"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

The Mule: A Review

MV5BMTc1OTc5NzA4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTAzMzE2NjM@._V1_.jpg

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

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. An underwhelming dramatic misfire from Clint Eastwood that never lives up to its intriguing premise or its cinematic promise.

The Mule, written by Nick Schenk and directed by Clint Eastwood, is the true story of Leo Sharp, a war veteran in his late 80’s who becomes a drug courier for a Mexican drug cartel. The film stars Eastwood as Leo, with supporting turns from Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia.

Clint Eastwood is royalty out here in Hollywood, and rightfully so. The reasons for his kingly status are pretty obvious, it is because he has been a huge box office star, a cultural icon and an Oscar winning filmmaker as well as the fact that he has been around forever and has made lots of people lots of money, something which Hollywood REALLY likes.

Unknown-7.jpeg

As esteemed as Eastwood’s career has been, it is his longevity that has afforded him the ability to be alive while the industry lauds his career accomplishments. For instance, Eastwood won his Best Director Oscar for his genre defining and closing western masterpiece Unforgiven at the age of 62, it felt like the final chapter of a remarkable career. But then Eastwood won Best Director again in 2004 at the age of 74 for the less than award worthy Million Dollar Baby in what most definitely felt like a lifetime achievement award, a gold statuette from Hollywood to say thank you to Clint one more time before he died. But then the unexpected happened again…Clint Eastwood didn’t die. He didn’t fade away. He didn’t retire. To his credit, he kept making movies…and he kept making people money because he was always on time and always on budget, which is the true secret to Tinseltown success.

As great as Eastwood’s Unforgiven was, and it is truly one of the great pieces of cinema, the truth is that this Emperor of Hollywood has no clothes in regards to his later works, which have been decidedly sub-par and shoddy. Yes, he and his movies have won awards and made money, but the bottom line is this, Eastwood’s late career movies haven’t been good films. A good test of this is that you can watch Unforgiven a dozen times over and still come away with something new each time, but if you try and watch any of Eastwood’s later films, like Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper, more than once, you are struck by the glaring lack of craft, skill and artistry on display. His late career films, even ones with a lot of accolades and box office bang, are cinematically tenuous and artistically shallow. All of Eastwood’s golden years movies are paper thin, and upon closer examination reveal themselves to be really shoddy pieces of work.

Unknown-8.jpeg

A hysterical example of that shoddiness is the infamous fake baby in American Sniper, but the problems with Eastwood films runs much deeper than using a fake baby, it is why he used a fake baby that causes the problem. The fake baby came about because the two babies lined up to shoot that day fell through, so instead of shifting on the fly and rescheduling the baby scenes, Eastwood stubbornly stuck to schedule and budget, and shot with a doll instead of a live baby. What this silly little example shows is that Eastwood is more interested in getting it done (on time and on budget) than getting it done right.

Now, the uninitiated and/or “regular people” might think, “hey, why is getting something done on budget and on time bad?” Well, it isn’t bad in and of itself, and it is a wise move in terms of making a living and making a lot of powerful friends in Hollywood, as a minimal talent like Ron Howard has learned, the problem is when it is craft that is the victim of a strict adherence to budget and time. Think of it this way…what if a construction company building the bridge you drive over every day cared more about being on time and on budget than getting it done right. In that case, cutting corners means the bridge will be structurally unsound and will, over time, collapse…which is a perfect metaphor for Eastwood’s later films, as they are structurally unsound and collapse over time and repeated viewings. You wouldn’t want to drive on that bridge, just like I don’t want to suffer through a shoddy Eastwood film.

Unknown-9.jpeg

Another problem born out of Eastwood’s adherence to tight schedules and budgets is his preference for doing a minimal amount of takes of each scene. This approach works on a film like Unforgiven because you have a murderer’s row of old pros like Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself carrying the film. This approach works less well on films like Gran Torino, where Eastwood cast non-actors and amateurs, or American Sniper, where much of the cast were less experienced, less talented and less skilled actors.

Actors with less experience need direction, and direction comes about over the course of a few takes. Eastwood’s hands off approach may keep his schedule and budget in tact, but it also makes his movies feel second rate and amateurish.

What is so frustrating to me is that Eastwood’s films all feel like they SHOULD be good, and in theory they are good as they have good ideas, good stories and often times good actors, but the problem is not in theory but in the execution and in the attention to detail, and that falls on Clint.

The Mule is a perfect example as the story of a 90 year old man working as a drug mule for a cartel is certainly intriguing, and so is the idea of a cultural icon, Dirty Harry or The Man With No Name, playing the role, but it is in the execution where the film stumbles and staggers.

Unknown-12.jpeg

In The Mule, Eastwood’s weaknesses are on full display, with a notable addition, Eastwood himself is so old at this point, that he himself is not much of an actor anymore, and that is a problem when he is supposed to carry this movie not only as an actor but as a director. It is asking quite a lot for an 88 year old to walk around the block, nevermind muster the energy to act in front of the camera and direct from behind it.

It is for these reasons that The Mule is a bit of a conflicted and underwhelming hodge-podge of a movie. To be fair, The Mule could have been a whole lot worse, but that certainly doesn’t mean it was great or even good. The frustrating thing for me is that The Mule could have been great. Maybe if Eastwood just acted in it and there was a more visionary director at the helm, then it could have risen to worthy heights, but as it is, the film is a disappointment.

Eastwood’s acting is painful to watch. There are moments when he flashes back to being the Outlaw Josey Wales (another great movie) or Dirty Harry for a second, but those glimpses quickly fade into oblivion and are replaced by an actor pushing too much or not enough. Clint never firmly grasps the character, which could be due to the script, and so he staggers around from comedy to tragedy and back again.

Eastwood isn’t helped by the script or by his own directing, both of which leave a lot to be desired. There are some scenes with painfully obtuse exposition, like where Leo, out of the blue, tells a stranger that he has driven all over the country and never…NEVER got a ticket or pulled over. Leo shares this bit of information about five times in less than thirty seconds and then the stranger propositions him to be a drug mule. Yikes.

Leo’s relationship with his wife, kid and grandkid are so hollow their dialogue could echo. There is not a single, genuine, grounded human emotion or encounter in the entire film. Not one. Every interaction rings false and forced.

images-7.jpeg

The characters are one dimensional card board cutouts, but that would make sense since the plot is equally thin. There are all the usual bad movie tropes in there, the interrogation scene where tough guy cops get a bad guy to flip, the drug lords living their decadent and lavish lifestyle, scantily clad women included, and the family drama of a bitter ex-wife and daughter, and the hope of a new beginning with a granddaughter. The whole movie is painfully predictable and is sort of like a amalgamation of every bad drug movie and family turmoil movie ever made.

