Why in the Hell Does Anyone Care That It’s Carrie Fisher’s Birthday?

Every now and again I like to indulge in the temptation to rail against the mindless repetition of uninteresting facts. I know it will accomplish nothing, and indeed is probably counterproductive, but I cannot help myself. This is stupid and I’m going to tell you why. Cry about it in the comments, nerds.

I could easily be mean about this. I could easily go the Ace of Spades route and declare her a coke-addled void-child of dysfunctional Hollywood nobility, who looked so elderly and fragile in the Sequel Trilogy that I expected her to shatter into pieces like a frozen T-1000 (that’s an old movie reference, kids).

Famous for her catchphrase, “Let’s go fuck injustice up!,” Fisher was known for her young-in-life rebellions and scandals, including her May-December romance with Lorne Greene, and playing Andromedan Whore #6, causing an uproar and national boycott due to her participation in Captain Kirk’s first and only non-interspecies kiss.

After her career in acting slowed, Fisher turned her attention to writing, where she turned in famous-but-officially-uncredited “punch ups” to scripts and books, such as Predator 3: Predators In Paradise and “The Bible.”

Considered Hollywood Royalty since her birth, Carrie Fisher was famously the daughter of Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher.

Ace of Spades, “Carrie Fisher Dies at Age 60”

But one wants to be fair, and the older I get, the more I appreciate what Fisher was able to do with the could-have-been thankless role of Princess Leia in the Original Trilogy. Honestly, her acting in that holds up, and her prickly aristocratic mien makes her role as the Resistance Leader in the Sequels at least plausible, however little she had in the tank at the time. Yeah, it would have been nice if they’d given her more to do in Return of the Jedi, but that’s expecting more of Lucasfilm screenwriting than it’s ever been capable of delivering.

And I can’t escape the notion that if she’d read Ace’s mock obituary, Fisher would have laughed hard at it. Because no one was quicker to send up her own career than she was. I caught one of her spoken-word shows on one streaming service or another, and she had her moments, perhaps not as “OMG, hiLARious” as people are wont to say, but seeing a celeb allowed to be merely human, and wryly comment on this, is always to be saluted.

Nor was this an isolated reality, the joke turn at Comic-Con. This was Fisher’s second career. She wrote a comical pseudo-fiction novel about her life, and had that turned into a movie she wrote the screenplay for, both under the title Postcards From the Edge, which is a pretty good title. Not many people actually have the talent and drive to turn their down-and-out moments into art. She did. Can’t take that away from her.

But she’s not a Saint. She’s not even a Blessed. You don’t know her, and you honouring her Feast Day is creepy.

This is gross. You’re being marketed to by sharps and drones. Her death took literally nothing from your life (if she’d been alive, she’d have done exactly what she did in Rise of Skywalker, which is to say almost nothing). It is human to honor the dead and the great. But celebrity is false greatness, the intersection of momentary marketablity and fragile talent. They are feeding you pap and calling it Spirit.

Stop retweeting this crap. Stop reacting to it (But aren’t YOU reacting to it? Yeah, you got me. Walk away and enjoy how much you totally DeSTrOyeD my point. Nothing to see here, move along). Stop pretending you were a massive fan of the next old rock star who kicks the bucket. Honor your family, your friends. Honor the art that stands the test of time. But stop building emotional cults of devotion to corporate product. None of them will ever reciprocate your love.

Unnamed Journal Issue 24!

Witness the firepower of this fully-armed and operational story node!

Click here to purchase on Gumroad

It’s a long long issue, and it looks fantastic:

It’s full of cool stories that have to be read to be believed. If you like space opera, demon-slaying, mad emperors, and other such, it’s the issue for you. Click here and Pay What You Like on Gumroad!

In Praise of Sleater-Kinney’s “The Woods”

Abandoning the old Rate My CD’s project earlier this year gave me freedom to listen to my music whenever the hell I wanted. Not having to listen to one old blues album after another, dreaming of the day I’d make it to my tiny Hip-Hop collection, was a positive pleasure. Now I can actually just enjoy my music. Which Paradoxically, puts me in the mood to write about it.

The kids today don’t remember this, but the early-aughties (did we really use that term? We did. Is there a better one? No.) enjoyed a marvelous explosion of old-school treble-bleeding rock n’roll, which went under the name of “garage punk”. A lot of it was Millenials dressing up in Boomer or Gen-X costumes, but not all of it (Jack White, who’s a year older than I am, is comfortably Gen-X). But while the rising tide didn’t lift all boats (what Spin said about the Jon Spencer Blues Explotion in 2002 has not been forgotten, nor forgiven), some bands were able to climb aboard as the Ark took off. One of them was Sleater-Kinney.

