Posts Tagged ‘Matrix’

Doomsday Preppers: Bret and Shane Maggio

The other half of this episode is spent with Bret and Shane Maggio of Fruitland, Utah:
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentThey’re supposedly preparing for a “collapse of the US economy that will lead to a lawless society”, at which point one of the guys points a pistol at the camera, with his finger on the trigger.
Bad form, sir. Remember, folks:
the four rules of gun safety(Also, this is exactly the kind of macho, guns-as-macho-posturing-accessory bullshit I was talking about last week.)

Since pretty much their entire profile is spent in pointless-diversion-land, I’m gonna focus more on what they say than on what they do, and try to unpack their comments.

To begin: people around the world get by just fine (likely better than Us, in fact) living in what folks of Our Culture would consider ‘lawless society’. Just because there are no Hammurabi-style stone tablets (‘laws’) telling citizens ‘Thou Shalt Not __ for Fear of Retribution From the State-sanctioned Brutes Allowed to Use Violence to Strip You of Your Rights/Property/Life (‘police’)’, doesn’t mean that these societies were/are bloodbaths, with people running about willy-nilly raping and killing each other on a whim. Unlike civilized/statutory law, groups with functioning tribal laws are aware that people are going to misbehave. Instead of having a group of top-of-the-pyramid, above-the-law elites telling citizens the things they aren’t allowed to do (knowing full well that they will do them anyway) and then punishing them, tribal laws focus more on group decisions to decide consequences for actions on an individual basis.

Sidebar: take a minute to notice how violence in pyramid societies always flows downwards—you never hear about about police hassling Congressman, but they sure do love to bust heads when it comes to the ‘homeless’—but when violence is directed upwards, they call it revolt and rebellion. Hey kids: think about defying gravity.

“When the dollar loses its value, the government isn’t getting paid; systems collapse! Imagine turning on the faucet, but there’s no water; going to the grocery store but there’s no food on the shelves. These systems could collapse at any time, leaving people no choice but to fight for survival!”
Yeah, guys, these systems could collapse at any time (because we continue to increase their complexity and therefore their inherent fragility), but if people took proper steps before said collapse (organize, localize, communitize), they wouldn’t have to fight for survival.
Also, the system that allows for city water in the desert and Just-In-Time resupplied grocery stores is a fundamentally unsustainable one powered by ancient sunlight, a blip on the long timeline. The only smart thing to do would be to consider ways of living outside that matrix of control, or better yet, make it obsolete!

Next comment: in their collapse scenario, “Nobody’s going to be able to be governed.”
WAIT, WHAT? I’m pretty sure this means ‘The government won’t be able to govern its citizens!’, or, more accurately, ‘The top-of-the-pyramid elites will have lost their grasp on the systems used to exert control over the rest of the pyramid’.
C’mon, what would be so bad about that? You’d think such a scenario would be fully embraced by an open-minded citizenry of ‘freedom enthusiasts’, because I don’t think any sane person really wants to be governed—but then again, we live in a culture that’s been drilling into our heads the meme that we should want to be governed for the last 5,000 years, so sane people are a rare commodity.

They conclude their talk-to-the-camera portion by admonishing “If you don’t have a plan to get out of civilization and get to a bug-out location, you’ll be caught up in the mess!” Hey, for once, we are in agreement!: getting out of civilization is the only way to ensure one’s survival.
endangered-species
So why are these guys not taking their own advice (we’re told they live in the ’burbs and have corporate jobs, which would suggest they’re entrenched in the very System that makes their collapse all but inevitable)? I guess when they said ‘get out of civilization’ they just meant ‘get out of the city’, not ‘get out of the entire life-destroying Matrix’. Ugh. Hey, don’t expect things to change if you can’t see the bars of your cage.

We’re told that their family has ‘been preppers’ for 40 years, going all the way back to their grandma. They say that their “family has a preparedness mindset”…yeah, guys, because you’re Mormons; it’s a tenet to have years and years of stuff stored up, so that the members of your made-up cult will outlive the other made-up cults.
‘Show-off preps’ time: food stored, water and filter, and 5,000 gallons fuel, “so that when doomsday comes, we’ll have all the comforts of home for several years.”
Hey guys, you do realize that all those comforts of home are part and parcel of that civilization you said to get out of, right? If the aim of your post-disaster living is just to prolong and perpetuate the unsustainable pre-disaster lifestyle of comfort and convenience…well, you’re just setting yourself to fail. Again.

