Sunday, October 28, 2018

Astrological Monograph: The Fire Triplicity

One grouping of zodiacal signs – called the triplicities by astrologers – is organized thusly: fire for Aries, Leo and Sagittarius; water for Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces; air for Gemini, Libra and Aquarius; and earth for Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. 

The triple aspect of the triplicity refers to the number of signs associated with a given element, a word used here in its anachronistic sense to represent the four basic constituents of the physical – and metaphysical – universe, rather than materials on the periodic table. 

An element assumes variable states when occupying different signs of a triplicity grouping. The fire of Aries, for example, can burn out of control, destroying forests and property, or it can be used to clear land of dead wood to make way for a new crop. 

The fire of Leo, in its turn, is literally and figuratively connected with the Sun, since - in the northern hemisphere, at least – the sign rules the height of the summer season. 

There is something to this association, for certain; however, it’s worth noting that while the Sun is dignified in Leo due to its natural placement, its exaltation in Aries; which is to say, the Sun’s potentiality to achieve its highest spiritual expression in the sign, implies a profound and transcendent fire symbology. 

This symbology might be informed by current scientific knowledge about the Sun, which shows how celestial energy is the result of titanic forces of gravity and pressure acting on millions of nuclear explosions in a star’s core. 

The symbology might be developed with the concept that Earth orbits the Sun in a Goldilocks Zone – a region hospitable to life as we know it – as opposed to more problematic vectors of other planets. It serves as a reminder that solar effects vary, depending on location. The energy output of a star, assumed in its totality, is uncontrollable, and what results of that output is difficult – maybe even impossible – for human minds to grasp entirely. 

The Sun shines on without prejudice or restraint, but its light falls differently, depending on whether one observes from Earth, Venus or Mars.         

Yet the Sun is essential for the existence of life on this planet generally, a fact that aligns well with Aries zodiacal position at the vernal equinox and the renewal of spring in the northern hemisphere. Light becomes surplus, and days get longer and warmer during the Season of the Ram.

Conceptualized in these ways, the Sun – as an expression of elemental fire - does seem to have more in common with Aries raw dynamism than Leo’s regal largesse.
Despite these arguments, the elemental fire related to Leo will remain associated primarily with the Sun because of its constancy – it rises everyday, whether we see it or not – than for its life-giving qualities. The fixity of the Leonine fire endures; rather than creating or destroying, it is life-sustaining. It is the fire one might use to cook a meal; an apt metaphor for this utilitarian elemental state.

In Sagittarius, the elemental fire becomes expansive and mutable, like lava; liquid fire. The bestial quality of the Centaur’s sign – represented by its animal half – is connected to the natural world, the material world, so the association with molten rock emitted from the Earth is well-founded. 

Another metaphor for this aspect of the fire triplicity could be elemental fire in its explosive or volatile expression, as both states are characteristic of the Sagittarian temperament.

Electricity, too, being a manifestation of elemental fire energy, might be considered aptly represented by Sagittarius, as the sign is ruled by Jupiter - a planet named after the chief sky god of Roman myth, and a deity who wielded lightning bolts in battle.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

On Conspiracies (Part One)

I have a dear friend with whom I discuss all sorts of subjects. The two of us are particularly adept at a kind of conversation that is loose and rambling. These qualities, in and of themselves, are not unique; most people could probably name one or two other individuals with whom they share such a rapport. 

One of the things that made our correspondence special, however, is the fact that we’ve known each other for over a quarter-century, and as such, we enjoy the kind of conversational shorthand that all long-time colleagues share. Also, he lives on the other side of the world now, in Asia, and so he brings those experiences to bear on our discourse, which widens the scope of its proliferation.

It was during one of these loose and rambling discussions that he and I found ourselves speaking the subject of conspiracy. Now, the two of us share many perspectives in common, so it came as something of a shock to find unsettling differences revealed during our discourse, and it led to a response, which is presented in the exposition I proffer here.

There can be no doubt that conspiracies exist - in nature and human society - and have, for as long as living beings have been able to breathe together (which is the original meaning of the word conspiracy, generated from the Latin conspirare: con-[together with] and spirare [breathe]).  

Even among our faunal cousins, sympathetic forces align to disrupt the status quo; a head chimpanzee is displaced by a rival who is aided by other like-minded chimps; or the alpha of a wolf pack is tore to bits by would-be usurpers, who then turn on each other until a new leader emerges. 

Could these coups be accomplished without secret alliances, albeit ones formed on an instinctual level of awareness, using means of communication other than language? That seems unlikely...  

But it is conspiracies of the human kind that are, by far, the most imaginative and complex. This is entirely in order, since the peculiar property of Homo sapiens’ sentience is to make abstract realities seem almost tangible to the senses, while remaining just beyond reach of them. 

