. The high-tech industry covers development of security technology. Security technology is only useful in lieu of conflict. The increasing complexity and thus diversification of the security technology reflects less on innovative spontaneity than a causal connection between conflict and industry. War is good for business and in turn the health of the state. Peace talks don't rise and fall on who recognizes what, linguistic hangups offer a convenient diversion from how much it will cost.

The subset discourse of Gaza itself relies on an ostensibly objective notion of cause and effect that relies on a particular series of events and their regional location. The return to Gaza was described on various occasions as the sleeping giant that is Israel being woken up by the disruptive force known as Gaza bent on sabotaging the potential for peace conferred on it by Israel's withdrawal. As documented above, Israel was not asleep from the time of withdrawal, as its machinations were still active. Two, the withdrawal's compartmentalization of the peace process represents another convenient disconnect in the discourse where in actuality Gaza is part and parcel of the occupied territories, thus actions in the West Bank correlate directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Gaza is a part of. Checkpoints and arbitrary arrests were mentioned above, now let's move onto the separation barrier and the settlers.

Again, the statement of Dov Weisglass, Sharon's chief of staff at the time, on the withdrawal of Gaza:
"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

Considering the amount of procedures that did not stop following the disengagement the statement is apt. At total, the barrier is going to be 436 miles long. It is currently 58.04% completed with 8% under construction. The Separation Barrier is not really a separation, though. The same way the settlers change the facts on the ground with more and more land within the west bank de facto coming under army control as a result of guarded settler presence, the barrier expropriates land as well. 8.5 percent of the West Bank now lies on the Israel side with 3.4 percent of the West Bank either "completely or partially surrounded" by the wall. 27,520 Palestinians are now on the Israeli side, requiring permits to live in their homes and a gate from which to exit their communites. 247,800 Palestinians are completely or partially surrounded by the wall. In East Jerusalem, 222,500.

Back during the withdrawal settlers cried "Germany," with DIY yellow stars, when they were being pulled out of Gaza but if they were smart they could have signed up for a relocation to the west bank. In 2005 Ariel Sharon commissioned a report from the head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department Talia Sasson. To his chagrin it revealed how millions of shekels from state budgets were being used to build illegal settlements. The methods themselves were surreptitious. A summary of the report detailed one of the prevailing methods. "One tactic was to build a mobile phone mast, sometimes a fake, on Palestinian land. Next came a guard post to protect the mast followed by a paved road and then mobile homes for the guards to live in. Shortly afterwards settlers moved in." 100 settlements were built during Sharon's time in office prior to the report. Various ministries colluded in the activity. Housing supplied 400 mobile homes, Defense approved outposts, Education put up nurseries and teachers, Energy linked them to power grids, and taxpayers paid for the roads.The settlements dismantled in Gaza numbered 16, a fraction.

Settlers recieve military protection as well as the rights of Israelis living in the Green Line, thus having an oasis of privilege within the areas they squat. One aspect is leniency in prosecuting transgressions. Whereas Palestinians can be detained without explanation with the attendant cruel and unusual punishment, settlers have gotten away with the following:

Settlers pave patrol roads and place physical obstructions on Palestinian lands adjacent to settlements, at times with the authorities’ approval, at others not. Settlers also forcibly remove Palestinians, primarily farmers, from their lands. ...cases of gunfire, threats of gunfire and killing, beatings, stone throwing, use of attack dogs, attempts to run over Palestinians, destruction of farming equipment and crops, theft of crops, killing and theft of livestock and animals used in farming, unauthorized demands to see identification cards, and theft of documents.

One explanation of Palestinian animosity towards Israelis, primarily Jews, is the institutional breeding of anti-semitism, with a brainwashed indifference to shedding of Israeli blood**. This serves two convenient misconceptions, one being the idea that if the Palestinian were to encounter an actual Israeli the potential for reconciliation would automatically engender itself, and two, that the institutionally derived nature of the imagery suggests a manufactured dissociation from reality that leaves Israel unaccountable for their violent associations. What it rests on is the idea that Palestinians rarely if ever encounter Israelis and/or Jews, which is false, as they encounter them on a regular basis. Yet, the Jews a Palestinian encounters on a day-to-day basis are either soldiers or settlers. Both are armed, violent, and can bypass UN censures with U.S. veto power but are unavoidable in the excercise of mobility.

In Hebron, where checkpoints serve to frustrate Palestinian movement primarily, Palestinians have to build nets between the second story and the first in order to not have to constantly deflect trash from the Settlers. Considering anti-semitism and the holocaust is still a vital part of the discourse it's worth mentioning Yad Vashem chairman Yosef Lapid's statement about the settlers:

It was not crematoria or pogroms that made our life in the diaspora bitter before they began to kill us, but persecution, harassment, stone-throwing, damage to livelihood, intimidation, spitting and scorn...I was afraid to go to school, because of the little anti-Semites who used to lay in ambush on the way and beat us up. How is that different from a Palestinian child in Hebron?...It is inconceivable for the memory of Auschwitz to warrant ignoring the fact that there are Jews among us who behave today towards Palestinians just like German, Hungarian, Polish and other anti-Semites behaved towards Jews.

Israel prides itself on being a a parliamentary democracy, the only one in the middle east (if we ignore Lebanon), but the democratic governance, with citizen participation, only applies to activity within Israel's borders. For Palestinians it's a military dictatorship and when war rains down from the IDF the direction isn't exclusively horizontal, but vertical as well, which is not the case for Israelis.. So, looking at information that came out before the goldstone report, even immediately after Operation Cast Lead, when 3 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli soldiers die during the operation from either imprecise rocket attacks or combat, in turn placing heavy importance on the effects of rocket attacks and warfare, requiring the report to be more fair and balanced is a further trivialization of the universal implications of the effects of rocket attacks and warfare.

Approximately (give or take) 1,300 Palestinians died. 4,000 buildings were destroyed while 20,000 were "severely damaged." Take this into account when Col. Kemp talks about leaflets being distributed as if bombing targets had anywhere to run. While "tens of thousands of Gazans were left homeless," the thousands of Israeli families that were momentarily displaced were able to hide in other parts of the country before coming back to the reparable damage to "several civilian homes and structures." While hamas rockets and mortars were fairly rudimentary/retrograde weapons (obviously able to cause some damage when fired with zero precision targeting technology), Israeli weapons were drawn from a state of the art, next generation arsenal with the technology for high-grade optic resolution allowing operators to "see the targets in detail," compounded by pin-point precision and astounding accuracy, along with the usual cluster bombs and white phosphorous.

