"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Songs of Experience in A Quiet Place

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Estimated Reading Time: 17 minutes 52 seconds 

"GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT GIVE YOU AWAY/ THE WORDS YOU CANNOT SAY/ YOUR BIG MOUTH IN THE WAY" - The Little Things That Give You Away off of Songs of Experience by U2

THE SYNCHRONICITY STORM

For the last few weeks a recurring theme has kept rearing its head in my reading and movie watching. As this thematic synchronicity storm gathered strength I realized I could ignore the topic no longer.The recurring theme in question is the stultifying tribalism and accompanying intolerance for opinions different from our own that is rampant in our culture.

The subject first came up when I went to see A Quiet Place and discovered the underlying metaphor at the heart of the film, that in our current cultural climate anyone with a traditionalist opinion that may differ from liberal establishment orthodoxy needs to keep quiet and keep their head down or they will be "devoured" by the PC mobs and elitist watchdogs online and in the media. 

The day after seeing A Quiet Place I read two pieces touching upon the same subject, the first by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times and the second by Andrew Sullivan of New York magazine.

Goldberg's piece from May 11th, titled "How the Online Left Fuels the Right" and Sullivan's from the same day titled "Kanye West and the Question of Freedom", both discuss the problem of tribalism across the political spectrum but also the issue of liberal intolerance of differing viewpoints, which echoed the foundational metaphor I found so intriguing about A Quiet Place.

Then a day later on May 12th, I read an op-ed in the New York Times by Gerard Alexander titled, "Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think". In the piece Alexander, like Goldberg and Sullivan before him, mentions the Kanye West-Trump conversion story where Kanye's divergence from racial political dogma has caused a furor resulting in his sanity being questioned by liberals and African-Americans, to highlight liberal intolerance of diverse opinions.  

"BLESSED ARE THE ARROGANT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF THEIR OWN COMPANY" Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

These three articles, written by a Democrat (Goldberg), a liberal conservative (Sullivan) and a Republican (Alexander) all touch upon an issue that I have recognized for quite some time and tried to warn against, namely that establishment liberalism is quick becoming a suffocatingly vacuous and emotionalist echo chamber of political correctness and victim idolatry where serious thinking goes to die. (This is not to say that Republican conservatism is chock full of vibrant philosophy, it isn't, it is at best a mausoleum, at worst a rancid carnival of Reagan-era capitalism).

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The argument that Goldberg, Alexander and Sullivan make is that liberal intolerance of diverse opinion and use of shame instead of debate is a direct cause of Trump's electoral victory, and may lead to his re-election. I made this same argument right after the 2016 election (link, link) (and right before the election- link), where I said that liberal arguments had grown flaccid because Democrats had replaced debate with moral condemnation, shaming and exiling of anyone who disagreed with them. As I have written many times, liberals no longer engage in debate, they simply cry racism, misogyny or some other emotionally fueled charge rather than actually thinking through a topic, forming an argument, engaging in debate/discussion and thus attempting to convince others of the rightness of their viewpoint. This sort of lazy, entitled, and emotionally driven form of anti-intellectual politics is currently at epidemic levels across America. 

The emotionalism at the heart of this tribalism and demand for intellectual conformity is a potent force and I have seen its devastating effects up close and personal in the liberal circles of my own life.

Andrew Sullivan eloquently wrote of the powerful emotion driving tribal politics and its consequences, "That’s an intense emotion, and it’s that intensity, it seems to me, that is corroding the norms of liberal democracy. It has been made far, far worse by this president, a figure whose election was both a symptom and a cause of this collective emotional unraveling, where the frontal cortex is so flooded by tribal signals that compromise feels like treason, opponents feel like enemies, and demagogues feel like saviors. Instead of a willingness to disagree and tolerate, there is an impulse to loathe and expel. And this is especially true with people we associate with our own side. Friendly dissidents are no longer interesting or quirky; as the stakes appear to rise, they come to seem dangerous, even contagious. And before we even know it, we live in an atmosphere closer and closer to that of The Crucible, where politics merges into a new kind of religious warfare, dissent becomes heresy, and the response to a blasphemer among us is a righteous, metaphorical burning at the stake."

"LOVE HURTS, NOW YOU'RE THE GIRL WHOSE LEFT WITH NO WORDS/ YOUR HEARTS A BALLOON BUT THEN IT BURSTS/ IT DOESN'T TAKE A CANNON JUST A PIN/ YOUR SKIN'S NO COVERING…" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

MARY FROM DELAWARE

I was, synchronistically enough, reminded of this "impulse to loathe and expel" when a friend jokingly sent me a recent article written by a woman who used to be friends with my wife. This woman, let's call her Delaware Mary, is a vociferous Clinton supporter and a self-described feminist, and when my wife posted a link to an article I had written right after the 2016 election titled, "2016 Election Post-Mortem", Mary, who had been friends with my wife for over twenty years, responded just as Sullivan describes as from that point on she refused to talk or communicate with my wife in any way, instead choosing to unfriend and expel my wife entirely from her life. 

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Mary's reaction to my wife simply linking to my article (which I encourage you to read to judge for yourself the level of my crime) seemed bizarre to me, but it was a sign of the times as in the midst of the collective nervous breakdown among liberals in the wake of Trump's victory and Hillary's defeat, Mary had company in her shunning ways. Two other female friends of my wife and I, let's call them Lola and Lana, both of whom are also self-described feminists and Clinton supporters, took the same action and expelled me and my wife entirely from their lives as well after I wrote my post-election analysis. It seems Mary, Lola and Lana were like the creatures in A Quiet Place, and when they heard me speak up they not only eliminated me, but also anyone close to me…namely my wife. 

"YOU MUST BE AN ACROBAT/ TO TALK LIKE THIS AND ACT LIKE THAT" - Acrobat off of the album Achtung Baby by U2

There are a few noteworthy things about this episode worth pointing out…the first is that it was confirmed by multiple third parties that the reason these women banished my wife and I was solely because of my writing and my post-election piece in particular. 

Second is that my wife is the least political (and least confrontational) person I know and rarely if ever talks politics with her friends or on Facebook. It is also important to emphasize that my wife didn't post the text of my article, just a link to it. In addition, my wife doesn't necessarily believe the same things that I do, she just made the egregious error of posting a link to my article saying "my husband wrote this". 

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And to put this further into context, these three feminist Clinton supporters have exiled my wife not because I am a MAGA hat wearing Trump guy, I certainly am not, but because I challenged their Clinton neo-liberalism from a position further to their left. I am one of the "friendly dissidents" Andrew Sullivan wrote about in the quote above who was deemed a heretic and banished…along with my entirely innocent wife.  

One final bit of context is that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana were adamant during the election that Hillary Clinton should not be held to account for the things her husband did while in office. These women claimed it was "sexist" and "misogynistic" to tar Hillary for the misdeeds of Bill. And yet…they were very comfortable holding my wife accountable for my apparent sin…how progressively feminist of them. 

The fact that these three women couldn't just passively ignore my writing, which would have been very easy to do since I rarely if ever had direct contact with them (and also because to avoid my writing they could simply NOT CLICK ON A LINK), but had to actively punish my wife for it, speaks volumes about where we are as a culture and does not bode well for where we are headed as a nation.

The hypocritical behavior on the part of Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana also speaks volumes and does not bode well for the future of feminism and is also a testament to their lack of personal character and integrity.

"BLESSED ARE THE BULLIES, FOR ONE DAY THEY'LL HAVE TO STAND UP TO THEMSELVES" - American Soul off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"HAVING A SCAPEGOAT MEANS NOT KNOWING THAT WE HAVE ONE" - RENE GIRARD

"UNINTELLIGENT PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOK FOR A SCAPEGOAT" - ERNEST BEVIN

When Mary, Lola and Lana made the conscious decision to exorcise my wife and I from their lives they were exercising the ancient psychological tool of scapegoating. As author/philosopher Rene Girard tells us, scapegoating is when negative feelings and emotions, such as anger, failure, frustration or guilt are projected onto an innocent person/object, and then that person is punished, which provides psychological release and catharsis for the scapegoater.

