twin peaks the return

My first glimpse that something was deep wrong in America came while driving across it. It wasn’t the bullet holes in the door or blood covered sink in Kalamazoo. It wasn’t even the incredible parched surface of the drought stricken Midwest, where heavy machines ploughed useless dead wheat back into the dirt, and earth born again as an alien plant inhospitable to human life. Those things were real. And American reality has always been haunted, violent, and terrible. The problem was in the fantasy. In the fantastic America.

I’d always pictured driving across America in a certain way. Nothing so glamourous or exiting as a Beatnik road adventure but still a fantasy. I thought the food would be good. After all, America was built for the road. Without even trying to imagine it, I’d always believed there’d be an assortment of burger joints, hot dog stands, rib-spots, and strong coffee served at truck-stops. You can probably imagine the sort of places I pictured. Quirky little feats of architecture. Diners where the waitress calls you “hon.” Independent operators. Good grub. Big servings.

Those places do exist. Rarer every day but they are out there. I’ve been to them. But along the I-80? No. Along the I-80 it’s the same thing again and again and again. Fast food. Chain motel and meth-head parking lot. Corporate gas station. The same service center again. Again. Repeated on a loop from Michigan to California. Again and again. A constant return to the same place. Every time, more tired, more frayed and sketchy. More worn out from the same hamburgers. More tired from the same motels. More on edge from the same energy drinks. And here we are again. In the same place. Again and again. The skin wears off.

The American road fantasy was as parched as those wheat fields. Dead. Gone. Still there.

I hadn’t thought about this for a while. But thanks to the charity of a friend, I’ve been able to catch up on some TV. I’ve finally been able to see Twin Peaks, The Return.

It might be the best TV show I’ve ever seen. Even before I’d finished the series, I’d watched Episode 8 three times. If it were up to me, there would be whole channels of television that were like that episode. Just ambient dream channels. That would be most of TV.

I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds of why I liked the show so much or all the things I think it did so well. And, I should be clear, I’m not even a huge David Lynch fan. I like some of his stuff a great deal and other things I’ve just never been able to really get into. I love the original Twin Peaks, I like Blue Velvet, and The Elephant Man is pretty damn good too. That thing were he talks to the monkey on Netflix makes me laugh. I do think he has a really special set of skills. When it works for me, it works so well. There’s nothing like it.

The thing I want to talk a little bit about is the show’s sense of the American suburb. It’s not my favorite thing about the show (not sure I have one) or even what I think the show did best, but it’s one that resonates with me. That might be because it’s a sense of it that I tried to capture in some of the books I wrote while in California. You’ll never read these books. They’ll never be published. That might be for the best. I mean, my agent read them and then he fired me so, well, that’s the sort of thing that gives a person some pause. God knows, it sent me into a hot shed to drink a cold beer, listen to Johnny Cash, and think.

The sense is –and I’m not totally sure how he accomplishes this– is that the suburb feels both abandoned and fortified. It’s like a set. Unreal. Then sudden explosions of incredible violence. A neighbor you never see. Their house suddenly raided by police. A shootout. A weird Thomas Kinkade energy to the whole thing. Houses without humans. Stand outside on a hot Sacramento day and it’s bright and clear and hot and no one is there. Just the loud hum of air conditioners. It all feels inhuman. And it’s gone sinister.

I’d never lived in a suburb before California. I was raised in the country, then in a village, then at 18 I moved to the city. To me, the suburbs felt what I imagine living in Soviet bloc housing must have felt like a decade after the fall of communism. Like living in an abandoned monument to a dead dream. I’d heard that many of the houses made money by allowing porn shoots. Others were just called ‘ho-houses’ and others ‘dope houses.’ You can imagine what happened in there and in there was about every third house. Every time I raked my lawn, I’d find empty plastic drug bags. Never really saw where they came from. Come home, there might be a single high heel shoe and purse in my driveway. For some reason. It just remained a mystery.

Suburbs are often thought of as affluent places. Now, one I lived in wasn’t like that. It was blue collar. A sort of base level for the American Dream. Hollowed out by 2008. But I knew people who lived in more moneyed suburbs. And while their neighborhoods felt less like occupied territories and more like fortified management zones, they were under lockdown due to GUNMAN ON THE LOOSE just as often as we were. Maybe more.

There’s a sort of longstanding narrative trope about the suburbs They’re places where there’s a sort of oppressive conformity on the surface and a deep yet materialistic perversion below the appearance. Ballard did a lot of stuff like that, I think, but the trope is pretty widespread and, I think, predates him by quite a ways. It’s a lot of noir, Stepford Wives, Desperate Housewives, and just a bunch of fiction. It’s all sort of Peyton Place.

But The Return seems to get that the appearance is gone. Or different. That the neighborhoods themselves no longer look desirable. They look unhuman and unoccupied. There’s no keeping up appearances because there’s no one even looking. It’s a psychotic and paranoid zone where everyone had retreated deep inside. A place where people can only communicate with each other through violence. It’s all borders and isolation.

To be sure, Twin Peaks has its fantastic and surreal elements. But The Return is solidly grounded in truth. It’s not dealing with obsolete narrative tropes. It’s grounded. It’s the actual psychic terrain. And that’s the sort of science fiction or, Satan help me, “art” that I like. I can’t pretend to do it near as well as Lynch but it’s what I try to do. I don’t give a shit about predicting how things will be in the future, I only want to capture some of how things feel in the present. Speculative elements are often required. A more talented writer could probably do without them. I can’t. Nor can I sell any of it. But, I’m fucking thrilled someone can.

And it’s awesome to see it on TV. To see TV that expands the possible.

It’s unusual to see anything like The Return on television. I think a lot of that is because to get something on TV, even to get something published, you have to be able to pitch it like “this is like _____ meets ____.” But so much of ____ is just so fucking obsolete.

And fiction is stuck using obsolete methods to communicate with dead tropes. It just keeps bringing us back to the same fucking place. Again and again. And again.

