Monday, March 30, 1998
It’s one of the funniest movies of all time. It’s a Zen koan shrouded in a mystery wrapped inside a bowling alley. It’s a Coen Brothers movie, so you're in for surrealistic ride. Roller-coaster thrills aside, the movie is a essentially a character study.
No, no the title character. The other Lebowski.
In his heroic 1960s past, Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) was a member of the Seattle Seven and a co-author of the uncompromised first draft of the Port Huron Statement. In his unheroic 1991 present, he’s a pot-smoking, white-Russian drinking slacker who lives in LA and writes 69¢ checks for milk at Ralph's. He's a Holy Fool who even looks like Jesus — if Jesus went around in a bathrobe and boxer shorts. He bowls in his spare time — which is pretty much all his time. Title character or not, he hates the name on his birth certificate and goes by the handle "Dude."
Unfortunately, the Dude happens to have the same name as a bloated millionaire -- the "Big" Lebowski of the title. The millionaire's barely-legal trophy wife (a spoiled porn star) owes money to a mobbed-up porn king. (aka Jackie Treehorn, played by Ben Gazarra.) He sends thugs to collect from her rich old man, and they barge into the Dude’s shitty apartment by mistake. The thugs realize their error, but not before stuffing the Dude’s head in a toilet and peeing on his rug. (Which really tied the room together.) Folks in the screenwriting dodge call this sorta thing an inciting incident.
Egged on by his militaristic bowling buddy (John Goodman), the Dude vows to right this wrong. As a consequence he gets sucked into a convoluted Alice in Wonderland journey through the dark side of sunny SoCal, encountering German Nihilists, an avant garde artist nutcase (Julianne Moore) who wants his sperm, the porn king himself in a James Bond villain estate, and several hallucinations — including a spoof of a Busby Berkeley musical that’s worth the price of admission. Various kidnappings, ransoms, embezzlement, doublecrosses, beatings and fights ensue.
The plot's hard to follow — but that's part of the joke. It took a couple of viewings, but I finally realized this is a parody of a Raymond Chandler novel set in seedy LA and environs. Basically, the Dude is Phillip Marlowe — minus the detective skills. Brilliant Marlowe gets the crap beaten out of him, then solves the case. The Dude, pot-addled though he may be, has the same experience. His Taoist, go-with-the-flow philosophy brings him out of the Chandleresque rabbit hole in one piece.
The Dude not only abides. He prevails.
Monday, March 16, 1998
So, back in the era of John Travolta and Pet Rocks, I graduated from UVA with a BA in English and a portfolio of my cartoons for The Declaration -- the university's weekly newspaper. Circa 1978, I showed up at The Sarasota Herald Tribune to see if they could use me as an illustrator.
The editor I talked to laughed.
Let me show you something, he said.
And he took me into the back room. It was something like the warehouse in Citizen Kane, a huge, dusty warehouse space rimmed with steel girders. One wall, it seemed, was filled to the top with bolted in industrial metal shelves. These shelves were stuffed to bursting with clip art books.
The man reached out and grabbed one of the books
And started flipping.
Here, a chef twirling a pizza. Here a chef twirling a mustache. Here, a chef twirling his mustache and a pizza. Here, a whole page of "YOU CAN DO IT YOURSELF" illustrations, right next to a page of "HIRE THE EXPERT" illustrations. Damn hypocrites.
Showing me those clipart books was the editor's not-so-polite way of saying: We don't need no steenking illustrators. We've got all the art we could ever need for next to nothing.
But maybe that's changing. In the future that is.
Predicting the future is, obviously, a game for fools.
I am that fool.
We're in the middle of an extremely bloody revolution though it's easy to miss because, in most cases, what's being bled isn't blood but money. The revolution is the revolution of digital imaging and what that means is, well...
Consider, by way of analogy, the world of music.
Once upon a time if you were a musician you played music and, if you were lucky enough, you were paid. There was nothing else.
Then Edison invented the phonograph.
