Saturday, July 30, 2016

Driscoll announcing the pending launch of The Trinity Church and the excitement of it, revisiting his 2010 "6 reasons I'm not going anywhere" message from six years ago

The multiple accounts of how and why he left Mars Hill Church withstanding ....

Throckmorton has noted a new video in which Mark Driscoll explains how things got to the point where he (Driscoll) is excited about the pending launch of The Trinity Church.

There was a Mars Hill presence in Phoenix a couple of years ago:
Changes at Some of our Churches
By: Pastor Dave Bruskas
Posted: Sep 07, 2014


Mars Hill Church Phoenix is announcing today that their last service as a Mars Hill church will be Sunday, September 28th. We are exploring opportunities for Pastor Tim Birdwell to continue the church in a different form and how we can best support that possible effort.

So a Driscollian influence within the Phoenix area isn't exactly a new thing.  But, Scottsdale is Scottsdale.

But then six years ago Mark Driscoll came up wit hsix reasons why he wasn't going anywhere and wasn't going to leave the Seattle area or Mars Hill.  ...

and for those who don't remember:

4.The multi-campus strategy we are using is sustainable and healthy. Being able to distribute as campuses of various sizes and personalities is a bit like the joy of being a father watching children with various resemblances but distinct personalities grow up. Having such a large team of elders, deacons, and members deployed across the campuses is a great relief to me as I see us taking better care of more people than we have ever been able to.

5.My heart is here. While I enjoy the opportunities for ministry that God grants outside of Mars Hill, were I allowed to only do one thing, I would easily and gladly choose to be an elder at Mars Hill, preaching God’s Word and shepherding God’s people. I have zero interest in doing anything other than being a pastor and have zero interest in being a pastor anywhere else. I am very content with where I am and what I am doing, and am very passionate about continuing to press forward together for more people worshiping Jesus more deeply.

Yes, the sustainability and healthiness of the multi-campus strategy employed by Mars Hill would seem to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt here in 2016 now that the campuses have become independent churches that, as time may show, can function without Mark Driscoll even living in the Seattle area.  Or ... we'll see how things go. 

Obviously a lot has changed since July 6, 2010.

Aimee Byrd has a guest post on singleness and the complementarian American ethos

For instance, take complementarianism--Aimee Byrd has had a guest post this week from a woman pointing out that complementarianism is kind of ... useless for the unmarried woman.

... .  In their most recent podcast on the Sexual Revolution, the MOS team summed up our culture’s immense pressure toward sexual identity.  Christine Colon takes it one step further in her book Singled Out – culture tells us that virgins are immature and emotionally stunted neurotics whose only escape is in having sex. Christian singles hear this from culture and from the church that sex outside marriage is wrong.  The result is that the slightest nudge toward marriage from a well-meaning believer comes across to the single like another reminder that we are immature and emotionally stunted and our only hope for happiness is marriage. 

The cultural norm that presupposes that anyone who isn't already married and, by extension, having sex knows nothing at all about meaningful social interaction or adult responsibility was one of the single most pervasive cultural norms at the culture formerly known as Mars Hill.  So, yeah, that, er, resonates.  It's not just that your only hope for happiness is presented as marriage it's more like the only real evidence that you're even an adult at all is that you've successfully negotiated a sexual partnership. 

The conundrum of how to arrive at adulthood when sexual activity has no intrinsic bearing on the traditional milestones isn't just a complementarian concern, though.
Over the course of his research on this, Jensen Arnett has zeroed in on what he calls “the Big Three” criteria for becoming an adult, the things people rank as what they most need to be a grown-up: taking responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent. [emphasis added] These three criteria have been ranked highly not just in the U.S., but in many other countries as well, including China, Greece, Israel, India, and Argentina. But some cultures add their own values to the list. In China, for example, people highly valued being able to financially support their parents, and in India people valued the ability to keep their family physically safe.

Of the Big Three, two are internal, subjective markers. You can measure financial independence, but are you otherwise independent and responsible? That’s something you have to decide for yourself. When the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson outlined his influential stages of psychosocial development, each had its own central question to be (hopefully) answered during that time period. In adolescence, the question is one of identity—discovering the true self and where it fits into the world. In young adulthood, Erikson says, attention turns to intimacy and the development of friendships and romantic relationships.
Havighurst developed his theory during the ‘40s and ‘50s, and in his selection of these tasks, he was truly a product of his time. The economic boom that came after World War II made Leave It to Beaver adulthood more attainable than it had ever been. Even for very young adults. There were enough jobs available for young men, Mintz writes, that they sometimes didn’t need a high-school diploma to get a job that could support a family. And social mores of the time strongly favored marriage over unmarried cohabitation hence: job, spouse, house, kids.

But this was a historical anomaly. “Except for the brief period following World War II, it was unusual for the young to achieve the markers of full adult status before their mid- or late twenties,” Mintz writes. [emphasis added] As we saw with young Henry Thoreau, successful adults were often floundering minnows first. The past wasn’t populated by uber-responsible adults who roamed the moors wearing three-piece suits, looking over their spectacles and saying “Hm, yes, quite,” at some tax returns until today’s youths killed them off through laziness and slang. Young men would seek their fortunes, fail, and come back home; young women migrated to cities looking for work at even higher rates than men did in the 19th century. And in order to get married, some men used to have to wait for their fathers to die first, so they could get their inheritance. At least today’s delayed marriages are for less morbid reasons.

One of the things that may separate American evangelicalism from the rest of American culture is that in the evangelical taxonomy of "the Big Three" it's not considered socially desirable or acceptable to obtain those big three independently of married life.  We don't need to recite too many names in the world of evangelicalism who are worried that the youngsters these days aren't getting married and aren't moving out of the parents' house.

According to 2014 data from the Census Bureau, median earnings for young adults who were working full-time were only about $34,000 for Millennials. That’s less than what their parents would’ve made in the 1980s, after adjusting for inflation. And that’s for Millennials who have found full-time work. According to Census data, only 65 percent of Millennials were employed as of 2014, compared to about 70 percent in the three decades prior. Those figures may help explain why nearly 20 percent of Millennials have wound up living in poverty—that’s more than five percentage points higher than the poverty rate of young adults in 1980—despite being the most educated cohort of young people in history.

Still, it’s not all about the economy. One of the main reasons that Millennials are staying at home is because they are delaying marriage until later in life, Pew researchers found. That makes sense, since two incomes can certainly make it easier to afford rapidly climbing rent prices, student-loan payments, and the host of other financial responsibilities that come with leaving the nest. But that choice, too, is divided among racial and economic lines: Richer Americans are more likely to get married than poorer ones, and white Americans are more likely be married than minorities. These again increase the chances that poorer and minority Millennials will live at home in higher numbers, and for longer. ...

Contentment is difficult for singles because from our perspective, both the believing and unbelieving world seem to agree that happiness in celibacy is impossible.  In both worlds, sex/marriage has become a defining threshold between childhood and adulthood. We are children, teenagers, college-age, single, then married. When we pass 30 or 40 and are still celibate, everyone (literally) thinks something’s gone wrong.
Even popular scientific theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs classes the need for sex at the same level as food, water and air.  If the church does not answer, is it any wonder that Christian singles sometimes conclude that masturbation is not wrong and that pornography is at least better than the alternative?  Essentially, we come to believe that God has given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” except a spouse. 

One self-help book on marriage by a moderately famous celebrity Christian couple had it worded that  sex is almost a real physical need for a guy.

Real Marriage
 Mark and Grace Driscoll
 Copyright (c) 2012 by On Mission, LLC
 Thomas Nelson
 ISBN 978-1-4002-0383-3
 ISBN 978-1-4041-8352-0 (IE)

page 121
When we got married, I (Grace) didn't understand the physical and emotional aspects of sex for men. It seemed with his high sex drive that was all Mark wanted from me and that he didn't appreciate anything else I did. His drive seemed to get stronger the less we had sex, and I wondered if it was an idol to him or if that was normal for me. I later realized it was partially a real physical need [emphasis added], not an obsession, since he wasn't masturbating  or getting relief some other way, which I am thank for. I read somewhere that if you have sex more, it actually decreases the necessity for frequent sex over time for most men. I tried that but it didn't seem to change anything for Mark. ...

and, as would be abundantly clear for anyone who is familiar with the sum of Driscoll's teaching, the "physician heal thyself" path was not on the table, even though the Driscolls explicitly consider it an option other Christians could consider during unusually long separations such as military deployment.

