Tag Archives: America

Dear Angry White Men

No. Not you, necessarily. This post isn’t meant for White Men Who Are Angry. Not exactly. Not exclusively.

Anger is okay. There’s plenty going on, everywhere, to be angry about. So, if you just happen to be angry and white and male, I’m not necessarily talking to you when I say…

…I used to be one of you.

So…if you’re that other kind of angry white man…

…trust me.


When I tell you…

…this has got to fucking stop.

Let me clarify.

I have (thankfully) never been “crazy enough” with anger, or delusional enough, to believe so fully in my “righteousness” to think for a second that it was okay to hurt people en masse.

Let’s get that out of the way.

But. I have been, in the past, somewhat delusional. I have been so angry, in the sort of way wherein I thought that “everyone else was the problem”, that I hurt those close to me. Including myself.

Perhaps many of us do this, as a consequence of trying to make it through what is almost always, invariably, whoever you are — a complicated life. Still, historically, I’m not sure any one group has ever hurt quite so many people, quite as effectively, as the “victimized” Angry White Male. Especially not lately. Especially not here in America, lately.

The past version of me who felt this way, that everything and everyone else was wrong (and not him) — he was in a lot of pain. I’ve forgiven him whatever sins I felt I had to forgive him for, as he dealt however he could with that pain, because, in addition to taking responsibility for myself, I’ve learned that forgiveness is the right response.

Sometimes, though, these realizations — this progress — has only made it more difficult for me to continue to watch angry white men, of all ages and types, ignore their pain to such an extent that it eventually results in a tragic outburst of violence.

And I’m not just talking about young gunmen. There are angry white men in positions of great power in our society. And they kill too, remotely, via willful ignorance that they intentionally fire up and keep simmering. It’s about time we started calling a fact a fact, in that regard.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, other than to offer testimony in support of a point of view that should be easier to adopt — that it doesn’t have to be this way.

But, here I am, anyway. So.

Angry white men? You can stop. It’s possible.

It’s okay to be angry, especially if you’ve been hurt. It’s obviously, obviously, not okay to hurt others, just because you’re in pain. Under any circumstances.

There’s another way you can make an impact on the world, when you’re angry, when you’re hurt. You can ask for help. You can try to understand your anger. You can admit your pain. Channel it into something creative, or redemptive, or both. You can become an example of how things can get better.

It may not be — won’t be — easy. But it’s the right thing to do. Deep inside, beneath your fears, you know this. I know that you know it, because I always knew it, even when I pretended to be certain that my destructive anger was more righteous than admitting I was hurt and scared.

Give it a try. Now. Fast.

Because — guess what? Those of us who understand you, as much as something like this can be said? We’re still angry, too. It didn’t go away. This stuff doesn’t just go away. But, once we master it? We become friends and allies with all the “others” you pretend are responsible for your pain.

Speaking only for myself, I feel powerful with righteousness. Now. In every way that you feel compelled towards destruction, I feel compelled toward creation. I feel moved to do more and more to diffuse the sort of pain that’s destroying whole swaths of our country, that’s perforating the fabric of our society like so many discriminately fired bullets.

You are in the way. You’re dangerous. And despite my sometimes unbelievable empathy for you in your sickness, I am less and less on your side.

So, in your own parlance…

…be a man.





Be truly brave.

Help yourself. Ask for help. Whatever you have to do.

Just no more of this. Please, no more of this.

Tell Me Your Furies

Hello, beautiful and/or handsome readers. I am exhausted today, and have a very long week ahead of me. I’ve been sitting here, thinking of what to say to you this week, and, unfortunately, nothing is coming.

I may just be tapped out for the moment. And I think I need to pay attention to that and take a breath.

However, I do have a question:

How has the blog been working for you?

What do you like? What could you go without? Do you miss the weekly links? Can you live without them?

What posts did you particularly enjoy? Is there something you want me to cover that you haven’t seen here, but think might fit into our themes of American social dysfunction, the state of “the arts” and/or the responsibility of contemporary artists, inequality, injustice…etc?

Please take a moment to drop a line and answer any or all of these questions. Or answer one I didn’t ask, that I should have.

There haven’t been too-too many comments since The Furious Romantic Returns launched. Which is okay. But I know many of you are reading (I creep though the stats) and I appreciate it and I want to give you more of what you like and less of what you don’t like.

So, let’s hear it. Hit me up on whatever channel you want: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…or email me at michael [DOT] dibiasio [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Responses will be kept private. After some time has gone by I’ll reflect on everything and report back to you.

And, remember, honesty is the best policy. Be nice, but if you have complaints, let those fly as well.

Please take a moment. Write as little or as much as you want.

Let’s reach out through The Screen.

Why Artists Need to Lead The Charge For Equality and Justice

There’s an ultimate point to most of the posts that I’ve written here so far, apart from what is already outlined on the “What?” and “Why?” pages linked to above. That point? Well…

It should be clear by now to anyone who’s been reading that I am pretty damn fed up with the rampant social injustices that pervade our society here and now. I am even more fed up with the too-major majority of people who refuse to admit just how much is wrong with how we view ourselves, in the face of clear evidence of this injustice (if we do any real viewing at all). And I am completely done remaining silent about all this.

Again, maybe that’s obvious to those of you who have been reading so far. This site offers me, and hopefully you as well, an opportunity to explore some specific examples of what’s wrong with American society, as well as (again, hopefully) some ideas as to what we can do to begin righting what’s wrong. In the same way, though, I’ve also started looking at what I write here as a gauge of where I am at, at any given time in my personal journey to accomplish this as an artist.

Which is all a very long way of saying that I don’t write these missives only as a means of pissing on the fire as the house burns down. Because pissing on a burning house accomplishes nothing. Everything still comes down in the end and if you aren’t careful you might also singe your delicates in the process.

So, why all the hours spent: 1) Identifying the main impediments to social repair and progress (IMHO), 2) Identifying the means and method of delivering what’s needed to initiate such processes, 3) Exploring severe examples of our dysfunction, and, lastly, 4) Advocating a solution.

Well, I’m doing it, as I just said, to check my progress. Also, probably, to keep me sane. Finally, though, I’m injecting myself purposefully into the experiment. I want a record of this to be available, for myself as much as others, in case some part of this works (it will work).