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In this particular case, my wife was entirely innocent and did nothing wrong to Mary, Lola and Lana, but they projected onto her all of their negative feelings that arose as a result of Hillary's ignominious defeat, feelings such as impotence, helplessness, embarrassment, humiliation, frustration, anger and rage, and then punished my wife by exiling her. In a desperate search for catharsis in order to alleviate themselves of these painful and negative emotions, they needed to punish my wife and not just me, because exiling me would not make me suffer, but it would definitely hurt my wife, which in turn would punish me.

The suffering my wife experienced at the hands of their punishment is what was needed for Mary, Lola and Lana to cathartically release their own toxically negative feelings. Making my wife (and me) the villain upon which they could project their negative emotions, also allowed Mary, Lola and Lana to be the "hero" and gain powerful positive feelings like moral superiority, piousness and self-righteousness. 

Of course, as these women no doubt found out, the catharsis felt after exiling my wife and releasing their negative feelings over Hillary's election loss and the gaining of positive feelings, was only temporary, as the root cause of the negative feelings still existed, so they would, like addicts, have to find other scapegoats in order to sustain the temporary euphoria of releasing negative emotions and gaining positive ones. 

Delaware Mary in particular has become quite the expert at finding scapegoats and at proving both Sullivan's and my own point about the personal toxicity of tribalism repeatedly throughout the election and post-election period, as she has banished from her life not just my wife, but a cornucopia of other women, including her own mother, best friend and other friends.  

"BLESSED ARE THE LIARS FOR THE TRUTH CAN BE AWKWARD" - American Soul off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"A COW'S HEAVEN IS A FLOWER'S IDEA OF HELL" - OLIVER GASPIRTZ

 Delaware Mary's scapegoats were probably singled out due to their failure to rigorously comply with her self-serving belief system, which more resembles a faith-based religion (with her as deity at the center) than a fact-based political philosophy, which is ironic since Delaware Mary is a nouveau-athiest who claims to despise religion. 

An example of Mary's vapid, vacuous and insipid thinking can be found in the article she wrote. In the piece, Mary wrote of women...

"When we speak our truths—the truth—we are rarely believed. We are gaslit by progressive men who tell us they care about women and people of color and the LGTBQ community but then dismiss fighting for our rights and our lives as identity politics."

This quote from Mary's piece is a perfect encapsulation of all that is wrong with establishment liberal orthodoxy and the neo-feminism of our day. Mary is entirely incapable of grasping that her subjective truth is not the Truth. She is also incapable of understanding that since her "truth" is subjective, it must therefore be measured against other people's subjective truths in order to come to a better understanding of the actual Truth. 

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Her use of the term "gaslight", which means "to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity", is pretty insightful as well (and also a desperate way for a middle-aged woman to try and seem "hip" to the "young people"). According to Mary's assertion, to even question her (or any other woman's or minority's) subjective experience can only be interpreted as a form of psychological assault meant to mentally harm her rather than an attempt to discover the Truth or the objective reality of a situation. In Delaware Mary's eyes, the only experience/truth that matters is hers…or barring that, then the subjective experience of any other member of a victim group she exalts such as women, LGBTQ people, or other minorities, and their subjective experience must be left unquestioned and accepted as fact too. 

Does Mary realize that conflating her subjective truth with fact is exactly what Donald Trump does on a daily basis that drives her batshit crazy? Does Mary ever even remotely consider that her subjective truth is not indeed a fact, that it is, just like everyone else's, distorted with all sorts of psychological, personal and historical filters? And that maybe her desperate yearning for victimhood and her rage toward other individuals (like the countless people she has banished) is a function of scapegoating through psychological projection and substitution? And could Mary ever grasp that some people she considers heretics to the Delaware Mary dogma may desire the same ultimate outcome that she does, but they believe different strategies and tactics will make attaining that goal much more likely? I doubt it, since in our culture the self, and therefore subjective experience, always trumps objective reality…hence we get a plethora of people, like Delaware Mary and her cohorts, who encourage people to speak their truth and not to seek THE Truth

INTERMISSION

Since this is a long article, here is a short video intermission which perfectly sums up Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana's approach to life. Enjoy.

 

"WHEN ALL YOU'VE LEFT IS LEAVING/ AND ALL YOU'VE GOT IS GRIEVING/ AND ALL YOU KNOW IS NEEDING" - 13 (There is a Light) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

THE VICTIM PYRAMID OF TRUTH

The problem with Mary's thinking is pretty obvious, namely that even among women and minority groups in the inverted 'victim pyramid' of truth through which Mary sees the world, subjective experience differs greatly. So is Mary "gaslighting" people of color when she disagrees with Black women like Nina Turner, a Bernie Sanders supporter, or Candace Owens, a Trump supporter? Why are Ms. Turner's and Ms. Owen's subjective experience any less valid than Delaware Mary's? 

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And when Delaware Mary divides people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity, in other words by their identity, or more accurately - by how SHE identifies them, and then ranks them according to how victimized she perceives them to be, she creates a situation that can only devolve into a circular firing squad. Evidence of this is seen in an article in The Guardian by Ruby Hamad titled "How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Colour", where Ms. Hamad bemoans how progressive White women use tears to avoid being held accountable. Does Ms. Hamad's subjective truth of White women being instinctively manipulative overrule Mary's subjective truth that she is "woke" (as an aside... is there anything more cringe-worthy than a middle aged white woman describing themselves as "woke")?

What about men of color…where on Delaware Mary's holy scale of minority subjective experience impeccability is their truth? Is Bill Cosby an awful rapist as per his female victims experience or does his African-American subjective truth that he is the victim of a lynching trump their claims? What about some less Manichean and more complex cases? Where does Mary's loyalty lie…is it with women? People of color? LGBTQ people? Because Mary has made it clear it certainly isn't with the Truth only with her subjective truth.

BECCA AND REBA'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE

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Michael Harriot accurately described White women like Mary and Lola in his 2017 article in The Root titled, "The 5 Types of 'Becky'". Harriot writes of White women he calls varying forms of the derogatory name Becky. Mary and Lola fall into two of the Becky categories, the first is the Becca category, which Harriot describes thus…"Becca wants to help…as long as it is convenient and comfortable. Even though Becca isn't racist, her idea of Black people is of a downtrodden underclass that just needs a little help from benevolent white people. Becca is pure of heart and holds no animosity towards anyone. She is willing to "do the work…" but not really."

Delaware Mary and Lola are a Becca combined with a Reba, which Harriot describes thus…"Reba is "woke"…Reba believes in a women's right to choose and wore a pink pussy hat to the Women's March….Reba cares about winning. She believes that white women deserve the gold medal in the oppression Olympics, and if there is a chance she isn't on the podium, Reba thinks you're not being fair. Reba talks about white privilege, but Reba doesn't understand that she is white privilege." 

"FREEDOM, THE SLAVES ARE LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO LEAD THEM/ THE MASTER'S LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO NEED HIM/ THE PROMISED LAND IS THERE FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT MOST/ AND LINCOLN'S GHOST SAID/ GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY" -Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Delaware Mary's fanaticism for identity politics is part of why she was so desperate to scapegoat and exile my wife and I. For women like Mary, Lola and Lana, identity politics isn't just about race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, it is actually about THEIR identity, meaning their ego/Self. 

According to iconic psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, C.G. Jung, there are countless types of archetypes that are available to us, from the Warrior to the Trickster to the Lover to the Actor and on and on. Jung's archetypes are all gender neutral so, for example, both men and women can be the Mother archetype or the Father archetype. The problem with Mary, Lola and Lana is that they are stuck in the archetypal cycle of Victim (Child) and Mother, with the Victim/Child archetype being the one who needs caring and the Mother archetype being the one who does the caring.