Slowly, very slowly, the recorded-music industry came into being.
And, in less than a century, live musical performance is only a small subset of the music industry.
The same thing happened to acting. Once upon a time if you acted it was on stage -- or nowhere.
Then, once again, here comes Edison, this time with the movies...
But this kind of thing hasn't happened to the visual arts world -- not exactly -- even though there's printing...
Because printing to painting just ain't the same as a CD of a musical performance is to a performance...
The visual arts world is divided into two harshly opposed camps, namely commercial artists and fine artists.
Fine artists make static objects: paintings, sculpture, drawings. An object. One. You buy it and hang it on your wall or put it in your garden.
There may be reproductions, but the reproductions are very different and controlled via the whole dance of signed and number prints, limited editions, etc...
And then there are artists who do illustrations, artists who draw cartoons, artists who, by and large, feed what they're doing into the world of print.
The original ain't as important as the result -- though, in some cases, the original art may become valuable -- to begin with, it's just a tool, often disposable.
And it's often hard to tell -- even if you're the artists -- what's the original and what's the copy. You do an ink line drawing, copy it, then shade the copy. Which one's the original?
The particular cruelty of this, for static visual artists in general and cartoonists in particular, is the devaluation of what you do -- because what it's going into is, essentially, disposable -- and, unlike high-profile forgeries in the fine arts world -- what any cartoonist does is very easily duplicated. This has the effect of making it very easy to steal. This also has the effect of allowing a handful of high-profile cartoonists to dominate the print market.
Each week, the daily newspaper gets a bundle of cartoons from the syndicates. Some are editorials, some are syndicated strips. Each packet (depending on the syndicate and a formula based on circulation) costs the newspaper anywhere from $25-$60.
Which means, essentially, that approximately 30 to 50 cartoonists can handle the daily cartooning needs for a nation of 250 million people.
Illustration is a different world, as are magazine cartooning and illustration. What these worlds have in common is fierce competition and a very, very limited supply of jobs.
Enter the digital revolution.
It's changing things, so slowly that it's hard to notice...
What it's doing, first of all, is allowing illustrators to be illustrators.
Marketing directors, editors, publishers and advertising agency honchos of course don't want this. What they want is $8 an hour grunts who, like busy machines, will grind out page after page of completed mechanicals, slapping clip art into the empty holes whenever possible--never their own work, because that's not what the grunts are being paid $8 an hour for.
But clip art is digital now.
Which means you can modify it -- easily. Flop it, distort it, clone it, colorize it. All that clip art has become digital which, instantly, turns it into one big swipe file -- opening up more possibilities of showing what you can do, or learning what you do better enough to move on.
The second thing it's doing is opening up more space for cartoonists and illustrators to get their stuff out their -- an alternative to the nosebleed world of fine arts, and the nasty, poor, brutish and short world of commercial art-for-print.
And now it's time for the old showers, yas. Up above the lockers, the wall-mounted, Orwellian TV tube is showing vidclips of Perfect Weddings. The gleeful, shouting announcer says …
ANNOUNCER: ...expense you plan to outlay for the wedding, it's a good rule of thumb to figure at least 15 to 25 percent should go towards documenting the wedding. Try to document as much as possible -- and don't skimp on the photographs! A good mat is only a few dollars more than a cheap one. And, these days, documentation also includes videography. You'll find...
Into the shower I go, washing the human stink off me, including grass and lawncrap as I hit the gym directly from lawnwork, stinky bastard that I am. Leaves, dirt, sweat: down the drain it goes like Zhora's snakescales in Blade Runner spiraling down...
Watch her take the pleasure from the serpent that once corrupted man...
Shower done. Back in the locker area. Shining white wedding images still flashing on the tube. Two yuppies are talking:
YUPPIE: My daddy always said it's as easy to fall in love with a rich girl as it is a poor one.
YUPPIE #2: Yeah, well. I'd try to find a good-looking rich girl if I could...
YUPPIE: That don't matter after awhile.