These realities are not just intellectual abstractions, but emotional ones, too, and more often than not, a combination of both. They can be identified by everyday nomenclature, in the language of law, mathematics, politics, commerce, art, religion, science, and so on. 

Realities represented by language, and the artifacts they produce are the stuff of imagination and reason set to work in the world; the mythos and the logos. My philosophical antecedent called these realities ‘true world theories’, which is as good a signifier as any. Civilization itself, in fact, is built upon the intimation of these realties, which arose in the deep well of time like a flame, a-lighting the dark…  

Steering clear of metaphysics for now - and having established that human awareness has the aforementioned property of conferring reality to a given perspective - we can bring that knowledge to bear on the subject of conspiracy. 

Firstly though, for the purposes of this essay, let’s define conspiracy as the intent of a few individuals to control the majority of the population using coercion, deception, misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.

Secondly, we’ll acknowledge that conspiracy narratives are about power and keeping the mass population in the dark, prostrate to those who benefit from the conspiracy, whether that is banks, big pharma, government, elites, et al.

With these basic definitions in place, a metric can be contrived to measure a range of conspiracy theories, from the proven to the fantastical.

Of three broad categories that will exist within the spectrum of this metric, the first is comprised of conspiracy theories that have been shown to be factually, historically and scientifically verifiable by institutions and persons charged with guarding the gate, metaphorically speaking, between what is known and what is unknown.

I know what you’re going to say now, my friend - what if the guardians themselves are conspiring to keep us in fetters, putting blinds over our eyes to conceal and dissemble what truth can be found in this world? “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” as a Roman poet once asked, only the context here isn’t marital fidelity, but fidelity to an idea of knowledge that is incorruptible.   

In this case, I must offer a conceit concerning the subjects classified in this first category:  it is because of legal, historical, academic and scientific rigor that the conspiracies listed have been shown to meet the definitions of conspiratorial intent described a moment ago: coercion, deception, misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. The evidence offered as proof in each conspiracy’s case is nigh irrefutable.

If measurements on the conspiracy spectrum are made horizontally (ie, along the x-axis), the first category occupies a range of degrees closest to zero.

Proximity of one category to another along the x-axis is an effort to demonstrate a progressive tendency towards more extreme, fatalistic and fantastical beliefs represented in the conspiracy spectrum.

The x-axis measures epistemological veracity and dissonance (or the tension between knowledge and belief). As integers increase along this axis, associated conspiracy theories become less credible.         

Cognitive dissonance (or if you prefer, psychological tension) experienced by a conspiracy theorist is measured along the y-axis (vertically). The rate of change here is represented by the rise of an upward concave parabola.  

Least affected by cognitive dissonance are conspiracy theories classed in the first category, called Demonstrable Conspiracies (DC)

Few people would contest these conspiracy theories. Some of the more well-known include the N.S.A surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden, the Bush administration’s intent to mislead the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Iran-Contra affair, Watergate, among many others. 

Strategies employed by the tobacco and lead industries to hide the dangers of their products in the early and mid-20th century would also appear in this category (although, as I’ll present in a moment, this wasn’t always the case). 

Many of the conspiracies in this category are nefarious, like Kristallnacht, or the Catholic Church’s cultural assimilation of indigenous people and suppression of priest sex abuse scandals; others are so famous they’re the stuff of legend - Socrates trial and execution, Jesus’ crucifixion and the assassination of Julius Caesar are good examples… 

The DC category acts a control for the rest of this imaginary metric, and the conspiracies listed here will be obvious to motivated, informed, and curious observers – like you and me. These are events that are recorded in history, studied by scholars, documented by legal precedent, affirmed by experimentation, validated by institutional analysis, and so on. 

As certain as one might be about anything in public life, the DC designation indicates conspiracies that have been shown to be, for all intents and purposes, factually and positively true (or, for equivalency’s sake, real), in an Aristotelian – that is to say, quantifiable - sense. 

It’s worth noting, however, that events listed in the DC category did not start out there; it is by a sort of psychological rigor and due the passage of time that conspiracies are exposed.  

Bias is limited, too, as more information about a conspiracy becomes available. Of the classifications represented on the spectrum, the DC category is the one most associated with what might be described as objective knowledge, if such a thing might be imagined to exist…  

Degrees along the x-axis of the metric represent a gradation which corresponds with the epistemological veracity and dissonance of a given conspiracy theory, as I mentioned earlier. Suffice it to say, the conspiracies listed along the far right of the DC category might be considered verging on demonstrability

These conspiracies include the influence of the American military industrial complex, domestically and abroad, and the oil industry’s campaign of disinformation related to effects of pollution in the atmosphere. 