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Delaware Mary is so bloated with self-loathing she must justify it by embracing the Victim archetype, pawning her failures off on an "other" or "group of others" because it eases her psychological anguish to feel she has no agency and is a defenseless Victim. And then she projects Victimhood onto others she deems acceptable, like other women, people of color and other minorities, so that she can try to balance her psyche and alleviate her feelings of weakness, by infantilizing those she appoints as "Victims" (minorities)…thus ensuring that they stay disempowered Victims/Children in need of care and she takes on the archetype of Mother to care for them. This Mother role in this scenario is actually driven by an unconscious White supremacy and a desire to keep minorities in perpetual Victim/Child mode, thus stunting their growth so that Mother can remain empowered. 

Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana hated my post-election article and the ideas in it so much because it challenged their worldview, and to them, because their identity politics is their sole identity (Victim/Child-Mother archetypal cycle), a challenge to their worldview is a direct threat to their ego/Self, their psyche and thus to their entire existence. This is why Mary considers anyone questioning her subjective truth as "gaslight" assaulting her, it is because the entirety of her being is her ego, which is defined by her Victim/Mother identity. Without her identity politics belief system, Mary ceases to exist, as do Lola and Lana. If the world is not as they think it is, then their identities disintegrate and take the rest of their psyche with it. 

The existential threat of loss of identity and psychic annihilation is real and powerful, and can motivate people to do much worse things than just banish a friend of twenty years with whom you have suffered the slings and arrows of life including weddings, births, deaths and all the rest. Holding onto our identity/ego/Self is perceived by the psyche to be a matter of life and death, and it often forces us to react from our lizard brain rather than from the more rational parts of our mind.

"FIGHT BACK, DON'T TAKE IT LYING DOWN YOU'VE GOT TO BITE BACK/ THE FACE OF LIBERTY'S STARTING TO CRACK/ SHE HAD A PLAN UP UNTIL SHE GOT A SMACK IN THE MOUTH/ THEN IT ALL WENT SOUTH" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Another thing that I found striking regarding Delaware Mary and Co. banishing my wife and I was that none of these proud, self-described feminist, highly-edcuated women had the courage to challenge the things I wrote. None of these women have ever reached out to me at all regarding the entire situation, finding it easier to just "ghost" (as the kids say) my wife and I instead of engaging in a debate or discussion or even registering their dislike of my opinion. I can understand not wanting to engage with me in person, I have been told I am an intimidating presence, but to not at least reach out from the safety of email or the comment section seems to me an act of cowardice, and shunning my wife shows a stunning lack of intellectual integrity.  

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I am someone who does not have all the answers, hell, I don't even know most of the questions, so I consider myself open to persuasion. Maybe I am delusional, that could certainly be the case, but I try to be open to criticisms of my thinking and writing. For instance, I have received very insightful and thoughtful emails from readers who have vehemently disagreed with me and I have even gone so far as to post some of these emails in their entirety on my blog. For example, when I wrote a piece on "Whitewashing", a reader, Tiny Dancer, emailed me with her counter argument, and I posted an article containing that entire email. To me, this is how serious people and adults behave, and I wish these women had had the courage to reach out to me and at least tell me what pissed them off so much in that article so I could reexamine my opinion. 

Maybe these women thought I was not worth their time, and that my wife was for some reason tainted by her association with me, a case of the "contagion" Andrew Sullivan insightfully wrote about. But as Michelle Goldberg wrote in her New York Times piece, "Some might argue that respectfully debating ideas seen as racist or sexist legitimates them. There’s something to this, but refusing to debate carries a price as well — it conveys a message of weakness, a lack of faith in one’s own ideas. Ultimately, the side that’s frantically trying to shore up taboos is the side that’s losing. If there’s an Intellectual Dark Web, we should let the sun shine in."

Goldberg is correct in her strategic and tactical assessment. Delaware Mary and company feel entitled to not have their beliefs challenged, and so they frantically scapegoat all heretics and banish contrarians so that they never have to actually form an argument and strengthen it, but get to bask in the illusion of the unimpeachability of their subjective truth. This is an arrogant, fool-hardy and strategically inept approach to life and to politics as gorging yourself on a steady diet of mainstream neo-liberal identity theology will only lead to an intellectual constipation. It will also eventually leave you at the mercy of your opponents, who have hardened and honed their arguments in the fire of debate, and to the brutal and cruel force of objective reality. 

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By sealing their echo chamber ever tighter through the banishing of alternative and diverse opinions and anyone associated with them, Delaware Mary and Co. are creating a distorted version of reality where they encourage themselves and others to lose touch with objective reality in favor of a fever dream of subjective truth and moral superiority.

As Gerard Alexander writes in his Times piece, "Within just a few years, many liberals went from starting to talk about microaggressions to suggesting that it is racist even to question whether microaggressions are that important. “Gender identity disorder” was considered a form of mental illness until recently, but today anyone hesitant about transgender women using the ladies’ room is labeled a bigot. Liberals denounce “cultural appropriation” without, in many cases, doing the work of persuading people that there is anything wrong with, say, a teenager not of Chinese descent wearing a Chinese-style dress to prom or eating at a burrito cart run by two non-Latino women."

In Delaware Mary and Co.'s confirmation bias feedback loop where objective truth is scorned and subjective truth celebrated, the only way to maintain the illusion is to vigorously police the speech and actions of others. This is why it was imperative that I be exiled along with my Facebook linking accomplice wife, as we represented a potential shattering of the illusion within which these women exist. This controlling impulse is authoritarian in nature, and ironically enough, is exactly what Trump and other tyrants do to dissidents and heretics as well. 

As Alexander wrote in his Times essay, "Pressing a political view from the Oscar stage, declaring a conservative campus speaker unacceptable, flatly categorizing huge segments of the country as misguided — these reveal a tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority. It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering." 

THE JOY OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

I wrote an article a few years back titled, "Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle". In that widely read piece, I wrote of the psychological term cognitive dissonance, which means "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously", in relation to the behavior of conservatives when the lies of Chris Kyle were brought to their attention. A brief glimpse at the comment section of that piece, which I wholly encourage you to go read in its entirety, proved my point more than anything I actually wrote in the article.

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Liberals suffer from cognitive dissonance too (as do all humans to varying degrees) and it has been epidemic in the last few years, Delaware Mary and Co. are living proof of that. When Mary, Lola and Lana were confronted with arguments and facts (like my being correct in predicting the election and the reasons why Trump would win) that were in opposition to their strongly held beliefs (their trust in conventional wisdom and institutions like the media, their perceived intellectual superiority and that Hillary would win) and suffered the ensuing psychological conflict, they did what most people suffering from cognitive dissonance do, they ignored the new information (and its carrier- me) and they removed it from their consciousness in order to maintain the sanctity of their previous held (faith-based) belief. 

A great example of liberals like Delaware Mary and company suffering from cognitive dissonance and behaving exactly the same as the conservatives they so loathe (and vice versa), came in recent months when MSNBC host Joy Reid was caught lying about some blog posts she had written a decade ago that some felt were homophobic. Instead of just owning up to the posts and apologizing as she had done in a similar situation a year ago, this time Reid doubled down and claimed to have been "hacked", and that the writing was not hers. Computer forensic experts investigated and found that she was full of it and that there was no hacking…but this did not stop Reid or her supporters one little bit. In a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, Reid claimed she "didn't recognize herself as having written those things", and many liberals supported her and even wrote and tweeted things like "I don't care if she is lying…I SUPPORT JOY". The same exact type of thing was written by conservatives in the wake of my Chris Kyle piece, as many declared, "I don't care if he lied!" This is our political culture…whether it be liberal or conservative...Truth need not apply. 

