An Encomium of Pankot – In Defense of Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom

I’ve written on the Indiana Jones series before, explaining the problem I had with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A lot of people complained about the tiredness of that movie, the strain of it, and they were right to do so. But for me the problem was theological:

So sure, say the movies, Indiana Jones, may be a swinging adventurer and more of a graverobber than an archaeologist, but even he knows how to deal with something man was not made to covet. This provides a moral undertone to the films that allows them to rise above all the blunt violence; even to put that violence into some kind of context where the blood matters and makes sense. When at the very end of Last Crusade, the Knight of the Temple salutes Indiana, the gestures doesn’t feel hokey or out of place. Our modern Hero Adventurer has proven worthy of his ancestors.

Now compare that to the latest film, which was about…aliens.

Yeah.

Part of the problem is the shift from an interwar adventure to a Cold War struggle. The Nazis made good foils for Indy, because they really were the sort of people who would have liked getting their hands on the Ark and the Grail and the Holy Lance and such. Nazism was occultist and Nietszchean. But Soviet Communism was brutally athiest. No KGB officer, however dashing with a saber, would do make any effort to obtain an ancient artifact, save to blow it up. The idea that a sacred object could actually do anything undermines dialectical materalism. So the idea that KGB would spend a rouble chasing Native American legends simply doesn’t work.

Indiana Jones and the Blah of Whatever“, Contentblues.com

It wouldn’t be overstating matters to say that the Indiana Jones movies are the last pulp films in which mystery and sacredness actually exist, and matter to the plot. Certainly the last notable ones.

But I’m not interested in talking about Crystal Skull, any more than I am in discussing the new film, still in production, which I have already abused. Which is to say, I abused Harrison Ford for doing it. And understandably so, for reasons I don’t feel the need to repeat. However, I will add a caveat, which is that Indiana Jones is without question the best character that Harrison Ford ever created (yes, actors create characters. Writers only provide the limits), a mix of adventurer and scholar, rogue and saint, who genuinely deserves the name of “hero”.

And I’m going to argue that much of his heroism was first brought to light in the second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Temple of Doom is no one’s favorite. General normie opinion has Raiders in front, with Last Crusade a close second (some contrarians like me enjoy reversing these), and Temple of Doom fun but inferior, but at least better than Crystal Skull. There are good reasons for this. Raiders was the first one, which always has the virtues of originality and narrative freedom, establishing the canon as it goes. Plus, the love-interest in Raiders is everyone’s favorite, because she’s actually given space to be a character, rather than simply a foil (Aesthetically, however, who wouldn’t prefer Elsa Schneider from Last Crusade?).

I’m sorry, but Karen Allen cannot compete with this.

However, having watched ToD for the first time in a long time over the weekend, it has risen in my estimates. And I’m well familiar with it: my dad taped it off of HBO back in the 80’s, and I watched it a lot. It’s still not my favorite, that’s still Last Crusade, but it’s virtues are clearer, and it’s vices to my mind overstated. Like Back to the Future, Part II, and The Empire Strikes Back, it has the benefits of being the trilogy’s odd man out.

Two things need to be said about this film, both of them obvious. First, this is a dark movie, both literally and figuratively. Most of the second half of it takes place underground, in mines and corridors and pits, where they only light is torches and the Hadean glow of lava. The characters are routinely hemmed in, pressed on, squeezed, and nearly dropped into the center of the earth. So long do we spend in the belly of the beast that when the freed slaves emerge into sunlight for the first time in forever, we feel it with them. Like Gollum, we almost forget that the sun exists.

This matches the theme of it, which is largely about slavery; both physical, literal slavery, and spiritual slavery. The cultists force people to drink “the black blood of Kali” which makes them brainwashed drones. Indiana Jones himself becomes victim to this, and is freed only by the cleansing pain of fire (a subtle reference to Lord Agni? Perhaps). There’s an irony there, as the cultists sacrifice people to the lava pit after magically ripping their living heart out, a savagery that seems more Aztec than Hindu (then again, Hindus were somewhat devoted to the suttee, or widow-burning). Around all this, there is an army of child slaves, emaciated and beaten, digging in the earth for precious gems and sacred Shankara stones, the film’s maguffins.