Kilgore's comment about how there are theories of being that put sex on a need comparable to the human need for water, food and air can be shown to not come from nowhere.  When the Driscolls' book formulates that sex is partially a real physical need (but only for already married men!  Not singles!) the proverbial horns of the dilemma can be easier to see.

If there's a detail about the contemporary scene complementarians seem most eager to ignore is that the selection process is in many practical ways egalitarian even for those who self-identify as complementarian.  Assortive pairing selection and status-vetting processes don't just vanish into the ether, even a self-described complementarian may pursue a "courtship" that is a dating relationship that would look identical to a pair of egalitarians in a dating relationship who are contemplating marriage.  And, to make the point even more severe, you can put yourself "on the market" but that doesn't mean anyone has any obligation to buy what you're selling. 

as Mere Orthodoxy has republished Anderson's four theses on social conservatism I'm musing upon another question, what are we supposed to be conserving?

It's been interesting that an author like Andy Crouch can write a book about how Christians need to focus attention on culture making. It's interesting that evangelicals have begun to think so much in the last twenty years about making culture as the culture wars have increasingly shown themselves to be pretty well played out. 

And that has had me wondering about the "tension" between culture making and social conservatism.  When folks like Rod Dreher talk about the Benedict Option talking about that from within the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy makes sense because, hey, don't we already know Eastern Orthodoxy is pretty old school? 

But as the dissolution of Mars Hill as a corporate entity has not quite shown, the verdict isn't out yet on whether the spin-off churches will go the distance--if Dreher's book weren't already close to being on the way I might suggest that Mars Hill could be viewed by social conservatives as a case study of a didn't-work-out variation of what the Benedict Option can be by a negative example.  Driscoll and company were certainly shooting for intergenerational legacy and the Call to Resurgence was nothing if not an admonition to build some kind of counterculture. 

Of course there isn't a Mars Hill and in about a week Mark Driscoll 3.0 is looking to launch a new deal. 

So the low-church evangelicalism in the United States can aspire to being socially conservative but in cultural terms what is that?  What's it look like to be a social conservative in the current cultural context?  Couldn't the nominalism and the abjection of the kind of liturgical life that could preserve Christian cultural identity become the benchmark of a social conservative evangelicalism?  In other words, couldn't someone propose that precisely the problem with socially conservative evangelicalism is how much it is functionally already like the contemporary American society it has been in?  As progressives and secularists have been keen to point out in the last few years, the sudden discovery that the Religious Right isn't as influential as previously thought could seem to reveal that the social conservatism of the Religious Right may have foundered on the reality of what the social conventions of even ostensibly conservative types has been on things like marriage and sex and abortion.

So if social conservatives want some confidence about where to move forward and yet we evangelicals are talking in terms of cultural production ... then maybe we should say we're not social conservatives if we're talking in terms of engineering a suitably Christian culture that does not conform to the lax norms of contemporary American society.  That's not conservative in the tradition of Edmund Burke, is it?  Is the word we're looking for ... "reactionary", maybe? 

I think about preservation and conservative approaches as a musician plenty because I play classical guitar.  I also think about it because I love pre-World War II blues as well as the music of Haydn and the music of Bach.  J. S. Bach was a pretty conservative composer by the standards of his own era but the successful fusion he created of the disparate styles and forms of his time became the gold standard for art music over the last two centuries, thanks to a resurgence in his reputation in the 19th century.  The thing about Bach's influence is that Bach was conserving stuff but in the process of preserving older idioms transforming and adapting them.  It can be easy for evangelicals who seem to have little appreciation of arts history in the United States to forget that the level of stylistic and formal fragmentation in the Baroque era was significant.  The previously largely uniform style of the Renaissance fragmented into regional and national and functional idioms.  Yet over the course of a century and a half there was eventually the birth of a more unified style.

One of the troubling aspects of Francis Schaeffer's legacy is his wildly inaccurate lump-sum spit-take on the arts in the West.  It is more than a little tempting for social conservatives to see the stylistic fragmentation, revolution and innovation as a sign of the decline of WASP influence in the last half century.  Schaeffer saw the fragmentation but he didn't have enough of a sense of musical and artistic history to see that consolidation cycles also happen.  He viewed the post-Romantic explosion as not just a one-off but as a defining trait.  The idea that the pendulum swung all the way out and might begin to swing back was not something he was going to necessarily see as being what was going on in the 1960s. 

So Schaeffer's polemic was that the fragmentation was a sign of the rejection of the Christian worldview manifesting itself in a chaos of art.  Well, "maybe", but an explosion of polystylistic conflict within Europe only looks like a unified whole to us NOW because that's how we get taught art history and art history can be full of its own polemics.  One of the problems of polemics in which white European arts history gets presented as a unified white patriarchal art history is, hey, wait the French and the Italians and the Germans and the Spaniards and the English and the Poles and the Swiss ... these are all groups that took turns killing each other and not seeing themselves as a unified single white race.  Are we absolutely sure that the white monolith was as monolithic back then as it is presented as being now in the racially tense polemics of the contemporary West?  Not so sure about that. 

I've been reading Manfred Bukofzer's Music in the Baroque Era: From Monteverdi to Bach this year.
There's something he wrote early in the book (the page number escapes me at the moment but location 165 it if you have a Kindle):

The change from renaissance to baroque music differs from all other stylistic changes in music history in one important aspect. As a rule, the musical style of the old school fell into oblivion. The new style took over and transformed the last vestiges of previous musical techniques, so that the unity of style in each period was assured. However, at the beginning of the baroque era the old style was not cast aside, but deliberately preserved as a second language, know as the stile antico of church music. The hitherto unchallenged unity of style disintegrated, and composers were obliged to become bilingual. The stile antico was fashioned after the style of Palestrina, who became the idol of those who followed the strict a-capella style of baroque music. The more the actual knowledge of Palestrina's music faded away, the more powerful became the legend of the alleged savior of church music.

Mastery of the stile antico became the indispensable equipment of the composer's education. He was now at liberty to choose in which style he wanted to write, whether in the moderno, the vehicle of spontaneous expression, or in the strict antico which he acquired by academic training. ...

In sum, the arts in the West being a polyglot of forms and styles has been with us for centuries, like 1600.  Academics and theorists now (as then) benefit from the idea of codifying and labeling styles with an ear toward amplifying stylistic contrast rather than taking an interest in conceptual and practical overlap.  Thanks to academic approaches to music we've been given a history of what is now called art music that presents the entire field of four centuries of European music as if it were a conceptual monolith. 

If evangelicals want to keep contributing to culture and "making culture" it would be helpful to consider that those who self-describe as conservative might want to ask themselves "what am I trying to conserve and why do I believe it's worth conserving?"  I'm interested in playing with a fusion of 18th century musical thought processes that have gone by the names "fugue" and "sonata form" because I'm intrigued by the level of formal and developmental complexity these thought processes have been able to bring to bear on a set of fairly simple successions of tunes.  I'm also interested in the popular musical traditions known as ragtime, blues, rock, and jazz.  I don't see any inherent tension between these two traditions in Western music.  I don't see there being any reason you can't take 18th century conceptual approaches to music and refract them through blues, country, and so on.  I hear this as a way of taking a historically conservative approach to musical traditions that does not forget that we live in the present. 

Social conservatives tend to be known as social conservatives because of what they have in mind for the vetting processes of what might be euphemistically described as participatory adulthood on socially acceptable terms--the problem is that after a generation or so of formulating social conservatism in such strictly mating-game terms it's never been clear what has been conserved in other contexts ... and to be blunt about it, art. The nice way to put it is that evangelicals have a long history of assimilating existing musical idioms at a rate that lags behind the rate of innovation.  The slightly less nice way to put it was summed up with vulgar humor in the South Park episode "Christian Rock Hard". 