"STATUES FALL/ DEMOCRACY IS FLAT ON ITS BACK, JACK/ WE HAD IT ALL, BUT WHAT WE HAD IS NOT COMING BACK, ZAC/ A BIG MOUTH, SAYS THE PEOPLE THEY DON'T WANT TO BE FREE FOR FREE/ THE BLACKOUT, IS THIS AN EXTINCTION EVENT WE SEE?" -The Blackout off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

A COMPLEX SIMPLICITY

Why is that? Why in the world do people just blindly support and put their faith in people like Chris Kyle or Joy Reid or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? And also why do people spend so much time and energy banishing dissenting opinions instead of using that time and energy to see what is in front of one's nose, which as Orwell teaches us, requires a constant struggle? The answer is a deep-seeded existential fear.

Delaware Mary and company are representative of our political culture in that they are consumed with fear. Fear is the driving and motivating force for their lives…and yet they are not even aware of it. What these people fear is not what they think they fear…some "other" (like me) out to destroy them and all that they hold dear. No, Delaware Mary and company's existential fear is not the "other", it is complexity, and the antidote to their fear of complexity is the simplicity for which they so desperately yearn. 

Simplicity is required because it maintains and enforces the status quo in people's psyche and also in the outer world. For individuals like Delaware Mary and friends, if they replace their simple black and white worldview where they have a scapegoated "other" upon which to project all negative attributes, and a sanctified Victim group (of which they are members), and replace that cosmology with a more nuanced and complex understanding of their world where their feelings are a useless guide to navigating the maze of modern life, then once again their Self/ego is threatened with obliteration. This is the existential threat to their identity/ego/Self that must be avoided by any means necessary.

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As Adam Curtis revealed in his brilliant documentary Hyper-Normalization, the same is true of our macro political culture, as our society is so complex that it is an unwieldy, uncontrollable beast, and thus the appearance of simplicity must always be maintained by the ruling class to keep the masses placid and compliant. Thus we get slogans and marketing campaigns to boil everything down to the most simplistic nugget…Make America Great Again, all Trump voters are racist, they hate us for our freedoms, freedom isn't free, Hillary lost because of racism!/misogyny! Saddam/Ghadaffi/Putin/Bin Laden/Kim Jong-Il is a pure evil madman etc. 

The establishment believes the facade of a simplistic Manichean status quo with its accompanying political order (where they are on top) must be maintained at all costs because the complexity that lies just underneath the surface of our civilization is a chaotic, barbaric and psychologically apocalyptic force that if unleashed could destroy their power structures.  

On a micro scale, Delaware Mary must not let the complexity of the world seep into her mind, she must not permit contrarian views to fester, because if she stops to actually think, instead of feel, about her subjective truth versus objective reality, and about the massive complexity hidden just beneath the surface or her own life, psyche and motivations, her ego/Self, which she has wrapped in the cloak of her identity in general and her Victim identity in particular, will be obliterated and she will cease to exist. That is terribly frightening for her, as it would be for anyone, and that is the fuel that propels the rocket of her spate of scapegoating and blindly vindictive behavior. 

"WALK THROUGH THE ROOM LIKE A BIRTHDAY CAKE/ WHEN I AM ALL LIT UP, CAN'T MAKE A MISTAKE/ AND THERE'S A LEVEL OF SHALLOW THAT YOU JUST CAN'T FAKE/ BUT YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW" - The Showman (Little More Better) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

What needs to happen to Delaware Mary and company is what needs to happen to the wider culture as well, namely that they must, in a controlled and stable setting, ask themselves the question, "what if everything I know is wrong?" This question scares the hell out of people like Mary, and scares the establishment class even more, but it is vital if we want to survive as a functioning, relatively healthy human beings and as a civilization. 

Americans have been given lots of opportunities to ask this question of ourselves in recent years as they and the ruling establishment have been spectacularly wrong on so many things, such as the Iraq war, the financial collapse and Trump's election. Sadly, the ruling elite have repeatedly and effectively placated the masses in the face of these massive failures by conjuring a tantalizingly simple illusion which they use to distract from an ever more unruly and complex world. 

The same is true for Delaware Mary, who if she had the courage to actually do some introspection and self-reflection, might stop to notice that she perpetually kisses up and kicks down, and that she repeatedly only casts aside "friends" she cannot use to advance her career, which might lead her to realize that the life she leads which depresses her so, is a result of her own doing, and not because of the failings of others, or structural barriers restraining her. 

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What is so disheartening about this entire situation is that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana think they are fighting for change and against the status quo, but they aren't, they are desperately and unconsciously struggling to maintain the status quo. Their feminism is a feminism which is built upon the Victim archetype and the foundational belief of female weakness and unworthiness. Ironically, the Victim archetype feminism these women adhere to not only requires but forces a Mother archetype to step forward to "care for" the Victim, and what steps into the Mother archetype are patriarchal males who want to protect the "weaker sex". In other words, Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana and their neo-feminist cohorts are unconsciously propping up the patriarchy they claim to so abhor. This along with their hypocritical behavior and vicious envy of other women speaks to Delaware Mary and friends as being fraudulent feminists. 

Their identity and racial politics too are built upon the Mother/Victim archetypal relationship, and carries with it their own unconscious belief in the inferiority of those groups of people for whom they claim to be fighting. This shows that Mary, Lola and Lana are symbolic of many mainstream liberals in that they claim to be #woke but are completely sound asleep #unconscious.

"IT IS WHAT IT IS BUT IT'S NOT WHAT IT SEEMS/ THIS SCREWED UP STUFF IS THE STUFF OF DREAMS/ I GOT JUST ENOUGH LOW SELF ESTEEM/ TO GET ME WHERE I WANT TO GO" - The Showman (Little More Better) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

This begs the question...Why does any of this matter? Well the reason I was compelled to write on this subject in the first place is because it seems to represent the ever growing divide in American politics, where subjective truth rules the day and all politics is personal, that further exacerbates the issues that many people care about.

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I also think it matters as a warning about the infection gaining power and spreading throughout politics in general and liberal politics in particular. Delaware Mary is symbolic of this disease of identity and is a case study for the perils of embracing her type. For example, Delaware Mary has tried to resurrect her moribund writing career by rebranding and marketing herself as an activist writer for neo-feminist causes. As has been my experience, and the experience of the many women she has callously mistreated, Delaware Mary is a proven charlatan and fraud as a feminist, and by trying to make herself the voice or face of that movement, will guarantee that it ends in epic failure. Delaware Mary's noxiously malignant narcissism and intellectual vacuity is toxic to everyone and everything she touches.

If you care about any issue, it would wise to be on the look out for people like Delaware Mary. The signs of a Delaware Mary are that they are pied pipers without an original thought in their head, who only speak to their own side and only tell their audience what they want to hear, never what they need to hear.

Delaware Mary's are only interested in basking in the glory of their own voice. Their infatuation with the sound of their own voice is also why they never have a remotely original thought or idea, all they do is simply regurgitate mainstream neo-liberal pablum and think because they are the ones saying it, that it's now clever.

The Delaware Marys of the world are a danger to the people who are serious about finding actual solutions to difficult problems because they will exploit any and all issues to further their career, inflate their own ego and sense of self-worth, and then shit out their shadow emotions on all those they deem disposable because they no longer feed the narcissistic beast residing where their conscience used to be. 

"I'VE BEEN CRYING OUT/ HOW BAD CAN A GOOD TIME BE?/ SHOOTING OFF MY MOUTH/ THAT'S ANOTHER GREAT THING ABOUT ME" - You're the Best Thing About Me off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Maybe I am wrong about all of this, it wouldn't be the first time. Just like Lola and Lana, I am certainly not perfect either, as I sure as hell have my own blind spots, confirmation and unconscious biases and suffer from my own cognitive dissonance. And the objective reality may be that I am just an incorrigible asshole and my wife is a vicious bitch and we have been rightfully punished by Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana. Maybe their anger towards me is righteous and their vengeance upon my wife deserved. Or maybe not. It is impossible to tell since for a year and a half none of these women have had the testicular fortitude to actually engage in a discussion about it. Maybe if they had summoned the gumption to do so they could have pointed out the errors in my thinking, and converted me to their faith/cosmology.

