11.10.2012

Hitchcock's 'Rope', Romney, O'Reilly and 21st Century Conservative Rhetoric

After this Tuesday's 2012 presidential election, in which Barack Obama carried both the electoral college and the popular vote, Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly was heard to say:

“The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things? The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”

O'Reilly's assertion that people "feel entitled to things" mirrored Mitt Romney's fateful fundraising dinner video strongly enough that it's impossible to consider this a simple coincidence. It now feels like a piece of the Republican-Far Right-Conservative platform that seems to insinuate: We, Republicans are better people. We are good people and anyone who disagrees doesn't just disagree with our philosophy; they are actually morally-lesser, evil, people. Of course, that's not the official party line, but in the desperation of an election night when all of the conservative forecasts were proven to be grossly incorrect, it was the go-to excuse.

This philosophical belief that a group of people (in this case those who are religious, conservative and Republican) are better than another has a historical partner in Nietzsche's √úbermensch (the idea that an individual would transcend basic humanity to become something greater). Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party once co-opted the concept, applying it to the notion that there was such a thing as a "master race" of better people who deserved to rule and enslave the Untermenschen, or lesser people.

O'Reilly, Romney and Rope

The parallel here is difficult to ignore, given both Romney's and O'Reilly's assertions that a percentage (nearly, or exactly half) of Americans just want the world handed to them. O'Reilly's continuation that the "traditional America" is no more, establishes a hard line on who is better and who is lesser. America is traditionally known as a land of prosperity, a land of freedom, and a land of morality. To so cavalierly declare the death of that concept is to assert that we are descending toward a land of poverty, captivity and immorality. And in turn, that the bad people, the lesser people are destroying the master race.

In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock released Rope, a film about two wealthy, just-out-of-college white men who murder their former classmate in a luxurious Manhattan loft. These young men, both educated and intelligent, carry out their murder because they subscribe to the idea that there are two classes of human being. There are the advanced, better people, and there are those who are lesser, who waste their lives simply by living them. Fueled by that idea, they decide that they're not only right in murdering their classmate, but that murder is an art that can be perfected and undertaken for one's own amusement.

Their former professor, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, waxes on the idea over dinner, toying with it philosophically, more as a thought exercise than as a prescription for real world behavior, stunning and revolting other guests at the films' dinner party. But, upon discovering what his former students had done, he renounces the concept, and falls into a chair to contemplate the terrible results of espousing it at all.

Do we learn from history?

Rope runs on the very same perception of superiority that lined Mr. Romney's fundraiser comments, and O'Reilly's post-election rant. Whether either man believes their own words in their hearts does not matter because just as Jimmy Stewart's character believed he was only performing a thought exercise, the truth is that there are people who are listening. When men in a position of power, whether a journalist with a large viewership, or as a politician/businessman, or college professor casually note that one half, or 47%, or any number of human beings are of a lesser quality, a lesser class, and are implicitly evil, there is potential for impressionable minds to take those words as truth.

It is one thing to assert one's own views and desire, even demand, that those views be respected. It is another thing to assert that those views are the morally better ones. Rope was a morality play and warning to people in 1948 that while World War II had ended three years before, the cruel, manipulated philosophies of that era would not be put down completely with military force alone. To hear and see remnants and pieces of those disgusting rationalizations alive and breathing in the United States 67 years later is a clear sign that the thought war remains unfinished.

One of the beautiful things about this country is our freedom to hold and espouse our positions and philosophies and beliefs, but we have a responsibility to humanity to learn from ways that mere ideas led to genocides, racism, sexism, and hate. Hopefully, no one takes Mr. O'Reilly or Mr. Romney seriously at their words. Hopefully we are a nation intelligent enough to separate an argument of superiority from the carefully nuanced truths about real human beings. But it's sad to know that in some ways we still haven't learned from history.
Read more ...

11.09.2012

The Monks of Mellonwah - Neurogenesis EP

A haunting blend of poetic, metaphor-laden lyrics, and slow-burning (sometimes flashing) guitar licks mark the titular track of The Monks of Mellonwah's second EP. Neurogenesis is surprisingly delicate, careful and easy-going despite the driving drumming and powerful vocals. At times, The Monks, a four-piece Alternative Rock band based in Sydney, feel like a coffee shop outfit, relying on strong musicianship and carefully crafted rock songs, all built around an epic riff or two, rather than the pure bombast of a stadium band. Vocalist Vikram Kaushik has a syrupy, syncopated delivery that recalls Red Hot Chili Peppers and Incubus, and Joe de la Hoyde (backing vocals/guitar), John de la Hoyde (bass), and Josh Baissari (drums) provide a well-formed sonic universe around Kaushik's words.

