Monday, November 23, 2009


He's just saying there's nothing wrong with that.

Well, they look like a white crowd to me. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it is pretty monochromatic up here. No surprise in terms of the ethnic nature of the people showing up. Nothing wrong with that. But it is a fact. I think there's a tribal aspect to this thing, in other words, whites versus other people. I think [Sarah Palin]'s very smart about this.
--Chris Matthews, television journalist

Chris Matthews' self-awareness is notoriously suspect. His analyses of the national psyche, to the extent they are coherent, typically reveal more about him than to him, and often. His random digressions branch off one after another, shedding the pungent, overripe fruit of his personal Tree of Knowledge. Around him his fellows navigate with care, watching where they step, casting nervous glances upward at the slightest sound.

Perhaps they feel some embarrassment at one of their own speaking too freely in front of the help; what's revealed is not just one man's coarse intellect, but the prejudices and delusions of an entire class. Chris Matthews can't maintain the ruse because he doesn't know it's a ruse. Still, he perpetuates it. Chris Matthews has managed to dupe himself, if no one else. Chris Matthews lacks situational awareness.

Not long ago, his undisciplined emotionalism would have been discouraged as a feminine preference for impulse over reserve; it would have been deemed unmanly. In that light Matthews' notorious masculinity fetish is neither homoerotic nor misogynist, but an honest fascination with a foreign point of view. His sexual boorishness is a failed interpretation of masculinity, lapsing into caricature. His visceral reaction to Hillary Clinton, catty.

But no one deliberately sets out to make himself a fool--unless he does it on television. Of these there are two kinds, the actor who plays the fool for our amusement and the fool who is lured before the camera, for our amusement. The most common form of the latter is the reality show participant.
Reality television democratized, ergo de-mythologized, celebrity. Distinctions are blurred in the ensuing chaos. In the post-revolutionary order professionals have ceded some local narrative control to the audience. Indeed, the spontaneous narrative that Reality television, and now "viral" Internet material, attempts is not a foreign product introduced to the people, but is generated from within them, performed by them and consumed by them. The author is the hive. Production is superfluous.

The viewer has grown used to (if not the reality, the conceit of) providing his own narrative. He is increasingly adept and accustomed to this. This is one tough crowd.
Thus the industry of television is confronted with a transfer of expertise to the audience, a sort of purchasing power; "media personalities" have less control over their media personalities. Television journalists used to be the gatekeepers of the information flow, now they are deluged along with everyone else in the flood. They have lost their monopoly on reality.

Its individuals must adapt to the new evolutionary environment; "redefine" themselves, in euphemism. The desperate scramble produces new, grotesque hybrids; shape shifters alternating between, and sometimes straddling, traditional and Reality television. No one yet understands what is happening. Reality TV aspires to surveillance of the individual by the mass; multiple raw feeds strategically located. It's a medium-specific tyranny of the majority. Professionals, once mystical creatures, have lost their former privilege. Everyone is fair game.

Matthews, like Tyra Banks or any other regular on The Soup, is a media personality less sophisticated than his audience and less aware of the nature of his performance. Chris Matthews is reality television.

The audience is no longer helpless and docile. It rebels against kitsch and manipulation. Anything introduced into the veg-o-matic of popular culture is now broken down, sampled and pilfered, recombined. The artist loses control over his work once it's released into this wild. Television's non-fictional performers are subject to this as well. The audience crafts additional or alternative narratives; unearths unintended subtexts; improvises parody of inferior work. These are defensive strategies. If we're not to be rid of them we are obliged by a sense of decency to ridicule a Tyra Banks or a Chris Matthews. One must marvel. One must not take some people seriously.

But he must consider them seriously, as symptoms of the human condition. After all, the joke is ultimately on us.
Reality television is the gallows humor of a culture self-slated for execution. The greater part of its appeal is not, as first glance suggests, the sugar-rush ridicule of one's inferiors; it's the bitter acknowledgement they are, after all, our fellows, countrymen, kin even. They are us.

You complain: Reality television shows a perversely select group. Yes; but it does not necessarily follow they're a meaner lot than the whole. After all, some are too wretched even to make it past first cut at For the Love of Ray J. How great is their number?

We may yet know. Commerce ensures new contrivances for luring their basest natures into the electronic square are even now being worked up by some of our sharpest young minds. Decent kids every one, no doubt.

Reality television has only begun charting the depths of human greed. By "greed" I mean also greed for love, status, attention. Like it or not, reality television is a valuable artifact of the present. But the ever-shifting lineup of "reality's" global community theater all manage to delude themselves in the end into thinking they are stars.

Reality TV is a living document of our decadent end. It was, after all, the poet-cum-charlatan-cum-"satanist" Aleister Crowley who declared

Every man and woman is a star

and began his "Book of the Law" with

Do what thou wilt will be the whole of the law
(commerce, I presume, necessitated a book-length addendum to this perfectly concise, all-encompassing statement of principle).

