Monday, May 22, 2017

twin peaks is the only thing that matters

I watched exactly one episode last night, and all I know is Coop looks like Glenn Danzig died and got reanimated by a malevolent tanning bed. What the heck is going on?!???! My twitter seems divided between people who love the new episodes and people who are unimpressed with the people who love them. The latter are dead to me.

David. Motherfucking. LYNCH. Fundamentally, that's a guy who just gets it. I'm a huge rube when it comes to movies but I have so much affection for this man. I know TV revivals are a dime a dozen these days, but I honestly can't believe I get to watch 18 new episodes of this show. How am I supposed to keep living my life for the next four months while it's on? All I want to do is watch Twin Peaks and think about it and watch it again and maybe stare at some pictures of David Lynch's perfect haircut. Have you ever seen an old-ass man with a haircut that good? That being said...four episodes? Are you fucking kidding me? I don't have the time management skills to watch this show. I can't figure out why Showtime would do this--it's almost certainly against Lynch's wishes--except that maybe the show is so elliptical they thought just two episodes wouldn't make enough of a splash? I'm probably the one fan on earth who resents this.

I'm old enough to have watched the original Twin Peaks when it was broadcast, though I was awfully young at the time. Maybe too young. I've rewatched it a few times since (though not recently), and it was quite surprising to me, as an adult, that it's still just as scary. I'm a big fan of scary stuff in theory but the problem is I can rarely find things that legitimately frighten me - and I think that's partly because Twin Peaks scared the bejesus out of me at a tender age. I guess it could've been worse. I was having dinner with an English friend a few months ago who told me that he could never get into David Lynch because back in his day, BBC2 syndicated Twin Peaks at like 6:00 in the afternoon on weekdays, so this whole generation of English children inadvertently watched Laura Palmer get got with their families right after tea because that's just what was on. This anecdote is especially amusing if you know anything about the tone of British television, which is exceptionally silly. Or at least it used to be - I guess they have all those top-shelf murder shows these days. Luther and whatnot. When I lived in London all English programming was basically like if Japanese game shows were more boring and uptight. Lots of man children. Almost every UK reality show is hosted by at least one unhinged manchild. Based on my last few visits to the UK I'd say roughly half its programming still involves either a manchild host and/or some random 1970s foodstuff. Anyway you always hear about how Twin Peaks was really shocking for network television in the U.S. at the time, and it was--but its psychological impact over in the UK must've been truly bananas.

What impressed me about the first episode of the new Twin Peaks was how frightening it was. Tonally, the opener felt very consistent with the original series, and I think that's because it sort of translated the old tone instead of replicating it. You know, it keeps you guessing in a way that wouldn't work if it was too close to the original. Lynch has this incredible ability to pick up where he left off, and I think the last four years of television history, with all its warmed-over revivals, speak to how truly impressive that is. This is technically the second time he's revived Twin Peaks...if there's any one moment in his career that I'd point to as masterful, it would be the way he came back and fixed the end of the original series. The show had gone to absolute shit, it was Japanese gameshow-level inanity, but trying to be super sinister and serious...and Lynch came in out of nowhere with (what was then) a series finale that was dead on. Just picked it right back up and it was perfect. Anyway, watching that first scene in the Red Room last night I had full-body chills. I really believe all the stuff Lynch talks about with the subconscious because his stories tap into something that's shared and visceral and wordless and authentic in a way that the adrenaline rush you get when you watch too much 24 or whatever just doesn't. Very, very frightening. Anyway I think that opener is maybe the most creeped out I've been watching something since Robert Blake called Robert Blake in Lost Highway.

So far I quite like the approach the show is taking to blending old and new. I really wondered how that would go. I was freaking out a little before the show started, seeing all the promos and how much the cast had aged. It's not often you see the ravages of time on an entire group of people like that, most of whom have been out of the public eye for 25 years, you know? Years ago I saw Audrey on Gilmore Girls and seeing those promos was the feeling I had watching that, but a lot more intense. Like it's bad enough we're all going to die without the part where you suddenly look like you ate your younger self, without managing to absorb any of your younger self's powers. Had a bit of a moment during the Log Lady's scene...I hadn't heard that she'd filmed anything for this, so for me it was a surprise. Last night I came across a statement that David Lynch made back when she died in 2015:
I don't know, I just find this statement perfect. "Solid gold." What did the world ever do to deserve David Lynch? So I have nothing intelligent to say about any of this. I'm just very grateful for that rare perfect feeling I get when it feels as though the world has conspired to give me a special treat. I can't wait for episode 2.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Remember the halcyon days of last month when I said it was pointless to write about Marvel and I wasn't going to do it anymore? Haha, surprise, welcome to my Marvel blog. I think I preferred the days when this was a COPRA blog, but it is what it is. Some people are blessed with beauty and fortune, some with happiness, and me, I just have all these good-ass opinions about the people who make a bunch of comics I don't read. This is normal. This is fine.

It feels like Spencergate--this blog's second, the first one having been Richard--has more or less run its course? I think I'm glad. There's something unsettling about quacking around in near total obscurity and then suddenly attracting a lot of eyes. I suppose the Spencer apologists who described my post as character assassination and a witch hunt failed to recognize that my audience is a bit...niche. I mean, look around. My last post was 'how fuckable is Chris Hayes.' I shouldn't be surprised by how little those people--mostly comics people!--seem to grasp about the power dynamics behind a post like that. It's not like I wrote with some big expectation that post would take off; in fact it seemed far more likely that I'd catch a lot of grief from Spencer himself, whose entire public persona is yelling at people on Twitter.

I've been watching him yell at people for the last year, seems like. I've watched how just saying his name Candymans him into your mentions...watched my peers try to get around it using constructions like N*ck Sp*ncer so they didn't have to deal with him...watched him (quite inadvertently, I think) stir up unhinged fans with his commentary on other Marvel stuff, like the thing with Chelsea Cain. Just for context, I watched a lot of that without really trying--without even following him on Twitter. That's how much of it there was. It just felt like part of the culture of talking about comics online, trying to avoid that guy.

