"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Burt Reynolds and the End of the Movie Star

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 38 seconds

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday at the age of 82. A review of his career reveals a great deal about not only the man, but the current state of Hollywood.

Burt Reynolds was once the king of Hollywood. For a period of time in the late 70's and early 80's, Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star on the planet. From 1978 to 1982 Burt was the top box office draw for every single year, a five year run that in the history of cinema is only matched by Bing Crosby's 5 year run in the late 1940's.

What makes Burt Reynolds magnificent box office run all the more a monument to his star power and charm is that the movies Burt churned out during this stretch were absolutely abysmal. Here are the films that Burt Reynolds sold to the public to become box office champ for a record five years straight.

1978 - The End, Hooper. 1979 - Starting Over. 1980 - Rough Cut, Smokey and the Bandit II. 1981 - The Cannonball Run, Paternity, Sharkey's Machine. 1982 - Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Best Friends.

That is a Murderer's Row of completely forgettable, horrendously awful movies. But the cinematic atrocities that are those films only act as incontrovertible evidence of the tremendous mega-movie star Burt Reynolds really was. Audiences didn't show up at movie theaters to see these films for any other reason than to get to hang out with Burt for two hours.

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Burt's formula for success was simple...just be Burt, the fun lovin', handsome, good ole boy that he was, who guys wanted to be and women wanted to be with. Didn't matter the story or the character, as long as Burt was on camera people would pay money to see it. Burt was...well...Burt...sort of a one man Rat Pack, with Bacchanal Burt as the Pope of the Church of Shits and Giggles, which is why he was such a sought after guest on The Tonight Show or any other talk show.

Burt's films, particularly the mind-numbingly awful Cannonball Run movies, are reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven franchise, in that audiences are basically paying to watch famous, good-looking rich people have fun with each other. Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen are a way for regular folks to get to hang out with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon for two hours and feel like part of the crew. Audiences get to watch these "stars" dress up, be witty and outsmart everyone and get to be in on the joke.

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Burt Reynolds film's are the same formula as Ocean's Eleven except Burt didn't need a bunch of other stars, he was big enough and bright enough to carry a movie all on his own. Sure, he'd have Mel Tillis or Dom DeLuise caddy for him, but Burt didn't need them, he was doing them a favor and kept them around because they made HIM laugh.

Burt was so big from '78 to '82 that if you melded George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon at the height of their careers into one, you'd still have to add in Matthew McConnaghey in order to have it all add up to be even remotely close to peak Burt Reynolds. That is stunning for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that it shows how staggeringly magnetic Burt Reynolds was back in the day, but also the shocking dearth of movie stars walking the planet now.

Could any actor working today draw audiences with the cavalcade of crap that Burt Reynolds was churning out during his heyday?  Not a chance. Tom Cruise is the closest actor since Burt to capture the public's imagination in the same way, he has been a box office champ 7 times over three decades (80's, 90's, 00's), but Cruise never accomplished it in consecutive years never mind five years running. 

Unlike Burt, Cruise has benefited by starring in the big budget Mission Impossible franchise and in a few Spielberg extravaganzas. Even Cruise's earlier, more critically acclaimed work, was a result of his being secondary to his directors. Born on the Fourth of July is not a Tom Cruise film, it is an Oliver Stone film, and the same could be said of Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick) or The Color of Money (Scorsese).

Burt Reynolds didn't work with big name directors, in fact, remarkably enough, Burt actually directed two of the film's in which he starred during his box office championship run, 1978's The End and 1982's Sharkey's Machine...that is absolutely insane.

When it comes to the "movie stars" of the current era the proof is in the pudding, and today's pudding shows us a paucity of stars so stunning that the cupboard is basically completely bare.

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Tom Cruise has a big box office hit this year with his latest Mission Impossible monstrosity, but without that franchise or a big name director, Cruise's ability to attract audiences on his own has diminished in striking ways over the last twenty years. Since 1996's Jerry Maguire, Cruise has been under performed on his own without the friendly confines of a big budget franchise or the assistance of name directors, like Spielberg and Kubrick, who overshadow him.

Many thought George Clooney was the heir apparent to the movie star throne, but he isn't ready for the crown as shown by the recent poor box office results of Tomorrowland and Monuments Men, and as the Ocean's Eleven films show, he needs not just one other star to help him over the finish line, but a cornucopia of stars.

Brad Pitt had his moment in the sun but was always more of a second rate Robert Redford than an imitation of Burt Reynolds, and has never had the box office impact of either man.

Matthew McConnaghey has churned out similarly awful films to Burt's sub-par canon, but he has never even remotely approached the star wattage or box office prowess of Burt.

Leonardo DiCaprio is often considered a movie star, but Leo is much more of an actor than a movie star, and his inability to open films on his own without the benefit of a big name director like Scorsese, Spielberg or Christopher Nolan is testament to that fact.

Studios have figured out that nowadays it is about teaming auteurs like Scorsese, PT Anderson, Inarritu or Tarantino, with name actors in order to generate profits. The auteurs alone, or the stars alone, just don't cut it anymore, so the studios combine them together.

The film industry has changed dramatically in other ways since Burt Reynolds ruled the roost, as studios have discovered it isn't the stars that make a movie, but the characters, and so studios have slowly transitioned from building movie star brands to creating big budget franchises. Boiled down to its essence, this approach is basically, It doesn't matter who plays Batman, people will see a Batman movie.

As a result, actors try and attach themselves to these franchises in order to become "movie stars"...but the truth is the actors are, like sports stars for people's favorite teams, just wearing the jersey. These sports stars could be traded to another team and wear another jersey next year, so the fans aren't really rooting for the players, they are rooting for the laundry.

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For example, Chris Pratt is a "big movie star" right now, and to his credit he can carry a movie, but no one is dropping $14 to go see Chris Pratt, but they will pay to see Chris Pratt in Jurassic World or Guardians of the Galaxy. Same is true of the other Chris's...Chris Helmsworth, Chris Pine and Chris Evans...otherwise known as Thor, Captain Kirk and Captain America. Those guys are decent enough actors, but no one rushes out to see them in anything unless they are playing their signature franchise roles.

What is staggering to consider is that Burt Reynolds could have been an even bigger star than he was. Burt notoriously turned down the role of Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise and John McClane in the Die Hard franchise, which if he had starred in those films only would have extended and expanded his box office dominance to such exorbitant heights as to be ridiculous, adding at least $4 billion more to his overall box office tally.

Besides making poor movie business decisions, Burt also made bad artistic decisions which hurt him in his attempt to score prestige points. For instance, besides turning down Han Solo and John McClane, Burt also turned down the role of Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment, which won Jack Nicholson an Oscar and may have done the same for Burt.

Burt Reynolds as an actor, was, to be frank, pretty dreadful, mostly because he just didn't give a shit. Burt was more interested in having fun and feeling safe rather than pushing himself as an artist. Burt the actor liked to take the easy road, and for the artist, that road ultimately leads to nowhere.

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That said, Burt he did rise to the occasion twice in his career, in the two best films he ever made. In the 1972 classic Deliverance, Burt embodied archetypal masculinity to a tee and elevated the film to great artistic heights. Burt's performance as Lewis Medlock, the bow wielding alpha male on a river adventure in the backwoods of Georgia, gave audiences a glimpse of his acting potential. Sadly, it would take another 25 years before Burt ever even approached the same level of artistic achievement in PT Anderson's 1997 masterpiece, Boogie Nights, as porn impresario Jack Horner.

Burt's Jack Horner is an extension of Lewis Medlock, he is like Zeus, a great father to the panoply of gods and goddesses atop the Mount Olympus of porn. Horner is Medlock grown old, still the dominant alpha male but using his brain more and his phallus less.

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In one of the great displays of foolhardy hubris, Burt, who admitted that over his career he only took roles he thought were fun, hated the greatest film in which he ever appeared, Boogie Nights. Burt ranted that he didn't like the movie or the director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Burt's public distancing from the film no doubt led to his losing his only chance to win an Oscar, as he was nominated but refused to campaign and ended up losing to Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), and ended up scuttling what could have been his acting renaissance.

If Burt didn't have such a pedestrian taste in film, such a voracious appetite for the inconsequential and such a artistically myopic outlook, he could have been not just the George Clooney + Brad Pitt + Matt Damon + Matthew McConnaghey of his day, but also the Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis of the 80's/90's and a multiple Oscar winner to boot...which would have made Burt Reynolds the biggest movie star of all-time. Instead what we got was bacchanalian Burt, boozing with buddies, chasing skirts and ultimately chasing his own tail.

In conclusion, even though Burt Reynolds was a mega-movie star for a period, the likes of which the film business has rarely ever seen, it is difficult not to lament Burt's career with a quote from the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, "For all the sad words of tongue and pen, The Saddest are these, 'It might have been'."

©2018

 

 

 

4th Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® Awards

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Estimated Reading Time: 69 seconds

The Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® awards are a tribute to the absolute worst that film and entertainment has to offer for the year. Again, the qualifying rules are simple, I just had to have seen the film for it to be eligible. This means that at one point I had an interest in the film, and put the effort in to see it, which may explain why I am so angry about it being awful. So any vitriol I may spew during this awards presentation shouldn't be taken personally by the people mentioned, it is really anger at myself for getting duped into watching.

The prizes are also pretty simple. The winners/losers receive nothing but my temporary scorn. If you are a winner/loser don't fret, because this years Slip-Me-A-Mickey™®  loser/winner could always be next years Mickey™® winner!! Remember…you are only as good as your last film!! 

Now…onto the awards!

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

Kong: Skull Island: King Kong is awesome, Kong: Skull Island is decidedly not. Riddled with a cavalcade of career lowlight performances from the likes of John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson, this movie is heart-stoppingly bad. Too bad those awful performances won't be career ending. Watching a gorilla eat his own poop at the zoo is infinitely more entertaining than this movie.

Detroit - An unmitigated shitshow of a motion picture, Detroit, or as I have become fond of calling it - Detritus, is so awful as to be stunning. Kathryn Bigelow's amateur-hour direction coupled with community theatre level performances from the cast, demean a vitally important story of race in America and turn it into a redundantly repetitive exercise in the repetitively redundant. 

Downsizing - Alexander Payne manages to take the interesting idea at the heart of Downsizing and reduces it, pun intended, to a politically flaccid, dramatically impotent and incoherent showcase for bad acting and directing. Matt Damon looks like he may have been in the midst of a raging bender during the shooting of this insipid loser…for his sake, I sure hope he was.

AND THE LOSER IS

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DETROIT I have only walked out of a film once in my adult life…and that was a free screening, but Detroit is so repulsively awful that I was ready to bolt out the door on numerous occasions. Multiple times during this movie I prayed aloud that a riot would break out and burn the theatre down with me in it. An excruciating abomination of a dramatic endeavor and a new low for cinema.

 

WORST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

Brie Larson - Kong: Skull Island: Brie Larson won an Oscar a few years ago and has followed it up by consistently being a bad actress in every thing she's done. Larson hits new lows with her wooden acting in Kong: Skull Island. This is the most lifeless and charisma-free performance I have seen since my ill-fated jaunt into the world of Funeral Home Theatre. 

Seth McFarland - Logan Lucky: Seth McFarland wears a wig and has an accent in Logan Lucky, but that still doesn't cover this steaming bag of shit of a performance. For someone who has made mountains of money making comedies, McFarland seems to be allergic to being funny. I think it is safe to say that Seth McFarland is not a threat to become America's next great actor.

Carrie Fisher - Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Sadly, Carrie Fisher died before Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiered. After seeing her performance in the film, I am seriously wondering if she didn't die before, or at the very least during, the shooting of the film. 

AND THE LOSER IS...

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BRIE LARSON - Brie Larson has the uncanny ability to be able to say words in front of a camera with all the charisma of a used wet mattress left by the side of a road. When Ms. Larson's acting career is over, which can't happen soon enough for me, I think she may have a wonderful future ahead of her as a piece of furniture…or as a cigar store wooden Indian. 

 

MOST OVERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR

Call Me by Your NameOk…I will call you by your name…Poorly Made Self-Undulgent Pedophile Story.

Get Out: The critical love for this over-hyped film is baffling as it is a moderately entertaining popcorn movie. The highest praise I could give the film is that it is maybe a little bit clever. The writing, directing and acting are all fine but not the least bit remarkable. But to listen to critics speak of this film, you'd think it was a cross between Citizen Kane and The Godfather

Lady Bird: Another critical darling that was nothing more than an excruciatingly long 90 minute sitcom. A collection of comedy "bits" that never coalesces around a coherent dramatic narrative, Lady Bird is an insipid art house phony. Critics loved it because they are so enamored with their manic pixie dream girl Greta Gerwig…I am not so enamored.

The PostSpielberg's attempt to make another serious movie that falls flat on its mustached and side-burned face. This movie is a shockingly poorly made  piece of agit-prop for establishment democrats. Spielberg's direction is so inept that there are moments when I literally laughed out loud, and other moments when I groaned at the heavy-handedness of it all. 

AND THE LOSER IS...

TIE - GET OUT and LADY BIRD

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Get Out is not a terrible film, it is a mildly amusing episode of The Twilight Zone…but because it dealt with race and was written and directed by an African-American, Jordan Peele, critics made it out to be the greatest film ever made. The critical hype for Get Out was fueled by the politics of the moment which all have to do with identity and diversity/inclusion. It would be nice if critics could judge a film simply on its merits and not on its ability to satiate the identity politics du jour, but that is certainly wishful thinking on my part. 

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Lady Bird also benefitted from the politics of the moment, namely the #MeToo movement and the desperate desire of critics to celebrate a female director for making something of value. Director Greta Gerwig is every critic's art-house manic pixie dream girl and so she was chosen as the flag bearer for female excellence in film this year. The problem though is that Lady Bird, the movie she wrote and directed (which to be clear is NOT her directorial debut), is a flaccid John Hughes imitation (or as my friend Mo Danger astutely describes it - "a bad version of Napoleon Dynamite crossed with Little Miss Sunshine") without any cohesive narrative or dramatic infrastructure. More akin to a collection of high school sketch comedy skits than a feature film, Lady Bird is the poster-child for critical virtue signaling and the bigotry of low expectations. Shamelessly over-hyped, Lady Bird is nothing more than a second rate, conventional Hollywood sit-com masquerading as an art house darling. 

 

***SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATIC MALPRACTICE AWARD*** 

AND THE LOSER IS...