Anyway, the guys think that all their preps “will make them a target”. Well, yeah, now, because they’ve broadcast the details to the world. If they actually downscaled and lived quietly off the grid, who would know? Of course, that would make for ‘boring’ (read: possibly educational) TV, so they decide to build themselves a ridgetop ‘sniper tower’ (with zipline)!

Man, one thing’s for sure, watching this show has really strengthened my ability to read between the lines. I would guess what we’re really seeing here are a couple of city slickers building a zipline tower for the kids to play on when the family gets together at grandma’s house, calling it a ‘sniper tower’ to get it on TV and/or have NatGeo pay for it, and bringing in a prior serviceman to complete the illusion.

So Bret and Shane get their vet sniper to come in, take some long-distance shots, and give the project his seal of approval. We then waste some time watching kids work harder-not-smarter dragging materials up the hill. There’s a discouraging moment when one of the guys’ younger cousins observes, “Prepping seems like a lot of hard work: you have to buy a lot of stuff and build a lot of stuff!” Well, yeah, if you’re going off what we’re shown on DP, or if your goal is to continue living within the System and become a capital-P, self-identified Prepper.
On the other hand, rewilding/unlearning/unbranding, enlightening oneself on big-picture issues (learn to recognize root causes!), building community, and increasing one’s self-reliance are often extremely cheap, if not gratis (and pay off way more!).

Once they get the ‘tower’ built, they string a cable down to a tree at the bottom of the hill—allegedly a quick-escape zipline. As a ‘professional zipliner’ (I am literally paid to fly through the trees), this is an area in which I have extensive experience.
Now, on my outfit’s 440-feet-long, 30-feet-of-drop zipline, most folks hit speeds in the mid-twenties (mph). And yet, simple trigonometry tells me that our line has a downward angle of only 3.9 degrees. Compare this to the Maggio’s homemade cable, which we’re told is 250 horizontal feet, with a vertical drop of 70 feet; this works out to a downward angle of around sixteen degrees! And yet, when they send a couple of sand-filled tires (to approximate someone’s weight) down the line, the guys act totally surprised that they come in like a meteor and plow into a tree! Well, duh! Those tires were probably pushing 60!
Also, for the record, I’d really recommend using a proper harness (bonus tactical points!) and a double trolley (Petzl makes good ones).

Once their platform built is finally built, they bust out the black guns and execute some watermelons to prove they can…but only at like, 150 yards. What gives? I thought the point of the tower was to be able to hit trespassers at their property line 400 yards away?
And then they explain how if they can’t eliminate an intruder from the tower, then they’ll go down on the zipline and fight at ground level? Dudes, just stick with the high ground.

At the end, the experts say their tower is ‘not effective from a military standpoint’, probably because a ridgetop is a terrible place for ‘sniping’ (silhouettes against the sky and all that). Whew, good thing we’re talking a family fun tower, and not actual military!

Doomsday Preppers: Chad Hudspeth

Season three continues with episode two, ‘The Fight Ahead’.

As before, we cut between two families undertaking television-friendly stunts that really have little to do with true survival, much less addressing the root causes that necessitate the need (in their minds) for such measures.
First off is Chad Hudspeth, from Phoenix, Arizona.
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
Oh, where to begin?
Well, how about Arizona? What’s wrong with Arizona, you ask? Well, there’s nothing wrong with the area itself, just with Our culture’s approach to living there, which is—as usual—a one-size-fits-all solution: dig a concrete foundation (oriented to an arbitrary direction, because self-regulating, south-facing, passive-solar houses are for hippies), erect some stick-framing and drywall, call it a house, and then hook it up to The Grid. Unfortunately for the people living there, the truth is if it weren’t for that grid infrastructure, cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix simply Would. Not. Exist.:

“…the region has exceeded its natural carrying capacity so such an extreme degree that even mild to moderate disruptions in the energy supply will be disastrous. Transportation, air conditioning, and water distribution will become critically problematic in the years ahead. As oil- and gas-based agriculture fails, and it becomes necessary to grow more food locally, places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Albuquerque,  and Los Angeles will painfully rediscover that they exist in deserts.”