Here also we can observe the institutional and societal structures underlying the systemic oppression of women and people of color in the West, which have been created to benefit a white male minority. 

Economic and financial collusion between the members of a small group of global corporations would be classed in this designation as well.    

The distinction between degrees in the DC category as a whole is the presence of overwhelming legal precedence, coupled with ongoing and intense institutional analysis, and the passage of time. Societal change over successive generations coincides with the collective public response to the conspiracies classed in this category. 

Widespread acknowledgement of the conspiracies listed here results in revolutions, and leads to the prosecution (and sometimes termination) of corrupt entities and agents. 

This fact highlights the most obvious and important aspect of the theories classed in the DC category: Society and its culture are transformed in fundamental ways by the unmasking of conspiracy - provided the conspiracy has affected the lives and-or the well-being of a critical mass of people in that society.  

There is, nevertheless, ongoing resistance to disrupting the status quo and revealing the extent to which people are manipulated from the highest levels of government and commerce. 

Yet even in this time, the male-centric power structures and patriarchal-enforced hierarchies are under siege on all sides. Appeals to traditional authorities are not completely ineffectual, but this is an era of profound existential doubt in the West – a time of fake news and false prophets – and the way ahead is unclear, even, I think, to the most prescient among us.    

Overcoming pernicious doubt requires novel optimism, a spiritual disposition that is resilient in the face of life’s suffering, and not a denial of that suffering. If history provides a guide, political and economic hegemonies are impermanent; even with maintenance, they eventually falter, like a decrepit body, or an old machine. 

That’s why the passage of time is important, in relation to conspiracies involving civilization’s superstructure, its culture, economy and politics. For example, when oil companies fully transition to green energy production - some 20 years from now – it will be easier to acknowledge the corrupt veneer under which the industry operated for more than a century.

In short, conspiracy theories deposited in the DC category are verifiable. And if the conspirators haven’t been outed already – and punished - controlling the classified information they once attempted to suppress has lost value.

(End of Part One)        

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Last Jedi, Fantasy, and the Art of Defying Expectations

Emerging from a movie theatre on that Saturday in December 2017, I didn’t know what to think. The latest offering in the nine-part Star Wars saga – Chapter VIII: The Last Jedi (TLJ) - had been so different from what I’d expected that I was reluctant to form an opinion about the film. Instead, I sputtered to friends and family about how "I needed to see it again” or that full appreciation would take “a couple times through, to get the whole thing”.

Truth is, I didn’t really know if I liked the movie or not, but as an ardent Star Wars fan, I was compelled to examine my apprehension more closely. After all, I’m invested in the franchise, like millions of other people around the world; not with money, per se, but with devotion to this particular space fantasy.

I explored this devotion at length in a 2016 essay I wrote about The Force Awakens (TFA). In it, I looked back on my personal interest in a process called worldbuilding, an interest inspired in my youth by both George Lucas - the creator of Star Wars – and J.R.R. Tolkien, academic and author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as by role-playing games and comic books.

Worldbuilding is premised on the idea that an imagined story and setting might be so complete, it could be said to have a reality of its own. Though worldbuilding can be thought of as metaphor and/or allegory for our shared human experience on Earth, the imagined setting actually comprises a separate place, containing qualities of internal logic and consistency that encompasses and expands our everyday milieu.

"Enchantment" was the word that Tolkien used to describe the transcendent effect of fantasy that results from effective worldbuilding. I used criteria outlined in Tolkien's treatise, On Fairy Stories, to frame part of the argument in my piece on TFA; essentially, that the enchantment of the Original Trilogy (OT) was also present in the first film of the new Sequel Trilogy (ST).  

It’s worth revisiting Tolkien with regards to TLJ, as well, since he made a demarcation between  a fantasy of enchantment, and fantasy where a person might, for a short time, suspend disbelief.

Tolkien wrote, “Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside,” while suspended disbelief was a substitute for “the genuine thing, a subterfuge we use when condescending to games or make-believe, or when trying (more or less willingly) to find what virtue we can in the work of an art that for us has failed.

Reflecting on TLJ with Tolkien’s conceits in mind, I was struck suddenly by what I think was the essence of my initial objection to the new film: that I was – upon first viewing - taken out of the fantasy too often; compelled to suspend disbelief - and so had become aware of that disbelief. And while this state of mind had immediate consequences for what I'd just seen in TLJ, I was also reminded of my fraught opinion on the Prequel Trilogy (PT).

I’ll explain what I mean by that statement, but there’s certainly no need to revisit all the difficult aspects of the PT. Most longtime fans have one or two moments (at least) in Chapters I-III that they feel are cringe-worthy, and I’m no different.

