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Archive for the ‘What Came Before’ Category

Jojo Rabbit and the Absurdity of Fascism

NOTE: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR JOJO RABBIT

It’s a surreal time to be aware of – let alone following – the news cycle these days. Government officials proudly admit to crimes on Twitter, in press conferences, and then insist they are not crimes and why are you so triggered by a little treason, anyway?

We are in an age of disinformation at an unprecedented scale, and on a multiplicity of platforms designed to overwhelm and exhaust. Young white men in particular have come of age in this world looking for purpose, for belonging, looking for someone to blame because the world their parents promised them isn’t the world they were given. They’re looking for some heroic old white man to ride in on a horse and tell them what to do. And they are ready to do it, to cling to that feeling of belonging, of being God’s chosen people, of being better than anyone else by virtue of birth, not merit.

These cycles come and go. And as the line between truth and fiction, good and bad – as demonstrated by those in power –  seems to blur more with each passing day, it’s no wonder we are creating movies about super heroes and villains; and returning to the subject of the last great war where the bad guys and less-bad guys were clearest. Where it seemed good and evil met head first, and against all odds, good triumphed.

Nazis are bad. This used to be a pretty clear-cut line where I was from, growing up. Oh, yes, there was racism and sexism and homophobia and classism and capitalism and all the rest. But as a kid I knew this, and still know this to be true: Nazis are fucking bad.

With the current rise of nationalism, which has always been bubbling and scheming in American culture, I saw that core beliefs of my childhood – one of the few that made it to adulthood – continually questioned and “debated” online, then on TV, then by politicians with the power to take away the rights of real human beings at will. I saw a barely coherent megalomaniac ascend to the highest level of our government, and I woke up that morning with a grim understanding of what it must have been like that morning in Germany, when everyone hastened to reassure themselves that no, it would be all right. Hitler says a lot of things. He won’t do them.

We have now separated over 69,000 refugee children from their parents as they sought asylum in our country. Some have died in custody. Dozens, probably hundreds, more have been sexually abused and assaulted. Thousands more have been stolen and trafficked – “adopted” out into white Christian families despite having living family members desperately searching for them. We have banned people from specific countries, predominately of one religion, from ever traveling to ours. Our government institutions are rapidly being demolished and portioned out to rich tyrants. One of my own young relatives drew a goddamn swastika at school, thinking it was hilarious.

Dear reader, I could never in a million, trillion years have ever conceived of drawing a swastika for any fucking reason, ever. My veteran grandfather would have thrown me down the goddamn stairs, and I would have deserved it.

For all the horror, there is also an absurdity to this type of fascism. The extreme delusion that having the mutant genes that make your skin pale or your eyes blue makes you an objectively better person than your neighbor. The idea that an old, unhinged man can stand up in front of a crowd and declare he has absolutely done things that he clearly has not done, and that people will believe him. The kids who admire him, who look up to him as the only one “willing to tell the truth” while non-partisan fact-checkers struggle to keep up with pointing out all the lies.

Jojo Rabbit does what the best stories do, taking us out of our own era of absurd nationalism and bringing to life a small boy immersed in his own era of rabid fascism.

What made the humor of the film so cutting is that the wild “summer camp for Hitler youth” really was a thing in the Nazi era. Women really were encouraged to go off and “breed” at get-aways with select “Aryan” dudes. Toward the end, the German army really was sending out kids from twelve to fourteen to fight, and many of them were still doing it gladly.

Nationalism is a hell of a drug.

Watching Jojo embrace the fun, social, campy aspects of the Hitler youth and then slowly, over the course of the film, begin to understand it wasn’t make-believe, it wasn’t a joke, it’s real people, there are real consequences, was deeply cathartic. As the world around him gets darker, the jovial Hitler of his imagination gets meaner and meaner.

I couldn’t help thinking about all of the white men (and women, sure, but mostly it’s men yelling) radicalized on our current timeline, the ones who threaten to rape and murder women, and talk about hanging journalists, the ones who yell “Fuck your feelings!” and “Immigrants are dogs!” who help radicalize others around them, not just themselves. For every kid that shoots up a school or murders a black congregation, there are hundreds of others online egging him on, normalizing his views, making him think it’s all right.