Built to conform to our culture’s prevailing ostrich-like attitude (which denies the possibility that the grid could ever fail), such cities are completely reliant on Hoover Dam electricity for air conditioning (because it’s hot in the desert and our culture insists on building aboveground), petrol juice (for commuting to and from the sprawl), food, and water (from underwater aquifers which are being depleted faster than they are being replenished, because it’s the desert). What’s the answer? Probably first recognize the inherent weaknesses of the system as Kunstler and I have just broken it down (and then get out), but if you’re going to continue to stay in this environment, you might want to study the strategies—both successful and unsuccessful—of the indigenous locals.

With that out of the way, right off the bat, I pick up on a certain amount of, shall we say…off-ness in Chad’s obligatory talk-at-the-camera moments. He seems like someone who might know just enough to be dangerous, but he got his details from the wrong sources. For starters, he opens by explaining how “the Founding Fathers thought government was a terrible evil”.
Ohhh-kaayyy… I’m pretty sure that as Male, White, Western property-holders (aka the elites of their society – those with the most to gain from a formal, civilized, capital-g Government), they all thought top-down governing was pretty fine. True, there may have been some quibbles about the specifics of said governing (see Hamilton’s Federalism versus Jefferson’s more liberal model), and while the Framers did try to work in some more pure-Democratic, Anglo-Saxon and Iroquois influences (all that “by/of/for the People stuff”), the American system still came out pretty damn centralized. The pyramid might have three checked-and-balanced branches at the top, but it’s still a pyramid.

Chad seems to believe that the Powers That Be are “in control of policies coming down the pipe that are evil, something something not for the good of the people.” Is he a Tea Partier trying to make a veiled reference to the Affordable Care Act, or is this some conspiracy-theory stuff about how the guvvmint is controlling our minds with chemtrails and HAARP antennas in Alaska?
Either way, he believes that “As the man, it’s my responsibility and duty to protect my family.” Y’know, because women can’t be counted upon to protect themselves without a man around? A little later, his wife explains how her favorite survival tactic is Prayer, and she believes the scripture that says she’s supposed to defer and be submissive to her husband who knows best. Because hey, six thousand years of Patriarchy can’t be wrong! You know what a better, real survival tactic is? Re-empowering women. Seriously, FUCK THIS SHIT.

Oh, did I mention that Chad’s supposed fear is of a “nuclear strike by the US government, resulting in a genocidal siege”? … Again: ooookay. Hey, look on the bright side: at least it’s not economic collapse.

So, the positives:
Chad has a nice little aquaponics system in his backyard greenhouse. I think I saw some Swiss chard growing in it. He explains how “it’s far superior to traditional agriculture”: yeah, that’s because everything is far superior to traditional agriculture.
There’s about 30 seconds of his neighbor showing Chad how he can make biodiesel from the algae in his pond, but that’s all we get.
While the segment could have given the ignorant public a detailed breakdown of what the aqua system consists of and how it was put together, instead we get some tinfoil-hat fearmongering and a half-hour of digging holes with heavy equipment, because his plan is “to survive a genocidal siege by building a tunnel that will lead [his] family to safety”.

Like, I’m grateful that he’s not all Type I, gung-ho, ex-military, guns, gear, and-tacticrap (that’s the other half of this episode), but he could very easily go the other way and have a really solid footing to survive lots of disaster scenarios if he just focused his efforts on more sustainable food production—convert the whole backyard to aquaponics, or raised beds, or anything, really. Unfortunately, he’s really completely mainstream in his thinking, believing true survival can be attained through deft use of the all-powerful checkbook and credit card. As a caption informs us, “The first thing Chad did in his prepping was to take his funds out of the bank and invest in goods he thinks will flourish during martial law”. From the folks I’ve seen on this show, the most misguided ones are those who ‘turn Prepper’ overnight and take the same approach to being ‘prepared’ that we do to everything else in this culture—throw money at it! (Conversely, the best off are those who have already been living innovative, self-reliant, frugal lives, often as part of a community of like-minded folks.)
It’s as if Chad one day decided he was going to become a prepper, googled ‘prepping supplies’, and got roped into some fringe-y websites that told him he needed to bury a shipping container and build an escape tunnel through his backyard.

