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Quick Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

extremely-wicked-shockingly-evil-and-vile-549dda557f5e5c9f5632a216886432b2 I detest serial killers. By which I mean, I detest the attention paid to them by popular culture. There is a sickness in being as aware of them as we are, something concupiscent in our fascination with twisted pyschopathy. That being said, I am hardly less guilty. I regard From Hell (the graphic novel, not the movie) as a work of art. I have rewatched Mindhunter (in fairness, this series is largely about the FBI’s early exploration with the phenomenon of the serial killer, and is as deeply ambivalent with the fascination with them as I am). And I watched this, despite never giving a damn about Ted Bundy. He was a beast in human flesh, and he got what was coming to him. More than that need not be said.

But this film, like Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, does an admirable job of explaining the fascination with the evil character that sits at the heart of it. The mafia was a way for immigrants to break the rules and get paid. Wall Street is a way to manufacture wealth out of nothing by selling people the promise of wealth. Extremely Wicked doesn’t have the ambition to explain why Ted Bundy murdered 30+ women in the 1970’s – what explanation, really, could there be? – but it does go a long way towards explaining why his case haunts us, forty years after he was finally caught.

Everyone says Zac Efron is great in this, and he is. The camera still loves him, and he makes every use of it. But what makes this film worth watching is its mis-en-scene. We don’t see Ted Bundy as a killer. We don’t see him cut a swath through innocent co-eds. We see a handsome fellow pulled over in his VW Beetle by a cop and arrested. We see him stand trial despite maintaining his innocence. We see him intimate to his longtime girlfriend that someone is out to get him. We see him withstand prison with stoic spirit and determination. And gradually we get wrapped up in his worldview, his frame, until we find ourselves perversely believing that he’s the protagonist, despite knowing full well that he’s everything the title says he is. It’s a marvelous exercise in structuring a film to drive home the real story, which is that this man was a handsome and charming shell, capable of pulling people into his orbit, and successfully hiding the demon underneath.

But only for a time. Reality will out, and eventually even Bundy is no longer able to maintain the pretense. The climax of the film is the moment where Bundy’s almost self-gaslighting persona cracks – not fully, not in the spittle-flecked Hollywood way – but enough to confirm for us that what we know to be true really is. And that’s both satisfying from a film point of view and deeply sickening from a human one. As with MacBeth, this film about a killer has a weird way of condemning all of us.

When You Need the Tropes – Game of Thrones Edition

I spent a day angry about the Game of Thrones finale. I won’t go into the why, because I’m going to write something larger on that topic later on. Put me in the group of fans that found it highly unsatisfying and leave it at that.

Many of those same people have been saying that the series has dropped off since they left the part that books covered (and really, before that. Season 5 was a mess – the Dorne plot was ridiculous).

The other complaint for fans of this saga is that we’ve been waiting for the next book for seven-and-a-half years (or as I like to call it, the entirety of my eldest child’s lifetime). And since Martin hasn’t given us anything like a meaningful update in at least half that time, we’ve gone through cycles of denial and bargaining and anger and are coming to accept that we may never see the end.

And Megan McArdle has the explanation for that.

In trying to create a world where anything could happen to anyone at any time, he may also have created expectations that could never be fulfilled. We loved surprises such as the carnage of the Red Wedding, because that made the whole thing more believable. But in the end, a good story must deliver something that reality rarely does: a clean narrative arc.

Which meant that despite the illusion that anything could happen, most plausible things actually couldn’t. One way or another, the Starks had to win the battle for humanity, and Westeros, because otherwise why did we spend all those years following them around? Making that feel realistic in a world that isn’t governed by cosmic justice is, well, a heroic task.

You can only deconstruct the tropes of fantasy so far before it becomes an exercise in misery porn. Which is what HBO series tend to trade in (Chernobyl anyone?), but which is not the reason fantasy epics exist. You tweak the tropes to update the genre, not to destroy it.

Too many people would rather it be destroyed because of their own cultural-warfare reasons. It’s enough to make a body disinterested in what the establishment offers us for entertainment.

John C. Wright on Time Travel: An Absurdity Wrapped in a Non-Starter

It’s a longish post, but well worth your time.

In science fiction stories, there are a limited number of ways to explain the conundrum of how time travel can work in a world where there is both the appearance of free will and the appearance of cause and effect.

I doubt I can list all the various answers of the various imaginative authors who have attempted in an entertaining way to address the paradox. It makes for entertaining bull sessions by college students and philosophers, however.

But I can mention some basics:

In effect, the effort is to see how you can keep one or both of the appearances of cause and effect and of free will.

