Friday, April 26, 2013

Criterion Recollection: Erosion, Explosion, Implosion

Note: We, the good people of Et tu, Mr. Destructo? are proud to present Criterion Recollection, an analysis of the popular Criterion Collection of historic and unique achievements in film. Your guide is Mark Brendle, a noted chair connoisseur and fiction author. Brendle lives in the Pacific Northwest in a small post-recycled yurt adjacent to America's largest family-owned retail video and book store, Art Trough. When not writing or staring purposefully at culture, Brendle works as a fair-trade coffee beanist. You can follow him on Twitter.

Uncanny Eye Candy: Spine #640, Koyaanisqatsi (1983)


Last winter, Criterion released another of my favorite (set of) movies, the "Qatsi Trilogy" by the genius ex-monk Godfrey Reggio. Koyaanisqatsi, the first and best known of the trilogy, still makes its way through pop culture, both by direct reference in homages and parodies and by the innumerable pillaging of its technique by advertisers and filmmakers.

Despite its ubiquity, Koyaanisqatsi is often remembered and noted for its engrossing visuals, camera trickery and the outstanding score by contemporary composer Philip Glass. But the soul of Koyaanisqatsi, and the trilogy as a whole, lies in the message of the film, sometimes subtle, sometimes over-the-top, but always the same: industrial civilization and our obsession with technology and "progress" are destroying the world and us along with it.

The method by which Reggio as well as Glass and cinematographer Ron Fricke (both equal collaborators) unfold this picture of a world turned upside down by rampant acceleration of technocratic hegemony startles audiences even today. Koyaanisqatsi takes footage of everyday scenes and transforms them into amazing spectacles of beauty and horror. This transformation opens up a perspective of modern (1980s) life and pulls back the casual veneer of the quotidian, exposing the violence and sadness underlying the routine dehumanization that structures contemporary society.

The efficacy of these images comes from Reggio's avoidance of language in his narrative. The name Koyaanisqatsi was added only after the film was complete, as releasing an untitled film seemed untenable. He chose the word for two reasons: one, because it was completely unknown (an irony of the film's success, of course, is that the word is now well known and serves as a shortcut to confronting the languageless object it represents, precisely what Reggio wanted to prevent). Two, the word comes from a dying language, Hopi, a language representing the worldview of a traditional society, one apart from and destroyed by the world Reggio criticizes.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Destructo Salon: Does Matthew Yglesias Enjoy Murder?

Matthew Yglesias—a Norelco marketing experiment to see if a hand-drawn Sharpie beard on a peeled potato could sell men's earrings—wrote a morally and intellectually odious article at his second job yesterday. His Slate column, "Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That's OK," addressed the deaths of 161 workers in a factory collapse in Bangladesh with the tone they so richly deserved: bored.

Writing off the death of 161 people with 370 words of vacuous unconcern requires the machine-like efficiency we've come to expect from places where pre-teens assemble Air Jordans. Yglesias' thesis, what little exists, is that the Bangladeshis are a people squalid enough that death is an acceptable randomly applied career path, and that dead Bangladeshis are what keep flat-front chinos at $29.99 at the outlet store. Our pants are cheap because their lives are, and cheaper things are innately good. Just think how much Upton Sinclair saved on hamburger as a young man. What an ingrate.

At best, one could chalk Yglesias' attitude up to the neoliberal worship of free trade, but ascribing any ideology to Yglesias is like trying to pin a Bad Citizenship medal on fog. He differs sharply from his Slate colleague Dave Weigel, who takes pains to acknowledge his affiliation with Koch-owned Reason. While Weigel seems like an affable guy who delights in mocking the ridiculous—and, with the GOP the party that forgot math, science and history, he finds common cause with the left—it's clear that liberals probably would not enjoy handing the budget over to him. This is how honest compromises are struck.

Yglesias offers nothing so concrete. He is a process acolyte, who never strays far from the orbit of Beltway centrist think-speak. His ideological bona fides extend to thinking that slightly-left people saying things identical to everyone else are slightly better than everyone else—all of whom are essentially right anyway, because why else would people agree? Ideas are less important than the formalism of tautologically explaining them, reiterating them, then deforming reality to accommodate them. His job is not to challenge them but hammer out a 500-word explainer detailing how wrong you are, while reassuring you that we're on the right track. Matthew Yglesias' voice is the same soothing one you use on your dog while the vet is euthanizing him.

That should bother you. Today, we hope to explain why in another "Destructo Salon." Please read on.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Busta Poesy: Amanda Palmer's Unpublished Paeans to What's on TV

In a week that saw major global earthquakes, a bombing at a marathon, a city shut down, a series of deadly shootouts, the defeat of even a toothless piece of gun-control legislation, the Internet and the New York Post proudly labeling several innocent people as terrorists, hate crimes against Muslims, and a massive and deadly explosion in Texas—well, after a week like that, it takes some serious stones to make it about you. Amanda Palmer doesn't have a modesty problem.

You might have heard of Amanda Palmer. A punk rocker turned folk singer, she embraced the leveling social-justice agitation of both genres, married it to Kickstarter's DIY funding, asked for $100,000 from fans to make an album and wound up being given $1.2 million. Then she used most of the money on frivolous shit and paying off personal debts, while expecting local musicians to play on her tour for free, and fans to feel rewarded by the same "HERE IS A GIFT CERTIFICATE FOR ONE (1) HUG" lazy compensation she was doling out for a donation total smaller by a factor of 11.