In some cases I’m willing to accept the shortcomings were, at least, partially the result of seeing the movies through an adult’s eyes, rather than a child’s. But that's not the whole picture. In my estimation, it wasn’t until after the first act of Revenge of the Sith (RotS) that viewers experience the sustained enchantment of the Secondary World described by Tolkien; to that point, and in the prior two PT films - The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones - moments of this sort were fleeting.

Almost certainly, the lore surrounding the origin of Darth Vader – which had been percolating in popular culture for decades – engaged the imagination of both 'designer and spectator' (to use another Tolkien-ism). From the moment that Palpatine reveals he is a Sith lord to Anakin, RotS takes on a mythic, nearly spiritual, dimension. 

Overall criticism notwithstanding, when it came to the PT, it wasn’t difficult for me to envision a galaxy in which the Jedi Order were the feared and respected "guardians of peace and justice" Obi-wan Kenobi described in A New Hope (ANH), the original Star Wars film. 

The notion, too, that there would be a science to explain the biological antecedent of the Force – midi-chlorians – seemed reasonable in the PT setting, so the introduction of these microscopic beings  deepened the fantasy for me.

Some viewers did not feel the same way, however; and in their opinion, the ineffable qualities of the Force were debased by such an explanation. For them, the materialist description of this “mystical energy field” was enough to take them out of the fantasy.

This phenomenon repeated itself again and again with the PT, whether as a consequence of iffy writing, poor chemistry between performers, Jar Jar Binks, etc., and those of us who had been fans since the OT were particularly vulnerable to having expectations dashed by the second trio of Star Wars films.

We should have known, though, that there was no going back home after George Lucas released the updated versions of the OT in the 1990s. His tinkering with the Cantina scene – the infamous Greedo-shoots-first debacle – became the ultimate symbol of being taken out of the fantasy that is Star Wars.

Part of the appeal of Han Solo’s character in the original theatre edit was that he is an amoral opportunist until Luke and Leia give him a cause in which to believe. He begins a scoundrel, yet he gains honor and a heart of gold, a metaphor that’s made explicit by the medal ceremony at the end of ANH.

That character arc doesn’t exist in Lucas’ revised version of ANH. Instead of gunning down Greedo in cold blood, we are shown that Han reacted defensively after the bounty hunter shoots first. Yet somehow, by portraying Han as reactionary, this one change redefines who he is, giving him a morality that the original character initially lacks, then gains, in the course of the film.

Deprived of this arc, Lucas’ revised Han is a tepid antihero, and less dangerous than the original theatre edit would have had us believe.

TLJ presented some viewers, myself among them, with a similar dilemma; in that we are to accept that the same Luke Skywalker who resists killing his father and succumbing to the Dark Side of the Force in the OT, is the same Luke Skywalker who’s willing to murder his nephew (Ben Solo, or if you like, Kylo Ren) while the boy sleeps (albeit in a moment of weakness, and for a seemingly good reason).

The threat that Ben represents is, by no means, on the same scale as Vader, who kills a group of children in his first murderous act as a Sith lord. Ben, at the point when Luke considers ending him, has done nothing but be implicated in Supreme Leader Snoke’s machinations; as Vader, Anakin Skywalker presided over genocidal acts on a planetary scale.

The gulf between the two is wide, and if Luke was willing to show compassion to his father – who did so many awful things – he would be even more likely to show it in the case of his nephew, who wasn’t yet complicit in any crimes, right? Not so, it would seem!

While Luke’s characterization in this way was jarring enough, it was something else to see Leia Organa flying through the vacuum of space, unaided by anything but the Force.

For me, as a viewer, this moment demanded the greatest amount of suspended disbelief; not because I thought Leia incapable of such an act, but because I wasn’t shown that she had received any sort of Jedi training. Consequently, in my assessment, this entire sequence of events lacked the internal consistency required for effective worldbuilding. Again, I was taken out of the fantasy.

I don’t doubt that the extended universe of the Star Wars franchise – which I define as both Legends and Canon content streams, or the accumulated texts, games and television that supplement the Skywalker movies – has a lot to say about Leia’s education in the ways of the Force.

But as a self-proclaimed fundamentalist when it comes to Star Wars (see my essay on TFA), I believe the narrative must be comprehendible using only the contents of the nine-part saga exclusively. Leia’s sudden Force mastery challenges this conviction, since the only power she’s demonstrated to this point in the Star Wars films is a profound intuitive connection with the people she loves.

It is, perhaps, this moment – Leia’s use of the Force – that persuaded me to resist the urge to judge TLJ too quickly. When I watched the film again, it became clear to me that director Rian Johnson had intended to defy expectations with TLJ. There are, at least, two important reasons to take such an approach.