Wright mentions a number of methods (he calls them “options”) for dealing with the paradox:

  1. Free Will Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but you will do exactly what you did, because that is what happened. This is the Slaughterhouse Five answer. “The Moment is Structured That Way” say the Tralfalmadorians).
  2. Cause and Effect Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but in changing the past you only eliminate yourself).
  3. The Universe Doesn’t Like Things Changed (You can go back in time, and change the past, but the universe will order itself so that it gets the desired result in spite of your actions. This is the Tralfalmadorians-on-Steroids).
  4. Time Travel is Just a Scene-Change Device (Dr. Who, Quantum Leap, etc.)
  5. Multiple Time Lines Without Consequence (the easiest solution, in which no matter how much mucking about you do, the only changes will be cosmetic, and you can always go back and re-do it, and you will discover that you in fact, already have)
  6. Time is a Hard Drive Being Overwritten (By changing the past, you destroy the original timeline in which time travel was invented. So time-travel has the result of eliminating time-travel)

It’s great fun to consider, and I’ve always admired the Back the Future precisely because it makes Time Travel very difficult. You’ve got to have a Flux Capacitor and you’ve got to have 1.21 jiggiwatts of electricity and you’ve got to get that car up to 88 mph. Miss either one of these, and the time travel won’t happen.

I also especially enjoy the second movie because the plot takes it back inside the structure of the first movie, and revisits the exact same scenes without disturbing any of them, or indeed having anyone in those scenes notice that they’re being observed. It fascinates me. I’ve never seen a sequel deconstruct the first movie so entertainingly.

What Came to me Watching Last Week’s Game of Thrones

Anger be now your song, immortal one

Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous

that caused the Akaians loss on bitter loss

and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,

leaving so many dead men– carrion

for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.

-The Iliad

Below the fold, the climactic scene in the episode, with Black Sabbath in the background. Obviously, *SPOILERS*. This has also been done with AC/DC, and Metallica, but I like this way better. And seriously, this stuff is R-Rated; it’s incredibly violent.

Post-Modernism and Critical Theory is all Based on The Worst Argument in the World

Via, Rotten Chestnuts, a summation of scholar David Stove’s essay “Idealism, A Victorian Horror Story”. Apparently, everything the Left has believed for the last century and a half comes from the perception/things-in-themselves fallacy, which allows all the other word games to follow.

 Since you’re starting from a tautology, thanks to the miracle of Dialectics you can say whatever you want.  There’s no cognitive dissonance, because there’s no cognition at all.  It all arrives at the same point — whatever degraded version of Idealism your victim group is pushing.  As Stove says, all you need for a Gem is tautology in the premise, Idealism in the conclusion, and pomposity throughout.  Berkeley to Hegel to Marx to Derrida, the Left’s entire intellectual genealogy in four steps.

Read the Whole Thing.

Cut the Federal Government in Half

Everyone wins.

Of course, these reductions in Federal taxing and spending would be accompanied by increases in State taxing and spending. However, these new State-level spending programs would reflect our present ideals and state of knowledge, and be more sustainable, effective, and appropriate than today’s legacy programs. Related government bureaucracies would be relatively lean and efficient, simply because they are new. Successful solutions could be imitated, and mistakes learned from. Competition between States would help governments to stay effective. Dissatisfied people could migrate to States where other like-minded people have gathered.

State politics would get very exciting. They would also get a lot more democratic, because each representative of State congress has a much smaller constituency than Federal congresspeople. Each member of the Massachusetts State Assembly, for example, has about 41,000 constituents, while each member of the U.S. Federal House of Representatives has about 760,000 constituents. Plus, their offices are probably near your house.

The way to prevent a civil war over differing conceptions of what the nation is about is to allow those differing conceptions to live in peace. Worth a shot, anyway.

No, Islamic Spain was Not Tolerant

So sayeth this review of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. (h/t Vox Populi)

And yes, the reviewer is an Orthodox priest, if you want to ready your ad hominems, and he is positively scathing regarding the myth, even working in a Gone With the Wind reference.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Now, the fact that medieval Muslims forcibly oppressed Christians in their lands does not and should not surprise. Religions, if they’re worth anything, are totalizing, thus religious tolerance always has the tendency to border on being a contradiction in terms. So the status of Christian dhimmis in Muslim Spain as fifth-class subjects should not really be a revelation.

But it is, and this indicaes a broader problem, of a spiritual cancer at the heart of the West. There are those among us who are prepared to believe, and repeat, anything, if it makes our own culture look bad. The same people who tut derisively about the Crusades train themselves not to notice the wars of conquest by which Arab Muslims destroyed Christian Visigothic Spain in the eighth century. Their stunted ideology requires them to deplore the first thing and attack anyone who mentions the second thing as a racist (because, you know, Islam is a race. Oh, we know that it isn’t, but you’re too dumb to make that distinction). Attacking your own culture makes you virtuous, you see.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

Given that the early Middle Ages were the time when Muslims attacked other lands specifically in the name of their religion, this statement beggars belief. I’d be hard pressed to think that Tony Blair even really thought this was true. It’s just the sort of thing we’re expected to say, a reading from the Catechism of the Blessed Dictatorship of Post-Cultural Relativism.