I'd known about Spencer's shitty political career for a little while, but it was only last Monday that I came across a guy in Cincinnati blogging about how Spencer blocked black business owners from leasing property in Over-the-Rhine, blamed black radio station owners for a local shooting, etc. On some level, finding this whole blogging community from the early aughts who disliked the same guy in a totally different context than the one in which he's widely disliked now gave me a warm feeling about the world. But mostly it made me think about how this one time I watched Spencer try to explain Martin Luther King Jr. to a black comics critic. I thought about how rude and dismissive he's been to Jewish comics critics and fans around the whole Captain America thing, and how paternalistic and shitty he is to people in general, and how he yells at people about politics all the time, and that post almost wrote itself. The incredible thing is that Spencer seems to have stopped yelling at people, at least for the moment. In the time since the post, I've seen all sorts of people write his full name on Twitter--tag him, even!--without provoking him at all. Is this like when handlers try to hide Trump's phone?? Can people really discuss Marvel titles now without conjuring Spencer like Voldemort? His Twitter has been uncharacteristically calm and positive. I find it weirdly disconcerting.

Instead of taking to Twitter to yell about having been maligned, Spencer gave a point-by-point defense to Rich Johnston, who regurgitated it (badly) for Bleeding Cool under the guise of an editorial. Oh man, it cracks me up to picture Spencer sending Rich a novella-length email with all those links and Rich spending like 7 minutes transforming it into that article. Actually, just the way it was written, my guess is most of that was Rich's notes from a call. In any case, all the people who howled about how much Spencer has grown and changed over the last 12 years should take a long hard look at that post. It really tells the story, just not in the way they intended. It's honestly fascinating to me, these people who seem to think I was enacting some sort of leftist purity purge by digging up Spencer's views from 2005. I'm particularly floored by how they talk about 12 years ago like that was the 19th century or something. The Before Times. But if there's anything this experience has taught me it's that a lot of people remember 2005 differently than I do.

I mean, my post wasn't about who's "allowed" to...what? Be liberal online, I guess? I'm on the bully beat, and have little to no interest in political purity. But if I were interested in that sort of thing...pretty sure he's fairly conservative, haha. I guarantee you Spencer would be out there defending that old city council platform vociferously if someone hadn't advised him to sit this one out.

On some level, though, honestly I get it. The past is a queasy place for everyone in one way or another, and public shaming is real (though not in the Jon Ronson sense of the phrase). I mean, if you dig deep enough on me, you'll find that I legitimately like the Dave Matthews Band. My last post was about the fuckability of an MSNBC anchor. Everyone's got their own shameful shit. But there's a difference--a really big one, I think--between analyzing a politician's campaign and dredging the livejournal of a private citizen to assess how woke they were in 2005. Pretty sure I would never have even thought to do the latter.

On the other side of the spectrum, I felt a little weird about people using my post to say that Spencer's a nazi (he's not) or because they think he should be fired for having been a conservative politician in 2005 (he shouldn't). I mean, I do think there's a connection between his political past and the way he aggressively polices conversations about politics and art and Marvel Comics, and probably also some connection with the comics themselves, but I don't think it's simple or direct. If Spencer were to get fired--and that's not really the right word, is it? he's not staff--it should be because the comic failed (to sell copies, to serve the brand, whatever) or because he's a dick to people all the time--something more along those lines. (And from what I've heard about the numbers, Captain America really is failing.) I certainly didn't conceive of my post as leading some charge for him to be fired, a topic on which I don't even have a real opinion. Believe it or not, I don't fully get the outrage over the current Captain America storyline. I don't read that comic, probably never will, and even if I did that's not the kind of thing I see myself caring about. I guess I just support people's right to be mad about it in ways I don't understand. I don't really see any scenario in which being mad online about Capt. America being a nazi would be some grave encroachment on artistic freedom...? But I have seen very clearly how Spencer's behavior stifles the ability of fans and critics to talk about not just his comics, but also his entire milieu.

Yet one of the things Spencer constantly asserts is that fan entitlement threatens his autonomy as an artiste. It's an interesting stance given that Marvel surely has had some input into his work. On the other hand we have the insufferable men of indie comics who dismiss Captain America as a corporate property that has no real artistic value anyway. (Those guys are almost worse.) What both sides of that spectrum miss is that these iconic characters are so embedded in pop culture that they don't just belong to Marvel or whoever happens to be writing his story that day; they belong to everybody. You find yourself the steward of something like that, you'd do well to handle it with some degree of care. But messing around with things is sort of Marvel's business model, from what I've's that thing that walking comics encyclopedia Colin Spacetwinks talks about all the time, where they chase short-term sales at the expense of longevity. Anyway I just think Marvel's fighting a losing battle in denying fans' co-ownership. It's fandom that makes Captain America who he is, and that's why I'm on the side of outraged fans even when I'm not really sure about the specific points they're arguing.

I mean, isn't having customers who feel emotionally invested in your products the holy grail of trying to sell people stuff? Instead of leveraging that emotional investment, Marvel frames it as a real thorn in their side. They're so exasperated! Is it me, or is that utterly fucking stupid? How many businesses out there do you see mocking and belittling their customers for being passionate about their products? How many executives are out there constantly arguing with customers about what's best for them? How many contractors name-search themselves on Twitter so they can argue with people about the company they freelance for, or just politics in general? Not very many! Generally, people don't do that...first of all, because it's weird and unprofessional, but more broadly because it's bad for business. I'd go so far as to say that most high-level business types probably try to listen to and even value their customers' feedback. Is fanboy culture so entrenched in comics that Marvel's entire marketing plan is to yell at people until their senior staff members all rage quit and/or start having massive cardiac events?