Israel's ability to deploy these weapons in "closed" and "open" areas comes directly from their occupational power and is a privilege afforded them by the imbalance of power. Hamas cannot destroy 4,000 buildings and severely damage 20,000 others, nor can it send sewage flowing into the streets and shut off electricity (something Israel did both before, during and after the war). It can barely leave the territory it exists in. What it was able to accomplish was miniscule, it deployed less rockets than Palestinians were killed, destroyed about as many structures as Israelis were killed. If the Israeli side of the damage, including the 4 severe, 11 moderate and 167 light injuries, are worthy of being labeled as war crimes on the part of Hamas, as the singular rebuttal to Goldstone indicates, then the sentence must turn back ten-fold on Israel.

But again, war crimes in this sense would limit the retributive legislation to one war, and since an occupation is an act of war this war started long ago and is not yet over. To prevent the next escalation, even in the delusional self-justification of the sleeping giant metaphor, the occupation must end. The efficacy in the current preventive measures are somewhat irrelevant as you don't figure out how to make an occupation work, it's illegal. India, Vietnam, Algiers, Afghanistan (with precedents, contemporaries and modern successors, all of them) were not failures because they didn't achieve an objective, they were failures because they were wrong to begin with and this is no exception.

Mirah, would you please...

*B'Tselem 2008 Annual Report

**While a fairly superficial analysis, contextually, of the Hezbollah wing of the martyr factory, it still has valid points. So I can be clear on this - while utilizing children, or anyone, for suicide bombing missions/planning for them at all are forms of bureaucratized cowardice, with the outsourcing of sacrifice/actual engagement a viable task in the organization, the concern is what well that desire for conscription is drawn from, it's not manufactured in the abstract, or inherent, it's correspondent to an immediate reality. It's existence under the settler/soldier dichotomy of Jewish presence does not help. On the other end, this primarily relates to age, as children in Israel are raised in preparation for the army, in which they will learn to shoot, kill, and possibly sacrifice themselves for their country, setting aside college in order to do so. On another note, this is kind of hilarious for Spike Jonze's reaction of "what is the hezbollah?...I wouldn't even know how to begin processing this!" which might illuminate some of the quandaries and the prescribed method for dealing with them in Where The Wild Things Are.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

On Vilde Chaya

Mr. SENDAK:...A lot of people were angry at my books because they put children in jeopardy, just what you're talking about. And the idea of an American children's book where the child is not perfectly safe was something that was new.

I didn't know it was new. I didn't set out to break any new ideas. I was just doing what was only in my head, which was of course mostly autobiographical because childhood was a terrible situation.

INSKEEP: Why was childhood a terrible situation for you in Brooklyn?

Mr. SENDAK: Well, Brooklyn, by the time my brain began to function, we were in the war. And we were Jews. And all of my father's family had been exterminated and much of my mother's family had been exterminated. So from very early on I knew of mortality.

The film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are is coming out to a rumbling identical to that which greeted the initial book upon release half a century ago. Mainly, it doesn't speak to a childhood story/story about childhood we can fondly remember/immediately embrace. In actuality, it was a story we grew fond of and are now facing a new set of complications with. There's a nagging notion that a definitive statement on childhood is missing from the proceedings.

While the film might, on the surface, not be a definitive statement on childhood, to ascribe it such value would one, negate its still valid entry into the catalogue, and two, judge it on the merits of its introductory sequence as opposed to the increasingly complicated events that follow. While it initially situates itself within the burgeoning alienation of Max's adolescence from the vantage-less point of Max himself, the environmental factors Max bounces off of thereafter are not bottom-up. But to criticize the movie for its lack of immediate communicability with the younger set as a result of adulteration by the adults who made it negates the potentiality of diluted nostalgia, and lack of communicable relation with one's past self except within the framework of what you now know.

And so, the introductory sequence i.e. Max's real life, bookends the film and said bookends are of a particular kind of childhood sadness. Max comes from a white, middle-class home within which everyone suffers the same alienation but at the expense of their kin. His father is absent, the only trace being an inscription on a globe telling Max "this world belongs to you." His mother, wit's end with her job but with no shortage of love for her kids, seeks solace in a potential suitor. His sister defies familial connection and seeks solace within her friends. Max himself grows more introverted with every failed interaction, measured by how much it caters to his attention, with what gradation of pain (as with a snowball fight turned sour).

Talk of the sun's hypothetical demise in science class are filtered through doom and gloom mythos, internalized by max as a looming concern, or perhaps as an explanation, with the sun as one of a few coming references to patriarchal abdication's effect on the offspring. His attempts to scratch the glacial separation are passive agressive, veering from lovingly indulged storytelling to void-weary outbursts that when seen replicated in his mother's response causes the shock of recognition and sends him running.

Back to the nature of definitive. "Definitive" would suggest such a thing exists ignoring how a more class/race conscious composite would negate this one's reality, and two, its inconsistencies aren't the relation between the film's suggested initial reality and the variegated experiences of children from all kinds of backgrounds, but between the film's suggested initial reality and what transpires during the subsequent escape from it, which itself, if considered, offers the missing link.

While Max's origin story in the film feels tamed and bridled by industry concerns of marketability, with the broadest target audience being Max's class background counterparts whose parents, assumed, would be the most likely contributors to ticket sales, along with the niche indie market the trailer's use of the arcade fire seemed to be tailored for (calling to mind that New Yorker piece they got cornered in), the only reason that might be an issue is because of the embellishment a film adaptation of a ten-sentence book requires. The origin story before script revisions was still what it ends up being in the film, the only changes were to Max's portrayal, previously less sympathetic and heavy on brattitude. While Max in the story IS an angry white kid, the fleshing out of the reason for his behavior seems relegated to something with the least visceral potential.