The first has been a subject of discussion for some time already; basically that TLJ brings the Star Wars franchise forward, making it fresh for a new generation of fans. Defying expectations, in this case, is a calculated business risk aimed at ensuring the Star Wars franchise’s profitability (and ubiquity) for the next 10-20 years. 

(For some viewers in the 40+ age range who were fans of the OT, Rogue One (R1) has become the standard for a modern Star Wars film. In fact, a case can be made that TLJ suffered some ill will from segments of the fan community because it wasn’t like R1, which was based in the familiar setting of the OT. In short, R1 met the expectations certain fans had for a Star Wars film by adhering to the established internal consistency of OT worldbuilding.)     

The other, less obvious reason to defy expectations at this point in the nine-part saga is to put audiences off certain pre-conceived notions about the final film. The untimely death of Snoke is a good example of one such notion, in that many viewers saw him as a Palpatine-type antagonist whose backstory would be instrumental to the ST’s ultimate resolution.

Now that Snoke is gone, and Kylo Ren has taken on the mantle of supreme leader, the direction of the ninth film is less certain.

A similar effect is achieved by Kylo ‘revealing’ Rey’s true parentage, that the girl was born to junk traders and sold into slavery for drinking money. This is intended to put to rest speculation about her genealogy, which has been a central mystery of the ST. Here, defying expectations feeds into Rey’s fears about herself, and puts the audience off the possibility that she is familially related to the saga’s central characters.

While this ‘revelation’ is very likely to prove a deception, Kylo clarifies and obscures Rey’s identity at the same time by telling her a believable story about her origins, which sets the stage for a final reckoning between the two characters in the saga’s last chapter.

And just what will be the nature of this final reckoning?

The fact that Leia still lives suggest she has a part yet to play in the drama, an outcome foreshadowed by Kylo’s decision not to kill her in TLJ. Some meaningful exchange between mother and son seems fated for the last film, as does validation of Rey’s parentage by an authority other than Kylo. Will these situations be connected?

Quite possibly, but as conjectures they must remain the subject of speculation. At least for now…

(Carrie Fisher’s deceased status is not a deterrent to her appearance in the saga’s final film, as R1 demonstrated. Audiences might find out about Leia’s demise in the opening crawl of Chapter IX, but it’s also possible that a combination of archival footage and CGI will be used to recreate her likeness, despite claims that have been made to the contrary.)   

TLJ may not be my favorite chapter of the Star Wars saga, but I remain enchanted by these films still; or at least willing to suspend disbelief long enough to see them through to completion.

If the franchise gets away from me after that, I don’t mind. Old testaments are invariably followed by new ones; titans are supplanted by gods; cable replaces dial-up – change is the way of things, and it is the way of the Force.

Like Yoda tells Luke as they watch the Jedi Temple burn in TLJ, “We are what they grow beyond”. That’s good advice, no matter what galaxy you’re from.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Same but Different: Vision and Revision in Blade Runner 2049

It was director Denis Villeneuve’s intent to create something fresh with the highly anticipated sequel to the 1982 film Blade Runner, and it’s fair to say he accomplished that goal. 

Also true, however, is the assertion that Blade Runner 2049 is not as much a departure from the original picture as some claim. There are many tonal and thematic similarities between the films.

Viewers knew to expect something of the original aesthetic. The score – augmented considerably by 21st century sound design – is homage to the music Vangelis composed for the first film, yet has its own unique aural character. 

The milieu – grey, irradiated, punctuated with neon incandescence, and buried beneath depressed haze – is also familiar. These nods to the original movie maintain the fantasy that both films take place in the same imagined world.  

But the acid-rain vision of post-modern urban blight conceived for the first Blade Runner is noticeably transformed in the sequel. Changes in climate have left Los Angeles under constant siege by winter storms and the advancing Pacific, which is held at bay by massive coastal levees.       

Villeneuve also borrowed many implicit themes from the first movie, making them more explicit for 21st century viewers whose lives are regularly impacted by pervasive use of technology.

When the original movie was released, artificial intelligence and gene-splicing were not topics of common parlance, but in 2017, it’s a different story. Villeneuve takes full advantage of the paradigm-shift in public consciousness to explore the meaning of memory, of sentience, and the consequences of enslaving technology to corporate-capitalist ends. 

Spoiler alert – many humans end-up as slaves, too, doomed to scratch out a miserable existence in a dilapidated industrial landscape, or among huddled urban masses. Elite sapiens – known as ‘off-worlders’ – live on other planets, in settlements built by replicants, while humans left on Earth are either very wealthy or very unlucky.

