Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene

WARNING – I will try to be vague but if you’re clever viewer, my response to having seen this “Martha, Marc, May, Marlene” will have spoilers…

I saw MMMM this past Thursday night. I had an immediate, visceral reaction of distaste running through my body at the last frame and as the credits rolled..

In the immediate moment and for a few hours afterward I could be no more articulate than that it made me feel “yucky” inside.

Was it the seemingly ambiguous non-ending? While people all around me seemed to have different interpretations of what was happening or about to happen, I actually thought the ending was quite clear even if the director chose to not show us those horrific images about to come. It was a true horror movie ending … in fact, the whole movie could be characterized as an exploitative, horror movie.

On the surface, it’s a serious psychological drama exploring the damage wrought upon the members of a small cult and specifically the title character and protagonist – played by Elizabeth Olsen – of the film. But that movie is really only about half of the film – the flashback half of the film occurring on the collective farm in upstate New York. This half of the film is already harrowing to watch and filled with a constant sense of dread.

John Hawkes plays the cult leader, Patrick. He’s an amazing actor. Superlative. (In fact, ALL of the performances are very good to excellent in the entire movie…. script however is another story.) If you saw Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone” and thought he was a scary dude in that, he’s downright benign, an angel in “…Bone” compared to the alternately charming, manipulative, cruel and violent monster he plays in MMMM.

There is one thing that rings untrue about the scenes on the farm: there is no scene or image which shows the Hawkes’ characters directives on how to interact with anybody from the outside world.

Such information is vital to know because it would very much inform the audience on Olsen’s character’s interactions with her sister and brother-in-law after running away from the cult. That (whatever it is, SHOULD be the default pattern that she’s fighting to break out of. She’s been thoroughly brainwashed after all.

SPOILER in the next paragraph:

But there are also shorter flashback scenes occurring just off the farm in the nearby town, that takes the psychological terror closer to the realm of the Manson Family. While there is a certain logic that this cult could behave in this manner too, it also puts the movie more into the realm of melodrama and horror. And it isn’t really necessary. There’s already enough figurative and literal violence perpetrated upon the cult members, especially the women, to convey the idea that this is a very bad way to organize a group of people.

But it is really the roughly half of the movie happening in the “present”, at the Connecticut vacation home of the protagonists sister, where the exploitative aspect really comes to the fore. I say exploitative not because there is any violence perpetrated (there isn’t) but because of the way the writer/director exploits the audience.

The Olsen character never reveals to her sister that she was living in a cult. That would put her more in a state of self-awareness and shame, i.e. it is conscious volition that leads her to hide these facts… however, the writer/director wants to play it both ways… first she’s traumatized and disassociated… then she’s behaving with her sister in a hostile, alienated way that one can imagine was their relationship 2 years ago – prior to her joining the cult…. then she’s disintergrating into a paranoid, possibly delusional, mess… then she acts as if she doesn’t know what happened to her. Some of this feels organically true but a lot of it feels like effect to keep the audience off-balance and moreover to keep the sister and the brother-in-law in the dark.

And by the way, there has to be something good in the relationship between the two sisters… something at some point in their lives where they were kind to each other. Yet, I can’t recall a physical touch of concern or a touch of gratitude (the Olsen character is being sheltered and protected after all by her older sister) and not a word of gratitude from the Olsen character. She’s opaque to her sister.

SPOILERS
in the next three paragraphs:

Also, it’s illogical that the cult would have let her get away. She’s in a diner. The chief henchman of the cult leader has found her and he inexplicably leaves the diner. This would only make sense if the cult fully expected her to return on her own because of the mind manipulations that had already occurred. And the movie initially shows the cult to be just that – evil but not murderous of human beings. But when that reveal occurs ¾ of the way into the movie, suddenly nothing makes sense.

The Olsen character knows too much. She could tell the police, etc. There’s no way the control freak Hawkes character would allow her to get away. So as I said, all of the Olsen character inconsistencies are necessary to create almost a false tension for the audience, a false mystery (is she or isn’t she crazy, is she or isn’t she seeing things, and so on) but moreover, the older sister and brother-in-law must be kept ignorant for the plot device that they will then be vulnerable to a surprise attack.

And that’s why I said MMMM is a horror film. Horror films are essentially disease films. A disease strikes randomly. It has no moral imperative. A victim of a disease is struck down just by bad luck. Horror personifies the disease into either the hockey mask immortal serial killer or other humanoid or non-humanoid monster. In MMMM, Patrick is the monster aided and abetted by his attendants. So MMMM as well as the innocents with her will be struck down the disease that is Patrick.

