Tag Archives: Sandy Hook

As America Bleeds Again, A Defining Moment (On Boston and Sandy Hook)

Up until a few hours ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to write anything about the bombings in Boston. As some of you may know, I’ve been keeping my eye away from the trappings of the 24-hour news cycle, popping in at mostly-predetermined times for a few moments here and there in order to stay informed. I’ve allowed myself a little more time to keep up a dialogue with people on social media channels…and that’s how I heard about what happened at the marathon on Monday.

I still don’t know what to say about it. What can be said? Despite the best, noblest efforts of all who have tried (and please understand I do not begrudge anyone their right to express their feelings) – what can be said? More senseless violence. Mere months after Sandy Hook.

I am writing, anyway, for two reasons. First, I am the same as everyone else. We feel these tragedies personally, if we are at all human, and when we feel them the overwhelming rush of anguish is more than we can often handle in the moment. So we cry, and we cry out. We get angry. We try to laugh, when and where it’s appropriate.

The second reason requires more in the way of explanation.

The peculiarity of tragedies like the bombings in Boston is that, in direct contradiction to the intentions of their perpetrators, the damage done to “a few” has a swelling, rallying effect in terms of the power of the many to respond with solidarity, whatever that may mean in the end. Almost always – and this only makes the unnecessary loss that much sadder – awful days like this past Monday end up bringing people together. We mourn, we seek answers, we seek vengeance or justice, we seek an end to the pain that will eventually pass from the day-to-day but will always linger, in perpetuity, over time. A wound has been opened in Boston, just as a wound has scarred over in Newtown, as it has here in New York City, as it has in many other parts of our country throughout our history.

The unsurprising solidarity other Americans have shown in supporting Boston will go far to help heal its wound. But with sincerest apologies to the victims of this most recent tragedy, I have to admit that I do not think it will be enough.

As I wrote months ago, America is sick. These horrific acts are not coming from out of the ether, and neither, in a day and age where we have come to understand the machinations of the universe on a subatomic level – can we simply lay blame for the carnage on the corrupt element within a single, tortured soul. Say what you will about the history and existence of the soul. We know enough, on a reasonable and scientific level, to know that evil – in most cases – does not wound this world only because of an innate, mysterious, all-encompassing darkness in the hearts of individuals. Regardless, we do not live as individuals, and so we have no right to pretend that matters of such dire social import can be explained away on an individual level.

Let me be clear: no one is responsible for the deaths and injuries at the marathon except for the person or persons who planted the bombs. However, again, questions need to be asked.

Once the who has been figured out, and the why, and once the answers to both questions are found wanting in terms of offering anything more than the necessary dose of closure, we need to ask how. How could this have happened? How could we have stopped it?

Maybe there aren’t answers. Probably, though, there are some worth trying out, some ideas about the true state our society that are worth exploring and discussing, ideas that won’t heal the wounds of the past and present but can perhaps help us improve the future.

Do I know what questions to ask, this time around? I’m not sure. Definitely, I’m not sure yet. Like I said, I didn’t know if I was going to write anything about the bombings. My only reaction, up until a few hours ago, much like my reaction to Sandy Hook, was to feel pain and sadness. I did not get angry.

No. I didn’t get angry until I checked the front page of The New York Times today and saw that the gun control legislation, that had been proposed in the wake of Sandy Hook, was dead. Our elected officials, acting under the direction of entrenched, moneyed special interests, killed it.

Innocent children died, and in the wake of their death we had at least an opportunity to prevent more death. And now, mere days after more unnecessary violence and bloodshed – and I don’t care what kind of violence it is – that opportunity is gone.

We’ll have answers, immediately, at least, the next time more innocents are gunned down by a disturbed individual with a machine gun. We’ll know why and how. And we’ll know who.

Americans, this is your current United State Congress, shrinking from the moment. Predominantly, it is your Congress-held-hostage…by backwards, right-wing, aged white male Republicans who continue to make no secret of the fact that the only things that matter to them are power and money and the safety that comes with having both.

This is your Congress. Cowing to fear, and letting it all remain the same, even as The People demands progress. This is not about politics. It is about reason. And humanity. And the Republicans and Democrats who voted against gun control today failed to honor both these tenets of modern civilization at the same time they were failing every man, woman, and child who died at Sandy Hook

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.

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.

What I Liked This Week: 1/12/13

Before I get on to What I Liked This Week — a quick thank you to everyone reading. Special thanks to everyone who provided feedback and extra special thanks to those who shared links. Please add yourselves to the end of this week’s list. Because I like you. Not like that. I’m a married man! Don’t be creepy!

Nah. Be creepy. In your own head, though. We’re all creeps in there anyway, and if we did a better job of accepting that and maybe even talking about it a little, the world would have fewer problems. Ah, well. We all float on.