Pattys and Punks: Couple of Market Docs

This is a pretty great short documentary about the Canadian government’s bizarre fight with Jamacian Pattys in one of my old neighborhoods. I moved there at age 18 in the mid-nineties, at the end of the heroin wave, which hit the place hard, and was able to get a room in a hostel for Chinese students with a shared kitchen, shared bathroom, and shared showers for $260 a month — $40 below the $320 housing allowance offered by welfare. That was cheap even then. Just another Market Rat, I lived in that building for 3 years — until we were forced out by the new owners. They turned the building into a spot for European backpackers. I think it’s still that.

That’s a whole other story — involving harassment by thug janitors hired out of the homeless mission, fights in the hallway, and the sudden formation of a tenant’s association. At the time I was sort of sick of The Market and its drama –there was always some– and I wanted to move anyway. So I made the new owners pay me off. They gave me a bunch of money, few months free rent, and I took that money and fucked off to Costa Rica.

Although this doc has a nice light touch, I think it’s important to mention a couple of backdrops to this whole thing. Canada of that era had a lot of anti-black, anti-Caribbean, and, specifically, anti-Jamaican racism. It likely still does. I don’t know if things have improved or changed but, back then, that shit was pretty dire.

In the Market itself, there was also a thing going on. A sort of longstanding attempt to gentrify the place through regulation and ticketing. Back then, Kensington Market was a low-rent open air market. It was immigrants, working class, punks, hippies, anarchists, artists, all brought together in a small, tight-knit but undeniably urban community. There was no where else like it in Toronto. But aside from being so totally culturally different from the rest of the city, it was also on some prime real estate. Everyone was always fighting to keep the condos out, keep the creeping boutiques in check, and let the market retain its character.

We didn’t even have a word for gentrification then. Way we all thought about it was, no one wanted to see it go like Yorkville –a former hippie stronghold full of draft dodgers, which became a playground for the rich. The war to keep The Market went on for ages. It was lost slowly then very quickly. Some of The Market still remains, I’m sure but . . . Well, shit changed a lot. And probably not for the better.

I don’t want to get too nostalgic about it. The Market had its problems. It could be unbelievably petty and snobbish. A lot of people were stuck at age 17 forever. There was a crabs in a barrel feel and the feel of crabs in a lot of other places. And, of course, drugs and drink chewed a lot of people up. There was a reason I wanted to leave. But The Market was the first place I ever moved, and there was a reason for that too. A punk could survive in The Market. You could scavenge. If you didn’t mind a little rot, you could feed yourself pretty well off the waste from the fruit markets. We were called Market Rats for a reason. That place really formed me in some important ways. Whether I loved or hated it, it was a sort of family.

And the other thing I want to say about this doc, is the whole scenario was just so fucking typical. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in socialism. But all this happened when Canada and Toronto was probably about as socialist as it ever was and it was a typical thing to happen. There’s a sort of stupidity you can get under socialism and it looks a lot like this.

Like, I’d vote NDP (though usually just voted Full Communist or for Steve Goof) but that doesn’t mean I liked the NDP. I mean, they were better than the alternatives but Jesus . . .

Living in Canada often felt like an endless struggle against this sort of thing –small and large– and the racism of food inspection is a real fucking thing. But it’s almost impossible to describe to, let’s say, Americans, without sounding like a nut or making the place out to be some terrible dystopia. For a long time, if you heard a Canadian describe themselves as “libertarian” it largely meant that they were against this sort of bullshit, not that they were against universal healthcare. Some things just don’t translate well.

I mean, I once tried to explain that bag of shit Jian Ghomeshi and his crap band Moxy Fruvos to some yanks and well . . . You sound crazy. It’s like, due to Canadian content laws and the national broadcast system, the government shoved this shit band down our throats for a long time –a sort a peppy twee garbage band for university WASP socialists with a future in politics and no interest in real change– until their nostalgia got him a radio show on the government station, then BAM, turns out he’s scum. Like, none of that makes any sense to an American. The government made a band popular? It just sounds paranoid. And it all sounds worse than it is.

So yeah, this doc is pretty good because the tone is sort of light but it still gets across the seriousness and ridiculousness of the whole thing.

And here’s another one about the same era in the same place but more the punk thing.

log: squid baby

벌레 일지 WORMDATE: L3: 2,564 – 311,289: 7 – 2,481: 76% – 49%

Not much to report from these parts. Coming to the end of my Evolutionary Biology and Medicine class. My second vaccination date has been moved up a week. We’re trying to hit 80% full vaccination by the end of October so a lot of dates were moved up.

I watched Squid Game. I enjoyed it. Ultraviolent satire of capitalism? How could I not?

Squid Game feels basically like the same family of stuff as my book. Genre, I guess? I was never wild on calling things a genre. To me, “genre” feels like something to help arrange a bookstore, part of the marketing department, or as a way to help academics scour through a text in search of influence or whatever. And mainly, I think texts are sometimes influenced by other texts but sometimes they’re just looking at the same thing. But whatever — I’m not really against the idea of genre. Whatever works for you. The term just seems a little off to me though. Maybe I have too much affection? This genre or subgenre or whatever feels more like family. But, like a family I have something in common with. A family I like.

As a grouping, it’s kind of like, in no particular order, Clockwork Orange, Cube, Old Boy, Battle Royale, Technicolor Ultra Mall, Squid Game. I might also chuck some Ballard in there — maybe High Rise and Kingdom Come– but Ballard just seems a little different. And whatever it is, it is 100% definitely not cyberpunk. It’s a lot of things. None of it is that. And yeah, cyberpunk can be violent and anti-capitalist but cyberpunk is just different.

In my mind, at least. Very different.

Swear to god, no idea how I ever got lumped into cyberpunk.

I’m sure you can think of a few other examples of what I’m talking about though. Death Race 2000. Snowpiercer, maybe? That sort of thing. Though my book came out before some of that stuff, that’s the basic family of stuff and the sort of stuff I was into and trying to do.