The one genre I dislike and almost never see is horror. There’s enough blood and disease in real life… I don’t want to see a more grotesque version of that as entertainment. Art exists to transform the chaos of life. Bad things can still happen to good people, but something about the experience creates meaning and not just random suffering.

One other side note, this is one of the most beautiful films, from an image point of view, that I’ve seen this year. The cinematography is just stunning. But once again, this is a deceitful pleasure. I assume the Writer/Director is making a point about the evil that can lurk beneath a pretty surface. Or hopefully that’s his point. So, that the pretty pictures are not part of the mind f-ck, there just to lull the audience…

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Immorality or Isolation

Just a quick revisit to the “Blame Game” post… one that other site, another online conversation got started regarding financial regulations, Occupation Wall Street, morality and accountability.

One of the more interesting comments I got to that post (and I’m not sure if he’d want to be attributed here or not, and I stress that my paraphrasing could be inaccurate so mea culpa up front) had to do with objecting to the idea that the 1% are behaving immorally.

He made the legitimate point that wealth isolates people and sometimes creates a sense privilege that they deserve their wealth. He made it clear he knew this was nonsense, i.e., that the accumulation of wealth may or may be a result from just desserts, but that wealthy were not inherently immoral, that many are quite engaged with, and worry about the state of the world.

I really want to give this point of view its due. There really is an oversimplification with the sloganeering: we are the 99% and that the 1% is to blame and are immoral.

Clearly there are good, moral rich people as there bad, immoral poor and middle class people. And of those in the 1-ish percent that seem to have benefited directly and greatly from the recent run up to this worldwide financial crisis, some of what seems like immorality really can be attributed to isolation or isolation / arrogance.

A good example would be those who made a massive fortune by making bets on the failure of various investments (i.e. those who bought derivatives that were betting on all those foreclosures happening. These truly clever people didn’t create the system but they recognized its inherent flaws and made the proverbial killing exploiting those flaws. It wasn’t about wishing those people any ill will. It was statistical analysis of bad investments that they thought were likely to default. I really don’t see these people as evil in any sense.

Also, QUITE a few people within the 99% have enabled some of the worst behavior of a portion of the 1%.

However, I still hold true to my belief however that those within the 1-ish percent that actively lobbied to create or maintain this very rotten system do have a moral culpability, and should be held accountable. They wanted the Glass-Steagall act junked; they wanted the rules changed to be able to see investments to one party while betting against those investments with a different party; they wanted special treatment by federal government; they wanted their investment firms re-classified as banks to receive TARP funds, etc. They then funneled this money into their personal fortunes and have done everything possible to pay lower and lower taxes on these accumulated fortunes.

These people I will continue to classify as immoral and selfish. None of these actions are criminal, though a few them had been illegal prior to the lobbying to have certain laws changed, but yes I see these things as unethical. (Now of course, people have a way of compartmentalizing their behavior so they can be highly ethical and moral in one aspect of their lives and the reverse in another… so even here, there can be complicated patterns of black, white and a multitude of grays.)

Unfortunately in our mass media age, if a message isn’t simple – in black and white with no shades of gray – the mainstream media will ignore that message and the consumers of such media will not watch / read beyond the headline.

So it’s become an unfortunate necessity that OWS is so simplistic in its messaging, though I don’t know if that was planned or just a result of the non-hierarchal aspect of the movement. But the topic has quite fortunately been raised.

But thoughtful people everywhere have a duty to deepen the conversation, now that it has been begun.

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Meet the New Boss, the Same as the Old Boss

Any classic rock fan will recognize the above line as having been derived from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” who assumedly re-phrased it from popular wisdom. Unfortunately, their generation got fooled again as did my generation and the next generation… up till perhaps the most recent generation. Many a pundit or just older person who has sympathy for the Occupation Wall Street movement have been impatient for them to develop a literal, hierarchal organization and have a direct political impact like the so-called Tea Party did/does (see my post from last week about what I think about the Tea Party).

I on the other hand am just happy that the OWS is just changing the conversation away from the Conservative dominated media.

(There I say it plainly: the mainstream media which includes NPR and PBS is NOT liberal; it’s centrist to very conservative. Period. I’ll probably blog about this fact at some point too.)

Very recently a respected organ of that mainstream media, THE WASHINGTON POST, published an extremely revealing article. It backs up something I’ve been saying from the beginning. President Obama is a pro-business president and a very good friend of Wall Street, just like George W. Bush was a pro-business president and a very good friend of Wall Street. (W. was also a particularly good buddy of the oil/coal industry and O. is just a friend to these, so as just one example, I don’t mean to make blanket associations and equivalents between them.)

