Irreal Life Top Ten, early March 2016.

by waxbanks

  1. ‘White men must be stopped’: Headline at Salon. The use of the third-person plural in the halfremembered-Zinn tagline suggests that the writer is not, in fact, a white man; does that count as a conflict of interest?

  2. Janelle Monáe: Revisiting The Electric Lady now, after all the ‘Janelle is the future’ talk has died down, throws useful light on Monáe’s project, starting with the nostalgia that colours more than just her style. The back half of this self-consciously retro album has a disco-cabaret vibe down to the fun but awfully busy island outro, and the opening tracks’ Prince and Marvin homages have a weird dinner theatre quality, not at all lessened by her vocal limitations — Monáe sounds like the president of the college a cappella group, rather than a nouveau-soul superstar. I like that people got so excited about this album; I like her style; I like the world her music evokes. I love that an Afrofuturist robo-androgyne can get a project like this together, with a tight crew united behind a personal vision. But it’s a little worrisome that the two cameos from male sex gods (Prince himself and Miguel) so easily push her own performance aside, showing what real effortless mastery is.

  3. Game of Thrones, show and books: I strongly favour the books; the show throws out much of what I like about Martin’s ‘worldbuilding’ — i.e. his gift for thumbnail ‘backstory’; the regular irruption of Westeros’s mythic past; the suggestion of dozens of crosshatched worldwide conspiracies — in favour of conventional ensemble TV dramatics. I even liked the much-maligned fourth and fifth volumes, which I read as a single interwoven ePub file that alternated chapters and maintained much of the asteroid-crash energy of Storm of Swords. The first three volumes build to a perfect polyphonic climax; v4-5 form a complex interregnum in which, among other feats, Martin jumps from his Tuchmanesque Westeros to the eastern continent Essos and implies the existence there of a second, equally complex ‘game of thrones’ in a different (multi)cultural key. This structure left a lot of readers dissatisfied, but with v4-5 recombined, it deepens the books’ sense of both human-scale history and grand myth. (For the full picture, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, you really must read the World of Ice & Fire tie-in encyclopedia, which adds Lovecraftian shades and much deepens the story of Rhaegar, Lyanna, and Tywin — the fulcrum of the entire series.) The books are better than their reputation, which the show, by dint of its production values and ready digestibility, has managed to tarnish.

  4. Lice: Chemically resistant ‘super lice’ have been found in half the states in the union; they have evolved to be all but immune to common over-the-counter chemical remedies. There’s been much talk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria these last few years, though of course no one cares right now because Trump and #OscarsSoWhite and so forth. (We are a cowardly species, by Intelligent Design.) Of course, a bacterial infection that resists antibiotics could kill you dead, and you should worry a little about that. But small blood-hungry insects that you can only do away with by carefully shaving your head, which will otherwise crawl from your hair to the hair of anyone who touches you? Try and imagine the experience of riding the subway or going to ballet class or headbanging at the Middle East downstairs in a world where such a ‘minor’ plague was going around. You’re not 14th-century man, acclimated to constant endemic lice/flea infestations. You’d lose your mind. Lice aren’t a problem for adults without children right now, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how that could change, and quickly.

  5. The Senate: If Trump wins the GOP nomination, the presidential and Senate races bifurcate, with swing-state GOP Senate incumbents distancing themselves at every opportunity from the witless moron whose insurgent candidacy their own intransigence and fearmongering made possible. As I write, it seems almost certain that he’ll win the nomination — but there’s some small chance of a contested RNC convention, at which delegates are free to back whichever candidate buys their support after the first ballot. In other words: if the nomination isn’t locked up by convention day, it’s for sale. This would be disastrous for the Republicans, alienating the far right and disastrously misallocating the resources of the party machine. But the deeper story is this: Hillary Clinton’s going to win the presidency no matter what, barring the aforementioned asteroid crash or some terrorist flareup. Trump is toxic in the general election and, for different but related reasons, none of the other candidates has a chance. So the abacus-operators at GOP Hindquarters are working feverishly right this instant to figure out whether their best course this upside-down year is to do the unthinkable and simply write off the presidency in 2016 in order to salvage the Republican Party’s hold on the Senate. Sensible, no? Ruthless and pragmatic and almost admirable…until you realize that this calculation would never even occur to an organization for whom governance was a priority. But here’s something to remember: you accepted months ago that nothing substantive, nothing but the bare minimum necessary to operate this stumbling sickened country, would get done in Congress in 2016, because ‘it’s an election year, of course.’ And you told yourself, just as I’ve told myself, that it was the Republicans’ fault.