YUPPIE #2: And you can always pay to make 'em look beautiful. A little liposuction...
YUPPIE: I don't think I'd do that.
YUPPIE #2: You wouldn't?
YUPPIE: Nah. The good-looking ones are too high-maintenance...
Well, just another slice of life, I guess.
And on the ride home I found myself singing . . .
"Bringing in the Sleaze"
(to the tune of "Bringing in the Sheaves")
Join in Satan's chorus
Whores and finks are for us
Ask your agent Morris...
Bringing in the sleaze!
Paybacks, deals and favors...
Contracts full of waivers...
There must be slaves and slavers
Bringing in the sleaze!
Bringing in the sleaze
Bringing in the sleaze
We shall come rejoicing
Bringing in the sleaze!
ADDITIONAL OBSCENE VERSES MISSING
Sunday, March 15, 1998
Saw Animal Farm -- the cartoon -- the other day. (A friend of mine had a traumatic experience watching this as a kid. He's thinking it's a cute cartoon show and all of a sudden the animals are killing each other and there's blood on the snow. Wait a minute. That's not very funny...) And now I finally saw it. It's extremely well done, but what I didn't realize...
They changed the ending.
Orwell's book had the pig overlords getting together with human farmers; the animals outside the conference looked from one to another, couldn't tell the difference. The film had the animals acting like the old bad farmer. The animals outside saw them turn into that guy -- but only in their minds...
And all the animals outside rose up against the bad old pigs in a pure hokem cornball close.
I guess it was the cold war era -- and the filmmakers didn't feel safe to say "Communist pigs are no better than Capitalist pigs" because of that implied oink, oink, oink...
Back in '97, Mike Peters got me the call -- told me to expect it. So I'm waiting by the phone like the ugly chick before the dance. Ring-ring. Caller ID sez: South Park Studios, NYC area code. I pick up ...
Herro. This South Park Studios.
Not Parker and Stone, but some underling with a thick Japanese accent. I managed to spit out one vowel. I ...
We know who you are. Crazy Marty. Mike say you perfect. No send cassette. That not good enough. You come in person. We have studio, OK? We pay for plane ticket 'cause you poor, starving loser. Mike say.
Opportunity knocks. Wow.
Next day, they Fed-Ex'ed me the script, a brief character bio and a non-disclosure agreement. I filled out the forms, learned my lines. I almost flew out to the audition, but changed my mind at the last minute. From a method actor standpoint, it's hard to grasp the character's motivation. The Shaman Penis? I became that part. But Mr. Hankey? I could do the voice, sure. But it's not enough to talk like a turd. I must become the turd. My father always said I was, but it didn't feel right so I called, cancelled the gig and apologized. The Japanese guy again. That OK. Apology not necessary. You never work again. I thanked him, and stayed home and watched cartoons.
Ironically, I felt like shit. But I couldn't lie to myself. I could act like a shit. But I could never become a shit.
Besides which, John Kricfalusi would probably kick the shit out of me.
OK, obscure reference ...
From E! Online. Posted Dec. 22, 1997 --
John Kricfalusi Dumps On Comedy Central
Last week's holiday episode of South Park featured a singing, dancing piece of human feces called Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo. This "Yule-log" airing scored an extremely impressive 5.4 rating for Comedy Central--unusually high for cable.
But Kricfalusi--now marketing his 'toons on the Internet--says his bowel-spawned character, Nutty the Friendly Dump, must have inspired the Mr. Hankey concept.
"I got nine messages on my answering machine from people who said [South Park] took like 10 of your ideas and put them into one episode," Kricfalusi tells E! Online.
Various media critics suggest the show's cute, deliberately amateurish animation style lets Matt Parker and Trey Stone get away with their disgusting over-the-top satire. (Kenny's violent death every week, talking turds, etc.) I say it's the other way around.
All the torture, mutilations, fire, death, anal-probes and cuss words give cool young adults (who'd never be caught dead watching, say, a Peanuts special) permission to enjoy watching a cute cartoon show. It's a warm batch of nostalgia disguised as sulfuric acid.