And, when I say “this,” I mean my films, my writing — all of it, from this day forward. I want a trail behind me, as a sort of precaution, for helping me stay honest in a world where honesty is more often avoided and punished than welcomed and appreciated. In a way, ideally (admittedly), I want to keep you honest too.

Sometime soon, I’m going to get around to announcing my next film, which my wife and I are going to drag kicking and screaming into existence, because fuck this.

Two months ago, 20 children were gunned down in an elementary school. Five years before that, the global economy nearly collapsed, due not only to a series of widespread con-jobs perpetrated by immoral power brokers but also the ignorance (however forgivable, in certain respects) on the part of almost everyone, to the delicacy of the increasingly complex (overly complex) connections and compacts that sustain our collective lives. And, since then, and still now, the American cultural dialogue has been overwhelmingly focused on the past and present — even as democracies old and new, worldwide, continue to pass us by in terms of recognizing and advocating equality, securing justice for all citizens, and, quite simply, working to provide a framework for an all-around better life (and a better chance at a good life) for their entire citizenry.

As a person who is still younger than he is old — and a person whose life has already been greatly affected by all of the above — I am not okay with this. Are you?

I’ve struggled to “succeed” over the past ten or so years, partially because it’s what you do when you’re an artist, but partially also because I’ve said no. To the status quo. To doing what you’d otherwise have to do, in terms of compromising the honesty required of any worthwhile artistic career or endeavor, in order to make art and also “make money.” I’ve also said no, more times than I can count, to the voice that lives insides many of our heads that seems to constantly whisper: You can’t do it. Fuck that voice, too, while we’re fucking things.

I’ve also said no, as long as I could (because it’s painful, and I just wasn’t ready) to taking a long hard (full) look at the above sad truths of life in America. Why? Because I am and have been a complicit agent in this mess in many ways. Sometimes this was because it seemed necessary to play by certain rules, so that I could strengthen and prepare myself to the point of being adequate to the task of finally jumping into “the good fight.” Sometimes it was because I was afraid. I’m still afraid.

But it doesn’t matter. I’ve been working hard to hone my skills as a filmmaker and a writer for a long time now. I’ll continue to do that, but now that I’ve also come to terms with what has to be done (what we all have to do), I want to lead by example (with help, of course). In the spirit of sharing everything I’ve shared here so far, I also want to outline why I believe more of our artists (as they often do — and many artists more talented than me are already doing this) need to take the lead in the charge for a better America.

First, I believe artists are (as usual — this is nothing new) uniquely positioned to form creative solutions to the issue of sparking a greater cultural dialogue. Most of us, at least those of us who aren’t born fortunate enough to get started early and easily (and many of this type end up excluded from the discussion, at least initially, simply by virtue of being unable to gain the proper perspective on things like inequality and injustice) — we’re desperate. We’re in the strange position of having a lot to say about what’s wrong but also having, at the same time, too small or insignificant a voice (at least until we put in the time and develop the skills necessary to earn the right to a greater say) to make much of a difference. When the work has been done and the skills are far enough along, then we are (or should be) compelled to seek solutions where there were none before, as much as we are able. Of course, as far as our conscience allows us (and this is sometimes possible), we also have the option of chasing success through proven methods. Far too many of those methods, however, require more of a compromise than we should be ready to make. Again — not all. But too many. This is all changing, in any event, because…

Second, we already are forming creative solutions to the issues of the day — with the assistance and support of some smart and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, particularly in the realm of technology and social networking. I won’t be so bold as to lump myself in with some of the artists who have succeeded in taking more control, for themselves and their careers and their work, by turning to the internet to build and sustain an audience (and to deliver directly to that audience with fewer middle-men edging in on either side of the transaction). But, yes, it’s getting better. I believe that. You’ve always had to be good, and to an extent of course you have to continue “doing the work.” Increasingly, however, if you’re good and do the work on your own, you’re able to remain honest and go after the heart of it at the same time that you’re keeping “their” hands off the heart of it. It’s also worth mentioning that such a trail was blazed by countless relatively nameless experimenters and early-adopters who, yes, did it before that much more famous person who just got more press from his or her success story because he or she is famous — which is fine. Just my way of saying thanks to the unsung heroes of the budding framework for artistic self-actualization that we’re beginning to see hit its crest.

Third, we have perspective. Perspective is expensive. Since things are as bad as they are in America, it becomes necessary for the true artist to repeatedly reject everything (or as much of everything as he or she can handle or is able to handle) that cannot be honestly adhered to as we go about attempting to first wrap our heads around the mess, and then work to change it in a meaningful way. I already talked a little about this, but it bears repeating. You can’t fix what you can’t admit is broken — because you haven’t looked at the pieces to see how they fit back together. Whether the true artistic point of view comes first, or whether it only arrives after it causes you to suffer awhile — that’s a chicken and egg question. Like the chicken and egg question, however, there’s a little-discussed real answer to it: it doesn’t matter. Both need the other, in perpetuity, for the question itself to even have any relevance. And art can only be relevant if its perspective is true. It can only succeed in a widespread way if its filtered perspective is an appropriate tonic to the polluted perspective of the day. Artists, real artists, are uniquely qualified to engage with issues of inequality and injustice because, in repeatedly saying no to all things polluted, they become marginalized. And it’s on the margins of life where we always find the human consequences of our societies’ darkest secrets. If that all sounds romantic, it shouldn’t. Also, a caveat: there are many artists out there much braver than me in terms of exemplifying the necessary perspective. But we all do what we can.

Fourth, we need each other. This last reason may be colored slightly by my “chosen” calling as a filmmaker, but still I think it applies across the board. Especially now, when Americans are so much more isolated than every before — and so mistrusting of each other in the ways that count — it’s worth it to think about the value of cooperation and community. Keeping the example going, however: I just recently completed my third film. It’s my best work to date. Do you know why it’s my best work? Partially, it’s because I took everything I learned over the past five years and put it into the production of a five page script. Partially it’s because I recently began descending into a more honest place as a writer and a person. Mostly, though, it’s because I tamped down my fears and anxieties enough to repeatedly ask for more help, more often. And because I worked hard to collaborate more with talented people. Maybe this example speaks more of my own issues with fear, anxiety, egotism, etc. than anything else. However, if you looked at me for most of my life, in most ways you could call me an average American male. Average height. Average build. Grew up middle class in the suburbs. Did well in school, went to college, got a job (because that’s what people do).