Unfortunately, Chad wraps up his segment saying: “I am an American. I have the American spirit. My advice to others would be to do the same things that I’ve done.” So, in other words, drop a lot of money on bullshit ‘solutions’ you mistakenly believe will somehow help you?

And then he says something about how “the men with the power have been swayed by demonic or satanic powers.” Wait, what??! Huh? Is he suggesting the Koch brothers are black-magick-wielding occultists? I have absolutely no idea what to make of that statement; like I said, the things he talks at the camera are just a bit off.

And as always, the experts tell him good job. And as always, final segment ‘The Odds’ functions as our dominant Mother Culture mouthpiece, once again reassuring us that we have “checks and balances to protect our personal freedoms and prevent any one group from taking power”, so go back to sleep.
Except for, y’know…corporations?

On ‘The Matrix’

So, my favorite movies.
Tied for number one are Star Wars, AVATAR, and The Matrix, because they’re pretty much the same film: a Hero Journey set alongside guerrilla warfare against a System (hey, I like movies with subtext!).  Also, groundbreaking effects from all three.  So (because I have a bit more written on it than the others), I’ll begin with The Matrix.
Mtrx1

The Matrix is one of those films that occupies a strange place in the public conscious.  On the one hand, geeks and kids taking Philosophy 101 dig it, but in general it’s remembered for all the wrong reasons (like most of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, which I also really enjoy). For most people, three things come to mind when you bring up The Matrix.
First are probably the ‘bullet-time’ effects, which (even though there were only four of these shots in the film) were parodied or ripped off ad nauseum and therefore showed up in just about every movie that came out for the next few years.
The second is probably a vague sense of the bloated ponderousness of the sequels that followed (see the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for another more recent example); maybe you never even saw the sequels, but just learned through pop-cultural-osmosis that they were kinda slow and unintelligible (even though that’s really just Reloaded).
Third, due to an unimaginably unfortunate example of bad timing, this film was released just a few weeks before a coupla latchkey kids went tragically mad and ruined guns and black trenchcoats and Marilyn Manson for the rest of us for a good long while.

That’s what most folks will think of when you mention The Matrix.  Which is too bad, because it’s an incredible film.  Like most things I love, it works on a number of levels.  Yeah, it’s trendy and mind-bendy and full of badass visual and storytelling tropes, but it’s the subtext most people seem to overlook that really gets me.  Take this scene from the first act:

MORPHEUS
… You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
NEO
The Matrix?
MORPHEUS
Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
 NEO
What truth?
MORPHEUS
That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch…
A prison for your mind.
 

Or how about this even more transparent monologue?:

MORPHEUS
The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around. What do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

Thankfully, the idea of ‘the Matrix’ isn’t just some pseudo-philosophical mumbo-numbo in a popcorn blockbuster, it’s a metaphor for the culture we live in. In one form or another, it’s how the world has been—for an increasing majority of humanity—for about the last six thousand years. The first Mesopotamian god-king city-builders laid the foundation for the Matrix. The Egyptians lived in the Matrix. So did the Romans. In today’s all-but-conquered, global, industrialized capitalist world, 99.999999% of people live in the Matrix. It’s really a testament to the genius of the Wachowskis that they were able to package these rather heavy-handed, dangerous ideas in such an entertaining, marketable format  through their use of allegory (a la James Cameron, more on him in a bit): the average viewer won’t pick up on the film’s anarchist subtext because it’s about hackers and robots and people covered in plugs.

Sure, the film is violent.  But, as brother Cornel West explains, it’s “intellectual violence”.  The film’s heroes aren’t fighting individuals, they’re fighting against the system itself, for the opportunity to show humanity a better world. In fact, the speech that closes the film sounds like something straight out of Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

That’s what’s so worrisome about the Matrix sequels.  Metaphorically, if the Matrix is our status quo civilized world, and the ‘real world’ is the fulfilling life outside the System, the second and third films’ suggestion that the real world is just a Matrix Within a Matrix* would suggest that even rebellion against the System will leave one still within the System…which is pretty much true.  As the PBS Frontline program Merchants of Cool put it:

The cool-hunt ends here, with teen rebellion itself becoming just another product. … The battle itself is packaged and sold right back to them…welcome to the Machine.”