Besides Clint, the rest of the cast are less than stellar. Bradley Cooper does the best of the bunch, but even he is hamstrung by a nebulous character. Dianne Wiest does her best, but the script does her no favors. The rest of the cast are pretty dreadful, from the tattoed tough guys to the non-tattoed tough guys to the granddaughter with a heart of gold, none of them seem even remotely believable.

There is one thing that stood out to me about The Mule, and that is that it contains the single worst scene I’ve witnessed in a film this entire year. The scene is not only remarkably poorly executed in terms of the writing, directing, acting and editing, but it is remarkable because it doesn’t need to be in the film at all. I won’t say what scene it is, but I will tell you that it comes very near the end, and you’ll know it when you see it. I audibly groaned when I saw the scene, so much so that my fellow movie goers probably thought I was having a stroke…I should have been so lucky.

images-8.jpeg

As hard as I am being on this movie, it actually could have been worse, and while a cinephile like me disliked it, people who aren’t quite the film snob I am, will probably enjoy it. For instance, old people love to go to the movies, and they love to see other old people in movies. So old people will probably like this movie since they get to watch someone who is most likely older than they are star in a movie. In fact, as I entered the theatre for my screening, a decrepit old lady, probably in her late 80’s, grabbed my arm as I walked past her and stopped me just to tell me “you’ll love the movie…it’s really great.” I didn’t know this woman and had no idea why she needed to share that with me or why she felt it was ok to grab my arm, but obviously she felt strongly about the film. I would love to share my review with her and hear her counter argument, but sadly, even after passionately and expertly making out with her for the majority of the movie, I never once thought to get her name or number….such is the glamorous life of an internet film critic.

In conclusion, The Mule is a formulaic film that looks and feels more like a made for tv movie than a piece of serious cinema. I am a fan of Clint Eastwood, and he is one of the all-time greats in this business, but his acting and directing fastball left him long ago, so much so that he is basically throwing a slow-pitch meatball up to the plate with The Mule. The movie is so rough around the edges and so soft in the middle that it ultimately fails to deliver much drama or any cinematic punch. If you are curious about it or are an avid fan of Eastwood, feel free to check out The Mule when it comes out on cable or Netflix for free, but avoid paying to see it at the theatre because you’ll end up feeling like The Mule kicked you in the head and stole your hard earned money if you do.

©2018

A Second Look - The Way of the Gun: Meditations on America and Guns

*** ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES***

In light of the horrific massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida yesterday (February 14, 2018), I thought I would re-post this article The Way of the Gun: Meditations on America and Guns, which I wrote in December of 2015 in response to a previous mass shootings. I believe the thoughts, theories and opinions expressed in this article continue to speak directly to the forces in our culture and collective unconscious that are only increasing in power and will continue to unconsciously motivate more acts of senseless murder.

After the recent terror attack in San Bernadino, a friend of mine, a prominent financial writer who I will call The Dragon, emailed me a graph showing the U.S. gun ownership rate compared to other countries. In the email The Dragon wrote, "We are a gun-crazy country, yet I see this as more correlation than causation. I don’t know about Yemen, but there are lots of guns in Switzerland and Finland (though roughly half the number per capita as the US), and they don’t have anything remotely resembling the mass shooting problem we do in the US. Is there something in the water? There is definitely something wrong with our culture." 

Even though The Dragon and I are on opposite sides of the gun argument, I am a staunch second amendment supporter and he favors much stricter gun controls, I thought his question and comment on culture was a very interesting one and it got me to thinking…why is America so much more prone to gun violence than other countries? What makes the U.S. so unique in this regard?

After deep mediation and contemplation on the issue I have come up with a few theories about America's unique relationship with the gun. These theories range from the mythological to the musical, and everywhere in between. In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on the topic.

EVERY MAN A KING

America : The First Culture/Nation of the New Post-Monarchist Age

For thousands of years, mankind lived within the culture of Monarchy. Kings or Emperors ruled the day for millennia. The King/Emperor was not just a ruler and head of state, but also a religious and sacred figure. Kings/Emperors were representatives of God on earth, mediators between the people and the divine. The "Divine Right of Kings", which states that the king derives their rule directly from the will of God and is not subject to any earthly authority, has been the overarching belief of cultures across the globe, from ancient Egypt and China to Rome and the British throne and everywhere in between.

While nations, such as the United Kingdom for example, changed their governmental and legal structures to diminish or disavow the ruling power of the monarch, the mythological power of the King, and the deference and reverence that came with it, still dominates the unconscious of the culture. The psyche of monarchist cultures remain imbued with respect for the sacred power and myth of the monarch even when the governing structures of the nation neuter their ruling power. This occurs even in countries/cultures where the monarchy is replaced with a seemingly polar opposite form of rule, take Russia post-monarchy which was ruled by singular heads of the communist party like Stalin, or even post-communist Russia with Vladimir Putin. China is another example, which over time replaced the leadership of an Emperor with that of Chairman Mao. In both the Russian and Chinese examples, the trappings of government and its ideology changed but the psychological dynamics of the culture did not.

Just like in Russia, China, or France, the country of the United States of America was born in rebellion against the King (of England), but unlike those nations, the culture of the United States of America was born in direct opposition to the cultural myth of the King. In American culture the Divine Right of Kings held no place, but every U.S. citizen was "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights".  This is the birth of the new post-monarchist age, where Kings lose their divine right, and ordinary citizens gain theirs. In American culture, the first of its kind, there is no one king, but rather there is a nation full of kings. Everyman as his own king, with his own God given rights, was a brilliant idea upon which to build a nation, but a difficult one upon which to build a culture because it brings with it a dark side, namely, when everyman is a King there are considerably more opportunities for individual tyrants to raise their ugly head. 

Which brings us to the gun discussion. In this post-monarchist cultural myth, a person with a gun can be a benevolent king or a despotic one. The benevolent, gun carrying citizen-king keeps governmental tyranny from thriving, while the gun-toting, despot citizen-king imposes his tyranny upon those he perceives as weaker or not deferential enough to his divine right to rule what he believes should be his ever expanding kingdom.

Individuals swimming in the collective unconscious of the American culture can go adrift in seas of chaos without the moorings of the monarchist cultural myth and the psychological structures that accompany it. The monarchist cultural myth, while depriving the ordinary person of their rights by placing all of the power in one individual or royal family, brings with it an order and structure and even a connection with the divine that is totally lacking in the post-monarchist new age American culture. For those weak of mind or spirit, the evolution of this new age can go from 'everyman a king' to 'everyman a god', in the blink of a blood shot eye. The American culture brings with it no connection to the divine in the form of a ruler, only a deeper love of the self, and with that self love and belief in one's own 'divine right' comes with it the urge and instinct to get others to revere you as you revere yourself. In this new post monarchist culture and the mythological psychology that goes with it, the gun becomes a mystical tool that bestows to those that wield it the godly power to take lives with just the slightest movement of their finger.

