mass violence: simulated, real, and the inability to tell the difference.

In The Dark Knight Rises’ unsettling centerpiece, Bane hijacks a stadium of screaming Gothamites as the city crumbles completely around them, resulting in a sort of orgasmic visual dénouement that only a $230 million  superhero movie would attempt.  Sitting in the (police-guarded) theatre watching this scene, I wondered why I’d paid to feel so uncomfortable: terror as entertainment seems an indulgence when people around the world experience such scenes of decadent bloodshed (or at least the fear of such) as their daily reality. I often get into arguments with friends and acquaintances over issues of cinematic violence; I’m preternaturally squeamish and unconditioned to the gory trauma, both visual and psychological, that serve as most Hollywood blockbusters’ most alluring selling point (the general consensus is that no one else seems to mind).

On Marathon Monday in Boston, I thought back to Bane and his takeover of Gotham during a football game. I wasn’t in Copley Square, but instead in my kitchen about a mile away from downtown. Cryptic text messages from my mom and a friend alerted me to the bombs at the marathon; phone service was down.  My stomach turned with the proximity of the danger, and then again at the sickening familiarity of what has now become a sort of regular occurrence of life in America: unnatural disaster in some form, a shooting, a bombing, a tragedy. Earlier this year, the city was shut down for Nemo, and before that, Sandy. In order to most effectively live in America now, should we cautiously expect random acts of terror much in the same way that we anticipate inclement weather? Bring an umbrella;  get ready to sprint from a crowd?

And within minutes of the news breaking, texts pour in from friends and relatives, close and long-lost, neighboring and the farthest-reaching. Far from the scene but close enough, the events themselves are experienced almost exclusively in digital format: the ever-tactful Huffington Post with their sans-serif shout BOSTON MAYHEM, controversial tweets and well-meaning but ultimately useless hash-tags (#prayforboston: thanks or something).

In my crude search for some semblance of a live feed, I accidentally, regrettably, listened to footage from the first blast. A pop, a beat, then the screams: I’ve seen this one before. We’re so inured to such scenes that it becomes nearly impossible to discern the simulacrum from the original.

Mayor Menino recommended that everyone stay inside for the evening. Never before have I been unable to leave the house for fear of my own safety in the wake of a disaster that doesn’t involve three feet of snow, which is indeed a luxury. From inside the house as the sun set, I listened as the birds chirped almost perversely, and reggaeton returned to the street in the usual passing blurs. Tweets turned back to regularly scheduled selfies and hopefully we can leave the house again tomorrow.


In like [ ]


Let’s get caffeinated and pretend we’re going to “work on things” and then read this instead.  And all of these.

And, breaking: the secret to eternal youth is moving every 2 years to new basement shows full of 23 year olds. (Not necessarily an endorsement.)

Spending Valentine’s Day listening to friends complain about their paramours makes one re-think the “ideal” commitment and opt for illicit scandal instead. (call me)

Related: What’s New Pussycat (1965) was one of the swinging-est flicks I caught in 2012. Peter O’Toole as a womanizing ginger: yez plz.


Let’s make like Exxon Mobile and all other great American corporo-citizens, and cheat on our taxes.

unfortunate events of early December

I’m high on zinc and short on sleep + dignity. For a moment, laid up on the couch trying to get the snot to flow back into my nose while pouring hot ginger tea down my throat, Love Actually seemed like a good idea. Having seen the film in London in 2003 (me: “It’s like we’re at the premier!” my friend Avery: “no it’s not”) I’ve watched it a few times since (which I’ll blame on my sister) and what I can only explain as a strange combination of my double X chromosomes and sheer masochism keep me coming back for more. Stray thoughts:

!  Never does my inherent American femaleness make itself more apparent than when faced with Hugh Grant (whatever crags he may be assuming as of late),  for whom my inexplicable love runs as deep and dark as my natural hair color.