But it’s an odd little family. Like it gets called a lot of things, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, science fiction, satire, and all of that is kind of right and also just kind of totally wrong. Back in the day, I called the group ultra-violence. I could be totally wrong but I think I was the first person to name that family and maybe still the only person who sees it as a category or subcategory or whatever. Fuck knows, the term never caught on! I just wanted to call my book and the sort of things I liked and thought it was a part of something. So “ultra-violence.”

And ultra-violence didn’t really have to do with the amount of violence. A lot things can be really violent but not “ultra-violence.” Had more to do with it being both violent and about violence — and the violence being gratuitous because, well, violence always fucking is — and the violence should not be glorified. It should be really bluntly violent. Maybe even stylized blunt. It should often be stupid and pointless violence. Hard to watch or stomach in places. And not just because of the violence but because it hits you in the heart. The violence should also occur throughout — in interactions that are not typically thought of violent.

Aside from the the type, style, and purposes of the violence, I also thought ultra-violence needed to be have some method of mind control, an element of humor, and probably some aspect of satire. The work has to implicate the reader/viewer, the medium itself, and violence as spectacle and entertainment — even as it did the thing it was against and, as it did that thing, it should also be subverting it. Hard trick but important.

I think people hear “ultra-violence” and think of things like torture-porn like Saw or whatever, which I just think is kinda crap horror, or things that are just violent other things. Never been that to me. It’s probably a subtle difference but I do believe in this difference. Like, I know what I did, what I did deliberately, and the family I felt a part of and wanted to be in — even if it lacked and still lacks a real name. So, yeah, called it Ultra-violence.

And, with Squid Game, I think there’s a new member of the family. I’m happy it’s aboard. And it has many of the same problems our little family of delinquents has but I’m happy it’s around all the same. I think maybe I’m should be jealous of its success. A bit like – oh, so now you want ridiculous ultraviolent critiques of capitalism? Harumph! Poor me! IGNORED!!! Satan knows, I’ve seen people have that sort of reaction on much softer ground. But whatever. Just good to watch the sort of shit I’m into watching. I liked it pretty well.

Aside from that, I’m thinking of having a coat made. I really miss an old coat I had. Been missing it for a while. Just an old houndstooth thing that I picked up at some shop in Toronto called Cabaret. Man, I loved that shop. And I loved that coat. Here I am in like — I don’t know 2007-2008, not sure, at a bar in The Market with that coat.

Still have and use that shirt, that tie, that hat, those gloves. But that coat? That coat is gone. A cat pissed on it. That cat is dead now. Sadly, I had nothing to do with that. I was, however, very happy to get the news that the bastard had died. I like cats but that particular cat? No. I hated that cat. He was a real asshole. You have no idea. Just a total prick. I still hate him.

Rot in hell, Bruno. I’ll see you soon enough.

Like, I will know I’m in hell when I see that cat.

So yeah, that’s the sort of thing I’m thinking about having made. Might go darker though. Not sure. But trying to find pictures of that coat, I found some old pictures online.

Like this one:

I’ve got to me in my fucking twenties there. That was at a fashion show of some kind. They had a booth. I’m not sure if it was fashion week, FAT, or just a random show. But it was that era, long before influencers, when fashion had no fucking idea what to do with bloggers. Like were they media? Trespassers? A problem or an opportunity? Weird period.

I don’t have a lot of what’s in that picture. I still have the tie and the hat. I miss that suit – got it secondhand thrifting and then altered at a tailor and I really liked it. I think I just used it as a work suit and it just got run into the ground. Can’t remember tho.

log: humanoids

Finishing a semester feels a bit like running into a sudden void. Less so when I was working, of course, and probably less so pre COVID, not that I can remember.

But now

Time blooms around you. And time is a hungry fucker. Time likes to be filled. No idea why.

I’ve been feeding my fat pet time some movies and some writing. I also read the textbook for my Korean history class and am about to dive into The Three Kingdoms. Been meaning to read that one for a while but just haven’t gotten around to it.

Since I already have the workbook and know how the book works, I might also do my conversational Korean class before the class begins. That way I can do the class twice.

It might help. I don’t know.

I did bump into something pretty damn good though.

I shit you not, I regard this as one of the finest science fiction movies I’ve ever seen. I watched it last night then I watched it again today. I really fucking like it.

It’s very much the sort of sci-fi I always read and liked. I’ve never seen any of this style of stuff put on film before – at least not in any way that is at all true to how those books read. Watching it, I feel a bit how a fan of 30s pulp must have felt seeing Star Wars.

But it was just a back in time feeling. It also went forward.

Last time I had this feeling was hearing Raymond Scott. It was like finding a common ancestor for all my favorite shit. It made a lot of that stuff make more sense. I have the same basic feeling about this movie. It’s foundation.

I had a brief look into the movie and found out that it’s based on a book written by Jack Williamson.

Like me, he had a hearty distrust of sci-fi taking on Literary values. Where I differ with him is that he frames this as a sort of commercial vs literary thing.

That’s how this debate is usually framed and it’s bonkers. I think it comes from a lot of these writers writing for money. But a lot of these sci-fi cats really have no idea just how weird and noncommercial, even anti-commercial, their pulp shit actually was. And I, for one, think commercial values have done a lot more damage to sci-fi than Literary values. Tho, I’m not wild on either intruding. They’re both gentrification – one is the art gallery, the other is the condos.

To my view, sci-fi has its own set of aesthetic qualities. And these are often both anti-Art and anti-$$$. Fuck’s sake, they’re often anti-drama. They can’t even exist within the rules of “good” drama.

An example.

In this movie, the robots are talking. Part of the scene goes something like this

Robot A: I’m experiencing doubts about this plan.

Robot B: You may withdraw if it is against your circuits.

Robot A: Nah, I’m good.

Any sensible dramatist who cared about art or money knows that you don’t just invent and deflate conflict like this. Here, you can turn the robots into baddies YOU MUST COMPLY or into goodies or you just milk that conflict and use it to have character growth or some shit. This has none of that.

Now, someone might look at that and go, well this is a terrible and boring movie amd that’s why.

