V for Victory

It is no secret that I have a thing for Beethoven. I’ve written about it here and if you’re around me when I’m drunk enough to go on a ramble about music, then chances are that you’ll hear me talk about why Beethoven’s work is so important to me. But in the context of what the US is going through right now, and, really, what the world is going through right now, Beethoven is integral.

Anyone who pays any attention to news from the US and abroad knows that the world has seen a massive upswing in the worst excesses of right-wing politics, from reactionary rhetoric to autocrats encouraging the full-sale slaughter of their own citizens. But more disturbing than their actions is that, at least in the West, these parties are democratically elected. They are a symptom of a great amount of fear, hatred, and misplaced rage the world over, and the causes of that are best left for another post written by someone who hasn’t recently gone on a tear shouting “Punch Nazis wherever you see them.” No, what I’m here to talk about today is a follow-up to a Twitterstorm I threw out a few days ago about Shostakovich. See, that happened before our President, a man with a micropenis—evidenced by his reactionary and egoistic approach to anyone criticizing him or the straw figures he calls his policies—decided to throw a gag order on environmental and recreational federal agencies. After that popped up, I thought some more about Shostakovich, a man who fought back against another oppressive regime in his own way: He made music. And now, with our President deciding that, yes, a list of crimes committed by immigrants is a fantastic way to unify the country and use his executive powers, I think about Beethoven.

Beethoven was a man from the margins who spent his life attempting to become an aristocrat by virtue of his work. His family was not of the upper crust, and he knew that very well. It’s reflected in his relationships with his patrons and his mentors, this mentality that they had no moral right or standing to address him as an inferior, or that he should be content with his station as a mere employee or artistic servant. This carried over into his politics, where, for the day, he was a staunch proponent of individual liberties. He criticized the Austrian court, its secret police, and the foibles of the aristocracy. He supported Napoleon up until the point where Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France. His only opera deals with the theme of the unjustly imprisoned and mistreated overcoming their oppressors with the help of a just ruler. In all, Beethoven was, at least nominally, a friend of the common man. His music is filled with these themes, and to write about any of those pieces would provide enough content for an entire series about Beethoven and political resistance. Instead, I’d like to talk briefly about Beethoven’s 5th and World War II.

In short, the Allies realized that they had a propaganda coup with using the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to open their broadcasts. Not only is the music striking, but, in Morse Code, the same short-long pattern translates to “V,” as in “victory.” So, with every broadcast, with every bumbumbum-buh, the Allies would telegraph their hope for victory over the Germans. Of course, what they didn’t really make a note of is the very same bars being the implication of Fate knocking on one’s door. That, naturally, has its own propaganda use, as it’s almost as if Heaven and Earth are willing the Allied forces to victory over the Axis powers. But, that’s a lot less snappy than “V for Victory.”

Of course, Beethoven’s German roots were a little troublesome to some people. Those people, naturally, didn’t really think about that beyond the labels of “German.” On one level, it falls apart because Beethoven didn’t live in Germany, as Germany would not exist for decades. On another, he came from a Flemish family (hence the “van” in his name), and lived and worked in Austria for a significant portion of his life. On yet another level, that concern falls apart when one considers that Beethoven had a certain, significant portion of his brain dedicated to making known his disdain for autocrats, tyrants, and the crushing of the masses by the aristocracy.

But beyond all of those political matters, the underlying theme in all of Beethoven’s work is a sort of universalism that is a unique hybrid of a Protestant environment, Beethoven’s sense of natural wonder and nature-based spiritualism, and the brotherhood of man. The most famous example of this is the Choral portion of his 9th Symphony, which takes and edits (for the better, by all accounts) a poem by Friedrich Schiller. The content of Beethoven’s choral work is a sort of unitarian spiritualist praise of the best qualities of humanity, and, at its core, a call for people to rise above their base natures and embrace one another as brothers (and sisters).

But, as it stands, and as poetic and beautiful and moving as the 9th is, there is nothing quite as punch and attention-grabbing as those opening bars of the 5th. They force you to sit up, focus your attention, and set you up for riding the wave of Fate that is the 5th. Most relevant for today’s political environment, though, is the call to action implicit in those bars. As the dynamic, bombastic music throughout the symphony would suggest, Fate does not favor those who sit idly by. Fate favors those who act.

Perhaps that was in the background of the Allied propagandists’ minds when they decided to use those opening notes in BBC broadcasts across occupied Europe. For whatever reason, though, those opening bars of the Fifth Symphony have found their place in the composer’s work’s theme of triumph over adversity, of resistance to tyranny, and the triumph of individual liberty.

As the United States faces a President who is at the very least someone who is eerily close to several definitions of fascism, we would do well to look back at the inspiration our parents and grandparents took from art like the Fifth Symphony, and the themes that Beethoven espoused in his work. Just as Fate favors the bold and the active, it takes more effort than we’d like to admit to rise above our evolutionary origins of face-ripping, feces-throwing apes and fully embrace each other. It takes a strong will to stand up against the empowered few who seek to dominate the disempowered many.

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Trump, Bannon, and DO YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS?