Continually failing to demonstrate competency in the vernacular musical idioms of our era, evangelicals also seem to have abjured mastery of the kinds of church music that non-Christians actually want to hear because they consider it beautiful even if they don't endorse the theological beliefs that inspired that music.  Evangelicalism of the socially conservative kind has been so dead set on a utilitarian ethos with the content of its art (for desperate want of a better term) there has been little that can be found at the ready for articulating concerns about form, which in more traditional philosophical parlance was sometimes discussed under the category of "beauty".

Looking back on a life that has moved from one dead end job to another it's sticking with me that social conservatives may have been so committed to the meet-and-breed part of their social agenda that the possibility of making any art along the way never exactly came up, or if it came up tended to rise to VeggieTales level. 


Far be it from me to treat childrens' entertainment as if it's not art.  There's a blog post incubating about Blue's Clues as a tour de force of Socratic pedagogy.

Friday, July 29, 2016

over at Comic Book Resources, review of Killing Joke states the new material falls apart in its handling of Barbara Gordon

I was never concerned whether Conroy, Hamill and Strong would commit to doing a good job.  I did check out when I learned Azarello was involved with the script, since that was kind of a red flag that whatever was most exploitive in Alan Moore's original tale could get ramped up to 11 with new fridge badness if Azarello was involved. 

Which reminds me, I'm kind of wondering if they won't put Steve Trevor in a refridgerator in Jenkin's Wonder Woman film.  I hope they don't because having recently seen Star Trek Beyond I can't shake this feeling that Chris Pine would make for a more convincing Steve Trevor than a James T. Kirk.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

the guys at Mere Orthodoxy discuss populism in the US and UK, here's a proposal that American evangelicalism might need to abandon older forms of dispensationalism to embrace the long-road approach Anderson advocates

It's about 41 minutes and there's not a ton to add as to the content on the podcast itself except to say that Andrew's garbled again, and the content is fairly self-explanatory if you listen to it.

A couple of thoughts in response.

One of the things we've been coming back to over and over this year is Jacques Ellul's writing about propaganda in the technological society.  Agitating populists like Trump and Sanders are able to attain their respective roles because of mass media and social media.  What Ellul could not have anticipated was that what he called horizontal propaganda (intra-group peer-generated propaganda) and sociological propaganda (propaganda saturated into the daily lives of participants of a society) has become a daily routine thanks to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.  Big Brother hardly needs lift a finger to generate that sort of propaganda now, we make all of that ourselves and congratulate ourselves and/or each other on the cleverness of the political meme we link to on Facebook showing the stupidity and/or hypocrisy of the enemy teams.  Big Brother doesn't need to make you do what you gladly volunteer to do at your own time and expense. 

Something that was mentioned about evangelicalism in the US was how it seems averse to carefully thought through long-term political reasoning.  I have an idea abou tthat, being the ex-Pentecostal that I am.  Over the course of the last century American Christianity (perhaps across the board but most obviously in Protestantism) shifted from a 19th century postmillennialist optimism to premillenialist dispensational apocalypticism.  If the 19th century postmillennialist was gladly anticipating the realization of a Manifest Destiny, the dispensationalist in the 20th century began to view everything as signs of the times.

The recent death of Tim LaHaye should just make this easier for Christians  in the United States to remember what a more-than-cottage industry books on eschatology have been in popular imagination.  When you have American Christians formulating political discourse in the most apocalyptic terms imaginable it's not a big leap to infer from this that taking the long-term road Matthew Lee Anderson hopes social conservatives can take is not going to be on the table.  If we're all waiting for the next revival to make America a Christian nation again then there's not going to e a lot of work or thought put into imagining what it might like to live not as Christians in a post-Christian America but to formulate a life of faith that can be a form of post-American Christianity.  If I'm getting a sense of what Dreher is up to in writing about the Benedict Option that seems like one of the range of meanings in the term.

Alastair Robertt has already written about evangelicalism's poor form so there's hardly anything to add to that.  I just fel t obliged to suggest that eschatological schools of thought are important to consider as we look at how evangelicalism grapples with things.  If there was a thing a certain preacher in Seattle did I still respect it was refusing to endorse either premillenialist dispensationalism on the one hand or the postmillennialist theonomies on the other.  He didn't have the nerve to embrace or endrose an alternative like historicism or amillenialism but he was at least anxious to say what he didn't endorse and part of that was seeing how unsuitable such views are for formulating long-term cultural enterprises.  You can't influence the region if you're anxious abou the potential return of Jesus in three weeks based on stuff Jack and Rexella said on TV last night.

over at Current Affairs Alex Nichols objects to the way that the powers that be are into Hamilton

In that respect, Hamilton probably is the “musical of the Obama era,” as The New Yorker called it. Contemporary progressivism has come to mean papering over material inequality with representational diversity. The president will continue to expand the national security state at the same rate as his predecessor, but at least he will be black. Predatory lending will drain the wealth from African American communities, but the board of Goldman Sachs will have several black members. Inequality will be rampant and worsening, but the 1% will at least “look like America.” The actual racial injustices of our time will continue unabated, but the power structure will be diversified so that nobody feels quite so bad about it. Hamilton is simply this tendency’s cultural-historical equivalent; instead of worrying ourselves about the brutal origins of the American state, and the lasting economic effects of those early inequities, we can simply turn the Founding Fathers black and enjoy the show.
Kings George I and II of England could barely speak intelligible English and spent more time dealing with their own failed sons than ruling the Empire —but they gave patronage to Handel. Ludwig II of Bavaria was believed to be insane and went into debt compulsively building castles — but he gave patronage to Wagner. Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president and expanded the drone program in order to kill almost 3,500 people — but he gave patronage to a neoliberal nerdcore musical. God bless this great land.
Vocational artists have always been the servants and builders in their art of empires.  Why should this era be any different?  The delusion would be to think that it would ever be different.  Even a cursory perusal of the history of Soviet art, music and literature will show that you can be as far left as you can imagine things being and empire tends to behave the same way.  Identity politics on the left, unfortunately, has become a fantastic means by which artists can pretend that what they do is socially responsible when it doesn't materially help the plight of the working class (as if that could ever ultimately be permanently remedied anyway).   This sort of outrage is tragic for how willfully myopic it is about the history of the arts as a whole.  Like Miyazaki's Caproni asked, would you choose to live in a world with or without the pyramids?  The pyramids were built by people who did not necessarily get to choose that as their lifelong project; conversely, if there were no art would there be no repression?  Obviously not.
If the left were a bit more consistent about the ideal that the repressive one percent were more culturally diverse that'd be okay, sort of, but that's not likely to happen.  The collective ownership of the means of production is a pipe dream more absurd than the secret Rapture awaited by Christian fundamentalists.  We can live in a land where there's private ownership and we can live in a land where the means of production is managed by a party and we can live in a place where there's a mixture, but at not point will there be a truly collective ownership of the means of production.
The question that will beset humanity is not whether or not some group of people will be scapegoated and repressed but who will be scapegoated and repressed and what the narrative rationale for that scapegoating will be.  Yeah, I grant that's not a very rosy assessment of the human condition. 
As a brief thought experiment, what if predatory lending isn't draining wealth?  What if it is a fiction that insists on pretending that there is wealth where no measurable wealth is able to be created?  That kind of wealth bubble can't go on forever, can it?  Or is that functionally the foundation of what the left and right hope can continue going on in the United States?  Nichols' argument highlights racial injustices without addressing directly the question of whether that can ever be atoned for.  The outrage only comes off as plausible on the presumption that the wrongs can in some sense be atoned for. 
But if they can't then attempting to right wrongs that cannot be made right is going to end in failure.  It's easier to talk about what could conceivably be done for blacks to the extent that they weren't quite as successfully slaughtered off the face of the earth the same extent Native Americans were.  But then one of the problems with the way race gets brokered by the left and right is that it has been framed in such literally and figuratively black and white terms there's a danger of forgetting that a lot of racial injustice was done in the name of the most enlightened as well as the most conservative ideals of our nation-shaping forbears. Even a city as progressive as Portland, Oregon rests in a state that was chartered as a white supremacist utopia in so many respects that the difficult of attempting to address race is that even the most progressive communities can't escape the reality of the racist component of our foundation. 
There are those who would urge that we challenge each other to live up to a consistency of our highest ideals.  If the creators of Hamilton take that approach then Nichols' polemic has to at least account for that at some point.. If Nichols doesn't buy that the challenge is in whether or not the American experiment deserves to fail on its own historically racist terms.  Maybe it does.  Maybe the entire edifice deserves to die but in that case the kinds of programs and policies progressives have been asking for might run into a problem, asking the empire of oppression to redistribute wealth that can only have been obtained by historic injustice.  This could become a double bind of the radical left's own rhetorical making.  The real discomforting truth may be there will never be a solution for the plight of the working class and that humanity, after so many millennia, will never stop scapegoating; will never stop resorting to violence in word and deed as a solution that creates more problems; and that the temptation to empire exists in the heart of everyone regardless of whatever anti-imperialist bromides they may share on the net. These impulses may be easier to head off at the pass if we recognize they can exist in each of us, but the kinds of rhetorical flourish Nichols indulges in don't seem to grant that. 
It's tough for me to take seriously the moral objections of anyone who can get an article published in Current Affairs complaining about the 1 percent as though being able to write such a piece inherently exempts a person from being part of an upper class at a global level.  Sure, we can potentially shuffle things about the proverbial one percent by means of policy but what won't change is that there will be a one percent. 