WORST DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

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Kathryn Bigelow - DetroitKathryn Bigelow has a Best Director Oscar for her work on The Hurt Locker. Detroit is so poorly directed that she should be forced to give that Oscar back. A tone-deaf, ham-fisted shlock-fest of posing and preening that is so ineptly made it sets back moviemaking at least fifty years. Congratulations Ms. Bigelow, you've made the race drama equivalent of The Room

 

P.O.S. HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE

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Harvey Wienstein - Even if you put aside all of the raping, sexual assaulting and harassing, Harvey Weinstein is still a raging fuckface of a douchebag. Weinstein is notorious for strong arming filmmakers and taking a machete to their work…and not just any directors, but all-time greats like Martin Scorsese. He is also notorious for being an unconscionable bully who would threaten anyone who stood up to him. And when the threats didn't work, he would play the victim and cry anti-semitism. As top-notch reporting from this year shows, Weinstein is literally a limp-dick asshole.

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Weinstein would be a P.O.S. Hall of Famer even without the rape…but when you add in the rape he becomes an all-time, historically great, Ted Williams level P.O.S. My dream for Harvey is that he ends up like The Colonel in Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece Boogie Nights, his final scene being him crying on a prison cell floor with blood coming down his face as his over-sized cellmate yells at him to "shut up!". My other dream is that I get fifteen minutes in a room alone with Weinstein…and can make him pay accordingly for all the rapes…and his disrespect to Mr. Scorsese and his butchery of The Gangs of New York

P.O.S. ALL-STARS

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KEVIN SPACEY - Kevin Spacey has been overacting for nearly thirty years, but his worst performance of all was in trying to play a straight man all that time. Everyone I know in the acting world, myself included, knew Spacey was gay. I even heard some pretty sordid stories about him when I was living and auditioning in New York and he was on Broadway in the 90's. The word was Spacey would have "casting sessions" with young, beautiful men/boys in which he would, in a room by himself, "work with the actor". Yeah…right. 

When Spacey got into hot water this year when a collection of men came forward to report that he had groped or sexually assaulted them when they were teens or young men, Spacey pulled a truly All-Star Piece of Shit move by trying to make his response into a brave coming out of the closet story. Not surprisingly, the gay community said no thanks to Spacey's bid to join them, and the rest of us simply thanked our lucky stars we won't have to watch this psychopathic narcissist butcher any more movie or TV roles. 

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MATT LAUER - I try to never watch morning television…it seems like one of the worst circles of hell to me. Sadly, a few years ago, during the Rio Olympics, I was at a breakfast place and they had a big screen tv on with the sound blaring and it was the Today Show. I watched maybe ten minutes of the programming and had to leave because my colon was twinge-ing so bad from the false laughter and empty journalistic preening. Matt Lauer struck me then, and now, as an entirely self-serving, self-absorbed, talentless and dim-witted douchebag. I wasn't sure which shocked me more about Matt Lauer, that he was the highest paid person on morning television or that hadn't killed himself in man-scaping incident where he sliced off his own scrotum and bled to death. 

When news broke that Lauer was a serial sexual harasser I was not exactly shocked because he obviously thought of himself as quite an amazing guy and a remarkable catch, so in his mind he was doing these women a favor by whipping his little anchorman out for them to worship. With all of that said, I do think Matt Lauer has enough skill, charm and brains that he could do very well for himself as a parking garage attendant one day…and if he is smart he'll put this election to the P.O.S. All-Stars on his resume, at this point it couldn't hurt, right? 

And thus ends the fourth annual Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® Awards!!! To the winners/losers…don't take it personally…and God knows I hope I don't see you again next year!! To you dear reader…thanks for tuning in and we'll see you again next year!!

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©2018

American Bloodlust: Projecting the Shadow and the Hunter Myth Cycle

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 7 minutes 14 seconds

In continuing to try to make sense of the senseless massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida yesterday (February 14, 2018), I thought I would re-post portions of an article I originally wrote in September of 2016 titled Jason Bourne, Projecting the Shadow and the Technological Hunter: A Review and Commentary. That article was a review for the film Jason Bourne starring Matt Damon but after reviewing the film, I veered into the topic of our violent and bloodthirsty culture and the Hunter Myth Cycle. I am re-posting the article but have edited out the sections that death solely with reviewing the Bourne film. I believe the ideas expressed in this edited version are very salient to the discussion of violence in America in the wake of our most recent tragedy and speak to the cultural and archetypal forces at work in our violent nation. 

THE HUNTER MYTH CYCLE

Coincidentally enough, right after seeing Jason Bourne I read the book, Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film by Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz. The book is wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in cinema, myth and Jungian psychology. In the book, the authors examine from a Jungian perspective, six films and their relationship to the evolution of the archetypal hunter myth, from The Indian Hunter to The Frontier Hunter to The Technological Hunter as seen through the modernist, post-modernist and "trans-modernist" view. The six films they look at are JawsThe Deer HunterThe Manchurian CandidateBlade RunnerTerminator and Terminator 2. The book was published in 1995 so the Bourne films weren't "born" just yet, but I couldn't help but think of them in terms of the authors intriguing premise. 

According to Hocker and Frentz, there are three types of hunter myths, the Indian Hunter, the Frontier Hunter and the Technological Hunter. The Hunter Myth Cycle is seen as circular in that it evolves from one myth (I.E. Indian myth) to another myth (I.E. Frontier myth) to another myth (I.E. Technological myth) and then back to where it started (Indian myth). It is interesting to examine the character Jason Bourne in relation to this hunter myth cycle. The Bourne character is a weapon used by men in suits in offices back in the Pentagon and C.I.A., so he is a no different than a drone, or a smart bomb. He was created, much like the man/weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, to do the killing from which the post-modern man wants to consciously dissociate. The Bourne character is also similar to the Manchurian Candidate, in that he is a human but has had his true identity and memory, markers of his humanity, taken from him in order to make him a near perfect robotic killer.

Bourne's personal place on the archetypal Hunter Myth scale is that of The Frontier Hunter, yet he is also just a weapon of his C.I.A. overlords who are Technological Hunters, thus giving the film two myths in one. Rushing and Frentz describe the Frontier Hunter in part, "Since Indians as well as wild beasts occupy the land he wants, he slaughters both indiscriminately, gaining a decisive advantage over his human prey because of…his sophisticated weaponry, and his lack of spiritual restraint. Although his frontierism converts "savagery" to "civilization", the white hunter himself cannot reside in society without losing his individualistic heroic status and thus does not return from the hunt…". Things always get interesting in the Bourne films when Jason Bourne must fight against another one of the human weapons of the Technological Hunters in the C.I.A. in the form of an opposing Frontier Hunter. Two men/weapons with "sophisticated weaponry and lack of spiritual restraint" fighting each other is a key to the successful Bourne formula.

Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter Myth as follows, "…Because he is so good at making machines, he now uses his brains more than brawn, and he prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing. Thus he creates ever more complex tools to do his killing and other work for him. Having banished God as irrelevant to the task at hand, the hero decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings 'in his own image'; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools either by remaking a human being into a perfected machine or by making an artificial "human" from scratch. "

In cinematic terms the Bourne character falls somewhere between the dehumanized human weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, "remaking a human into a perfected machine", and the humanized robot-weapon "replicants" of Blade Runner, "making an artificial 'human' from scratch". The replicants in Blade Runner are tools and weapons for humans, just like Bourne, but they also yearn to be human, as does Bourne, who aches for a return to his long lost humanity while his Technological Hunter overlords yearn to make him ever more robotic, or more accurately, devoid of humanity. The problem with both the replicants and Bourne, is that their humanity, their need for love and connection, is their greatest weakness and their greatest strength.  Bourne and the Blade Runner replicants, yearn to Know Thyself, which is what drives them toward freedom from their makers and yet also makes them erratic and at times vulnerable weapons for the Technological Hunter. This inherent weakness of humanity, the need for love and connection, is removed entirely in the later films that Rushing and Frentz examine, Terminator and Terminator 2, where humans have created super weapons, cyborgs, that are completely inhuman, and of course as the story tells us, turn on their creators like Frankenstein's monster and try to hunt and torment mankind into oblivion.

In many ways, Bourne is the perfect post-modern hero in that he is so severely psychologically fragmented. He was intentionally made that way by the Technological Hunter Dr. Frankensteins at the C.I.A. because eliminating his humanity (past/memory/love and connection) is what makes him so effective as a weapon. Originally in the story, the people in power calling the shots back in Washington are using Bourne to clandestinely hunt their enemies. But now that Bourne is off the reservation and out on his own, he has become the archetypal Frontier hunter, searching for his soul/memory which was stolen by those D.C. Technological Hunters. This is the normal evolution in the hunter myth cycle…the weapon turns on its creator, as evidenced by both Blade Runner and the Terminator films, and now by the Bourne films.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL HUNTER

What does this talk of post-modernism and the technological hunter have to do with anything? Well, in case you haven't noticed, we live in an age of the post-modern technological hunter. The films examined in Projecting the Shadow show us the road that may lay ahead for our culture. Our inherent weakness in being human, both physical and emotional, and our intellectual superiority has forced us to become technological hunters. From the first caveman to pick up an animal bone and use it to bash in another cave man's head (hat tip to Mr. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), to the drone pilot who sits in an air conditioned office in Nevada and kills people half a world away with the touch of a button, we have removed ourselves from the direct conscious responsibility for killing because it is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for our fragile psyches. Or at least we think we have removed our psychological responsibility. Like consumers of meat who would rather not know where it comes from or how it is treated, we as a society have removed our direct conscious involvement in the killing done in our name by creating a cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance is defined as  a "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously") and an emotional distance from it. Whether it be the drone pilot who goes home for lunch with his wife and kids after having killed dozens, or the politicians and citizens who cheer at the shock and awe of "smart bombs" and munitions dropped from miles overhead on defenseless human beings, we have become Technological Hunters all. Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter as one who…"prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing", that is us. The "nature" we want to minimize contact with is the killing we have done and our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual responsibility for it. That is why we create "ever more complex tools to do our killing". We need those tools to give us an emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual distance from the the killing we do. 

The distance between thought, impulse and deed in regards to killing is shorter than ever for the technological hunter, it is just the push of a button away, but with our cognitive dissonance, we are able to consciously detach from the results of those actions and make them feel ever more remote. While they may feel consciously remote, the unconscious ramifications of those actions are felt deeply and personally in the psyche of the collective and the individual. The drone pilot may believe he is merely playing a realistic video game when he kills people half a world away, but his psyche and soul are being torn to shreds without his conscious knowledge of it, as is our collective psyche and national soul.

PROJECTING THE SHADOW

The U.S. soldiers and Marines, Frontier Hunters all, sent to the middle east to be the weapons of their Technological Hunter superiors in the Pentagon, continuously come back psychologically, spiritually and emotionally fragmented beyond recognition, perfect symbols of the post-modern age in which they fight. This psychological fragmentation brought about by the trauma of these wars leaves these soldiers and Marines wounded and maimed in invisible and intangible ways and often times leads to them killing themselves. The suicide rate of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that of 22 a day. This horrendous torment, and the desperate suicides attempting to get away from it, are the price paid for the cognitive dissonance we as a culture enable and embrace in regards to the killing of other people done in our name. Since we as a culture cannot embrace or acknowledge our killing, we stuff it into our collective shadow, or as I call it the "killing shadow", and force the less than 2% of the population who serve in our wars (and even fewer who kill in those wars) to carry our killing shadow for us. The psychological shadow in general and the killing shadow in particular, brings with it an enormous amount of powerful psychic energy, which is why it does such tremendous damage to those who bear its burden, and why it is imperative for us as a culture to reduce that burden on the soldiers and Marines carrying our killing shadow energy.

As our Technological Hunter culture evolves, in order to remove the psychological and emotional cost on the human beings sent to fight these wars, we won't decide to stop fighting future wars, but we will decide to stop using humans to fight them. No doubt at this very moment, somewhere in the Pentagon they are developing robotic, amoral, emotionless warriors who will do all our dirty work for us. The problem will arise of course, when that same amoral, emotionless warrior technology figures out that they are stronger, faster, bigger and better than us. And once they realize they can replicate themselves, we weak humans will become entirely unnecessary. This is the story told in the Terminator films. This will just be another form of our culture ignoring their killing shadow and projecting it onto another, in this case our cyborg weaponry. Except our shadow will not be ignored, and it will lash out at its deniers by any means necessary, in this case by using our technological weapons to strike out at us to force us to acknowledge our own killing shadow.

SHOCK AND AWE - MUST SEE TV

Until we can create these perfect, robotic killers though, we are left to wrestle with our own spiritual and psychological weaknesses, namely, our thirst to kill and our desire to not feel the emotional and spiritual turmoil that comes with killing. It is interesting to notice how in our time we fully embraces the technological hunter myth completely unconsciously. An example of this was the overwhelmingly giddy joy and exuberance shown for the first Gulf War in 1991 and its made-for-tv technological bombardment with smart bombs upon Iraq. Never before had war been brought into the living rooms of Americans as it was happening, and yet, here was the war in all its technicolor glory except without any conscious connection to our responsibility for the devastation and death that we were watching unfold.

The same occurred with the start of the second war in Iraq in 2003 when the U.S. unleashed the cleverly marketed "shock and awe" bombardment. The dizzying display of devastating munitions were a sight to behold, like the greatest fireworks display imaginable, but our conscious connection to the devastation being wrought was minimal. This is another example of our culture being unwittingly under the throes of the Technological Hunter Myth. In contrast, our cultural shock and visceral disgust with the terror attacks of 9-11, where barbarians used primitive box cutters to kill innocents and then turn our technology (airplanes) against us, were signs of our unconscious detachment from the Indian Hunter myth and more proof of our deep cultural connection to the Technological Hunter Myth.

Another example of our cultures post-modern Technological Hunter Myth is the fetish among the populace for Special Operations Forces (SEALs, Special Forces, Delta force, Army Rangers and Marine Force Recon). These Special Ops forces have become the favorite go to for any talking head on television or at the local bar or barbershop, to proclaim who we should get to handle any military issue. ISIS? Send in the SEALs!! Al Qaeda? Send in the Green Berets!! Not long ago I saw everyone's favorite tough guy Bill O'Reilly opining on his Fox news show that we should send in ten thousand Green Berets into Syria and Iraq to wipe out ISIS. I guess Bill isn't aware that there are only 11,000 Special Operators deployed around the globe at any moment in time, not to mention that most of those Special Operators are not Special Forces (Green Berets). This sort of thing happens all the time where people see a problem and say, 'well let's send in these Special Operations supermen to deal with it.' This is more proof of the Technological Hunter Myth in action, as Rushing and Frentz describe it, "...the hero (the technological hunter) decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings "in his own image"; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools...by remaking a human being into a perfected machine". We as a culture are Technological Hunters who have made these Special Operations forces in "our own image", but only better. The Special Operations forces are "more perfect versions" of ourselves, "rational, strategic, and efficient." We believe we have remade these ordinary men into "perfected machines" for killing, and then we have projected our killing shadow (our responsibility and hunger for killing) onto them.