Not to trivialize the absence of his father, something wholly devastating in itself, but the ensuing violence of the wild things seems to be working out subtextual trauma derived entirely from another kind of upbringing, one which makes more sense in the context of Sendak's quote above, as well as from one of Jonze's stated reference points, Lynn Ramsey's Ratcatcher. A Gummo critics could get behind as it overtly concerns the politcs of poverty, Ratcatcher showed a dustmen's strike exacerbating the filth and degradation of Glasgow's working class and the way that affects an adolescent's reaction to a drowning/his surroundings. For reasons I'll get to in a moment, I kind of feel Julien Donkey-Boy would serve as an even better reference point. Or John Darnielle's The Sunset Tree, or this Tyson interview with Oprah.

So while a quiet, reflective suffering paints the opening scenes, with intimations of the hazards of play (as in Max's stunned tears from out of a crushed igloo) that perhaps offer a connection to the causal mishaps in the land of the Wild Things, it is nowhere near preparatory for what follows. Once we get there the onslaught of growing up's discomforting complications have more parallels to the communal disintegration and reconfigurative processing techniques of the Together collective than to Max's own life. In fact, the socio-political implications of what ensues came off as almost uncomfortably exploratory of abrasion's symbiotic relationship with comfort.

The oratory skills of the Wild Things take on the half-lucid id first ruminations of dreamworld avatars, with the shambling confessional mistakes of inebriation. Their hang-ups control their diction, with their fears punctuating the brash but inquisitive defiance of their statements. Things turn on dream logic, too, as Max's arrival disrupts the jaded and disgruntled demolition binge of Carol, sending Max into the jaws of death when Carol's approval of his participation clashes with the others' death penalty castigations of wanton destruction. For Carol there's something going on under the surface, being that they've all got something going on underneath this tyke's carefree indulgence is a cruel joke.

As for the wild things' hangups: Alexander barely speaks up, mainly to spell out his exclusion in audibly self-loathing tone, perking up only at the site of KW. KW is a loner, with a glum but resigned acceptance of futility, uncharacterisitically indulging the magical promise of Max's arrival while averting Carol's passive-aggressive, history-laden displays of romantic interest. Carol is unstably optimistic, with the possibility of being failed and failing himself constantly lining any pleasant disposition with looming rage. Douglas is Carol's wingman, there to pick Carol up in lieu of encroaching breakdowns. Judith questions the legitimacy of everything with knee-jerk disillusionment hyperaware of her percieved intrusion but always game to partake in failed projects. Ira is actually kind of stoned-happy and easygoing.

Judith and Ira are the only ones who maintain an overt kind of linkage with the wild things' inspiration, Sendak's Jewish immigrant family. Not a positive one, really, as Ira has a big nose and Judith has horns with an ADL style victim-complex and nasal whine but their presence lends the proceedings a tangential connection to Sendak's succeeding works' relation to the holocaust and the destruction it wrought on his extended family in Europe.

LUDDEN: What do you think has drawn you to children's literature? Why there?

Mr. SENDAK: I don't know. I think my own childhood. If I had a unhappy life, and most of us do, actually, and if you have an immigrant life and if you come to this country--I was born here--but then you grow up and everybody in your family who's not here is dead in a concentration camp, and all you hear is your father or mother weeping and tearing hair out, and knowing that pleasure was a sin. Playing ball in the street or laughing was a sin because they can't play ball and they can't laugh. How dare you have pleasure in life when they can't have anything? So I hated them. For a long time, I hated them, and my childhood was completely misshapen by what was going on in the world.

So I had my brother and my sister and my father telling us horrendous stories. He didn't know what was appropriate. He just knew how to tell a story, and it was great, which maybe gave me insomnia, maybe not. But they were really terrifying of shtetl life in Europe and his experiences and stories where--and there were children dying. `I remember Eli and oh, he died in such a terrible way.' `Papa, tell us. Tell us how Eli died,' you know, like that was the best thing we could possibly hear. And then he wouldn't spare us the details. He'd tell us the whole horrible details of Eli's death, and they stayed with me for the rest of my life.

The wild things' horseplay with each other transitions from roughhousing to disturbing in ways that sometimes echo what Liliana Cavani was aiming for in the Night Porter, others the various responses to domestic abuse. Their bipolar vacillation between angry despondence and joyous revelry is both psychological and physical, going at each other like permanently damaged creatures who've come to accept the violent imperfections of their behaviors as both liberatory in the infliction of pain and defensible in the context of displaced anger.

Carol's violent outbursts are shrugged off in "he means well" phraseology. When dirt clod warfare breaks out, KW's facestomping of Carol causes him to take it personally, resorting to the arms of Douglas who he claims would only do such a thing as an accident. To remedy the situation KW asks him to step on her face, he doesn't satisfy the request. When Max takes on the role of face-stepper, she thanks him, relieved. Each one's outward displays of hostility are masks for their insecurities, (SPOILER, kinda) best exemplifed by KW's turning to the mysterious Bob and Terry and willfully interpreting their responses as everything she needed to hear (an action echoed by the wild things later on (SPOILER END)).

When John Darnielle was interviewed by Nerve about the difficulty of The Sunset Tree's autobiographical content, in which a younger Darnielle tries to grow into a functional adult in spite of his abusive stepfather, an unexpected geniality flowed through his response. "I don't want people to feel bad for me because I'm fine, and I don't think of my stepfather as this monstrous figure. A lot of the reviews describe him as drunken, which really annoys me because he didn't drink, really." When that ruffled the standard notion of confessional discourse, he deconstructed Oprah:

The thing about those people on Oprah is, I wouldn't blame them. It's the way you have to frame stuff for an audience as broad as a daytime-TV audience. You really have to spell the story out in the simplest, most black-and-white terms possible. There's no room for nuance in best-selling self-help books. I mean, yes, the abuser is wrong to abuse and yes, the abusee deserves better than to be abused, but after that the dynamics get real sticky. If you are in that dynamic you learn to sort of play the role. I think art would be the better place to investigate these sorts of things. You don't work out problems in your marriage on TV; you do them in the house in really complicated ways.