It isn't entirely clear to me progressives grasp that a tolerant liberal democratic society may depend on the stability of what has traditionally been called an empire.  The wealth the left would like to see redistributed is still wealth gained by empire, unless we can thread the needle here and propose that there is some possibility of an empire that is not aggressively imperialist.  If the right tends to straight up defend empire the left in the West seems determined to not concede how much of the traditions of liberalism have depended on social and philosophical and economic developments within what were formerly monolithic cultures that separately aspired to empire.  World War I didn't just happen out of thin air, after all.

Let's float an idea that Marxism is in some key respects nothing more than a secularized Judeo-Christian apocalyptic idiom, not unlike 19th century postmillennialist optimism but without the theocratic rationale--in its place you just get historical materialism and a different foundation for what could still just as easily be a manifest destiny, the kind that was arguably in play as the Soviet Union, under Stalin, expanded its reach in the wake of the end of World War II. 

The general lament that well-funded art can be seen as celebrating an empire is to deliberately miss the entirety of art history for every medium. Of course an American musical aspiring to be a fusion of hip hop and the Broadway music telling a version of the life of Alexander Hamilton could be taken as art that celebrates empire.  When the film industry cranks out films that film critics say in reverential reviews discuss the power of the art of film it's not as if we can't say that the arts in the West haven't solipsistically drifted into the kinds of self-rationalizations so typical of late capitalism that even leftists trick themselves into thinking their art doesn't serve an empire.  That might be the real power of the political ideology of liberalism in the early 21st century,

That the musical may be as over-hyped as other popular musicals could probably go without saying; but it is hardly a surprise that as something becomes popular in the writerly scene at least a couple of writers will aspire to show in apocalyptic terms how it betrays the aims of true art or true politics.

What I have yet to actually read is a discussion about the music in the musical as music ... beyond Terry Teachout's remark that he enjoyed the thing overall but wish there were more memorable hooks and tunes in it.  It kind of figures a self-avowed fan of Haydn such as Teachout would write that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

KCET org feature on Boyle Heights gentrification and land development "Art and Complicity: How the Fight Against Gentrification in Boyl Heights Questions the Role of Artists"

Regular readers will know that this year we've had a blog post or two about artists vs the social welfare of non-artists.  Ever since Hayao Miyazaki completed The Wind Rises and film critics rushed to say it was a film about artists I've been stuck on this idea that if that's really what the film is about Miyazaki's most piercing observation has gone largely unremarked upon, that the vocational artist is invariably both the builder and servant of some kind of empire.  There are some artists and writers and musicians who would say that all art is political.  Then, in that sense, all art is propaganda made by the artists as servants of ideology on behalf of that ideology's empire.  If the reactionary right forever bewails the eternally receding golden age the left seems to have another problem, failing to recognize its own imperialist ambitions within any given cultural context and the existence of its own empires.

To put the matter another way, making a safe space for artists of a particular set of groups can be seen as a threat that could displace poor people in a neighborhood and disrupt what used to be what they had of a job base.
 Art and Complicity: How the Fight Against Gentrification in Boyle Heights Questions the Role of Artists

Carribean Fragoza|
July 20, 2016
Boyle Heights has witnessed eastbound waves of gentrification that have transformed Echo Park and Highland Park into more affluent and white neighborhoods. The proliferation of artist studios and galleries has come to signal the arrival of additional enterprises that raise property values and cost of rent for businesses and housing tenants, eventually resulting in their displacement.
Newcomers, including artists, have been drawn to Boyle Heights by its rich cultural character -- forged from generations of Mexican, Japanese, Russian and Jewish immigrants relegated to the city’s eastern periphery -- as well as its cheaper rent and property in an increasingly unaffordable city.
Today, one of the most standout reminders of this community’s hardships is Boyle Heights’ calcified industrial zone. The community now sits among the remnants of former warehouses and factories, like the skeleton of a creature that curled up and died many lifetimes ago. Longtime residents of Boyle Heights in some ways, consider themselves the keepers and guardians of these bones, for many still remember when they were animated and provided their families with humble but dignified sustenance.

Gonzalez and Ana Hernandez, another member of Union de Vecinos, recall the factories, warehouses and cold storage plants where families once worked. They remember that the building that PSSST now occupies on Third Street, was once a Halloween costume factory.

It was along these industrial zones that Father Greg Boyle and the mothers of Pico-Aliso organized walks that grew into marches for jobs for their children and husbands. Hence, these were the origins of Homeboy Industries and their famed mantra “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job.” More broadly, jobs would help this community reclaim its streets.

So when galleries started moving into these warehouses in the mid-2000s, residents did not see it as a sign of new life breathed into their community, but rather many were cautionary of what that meant for their own future in this place. In their journey of recovering from decades of gang violence and drugs, they kept their eyes set on a new horizon.

“Our vision for Boyle Heights has been more jobs and better education,” Hernandez says. 
However, that future now faces different challenges with the arrival of investors, speculators and more affluent residents. Among them, the arrival of artists
. [emphasis added]

“It’s ironic and sad. People have lost their jobs. They were pushed out of their neighborhood. And today arrives a new force that is transforming the zone of the factories to create a completely different culture. So not only are they actually stealing their work, but also their labor of love for creating a space for the young people.  What the community created is now being occupied by others,” says Union de Vecinos member Leonardo Vilchis.

“We have struggled to make our community a better place. Now that we’ve cleaned up our community, it’s not fair for the galleries to just come here, like PSSST that gets to lease that space for free for 20 years. Its not fair,” Hernandez says. [emphasis added]

It's common enough to find artists and writers who talk about how great it would be for artists to have a place in a community. But uncritical acceptance of the idea that what makes for affordable housing and access to creative space for an artist would be good for a community is a foolish idea.  We've blogged a little about an article at the Atlantic that discussed artist-specific housing subsidies in the past.  Particularly for those artists whose allegiances are left, the prospect that the vocational artist and his/her interests may qualify the artist as, to use a blunt term, a class enemy of the actual working class, does not readily spring to mind.

Artists want space and so a question arises, "Why can't we have this space?" as the article goes on to discuss:
...Guarded only by a delicate gridded wire gate, PSSST is painted in pristine matte white. A set of clean concrete steps leads to what was once a loading dock and is now a small patio crowned with a tall white pedestal bearing a glass water dispenser of drinking water. Condensation embraces the cold surface. On a scorching summer day, it’s a vision of oasis, a promise and prize of arrival.
“The architecture is supposed to be accessible. It’s supposed to be inviting to the community,” says PSSST board member Adrian Rivas, who has strong grounding in the Chicano/Latino art community in L.A. He remains hopeful that PSSST can offer Boyle Heights residents and local artists access to a cutting-edge arts and gallery space.