In our current Technological Hunter Myth, these Special Operators are, like Jason Bourne, nothing more than extensions of ourselves in the form of weaponry, no different than the drone or smart bomb, or in the future the cyborg, and looked upon as just as mechanical. And we have no more genuine connection to them or their work or the massive psychological toll it will take for them to carry the burden of our shadow than we do that of the drone or the smart bomb or any other machines we created.

HERO OF THE DAY

When we examine our Technological Hunter Myth in the form of Special Operations forces, we can see why our culture is drawn to certain things and repulsed by others. For instance, the greatest hero and biggest symbol of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the cultural militarism surrounding them has been Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle, who alleged to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, wrote a best selling book, "American Sniper" and the movie of the same name based on that book broke box office records. People went absolutely crazy for the story of Chris Kyle. In terms of the Hunter Myth Cycle, Chris Kyle was a weapon used by the Technological Hunter. And interestingly, he was a sniper, a man who kills his enemies from great distances. This is not to diminish the skill it takes to be a great sniper, or the utility of that skill, but it is to point out that a sniper being the heroic symbol of a post-modern war speaks volumes to where we are as a culture. The reason people could admire Chris Kyle is because on an unconscious level they could symbolically and mythologically relate to him. Chris Kyle, like the rest of the culture, killed people from a distance and removed the conscious emotional and psychological responsibility for those kills from himself and from the culture.

The act of looking through a scope mounted on a sniper rifle gives the shooter much needed psychological and emotional distance from his killing. In the case of the sniper, he is twice removed from his kill, once by the scope and once by the weapon itself. The psychological distance of the sniper with his scope is in some ways similar to the emotional distance and cognitive dissonance created when people sitting on their couches watching CNN see smart bomb after smart bomb eviscerate some Iraqi city. Whether it be the sniper scope or the television camera, seeing something through a lens or screen gives the viewer a detachment from what they see, and with that detachment comes the ability to maintain a cognitive dissonance from the horrors seen and any moral or psychological responsibility for them.

In thinking about our current age, and our evolution from the age of the Frontier Hunter Myth of World War II, where our soldiers fought the savagery of the Nazi's and the Imperial Japanese in order to preserve western civilization, to the post-modern, Technological Hunter Myth of today, it is easy to see why an accomplished sniper like Chris Kyle became such a celebrated symbol of the wars we are waging. In comparison to our current culture's example of "The Sniper", Chris Kyle, being the hero for the Iraq war, think of World War II and the hero and symbol of that war, Audie Murphy. Murphy became revered and beloved in his time just like Chris Kyle did in our time, and like Kyle, Murphy also had a successful film about his combat exploits. Murphy, though, fought and killed his enemies in close quarters, without the scope and distance of the sniper. Back then, Murphy was fighting under the predominant myth of the time, The Frontier Hunter Myth, while Chris Kyle fought under our current myth of the Technological Hunter Myth. This doesn't make Murphy better than Kyle or vice versa, it just shows how cultures unconsciously choose their hero's based on the myths they currently embrace.

Another point of note showing how we are currently under the spell of the Technological Hunter Myth, is that there are other warriors who could've become the cultural icons and symbols of our current wars, but didn't resonate quite as much with the public as much as sniper Chris Kyle did. The late Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player who became an Army Ranger, is one example of someone who easily could've become the iconic hero of the war on terror but didn't.  Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL of the book and movie Lone Survivor fame is an even better example. Luttrell did became famous for his story, but, for some reason, he didn't resonate anywhere near as much with our culture as Chris Kyle did. I believe the reason for this is our cultural and collective unconscious attachment to the Technological Hunter Myth. Simply put, Luttrell and Tillman were just as worthy of adulation as Kyle, but they weren't snipers. The sniper is the perfect symbol of the emotional and psychological distance we as a culture like to keep from the people we are killing. The current cultural celebration of the sniper also enables us to maintain our cognitive dissonance with relative ease and keep any conscious psychological and emotional turmoil brought about by the killing we do at bay.

The need for psychological and emotional distance between the person wanting to kill and the actual killing is a signature of the Technological Hunter Myth. At the behest of his superiors in Washington, the drone pilot in Nevada pushes a button and kills dozens in Yemen or Pakistan. The drone pilot is, through his drone, twice removed from the actual killing, once by the button he pushes and once by the missile fired,  and is also detached from it by the screen he watches it on, thus giving him a conscious distance from the killing. His superior in Washington is thrice removed, once by his phone used to call the pilot, once by the pilot himself and once by the missile used. The B-2 pilot, who at the behest of those same Washington superiors drops his payload from a mile up, never sees the people he is obliterating, enjoys the same distance and assures himself of the same cognitive dissonance as the drone pilot. The Special Operations forces that are covertly sent to Pakistan to assassinate a terrorist leader under the dark of night and the cloak of secrecy are the closest yet to the actual killing, but even they are twice removed from their kill because of the weapon they shoot, and the night vision goggles they see through, creating that technological hunter myth distance for which western man yearns. The conscious distance from the killing through the use of technology is vital in creating and maintaining our cognitive dissonance and the illusion of conscious emotional and psychological well being.

In contrast, think of the terrorists in ISIS who behead their captives. They kill directly, no distance between them and their victims. The act of beheading, like the atrocity of 9-11, gives us in the west a visceral, guttural reaction, one of pure revulsion. There is something utterly barbaric, savage and repulsive about cutting a defenseless persons head off. Yet if innocents are decapitated by drone strikes or smart bombs we somehow aren't quite as repulsed by that. What this speaks to is our current enchantment with the Technological Hunter Myth. For in western culture, we have created technology which gives us a safe distance from the barbarity of the acts done in our name. Decapitation by smart bomb feels much less barbaric to us because our technology gives us a moral, emotional and psychological distance from that barbarity and aids us in maintaining our cognitive dissonance. 

I HAVE BECOME COMFORTABLY NUMB

In American foreign policy killing has become something other people, or things, do, and anyone who directly kills, like ISIS, are reprehensible savages. In our post-modern age and the Technological Hunter Myth which has come with it, the extensions of man are his weaponry in the form of machines (drones/smart bombs) and human machines (special operations forces). Either way, whether with a manufactured machine or a human one, our culture is able to consciously detach and distance itself from the violence it perpetrates, regardless of the righteousness of that violence, and this is a recipe for a cultural and psychological disaster as we numb ourselves to the damage we do others and our selves.

In bringing this back to Jason Bourne, the Bourne films have resonated with our culture to such a great extent because Bourne is the perfect human weapon in the age of the Technological Hunter Myth. Like we imagine our Special Operations Forces, Bourne is " made in our own image", but is a 'more perfect version of ourselves - rational, strategic, and efficient."

We can watch Bourne kick-ass in a world that is just like ours thanks to the franchise's trademark hyper-realism, and so we are able to project ourselves onto him and live vicariously through him. The Bourne character gives us one more lens, like the snipers scope, or the camera, or the television screen, through which we can see the horror of our world, that lens is the mind's eye…our imagination. This added lens of imagination means we can watch actual, real-life civil unrest in Athens on our television and not only detach ourselves from our responsibility for that unrest, but also create even more distance by imagining the drama going on underneath the surface of that unrest, and imagining how we would, like our "perfect version of ourselves" Bourne, thrive under those circumstances. This is the final stage of the Technological Hunter Myth, where the technological hunter is so far removed from the actual killing that he/she is forced to use their own imagination in order to envision how they themselves would really behave if they were actually in the scenario where the killing took place. The end stage of this type of evolution, or devolution as the case may be, would be The Matrix trilogy, where humanity is reduced to being prisoners of their own imagination and being used as little more than captive batteries to their shadow, the Technology they once created to fight for them. Once that Technology became self aware and understood that humans were intellectually and physically inferior, it simply conquered and enslaved humanity for its own benefit. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, at the current stage of the Technological Hunter Myth we find ourselves in, we have been so far removed from our primal instincts and detached from our collective psychological shadow, that the tide may turn and we may eventually begin to yearn for an acknowledgment of our most ancient and primitive psychological drives. The need not just to eat an animal, but to kill it, courses through the deepest trenches of our psyche. The need not just for our enemies to die, but for us to feel their last breath on our faces, is alive and well and living in our killing shadow. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these type of instincts are the gateway to a return to a respect for the earth, respect for life, respect for our enemies and respect for killing in general.

Killing and war will never cease to be, they are eternally part of the human condition, but one can only hope that the anti-septic form of war/killing currently enjoyed by the west, where we shove our darker impulses and our unequivocal guilt and responsibility into our shadow, where it festers and grows as we ignore it, will be transformed back into the more simple, if equally brutal form of killing of the Indian Hunter Myth, where respect for prey, enemy and the act of killing return. What I am saying is that if we are to kill we must do it consciously, take full responsibility and be fully aware of what we have done. If we continue to psychologically fragment and cognitively dissociate from the killing we do, that impulse will become our killing shadow, unconscious and angry. When those impulses are cast into the shadow they do not disintegrate, they only disappear from consciousness and grow more and more powerful until they simply refuse to be ignored. When the killing impulse is ignored and forced into the shadow, it eventually will strike out with a vengeance, often destroying the fragmented and cognitively dissociated psyche which ignores it. Twenty-two veteran suicides a day is the damning proof of the consequences of our cognitive dissonance from the killing we do and our moral and ethical responsibility for it. 

Our only hope for the healing of our fragmented psyches, and the reclamation of our humanity is to make our killing impulses and acts conscious.  We must take full mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual responsibility for the killing that we do.  Sadly, with our culture thoroughly numbed through technology and medication, this seems terribly unlikely. The more likely scenario? Go watch the Terminator and Matrix films to see what happens when humanity is unable to carry and acknowledge its killing shadow. And if you really want to spend your time wisely, I highly recommend you go read Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film.

©2016

Downsizing: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 1.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to ever see this movie. 

Downsizing, written and directed by Alexander Payne, is the story of Paul Safranek, a midwestern physical therapist who chooses to undergo a new procedure that will shrink him down to being only five inches tall in order to start a new life in an experimental, eco-friendly mini-world. The film stars Matt Damon with supporting performances from Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau and Kristen Wiig. 

Downsizing is one of those movies that is rife with possibilities, but in execution ends up being  a disaster. Alexander Payne can be hit or miss for me as a director, for instance I loved About Schmidt, and was lukewarm about Sideways and Nebraska and loathed The DescendantsDownsizing falls into the frustrating The Descendants category in the Alexander Payne catalogue for me. 

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What is so troubling about Downsizing is that the original idea, about shrinking people down in order save the environment, is bursting with a myriad of dramatic potential and yet not only does Payne not realize these possibilities, he seems to be entirely oblivious of them. Payne suffocates the creative prospects of the premise in its crib and instead churns out a very blasé, bland and boring product that is bungled from start to finish. 

While Downsizing portends to be an important "issues" film, the movie labors under the strain of its own delusional sense of self-importance. The film never actually tackles any difficult subjects, only strikes a concerned pose and then walks away. Like a eunuch in a whorehouse, Payne only seems to be vaguely aware of what he is missing. 

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For instance, the first thing that comes to mind for me is the idea that if people shrink themselves, they immediately become vulnerable to the Tyranny of the Big. Once people are shrunk, Big people could crush little people and their worlds with little effort at all. The result of that would be that little people become entirely reliant on the kindness of the big for their survival. To me it would be fascinating to investigate in Downsizing the idea of people choosing to make themselves weaker and subservient to a giant class of humans. That sounds like a metaphor for people's relationship with Big Tech like Facebook, and their acquiescence to massive surveillance programs. To explore the theme of "if you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide", would be an interesting one, but Payne never even contemplates it. 

The Tyranny of the Big theme also could've have been used to explore political issues staring all of us in the face…like American empire, or authoritarianism rising across the globe. But Payne chooses to make a limp non-point by having the "shrinking" technology used by only one government for nefarious reasons…that government…Vietnam. A plot point in the movie is that Vietnam, of all countries, shrinks a group of protestors. Why Vietnam? Of all the countries you could use to show authoritarianism in the world you choose Vietnam? 

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The reality is that Payne chose Vietnam because it is a safe choice, not because it is a relevant or interesting one. Vietnam is a "communist" country, and Payne knew he'd get no pushback from anyone, especially here in America, by attacking them. If Payne had any balls…which it is very obvious he doesn't, he would've used China instead of Vietnam. Calling out China as authoritarian by having a storyline where they "shrink" some Tibetan human rights protestors would be a gutsy and dramatically interesting thing to do, but Payne would never do that because China is a market where he wants his movie to play and make money. So China is a no go. The U.S. is another no go for the same obvious reason, calling out American empire is a non-starter for a milquetoast filmmaker like Payne. How about Israel? Why not have Israel "shrink" down Palestinians protestors in order to be able to reduce Palestinians in the West Bank to living in a shoe box so Israeli's can take even more of their land? Payne would never, ever, ever do that because…well…you and I both know why that would never happen.

The lack of testicular fortitude on the part of the director is not the only issue with the film. Downsizing suffers from some of the most basic of filmmaking and storytelling errors imaginable. For instance, there is scene near the end of the film where a bible is used as a critical dramatic device, the problem with that, is that is literally the first time that bible has ever appeared or been mentioned in the entire film…it is a bizarre and glaring bit of amateurish filmmaking. Structurally the film is no better,  as the movie is so fundamentally flawed it teeters the whole time you watch it until it ultimately collapses onto itself. 

The acting is also uneven and disconnected as well. Matt Damon is a fine actor, but he never feels genuinely connected to the material or the character and instead appears to be going through the motions. I read that Paul Giamatti was originally supposed to play the lead role but for some reason was replaced by Damon. I think Giamatti would have been a far superior choice to embody the sad sack character of Paul Safranek. 

Christoph Waltz is an actor I admire, but his character is so poorly written he is entirely incoherent. What Waltz's Dusan Mirkovic is even doing in the film is beyond me, and it seems, beyond him as well. 

Hong Chau's character Ngoc Lan Tran, is difficult to watch. Chau does a good job acting, in fact she delivers a flawless monologue at a dining room table that is worth seeing, but her pidgin English is unbearable and the character feels more like comic relief than a fully fledged human being. Having an Asian character speaking pidgin English used as comedy comes across as terribly tone deaf and at best uncomfortable, and at worst incredibly racist. 

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Downsizing's running time is two hours and fifteen minutes, yet the movie feels unconscionably much longer. By the time the final act of the movie begins I could not have cared less about any of the characters involved at all. Everything seemed forced and manufactured and totally devoid of any genuine human emotion or understanding. 

 

Downsizing boasts a top-notch cast and an intriguing premise but fails to properly utilize either of those things. Alexander Payne's failures as a director and writer scuttle what could have been a truly fascinating ship, and instead we are reduced to watching the equivalent of no one of interest floating on a dingy in a kiddy pool.  