When the Spencer post started blowing up I was having lunch with a friend who told me a really good story. I think it was about a lot of things but maybe the thing it was most about is what it means to be a good person--what you put out into the world, and what it gives you back. This story felt very heavy to me, not because I find myself to be a terrible person or anything, but because I've always wished I were more positive, more generous, more charitable. I don't know exactly how to put it, but I guess I wish I had a little more light. That isn't who I am, constitutionally. Inevitably, when I write one of these bully-beat pieces someone will tell me to get off my high horse, and it's just fucking weird, sort of uncanny really, because very often that's exactly what I imagine myself to be saying to whoever it is that I'm writing about. Takedowns (or whatever you want to call them) are important, and they absolutely have their place. I think comics needs more of them. But I wouldn't recommend them to anyone who's hoping to reinforce some idea of themselves as a good person. If anything they cost you something. I find myself thinking about that lately--what I'm putting out into the world, and what I'm getting back.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

a primer on nick spencer's shitty politics

Nick Spencer is a freelance writer for Marvel Comics who decided to make Captain America a nazi for some reason. Over the last year or so, he's feigned shock at the negative feedback he's been getting from fans because...I don't know...censorship, or something? At least that's his most recent stance in what has been a yearlong parade of incoherent tweets and interviews about how his comic relates to the real world and how the people who criticize his art and politics are somehow stirring up real-life violence against him, oppressing creators, ruining comics for everyone, etc.

A thing I've noticed about arguing with Nick Spencer is that it's very boring, and also pointless. But at the same time, watching him argue with other people becomes a lot more interesting when you've made even a cursory examination of Spencer's past as a failed politician in Cincinnati, Ohio. His shitty politics have a bearing--even if it's not necessarily direct--on his Capt. America storyline, his incessant tweeting (particularly with regard to diversity issues at Marvel), his vocal critique of the badass patriot who punched nazi publicist Richard Spencer in the face, and even Marvel's attitude toward the Captain America blowback in general. The problem is that information about Nick Spencer the Politician is sort of a pain in the ass to find because we're talking about 2003 to 2005-era Internet...about politics in Cincinnati...much of which appeared on his campaign blogs, which he has since deleted.

I'm not here to offer any analysis about Capt. America because let's be real: I don't care. This post is just a quick resource for anyone who's interested in Spencer's political past, but doesn't feel inclined to dig around for it. Most of it is in Nick Spencer's own words.

Before we get going, a quick FAQ:

Are you suggesting that Nick Spencer is a nazi?
No. But I see fascist tendencies in his call to eliminate social services in Cincinnati to fund the rapid expansion of broken-window policing. 

What are his politics, then?
Spencer identifies as liberal these days, but in 2005, when he called himself a Republican, his political platform was rooted in elitism, white fear, and subjugating small-time criminals. The running themes I see now that he's "liberal" are a blind faith in authority, pathological self-involvement, and a weird persecution complex. 

Are you biased?
Yes! Nick Spencer is an asshole. 

I. Background
Nick Spencer ran for a seat on the Cincinnati City Council in 2003 and 2005. He lost both times, coming in 21st and 17th place, respectively. He had a website for both campaigns, got some press (local and national), and was part of a vibrant community of unhinged bloggers around the Cincinnati area.

II. Political Platform
This post focuses on Spencer's 2005 campaign, when his platform was eliminating human services in Cincinnati, beefing up its police force, expanding its jails, and ridding its streets of criminals and homeless people.

In terms of primary sources, first and foremost we have "Fighting for a Safer Community," Spencer's "detailed Action Agenda for taking on the criminals terrorizing our streets." This is an official document from his 2005 campaign. Note that all quotes in this section are from that doc unless otherwise noted, and the ital is always mine.

"Cincinnati's Neighborhoods are under attack," Spencer wrote. "As an Over-the-Rhine resident and business owner, I've seen firsthand what violent crime and drugs can do to destroy a neighborhood. I've gone up against the dealers and thugs in an effort to clean up my block and make it safe for my customers, my friends, and my loved ones. I'm tired of seeing this lawless disregard for order, and I won't rest until I've made all of our neighborhoods safe again."

Here's how Spencer proposed to make Cincinatti's neighborhoods more safe:
  • Hire more police. "On Council, I will propose adding at least 200 new recruits to the ranks of our police department, over the next 4-5 years."
  • Adopt Rudy Giuliani's broken-window policing strategies. 
    • Spencer wanted to crack down on "quality of life" crimes (which he sort of misdefined, but whatever). 
      • "When violent crimes are often the most noticed, the reality is that most violence springs from illicit trades referred to as 'Quality of Life' crimes. In order to prevent more homicides and shootings, our city must adopt a zero tolerance policy towards drug dealing, prostitution, car break-ins and theft, and curfew violations. ... I will propose increased penalties for drug and prostitution crimes, and will work with the police ttake back our neighborhoods through anti-drug barricades, undercover vice efforts, and crime sweeps."  
    • Spencer wanted to implement CompStat, the software that was developed under Giuliani in conjunction with stop and frisk and broken-windows policing in New York City. 
      • Here's Spencer: "The [CompStat] program collects, analyzes and electronically maps crime and quality of life data in breathtaking detail, helping the Police determine where to deploy their resources most effectively. The Cincinnati Neighborhood Support Center, a non-profit group, has offered to coordinate a full Compstat evaluation of the city. I will work to provide funding for this initiative...."
    • Spencer wanted to beef up police surveillance.
      • "I will push to give police and neighborhood safety groups the tools they need to disrupt and destroy the corner drug trade that's slowly killing many of our neighborhoods. Through new technology like surveillance cameras and gunshot sensors...we can reclaim our corners."
  • Expand jailing capacity. Once Spencer helped implement more aggressive policing of Cincinnati's most troubled neighborhoods (which were already quite aggressively--and ineffectively--policed), the city was going to need more room for all those newly minted criminals. 
    • No problem! Here's Spencer: "Criminals are being released for serious crimes like drug dealing and prostitution just moments after their initial arrest. I will work with the County Government to find a suitable site for a new jail facility...."
  • Totally defund social services. Spencer knew that those 200 new police officers he planned to hire weren't going to come cheap. His idea? Cut social services funding for the city in its entirety. 
    • "To help pay for these staffing increases ($8.6 million per year)...I will also propose elimination of the Human Services Budget (typically $4 million per year), with the dollars instead going to payroll for safety employees."
  • Displace squatters. Spencer wanted to create (or expand?) a "Blight Team" to root squatters out of buildings. 
    • "We must crack down on absentee landlords who offer safe haven to the criminals terrorizing our streets. ... I will work to expand and strengthen City Hall's Blight Team, which is responsible for targeting troubled buildings throughout the city and enforcing building and code violations."
  • Use eminent domain to relocate homeless shelters and services out of the neighborhood where he lived and worked. Per Cincinnati CityBeat, Spencer's 2005 campaign blog called on the mayor of Cincinnati to use eminent domain against Mary Magdalene House (a homeless shelter) and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.
    • Here's Spencer: "It's time to stop playing around and get tough here. ... The city must use all of its powers to protect the civic and financial investments that have been made in the area. The glut of social services that encourage panhandling in the district must be addressed."
    • You read that correctly. Nick Spencer described organizations dedicated to helping homeless people as a "glut of social services that encourage panhandling." 