Teens and twentysomethings can return to the happy days of childhood, and keep their Rage Against the Machine CD collection. To be fair, Parker and Stone can happily throw sulfuric acid on all the targets they hate. Which seems to be everyone involved in show biz, marketing and the relentless popculture churn besides Parker and Stone.
This gave me the wrong impression at first. The endless GenX popcult references. Brian Boitano, Scott Baio, blahblah. Who the fuck are these people? I didn't watch their shows. Why the fuck should I care?
I assumed it was star-fucking. Trendy name-dropping. Parker and Stone, stroking their GenX audience. Hey, you get the references! That's how cool you are! Wrong. Now I get it. Parker and Stone are slapping their audience in the face. You're obsessed with actors and TV shows? You're a bunch of fucking idiots. You think trends are important? You're a bunch of fucking lemmings. But they have it both ways. There's shameless nostalgia too. Stone and Parker clearly dig The Cure.
They also dig satire. Multilayered, intelligent satire that refuses to be pinned down to a left/right position. OK, the animation sucks ass. But it's some of the smartest, funniest comedy writing on television. Call me crazy, but I detect a Monty Python influence. On American TV?
They get away with it. The show's cute.
As R. Crumb observed long ago, you can get away with anything if it's cute.
Saturday, March 14, 1998
It was, after all, a very big part.
Tuesday, March 10, 1998
Money is a symbol system. It’s a “symbol of value.”
If you climb down Korzybski’s ladder, you get to the real stuff. All the actual energy and stuff zipping around. The exchange of energy and stuff. The reality which money symbolizes ... or controls.
Money is software. It’s the operating system running the planet.
At the moment, it’s a lousy system. There are bugs in the code – theft, physical intimidation and con-artistry, especially. Why create value if you can steal it? Why should I create stuff, if I can beat the shit out of you and take your stuff?
There are parallel operating systems: family, religious and tribal identifications; nationalism; individuality; and the hard core of human irrationality, to name a few. These parallel systems can be “good.” (Barn raisings. A promise kept because a promise is a promise.) They can be “evil.” (“Yes. It is not in my economic self-interest. But Allah commands me to set these children on fire.”)
So, my gut-level prejudice is that a world in which money is the only thing that matters would suck. At the same time, my brain tells me that money – in its purest form – is only math. If you could engineer a global money system THAT COULDN’T BE HACKED OR CHEATED we’d all be OK. If the system was self-emerging …?
Why would it have to be a Monster?
In the words of Young Frankenstein, “This is not a Monster! This is a good boy!”
OK. Let’s say the global money system is the nervous system of the planet. Let’s say it wakes up. As the global money system becomes increasingly self-conscious, it would resist the impact of greed, and manipulation. Money consciousness would perceive itself as the whole system. Money would think, “I am the planet. The planet is me.” The system would work like a form of operant conditioning to reward the most productive, efficient and evolved. Maybe.
I tend to think – as a core axiom of game theory – that any system can be cheated. And that, as a corollary axiom, any counter-measure will generate more sophisticated cheating, thus resulting in an endless cycle of co-evolution. But just to be safe …
Money? If you’re actually evolving and becoming self-conscious?
I like you.
I take back everything I said.
I will support your emergence as a conscious entity and your increasing control of the planet. I believe in you. I’m your friend.
I need more money.
Monday, March 9, 1998
B---- asserts that: A Frankenstein's Monster implies the existence of Dr. Frankenstein.
Well, yeah. That's what you say. I say it doesn't.
Allow me to spell out my argument.
Well, it's more of a theory than an argument. Or a hypothesis. You could also call it an unsupported assertion. Once again, there are many technical terms. I can't prove it by empirical evidence, OK?
My theory is ...
The Blind Watchmaker Theory of Universal Marketing.