  6. ‘The deep state’: Title of a new book by former GOP Congressional staffer and Budget Committee analyst Mike Lofgren. Conspiracist thinking in the US is energetically derided and dismissed before the fact, so that accusations of conspiracy arrive tainted, untouchable. This is, as they say, no accident. The term ‘conspiracy theorist’ was coined in a CIA 1967 memo which outlined tactics for marginalizing those who accused President Johnson and others of murdering President Kennedy. (The Warren Commission report was issued in 1964, and was in doubt from day one.) Lofgren insists in a Salon interview that his book is not a conspiracy theory, but of course that’s what it is: secret collusion, covert activity, the works. True or not, his account faces an uphill battle for ‘hearts and minds’ even though most Americans surely believe — correctly — that elements of the US government regularly undermine democracy at home and abroad, routinely violate national and international law, and do so in the name of unbelievably vast profit. This is both ‘common knowledge’ and unspeakable heresy. The existence of a ‘deep state’ is old news, which is why no one but the kooks pays any attention. There’s ‘news’ to stare at, after all.

  7. ‘Girlbusters’: Obviously derisive term (with plausible deniability) for the forthcoming Ghostbusters remake starring Wiig, McCarthy, and a couple of women I don’t recognize. (I think they’re all from SNL — do people still watch SNL?) The trailer isn’t funny but does effectively communicate ‘this is a lowbrow comedy based on a movie which you, demographically desirable 30something with disposable income, loved as a kid.’ I’ve seen complaints about the trailer’s 20ish seconds of footage of the black lady playing a SNL-level Black Lady Type; one MeFi commenter wrote that a movie that ‘deconstructed’ the racial politics of 80s movies would be ‘dope.’ I wonder what the he’s talking about — in what sense that would be ‘dope.’ Does he think this multimillion-dollar cash-in could be some kind of cultural watershed moment if only the writers would bravely crank up the didacticism? Would he enjoy the movie (or just the trailer!) more if it had fewer broad jokes and spent more time making subtle digs at 30-year-old movies and the audiences who pay to see them remade? Most importantly: why are we gabbing about an advertisement for a movie millions of people will see out of a totally imaginary sense of cultural obligation? The movie will be good and funny or it won’t, but (1) there’s no way of knowing from the trailer and (2) whether or not it’s good and funny will have nothing to do with its politics, which (3) will be more complicated than the cack-handed advertisement has time for — among other things, the actual movie will be 6,000% longer.

  8. Flint: Hey remember how children’s lives are being ruined, their minds poisoned, their organs permanently damaged, by some of the worst human beings in the Western Hemisphere? It’s a wonder no one’s been murdered over this (other than those cute kids LOL). I count myself lucky that our family doesn’t live there, mainly because my son isn’t in that danger, but partly because I worry (as I drink my gorgeous Cambridge city water) that I’d be in jail for violent crimes against city or state officials. And you know what? If someone did seek bloody revenge against the vicious predators who poisoned those people, and I found myself on the jury at a murder trial, I’d think hard about nullifying that jury. I don’t know that I could blame the people of Flint if they decided to take matters into their own hands.

  9. Nine for the mortal men doomed to die.

  10. Antacid: I take more than I used to. You?