III. Gentrification Efforts and Racist Blogging
If you poke around the materials surrounding Nick Spencer's failed political career for long enough, you'll notice that when he touts his leadership in the community, he talks about "rebuilding" (i.e., gentrifying) Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood where he lived and worked. Over-the-Rhine was of course at the center of the Cincinnati riots of 2001, which followed the acquittal of the white police officer who murdered Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black teenager. The riots left a big impression on Spencer--not as a symbol of racial inequity in his city, but for their economic impact on Over-the-Rhine (both in terms of property damage during the riots themselves, and the boycott of downtown businesses that followed). Economic prosperity was an important issue to Spencer, who (along with some other guys) owned an Over-the-Rhine bar called alchemize (lowercase a), where he used to spin tunes once a month under the moniker of DJ Nick.

In his writings, Spencer frequently attributed all the lawlessness and blight he saw in the streets of Over-the-Rhine to "thugs" and "prostitutes." This is how Spencer conceived of economic and racial disparities in the rapidly gentrifying area of downtown Cincinnati: (black) thugs and prostitutes vs. (white) business owners like him who had dedicated themselves to the virtuous cause of "revitalization" (i.e., making money). In his official campaign materials he's careful to totally scrub these issues of any mention of race, though anyone who knows anything about broken-window policing can read between the lines easily enough. But Spencer was much more explicit about who exactly he sees as the criminal class on his blog, where he frequently let his hair down and got racist af.
  • Here's Nick Spencer blaming a local shootout on a black radio station owner and a rap song (about racial profiling, of all things): 
Just to be clear, African-American Ross Love was a radio station owner in Cincinnati (though not at the time of that shootout, according to the blog where I found these Nick Spencer quotes), and "Ridin'" is a rap about police brutality against black people. They weren't related to the shooting in any way.
  • Here's Spencer blaming the same shootout on random black club owners: 
The above is just one example of how Spencer routinely characterizes black people as "drug dealers." These club owners didn't have anything to do with the shootout he's talking about, either.
  • Here's Spencer talking about his plans to spearhead a community effort to block the same black club owners from leasing a space in Over-the-Rhine:
  • Here's Spencer making fun of a black mother for worrying about the way in which the police handled the arrest of her 18-year-old child: 

"Hilarious." --Nick Spencer on police brutality

IV. Spencer's Persecution Complex
Nick Spencer wanted to terrorize, incarcerate, and otherwise displace poor people and small-time criminals first and foremost for business reasons, but he also believed that his personal safety was on the line. Personal safety is another running theme you'll notice if you take the time to look at what Nick Spencer has written over the years. Take, for example, this early 2005 blog post in which Spencer seems to believe that he was being pursued by a cabal of "drug dealer and hooker" assassins:

His paranoid campaign to paint (presumably) unarmed criminals as violent psychopaths who were hellbent on ruining his life continued through the remainder of his campaign. Check out this incredible excerpt from "Spencer Under Siege," a June 2005 article from CityBeat:

Note the invocation of an imaginary gun: "When the pimp reached into a corner trash can, Spencer thought that he was going for a stashed gun. He drove off before seeing what came up in the man's hand."

V. Conclusions 
The intersection of art and the political ideologies of creators is far from straightforward. I leave you to your own conclusions. I just want to state for the record that Nick Spencer's political campaign in 2005 involved a proposal to eliminate all human services in the city of Cincinnati in order to fund the brutalization, imprisonment, and/or relocation of the poor black people that he worried were devaluing his bar and threatening his safety. He also, behind the scenes, routinely lobbed ludicrous allegations of responsibility against black business owners regarding crimes that they plainly had nothing to do with. Ultimately, Nick Spencer "revitalized" downtown Cincinnati by getting evicted, stiffing contractors, and moving to another state to begin his new life as a comics writer. He now spends his days writing stories about how Captain America is a nazi and feeling persecuted by social justice warriors and comics critics on Twitter dot com.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

(not a) book report

Huh. I meant to publish some version of this a week or two ago but turns out I didn't. This is all part of my promise to you--to innovate new, exciting ways to make this content less and less compelling.

I've had to read way more books than usual for work lately, and also have had a few travel things, and as a result have read nearly nothing for fun. PATHETIC. I'm even behind on the Chester Brown/Dave Sims whore feud, if that tells you anything. Desperate to catch up on that asap. (Is no one else in comics going to cover this whore feud? Do I have to do everything myself around here?? How does Tim Hodler always manage to pick the most boring parts when he links to whore feud??) To make things worse all the books I've had to read for work have sucked, except for the new Chris Hayes, which was pretty good. I recommend it. It left me feeling a little confused about Chris Hayes, though. Q: Is Chris Hayes hot? This is something I've always wondered about a little, and mostly came down on the side of him being smart-hot, and also somewhat hot-hot. But this book has all these anecdotes about his own white fragility that are...I don't know...sort of noble? (not the right word)...but also profoundly not hot, so I guess I'm revising my opinion. Ugh, I haven't felt this confused since the first time I heard Snowden talk.

Here are a few things I've been reading or thinking about lately.