Darnielle's stepfather had passed on years before he thought of making the album, sparking off a powder keg. For his mother and sister, his stepfather's behavior had passed on, too. The album's last track, though, is an uncharacteristically fond memory , and further complicating things Darnielle leaves something else for him, too: "My stepfather was a passionate, political man. He talked a good game about not lying about the world as you see it. To do honor to that part of him that made me who I am, I felt like I needed to tell the truth." The political machinations alluded to in the Wild Things are also a lot more complicated than expected.

Almost immediately, there's a voluntary vassalage to Max's ascension to the throne, brought on by the Wild Things' percieved need for guidance, for the comfort of hierarchy and being told what to do. It's a desperate response to an emotional rut with grave consequences if the last-ditch effort becomes just another another slap in the face. Initially, it's almost Hobbesian, born in fear, with a "war of every man against every man", liberty sacrificed on behalf of something finally putting an end to it all.
Max's crown is pulled from an unidentified skeleton, one Carol shrugs off as something that was there before they were, before taking Max around the island and repeating the inscription of his father.

The top-down age-ist mechanization the creators are accused of finds defensible character here in that the dissolution of power and utopian vision aren't played off as a world-weary, hopeless dead end but instead a complication of prescriptive naivete in taking on the world's ills, whose resonance here is seen to be derived as much from internal expurgation as external observation, the world is as fucked up as we are. In doing so, the effect isn't to render attempts at remediating, both interpersonally and globally, as null and useless but perhaps perpetually flawed in a way that requires practical application of sympathetic oversight.

That the realization comes from an illusory throne is loaded, obviously. Though his father's absence is never explained, you may gather the hazards of being one are accounted for in Max's travails, but his throne's dissolving importance seems to reflect on the power conferred to the vacated role and the reclamatory ability realizing the overcompensation in doing so entails. Yet when I watched the film the resonance of what transpired with the Wild Things wasn't informed by the introductory sequence, but my mother's experiences, something which recieved an unexpected reaction when we dialogued after the movie's end.

Now my mom, like Sendak, grew up with the Shoah generation. While Sendak was around as a tyke for it it's implications for both of them were gained from the post-traumatic behavior of their parents. When my mom was max's age she was in Israel, and between the Six Days and the Yom Kippur Wars. As she describes it there was a whole generation of kids under parents with double baggage. Either tattooed or refuged, they came out of one catastrophe into another in the role of perpetual war veterans, with the attendant shock. Her dad, and a bunch of others, had PTSD and those kids got caught in the crosshairs of PTSD's blind rage.

For a while there was a disconnect. Growing up and still now my granddad on my mom's side was a comforting example of gentle care. His deliberate movements mirrored the passing of time, not only in the way his methodical thoroughness with every action corresponded to the ticking of the clock but in the way it seemed to accept the futility of rushing, perhaps in light of "where to?" But the trajectory of how he got there over time eventually filled out in less than comforting ways.

Yet, there's never been any animosity in our family trips to Israel, unless it was extra familial and aimed at the news. My mom, seemingly, had internalized the damage, simultaneously acknowleding both his and my grandmother's failure to properly introduce her to the world and that it was their introduction nonetheless, citing mitigating circumstances. With the potential for harm subsided, their presence was innoculable and the endearing parents they could have been, and were from time to time on the family outings she marks as the good times, are instead there now, enabling a familal relationship for her and the rest of us.

When I mentioned the lack of connection between the introductory characterization and subsequent abrasive quality of the wild things and how the initial depiciton of alienation failed to account for the conflicted relationship with violence and love that ensued, my mom countered with the gradations of depression as measured by personal experience. Foregoing comparative trauma, she focused instead on the devastation wrought by incommunicable despondence in direct relation to one's surroundings and the destructive potentiality in any of its unremediated forms. Basically, the capacity for depression and violence isn't solely rooted in environmental factors, and comparing backgrounds ignores what most immediately informs it. All of a sudden it sounded like I had it in for the kid and wanted him to experience my mother's traumas, disregarding the intermitting melancholy I can fall prey to without the assistance of CPS violations.

Yet all my assessments of the Wild Things interactions were second hand. I wouldn't want Eggers and Jonze to have explored that with anything other than genuine interest, and I wouldn't want a harsher reality displayed at the expense of the audience whose recognition of it on personal grounds would result in anguish. As it exists the opening sequence offers a comparative experience with the ensuing activity offering subtextual relation without being overt, but the latter part's engendering of that discourse suggests the discrepancy is worth addressing. It still begs the question, "what kind of wild thing exists in all of us?"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gloury Rules, Revisited: The Basterdization of a History already Basterdized

What Inglourious Basterds is definitely not: Shoah. This is something not to either film's detriment.

In my previous post on Basterds I stated that the film draws power both from how the audience's knowledge of Nazi occupational hazard (ahem) informs the dire gravity of the deceptively trivial meandering between characters, as well as the way the film's direct correlation to the history it inverts is less a denial than a comment on its unattainabilty.

Yet defending the film by suggesting it defines itself in what it is not can only go so far. The absences that inform the film are narrow in scope, and the wider, unacknowledged gap is generally taken for granted in the film's discussion. Some critics, like Jonathan Rosenbaum and Daniel Mendelsohn, accuse the film of holocaust denial. Yet the scope of their accusations is entirely confined to that of the film's, thus cementing the parameters to which the sanctimony can pertain. And what they pertain to is a narrow definition of the Holocaust, mainly that it concerns 6 million jews instead of 12 million humans.

Mendehlson is the author of Lost: The Search for Six in Six Million, where he documents members of his family who died at the hands Nazis (note: Godard had plans to adapt this, which works as a further example of his disregard for the subjects he deconstructs). In his article "When Jews Attack", he posits a few things: the best revenge/prevention of future reiteration is by serving the truth as the Jews have apparently been primarily occupied with doing since (no mention of Israel), and adorning Jewish heroes with Nazi traits stokes vicarious celebration of SS cruelty, not only denying history but setting the foundation for the repitition of its errors.

On the one hand, this is fairly incongruous, as the particularization of said cruelty as Nazi in character suggests it can't be repeated while the omen for the ignorant is its reawakening elsewhere. Yet the particularization is not necessarily an authoritative defining of said cruelty, but ascribing it a specific historical place and washing hands of its time-locked stain. This unfortunately relates to two subsets of holocaust analysis, the assumption of singularity in cruelty, defined as German, and that in which said cruelty can and never should be understood. The latter is the M.O. of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, a film who's scope offers a historical precedent in the discussion.