& If for nothing else, this movie is notable for its 2003-era barely veiled jabs at “American imperialism,” (despite Prime Minister Hugh’s weird “sympathetic” (?) 9/11 reference in the opening monologue).  The American president is sleazy, not good at playing with others, and Texan! Which may be preferable to the producers’ apparent assumption that all Americans are hot sluts? Thanks? Shannon Elizabeth (HAHAH my fingers just typed those words) and Denise Richards (annnnnd again)?

& Quite a bit has been made on certain corners of the internet about the all-but-blatant female subservient nature of two of the vignettes: Hugh falls in love with his secretary (who’s “fat,” OH GOD YES GIVE ME MORE)  and Colin Firth with his Portuguese house keeper. AND despite everything else I’ve ever said, I’m ok with both of these things, because I love both Hugh and Colin and both their chosen ladies are JUST so dark-haired and adorable that I find myself wishing I was a Portuguese housekeeper so I could fall in love with a handsome English turtle-neck-sweater-wearer (oh sorry, in British, ROLL-NECK JHAHAH) who like “writes” or something at a French (?) villa because his wife was fucking his brother. However, the real problem I have with this whole scenario, which is the real problem that I’ve had with being alive every moment since that moment in Boulder Colorado a lot of Augusts ago is this: Portuguese homegirl is sweet and adorable and natural-nosed, and she seems like she’d have, oh I don’t know, A PERSONALITY. And. Wait for it. Colin loses his manuscript to the French wind or whatever, because obviously writers in the 21st century practice their craft OUTSIDE ON A TYPEWRITER. So all the leaves of his work of genius (which we later learn is a crime novel, LOLLLL) blow away, and this beezie strips off her clothing to dive into the pond after the would-be movie starring Will Smith. And at the moment she’s in her virginal white bra and undies and her “surprisingly ” tight little brown body is on display (with full on-lower back tatt WHOLE NOTHER ENTRY) that little soft-sparse “falling-in-love-score” starts playing straight into the psyche of YOU THE VIEWER who is subliminally soaking up “oh they had this little cute thing before but now that he sees she has a beautiful body he’s in love with her and we’re in love with him being in love with her. I’M NEVER EATING AGAIN.” Hey kids, but obviously specifically women, NO ONE WILL LOVE YOU IF YOU DON’T LOOK GOOD NAKED. LOVE, HOLLYWOOD. (they won).

& THEN ITS EVEN WORSE because I’m like, UUGHGHHGHGHG I’m going to be one of those horrible people (in another universe, in which people actually want to date people and don’t have “baggage” or other bullshit I don’t care about because DUH) who passive-aggressively forces (like so p-a-ively that I make him suggest it or I’m dumping him on Christmas eve) her poor s.o. to watch Love Actually but then tries DESPERATELY not to like OOGLE the shit out of Karl (IRL some Brazilian cologne model) whilst he’s in his undies (black! undies!!) ??? HAHAHA EWWWW maybe we should stick to the Muppets or like nothing?

Of Bloodlust and Batman

Everyone saw The Dark Knight Rises except anyone I know so I couldn’t talk about Violence In the Media and How It Causes (allows, perpetuates, etc) Real War with anyone who has actual opinions on these things besides “PEOPLE LIKE TO WATCH VIOLENCE THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY LIKE REAL VIOLENCE”/ “JUST BECAUSE I WATCH TORTURE PORN DOESN’T MEAN I’M A BAD PERSON.” Which, ok.

However. The usual “media outlets” (if that’s what we’re still calling the non-events of monied mannequins’ love lives printed on slash-and-burned Amazon) turned the resulting actual violence inflicted in Colorado on opening night into a bloodbath of their own (via a violent lack of respect for the victims and a continuation of their brutal war on good taste), without ever stopping to ask actual questions concerning the events of that night as indicative of greater truths of the culture they occurred in. The earth kept turning, and there was another shooting the next week, this time by a white supremacist, no big deal, is the divorce final and who’s pregnant now?