There’s one thing that I loved this week, which gets it’s own mini-post. Bullet list of a few other things after that.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. I bought this book for my gamer brother after hearing from a friend that it was a great read and a great read for people who like pop culture and video games. Since I also like both these things, even if I don’t dive into them as often as I used to or would like, I also bought a copy for myself. And I’m very glad I did. Ready Player One has been out a while and has sold a bunch of copies, but anyone who hasn’t checked it out should do so.

On the surface, the story seems like an esoteric trip for…people who like pop culture (particularly 80s pop culture!) and video games, comics, sci-fi, etc. I don’t know how many ladies and gents belonging to that category are left out there who haven’t read the book, but I’m including it here because I enjoyed it immensely and found it to be about much more than the sum of these broadest-of-its-thematic parts. I think people of lesser geekiness than I could get a lot out of it as well.

In short, in the tradition of all great sci-fi works, Ready Player One is a warning about where we might be headed as a society, what this may mean for us on an individual level, and what we may have to do on both terms to deliver us from such a frightening vision of the future. Particularly, it’s about how and why we choose to escape reality and also, sometimes, insulate ourselves from it and those around us. It’s also about the importance of questioning, challenging, and hopefully overcoming the worst and most damagingly excessive of these impulses.

Ready Player One spoke to me because I’ve done my own wrestling with escape and distractedness and loneliness, and I also think it’s a relevant entry into the thankfully growing discussion of how we might healthily coexist with our evolving technological systems.

Look out for a long post next week in which I explore my own ideas about this issue. Much of what I’ve been thinking about was shaken loose after reading Ready Player One, which, by the way, I accomplished mostly in the span of eight hours.

Reading a great book is infinitely better than suffering through insomnia.

Other things I liked this week:

  • This report, indicating that AIG, the insurance giant that the US government bailed out at the onset of the recession, in order to keep the economy from fully crashing, is considering suing the government on behalf of its shareholders, some of whom feel as if they were denied millions of dollars due to the “unfair” terms of the bailout. I don’t actually like this. I think it’s as contemptible as it is hilarious. I don’t actually think it’s hilarious. It reminds me how far away we are from regaining equality in our society — if we ever had it.
  • Jon Stewart chiming in on the inability of the GOP-led House to speedily pass adequate legislation providing aid to victims of hurricane Sandy. Which I touched upon in my post about Sandy Hook and America’s Sickness.
  • This footage of a giant squid. Because…giant fucking squid!

Have a good rest of the weekend. Don’t forget to hit me up on The Twitter (@MichaelDiBiasio).

Sandy Hook And America’s Sickness

My first reaction to Sandy Hook wasn’t shock, to be honest. I’ll leave the task of hypothesizing as to why I wasn’t shocked, to the words that follow. But, no, I just cried. On and off for days. I didn’t even get angry – at least not in the ways I know how to get angry.

When I did get angry, however, at the facts and nature of what, with all apologies to the families involved, is and should remain a national loss – something strange happened. There’s no way for me to completely contextualize the causality between the tragedy and my eventual feelings about it – not without making this too much about me (in the wrong way) – so I’ll just say it.

Shortly after Sandy Hook, I decided for the first time that I wanted to be a father someday.

I work hard to be a good person. My wife does the same. We’ve both been through some shit. More shit than some, less shit than many others. We’ve put ourselves and each other through shit. We’ll fuck up more shit today and tomorrow.

But we’re good people. We care, and we struggle – and we fight. I guess, after turning over my emotions in regard to Sandy Hook as best I could, that’s where I landed – in a place where I felt the most appropriate reaction was to acknowledge the goodness in myself, which I probably too often forget is a reflection of the good that still exists in the world, and decide for myself what I was going to do to make sure it survives. If the world’s going to get better (it’s still pretty shitty in many spots) more good people are going to have to start doing more good things.

I’m not having a kid anytime soon. But neither can I conscientiously hold on to the reasons why I was, very recently, very afraid to commit to the idea. Apart from the reasons that can be inferred from what I’ve said already, the rest of my rationale is my own. But I believe the impetus, to respond to the sadness of such a tragic event as Sandy Hook with not only sadness and anger, but love and defiance…is something worth exploring.

Much has been made of the official comments made by the National Rifle Associate (NRA) in the wake of Sandy Hook. I’m not going to dignify what was specifically said with a response. However, I will say that I find it odd that less has been made of the days-long silence of the NRA (and the similar silence of a large percentage of our population) in the wake of the shootings. Say what you will of the appropriateness or necessity of discussing topics like gun control and mental health in the immediate aftermath of the event itself, but the fact that the NRA remained sinfully silent for such a long stretch – when the right thing to do would have been to condemn the violence and lament the tragic abuse of firearms at Sandy Hook, regardless of any impact on the overall agenda of the organization – and the lack of a widespread dialogue condemning this conscious decision to do or say nothing, to me speaks loudly of where we are as a culture.

We simply can’t talk about these things.