I was already a fan of this crew, just from jumping aboard the love train for Dig Me Out, which I got just because I liked the album cover. It’s a gold-plated rock classic, something they were minting relatively few of in 1997, and almost everyone agrees on this today.

Yes, this is an homage to The Kink Kontroversey

The album delivers what it promises: a gutbucket blast of screeching guitar (there’s even a song called “Words and Guitar”) that keeps it simple and tight. You don’t, and shouldn’t, analyze these tunes on any other level. There’s no intent behind them beyond playing Russian Roulette with your car speakers and hoping you lose (and that metaphor doesn’t even make sense). I like it much better than other albums of theirs such as 200o’s, All Hands On the Bad One.

The Woods, however, is better.

Ever have that wonderful feeling of getting into an album you’ve had forever but never really really sunk into. I’ve been doing that this week. Usually I have three CD’s in rotation in the car for driving (there are six, and the wife gets the other three slots. This is the arrangement we have in both cars). These change and vary according to my mood. I’ve been using that space for music I was officially reviewing for the Every Damn CD project, but now that I no longer have to do that, I’ve embraced eclecticism. Currently The Woods is in the number 2 slot, in between Illmatic and Midnight Boom by the Kills. Nas is what he is, i.e. that nexus of gangsta rap and jazz-hop that was chemically engineered to move units in 1994. Which is to say, it’s easier to listen to if you don’t pay attention to anything he’s saying. Which has always been the problem I’ve had with hiphop. But that’s another story.

Midnight Boom is one of my personal favorites, a grumbly blend of electronics and skiffle-punk, a nicotine-patch for the soul. But as the week has gone on, The Woods has been winning in the “giving me an itch to listen” sweepstakes. I seem to keep wanting more. Considering I grabbed it used at the mall an unknown number of years ago, that’s saying something.

I’ve always been a sucker for the no-bass approach, and Sleater-Kinney gets how to do that: have two guitars, and let them fight it out like cats in an alley, slashing at each other, while the drums sound like garbage cans being hit by a drunk. It’s raw and its ragged, which has always been S-K’s trademark, as has the almost-yodeled lyrics. Bleeding Edge is the aesthetic idea, hell-for-leather. Leave nothing on the field. This album adds to that a heavier, more-distorted sound, drawing reference from old-school hard-rock and classic metal. So this one just hits you harder, from opener “the Fox” on, pausing only at “Modern Girl” to take a gentle melodic breath.

“Let’s Call it Love” is the ambitious moment, 11 minutes of rolling thunder that builds which each iteration. When a man needs to headbang while he commutes, theres’ been nothing better. It got the usual critical acclaim from the usual suspects back in 2005, but as the group went on hiatus not long after, it’s never been built up as the worthy contributor to the tradition of Rock that it truly is. The full album is on YouTube below. RIP your ears, as the kids say.

I Know How to Vote, Facebook

What Sign of the Apocalypse is it that we require our button-apps and time-waster devices to remind us that there’s an election coming up? Why isn’t this something I can turn off?

It’s everywhere, Facebook, Instagram, Discord, Twitter. The oligarchy is as One reminding me that I need to Register to Vote.

Never mind the fact that I’ve been registered to vote since the Internet consisted of whatever you could get Prodigy to suck through your phone line. Never mind the fact that I registered myself like a big boy, using paper and writing implements. Never mind the fact that I’ve never missed an election. This is apparently information that the Lords of the Universe don’t have access to. Which I suppose is something to be grateful for, because the perfect seamless incorporation into the Matrix has not yet occurred. But still, why can’t they just leave me to it? Why is it Social Media’s responsibility to Get Out the Vote?

There is an illusion, deeply felt, that Corporations are Entities that can Do Good. That they have Moral Responsibilities. I’m less interested in arguing about whether this is true (the legal fiction of corporate personhood aside, a company is just a group of people working together to make money. People have moral lives and responsibilities, corporations do not), than in pondering what this means about our culture. The dull exhortation to Do The Thing, conditioning our hindbrain that the Thing is Important, preventing us from ordering the Thing to our own life. Instead, we slap the button like so many descalped rats just to stop the irritation.

But surely. Elections are Important. How can you dispute this?