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Which brings us back to A Quiet Place and why the film resonated with me so much. The film dramatizes the struggle of our current age, which includes the battle over whether to allow people to speak freely even when they say something ugly or which offends you, and the authoritarian impulse to stifle that freedom of speech. While I and others have not been devoured by monsters or thrown in a gulag or concentration camp for reeducation…yet, we have been singled out, punished and ostracized for daring voice opinions that challenge conventional thinking and establishment orthodoxy. This belief that you have the right NOT to be offended combined with the compulsive need to surround yourself with only people that agree with you is ultimately a dangerous impulse that will only lead to further polarization that will fuel an ever hotter political conflagration between groups of extremists on both sides who refuse to see the humanity in the other.

I personally struggle to understand that sort of thinking, as I intentionally seek out writers who think differently than I do. My daily reading is an eclectic list that spans the political and philosophical spectrum. I actually enjoy reading writers with whom I disagree because it challenges me to think harder about what I actually do believe, and come up with a cogent defense of my opinions and a coherent counter-argument to those things with which I disagree. This seems to me to be a logical approach to life and learning and expanding one's knowledge base. 

For instance, just in this article alone I quote from Andrew Sullivan, Michelle Goldberg and Alexander, three people I vehemently disagree with from time to time. If I judged these writers only by what I perceive to be their errors, then I would stop reading them entirely and be disadvantaged because that would mean I'd stop learning from them as well. The same is true of Rene Girard and documentarian Adam Curtis whom I also reference, both are undeniably brilliant but not perfect. Should I cast all of their work away because I found some of it lacking or were offended by parts of it? That is foolishness and totally self-defeating. 

"I LIKE THE SOUND OF MY OWN VOICE/ I DIDN'T GIVE ANYONE ELSE A CHOICE" - All Because of You off of the album How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb by U2

"I THOUGHT I HEARD THE CAPTAIN'S VOICE/ IT'S HARD TO LISTEN WHILE YOU PREACH" -Every Breaking Wave off of the Album Songs of Innocence by U2

The tactic of shaming those who dare to challenge our opinions, rather than debating them, or exorcising diversity of opinion instead of embracing it, will end in tragedy for those who fall under the spell of the echo chamber. Those that choose to be seduced by the warm song of the echo chamber will become like some perverse, masturbatorial version of Homer's Sirens, for they will be grounded upon the rocks by the hypnotically mesmerizing sound of their own voice. 

I think America is in the midst of a psychotic break and that liberals as a group have suffered a severe nervous breakdown after Trump won the election, and that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana were swept up in that collective insanity. Obviously they won't ever read this because my writing/thinking is heresy to their neo-liberal dogma and for them to read it would result in eternal damnation, but I do hope that one day the collective insanity that has descended upon the American body politic subsides, and that people can actually engage in discussion once again. That said…I am not optimistic.

"DINOSAUR, WONDERS WHY IT STILL WALKS THE EARTH/ YEAH/ A METEOR, PROMISES IT'S NOT GONNA HURT, YEAH" - The Blackout off of the Album Songs of Experience by U2

"SOMETIMES/ THE END IS NOT COMING/ IT'S NOT COMING/ THE END IS HERE/ SOMETIMES" The Little Things That Give You Away off of Songs of Experience by U2

I think that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana are symptoms of the disease of American culture. These women are poster children for the decadent, selfish, narcissistic, emotionalist, impulsive, vindictive and vacuous nation we have become. Unbeknownst to them, we are in the midst of a dramatic transition/transformation period in American and world history. Massive upheavals and changes are fast approaching…financial collapse, wars, civil wars, the fall of empires and a toppling of the world order. These women are symbolic of the collective in that, just like their willful blindness regarding Trump in the 2016 election, they prefer to keep their heads up their asses where they can enjoy the warm and dark embrace of the familiar no matter how much it stinks, rather than the cold hard reality of the world outside. Like smug dinosaurs before the meteor, they continue to bask in the arrogance of their ignorance, not knowing, and not wanting to know, the perilous fate that is hurtling towards them (and the rest of us) at breakneck speed.

"YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED A BOY/ YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ I'M THE KIND OF TROUBLE THAT YOU ENJOY/ YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ THE BEST THINGS ARE EASY TO DESTROY" - You're the Best Thing About Me off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

As for me, at the end of the day, all I can do and want to do is keep on trying to seek the Truth. I won't always succeed, and if history is any guide, I will fail considerably more than I succeed. But the attempt is an important one, especially in the kingdom of madness that is America. The best I can do now is to heed the advice of my good friend Bono, who told me the other night to go forth into this mad world with "Open eyes…open arms…open heart…and OPEN MIND". I wish Mary, Lola and Lana would take this sage advice as well, because then we might be able to mitigate the disaster that awaits us all by being the change we all desperately want to see in this insane world.

 

©2018

St. Patrick's Day : The Five Best Irish Films

The following article is republished from St. Patrick's Day 2015

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Minutes

I am Irish-American. Most of my best friends are Irish. Among the loveliest of the plethora of lovely ladies in my prodigious gaggle of gorgeous girlfriends are Irish. I love the Irish. I love being Irish. But...I do not love St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day is the day people of all types get to embody the most base and degrading stereotypes of the Irish. They dress in kelly green, wear "Kiss Me I'm Irish" pins, get roaring drunk and vomit all over themselves and anyone unfortunate enough to be within vomit radius. For some reason I can't quite understand, stereotyping of the Irish is permitted by our culture which is so quick to take offense when other groups or nationalities are stereotypically portrayed. Ironically, in attempting to celebrate Irishness, people end up being incredibly and disgustingly disrespectful to the Irish and what it means to be Irish.

Irishness, contrary to common beliefs, is not about leprechauns, shamrocks and pots o' gold. Nor does it entail wearing green, getting drunk and puking. Rather, Irishness is a complex combination of fierce defiance, intellectual curiosity, contemplative melancholy, and roguish charm that outwardly manifests itself in artistic, cultural and spiritual works of immense depth and genius.

So, as an actual tribute to the Irish, instead of drinking green beer and eating corn beef and cabbage today, I recommend you dive into the plethora of fantastic Irish works of art. Whether in the form of music, literature or film, true Irish culture is worth exploring in order to get a sense of who the Irish really, truly are, and what has made them that way. Go read the works of James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw or Seamus Heaney. Go listen to some traditional Irish music, or put on some Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher or U2. Or, since this is an acting coaching website...go and watch a great Irish film!

With that in mind, here are a list of my favorite Irish films which I thoroughly encourage you to watch. Instead of going to a crowded bar and being surrounded by idiotic jackass phony-Irish wannabes and taking the risk of getting covered in your own vomit,  or worse, someone else's, sit down and watch these films and come to understand the heart and soul of the greatest people on earth.

TOP FIVE IRISH FILMS

1. BLOODY SUNDAY directed by Paul Greengrass : 

Bloody Sunday (2002) is the true story of the 1972 shootings of innocent protestors in Derry in the occupied six counties, by British Army paratroopers. The film is masterfully directed by Paul Greengrass, who later went on to direct some of the Bourne films and United 93

Through the dynamic use of handheld camera, Greengrass creates an intimacy and immediacy that is riveting, and that impacts the viewer on a visceral level. In addition to Greengrass, lead actor James Nesbitt does spectacular work as Ivan Cooper, the organizer of the peaceful protest that ends is bloody slaughter. Nesbitt's performance is the centerpiece of an outstanding ensemble.

Bloody Sunday may be difficult to watch, but it is a truly great film that is must-see.

2. HUNGER directed by Steve McQueen :

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Hunger (2008), is the story of the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other members of the I.R.A. at the H.M.S. Maze prison. This is Steve McQueen's first feature film, which he later followed with Shame and the Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave.

