Riots, revelers, teams, and tribes

Whenever local public outrage boils over following a flashpoint murder of an unarmed person of color by a member of the State’s domestic terrorism arm (read:the Police), I usually see at least one social media post by an educated, left-leaning friend like this:

In other words, when a large number of (largely) Caucasian college students and/or sports fans get together in public to celebrate their chosen sports team’s victory by overturning automobiles and burning couches, it’s usually depicted and described by the Media as ‘reveling’…

But when a large number of persons of color get together in public to express their frustration over what has become increasingly clear is the systemic murder of members of their community by those who exist to supposedly ‘serve and protect’ those communities, it’s usually described by the Media as ‘rioting’.

Please note that I’m not addressing looting—which does occur in connection with both types of unrest. Looters, as far as I’m concerned, are a few bad apples making the larger group look bad: criminals, plain and simple, who are taking advantage of unrest in order to commit crimes.
What I am addressing is folks getting together in public, in connection with recent events, to protest—by-and-large nonviolently—police abuses.

Why this difference in how these types of unrest are described? It’s not entirely about race—you have to take a step back and look at the big picture:
42915The reason why sports-related riots are depicted as ‘reveling’ and mass protests are depicted as ‘riots’ is this: because in the sports riots, violence is directed horizontally, contained within the bottom of the pyramid, and it only serves to reinforce arbitrary divisions between artificial tribes (sports teams and their fans). However, the violence (or even non-violence) of a protesting populace is directed in another direction: upwards—from the bottom of the pyramid towards the systems of violence, power, and control at the top…and that’s when the militarized tacti-cops and their SWAT vans come out to play:
7052b-ferguson2bmilitarized2briot2bpoliceThe current power systems in place recognize that the violence of rioting sports fans doesn’t pose a threat to them, and so the ‘revelers’ are allowed their night of diversionary couch-burning fun. Jerry M. Lewis explains quite adeptly how,
“In America the rioting is typically with young white males, and it’s always after championship play or an important playoff game. Why do they do it? It’s a way they identify with the victory. Fan violence becomes an act of sporting success. They can’t dunk a basketball, but they can be violent, which is a metaphor for athletic success.”

Indeed! Being a sports-fan now is primarily a passive pursuit (sit and watch TV)—unless your team wins, in which case, you’d better prove you’re a true fan and flip that car.
And why is this behavior seen “typically with young white males”? As Daniel Quinn writes,

“For ten thousand years you’ve believed that you have the one right way for people to live. But for the last [four] decades or so, that belief has become more and more untenable with every passing year. You may think it odd that this is so, but it’s the men of your culture who are being hit the hardest by the failure of your cultural mythology. They have (and have always had) a much greater investment in the righteousness of your revolution. In coming years, as the signs of collapse become more and more unmistakable, you’ll see them withdraw ever more completely into the surrogate world of male success, the world of sports.”

It’s a great irony—only after abandoning a tribal society in favor of a hierarchical, pyramid-shaped one, our culture found that its men still needed tribes to belong to and identify with…and so professional sports teams were born. Now, if you want to join a tribe, instead undergoing a painful initiation ritual, all you have to do is go out and buy a jersey and some facepaint, and scream louder and burn more couches than the other team’s fans—it’s macho posturing in the same way that tribal folk for a million years have been painting themselves up to both show their affiliations, and intimidate other groups. Unfortunately, at the core of this modern incarnation are petty, arbitrary divisions that only serve to distract and divide an ignorant population—to say nothing of the ubiquitous and constant advertising!

Kill the K-cup


Single-use products like these need to be taken out back behind the shed, and shot.
Leave it to the Global North to be in such a hurry that it demands a complicated electronic machine to make single servings of coffee, that will likely either break (non-user-repairable) or be replaced (planned obsolescence) in two years, and creates non-recyclable waste with every use.
I signed it. Will you?

This culture of maximum convenience is also the culture of maximum harm.

For the record, the only responsible solution (if you have to drink coffee in the first place) is to head down to your local antique store, pick up a vintage moka pot:
buy organic fair-trade beans, and compost the grounds (roses love them). You may be slightly inconvenienced, but when this is the alternative, suck it up.

A quick note on folk music and outdated memes

Alynda Lee Segarra … noticed that her own people — music makers and music lovers — would regularly sing along with choruses about killing women, comfortably accepting gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition. No more, she said. “The Body Electric” was her intervention.” (Ann Powers, writing on NPR’s music blog).