It is now over a week after the election, and we have not woken up from the horrorshow that Trump is now President. I don’t write that as a liberal or a Democrat or a social democrat, I write that as a person with a functional brain. The man who is the hero of shysters, racists, anti-semites, and sexists everywhere is now President of the United States. For a while, there, my Facebook feed was filled with two camps of the left-leaning: One camp was filled with pretty much nothing but horror and the second was filled with the rhetoric that would become the rhetoric of the Democratic leadership following the results: One of reconciliation, rhetoric that stated that it was possible that Trump was tapping into darkness to get re-elected, and, now that he was facing office, would heavily moderate his views, and we just had to give him a chance.

Well, he went and gave Fucking Bannon the post of Chief Strategist. This is a man who does not deserve a first name, this Fucking Bannon. As chief of Breitbart, he’s given the world headline gems like:

  • Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?
  • Bill Kristol, Republican spoiler, renegade Jew
  • Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage
  • There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews

There are more, of course, but it’s quite early in the morning and I’d rather not poison my day too much.

So, my question to you folks is: At what point do you face up to the fact that Trump’s Presidency is the literal embodiment of an Alex Jones radio show – he has, in fact, gone on Alex Jones’s show and praised the crazy person for his rhetoric and help in getting as far as he has in the election. Trump is, in fact, a big fan of that particular crazy person. People, it’s like that crazy person you have in your family who gets drunk on holidays became elected President, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, the question that’s been populating the web for the last week is how did we get here? Well, I think the answer is simple: The left doesn’t vote enough. I’m not talking just this election, I’m talking historically. And you can point to Presidential elections all you want, but as I wrote about back in October 2015 after looking at a couple of elections in a couple of Tennessee counties, people don’t vote downballot nearly enough. But what is “downballot?” Good question! It’s basically any office in the bottom half of the ballot. Depending on the election, that could be something like your local Sheriff or your state representative, or an initiative to raise money for outdoor schools. (Or, in Oregon’s case, a hefty tax on corporations that failed.)

People tend to focus on the President and nothing else – at least the national rhetoric does. The damaging thing about this is that the really effective policies are decided at state legislative levels. Don’t believe me? Consider the fact that Republicans in most legislatures have been able to twist districts, set voting laws, set local laws, and so much more to their hearts’ content of the past, what, four elections, and there has been zero hard evidence that the DNC has been able to stop them. That speaks to a failure of leadership within the DNC, yes, but it also speaks to something severely disturbing within the left: If you can’t have been bothered to turn out and vote locally in all elections starting from years ago, then why should anyone think you’ll do any different in the future?

Take a gander at this article about the recent protests in Portland and how many of those protesters voted during the election. KGW’s reporting states that over half of the protesters arrested following the election didn’t vote, and then they quote one of the protesters who says that the Electoral College is the only thing that matters, completely missing the point that there is more to an election than the fucking Presidency.

Now, look, the point in all of this is that the left has to seriously wake up and realize that the elections outside the Presidency really fucking matter and that you can point to the election results for voters between 18-35 all you want and say, “The future is blue,” but that does not change the fact that unless those voters also turn out during off-year elections (and finish their goddamn ballots, did I mention that?), then the Presidency doesn’t matter at all.

The List – 36 Movies You, as a Person, Should Watch

One of my coworkers suggested I draw up a list of movies that people should watch. So, here are 36 movies you should watch! All but one of them were released after 2000.

Documentary

  • The Wolfpack (2015) – Follows six brothers who were isolated in their apartment by their father. Their method of learning about the outside world was through movies, which they would reenact and film. Thus, this is a documentary about movies and people watching movies. Meta as shit.
  • Grizzly Man (2005) – Werner Herzog’s documentary on a man who lived with grizzly bears every summer in Alaska until, eventually, he was killed by one of them. Herzog, I think, is about as close to an incarnation of God as we’ll ever see, and any time you can see him wax philosophic on the interaction of humans and nature is a blast.
  • Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016) – Werner Herzog’s newest documentary, about the Internet, technology, and how people interact with it. Come for the ethics of connection, stay for the bit where someone suggests robots could make movies.
  • Jesus Camp (2006) – [screams]
  • Trekkies (1997) – Documentary about Trekkies and what it means to be a Trekkie
  • When Jews Were Funny (2013) – A perfect companion piece to two web series: Old Jews Telling Jokes and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Jokes! So many jokes!

Drama, Westerns, & Others I’m Too Lazy to Classify

  • The Road (2009) – Post-apocalyptic movie adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. It’s a challenging one to watch. You’ve been warned.
  • Only God Forgives (2013) – Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives is another entry in the Fucked Up Movies genre, following Ryan Gosling as a young drug dealer in Bangkok, being hunted by a merciless, machete-wielding police officer. Dialogue is sparse in this movie, which is driven more by a dreamlike atmosphere than conventional storytelling.
  • Tangerine (2015) – Two trans prostitutes are on the warpath in Los Angeles after their pimp cheats on one of them while she is in prison.
  • Slow West (2015) – Western with Michael Fassbender playing an Irish outlaw escorting a young Scottish noble who’s trying to track down his exiled paramour in the expanse of the American West.
  • The Witch (2015) – Horror film about a 17th century New England Puritan family exiled from their township for blasphemy. Living in isolation, they fall prey to malevolent forces in the woods.
  • Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) – Directed by Werner Herzog and starring Nicolas Cage, this movie is something else. Oftentimes manically edited to match the eponymous cop’s drug habit, you need to be on your toes for this one, lest you’re left behind, stuck in the mire of post-Katrina New Orleans.
  • Creed (2015) – Fighting harder, fighting stronger.

