Posts Tagged ‘Ishmael’

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.



I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s still a valid point.
Say what you will about it (haters are gonna hate regardless), AVATAR is the perfect film for our times, and it’s very telling how it’s had practically zero lasting cultural impact, aside from becoming a punchline. Unlike “I’m the king of the world!”, “Hasta la vista, baby”, or “Game over, man!”, you probably won’t hear anyone saying “I see you” non-ironically.  Which is too bad, because the recipe is pure James Cameron genius:

*Take a troperific love story (don’t forget the James Cameron Strong Female Character™!),

*Place it in a larger Takers-versus-Leavers conflict (to make it applicable and let us draw comparisons to every single run-in between Our Culture and the less-civilized since the Neolithic):
Contact*Set it in the future (to showcase dressed-up guns, power loaders, and other geeky hardware),

*Highlight an inherent preachy message to warn society of its faults (they won’t do anything but bitch about how heavy-handed it was),

*Dress it up with absolutely cutting-edge, will-not-age, had-to-be-invented-for-the-film special effects,

*And then rake in the dough when every person on the planet (statistically speaking) sees it, twice, in 3-D, and doesn’t take anything away from the experience besides, “Gee, Dave, that place sure was purty!”

Like I said, pure genius!

The Suburbs: ‘Culture War’

This track didn’t appear on the original release, but comes from the deluxe edition that was released with Scenes From the Suburbs; as such, it was just lumped onto the end of the normal songlist with the other new song (they were also released together as a single). I’m inserting it here between Suburban War and Month of May, mostly because I like the dynamic between the two different ‘wars’.
While it contains good conceptual examples of the underlying themes of the band’s overall vision, it doesn’t make many solid lyrical connections to any other Suburbs songs; as such it’s hard to find things to say about it. The review above smartly summed it up as “hardly worth mentioning” except as “a deleted scene from an already recognizable film.”

Now the future’s staring at me
like a vision from the past,
and I know these crumbs they sold me,
they’re never gonna last.

Why does the future look like the past? Probably owing to the fact that for our dominant culture—technological inflation aside—nothing has really changed in the last six thousand years? Women (and men with feminine traits) are still viewed as inferior, the living systems of the nonhuman world are still being exploited and destroyed for ‘profit’, governments enforce their centralized power with the threat of military might, patriarchic organized religions preach a misguided belief in flawed humanity, and people sell their time at “work” in exchange for locked-up food. And until more people start imagining a different way (and as humans, imagination is the big thing that sets us apart from our non-human family), things are probably going to stay this way.
Note that the crumbs are sold, but not necessarily bought—this from the man who “don’t want the salesman knocking on [his] door”. There’s something powerful in that, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Like the “ocean in a shell” in Half Light I, he’s only getting a tiny taste (crumbs) of something sublimely bigger, authentic, and more satisfying. Like a lot of pop culture, the crumbs are ultimately just momentary entertainments that distract us from the underlying issues obscured by Our Culture.

Though we know the culture war, we don’t know what it’s for
but we’ve lived the southern strategy,
but we’ve lived the southern strategy,
You know it’s never gonna last, so keep it in the past.

Playing on fears is the lowest way to keep people in control, and in the end it’s no good, because eventually they will wise up to it. Even in the US&A, as the demographics continue to shift, ever so slowly social views are changing (witness the most recent presidential re-election).

These are different times that we’re living in, these are different times.
Now the kids are growing up so fast, paying for our crimes.

Kids growing up so fast, literally and figuratively. Hormones in the milk and all that.

You left while I was sleepin’, you said, “It’s down to me”
Oh I’ve read a little Bible, you see what you want to see.
Oh, we know the culture war, we don’t know what it’s for
but we’ve lived your southern strategy.
You know it’s never gonna last so keep that shit in the past.

“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our certain point of view.”

The dominoes they never fell but bodies they still burn.
Throw my hand into the fire but still I never learn, will I ever learn?

Again, powerful words but so vague without any solid connections to the other songs.

That these are different times.
Now the kids are growing up so fast and paying for our crimes.
We’ll be soldiers for you, mommy and daddy, in your culture war.
We’ll be soldiers for you, mommy and daddy, but we don’t know what it’s for.