In the United States of America, the first post-monarchist culture, the gun gives individuals the divine right of Kings, the power to make life and death decisions, once reserved for the lone ruler on the throne. This power, like all power, can be corrupting and disorientating. It is all too easy to be intoxicated with the power of the gun and kill when one sees the divine nowhere but in oneself. It is also all too easy under the spell of the power of the gun to forget that the 'other' is not an inferior to be ruled, but a person to be respected because they are divine in their own right.

There is a scene in Clint Eastwoood's western masterpiece, Unforgiven, where the character, English Bob, played by the inimitable Richard Harris, speaks of the point I am making about the difference between the monarchist culture and the post monarchist culture. In the scene, English Bob perfectly states the point about America being adrift without the stability and divinity of a King…or Queen. I'll leave it to the divine Richard Harris...

The best example of monarchist and post-monarchist cultures placed side by side would be to look at the difference between the culture of the United States and that of Canada. The U.S. grew out of rebellion to the King in a post-monarchist culture, and Canada grew in communion with the King in a monarchist culture. Canada is a much more demur, peaceful and less violent country and culture than the United States.

BLOOD BEGETS BLOOD

CULTURAL DNA, THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE SINS OF THE NATION

Unknown-4.jpeg

Every nation is born of violence. One group defeats and destroys another group and comes to power. This is how nations and cultures across across the planet have come to be. The United States is no different. America was created with the brutal genocide of Native Americans and on the backs of African slaves. The United States of America is soaked in the blood of its formation, and the current American culture reflects the sins of its birth. The violence of today is a direct reflection of the violence that accompanied the founding of this nation.

But if every country is born of violence, why is the United States the only nation where gun violence seems to be so rampant? One main difference between the United States and its sins, and the sins of other nations, is time. Other nations are built upon cultures established thousands of years ago, so just like in regards to the monarchist culture issue, those nations may have changed governing structure, but they didn't change their underlying culture or their cultural psyche. As previously stated, China has been ruled by the communist party for the last sixty five years, but it's overarching culture (a monarchist one in the form of an Emperor) extends back for nearly five thousand years. The same can be said of France, England, Russia and countless other countries and cultures. The same cannot be said of the American nation or culture. Our soil is still soaked with the blood tribute of the unfortunates sacrificed at America's founding, and it seeps into our everyday existence through the collective unconscious of the American culture.

Older cultures have had the benefit of vast amounts of time passing between their present situation and the sins of their founding. Time, the best salve of all, allows for incremental catharsis and the healing of the foundational wounds and horrors that inhabit the collective psyche of cultures across the globe.

Another difference between America and other cultures is that America was the first culture born at the end of a gun. Guns didn't exist at the formation of British, French, Russian, Chinese or Japanese culture, or any other culture for that matter. America was born by the gun, with the gun and of the gun. For good or for ill, the gun is the symbol of how America came to be and what it is now.

The gun was a crucial object in the ritual blood sacrifice of millions, in the form of Indians and slaves, to the Gods of America's founding upon the altar of the United States, and was vital in bringing the country to full term and fruition. Due to the guns integral part in conjuring the country into being, American culture worships the gun as a sacred talisman, instrumental for the nation's and the cultures birth, survival and continued success.  The mythic American Archetype is that of the cowboy with his six shooter...watch Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven for a fantastic mediation on American gunslinger archetype, guns and violence. Other nations have mythic archetypes as well, the Japanese and the Samurai with his sword, or the English with their knights in armor. The archetype of the gun-slinging cowboy lies at the heart of the American cultural psyche because he is the high priest of American individualism who wields the mystical gun in order to conjure up a new nation.

Through this prism of mythological cultural psychology, the scourge of gun violence which horrifies the people of America today can be seen as penance for the violent sins of our forefathers. The United States has flowered into one of the most wealthy and powerful countries to have ever existed in the history of mankind, but until we can fully come to terms with, and become conscious of, the innocent blood we spilled in order to fertilize the ground upon which this country has grown, we will never be able to escape the violence that continually haunts us. 

LOTTO CULTURE AND THE DENIGRATION OF SKILL

THE CURSE OF THE KARDASHIANS AND KANYE

Modern American culture has no respect for skill and craft. Take a look around at popular culture and you see little to no reverence for skill and craft. Arguably the biggest stars on the American scene are the Kardashians, a collection of half-wits with no discernible skill whatsoever besides self promotion. It hasn't always been this way. Prior to the curse of reality television, actors, who had mastered their craft through years of training and work in the theatre, were admired for their artistry in film and on television. Ordinary people could admire the expertise attained by great actors after years of dedication and hard work. Now with reality tv, from Real Housewives and Honey Boo-Boo to Ice Road Truckers and The Deadliest Catch, everyone can envision themselves as being worthy of having their own television show just by being themselves. The thinking goes like this, "Me, Marla and our friends are so zany working down at the nail salon, they should make a tv show about us and call it Tough as Nails!!" No hard work is required, no skill or craft need be obtained. Just turn on the cameras and be outrageous and you can be a cultural phenomenon. 

The same is the case with popular music. In this era, hip-hop rules the day and dominates American culture over every other musical form. What makes hip-hop so quintessentially American is that it is the first musical form to require no musical skill or craft whatsoever. The biggest stars in hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye West as prime examples, play no instruments and are unable to sing a single note. What difference does that make? Well, in terms of artistry, it makes a lot of difference. It used to be that musicians would spend years and years arduously honing their skills and mastering their craft, be it an instrument, their voice, or both. With the discipline required to reach a certain level of musical proficiency, comes a certain amount of artistic integrity, and respect for the art and the artist. With hip-hop, one need not spend years and years alone in their room learning how to play an instrument, one only need to master the art of self aggrandizement and marketing. With true musicianship, the artist masters their craft first, then uses that skill to create and then goes about selling their creation, with hip-hop, one creates the image first and foremost and then sells from there.  Hip Hop is less a musical art form, and more a symptom of the broader cultural disease of malignant narcissism, delusion and psychosis.

It is important to note here that I am not saying that hip-hop is culturally irrelevant. Hip-hop is extremely culturally relevant and has been for decades. What I am saying is that hip-hop is musically and artistically lazy and inferior. That is part of why it is has become so culturally relevant, because the broader American culture glorifies the cheap and easy path (the path of hip-hop and reality tv), and denigrates the hard path, namely that of acquired musicianship, artistry and skill. Think of it this way, if you take a Van Gogh painting and a Matisse painting and make a collage of them, it doesn't make you Van Gogh or Matisse, or even a painter, it only makes you a maker of collage. You may be great at making collage, but that doesn't mean you are an artist, it only means you excel at a fringe craft requiring little or no skill. You may call yourself an artist and may think of yourself as an artist and you may demand others call you an artist, but you are no artist. You don't have the skills of the artist, you don't have the discipline of the artist, you don't have the vision of the artist and you don't have the soul of the artist. You have the soul of the snake oil salesman and the carnival barker. 