They seem to be. There’s a whole lot of noise surrounding them. There’s a sense of Sublime Victory or Traumatizing Defeat for one set or another. And yet, somehow, the winners never seem to get what they vote fore, nor the losers, what they vote against. Somehow neither side ever delivers that Square Deal, that Great Society, that New American Revolution supposedly on offer. Somehow no electoral victory ever translates into that heavenly Mandate to actually give the American people something that they ask for. All that seems to happen is one side or another gets to sign a bunch of orders, spend a bunch of money (which is promptly created for that purpose), make incremental changes to this or that pre-existing regulatory thicket, and the beat goes on. And if you spend enough time at the trough, you retire a millionaire.

You know, now that I think on it, maybe social media is just the right place for this circus. Sure, someone who only bothered registering to vote because the blinky screen told them to is probably the last person you’d want making decisions as to our leaders. But if our leaders don’t actually make decisions, then no one can do much harm. Democracy with Gutter Bumpers – What Could Go Wrong?

New Poetry: The Flat Circle

My two collections on Amazon, Stir and The Short Cool Summer, have had some readers, but the writing of poetry requires practice. This new project is exactly that, practice, so I’m posting it to read on Tablo. It will be updated as I add works to it. Right now there are 6-7 pieces.

Check it out, Check-it-outers:

Click to Read on Tablo.io

Yes, it’s in keeping with my current, Blue Period. Click here to absorb.

Notes on Ruskin: Modern Art is Anti-Art

An intriquing passage from On Art and Life, which nicely explains the aethetic rut that modern art has fallen into:

…that great art, whether expressing itself in words, colours, or stones, does not say the same thing over and over again; that the merit of architectural, as of every other art, consists in saying new and different things; that to repeat itself is no more a characteristic of genius in marble than it is of genius in print; that we may, without offending any laws of good taste, require of an architect, as we do of a novelist, that he should be not only correct, but entertaining.

…Nothing is a great work of art, for the production of which either rules or models can be given. Exactly so far as architecture works on known rules, and from given models, it is not art, but manufacture; and it is, of the two procedures, rather less rational (because more easy) to copy capitols and mouldings from Phidias, and call ourselves architects, than too copy heads or hands from Titian, and call ourselves artists.

John Ruskin, “ON Art and Life” pg. 31

I’m less interested in disputing this argument than in noting the pervasiveness of it in the world of art today. If, as Ruskin seems ready to argue, the industrial world has abandoned art, in favor of infinite replicability, then it seems as predictable as night following day that the art world would abandon industry. Thus the demand for absolute novelty and uselessness in the art world, to the point where Modern art today is really anti-Art: a pose and a hustle, the creation of the maximum of bewilderment and absurdity with the minimum of effort, papered over with post-modernist bafflegab and self-congratulatory obscurantism. This is not accident, it is intentional. The modern artist can only be an artist by running from the world.

And yet, such anti-art is held up as art, is embraced as art, precisely by the same wealthy bourgoisie who are busily corporatizing everything under the sun. They walk away from their number-crunching day jobs and purchase up-market nonsense. They donate to the museums and institutes that celebrate it. They hear themselves excorciated by their artist children and they laugh merrily. It’s as though the left- and right- brains of our culture, completely compartmentalized, acknowledge each other’s existence, and no more.

There are exceptions to this. One could argue that Steve Jobs was less a programmer than an artist, who imposed a particular vision on his chosen industry that was as much aesthetic as it was practical. But overall, one sees industry and art segregated rather than integrated in the modern world. And we must recognize that for art to be entertaining as well as correct, it must be correct as well.

I Almost Saw “Tenet”, But Didn’t. Apparently I’m Not Alone.

My wife suggested we go see it, when we had a free evening. I was willing, but not enthusiastic. In the end, we ended up not doing that instead. The film had good word of mouth, and I know Nolan to be a competent director, but the excitement to do it wasn’t there. And according to Variety, my experience is microcosmic:

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” willed itself past the $300 million mark globally this weekend even as the overall domestic box office appeared to be on the verge of collapse.

Disney’s “Hocus Pocus,” a Bette Middler comedy that flopped when it was initially released in 1993, but became a cult hit on cable and streaming, almost matched “Tenet’s” grosses in North America and beat those of “The New Mutants.” Re-released just in time for Halloween,” “Hocus Pocus” picked up $1.9 million from 2,570 theaters. “Tenet” earned $2.7 million from 2,722 venues, pushing its domestic haul to a paltry $45.1 million. “The New Mutants” eked out $1 million from 2,154 locations, bringing its domestic total to $20.9 million

Variety.com, “‘Tenet’ Tops $300 Million Globally, but Domestic Box Office Is in Crisis Mode

Getting beat by “Hocus Pocus” (a film whose charms have always eluded me), is newsworthy enough, but the deeper question is why? There’s a whiff of a suggestion in the article that the Pandemic is to blame, but I’m not buying it? If people are willing to come out for a re-release of a Bette Midler cult hit, why not a buzzworthy film from a seasoned director? Is this just Millennial Nostalgia choking off the roots of everything else, like a weed?