The culture war that Win sings of isn’t a war between Red and Blue States, nor even one of our uniquely American wars-on-an-idea (The Drugs, Terror, Poverty, &c.), but the unspoken and largely unrecognized framework of Our Culture. Simply by raising their offspring in this particular mental environment (at its most basic, a culture of war), parents are ensuring that their children will grow up to be “soldiers”.

We’re soldiers now in the culture war.
We’re soldiers now, but we don’t know what it’s for.
So tell me what’s it for.
You want it? You got it, here’s your culture war.
You want it? Now you’ve got it, so tell me what’s it for.

Doomsday Preppers: Jeremy

Our next featured prepper is Jeremy, from somewhere. That’s right, no last name or location. Which means that so far, he’s either the only one smart enough to not want to broadcast his preparations to the world, or the only one who doesn’t have something to gain from appearing on the show.
This one’s pretty light on content, but hey, I can always find a jumping-off point to chip away at The Mess.
The issue he claims to be preparing for is a collapse of society resulting from peak oil. “When the pumps go dry, people won’t be able to go to work; when that happens, infrastructure starts to fail.” What’s wrong with the scenario Jeremy outlines? Here’s a good place to examine some of the issues (which are all profoundly interrelated, of course) at the heart of modern civilized life.
Because our educational system is essentially based on a prison model, its main motivation is to keep children out of the job market until graduation. Because 95% of the material taught in schools is unnecessary for real life, students graduate with no real survival skills (because when the food is under lock and key at the grocery store, you don’t need to know how to find or grow it, only how to get the green pieces of paper to buy it). If you were to take away people’s jobs—or, in the case of oil shortages, the means to travel to those jobs—they would be unable to provide for themselves, having no skills that would enable them to survive, in a system that requires money to acquire food.
This, I think, is the real motivating fear behind conventional end-of-the-world types: that a disaster will cause modern  infrastructure to collapse, resulting in waves of jobless—and therefore moneyless, homeless, and foodless—people, and the terrifying possibility that they will be among that ravenous, helpless horde would truly be the end of the world for them.
If that scenario scares the shit out of you, you’re probably pretty damn civilized. Because if you described to me someone who had no permanent home, had no money in his pockets, and no discernable occupation, I’d say it sounds a whole lot like a Neanderthal, or a nomadic Amerindian, but that could be a Bushman or a hobo just as easily. Ask a tribesman what he does for a living and he’ll look at you as if you had two heads, because tribal societies don’t differentiate life from occupation, the same way they don’t distinguish life from religion. Life is their occupation, as is their religion. And unfortunately, as the Neolithic lifestyle has continued to snowball for ten thousand years, people of Our culture have assumed that Our way is the One Right Way For People To Live, and anyone doing something different needs to be converted/reeducated/neutralized.
Fuck, man. This stuff is so completely interconnected that I have a degree in it, and I still have trouble breaking it down so that it’s palatable for the masses. Just have an open mind and read the Daniel Quinn books. Please.

Where were we? Right, Jeremy and his wife filter water to make Hot Tub Hot Chocolate, which is sure to be a favorite beverage of the post-apocalyptic world. Mmmmm!
He brings up something I’d never heard of before: getting antibiotics from the pet store for cheaper stockpiling. Apparently fish and people use the same medicines. Huh. Who knew?
Jeremy has also bought an M35 2-½-ton truck for use as a ‘bug-out vehicle’. Drives it around. Woo, burning fossil fuels for entertainment. Also, I would think that driving a big tan army truck to evacuate would just attract unwanted attention.

Something that was did surprise me during this segment: during a commercial break, there was an advert blatantly targeting preppers, for Wise Company food buckets. I’m really surprised it’s taken them until this far into the season to run this kind of ad.

Doomsday Preppers: Larry Hall

Our next prepper featured is Larry Hall, who is working on a massive engineering project in Kansas.
While I don’t agree with the execution of it, he has a pretty ingenious idea. He’s taking an old ICBM silo, sinking a few million dollars into it, and converting it into a survivalist’s wetdream: a multi-layer “luxury survival complex to deal with solar flares, worldwide economic collapse, or anything Mother Nature can throw at us”. These condos will be sold at a cool two million dollars each, and amazingly, he’s actually getting some bites from folks. I find this to be the most depressing profile this show has featured so far, and boy, do I have some issues with it.