The following I think is fairly revealing not about what Shoah did accomplish but what Lanzmann thought he was accomplishing. On the question of why the Jews were killed he coins the "obscenity of understanding," saying that "not understanding was my iron law" while filming and that "blindness...was the vital condition for creation. Blindness has to be understood here as the purest mode of looking, of the gaze, the only to way to not turn away from a reality that is literally blinding." Further, "the project of is not only obscenity, it is real cowardice, because this idea of our being able to engender harmoniously, if I may say so again, this kind of violence, is just an absurd dream of nonviolence. It is a way of escaping, it is a way of not facing the horror." Which explains why he said trying to understand Hitler is immoral.

For me, this illustrates less a reverently post-modern capitulation than an attempt to authoritatively engender confusion as a self-perpetuating discourse, Lanzmann being the fountain from which it pours forth. Perhaps his method is a maintenance of objectivity by lack of generalities, but his immersion in facts as phenomena cannot be called comprehensive in that his facts were narrowed to one strata of his film's titular atrocity.

Shoah's method is another peculiarity in that there is no actual imagery from the holocaust. Why? Because "image kills the imagination." Considering the imagination of Robert Faurisson this is not a bad proposition. That's not to deny the method its brilliance, as it has its power.

The film works as a series of interviews with subjects who fall into three assigned categories of survivors, bystanders and perpetrators, conducted for the most part on and around the camps and ghettos as they are today. It's understated but vicious. Conversational teeth pulling is done via translator to evoke the atmosphere and behavior of the neighborhoods surrounding the death camps, as well as to catch a predator cam engagement with nazis themselves, all bearing direct reflection on the remarkably vivid recollection of a dying collective memory.

What nags, though, is that the power of these non-illustrated anecdotes is drawn from the footage not on display. Lanzmann's method would be severely undermined had it not been preceded by night and fog, or really any documentary evidence of the horrors of the holocaust. Therefore, Shoah, even on the grounds of its praise, cannot be the definitive document of holocaust analyses, only, even still, a great contribution to the discourse. On the grounds never broached in discussion of it, it can't be definitive based on its exclusion of the other six million: homosexuals, communists, gypsies, the disabled, the list goes on.

The film's definition of Shoah rests on a narrowly defined, restrictive interpretation that only concerns the plight of the Jews, arguably the cornerstone of Nazi wrath, but not the entire wall. Considering the film's intentionally ponderous length of 9 1/2 hours, the exclusion is an insult to the rest of the victims' legacy. No time is spared to discuss how the wanton destructive anti-semitism might have slipped over into political, sexual and pan-ethnic repression.

One interview subject, Raul Hilberg, was a pioneer of sorts in Holocaust research at a time when it was unpopular. His book, "The Destruction of European Jews" explores as its title dictates. That's excusable, as the goal has strictly defined parameters which he has broken elsewhere. Shoah names itself after the whole thing and then stops short and then even where it stops short it stands back. Considerably different is HIlberg's thesis on Jewish extermination:

As a result of an organized undertaking, five million people were killed in the short space of a few years. The operation was over before anyone could grasp its enormity, let alone its implications for the future. Yet, if we analyze this singularly massive upheaval, we discover that most of what happened in those twelve years had already happened before. The Nazi destruction process did not come out of a void; it was the culmination of a cyclical trend. We have observed the trend in three successive goals of anti-Jewish administrators. The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live.

Hilberg's work came into disagreement with the other subset, of wholesale German character assassination, more recently when Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's WIlling Executioners denied decades of tempered, comprehensive and in-depth holocaust analyis to pin the impetus for the Holocaust on deep-seated German desires. Taking off from the fact that many of the gunmen in shooting operations weren't trained specialists but ordinary cops turned firing squads, the holocaust was really a manifestation of the German will to kill.

In Hilberg's article, The Goldhagen Phenomenon, the notion is dispelled in a few ways. For starters, not all of the shooters were German but also "Romanians, Croats, Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians in significant numbers" which then partly harkens back to the extra-German character of anti-semitism, with the atrocities committed elsewhere including Romanian Odessa Massacre of 70,000 Jews and the far earlier Russian Pogroms. Further, not all the victims were Jews, including the fourth of Germany's mental patients practiced on to get ready for the main event. Also, Hitler's father, not a Jew-hater!

Another important knock not deployed is the way the film doesn't extend its villainization over to the Allies. The one scene Churchill appears is merely part of a running gag mocking historical figure cameos in period pieces, which entirely ignores how Churchill's dogma overlapped with Hitler's regarding anti-semitism. One can be found in this Independent UK article about his 1937 blaming of the "hebrew bloodsuckers" for their misery. Another example is from Nicholas Baker's Human Smoke, collecting vignettes reflecting on WWII's origins:

That doesn't even begin to touch on Churchill's proclamations on what means justify colonialism's ends, yet another historical precedent for genocide in Germany (replete with numbered concentration camp status) as their 1904 extermination of the Herero and Namaqua tribes in Southwest Africa is both a reflection not just on their tendencies for extermination but on how Aryan notions of superiority overlapped with general European disregard for the considered-inferior subjects peopling the lands it played cartography with.

Rosenbaum, to his defense, has an interesting bit about colleagues who got worked up over William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice (presumably for the way Styron inserts himself into a collective history via a semi-autobiographical but almost wholly fictional coming of age tale, he doesn't say) but got behind Inglourious Basteds. The choice of the novel is interesting in that its examination of the holocaust extends the scope from Jewish victimhood to Polish suffering/complicity in the legacy of what the holocaust put Sophie, a gentile Polish citizen, through, to the legacy of slavery on Styron's avatar, who inherits a fortune that dates back to the benefits reaped from a slave auction. As a centuries spanning example of the human capabilities for cruelty, surely the copious amounts of deviant/inventive torture from that institution debunks German singularity.