These stones do not actually exist, nor is there any tradition of them existing. Shankara is another name for Shiva, one of the principle deities of Hinduism, who is invoked as the force of goodness, as against Kali, the cultists’ butchering cthonian goddess. In reality, of course, Shiva and Kali are consorts, but let’s just acknowledge that the Hinduism of this film is Movie Hinduism, bearing little resemblance to the reality (yes, the Thuggee did exist, yes they were murderous. They did not rip people’s hearts out and dump them in lava pits, and they had no megalomaniacal plans for world domination. They were criminals who preyed on travelers).

Indiana Jones takes the legend of Shankara Stones about as seriously as we do. The sacredness of these rocks is nothing to him but a chance at “Fortune and Glory”. He wants the stones, so he throws himself into the bowels of the earth to take them. He is already enslaved by the lust for them, casting aside a chance to spend a night in Willie Scott’s bed to hunt for them. Becoming a brainless devotee of Kali, ready to cast Willie into the lava at Mola Ram’s command, is but an intensification of what is already going on.

There is nothing in Raiders or Last Crusade that equates to the horror this film inflicts on its viewers. Watching Nazi faces melted by the wrath of God, or Donovan withering into dust for drinking from the false Grail, is one thing: those men were villains and they deserved their comuppance. Watching an innocent, unnamed man tortured and burned into nothing, his beating heart bursting into flames in a cruel priest’s hands, is altogether different. Indy was beaten by Nazis, buried by Nazis, nearly blown up by Nazis, but the Nazis never enscorcelled his soul. This film is dark, a vision of hell and sin against which the other two are but madcap journeys.

The second thing to say is that this film Does. Not. Stop. From the opening table confrontation between Indy and a Chinese gangster in Shanghai, the movie rolls from spectacle to spectacle, stopping for breath only to set the scene for the next rush. We do not have learned discussions among academics pourring over dusty tomes in libraries. We do not see Indy teaching a class. This movie has no time for that. Car chase, shootouts, bailing out of planes, whitewater-rapids, escaping from locked rooms, armed combat with temple guards while Willie sinks into the flames, roller-coastering over the fiery abyss, fleeing an underground flood, all culminating in a battle over a collapsed rope-bridge while hungry crocodiles writhe in a feeding frenzy in a river at the bottom of a canyon.

This dizzying pace benefits the film, but also has drawbacks. On the one hand, the movie is never boring, never wallowing in arcana or any more expository dialogue than it absolutely needs. Even on the journey from the village to Pankot Palace, there’s always something happening.

On the other hand, the pace can make the film, despite its savage vision, seem strangely light and unreal, half a joke. I suspect that’s the purpose of the song-and-dance number that opens the movie: Willie Scott singing “Anything Goes” in Chinese in the Shanghai nightclub, before our hero even appears. Bizzarely, the camera goes back into the Lion’s mouth from which Willie first emerges, where there’s an entire sound stage featuring two kick lines of dancing girls, tapping away to the heart of the song. Willie emerges again to sing the song’s final line, and everyone applauds.

However, the audience in the nightclub had no way of seeing the dancers. What’s on the other side of the lion’s mouth is walled off entirely. Only the movie audience saw it.

It’s tempting to think of this as just a meaningless continuity error, but this is Spielberg we’re talking about. He knows what he’s doing. This scene, so utterly discordant from the rest of the movie, is the director winking at us. “All of this is unreal, a dream. Don’t get lost in the details,” the movie is telling us. The song isn’t “Anything Goes” for no reason.

Does this cut against the film’s darkness? Yes, and I think that’s deliberate. One needs comedy and fantasy to relieve the grim horror. Which is why the other two characters of Temple of Doom’s heroic Trimurti are as important as Indiana Jones.