But facts are facts and they’re well documented in this article – Wall Street’s profits are better than ever: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/wall-streets-resurgent-prosperity-frustrates-its-claims-and-obamas/2011/10/25/gIQAKPIosM_story.html

One could say that Obama fulfilled Bush’s plan (remember the Bush admin. set up the no-strings attached TARP plan) just as well as Obama also fulfilled Bush’s withdrawal plan for Iraq (i.e. we got out now sooner, or later, than the agreement previously negotiated during the Bush administration).

So, one shouldn’t make the jump that Obama is doing something different, more favorable to Wall Street… actually ever so slightly to the contrary since the Dem’s did pass modest Wall Street/banking reform (which the Republicans universally opposed).

Some one I know brought to my attention President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 rousing speech where he said “I welcome their hatred” regarding Wall Street http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nuElu-ipTQ It’s a great speech from FDR, and yes an enormous contrast from Obama and of course, Bush too, or any other potential Republican presidential candidate.

Despite any rhetoric from either Democratic or Republican or their associated allies, in practice, they’re all profoundly intertwined. In contrast, FDR actually backed up his rhetoric.

Unfortunately, what the FDR parallel probably also shows is that not much will change in the United States, unless we hit rock bottom and suddenly those in power become innately afraid of social chaos.

So many of the great changes of the 1930’s were essentially pre-emptive. The banking regulations, Social Security and other New Deal long term and shorter term programs like the WPA were as much about saving capitalism from itself as they were about relieving the suffering of the citizenry. Elizabeth Warren said this very nicely in a recent speech, but I’ll take it further: rich people benefit more, proportionally, from civilization and an orderly society than poor people. Innately this is true, and that’s why morally it is justified that they are taxed at a higher rate.

Additionally, in the private sector, GM introduced health insurance as a union benefit for reasons of labor peace. That was the beginnings of our current ad hoc health care “system”.

Even the not overtly economically connected, Fairness Doctrine (vastly underrated how Reagan’s ending of it has profoundly affected our current political culture and economic condition) was adopted as a way to keep Congress from seriously regulating the broadcast industry, as back then, many in Congress were so silly that they seriously considered the airwaves to be public property.

The Fairness Doctrine worked. News divisions at the networks did not have to justify their bottom lines; documentaries were also regular fixture on the big 3 networks and as result viewers got facts and not just opinion and salacious puff pieces. But the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t actual law so it was rather easy for Reagan to just junk it.

So instead, in our current political system, we get to have an elaborate theatre of the Democrats and Republicans sounding very different, while their actions keep overlapping. The basic problem is that the Supreme Court has long equated money with speech and now that corporations are “people”, that person or company with the most money has the loudest voice.

We Americans have a true dilemma of keeping the continued disaster of stasis, versus chaos. But one can’t hope for the suffering of another great depression. Chaos is never anything to wish for because you don’t know who will emerge from the muck. After all, there’s no guarantee another FDR is waiting in the wings as opposed to some neo-fascist.

Which once again, is why I think Occupation Wall Street offers true hope – not for any immediate political change but as hopefully the beginning of a cultural change. Just shifting our culture slightly away from the false smiling visage of Ronald Reagan, who truly was the emblem of greed is good (not the mythical Gordon Gecko), is something to hope for.

If we become more morally in favor of an economic system where all have a fair chance to succeed (through intelligent, strong regulations and intelligent, fair re-distribution of wealth through a graduated tax system… not just the income tax, but the entire tax system), and moreover that greed may not always be bad, but cooperation is always good.

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The ORIGINAL Boston Tea Party Impulse

If you were to Google my name, you might come across a couple of obscure law journals which name me as the Tea Party activist in a lawsuit against a particular California election law. This would seem particularly odd, since anyone who knows me, knows I am a die-hard liberal.

In fact, some of them only half-jokingly call me a socialist. That’s utterly untrue as I accept capitalism as a necessary evil. After all, it is the best system for creating wealth. However, as capitalism also tends to concentrate wealth, and wealth entwines into politics, unregulated capitalism leads to plutocracy, oligarchy and even fascism.

So yes, I particularly believe in strong regulation of capitalism, a graduated income tax and re-distribution of wealth and certain, yes, socialist institutions like a national health care system. Very not, Tea Party positions.