But, if that bullshit doesn’t worry you and you have some fucking imagination still rattling around in that skull of yours, in that moment you brush up against how alien these robots are and how differently they think. They don’t even care that they’re in a movie! Human drama means nothing to them. It’s strange.

It’s awful drama and great science fiction. Sci-fi can be like that. It’s fine. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. Drama often wrecks it.

It’s strange that the writer of this movie would think this was commercial fiction. I mean, we’ve all seen the commercial version of this movie a million times and it’s not scene after scene of people and robots talking about things. It’s a guy with a gun taking the law into his own hands and things getting blown up. That’s not this. This is not that.

This is sci-fi and great sci-fi at that. It’s not worried about art or money or, if it is, it doesn’t know how to make either. It’s just its own weird thing. I’m so happy to have seen it. One of the best.

And, yeah, it’s flawed but I put “The Creation of the Humanoids” up there with 2001 and probably prefer this. No joke.

It’s just awesome.

log: frankenscarf courier

WORMDATE: L 1.5/2: 438-34,201: 3-526

Must have lost my damn fool mind today. I had to head out to buy nicotine. First time out in, I think, eight days. And that’s fine. But then I became possessed with the idea that I need a scarf. 밤에 춥져요. 스카프는 필요해요. And I ended up going to the department store.

OF ALL PLACES!

So now I live in fear of my buzzing phone. Just waiting for a “been to ____? please call ____” message. Maybe I’ll get away with this mad caper. Live to slap my head another day.

It was pretty quiet out though and I did stick to the basic compliance. Masks, distancing, avoiding crowds. And I don’t want to give the impression that I’m freaking out –because, like, I’m not– it’s just those alerts now have a bit of added suspense. They are, perhaps, a little spicier than normal. The phone vibrates and the mind can’t help but turn.

You live long enough to get old and you come to understand certain things about yourself. Or, at least, you can start to think you do. I have a certain idea of how I manage risks.

I don’t mind them. But they have to be worth it.

Like, when I was young, stupid kid things like shoplifting or petty theft or whathaveyou, was just whatever. (Little known fun fact, many of my first suits were acquired by walking in wearing one suit and walking out wearing another — cheaper than dry cleaning.) But, got to a certain age and it was just like I would rather pay. There is nothing in the world worth even having to listen to so much as a lecture from some security guard who is younger than me. Want to do some graffiti? Do I really want to sitting in the back of a cop car behind that sort of shit? It’s just not dignified. Fun just isn’t worth it. Cannot be bothered.

But if something is worth it, I’ll pretty much run just about any risk and I won’t even be worried about it. Risk doesn’t worry me. Risk over stupid shit does. My family’s motto is “we have no fear but are cautious” so maybe it’s something in the blood. Though, I’m not sure I would describe much of my family as cautious. Not exactly. Crazy, sure. There’s certainly some crazy in that Oakley blood. And some of that blood all over the floor.

So I’m just sort of annoyed. Because, like a scarf? A fucking scarf?

Nevermind the virus, it’s not even worth the mild suspense of my phone sounding like that old cop knock-knock. It’s not that great of a scarf. Like, it’s okay but it’s just a scarf.

I blame Marie Kondo for this. It’s not her fault but I’m going to blame her anyway. I used to have scarfs. Plenty of scarves! I’m not sure what happened to them. One move from Canada to California and another move within Cali is probably enough to clear out most of a person’s winter-wear. Then you throw in some Marie Kondo and shit just gets out of hand. I curse her pretty much weekly. Can’t tell you how many times I’m looking for something and end up shaking my fist at the sky and Kirk screaming “KOOOOONNNNNDO!!!”

And sidenote — Korea has a version of her. She recommends that you try cleaning up and organizing things before you just start throwing everything out. Sensible fucking country!

In other news. Been on a Frankenstein kick lately.

I even saw Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. That has to be just about one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Just terrible. The thing about Frankenstein is, boy, you can pull a lot of meaning and a lot of different meanings out of the damn thing. Like a lot. Scientists playing God, humans hating God for creating them, and that’s just a start. It has ideas that you see replicated in movies like Bladerunner. Even “Hider in the House” –a movie about Gary Busey hiding in your house (sweet dreams!)- is basically just a little part of Frankenstein without the sci-fi. And it crosses cultures too. Saadawi beautifully takes the creature in “Frankenstein in Baghdad” and comes up with an incredible way to describe post-war Iraq. Frankenstein is dynamite. You can get a lot of meaning out of Frankenstein.

Branagh somehow manages to get none.

None! Nothing!

What a piece of shit that movie is.

Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula is kind of shit too but at least it’s really horny. If you’re going to make a movie like this, someone better fuck a werewolf in the garden. There are rules.

And I also saw a movie that I had never see before. Jimmy Mubonic. (I am so sick of spelling, leave me alone.) I had seen parts of this thing on other people’s TVs but never sat down and watched it until a couple of nights ago. It’s not bad. It’s okay.

Age has served it well. What I think has happened here is that it’s kind of a low-key funny Repo Man style script that Hollywood Hollywooded the fuck out of. Over time, all that Hollywood stuff just became super campy so the humor emerges. It also has that weird peak nineties thing where it’s like 80s cult underground goes Hollywood corporate. So there’s like Ice T and Rollins in a William Gibson thing. Dolph Lundgren and Keanu.

I like Keanu. He’s terrible but distinctly so. Very much a star. I think star power isn’t much about being good as it is about quickly recognizable you are. Music is like that. You don’t need to sound good, just distinct. And Keanu definitely sounds like Keanu. There is no mistaking him for anyone else. Not his voice, his look, nothing. He’s singular.

Like good or bad is just beside the point. It’s Keanu.

And the movie has Beat Takeishi. I’m a huge fan. He makes everything better.

We should probably talk predictions! Sci-fi and such.

A white guy not wearing his mask in Asia during a pandemic? Very accurate Jimmy Mubonic 2021 prediction here. I don’t know what’s wrong with my people but something very clearly is. Just wear your fucking mask, Kenny Reef! And don’t buy a scarf!

But the most eerily accurate thing in the whole damn movie is probably the random animated dolphin flying around in cyberspace. That shit actually looks like the web.