Everyone loves to hate Willie Scott. She lacks Marion Ravenwood’s chutzpah and Elsa Schneider’s wry humor. She, like the scene introducing her, is entirely out of her element in this rollicking adventure. Indiana Jones calls her “doll” and apart from her physical attractions finds her mostly irritating. The audience agrees. Nor she doesn’t have much in the way of redeeming characteristics: she’s shallow, arrogant, and doesn’t do much to get us on her side.

And that’s kind of the point of her. Of all the leading ladies in these movies, Willie is most like a classic damsel-in-distress. Not entirely so, she has a core of toughness that the movies busts down to, but she’s dressed up like a princess for a reason. Sacrifices in ancient religions were all about offering up what was precious. Willie Scott is precious, not least because she doesn’t deserve anything that’s happening to her, and everything that’s happening to her is entirely Indy’s fault. He dragged her away from her life in Shanghai for his own reasons, pulled her down into the depths beneath Pankot for his own reasons, and got her captured by the Thuggee. She’s as much his victim as Mola Ram’s. He has to pull her out of the hell he’s sent her to, quite literally. Only then can he be redeemed.

During the escape from Pankot she casts aside all her pretense and is finally a Team Player, freeing slaves and throwing rocks and keeping an eye on Short Round as much as he keeps an eye on her. She’s no warrior, but she does her best. Who among us, stuck in this gorge of peril, would do better?

Given that the movie is set in 1935, the year before the events of Raiders, continuity suggests that their association was brief. The movie doesn’t give us any reason to think otherwise. Willie’s attraction to Indy is as shallow as his attraction to her, and she knows it. She never becomes a devoted, wide-eyed school girl, because she isn’t. Good for her. Go in peace, Willie. You’ll never have to eat snakes again.

{No one in India eats chilled monkey brains! Yeah, that’s the point: what’s going on at Pankot appears to be civilized and orderly, but is actually twisted and cruel. While Indy is getting stonewalled by the Maharajah’s vizier, Willie is trying to eat normal food and can’t. Even the British Captain, an old India Hand, is quietly disturbed by what’s going on. Only Indy seems not to notice.}

That brings us to Short Round, whom everyone enjoyed, and whom has now been condemned by the Priests of Intersctionality. The character is an echo of Gunga Din, of colonial associations of native assistants to the white interloper. Let’s just acknowledge that the character bears shallow resemblance to such, and then get right back to ignoring it. Short Round, or Shorty, is a chinese orphan boy, a victim of the Japanese, whom Indy has taken under his wing. Unlike Willie, Shorty has all but imprinted on Indy like a baby duck, parroting his speech patterns and serving him devotedly.

I say “all but” because in reality, the two are more like junior and senior partners than servant and master. The scene on the road to Panko in which they play cards while Willie freaks out at the local fauna shows us something closer to real friendship: they commiserate about what a pain Willie is, accuse each other of cheating, and start arguing with each other in Chinese. Throughout the film, Short Round has no problem telling Indy what’s what. There’s more equality in their association than their seems at first glance.

Willie, and the rest of us, meet Short Round for the first time and see a Kid. Indy knows different: he sees that Shorty is resourceful and tough as nails. It’s Shorty who has to rescue Indy from the spell the Thuggee have him under, so that he can rescue Willie. It’s Shorty who has do the same to the Maharajah, to stop him from using his voodoo doll on Indy (voodoo in India? Forget it, they’re rolling), saving him not once but twice. Nobody rescues Shorty from slavery. He breaks his own chains.

Of course, Current Year find Short Round to be absolute Cringe. A modern adaptation would do away with his accent and have him say something like “actually, I’m from Stockton. I don’t even like Chinese food. Where’s the hamburgers?”, because the safest way to have Asians in modern movies is to make them whiter than white men. Only in the 80’s could a boy from Shanghai actually be Chinese.

None of this really matters, because in Pankot, Shorty is just as much a stranger as the white people. So if the White SaviorTM narrative bothers you all that much, just remind yourself that a good bit of the work was done by the Chinese boy.