Might I say that it’s ABOUT DAMN TIME someone in the national folk-music scene took this head-on?

Look, I like ‘traditional folk’ music as much as the next guy, but when the memes encoded in a ‘traditional’ song (no matter how beloved) are completely status quo, I will never be able to give a shit about it: I’m not so blindly loyal to a given style of music that I’m going to listen/learn/perform a song just because it’s old.

Face it: the devaluation of feminine life–the meme at the heart of this woman-killin’-murder-ballad genre–has been a ‘traditional’ part of Our Culture for the last several thousand years…and as readers of this site will know: I got no time for that shit. “Get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand”, and all that.

(Pretty much the only murder ballad I’ll listen to is Okkervil River’s “Westfall”, and the main reason is because it doesn’t just describe and then stop after the murder (as so many ‘traditional’ songs do) but goes on and at least has *something* to say.)

When the Good Guys look like the Bad Guys…

In case you don’t hang around on pop culture websites, here’s the link to what you may have missed last week: the latest nugget of Hunger Games movie-franchise teaser images features the ostensible ‘rebel warriors’ who will appear in the series’ third film, Mockingjay, Part The First.
And here are the posters, all together:

HGMJ1rebs

(On a superficial note, Cressida‘s extreme undercut shaved-head look won’t hold up well in twenty years or so. Plus, good luck getting us to believe the story is set hundreds of years in the future when a character has an oh-so-trendy twenty-teens ‘do like that.)

Ugh. I think my first thought upon seeing these was something along the lines of, “Huh. Good Guys are looking pretty tacticool: black plastic submachineguns, black ninja suits…Are our protagonists planning to take the fight to the Capitol, or raid a Branch Davidian compound?”

In general, I find that the entire publicity/marketing propaganda campaign for these sequels leaves me feeling somewhat nauseous. While the ‘Capitol’ campaign is focused on ideas of ‘unity’ and decadence, the opposition seems more concerned with manufactured ‘resistance’ and being bleak. However, make no mistake, there is nothing organic about either campaign: each is meticulously planned, arranged, ‘shopped, and doled out to the masses of salivating fans.

However, in light of last month’s (justified and, frankly, long overdue) protests/riots and resulting police overkill/crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent broaching of a national conversation about the militarization of police, I have to say that I find this latest batch of publicity posters pretty repulsive. Hell, even if they were released long before things went down in Ferguson, I still would have found them repulsive.

On the Wired link above, I counted (as of 4 September) 35 comments; most seemed to focus on fawning over the sole female in the lineup (I gathered that she also appears on the toxic ‘Game of Thrones’ series), complaining about the first and second films’ similarities, or technical issues. Of those 35, only a single commenter seemed able to separate his enjoyment of the franchise from the troubling visual message on display. This individual (who uses an image of a Black man as their avatar) remarked simply, “Wait, this is the Ferguson Police squad.”
Indeed. Congratulations, ‘tmsruge’, you win.

In fact, if you covered up the faces of these characters and the name of the film being promoted, I would have to assume that they were either elite, spooky, SEAL-type shadowy assassin-tools-of-the-State, or shady Blackwater-type ‘contractor’ mercenaries for private hire. But, surprise!, these are supposedly the Good Guys! Well, I’ll believe it when I see it, because as soon as you put your ‘rebels’ in matching uniforms*, they start looking entirely like oppressive, top-of-the-Pyramid Powers That Be.

And yes, tha Police fall neatly into that category.

*(History seems to show us that in a conflict, the less-civilized force will almost always be the one without uniforms (underdogs may have a similar look, but usually won’t be standardized). Star Wars is a good example of a rare exception: even though the Rebels have a standardized military, they’re still the less-Civilized of the two parties (being democratic, gylanic, and diverse, etc. versus the xenophobic, patriarchal, literal Space Nazis of the Galactic Empire.)

Why is this? Is it some kind of Stockholm Syndrome in the water? Have we become so accustomed to being oppressed by these kinds of paramilitary forces that we’re supposed to identify with—and even root for—them now?
Either the costume designers clearly do not understand what is meant by ‘ragtag resistance’, or perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that the rebels are entirely backed by District 13, whose leadership is just as corrupt as the Capitol?

Anyway, as I close, I’ll bring this back to the Real World, with a handy little tool—compliments of the Freedom of Information Act!—that reports what kind of groovy ex-military gear your local peacekeepers can bring to bear on your community. Stay informed!

Midsummer Foraging Fun with Garlic Mustard!