Odd the things that things get right.

Cats

I like terrible and disturbing movies. B, C, and D movies. Schlockumentaries, made for TV movies and drive in monster mayhems. Satantic bikers, beatnik killers, and cannibal surfers. Christian rapture fantasy. Mad artists stabbing up the models and devil children eating the dog. Even the odd big budget production gone totally off the rails. Weirder shit besides. Things I cannot even describe. Things watched in the dead of night. These are the movies I like. I watch a lot of them. Like, a lot. Too many.

And though I have nothing against an ironic enjoyment of things, my interest in these films is not what people call ironic. I just like them. They take risks. Strange risks. You don’t often see a so-called good movie about cyborgs have the cyborg escape to a truckstop and become a professional arm wrestler while he awaits death Sonatine style. That just doesn’t happen in a Hollywood movie. In a B-Movie? It just fucking might.

And I believe these movies are vital in the creation of the so-called great movies. A movie like Alien, for example, doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s just a version of a thing done again and again in B-movies. Alien was just the version where it all worked. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the loss of B-Movies coincided with the rise of constant superhero remakes. The best ideas always came out of the dumpster.

But I do hate ironic versions of these movies. Fucking hate them. Can’t stand Troma. That space channel Sharknado shit can go to hell. About as far as I’ll go into irony with this stuff is John Waters. That guy is alright. He actually gets the shit. He means it. He’s from it. And I don’t mind Mystery Science Theater though I tend to hate a certain strain of its fans who think these movies exist to provide wisecracks. They don’t. Just because they’re not good movies doesn’t mean they’re bad movies. They’re beyond that.

So when I heard that people were shocked and dismayed and even terrified of the Cats movie, I knew I had to see it. Last night, I saw it.

Meh. Or meh-ow.

The movie is crap but it’s not really remarkable crap. If it’s the worst or most disturbing thing you’ve seen, you probably just haven’t seen a lot of terrible or disturbing movies. Like, it’s not even the worst or most disturbing Andrew Lloyd Weber movie currently available on Netflix. And if this nonsense is your bag, I think the Paris Hilton vehicle, Repo: The Genetic Opera is better.

I did like the basic idea behind Cats. In a post-CRISPR London, a cult of human-cat chimeras, the jelico cats, gather for their annual sacrifice. Each cat, apparently unable to formulate original thoughts, can only repeat, like tape-recorders, the poems of T.S. Elliot. They repurpose these poems to pray for the sweet relief of death. But only one of these despicable monsters will be allowed to die upon the altar. Judy Dench judges their pleas for death. She gets to pick the sacrifice. So it’s a solid idea. It’s an okay movie. It’s probably better than Spiderman.

I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. The plot is the steangest and most disturbing thing about the movie but the plot is the same as the hit broadway musical and no one minded then. The CGI is pretty bad but all CGI is pretty bad. This movie looks about the same to me as Black Panther or Ring Lord or whatever. It looks like a videogame. So do a lot of movies. None of them look right.

Is it the sex? It must be the sex. These seem like some horny cats.

But cats are pretty horny.

Maybe people just don’t like how the cat monsters look. You might want to get used to it though. I suspect we’ll be seeing some humans looking a lot like that in thirty years or so. Maybe sooner They’ll probably be pretty horny too. You need to deal with that.

So, aside from its story, it’s a pretty average movie. Why the revulsion? Why the horror?

It might be similar to the initial backlash against Starship Troopers. Cats has achieved by accident what that movie achieved through satire. Accident and satire, bad art and great satire, can do the same thing — make the nuts and bolts obvious. Make the mechanism the point. Become a magic act that shows you how the tricks are done.

Just by getting a few things wrong, the Cats movie just became too blatant. It’s just too obviously what movies are now. People aren’t so much revolted by the film as they are by themselves. Just as in the 80s they wanted fascist action movies without having to admit that these were fascist action movies, now they want Cats but they don’t want to admit that it’s Cats. They want death cult melodramas of half-human, half-animal sex monsters played by celebrities and sold as uplifting tales of triumph and redemption.

On some level, they know that they’ve been watching some version of Cats for almost twenty years. But they were only able to watch and enjoy those movies to the degree they could pretend they were watching something else. But Cats is just the truth of it. It doesn’t let you pretend you’re watching something else. You’re watching Cats. You’ve always been watching Cats. That movie you loved? It was fucking Cats!

People aren’t revolted by Cats. They’re revolted by themselves.

Maybe they should be.

I don’t like to judge.

cop shows

A History of Violence: Why I Loved Cop Shows, and Why They Must Change:

From Marshal Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke) to Marshal Raylan Givens (Justified), Sgt. Joe Friday (Dragnet) to Detective Vic Mackey (The Shield), television’s endless flood of cops has accomplished two things. Early on, it presented police officers as infallible heroes who are professionally and temperamentally equipped to handle any delicate situation. Then eventually, it began depicting less admirable cop behavior, but in ways that tended to explain it — and, after a while, to normalize it. These fictional stories have rewired many of us to assume cops are always acting in good faith, and to ignore or wave away those moments when they’re clearly not.

This is a pretty good piece about the dominance of cop shows in American media. General sort of rule, there’s only shows about three professions – cops, lawyers, and doctors.

Now, I like cop shows pretty well, some of them at least, but there is just too much of the shit and a lot of them are just shit. And they’re not the only possible show. Like, here, I saw part of some drama that was like a CSI but for park safety. It was like the haunted, gruff genius head of the department would look at a fence and FLASHFORWARD ZOOM ZAP and he’d see how it would break, and he’d imagine someone falling through the fence, and put his team of dedicated lieutenants to work on fixing that fence. It was like a cop show but about civil servants. Not a bad idea. Why not glamorize those jobs? Fences probably save more lives than cops. At the very least, they don’t shoot people.