Or is this the Uninteresting Name factor, as with “John Carter” back in 2012? I for one wondered what “Tenet” was supposed to refer to? A tenet of what? For whom? What kind of movie is this? Arty? Action? Arty-Action? The name doesn’t tell you anything. All we have to go on is director-name-recognition. And it appears Nolan is no Tarantino in this regard.

It might be that the pandemic suspicion is correct, in a different way. It might be that the habit of Going To The Movies is fundamentally altered, and we don’t go to the cinema anymore unless we really feel it’s “worth it”. Things were moving in this direction anyway, and the lockdowns didn’t help. Sure, “Tenet”, whatever it is, might be good, but I don’t know, and do I want to pay $40 to find out? I’ll just wait for it to stream.

The consequences of this are real. If Hollywood can’t sell a big-name director, with a lot of buzz, then their business model is fundamentally flawed.

Good News Everyone: The Grand Deletion Has Worked

Content Blues has had a better year in 2020 than in any year since its inception. The number of pageviews is up, as is the number of unique visitors. And its done this with relatively fewer actual posts than in previous years. Quality over Quantity has been the goal since The Grand Deletion, and it seems to be paying off. All this new growth has come Since that redesign.

One thing I’ve done is give myself benchmarks for posting. Quality over quantity is all well and good, but the non-updated blog is not read. My benchmark has been 10 posts per month, and so far that seems the right balance in terms of creating something worth reading. This puts me in mind of what Scott Adams talked of in How To Fail At Everything and Still Win Big: System vs. Goals. True, “write 10 blog posts a month” is more like a goal, but as it’s a doable goal, it becomes more easily systematized. Momentum can build.

Another thing I’ve noticed has been a small shift in traffic sources. In years past, I’ve often relied on one big post driving in a bunch of traffic. So far, there have been big traffic-pullers, but the ratio is not as wildly in favor of a single post. So while my Red Letter Media vs. William Shatner post has been a consistent draw, it’s not the only one. That is gratifying.

So while I haven’t quite grown the audience as I want to just yet, but these last few months have show that it’s possible. And I’ve still got three months of 2020 to go.

Entertainment vs. Edutainment: The New Pulp Narrative

In my wild opinionated youth, I was something of a disdainer. Where other readers and writers widely explored what certain genres had to offer; I tended to stick with the first thing that brought me in the door. I liked Star Wars, and never found another sci-fi world that interested me until I read Heinlein. Star Trek was fine, but I didn’t want to converse with nerds about it, so I held it at arms length (yes, the irony of that is breathtaking. It was a different world then). And after reading Tolkein at age 11, no other fantasy write would ever do.

I tried the mainstream ones. Raymond Feist’s work I found dull and lifeless. Robert Jordan had an interesting take before he drowned it in a sea of skirt-smoothings and braid-tuggings. And Martin… Well, we will not speak of Martin. The only other author I held in Tolkein’s tier was Frank Herbert, and even his series got silly before it ended (I’ve never cared for the expansion novels. They don’t have the same feel. The intensity and insight isn’t there).

But there was another side of Fantasy that I haven’t explored until recently. I speak of what is known as “Sword & Sorcery” or “Blood and Thunder”, i.e. the Pulp side of things. And as I have earlier written, I have found prose craftsmanship and strong storytelling in the works of Robert Howard and Fritz Leiber. They may have been Low Art, as these things are defined, but that doesn’t mean they were garbage. Quite the contrary.

The moral quality of art is something of a bugaboo. On the one hand, to the extent art and aesthetics are tied to Philosophy, they are tied to some pursuit of Truth, which has moral considerations. On the other hand, art as a transcendent experience does not fit neatly into the finely-ground gradients that ethics and politics create. There is something to the experience of watching say, Trainspotting, that exists even if you come to deplore the ethos limned therein. Aesthetic quality and moral quality are related but distinct.

And the Pulps, generally speaking, inhabited a moral universe. There may have been gradations between darkness and light (Conan and The Grey Mauser are certainly no Paladins), but overall there was an awareness in each story of who traded in deceit and corruption, and who was honest and forthright. Justice, a Cardinal virtue, involves not just fairness but also honesty, the keeping of ones word. The ability to tell the truth and do as you have promised has always been admired, and it’s opposite reviled, across culture. Human society does not function without it. Violent pulp heroes tended to be those who could and would do that.