I get that it’s hard. Little seems harder, in the wake of such a painful example of societal dysfunction, than discussing the fact that children were murdered, and that, beyond matters of faith or fate, there are several reasons and possibilities as to why. But if we don’t talk about these things when something so completely horrific happens – when do we talk? And I mean really talk.  Further, when do we act?

Children are dead. Why haven’t assault weapons been banned already? Why did the uproar die down so quickly? Why, in 2013, isn’t mental health more of a national concern?

Why did it take an outburst of outrage, from the populace as well as local New York and New Jersey politicians, for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to schedule a vote to pass part of a Senate-approved bill to get aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy?

Have we become so dispassionate – that these forms of meandering and inaction are acceptable to us?

Do you know what I did to help victims of Sandy? Not enough, compared to some of my friends and neighbors. But what I did do, I did quickly and to the best of my ability. I donated what money I could to relief organizations. When a friend from Staten Island posted “live from the scene” on Facebook, while he was helping neighbors sift through the remnants of their homes, and said that they had plenty of food and clothing for the time being, but needed shovels and gloves and facemasks –went out and charged what I could find from that list to my credit card, and delivered it to a neighborhood crew who was making daily deliveries to the hardest-hit places in the city. When that crew said that food was needed in a certain area, I packed a bunch of lunches and dropped them off the next morning.

Is that a humblebrag? Maybe. Don’t care. It’s also an example of fucking helping people who need it. Of doing something, to try to help bring the world back into balance after some bad shit goes down.

I’d argue we could all do plenty, on a normal day, to live a more balanced life as a member of society. As it stands, we in America – supposed land of the free – cling to a guarded, fractured, selfish, ghostly existence, in human terms. Most of them times, when we help, we do so remotely – with money, by clicking, sharing. I implicate myself in this behavior as well, and don’t completely fault us all, given where we’re at this crossroads in our history, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking questions. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be struggling a bit to figure out what exactly is going on out there, within people, that allows us to remain so callously self-interested and distant in the presence of a crumbling social compact that is failing so many of our citizens – including our children.

The issue here, for me, is the closed gap between how we live and how our lives are run, in terms of humanity and justice. It has become woefully apparent, in the age of information, that many of the terms by which we live out our daily lives are controlled and dictated by the networks of power and of powerful people who, at this point, are infinitely more concerned with assuring their continued dominance than with the good of the people, the planet, and even themselves. They’d sooner turn a blind eye as it all bleeds out than be cut off from the money, influence, and especially the illusions, that keep them safely separate from the travails of life on the ground as an otherwise “average” American.

I grew up in a middle class community of workers and entrepreneurs. I received a pretty decent public school education. I then spent my undergraduate years among a population that was mostly white and wealthy (and diversified occasionally by “minorities” playing by the same horrible rules as the old guard) and whose students and alumni have long been associated with “the elite.” Over the last several years, I’ve lived the unglamorous life of the artist-working-a-day-job-to-make-ends-meet. The point is that I’ve skipped around between social classes. And I’m telling you, there’s not a whole lot of differences between anyone, in any environment, when you start digging as deep as you have to dig to get at the reasons why it’s “normal” in our country for the majority of the population to sit idly as the leaders of the day – that we elected and/or keep in power – spend more time haggling over taxes on the rich than they do helping to avert tragedies and/or speedily address the destruction left in their wake.

I’m sure I’ll get around to discussing politics and class in more detail at a later date. My belief, however, is that if you take away all the supposed differences between the majority of the privileged class and the rest of us – the money they have, the material, situational, geographical advantages they enjoy – all you’re left with are: people. People like you and me. Maybe that sounds obvious, or trite, but do we really spend enough time acknowledging this to ourselves every day?

Since September 11th, people in America tend to also be scared people. Worried people. Despite all claims to the contrary, and whether we admit it or not, we’re also a fundamentally godless people. Regardless of whether you agree, with all that stripped away – and I don’t understand how it can’t be momentarily stripped away at times of great tragedy – still we’re incapable of looking at a day stained by the blood of children as a day of reckoning.

The clamor for new laws and better and fuller access to mental health services was and is right and just. But we won’t truly start getting better, won’t be fully able to honestly say we did about as much as we could to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook from recurring, if we don’t admit that something corrupt has poisoned our souls.

Following the lead of our politicians and leaders, and the media empires they control, we mostly just ignore this unfortunate truth. We avoid it.

Well, I’m sick of it. More than that, I’m sick of the fact that we don’t talk honestly about these issues in a widespread way.

I’m sick of the inaction and the squabbling of our leaders and our population. Of our lack of courage and compassion. I’m sick of the outdated, out of touch moralities that we continue to cling to as our culture cannibalizes itself on every level. I’m sick of ignoring the smell of death that has crept into our daily lives.

If I ever have a child, he or she is going to know love. To me that means teaching my future children that life’s contradiction – that we are all complex, unique souls, fundamentally linked by our humanity – renders us ultimately the same.

When children die, we all die. When we fail to ask why, once they are dead, we fail them all over again, and further endanger a world already left less bright by their absence.