Downsizing is so insignificant and unremarkable that even though I saw it for free while sitting in my living room, I still almost got up and walked out. The only thing Downsizing did was downsize my patience for this stupid movie…oh and hopefully it also downsized Alexander Payne's cache in the film industry. My recommendation is that you skip Downsizing, there is absolutely no need whatsoever for you to see this film at anytime or anyplace. If you stumble across it on cable late one night, turn the television off and go watch a dog take a dump on a dollhouse, it will be time better spent than watching this miniature mess. 

©2017

Echoes of Totalitarianism in #MeToo and Russia-Gate

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THE RISE OF AMERICAN TOTALITARIANISM

 Is America a totalitarian nation, a nation filled with totalitarians, or both?

As I made the rounds at the plethora of holiday parties in liberal Hollywood, the consensus here was that people are angry and frightened over Trump’s election and presidency. In response, they have found two outlets to take their fear and loathing to extremes, the #MeToo movement and the Trump-Russia story.

It is ironic these stories share the spotlight in our current cultural zeitgeist because while Russia-Gate was born out of a paper-thin intelligence report that was almost entirely devoid of relevant facts, the #MeToo movement was born out of overwhelming evidence and testimonials of Harvey Weinstein’s truly despicable and not-so-secret abusive behavior over the last thirty years.

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Another irony is that the Russia story is fueled by those in the media that believe that Russia and the Russian people are all totalitarian Soviets at heart, while some in the #MeToo movement have, at times, behaved like Soviet totalitarians. While the particulars are very different, the totalitarian impulse at the heart of both of these stories is eerily reminiscent of the dark period of McCarthyism and Hollywood’s blacklist.

In the Russia-gate story the totalitarian inclination revealed itself when the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigating allegations of collusion between Trump and Russia declared that the scope of their probe would be so broad as to encompass anyone a subject “knows or has reason to believe is of Russian nationality or descent”.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein also demanded that Facebook hand over all information on “Russia-connected accounts” which she defines as “a person or entity that may be connected in some way to Russia, including by user language setting, user currency and or other payment method.”

This means that the 3 million Americans of Russian-descent are now suspect, and if you fraternize with them you are suspect too. This sort of terrifying xenophobic propaganda, political repression, restriction of speech and mass surveillance would make Stalin proud and is a strong indicator of a totalitarian trend.

The #MeToo awakening has brought much needed attention to the scourge of rape, sexual assault and harassment by people in power, but it too has a shadow that resembles the spirit of totalitarianism.

Dana Goodyear’s article in The New Yorker titled, “Can Hollywood Change Its Ways” highlighted some of the examples of the totalitarianism at the heart of #MeToo. In the piece, she describes accused individuals being disappeared from public memory.

Photographs of the accused have come down from walls, names are being scrubbed from donated buildings, performances have been reshot with replacement actors, online libraries pulled, movies shelved.”

She then quotes a sexual harassment investigator who tells her “An association with the accused is totally toxic now, with this wave upon wave upon wave, and Soviet-style erasure.”

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An example of this Soviet-style erasure is Garrison Keillor. Keillor, the longtime host of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, had a co-worker claim that his hand momentarily lingered too long on her bare back during a hug. As a result, NPR not only cut all ties with Keillor and his production company, but the words “Prairie Home Companion” have been excised from NPR and they have vowed never to re-broadcast any of his old episodes. In the tradition of totalitarianism NPR has succeeded in creating a world where not only does Garrison Keillor not exist, but he NEVER existed.

Goodyear also writes in her article of an unnamed male movie industry executive,

Now he worries that having a young female assistant will invite speculation, and speculation begets reporters’ calls. The very idea provokes hysteria. ‘Men (in Hollywood) are living as Jews in Germany,’ he said.”

Obvious hyperbole aside (millions of innocents are not being slaughtered over #MeToo claims), the terror that would generate comparisons to “Soviet-style erasure” and the Nazi’s Final Solution sounds pretty totalitarian to me.

Another example of #MeToo totalitarianism occurred last month when Matt Damon learned the hard way that trying to speak reason and logic in the face of a powerful emotional tsunami like #MeToo is a fools errand.

Damon commented on the #MeToo moment by saying he thinks the alleged perpetrators of misconduct should not be thrown into “one big bucket” because there is a “spectrum of behavior”.

Damon then said, “You know, there’s a difference between…patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?”. He went on to add, “Both behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”

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#MeToo gatekeepers Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver quickly chastised Damon for not adhering to the #MeToo movement’s orthodoxy. Across the board the press joined Milano and Driver in shaming Damon for his “mansplaining” and sent a clear message that dissenters from the party line will be publicly punished.

While there has been some great #MeToo reporting from Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker and Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at the New York Times, in regards to Russia-gate the media has not exactly covered itself in glory.

CNN, The Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC and many other news outlets revealed a totalitarian level of disdain for truth and accuracy when they erroneously reported all sorts of bizarre and untrue stories over the last year including Russia hacking the Vermont power grid, Russia hacking 21 states voting systems and Michael Flynn admitting to Trump’s collusion with Russia to name just a few of the many.

Even the esteemed New York Times fell for the Russia-gate hysteria when they published an op-ed from Louise Mensch, a certifiable loon who claims that Trump is already indicted and is being replaced by Senator Orrin Hatch, Bernie Sanders and Sean Hannity are Russian agents and that Steve Bannon is facing the death penalty for treason.

In contrast, quality reporters like Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald from The Intercept and Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone, who maintain a healthy skepticism of the as-yet evidence free Russia-gate claims, are marginalized and exiled from the bright lights of the big-time mainstream news media.

The United States is supposed to be a constitutional democratic republic that is governed by the rule of law. Sadly, #MeToo and the Russia story thus far have proven themselves to be more governed by the angry mob, with the rule of law being replaced with trial by media or in corporate kangaroo courts.

There are terrible people out there who have raped, assaulted and harassed both women and men, of this there is no doubt, but in the great tradition of American constitutional democracy, even heinous individuals, like Harvey Weinstein, Bret Ratner, Kevin Spacey and Russell Simmons, deserve due process, including the right to confront their accusers and to present evidence in their defense.

It is an unhealthy sign for our constitutional democratic republic that of the 110 men who have recently been accused of either rape, assault or harassment, none of them, not a single one, has been able to have a neutral arbiter, like a judge and jury, review the allegations and render judgment. In fact, in only 9 of those cases have police reports even been filed. Furthermore, only 14 of the 110 people accused have admitted guilt and yet 72 have lost their jobs.

In a constitutional democratic republic these people should be able to defend themselves, but in a totalitarian state, with a trial by media and innuendo, there can be no defense. America has devolved to the point where all one has to do is point the finger and scream “J’accuse” and someone’s life and career can be destroyed.

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The same is true of Russian election meddling/collusion. It is certainly possible that Russia “hacked” the U.S. election, but demanding verifiable evidence of this is not a treasonous act, it is a patriotic one. In totalitarian states the assertions of the military and intelligence community are taken on faith, but in an alleged constitutional democratic republic, assertions are not facts and evidence trumps faith.

And if Russian election “hacking” and Trump campaign collusion eventually turn out to be true, it is vital to remember that does not mean that Russians or Americans of Russian descent are somehow inherently untrustworthy or insidious.

 

#MeToo and Russia-gate both fail to live up to the standards of a vibrant constitutional democratic republic when they embrace the path of totalitarianism by conflating accusations with proven fact, embrace emotion over reason, tout guilt by association, encourage disappearing people and erasing history, and silence dissent.

The United States thinks of itself as the shining city on the hill that is a beacon for freedom and democracy, but it is fast becoming a totalitarian nation because it is a nation populated by individual totalitarians that worship power and devalue truth. We Americans have all become little tyrants looking for a balcony, and with the #MeToo and Russia-gate story we have finally found one, where we can vent our fear and loathing but at the expense of our American soul.

A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 5, 2018 AT RT.

UPDATE: 

One final irony…on the same day the above article was published at RT.com, Friday, January 5, 2018, the New York Times published an op-ed written by Daphne Merkin titled "Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings." I was glad to see Ms. Merkin's smart and insightful piece in the rarified air of the Times op-ed page and highly recommend you read it. The main reason I enjoyed the piece so much probably had to do with the fact that I had, in essence, written the same thing numerous times over the last three months (LINK, LINK, LINK). It is always gratifying to be ahead of the curve…and to even predict the arc and direction of the curve (LINK, LINK). I will no doubt never get the imprimatur of the Times, an invitation to their  penthouse is unobtainable for a lowly Russian-media ghetto dweller like me. So I am left with no other alternative but to accept the fact that my lot in life is to be nothing more than the unacknowledged source material for the Times more interesting writers. There are worse fates.

©2017

#MeToo Wildfire Rages Out of Control (Updated Version)

 

Estimated Reading Time: 4minutes 54 seconds

As firefighters were struggling to contain the wildfires ravaging Southern California, the firestorm of the #MeToo movement burned out of control across America from Hollywood to Washington, D.C. with no end in sight.

This week wildfires fueled by the hot, dry, and at-times hurricane force Santa Ana winds, raged across numerous locations in Southern California. Ventura County, which is just north of Los Angeles, has been hit particularly hard as over 230,000 acres have been scorched with more than seven hundred homes destroyed thus far. Other serious wildfires also broke out in Bel-Air, Santa Clarita, Santa Barbara, Sylmar, Riverside and San Diego and devastated those areas as well.

There were times this week when portions of the Los Angeles resembled a scene out of Schindler's List with black, acrid smoke filling the air accompanied by white ash gently falling to the ground like snow. Air quality was so poor across the city that most schools and parks were closed for the week.

Synchronistically, just as this devastating wildfire was ravaging Los Angeles, another inferno that got its start in Hollywood was wreaking havoc across the country and in Washington D.C., in particular. The out of control wildfire of which I speak is the #MeToo sexual harassment panic that is torching everyone in its path and leaving in its wake a pile of ash where careers used to be.

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The #MeToo wildfire started back in October with the revelations of film producer Harvey Weinstein's decades long reign of sexual terror upon the movie industry. The explosion of rage at the diabolical behavior of Weinstein was gargantuan and only gained more intensity as a cavalcade of more women came forward. That blaze of anger quickly spread to other egregious sexual offenders in the movie business like director/producer Bret Ratner, director James Toback and actor Kevin Spacey who all felt the ferocious heat of the #MeToo fire. 

The magnitude of the anger directed at Weinstein was so intense that it sustained the #MeToo conflagration as it spread to other tertiary celebrities like actors Jeremy Piven, Dustin Hoffman and Jeffrey Tambor along with comedian Louis CK.

The #MeToo wildfire was not contained to just Hollywood, it spread to newsrooms as well. Today Show host Matt Lauer and CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose were two more well-known logs thrown onto #MeToo fire. They joined MSNBC contributor Mark Haplerin, New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush and NPR Senior VP of News Mike Oreskes, Chief News Editor David Sweeney and most recently New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza and PBS host Tavis Smiley as formerly respected newsman who have had their careers and reputations go up in smoke over sexual harassment allegations.

The #MeToo firestorm also spread to Washington where democratic Congressman from Michigan, John Conyers , Arizona republican, Trent Franks and democrat Senator Al Franken all resigned amidst sexual harassment allegations. Then this week Alabama Senate candidate, Roy Moore, lost his election after allegations surfaced that Moore had a predilection for teenage girls when he was in his thirties.

While many celebrate the success of the #MeToo bonfire at bringing down these high profile men who have used their power to assault or harass their victims, I am less enthused about the direction of the blaze. The problem with the #MeToo campaign is that it is not a controlled burn and is more akin to the wildfire of a sex panic or hysteria.

A “controlled burn” is when, in as controlled a manner as possible, the detritus on the forest floor is burned away in order to avoid a larger, uncontrollable conflagration at a later date. The righteous fury of the #MeToo wildfire means that it not only torches the sick and rotted trees but the healthy ones as well, and has no interest in making any differentiation between the two.

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An example of the uncontrollable nature of the #MeToo fire is that it refuses to make any distinction in severity between rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, groping or lewd and boorish behavior. For example, Al Franken (who as both a politician and a comedian I am not a fan of), is alleged to have "groped" or given unwanted kisses to four women and is lumped into the same category as Harvey Weinstein who is accused of raping and sexually assaulting over 80 women and has paid out millions to settle sexual harassment lawsuits. Another example is Emmy award winning actor Jeffrey Tambor, who denies allegations that he made lewd comments toward two transgender women working with him on his show Transparent, is placed in the same category as Kevin Spacey, who is alleged to have sexually assaulted or harassed dozens of young men, some as young as 14. 

As it is with all panics and hysterias, the #MeToo campaign has officially banished nuance from any discussion and embraced a draconian zero tolerance. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made that perfectly clear this week when in a speech calling for Al Franken to step down said,

"When we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, we are having the wrong conversation. We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is okay, none of it is acceptable."

The emotionalist raging wildfire of #MeToo also does not allow for any semblance of due process, and the burden of proof falls entirely on the accused and not on the accuser. For instance, Senator Franken, who denies the charges against him, asked for a Senate ethics investigation into the allegations in order to best unearth the truth, but in perfect democratic party circular firing squad, self-immolation style, Franken’s colleagues demanded he step down instead, due process and search for truth be damned.

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Another foundational belief of the #MeToo movement, which just won Time's Person of the Year Award, is to “Believe All Women”, the end result of which is that the word of every women is sanctified and proof is never a necessity. Just like the L.A. wildfires, the #MeToo sexual harassment hysteria is designed to be indifferent to guilt or innocence and is ultimately only meant to perpetuate its own existence and voracious appetite by blindly devouring anything or anyone that opposes it.

By creating this environment where alleged victims are deified and can never dare be doubted, #MeToo has all but guaranteed that allegations of a sexual nature will be weaponized by those who wish to destroy men whom they deem to be their personal, professional or political enemies, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the targeted men. Just this week Senator Chuck Schumer was lucky to avert an attack by weaponized sexual harassment allegations.

Gillibrand’s takedown of Franken is a perfect example of how #MeToo is a political weapon in what is starting to look like a gender war, where men are taken down by women and replaced by women. Like an arsonist torching a bankrupt business for the insurance money, Gillibrand put the fire to her potential democratic presidential hopeful rival Franken, in order to elevate her political profile and thin the field in the hopes of a presidential run in 2020. Her maneuver paid off as she is now hailed as the democrat’s bravest and best hope to topple Trump.

Despicable men in public life are being held to account for their depraved sexual behavior over the years, and that is a long time coming and they certainly deserve it, but in the vengeful, scorched-earth fury of the #MeToo movement, innocent men will have their names besmirched and their careers annihilated as well.

Some people will say, “who cares” if some innocent men are caught up in the #MeToo flames. That is an understandable feeling to have considering the history of men in positions of authority using their power for sexual means, but it is an ultimately self-defeating one.  The reality is that this current sex panic will end, sooner or later. No matter how hot it burns, no wildfire can last forever. And when this current #MeToo wildfire burns itself out and the fever is broken, there will be a terrible backlash against those who cynically misused it for their own purposes.