Nolan’s undeniably deft handling of an imaginary, beloved legend has been the most fun I’ve had at the movies as an adult: pondering whether the Gotham of Batman Begins is an analogue for an America at late-capitalism and the League of Shadows a barely veiled reference to Al Qaeda ignited my little pre-college cranium, and much of the The Dark Knight’s thematic tension, pulled straight from the pages of an Ethics 100 textbook, appealed equally to the philosophy nerd and the young and stoned among us. Plus, Christian Bale is one of probably two “movie stars” that I find legitimately babely and compelling (see: vintage Christian in Little Women, squeal). Mysteriously (intentionally) lacking any real public persona, we graft Bruce/Batman onto to the blankness of the Bale and revel in his dark and tortured nature, imagine he gets slightly too drunk at Hollywood events and is kind of a dick, and we like that, as any woman worth her mercurial self-respect loves a good smirk from a strong jaw.

Nolan’s franchise remains the only contemporary one that seems to have any real darkness to it: the brightest moments of the trilogy reveal dirty psychosis and unanswerable questions that no big budget films, especially summer popcorn superhero-y ones would dare to venture near. And here’s the other however.  During the more overwhelmingly violent arcs of The Dark Knight Rises, I felt like I’d just paid to ingest the filmic equivalent of pizza-flavored Bugles: something that I’d never knowingly consume, and would suffer the consequences for days after. The visual dénouement of the Dark Knight Rises, a conceptually and visually orgiastic rendering of the destruction of Gotham and palpable terror of all of its citizens, is so overblown in its goal of Maximum Possible Destruction (ok, so like what if the cops are all in the tunnels underground! And then let’s blow them up and show all the streets in the city like just COLLAPSING, THEN let’s get Bane to hold an entire football stadium captive while he proselytizes to the masses in a so-ridiculous-as-to-be-embarrassing-to-the-filmmaker Sean Connery voice about how to reclaim their freedom from the decadent capitalist pigs [or whatever point the summer-blockbuster-as-moralist-societal-allegory is trying to make], all while most of the football team falls into the depths of the crumbling earth below and the mayor’s box seats are engulfed in flames) that I wondered if the screenwriters had recruited a coterie of fifteen-year-old boys to help them imagine the absurd climax (yup) of the film, much as it looked like Nolan hired actual murderous psychotics to conceive the Dark Knight’s opening sequence. As I internalized what it would be like to live in a society that has actually been hijacked by armed and violent vigilantes [choose your own George W./ Wall Street joke], I thought of the Holocaust, 1990s Colombia, Hussein’s Iraq, North Korea, the litany of instances in modern (!!!) history that have provided Real models for Nolan’s simulacrum, Gotham. Then I wondered if I’m the only American who doesn’t consume movies about the Vietnam War, the Mafia, hyper-violent superhero movies, etc, without my hands in my pants.

Experiencing violence through cinema is a first world luxury. We pay to witness the destruction and murder, ostensibly to experience the emotion granted by chaos and its resolution.  But our spikes are relegated to the safe cocoon of the dark theatre; the credits roll and we go out for a beer and talk about how we should be getting paid more. Watching Gotham crumble for my enjoyment and adrenaline rush, I was overcome with something like guilt and disgust at the realization I could turn on the news, live from Kabul, and witness a live-action version of Gotham’s destruction. Watching Nolan’s suddenly homeless children and families gripped with fear for survival seemed the ultimate first world indulgence when this condition is reality for millions of human beings that we share a planet with. Right at this very second.

And closer to home: we claim to mourn the events of September 11th  (what will we say this year, the eleventh after the fact? What is left to say?). Not to get all French theorist over here, but: We Loved It, in the way we love the events, whether joyful milestones or tragic losses, that give our lives meaning. It was what our movies had prepared us for, and we got to experience the true horror and what later settled into real tragedy in real time. Finally, we were in our very own Hollywood movie: a pornographicly violent event that caused us to finally feel authentic fear, disgust, rage and the terror of real loss. There were villains and victims and there was no question which one we were.  We remember watching the news that Tuesday, and it’s too recent in our collective cultural memory to not acknowledge the undeniable reference by Gotham’s crumbling. A decade later, are we over it? Can we go back to fantasizing about terrorism, lusting for it (while vindicating ourselves through a fictional hero)? One billion dollars in worldwide gross, a cool half of that provided by Americans says: Yes. We mourned the stock market crash more.

