Friday, January 27, 2017


The 14 key features of fascism. From Ur-Fascism, Umberto Ecco’s 1995 essay in The New York Review of Books:

The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: "The OA"

You may experience moments of brief discomfort followed by death.
The OA is the latest SF/fantasy series streaming on Netflix. Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglijs new show follows two classic recipes from the Stephen King cookbook:

• A heartless scientist traps a supernormal Freak in a cage. Then studies them like a lab rat to exploit their abilities. (In this case, five Freaks)
• A outclassed band of scrappy misfits fight The Big Bad. (In this case, the heartless scientist.)

These two basic stories unfold in parallel tracks. If you hate spoilers, stop reading.

A Story: Past Tense. Hap, our heartless scientist, was studying NDEs—people who’d had near death experiences. He constantly scoured the Internet and traditional media to track them down. Prairie (Brit Marling, again) was one of them, the daughter of a Russian oligarch. When she was seven years old, the Russian mob knocked her school bus into an icy river. She died, had a chat with an Arabic-speaking angel named "Khatun," and came back to life, blinded. Her dad sent her to America to avoid the Russian mob; a Midwest couple adopted her. When Prairie reached the age of 21. she went to New York City for a pre-arranged meeting with her father. Instead, Hap sweet-talked her into following him home. Then he trapped her in a glass cage in his basement, along with four other “NDEs,” in separate but adjoining cells. Hap periodically flooded the cages with amnesia-inducing, free-will-removing, knock-out gas. He'd remove one subject, then return them hours later. The human lab rats never remembered what he'd done. Prairie cooked up a scheme to fake unconsciousness and find out. One captive pulled it off. He discovered that Hap was killing them and reviving them again and again — a scientific study to prove life after death. The cycle broke in one otherworldly outing. Khatun restored Prairie's sight, then gave her an escape plan: a technology of movement that could open a dimensional doorway, if performed perfectly. Prairie returned, now calling herself “The OA.” She convinced the other captives to practice the movements with her. They did, and got better. Hap watched. And dumped The OA Formerly Known as Prairie on the side of a road before they got it right. (In the interests of clarity, I'll keep calling her "Prairie" to distinguish the character from the show.)

B Story: Present Tense. Having been dumped by the mad scientist, Prairie jumps off a bridge, gets on national TV, and winds up living with her parents at age thirty. They thought she was nuts when she was a kid. Still do. (Prairie keeps her basement experience to herself to avoid confirming their opinion.) She finds four other scrappy misfits. Prairie plans to coach them on the movements, open an interdimensional door, and rescue her pals — especially her love interest, Scott. To get them on board, she tells them her story first. (The aforementioned A story.) The misfits practice the movements; authority figures intrude; Prairie has precognitive dreams of a school schooting. She stops it—and stops a stray bullet. In either a dying hallucination or another realm, she calls Scott's name. Maybe she’s opened that doorway. Or maybe not.

Gripping show, especially the A story. Somebody's got you and there's no way out. It's the dynamic behind The Prisoner, Misery, and Firestarter. And a great dynamic it is. The premise grabs you by the throat. And possibly the balls. Will our friends escape? Stay tuned. 

The misfit B-story grabbed me, too. The creators do their best not to overtly rip-off the look and feel of It and Stand By Me. They usually succeed, and that's not easy.

I enjoyed the ride. 

I like the way the show sounds. The dialog resembles real people talking—with a few on-the-nose exceptions.

I also like the way it looks — great photography, cinematography, editing. It's a deeply imagined world with nuanced characterizations. Marling and Batmanglij work hard on the realistic details that sell you on the fantasy. Those crazy actors work hard, too. Huzzah.

Now, let's deal with the angel in the room. Little detail I neglected to mention ...

"OA” stands for "Original Angel." Yes, Prairie's an angel too! Along with the other captives.

That angel thing made many tough-minded critics puke.


The word itself has icky connotations.


The word conjures up images of New Age snake oil salesmen; the con-artistry of creepy televangelists; and those oddly sexual figurines with wings and pouting lips. Icky stuff that tough-minded critics hate. Which is why angels of the unfallen variety are off-limits for writers of fantasy and science fiction who want to be taken seriously.

But that seems like a double standard.

Nobody blinks if the fantastic story's about a devil, demon, ghost, vampire, mummy or werewolf. Why should angels be any different? Spiritual beings of all descriptions are legitimate fodder for storytellers. Because I say so.

But to be fair ...

Judging by Khatun, the angels of this show's universe inhabit some higher dimensional realm. They're more science fictional than spiritual — entities of higher physics, but physical nonetheless. (And not so nicey-nice, either. Khatun's benevolence often looks like cruelty.)

This slyly hints that accounts of angels in the Abrahamic faiths are distorted records of actual encounters with these not-so-mystical beings. Sorta like Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Interesting implication. But I wouldn't have spelled it out.

Why say Prairie's an angel at all? Why define what she is? She's different, special, gifted, touched by another reality, more than human, something else. That's all you need to say.
Consider Donnie Darko—a movie with similar ambitions. It worked because director/writer Richard Kelly never spelled out if the forces manipulating the kid were aliens, time travelers, angels or what. 

But The OA let the angel out of the bag. Yes, I'll probably watch the next season. But where the hell (or heaven) do they take the story? Let's say Prairie rescues her friends. Then what? Do they learn how to fly and fight crime?

The Leftovers made me want to punch a wall. Because it's all mystery — and you know the answers aren't coming. The OA frustrates me for the opposite reason. It gives too many answers, too soon

Sometimes, a little mystery is a good thing.