Some Stuff About Truth, Art, Violence and that New Netflix Stand-up

“Reality has a conservative bias” you’ve heard it and you probably hate it. How presumptuous! That accurate perception and accurate belief cosanguinate. “Reality has an X bias” more like it!  Anyone with a truth claim necessarily has some belief in that truth and some starting proposition, some base perception from which they get that truth.

“Oh,” the conservative says, “but truth claims are conservative” and here we are.

If then Art with a capital ‘A’ seeks to get at or reflect, discover or illuminate a capital ‘T’ Truth then of course it too is conservative.

You’re angry, I understand. You don’t like the word ‘conservative’ and you don’t like the presupposition, the interior logic or the ultimate conclusions here. Could a self styled anti-conservative somehow, and dear reader I too am shocked to say this, accidentally further things that the conservative would term Good, True and Beautiful.

Well I’m here to say that all artists to whatever degree they are good, truthful and equipped to deliver beauty do just that and often intentionally as they perceive various truths in the universe around them.

An example, the ESPN documentary OJ: Made in America. In an interview with The Ringer/Channel 33 we hear from the director that he was dispassionate, strongly so, about the OJ trial. Through sheer will, craft and professionalism. Through the habits of docu filmmaking developed over a career and an awareness of the stakes, the weight of the interviews sitting down the road, and the audience built through the 30 for 30 series. Through these things we got something intensely truthful.

Good art is good. Of course I mean “well made” on the front end of that tautology. In accurate perception, the possibility, the suggestion of right belief about these things.

Earnest truthful art, no matter the source, is among one of life’s common graces.

Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, who as a Christian I say he was without the full spiritual revelation of the closed biblical canon, the artist through seeing truthfully, can tell truthfully. The limits of experiential wisdom are pretty well sketched in that old testament book. 10/10 highly recommend.

To digress a little about the wisdom literature and that ancillary effect of art, the moral imperative most obviously seen as The Very Special Episode. These episodes are clearly trying to teach something. But what if it happens by accident:

I wouldn’t be the first to note that Breaking Bad doesn’t have a glowing, triumphant portrayal of what the drug trade does to a life however maximally abstracted Walt’s place in it rests for most of the series. Let’s not forget that masterpiece The Knick from which I’ve learned much much more effectively about the personal thrill, boredom, crisis and crash of drug abuse (however high functioning) than all of those DARE classes.

So through all these rabbit trails we finally arrive at the most recent Netflix stand up comedy specials by Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle. While I’ve already gone on too long, I’d like to say something about the conservatism and the underlying theme of some of their hotter topic jokes.

That theme is violence. Chappelle ends a story about an almost certainly fictional transgender hollywood executive with that character throwing their excised member onto the table as a power move. C.K. goes on an extended riff about how abortion really is killing (though killing he thinks should be allowed). The underlying truths here, conservatives often painfully have to point out, convince and cajole.

The flowery language of identity cannot paper over the real harm, the hard chop choices of matching the biological with psychological.

Children with fingers and toes, little people who feel pain are literally ripped apart overwhelmingly for reasons of convenience.

There’s no debate about the physical truth of what’s happening. The observation is truthful, so the window for true belief gets just a little more open.

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Match Trap (why nonsense podcasts are bad)

So I’ve been reading The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen. One of the main topics or observed developments he discusses is Matching. From dating to home buying to religion. Like becomes like like. People find their people.

The downside of this, expedited by technology, is segregation. Segregation by social class, wealth and ultimately race. It’s all very good (not the segregation! the observations) and you should go read it. It’s easy at maybe 200-300 pages.

So I’m thinking about matching and I start thinking about all those monkeys on typewriters. This is not matching, this random noise. Out of hand I reject the underlying implication of the monkey/typewriter scenario because of my creationist priors. Order does not come from chaos. Monkeys do not have the creative impulse like us, those who were breathed into life by our God.

So I’ve got a matching problem. It’s hard to remember things. I can’t quite match what I have with what I need but what I do have is A LOT. A lot of information.

So no monkeys, just to be clear again, it’s people who generate large sums of this information. I’m about at the following cap on twitter, 5000 people for a small time rando like me. That’s not people who care about my banal garbage, no that’s the people whose banal garbage I sign up for.