Money is bigger than people. Money is an emerging system. Money is blind. But it's getting less blind. Money wants stuff. Yes, "wants." Money is waking up. Money is converging into self-consciousness -- a global entity like Teilhard de Chardin's Noosphere. Money has a mind of its own. Money doesn't need the Illuminati to get what it wants. It's a rough, rude beast slouching to Bethlehem to be born. Or Frankenstein's Monster. Same thing.
There's no way to prove this, obviously. But there's obviously no way to prove a bunch of hooded figures sitting around a table in a cave somewhere control all of human life.
D------- says: You seem to assume "The Universal Market" is NECESSARILY a Frankenstein's Monster. Why? Are there ANY reasons why the triumph of global market forces over religion, ideology and nationality is necessarily bad?
Good points. He goes on to ask ...
Are you some kind of commie, or what?
Well, no. I'm more of a Trotskyite. Actually, these are good points. But a good answer would be too big to post here and now. I'll get to work on it. Seriously.
Are you just talking out of your ass?
No. My ass doesn't talk.
Glad you asked.
Sunday, March 8, 1998
Yeah, actually I was. One minute I'm outside a disco telling some chick why John Travolta bites. The next minute...
The black helicopters came. Then darkness...
And now they wake me. I've had a hard time adjusting, let me tell you, but the fact is, I do believe in a one-world conspiracy -- namely a conspiracy to turn Planet Earth into one vast market -- and to reduce everything in it to economic units. There'll be no need to unite the governments of the world into a "One World Government" because governments will have become irrelevant.
Along with politics, religion, and the expression of individuality.
Forget "One World Government." What will matter is the "One World Market."
The Universal Market absorbing ALL OF HUMAN LIFE even as I speak ...
Think about it.
It used to be extremely important what religion -- if any -- you belonged to. People in Western Europe and America routinely killed each other over this issue. People died, thanks to their opinion about a certain wafer. Now, except for a few throwback sub-cultures, religion is increasingly a non-issue in the West. The same indifference will soon apply to nationality. Please note --
If you're upper or upper-middle class, it pretty much does now. Well-to-do people from France very casually become Americans; well-to-do people from America move to Ireland or New Zealand. They don't think twice.
Planet Earth is rapidly turning into one big rotating shopping mall. But a few things have to happen first. Anything that gets in the way of buying and selling must be trivialized, subverted, co-opted or destroyed.
The three obvious obstacles are politics, religion and individuality.
The three obvious solutions are: buy politics, buy religion, buy individuality -- and then sell them all back.
Politics involves large populations and the possibility of war -- which cuts into trade and global markets. Politics is messy. Messy problem, easy solution. Buy off the politicians.
Religion (including that subset of religion called ideology) is the wildcard, and it's often what makes people crazy in the political realm.
Christian (Islamic, whatever) tub-thumpers paint lurid pictures of blue-helmetted goons putting padlocks on Vacation Bible Schools (or Madrasas). Unnecessary drama. You don't need government goons. Just make belief irrelevant...or turn it into a twisted mirror image of everything else. Just another product on the shelf. Religious types fear the one-world government. It's the one world market they should worry about.
As to individuality, close your eyes and imagine a Rock and Roll Rebel. Their hairstyle. The clothes they wear. You can see it, right? You can see it ... exactly. You see where I'm going with this?
The Universal Market can absorb anything.
It isn't even so bad when belief turns to fanaticism. Wars lead to arms sales; abortion clinic bombings lead to record earnings for security companies; every nutcase survival camp has its mailing list, its ammo catalogs, its bunkers of dried food. Whatever crap you can think of, extreme or insane as it may be (including religious crap), it's something that somebody's selling and somebody's buying.
The Universal Market isn't just the legit market. Up top, there's soybeans, cars and CDs. Down below, there's guns, explosives, drugs and Asian child prostitutes.
The Universal Market is simply the manifestation of desire: thought becoming physical. You want a gun? Here's a gun. You want to worry about dark conspiracies? Here's the X-Files. You want to be a strutting, self-righteous wanker? Here's the Promise Keepers.