Small Time Comics by Simon Hanselmann
Apparently Simon Hanselmann is doing gossip comics. I didn't even know gossip was a genre but I'm dying to know more because that is extremely my shit.

This particular gossip comic is making fun of All Time Comics, and I love it with everything I got. Has anyone here read Portraits? I'd very much like to know more about the gossip in that. Here's a piece of gossip I picked up from reading the comments at tcj dot com: Josh Bayer canceled his interview there after Dan Nadel wrote that one-paragraph review that everyone lost their minds over. I really wish Nadel would take a page from Hanselmann's book and gossip more in his posts. I know he's got it in him.

This is neither here nor there but one time ages ago Simon Hanselmann tweeted a picture of a literal plate full of puke (captioned "woke up and found this big plate of puke in the corner," or something to that effect) and I think about it all the time. Haunted by that plate of puke.

The Dirtbag Left's Man in Syria at NY Mag
Oh look, it's a long feature on @PissPigGranddad, a twitter user who I just assumed was fake but actually is a twentysomething who went to go fight in Syria for some reason. This article reads as parody but it's not. I don't know, I find the world to be extremely disorienting these days. Like...this is for real??
What I don't get about this article is that it never answers the most basic questions i have about @PissPigGranddad, such as had he ever even shot a gun before he went over there? And was he scared at all? What was up with his boxing ring? Is he just a violent person or what? The only part I found relatable was where he talked about how much he hates Prairie Home Companion.

I think ultimately this is a profile about someone who's trying very hard to be interesting, yet maybe the most interesting part is how people don't really acknowledge that about him at all. Is it altruistic to go fight in Syria if you don't have any military experience? Or just fucking stupid? Truly the world may never know.

David Lynch in the Beautiful World of Twin Peaks by Sean O'Neal
This isn't the best article on David Lynch I've ever read--some of those quotes weren't that interesting and putting them as epigraphs for the subsections is just lazy--but it really underlined my favorite thing about David Lynch, which is his weird wholesome attitude. When he describes something good as "money in the bank"--I love that! I love that so much. I'm rereading parts of Lynch on Lynch in preparation for May, and "money in the bank" is one of the first things he says in there, too. I really want to start saying "money in the bank" but I'm worried I can't pull it off. :(

Oh, this is actually an interesting thing I've had to read for work: Big Fish, DL's book on transcendental meditation. I've been thinking I'm going to try meditation one of these days? Bad nerves.

Louis CK and Dave Chapelle's new comedy specials
Well...I watched them. Or at least I watched almost all of the Louis CK one and the first episode of Chapelle. They're interesting to consider together. The premise of Louie's seems to be that he set out to be Offensive, so you can just about guess how that turned out. Like, one of the jokes is that he talks in a voice that sounds black person's voice, but then he says it was actually a Chinese person's voice. OK. I think this is what happens when you get too famous to test your material in front of a crowd. Like, maybe he still tests stuff out on people, but he's just too famous to bomb? That's my theory. The first 20 minutes were about abortion, and it was almost unbearable sitting there with other people, watching how not funny that was. Then there's a whole segment where he mimes fingering a girl. You might have thought his manager would say, hey man, you know, your name's still popping up here and there with all these pervert allegations, so you might not want to do this whole graphic thing about fingering a girl. A few months ago I saw an ad for an event in Chicago that was an air sex contest. Like an air guitar contest, but people fucking the air? This looked exactly like that ad, with the same "this is a joke but actually I'm being weirdly serious about it" vibe. The funny parts that I remember were about adopting a dog and this one really great bit about Magic Mike. I haven't even seen that movie, but I'm going to watch it now just so I can appreciate that bit more. I never understood why people were obsessed with that movie until I saw this bit.

Chapelle's first special was decent, though there was something unsettling about how he spent the entire set stroking his stomach like a pregnant woman. It seems to have generated a lot more negative buzz than the Louis special, which is interesting. Three stars on Netflix, which seems harsh. The trans jokes you've heard about are bad. Real bad. I'm not sure if people actually found those funny (in his audience, where it flashes to people laughing, it sure looks like they do...) or if people just feel a strong sense of goodwill towards Dave Chapelle, and just feel happy to see him on a stage and are going to laugh at his jokes no matter what. One of his (many) bad trans riffs is about how trans people have it so easy? Like...that's your joke? Even if you set aside political correctness, these are bad jokes in that most humor is about being observational, and these are just incorrect observations. To me the problem with both of these specials is that they feel out of touch. Louie, I think maybe he's just getting old, and going through that phase of a straight white dude's comedy career where he feels like he's got something to prove, offensiveness wise. (I think personally I found those 'why doesn't my wife want to fuck' jokes from much earlier in his career a lot more offensive, but oh well.) Chapelle...some of what he played as "out of touch" felt more deliberate to me. Like when transposed the letters of LGBTQ--that really felt like he was doing that on purpose. Chapelle's a very smart guy and I think it's a mistake to assume he said any of that out of pure ignorance or whatever. Anyway my favorite part of the Chapelle special was this complex story about how much his son admires Kevin Hart. There were a lot of levels to it, emotionally. On the surface it's a story about how Chapelle feels jealous but the whole unspoken thing that makes the bit is that he's superior to Kevin Hart. Chapelle knows it, and he knows that we know it too. I was really into that. One thing I really enjoy about Chapelle 2.0 is that he's really into his own excellence. It'd be nice if he'd stop being such a dick though. That, and stroking his stomach. That really bugs me for some reason.

Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir tour
In what may be the absolute dorkiest thing I've ever done (lol, yeah right), a few weeks ago I made a list of my favorite Magnetic Fields songs. No real reason--I guess that's my idea of fun. Actually it was an interesting exercise. You really get to know yourself, picking out your favorite MF songs. Mainly I learned that I'm even more insufferable than I imagined. I definitely don't recommend this exercise.

Yet another way in which the Magnetic Fields make me feel bad about myself is that I've never felt so old at a show in my entire life as the two nights I spent at this concert. First of all there were actual multiple generations of families who attended this show together, and at least two actual children in attendance. I saw one family that was plainly grandparents, parents, and kids having a big night out together. I guess some people might find that cute but to me it was totally unacceptable. Also, both nights there was an intermission? Admittedly I was into that part but still.