So this is my dilemma, (I’m not even talking about twitter just the number of information channels there is really clear): Every day I make a puzzle.

The puzzle has a thousand pieces. Each piece comes from another discrete puzzle of a thousand pieces. Each piece fits with every other piece if you try hard enough.

This sounds like noise and noise will drive you crazy.

But

There’s something else here. There’s matching. That unguided creative impulse, a shade from madness.

The information mosaic is oppressive. But like those hour long improv comedy podcasts that eventually yield a single good nugget of laughter, rare is the beauty and more beautiful for it.

But is it worth it? Could a machine even sort it? Do I enjoy the chaos?

Incomplete and superfluous is what these creations are. What springs from the depths our own specially, personally curated hive minds.

All these fragments come pouring out late at night and my problem, I can’t even remember. Isn’t that my problem.

What would be there that matters, is lost. Our manufactured chaos is not so different after all.

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Comics I Care About: March 22nd 2017

Every week a lot of comics come out. Of those comics there are a handful I’ll buy and hopefully like. A smaller more select set of comics are the ones that build some anticipation before Wednesday rolls around. Their history leaves you thinking about what will come next and their ongoing story has stakes, implications or simply a quality throughline you want to see developed.

Here are the comics I’m looking forward to this week:

HULK #4

On the recent Logan segment of the First Things Podcast an offhand wish about superhero content in genre clothing (why are there no legit self contained episode to episode case based legal/law enforcement Marvel tv shows?!) was brought up and discarded. Daredevil it seems, is too busy punching to actually do lawyering. So what kind of hero would be both really good at punching but incredibly reticent to punch things because of the possible life altering implications and collateral damage they could cause…. Sounds like a hulk. Since we’re only 4 issues in, this first case hasn’t even wrapped up yet. Based on one panel of goofy super powered (afflicted?) clients in Jennifer Walters’ waiting room I think I’m going to be enjoying the little world buildy gems in this book for many issues to come. Jennifer is also relatable, they don’t always treat the Hulk thing as an asset. Equal parts public figure trying to keep her head down and alienated coworker back from rehab, I really hope it doesn’t all fall apart for her. You could say I’m invested.

UNWORTHY THOR #5

Shout out to my favorite chunky body positive white man Odinson, his good good big horned goat and uhh a lot of other characters. You’ll want to read from the number 1 not only because it’s beautiful but also because most books would kill for even one of the little supporting character moments peppered throughout. It’ll keep you guessing. Not telling every little detail makes me eager to come back to learn something new with each issue. (I still don’t know why he’s unworthy tho)

SPIDER-GWEN #18

When will the Spider-Man kissing crossover arc finally end? This issue! They absolutely have not sold the relationship at the heart of this arc as anything substantial. It’s convoluted. Makes me think the kiss will end up as another one of those “lol i kiss a lot of people” referential in-canon jokes about the long list of dead end character pairings we endure.

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Netflix’s Iron Fist Review

It’s bad don’t watch it.

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Comics I Care About: March 15th 2017

Comics I care about:

Every week a lot of comics come out. Of those comics there are a handful I’ll buy and hopefully like. A smaller more select set of comics are the ones that build some anticipation before Wednesday rolls around. Their history leaves you thinking about what will come next and their ongoing story has stakes, implications or simply a quality through-line you want to see developed.

Here are the comics I’m looking forward to this week:

MS MARVEL #16 – I’ll always love Ms Marvel. As someone who is pretty devoutly religious, the caring considered introduction of a hero who shared some of the human tensions I experienced as a young person was much appreciated. Some of the conflicts that the first wonderful hardcover Omnibus of Ms Marvel contains are the differing values and cares of family vs friends, how they can respect one another but still be different, making choices for yourself in a world where structurally you’re outside of the mainstream because of your (or at least your family’s beliefs), BOYS etc, Canadian ninjas and the end of the world. It’s so so good and I highly recommend you read it. The art in that omnibus has a lovable humane whimsy that never hits that jokey “lol chimichangas” obnoxiousness level that I can’t stand.