But I joined a lawsuit against a California election law that I think is bad for a number of reasons – one being that it doesn’t allow write-in votes, or rather the law allows them but specifically says that they will not be counted. So I proved useful to this suit because I live in a district that was having a special election. At the behest of the lawyer bringing this case forward, I registered as a Tea Party member and then tried to vote for myself in order to show that I was harmed by this law. To repeat, it was his idea that I register as a Tea Party member because it is not one of the parties officially recognized by the state of California, as well as for other strategic reasons legally and politically which are not for me to discuss.

However, why would somebody with my leftist political views make this profound sacrifice of identification??? Below is the partial explanation, made in an online comment to the writer of one of these obscure law journals. (Note – at the lawyer’s request, I ended up deleting one clause below, the one about the Tea Party being a re-brand of the Republican base… so my comment letter was published without it. I re-insert it here on my own website.)

An Activist Yes, But Not a “Tea Party Activist”

Dear Mr. Eris,

As I am the subject of the headline of your July 20, 2011 story (“Top-Two open primary faces legal challenge from Democrat-turned-Tea Party activist”), I would have hoped that you would have contacted me directly to understand the nuance of my actions, for now it absolutely behooves me to make a correction and clarification of that headline: while I am certainly an activist, in no sense could I accurately be labeled a “Tea Party activist”, as that term is popularly understood today.

In the first place, I do not adhere at all to the current policy positions of what the media typically labels as Tea Party issues, since such have become nothing more than the issues of a re-branded right-wing Republican base.

Then you may be wondering why I tried to register as a Tea Party member, an action that could so easily be misconstrued as making me a supporter of anti-unionism and the like, which I absolutely am not.

I agreed to this action of trying to become a “Tea Party” registered voter and potential candidate, not only because it would be an efficacious means to legally challenge what I consider to be an unconstitutional and unfair law, but also because it has a moral justification, as I do agree with the original Boston Tea Party impulse.

For it is important to remember that there is another, original aspect of the amorphous modern Tea Party movement that spiritually harkens back to that revolutionary protest in the Boston Harbor.

After all, this modern protest was partially born, at least amongst some of its initial adherents, of an inchoate rage that something with wrong with the System itself. This failure of the System was exemplified by the bailout of the banks and big brokerage houses while score upon score of ordinary Americans were losing their jobs, their pensions and their homes.

The Top-Two Open Primary law was deceptively sold to the public, and moreover disenfranchises Independents and the small parties – both in the “No Party Preference” label for such candidates and even more importantly, precluding a write-in candidate (thus a version of Lisa Murkowski’s write-in Senate victory could never happen in California).

The colonial Tea Party was not a protest against taxation per se, but a protest against taxation without representation. It was the lack of representation that was the motivation and rationale for the American defiance against the Crown. It is that original Boston Tea Party ideal for true democratic representation for which I am an activist and why I became a party to this law suit.

Thus a potential correction of your original headline would be “…challenge from Democrat-turned-original ‘Tea Party’ activist” but only if an explanation of my motivations were also included within the body of the article, that I am re-appropriating a piece of American history. Right wing conservatives do not own an exclusive trademark on patriotic American symbols after all.

Sincerely,
Julius Galacki

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Absolutely, Play the Blame Game with the 1%

Below a long response (or call it a well-reasoned rant) I made in someone else’s blog. That person, who truly seems to be a thoughtful decent man as well as a successful businessman, was attempting to strike some kind of middle ground regarding Occupation Wall Street and the articulated goals of their consensus. I say “their consensus” because they operate along the line of a pure Athenian democracy, have only temporary facilitators instead of leaders, etc. So, for now, it’s clearly more of a social movement rather than a political movement like the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, and therefore, OWS has no hierarchy to present a truly articulated list of political goals.

Well, this business man wrote, to paraphrase, yes the system is broken and needs to be fixed and people have a right to be angry about that, but that it is not constructive to blame or specific people – in particular, doing such acts as marching in front of certain financial figures homes and condos as the OWS did about two weeks ago – and furthermore, people in the 99% had to accept responsibility for their own financial failures. He didn’t say this specifically but I think the implication was particularly if your home had been foreclosed, then it was your own fault.

While compared to so many who have denigrated and dismissed OWS, his civil tone and conciliatory admission of systemic fault was very welcome and should be applauded, I nonetheless immediately felt angry… I worked through that emotion and produced the following (slightly revised from the original for clarity):

“I disagree. It is absolutely essential to point the finger and actually create accountability and ramifications for their behavior that very, very nearly created a world-wide depression. The system is broken because of the greed, yes greed – no reason to play semantics, of those that benefited from the breaking of the system. Congress didn’t repeal the Glass-Steagall Act (legislation created after the Great Depression that had successfully regulated the banks for approximately 50 years), and other financial regulations for fun. It did so because wealthy contributors wanted them to do so. Then what had been illegal became legal and the floodgates were wide open for what has happened to our economy and much of the world’s.