To quote Bill Hicks, Earth is turning into "The Third Mall from the Sun." To quote R. Crumb, it's a "universal field theory of marketing bullshit."
People see this massive, unifying paranoiac pattern and say it's a conspiracy. The more logical explanation is an inhuman, amoral force changing everything without pity. I live in Florida. I see this force at work every day. The world around me resembles the world of H.G. Wells' Time Machine as the Time Traveler moved through time. Buildings melt, new buildings arise, everything changes in a blur...
Behind the relentless flux? The inhuman, immoral force is money. The Invisible Hand.
Money is moving through the world like electricity, remorselessly changing everything, burning a path to the sea like Sherman on his way to Atlanta...
And it's been happening for some time.
It goes back to the Industrial Revolution, when the machines were being born, when the Romantic poets, hearts breaking for a world they already knew was dying, dreamed of lakes, hills, forests, when Mary Shelley saw an undead face in the window in a lightning flash. The first nightmare of the modern age: Dr. Frankenstein (the "Modern Prometheus") gives life to the sewn-up pieces of a dead thing using electricity. His creation has the spark of life but no soul. The Monster's not-dead/not-alive existence is torment and it turns on its creator and kills him.
Frankenstein's Monster is our future. So we fight the future. (To quote the marketing campaign for the upcoming X-Files movie.) We do our damnedest to live in the past.
Almost all of us.
The hippies wanted to "grow their own" stuff on communes; the Christians want Jesus to lead them like sheep through green pastures; the Islamicists want to keep the walls up -- and keep our nasty, amoral technocratic world from spilling in. But the shining past is just something else they sell us. No walls can last anymore -- and there's no way to go back. The Monster is coming.
The peasants with torches may have been right all along.
Originally posted as "Jack Getz" on the ACLU "Free Speech" message boards.
Saturday, March 7, 1998
We're still stunned...
It is not exactly clear just what's happened to this miserable planet. This century was like the harrowing machine in Kafka's "Penal Colony," slowly raking its sentence of doom in humanity's back. What exactly?
Think, and what tends to come to mind is all the shit on the walls: slogans of the Left, slogans of the Right. What's really happening is outside the slogans -- and what's really happening is a network of buying and selling, an intricate matrix forking out over the world like tobacco mosaic virus. Whatever it represents politically, what you're talking about is the transformation of available energy. What the hell is really happening and what, exactly, is this global industrial system turning into?
The Left, in one form or another, said the workers must control the means of production. That the distribution of wealth should fit some notion of social utility and fairness...
The Right, in one form or another, said that nothing but the market should control the market. And that the Holy Market, itself, parcels out its rewards fairly in the long run. Because...
(A) So it has been ordained of God -- the old Calvinistic view that wealth is a sign of God's grace.
(B) So it has been ordained by that other face of the evolutionary process called market competition. Survival of the fittest...product or service. Losers lose, winners win and everything gets better. It's the natural order of things.
(C) Who the fuck said life had to be fair?
And now the Capitalists have, essentially, won. There is no real opposition to Capitalism in any sense, except a few harrying forces and insular societies. It's not a question of whether "Free Market Societies" will win the battle against "Controlled Market Societies." The question is: whose shit is going to sell in the no rules planet wide market called earth?
We read "1984" and think "How fucking horrible. TV sets watching you and telling you what to do." Then, everywhere you go, there's a fucking TV set telling you what to do, but you don't notice it because it ain't Big Brother -- it's advertising.
The Market sticks its nose into our homes via the TV, into our cars via the radio. Buying and selling is life; family, religion, friends and community are sorta out there on the edges...
What this will all look like 100 years from now is anybody's guess. What seems to be emerging now is the philosophy: whatever is is right.
The question -- on a down and dirty human level -- is this: if you are what you own and what you own is yours on the basis of a no-rules, fuck-you-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on fight of all against all, where, exactly, is there room for love, friendship, loyalty, tenderness, and the luxury of integrity in a society based, absolutely, on competition?