McQueen proves right out of the gate that he is an artistic and creative master as a director with Hunger. The visuals of the film have such a unique grit and texture to them that they can, and often do, tell the story all by themselves. Along with McQueen's brilliant direction, Hunger boasts Michael Fassbenders tour-de-force portrayal of Bobby Sands, which elevates the film to a transcendent work of genius. Fassbender's performance in Hunger is as intricately crafted and delicately human as any captured on film in the last twenty years.

Again, Hunger is not for the feint of heart. It is a brutally unforgiving film. Yet, it is such a finely crafted film, that it takes its much deserved space in the pantheon of great Irish films.

3. JIM SHERIDAN FILMS - IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993), IN AMERICA (2003), MY LEFT FOOT (1989), THE FIELD, (1990), THE BOXER (1997)

Jim Sheridan is the Grand Master of Irish filmmakers. No other director has been as consistently great as Sheridan. In fact, Sheridan's work is so superlative that I couldn't pick just one film to put in my top five, so I gave him a top five list all to his own.

  1. In the Name of the Father (1993): Based on the true story of the Guilford Four, four people wrongly convicted for the 1974 Guildford Pub bombing by the I.R.A. which killed five people. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Gerry Conlon, a wayward Irish youth who gets blamed for the bombing, as does his father, family members and friends. Day-Lewis' gives a powerhouse performance that propels this film to the tops of the Sheridan list.
  2. In America (2003) : A semi-autobiographical film about the Sullivan family, husband Johnny, his wife Sarah, and their two daughters, Christy and Ariel who move to New York City from Ireland in 1982 in the wake of the death of their young son Frankie. Samantha Morton stars as Sarah and earned an Oscar nomination for her stellar performance, as did Djimon Hounsou in a supporting role as their HIV positive neighbor. The entire cast, particularly the two young actresses, Sarah and Emma Bolger, are outstanding. In America is a deeply moving, and insightful look into the struggle to find forgiveness and peace in a new land.
  3. My Left Foot (1989) : The film that put Sheridan on the map, is the story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who can only use his left foot. Brown overcomes his obstacles and becomes a writer and painter. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Best Actor Oscar for his remarkable work in the lead, and Brenda Fricker won a Best Supporting Actor as Bridget Brown, Christy Brown's mother. An excellent film buoyed by sterling performances.
  4. The Field (1990) : The story of an old Irish farmer, Bull McCabe, trying to hold onto a strip of land, his family and tradition. McCabe is played by Richard Harris, who earned an Oscar nomination for his fine performance. Have you noticed a pattern? Actor's get Oscar nominations when they are directed by Jim Sheridan, which is why so many great actors want to keep working with him.
  5. The Boxer (1997) : The story of a boxer recently released from prison, who was a former member of the I.R.A. Once again Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Danny Flynn and is really incredible as the boxer trying reform his ways in the ever more complex world of "The Troubles". Emma Watson plays Maggie, Flynn's former girlfriend, and gives a subtly compelling performance. Day-Lewis' continuous commitment to realism in the portrayal of a boxer wins the day, as his seamless portrayal is as spot on as any in film history.

4. ONCE directed by John Carney

Once (2007), is an Irish musical film about the trials and tribulations of a Dublin singer/songwriter street musician as he tries to make a career in the music business. The "guy", played by Glen Hansard, meets and falls for a piano playing Czech immigrant "girl", played by Marketa Irglova. The two lead actors have a phenomenal chemistry and charm. The music is heartbreakingly good.  Once is joyously exhilarating in its artistic spirit, its musical power and its heart felt honesty. An absolute gem of a film.

5. THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY directed by Ken Loach

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), is the story of two brothers, Damien and Teddy O'Donovan who join the Irish Republican Army and fight in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). Cillian Murphy stars as Damien and gives the strongest performance of his fine career. The film excels due to Murphy's complex work and also because of director Loach's clear, detailed and specific dramatic explanation of the wars for Ireland and what caused them and why. Definitely worth your time if you enjoy Irish history. 

In the spirit of the day, I leave you now with the words of one of the great Irish poets.

Had I the heaven' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  - He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats
 

And thus concludes my St. Patrick's Day sermon.  Go forth, spread the word and try to remember what it actually means to be Irish today. Sláinte Mhaith!! 

© 2015

St. Patrick's Day : The Five Best Irish Films

The following article is republished from St. Patrick's Day 2015

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Minutes

I am Irish-American. Most of my best friends are Irish. Among the loveliest of the plethora of lovely ladies in my prodigious gaggle of gorgeous girlfriends are Irish. I love the Irish. I love being Irish. But...I do not love St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day is the day people of all types get to embody the most base and degrading stereotypes of the Irish. They dress in kelly green, wear "Kiss Me I'm Irish" pins, get roaring drunk and vomit all over themselves and anyone unfortunate enough to be within vomit radius. For some reason I can't quite understand, stereotyping of the Irish is permitted by our culture which is so quick to take offense when other groups or nationalities are stereotypically portrayed. Ironically, in attempting to celebrate Irishness, people end up being incredibly and disgustingly disrespectful to the Irish and what it means to be Irish.

Irishness, contrary to common beliefs, is not about leprechauns, shamrocks and pots o' gold. Nor does it entail wearing green, getting drunk and puking. Rather, Irishness is a complex combination of fierce defiance, intellectual curiosity, contemplative melancholy, and roguish charm that outwardly manifests itself in artistic, cultural and spiritual works of immense depth and genius.

So, as an actual tribute to the Irish, instead of drinking green beer and eating corn beef and cabbage today, I recommend you dive into the plethora of fantastic Irish works of art. Whether in the form of music, literature or film, true Irish culture is worth exploring in order to get a sense of who the Irish really, truly are, and what has made them that way. Go read the works of James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw or Seamus Heaney. Go listen to some traditional Irish music, or put on some Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher or U2. Or, since this is an acting coaching website...go and watch a great Irish film!

With that in mind, here are a list of my favorite Irish films which I thoroughly encourage you to watch. Instead of going to a crowded bar and being surrounded by idiotic jackass phony-Irish wannabes and taking the risk of getting covered in your own vomit,  or worse, someone else's, sit down and watch these films and come to understand the heart and soul of the greatest people on earth.

TOP FIVE IRISH FILMS

1. BLOODY SUNDAY directed by Paul Greengrass : 

Bloody Sunday (2002) is the true story of the 1972 shootings of innocent protestors in Derry in the occupied six counties, by British Army paratroopers. The film is masterfully directed by Paul Greengrass, who later went on to direct some of the Bourne films and United 93

Through the dynamic use of handheld camera, Greengrass creates an intimacy and immediacy that is riveting, and that impacts the viewer on a visceral level. In addition to Greengrass, lead actor James Nesbitt does spectacular work as Ivan Cooper, the organizer of the peaceful protest that ends is bloody slaughter. Nesbitt's performance is the centerpiece of an outstanding ensemble.

Bloody Sunday may be difficult to watch, but it is a truly great film that is must-see.

2. HUNGER directed by Steve McQueen :

tumblr_m2q93zC2mq1qe2w1uo1_1280.jpg

Hunger (2008), is the story of the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other members of the I.R.A. at the H.M.S. Maze prison. This is Steve McQueen's first feature film, which he later followed with Shame and the Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave.

McQueen proves right out of the gate that he is an artistic and creative master as a director with Hunger. The visuals of the film have such a unique grit and texture to them that they can, and often do, tell the story all by themselves. Along with McQueen's brilliant direction, Hunger boasts Michael Fassbenders tour-de-force portrayal of Bobby Sands, which elevates the film to a transcendent work of genius. Fassbender's performance in Hunger is as intricately crafted and delicately human as any captured on film in the last twenty years.

Again, Hunger is not for the feint of heart. It is a brutally unforgiving film. Yet, it is such a finely crafted film, that it takes its much deserved space in the pantheon of great Irish films.