And, also, I fucking love The Shield. To me, that is a show about dirty cops that, by its end, totally subverts the cop show, and the act of watching cop shows. It just nails the cops and nails the viewers of cop shows. It gets you rooting for these pigs or at least used to them, and it has you, on some level, seeing their point of view. It has to do that to do the thing it does. And then it does the thing. Boy, does it ever do the thing. Just a great fucking show.

There’s also a problem, a big one, touched on here.

 But the protagonist problem applies just as well to shows about villains as it does to ones about heroes and antiheroes: We form attachments to the characters with whom we spend the most time, and we come to understand them and even root for them in ways we might not like, and that the creators may not have intended. (See also the “Skyler White is the true villain of Breaking Bad” truthers.)

This is a problem I’ve thought about a lot. Too much, probably. I thought about it before, during, and after writing Technicolor Ultra Mall. It’s not a problem that I have any satisfactory solution to. The problem is this: People root for so-called antiheroes. Making it worse, if you write anything, any male character, that is meant to criticize, satirize, or make male violence clear and obviously bad, men will fucking root for that character. They cheer not in spite of the fucked up shit but because of it. No matter how debased and fucked up you make that character, men will root for them. The worse you make the character, the harder they cheer. This is disturbing in and of itself. To my mind, it gets worse. I think men and art has to interrogate male violence. But the method we use to do it is totally inadequate. It’s like we lack the words to have the conversation we need to have. Something is wrong.

I hate talking about this book shit, and I think an author’s point of view is of no more value than a reader’s but, it may have some value here, and, in terms of what I was trying to do with Technicolor Ultra Mall . . .

At the time, even back then, I felt like there was a risk that people would just enjoy the violence. I thought, if I didn’t have a really terrible and painful ending to the thing, one that knocked the gloss off, the book would end up glamorizing violence and misogyny. And, Satan knows, I did not want that to be the message. Aside from my personal reasons for doing what I did, and, to me, writing is basically a personal act of divination which is appropriated into a concept of “art” or “writing” or whathaveyou, that was my arty-shit reason. It had to hurt and be senseless to destroy the glamour. Violence could not have a point or be moral. I never even thought Budgie was a hero. I don’t even think about characters in terms of hero or antihero. Least of all him. I don’t even like him. Never have.

(Like, in my head, his gang is a basically a bunch of fucking cops. That’s why I dressed them like mounties. And the protection rackets? Well, Toronto cops have some experience there too. They’re not rebels. He’s not a rebel. He’s just trying to get a different job and will do just about anything to get it. And that sort of ambition (I really distrust ambition) is what fucks up the world in a lot of different ways. His ambition is manipulated and appropriated. The kid is a fucking stooge of a corrupt and destructive system, and when he tries to improve his position, even more so. Technicolor Ultra Mall is not supposed to be a cheering read about the value of dreams so much as the danger of them. It’s not “hopepunk.” I don’t like hope. Don’t trust it. But try putting that shit on the back of a book.)

The issues I’ve worried about with that novel, I’ve since seen play out on television. I don’t think Walter White from Breaking Bad was really meant to be a hero. But he sure becomes one. I don’t even like that show — really, to be it’s some weird white power fantasy about how even a chemistry teacher could be a better gangster than cartels — a kind of racist trope of ‘we’re scared so we’ll be the really scary ones.’ It’s like, again and again, you see these plainly villainous male leads get cheered on. No depravity or abuse of power seems depraved or abusive enough to turn people off power. It just makes power more attractive. And so it is with cop anti-heroes. No matter how corrupt and fucked up you make them, people cheer for the shit. The more fucked up, the louder the cheers. It’s a problem. If you mean something totally different, it’s a little heartbreaking, tbh.

A show that, I think, does a much better job than most at looking at male violence thing, is Better Call Saul. It makes his villainy feel like failure. Makes it pathetic. His success never feels like something to be cheered or the overcoming of an obstacle. It feels like failure. You get the arc of becoming a monster but it’s not about overcoming problems. It’s just falling flat on your fucking face again and again. The wrong thing feels wrong, you know? It hurts. And there’s no redemption. It just fucking hurts.

That model, to me at least, feels like a way forward on some of this. But like, what the fuck do I know? And if we got to give up some cop shows to get the cops defunded, small price to pay. There are other sorts of stories to tell about other sorts of people. I’d like to see more of them. I do like Monk tho.

The Grumpy Owl Guide to Keeping Your Eyeballs Twitching and Heart Throbbing

I’ve seen quite a few movie and show recommendations floating around lately. If these and the trending movies on Streaming Service X are any indication, people have a real appetite to watch movies about outbreaks, contagions, and pandemics. Can’t imagine why.

It does, however, occur to me that people may be interested in movie recommendations. I have no idea why they would be interested in mine. I usually have no interest in theirs. For fuck’s sake, if the movie is called Something-Man and you recommend it to me, not only do I question your taste, politics, and basic maturity but our whole relationship. Even when it’s a good recommendation, it often takes me about a decade to get around to following up on it.

I’m just not a big movie recommendation person. Like, at all. But what the fuck? I’ve already dispensed mental health tips on this blog, which isn’t really a thing I do, and if anyone told me ten years ago that I’d be at all emotional about The American Grocery Situation in the Year 2020 while living in Korea, I might have cut them off. (jk I’d pour them another drink.)

So as Nan used to say, ‘if you’re going to hang for stealing a sheep, you might as well shag it too.’ Here’s The Grumpy Owl Guide to Keeping Your Eyeballs Twitching and Heart Throbbing.

Sandglass

If we’ve known each other for any period of time and we’ve talked about television shows, I’ve probably recommended this one to you and you probably haven’t watched it.

You see! This is why I don’t even fucking bother!

But let me try AGAIN. This is one of my all time favorite shows. Like, I don’t make lists of favorites because, after a certain point, a thing is good on its own terms and what is this need to assign some number so that you can rank your relationship to it. Like why?

I ever tell you that I never had a best friend as a child. I refused. What does that mean? A best friend? How do you think that makes your other friends feel? What exact responsibilities come with that position anyway? Like, a friend is a friend far as I can tell.

This stance, of course, upset many of my friends. Kept them on their toes too, if we’re being completely honest about it.