In something so normalized that we don’t even question anymore: the very theatre I saw The Dark Knight, about three weeks after the Colorado shooting, had an armed police officer in the lobby. Can we pause for a moment and think about the fact that somehow in America today we need to be protected by armed officials when we engage in public events? Mitt Romney and all of his blank-eyed supporters believe in the RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS, the media doesn’t perpetuate violence and this is our Freedom.

boxing! russians!


Back in 2003, I was living at home, wearing purple eyeliner to my boring service industry job and spending most of my time collaging. I had a fresh driver’s license and the thrill of rolling around in my mom’s car at night listening to the Raveonettes and using her Hollywood Video rental card to check out Marlon Brando movies was unparalleled.

The guy at the counter was a plump ginger with a long ponytail under his Hollywood Video-issued baseball hat who I suspected had a crush on me since I was the only teen coming in without my kid and buying the king size pack of jujufruits. I ignored his halting glances since I didn’t really start talking to boys until I was about 20, even ones I had no interest in.
One day, I checked out Slacker, because the case looked weird and I had just recently discovered that I was cooler than anyone I knew, having been educated at a prep school in which my peers’ interests ranged from the fall j. crew catalog to the spring j. crew catalog. I got home, popped in the VHS (earnestly) and got to work stenciling “London Calling” lyrics onto t-shirts I’d just picked up at the Gap on sale for $9.99.
Slacker was weird, I couldn’t really make sense of the characters and the lack of plot line got lost in my intense stenciling session– I later moved onto Bowie lyrics.
Eight (!!!!11) years later, my life is eerily (depressingly?) similar to that of my eighteen year old self. Despite my B.A. and having traveled the world, the only tangible element that’s different today from the scene described above is that I now use my mom’s Netflix account. And I know how to talk to boys now, but that’s a different story entirely. Tonight as I was sitting around making record cover journals, feeling inexplicably attracted to Ted Nugent, I decided to scroll through the Netflix collection, and Slacker caught my eye once again.
The film that I watched tonight, of course, is the same as the VHS I rented a thousand beers ago, but oh how my perception of it has changed. What once seemed like dreamy esoterica has since become the soundtrack to my own life; the characters, once just that, are now people I have met over and over, comprising my own anchor to post-collegiate reality. While I was completely engrossed in the film and finding myself in conversation with these people, a thought entered into my head: Is this movie making fun of us? Is Richard Linklater looking at 20-somethings who sit around drinking beer, talking about their lives and the world, politics and their relationships, with their friends and roommates and strangers, and deeming it all a waste of time? The film is called Slacker. Is the film’s thesis that we’re aimless, rootless, wasting our time and our potential to fulfill that great American myth of “making something of ourselves”?

As anyone with a hundred thousand dollar degree in Why The World Sucks and a barista job to prove it knows, “Our Generation” is the topic of a thousand porch/bar/breakfast PBR 30-packs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “slacker” as “a person regarded as one of a large group or generation of young people (especially in the early to mid 1990s) characterized by apathy, aimlessness, and lack of ambition”. They may have to alter the era included in their definition. Is it not “Our Generation,” the children of those hardworking model Americans, the baby boomers, that has been called out on a hilariously frequent number of occasions by the New York Times for being lazy, ego-driven, sext-crazed narcissists? Slackers, in the truest sense of the word? Intra-generational hand wringing abounds at the NYT as their op-ed columnists tell us to stay out of restaurants and save our money. In preparation for footing the bill for “Their Generation’s” gross mistakes, of course.

Every conversation over porch beers at noon on a Tuesday elicits the same conclusion: we’re not unmotivated, the ones pushing papers and paying their bills are. We’re the ones who are looking for something more, the ones who refuse to settle for what we’ve been given. We’re taking the path of least resistance, fighting with ourselves and everyone else for answers instead of with the TV over Dancing With the Stars.

And it turns out Linklater agrees: “Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for.”

Slack on, “our generation.”