The experience of memory – the act of remembering and the memories themselves – are essential aspects of both films.

In the original, memories are given to replicants in order to ensure behavioral compliance and to allow for safe integration of their mimicked sentience; a ‘cushion’ is the term used in the movie.

But it's the lived experience of renegade ‘skin job’ Roy Batty that demonstrates the human-like behavior of replicants, as Batty dies and his remembrances are “lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Memory, and its role in identity, is an important component of the sequel as well. 

Agent K, the film’s blade runner protagonist, finds he is connected by childhood memory to the only known instance of replicant pregnancy, and comes to believe he is the sole offspring of homo sapien and homo androīdē (my term).

But it’s not to be. The child of man and machine is, in fact, a melancholy ‘bubble girl’, who lives in a hermetically-sealed capsule due to auto-immune deficiencies. She designs memories for replicants – including Agent K.

The Tyrell Corporation in the original film is updated as the Wallace Corporation in the latest picture. Both businesses profit from replicants and their exploitation; however, it is the recent incarnation that most represents one logical extreme of techno-capitalist enterprises.

Where Dr. Tyrell shows paternal admiration for Roy Batty in the original film, the Machiavellian Wallace sees replicants as a slave class, essential for humanity’s colonization of the solar system. 

In this future, it isn’t enough that Wallace has tamed extraterrestrial environments; his corporation is creating a new consciousness as well. Agent K is enamored with a holographic artificial intelligence, Joi – created by Wallace Corp. - with whom he comes to share a close bond. 

Joi, however, is commodity – all algorithms and tricks of light – and while ‘she’ feeds Agent K’s growing sense of purpose by affirming his belief that he is the child of human and replicant, a later scene suggests the tendency to encouragement is a quality shared by all ‘Jois’. 

‘She’ is, in the end, a product manufactured for mass consumption, and not just for one individual.

The relationship between father and child is another shared aspect of the two films, providing the essential impetus that advances both plots. 

Roy Batty’s quest to extend his life in the original film leads him to Dr. Tyrell - the man who created the replicant’s brain. Like a post-modern Frankenstein’s Monster, Batty kills Tyrell, gruesomely murdering both ‘father’ and ‘god’ in the same terrible act. “It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker,” Batty says just before the bloody display.

The latest film puts the parent-child drama front and center, re-introducing Rachael and Rick Deckard from the first movie. 

When the pair is revealed as parents of the new progeny, Agent K finds himself in a race of time to discover Deckard’s location and the secrets of his own identity, before he and the retired blade runner are killed or captured.

One interpretation of the original film posits Deckard himself as a replicant, which is not confirmed or denied in the sequel; that said, since Agent K is a replicant, it could be considered a directorial conceit to that perspective (although K knows he’s not human). 

If Deckard is a replicant, the interpretation doesn’t negate the importance of his offspring. 

Wallace is obsessed with finding the means by which replicants might reproduce. If the machines can ‘make themselves’ instead of having to be made, he reasons that he will have a ready and available source of slaves to realize his colonialist ambitions. 

The best to be expected from any movie sequel is that it has qualities that recall novel aspects of the original film, while transfiguring what was previously made. 

Villeneuve’s cinematic vision (or revision), brilliantly realized in Blade Runner 2049, admirably satisfies that criteria.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Eulogy for Gord Downie

It’s not often that a person changes another person’s mind, and it’s even rarer when the two people don’t actually know one another. But that’s what Gord Downie did – he changed my mind.

If you’re in a bar band in certain parts of Ontario, Canada, you play the Hip. It’s a requirement, no two ways about it, and if you refuse, you’ll be hassled by surly patrons until you do.

That’s the situation that led me to the music of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip in the mid-1990s. I started singing in a cover band in London, Ontario, and a big chunk of that band’s repertoire was made up of Hip songs.

Of course, I had heard snippets of their music before that time - years before, in fact - and even though I found their songs intriguing (‘Little Bones’ in particular) I didn’t take them very seriously. In fact, I was dismissive of the Hip until I had to sing their tunes in concert.

And that’s when Gord's magic started to work on me.

Maybe it was the final verse of ‘Scared’, with its paradoxical tone of resignation and affirmation, sung in that characteristically untethered melody that was Gord’s signature. Or perhaps it was the exuberant ‘whooping’ and his call to “bring on a brand new renaissance” in ‘Three Pistols’. I can never be sure.

What I know is, I spent years performing in bars and clubs, and never tired of playing the Hip’s music, or letting Gord put words in my mouth. I was content to be his instrument. Fellow musicians even took to calling me ‘Lil Gordy’ for a time, because of how I committed to the band’s songs on stage.