But I should probably talk about this show. It’s the story of three friends during a difficult time and in a difficult place in Korea’s history. It’s just gut-wrenching. The entire thing is full of so much love and tenderness. It’s a melodrama but it is an amazing melodrama.

It’s a bit of a slow burn but, holy fuck, it does burn. There were parts of this thing where I cried so much, the tears felt holy. It was like altered consciousness emotional. And other parts, man, I felt some sort of protest PTSD. It’s a great show. You should watch it.

You probably won’t. I really don’t know why I even bother.

The Horse Dancer

One of the reasons that I don’t recommend movies or shows is because, well, many of the movies and shows that I like are a bit . . . It’s hard to expect anyone to like them. They’re not a thing you really want to recommend to a person.

Like how do you recommend The Horse Dancer?

It’s bad but it’s not bad in the way that everyone is used to — it’s not some Mystery Science Theater type bad. It’s bad but if you treat it like a bad movie, that’s just kind of boring. I mean, say what you want about these so-called bad movies but many of them, at least, aren’t predictable. Just the other day I saw one about a cyborg that kills some evil Supreme Leader or something and ends up on the run. You know what he did? He started competitive arm-wrestling at a truck-stop. You just don’t see Hollywood do shit like that. It’s kinda great.

So, yeah, maybe bad movies are bad, but at least they’re not boring.

I should also explain – I have a thing for a particular genre of movie. I like movies that are about a white girl who fucks up and gets sent to live with the horses and the horses teach her about life, love and small town American values. There’s a lot of these movies. Many are made by churches. They vary widely in quality. In some of these movies, the horse even talks. Those are especially good. I also really like talking animal movies — but only certain types of talking animals. Not CGI for example. It has to be a real animal.

My favorite entry in the genre of horses teaching people things is pretty easily The Horse Dancer. In this one, the horse does not talk. But the girl goes off to live on the ranch with the horses and then she starts dancing on them. Strange? That’s just the plot. The real marvel is just in the how this movie was made. It is so strangely put together that it becomes hallucinogenic. This is what watching a movie on LSD is like. (Trust me.)

You would have to be a genius to make a movie like this on purpose. Art house directors could mine this movie for years and never run out of really sinister and strange shit.

Like, I don’t know – watch it and imagine David Lynch or some such is directing it.

Star Trek Voyager: Night

This is on this list because I saw some Trek site claiming that another episode of Voyager was the best one about the current crisis. That other one is about a giant virus on the ship and Captain Janeway runs around with a laser gun shooting at it or something. And, like I know that one has a giant virus in it but I’ll never understand how science fiction manages to attract some of the most literal-minded people on the planet.

What do they even get out of the genre?

Since reading that post, this episode, Night (S05 E01), has been rattling around my brain like a song stuck in my head. It’s not my favorite episode of Voyager (hello Tuvix) but it is the episode that I think is most resonant with the times. The ship is stuck in a really boring void. Nothing to do but get through it. Their struggle is with powerlessness, morale and guilt. This is one of the first times we see Janeway really lose it — one of the few times when she goes to pieces. I like it when Janeway goes to pieces. Some vulnerability is good.

I watched it again tonight. Good episode.

And why the fuck has Picard made Seven so much worse as a character? Like, seriously. She was so much better than Bad Ass Action Hero. So much better.

Three poplars at Plyuschikha

This one caught me off-guard. I can’t remember exactly why I watched it — I think I ended up down some rabbit hole related to movies where the teacher teaches the inner city students a lesson they won’t forget, and somehow ended up in Russian movies. Happy I did.

You probably have to be some sort of movie expert to talk sensibly about this one but, to me, this is just a really well-executed and moving film. It’s so simple. A lot of people try to do understatement and very few succeed. This succeeds completely. It is not easy to make something this simple and to make it say so much. That’s mastery. It’s a simple movie that creates complicated feelings. Complicated but very plain too. It is what it is.

Summary

Everyone has their different tastes. One person likes Big Budget Space Cowboys at war with Coporate Mascot Superheros and another likes things that are actually good. But whatever the differences in our tastes, this can be a time for us to watch some stuff that we maybe haven’t heard of before and, you know, just give it a shot or whatever. Maybe something here will catch your fancy and make you have a feeling or two.

Fucked if I know.

Nosferatu, The Vampyre

It’s not my habit to binge-watch good movies and particularly not movies by Werner Herzog. I usually need a moment to let those sink in. They can exhaust me but fill me with hope and, having found something like that, I try to treat it a precious and avoid overdoing it.

But, today, I went on a bit of a Herzog kick. I watched Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Grizzly Man, and Nosferatu, The Vampire. As you can probably imagine, under current conditions, Nosferatu resonated the hardest. It really sort of hit the moment on the nose.

Current mood.

If you’re unfamiliar with this version, basically, it’s Dracula with an emphasis on Dracula as plague. It has some other interesting elements, subordinating Van Hesling and making Lucy a much more active character. This is, I think, really important.

Horror is a fundamentally feminine and often feminist genre of film. The genre is built around the female rather than the male gaze. The best horror movies understand this and bring it out, while the worst horror movies attempt to work against the genre’s natural tendencies.

There’s certain recurring tropes in horror. One is — if people just listened to the girl, they’d avoid a lot of trouble. Instead, the men usually ignore her warnings, call her crazy, tell her she’s being hysterical, and, as a direct result, everyone gets killed. This goes way back (Cassandra, at least) and it’s a vital part of so many horror-shows. When you get right down to brass tacks, a lot of horror is basically about white men in authority ignoring female or minority advice, refusing to listen to anything except what they foolishly term “reason”, and getting a lot of people, themselves often included, killed because of this stupidity. In many cases, the villain is using gas-lighting to manipulate those around them. If horror-show has a concept of original sin, it is not listening to the woman, the worker, the child, or the native.

The horror of not being listened to. This is a common feature of the horror-show and of feminist fiction. The examples are innumerable. The overlap is there.

The transformative horrors of vampires and werewolves often present the monster as a sort of liberation. It’s often treated more as romance than horror.