Except much of what I came to believe about myself as an average American male ended up being built upon lies. I will continue to be of average height and average build (hooray?). But the middle class? It’s dying. The suburbs — shining example of American social mobility, land of pretty houses and happy childhoods? Well, a lot of those houses got taken away, or were never “owned” by anyone to begin with. Further, there’s a difference between happiness (which is elusive enough as it is in the most basic of terms) and the illusion of happiness. Real happiness doesn’t cost nearly as much as so many of us pay, in human terms, as we pursue it in increasingly problematic ways, and, in language unfortunately appropriate to the time, in exchange for increasingly meager returns.

Much needs to change. The old ways don’t work anymore. We can’t hide from ourselves any longer. The injustices need to stop. Equality, real equality, in all senses of the word, needs to be our primary goal. But things won’t truly begin to get better until most people take an honest look at the state we’re in and agree that it’s bad.

So. Artists. Let’s get to work.

Bad Pride, Good Pride

I want to talk for a few minutes about pride. Because I think it’s hurting us. And, contrarily, I also think we need more of it.

By us, I mean (again) the average American. I think pride, more often that not, (though, as with anything, there are exceptions), gets in the way of the sort of work that needs to be done to improve those things that need improving in our society and in our lives, more than it advances this same work.

I’m going to explain why, but, first, the exception. The good side of pride.

Pride is essential. You can’t argue against the necessity of the sort of pride that comes with self-respect, or that rides on the coattails of love (pride for family and friends) or, most important, the pride that feeds you when you’ve got little else. I can testify personally to these sorts of pride. I wouldn’t be standing on my feet today, at least not in the particular way that I need to, without each of these fundamental types of pride.

But I can also testify to the dark side of pride. The kind that, under the “right” circumstances, can tear down or impede the progress made by all other forms of it. Bad pride.

Bad pride is something you put between yourself and the world. It’s related to fear, in that way, except fearfulness can be forgiven a bit, because it’s often reflexive and instinctual, even when it shouldn’t be.

But make no mistake: bad pride is a decision. Especially when used to mask fear or something like it – it’s a choice.

It’s admittedly tricky, trying to figure out whether you’re a user of bad pride. Again, pride itself is a pervasive concept, especially in America, where exceptionalism is the rule. The delineations that separate some of pride’s primary forms, as I’ve just discussed them, aren’t always so apparent – especially because pride is such a potent, powerful, sometimes overwhelming emotion. Of course it’s powerful. We’ve already established how many vastly different sub-emotions can be stuffed inside the word. Self-respect, love, will power – many of these essential human elements can’t subsist without pride.

But bad pride, to me, exists outside the realm of subsistence, of humanity even. It’s more like a suit of armor that we put on to protect us, when we’re frightened. When we don’t understand something. When we fear judgment. Again, this instinct is fine. It’s human. But, sometimes, (too often), we utilize bad pride to protect us from fears that aren’t nearly as rationale or as likely-to-be-founded as we think.

In the context of this blog, I offer my opinion that bad pride is standing in the way of social progress. I believe, on the part of certain typically older, typically white citizens, that it’s standing in the way of reality. There’s no other way to contextualize the staggering levels of barely-veiled racism, legacy sexism and fear-based selfishness that have burst to the surface of our cultural “dialogue” in recent years, starting with such tragically justified national causes for fear, as exemplified in one way by 9/11 and in another by the dysfunction and injustices revealed by the recession, and reaching a sad crescendo with the election of the country’s first black president, who also happens to disagree with the version of reality currently put forward by some of the rich old white men who own America.

Bad pride has gotten so poisonous, on the part of the more conservative members of our population, that it’s now often weaponized, by those in power way up at the top of our society, such that they can manipulate some of the very victims of their deceit in such a contemptible way as to lead them to help guarantee their own continued imprisonment in an overcranked system that isn’t completely working anymore and which is rigged against many of us. National pride in particular, which was a legitimate badge of honor years ago, on the part of the prideful, has in recent years become that full-blown suit of armor, a protective layer between the reality of the last few lean years and the preceding years of fear-of-attack and pain, and the illusion that everything would be still okay if only our president wasn’t a villainous black man leading a liberal army dead set on trying to take away what makes our country great.

Do you know what happens when something that’s meant to be a symbol (a badge) gets turned into armor (a defensive layer of “impenetrable” material between us and the world)? The first and most obvious thing that happens is that you become actually separated from the world, and all its beauty, along with all the supposed ugliness you’re avoiding. The second thing is that you become slow. Unable to keep up. Because you are weighed down by the burden of your defenses. You better hope you’re satisfied with the way things are, because you’re not getting anywhere new very quickly anytime soon – even if your surroundings later change in ways that aren’t too your liking. The road to a better place starts and ends with our ability to maintain that which preceded us, so that others might follow and help us continue to pave the way forward.

The last things that happens, when bad pride gets bombarded by ideas steeped (no matter how subtly) in hate, is that pride gets turned into something worse than an impediment against progress, as the armor which once was a badge gets melted down in the crucible of anger and repurposed on your behalf by those who stand to benefit directly from the ability of your pride and your hate to keep things the same. In this way, bad pride is made into barbs for perforating both progress and decency.

The strange and difficult thing about all this is that we do need (good) pride if we are ever going to be able to deliver ourselves to a place of justice and freedom.

What do most of us do most days, other than make the (probably automatic) decision to get up, get dressed, and go out into the world, with the goal of trading in our freedom – most basically described as our ability to chose to do “whatever we want” – and do “our job” instead? How many of us can say that it’s as simple as that? Don’t most of us in America, here and now, more often live to work, putting our livelihood ahead of our life, than work to live, putting our life ahead of simple employment – which is supposed to be a means of securing a decent life butis increasingly more like something we just have to do?

What happens to our pride, with our relationship between work and life so unnaturally reversed? What happens when we trade in our right to live – and I’m purposefully borrowing this phrase – for the right to work? Have we forgotten, in all the years of broken promises, of giving a little more, a little more, a little more, of growing increasingly cynical and dejected and beaten each time we give and receive little in return, that we own as much of what we do with our freedom as those who take it in exchange for an increasingly smaller percentage of money?