There are problems with comparisons, too. On "Neurogenesis," the title track, and "Neverending Spirit," the Monks feel a little too much like Incubus and the Chili Peppers. These songs, while proficient and enjoyable, feel slightly recycled. For those of us, like myself, who was of remembering age in the 1990's, they feel unoriginal. Now, unoriginal doesn't mean bad, clearly, and these songs are both good, but they don't grab the ear the way a couple of later tracks do. "Kyoto" a bordering-on-post-punk piece, is unrelenting in the best ways. It builds and ebbs and flows with precision. It also has a sense of vulnerability. It's a song about doubt, and each lingering guitar note feels like a yelp caught in the wind. "You Shine," is my personal favorite. It's plodding nature, and multiple digressions into atmospheric guitar and echo just plain feel good. What's clear is that The Monks of Mellonwah have some of the lyrical spirit of Fleet Foxes, and the skill to back it up.

Whether or not the Monks go on to continue the California-Beach-Alt Rock that they emulate in their first two tracks, or expand into a broader, more eclectic mix of theatrics and post-punk, remains to be seen. With Neurogenesis, which you can check out below via their SoundCloud, they've established exceptional writing, arrangement and musicianship. The band is working on their debut album right now, and are touring the U.S. this month, December (tour dates below), and then again in February/March of 2013. Give them your ears. They greatly deserve it.


Neurogenesis by Monks of Mellonwah
Nov 15 @ LA Music Awards, Avalon Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 16 @ Witzend, Venice Beach, CA
Nov 17 - 24 - Recording tracks for new album
Nov 25 @ Whiskey a Go Go, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 29 @ Garage Inc, San Bernardino, CA
Nov 30 @ TRIP, Santa Monica, CA
Dec 01 @ Jose's Underground, Monterey, CA
Dec 02 @ Brick & Mortar, San Francisco, CA
Dec 03 @ Old Ironsides, Sacramento, CA
Dec 06 @ LIT Lounge, New York, NY
Dec 07 @ The Room, Brookfield, CT
Dec 08 @ BSP Lounge, Kingston, NY
Dec 09 @ TBA
Dec 10 @ Mercury Lounge, New York, NY
Dec 11 @ TBA
Read more ...

11.08.2012

The Walking Dead - "Walk with Me" and "Killer Within"

Last time we visited AMC's The Walking Dead, things all seemed to be falling into place. Rick and our sturdy band of survivors had secured themselves a safe home base in the prison, and even succeeded in saving Hershel's life. Only Michonne and Andrea were truly left in a state of utter and complete doubt. Even the writing of the show had reached a new height; a delightful, potent, minimalist near perfection. In "Walk with Me" and "Killer Within" the writing gets even stronger. The story twists in pleasing, thought-provoking and complicated new ways. Unfortunately, that means the peace for our characters is once more irrevocably disturbed. And this time, pardon my callousness to previous events in the series, the death toll is far more heartbreaking.

Walk with Me


"Walk with Me" does a beautiful thing. It demonstrates the maturity and creativity of the writing staff by introducing The Governor and bringing back Merle, while never forcing them to cross paths arbitrarily with Rick and the survivors. For one episode, we see the world through only Michonne and Andrea's eyes. The decision creates a sort of newness that the show was missing. No matter how much we love Rick, Daryl, T-Dog, Carol, Hershel, Glen and the rest, we have also spent a little too much time together. Viewers want to see more of the picture, especially in a world that is so different from the one in which we live. The zombie apocalypse loses some effect when it means we only watch the constant suffering of a single group. So, "Walk with Me" opens with a helicopter crash.

The crash, proof that others are alive, shows that all is not lost. Confusion, though, rages through camps and groups all over Georgia, at least. The Governor appears while picking through the helicopter with a group, and that's when we're reintroduced to Merle. What's exciting is that "Walk with Me" introduces a new world, a sort of parallel universe. The Governor has a town, full of followers, that he treats as much like a society as a model train set. He will defend this thing with all costs, but his ruthlessness is boundless. And by the end of "Walk with Me" we know exactly what kind of man he is. And do you know why? Because the writing team spent an entire episode creating him, playing him off of a couple people we know (and not the cynical, world-weary Rick, but the more trusting Andrea). That's a service. That's the biggest proof that The Walking Dead is coming back strong.

Killer Within


In "Killer Within" we only receive a few asides and glimpses of The Governor's secret personal dystopia. Instead, we're back with the usual team. But the cold open is one of the most tense and well thought opens the show has ever done. A mysterious stranger, from within the prison, sabotages Rick and the gang's hard work, opening them up to an attack. What's better is that the attack takes almost 15 minutes to happen. We see the sabotage, but even I had moments thinking that maybe the open was a flash-forward... I was effectively lulled into a state of comfort. When the first horde starts coming up, toward a walking-with-crutches-and-still-weak Hershel, I thought I knew what was coming.

I did not. T-Dog goes down. And perhaps most tragically, Laurie, in child birth and then at the zombification-preventing hand of her son, Carl. But, the tension. My god, the tension. This show finally found a setting that worked for it. The early episodes, nestled in the skyscrapers and tight spaces of Atlanta, were tense because there was no where to turn, despite all the shelter. The prison is even better, flooded with darkness, and growling alarms, it's clear that there's no where to go. The writers gave Rick and the survivors strength to start the year. Then they gave them shelter. And now, in one swoop both were taken in the most brutal way possible. This show is good, again. And only getting better.
Read more ...