He’s outfitted this steel and concrete tube with tons of security cameras, several perimeter fences, and enough armament to fight a small war. He claims it’s a “one-size-fits-all solution” to just about any problem that might arise…which is to say that it’s completely non-adaptive. That pretty much denies the best thing we humans have going for us—our ability to ‘roll with the punches’ and adapt to just about anything. It’s the reason you’ll find wildly different traditional societies in both the Arctic and Papua New Guinea, who are still thriving after tens of thousands of years. It’s only the civilized folks who think there’s a one-size-fits-all way to live.  I would guess this guy believes (like the rest of his culture) that the way the civilized world lives is the best and only way, and so there’s no point in trying to evolve any further, or do things differently.

In this case, Mr. Hall has even gone so far as to include a general store or grocery in his design, where people can go to ‘buy’ food (from the massive stash of frozen stuff they’re sure to have???)—not to mention the gym, movie theater, and jobs—just to maintain the illusion of normal civilized life for the inhabitants. Ugh.

As part of the construction process, Hall orders a 25,000-gallon water tank. Let me say that again: a twenty-five THOUSAND gallon water tank. That’s like a small municipal watertower, and it’s just waiting to fail. If they’re insisting on having that much stored, why not five 5,000 gallon tanks? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, dude. Either way, this amount is based on the assumption that the inhabitants are going to be like the average American and use 100 gallons PER DAY. Double ugh.

I didn’t see any mention of gardening space, or of water reclamation, and I kinda doubt they’re going to use composting toilets (although, I could be wrong). I’d like to know what their plan is for light—powered by generators, or piped in from the surface?
Of course, I’m still unsure if people are supposed to be living here full-time, or if it’s just a place to retreat to once stuff goes south.

At the end of the day, Larry hangs out around the trashcan fire with his workers discussing the imminent shitstorm about to hit the fan. Someone observes that “people are so used to this machine we call society being able to provide for them”…and yet Larry’s silo condos continue to mimic that machine in every way. Another one of the guys says that folks ought to “be prepared so you don’t have to deal with the alternatives!” I say no!, prepare by embracing the alternative!

My main problem with Hall’s silo project is that aside from the novel setting, it’s still conventional ‘Type 1’ prepping—the kind focused on stocking up pre-disaster with no way to replenish supplies should it become a long-term event, the kind designed to keep practitioners from having to make any real lifestyle changes, the kind designed to just delay the inevitable collapse of the unsustainable civilized way of life.

Coming soon…

So, I was watching some program about Ötzi on the Nat’l Geo. Channel the other day* when I saw an advert for an upcoming series in February: DOOMSDAY PREPPERS!**

Ohh boy. *Eye roll* This should be fun. Granted, I’ve only seen one ad and poked around a bit on the Channel’s website, but I can already tell how the show will play out.  Obviously, based on the profiles on the site, they’re going to try to put each of these people in their own category: the survivalist party girl, the hillbilly prepper, the down-to-earth guy with too many knives in his bag.  They’ll be sure to put a big focus on Guns! guns! guns! (I’ll be curious to see if ammo! ammo! ammo!, or reloading get mentioned).  Likewise, they’re making a big deal about what specific type of scenario everybody’s ‘prepping’ for. Like, lady smiles into the camera and confidently declares ‘I’m so-and-so, and I’m hoarding silver for a global economic collapse brought on by hyperinflation!’ Except for the guy in LA who’s focused on earthquakes (which makes sense, because it’s California!), everyone else is prepping for some single event. That’s honestly pretty dumb, because in today’s world, Nothing happens in a vacuum.

What I want to know is, where’s the guy who says, “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m doing this because I study anthropology and history, and watch films by George Lucas and James Cameron, and read Jared Diamond and Daniel Quinn and Tolkien, and I think our ‘civilization’ isn’t such a good thing. I’m transitioning to a radical, sustainable lifestyle for when 10,000 years of global Taker monoculture finally compounds and bites us in the ass.”