Of course, you’ll be missing the entire point of the movie, which is that Indy becomes heroic, in a classic sense, by restoring to the people of the unnamed Village not only their sacred stones but their children. Hero is he who restores justice and order under the gods, and nothing that happened in Raiders approximates this. The first Indiana Jones movie is a Maguffin Hunt, in which the maguffin becomes a literal deus ex machina. You might find that movie superior on points, but the sight of lost children running into the arms of their parents has a satisfaction to it that Top Men boxing up the Ark just doesn’t. At the end of the first film, Indy is furious that they aren’t doing metallurgy on the Ark, despite being a (blind) eyewitness to what happens when the unworthy touch it. In this movie, he recognizes that the Shankara Stone means much more as the sacred center of a community than as rock collecting dust in a museum. Whatever else he ever may have done, casting aside his own interests to save a village of strangers is more heroic than most of us will ever be.

The Internet is Filled With Writing Gurus Who Want Your Money

I sometimes thing that the only profitable part of self-publishing is sniffing out the flop-sweat on people who are desperate for attention because they wrote a book.

Here’s a classic example, found on Facebook.

It looks like every other website of this kind:

  • Long scrolling page
  • Center-justified, bolded text.
  • Buy button placed at regular intervals.
  • Absurd promise (who writes a book in 2 days?)
  • Claim to insider knowledge (He worked at a publishing house you guys)
  • Testimonials promising the world
  • Breathless, ad-style prose
  • Injecting FOMO right into your veins.

What’s he really selling? An instruction book and a bunch of add-ons for $27. Which is not the worst price I’ve seen for these (Kindlepreneur, selling what amounted to a list of keywords for $100, Haw Haw!). But it’s snake-oil regardless.

I don’t doubt that the guy has some genuine insight to share. But how many successes has he actually made? There’s “Trevor Who?” whom he works like a rented mule up and down the page. And whoever the testimonials are (I’ve never heard of any of them). But do you really have to have your BS-meters set that strong to let “Write a Book in TWO DAYS that will land you legions of raving fans!” in?

Another thing I notice is that the focus seems to be on becoming an “influencer”, getting on podcasts and gaining temporary status as a a “niche authority”. What this has to do with writing a book, I have no idea. Are books even books anymore, or are they just multi-tiered branding assets?

The secret to book publishing is that authors are lits who don’t know anything about marketing and were docile teacher-pleasers in school who will accept what they’re told if it’s told with enough repetition and authority. They’re hungry for someone to recognize and appreciate their book learning, mindlessly so if they were bullied for it. Heroin addicts have stronger buyers resistance.

My point is, you might maybe get something out of this, but he’s definitely getting something out of you. Caveat emptor.

Aesthetics vs. Prophecy: John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A.

The Boys at RLM Recently did one of their “list” re:View episodes, about the films of John Carpenter. Let the record state that I’m not the biggest fan of this particular format. re:View works best as an opportunity to dust off an old/forgotten piece of cinema, turn it over backwards and front and make a case for why it’s worth looking at. The episode about Freddie Got Fingered is perhaps the pinnacle of the series, in that Mike and Jay argue that Tom Green made an anti-movie, a deliberately nonsensical and ridiculous parody of the entire art of cinema. And while a deliberately bad movie is still a bad movie, giving Green the benefit of inention has merit. This is kind of critical reconsideration is what makes re:View worth watching.

Instead, we get a set of quick commentaries on the man’s entire oeuvre, in the format of a “ranking”. I hate “rankings”. They’re an attempt to impose empirical order on what is by definition subjective, usually justified with un-nuanced blather. The internet does not need to be more like Buzzfeed.

In any case, regarding Carpenter’s 1996 film Escape From L.A., Jay and Rich basically say what they’ve always said, which is that it’s an unoriginal reboot of Escape from New York, with the same plot and a bunch of mid-90’s CGI stuffed into it. Which is nothing more than what the mass of critical opinion on this film has been since the 90’s. Nor am I going to attempt to argue with it. Some may say that Carpenter did this on purpose, which means he degenerated througout the 80’s and 90’s from being Ridley Scott to being Tom Green. And besides, that’s pure conjecture.