Much of the horror of the vampire –the sexy rather than the rodent version of Count Dracula– emerges because the vampire is just about the best option going. I mean, sure, he will drink your blood but that beats a loveless marriage to that other toe-headed dope. You lose your soul? So what? You’re going to lose your soul to a life of dull respectability anyway. Have you ever noticed that Dracula actually listens? He makes a lot of eye-contact. He’s also quite charming. He has his problems, sure, but being boring isn’t one of them.

And this goes for Dracula-like characters too. Like look at Christopher Lee in City of the Dead. He’s the only character who takes the young woman student, her research, and her discipline seriously. Her boyfriend and her brother are completely dismissive of her and her work. While I think this movie attempts to make a different point –one about slippery manipulative professors– and the film certainly requires an update to give more agency to the women characters, to the modern viewer, this movie can’t help but make the point that Christopher Lee is easily the most attractive option. That might be where the horror lies.

Satan might be your best option.

The romance is in the transformation.

With the vampire, this is a pretty appealing transformation. Since we’ve stopped valuing souls quite so highly, this transformation becomes even more appealing still. You get to live forever, stay the age you are now, and become predator rather than prey. No one really wants to live as docile prey-cattle for the upper classes. The vampire lets you lean in and join the aristocracy. The vampire is more opportunity than horror. You could charge people a lot of money to become vampires. It’s hard to believe they’re just giving it away! The vampire is not a horror so much as a secular fantasy of psychopathic self-improvement.

But even with less appealing transformations, like the werewolf, there is still some sense of liberation. If you look at the charming movie from 1989, My Mom is a Werewolf, becoming a werewolf really livens up Mom’s life. She engages in bizarre and erotic adventures. Her sexuality is unleashed on the world as a monster. It’s all very dangerous and there’s the usual lip-service to family values and whatnot but her lycanthropy is also very freeing.

When transformation becomes horrifying rather than romantic, it is about men transforming women into their idea of women. Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, so on and so forth. This terrible transformation is often not from a woman into a monster but from a beautiful monster into some man’s idea of a woman — whether he believes her to be an incubator, a servant, or some other docile receptacle for his fantasies. A horror-show on this subject would be more like The Little Mermaid than My Mom is a Werewolf. Mermaids being turned into women by men is more scary than women turning into mermaids.

The best horror consciously understands these things. The worst of horror tries to make the genre into a spectacle of dead women, male power fantasy, and morality tales about virtue. Some horror-shows just totally miss the point. Some of these end up making it in spite of themselves. Others are a little more slippery.

The fucking English strike me as particularly slippery. They seemed to have found a way to pay lip-service to egalitarian principles while using the motions to undercut their purpose. Fleabag, for example, seems to me, to be a trick. It makes fun of women with some of the worse tropes and stereotypes going but alibis this with a woman protagonist. Imagine that show with a male lead and think about the utter contempt it has for its secondary women characters. How it regards adult female sexuality. It’s kinda fucked up is all I’m saying.

But we’re talking about horror here. So let’s look at Netflix’s version of Dracula, brought to us by Steven Moffat. On the surface, the show made a brave choice. It changed Dr. Van Helsing into a woman. There’s nothing wrong with that decision in itself. I can think of plenty of movies that have benefited from similar changes and many more that would. I’m not against changing the gender of beloved characters. I have no problem with that. I do have some problems with this specific instance. I think this is a regressive stunt.

You see, the show wants to bring out some erotic tension between the doctor and the vampire. I’m in favor of that. I just think that this tension should have been queer tension. It should have been homoerotic tension. What changing Van Helsing into a woman did, in this case, was make the story more heteronormative. Turning her into some sort of science nun on top of that, also made the character into some sort of sexist horror super-trope of masculine virgin. They didn’t make a woman centered version of Dracula so much as they tried to make a straight version of Hannibal. Now, I might have too high an opinion of female perversity, but I think that two hot men covered in blood, with a lot of sexual tension between them, might be a little more geared to a woman’s gaze and erotic imagination than this sort of very straight and wooden fantasy. And horror should prioritize a woman’s perception.

Now, having said all that, one has to remember that horror is not meant to comfort. It’s meant to horrify. It’s an often complicated genre whose works can often be read in a variety of contradictory ways. But the horror-show horrifies best when it has a feminized perception or is built to accommodate one. Horror-shows that treat their women characters seriously, bringing them to the front and center of the story, is not some case of ‘wokeness run amok’ or over-politicization of the genre. Done right, that’s when the horror-show gets scary.

Herzog does a tremendous job of this with his Nosferatu. He operates naturally within the interrelated aesthetics and politics of the horror-show. He stains against none of it. He finds the natural and correct shape of the characters and of the vampire.

Van Helsing is reduced to a cipher, only really notable because he, like the rest of the male doctors, refuses to listen to Lucy — the one person who actually knows what is happening. Herzog completely rethinks this character’s traditional scientific heroism. As one should.

Dracula is an inhuman monster. A personification of plague. It’s an image that resonates. Not just of the monster but the peculiar little details that suddenly ring too true. The fevers. The madman who worships him and runs off to spread the plague. The plague ship that Dracula arrives on with his army of diseased rats. It all rings too true.

The Princess Dementer

It remains a horror movie. Nosferatu is not about victory. You do not kill the monster and return to status quo. There’s no heroism here,. There’s just a blundering forward. The best outcome for anyone is death. The film is bleak as fuck. That’s how I like my horror.

But the most unsettling thing about this movie and, perhaps its greatest accomplishment, is that it makes eternal life seem much less appealing. Living forever and having power is not treated as the trite secular fantasy of vampire romances. Eternal life becomes viscerally unsettling. It become terrifying. Not because one needs to shed a littl blood to achieve it and drink much more to maintain it. These things are also the stuff of life. And it’s not because one loses their soul. The transformation is terrifying because one gains so much time. Time is the curse. Time is hell. Vampires have nothing but time. They have nothing but life.

The rest of us? We have too many vampires and not enough time. But we also have love. That will have to be enough.