Oh, right, I forgot. I’m not on this show.

And so, because it’s 2012 now, and apparently Everyone’s getting caught up*** or cashing in**** on the whole TEOTWAWKI/Armageddon/Apocalypse/Z-Day/Mayan thing, I figured I would too.  I’ll try to make this a feature as this series airs, and report back with some hopefully-helpful-and-not-too-smug-or-snarky commentary.

*while the majority of their lineup seems to indicate their desire to become the ‘Drugs and Prison Channel’, their archeo-based specials are usually pretty well-done, and at least they didn’t suggest the iceman had anything to do with extraterrestrials, like the ‘History’ Channel would’ve done.
**Aurrrughh, I hate that word; it sounds like a teen stereotype from a high school in the future. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there’s anything better; ‘survivalist’ smacks too much of early-90s right-wing militia types. I guess ‘Prepping’ sounds more open-ended—‘preparing for’ and ‘getting ready for’ almost imply a definite nature of whatever-is-coming, or even a known timetable!
***For Christmas, one of our very sane and well-adjusted friends sent us—in addition to ‘normal’ gifts—a hardcover copy of Kunstler’s The Long Emergency, and several pounds of organic heirloom beans.
**** I’ve already seen Hornady ‘zombie ammunition’, Hogue ‘zombie’ pistol grips, and a Leuopold ‘zombie’ rifle scope.  I’m sure there will be much more to come.

Sky-god versus the Almighty Uterus

Let’s start with a nice quote from an interview I read with Gloria Steinem in TIME magazine a few months ago.

“…what I believe, which is that things are a circle, not a hierarchy: the women’s movement and the antiracist movement and the gay movement and the environmental movement are all linked.”  –10 Questions, August 15, 2011.

     I agree completely with Ms. Steinem.  I actually just finished reading an excellent book on pretty much this same topic, Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade. If you have any interest in women’s rights, anthropology, comparative religious studies, environmental philosophy, social sciences, or just history in general, I’d highly advise checking it out.  While parts of it are a little dated (it was first published in 1988) and a bit repetitive at times, give it a try if you’re into any of those sorts of things.  I’ll try to sum it up and not to bore you with too much anthro-talk.

     Basically, way back in the day, a big chunk of Europe and the Near East was following an amazing way of life.  While agricultural in livelihood (normally a red flag to me), these various cultures of ‘Old Europe’ were Earth-worshippers, which is to say that their religion was based around reverence for the life-giving and nurturing powers of what I call ‘the Feminine Divine’ (manifested in Mother Earth, Gaia, or the ‘Triple Goddess’ Wiccans are always going on about’, etc), apparently on equal footing with a sacred king.  Unfortunately for them (and us), about six thousand years ago who shows up on the scene but the Indo-Europeans.  These Caucasian guys come riding their horses into Europe and bring with them their dominating, warlike, male sky-gods (as in the case of Zeus/Jupiter, Babylonian Marduk, and the Abrahamic god), and commence to pretty much wipe out the tree-hugging Old Europeans (I say pretty much because it seems this female-empowering ‘partnership’ model managed to survive until about 1500 BCE on Crete, when that pesky megavolcano on Thera blew up and washed them away, or at least shook them up enough so that the Mycenaean proto-Greeks could come in and finally take over.)

And ever since then, the power has been held by the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. (You could probably get really Freudian with this, and say that the Dominator model of society stems from a bad case of Uterus Envy, or something).

    See, when your god is a vengeful, armed-with-thunderbolts, fond-of-smiting, bearded-guy-in-the-sky, your society is going to be all about those sort of things—namely, exerting control and making war on those who are different.  I’m not just talking about beating up on your brown neighbors and effeminate men, although that’s always been a popular pastime among Taker peoples; this also encompasses Nature, because if you believe your male god created the world, and your enemies believe their female goddess IS the world, and you’re okay with killing them, well then, you’re probably going to have no qualms about subjugating and controlling the earth either.

'Made to Rule', indeed. Fuck you, Creation Museum.