The series and the character’s portrayal has hit a few bumps in the road. Different artists have different takes on Ms M and no one quite gets her like her original artist Alphona. The recent Civil War 2 crossover didn’t in its entirety do anything more for the character than any one of the small character moments in a few ‘non-plot’ one off comics where Ms M goes to a science fair or spends time with Spider-Man Miles Morales while he’s grounded.

The current arc is wrapping up and I’m eager to hear what G Willow Wilson is trying to do with this whole online bullying plot even as the arc feels maybe stretched a little thin and whatever it’s building to is currently out of view.

SPIDER-MAN #14

They should have called the current Miles Morales storyline Crisis on Infinite Kisses. I am not on board with the multiverse as a concept but it’s canon and nerds love that stuff so of course we’re going to have a multiverse story at some point. Bendis seems aware of a core criticism of the this whole concept of literally everything inevitably happening somewhere in a multiverse based on his Jessica Jones book that’s going right now.

If we accept the multiverse then we have to accept that every character is always kissing every other character forever. Infinite kissing, that’s just exhausting and airless. Not to mention meaningless. But I’ve already said too much. Go read Jessica Jones’ first 6 issues and see the golden nugget therein. The in world implications of someone agreeing with this criticism as a denizen of one of the infinite planes is uhh… a lot more like bleak nihilism than tumblr’s thirsty uses.

ANYWAY, this arc has an interesting structure. It starts with a finale first, Miles kisses Spider-Gwen. Told after the fact as a story to his roommates, of course he’d start with the kiss. But we haven’t gotten to it yet so I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. For how much I hate multiverses I do want to see what they are doing with the post secret wars status quo of a single universe. I’ll glean whatever I can from this book even if the current arc is not my fav. I want Miles back in New York asap.

ALL STAR BATMAN #8

I’ve been digging the separate Duke Thomas story-lines that have been running through the All Star issues. FIRST, I know what you’re thinking:

CaptureDUKEImage result for duke thomas

So he’s just a guy… but let’s not forget that’s how batman started. He’s a relatively new character. They are deliberately trying to keep him out of sidekick territory and right now that’s new enough for me to be excited about his shot at finding his own corner of Gotham. Since Batman is very established, seeing him teach is another way of letting us in on what he’s learned.

The main stories so far each have a bit of an involved hook. You can’t fault All Star for its ambition so this is a plus for me though other readers may think its in fiction fake science or inter-arc connective tissue are A Bit Too Much. (Art also great)

BATMAN #19

Tom King, what a guy. He’s got a pretty clear straightforward take on Batman. Batman is the triumph of the will (but like good and not that Nazi movie from 80 years ago). In his Batman #1 he sets a pretty big mission statement. For all the haranguing batfans have gotten about the obsession with the Dark and Gritty aspects of the character, King’s Gotham is still in some sense better than our world. #1 evokes 9/11 with its chase to stop a plane to building collision. Here’s the thing, Batman stops the plane (but he doesn’t save himself).

This is King’s world and 9/11, he’s been very open about, is a personal touchstone for his personal world. It was and continues to be a person and nation shaping trauma but a trauma that he doesn’t let happen to Gotham. That he has Batman not let happen to Gotham. So his world is brighter than ours for a moment, when Batman exercises his will to the full expense of his person.

The subsequent arcs remind you of the individual, unique terrors of Gotham (and even the goofy pageantry of the lesser set of rogues). Batman gets to care about Catwoman. They get to be happy together. Oh that’s ominous though isn’t it, the gritty hero with a smile.

So in the current arc Bane comes to Gotham and things aren’t looking good. #18 got incredibly explicit about the parallels between Bane and Bruce Wayne and it was a little too much. The whole “how other characters are just a shade away from Batman” thing works really well under the surface of the like-attracts-like dynamic of Catwoman and the father of the Bat Family thing that Bruce has going on with the other side kicks. But with Bane all that needed to be said was said at the end of the I Am Suicide arc when Batman, on completion of a Suicide Squad mission to steal a prisoner from Bane on his home turf, gives Bane a speech that about not chasing him in a rage. It’s an expression of understanding and an acknowledgement of their similar psychology. It was good is what I’m saying and hopefully #19 steps back from the whole sameness angle and shows us what King has planned for the inevitable divergence and tragedy this arc seems to be promising by giving Batman so many wins (and so much to care for).