The question should be, "wouldn't it have been more effective if they had a homosexual, a gypsy and a communist in league with the basterds?" Certainly. But considering what we've got, would it not have been immensely satisfying to know that Werner Von Braun had needed to worry about make-up assistance when making those "science is fun!" Disney reels?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Can't Be Sure Anymore: Assholes and Elbows and Mixtapes

In the extra-functional hours of pre-dawn, modes of discourse tend to take on displaced routes of expression. Thus, this mix.
Blinds drawn with a parking lot on the other side a particular disconnect is wont to overflow in 7911B, but not without inverting the link-up to the abstract. You write papers/memos/articles/reports, get called on to speak or called in to explain yourself, indirectly facebook invited to a cause whose utmost importance is deflated by the medium of the dispatch, and moral gets subverted by temporal.


(and so, an attempt to connect the various thematic and aesthetic threads that seemed to make sense yesterday at 3 in the morning)

Arthur Russell - What it's like
Post-scientific backlash against atheism by the agnostic pluralists, a perpetually shifting discussion that both in youthful extravagance and generational alienation devolves into pleading with tonality, of condescension, naivete, so on. But fuck if asking ain't still the most frustrating experience of diminished returns.

T. Rex - Monolith
One of the original crossovers between role playing nerd and fashion queen, Bolan here does myth takes in girl talk, touching on the underside of that pioneering credulity. "Fogged was their vision, since the ages began" Oh, the CHILDREN OF MEN.

Hood Headlinaz - Soul Glo
Flipping that waxed mop of de-blackification (as per Coming to America's satirical aside), the soul and the spirit are in the words. They're finally here, but, y'know, longevity. Of course, f that, glory here reigns even if momentarily.

Kanye West - I wonder
So, comes an unscripted moment in a glutton of pre-programming and the self-appointed gods throw up their arms on an entire career. Armchair psychology thrown back at the VMA incident completely misses the point that Kanye is a perpetually self-diagnosed persona, whose inner turmoil and self-regard are honestly displayed for public discourse, which, really, is kind of what rap is, warts and all with the blemish cream in tow. Now, consider the line where he turns over to once-free spirited, now domestically dispirited women. Besides the come-on, it isn't a put down, it's not a gotcha call out of hypocritical tendency, but serious empathy to moments where free will and the expected trajectory overlap. You read some passages once, you shot down your parents, when did all that rage become white noise?

Paavoharju - kuisuuden Maailma
Finnish Lutherans and tape hiss. You put down the spirits, we'll conjure them. Don't believe, we'll still create the illusion. Invariably, you'll still get lost.

Triple Six Mafia - Niggaz Ain't Barin' Dat
6 minutes, the golden mean between the time spent fuming over a potential punching bag and the conversely impulsive act of violence. Looped here is the masculinity-testing incentive "slap a punk bitch" but the jarring element is the ethereal, contemplative piano loop that underlines it. It's beyond mantra, it's the inherent self-doubt in the "am I really going to do this" conundrum.

Roxy Music - Ladytron
The flailing vibratto taking on the generally unquestioned obsession with the archetypal object of love/lust. The male singers rarely make this a two-way street, they can't unless they want their shtick demystified by shared limelight, thus the underlying tinge of psychoses. Basically,

Scott Walker - The Old Man's Back Again (dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist regime)
Okay so, Democracy:


Jay-Z: DOA (Death of Autotune)
From camp song taunt to jovial, monarchial skewer. The western horns that lead Jay in like the tumbleweed that announces it's serious. Is he the sheriff in High Noon or the cattle baron lackey Liberty Valance? Whatever he is, he's fucking wicked.

Jacqueline Taieb - Ce Soir Je M'en Vais
"Goodbye my love" that never gets lost in translation, you only think it does because you're sure its obvious simplicity is a cryptic beckoning for the moment to be seized. Result: seizures.

Girls - Hellhole Ratrace
Self-help is always scoffable because it comes in paperback, thus the self-determination of the book-binding factory workers is skipped over in favor of the consumer's self-regard. It's only self-help if it's innocuous and doesn't really affect anything but your mood. Your equilibrium and the status quo. But shit, come on, if you're scraping the barrell a fucking good look in the mirror is nothing scoffable. The mirror merely being a projection of yourself it's all atmospheric application between the lines, but the yearning, the yearning is real and totally deservable. This song, recorded at 30 and speaking volumes at that young 20 that still feels over the hill regardless of the inherent illogic, is all the anxiety wrapped in one real hazy chin up. Thanks, Ketamine!

The Rolling Stones - Wild Horses
They can't drag you away but they could definitely help you skip town. Why you don't is the crux.

Figurines - Race You
There's that aspect in interacting where it's less a fluid exchange than a game of subtly sculpting the other's reply. That last word is the queue, that pause and that um is the missed opportunity, within the reaction is a possible approximation previous speaker's intent. It shouldn't be thought of that way, but sometimes that's how it plays. Selfless is the goal but then accolades come, then castigation comes, then pleas for some reflection. The logic: one can't be selfless AND clueless, but self-realization comes at the cost of impulsive goodness, thus how selfless is it if one pauses to ponder the act? Gahh! The impact is upset by the imp! Mainly, when the authoritative is drawn from the abstract ideal, it gets lost on its way to the bottom. Thus, populist revision! This song, not so much. That game of reflection winds up a sore when the other person's incongruities line up with his puppetry. "Don't call if you need a friend." Deserved response: "What kind of friend were you?" But i'll end on a postively wistful note, recontextualized and disheveled differently instead. "Somehow you never knew, things change and so do you...some dreams still hunt you down"


Friday, September 4, 2009

Blueprint 3: 21 Jumpstreet

To re-up the deflated mythology surrounding The Blueprint 3 consider the pulpy trope of the professional con in secluded retirement being lured back into the game by some dangerously vested interest, spurred by an old foe, a trifling youngin' or barely abated habit. Obviously this would have been more fitting for Kingdom Come but as far as anyone's concerned anything put out after the Black Album is a favor. Jay hasn't exactly been secluded but he does need this in a way, for personal reasons.

"Put your name in the pot already, then you can compare me to biggie and PAC already. Like im gone already and i am nigga i'm already home already"

He made it out of the 90's rap beefs and his throne status on best of charts isn't posthumous. He's curating 3D portfolios on tv commercials, being out-yachted by Grizzly Bear's voices, and failing at realty development. His mouth was his main money maker, famously unscripted feats of memory and improv in the studio, now it's just spilt ink in supermarket rags, prenups and contracts. If not for us, the consumer, he's just going to be grandpa yelling at furniture after making toasts to dinner guests.