But there’s another way to look at Escape From L.A.: as a piece of hidden prophecy. Behold, Brian Niemeier:

In the early 21st century, an American presidential candidate wins a highly unorthodox election by leveraging a national disaster. As the front man for an extreme moralizing movement, he oversees the implementation of sweeping neo-puritanical directives to enforce his sect’s moral vision nationwide. Federal law enforcement is tasked with prosecuting Americans whose speech and actions were tolerated before the election. Citizens guilty of no crime are stripped of their rights and assets without due process and are exiled from society for retroactive violations of the new moral precepts. The government uses an engineered virus purported to be lethal, but which turns out to be a slightly enhanced version of the flu, to coerce citizens.

Meanwhile, mass immigration has overrun American cities, especially Los Angeles, with a plague of poverty and crime. Despite the construction of a wall on part of the southern border, a full-scale third world invasion of America looms.

But enough current events.

Let’s talk about John Carpenter’s 1996 Escape from New York sequel/remake/parody, Escape from LA.

Escape From LA” – brianniemeir.com

And again, you can argue how much of these things Carpenter intended. But as Niemeier has it, there’s at least as much of a calling-out of the pieties of our age here as in say, Demolition Man. Action movies of this era have no kindness towards secular utopianists, because action movies depend upon the knowledge that achieving the good means fighting for it, that those who would abuse civilization will always be found.

In any case, he’s sold me on actually watching it, which the RLM guys did not do. Advantage Neimeier.

Content Blues, the Podcast: Episode 4 – The Lost Summer Episode

Doing this fell by the wayside as I was wrapped up in bringing Caligula to market (The Kindle Countdown deal is going well, by the way). But having a few free evenings, I was able to clear out the notebook and talk about some stuff I’d meant to all summer. Here are the results.

4. The Lost Summer Episode Content Blues

We're back from Summer Vacation with a bunch of notes we took months ago and will turn deftly into a full episode: Why I Care. A Lot. is as bad as you've heard. Why Aldous Huxley was as good as you've heard. Why Ronnie James Dio is better than you've probably heard. Huzzah for Content!
  1. 4. The Lost Summer Episode
  2. 3. Poems, Prose, and Princes
  3. 2. Thus Stuffed Zarathustra Funko Pops into The God-Shaped Hole
  4. 1. Absinthe is Delicious

The True Audience of Art is God

Provocative idea found in an old Zero HP Lovecraft essay in The American Mind:

What does the divine care for “new paradigms,” for gay portrayals of “the human condition?” Art which has Man as its object is folly, and this is the reason for its permeating ugliness; Man without God is ugly, and the only truth that manifests in such art is the truth of how ugly Man can become. The art that we SHALL make will have God as its intended audience, and all other beholders will be merely incidental. This is how it must be, and how it always has been, with regard to great and poignant art.

The New Tlön” – The American Mind

I take “having God as its intended audience” to mean to above speak the truth, the cosmic truth (I also take it to mean offering it up to please the Creator, as to do otherwise is blasphemy and blasphemy does not speak Truth, however much it wishes to), to speak not just to Current Year but to the past, and to the future. It means not to narrow your field of art to that collection of men who happen to be alive around the time you are.

To frame one’s Art this way is to solidify the claim that Aesthetics is a branch of Philosophy. It is to agree with the self-glorifying poet who proclaims that Beauty is Truth and Truth, Beauty. This statement has always struck me as wrong, because one learns pretty early that things pleasing to the senses can be used to manipulate and deceive. This causes us to differentiate Sensory Beauty, with esoteric True Beauty, wherein the latter becomes meaningless except as a synonym for Truth.

This is where we must recognize both that Oscar Wilde had a point, and that the concept of the Sublime is useful. Just as a lie cannot deceive unless it contains a piece of the truth, beauty would not have the power to manipulate if there were not something unmistakably Real about it. We perceive this potency, we feel it intensely, we respond to it autonomically. In this way Beauty is more real than the circumlocutions of our abstract rhetoric.