[Editor’s note: I originally wrote (and promptly forgot about) this back in June. Ah well, better late than never!]

If you’re not involved in invasive species control, you might not be very familiar with garlic mustard. Which is too bad, because everybody should know about it—this European plant is a major problem in North America these days. Luckily, unlike a lot of the nastier (usually Asian) imports, this one is at least good for something!
In fact, g.m. is one of the oldest known cooking spices—its use dates back all the way to the Old European Neolithic!

Since we’ve just passed the summer solstice, now is the perfect time to get out in the woods and kill two birds with one stone—help rehabilitate our local environment, as well as harvest a tasty seasoning! Earlier in the spring, g.m. can be gathered fresh and the leaves used to flavor dishes, but by now most of the plant has died back, leaving the seed pods for easy identification.

I took a quick barefoot woods-walk this afternoon, and in about twenty minutes managed to gather a good bundle of dried stalks:
Garlic mustard plants (June)
Because the delicate dried pods (or “siliques” for all you botanists out there) that contain the seeds will break open if you look at them the wrong way—and since we’d also like to prevent the spread of g.m.—it’s best to take extreme care while you pull the plant up by the roots to keep the seeds from shooting everywhere.
Garlic mustard pods
Once you have your bundle of plants, you can ‘shuck’ or strip the pods off the stalks; from here, it’s a simple matter of agitating the pods to release the seeds (I ground them around in this stone mortar before rolling bundles between my hands, and then winnowed away the chaff:Garlic mustard chaff
Garlic mustard seeds Now that I’m left with an ounce or so of pure seeds, I’m going to experiment and keep some plain and roast some others (to facilitate easier grinding), and then do some living history and season some venison with it. The seeds by themselves smell deliciously savory, with a hint of horseradish!

Thoughts on Aronofsky’s ‘NOAH’

Well, I finally got around to seeing NOAH (given the limited staying power and increased turnover rate of mainstream releases these days, my movie-going pattern is pretty much either Opening Day With Bells On, or Dollar Theater Several Months Later.)
Before I get into my discussion of the film’s troubling big-picture issues, I feel I should give at least a couple of quick thoughts about it as a film, cultural implications aside.

It’s not that bad.
*I thought the pacing was off (I didn’t check my clock, but I think about the first hour of the film is pre-Flood, and the second hour is all post-Flood, on the boat), and since most of the Drama is crammed into that second hour, it feels a little unbalanced. Personally, I would’ve liked to have spent a little more time watching the Ark being built, instead of the ten-year (?) fast-forward, while it gets 90% completed off-screen.

*The setting is really ambiguous, but I understand that it was intentional—we’re not meant to be sure if we’re seeing Earth in the far, far, far distant past, or pseudohistorical, deconstructed Biblical times, or a distant ‘post-apocalyptic’ future (a la the Sloosha’s Crossing… section of Cloud Atlas), or even a totally different planet (in which case, the use of biblical names works in a kind of folk-archetype way)—witness the radically-different continents and the celestial objects visible in the skies, even during daytime. In the end, of course, a case could be made for each of these possibilities, which makes for a more interesting, multilayered film in general, but in the interest of avoiding ambiguity I still would’ve liked the film to have picked one and stuck with it.

*Everybody (the literalist Christians, especially) seems to have been surprised and up in arms about the director’s inclusion of ‘Watchers’….they should get over it.
It’s funny, because these ‘rock monsters’ were totally edited out of the film’s promotional material, just to surprise the audience out of nowhere! I actually really liked these characters (they’re like kickass helpful stone Ents!)—plus, using Nick Nolte to voice a pile of gravel incarnate was doubly brilliant—and it’s nice to see references to apocryphal ‘giants’ and Nephilim and such interpretable-as-extraterrestrials spookiness getting used. The character design and animation on these guys was great; I could watch them all day.

Anyway, on to the big picture fun.