I would argue that good pride needs to re-enter the equation of our daily lives. I would argue that more citizens are beaten down, or angry or depressed – than are actually, presently, legitimately proud to be a part of the American work force.

For all the mistakes we’ve made as a nation, this was one thing we used to get right. But the reality of the present is staring us in the face, wearing the truly impenetrable armor of fact, of cold, hard statistics. The rich in America are richer than they’ve ever been. They didn’t all get that way only by working. They didn’t all get that way honestly.

So what do we do?

How about we take some responsibility for a situation that, whether we knew it or not while it was developing, we helped create?

How about we talk about these injustices instead of letting the wealthy and their minions continue to push a narrative that says anything else?

How about we figure out how to fight back? The sum of mankind’s knowledge is available for cheap on the internet. Your friends and neighbors are in the same boat as you. Even as so many members of “the elite” continue to sit on their spoils, ordering the politicians who are in their pockets to start lighting meaningless fires to distract us from the fact that entire neighborhoods are sinking into the ground, so many of us continue to idle, sinking under the weight of our bad pride, of so much useless armor.

How about we shed all the fucking armor and start talking to each other about what needs to be fixed? How about we start crawling our way back to a place where we can hold our heads up with fucking pride?

A Case for Anti-Film

I took a course in college that introduced me to the work of Nicanor Parra, a Chilean poet perhaps most famous for his declamations against poetry. A self-proclaimed “anti-poet,” Parra essentially took issue with the longstanding worldview of poetry as some sort of lofty, mystically powerful medium. He also criticized the attachment of poets to what at the time were the prevailing standards of the form itself. Frustrated by the lack of a utilitarian purpose to most poetry, but cognizant that it remained popular and had a large admiring audience, he sought to write and champion work that existed practically in opposition to itself.

I remember reading Parra and feeling alternately curious and dubious. The contrarian in me liked the idea of art made in opposition to itself; and his points on the lack of a link between prevailing examples of art and a greater utilitarian purpose behind such examples, rang true to me even then. The (undeveloped) artist in me disliked the proposition that, in order to be pure and useful, art should “devalue” itself and the artist by foregoing so much of the creativity that separated it from reality and simply “report observations and feelings” instead.

I was a silly little student.

To me, at the time, anti-poetry seemed like something of a copout. I just didn’t see the point in making a point about how far the messages had strayed from the messengers through a “new” stripped-down version of the message itself. It seemed a little too clever, and maybe it was and still is, to an extent. What I wasn’t seeing or admitting, however, is that it doesn’t matter.

It certainly doesn’t matter to us, here and now. Not when so many contemporary American “artists,” and the money men pulling their strings and slapping paint over their ideas, have dialed up their efforts at “engineering” art to such a spectacular degree that it is now considered an intriguing artistic statement (because it is, unfortunately) to illustrate the pure garishness of the whole situation via such magnificent displays of American cultural decline as are ingeniously mirrored at us by such experiments as Lady Gaga (well played, Gaga).

But I digress. What I mean to say is that I’ve been thinking a lot about Nicanor Parra this week, after so many days wrestling with my ideas and opinions about our relationship with The Screen, because it’s been somewhat difficult for me to reconcile what essentially amounts in those posts to a call for more participatory activism through The Screen (and against The Screen As We Know It), with my journey as a filmmaker.

While I’m definitely settling more comfortably in the role of the indie filmmaker — the definition of which for me starts and ends with total creative independence on the part of the production — I still respect and long for the sort of reach and audience relationship that at current can only be easily got by working with those who have historically controlled what goes on The Screen (and who still mostly do). This is not to say that there aren’t people-of-influence out there who support truth and filmmakers locked into it. I just haven’t met any of them yet — please give me a call of you’re one of those people and if you want me to show you mine.

Getting serious again, a conflict naturally arises for me, based on my combined desire to both reform the prevailing relationship between art and audience and yet remain honest and steadfast as I attempt to do so in an industry that in many ways represents a large part of the problem, when I consider how to move forward. I don’t fault the industry in particular for its failings. Evidence in support of that claim can be found in the aforementioned posts on The Screen.

Working under the assumption that “we get the art we deserve,” however, my view is that, if it’s broke, we can’t start fixing it until we look down at the pieces and start to think about how to put them back to together to form it again (it being us).

So, in thinking about Parra and anti-poetry, especially as I’ve continued working on my latest script (which is pretty much steeped in my own personal journey through this changed worldview), I started thinking about the concept of anti-film.

It didn’t surprise me, when I decided to look to see if anti-film already existed, and was quickly led to Warhol. The ideas that had been knocking around in my head when trying to link my feelings about Parra and anti-poetry to my feelings about The Screen find a obvious natural home in Warhol’s legacy. But he and Parra belonged to different eras (and Parra’s Chile was and is a much different place than contemporary America) and I am neither a poet nor an iconoclast. I’m just a guy trying to point out some bullshit that’s standing in the way of the real shit. But I think maybe most artists working today (and everyone else as well) might benefit from the examples set by these and other artists.

Particular to my life and my experience to this point, and piggy-backing in part on my discussion of The Screen, I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s time for a more robust and thoughtful opposition to the status quo – on the part of both artists and the audience. I think it’s time to admit that we’ve lost our way in terms of truth of expression, and that, further, we won’t be able to find it again until we work our way back to a place where the cultural dialogue of the average American overlaps in a widespread and impactful way with the challenges of our time.

Again, as the fallout from tragedies like Sandy Hook have proven, we seem incapable (as a whole) of facing truth itself. Our forms of expression, these days, have taken to mirroring our “interaction” (or lack thereof) with the markets. Our participation in our cultural dialogue has become far more passive, and/or spasmodically reactive, than either passionate or measured. That which is most popular is that which is hollowed out, spread thin, and shined up to appeal to the broadest possible swath of people who might find such inoffensiveness palatable and non-confrontational. That which can, not coincidentally, be duplicated into sequels, re-purposed into merchandise.

Time and again, our money and time get sucked away, most often in service of the lie that “everything is going to be okay.” Unless you’re one of the few privileged ones who don’t have to work as hard or worry as much as most of the rest of us do, this simply isn’t true. Things are only okay when we make them okay, when we decide to agree that they aren’t okay, and decide to collectively do something about it.