It is also important to note here that hip-hop culture should not be conflated with black culture. While hip-hop was certainly born out of black culture, it is nowhere near the entirety of black culture. So by pointing out that hip-hop culture is artistically lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft I am not calling black culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft, but I am calling the overarching American culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft. Quite to the contrary, black culture has created some of the most seminal music and musical forms (Jazz and the Blues to name just two of many) humanity has ever known. It has also given us some of the greatest and most influential musicians to have ever walked the earth. Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Sam Cooke, Art Tatum, Albert King, Freddie King, Prince, Michael Jackson and even Jay-Z's wife Beyonce, are just a small sample of the impeccable musicians who have worked their asses off to master their craft and hone their skills. These artists have won a hard-earned and well deserved respect with their dedication to craft and commitment to artistic mastery.

Whether it be reality tv or hip-hop culture, what is really being sold is not the old way of masterful artistry and the artist, but rather the new way, which I call the "Lotto Culture", which is that the watcher and listener can project themselves onto the tv or hip-hop star and envision themselves becoming rich and famous with minimal effort. The dream being sold is that one need not have talent or discipline or hard work or years of training, because it only takes the creation of an image and sheer force of will to succeed in hip-hop or reality tv. In terms of the "Lotto Culture", one must only sit back, buy a ticket and be lucky, and unimaginable wealth will be all yours. There is also a conflation in our culture between success in reality tv and hip-hop and the success of real actors and musicians. For instance, you can turn on your television and see Meryl Streep, and you can turn on your tv and see Kim Kardashian, but that does not mean that Kim Kardashian is the equal of Meryl Streep, even though our culture pushes that idea. In the same vein, Kanye West is on the radio but is not the equal of Same Cooke, or Jimi Hendrix, or Prince or…any other real musician. Kanye West, being both a hip-hop star and a Kardashian by marriage, is the perfect poster boy for this "Lotto Culture", and he behaves accordingly. 

So what in the world does reality television, hip-hop and the "Lotto Culture" have to do with gun violence? It all has to do with the disrespect and disregard of skill and discipline. To hurt or kill someone with your bare hands, or even with a knife, usually requires a certain amount of skill and frankly, courage. Martial artists study and train for years and decades in order to master their art and sharpen their skills. These years of training instill discipline, and with that discipline comes respect, both for yourself and for others. This discipline and respect is the key to unlocking the wisdom of when it is appropriate for the martial artist to unleash his skills. In opposition to this, the gun requires no discipline, no skill acquisition, no respect and no wisdom. The shooter may have great skill, but it certainly isn't a requirement nor is it necessary in order to kill someone. It is also worth mentioning that you can get into a fist fight and lose and not die or even have serious damage done to you. But losing a gun fight usually ends with someone in grave medical condition, and most-often dead.

A gun user also does not need courage. To kill someone with your hands or with a knife means you must get close to them in order to hurt them, that means they are close enough to you to hurt you. In a fight things happen. You can be the greatest trained fighter in the world but if you break your hand on a guys skull, or you blow out your knee, or the guys friends jump in, or he maces you or something like that, then all bets are off. A fist fight brings with it inherent risk for both fighters. The same is said for using a knife. Knowing where to attack on the body with a knife, and when, takes years of hard work and training to fully grasp. Killing with a knife also means you have to get right next to your opponent/victim, and when that happens things can go wrong. Your opponent may be unarmed, but when you are that close to them, they could disarm you and now you are the one who is at the disadvantage. In contrast, no courage is needed to kill with a gun.  You can kill someone with a gun and not even be within ear shot of them. You can shoot someone without even trying to hit them, which is not something you can do with a knife or your fists. Guns, like hip-hop and reality tv, provide a short cut to power. This "Lotto Culture" short cut is a form of cheap grace, which eliminates the development of discipline and the nurturing of respect for oneself and for others that come with it.

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR ISEVERYTHING!!

Fear is epidemic in America. It is ironic that we sing about ourselves by saying we are the "Home of the Brave" and yet we act completely the opposite of that. We are afraid of everything. We have been trained by politicians and the media to be afraid of everything. We used to be told to fear the God-less communists conspiring to get us and infiltrating our nation. Now we are told to fear the God fanatic terrorists who are conspiring to get us and are infiltrating our nation. Blacks are told to fear whites, and whites to fear blacks. Everyone is told to fear immigrants and immigrants are told to fear everyone. We are taught to fear the known and the unknown. Fear your neighbor, fear a stranger, fear the criminal, fear the cop, fear the rich, fear the poor. We are perpetually fed a steady and hearty diet of high fructose fear syrup.

We are so inundated and overwhelmed with fear that we become fatigued, and as any fighter will tell you, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Fear forces us to think emotionally and not rationally. Our fear and emotion leaves us paralyzed and cowering under our beds until we can take it no more and frantically scream for politicians to do SOMETHING to protect us and "our way of life" from whatever we are told is menacing us. That 'something' usually involves taking a chainsaw to the constitution and writing gigantic checks to the military industrial complex. The empty tough talk of these politicians manipulates us into not only accepting, but demanding, the reduction of our liberties, all in the name of security, or more accurately, the illusion of security.

It used to be that we weren't so afraid. "Our way of life" is something that you hear a lot in regards to security and the war on terror. "Our way of life" is actually a transient thing of little value. It means going to the mall, eating junk and watching football and Dancing with the Stars. People have not fought and died for this country in order to save "Our way of life". They fought and died to defend our constitution and the rights that constitution tells us were bestowed upon us by our Creator. When politicians say "Our way of life" it is code for the "Lotto Culture", meaning we don't have to actually do anything in order to maintain our creature comforts. It is why they told us we should all go shopping after 9/11, so that we would all go back to being fat, happy and asleep, while those in power gutted the constitution. It is why the powerful, from both parties, take the easy road of slashing our constitutional rights rather than asking us to change "Our way of life". We used to be the type of people who wouldn't sacrifice our liberties for "Our way of life", but rather sacrifice "Our way of life" for our liberties. That time is long gone. We are now a nation of frightened children, led around by our noses by those that use fear to manipulate and control us. They keep us fat, stupid and scared and keep the "Lotto Culture" of short cuts and cheap grace alive and well by promising us security in exchange for liberty. As Ben Franklin said, "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security." So it is with the "War on Terror" and so it is with the Second Amendment and the "Gun Debate".