“I’ve always heard, ‘Why can’t we have these spaces? Why can’t we show our work in spaces like that?’ We love our rasquache spaces too, but why shouldn’t we have a space like this?” he adds.
Most importantly, Rivas believes that PSSST could provide local artists with a space to experiment with new forms and practices.  He notes that recently, PSSST’s first artist-in-residence, Guadalupe Rosales, invited L.A. Chicano artists and DJs to collaborate in a series of performances at the gallery where they were able to share the work they are known for, as well as to experiment.

According to PSSST founder, Jules Gimbrone, the importance of experimental art spaces for marginalized communities, particularly for queer artists and folk, is underscored by the June shooting at Pulse, a queer dance club in Orlando that left 49 young men and women dead. “These spaces for freedom of experimentation are rare for trans, youth and people of color. There’s no room for mistake as they are always performing with a lot of risk. We need to cultivate safe spaces.”

So a shooting on the other side of the country becomes a reason for an arts facility in Los Angeles ... .

The trouble with identity politics is that everyone can invoke an identity. As the article goes on to report, not even all the artists in the area buy the idea that a "safe space" should be obtained in a conventional arts gallery way that displaces people.

Yet as community talks continue over weeks and months, as positions are clarified and guidelines drafted, the threat of displacement is not diminished, as development projects move forward and the arts district receives attention and accolades from the New York Times and art world insiders. “We are still waiting to see an example of where an arts district didn’t displace a community. The designation of an arts district is a tool of development. We don’t have time for artists to figure out how they feel,” says Rhine. [emphasis added]

Despite the community dialogues, Delmira Gonzalez sees little potential for co-existence between art galleries and the longstanding community. “We have 7,000 people here that need housing. And on top of everything, our bridge gets knocked down and we have a homelessness problem. Why do we need to accept them? Why do we need to have compassion for them? The answer is ‘no.’ The answer is 'get out.’”
Ultra-Red describes this action as “The art of resistance,” a practice that, like traditional and institutional art, has its own set of aesthetic and operational frameworks. One unique characteristic of this anti-gentrification movement in Boyle Heights, as well as in other parts of the city, is the strong involvement of institutionally-trained artists, graduates of prominent art schools who are equipped to use the language of arts but are pushing towards radical practice that breaks down institutional arts, especially as they are tied to a capitalist market.

According to Rhine, the pressure that artists are experiencing from community groups and other artists that support anti-gentrification movements clarifies their role in gentrification. “In trying to establish a fine arts space within the professional sector, it’s next to impossible to start or maintain that space without direct complicity in speculative development. It’s impossible to escape complicity,” Rhine says. [emphasis added]

Furthermore, this mounting pressure points to what Rhine and other activist artists believe will be the necessary future of art. “So if an artist is challenged by the communities facing displacement to act in solidarity, then the artist has increasingly no choice but to be complicit fully or to invent a different kind of art. It means changing what art is and it’s not going to be what we learned in school or see in galleries or what is celebrated in art history. It is going to be a new art that is not necessarily going to be recognized as art.” ...

So at least some artists in the area call BS on the idea that the "safe space" is worth the displacement of poor people who have been in the neighborhood for years before the gallery was begun. 

The proposal that artists need to think of ways of being artists that isn't dependent on late capitalist infrastructures could be met with another proposal, that the very idea of being a vocational artist should be up for question.  Sousa's warning about the emergence of the recorded music industry was that it would exacerbate and mutate musical cultures into an intransigent caste system in which there were vocational producers and buying consumers, attained at the cost of the amateur culture that really made a musical culture what it is from region to region.  In such a context the people most likely to formulate a potential change in the local arts scene wouldn't be the school-trained vocational artists but the amateurs.  If vocational artists can't appreciate the possibility, let alone the reality, that what's in their material best interests might not actually beneficial for working class, low-income people in their community, then the paradox of such an artist, if a leftist (as opposed to a Randroid) would be inadvertently being a part of the ruling class while embracing a self-deluding ideological stance that lets the artist speak of himself or herself as if it were otherwise.  Because, let's face it, if you could afford to go to school in the arts, odds are moderately decent you're part of the ruling class by socioeconomic origin whether you want to admit this or not. 

NewMusicBox--Andy Costello riffs on John Cage's 4'33" as silence full of political implications, coming to close to opposite conclusions of Cornelius Cardew and John Tilbury's damning remarks on Cage discussed last week

If you read the above link you can skip the first two self-congratulatory time-wasting paragraphs.

It's only by paragraph three that the proposal that silence as political speech gets taken up as the theme of the essay.  For those who understand Cage's landmark work to indicate not actual silence but that whatever transpires during the allotted times IS the music (and this could be anyone who read Cage talk about visiting the anechoic chamber) this whole premise Andy Costello runs with is performance art and not necessarily a riff on Cage's published work or any iteration of its performance. 


Now, in 2016, I taught a general music class to middle school kids at a private school in Chicago. In one class, I thought it important that they watch a performance of 4’33”. It failed miserably—the kids laughed at the performer and found nothing of value in the work. I explained to them that they were criticizing the piece before truly hearing it, so I offered them the challenge of performing 4’33” together as a group before they offer any critical feedback, and they unanimously agreed to the challenge. So, I told them we would officially begin the performance of 4’33” when I give them the cue. I set the timer for 33 seconds (the duration of the first movement), started the timer, and gave the cue to begin. Several of the students laughed and made silly noises within the first ten of those seconds, but I let the movement go on without reprimand.  ...

Because whatever sounds during the allotted movements IS the music there wasn't any basis for a reprimand.  Instructing the player to not play doesn't mean that the rest of the ambient sounds stop being what the music is. 

Costello's would-be epiphany isn't necessarily an epiphany based on understanding what 4'33" does and doesn't do.   had the opportunity to teach a music class at a private school in Chicago. Rather than construe this or present this in terms of privilege, it is, almost inevitably, presented as a musing upon silence and political speech and subversion.  Just last week we were perusing here at Wenatchee The Hatchet comments from Cornelius Cardew and John Tilbury about what they considered the moral and intellectual dishonesty of Cage's enterprise as seen from Marxist terms in the book Stockhausen Serves Imperialism.

So when Costello writes "We need a pedagogy that uproots cowardice, questions authority, and subverts the angry, oppressive, harmful acts of the privileged classes in the oligarchical role they/we currently enjoy." with a footnote that says "I say “they/we” to described the privileged class because I feel that I belong to this class at times, and at other times, I do not." the surprise is that he only sometimes feels that he belongs to the privileged class."  If there is a besetting systemic problem with people in academic settings in the United States, not seeing themselves as members of a privileged class having he oligarchical role of educator would be one of them.  By means of a number of ideological flourishes teachers can convince themselves they aren't the establishment itself, but that doesn't stop them from being the establishment.  Jacques Ellul described state education as a crucial form of pre-propaganda, not necessarily explicit propaganda in and of itself but a necessary precursor for the propaganda of more official sorts to work. 

What 4'33" teaches us in this case is that it has gained enough prestige as a cultural artifact that it can be appropriated by a teacher as an occasion for an epiphany that may or may not have anything to do with Cage's work or its reception history but that provides a moment of self-comfort.  Art can provide solace, to be sure, but considering how sweeping the condemnation of Cage was from Cardew and Tilbury forty-some years ago the lesson today is that if an art artifact has enough prestige and social history attached to it people left and right (politically and in other figurative ways) can find ways to rehabilitate it and assimilate it into whatever their views are in the here and now.

another poem on elections

Hear, America!
It's never your destiny
unless you want it.

Pretty much a shorter poetic variation on this idea.

on humans and dogs

humans are like dogs
we both work for treats and praise,
as pack animals

Monday, July 25, 2016

a frivolous poem for a Monday night on the internet

I cannot take seriously
those who enthusiastically
invoke Reason as a proper
noun, someone with a phone number.
Go ahead, pull out your smart phone
(preferably when you're alone)
and try to give Reason a call.
You may find that Reason has call-
waiting, or too much voice mail.
Attempts to leave a message fail.
But, sure, you can tell me with pride
Reason is only on your side.

in the wake of recent news, authors highlight that the system isn't rigged against Sanders, he's just thoroughly failed to beat Clinton at winning over minority votes.


The bottom line is this: The primary wasn’t rigged.