*Yes, I know that’s not what the Wachowskis say, but when the official explanation is a hand-wave and ‘Fuck you, dear viewer’, I’ll take the one that actually encourages discussion.

The Suburbs: ‘Sprawl I’

BLEAK. That’s the only word to describe Flatlands. As the lingering piano of We Used to Wait fades out, we hear a dreary wind begin to blow. Over this comes the slow scraping boom of dejected footsteps. And then that hypnotic lone guitar kicks in, and the bleakness level goes up to eleven. Win’s tortured vocals resonate with their existentially-heartsick plaintive-ness:

Took a drive into the sprawl, to find the house where we used to stay
Couldn’t read the number in the dark, you said, “Let’s save it for another day”

Why don’t they take a walk into the Sprawl? Remember, “first they build the roads, then they built the town;” believe me, the Sprawl is definitely not pedestrian-friendly. Together with the general bleakness of this track, this verse conjures up scenes from McCarthy’s The Road in my head:
The Road
Took a drive into the sprawl to find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away
Let’s take a drive through the sprawl, through these towns they built to change
But then you said, the emotions are dead; it’s no wonder that you feel so strange

Damn!, this is some serious slit-your-wrists-depressing shit! Again, we see a reprise of one of the album’s underlying themes–connection to a place that doesn’t exist. What can these Kids (and all of Us, for that matter) do when faced with such a recklessly world-consuming, cannibalistic, unsustainable-by-principle, life-annihilating pathology of a culture? Once again, nothing in this system is made to endure or last—towns least of all. When their whole worldview is based on infinite expansion and growth (in what they don’t want to admit is a finite world), the prevailing paradigm isn’t to repair and keep it running (pre-WWII-like), but to tear down and put up a new one in its place. (Of course, sometimes they don’t tear the old one down at all, but still build a new one somewhere else, leaving the old empty husk to decay; more on that in Sprawl II.) Naturally, these things are all made disposably cheap in the first place to make it easy to throw out and replace, because [sarcasm] there couldn’t possibly be a limit to the resources it’ll take to make new ones[/sarcasm], and anyway, this is the way humans were meant to live, right?
When you’re up against The Mess, things can look pretty hopeless. That’s where Arcade Fire come in.

Win Butler isn't a cop, but he plays one on tv.

Win Butler isn’t a cop, but he plays one on tv.

Cops shone their lights on the reflectors of our bikes,
Said, “Do you kids know what time it is?”
“Well sir, it’s the first time I’ve felt like something is mine, like I have something to give”
The last defender of the sprawl said, “Well, where do you kids live?”
“Well sir, if you only knew, what the answer is worth, been searching every corner of the earth…”

Dialogue! Finally, some concrete lines we can put in the mouths of characters – cops and kids!
I wonder if this is this the same time as the earlier verses, when the singer and his friend drive into the sprawl looking for their houses? I’m inclined to think it’s not, and they’re revisiting a memory from their Wasted Hours. Supposedly, these questions are what the local cops in The Woodlands (the ’burb where the Brothers Butler grew up outside Houston) would ask Kids they’d harass.

Imagine this scene: the cops stop the kids (who are just killing time in the cul-de-sacs one night), ask them these questions, and our singer has the audacity to give these ridiculous replies (he’s been well-conditioned to respect the badge and always call cops Sir, which is always a good idea for one’s self-preservation)! I’m surprised the cops don’t face-plant him on the ground right then and there for such cheekiness. I dunno, maybe that happens in an apocryphal final verse.

A word on the cop’s title: Last Defender of The Sprawl. The police here are symbols and figureheads of the civilized system, the embodiment of the anti-tribal law begun with Hammurabi only 3,700 years ago. Don’t it seem strange how in basic Social Studies classes that’s like, the first thing worth mentioning after the so-called ‘discovery’ of agriculture?
Or, as one Songmeanings user expressed it:

“The last defender” is the last cop that was needed to keep the sprawl spreading, because in the past people were fighting against it, against streets and malls taking over the forest, against machines and technology taking over nature and life. The sprawl required defenders and these defenders were cops because the sprawl is basically private property taking over what’s left of our common Earth. Now people don’t fight that anymore, they have surrendered to it, to the vision of human emotion as something undesirable, to the idea of exploiting and making profit out of every single thing in this world.
So, there’s no need for those defenders, anymore. The one in the song is the last one. There’s no need to protect something that’s everywhere. The kids have been searching but there’s no place in the whole world that feels like home anymore.”
Well-put, Graphe.