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, from the founding of American culture in a post-monarchist and gun centric age, to the modern era and it's denigration of skill in the form of vapid reality television and vacuous hip-hop music, combined with the incessant trumpeting of fear to the masses, we have created a perfect storm where gun violence prospers. As a nation we are so thoroughly manipulated and controlled by fear that we as a people have become emasculated and are forced to rely on the gun as both a mythic totem and a phallic symbol to desperately try and regain and reinvigorate our withered masculine energy. 

Far, far too many people have died in mass shootings here in America these past few years. I know I am not alone in hoping that we never see the horror of another mass shooting here again. But I also know that regardless of whatever legal or political maneuvers are undertaken to curb gun ownership and violence, the symbology, mythology and psychology of our unique American culture will insure that America will continue to be doomed to remain under the bloody spell of the Way of the Gun.

© 2015

Sully : A Review

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

Estimated Reading Time: 208 Seconds

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. If you are a fan of Eastwood and Hanks, see it for free on Cable or Netflix.

Sully, written by Todd Kormarnicki and directed by two-time Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood, is the story of US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who famously crash landed flight 1549 into the Hudson River in January of 2009. The film is based on Sullenberger's autobiography Highest Duty, and stars two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks in the lead role. 

Sully, like many of director Eastwoods films in recent years, has some good in it and a whole lotta bad. Let's start with the good. The plane sequences where we see flight 1549 crash into the Hudson river are very impactful and exceedingly well done. It is difficult to watch those sequences and not have a visceral reaction to them. It is every airline passenger's nightmare and darkest fear to go through what the passengers of flight 1549 went through, and when you add to that the fact that 8 years before Sully's aviation heroics, low flying planes over New York city didn't crash harmlessly into the Hudson river, they crashed violently into the World Trade Center resulting in thousands dead, it is easy to understand how those passengers, and viewers of this film, would be unnerved. This recipe of recent history and the magic of cinema make for some heart pounding scenes of flight 1549's two hundred and eight seconds in the air. It is when the film is on the ground (and water) that it wanders aimlessly and sputters hopelessly.

Besides the plane sequences, another bright spot in the film is Tom Hanks. Hanks is not the most daring actor in the world. In the last few decades he has fallen into a lazy pattern of repeatedly playing characters with an almost saintly dignity which often times borders on arrogance. He does the same thing in Sully, but to his credit he does it very, very well.  Hanks has spent a career refining this exact type of performance and his years of experience come to fruition as Sully. The Sully character is one part Captain Philips, one part Captain Miller from Saving Private Ryan and one part James Donovan from Bridge of Spies. If you've seen those films then you've already met Sully, now he is just wearing a different uniform. Hanks work in Sully is not a model of artistry or creative genius, but rather one of experience and comfort with craft.

Now on to the bad. First off, there is actually no dramatic story here at all. Sully is one of those films that isn't really about anything at all except justifying its own existence…and separating people, namely older audiences, from their hard earned money. It is like a headline with no actual story below it. In other words there is no there, there in Sully. It is a meatless sandwich. Eastwood tries to make the narrative about Sully battling the  evil, mustache twirling bureaucracy of the NTSB as they try to stifle and punish good old American individuality and heroism, but not surprisingly that storyline falls impotently flat.

Sully also tries to be about the relentlessness of the media and the difficulty of being caught in the public eye…but that too is a rather dramatically flaccid narrative. It seems an odd thing for Sully to complain about being in the public eye when he voluntarily goes on tv to be interviewed by Katie Couric and followed that up by going on Letterman. He didn't have a gun to his head when he did those interviews. A good strategy to avoid the harsh spotlight of the public eye is to keep your head down and stay off of television.  (As an aside…I have a very simple rule of thumb for any film. Namely…if a film has a scene where a gaggle of reporters and camera people hound the main character and he or she has to plow his way through those reporters and camera people on the way out of his or her home, office, hotel, or courtroom, then that film is a horrendous pile of steaming poop. Most any film that has that scene in it is a horrible film - I'm looking at you Gone Girlyou piece of crap!! Keep an eye out for those type of scenes next time you watch a movie, and 99 times out of 100, you'll see that I am right.)

The only real purpose of Sully is to show the dazzling effects of the plane crash, which stated before are excellent…and to drum up the primal American fear around 9-11. It is no accident the film was released on the weekend of the 15th anniversary of 9-11 and has multiple scenes of planes crashing into the New York skyline. Sully seems to be pining for that feeling of connection and 'we're all in this together' that allegedly permeated the country after the 9-11 attacks. The character of Sully, or should I say the caricature of Sully, is that of the perfect American, heroic, noble and selfless, who is hounded by the twin evils of government bureaucracy and the liberal media. Much like Eastwood's last film, American Sniper, this film would have been much better and much more interesting if it kept a distance from its subject (or in the case of Chris Kyle, his family) and instead made a film about the actual man, and not The Legend or The Hero created by, or built around that man. But Eastwood is not the director to make that kind of film, he lacks the nuance, the skill and the craft to make a truly complex and layered film that isn't a western.

Another really bad part of the film is the non-Hanks acting. As is the case in most of Clint Eastwood's films, the supporting and secondary actors give utterly heinous performances. Laura Linney plays Sully's wife, she is a truly terrific actress, yet here she is embarrassingly awful. Her work is shrill, shallow and devoid of purpose. Anna Gunn, who is also a usually solid actress, is so terrified and uncomfortable in front of Eastwood's camera as to be distracting.

The smaller roles, those of passengers, stewardesses and the like, are filled by actors who are just plain terrible. The airline stewardess' and a father and son who get on the plane last minute are particularly note worthy in their atrociousness. The always shitty Michael Rapaport makes a brief appearance as a bartender and continues to mystify the western world as to how a man so talentless and devoid of charisma can continue to have an acting career. Mr. Rapaport can rest easy though as the actors playing his fellow New York bar compatriots are equally shitty at acting.  

The problem with Clint Eastwood directing a film is that he doesn't actually direct his actors. He does very few takes of each scene and gives no direction or guidance to his actors, so the less experienced, and less talented actors are left to their own devices and often times flounder. Eastwood's hands off approach to directing actors results in a myriad of underwhelming and terribly uneven performances throughout, and his films most assuredly suffer greatly as a result of it. Go back and peruse the acting in the supporting and smaller roles in Eastwood's last decade of filmmaking. They are absolutely cringe worthy. Just as Bradley Cooper did great work in American Sniper but was surrounded by a troupe of actors that could have been dug up out of the Blaine, Missouri community theatre, so it is with Tom Hanks and his supporting cast in Sully.

Why does Eastwood leave his actors to their own devices? I think the biggest reason is that it actually takes time to direct actors. Eastwood is, first and foremost, concerned with getting his films done on time and on budget. He is no fool for he knows if he is on schedule and on budget they will let him keep making movies, this is how the business works. So Eastwood chooses to get things done on time, rather then to get things done RIGHT. Sometimes, like when he has a very experienced and talented cast, this approach works because his actors are up to the task. Eastwood's greatest film (and one of the greatest films of all time) Unforgiven, is a perfect example of this. When you have Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself in your cast, you don't have to waste much time working with the actors. But when you have considerably lesser talents and lesser experienced actors, you DO need to spend time working with them and helping them to gauge the size, scope and scale of their performance.

