Meta-Commentary

Hangover: Shots

Posted in culture, media by Adrian Arroyo on July 30, 2012

To Keep and Bear Arms–Garry Willis on the 2nd Amendment (NYRB, 1995)

Mayberry RIP–Frank Rich on Declinist Panics

The Dream of Maximum Guns–Ta-Nehisi Coates

When Beauty Fades–NYT on Supermodels

Checking Out–Paris Review on Librarian Smut

Op-Ed Militarism–CFR

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Ament

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on July 30, 2012

Legislators use amendments to court aments within the chamber as well as without.

(David Foster Wallace circled words in his dictionary. I’m using each of them in a sentence, moving alphabetically from “Ablative Absolute” to “witenagemot.”)

Alpestrine

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on July 24, 2012

Accustomed to a form of alpestrine commentary that sees smoke but no fire, we’re now content to ignore the particularities of our situation and speculate on the particulates.

(David Foster Wallace circled words in his dictionary. I’m using each of them in a sentence, moving alphabetically from “Ablative Absolute” to “witenagemot.”)

Knights

Posted in culture, politics by Adrian Arroyo on July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises references Frank Miller’s books, but where Miller saw an antihero struggling to balance conflicting duties and institutions, Nolan offers us a righteous patrician concerned with little beyond his own moral, mental, and material endowments–a caped crusader in place of a dark knight. From the outset, the plot ignores any ambiguity that adheres to Batman or his actions; Christopher Nolan helpfully sorts the supporting cast into those who “get” Batman, and those who don’t, and a few not-so-subtle cues let the audience know that the former are heroes and the latter either villains or collaborators.

The result is a humorless movie with an authoritarian streak a mile wide, and the way Nolan treats Commissioner Gordon is the clearest illustration of that tendency. Gordon, friendly moustache and everyman face aside, has been involved in a multi-year coverup surrounding the death of Harvey Dent, which resulted in the incarceration of thousands. We are given to know that these miscreants are–of course!–undoubtedly guilty and deserving of their punishment. It’s in light of this consideration that, in one of the early scenes, Gordon folds away his tearful confession in the name of law and order. By the time the plot engages with Gordon’s deception, the battle lines have been drawn and the revelation falls on deaf ears.

Nolan takes a similar approach to Foley, Alfred and Miranda. Foley is cast as a fool and a coward because he takes Gordon at his word about what happened between Dent and Batman, then later refuses to fall in with the man who fed him a diet of lies that endangered his life and family. An otherwise affecting scene between Bruce and Alfred is marred by the fact that Wayne is objecting to a form of emotional vigilanteism whose violent mirror image he embraces wholeheartedlty while wearing the cape and cowl. The message is clear: the methods don’t matter if you’re protecting a city, but they do if you’re protecting a heart. Finally, a discussion between Miranda and Bruce Wayne about the relationship between man and technology is robbed of its meaning when Nolan turns first the device in question and then Miranda herself into dei ex machinis.

What we’re left with is a movie in which the heroes are endowed with secret knowledge that allows them to flout the norms and processes of modern life, in which everyone who disagrees with or restrains them does so out of ignorance, villainy, or a soft heart, and in which the great mass of humanity is reduced to a howling mob whose only feature of note is their willingness to believe the lies told by their leaders, whether they be public servants or revolutionary madmen. As such, The Dark Knight Rises is neither conservative nor liberal; it’s a clash of exalted wills against the backdrop of various mindless or incompetent collectivities. To call it anything but anti-democratic reveals more about the author than the movie.

Hangover: Entrenchment

Posted in culture, media by Adrian Arroyo on July 23, 2012
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Narcissism

Posted in culture, media, politics by Adrian Arroyo on July 21, 2012

Steve Almond, on why “Liberals Are Ruining America,

Imagine, if you will, the domino effect that would ensue if liberals and moderates simply tuned out the demagogues. Yes, they would still be able to manipulate their legions into endorsing cruel and self-defeating policies. But their voices would be sealed within the echo chamber of extremism and sealed off from the majority of Americans who honestly just want our common problems solved. They would be marginalized in the same way as activists who rant about racial purity or anarchy.

I can imagine that, but that’s all I can do; it’s a fable, and a dangerous one at that.

Political entertainment and political engagement aren’t opposite ends of the see-saw. Consuming more of the former doesn’t crowd out the latter. Contrary to his entire thesis, the kind of low-level engagement Almond laments tends to result in “real” action later on. People don’t engage in a thoughtful survey of current political trends and then decide to go volunteer for a campaign. They feel passionately about something, then take a small action, then a larger one. That’s why campaigns solicit $5 donations as well as $5,000 ones. It’s why Rush Limbaugh is an influential member of the Republican Party.

There’s a vein of narcissism underlying that argument, and it allows Almond to conclude that real problem with “liberalism” is its relationship to right wing chatter. The cycle of outrage and obsession that afflicts Almond during drivetime becomes “the tragic flaw of the modern liberal,” endowing his entertainment choices with a bizarre world-historical importance that’s both undeserved and unproven. Even if you buy what Almond’s selling, it’s still a suffocating definition of liberalism, one that scants both politics and policy by turning the frivolous choices of one man into a disease that plagues an entire ideology.

The same sort of self-regard animates “the Newsroom,” and it’s just as worthless in the NYT as it is on TV. Boiled down, it’s the blithe assumption that everyone is like you, except that they’ve made different (read: terrible) choices and that if they’d just do what you tell them to do the walls of Jericho would come tumbling down. Apparently, this rather anti-democratic sentiment is the key to saving Democrats, liberalism, and democracy itself.

It’s not Rush, baby, it’s you.

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Hangover: Furious

Posted in culture by Adrian Arroyo on July 2, 2012
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