Many of them never see or have to live with the consequences of their actions. Many continue to live in a white, untouchable bubble. But normalizing hate matters. And this is why.

Nazis are why. Mass shootings are why. Kids in cages are why.

Jojo Rabbit was a delight in how deftly it dealt with the horror and absurdity of fascism through the eyes of a kid who thought he would benefit from it; a kid who thought it was a fun club pitting him and his friends against demons. But as Jojo’s world slowly comes apart, so too does his view of the regime trying to use him for their own ends. His limp and scarred face mean he no longer meets the Aryan ideal. He befriends the Jewish girl his mother is hiding, and discovers she is not at all like what the party says she should be. They murder his mother, the one good person in his life. Finally, even Hitler abandons him, blows his own brains out, a coward who abandons him and his friends to the invading armies.

Jojo breaks, and he runs, and he hides. Because he is still, deep down, a rabbit. Just a rabbit.

There’s been some ink spilled about whether or not it’s “OK” to punch Nazis, about how we should just “debate” them or some shit, while they are out here pumping up the New Hitler Youth. This is why you punch Nazis. This is why you draw a line in the sand. You deliver consequences. Nazi in your life? Cut them off. Tell them why: because you are a goddamn Nazi. Remove them from private platforms. Break up their meetings. Throw shit. Burn their flags. Do not tolerate this shit. Do not.

Today I am watching some folks who tried holding up this regime scrambling to shit on each other, laying blame on everyone else to save their own skins. Their dear leader has thrown them to the wolves as all these meglomaniacs do. The snake eating its own tail. Eventually these nationalists run out of “enemies of the state” and begin to eat their own.

Jojo found that out.

I sure hope more fanatics do, too.

Until then, I take great comfort in films like these; World War II films where I already know the outcome, where I don’t have to guess or worry.

The stories where the Nazis always lose.

America’s Long Hangover

Good morning, America. Are you hungover? Honestly, I think I’ve been hungover since the 2000 election, which was a whopping 16 years ago. Two timelines diverged in a wood, and lo, we took the darker one, and here we are, America, perpetually drunk or hungover.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why nobody cared to show up to that election. We’d come off the prosperity of  Bill Clinton’s 90’s, artificially created by the deregulation of the banks that would eventually undo us all. While the Silicon Valley bubble had already burst, credit was still cheap and easy to come by (and would be until the great crash of 2008).  I know someone who was able to consolidate their student loans during this period at a 1% interest rate. I didn’t have a credit card with more than an 8% interest rate, with most of them coming in at 3-6%. It was a freewheeling time to be alive in America if you could get access to credit. But that bubble was set to burst. And when it did burst, we’d be at war, a war that still wages today.

When everything fell apart we didn’t have somebody at the helm smart enough to figure out what to do. War, instead, would have to solve everything for eight long years. No president is perfect, but Obama helped many of us dig out of that hole. Are things better for everyone? Well. They are better than they were in 2009, say, and they are better for pretty much everyone, though they may not remember it. At the very least, every American now has access to health insurance, whether they have pursued it or not. We are no longer barred from it for financial or medical reasons. But the war continues under Obama, as well as the nefarious spying on Americans, the dubious “war on terror” fought at home at abroad, blowing up kids in foreign countries and inciting anti-Muslim sentiment from coast to coast.

There continue to be “no more manufacturing jobs” which really, we haven’t had since the early 80’s, but my god, so many people continue to mourn them. There are far too many cities trying to woo them back instead of investing in something else. Invest in cell phone towers, IT startups, solar plants, fucking anything but fucking dead manufacturing jobs. We want an America that our grandparents had without the 90% tax rate on the rich that made that America possible. How do you think they paid for World War II? Taxes. It was still patriotic to pay taxes, then. We want that idea of America without making anyone pay for it.

Drunk or hungover, that’s America.