But when I thought back to how I had dismissed their early work, I felt the pangs of someone who has misjudged a friend. That’s how Gord changed my mind. His musical presence in my life had palpability; even though I didn’t know him, it felt like I did, and I wanted to get right with him.

(How many night shifts did I labor with the words of ‘Music at Work’ echoing in my mind? And I couldn’t even count the times I’d “looked up to the Lord above / and said ‘hey man – thanks!”) 

The eloquence and eccentricity of Gord’s voice widened my perspective, made me think about relationships and the world differently. Like the acolyte of a holy man, I became a kinder, better person for having experienced his works.

The Hip music of the ‘90s spoke clearest to me, but I’ve enjoyed hearing fresh songs from the band over the years, as well as the most recent examples of Gord’s lyrical acumen. To me, his voice will always sound timeless.

“You are ahead by a century”, he sang, but I think we know now that he was the one ahead all along. Godspeed to you, Gord. “And grace, too.”

Friday, April 7, 2017

Goodman's Dilemma

Hi! I’m Guy Goodman! Don’t you recognize me? Okay, well…I’m sure you’ve seen my partner before. There’s a popular television program named after him. 

Truck? From the show, Truck, P.I.?

Yeah, I thought that might ring a bell. There you go. Nobody’s heard of Guy Goodman, but mention Truck’s name and people light up. It’s discouraging. Truck is an idiot.

He sounds as good as he does because of the dialogue the writers give him. Take that away, and what's left? He can hardly string together a coherent statement, let alone discuss anything except sex, working out, and tattoos. 

Even then, his comments are monosyllabic, barely audible, and he just ends up agreeing with the most opinionated person in the room. 

Now you’re wondering, if you think so much of this guy, why are you his partner? Why don’t you just get another gig?

Well, it’s like this: the show is called Truck, P.I., and even with everything I said, about how Truck’s an idiot, being his partner is still the best job I ever had.

Well, except when people try to kill him. That’s definitely not the best.

You see, if Truck dies, the series gets cancelled. I mean, they can’t very well carry on with ‘Guy Goodman, P.I.’, can they? The audience likes me, sure, but I’ve got no charisma onscreen. 

Without Truck around to flex, fall in love, and catch the bad guy, there’s just no show. 

I mean, look at me, look at my skin, for Christ’s sake! I don’t shine. Not like Truck does, anyways. And if he dies, it’s goodnight Goodman. You feel me? 

It doesn’t even matter if the actor playing Truck dies, as long as the character – the name – of Truck lives on, with new scripts written by the next generation of pen monkeys. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to have my own series. That’s the dream, right? But I’d have to be a lot more appealing to the audience, a lot more real to them if I was ever to step out on my own. 

I just don’t see that happening. 

I’m a sideman, and my existence depends on preserving the life of the person – the franchise – that's my bread-and-butter. The suits have tested it, and audiences like me with Truck. Without him, it’s back to oblivion, with all the other forgotten names. 

Up ‘til now, I think there have been over a dozen actors play Truck, but nobody remembers the third, fourth, or seventh guy to play him, because – in the end – the only name they’re supposed to remember is Truck’s. And, hopefully, my name, too… 

I was thinking about one of the actors who played Truck. This guy was a total loser. Started proceedings to have his name legally changed to ‘Truck’, leaked spoilers to the press, showed up loaded to publicity events, the whole enchilada. 

Guy got greased for screwing the showrunner’s wife, and you know what the studio did? 

First of all, they covered up the murder. Then they dropped a body-double in for the remainder of the shoots, and used CGI to make the double look like the dead actor, so they could complete the season’s arc. Messed-up, right? 

Not as messed-up as when the studio presented the actor’s family with the preserved corpse of their dearly departed along with a few million in hush money. But, hey, that’s the biz! 

A few weeks later, the studio announced a new actor would be portraying Truck for the upcoming season.

I mean, if you think the suits were just going to let that dick ruin what they have going on with Truck, guess again. Those guys have made billions – billions – off Truck, and they aren’t going to let any actor, showrunner, or director blow the deal. 

The actor playing Truck can be famous, or not, white, black, Asian; those things don’t matter. Only thing that matters is that the script is followed. The words make Truck who he is, his name makes him who he is, not the color of his skin, his nationality or culture.  

Hell, there’s even talk of replacing the human actor playing Truck with a hologram. But that’s so far out I’m not worried about it. If they replace actor Truck with a hologram Truck, then they’ll probably replace me, too… 

That’d be great in one way, because I wouldn’t have a weird identity crisis every few years when casting brings in a new actor to play Guy Goodman. But my name, associated with a light dummy, instead of a flesh-and-blood actor? I don’t know.