Palmer clearly exhibited significant difficulty in picking up context clues from even her own personal history in music. Thankfully, her degree of obtuseness extends beyond shitkicker balladeering and fan plunder. After bearing witness to the horrors in Boston, Palmer published "A Poem for Dzhokhar," addressed to the alleged Boston bomber who was captured in a boat after a frightening daylong manhunt. Her poem—35 aired-out lines of lowercase e.e. crummy—does an excellent job of cataloging the ennui of privileged insipidity. Which is to say, it sings a song of Amanda Palmer to Amanda Palmer that, one supposes, Dzhokhar might eventually overhear by accident. It is glurge clickbait, the kind of thing that appears in your inbox only after being forwarded by that one grandmother who had parts of her brain suffocate for a little while.

Naturally, we here at Et tu, Mr. Destructo? were flabbergasted. More importantly, all of us received extensive CIA training in remote viewing. Using only the power of extra-sensory perception, we were able to individually "hack" Amanda Palmer's brain, gaining access to as-yet unwritten poems dedicated to other tragic events in the national news cycle. We have presented these unpublished poems below. However, as remote viewing is sometimes inexact, we have added our names to each poem to account for how different viewers interpreted the raw Palmer data. Thank you for your indulgence.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cordial Greetings to 45 Pocket Toys of Death Merchants

Yesterday, the US Senate killed even a candyass, quintessentially senatorial approach to gun control. You could have cocked a single eye at the television with lid at half mast while falling into a K-hole and still had enough situational awareness to be furious at the lobbyist capture of our most venerated, sclerotic chamber full of war profiteering racists, foot-draggers and bozos. This was, after all, nothing new.

Yesterday's vote—against a treacly version of measures supported by 90% of the American people and even a majority of gun owners—had the virtue of malicious consistency. The essence of its unconcern was obvious to all because it came as a fulfillment of fate. In the face of real, existential problems, the United States Senate can be relied upon to sublimely split the difference between the cruelest act and the least difficult. In Washington, the blood rolls downhill.

Yet just because something is obvious or foreordained does not spare it from outrage. Given how far away it's possible to see stupidity coming only makes it that much worse when it inevitably arrives. As such, it's probably not terribly surprising to see people tackily lusting for violence. Especially when a walking anti-Habsburgian chin deformity like Mitch McConnell uses his Facebook page to do the public policy equivalent of "u mad, bro?" trolling about the tryhard epic "care" of people who have negative attitudes toward human flesh being torn apart ballistically.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Point-Counterpoint: Is Satire Even A Thing?

Last Monday, New Inquiry blogger Aaron Bady audited the word satire and made it clear. He wrote, "If something is not taken to be satire, it fails as satire. [It's] an effect, and everything depends on how the joke is received, what the author intended, what the circumstances were in which it was made, and so on."

It's an interesting definition, both for the way it's made and the assumptions on which it relies. He establishes criteria for the existence of satire based on its audience, citing people who mistake The Onion and The Daily Currant for real news as evidence for the genre's fragility, tying satire's ontology to whether it achieves food for thought for the permanently slackjawed. Leaving aside the fact that a satire's being mistaken for reality is often a satirist's dream, basing the existence of something on the perception of idiots is a powerful argument. Spend enough time hustling Gap jeans for the braindead in a deadpan tone and you could disprove the existence of sarcasm. Choose the right textbook, and there is no Enlightenment.

Needless to say, we were greatly exercised by Mr. Bady's essay. One of our contributors (Hitler) noted the date of Bady's essay's publication (April 1) and quipped that it says a lot about your criticism website when your jeremiad only works as satire—when one could only add argumentative heft to it by looking at the dateline and crying, "April fools!"

Even talking amongst ourselves, however, we noticed that our opinions on satire and Bady's argument were not in harmony. With that in mind, we chose to offer our first open-ended philosophical discussion. In so doing, we decided to examine the nature of satire via the old inquiry. We here at Et tu, Mr. Destructo? have always been partial to the old inquiry, wherein one asks questions or challenges the opinions of another in the hope of reaching consensus or synthesis. In the main, it is both arcane and bourgeois, but it is also a timesaver compared to newer inquiries, like asking a room full of people what something is, then asking them if the photographer has arrived yet. Then tweeting.

Come, join us for a free-ranging examination of the ideas that shape our media and ourselves, especially those of us in media. Welcome to our first ever "Destructo Salon."

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Sweet Smell of Failure: Dinesh D'Souza, Colonial Apologist and Right-Wing Loser

Note: Today, we, the good people of Et tu, Mr. Destructo? turn for insight to our Managing Editor General Rehavam "Gandhi" Ze'evi, former Israeli Minister of Tourism. Having faked his assassination in the Mt. Scopus Hyatt Hotel, the General has been in deep cover, in Judea and Samaria. He last joined us for a look at Big Mark Brendle's Radio Fragments.

Dinesh D'Souza: Portrait Of The Failure As A Done Man

In the pantheon of hard-right holy rollers who have spectacularly strayed on the road to New Jerusalem, Dinesh D'Souza—the Indian Mr. Bean—is a pitifully dull case. But Jesus wept all the same, anguished as he was by Dinesh D'Souza's wayward penis.

The lodestar of suck, the one that propelled this greased weasel to fame on the right-wing rodeo circuit, shines even on his tepid excuse of a sex scandal: he showed up at some Bible-thumping conference with an extramarital companion—the also-married Denise Odie Joseph—introducing her as his fiancee, before retiring to a shared Comfort Suite. This induced a collective case of "the vapors" among the Board of Trustees at King's College, the barely accredited evangelical diploma mill where D'Souza served as president. A marathon Board meeting, and it was all over: D'Souza was fired, stripped of his six-figure salary (he only took a vow of intellectual poverty), and booted back into the GOP scullery from whence he came.