Action

  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2016) – Once again, we send off my War Rig to bring back guzzoline from Gastown and bullets from Bullet Farm. Once again, I salute my Imperator, Furiosa and my Half-Life War Boys, who will ride with me eternal on the highways of Walhalla! I am your redeemer! It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world!
  • Dredd (2012) – Brutal reboot of the Judge Dredd film property with Karl Urban. Taking heavily from The Raid, Dredd is a fantastic action flick that more than redeems the travesty that was the Stallone film from the 90s.
  • John Wick (2014) – Don’t fuck with a man’s dog.
  • Ip Man 3 (2015) – Donnie Yen plays the embodiment of awesome in this third installment of the Ip Man series. Loosely based on the life of Bruce Lee’s mentor, Ip Man follows Yip Man as he defends family and country against aggressors. Ip Man 3 finds him against an American real estate developer played by Mike Tyson and his horde of greaser minions. It’s a lot of fun, even if the pacing’s off at times.
  • JCVD (2008) – I’m not quite sure where to put this one. It’s a drama, and an action movie, and at times a comedy. JCVD follows Jean-Claude Van Damme as he reflects on his life, imminent divorce and bankruptcy, and also gets held hostage in a bank robbery. And it turns out that JCVD is a really fun guy to watch, even to this day.

Sci-Fi

  • Moon (2009) – Directed by Duncan Jones, Moon follows astronaut Sam Bell as he experiences some super weird shit on a lunar installation on the moon.
  • Ex Machina (2015) – What’s worse than an egotistical startup tech genius? An egotistical startup tech genius dicking around with AI research.
  • Children of Men (2006) – In a world where procreation is impossible, one woman can suddenly have a child. Clive Owen puts in a legitimately good performance in a bleak post-apocalyptic film about humanity.
  • Prometheus (2012) – An extremely divisive film, Prometheus is the prologue to Alien. It has a similar plot trajectory, but delves just a bit more into the lore of the Alien series, and has some extremely striking visuals and a very unique tone throughout the movie.
  • Interstellar (2014) – Christopher Nolan’s entry into the sci-fi canon. Interstellar acts in a way very similar to a lot of older sci-fi novels. The plot is slow, the science is somewhat heavy, and the characters are not so much people as interactions of ideas and philosophies. Notable as a think-y blockbuster in an age of sequels and series.
  • Pandorum (2009) – This movie is garbage, but it’s occasionally creepy garbage.

Comedy

  • What We Do In The Shadows (2015) – A New Zealand faux-documentary about vampires sharing a house in Wellington. It’s hilarious, and has so much more than the “werewolves not swearwolves” line that everyone latches on to. Pray you never meet The Beast.
  • The Nice Guys (2016) – Shane Black’s post-Iron Man 3 movie follows Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as slimy private investigators with hearts of gold, caught in the midst of a plot between 1970s Big Auto, the porno industry, and their own lackluster professional lives. It’s a fantastic crime-comedy that borrows from Black’s earlier work, the buddy cop genre, and Abbot & Costello in equal measure.
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer star in Shane Black’s other mystery-crime-comedy. This one is equally as amazing as The Nice Guys, and it’s awesome to see pre-Iron Man Downey Jr do a comedy schtick relying on him being an idiot. Amazingly meta. Great fucking watch.
  • Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) – A horror-comedy about two rednecks who are hunted by college students in the backwoods. Officer, it’s been a doozy of a day.
  • In The Loop (2009) – British comedy about American and English diplomats inadvertently starting a war. Brilliant satire that has some of the most artful swearing in the history of cinema.
  • A Serious Man (2009) – One of the most Jewish movies in the history of movies, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man follows a put-upon physics professor as his life takes on serious undertones of the Book of Job. Contains a fantastic slew of an ensemble cast, and then this scene, which is [drools].
  • Hail, Caesar! (2016) – The Coen Brothers’ latest movie follows a studio fixer as he herds cats including George Clooney’s idiot movie star character, a charming hick of a horse rider-turned-star, twin gossip columnists, and Scarlett Johansson’s foul-mouthed It Girl who is on the prowl for a dependable man in Hollywood.
  • In Bruges (2008) – The best Irish movie set in Belgium in the history of Irish movies set in Belgium. Maybe that’s what hell is. Being stuck in fucking Bruges for all eternity.
  • The Lobster (2015) – A very weird movie about the horrors of dating and being a single person in modern(ish) society. Very worth a double feature with In Bruges just to see Colin Farrell suddenly put on thirty pounds and grow a dorky mustache.

Shorts