In artistic terms, the problem isn’t that our art is bad. The problem is that our art is bad because it’s dishonest. The world we most commonly see on The Screen is so divorced from reality as most of us know it, and has been for so long, that we’ve actually lost sight of the artifice, to such a chilling extent that we now accept the existence of reality television — in which life itself has been turned not into something to celebrate or question or struggle for, but just another melodramatic narrative that plays out on The Screen. Art, which in the Aristotelian sense once was an imitation of life, has in America become an imitation of an imitation. In this way, regress, the unspoken goal of those battling for continued control of The Screen, has infiltrated our lives.

This has happened because some people pushed it to happen and because many more didn’t know any better and allowed it to happen. Regardless, it has happened and is still happening.

Regress is the enemy of the future, and in order to combat it, we need to backpedal to its source and deal with whatever unfortunate truths we find there. In so many words, we need to steer our lives (and probably, first, our art) away from the prevailing narratives that are failing us.

Like nearly everything else I seem to advocate, this is easier said than done.

As I mentioned frequently in my discussion of The Screen, our narratives infiltrate and grip every aspect of our lives. Further, they’re now with us all the time, unending in their availability (if we’re being generous) or their assault (if we’re being combative). They aren’t going away, and neither will the minds of those that control them be swayed towards greater responsibility if we do not engineer our response to their failure in terms they can understand (hint: there’s only one term, and it’s money).

In the spirit of Parra, we need to peel away the layers that make these narratives seem larger and more legitimate than they are at their core. At the same time (and it’s important to note that it’s difficult for a single piece of artwork or another similarly engineered activist action to do both these things concurrently) we require more of the sort of inflammatory pop art, more commonly associated in the present discussion with someone like Warhol, that manages to be both familiar and challenging at the same time.

Quentin Tarentino understands this. Django Unchained is a brilliant example of one of the things we need most right now: bloodletting. The legacy of slavery and of racism continues to poison our society and render untrue our claim that America is a place of equality and opportunity. The genius of Django is that it delivers a few carefully placed, chilling reminders of some of the most visceral horrors from our past, that continue to haunt us in more devious ways in the present, all wrapped up in the clothing of our dearest American pastime (violence).

Similar praise should be heaped on Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon for the separate contributions each recently made to a needed call for unity, as presented by The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. Each of these directors have succeeded wildly by locking into the popular need for something different and better delivered under the guise of the same. 

Joss Whedon’s work has always ridden on the message that community, for all its difficulties, trumps individualism, and that the defense of community begins with inhabiting its contradiction: that we are all together in feeling so alone. Nolan has historically been more focused on puzzling out the trustworthiness of narratives from the noirish point of view of a damaged, isolated loner. In this way, he makes an equally crucial contribution to the reigning popular culture by pulling us into The Screen, on terms we can relate to, while constantly asking questions about everything we see and, eventually, landing in a similar place as Whedon. In Nolan’s more mathematical point of view: this problem (social dysfunction) plus this targeted solution (social harmony) requires this variable (a united effort to understand and combat the dysfunction) for it to all work out (however much of what we knew and used to hold dear we may lose in the process).

These men are some of the finest filmmakers working today. It boggles my mind that they aren’t more celebrated or more imitated (in terms of strategy and focus) on artistic terms. Studios look for the next Avengers rather than the next Joss Whedon; they ask what else can be done the way Nolan did it, rather than sit and think about why Nolan has succeeded in the particular way that he has. Tarantino is treated as the maverick that he is, but few pause long enough in their tiresome conversations about the violence and the dirt and the language in his films to ask themselves why they’re so upset with him in the first place, and blame those reasons instead.

Independent film is in a similar state of disconnectedness. No matter how many fine films get made each year (some are still being made) only a rare few seem capable of punching through the noise of an increasingly saturated entertainment arena and meeting with widespread success. In a day and age when so many lines still exist, demarcating so many marginalized groups that are outside the “old media” establishment, fine filmmakers emerging from such groups have little choice, shackled as we all are to a need to remain authentic to our own feelings and experiences, to similarly marginalize our own work.

Especially in the age of social networks, good work finds its audience – which isn’t a bad thing and probably also a necessary step in our redemption. Too few pieces of great artistic import, however, are able to cross the same lines that a blockbuster are able to cross and yet deliver unadulterated crucial messaging that does need to be heard. Contrarily, too many independent films that do receive the marketing support necessary to increase the likelihood of this happening, simply offer something too akin to the same watered-down narratives as our failed blockbusters, just wrapped up in extra quirk or built upon a foundation of what essentially amounts to a well-intentioned but ultimately exclusionary artistic absolutism that cuts it off from both the audience at large as well as those who need the most convincing: the old rich white dudes in charge.

Again. The old rich white dudes in charge will only be convinced if we’re convinced, because, in the prevailing terms of our culture, the only way to convince anyone of anything is to show them the money.

The specifics of my argument for anti-film thus arise. Leaving alone those few brilliant niche artists who are able to continue to do their important work, I don’t think the rest of us can or should wait for the industry to come down to get us. I think indies need to rise up from a truthful place (the ground, which rich people usually only see from afar) and force progress on our culture by developing complex narratives with a two-tiered character of atonement (reconciliation from the top down) and forgiveness (progress from the bottom up).

As artists like Tarentino, Whedon and Nolan have shown, this can only be done honestly within the system by giving people what they need and are used to while still performing a measure of alchemy as you assemble the pieces. Audiences have always rewarded change of this sort, and the saving grace of this whole situation is that it seems like a natural corrective process, by which innovation made in the name of emotional truth is rewarded and allowed to hasten true change.

In the indie world, however, where none of us enjoy such influence or such easily-employed freedom (or are yet as brilliant), we need to shake off the idea that anything but a true reflection of what society looks like ‘on the ground,’ in very real terms, is acceptable. We need to cease rewarding cleverness and excusing myopia. We need to stop pursuing only that which appears true only in the sense that it reinforces what we already think to be true (because, as I discussed in my posts on The Screen, a lot of that is simply false). All these habits, in both the creative sense as well as on the level of the audience, reinforce old narratives of the American and/or the individual (often the white male American individual) as something particularly special. They also, in turn, reinforce the depiction of anyone existing outside this ‘norm’ as an ‘other.’