What isn’t found here is preaching. Pulps were not interested in subverting, inverting, or otherwise altering the moral awareness of their readers. They acted upon the moral universe common readers were familiar with. The need for art to be at odds with culture, something I’ll talk about in another Ruskin-related post later on, was not present. That was the secret of the pulp’s success, as chronicled in J.D. Cowan’s Pulp Mindset, which I’m currently reading on Kindle.

So far I’ve read Cowan’s summary of pulp history, and how it differed as mass entertainment from 20th century litfic. It has its repetitive moments (you are unlikely to forget how Cowan feels about OldPub, as he calls it), but overall it functions as a discussion of what pulp is, and its overall aesthetic. So it is of use to writers of genre fiction, especially if they want to avoid the politicized slapfights that have plagued SFWA, The Hugos, and suchlike. I look forward to reading the rest.

Rabbit Riot, or The Mystery of the Missing Micro-Press

In the last Shallow & Pedantic podcast, I went off on an extended tear on a literary podcast that I used to listen to with great interest, but stopped. I removed the section from the finished product, but I’d like to address it now.

A while ago, I became the kind of guy who Listens to Podcasts by discovering the Dead Rabbits. The reference to old Irish street gang (upon which Gangs of New York was based) intrigued, as did the young-scrappy-and-hungry vibe. More than a podcast, they were a Press, a Reading Series (whatever that might be), a will-to-publish. And listening to them gave me a sense of the headspace of Sarah Laurence-grads who wanted to write The Great American Novel, or at any rate who wanted to carry the torch of literary culture into the new era, whatever that might mean. It was inspirational, in the sense of “Hey, what’s stopping me from doing this, too?” I listened even when I didn’t care particularly about the topic. I even bought their first release, Brian Birnbaum’s Emerald City, on Kindle.

And then, quite suddenly, they vanished.

Which happens. Economics is not the friend of tiny lit-fic presses. But then they were back. Exactly the same, now calling itself Animal Riot. The people didn’t change, the books didn’t change, the About pages didn’t change, but the name did. Even the Dead Rabbits Reading Series, which pre-existed the press and the podcast, was retroactively renamed the Animal Riot Reading Series. A cursory googling reveals no news story or explaination for the change, but old episodes of the podcast have had their introductions edited, and there, at least, it is acknowledged that they are operating under a new name.

So I’m not crazy, I haven’t slipped into an alertnate universe, and I’m not suffering from the Mandela Effect. They really did call themselves Dead Rabbits, and now are not.

Why? Some legal injunction, perhaps? There are other podcasts calling themselves Dead Rabbits, such as Dead Rabbit Radio, which puts itself out almost daily. They started in the spring/summer of 2018, whereas the Dead Rabbits/Animal Riots started in November of that year. But podcasts having the same name is nothing new. There are about a million podcasts called “Whatever“, which is why I’m probably going to change that name to simply “The Content Blues Podcast”. But I will let you know when that happens.

A better lead comes in the form of a NYC bar known as The Dead Rabbit, which deliberately crafts an atmosphere redolent of the street gang, and has published a mixology/history book with graphic novel flavor. The owners are two immigrants from Belfast, and are known to be litigious regarding use of the Dead Rabbits name, according to this article on Recalled Comics.

The Dead Rabbit bar in New York City (below) is famous for its cocktails and has used the “Dead Rabbit” moniker since 2012 for comics strips (related to the New York gangs) in their cocktail menus and books (some of which have been CGC graded).

Image released a Dead Rabbit Ashcan in Spring 2018 and later that year released the series with #1 hitting the shops in 2018-10-03. The NY bar owners (DRT Group LLC) had their lawyers send a cease and desist notice to both Image Comics and Forbidden Planet on the 22nd of that same month.

However, Forbidden Planet apparently did not respond, and Image apparently asked for more time but went ahead and published #2 anyway in early November leading to DRT group lawyers filing lawsuits against both in the New York courts claiming $2 million from each in damages.

The series was quickly cancelled in late November 2018 and the comics recalled (although too late as most would have been in collectors’ hands at that stage) and traces of the comic were removed from Image and Diamond’s websites.

recalledcomics.com

Now, this was over an unrelated comic book. But, given that Dead Rabbits/Animal Riot and The Dead Rabbit bar both call NYC home, and given that the bar publishes books related to the brand, one can fashion a theory that the bar sued the press, and the press, having even less resources than Image Comics, ceased-and-desisted in the same way. I have no evidence that proves this theory, but it does fit the facts.

The Lesson: Make your own brand.