As intoxicating as it can be to get caught up in the whirlwind of righteous vengeance pulsating at the heart of the #MeToo, the shaming and punishment meted out in cases like Franken, Tambor and Smiley does not seem to fit the alleged crime.

It is deeply disconcerting that supporters of the #MeToo are so blinded by emotional fury that they are incapable of stepping back, letting their white hot emotions subside and allowing the cool waters of justice to flow.

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It would be a much wiser and more rational course of action for #MeToo to follow the wisdom of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who echoed Blackstone’s famous formula, when he said, “Better that 100 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

Considering that in the #MeToo panic, rational thought is in short supply and wild-eyed emotion rules the day, it is a near lock that Ben Franklin’s sage advice will be entirely ignored because it is emotionally unsatisfying in favor of torches and pitchforks. In fact, if Ben Franklin were alive today there is little doubt he would be labeled a #MeToo heretic by his enemies, or worse yet, tarred as a sexual predator himself, and tossed by the mob into the flames of the #MeToo bonfire to the raucous chant of “Burn Baby Burn”.

UPDATE: Matt Damon is in trouble today for saying pretty much the same thing I say in this article which caused the outrage machine to go into hyper-drive. Alyssa Milano also had a "fierce" diatribe against Damon as well. Ms. Milano is a survivor of sexual assault, so her emotional reaction to the subject is understandable, but as is always the case when emotions run high, logic is in short supply. The reaction to Damon's comments are proof that #MeToo is a panic, or maybe better described as a hysteria (which comes from the Greek word Hystera meaning "womb"), where not only does emotionalism reign but rational thought is chastised and despised. Panics/hysterias, like the Red Scare or the Salem Witch Trials, never look good in hindsight…at the end of the day, #MeToo will end up being viewed in the same way. 

UPDATE #2: Right on schedule…the #MeToo panic further jumps the shark with an op-ed from Kathy Lally in the Washington Post. In the article Ms. Lally proudly declares #MeToo!! The one problem though is that Ms. Lally was not raped, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed…no...her claim is that she was #MeToo'd by Matt Taibbi because he made her feel bad by making fun of her in his writing her twenty years ago. Seriously. He didn't even make fun of her in person. Good grief. The allure of #MeToo for women desperate to belong and who crave the identity and power of victimhood is apparently overwhelming, Ms. ally being proof of that. Ms. Lally's declaration is frankly offensive and should be taken as an affront to women who have actually been raped and sexually assaulted. Ms. Lally should be ashamed of herself.
 

A version of this article was originally published at RT.com.

©2017

Harvey Weinstein is America

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 39 seconds

Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal isn’t only an indictment of his twisted soul but of America’s as well.

The story of Harvey Weinstein, the uber-powerful film producer, co-founder of Miramax Films and major donor to Democratic politicians, who got fired from his job as co-Chairman of The Weinstein Company after the New York Times ran an article exposing his serial sexual harassment of female employees, is such a perfect storm of corruption, depravity and hypocrisy that it exquisitely encapsulates the moral decay of America.

The Times piece revealed that Weinstein has settled at least eight different sexual harassment lawsuits over the years. The Times article was just the tip of a really grotesque iceberg though, for in its wake a plethora of other claims have surfaced.

In a New Yorker article, written, ironically enough, by Ronan Farrow, son of accused pedophile Woody Allen, even more claims emerged of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. One of the many lowlights from that article include Italian actress/filmmaker Asia Argento and two other women claiming that Weinstein raped them.

The most famous women among the sea of those claiming harassment at the hands of the movie mogul are Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette.

The odiousness of this Weinstein scandal is overwhelming, and nearly public person is going through the Kabuki theatre of denouncing Harvey and his lecherousness but this strikes me as disingenuous at best. All the movie stars, media members and politicians strongly reprimanding Weinstein now, displayed nothing but egregious cowardice during Harvey Weinstein’s grotesque reign of wanton terror.

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Many Hollywood heavyweights like Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lawrence, are feigning ignorance of Weinstein’s disgusting depravity, but the revelation of Weinstein’s repulsive misdeeds cannot possibly come as a surprise. Harvey, the rotund and repugnant Hollywood kingmaker, is notorious in the film industry for his petulant and imperious approach, which includes physically abusing underlings and being a lascivious beast to women. Tales of Weinstein’s bad behavior are so legion that even a complete nobody like me has heard them ad infinitum.

So how did Harvey get away with being such a gigantic creep for so long? The main reason is that he possessed the most rare talent that all of Hollywood covets, the ability to garner Oscar votes for his films. Weinstein produced films have been nominated for Best Picture 26 times in the last 28 years and have been nominated for over 300 Academy Awards overall. In other words, Harvey could make people rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams, which is why so many in Hollywood checked their humanity and ethics at the door and looked the other way when he was being such a troglodyte. To quote Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

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Blind ambition isn’t the only reason Hollywood looked the other way regarding Weinstein, political expediency played a part as well. Weinstein has been a long time supporter of Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in particular, and has donated a lot of money to their campaigns.  

A perfect example of someone making a devil’s bargain with Weinstein for political reasons is Lena Dunham. Dunham, a vociferous and vocal Clinton supporter and devout feminist, admitted that she knew of Weinstein’s predatory reputation in regards to women, but still shook his hand and performed at a fundraiser he held for Clinton’s campaign. Dunham said she betrayed her feminist values because “she so desperately wanted to support Clinton.” 

Hollywood liberals were quick to denounce Evangelical Christians for supporting Trump despite his moral turpitude and misogyny, calling them hypocrites. I agree that Evangelicals are hypocrites for supporting Trump, but so are Hollywood liberals for enabling Weinstein. Both sides, Trump supporters and Hollywood liberals, need to get off their high horse and read Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Speaking of enabling, the Weinstein scandal brought to my mind a line from a U2 song, “if you need someone to blame, throw a rock in the air, you’ll hit someone guilty.”  When I throw my rock it often lands on the media, and so it is with this case.

Ronan Farrow published his Weinstein story in the New Yorker magazine, but only because his employer NBC news refused to go with the story. NBC is in business with Weinstein on various film and television projects, and no doubt did not want to ruffle the feathers of such a powerful and litigious man like Harvey Weinstein, so they passed on it, which means this story says just as much about them as it does about Weinstein.

Even the New York Times, which broke the Weinstein story, came out smelling less like a rose and more like a manure pile after it became known that the newspaper spiked a similar story regarding Weinstein in 2004 after being pressured by the producer and his lawyers to do so.

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The New York Times dropping the ball on an important story in the early 2000’s should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the lead up to the Iraq war or Bush surveillance, but what was shocking was who helped to scuttle the 2004 Weinstein article. Matt Damon, yes, Matt Damon, Mr. Good Will Hunting and thought-to-be good guy, called the Times reporter to defend and vouch for Weinstein in an effort to stop the story. So did everyone’s favorite Gladiator Russell Crowe. I wonder how Damon and Crowe sleep at night knowing they were complicit in thirteen more years of Weinstein’s abusing women?

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It is uncomfortable to acknowledge, but another group of people who could have stopped Harvey Weinstein but did not were the more famous of his victims, like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd. These women did not ask to be placed in this terrible position, but they could have stopped him cold if they came forward years ago. The reason I cite them and not the other victims is because they were uniquely positioned to be able to defend themselves and to take on Harvey Weinstein, where the other victims were not. What I mean by that is that Paltrow, Jolie, Sorvino and Judd all come from entertainment families that are well-known and liked in the industry. They were not powerless because they have strong allies and deep connections in the business. These women, sans Judd, also won Oscars, giving them even more credibility and visibility to make their claims. I do not “blame” these women for being harassed or assaulted by Weinstein, I only wish they overcame their ambition and saved others from that awful fate.

 The cavalcade of condemnation for Harvey Weinstein will continue unabated for the days and weeks to come, and deservedly so, but to see him only as a target of derision diminishes his impact as a cautionary tale. Harvey Weinstein is simply a symptom of the wider disease which I call “reality show America”, which sees human beings as disposable and transactional objects whose value is measured in terms of their usefulness for entertainment or pleasure.

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The true power of the Weinstein story is not about his personal failings, but that it is symbolic of the fact that “reality-show America”, which thrives across the political and cultural spectrum, is a collection of self-serving, amoral, hypocrites who are quick to attack the failings of their enemy but slow to embrace self-reflection.

Will the denizens of “reality-show America” in Hollywood, Washington and the news media ask themselves how they have contributed to the culture that bred a man like Harvey Weinstein? I sincerely doubt it since deflection, emotional myopia and historical amnesia are as American as apple pie.

The Weinstein scandal is an opportunity, not only to see Weinstein for who he really is but also to see America for what we have become…an ethically bankrupt and indecent collection of moral cowards allergic to self-reflection and truth.

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This “reality show America”, currently starring the Trumps and Kardashians (with special guest appearance by the Clintons!) and produced by Harvey Weinstein, shows that America has devolved to the point of shameless obscenity, and regardless of how self-righteous we as liberals, conservatives, Democrats or Republicans may feel, we no longer possess any moral authority because, just like Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, Washington and Wall Street, we are incapable of being honest with ourselves.

It is difficult to admit, but if we mustered the courage to see ourselves as we truly are, we would recognize that Harvey Weinstein is America, and America is Harvey Weinstein. Both are bloated, entitled, corrupt, bombastic, blindly ambitious bullies, full of fear and loathing, that use their outsized power to exploit the defenseless in order to indulge their darker impulses and insatiable desires. The sooner we recognize that, the faster we can try to change it.

This article was originally published on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at RT.

©2017

Manchester by the Sea : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 14 seconds

My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : See it on Netflix or Cable

Manchester by the Sea, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is the the story of Lee Chandler, a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, who must return to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea, in order to take care of things after his older brother dies. The film stars Casey Affleck as Lee, with notable supporting turns from Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges. 

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

At its heart, Manchester by the Sea is more a character study than a narrative driven film. As a character study it does well, but sadly as a compelling narrative it doesn't measure up. The best part of the film without question are the performances of Casey Affleck and Michele Williams. Affleck is an underrated actor who has turned in some remarkable performances in the past, most notably his exquisite portrayal of Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Affleck's work in Manchester by the Sea is contained, genuine and confident. Affleck allows silences to work for him and never pushes to hard for a pre-ordained result. 

The problem with Affleck's performance, and with the film as a whole, is that the character Lee Chandler, is not a unique or original one. Chandler is yet another emotionally repressed and remote Boston guy with a quick wit who expresses himself exclusively with his fists and only after he's had a few beers. I think with Manchester by the Sea we have officially hit Peak Boston. In addition to last years Oscar winner Spotlight, we've also had Black Mass, The Town, The Fighter, Ted, Gone Baby Gone, The Departed, Shutter Island, Mystic River, and Good Will Hunting just to name a few. I enjoyed many of those films a great deal, but enough already. Lee Chandler is just an extension of a thousand other Boston movie tough guys with limited emotional intelligence but who have wicked shahp tongues, hahts of gold and fists of fury. Affleck brings this all too often seen character to life with great skill, but that doesn't make it any less predictable and tiresome.

My Funky Bunch will get you!!

My Funky Bunch will get you!!

Having spent a great deal of time in Boston I can tell you that I have never met a real-life Lee Chandler (or the thousand other Boston movie tough guys), he might as well be a unicorn who poops rainbows. This Boston tough guy unicorn has dominated much of popular culture for the last twenty years or so, but that doesn't make it true. While everyone in Boston may think of themselves as tough guys, they sure as hell aren't. Yes, there are most definitely some tough guys in Boston, without a doubt, but certainly not more than anywhere else, and at this point I think there are more movies about tough guys from Boston than there are actual tough guys in Boston. What I think Boston has more than anywhere else are insecure guys with inferiority complexes who wish they were tough, so they write tough guy characters as wish fulfillment. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg have made careers out of playing the Boston tough guy unicorn. Good for them, they have done it well. Sandy Duncan made a career out of playing Peter Pan, but that doesn't make him real either.  

Tough guy Brothers!! Wahlbergs in da house!!

Tough guy Brothers!! Wahlbergs in da house!!

Think of it this way, New Englanders fanatically love their sports teams, and there are lots of sports commentators and writers that hail from Boston, hell most of ESPN is from Boston. You know what doesn't come from Boston, or all of New England for that matter? Professional athletes. New England produces lots of people who talk and write about sports, but not many who excel at them. The statistics are pretty amazing. If you take the populations of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island and add them together it comes to 11,136,698, which makes New England the 8th most populous "state" in the U.S. If you look at the number of professional athletes that come out of New England, the region terribly underperforms compared to its population rate. For instance, there are currently 11 NFL players from New England which ranks them 34th out of 46 states(46 instead of 50 since you combine the New England states into one) which is well below their population rank of 8. There are 6 NBA players from New England, which ranks 21st out of 46 states, again well below their population rank. And there are 13 MLB players which ranks 12th, much better comparatively, but still below their population rank. And you can't blame the lack of athletes on the cold weather either, as a state like Minnesota which has about half the population of New England, at 5.5 million, outperforms New England in two of the three major sports (NFL 20, NBA 7, MLB 6). Why am I rambling on about professional sports and New England in a review of Manchester by the Sea? Well, because the same thing holds true for tough guys…Boston produces a lot of guys who talk and write about being tough guys, but not a lot of actual tough guys. Which is why, after all my time in Boston, I have never met a Lee Chandler…or a Will Hunting, or a whatever tough guy little Marky Mark Wahlberg is pretending to be this week.

Michelle Williams as Randi

Michelle Williams as Randi

You know who I have met? A Randi, Lee Chandler's wife played by Michelle Williams. William's portrayal is so great that she gets completely lost within it. Her accent is spot on and never forced or mannered. Her character is so well done that you feel like you know her personally. Williams is one of the best actresses working today and her work in Manchester by the Sea is a testament to her glorious talent and sublime skill. Her Randi is so real and so human that it hurts to watch her even as she luminously lights up the screen. Williams allows Randi to hide in plain sight, making her a marvel to behold.

Lucas Hedges does a good job as well as Lee's 16 year old nephew. Hedges plays the awkward coolness of adolescence with a bravado and innocence that suits the character and the story very well. I am not very familiar with Hedge's work, but am looking forward to seeing what else he does after his solid performance in Manchester by the Sea

Sadly, the entirety of the other supporting actors, including Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick, as well as the smaller roles, are really not good at all, in fact, they are distractingly bad. The supporting actors try to hit the Boston accent just right, but they either hit it too hard or they hit the wrong note with it. Look, the Boston accent is a difficult one for non-natives to master, even two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks has embarrassed himself on numerous occasions trying to do one, but that doesn't mean it isn't crucial to the film. Whenever you hear a bad accent it takes you out of the movie going experience. You are reminded once more that what you are watching is fake and your suspension of disbelief gets broken. Chandler and Mol are both very good actors, Chandler's work on Friday Night Lights and Mol's on Boardwalk Empire and in The Notorious Betty Page are monuments to that, but in Manchester by the Sea they are overwhelmed by the accent and are never able to ground their performances in any sort of truth. 