An anti-film, then, must be defined as an activist film that backtracks against the parameters of what is normally understood as a film by historically conservative, historically white audiences, in terms they can relate to, while at the same time challenging certain ideas steeped in those parts of white conservatism that continue to endanger our future and are otherwise maintained in order to preserve the power of the old regime.

Like I said, easier said than done. Certain people will continue to make good, important films that are incapable of accomplishing this at the same time that they’re being honest. Others will continue to give those in control of The Screen more of what they want, which is now so far divergent from what the people that make up the average audience want, that they can’t do anything but fail in the long run.

And they’ll fail because people like me, a formerly conservative white male with everything to gain by playing ball (and a few opportunities to do so), have sniffed out what’s going on, rejected their arguments and their rationalizations, and have called bullshit. They’ll fail because people like me and you (there’s no way you’re still reading if you don’t agree at least a little) are more interested in justice and fairness and truth, than the ease of idle passivity.

Mostly they’ll fail because the winds of change are blowing against them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working together to create and champion the sort of compassionately reactionary art that’s capable of hastening the change as much as possible. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working tirelessly to create and reward visions of an America (and a globe) that might be all we can aspire to for now, one where the realities of ‘life as most of us know it’ are depicted as they are, rather than what other people want them to look like. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep fighting for equality and justice. It just means we should be fighting smarter.

Regaining Equality by Reaching Out Through The Screen (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of 3 of a mega-post. To read Part 2, click here. Part 1, here. Don’t be afraid to hit me up on Twitter to let me know what you think.

American consumers are in an abusive relationship with our economy, more often than not. We hand over our money, accept mostly mediocrity in return, and either complain about it amongst ourselves or sublimate our dissatisfaction and turn it against ourselves and each other, instead of reminding companies (big and small) that it’s their job to serve our needs, not the other way around.

Most Americans these days are consistently making due with less, and getting less for their dollar, while the economy continues to flounder and jobs continue to be scarce and/or inadequate in terms of pay and benefits – even as profits remain high and the rich remain well-paid despite having screwed a whole lot of stuff up.

The prevailing messaging coming through The Screen continues to minimize and deflect us from this reality. For the past several decades, while we were absorbing a predominantly one-way narrative controlled increasingly by special interests, those same interests were squeezing more and more out of us. And now we’re nearly juiced and still they squeeze and still they trust that their narratives will keep us docile and subservient so long as they continue to control the messaging.

Sure, there’s a vocal minority out there who demands more from life than simple consumerism, but we shouldn’t be a minority. To be honest, I’m not even as vocal as I used to be in this fight – not because I’ve given up, but because, as often as I can, I just stop. As much as I can help it, I only open my wallet for, and pay attention to, companies and professionals that earn it.

Okay. Perhaps my wallet is also pretty light on the disposable income, but that’s not the point (though it’s partially the point).

The crucial point, though, is that too many of us seem to have forgotten – though it looks increasingly as if some good people are waking up – that the decisions we collectively make or don’t make every day are our power in this conflict between us (average Americans) and them (the wealthy in control of The Screen).

An advertisement only wins your attention and your dollar if you choose to ignore the fact that your lens is being focused for you – on a one-way narrative designed most often for no other purpose other than to part you with your money. Spend what you want on what you want, of course, but I think we owe it to ourselves to respond to most advertising messaging with more in the way of initial distrust.

With all apologies to those for whom it isn’t so simple – though many of us could stand to spend less on the distractions and diversions and foods engineered primarily to keep us distracted and sated and quiet – money only leaves your hands if you let it. We need so much less than we buy and consume. That’s an American pastime as well, but it’s one we may have to let go of a little bit if we want to regain our freedom. We’re as complicit in our own repression as those who lord over us, until and unless we change the narrative of our economic lives away from one steeped purely in sales and consumerism and back to one of reasonable, community-centric supply and demand.

What does this have to do with The Screen? Well, how else can we be expected to band together? The economic reality I’ve been discussing exists in direct correlation with a now “normal” way of life wherein the majority of our consumer population lives out most days shackled to jobs that, for us, remain linked to sustenance (money for food, shelter, transportation, health care). But for them (the intransigent old guard), our continued participation as workers and buyers only islinked more importantly to the bottom line. As has been established, the wealthy and privileged special interests that run our country aren’t interested in matters of livelihood. Many of today’s wealthy don’t even understand livelihood. They only know privilege and power, and want to maintain both, again, at all costs.

Should we blame them for that impulse? Not entirely, in my opinion. Human nature is what it is. But human nature isn’t only defined by greed and opportunism, a combination which historical precedent has shown invariably always gives way to subjugation and oppression. At the end of the day, we have to stop pretending that we aren’t collectively responsible for the mess these machinations have created. In very real terms, they have caused – and continue to cause – the deaths of a large numbers of Americans that our crumbling social compact has left behind.

Beyond this, I think we need to shake off the narrative we’ve been indoctrinated in for decades (that America’s past successes came about because of individualism and free-market capitalism only) and remember that human nature is also about community. More importantly, in terms of the task that faces us, human nature is also about emotional expression.

That’s where, for me, it all comes back around to what the proliferation The Screen, and of social networking in particular, means to our prospects for deliverance. I believe Facebook and Twitter and the like emerged and rose to such importance because of a symptomatic need on the part of everyday people to free ourselves from the one-way narratives that have failed us in life, and on which we have mostly soured as a result of their near-total corruption. I believe we turn to The Screen in part because it has always been there, talking to us, but that we fill it now with our own faces and the faces of our kindred because we crave the authenticity and connection that we have lacked for so long while we were bombarded with agendas on the television at night and were pushed in front of computers, often in service of similar agendas, during the day.

Even those of us who fail to understand this in any way, our privileged white whiners and our imitative hipsters, they turn to The Screen and the internet for the same reason the rest of us do. It’s not just about attention in their case. It’s about the intense sadness that is their life. It’s about the emotional neediness that pervades an existence that has been defined by the lie that life is anywhere near as shiny and fatigable as it has historically been shown to be on The Screen, a lie that has been blasted into our faces since we were children. The lie lords over the lives of such people even as they purport to exist in total opposition to it, because in doing so they ignore the fact that they are realigning their point of view using reactive rather than active energy.