The Suburbs: ‘Wasted Hours’

As it closes, Month of May forms yet anther two-part movement with a fade from thumpy 80s rock into laid-back strummy guitar.

All those wasted hours we used to know
Spent the summer staring out the window
The wind, it takes you where it wants to go

Here in this song is where we see the origin of the message most people take away from this album—that “wasted time is sometimes more meaningful than the stuff that “matters”. Those carefree days in which, while we didn’t do anything ‘productive’, we made friends and goofed off and hung out, and gods willing, hopefully we’ll keep in touch with them after we are shoved out the door into the ‘real world’ (aka the wage-slave prison).
I like how the verse’s last line has an element of allowing oneself to be swept along by a natural force. You don’t go where you want to go—you go where the wind wants to go. Don’t try to force your ego and desires; instead, yield to and follow those natural currents.

First they built the road, then they built the town
That’s why we’re still driving around and around
And all we see are kids in buses longing to be free

Hmm, I have the strangest feeling we’ve heard this before… As before:
LLipton-Round&Round
Why, I wonder, are all these kids trying desperately to escape? Could it be perhaps that the Suburbs (and the System as a whole) don’t work for people?

Some cities make you lose your head
Endless suburbs stretched out thin and dead
And what was that line you said?
Something about how our time it owns us…

Interesting how it’s some—not all—cities; I guess the key is finding the ones that don’t make you go crazy. Powerful last line, and I have the damnedest time expressing it in words, so here’s some propaganda I hope expresses the same sentiment:
time was made for slaves - smash the clocks of domination
Wishing you were anywhere but here
You watch the life you’re living disappear
And now I see, we’re still kids in buses longing to be free:
SuckerPunchBusToParadise

In this verse, our singer sees his old friend from the wasted hours in the suburbs. The friend has likely ‘grown up’ and done all the things Our Culture says we’re supposed to do to be ‘successful’—go to college, get a job, buy a car, work your way up the ladder, get married, have some kids, &c.—and as a result he has become stuck in the Prison of a nine-to-five, 40-hour-week job, order takeout for supper, glued to the television every evening, beer and televised sports on the weekends. He is miserable and wants out  (first line ^), as this soul-crushing industrialized way of life is antithetical to the idea of freedom that they likely clung to as youngsters before they were fully ‘civilized’. In this routine, each year goes by in a blur, each one faster than the one before (second line ^).

Wasted hours before we knew where to go and what to do
Wasted hours that you made new and turned into a life that we can live

 I was seventeen when the last Star Wars film came out. I had spent the previous ten years immersing myself in that galaxy far, far away, absorbing the lessons encoded in those frames of film. One day in May, my best friend and I put the finishing touches on our junior year of high school, went home to watch the first two episodes, went to the midnight showing of the third, drove home, slept in the yard, and spent the next day watching the classic trilogy back-to-back. When it was over, I looked at him and I asked, “Now what? What do we do now?” That decade we spent hobbit-camping in the woods and studying the holy trilogies was our Wasted Hours. I think I decided that day that I needed to use what I’d learned, to ensure those hours weren’t just killing time before I got forced into a meaningless job. Which is why I teach those lessons I first learned from Old Ben and the others in everything I do—lessons of the Living Force and my place in the community of life, that are written on the universe for all to see. I hope I’ve taken those hours and “turned them into a life that we can live”.

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.

The Suburbs: ‘Suburban War’

In Suburban War—which will take us to The Suburb’s halfway mark—we see reminders of most of the album’s main themes, including nostalgia for passed youth, alienation, war, driving, and escape, plus a very interesting notion that (like most songs on the album) solidly links back to previous material. The track begins with a beautifully bleak solo guitar playing the main riff, which is soon joined by pounding drums and high, keening fills and strummed chords from a second and third guitar(?).