The whole thing with this tour is they're playing the album straight through, in its entirety, over the course of two nights. I hadn't yet heard the album and I think that was a good decision, because there are a lot of little jokes that were funnier that way. There's, for instance, a very sweet song about a melodramatic cat that he chased around as a toddler and all these funny songs about when he became obsessed with synthesizers as a teenager. There was a song about how much he hates Sasha Frere-Jones that really spoke to me. There's a lot to be said about the autobiographical aspect. Even though Merritt is a lot more interested in fiction than a lot of songwriters, I think there's always been a lot of him in his songs. Like, if you never heard him talk, but you listened to his entire catalog, I think you could piece together a fairly accurate portrait of who Stephin Merritt is? Anyway.

the Chicago years from David Sedaris's forthcoming diary
Also relevant to anyone who's interested in autobiography: David Sedaris is about to publish his diaries.

I love David Sedaris and I very much look forward to reading his diary.

"All Your Favorite Cartoon Characters Are Black" by Sarah Hagi
This is the most fascinating thing I've read in a essay about which cartoon characters that black people understand to be black, which Hagi posits has something to do with a lack of diversity in kids' entertainment. Makes sense. My favorite part was the writer's list of black cartoon characters:
Some of these make a lot of sense (eg, Babar), but Elmo? Luigi?? I find the latter especially interesting since he's human. I wish this author would write a book on this and expand on this list in detail, because I want to know more.

Mallory Ortberg on thrash grass
I'm really enjoying Mallory Ortberg's newsletter. TinyLetter is such a nice format for some writers, isn't it? I think it has to be the right fit. I could never do one. In a recent one she linked to this thrash grass video, which is bluegrass and thrash metal hybrid, and it's the funniest thing I've seen in a while:

"It's so gloriously and beautifully dumb," she writes, "and there is a gorgeous sort of intently focused male dumbness that feels like comes directly from God to entertain me, and this is that kind of male dumbness. I firmly believe these dudes to be God's jesters."

"The Faces Behind Craigslist's 'Strictly Platonic' Personal Ads @ the New Yorker
A photographer took portraits of people to be paired with the text from their craigslist ads.

Fascinating, melancholy, etc.

"Nick Cave: I have turned a corner and wandered on to a vast landscape" @ the Guardian
An interesting piece about what Nick Cave's been up to lately. I noticed in that movie he had last year that the way he talks about life now is verrrry similar to the way I see it:

Also in one of the dumb books I had to read for my job (a memoir about meditation by that smarmy guy on Nightline), I had the weird realization that my entire worldview is basically Buddhism minus all the supernatural parts?? Seems like that's maybe something I should've realized, but whatever. You learn something new every day.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

other people's stories

Last week, in rural New Jersey, my little nephew took me to visit an alpaca farm. I mean, technically, his mother took us both, but it was his idea, spiritually. He’s not quite three years old and I’ve never met someone so fully on my level. About a week before the visit my sister got a call from the farmer, who was sure it was going to rain. (It did.) “The alpacas don’t like getting wet,” he told her. We don’t either so she changed the day. Farmer Nick thought the visit was for my nephew, but the occasion was in fact my birthday. We got there early, and as we waited the herd regarded us with benign curiosity. We were aliens who had landed outside their pen, and I loved them so much I thought I might die.  

This particular birthday was not one of the unsettling momentous ones, but the one before that—the kind that really make u think. That morning my nephew bounded into my room at the crack of dawn with a balloon he’d picked out at the grocery store. He had already told me about it when I was still in Chicago, but still. It was a good day, a long one, and just before I went to sleep I looked at my phone for the first time in a while and realized that, while we were at dinner, the U.S. had fired 59 missiles into Syria, in retaliation for the government’s use of sarin. I know a lot about sarin because I watch Homeland on Showtime. Part of me wishes I didn’t.

The first story is the alpacas: Ella, Titan, Clarisse, Olé. Fifteen of them in all, including the weird horny one who had to be kept separate from the others and the one who bit me, Angelina. I was a little mad at her even though it didn’t hurt. Farmer Nick told me the poufs on top of alpacas’ heads are called topknots, which is the most perfect fact. I don’t have a framework for the number 59. Is that a lot, as these things go? Brian Williams quoted Leonard Cohen and I was so tired I thought I surely misunderstood. That’s always my first thought: maybe it’s me. It almost never is.

There’s this thinness to things I’ve always felt, I don’t know how else to explain it. There’s a membrane between the life I lead and infinite almost-lives I could have led or might lead yet, and it’s impossibly delicate, like a soap bubble. It’s weird to know. In a month or two Nick will shear the alpacas except for their topknots, and some lady will use the fleece to make dolls in their likeness to be sold in the farm’s little shop. Angelina’s effigy costs $24, and her topknot is perfectly rendered. It takes the lady about four hours to make. Sometimes the alpacas hum to one another—the real ones, not the dolls—but Nick doesn’t know what it means.

Here's Tucker Stone on getting clean, a thing I read right before my trip. I see myself in his story, even though it’s different. I know what it’s like to look for the line between giving yourself some credit and romanticizing your worst mistakes. I don’t have a story about that time really, at least not a narrative that’s firmed up in the way the stories that you tell people about yourself tend to do. Some stuff happened, and then I got into the sort of thing that men mythologize in their important novels, or women do on nighttime dramas about sexual murder. You know how it is. At the time I valued nothing, least of all myself, and I didn’t have an adult who was in a position to help me see past what would prove to be a moment in time. I couldn’t have known, just for instance, I’d have this funny little nephew. Back then the future wasn’t for me, and now the past is something I can’t quite relate to. We have our routines, but they change. Every morning Nick bangs on a trashcan to let the alpacas know it’s time for breakfast, and they come bounding down a short dirt run with hilarious urgency. Those alpacas love to eat.