"We talking bout real shit or we talkin bout rhymes?"

When an author's done spinning yarns, they take respite in just telling you about themselves, thus the memoir. For Jay Z, that was the Black Album. Unable to recapitulate that he pulled a Styron a la Sophie's Choice and etched his bio into someone else's story on American Gangster, a narrative trick whose conceit alone seemed to spur superlatives (I bought it). It was a weird place, having moved from street hustler to corporate hustler, young punk to big wig, it's not hot to rap about white collar crime and celebrity status would put a seriously reasonable doubt on any gangster shtick so dress up that's self-aware becomes more palatable than unabashed fiction.

The Blueprint 3 drops that. The old foes, the trifling youngins, and the barely abated habit are maybe half-real, but they're also paranoid manifestations of reflective insecurity. None of the new rap is a direct threat on the Jay legacy, but he's not exactly dead or old he's just weirdly hanging around like 80's vert-ramp skaters trying street punk tricks in the 90's. Thing is, he's got it, but he wants to pay new dues just to let you know he didn't need to. And that's where the album gets its emotional thrust, the (to be pretentious for a moment) raging against the dying of the light (for lack of a better high school poetry reference).

"And as for the critics, tell me i don’t get it. Everybody can tell you how to do it, they never did it."

Jay is a celebrity, he can tell you about his life, but it's only important because he's now cultural capital, he has to commodify it for our benefit and since he's cultural capital he gets measured against what's selling whether he likes it or not. Thus the album is packaged with a foot in two worlds, the old man gaze and young gun's ten yard stare. Old blue eyes references with horns and live drums and actual autotune with synth sheen and bubblegum.

"Holdup, this shit need a verse from Jeezy… ay! I might send this to the mixtape Weezy"

Which is what makes DOA or Death of Autotune so funny. He's being a dick AND a goof. The same way Wayne boasted about being the best rapper alive before getting an autotune chip implanted in his throat and picking up a guitar, or, similar to old lit snarks shitting on contemporary fiction, Jay's ruffling feathers and having a good time with it too especially when the second half of the album synths up a walkway right to a historical precedent, a timeless 80's pop gem.

The album starts off hard, with an almost projected, self-purgating excoriation of high-grounded but low-minded critics who can't make the connection between "fake" worded slings and "real" textbook things, but then comes back around like a cosby actually in touch with his subject and takes to task the young kids doing what he made his career on:

"ain’t nothing cool about carrying a strap, about worrying ya moms, and burying ya best cat, talking about revenge while you carrying his casket, all teary eyed bout to take it to a mattress."

The social realism defense always only goes so far and this song has it both ways, melding outside and inside conversations, taking dirty laundry to task while dishing it too. Reasonable Doubt sounded like a cocky young corner kid playing OG, and Jay's street cred was eventually called into question but by the Black Album dude finally sounded like he'd been round the block, with his voice filled in. Maybe now he's comfortable, and he's not connecting his past to someone else's present, but he is connecting someone else's present to his past, thus this is appropriately off with the kid gloves.

"Hail Mary to the city your a Virgin, and Jesus can’t save you life starts when the church ends"

There's this thing rappers do, where hyperaware of their gruff demeanor and its inability to convey other emotions they bring in r & b singers to do the hook, thus vicariously letting out what they can't. It has less to do with socially defined gender roles (or ringtones) than a patchwork melding of respective abilities. The most heartrending version of this comes on Empire State of Mind with Alicia Keys, a totally uncynical and somewhat humbly proud glad to still be here recounting of day to day stuff taken for granted, the added significance a particularly trivial inanity like a streetcorner takes on when compounded by time and personal relation. A musing on De Niro in Tribeca turns into being hood forever, that one McDonald's was only a short stop on another booming industry, the chorus goes inspirational platitude but becomes about a perceptive feeling instead of a reality when Jay takes time from musing on his success to measure its extendability, which doesn't go as far as his sympathy does.

"I felt so inspired by what the teacher said, Said id either be dead or be a reefer head
Not sure if that’s how adults should speak to kids, Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class...Ill teach his ass"

So yeah, fuck an adult when you're a kid. You hear Jay on Charlie Rose he does the intellectual talk show thing, he adopts the formality he laughed at in 99 problems to both mental AND visceral effect, something acting like an "adult" disposes when the purpose is being civil (unless you're Hans Landa). This is where Jay's cockiness makes him great, which we take for granted because we want humility but what if he took it like another kid and ended up a statistic for a Kozol book. It's a thing where what it is highlights what it's not without overshadowing it, as opposed to self-help books that offer you a secret that hits epic FAIL when applied to reality, Jay's talking his response and the what (adults in a position of comfort merely because they made it to 40 and hate on the reminders of what they were) remains the glaring problem, the way him hitting the top in Empire State of Mind doesn't neglect those who don't.

You can take this and apply it to the album where Jay Z's the adult, and you can call him hypocritical, but again he's playing a kid while remembering he's been through the high school cafeteria before. This is more like 21 jump street. If you say you don't hear these things on the album because it's a mess, it's better said that it's messy. And everything personal is messy. And for Jay, these days, this is way more personal than that gangster shtick.

Forever Young

Friday, August 21, 2009

History Blows, Gloury Rules

My preconcieved notions of Inglourious Basterds ran something like this: Tarantino's landfill consummation of film history, particularly his penchant for publicly elevating exploitative shlock to high art, would result in a film whose willing immersion in gruesome transgressions inadvertently captured the horror of life under Nazis as well as the fractured psyche of anyone who attempted to resolve it on its own terms. Just the look on Donny Donnowitz's face during Aldo Raine's speech spoke leagues in the trailer as to the extra-moral and deeply disturbed nature of his participation. But that's not the whole case.

As it turns out, Tarantino has done something else, something no less important: He's imbued the lives of his characters with a filmic relevance that a cinema verite approximation would trample over, not unjustifiably but just irrelevantly so when so much of our history is written not just by historians, but by authors of fiction. WWII for long has not just been something that happened, but a pliable backdrop for by other means genre exploration, be it espionage or romance or self-congratulatory narcissism (or all three in the superficial yarnification of Where Eagles Dare). Forget allegorical attempts at understanding the real, but the bending of reality to the personal stampage of creative will.