Many elections are characterized, in truth, by a lackluster amount of emotion. Nobody got excited about Bush or Kerry, or Bush or Gore (in part because Gore never talked about things he was passionate about but also see: false sense of prosperity. When you are mostly comfortable, what’s there to get excited about?). The second round Bush made, he was able to drum up the “war on terror” fear-mongering, and hey, that works. But so does Obama’s tact of going with hope. He ran on hope, and he won twice (legitimately, without having to call his brother in Florida to ask him to call the race for him). Hope can win, too. It’s why it’s so aggravating to watch an incompetent bankrupt narcissist run on fear, the oldest playbook, and use that emotion to pull so many people into his orbit. Worse is to watch him go up against the most qualified presidential candidate – maybe ever – who has been knocked down so many times she should not have kept going, but who is going anyway, and fuck you for getting in the way.

We forget that it was Hillary Clinton who was heading that first tentative effort at universal healthcare in the 90’s. And the GOP destroyed her for it. After that failed bid, she went back to safer “first lady” type things, like doing stuff for kids. Even though the very best thing anyone could have done for children and families in America was create universal healthcare (they did manage to expand coverage to cover a lot of kids). So she backed off, but she was not out. She was never out.

Grit.

Hillary Clinton’s dogged perseverance is a thing to behold. Whenever I’m feeling shit about my own life, and my own challenges, I remember that she’s fucking 68 years old, and has weathered the very worst that an entire political party can throw at her, and here she is, still going. The fact that she had to share a stage with some mediocre white man after literally dedicating her life to political service and the political game to prepare her for this moment is fucking insulting to women everywhere. Like, everywhere. Everywhere. Because we have all been in that place, where we’re more qualified than the dude talking over us, where we have better ideas, better work ethic, where we are simply better in every way, and we keep waiting for folks to see it while he froths and gesticulates and jacks off at a meeting, and you can’t lose your shit, even though he is, because while he will be called “passionate” for spitting angry shit at everyone, you’ll be called “emotional.” So you sit on your hands, and you wait for him to wear himself out, and you start again with reason and logic, even knowing that it’s emotion that wins arguments, not logic. And you do all this knowing that no matter how smart and logical you are, it’s very possible he could still win out, because people are fucking stupid. People are emotional. And yes, “People” includes men, there (a VP at a company I worked for threw a cup at a woman once. He was not fired, suspended, anything. Zilch).

That’s America, too, and that’s my own long hangover. Trying not to yell in meetings. Performance reviews where I’m told I’m, “too smart” and come across as “arrogant,” and all I could think was, “Shit, if I was a dude I’d be getting a huge raise right now.” Oh, certainly, things have worked out for me, too, as they have for Clinton. She’s a fucking major presidential nominee, after all. You don’t get there without moving some large mountains. But you remember the bullshit that wouldn’t be in your way if you were a dude. And she and I would have had a greater mountain of bullshit if we weren’t white, or cis.

Yet there is hope, here, for me and for her and for many of us, because even if this turns into some squalling nightmare, the dark-er, darkest-er, timeline… no, stop. Let’s not even go there.

THE DARK TIMELINE STOPS HERE.

AS KC Green says:

this-is-not-fine-004-4f0492

(updated comic here)

This is not fucking fine. Not one bit of this. Our perpetual drunken hangover is not fine. It’s no way to live. Being angry and scared all the time when we live in an era of unprecedented technological and social change, with a lower crime and murder rate than pretty much ever, is not fine. Falling for the same old fear-mongering bullshit, in every era, is not fine. Repeating the same old far-right hatemongering decade after decade, even and especially when people are still ALIVE who remember fighting against a people whose far-right xenophobia made it possible for them to systematically murder over 6 million people is not fine (and people are still ALIVE who were PART of this murdering).

As a student of history, I find that watching the same historical wheel turn again and again, watching humanity make the same mistakes again and again, really tiring. I get that Hillary Clinton does not represent a passionate positive emotion for people. She is not hopey-changey stuff. She is a tough politician. She will give us a continuation of Obama’s policies. We are voting in the current status quo. Which is SUPER better than the status quo of 2008, yeah. But the status quo is not super exciting. Sure, the path we’re on now is messy and taking forever and change is hard and mean and exhausting, but it’s happening. Because I’ll tell you what’s WORSE than the road we’re on, and that’s the road that leads to murderball, The Handmaid’s Tale, nuclear war with Russia, and internment camps.