When I first saw the teaser for NOAH months ago, my first reaction was probably some grumble about the whole production design (costumes especially)—reflecting Hollywood’s zeitgeist-y obsession with “gritty” (for the current ringleader and worst offender, see HBO’s Game of Thrones…but on second thought, no, don’t see it, because that show is toxic).
You know how it goes—even though a property is ostensibly set in a ‘historic’ or at least ‘realistic’ setting, outfits are designed with visual storytelling and not practicality in mind. Call it ‘Hollywood primitive': garments are always incredibly threadbare and made of what-looks-like loosely-woven burlap with exposed, crudely-sewn seams in uncomfortable places (with grime rubbed into every crevice), as if to suggest that people occupying more ‘primitive’ levels of technology are incapable of both craftsmanship and regular laundering:

If this film wasn’t associated with Darren Aronofsky, I’d just chalk it up as another ‘gritty’, Russell Crowe-led anachronism-stew historical epic with copious amounts of shakycam—of which he has been in quite a few (but not Master and Commander—that’s a quality piece!).
However, because Aronofsky was directing, I know there was probably going to be a fair amount of realism sacrificed for the sake of Art. From what I’ve read, the Christian audience the film has been halfway courting—you can’t make a major film based on a major episode of the Old Testament without attracting Christian attention, after all—seems to have been expecting NOAH to have been a literalist reading of the story thrown up on the screen. I understand they were disappointed. Apparently, it would seem they expected a film about a fairy tale to have been realistic!

But the costumes and the ‘realism’ of NOAH aren’t what I came to grumble about. My main grumble is about the film’s underlying philosophy, which is nothing if not unquestioning of the status quo. This is especially troubling considering the myriad possibilities of alternative viewpoints that an innovative director like Aronofsky could have brought to a film like this. But unfortunately, what we got was the same old Younger Culture message that we see encoded and enacted all around us every day: the one about how Humanity is fundamentally (and irreparably) flawed as a result of some half-understood original ‘sin’ first manifested in the killing of a figure called Abel by a figure called Cain.

Especially indicative of this is the segment I’ve embedded below, in which the character Noah summarizes the pre-Flood chapters of Genesis, and in which Aronofsky fairly successfully (and visually beautifully) shoehorns the history of evolution into the biblical six-day creation of the world, via the deployment of copious amounts of poetic license:

This ‘evolution’ sequence seems to reinforce our culture’s misguided anthropocentric viewpoint, suggesting that every stage of creation—from the first dividing cells on up to fish, frogs, lizards, mammals and monkeys—has been leading towards the emergence of Man. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the human species is not the end-point of evolution.

Despite depicting his ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ as radiant creatures straight out of Cocoon, Aronofsky’s version of ‘The Fall’ still remains the same old mess of incomprehensibility as our culture’s accepted interpretation, heard or seen everywhere, even when reduced to a simple repeating three-note wordless visual motif (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack).

The montage which follows—various historically-costumed warrior silhouettes killing and being killed—only serves to underline the status quo message of the film. Crowe’s narration (reflecting our deluded, dominant cultural narrative) suggests that our major flaw (encoded as ‘Human Nature’) is such that we’re simply unable to keep from killing each other. This, frankly, is bullshit, as anyone who has ever dug even slightly more than surface-deep into human history would see that even the most sustainable societies still have warfare and the occasional murder.

Luckily, the truth, which this film doesn’t seem to recognize, is that the problem doesn’t lie with Humanity as a whole.

In NOAH’s opening exposition cards, we are told that following The Fall (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack), the followers of Cain created an “industrial civilization” which spread over the earth. If you take Quinn’s anthropological view of The Fall story—in which Cain (the metaphorical first practitioner of our culture’s model of aggressive agriculture) kills pastoralist Abel in order to possess and farm his land—and look out the window, you can see that story being enacted before your very eyes.
Throughout the film, Noah repeatedly (ad nauseum, in fact) asserts that for the good of all, the whole murderous human race (‘mankind’) needs to be wiped off the face of the planet. This is, of course, untrue: saving the world requires stopping only one single culture—Ours—the one whose rise to dominance was metaphorically depicted in the biblical story of ‘The Fall’.

This was the part where Aronofsky really dropped the ball, in my opinion.
Given the film’s explicit connection of a life-destroying industrial civilization with the ‘line of Cain’, it would have been very easy, in all those scenes where Noah insists that wicked, murderous Man must not be allowed to survive, to replace ‘Man’ with ‘Cainites’, as a handy sort of shorthand for ‘Totalitarian Agriculturalist-model Civilized Takers’.
(Some reviewers seem to have picked up on a ‘green’ message in NOAH, but I must have missed it; I don’t recall a point at which Noah ever suggested the Flood was retribution for the damage the Cainite civilization had wreaked on the planet. If he did, it was done, again, by pinning the blame on ‘Man’ and not a single culture.)