3. JIM SHERIDAN FILMS - IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993), IN AMERICA (2003), MY LEFT FOOT (1989), THE FIELD, (1990), THE BOXER (1997)

Jim Sheridan is the Grand Master of Irish filmmakers. No other director has been as consistently great as Sheridan. In fact, Sheridan's work is so superlative that I couldn't pick just one film to put in my top five, so I gave him a top five list all to his own.

  1. In the Name of the Father (1993): Based on the true story of the Guilford Four, four people wrongly convicted for the 1974 Guildford Pub bombing by the I.R.A. which killed five people. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Gerry Conlon, a wayward Irish youth who gets blamed for the bombing, as does his father, family members and friends. Day-Lewis' gives a powerhouse performance that propels this film to the tops of the Sheridan list.
  2. In America (2003) : A semi-autobiographical film about the Sullivan family, husband Johnny, his wife Sarah, and their two daughters, Christy and Ariel who move to New York City from Ireland in 1982 in the wake of the death of their young son Frankie. Samantha Morton stars as Sarah and earned an Oscar nomination for her stellar performance, as did Djimon Hounsou in a supporting role as their HIV positive neighbor. The entire cast, particularly the two young actresses, Sarah and Emma Bolger, are outstanding. In America is a deeply moving, and insightful look into the struggle to find forgiveness and peace in a new land.
  3. My Left Foot (1989) : The film that put Sheridan on the map, is the story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who can only use his left foot. Brown overcomes his obstacles and becomes a writer and painter. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Best Actor Oscar for his remarkable work in the lead, and Brenda Fricker won a Best Supporting Actor as Bridget Brown, Christy Brown's mother. An excellent film buoyed by sterling performances.
  4. The Field (1990) : The story of an old Irish farmer, Bull McCabe, trying to hold onto a strip of land, his family and tradition. McCabe is played by Richard Harris, who earned an Oscar nomination for his fine performance. Have you noticed a pattern? Actor's get Oscar nominations when they are directed by Jim Sheridan, which is why so many great actors want to keep working with him.
  5. The Boxer (1997) : The story of a boxer recently released from prison, who was a former member of the I.R.A. Once again Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Danny Flynn and is really incredible as the boxer trying reform his ways in the ever more complex world of "The Troubles". Emma Watson plays Maggie, Flynn's former girlfriend, and gives a subtly compelling performance. Day-Lewis' continuous commitment to realism in the portrayal of a boxer wins the day, as his seamless portrayal is as spot on as any in film history.

4. ONCE directed by John Carney

Once (2007), is an Irish musical film about the trials and tribulations of a Dublin singer/songwriter street musician as he tries to make a career in the music business. The "guy", played by Glen Hansard, meets and falls for a piano playing Czech immigrant "girl", played by Marketa Irglova. The two lead actors have a phenomenal chemistry and charm. The music is heartbreakingly good.  Once is joyously exhilarating in its artistic spirit, its musical power and its heart felt honesty. An absolute gem of a film.

5. THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY directed by Ken Loach

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), is the story of two brothers, Damien and Teddy O'Donovan who join the Irish Republican Army and fight in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). Cillian Murphy stars as Damien and gives the strongest performance of his fine career. The film excels due to Murphy's complex work and also because of director Loach's clear, detailed and specific dramatic explanation of the wars for Ireland and what caused them and why. Definitely worth your time if you enjoy Irish history. 

In the spirit of the day, I leave you now with the words of one of the great Irish poets.

Had I the heaven' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  - He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats
 

And thus concludes my St. Patrick's Day sermon.  Go forth, spread the word and try to remember what it actually means to be Irish today. Sláinte Mhaith!! 

© 2015

Bridge of Spies : A Review

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

MY RATING : SKIP IT.

Bridge of Spies, written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Steven Spielberg, is the story of James B. Donovan, an American insurance lawyer who must defend Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy arrested in Brooklyn in 1957 at the height of the cold war. Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, struggles to overcome both overt and covert legal, popular and familial hostility in order to give Abel (Mark Rylance) a worthy defense.

The first half of the film is dedicated to Donovan's defense of Abel amid a corrupt legal system. The second half of the film follows Donovan's attempts to facilitate a prisoner swap In East Germany between the Soviets, who want Abel back, and the Americans, who want infamous U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers back. This prisoner swap is made even more complicated as the negotiations are occurring as the Berlin Wall is being built, and an American college student is trapped on the wrong side of the wall.

If you asked most "normal" people, "normal" meaning people smart enough to not work in the film business, who the greatest filmmaker in the world was? Odds are, probably 90 to 95% would say Steven Spielberg. His name is synonymous with modern day filmmaking and enormously successful blockbusters. But I'll let you in on a dirty little secret, if you anonymously asked that same question to people who work in the film business, and they knew their answers would be confidential, the answers would be exactly the opposite. Spielberg would maybe get 5% of the vote. How do I know this? Because I've done it. I talk to people everyday in this business and they tell me all sorts of things you won't hear among 'the normals'.

I'll let you in on another dirty little secret…Steven Spielberg simply lacks the skill as a filmmaker to make a serious film of any notable quality. If you give Spielberg some aliens, dinosaurs or monsters, he'll knock it out of the park nine times out of ten (for instance, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are two popcorn films of unadulterated genius). But give him a true drama with real people, and he fumbles and stumbles his way through it. He can make his serious films appear to be noteworthy to the unsophisticated viewer, with soft lighting and a swelling soundtrack, but anyone with the least bit of artistic sensibility can see that these "serious" films are, like their director, completely devoid of gravitas.

I saw Bridge of Spies a few months ago and have not written about it at all because I found it to be so unremarkable. It is a tepid and flaccid film of no note whatsoever. I was so underwhelmed by it that I basically forgot I saw it and therefore forgot to review it. Then a friend, a famous director whom I will call Director X, emailed me a review of the film with a laughing emoji attached. As a practice I never read reviews prior to seeing a film and almost never after seeing a film. But I read the review my friend sent me and it made me, like the emoji accompanying it, fall out of my chair laughing. The review was glowing and spoke of Spielberg with a reverence usually reserved for saints and martyrs. The thing that made me laugh so hard was the reviewer said that Spielberg made the brilliant decision to "remove all dramatic tension from the film". Think about that sentence for a minute. "Remove all dramatic tension from the film". That is usually something you write about a film when that film is an unmitigated disaster, not when you are praising a director for his brilliance. For instance a reviewer may write, "why on earth would a director REMOVE ALL DRAMATIC TENSION FROM A FILM?" Well…whether St. Spielberg made that decision consciously or unconsciously, I can't say for sure, but he certainly succeeded in "removing all dramatic tension from the film". Spielberg should be charged with dramatic and storytelling misconduct and general directorial malpractice for having "removed all the dramatic tension from the film".

This glowing review was not alone in it's praise of Bridge of Spies, the film is currently at 91% at critic section of the website Rotten Tomatoes. This is less an endorsement of Spielberg's work and more an indictment of the reviewers, in particular, and the business of film criticism in general. Whenever a new Spielberg film comes out you can count on the overwhelming amount of reviews being inordinately positive. Spielberg's power and reach in the film industry is gargantuan, that reviewers are afraid to speak ill of him even when he churns out one of his usual sub-par "serious" films is a testament to his standing in the business and the reviewers cowardice in the face of it. It is amazing that so many reviewers are either that bad at their job and don't know garbage when they see it, or are too afraid to speak truth to the powerful in the industry. Don't believe me? Go read the glowing reviews for the dreadful Amistad, or Saving Private Ryan, which got Spielberg a Best Director Oscar, but which is little more than one great battlefield sequence surrounded by two and a half hours of below standard World War II film tropes. Want more, check out the heavy-handed Munich, or the cloying The Color Purple.