Are we living in a dystopia? Sure. We are living in the 80’s Robocop future where corporations control everything because the government is too afraid to tax them and use the money on infrastructure, which would in turn create tons of jobs and improve not only the economy, but working class morale, too. Regan put us on this road in the 80’s, and we’ve never truly jumped back and realized the error of our ways. Deregulation, busting up unions, closing mental health facilities… none of those things was great for the middle class. They were great for rich people.

Yet strangest of all (or not, if you know history) we are living in a Robocop future where dissatisfied white people, in particular, put the blame for this future on immigrants, welfare fraud, and uppity non-white people instead of people like the millionaire running against Clinton who hasn’t paid his taxes in 14 years. I know how we got here, because it’s how we’ve always gotten here. What I want to understand is how we fix it, and how we fix it is the same way we did before:

We pitch hope instead of fear. Change instead of nostalgia.

Sure, the world is a big, scary place. Shit is moving incredibly fast. Snapchat has sunglasses that you can use to record things now, and it will succeed where Google Glass failed because the glasses actually look cool (also you can call them “specs” or “snap specs” and how cool is that). Also there are no more jobs with pensions and no job security but you can freelance any old fucking thing and telecommute from almost anywhere. Healthcare is expensive and can still put you into debt, but everyone can be insured now, which means you won’t get turned away. Also, we don’t have hookworms or other parasites anymore, most of us, and that’s pretty cool.

I mean, take what you can get.

But I’m not going to pitch more fear of the DARKER-EST timeline here, America. Instead, I’m going to tell you to stop drinking and wake the fuck back up (especially you, fellow white people). Wake the fuck up and start doing shit,and be brave, like these folks and these folks and her and fucking her, for God’s sake. And if you can’t fucking DO shit, then at least vote for an actual future. Show up and do the bare minimum and cancel the apocalypse.

There is a better world out there, but achieving it requires good people to actually do something. All it takes for the worst to come out in all of us is for good people to do nothing, and just keep drinking.

So which will you do?

future

 

Former NASA Engineer’s Comments on a Very Old Story

Old, but relevant, to me and many others my age. I remember watching this happen, and it turned me off becoming an astronaut forever:

“Well, the question was, did the cold weather (because it was a very, unusually cold day) affect the performance of the O-rings? Everyone was saying, “No, no, no!” because they were covering their rear ends. Richard Feynman, who was the Nobel Prize winner in physics, was on this commission. He took an O-ring and he stuck it in a glass of ice water, took it out, and snapped it. Then nobody could deny it. But all up the line, the management had just ignored the evidence. The reason is because Ronald Reagan was supposed to be doing his State of the Union speech that night. He wanted to be able to say, “We have civilians in space!” There was a lot of pressure to launch it. So they said, “We’re going to go ahead and launch it even though the weather’s too cold.” So, they went ahead and launched it, and it blew up. I felt like we had blown those people up—like we at NASA had failed those people. That completely took the wind out of my sails.”

I get so angry when politics trumps coming fucking sense.

First, they come for…

“I was Jewish. There was no doubt in my mind (what would happen). I left in 34. Hilter had taken over in 33. A girl… and a physicist… and Jewish. Well, that’s a combination that had no chance! (laughs) That was clear.”

-Hilde Levi, refugee physicist from Nazi Germany (from here)

Why We Love Stories About Sparta

With key Greek city-states in submission, Philip of Macedon turned his attention to Sparta and sent a message: “If I win this war, you will be slaves forever.”

In another version, Philip proclaims: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”

The Spartan ephors sent back a one word reply: “If.”

(from here)

They Came For…

“They came for the Communists, and I

didn’t object – For I wasn’t

a Communist;

They came for the Socialists, and I

didn’t object – For I wasn’t a Socialist;

They came for the labor leaders, and I

didn’t object – For I wasn’t a labor leader;

They came for the Jews, and I didn’t

object – For I wasn’t a Jew;

Then they came for me –

And there was no one left to object.”

Martin Niemoller, German Protestant Pastor,

1892-1984