But precisely because of this potency, the Beautiful can be Terrible. Helen of Troy destroyed a city by no action of her own. The destruction of Troy, an event symbolic of the Bronze Age Collapse, resonates like the Fall of Man through the ages that followed. It bore something true to them, something beautiful, something terrible. It was sublime.

Therefore, the only art worth making is an attempt at these, with an eye towards what follows.

Upcoming Kindle Countdown deal for Caligula

Now that I’ve got good reviews/ratings, it makes sense to let more people know about it. The Author is Publisher and the Publisher is Author.

So starting Thursday, September 16th, ebook copies of The Meditations of Caius Caligula will be discounted to 99 cents, for a few days time. If you’ve been on the fence about whether its worth reading, it’ll cost you less than a bottle of soda to find out. I feel like that’s a pretty good deal.

I’ll post the full details

So check it out!

And Here’s links to other new content:

Vampyre Varney’s Voloptuous Vivisection

Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood, is everyone’s favorite example of a Penny Dreadful: a horror novel that goes on for the length of a Bible because the author is paid by the word and doesn’t care if it all adds up when it’s put into one volume (you know, kinda like George Lucas). I mentioned this when I compared novels to TV Shows.

TV Shows, on the other hand, are episodic. An Episode is a self-contained story that takes place within a larger context. Each successive episode reveals more about the characters, because the pressure of writing demands it. Even a TV show that intends to repeat a situation ad infinitum – a “situation comedy”, for example – finds that in cannot. Each episode adds to the character.

In times past, this growth was largely incidental, a process of creating new scenarios for the characters each week. This had more in common with the old penny dreadfuls, in which new chapters were published each week, and writers paid by the word, increasing the incentive to drag out the story and add new characters. TV Shows are kept on the air until their audience starts to leave, then they are given a hurried ending that most people find unsatisfying. See everything I’ve written about How I Met Your Mother for further elucidation.

Movies are Short Stories, TV Shows are Novels” Content Blues

But despite knowing the novel in a meme kind of way, I’d never actually read it. Maybe part of the first chapter, found online. And frankly, I’d never thought I’d bother. That is, until I read this review of it by Nocturnal Revelries:

I haven’t posted much in the last month because I have been spending my time slogging through this immensely long book. At 1166 pages of very small print, this is undoubtedly the longest novel I have ever read. ‘Novel’ however, maybe isn’t quite the right word to describe this tome; it’s a series of different stories about the eponymous hero that were originally serialised in pamphlet form over the course of several years. Think of it like this: if Stoker’s Dracula can be turned into 2 hour movie, Varney would take a 5 season TV show to do it justice. Just as the book is long, this review is fairly hefty too, so pour yourself a cup of blood before you sit down to read it. If you haven’t read the book, you might want to skip over the sections in red. I say this not because those sections contain devastating spoilers (they don’t), but because they deal with issues that are so perplexing that they may scare you away from ever reading the book.

A Feast of Blood – Varney the Vampyre” – Nocturnal Revelries

I love to encounter agreement! But he needn’t have worried; the sections in red and the issues thereunto pertaining not only didn’t dissuade me, these narrative errors actually made me want to read the book more. And not just in an ironic, so-bad-it’s-good way. I think that those kind of confusions actually fit best what horror is trying to accomplish, albiet accidentally.

If Lovecraft taught us nothing else, he taught us that being helpless before the unknown, the unknowable, is the source of fear. Thus, the best stories are where the monster isn’t fully explained, fully delineated. This is why Friday the 13th and other slasher series get more tired as they go on; the monster becomes more known, more discovered, with each iteration. Eventually it devolves into a cartoon.

Hence, there’s actually some promise to VtV‘s losing of scenes and characters: sometimes things are unexplained, just fade away. I know this is unintended, but it can still work. It’s giving me ideas. Looking into the first chapter, the one I half-read long ago, and the author (whoever he is, there’s a mystery as to whom the authorship fully belongs to) knows exactly what he’s doing with regard to setting a scene in which horror can occur, and he’s just describing a storm breaking in the night.