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‘Sleepless’ is all things good about “just another genre entry”

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One of the humble pleasures found at the cinema is the dad-action film. This microgenre is ruled by Liam Neeson who cemented his role as the particularly skilled patriarch of the Taken series. But not just Taken, Taken 2, or Taken 3, there’s also Non-Stop, The Grey, Unknown, A Walk Among The Tombstones and Run All Night.

Now, Jamie Foxx is taking a run at the tall handsome irishman’s throne with Sleepless. It’s the story of a crooked cop out to save his kidnapped son by any means necessary. By and large it works for what it is. How’s that for a poster quote, “as advertised.”

The title gives you a hint at what’s going on, it takes place over the course of, by my rough estimate, 32 hours. An early morning heist gone bad, the next day of the police scrambling trying to figure it out and a night of guns, knives and other nice things in the confines of a vegas casino.

It’s a full movie that actually takes its time. This movie allows a rare kind of proper set up, it’s almost jarring. When the first real hand to hand fight scene hits, you’ll feel a little relief, this is an action movie after all.

Not only does this film hang comparably with the impressive Neeson oeuvre (he’s not in it but the cast is great nonetheless), it’s also got what makes that collection so special. Sleepless has a personality and place. Think back to the various Neesons, there’s the plane one, the wolf punching one, the Ed Harris and Catholics one, the 90s noir, the amnesia one. For what hopefully will be the start of a long late career action revival, this is Foxx’s Vegas Die Hard one.

The confining single location for most of the action warrants a comparison to the first Die Hard though not as crisply plotted, there’s a lot more players here and the police do not just stand around. The criss crossing character motivations are nuanced as well. It’s not as clear cut as “shoot the german guy out the window.”

You’ll be glad that the filmmakers didn’t kowtow to the old mothers at the MPAA. For what could have been a PG-13 star power retread of cut aways and red smoke, you’ll see all sorts of creativity here. A scene of baseball torture and a handsy, pressure cooker like performance by Scoot McNairy flavor the festivities. There are cars, car crashes. There is a parking garage. There is a weapons trunk. Gas? Is there really a gas attack in this movie??? Yes, and more.

They don’t let David Harbour, Michelle Monaghan, or even Gabrielle Union go to waste. Pretty much everybody fights or shoots at everybody else. They cover their bases spreading the action around to the whole cast but never in a way that feels like it betrays the character motivations that drive this whole thing. There is a father and son team up fight that plays well when on its face that idea should really be ridiculous.

Dermot Mulroney’s character, the casino owner, doesn’t get much action but for good reason. In the dance of character meetings leading up to all hell breaking loose they subvert our expectations for who a Vegas big bad looks and acts like.
If you enjoyed this film enough to want another go round with the tension and stakes even higher, well they left the door open. It’s a door I’ll want to go through if it should ever appear.

Sleepless is now playing nationwide.

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Year in Review: 2016

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(pictured: what 2016 did to me)

This was not a good year. I got out to half as many movies as I’d like to, but made up for it accidentally by watching too much TV and getting into comics in the fall so…

Here are the numbers:

39 Full seasons of TV watched (40 if you count Horace and Pete which, it seems like most people, I still need to finish)

62 Films watched on VOD/Hard disk

80 Films watched in Theaters (with a few first run VOD exceptions like High-Rise, Skiptrace, Weiner etc)

-Over 100 individual issues of comics

9 older collected classic comic trades

5 nonfiction books (this is going to seem really sad but I’ve got a couple dozen that I’m 100 or so pages into)

-I didn’t keep track of fiction but if I did read anything it was probably a fantasy book aimed at kids like Redwall or Outlaws of Time by ND Wilson (it has a fantastic book trailer fwiw) with a few excursions into science fiction books on tape

6 video games that came out this year

5 video games from years past

-I haven’t even thought about music because in addition to being bad at it, I hardly understand it. (Church Clothes 3 by Lecrae, Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper and of course Lemonade)

5 comedy specials (all netflix and generally underwhelming except for Bo Burnham’s Make Happy who remains an interesting if undeniably jaded young man)

Hopefully I’ll post more complete analysis with time breakdowns and stuff so we can see exactly how much sleep I lost on those terrible CW superhero shows.

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