Spielberg's holocaust epic, Schindler's List, is considered to be his greatest film for it won him a Best Picture and Best Director Oscar, but Stanley Kubrick said it best when he said of the film "Think that's (Schindler's List) about the Holocaust? That film was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler's List is about 600 who don't. Schindler's List is about success, the Holocaust is about failure." As always, Kubrick is right. Here is a great short video of director Terry Gilliam explaining Spielberg and his success. It is well worth the two minutes it takes to watch. In the video Gilliam explains the difference between the genius of Kubrick, whose films make us question, and that of shills like Spielberg, whose films give us answers, and answers that are always soft and "stupid". Spielberg placates us, Kubrick agitates us. Spielberg tell us what we want to hear, Kubrick tells us the truth.

So it is with Bridge of Spies where Spielberg goes to great lengths to assure us that America is unquestionably the moral and ethical beacon of hope in a cold and dark world. There is the opportunity for Spielberg to leave us with a question as to whether American moral superiority is genuine or simply a facade, but he goes to great lengths to eliminate that question when he adds a dramatically misguided coda to the film. This coda is there for no other reason than to squelch any potential uneasiness or doubt within the viewer as to their own, and America's "goodness".

Prior to Bridge of Spies, Spielberg's last piece of crap "serious" film was Lincoln, and it is a perfect example of what I am talking about in terms of Critic malfeasance. I was listening to a podcast on the now defunct Grantland website where some critics were discussing Lincoln and all of them but one were tripping over themselves to praise the film. The one critic who was a bit apprehensive had to keep assuring the others and the listener, that he was, in fact, NOT A RACIST and was against slavery, but that he thought the film was slightly flawed. Good Lord, it was just the worst sort of pandering imaginable. Lincoln isn't a great film, it isn't even a good film, it is a really really really bad film. It is so structurally flawed that if it were a house it would be condemned. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a dope, a dupe, or both.

There are two things at play here…1. Everyone needs to kiss up to Spielberg and pretend he's some "serious" filmmaker in order to not lose access and get frozen out of the film business where Spielberg is very powerful and has a long memory. and 2. Critics really do not know any better and don't know what the hell they are writing about and just go with the flow of the pandering crowd.

Regardless of why it happens, there is no doubt that it does happen, and that it has happened with Bridge of Spies. Structurally, once again, the film is untenable. Spielberg, just like in Lincoln, adds an unnecessary coda to the film that does nothing more than water down the already thin narrative. 

Just like in Lincoln, in Bridge of Spies, Spielberg adds story lines that do little more than extend the running time and do nothing but muddy the dramatic and narrative cohesion of the story. Just like in Lincoln he has a cloying and candied soundtrack that tells the viewer when and how to feel. Just like in Lincoln, and all his other "serious" films, Spielberg indicates his seriousness with a specific 'soft lighting'.

Steven Spielberg is a huge collector of Norman Rockwell's paintings. This should come as no surprise as he is the Norman Rockwell of filmmaking. Most of Spielberg's 'serious' films are little more than saccharine propaganda espousing America's moral and ethical supremacy. It is sadly ironic that the man who has done so much noble work for holocaust survivors with his Shoah Foundation, has morphed into little more than a modern day American Leni Reifenstahl.

Tom Hanks reprises his role as Spielberg's partner in propaganda crime by starring in Bridge of Spies. Hanks performance is typically Hanks-ian as he does little more than play dignity that often-times veers into arrogant preeminence. Like the film, Hank's performance is of no note whatsoever. It comes and goes without the least bit of notice.

Acting styles and tastes have changed over the years, for instance, go watch Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, a film for which he won his first of back-to-back Best Actor Oscars. Hanks performance, and the film itself, are terribly shallow and vacuous. Watch any Tom Hanks film over his stretch of dominance from 1992 to 2002 and you notice something, Tom Hanks doesn't act, he performs, which is why he is such a match for Spielberg who doesn't create art, but instead makes entertainment. To the uninitiated that sounds like a distinction without a difference, but to those in the know, it is a gigantic difference. There are very rare moments in Hanks career when he stops performing and starts acting (or being), and these moments are glorious, but they are very few and far between.

The first moment of note when Hanks stops performing and starts acting is in Forest Gump when Forest realizes that Jenny has had his child, and then realizes the implications of that and asks Jenny if his child is stupid or not. It is the only real moment in the entire film from Hanks and it is spectacularly human.

Another example is in Captain Phillips, where, after spending the entire film butchering a New England accent...AGAIN (he did the same thing in Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can), Hanks pulls out a moment of genuine humanity that is staggering. The moment is near the end, when Phillips sits in an examination room after his rescue a doctor (who is spectacular in the scene) checks him out to make sure he has no injuries. Hanks says little, but his body starts to convulse uncontrollably and he weeps and wails. It is easily the greatest acting Tom Hanks has ever done on screen.

Do these moments override the previous two hours of bad accent in Captain Phillips, or the shticky performing on display in Forest Gump? For me…maybe…but it depends on what day you ask me.

Hanks is like those actors in the Pre-Brando Big Bang era, actors like Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. He is more playing himself or playing a version of himself that people identify as the "everyman". What has bubbled to the surface in Hanks "everyman" work in the latter part of his career, is that "everyman" has become "smug and contemptuous". There is a haughtiness that seeps through his pores that I find odd and frankly puzzling. A great example of this is in a scene from Saving Private Ryan where Hanks' character listens to Matt Damon's character do a monologue about he and his brothers growing up.

That same air of superiority, the "my poop don't stink but yours sure does" attitude, is on full display from Hanks in Bridge of Spies as well. How the American everyman came to be so arrogant and high and mighty I have no idea, but in the world of Spielberg and Hanks, he certainly has. 

A few final notes in terms of the acting in Bridge of Spies (which is a horrendous name for a film by the way, no doubt thought up by some marketing genius at a studio). First, Mark Rylance gives an outstanding and meticulous performance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Rylance is one of the great Shakespearean actors of our time, and he was the first artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London (1995-2005). Many, many moons ago I had the good fortune to study with him while I was in London. He is a fountain of knowledge regarding acting and Shakespeare, and is a very soft-spoken and genuinely kind person. His work in Bridge of Spies has garnered him a much deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I don't know if he will win, but I will certainly be rooting for him. I also hope he does more film work and a wider audience gets a chance to appreciate his brilliance.

Another actor of note is Eve Hewson, who plays Tom Hanks daughter in the film. Hewson doesn't have too many scenes in the film, but she is captivating whenever she is on screen. There is one scene where she is lying on a couch eating ice cream that in the hands of a lesser actress would have been little more than a throwaway, but Hewson makes it a vibrant sequence worthy of attention. In a strange twist, Eve Hewson is the daughter of Paul Hewson a.k.a. Bono. Bono is, of course, the lead singer of U2, which took its band name from the same plane Francis Gary Powers was flying over the Soviet Union when he was shot down. Spooky coincidence or brilliant subliminal marketing…you decide!!!

In conclusion, Bridge of Spies is another in a long line of Spielberg's uncritical and pandering "serious" films. It is just another one of the Spielberg-Hanks propaganda collaborations that is painstakingly safe and flag-wavingly dull. In fact, I have an admittedly insane theory that both Spielberg and Hanks are contract propaganda agents of the U.S. intelligence community. Obviously I don't have time to share my tinfoil hat wearing madness with you here, but just go look at both of their filmographies and notice a pattern in the themes running through the films of both of them (case in point…notice in the re-release of E.T. Spielberg edited out the government agents guns and replaced them with walkie talkies and flashlights!!). Ok…enough of my rambling, just know that in the final analysis, Bridge of Spies is a film of no consequence that you never need to watch. If it is in the theatre, save your money and skip it, if it is on cable, don't waste your time, just change the channel. 

One final note, thank you for reading, and if you could do me a favor and keep this review between just the two of us, I'd really appreciate it. I don't want Steven Spielberg getting wind of it as I'll never work in this town again if he hears I've bad mouthed one of his movies. Also, I'm pretty sure the notoriously vicious Tom Hanks might murder me with a baseball bat if he found out I said a bad word about his work. I will thank you in advance for your discretion. 

©2016