I know quite a few pro-Sanders folks want to believe that it was, but it wasn’t. Bernie Sanders lost the nomination because he couldn’t win the minority vote — end of story. This is not about some convoluted conspiracy, or some nefarious ploy by the DNC to hand the nomination to Hillary

Clinton, it’s about basic, indisputable math and reality.
A few weeks ago I did a complete mathematical breakdown of the entire Democratic primary, which you can check out here.

But let me run down a few of the numbers that prove these conspiracies are ridiculous.
Of the 50 states, Clinton won 28 while Sanders won 22. So, she only won six more states than he did. One would think of the DNC really wanted to “rig” the election, she would have won it much easier than she did — and Sanders certainly wouldn’t have won 22 states.

The author goes on to highlight that Clinton overwhelmingly won the non-white vote in comparison to Sanders, which sort of confirms a point I've hinted at here and there that populist agitators like Sanders and Trump may appeal to angry whites on the left and right respectively, but that it's not a foregone conclusion that people of color will assume a vote for Sanders is ultimately in their best interest.

Conversely, a small group of authors at Slate declaring that the people who hate Hillary Clinton hate her because she's a woman or hate her for the opposite reasons of why they said they hated her twenty years ago is another lost cause.  Obama didn't win the nomination of the Democratic party away from Clinton out of thin air on the basis of nothing.  Some of the trouble might possibly be that the left and the right have spent so much time moving the goalposts that while people on the right might see Clinton as functionally a nanny state socialist people on the left see her as encased in a corrupt mainstream establishmentarian power structure.  Clinton's candidacy could be under skepticism from the left and right alike in part because after generations of moving the goalposts in partisan polemics where ever Clinton lands today is going to be the place from which the left and right partisans moved the goal posts away a week ago. 

There's another slightly longer thinkpiece on why the system isn't rigged against Sanders that explores the discrepancy between caucus and primary results over here:

Sanders threw his hat into the Democratic ring at late enough an hour it's hardly a surprise he hasn't secured a nomination by now.  It seems at this point that people who want Sanders might have to live with a comparable level of disappointment to those Republicans who really, really wish Trump wasn't the presumptive candidate--the Democratic National Convention may work in a way that doesn't allow the populist agitator to hijack the party system the way the Republican system has, perhaps, but the irony may be here that Sanders supporters are actually angry about that.  If there was a reason to brag that the Democratic party can't be hijacked by populist agitators you'd think this moment could be the moment to brag about that.

But then it seems as though there are a lot of Americans who only value democratic processes and procedures for just so long as it gets them the results they want, and that this demographic exists in robust forms on both the left and the right.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

on the recent Ghostbusters film, some comments at The Stranger, and a theory of violence being the domain of the man who can't get laid

TRICIA: I loved how even the villain (spoiler alert) was basically a mean, Internet troll, who presumably didn’t get laid, whose fantasy it was to be wanted and handsome and powerful and to control everyone (including women). Although, I’m not sure how I felt about the actor himself.

SEAN: He looked right: kind of dumpy, bad sideburns, etc. (Basically my own worst nightmare of myself.) But his villain characterization is all about his arrogance and entitlement. And then when the ladies get him up against the ropes, his whole meltdown is about how the world has robbed him of his "basic dignity." That’s like an angry white male blogger mantra. It is also the not-so-subtle subtext of all the dudes who “refuse” to see the new Ghostbusters. You can’t take this from me, too!

I don't know ... not that I think there's a reason to be incensed that the four leads are women, but I'm wondering whether the love for the film might have a teensy bit of a back-at-ya vibe.

Take Colin Dickey's riff on how the original Ghostbusters was a rape fantasy over at The New Republic.

Now, sure, not everyone will agree that that's actually what the original Ghostbusters movie was but, assuming for the sake of argument that's a true presentation of the toxic racial and sexual politics how would gender reversals in themselves make a reboot a proposition with merit?  Obviously a studio thought there was the potential for a new franchise here and while for male-dominated franchise bids film critics are cynical and jaded as ever they drop that guard for this franchise.  It's possible to find all the leads funny in a film and still be underwhelmed by the pedestrian and vaguely routine end result. What if 2016 Ghostbusters turns out to be, after the dust has settled and the identity politics stuff has had its say, we find ourselves looking back on this as a film that should have been a whole lot better than it was a la The Three Amigos of the 2010s? That's an idea I floated over here:

What's interesting in the back and forth is about the identity of the villain, the white male internet troll who (presumably) hasn't been laid and resents the world for robbing him of his dignity. 

The theory that a lot of violence and aggression comes from young males isn't a theory, it's more or less a forensic law.  But the theory that a lot of this violence and radicalization may be tethered to males who can't assimilate or integrate into society and can't get laid but also can't get laid in a way that is imbued with social prestige isn't necessarily the punchline plot point to a movie, it's also a serious proposal in some sectors of the net.

The discrepancy between what the shooter wants and what he gets is eventually theorised, but in a lazy way – he adopts the ISIS ideology, or a Westboro Baptist Church-style Christianity, or homophobia, or antifederalist patriotism, or whatever is ready to hand. The frustrated male casts about for a ‘cause’ of his misery, and mistakes the increasing power of newly emancipated communities for his depletion. Whether it is the son of Muslim migrants who turns his rage on the LGBT community, or the hater of Muslim migrants who turns his rage upon the political champion of migration, the same hydraulic of hatred is at work.
The lone-wolf and the jihadist group might not be as far apart as we think. The fanatical ideology of ISIS or Boko Haram is just the last ingredient added to a bubbling cauldron of male frustration, rage and resentment. As the anthropologist Scott Atran wrote recently in Aeon, most jihadists don’t even know much about Islam. A few well-chosen pugilistic Quran quotes and homophobic or misogynistic slogans can rile up a resentful male to all kinds of evil. The wellspring of this evil is not in the religion, nor even the economic conditions, or the socially constructed patriarchy, but in profound, implacable resentment. Other factors converge, as Atran notes, to help sculpt resentment into warfare, including the ‘band of brothers’ promise of jihad – which answers to deep-seated social yearnings in isolated and alienated young men. [emphasis added]
So what can be done? If male frustration and resentment is the unifying psychodynamic underneath homegrown lone-wolves and international extremists alike, then how do we address such root frustration? Every human society has contended with the challenge of containing and redirecting male frustration and rage: these responses can be categorised into a few varieties.

The rest of the piece proposes that basically all these guys need to find sexual outlets that are socially acceptable that let them integrate into their respective societies in a way that works out so they don't resort to violence.

A couple potential problems here ...

Roy Baumeister, for instance, wrote that male socialization processes tend to have a lot of contingent honor.  You don't get a gold star just for being in the class, you have to prove there's any reason to recognize you as on the football team to begin with.  In the military there's the wash-outs.  Male social systems are historically built in such a way that any one male in a stable social system is ultimately replaceable.  So if societies and particularly male social dynamics treat men as disposable how do you come up with a way to make men feel like they're not disposable or make them actually not disposable?  That is essentially a way to describe how cults get formed, so far as I can tell.  That was, in a very practical sense, what Mark Driscoll was trying to solve in the Dead Men sessions.  How he went about doing it had some severe problems but the Aeon author and the former pastor of Mars Hill had a remarkably similar idea about how the greatest social pathology to a stable order is a bunch of disaffected horny young dudes who, lacking a legitimate social outlet for their libidos, might resort to all manner of undesirable and predatory behaviors.

Okay ... but who says antisocial behavior such as mass shootings is necessarily strictly the domain of guys who can't get laid?

Because, and here's the part that's so obvious it might actually need to be said, the dating/mating game in the contemporary West is a remorseless status-vetting process.  Assortive pairing and status matching processes are apparently here to stay in the West.  One of the things tacit in the Strange exchange is that the guy who has presumably never been laid presumably hadn't earned the privilege of getting laid.  Now as scapegoating gambits go the guys who lack the socialization or status capital to get laid being the source of toxic masculinity is an interesting move in terms of not being the first thing people might think of, but it's not exactly an innovative idea. 

The trouble is that not everyone agrees the people most likely to be violent bullies are the not-socially-integrated.  The nastiest bullies can frequently have the highest level of social status, aka the Regina George type or the Flash Thompson.  They bully because they can get away with it or by being selective enough in their choice of victims that they pick low-status targets for whom there may not be a lot of natural sympathy.  Throw in the contemporary idiom of identity politics and someone who might have been a relatively high status person in his/her social strata can take on a narrative of symbolic victimhood for a sympathetic demographic. 