When I got home from New Jersey I watched the Walking Dead season finale. It was uplifting, with last-minute saves and a tiger who eats some bad guy’s fucking face. You know things are bad when the Walking Dead seems hopeful. Historically, its finales, like every other episode of that show, have been bleak stories about death and dread and the relentless way in which the world will beat you down. Well, not this time. A few months ago I read that the producers thought the real world was so messed up that they needed to dial it back and give people a break. The day before I watched the tiger maul the bad guy a reality television star decided to drop a 22,000-pound bomb on Afghanistan. I don’t know what to think about that, but I’m still mad as hell that they killed Glenn. Ugh, imagine thinking Rick’s some kind of hero. The tragedy of that show is that Rick Grimes will never die.

It’s curious to me, the stories people find inspiring. Last summer I went to a museum completely dedicated to the Kon-Tiki expedition, which is the one where a deluded Norwegian sailed on a raft from South America to Polynesia. 4,300 miles on the least impressive log raft you’ve ever seen in your life. One of the first things you see in the museum is this plaque:

I’m not sure how long I stood there staring at it, but it was a while. This fucking guy. I found myself thinking about James T. Kirk for some reason—Chris Pine’s version. I guess I’d recently watched one of the Star Treks. But more generally I was thinking about white guys who do crazy things they plainly should not do, against the advice of literally everyone, and somehow it all works out for them and we call that heroic. I have this theory that maybe it’s not.

This season Walking Dead had an episode about a white guy like that. Some soldier, I don’t remember his name. He was gunning for war with another group of survivors, and to get the ball rolling his big idea was to get himself murdered in the dumbest, most melodramatic way possible. It didn’t work and he ended up getting this gentle teen murdered instead. Morgan, a principled pacifist who loved the gentle teen, pieced together what happened and confronted the soldier, who made a condescending speech about how he’s going to lead their army to victory, and Morgan had better fall in line. It brought tears to his own eyes. Morgan took this in in total silence and then, later, without warning, murdered the soldier--brutally, with his bare hands. At first you think he’s had a psychotic break because he hates this soldier so much, which would have been fair, but then Morgan starts echoing back parts of the soldier’s speech to the bad guys and you realize he’s made this clever move to gain their trust and therefore the advantage. I’m obviously not explaining this well at all but trust me, it was incredible.

After the bad guys leave, Morgan tells the whole story about how the soldier got the gentle teen killed. We know it’s true because we just watched it all unfold but truly, he sounds out of his mind. Ezekiel (the guy with the tiger) believes Morgan immediately, like doesn’t experience a single second of doubt even though Morgan sounds like a lunatic. It’s this implicit trust between two black men who deeply respect each other. Twenty minutes before I had watched that soldier give his condescending speech to Morgan and thought: here’s a guy whose deluded machismo has worked for him his whole life. A guy who’s absolutely bonkers, but in this way that’s been coded as heroic. Now he’s running around getting people killed because he thinks he knows best, and no one calls him on it, ever, because it’s invisible to them. (This guy was a total Rick, come to think of it.) But Morgan saw. And then Ezekiel, and by extension the audience. I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent because what do I know about the black experience, but I know what it’s like to watch guys like that soldier walk around, impervious to critique, while they assume that you’re incompetent or dumb or crazy when you try to tell them the most basic things you know and believe. If you’re not careful you’ll come to make those assumptions about yourself.

When Morgan repurposes the soldier's words, the implication is that he—not the soldier—will lead the resistance. But then there’s another turn: the final scene is about Carol, this middle-aged lady who the soldier had wanted to sacrifice to the bad guys in yet another dumb complicated plan that didn’t work out. (Long story.) Carol’s the most heroic, capable person on the show by a mile, but people outside her core group constantly underestimate her; it’s one of the few subtle themes the show conveys really well. So anyway Carol’s walking around and it’s suddenly clear that she’s going to be the one who leads Ezekiel’s army. It’s the opposite of the dead soldier’s crazy plan, a reversal that is absolutely earned and perfect. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much it moved me, seeing this clichéd white guy savoir story turned on its head by these two characters. I don’t mean to make the Walking Dead sound too good—it’s often terrible, and even the episode I’m talking about had some problems—but occasionally it blows me away. You know, alpacas aren’t prone to violence, Angelina’s zombie chomp notwithstanding. While we were walking around Nick’s farm, every once in a while an alpaca would just drop in the dirt, giddy, and roll around like a dog. Apparently this is how they style their hair.

Peter Quinn’s my favorite character on Homeland, or maybe anything. I get why people hate that show, but the acting is really something to see. Rupert Friend (that’s Quinn) is the best, in my opinion, and I say that as someone who’s crazy about Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes. Quinn’s whole thing this season was recovering from a brain injury caused by sarin. Nerve gas was a big storyline last year. Quinn talked about it at great length; in fact, I think he used more words just explaining sarin than he’s used all the other times he's ever talked on the show put together. He’s not the kind of guy to give a speech.

Last year Quinn showed his terrorist friend a sarin attack on YouTube not so long before his terrorist enemies gassed him (and put that on YouTube). Life comes at you fast, as they say. He convulses and foams at the mouth, and it’s awfully hard to watch. Very graphic. The show has gotten a lot of mileage out of that scene; if you watch the series you’ve sat through it at least a dozen times, like the show is stuck in this recursive loop of a spectacle it manufactured itself. Homeland is very true to life in that way. At one point Quinn watches himself foam at the mouth on Carrie’s phone. You wouldn’t believe Rupert Friend in that scene. Jesus Christ, he is tremendous. Anyway Quinn should’ve died but he’d been given a partial vaccine or something? The writing on that show isn’t always that great.

More than a quarter of the 80-some casualties in the Syrian sarin attack were children. It’s a horrible way to die, Quinn told his terrorist friend, and that was striking because, seriously, he’s seen some shit. In New Jersey a Sesame Street balloon bopped gently around my room as I watched the clip of Brian Williams quoting Leonard Cohen. Cookie Monster, my favorite. Sometimes I find it hard to track what’s going on, to hold the threads, to find a coherent narrative arc. I crunched the numbers: 86 people, two dozen children, 59 missiles. Fifteen alpacas and, later, one big 22,000-pound bomb. The truth is I’m very bad at math. Around half a million people have been murdered in Syria since 2011. The reality television star was eating one beautiful piece of chocolate cake. I was eating chocolate cake that night, too, actually, because it was my birthday. But I had two pieces.