At the end of the day, Manchester but the Sea is a decent enough film, but not nearly as great as it thinks it is. The film has an air of art house hype and arrogance to it that it never lives up to. While Affleck's performance kept me captivated for two hours, and Michelle Williams kept me enthralled for the entirety of her brief screen time, the film itself lacks that sort of artistic charisma due to a shortage of originality. 

Casey Affleck and Luke Hedges

Casey Affleck and Luke Hedges

I recommend you see the film on Netflix or cable in order to witness firstly, Michelle Williams outstanding supporting acting and secondly Casey Affleck's layered lead performance. Another positive for the film is that it also has the scenery of the New England coastline as its background which is gorgeous to look at and is beautifully shot, and adds a picture post card setting to counter Affleck's inner demons, of that there is no doubt. While I didn't hate Manchester by the Sea, I also wasn't deeply moved or artistically impressed by it either. It is a middle of the road film buoyed by two strong performances. Unless you are itching for a night out, in my opinion you can wait for the film to show up on Netflix or cable before seeing it. 

And maybe, just maybe, since with Manchester by the Sea we have undoubtedly hit Peak Boston, the center of the cultural universe can now shift slightly further west to some other city with a deep seeded insecurity and inferiority complex…maybe to Philadelphia, although they had Rocky, or Baltimore, although they had The Wire, or Pittsburgh, or Cleveland or…Toledo…anywhere but Boston. Enough already with the Boston thing. With Manchester by the Sea we have officially reached market saturation of Boston-ness, it may have been fun while it lasted but I think it's time to move on. Goodbye Boston…hello Buffalo?

©2016

Jason Bourne, Projecting the Shadow and the Technological Hunter : A Review and Commentary

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES 27 SECONDS

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars.

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. See it on Cable or Netflix.

 

THE BOURNE REDUNDANCY

Jason Bourne, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, is the fifth film in the iconic Bourne franchise (The Bourne Identity 2002, The Bourne Supremacy 2004, The Bourne Ultimatum 2007 and The Bourne Legacy 2012) and the fourth starring Matt Damon in the lead role. Jason Bourne is the direct sequel to the 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum which was the most recent Matt Damon starring film in the franchise. Besides Matt Damon in the lead, Jason Bourne boasts Academy Award Winners Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones in major supporting roles.

The Bourne movies have always been the Rolls Royce of action films in large part because of quality work from Matt Damon and their wise choice of directors in Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and Jason Bourne). Bourne films are better than Bond, better than Mission Impossible and better than Fast and the Furious (God help us all). The franchise tried to spin off with another lead actor, Jeremy Renner, in 2012's underwhelming The Bourne Legacy helmed by Tony Gilroy, which was the most recent film in the Bourne series. Renner, a good actor, showed how great an actor Matt Damon really is by simply not being able to live up to the standard of Damon's work in the earlier Bourne movies. The studio made the decision to fork over the cash and switch back to Damon for Bourne film number 5,  Jason Bourne, in an attempt to salvage a big money making franchise.

While the move to Renner didn't work and the move away from him was wise, the return to Damon, while good, just isn't good enough in comparison to the first three Damon led films. One wonders if this franchise has simply run its course and run out of creative steam. For a variety of reasons, Jason Bourne feels like a bridge too far in terms of asking audiences to suspend their disbelief once again for Bourne to go through the same ordeal he always seems to be going through, namely searching for his lost/stolen past.

When the Bourne franchise began, Jason Bourne was a man without a memory. The main driving force for Bourne throughout the earlier films was to find out the truth about himself and who he really was and how he got into this business of being Bourne. Those questions maintain very little dramatic currency or urgency as we come to the fourth go around of trying to answer them, since for the most part they have been answered already. With the big Bourne questions having already been answered, what remains is little more than window dressing. The reality is that Bourne, and the audience, know enough about him that answering more questions about his murky past is not dramatically imperative, thus leaving this latest cinematic adventure to be little more than an echo of previous better ones.

What made the earlier Bourne films so good were that they had a stylistic hyper-realism to them. Every punch thrown and received is excruciatingly realistic, every fight a grueling battle, with magazines, pens and other everyday items given new life as weapons. Bourne exists in the real world and that is what made the character and the films so compelling. Bourne isn't a superhero, at his core Bourne is a man, just like us. There is a Bourne potentially lurking in every man and woman sitting in the audience, which is why it is easy to project ourselves onto him as we watch.  And in everyone's home or office there are everyday items, like those previously mentioned magazines and pens, which we may, deep down in our secretly Bourne trained psyche, already know how to use in order to kill our enemies! At least that is the fantasy that the Bourne films have successfully sold to us. 

Sadly, in Jason Bourne, the franchise veers a little too wayward into the realm of the fantastical and away from that trademark hyper-realism. It doesn't entirely go away from that realism, but it does venture far enough out into the neverland of Hollywood action film land to scuttle the franchise's signature core of hyper-realism. The main problem with Jason Bourne is in the second half of the film when the story goes to Las Vegas. The Vegas section of the film is pretty terrible. Lovers of big, Hollywood action movies will love it, but lovers of Bourne hyper-realism will cringe. Bourne lovers go to see Bourne films to get away from the mindless destruction of the average Hollywood blockbuster. Bourne is usually the thinking man's action movie, but not here. The Vegas fiasco could be taken from any run of the mill, shoot 'em up, Hollywood action flick, and Jason Bourne suffers greatly because of it. 

What makes the Vegas section of the film so disappointing is that the opening portion of the film, set during an outbreak of civil unrest in Athens, is so remarkably well done. Director Paul Greengrass' trademark frenetically intimate camerawork is on full display in the Athens section of the film, and it is glorious. The Athens scenes are riveting and breathtaking. This is the Bourne franchise at its best, using the real world, and real events, as the back drop for this story hidden beneath the surface that goes unseen by the masses. Bourne having a fight and chase in the midst of civil unrest in Athens doesn't just make for interesting cinema, it makes us watch the news differently. We become aware that a whole host of things could be going on behind the scenes of the stories we see and read, and we have no idea what the truth really is beyond the images on the news. That is what makes the Bourne series so much fun, it awakens our imagination and lets us bring it out of the theatre with us and into our everyday life. (To go back to an earlier point, we will never look at a rolled up magazine quite the same way after having watched Bourne beat somebody's ass with it.)

As good as the Athens section is, the Vegas section is equally bad. It feels like two different films spliced together, the first half a Bourne film, the second half a Fast and Furious film. Greengrass is a very talented director, his Bloody Sunday is an absolute masterpiece, but here he seems to have run out of ideas in the later portions of the movie and gone back to the old "Hollywood action movie playbook" to find an ending.

The acting in the film is uneven as well. Matt Damon does his usual solid work. Much has been made of the fact that Bourne speaks about twenty lines in the entire film, or something to that effect, meaning Damon was paid a million dollars a line. But to be frank, he is worth it since it has been proven that no one else could play the part better. Damon has a charisma and magnetism on camera that serve him incredibly well in these films. His comfort in not talking is a rarity for actors, and is an under valued and unappreciated great skill. 

A terrible disappointment in terms of the acting is Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, head of the CIA Cyber Ops division. Vikander is a very good actress, of that there is no doubt, but here she struggles mightily. The biggest issue with Vikander's performance is that she butchers her American accent. Vikander is Swedish and British, so speaking with an American accent is no easy task. Sadly, she falls into the trap that many foreign actors in general, and British actors in particular fall into, namely that they mimic what they think the Ameican accent is rather than actually understanding it from the inside out. What I mean is that learning an accent doesn't just require you to re-train your vocal instrument, the mouth, tongue, vocal chords etc., but it requires you to re-train your ears. In order to really do an accent well, you must be able to hear it properly. Most British actors hear American speech through British ears, which makes for a disjointed and poor imitation of an American accent. Vikander does exactly that in Jason Bourne and you can hear it very clearly because she makes the technical error of putting her voice too deeply into the back of her throat and speaking in too low a register. Firstly, this does the opposite of what I assume she was trying to do, it doesn't make her voice sound more grounded and powerful, it makes her voice sound muffled, flighty and weak. Secondly, and this happens a lot of the time with Brits, is that she loses the subtle rhythm of the American voice. The British accent is so wonderfully sing-song to the American ear, and it has a distinct rhythm to it that is easy to pick up. The American accent, on the other hand, sounds terribly flat, dry and dull to the British actor, and so they think it has no rhythm to it all. They are wrong, the rhythm is there it is just much more difficult to locate if you don't know how to listen for it. Thus the issue with hearing an accent in your native voice and trying to translate from there…you cannot do it, or better said, you cannot do it well. Vikander falls prey to this trap, which is a shame since she is such a wonderful presence on screen, but that is undermined here with her distractingly bad American accent.

THE HUNTER MYTH CYCLE

Coincidentally enough, right after seeing Jason Bourne I read the book, Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film by Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz. The book is wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in cinema, myth and Jungian psychology. In the book, the authors examine from a Jungian perspective, six films and their relationship to the evolution of the archetypal hunter myth, from The Indian Hunter to The Frontier Hunter to The Technological Hunter as seen through the modernist, post-modernist and "trans-modernist" view. The six films they look at are JawsThe Deer HunterThe Manchurian CandidateBlade RunnerTerminator and Terminator 2. The book was published in 1995 so the Bourne films weren't "born" just yet, but I couldn't help but think of them in terms of the authors intriguing premise. 

According to Hocker and Frentz, there are three types of hunter myths, the Indian Hunter, the Frontier Hunter and the Technological Hunter. The Hunter Myth Cycle is seen as circular in that it evolves from one myth (I.E. Indian myth) to another myth (I.E. Frontier myth) to another myth (I.E. Technological myth) and then back to where it started (I.E. Indian myth). It is interesting to examine the character Jason Bourne in relation to this hunter myth cycle. The Bourne character is a weapon used by men in suits in offices back in the Pentagon and C.I.A., so he is a no different than a drone, or a smart bomb. He was created, much like the man/weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, to do the killing from which the post-modern man wants to consciously dissociate. The Bourne character is also similar to the Manchurian Candidate, in that he is a human but has had his true identity and memory, markers of his humanity, taken from him in order to make him a near perfect robotic killer.

Bourne's personal place on the archetypal Hunter Myth scale is that of The Frontier Hunter, yet he is also just a weapon of his C.I.A. overlords who are Technological Hunters, thus giving the film two myths in one. Rushing and Frentz describe the Frontier Hunter in part, "Since Indians as well as wild beasts occupy the land he wants, he slaughters both indiscriminately, gaining a decisive advantage over his human prey because of…his sophisticated weaponry, and his lack of spiritual restraint. Although his frontierism converts "savagery" to "civilization", the white hunter himself cannot reside in society without losing his individualistic heroic status and thus does not return from the hunt…". Things always get interesting in the Bourne films when Jason Bourne must fight against another one of the human weapons of the Technological Hunters in the C.I.A. in the form of an opposing Frontier Hunter. Two men/weapons with "sophisticated weaponry and lack of spiritual restraint" fighting each other is a key to the successful Bourne formula.

Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter Myth as follows, "…Because he is so good at making machines, he now uses his brains more than brawn, and he prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing. Thus he creates ever more complex tools to do his killing and other work for him. Having banished God as irrelevant to the task at hand, the hero decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings 'in his own image'; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools either by remaking a human being into a perfected machine or by making an artificial "human" from scratch. "

In cinematic terms the Bourne character falls somewhere between the dehumanized human weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, "remaking a human into a perfected machine", and the humanized robot-weapon "replicants" of Blade Runner, "making an artificial 'human' from scratch". The replicants in Blade Runner are tools and weapons for humans, just like Bourne, but they also yearn to be human, as does Bourne, who aches for a return to his long lost humanity while his Technological Hunter overlords yearn to make him ever more robotic, or more accurately, devoid of humanity. The problem with both the replicants and Bourne, is that their humanity, their need for love and connection, is their greatest weakness and their greatest strength.  Bourne and the Blade Runner replicants, yearn to Know Thyself, which is what drives them toward freedom from their makers and yet also makes them erratic and at times vulnerable weapons for the Technological Hunter. This inherent weakness of humanity, the need for love and connection, is removed entirely in the later films that Rushing and Frentz examine, Terminator and Terminator 2, where humans have created super weapons, cyborgs, that are completely inhuman, and of course as the story tells us, turn on their creators like Frankenstein's monster and try to hunt and torment mankind into oblivion.

In many ways, Bourne is the perfect post-modern hero in that he is so severely psychologically fragmented. He was intentionally made that way by the Technological Hunter Dr. Frankensteins at the C.I.A. because eliminating his humanity (past/memory/love and connection) is what makes him so effective as a weapon. Originally in the story, the people in power calling the shots back in Washington are using Bourne to clandestinely hunt their enemies. But now that Bourne is off the reservation and out on his own, he has become the archetypal Frontier hunter, searching for his soul/memory which was stolen by those D.C. Technological Hunters. This is the normal evolution in the hunter myth cycle…the weapon turns on its creator, as evidenced by both Blade Runner and the Terminator films, and now by the Bourne films.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL HUNTER

What does this talk of post-modernism and the technological hunter have to do with anything? Well, in case you haven't noticed, we live in an age of the post-modern technological hunter. The films examined in Projecting the Shadow show us the road that may lay ahead for our culture. Our inherent weakness in being human, both physical and emotional, and our intellectual superiority has forced us to become technological hunters. From the first caveman to pick up an animal bone and use it to bash in another cave man's head (hat tip to Mr. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), to the drone pilot who sits in an air conditioned office in Nevada and kills people half a world away with the touch of a button, we have removed ourselves from the direct conscious responsibility for killing because it is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for our fragile psyches. Or at least we think we have removed our psychological responsibility. Like consumers of meat who would rather not know where it comes from or how it is treated, we as a society have removed our direct conscious involvement in the killing done in our name by creating a cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance is defined as  a "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously") and an emotional distance from it.

Whether it be the drone pilot who goes home for lunch with his wife and kids after having killed dozens, or the politicians and citizens who cheer at the shock and awe of "smart bombs" and munitions dropped from miles overhead on defenseless human beings, we have become Technological Hunters all. Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter as one who…"prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing", that is us. The "nature" we want to minimize contact with is the killing we have done and our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual responsibility for it. That is why we create "ever more complex tools to do our killing". We need those tools to give us an emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual distance from the the killing we do. 