If there's anything weird and unique about the "culture of victimhood" is that it consists of a set of rhetorical idioms and self-identifying labels that can allow just about anyone to self-identify with the persecuted victim label.  Mark Driscoll pulled this move about a decade ago in the wake of having the convenient situation of his handful of rivals to social influence within Mars Hill subjected to kangaroo courts.  So the difficulty with a theory that violence is apt to be perpetrated by he-who-can't-get-laid is that this simply doesn't seem to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Men who recognize their disposability within a given society and, in resentment of that, find a way to make their mark on society, there's some potential merit in that idea but the Aeon contributor, by fixating on the sexually frustrated male, seems to be drawn like others to a symptom rather than a cause.

Controlling for the means of mass violence (aka gun control) would still be nothing more than treating a symptom rather than the cause, and whatever the cause may be ... it frankly seems absurd to imagine there will be a solution that works across the board.  Violent crime may well be lower than it's ever been compared to thirty years ago but thanks to media access it will be better reported than ever.  The likelihood of mass/serial killing could be lower now thanks to increased capacity to communicate across precinct and county lines that killers could cross back and forth over back in the Reagan era. 

The riff on the Abrahamic religions was quaint because if there was a tradition in the West in which the inability to get laid was made a point of spiritual celebration it would be the Christian tradition.  Paul writing that it was better to remain unmarried if that was possible comes to mind.  What we have in contemporary society is a social expectation that if you haven't gotten laid something's wrong with you as a social creature.  Maybe thirty years ago the single guy at forty would get asked if he was gay, for instance.  It's impolite to ask that now, perhaps, but the supposition that those who can't get laid or haven't gotten laid are in some meaningful sense not fully alive isn't that hard to find in popular culture. 

What won't accomplish anything is to formulate the problem of male aggression in a class warfare idiom, for instance, a woman may aspire to have the same freedoms and liberties of a man but if toxic male aggression stems from those men who have in some sense or another failed to assimilate into society then that could signal to us that men from lower classes don't FEEL like they have a whole lot of meaningful freedoms at all.  White women who are feminists do not, probably, aspire to be treated by the cops the way black men get treated by the cops, so that's a sense in which a feminist who talks abstractly about the benefits men get from the patriarchy can (at times) forget that race introduces a radically new component to theoretical discussions about what the alleged benefits of a patriarchy may be for men. 

If the way status-vetting works in contemporary Western societies stays as is then there will be plenty of guys who lose the contest to have the privilege of having sex with a partner of their choice (male or female) but it's not at all clear that he-who-can't-get-laid is necessarily in danger of perpetrating violent crime.  There does seem to need to be some sense entitlement, perhaps, but radicalization seems to require that individual failure to attain a non-disposable role in society has to be able to be converted into an ideological premise to rationalize violence.  I think the sexual frustration of males meme is too problematic on its face to be taken seriously.  There's a gender essentialism to it that if guys can't get laid they could become mass shooters.  Women who can't get laid will probably never get nominated for this dubious stereotype, but either way it may just be a dubious stereotype since the ability to have sex or the inability is probably itself no more than a symptom and not a cause.

But for those who are already in the negotiated privilege of a regular sexual relationship with someone of satisfactory social status it might be tempting to imagine that those who fail to attain that status may be prone to violence.  That seems like it's a more decorous and genteel form of scapegoating ... but it still seems like scapegoating.  Amasa's tacit proposal seems to be that guys need an outlet for sexual frustration so they don't resort to violence, it seems as though that's asking for the moon, a more practical solution would be to consider that the male ambition for social integration has to be something we can provide as a society irrespective of whether or not young males successfully negotiate the privilege of a sexual relationship.  Given how pitiless the status-vetting game of date-and-mate seems to be if you solve the social integration vs male disposability conundrum in a way that doesn't make getting laid a requirement to a working definition of full/real citizenship you may discover people pair off in satisfactory ways as a side effect.

Or as the joke in the television industry goes, you never actually win the Emmy by going for the Emmy. 

in the not-surprise headline of the day, DNC chair to step down in wake of leaks indicating Democratic machinery favored Clinton against Sanders

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, long under fire for the appearance of partiality toward Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries, will step down as the party's national chairwoman at the end of its convention this week, she announced Sunday.

The announcement came after internal emails newly disclosed by Wikileaks revived the long-running suspicions of supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that the Florida congresswoman had tilted the scales in favor of Hillary Clinton.

While one party power base seems set to rally around a candidate they didn't seem to want, another party is going to have to see if they can get people to really around a candidate the political machine seems to have chosen in advance regardless of populist concerns. 

So, if there's a silver-lining hear the Democratic National Convention has demonstrated that the game has been rigged against a populist agitator to favor an entrenched and historically compromised technocrat?  That's not really a surprise and perhaps that silver lining is all the DNC has to say for itself, they've rigged things up so that a Trump equivalent from the left doesn't stand a chance. 

Because Sanders is to the left what Trump is to the right, a populist agitator. 

Apologies to those who didn't see this coming since the start of the first Obama administration, where Clinton was concerned.  The carpetbagging was ... fairly obvious on Clinton's side. Sanders became a Democrat formally too recently to plausibly believe the machine would favor him over someone like Clinton.

This shouldn't have been a surprise but "maybe" it was. For those who have labored in the last twenty years under the impression that the political machines at the heart of the two party system were interested in an actually democratic process maybe this election year will lay that illusion to rest for partisans who have supported both parties.

on attempts to rescue Alan Moore from the unanticipated legacy of his most famous works in comics

Here we are, thirty some years after Alan Moore's Watchmen and the nukes didn't fly. But the comics industry and the comics criticism scene seems determined to ignore this unavoidable real world historical fact in attempting to come to terms with the influence of Alan Moore's influence on the superhero genre.  It's a question that is so basic to interpreting the significance of what Moore was trying to do compared to what Moore did it seems overdue.  But, instead, we're getting writers discussing Moore's influence on the superhero genre in other terms. An animated adaptation of The Killing Joke has arrived and the goal of people who think it's worth writing about seems to be to complain about the influence of Moore on the superhero genre in a way that bends over backwards to exonerate Moore from what he voluntarily wrote or, if not that, by framing the influence of Moore as if it were more significant in the comics medium than it may, in the end, turn out to have been.

... The superhero genre was originally created as all ages entertainment, aimed mainly at kids but sometimes done in a manner that allowed adults to enjoy them as well. So isn’t it odd that the dominant mode of the genre is now so skewed towards an adult audience? And is this really the best use of the genre?  

Superheroes were not meant to be exclusively for adults. The comic books that introduced them were originally marketed to children, and in some cases were created by artists who were barely adults.


So what changed? Starting in the 1980s, an influential group of comic book creators, led by Frank Miller and Alan Moore, broke from this tradition and crafted superhero stories that were geared toward an exclusively adult audience. Miller and Moore are often credited with helping the superhero genre grow up, although their idea of maturity at times seemed mainly to mean including explicit scenes of torture and rape. Miller’s pathbreaking graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (1986) featured an aged Batman coming out of retirement and forming a vigilante group in a decadent future America. Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen (1986) deconstructed the superhero genre by portraying the bitter back-biting of a group of flawed vigilante’s set against the cheerless background of an imminent nuclear war. The work of Miller and Moore has been immensely successful commercially and has re-shaped the superhero genre. And aesthetically, Miller’s flamboyant expressionism and Moore’s intricate clock-work story-telling have left their mark. Yet by following the lead of Miller and Moore, the genre made a fundamentally wrong turn, and now has lost touch with its best tendencies.

On first glance, the film Batman: The Killing Joke—which swings through theaters on July 25 for just two days before going to DVD—looks like it should’ve been consigned to afternoon television, with its choppy animation. But this new Batman feature isn’t for kids. The Killing Joke explains the origins of the Joker, Batman’s arch-nemesis, and plumbs beneath the face paint for a pathology. It’s sourced from a specific pool of graphic novels that were authored by one of two men—Frank Miller or Alan Moore—between 1986 and 1988. Their mission: to make superhero comics visible to adults by dialing up the darkness.