The more than 1% deserve all of the social and moral approbation that they’re getting. And much more.

(Obviously, it’s not just the financial system that is broken – the Supreme Court’s equating of money and speech for the past 100 years, has logically created a democracy where the person with more money has more speech, and thus is “heard” more easily. Almost all politicians follow the money – nearly all Republicans overtly, and most Democrats in a combination of the overt and subvert – and are therefore in obeisance to the will of a moneyed elite. So, Republicans universally opposed re-regulating the Street, while Democrats put forward regulations that for the most part are more fig leaf than substantive.)

If there are neither financial ramifications (since the tax payers have done and will continue to do the bailing out, and in general, the financial decision makers have NOT lost their jobs or fortunes) nor any legal repercussions (since the laws were changed), a similar financial meltdown is going to happen all over again.

That is one of the great services that the OWS people are doing. Their righteous indignation – as amorphous and without nuance that it sometimes is – is creating an environment politically where it might actually lead to the politicians literally hearing those without money for a change, and actually re-instituting sane regulations on the banking and investment industries.

As for the responsibility of the 99%, certainly some home buyers were foolish in buying something well over their income level, but there was also quite of lot of deceptive practices in the real estate and mortgage industries, and/or understandable ignorance too. Plus, there are those who have gone “underwater” through no fault of their own even though they have been making payments. Or, those who were keeping up on their payments then lost their jobs (thus their homes) because of the domino effect from the worldwide financial meltdown.

In other words, real people suffered and lost everything they owned or everything they had for their retirement in totally unrelated industries because of those bankers and investment companies who profited from the inflated real estate and other investment markets, i.e. from all of the derivatives and credit default swaps and other convoluted, complicated financials instruments that finally collapsed upon themselves, precipitating a financial black hole that then led to bankruptcies and lay-offs and local, state and national government (Iceland!) defaults around the globe.

So, why shouldn’t someone who is losing their house, is being laid off through fault of their own, has lost their retirement savings, and all other losers in this glorified Ponzi scheme NOT blame the ones who both profited from this financial system, AND then were made whole by tax payer money when their financial house of cards collapsed? Yes, even Goldman Sachs could have gone under without a government bailout. So, why shouldn’t the losers say, “I didn’t cause this mess, so why not bail me too?” Or even: “Okay I messed up and made some stupid financial decisions but they did too, so why not me?”

Capitalism obviously runs on greed, but if there isn’t enough people in power to counter that greed with strong restrictions (including a sane tax policy) on that greed, in the long term capitalism will fail all but the very, very few and America will slowly corrode as a world power. It seems to me that Argentina which was of rough equivalence economically to the US at the turn of the 20th Century is a good example of what happens to a country when wealth is hyper concentrated.

You can say that greed is part of human nature, but another defining characteristic of what it means to be human, is cooperation. So, if the roughly 1% don’t acknowledge their culpability and accountability (and they certainly have not) and do things to make amends for the vast damage they have done to so many people not just in this country but the entire world, then somebody else has to create equilibrium. For that reason alone, I see the people of OWS as being great patriots.”

Of course, Fred disagreed with me. I followed up with this (and some more):

“So bringing this back to OWS and the Blame Game and personal responsibility. Blame IS a dangerous game. Throughout history, individuals and groups (usually some minority) have been blamed unfairly and incorrectly, and thus great evil has been perpetuated. BUT in the instance of the most recent worldwide financial meltdown, Wall Street is not a scapegoat but directly responsible. They can’t be prosecuted because they successfully lobbied to have the laws changed; they haven’t lost any power, influence, position or cash (except for Lehman Bros) because the TARP program was no strings attached. So there’s only one thing left, and that is, for a lot of people to say, no Lloyd Blankfein, you are not “doing God’s work”. You and the rest of the arrogant people in the financial industry are part of the problem. Social embarrassment is all that’s left to force these people to cooperate. Actual people, not a faceless “system” have to be held accountable.”

More disagreements. Dan’s comment: “And if you’re relying on “social embarrassment” to make people do the right thing, I have to ask, “Have you met these people?” As long as they’re making pantloads of money, they’re embarrassed all the way to the bank.” (I would say that I’m not relying on it but rather there just isn’t anything better. I am hoping, however, that the politicians get scared.) And Fred’s: “And maybe I am less quick to demonize those Wall Street titans because I actually know several of them and I know that they are mostly not indifferent and not immoral. Often arrogant, yes. But I don’t think that’s a hanging offense.”

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