The distance between thought, impulse and deed in regards to killing is shorter than ever for the technological hunter, it is just the push of a button away, but with our cognitive dissonance, we are able to consciously detach from the results of those actions and make them feel ever more remote. While they may feel consciously remote, the unconscious ramifications of those actions are felt deeply and personally in the psyche of the collective and the individual. The drone pilot may believe he is merely playing a realistic video game when he kills people half a world away, but his psyche and soul are being torn to shreds without his conscious knowledge of it, as is our collective psyche and national soul.

PROJECTING THE SHADOW

The U.S. soldiers and Marines, Frontier Hunters all, sent to the Middle East to be the weapons of their Technological Hunter superiors in the Pentagon, continuously come back psychologically, spiritually and emotionally fragmented beyond recognition, perfect symbols of the post-modern age in which they fight. This psychological fragmentation brought about by the trauma of these wars leaves these soldiers and Marines wounded and maimed in invisible and intangible ways and often times leads to them killing themselves. The suicide rate of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that of 22 a day. This horrendous torment, and the desperate suicides attempting to get away from it, are the price paid for the cognitive dissonance we as a culture enable and embrace in regards to the killing of other people done in our name. Since we as a culture cannot embrace or acknowledge our killing, we stuff it into our collective shadow, or as I call it the "killing shadow", and force the less than 2% of the population who serve in our wars (and even fewer who kill in those wars) to carry our killing shadow for us. The psychological shadow in general and the killing shadow in particular, brings with it an enormous amount of powerful psychic energy, which is why it does such tremendous damage to those who bear its burden, and why it is imperative for us as a culture to reduce that burden on the soldiers and Marines carrying our killing shadow energy.

As our Technological Hunter culture evolves, in order to remove the psychological and emotional cost on the human beings sent to fight these wars, we won't decide to stop fighting future wars, but we will decide to stop using humans to fight them. No doubt at this very moment, somewhere in the Pentagon they are developing robotic, amoral, emotionless warriors who will do all our dirty work for us. The problem will arise of course, when that same amoral, emotionless warrior technology figures out that they are stronger, faster, bigger and better than us. And once they realize they can replicate themselves, we weak humans will become entirely unnecessary. This is the story told in the Terminator films. This will just be another form of our culture ignoring their killing shadow and projecting it onto another, in this case our cyborg weaponry. Except our shadow will not be ignored, and it will lash out at its deniers by any means necessary, in this case by using our technological weapons to strike out at us to force us to acknowledge our own killing shadow.

SHOCK AND AWE - MUST SEE TV

Until we can create these perfect, robotic killers though, we are left to wrestle with our own spiritual and psychological weaknesses, namely, our thirst to kill and our desire to not feel the emotional and spiritual turmoil that comes with killing. It is interesting to notice how in our time we fully embraces the technological hunter myth completely unconsciously. An example of this was the overwhelmingly giddy joy and exuberance shown for the first Gulf War in 1991 and its made-for-tv technological bombardment with smart bombs upon Iraq. Never before had war been brought into the living rooms of Americans as it was happening, and yet, here was the war in all its technicolor glory except without any conscious connection to our responsibility for the devastation and death that we were watching unfold.

The same occurred with the start of the second war in Iraq in 2003 when the U.S. unleashed the cleverly marketed "shock and awe" bombardment. The dizzying display of devastating munitions were a sight to behold, like the greatest fireworks display imaginable, but our conscious connection to the devastation being wrought was minimal. This is another example of our culture being unwittingly under the throes of the Technological Hunter Myth. In contrast, our cultural shock and visceral disgust with the terror attacks of 9-11, where barbarians used primitive box cutters to kill innocents and then turn our technology (airplanes) against us, were signs of our unconscious detachment from the Indian Hunter myth and more proof of our deep cultural connection to the Technological Hunter Myth.

Another example of our cultures post-modern Technological Hunter Myth is the fetish among the populace for Special Operations Forces (SEALs, Special Forces, Delta force, Army Rangers and Marine Force Recon). These Special Ops forces have become the favorite go to for any talking head on television or at the local bar or barbershop, to proclaim who we should get to handle any military issue. ISIS? Send in the SEALs!! Al Qaeda? Send in the Green Berets!! Not long ago I saw everyone's favorite tough guy Bill O'Reilly opining on his Fox news show that we should send in ten thousand Green Berets into Syria and Iraq to wipe out ISIS. I guess Bill isn't aware that there are only 11,000 Special Operators deployed around the globe at any moment in time, not to mention that most of those Special Operators are not Special Forces (Green Berets). This sort of thing happens all the time where people see a problem and say, 'well let's send in these Special Operations supermen to deal with it.' This is more proof of the Technological Hunter Myth in action, as Rushing and Frentz describe it, "...the hero (the technological hunter) decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings "in his own image"; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools...by remaking a human being into a perfected machine". We as a culture are Technological Hunters who have made these Special Operations forces in "our own image", but only better. The Special Operations forces are "more perfect versions" of ourselves, "rational, strategic, and efficient." We believe we have remade these ordinary men into "perfected machines" for killing, and then we have projected our killing shadow (our responsibility and hunger for killing) onto them.

In our current Technological Hunter Myth, these Special Operators are, like Jason Bourne, nothing more than extensions of ourselves in the form of weaponry, no different than the drone or smart bomb, or in the future the cyborg, and looked upon as just as mechanical. And we have no more genuine connection to them or their work or the massive psychological toll it will take for them to carry the burden of our shadow than we do that of the drone or the smart bomb or any other machines we created.

HERO OF THE DAY

When we examine our Technological Hunter Myth in the form of Special Operations forces, we can see why our culture is drawn to certain things and repulsed by others. For instance, the greatest hero and biggest symbol of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the cultural militarism surrounding them has been Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle, who alleged to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, wrote a best selling book, "American Sniper" and the movie of the same name based on that book broke box office records. People went absolutely crazy for the story of Chris Kyle. In terms of the Hunter Myth Cycle, Chris Kyle was a weapon used by the Technological Hunter. And interestingly, he was a sniper, a man who kills his enemies from great distances. This is not to diminish the skill it takes to be a great sniper, or the utility of that skill, but it is to point out that a sniper being the heroic symbol of a post-modern war speaks volumes to where we are as a culture. The reason people could admire Chris Kyle is because on an unconscious level they could symbolically and mythologically relate to him. Chris Kyle, like the rest of the culture, killed people from a distance and removed the conscious emotional and psychological responsibility for those kills from himself and from the culture.

The act of looking through a scope mounted on a sniper rifle gives the shooter much needed psychological and emotional distance from his killing. In the case of the sniper, he is twice removed from his kill, once by the scope and once by the weapon itself. The psychological distance of the sniper with his scope is in some ways similar to the emotional distance and cognitive dissonance created when people sitting on their couches watching CNN see smart bomb after smart bomb eviscerate some Iraqi city. Whether it be the sniper scope or the television camera, seeing something through a lens or screen gives the viewer a detachment from what they see, and with that detachment comes the ability to maintain a cognitive dissonance from the horrors seen and any moral or psychological responsibility for them.

In thinking about our current age, and our evolution from the age of the Frontier Hunter Myth of World War II, where our soldiers fought the savagery of the Nazi's and the Imperial Japanese in order to preserve western civilization, to the post-modern, Technological Hunter Myth of today, it is easy to see why an accomplished sniper like Chris Kyle became such a celebrated symbol of the wars we are waging. In comparison to our current culture's example of "The Sniper", Chris Kyle, being the hero for the Iraq war, think of World War II and the hero and symbol of that war, Audie Murphy. Murphy became revered and beloved in his time just like Chris Kyle did in our time, and like Kyle, Murphy also had a successful film about his combat exploits. Murphy, though, fought and killed his enemies in close quarters, without the scope and distance of the sniper. Back then, Murphy was fighting under the predominant myth of the time, The Frontier Hunter Myth, while Chris Kyle fought under our current myth of the Technological Hunter Myth. This doesn't make Murphy better than Kyle or vice versa, it just shows how cultures unconsciously choose their hero's based on the myths they currently embrace.

Another point of note showing how we are currently under the spell of the Technological Hunter Myth, is that there are other warriors who could've become the cultural icons and symbols of our current wars, but didn't resonate quite as much with the public as much as sniper Chris Kyle did. The late Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player who became an Army Ranger, is one example of someone who easily could've become the iconic hero of the war on terror but didn't.  Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL of the book and movie Lone Survivor fame is an even better example. Luttrell did become famous for his story, but, for some reason, he didn't resonate anywhere near as much with our culture as Chris Kyle did. I believe the reason for this is our cultural and collective unconscious attachment to the Technological Hunter Myth. Simply put, Luttrell and Tillman were just as worthy of adulation as Kyle, but they weren't snipers. The sniper is the perfect symbol of the emotional and psychological distance we as a culture like to keep from the people we are killing. The current cultural celebration of the sniper also enables us to maintain our cognitive dissonance with relative ease and keep any conscious psychological and emotional turmoil brought about by the killing we do at bay.

The need for psychological and emotional distance between the person wanting to kill and the actual killing is a signature of the Technological Hunter Myth. At the behest of his superiors in Washington, the drone pilot in Nevada pushes a button and kills dozens in Yemen or Pakistan. The drone pilot is, through his drone, twice removed from the actual killing, once by the button he pushes and once by the missile fired,  and is also detached from it by the screen he watches it on, thus giving him a conscious distance from the killing. His superior in Washington is thrice removed, once by his phone used to call the pilot, once by the pilot himself and once by the missile used. The B-2 pilot, who at the behest of those same Washington superiors drops his payload from a mile up, never sees the people he is obliterating, enjoys the same distance and assures himself of the same cognitive dissonance as the drone pilot. The Special Operations forces that are covertly sent to Pakistan to assassinate a terrorist leader under the dark of night and the cloak of secrecy are the closest yet to the actual killing, but even they are twice removed from their kill because of the weapon they shoot, and the night vision goggles they see through, creating that technological hunter myth distance for which western man yearns. The conscious distance from the killing through the use of technology is vital in creating and maintaining our cognitive dissonance and the illusion of conscious emotional and psychological well being.

In contrast, think of the terrorists in ISIS who behead their captives. They kill directly, no distance between them and their victims. The act of beheading, like the atrocity of 9-11, gives us in the west a visceral, guttural reaction, one of pure revulsion. There is something utterly barbaric, savage and repulsive about cutting a defenseless persons head off. Yet if innocents are decapitated by drone strikes or smart bombs we somehow aren't quite as repulsed by that. What this speaks to is our current enchantment with the Technological Hunter Myth. For in western culture, we have created technology which gives us a safe distance from the barbarity of the acts done in our name. Decapitation by smart bomb feels much less barbaric to us because our technology gives us a moral, emotional and psychological distance from that barbarity and aids us in maintaining our cognitive dissonance. 

I HAVE BECOME COMFORTABLY NUMB

In American foreign policy killing has become something other people, or things, do, and anyone who directly kills, like ISIS, are reprehensible savages. In our post-modern age and the Technological Hunter Myth which has come with it, the extensions of man are his weaponry in the form of machines (drones/smart bombs) and human machines (special operations forces). Either way, whether with a manufactured machine or a human one, our culture is able to consciously detach and distance itself from the violence it perpetrates, regardless of the righteousness of that violence, and this is a recipe for a cultural and psychological disaster as we numb ourselves to the damage we do others and our selves.

In bringing this back to Jason Bourne, the Bourne films have resonated with our culture to such a great extent because Bourne is the perfect human weapon in the age of the Technological Hunter Myth. Like we imagine our Special Operations Forces, Bourne is " made in our own image", but is a 'more perfect version of ourselves - rational, strategic, and efficient."

We can watch Bourne kick-ass in a world that is just like ours thanks to the franchise's trademark hyper-realism, and so we are able to project ourselves onto him and live vicariously through him. The Bourne character gives us one more lens, like the snipers scope, or the camera, or the television screen, through which we can see the horror of our world, that lens is the mind's eye…our imagination. This added lens of imagination means we can watch actual, real-life civil unrest in Athens on our television and not only detach ourselves from our responsibility for that unrest, but also create even more distance by imagining the drama going on underneath the surface of that unrest, and imagining how we would, like our "perfect version of ourselves" Bourne, thrive under those circumstances. This is the final stage of the Technological Hunter Myth, where the technological hunter is so far removed from the actual killing that he/she is forced to use their own imagination in order to envision how they themselves would really behave if they were actually in the scenario where the killing took place. The end stage of this type of evolution, or devolution as the case may be, would be The Matrix trilogy, where humanity is reduced to being prisoners of their own imagination and being used as little more than captive batteries to their shadow, the Technology they once created to fight for them. Once that Technology became self aware and understood that humans were intellectually and physically inferior, it simply conquered and enslaved humanity for its own benefit. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, at the current stage of the Technological Hunter Myth we find ourselves in, we have been so far removed from our primal instincts and detached from our collective psychological shadow, that the tide may turn and we may eventually begin to yearn for an acknowledgment of our most ancient and primitive psychological drives. The need not just to eat an animal, but to kill it, courses through the deepest trenches of our psyche. The need not just for our enemies to die, but for us to feel their last breath on our faces, is alive and well and living in our killing shadow. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these type of instincts are the gateway to a return to a respect for the earth, respect for life, respect for our enemies and respect for killing in general.

Killing and war will never cease to be, they are eternally part of the human condition, but one can only hope that the anti-septic form of war/killing currently enjoyed by the west, where we shove our darker impulses and our unequivocal guilt and responsibility into our shadow, where it festers and grows as we ignore it, will be transformed back into the more simple, if equally brutal form of killing of the Indian Hunter Myth, where respect for prey, enemy and the act of killing return. What I am saying is that if we are to kill we must do it consciously, take full responsibility and be fully aware of what we have done. If we continue to psychologically fragment and cognitively dissociate from the killing we do, that impulse will become our killing shadow, unconscious and angry. When those impulses are cast into the shadow they do not disintegrate, they only disappear from consciousness and grow more and more powerful until they simply refuse to be ignored. When the killing impulse is ignored and forced into the shadow, it eventually will strike out with a vengeance, often destroying the fragmented and cognitively dissociated psyche which ignores it. Twenty-two veteran suicides a day is the damning proof of the consequences of our cognitive dissonance from the killing we do and our moral and ethical responsibility for it. 

Our only hope for the healing of our fragmented psyches, and the reclamation of our humanity is to make our killing impulses and acts conscious.  We must take full mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual responsibility for the killing that we do.  Sadly, with our culture thoroughly numbed through technology and medication, this seems terribly unlikely. The more likely scenario? Go watch the Terminator and Matrix films to see what happens when humanity is unable to carry and acknowledge its killing shadow. It will give you something to watch while you wait for Jason Bourne to come out on cable or Netflix, because you shouldn't spend a dime going to see it in the theatre. And if you really want to spend your time wisely, I highly recommend you go read Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film.

©2016

The Martian : A Review

 

SPOILER ALERT!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!