While it may be hard for us, here in the conquered 21st century, to conceive that civilization is not the whole of humanity, for the protagonists in NOAH, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t be able to. After all, as Noah himself is descended from Cain and Abel’s other brother Seth, he should be well aware that the Sethite line which he embodies (vegetarian and friendly to non-human animals as they seem to be) represents a far more healthy approach to life than that of the industrialized Cainites.

In short, while Aronofsky’s Noah continues to assert that Man must be destroyed because he simply can’t stop killing himself, it would have been exceedingly more accurate (and productive) to say that the line of Cain must be stopped before it is allowed to destroy all life in its relentless, myopic pursuit of Growth and Power.

Doomsday Preppers: Firefighter Mark

It seems they’ve saved the best for last, because this is possibly the most over-the-top, ridiculously-deluded prepper profile we’ve seen yet—but if you take it with a truckload of salt and remember that we’re just seeing grown men ‘playing Army’ and goofing off, it might help keep you from wanting to repeatedly bang your head against the wall:

Our final (thank goddess!) segment finds us in Georgia, following around one Mark Sanders:

click the pic for Mark’s youtube channel of apparently random bullshit!

Right off the bat, Mark wants us to know that he really takes his self-identification as an Amurikan capital-P Prepper seriously. ‘Wolverines!’ sticker on his OD jeep, extraneous stars&stripes bandana on his shotgun, &c.…
Mark’s cooked-up paranoia is of a “foreign occupation of the Yoo-nited States of Amurika”. At least he’s not so misguided as to believe we’ll be occupied by terrorists (I’ve already commented here on the interplay between terrorism/occupation).
However, Mark does state right from the get-go that he believes “it’s gonna be like Red Dawn!”: y’know, with Russian paratroopers and stuff. As we’ll see throughout the segment, that particular piece of 1980s Cold War jingoism seems to take up a significant portion of Mark’s thought process (my guess is, he saw the flick in theaters as a youngling and has been fixated on it ever since).

We see him do the requisite food hoard show-off (six months worth) and then get right into the meat of our Prepper Build Project: Mark and his band of firefighters/paramilitary wannabes decide it’d be a worthwhile endeavor to make a ‘Trojan Horse’ out of a 500-gallon propane tank, y’know, so they can ‘get into the enemy base’. Ohboy.

But…they don’t get very far in their building project before they decide to test their mettle by waterboarding each other. Seriously. At least I’m 90% sure that’s what they did; I dunno, I don’t think it’s one of those things you can really fake for TV, and they come across as just crazy enough to do something like that.

For some reason or other, we also see the guys try cooking up some homemade sugar-and-potassium-nitrate smoke bombs. I really, really hope they got the recipe from a 1980s dial-up text-based bulletin board system, just ‘for teh lulz.’ Seriously, this is what my friends and I did in high school, so again, I feel I should stress that we’re just seeing grown men goofing off in this segment.

So, what exactly is their half-baked plan to ‘infiltrate the enemy base’? Apparently it involves leaving the tank (with the guys in it??) in a public place where they hope their occupying enemy will happen by with a hankering for some propane, at which point they’ll immediately tow it back to their ‘enemy base’, leaving Mark and the boys to pop out and yell “Wolverines!”

They believe accomplishing this requires adding a ‘periscope’ (tiny mirror on a wire) to their propane tank, cutting a man-sized hole in the bottom of the tank, putting said tank on a trailer, and equipping said trailer with a trapdoor and yet another spike-strip ‘trap’ for following vehicles.
To ‘test’ their ‘plan’, Mark and his boys all squeeze into the tank with their guns and nightvision and body armor and junk, and then sit tight and wait to get picked up by an enemy tow truck.

When one just happens by, their group’s other member follows the truck in his vehicle and keeps in constant contact with Mark (via radio headset, of course!). However, in an actual occupied scenario (with curfews and such in place, remember), I really don’t think there’s any way their buddy would be able to tail them in the tank and provide radio tips.

Once they’re in place, just listen to the way Mark explains their plan—“Team 33 is getting ready to bail out, cause havoc behind enemy lines!” Man, so much puffed-up swagger. And when they’re done? “We were able to get behind enemy lines; it was nothing less than brilliant, it was executed perfect!” Yeah, okay, if you say so.

What I want to know is this: why don’t we see—instead of all this camo-clad macho posturing with his bros bullshit—how Mark deals with four small children and an unseen wife on a bug-out to their retreat location? Oh right, because that’s a scenario people might actually learn something from watching, especially as it’s the far more likely situation!

Meh, I am so done with this show; <micdrop> I’m out.

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