Reality television has never been more succinctly defined. You're the star; do what you will. Here it is prefigured before television. It just as neatly sums up current popular convention. "Reality", a long time latent, has been released into the atmosphere we all share. Its intrusive nature interrogates high and low. Its endless iterations are unforeseeable. The confused persona we know as "Chris Matthews" is one measure of its progress.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The More Things Change...

From a former jar-head friend now working in Afghanistan as a contractor:

About the only thing you really need to stockpile is patience because it's a military/government project, where the sad but common saying is "f--k up, move up". You'd be astounded at the incompetence and how deep and swift it can flow through here sometimes. You remember.

I want to make an anti-Ken Burns documentary someday, for our decade's Iraq/AfPak project: over stills of soldiers in the field, accompanied by a soundtrack of melodramatic strings, a voice-over (is James Earl Jones still doing voice work?) reads letters and emails home; but instead of co-opting the chivalrous eloquence of the nineteenth century to romanticise the massacre from the comfort of our temporal remove, we get the contemporary voice and the gruesome comedy. Plain, unsentimental, profane, resigned. And a thousand times truer.

Oh, wait. It's been done:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This is a little embarrassing.

I thought I might write my way out of here. Setting messages in virtual bottles adrift in the electronic ether. Someone would find one, send out a search party. I would finally join society, whatever that meant. I had an idea of what it was, gleaned from a lifetime of secondhand accounts warped by the demented lens of electronic media. These posts are my various attempts to mimic that, to conjure in reality what I see in representation, as, increasingly, is the whole of my behavior. I'm a one man cargo cult.

Years ago, before my self-delusion was finally spent, before I finally accepted as chosen this isolation incrementally achieved through countless retreats from various relationships to the "outside world", that is to say humanity, I thought of my existence as taking place in a darkened room. There is a door somewhere, but I can't see it. I can only grope about in the dark, walking the wall with my hands. I could not know if I was endlessly retracing the same circuitous route in a tomb, or moving down an endless hall. But as long as I had faith in the existence of the door I was alright. It would lead me out; I would have friends, lovers, enemies. I would be normal, finally. This has been the unachievable goal I've set for myself. I would be part of a greater whole, drawing strength from it, rather than a whole unto myself, consuming my own psychic innards until my hollow, gelatinous shell caves in upon itself in a rubbery heap.

But delusion fades over time. Now I know: there is no door. The darkness is mine, projected outward. I cherish the room as all I know, because it is. I don't want to leave, therefore I cannot leave. I'm going to die in here. But I do miss the idea of the door. We are all precisely where we have chosen to be.
Save yourselves.

The Sacred and the Vulgar

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ day is not. So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Friday, November 06, 2009

Lone Wolf Tickets

A question. Has anyone yet attempted to leverage yesterday's tragedy at Fort Hood into a defense of the Patriot Act's "lone wolf" provision? Maybe the question is not if, but when. I'm thinking of starting a pool.
Of course it may not be necessary. Yesterday* the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to extend three provisions: roving wiretaps; section 215, or the "libraries provision" diminishing privacy rights; and the "lone wolf" provision, which should probably be renamed the "pack of wolves" provision, for its potential (arguably inevitable) future misuse against political "radicals", as defined by whatever pack is in power.

[*correction: the House Judiciary Committee voted on Nov. 5 to allow the LW provison to expire; the Senate Judiciary voted last month to extend all three]

update: Speaking of grassroots terrorism, if the Seattle police are right, a man now in critical condition who was shot and arrested earlier today for the assassination-style killing of a Seattle police officer was waging a terrorist campaign of his own (with at least one accomplice) against the city's police department. According to police, Christopher Monfort, an Obama-lookalike with a similar biracial background, is also a suspect in an arson case involving the torching of several police vehicles at a motor pool. The arsonist left a note promising to kill police officers. Monfort is a University of Washington graduate and sometime activist:
Monfort received a bachelor's degree from the UW in March 2008, according to the university's degree-validation Web site. His major was in Law, Societies and Justice.

Last year, Monfort belonged to the McNair Scholars Program, part of the university's office of Minority Affairs and Diversity. The program aims to steep undergraduate students in sophisticated research, preparing them for graduate work.

Monfort provided this title for his project with the McNair program: "The Power of Citizenship Your Government Doesn't Want You to Know About: How to Change the Inequity of the Criminal Justice System Immediately, Through Active Citizen Nullification of Laws, As a Juror."

In an abstract of his project, Monfort said he planned to "illuminate and further" the scholarship of Paul Butler, a law professor at George Washington University. Butler is a proponent of jury nullification, a controversial principle whereby jurors feel free to disregard a judge's instructions and acquit a defendant no matter the strength of the evidence.

Butler has argued that such nullification may be particularly appropriate in cases where black defendants are charged with nonviolent crimes.

"It is the moral responsibility of black jurors to emancipate some guilty black outlaws," Butler wrote in a 1995 Yale Law Journal article, adding: "My goal is the subversion of American criminal justice, at least as it now exists."

update II: Seattle police now claim to have found bomb-making materials and more evidence linking Monfort to the arson and the murder, and have declared him a "domestic terrorist."

update III: After initially speculating that Monfort acted with one or two accomplices, they are now saying he acted alone


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