It was as if some giant had blown upon some toy town, and scattered many of the buildings before the hot blast of his terrific breath; for as suddenly as that blast of wind had come did it cease, and all was as still and calm as before.

Sleepers awakened, and thought that what they had heard must be the confused chimera of a dream. They trembled and turned to sleep again.

Varney The Vampire, Chapter 1

A bit corkscrew, a bit melodramatic, but it gets the mood right. On we bloodily stagger.

The Branding Stones Roll On

Charlie Watts died, and the articles about him were pro forma: great drummer, great bloke, much miss, wow. I briefly considered that this would be the end of them. Charlie was a founding member: how can you have the Rolling Stones without him?

How silly I was.

On August 4th, the band announced that Watts, their beloved drummer of 58 years, would be unable to join them on the road. Longtime Stones associate Steve Jordan is taking his place behind the drum kit. “It is an absolute honor and a privilege to be Charlie’s understudy,” Jordan said at the time.

Watts joined the Stones in 1963 and was one of only three members to appear on each of their albums, along with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. His last public performance with the band took place in August 2019 at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.

Rolling Stones’ U.S. Tour to Proceed as Planned After Charlie Watts’ Death“, RollingStone.com

So they had already planned this. They knew Charlie was sick and like to die, so they elevated a new drummer. They’ve been without an official bass player since Bill Wyman quit in the 90’s. They replaced Brian Jones without missing a tour beat. Nothing is over, mates. It’s not even inconcievable that Jagger or Richards couldn’t be replaced. After all, Ronnie Wood’s been in since the 70’s, he’s for all intents and purposes equal to the others.

So in all honesty, what would stop the Stones from proceeding into a 2nd or 3rd generation, in which none of the original members remain, but they keep playing the same songs, occasionally adding new ones? Why not? Why deprive our grandchildren of Rolling Stones concerts. Blues rock is eternal.

Doubt me? Here’s the original demo of “Riders on the STorm” by the Doors. It’s being added to a re-issue of the L.A. Woman album. There’s a market for this. If television and the movies are forever trapped in the 80’s and 90’s, music remains stuck in the 60’s and 70’s.

So whatever, Rolling Stones forever. Star Wars forever. Product forever.

The Wheel Keeps on Spinning: Robert Jordan, Prologues and World-Building

I had forgotten that Wheel of Time was being made into a TV Series by Amazon. I assume it’s going to be lame and full of “epic” tropes, so I probably won’t watch it. If it’s as good as Witcher, I will count that success.

Long before I was disappointed in George R.R. Martin, I was disappointed in Robert Jordan. The Wheel of Time series could have been great, or at least satisfying, but the author became megalomaniacal in prioritizing world-building over plot. I commented so a few years ago when I discovered this was going to be a thing:

Robert Jordan was the American Tolkein before George R.R. Martin was so dubbed, and the Wheel of Time series starts with a bang. It’s a fully realized world with a sprawling backstory, and the idea that magic has two components: one male, one female, but the male half has been poisoned and unusable for millenia, is a neat hook to hang an apocalyptic battle on. The first book was great.

The second book was good.

The third book was… I don’t remember. Let’s say goodish?

The fourth book I remember better than the third book. It was kind of interesting.

I don’t remember the fifth book at all.

I don’t remember the sixth book at all.

I gave up partway through the seventh book.

There are fourteen books in the series.

The Wheel of Time Comes to Amazon,” Content Blues

This is a balance argument, not a deontological condemnation of world-building. You need world-building, but not at the expense of story. You need character arcs, but not at the expense of the plot moving at speed sufficient to keep readers engaged. If your audience starts saying to itself “is this ever going to go anywhere”, you done goofed.