To take a reputably high art example - Gravity's Rainbow having less to do with the reality of WWII horrors than with Pynchon's acid-drenched rearrangement of the endlessly marginal information stored in his head. When it didn't directly engage in WWII it was off on Freudian tangents of peculiar libidinal intrigue, the deathly pall of supernatural/kabbalistic lore, sci-fi conceits and ahistorical occultist parallels drawn across enemy lines.

Thankfully, Tarantino isn't that kind of ambitious, his playing ground here is always related to the war but by the indirect two-way mirror of the war film, which is where we find the literature relevant to this context. The Dirty Dozen's death row inmates thrown into enemy territory with the chance of vindication had more to do with 60's political climate of racial strife, political self-determination via distrust of authority, and existential developments in the perception of morality.

Tarantino's concern with the present has less to do with current events than our fixation on the past and its portrayal. One level is through the aforementioned film genrifiction, the other is through cultural sensitivity. When pioneer Holocaust historian (because at one point it wasn't even a niche) and primary Shoah source Raul Hilberg was denied access to the Yad Vashem archives it had to do with his complicated portrayal of Jews during the Holocaust, mainly the disingenuously representative politics of the Judenrate that he believed were complicit in ongoing machinations of genocide:

"I had to examine the Jewish tradition of trusting God, princes, laws and contracts [...] Ultimately I had to ponder the Jewish calculation that the persecutor would not destroy what he could economically exploit. It was precisely this Jewish strategy that dictated accommodation and precluded resistance."

Another controversial assessment of the Jews during the Holocaust was Hannah Arendt's implication that "without Jewish help there would have either been complete chaos or a severe drain on German power." Further eroding the importance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the Bielski brothers is the unintended perpetuation of said passive reputation by conservative polemicists arguing against Palestinian violence by suggesting the Jews never resorted to blowing up restaurants, as if the resulting near-success of the Final Solution somehow makes that come off as a good thing.

And now, there's a furor (ahem) in the Jewish critical community about the film's parallels to terrorism and the glorification of its usage, the titular Basterds being a rag-tag band of psycopathic Jews enlisted by the American army to offset Nazi stability by spreading fear through their ranks with the use of scalping, insignia carving, brain bashing and any other sadistic means of disposal. (SEMI-SPOILER ALERT: Their ultimate goal is to blow up a movie theater where the four most important Reichsters will be attending the premiere of Goebell's new propaganda action film, a plan that unkowingly runs along a similar plot hatched by of the owner of the theater, a disguised fugitive and sole survivor of a round-up massacre that killed her entire family.)

While they should be more worried about what actual Jews are up to in the occupied territories the film plays with the grey area between the abject meaninglessness/inscrutability of existence and the cathartic release of cinematic analysis and reappropriation. The Basterds and the plot aren't merely wish fulfillment but a commentary on its non-existence. It's not the propaganda of Riefenstahl, where idealization supersedes honesty, but post-propaganda in which the framework of the presentation is aware of the facts' overwhelming bulwark against its fancies.

It's Tarantino's understanding of the variegated tonality of filmic representation with which he allows his protagonists to achieve canonical (in the religious sense) ascension to historical importance. The unabashed recycling of soundtracks, plot devices, setups and tropes are here used because they exist, not because they correlate to something particular, but how they make something particular relatable, the final irony here being how the parlor tricks reveal the inherent alienation/remoteness of the film's central dilemmas. The atmospherically epic western framing of deceptively placid interrogations gives weight to the disorientingly overwhelming plight of the victim, as in the opening sequence where a farmer's wits are strained trying to coolly please the prized Gestapo "Jew-Hunter" there to sniff out the family under the floorboard, soon becoming the origin story for one of the main protagonists.

Thus, Inglourious Basterds is not just the retroactively retributive war movie its adverts suggested but a delirious con game of mutable bluff. Tarantino's repertoire consists of pulp variables and encyclopedic auterism but all within the art of maintaining interpersonal cool with vested interest. Characters talk to each other, but almost like the other person's response is merely an expectedly sculpted reflection on whoever just spoke's well-kept facade, a cocky disposition requiring awestruck reassurance to make sure the trick is working.

To ensure the trick works, and the charm of its deceit endures, crafted are a tryptich of outsized archetypes. Christoph Waltz's SS Col. Hans Landa, a self-styled detective whose mark is every last hiding Jew, hence his moniker "The Jew Hunter," whose motivation is the satisfaction of superciliously outsmarting his victims. Brad Pitt, licking his chops, obviously relishing the chance to play deep-fried Lt. Aldo Raine, a classic southern charmer who draws on his part Apache heritage as an explanation for the guerilla warfare the Basterds unleash on the Nazis. And Melanie Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfuss alias Mimeux, the tight-lipped, no-bullshit proprietor of the cinematheque who doesn't need the allies to unbridle her fury. Almost no one here is wasted, even the generally repugnant Eli Roth as The Bear Jew playing what eerily resembles the modern Kappa Delta Jewish American with aimlessly xenophobic balls to spare here transplanted in a historical situation where his dick moves are actually useful.

Here, though, the violence is a mere intermittent startle. Instead, the action is almost entirely foreplay, consisting of interminably drawn out poker games where the playing hand is the conversational bluff and the stakes are death. One of the central ironies of the Holocaust is that it was perpetrated by what was until then considered the apex of civilization, emblematic of the intellectual and moral superiority of western culture. In Basterds, the use of manners, wit, and general congeniality are used primarily to ensnare the next possible victim, creating a juxtaposition between the tenets held dear by the hospitality management side of the self-aggrandizing clash of civilizations ideology, and the methods used to uphold their position outside of their diction.

But this being as much a war movie as it is a war movie about war movies the scripting of the diction is just as important. Tarantino isn't only revising history, but revising the fictional approximation of history, with its historical innacuracies, composite characterizations and unrelated genre excercises by taking it to its logical conclusion, where the wide gap between what happened and how it's now told becomes the point in itself.