Peter Quinn was a CIA assassin. His spiritual predecessor, Nicholas Brody, was also a murderer, but he was tortured for eight years in Afghanistan so it doesn’t really count. Brody was sort of annoying, to be honest, but in Quinn Homeland found a way to make this messed-up nightmare killer a very sensitive subtle character, and that was years before his injury. Carrie: another complex portrait of moral ambiguity. Beautifully written. Some estimates say that Muslims account for more than 90 percent of terrorist fatalities, but that’s not the world you see on Homeland. I’d ask how that show has never believed in itself enough to make the death of a single brown person mean something in six seasons of being on the air, but that’s math that even I know how to do.

This season Quinn struggled to come to terms with his brain injury, and watching it was sort of unbearable. We have a brain injury in my family, so in a way I’d been watching for most of my life. Drunk driving is a lot like sarin, as it turns out, except for the degree to which the government cares to address it. Carrie’s self-righteousness in the face of her own inadequacy was so familiar that sometimes watching her made me want to puke. A lot of Quinn’s story was nuanced and true in a way you just don’t see on TV. He thought he had nothing to offer but you could so plainly see all the ways in which he was wrong. I bristled when some small-hearted recapper at the New York Times wished he would just go back to normal. God, I was absolutely fucking furious. You know, actually, I’m still really mad. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to acknowledge that I said something very similar about Quinn to my sister just the day before. Sometimes you glimpse a piece of yourself in someone you don’t wish to be. But it’s only a piece.

Representation is a thing we hear about a lot these days, and there are those who mock calls for it as though it’s some childish form of narcissism to hope to see yourself in other people’s stories. More than our literal reflections I think stories show us the selves we struggle to understand, and their potential. It helps to have many different points of view. Grace to be born and live as variously as possible. I’ve been thinking about that line for 15 years. At some point I figured out that a story’s lack can be the story itself, so that’s the one I try to tell—an effigy in its likeness, with a topknot that’s remarkably true to life. Alpacas are wary of people, did you know that? Much more skittish than you might think. Nick said that if you stick around long enough, they start to relax. They can see you’re still a dumb old human, of course, but on some cosmic level they come to regard you as an alpaca. Sometimes they’ll hum to you even though you won’t know what it means.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

shaky red-faced men of marvel enjoy banner weekend out-worsting one another

Looks like some of the top personalities at Marvel Comics have shifted from unwittingly fanning the flames of their troll problem to inciting violence against a comics critic. As someone who occasionally writes about Marvel, I find this shift alarming. Probably everyone should? It seems to me the next logical step will be stirring up harassment against their own fans. 

I mean, golly. Why (apart from blatant emotional problems) does Mark Waid think that someone should put a fist through a comics journalist's smug-ass face? Well, you see, Jude Terror wrote several articles for Bleeding Cool about how it is absurd, yet in no way surprising, that Marvel decided to blame its lagging sales on “diverse characters” because their core audience “didn’t want female characters out there." I mean, really, will the Diverse ever stop asking Marvel for handouts??

Marvel isn't running a charity, y'all.

Worse than all that, if you can even believe it, Jude Terror had the gall to quote--at length--Marvel’s vice president of sales, David Gabriel, in one of these articles. Out of bounds, asshole!!! Thankfully, Marvel’s dimmest self-appointed spokesboy quickly pointed out that Terror had cherry-picked the five-paragraph quote for his fake news post:

Seriously, science should study this incredible man, who's out there out-worsting himself on twitter dot com seven days a week.

Anyway, I know what you’re thinking: how seriously should we take these veiled threats from Mark Waid and Tom Brevoort? They plainly don’t intend to punch Jude Terror or anyone else in the face, ever--and even if they tried, either one of em looks like he might have a heart attack if he so much as stands up too quickly.

No, I really doubt those guys pose much of a threat. But here's the thing: Waid and Brevoort have a combined Twitter following of 130,000 people—many of whom, according to Marvel’s VP of sales, are the kinds of fans who “didn’t want female characters out there” (i.e., disgruntled white men).

I don't think it's much of a leap to say that those are the kind of followers who might just go to a comics convention and punch someone in the face. Maybe worse.

You know who doesn’t tend to have violent, disgruntled followers? Comics critics who write about social justice. (Also, just as a point of comparison, Jude Terror has 549 followers on Twitter.) Yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Nick Spencer bang on about how criticism (against his consistently bad choices, as both a writer and a person in the world) incites violence...somehow? He's never been too clear on how that works.

Nick...the people who read Women Write About Comics aren't the ones you have to worry about, I assure you. I think all the time about how crazy it is that this guy has appropriated other comics people’s (legitimate) fears, but that’s another post for another day.

(Meanwhile, I can only hope that making fun of Nick Spencer for being a giant pussy isn't inciting violence against him. Let's all pray on it.)

Is there no one on Marvel’s public relations, human resources, or legal teams who’s savvy enough to grasp that Marvel’s employees should maybe not be out in the world representing them in this way? Are there not potential legal implications for your company when your senior vice president of publishing implies that, if he knew a fellow industry professional’s legal name, he would hunt him down and physically assault him? Is there no one in communications who understands that this type of stuff repulses the very demographics that Marvel should be aggressively going after, in terms of sales (...or grasps that the people they seem to consider their core audience don't seem to be buying enough comics)? Could someone in human resources maybe arrange for an anger-management course for the shaky red-faced men of Marvel? Something? Anything? 

My guess is that these are the kind of blind spots you have when you haven’t hired enough “diverse characters” and your company culture sucks. The dumb irony of it is that the absolute smartest thing that Marvel could do for itself is hire some of its most vocal critics as consultants. Do a focus group, at the very least, my god. But since they’re never going to do that, I'll give Marvel a free piece of advice: Poach whoever the social media nazi is at DC. Stat