Let’s go for a drive and see the town tonight
There’s nothing to do but I don’t mind when I’m with you
This town’s so strange, they built it to change
And while we sleep, we know the streets get rearranged

Boy, that’s yet another problem with the way our whole postpostmodern Industrial Lifestyle Suburban System is designed (the ‘why’ for this will be better explained come the Month of May): it doesn’t matter if you’re bored, scared, or otherwise “don’t feel right”—the answer is always ‘Go drive.’ Burning some more fossil fuels is sure to make you feel better.
And again, more changing streets and towns. Unlike the Shire, it seems things in the Suburbs and Sprawl aren’t “made to endure”. By this point in the album, I’m really starting to feel bad for the suburban kids who grew up in what sounds like a constantly-shifting landscape. Out in the country where I grew up, ‘changing streets’ meant that the highway department came through every few years and laid down some tar and fresh gravel.

With my old friends: we were so different then before your war against the suburbs began…before it began
Now the music divides us into tribes, you grew your hair, so I grew mine
You said the past won’t rest until we jump the fence and leave it behind

It’s in songs and passages like this one that people really key in on the nostalgic themes of the album. Now we come to a very exciting concept in this verse’s second line: a connection between tribalism and Music. Although it is said to “soothe the savage beast”, is Butler here proposing that in Music is found an escape from the civilizing influences of the suburbs? Possibly, if it be authentic. But such escape can be double-sided, however: if those tribes are just corporate cookiecutter scenes (see the now-meaningless labels like ‘indie’, ‘emo’, ‘metal’, ‘goth’, ‘punk’, ‘gangsta’, ‘hardcore’, &c promulgated by such outlets as Hot Topic) this inevitably leads to the empty lifestyle described in Rococo, which laments for victims of commodification and branding at the hands of the Merchants of Cool.
Finally, note the use in the third line of penal-system diction—escape from the Taker mind-prison is possible only by turning one’s back and “[jumping] the fence”.

With my old friends: I can remember when you cut your hair, I never saw you again
Now the cities we live in could be distant stars, and I search for you in every passing car

If there’s one good thing that can be said about Scenes from the Suburbs (luckily there are in fact many good things to be said about that film), it is that it fully elucidates this verse.
Here, however, is where it gets personal for me—because back in high school, I was the one who grew his hair and inspired his best friend to do the same; I was the one who cut his hair the day after graduation, I was the one who discovered deep-green, anarcho-primitivism and declared war on the whole System (and the suburbs along with it). Now, though those friends live in the ’burbs only an hour or two away, they’re sucked into the quicksand of the suburban American Dream wage slave rat-race and we see each other maybe three times a year. Distant stars, indeed.

The nights are warm, yeah, the night is so long
I’ve been living in the shadows of your song

This is a puzzling reference back to a line from Ready to Start: “I would rather be wrong than live in the shadows of your song”. So, if our Suburban War singer has been living in those shadows, what then does that mean? That he has been right? Right about what?

In the suburbs I, I learned to drive
People told me we would never survive
So grab your mother’s keys, we leave tonight

Preceded by plaintive moans, this subtly-different reprise of the album’s opening lines packs a much greater sense of urgency and bleakness. Compare to:
“In the suburbs I learned to drive/And you told me we’d never survive/Grab your mother’s keys, we’re leaving…”
Through all these songs, Butler seems to suggest that the only way to survive the suburbs…is to escape them.

You started a war that we can’t win
They keep erasing all the streets we grew up in
Now the music divides us into tribes:
You choose your side, I’ll choose my side

I’m assuming that the “war we can’t win” is the war against the suburbs begun by our singer’s lost friend in the second verse. If some find it troubling that someone like Butler sees a conflict against the Suburbs/Sprawl/System as hopeless, they’re not getting the message. It would seem that the answer encoded in the Arcade Fire’s works isn’t ‘rage against the machine, tear down the suburbs, and start over’, but something more like, ‘find your tribe, turn your back on the suburbs, and don’t look back. If you’re doing something that works, people will recognize that and take notice.’ That is, things won’t change if the bluepills are simply told not to live the way they currently do—they must be see that there is an alternate way that provides for all their needs, and works.
With this verse’s final couplet, Butler seems to bare his teeth and draw a line in the sand, restating his prayer that he “won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild.

But my old friends, they don’t know me now
All my old friends are staring through me now
All my old friends wait…

The pounding climax of the song is alienation, plain and simple. It might have resulted from change (“we were so different then”), or it might be by choice (“I would rather be alone than pretend I feel alright”). But while our singer’s “old friends wait” (for things to change?), he is through with waiting; it’s time to do.