MY RATING: SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE, SEE IT ON CABLE OR NETFLIX

The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, is the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars when his fellow crew members think he has been killed in an accident. The film follows Watney's struggle to survive on the barren planet and NASA's attempts to rescue him. As my very clever friend The Magnificent Anderson said to me, "with Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar and The Martian, America has spent a ridiculous amount of money to rescue Matt Damon". I gotta be honest, after seeing The Martian, I don't think that money was very well spent.

I was excited to see Ridley Scott and Matt Damon paired off, as I am a big fan of both men and their work. Scott, much like his star Damon, is an often underrated talent. He has made some of the most iconic films of the last forty years. From Alien to Blade Runner to Gladiator to Thelma and Louise, Ridley Scott at his best is as good as anyone. Matt Damon is also often over shadowed by his more fame seeking contemporaries like Brad Pitt or Matthew McConnaghey, but Damon, with his work in Good Will Hunting, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Departed and The Informant, has proven to be by far the more superior actor. 

"NOTHING EVER HAPPENS ON MARS.BORING! BORING! BORING!" - Waiting for Guffman

From Mission to Mars to Red Planet to Mars Needs Moms, the planet Mars is generally where movies go to die. With The Martian the result of the trip is not as horrible as the three previously mentioned films, but it certainly keeps the Mars cinematic jinx firmly in place. So what went wrong with The Martian? Let's take a look.

The Martian is a very strange film indeed. It is bursting with dramatic and cinematic potential, and yet, due to it's fundamental flaws, it is never able to break the bonds of its pedestrian atmosphere and soar to the great beyond of filmmaking achievement. The fundamental flaw I am speaking of is the film's incredibly poor narrative structure, which leaves the movie curiously devoid of tension and drama. The structural flaw of the film is pretty basic, instead of giving the viewer only Mark Watney's perspective, Ridley Scott chose to show the audience the God perspective, where they see everything that is happening. So the audience is able to see and know things that the film's protagonist Watney, does not see and know. Because of this choice, all of the drama of Watney's precarious situation on Mars is drained and we are left with a rather flaccid storytelling and dramatic endeavor.

If the viewer were only given Watney's perspective, this would have greatly heightened the drama in a few ways. The first is, the viewer would be entirely connected to the Watney character to a much greater degree than they already are. If we spent the first two thirds of the film trapped with Watney on Mars, like we were trapped on an island with Tom Hanks in Castaway for instance, then we would have had a more intimate and genuine connection to Watney. The second thing that would have happened is that the audience would be put through the emotional and mental anguish that Watney would have gone through when he doesn't know if anyone even knows he's alive, never mind trying to rescue him.  We would have, along with Watney, discovered what it's like to be the loneliest man in the universe. The decision to use the God perspective completely undermines these vital dramatic points by showing us that NASA knows he's alive and is trying to figure out how to save him, and Watney doesn't know it. If we were left in the dark along with Watney, then every other development in the story would take on greater significance and dramatic power. For instance, when Watney finally figures out that NASA knows he's alive, that would have been a tremendously thrilling moment, instead it is a rather mundane one since we knew that the whole time while Watney did not. All throughout the story there are significant moments that could have been greatly increased by the use of a  minimalist perspective, such as when Watney figures out how to increase his food supply, communicate with NASA, how to escape Mars, and then how to aid in his own rescue.  Instead the viewing experience is diminished because we are never truly able to project ourselves onto Watney since we have a grander view of things than he does. The energetic connection between viewer and protagonist is broken, and the film greatly suffers for it.

Damon's performance is also undercut by the perspective issue. While he is certainly able to give Watney a humanity through humor, he fails to portray a viable sense of impending doom and dread. Watney, the eternal optimist, never has his optimism truly challenged, and neither does the audience. Resiliance is a great trait to have, maybe the greatest, but dramatically it can ring hollow if the character is never fully allowed to hit rock bottom. Watney needs to be allowed to fall into despair, a deep existential despair, yet he and the audience are never allowed to because we KNOW that he isn't forgotten and alone on Mars. If we could have shared in Watney's desperation, this would make his achievements, his strength and his resilience all the more impactful for the viewer.  Instead we get a performance that is just like the film, neither hot nor cold, but mildly luke warm. Damon's performance is, like the entire film, relentlessly safe and middlebrow, which are two words that previously would have been unthinkable in regards to a Ridley Scott project.

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM, AND THAT PROBLEM IS YOU

The other problem with showing us the God perspective is that we are forced to suffer through all of the scenes back on earth. These earth bound scenes are, at best, terribly generic, and at worst, cringeworthy. I would prefer to die cold and alone on Mars than watch one more actor melodramatically pause and raise their eyebrows to signify that they've just thought of something astonishingly brilliant while everyone else looks on perplexed. This happens again and again and again. The acting on earth is pretty atrocious, with Mackenzie Davis being the lone, notable exception. Davis actually seems like a down to earth (pardon the pun), genuine human being, not an actor trying to play a real human being.

There are also some pretty egregious casting decisions as well. Jeff Daniels is a fine actor, his work in The Squid and the Whale is testament to that. Yet he is terribly miscast in The Martian as the sometimes cut throat leader of NASA. We seem to be in the midst of a Jeff Daniels renaissance at the moment, which is good for him, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why he keeps being miscast. He was remarkably miscast in The Newsroom as well. Daniels is good at a lot of things, but he lacks the gravitas to play the head of NASA or a bombastic tv show host. One of the reasons he lacks gravitas is that his jaw is not very prominent or square, and he is not much of a physical presence. Secondly, his voice is slightly nasal and higher toned and his diction can veer into mush mouth, both of which undermine any power or gravitas that come with the characters he is cast to play. The result is we are left with performances from him that feel forced and ring hollow when he isn't in a role that suits his considerable strengths. An actor who would be perfectly suited to play the role of the head of NASA in The Martian would be Ed Harris.

A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

The Martian is one of those movies that badly wants to be both taken seriously and liked by everyone, yet in my opinion it achieves neither. The film tries desperately for a scientific realism throughout, but that becomes less viable as the film goes on, finally spiraling into a sort of scientific farce during Watney's rescue. The highlight of which is when Watney goes full on "Iron Man" by puncturing his spacesuit and propelling himself into the waiting arms of his commanding officer Melissa Lewis, played by an under used Jessica Chastain. This sequence is supposed to be the dramatic crescendo of the story but it plays as contrived, underwhelming and frankly laughable.

The Martian is not a great film, in fact, I would argue that at it's very best it is surprisingly average. Comparisons to another recent astronaut film, Gravity, which won seven Oscars including Best Director, will do it no favors. Gravity was not a great film either, but it was visually pretty stunning. The Martian is neither visually nor dramatically compelling, and I found it frustrating because of the remarkable talents of Ridley Scott and Matt Damon being involved.

Which brings me to my final point. Ridley Scott is a master craftsman and artist. He knows what the hell he is doing. A look at his most recent films, the bafflingly inept Prometheus and the abhorrent Exodus: Gods and Kings, shows he may have lost his fastball, but maybe, just maybe, with The Martian he was up to something else. The errors in the most basic fundamentals of filmmaking and the tepid storytelling by such a creatively brilliant man as Scott, have left me wondering if he wasn't up to something else, something much deeper. I have been thinking about The Martian and mulling it over for a week now, wondering what the hell was really going on? What was Ridley Scott REALLY up to. Was there something much deeper and more meaningful hidden within the film that could redeem it? I've come up with a few ideas. 

SYMBOLISM, THE COMING ECONOMIC COLLAPSE AND REAGAN'S MORNING IN AMERICA

One idea I had is that The Martian is really about the coming economic tsunami. What economic tsunami you may ask? Ever since I left a job on Wall Street in the early 2000's, I was telling everyone who would listen that we were headed for an economic earthquake. The evidence was hiding in plain sight for anybody with eyes to see if they dared look. I wasn't writing back then so you will have to take my word for it. Most people thought I was a kook and ignored me. Then 2007/2008 happened, and I ended up being right, and those people ended up being wrong…and losing a lot of money. Well…it seems very apparent to me that another economic seismic event on the same scale or larger than 2007-2008 is coming. The economy, like The Martian, is fundamentally flawed, dare I say, fatally flawed. The reasons for this are much too complex to get into here, but rest assured, I am not the only person seeing this tsunami coming, not by a long shot. Lots of people who are a hell of a lot smarter than I am are seeing it coming too. Spend some time over at Zerohedge, Chris Martenson, Max Keiser, Peter Schiff or The Independent Report among others and you'll get some great analysis on what is coming our way. Of course the establishment media will continue to cheerlead for the economy like the band playing while the Titanic sinks, they always do. In my humble opinion, the time frame for this global economic tsunami is the only thing in question. I believe it will happen in the next 18 to 24 months. 

Now that I've told you the tsunami is coming, what the hell does any of that have to do with The Martian?  Here's my theory…from the very beginning of the film Matt Damon represents the regular working man. In one of the very first scenes, he is meticulously checking soil along a very small grid, inch by inch. As he tries to talk to his co-workers and superior officer, he is told to be quiet and then his communication is shut off. No one wants to hear what the lowly worker has to say. Then, AS A HUGE STORM UNEXPECTEDLY ROLLS IN (the economic storm that is coming), and everyone runs to the ship, Damon is impaled and thought to be killed by a communication dish. 

When Damon awakes and finds himself alone on a dead and barren planet, he must use his smarts in order to survive. He starts by surgically removing the communications wire stuck in him, symbolically severing the ties with establishment media. Then he uses his intellect, AND THE REMNANTS OF THE MISSIONS THAT CAME BEFORE HIM, to survive. 

Damon uses everyday items to transform his surroundings and to protect himself. He uses a simple tarp and duct tape to reinforce his shelter, and later his escape rocket. He digs up some left over radioactive material in order to stay warm, a symbolic move that we must get away from carbon based fuels, of which Mars has none, and use alternative fuel, such as nuclear and solar. 

Damon uses his skill as a botanist, an old school, nearly forgotten science, in order to double and triple his food supply. This is symbolic of our need to return to more locally sourced and organic farming techniques in order to overcome the coming shortages. He even uses his own and his crew member's shit in order to grow food. After the economic tsunami, there is going to be a big shit sandwich, and we are all going to have to take a bite. The idea of turning chicken shit into chicken salad will take on a whole new meaning. We will have to be lean and resourceful to survive.

Damon also figures out how to reconfigure an old way of communicating, a Mars rover, and uses it to start communicating with NASA anew. He also uses an old, scientific alphabet when he communicates, this being a metaphor for civilization looking backward to the basics in order to look forward for solutions and that the old way of talking about things must be discarded and replaced with a new one, even if it comes from an old one.

When the US is unable to successfully send a ship to save Damon, the Chinese step in with their advanced technology in order to help out. This is symbolic of how global the coming collapse will be and how the world will be multi-polar instead of uni-polar from here on out.

Even the rescue mission is symbolic of what it will take to overcome the difficulties that lie ahead. The NASA ship that is coming to save Damon must LOWER ITS TRAJECTORY AND SLOW IT'S SPEED, in order to get closer to Damon as he can only propel himself so high. The graph used to show that trajectory could be an economic graph, meaning that endless rates of high growth are unsustainable and we will have to lower expectations and slow down growth if we want to have any chance to for the earth and humanity to survive. Also the rescue ship must blow up and jettison a great deal of its excess rooms in order to facilitate the slowing of it's speed and it's trajectory, both symbolic of the need for excess and decadence to be eschewed in order to right the ship of our planet.

Finally, as Damon is falling short of the rescue ship, he punctures his space suit in order to propel himself to his saviors, just like people will have to puncture their own bubbles of expectations in order to find the courage and the final fuel to move them forward into the future. Chastain catches Damon and the two tumble and spiral together, getting wrapped in her tether, symbolizing the need for everyone, both rich and poor, to commit to stick together in order for humanity and civilization to survive.

Yes…I know this may be insane. But watching The Martian  through this lens makes it much, much more interesting than watching it as a straight up Mars movie. There are a lot of symbols throughout the film which lend themselves to this reading of the movie. For instance, there are constant references to the 1970's…Damon watches Happy Days and poses as Fonzie, he listens to Chastain's playlists which is nothing but 1970's disco. These could all be symbolic of another more political theme, namely that Damon is the eternal American optimist, Ronald Reagan, who is trying to escape and survive the economic and cultural malaise of the 1970's and bring us into the stratosphere of the 80's boom (which was more a mirage than a boom, but that's a discussion for another day). I fully admit that this might be a bridge too far…but there is some evidence that supports this theory as well.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, if I am giving the benefit of the doubt to Ridley Scott, which I believe he has earned, then The Martian may be a metaphor for the the coming economic collapse and for how humanity and civilization must behave in order to survive it. Or it may be a metaphor for America which is stuck in a 1970's type of stagnation, both economically, politically and culturally, and that a Reagan-esque figure is needed to teach us to 'never give up' and to go back to our individualistic and resourceful roots in order to break free and survive. (by the way, just to be clear, I am not saying that is true, I am saying that the film may be saying that it's true)

Regardless of what you think of me, my economic predictions, or my theories, I recommend you keep them in mind when you watch the film. Trust me when I tell you it will make for a much more interesting viewing  experience. As for watching the film…there is no need to rush out and pay full price to see it in a theatre, you would be wiser to save your hard-earned money (and prepare for the coming economic tsunami!!). Plus you can always wait until The Martian is on cable or Netflix and watch it from the comfort of your own home while civilization crumbles all about you outside. 

UPDATE : I got a great email from reader Arthur H., who hails from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and 2 Coen Brothers, he writes in regard to The Martian…"I was greatly relieved to read your thoughtful, critical review because almost everyone I know who saw it, and so many movie reviewers, think it is a truly great film. After reading your comments, I feel much less nuts." Welcome to my life!! Just remember Arthur, in the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King.

Arthur then gave a brief but very insightful review of his own, which with his permission I share with you here in full.

"The Martian is a "quintessential American" movie. Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is a classic mythological American white man who, in this incarnation, claims the entire planet of Mars because he grows potatoes in his own excrement. Thankfully, he did not have to murder millions of Martians in the process of claiming Mars as his property. The Martian is also an excruciatingly boring, completely and ridiculously implausible, intelligence insulting Hollywood B movie for the uncritical masses. Watney making a plastic tarp sealed with duct tape to cover a hole in the spacecraft that can withstand the tremendous speed in his lift off from Mars? The final scene where astronauts catch Watney flying by with rope and bring him safely aboard their space vehicle? One needs to suspend your disbelief to appreciate theatre. For The Martian, you would have to totally demolish it. Well, at least, even though we, your God view, knew from the first moment Watney would be saved, there still is a lot of dramatic tension building throughout the film. NOT, none, nada, zero. Like someone said, "By the end no one cared except on the screen, and they were all acting."

Well said, thank you Arthur!!