I believe it’s crucial that we acknowledge all this, and that, further, we act upon it by attempting to share our experiences and our collective pain and broaden our perspective. It’s, admittedly, confusing. We are used to a world where The Screen speaks and we process and respond mostly from our own point of view and for ourselves. Now that The Screen has been paired with the internet and has proliferated into more evolved iterations, and we have begun to speak more frequently back to it in earnest, we need to engage with one another, more often, on real and honest terms. And we should do so with actual people, especially those who we were previously led to believe were different from us (they aren’t).

We should reserve our online energy for, and wield our own little versions of The Screen in service of, the real-world fight. Most important of all, we must remember when we interact with one another, that we are all in the same predicament. We can all, myself included, do a better job of remembering the crucial difference between the old narrative of The Screen and the new one: that the new narrative is a dialogue, and that we have a say the conversation.

Take it from someone who’s spent the last ten years stumbling after a means of engaging in a more honest cultural dialogue through his work. A two-way conversation is, admittedly, infinitely messier and more difficult than a one-way conversation. But it’s also truer, more human. Dialogue equalizes us, and we need so much more of it if we’re to ever bring validity back to the increasingly hollow claims we put forth in this country: that we’re all equal, and entitled to our fair shot at fulfillment and happiness.

Regaining Equality by Reaching Out Through The Screen (Part 1)

Although I haven’t announced it, my goal for this site is to publish at least two posts per week. Most of the time, this will probably result in one lengthier post appearing earlier in the week, and What I Liked This Week (WILTW) rounding it off during the weekend. That’s pretty much all I’m going to be able to manage, in between the day job and The Filmmaking.

This week, however, you’re getting four posts. Or, more appropriately, one mega-post split into three parts, and then your weekly WILTW. I guess there just was a surplus of fury and romance this time around. Probably this happened because the gun control debate has me riled (the children who died last month are still dead, and still shouldn’t be dead, and more than a couple of people are standing in the way of desperately needed reforms) but also I’m pretty happy on a personal level these days.

Anyway, without further delay, here’s Part 1 of Regaining Equality by Reaching Out Through The Screen. I will publish Part 2 tomorrow, and Part 3 on Friday. As always, I encourage readers to respond via Twitter or Facebook, and please definitely share anything that you like.

Thanks for reading.

It should go without saying that our country and the globe are both big places, at least in comparison with the lens through which we view and experience them: our personal point of view.

But as a reader pointed out to me in response to my post about Sandy Hook, our personal point of view, oftentimes these days, is increasingly aimed at a screen. A computer. A television. A phone that ceased to be a phone a long time ago.

Her (paraphrased) words: “I’m not sure a world in which we’re so much ‘more connected’ to each other helps anything – I think it leaves us less humanly connected that ever before.” In addition to writing this, she smartly (and importantly, in my opinion) pointed out the irony inherent in the fact that she was delivering her opinion via Facebook. That’s an important detail, given where I’m about to go with this discussion.

Stick with me. This is a long one.

This issue of connectedness vs. connection, for me, is vastly interesting. Much has already been said about it, and the conversation continues, so I’m only going to focus on one particular problem I have with the way many of us use technology.

The aforementioned reader is also particularly worried about the dangers facing members of coming generations who are born into a society where so many of us choose The Screen over, say, a face. I share this concern, though I think the fact that she and I are both worrying about it indicates an awareness on the part of our generation that this is an important issue that needs to be dealt with on an individual and/or family level. One that, hopefully, at the end of the day, won’t differ too much from similar debates certain members of the boomer generation had about us, in regards to video games and computers, and which their parents before them had about television. It ends up, for me, a matter of vigilance on the part of the family as well as on a social level. I’m not as worried about it as I used to be, because I believe that such concerns, while legitimate, stem more from a need to catch ourselves up to accelerating technologies and technologically-based social networking systems than anything else. Though this doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do tracing our compulsions towards these technologies and sourcing out our subsequent responsibility to use them in a healthy and/or productive way.

This is the real imperative facing our generation and future generations: parsing why we feel compelled towards The Screen, in the particularly clumsy interactive ways in which we are lately compelled towards it in its evolving forms (phones, tablets, smart TVs). Answers as to what we should embrace, what we should worry about, how to respond as our lives continue to depend on computers and networks and information technology, are likely to follow.

I would argue that it all begins with understanding and acknowledging that our relationship with The Screen is as emotional as our relationship with the world itself, as glimpsed from our own point of view. Further, taking this statement at face value,  I believe we have some waking up to do, when it comes to realizing the extent to which the gatekeepers of The Screen have traditionally leveraged the influence they enjoy as programmers of its messaging to take advantage of this relationship.

If you can’t come with me on that, stop here and go catch up on Mad Men.

Again, our country and the globe represent a vast, interconnected system. This is true on both a natural level (the Earth as an organism) and a manmade level (society as a network of interdependent beings working together, if not in unison, to survive).

In contemporary terms, with rare exception, we enter into this system incrementally, by proxy at first, as we are raised (or flung) into adulthood.

In America, in particular, we begin to fully belong to the world, in prevailing terms, when we enter the workplace and begin purchasing and working our way through whatever corner of it ends up in front of our individual lens, either by choice (if we are “lucky,” and increasingly fewer of us are lucky, because the system is rigged in favor of the privileged) or necessity. These are the facts of American life. You grow up, it’s difficult and strange, and then eventually you settle into some place or another, do one thing or another, and at some point it all bleeds together and the difficulty and the strangeness evaporate except at times of emotional upheaval (birth, death, other rites of passage). Perhaps you shuffle things around now and then, in terms of where you live and what you do, but in the end we’re all just making money and handing over money and in between we keep ourselves busy. Increasingly, we keep ourselves ever-busy, on an individual level, in front of some permutation of The Screen.

Except there are a few key differences between The Screen as it was and The Screen as it is now. First, the television has lost its status as the primary target of the individual lens. Even those in our populations who are older are finally being forced by the move towards electronic publishing and recordkeeping to form some semblance of computer literacy. Additionally, there are the phones and, now, the tablets. The Screen has multiplied. Under our “control” it’s various forms coexist and interact. It is now “normal” for many people to engage with a computer or phone or tablet while watching TV.