There are other issues with the film that are just egregious errors in filmmaking. After the plane crashes into the Hudson, there are not one but two instances where individual passengers are in peril, and Eastwood plays up this peril to a great degree, spending time and energy on it. Then he just walks away from the danger sequences and lets them resolve themselves without any explanation. It is bizarre, and frankly absurd. The people who were in peril weren't that interesting to begin with, so why even show them in danger in the first place? And then since you did show them in danger, why not play out that sequence to its conclusion? It is a strange, terribly sloppy and unconscionably lazy bit of filmmaking on Eastwood's part. It was one of those sequences that make me shudder to think that Eastwood has two Oscars for directing and Stanley Kubrick has none. Oh the humanity!!

In conclusion, Sully is a rather shallow and thin film that is definitely not worth spending your hard earned money to see in the theatre. While the plane sequences are captivating, the surrounding story and the majority of the acting are sub-par. If you are a fan of Eastwood or Hanks, or even Sully himself, then you can wait to see the film for free on cable or Netflix. If you want to watch a plane-crash survival oriented film while waiting for Sully to come out for free, go watch the much maligned Flight starring Denzel Washington. While the film is definitely flawed, Washington's performance is one of the best of his stellar career and is worth seeing. Or if you want to watch a 9-11 themed film, go watch Paul Greengrass' gut wrenching United 93. Both Flight and United 93 are considerably more worthy of your time than the rather tepid Sully.

©2016

 

The Way of the Gun : Meditations on America and Guns

*** ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES***

 

After the recent terror attack in San Bernadino, a friend of mine, a prominent financial writer who I will call The Dragon, emailed me a graph showing the U.S. gun ownership rate compared to other countries. In the email The Dragon wrote, "We are a gun-crazy country, yet I see this as more correlation than causation. I don’t know about Yemen, but there are lots of guns in Switzerland and Finland (though roughly half the number per capita as the US), and they don’t have anything remotely resembling the mass shooting problem we do in the US. Is there something in the water? There is definitely something wrong with our culture." 

Even though The Dragon and I are on opposite sides of the gun argument, I am a staunch second amendment supporter and he favors much stricter gun controls, I thought his question and comment on culture was a very interesting one and it got me to thinking…why is America so much more prone to gun violence than other countries? What makes the U.S. so unique in this regard?

After deep mediation and contemplation on the issue I have come up with a few theories about America's unique relationship with the gun. These theories range from the mythological to the musical, and everywhere in between. In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on the topic.

EVERY MAN A KING

America : The First Culture/Nation of the New Post-Monarchist Age

For thousands of years, mankind lived within the culture of Monarchy. Kings or Emperors ruled the day for millennia. The King/Emperor was not just a ruler and head of state, but also a religious and sacred figure. Kings/Emperors were representatives of God on earth, mediators between the people and the divine. The "Divine Right of Kings", which states that the king derives their rule directly from the will of God and is not subject to any earthly authority, has been the overarching belief of cultures across the globe, from ancient Egypt and China to Rome and the British throne and everywhere in between.

While nations, such as the United Kingdom for example, changed their governmental and legal structures to diminish or disavow the ruling power of the monarch, the mythological power of the King, and the deference and reverence that came with it, still dominates the unconscious of the culture. The psyche of monarchist cultures remain imbued with respect for the sacred power and myth of the monarch even when the governing structures of the nation neuter their ruling power. This occurs even in countries/cultures where the monarchy is replaced with a seemingly polar opposite form of rule, take Russia post-monarchy which was ruled by singular heads of the communist party like Stalin, or even post-communist Russia with Vladimir Putin. China is another example, which over time replaced the leadership of an Emperor with that of Chairman Mao. In both the Russian and Chinese examples, the trappings of government and its ideology changed but the psychological dynamics of the culture did not.

Just like in Russia, China, or France, the country of the United States of America was born in rebellion against the King (of England), but unlike those nations, the culture of the United States of America was born in direct opposition to the cultural myth of the King. In American culture the Divine Right of Kings held no place, but every U.S. citizen was "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights".  This is the birth of the new post-monarchist age, where Kings lose their divine right, and ordinary citizens gain theirs. In American culture, the first of its kind, there is no one king, but rather there is a nation full of kings. Everyman as his own king, with his own God given rights, was a brilliant idea upon which to build a nation, but a difficult one upon which to build a culture because it brings with it a dark side, namely, when everyman is a King there are considerably more opportunities for individual tyrants to raise their ugly head. 

Which brings us to the gun discussion. In this post-monarchist cultural myth, a person with a gun can be a benevolent king or a despotic one. The benevolent, gun carrying citizen-king keeps governmental tyranny from thriving, while the gun-toting, despot citizen-king imposes his tyranny upon those he perceives as weaker or not deferential enough to his divine right to rule what he believes should be his ever expanding kingdom.

Individuals swimming in the collective unconscious of the American culture can go adrift in seas of chaos without the moorings of the monarchist cultural myth and the psychological structures that accompany it. The monarchist cultural myth, while depriving the ordinary person of their rights by placing all of the power in one individual or royal family, brings with it an order and structure and even a connection with the divine that is totally lacking in the post-monarchist new age American culture. For those weak of mind or spirit, the evolution of this new age can go from 'everyman a king' to 'everyman a god', in the blink of a blood shot eye. The American culture brings with it no connection to the divine in the form of a ruler, only a deeper love of the self, and with that self love and belief in one's own 'divine right' comes with it the urge and instinct to get others to revere you as you revere yourself. In this new post monarchist culture and the mythological psychology that goes with it, the gun becomes a mystical tool that bestows to those that wield it the godly power to take lives with just the slightest movement of their finger.

In the United States of America, the first post-monarchist culture, the gun gives individuals the divine right of Kings, the power to make life and death decisions, once reserved for the lone ruler on the throne. This power, like all power, can be corrupting and disorientating. It is all too easy to be intoxicated with the power of the gun and kill when one sees the divine nowhere but in oneself. It is also all too easy under the spell of the power of the gun to forget that the 'other' is not an inferior to be ruled, but a person to be respected because they are divine in their own right.

There is a scene in Clint Eastwoood's western masterpiece, Unforgiven, where the character, English Bob, played by the inimitable Richard Harris, speaks of the point I am making about the difference between the monarchist culture and the post monarchist culture. In the scene, English Bob perfectly states the point about America being adrift without the stability and divinity of a King…or Queen. I'll leave it to the divine Richard Harris...