I mention this because of a Tweet I spotted:

I said to the person who brought it into my timeline that I blamed Robert Jordan for it. Which, on reflection, is a little unfair, because what kept me reading Wheel of Time as long as I did was that prologue to the first book. It took place literally thousands of years before the main events of the story, but it set the stage of the world so wonderfully that you couldn’t help but be drawn in. All in all, it’s probably the best individual chapter in the series.

Which is a problem of its own, obviously, but as a world-building device, prologues can be good. Not necessary: Tolkein never used them (anyone who wants to chime in that The Hobbit is a prologue to Lord of the Rings: You’re a Nerd). But if they’re done right, they can provide action and a sense of stakes that will sustain the reader through the first-act stuff of your main plot. Of course, you need to give this prologue a real and tangible connection to the main plot. Wheel of Time does that, as the series protagonist is the reincarnation of the character we meet in the prologue. Raymond Feist’s SerpentWar Saga, on the other hand, doesn’t. That was another great prologue that has nothing to do with the main plot of the story until the third book, and then barely moves the needle on the story (it’s a shame, because those were great titles: Shadow of a Dark Queen, Shards of a Broken Crown. No one has ever disappointed me as much as Feist). But a good prologue is a benefit to the story.

Jordan’s problem with prologues was he kept doing it every book, throwing in stuff dubiously connected to the story. You’re not hooking readers at this point, you’re adding unnecessary scenes. You’ve got your plot going now, work it. I said I gave up on Wheel of Time in the seventh book (Path of Daggers? something like that), but really I gave up during the 100-page prologue (was it really that long? it felt that way), after my then-girlfriend told me that the entire plot of the book could be summed up in “Faile gets kidnapped.” As with everything else, Jordan overused prologues.

Hence, prologues are probably out of fashion right now. Abuse of devices brings distaste; distaste brings disuse. And so the wheels spins.

The Aesthetics of McNuggets, Or Brooklyn Status Panic Drugs

No, I’m not talking about the Saucy Nugs guy again. That meme sadly failed. I am disappoint.

No, this is a link to a long post by a fellow calling himself Monsieur le Baron, who is some manner of Red Monarchist (which is not absurd, the Soviet Union was a series of Tsars, and anyone who says otherwise did not pay attention. Just go ahead and watch The Death of Stalin, it’s on Netflix). That’s fine because he uses the pretext of McNuggets to dunk (le pun! C’est absolument destiné!) on the PostModernist “art” crowd I have pondered on before. Enemy of my enemy and all that.

There is, in fact, much spicy aesthetic wisdom in this post, linked here, including meditations on mediums and messages, high art vs. pop art, symbol & referent, and a host of other things I have begun dimly to understand. In any case, here is his knife-point, at the peroratio where it belongs:

The disdain of the modern artist for the commercial is not a sign of their own good breeding, as they so suppose, but in fact evidence of the smallness of their souls, for they are unable to emerge from the smallness of their own souls and submerge themselves in anything greater than themselves. For the act of creating such is the act of channeling the essence of the greater thing, whereas they can only write of their own meager selves. Depression this, anxiety that, and a lot of Brooklyn status panic. That about covers the bulk of modern artistic production, doesn’t it? A self-absorption.

“Aesthetica McNuggetica, Or Idealism Real Word Count by the Baron”, An Inelegant Viceroy

This differs in diagnosis from what I drew from Ruskin earlier:

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.

“Notes on Ruskin: Modern Art is Anti-Art”, Content Blues

Yet perhaps not. It can be a case of “yes, and”. The young artistic type yearns to make Art. He does so with a certain degree of isolation, for only in isolation can Art be made. He gradually absorbs, without it being directly taught him, that Muh True Art stands against Muh Status Quo. This is exactly what his teachers believe, exactly what the universities have long accepted, as they grow their endowments on the stock market. Give us New Things to Sell, the Bourgeoisie command. So is the Hip Rebel transmuted into Establishment and vice versa.

In other words, it’s all a Hustle. And you have two ways to escape: find something Grand to subsume yourself into, or retreat into the tiny redoubt of yourself. Which has his education prepared the young artist to do?