I want to exist (which is better than not existing), and I guess if that means being rendered as a hologram, I’ll deal with the consequences. After all, I’ve found a way to endure Truck’s imbecility, haven’t I? Once I thought that would be insurmountable.

I remember meeting Truck for the first time. He said, “Hey! I’m Truck, P.I.! Good ta meet’cha, brah!”

“What the fuck?” I replied. “Were your parents retarded?” 

If you haven’t seen that bit, you really should. When that episode got broadcast, the scene went viral on social media because, supposedly, what I said was “insensitive” and “politically incorrect”. Show apologists countered it was comedy, that I was only a fictional character (which I found offensive) and that I had only meant the term informally, and not as slur.    

But I admit it: I haven’t really gotten past my first impression of Truck. And he hasn’t done anything to suggest he has an IQ in the double digits. So here we are.

We’re stuck together. Well, more than stuck together. I’ve saved Truck’s life more times than I can count. All the normal stuff, of course – pulling his unconscious body from car wreaks, knocking drinks and food laced with poison out of his hands before he can consume them, fishing him out of various bodies of water, intercepting and distracting femme fatales, outwitting tactically superior belligerents. 

Truck would be dead a thousand times over, if it wasn’t for me. He says I put the ‘good man’ in Goodman. He’s such a cock.  

The real threat to Truck is the writers; the creatives. They’ve been going back to the well for years, that ‘Hero’s Journey’ thing. But if any one of them decided – I mean, really decided - to make something new, and shelve Truck? 

I don’t even like to think about it. They could kill all of us with a few taps of a keyboard or the stroke of the pen.       

Well, ‘kill’ might be a little strong. Once the idea of Truck got loose in the world, the writers lost control of him. Sure, they still control the official scripts, but now we have fans who invent their own adventures about us. 

And just for the record, I don’t like how my character gets the shaft – and I mean that literally - in the homo-erotic fan fiction that’s cropped up in recent years.
Still, getting killed on the show – officially - before Truck’s fan community really has time to grow beyond the confines of its own time and space? That’s what I’m trying to avoid; at least, until Truck is alive for a few more generations. Once that happens? The writers can kill Truck as many times as they want, but he won’t die. And neither will I. 

There’ll be wikis, and fan pages, cons and cosplay, issuances of the program for streaming and on disc, and then reissuances, and then remastered reissuances, and then re-released remastered reissuances, and so on. 

In short, people will believe in Truck – enough to give him existence outside of the show. He’ll have a place in their lives. 

And whatever happens to Truck is sure to happen to yours truly.  

You see, what nobody watching the show really understands is that, given enough time, energy and luck, Truck will become more real, more alive, than any of them could ever hope to be. Most people live and die. They’re missed by family and friends for, maybe, a few decades. Then they're forgotten. 

But not Truck. If I can keep him alive for a couple more generations, he’s virtually assured the kind of immortality reserved for the most exclusive cultural heroes. I won’t even tell you who these folks are, but I will say that – like Truck – most people in the world only know them by one name.  

So, in summary, to keep the very idea of Goodman alive, I have to keep Truck alive. That’s the dilemma. And the only question I have left is the same question I’ve been asking myself all along.

How am I going to keep from killing Truck myself?  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Album Review - Blond (2016)

Blond is an interesting departure for Frank Ocean. 

Artistically, Ocean's disposition is closer aligned with the melancholy of Brian Wilson or What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye than the lusty transcendence of Prince or Stevie Wonder’s superhuman exuberance. Ocean’s peculiar form of ennui was evident on Channel Orange – his critically acclaimed 2012 release – and it’s apparent again on this latest offering. 

That’s not to suggest there aren’t a range of compelling states and situations tackled on the record. It’s Ocean's unisex approach to physical and emotional intimacy, and his encompassing perspective on unrequited love that makes the new record more than mere curiosity. 

In fact, the theme of unrequited love may be the most consistent aspect linking Channel Orange and Blond. Whether the song is about a deity, a friend, a lover, an invented character, or if Ocean is himself the object of another person’s unrequited feelings, there is palpable, existential longing never far from the surface. 

Blond is arguably a more tuneful record than Channel Orange, which itself was no small fount of sublime melody. On the new album, Ocean dispenses with heavy rhythm, instead using lyrical cadences, guitar (acoustic and electric, played through a variety of effects), and the percussive nature of the piano to provide a pulse for the songs. 

There are beats, of course; sparse, spare and owing something to the sonic aesthetic of Noah “40” Shabib, best known for his work with megastars Drake and Beyoncé. The lead single ‘Nikes’, and the songs ‘Pink + White’ and ‘Nights’ all feature prominent drum parts, but Ocean’s lyrics and robust melodicism are clearly the focal point of the production.