The best example of monarchist and post-monarchist cultures placed side by side would be to look at the difference between the culture of the United States and that of Canada. The U.S. grew out of rebellion to the King in a post-monarchist culture, and Canada grew in communion with the King in a monarchist culture. Canada is a much more demur, peaceful and less violent country and culture than the United States.

BLOOD BEGETS BLOOD

CULTURAL DNA, THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE SINS OF THE NATION

Unknown-4.jpeg

Every nation is born of violence. One group defeats and destroys another group and comes to power. This is how nations and cultures across across the planet have come to be. The United States is no different. America was created with the brutal genocide of Native Americans and on the backs of African slaves. The United States of America is soaked in the blood of its formation, and the current American culture reflects the sins of its birth. The violence of today is a direct reflection of the violence that accompanied the founding of this nation.

But if every country is born of violence, why is the United States the only nation where gun violence seems to be so rampant? One main difference between the United States and its sins, and the sins of other nations, is time. Other nations are built upon cultures established thousands of years ago, so just like in regards to the monarchist culture issue, those nations may have changed governing structure, but they didn't change their underlying culture or their cultural psyche. As previously stated, China has been ruled by the communist party for the last sixty five years, but it's overarching culture (a monarchist one in the form of an Emperor) extends back for nearly five thousand years. The same can be said of France, England, Russia and countless other countries and cultures. The same cannot be said of the American nation or culture. Our soil is still soaked with the blood tribute of the unfortunates sacrificed at America's founding, and it seeps into our everyday existence through the collective unconscious of the American culture.

Older cultures have had the benefit of vast amounts of time passing between their present situation and the sins of their founding. Time, the best salve of all, allows for incremental catharsis and the healing of the foundational wounds and horrors that inhabit the collective psyche of cultures across the globe.

Another difference between America and other cultures is that America was the first culture born at the end of a gun. Guns didn't exist at the formation of British, French, Russian, Chinese or Japanese culture, or any other culture for that matter. America was born by the gun, with the gun and of the gun. For good or for ill, the gun is the symbol of how America came to be and what it is now.

The gun was a crucial object in the ritual blood sacrifice of millions, in the form of Indians and slaves, to the Gods of America's founding upon the altar of the United States, and was vital in bringing the country to full term and fruition. Due to the guns integral part in conjuring the country into being, American culture worships the gun as a sacred talisman, instrumental for the nation's and the cultures birth, survival and continued success.  The mythic American Archetype is that of the cowboy with his six shooter...watch Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven for a fantastic mediation on American gunslinger archetype, guns and violence. Other nations have mythic archetypes as well, the Japanese and the Samurai with his sword, or the English with their knights in armor. The archetype of the gun-slinging cowboy lies at the heart of the American cultural psyche because he is the high priest of American individualism who wields the mystical gun in order to conjure up a new nation.

Through this prism of mythological cultural psychology, the scourge of gun violence which horrifies the people of America today can be seen as penance for the violent sins of our forefathers. The United States has flowered into one of the most wealthy and powerful countries to have ever existed in the history of mankind, but until we can fully come to terms with, and become conscious of, the innocent blood we spilled in order to fertilize the ground upon which this country has grown, we will never be able to escape the violence that continually haunts us. 

LOTTO CULTURE AND THE DENIGRATION OF SKILL

THE CURSE OF THE KARDASHIANS AND KANYE

Modern American culture has no respect for skill and craft. Take a look around at popular culture and you see little to no reverence for skill and craft. Arguably the biggest stars on the American scene are the Kardashians, a collection of half-wits with no discernible skill whatsoever besides self promotion. It hasn't always been this way. Prior to the curse of reality television, actors, who had mastered their craft through years of training and work in the theatre, were admired for their artistry in film and on television. Ordinary people could admire the expertise attained by great actors after years of dedication and hard work. Now with reality tv, from Real Housewives and Honey Boo-Boo to Ice Road Truckers and The Deadliest Catch, everyone can envision themselves as being worthy of having their own television show just by being themselves. The thinking goes like this, "Me, Marla and our friends are so zany working down at the nail salon, they should make a tv show about us and call it Tough as Nails!!" No hard work is required, no skill or craft need be obtained. Just turn on the cameras and be outrageous and you can be a cultural phenomenon. 

The same is the case with popular music. In this era, hip-hop rules the day and dominates American culture over every other musical form. What makes hip-hop so quintessentially American is that it is the first musical form to require no musical skill or craft whatsoever. The biggest stars in hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye West as prime examples, play no instruments and are unable to sing a single note. What difference does that make? Well, in terms of artistry, it makes a lot of difference. It used to be that musicians would spend years and years arduously honing their skills and mastering their craft, be it an instrument, their voice, or both. With the discipline required to reach a certain level of musical proficiency, comes a certain amount of artistic integrity, and respect for the art and the artist. With hip-hop, one need not spend years and years alone in their room learning how to play an instrument, one only need to master the art of self aggrandizement and marketing. With true musicianship, the artist masters their craft first, then uses that skill to create and then goes about selling their creation, with hip-hop, one creates the image first and foremost and then sells from there.  Hip Hop is less a musical art form, and more a symptom of the broader cultural disease of malignant narcissism, delusion and psychosis.

It is important to note here that I am not saying that hip-hop is culturally irrelevant. Hip-hop is extremely culturally relevant and has been for decades. What I am saying is that hip-hop is musically and artistically lazy and inferior. That is part of why it is has become so culturally relevant, because the broader American culture glorifies the cheap and easy path (the path of hip-hop and reality tv), and denigrates the hard path, namely that of acquired musicianship, artistry and skill. Think of it this way, if you take a Van Gogh painting and a Matisse painting and make a collage of them, it doesn't make you Van Gogh or Matisse, or even a painter, it only makes you a maker of collage. You may be great at making collage, but that doesn't mean you are an artist, it only means you excel at a fringe craft requiring little or no skill. You may call yourself an artist and may think of yourself as an artist and you may demand others call you an artist, but you are no artist. You don't have the skills of the artist, you don't have the discipline of the artist, you don't have the vision of the artist and you don't have the soul of the artist. You have the soul of the snake oil salesman and the carnival barker. 

It is also important to note here that hip-hop culture should not be conflated with black culture. While hip-hop was certainly born out of black culture, it is nowhere near the entirety of black culture. So by pointing out that hip-hop culture is artistically lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft I am not calling black culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft, but I am calling the overarching American culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft. Quite to the contrary, black culture has created some of the most seminal music and musical forms (Jazz and the Blues to name just two of many) humanity has ever known. It has also given us some of the greatest and most influential musicians to have ever walked the earth. Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Sam Cooke, Art Tatum, Albert King, Freddie King, Prince, Michael Jackson and even Jay-Z's wife Beyonce, are just a small sample of the impeccable musicians who have worked their asses off to master their craft and hone their skills. These artists have won a hard-earned and well deserved respect with their dedication to craft and commitment to artistic mastery.