The dial, of course, got stuck. Acclaimed graphic novels like Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Batman: Year One (1987) as well as Moore’s Watchmen (1987) and Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) introduced a gloom that never quite lifted. They recast spandexed superheroes as violent vigilantes, and lowered them into atmospheres fraught with gravity, like the Cold War. “Miller and Moore are often credited with helping the superhero genre grow up,” wrote Jeet Heer recently in a smart piece for The New Republic, “although their idea of maturity at times seemed mainly to mean including explicit scenes of torture and rape.”

But it’s wrong to tie the thoughtful Moore too closely to the reactionary Miller. Moore’s celebrated series V for Vendetta posted a warning about Thatcherism and supplied the Occupy movement with a face. He turned a repudiated horror comic, Swamp Thing, into a repudiation of Reaganism. In 1988, he went so far as to form the publishing imprint Mad Love so that he could bring out a comic protesting homophobic English legislation. Compared to the rest of his work, then, The Killing Joke marked a regression. The last of the much-lauded graphic novels of the late ’80s, it exemplified traits that continue to bedevil the superhero genre today—misogyny, nihilism, and sadism for the sake of fanboys.

The Killing Joke was not a project instigated by Alan,” writes the artist Brian Bolland in the afterword to the 2008 edition, “nor was it, as far as I know, a labor of love for him.” This is an unsurprising revelation.  ...

You can trace the easy nihilism of many contemporary comics and movies—from Spawn to Kick-Ass—to cynical products like The Killing Joke. It’s the nihilism of a third-rate Nietzsche, the kind of starter-kit philosophy that compels adolescents.

And it was written by Alan Moore.  Moore didn't come up with the idea, we are assured, but the indisputable fact is he voluntarily wrote it, and got paid for it.  If that's not the very definition of exploitive genre hackwork then there's no such thing in the history of the arts.  But it seems Alan Moore has to be, in some sense, exonerated of any responsibility for having ... actually written The Killing Joke.   Guriel works to eat his cake and have it, too.

Yet there's nothing much to be gained by attempting to exonerate Alan Moore from the unforeseen consequences of his writing for DC.  Moore seems to be just respected enough but a subset of progressives they are eager to  exonerate him from the long-term effects of what could uncharitably be described as pandering exploitation genre hackwork.  Moore is a dedicated, skilled and capable crafter of genre stories, make no mistake, but if we harken back to an old lefty Dwight Macdonald style taxonomy of the arts, comics are low brow by definition; or to put it another way, it's difficult to see why Alan Moore should be seen as "thoughtful" in contrast to the "fascist" Frank Miller when both men are responsible for the same aesthetic weakness introduced into the genre. 

Thirty years ago Watchmen was inventive and daring but it was not above criticism. Grant Morrison's summary judgment in Supergods was that the things he hated about the comic series when it first came out (its detached tone, its obsession with formal and narrative symmetry) are the only things he can respect about it now.  The characters were ultimately all types and the central plot hinged upon the assumption that someone described as the world's smartest man does the dumbest possible thing after spending his whole life thinking about it--Ozymandias stages a stunt that kills millions of people because he's convinced it's the only way to avert an otherwise inevitable nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The greatest supervillain turns out to be the superhero who put the Watchmen together to begin with, doing what he convinced himself was necessary to save the world.  Morrison's comment about the end of Watchmen remains salient, the fourth-wall breach of the reader reading the entire story as framed through interludes in Walter Kovacs' journal reveals that in spite of the best efforts of Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan Rorshachs' journal sees the light of day.  All that murder and all that covering up was, in the end, for nothing.

But rather than read that as being inherent to the narrative what the comics readership and production side seemed to "learn" from this was that in some ridiculous way Ozymandias was the "hero" who actually save the world.  Yet if you were to go back and read Watchmen, how many people die at the hands of zealous superheroes?  How many people die because of mob activity? One?  How many people are shown getting killed by non-supehero characters?  Moore's dehydrated send-up of the superhero genre has been read by supehero fans with a misplaced presumption of Moore having more respect for the genre than he may have.

Conversely, Moore has been taken more seriously as a writer than he probably should be.  If a subset of progressives want Moore off the hook for introducing sexuality and violence into childrens' entertainment appropriations is he on the hook for Lost Girls as well as Watchmen or for neither?  If not, why not?  Jason Guriel can attempt to propose that Moore was the first to reject the product he created but if we stick with a fairly uncontested progressive (and conservative, for that matter) proposal that all art is in some sense still political, how easily should Alan Moore be let off the hook for exploitation genre pandering hackwork? Moore can recount the "cripple the bitch" quote all he wants to impute some of the blame to DC.  Moore wrote the story. 

Not everyone would agree Ledger's performance drew inspiration or was in some sense indebted to Alan Moore's comic.  Ledger, being dead, isn't exactly around to clarify.  He may have incorporated elements of Moore's work but the first thing I noticed about the performance was that Ledger seemed to be more connected to the pre-comics code early 1940s Joker.  It's "possible" that Alan Moore's fans grotesquely overstate the reach of his over-rated influence. 

About ten years ago Justice League Unlimited wrapped up its final season and a tenth anniversary box set of the Powerpuff Girls came out (which I pretty much immediately bought).  The Incredibles was a year old about that time.  Moore's purported influence on the superhero genre should not be overstated.  The violence and sexuality Moore introduced into the superhero genre wasn't exactly less lurid than the violence and sexuality Miller had in the genre. 

And a propensity on both the left and the right is to dismiss all-ages entertainment as essentially not really art.  How many thinkpieces are we going to see about the 20th anniversary of Blues Clues this year?  How many thinkpieces are we going to see for the 20th anniversary of South Park?  Progressive criticism of the superhero genre isn't entirely misplaced, there are problems with the genre--the problem is that some of the worst perpetrators of the problems in the genre have been men with enough progressive street cred that progressives have wanted to exonerate some of these men (most conspicuously Alan Moore) from the work.  Alan Moore is not entirely unlike Mark Driscoll in this respect, a man can do a lot of work to have some kind of influence but isn't necessarily in control of what that legacy will be. 

When Moore dies his obituary may mention Lost Girls or Tom Strong but nobody cares about that beyond the confined niche market of comics.  If Moore is upset that his most lasting influence within comics was for well-crafted contributions to the superhero genre that can still, will all due respect, be regarded as misogynistic pruriently violent exploitation genre hackwork then he has a right to be; but the history of pop culture influence has already been written and it seems that there is a point at which trying to exonerate Alan Moore from the responsibility of influence is to forget that the whole thing about influence is that it can't be foreseen or controlled.

The irony of what Alan Moore's fans seem to think he did for the comics is that rather than truly elevating the superhero genre to an adult level of thoughtfulness he may have simply dragged it down into the gutter of cerebral prurience.  But because he's considered on the appropriate side of a left/right ideological political divide there are those who would seek to rescue Alan Moore from not merely the consequences of his influence but also the substance of his contribution to the superhero genre. 

After all, the power presupposed in Ozymandias' plan to save the world from nuclear war by killing millions of people depended on the unquestioned rightness of a paranoia that nuclear war under a Republican president was beyond even the possibility of second thoughts.  Here we are thirty years after the age of Reagan and the Cold War ended in something besides global nuclear war or full nuclear disarmament (as if that would have ended the Cold War, either).  It may be a testament to the far-reaching mentality of the Cold War that the paranoia of the left and right alike could (and apparently can, even in the wake of its end) only formulate and articulate dread in the most apocalyptic and violent terms.

Moore's story "works" to the extent that you bought into the assumption that Ozymandias plotting depended on the inevitability of a nuclear exchange.  Part of the pernicious influence of Moore's work on the comics industry may depend upon a "reading" of the "text" that presumes the legitimacy of a reading informed by a paranoia inherent to the Reagan era that no longer applies; a 21st century reading of Moore's "text" may reach a significantly different range of conclusions and interpretive possibilities. 

So in the end Alan Moore was not necessarily just a cause of any of this malaise in the comics medium, he has also been of its most articulate symptoms.