It is not the concern of this post to judge questionable examples of such behavior, per se. There are clear, easy-to-see repercussions, on an individual and a societal level, to dividing our attention so completely for an extended period of time. Also, I am guilty of pushing my face into The Screen a little too often, so I can’t judge. However, there is a fine line between withholding judgment and the subsequent failure, in the place of judgment, to take a realistic perspective on the repercussions of our actions.

Which all a very long way of saying that we are collectively, and on average, far too passive in our use of technology.

To borrow some metaphors from my vocation: we are not a fixed lens. Our perspective can be likened to a fixed lens – which has only one point of view, that can be played with to varying degrees but which is unable to ever see everything on its own, even when focused on a dynamic and engrossing subject – but we should never be so self-restrictive or so presumptuous to assume that one point of view is capable of taking in the whole world.

Only in varying our perspective, switching out lenses, as it were, and experimenting with different views and different combinations of views, are we able to responsibly say that we have looked at something. Only then does it become easy to remember that The Screen is only that. A microcosm of a particular worldview. A picture of a thing that, however simple or complex it may be, or however steeped in the abstract of the imagination, has a real world equivalent which, whether we acknowledge or not, exists in relation to us in way that is neither tactile nor energetic.

Even more crucially, a face on a screen is not a face. It is a representation of a person on the other side who, despite any artifice thrown in the way of each of you, exists in reality in another place, made of organic stuff and vibrating with feelings.

Our initial relationship with The Screen was a passive one. It was crude, by today’s technological standards. The television blasted its messaging at you, and you could only respond insofar as you were able in the real world: by communing with those in your direct vicinity, or with your wallet as advertisements fought over each other for the privilege of your dollar. And prior to YouTube, a select few among us enjoyed the privilege of being able to clumsily and incompletely communicate within the screen, participants in the messaging conducted through subsequent programming.

This relationship has clearly changed, now that we have the internet and now that we carry it in our pocket wherever we go. Especially in the last several years, with the rise of social networks, the narrative of The Screen has begun to more closely align with the narrative of life. The faces that appear to us from the other side are increasingly the faces not of traditional messengers but rather our friends, our loved ones, perhaps even our enemies instead.

This is still all very new. And so, we worry. All of us. On the ground, people like me and you, we worry that we spend too much time on too many screens – which we’ve already discussed as a legitimate but ultimately inconsequential concern. We worry while experts and academics and reporters squabble amongst themselves about similar concerns, about the moral and social repercussions of our changing habits, all of which represents a debate made more on their own behalf than ours. They aren’t to be blamed. The one-way narratives they are used to continue to either evolve or expire, leaving whole swaths of them behind while a few of the smarter ones abandon themselves to the vagaries and the chaos of the new narrative. And as we all worry, those in the towers that loom over our cities (our literal overlords), scramble to adjust the narratives and the delivery systems they have long controlled, such that they may maintain or reinforce the old, crumbling relationship between us and them.

All our fears are justified. Make no mistake: The Screen, by virtue of our increasingly symbiotic relationship with it, is the personification of control. Say what you will about that, argue against it if you’d like (just don’t ask me to listen to you), but the fact of the matter is that we are, at least on structural terms, on the precipice of a future many of us have long feared. The Screen is everywhere; we can’t go back.

We shouldn’t want to go back. Especially those of us whose lives have been dictated by those traditionally in control of the The Screen and the message (most of us), we shouldn’t want to go back. Because as it stands right now, we know more about how to win control of The Screen than they do, and we are better positioned than ever to regain some of the dignity that the average American has lost over the past several decades. 

The truth is written in the mangled façade of what we still call Facebook, which rose to prominence once, in part, because its interface recalled an Apple-like regard for beauty, in comparison to the visual and architectural mess than was MySpace. The fact that the visuals of Facebook have turned into a conglomeration of icons, links, and flashing lights – whereas it used to look like a communication hub – tells us all we need to know about where the site is headed and/or where we’re letting it lead us.

Facebook is becoming just another business hub. Especially since it’s IPO, which has unsurprisingly hastened the rate of the reverse exponentially, the site is in a state of regress. What began as a means of connectedness now begs for and demands your connectivity. The push to make Facebook something more valuable than what it is – and, just so we’re clear, I believe Facebook has value and can co-exist as a business and as a historical touchstone of the social networking movement – has perverted its legacy as a primary virtual epicenter for the movement away from the traditional one-way narrative of The Screen and towards a more widespread and all-encompassing visualization of the sort of cultural exchange of information, ideas and emotions that has been taking place on the internet since its infancy as a popular destination.

Do you know why this is happening to Facebook? It’s because the monologue of The Screen has become a dialogue, and those who have historically controlled the messaging don’t want this.  Since it’s happening anyway, you can be sure that those in power will do their damnedest to seize one side of the conversation fully and not let go. That is what has worked for them in the past. That is why they bought the news.

Make no mistake: the war for your divided attention – for frequent access to your many screens – is on. Most of those in power don’t really know what they’re doing, because they’re old and because they’re incapable of knowing what it’s like to need The Screen as we need it. But they’re not completely stupid, they have resources, and they have time. Especially while we idle, continuing to devote more of our waking hours and our energy on trivialities than on improving our lives and the world, they have the time.

And why shouldn’t we idle? It fits the traditional narrative structure of life, as we experienced it growing up in front of our televisions. We can’t be blamed any more than we can be forgiven – and I say that because at the end of the day, regardless of causality and of the difficulties ahead of us, it’s our responsibility to seize control of our share of the dialogue ourselves.

There is no evil in business. Companies that make The Screen and fill it with imagery and provide us with the tools of communicating with one another and sharing information – as well similarly connected/invested corporate powers – they can’t be completely blamed for wanting their share of control. Evil comes from people. On the side of such organizations, they are evil who leverage their control of The Screen against humanity, perverting truth by doubling-down on the insistence that the limited view of a one-way narrative is legitimate and righteous. On the side of the people, we are evil who neglect to question these practices and damn their practitioners by failing to take our attention and our wallets somewhere else.

Only in understanding our true relationship with the new normal of communications technology, in acknowledging what it means about us and what it means for us going forward, can we begin to regain ownership of our side of the narrative. I believe this process, not new laws, or progressive policies, or more new technologies, will help us find our way back to true individual empowerment and true collaborative democracy.

But we have to want it. And it’s infinitely easier said than done.