Whether it be reality tv or hip-hop culture, what is really being sold is not the old way of masterful artistry and the artist, but rather the new way, which I call the "Lotto Culture", which is that the watcher and listener can project themselves onto the tv or hip-hop star and envision themselves becoming rich and famous with minimal effort. The dream being sold is that one need not have talent or discipline or hard work or years of training, because it only takes the creation of an image and sheer force of will to succeed in hip-hop or reality tv. In terms of the "Lotto Culture", one must only sit back, buy a ticket and be lucky, and unimaginable wealth will be all yours. There is also a conflation in our culture between success in reality tv and hip-hop and the success of real actors and musicians. For instance, you can turn on your television and see Meryl Streep, and you can turn on your tv and see Kim Kardashian, but that does not mean that Kim Kardashian is the equal of Meryl Streep, even though our culture pushes that idea. In the same vein, Kanye West is on the radio but is not the equal of Same Cooke, or Jimi Hendrix, or Prince or…any other real musician. Kanye West, being both a hip-hop star and a Kardashian by marriage, is the perfect poster boy for this "Lotto Culture", and he behaves accordingly. 

So what in the world does reality television, hip-hop and the "Lotto Culture" have to do with gun violence? It all has to do with the disrespect and disregard of skill and discipline. To hurt or kill someone with your bare hands, or even with a knife, usually requires a certain amount of skill and frankly, courage. Martial artists study and train for years and decades in order to master their art and sharpen their skills. These years of training instill discipline, and with that discipline comes respect, both for yourself and for others. This discipline and respect is the key to unlocking the wisdom of when it is appropriate for the martial artist to unleash his skills. In opposition to this, the gun requires no discipline, no skill acquisition, no respect and no wisdom. The shooter may have great skill, but it certainly isn't a requirement nor is it necessary in order to kill someone. It is also worth mentioning that you can get into a fist fight and lose and not die or even have serious damage done to you. But losing a gun fight usually ends with someone in grave medical condition, and most-often dead.

A gun user also does not need courage. To kill someone with your hands or with a knife means you must get close to them in order to hurt them, that means they are close enough to you to hurt you. In a fight things happen. You can be the greatest trained fighter in the world but if you break your hand on a guys skull, or you blow out your knee, or the guys friends jump in, or he maces you or something like that, then all bets are off. A fist fight brings with it inherent risk for both fighters. The same is said for using a knife. Knowing where to attack on the body with a knife, and when, takes years of hard work and training to fully grasp. Killing with a knife also means you have to get right next to your opponent/victim, and when that happens things can go wrong. Your opponent may be unarmed, but when you are that close to them, they could disarm you and now you are the one who is at the disadvantage. In contrast, no courage is needed to kill with a gun.  You can kill someone with a gun and not even be within ear shot of them. You can shoot someone without even trying to hit them, which is not something you can do with a knife or your fists. Guns, like hip-hop and reality tv, provide a short cut to power. This "Lotto Culture" short cut is a form of cheap grace, which eliminates the development of discipline and the nurturing of respect for oneself and for others that come with it.

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR ISEVERYTHING!!

Fear is epidemic in America. It is ironic that we sing about ourselves by saying we are the "Home of the Brave" and yet we act completely the opposite of that. We are afraid of everything. We have been trained by politicians and the media to be afraid of everything. We used to be told to fear the God-less communists conspiring to get us and infiltrating our nation. Now we are told to fear the God fanatic terrorists who are conspiring to get us and are infiltrating our nation. Blacks are told to fear whites, and whites to fear blacks. Everyone is told to fear immigrants and immigrants are told to fear everyone. We are taught to fear the known and the unknown. Fear your neighbor, fear a stranger, fear the criminal, fear the cop, fear the rich, fear the poor. We are perpetually fed a steady and hearty diet of high fructose fear syrup.

We are so inundated and overwhelmed with fear that we become fatigued, and as any fighter will tell you, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Fear forces us to think emotionally and not rationally. Our fear and emotion leaves us paralyzed and cowering under our beds until we can take it no more and frantically scream for politicians to do SOMETHING to protect us and "our way of life" from whatever we are told is menacing us. That 'something' usually involves taking a chainsaw to the constitution and writing gigantic checks to the military industrial complex. The empty tough talk of these politicians manipulates us into not only accepting, but demanding, the reduction of our liberties, all in the name of security, or more accurately, the illusion of security.

It used to be that we weren't so afraid. "Our way of life" is something that you hear a lot in regards to security and the war on terror. "Our way of life" is actually a transient thing of little value. It means going to the mall, eating junk and watching football and Dancing with the Stars. People have not fought and died for this country in order to save "Our way of life". They fought and died to defend our constitution and the rights that constitution tells us were bestowed upon us by our Creator. When politicians say "Our way of life" it is code for the "Lotto Culture", meaning we don't have to actually do anything in order to maintain our creature comforts. It is why they told us we should all go shopping after 9/11, so that we would all go back to being fat, happy and asleep, while those in power gutted the constitution. It is why the powerful, from both parties, take the easy road of slashing our constitutional rights rather than asking us to change "Our way of life". We used to be the type of people who wouldn't sacrifice our liberties for "Our way of life", but rather sacrifice "Our way of life" for our liberties. That time is long gone. We are now a nation of frightened children, led around by our noses by those that use fear to manipulate and control us. They keep us fat, stupid and scared and keep the "Lotto Culture" of short cuts and cheap grace alive and well by promising us security in exchange for liberty. As Ben Franklin said, "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security." So it is with the "War on Terror" and so it is with the Second Amendment and the "Gun Debate".

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, from the founding of American culture in a post-monarchist and gun centric age, to the modern era and it's denigration of skill in the form of vapid reality television and vacuous hip-hop music, combined with the incessant trumpeting of fear to the masses, we have created a perfect storm where gun violence prospers. As a nation we are so thoroughly manipulated and controlled by fear that we as a people have become emasculated and are forced to rely on the gun as both a mythic totem and a phallic symbol to desperately try and regain and reinvigorate our withered masculine energy. 

Far, far too many people have died in mass shootings here in America these past few years. I know I am not alone in hoping that we never see the horror of another mass shooting here again. But I also know that regardless of whatever legal or political maneuvers are undertaken to curb gun ownership and violence, the symbology, mythology and psychology of our unique American culture will insure that America will continue to be doomed to remain under the bloody spell of the Way of the Gun.

© 2015

If you found this article to be interesting, I encourage you to check out these similarly themed postings as well.

Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle

Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle Part Two: The Reaction

Citizenfour: A Review and Random Thoughts

Sicario: A Review and Reports From Down the Rabbit Hole of the Drug War