Monthly Archives: December 2021

Don’t Look Up: A Review

This week I posted on Facebook that people outside of the US are not obligated to watch a movie that is American even if that movie is on a topic of great importance. And that they should not be pressured or shamed for that decision. I, myself, was urged by a few people to watch the “must watch” film “Don’t Look Up” on Netflix.  I kind of knew my objection might generate misunderstanding, primarily from my American friends, but I still stand by what I wrote.

That said, <deep breath> I had some time and decided to watch the aforementioned movie since it has become the “#1 watched movie on Netflix” and there seems to be so many people discussing what is indeed one of the most important issues of our time. So, this is my take on it. No one is obliged to read it or agree with any of it.

Spoiler Alert: please be advised that I do talk about details of the movie. But please, if you do read this, take the critique lightly while taking the subject of catastrophic climate change deadly serious.

I will start with what I did like. Jennifer Lawrence was the best by far. Her character, Kate Dibiasky, was funny and relatable. And it confirmed to me that, yes, I would totally love to hang out with her. Meryl Streep was Meryl Streep. Good acting as always, if just bit overdone in the stereotypical “Republican” leader schtick as President Orlean. DiCaprio was decent as Dr. Randall Mindy. Looking handsome at 47. Sometimes funny. A bit annoying, but I always find him a bit annoying. Cate Blanchette’s character, Brie Evantee, played a perfect cold, elitist and heartless corporate news anchor. Mark Rylance portrayal of an amoral and bizarrely robot-like tech billionaire, Peter Isherwell, was eerily precise. One had no problem at all picturing Musk, Zuckerberg or Bezos’ emotionless face and soulless eyes when watching his performance. Jonah Hill was good at playing the President’s sycophantic son, Jason Orlean, a direct parody of Trump, Jr.. And I loved the cameos of Arianna Grande playing pop star Riley Bina, but that is just because I love Arianna Grande.

The parts about vapid American corporate media culture had their merit in being fairly accurate, especially in regard to the thoroughly mind-numbing cable talk shows replete with saccharine-drenched, meaningless banter. And there were genuinely humorous moments, like Jennifer Lawrences’ character sparring with Jonah Hill’s in the Oval Office, or the clip of the “General/mercenary,” chosen to head up the mission to destroy the comet, screaming expletives at children doing calisthenics on the White House lawn. And the memes generated after Lawrence’s meltdown on one of those inane cable “news” shows were funny, as well as being tragically spot on as an indictment of contemporary social media culture.

There were some clever moments, like Rylance’s creepy Ted Talk presentation on a new high tech, feel good, and totally invasive ap for his phone. Or the shot of Meryl Streep lighting up a cigarette in front of a sign that said “Flammable” in big red letters while declaring “We’re the grown ups here.” Or how corporate/high tech greed was portrayed in the cancelation of this “earth saving” mission at the last moment at the behest of tech billionaire (Mark Rylance) in order to attempt mining the comet for rare earth minerals. And one line from Lawrence’s character toward a group of young people comparing conspiracy theories about political leaders, the media and corporations stood out in particular: “Guys, the truth is way more depressing, they’re not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.” Indeed.

Okay, now the stuff I found problematic. The film is almost entirely American centric. Yes, I know it IS an American film, but this would not be such a big deal if the US media didn’t have such a stranglehold on so much of the world in terms of broadcasting. But it does. Its hegemonic influence is hard to escape. And the movie places the United States not only at the forefront of a response to a global catastrophe, but totally eclipses the rest of the world. And this is not by accident. All Hollywood or corporate generated American movies do this.

And, whether we like to acknowledge this or not, this is a cast of multi-millionaires. A-list celebrities acting with multi-million-dollar production sets, expensive props and high tech special effects. This fact does not exist independent of the content of the movie, or any movie for that matter. It is important to note this because I think it contributes to its general lack of class consciousness. For example, some of the political speech scenes that parody Trump’s rallies appear to also lampoon working people. The term “the working class” is used in such a manner that disparages them, but not in the way the film intends. It comes across as elitist and misanthropic. The reality is that Trump’s biggest supporters were not the working class, but rather upper middle class to wealthy, predominantly white, men.

And this brings me to the partisanship of the film. While parodying the prior administration for its obvious populist fascism and anti-science stance, it ignores the other side of the political aisle in the country. It was elites within the Democratic Party like Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi who mocked the idea of a “Green New Deal.” It is Joe Biden’s administration that held the largest-ever auction of off-shore oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico. What this film, and so many like it, fail at is holding the ruling class itself responsible for ecocide and climate change. Both ruling parties are capitalist to the core. It is profit before planet every time. And, as in unbridled support for the military and militarism, this is a bipartisan affair.

Speaking of militarism, there is also the obligatory nod to the US military sector that only comes from productions like this. The American military is the biggest polluter and contributor to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. And yet the primary “solution” to this comet problem is to use the military to address an existential crisis. And the scientists have no objection to any of this. This is how normalized American militarism is. And that should be shocking but, sadly, it isn’t.

In addition to this, I found the use of an arbitrary celestial event like a comet as a metaphor for climate change catastrophe to be deeply problematic. Climate change is human caused. There is nothing “arbitrary” or sudden about it. And the people responsible for its acceleration have names and addresses. They also have enormous political power to go along with their enormous bank accounts. And most of them live comfortably in the Global North, while the poor of the Global South suffer the consequences of their avarice and apathy. I understand this is only a simple allegory. And I understand the desire to reach out to people who are disaffected or unaware, but this makes the plotline somewhat flawed from the start.

There are more refugees today than during World War II thanks to the impacts of catastrophic climate change. Hundreds of millions of people have been forced to flee their homes thanks to climate related catastrophes like drought, famine and war. Countless species succumb to habitat loss and ocean acidification. In the Global North, millions of people are experiencing real depression and anxiety related to our collective ecological predicament. But in the Global South, hundreds of millions of people are facing disaster and extinction now. The hypothetical comet isn’t coming, it has already arrived. Billions of them, in fact, and in ways we have yet to comprehend. And there are powerful people who profit nicely from maintaining this planet killing scheme.

I could talk about some of the things I thought were banal or contrived, but instead I will mention the best parts of “Don’t Look Up.” And to me those are the mic-drop moments. In Lawrence’s and DiCaprio’s meltdowns on air about the impending extinction level event about to occur. How many climate scientists, ecologists, activists, poets, writers and truthtellers can relate to the rage, the frustration, and the despair of living in a time of collective madness at quite possibly the end of human history, or at least organized human life on this planet? If “Don’t Look Up” has any lasting impact (pardon the pun) I hope it will serve as a conversation starter. But the tragedy is that the time for talking about climate catastrophe passed us by several years ago. Sadly, so has much of the time for effective action to stem its worst affects.

We need a mass movement that upends the structures of power and jettisons corporate capitalism, extractive and ecologically destructive industries, consumerist culture, the military sector and the police/surveillance state decisively, immediately and completely for there to be any chance of a livable planet for humanity and countless other species. And we need art, and writing, and reporting, and songs, and films that are bold enough to talk about this in a radical and revolutionary way. Unfortunately, it is in this way that movies like “Don’t Look Up” fall short.

Kenn Orphan 2021

*Photo source: Netflix.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

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Remembering Desmond Tutu

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” ― Desmond Tutu (7 October 1931 – 26 December 2021)

Humanity lost one of its most courageous and moral voices.

Distinguishing Radical Liberation from Liberal Authoritarianism

“Puritanism has made life itself impossible. More than art, more than estheticism, life represents beauty in a thousand variations; it is indeed, a gigantic panorama of eternal change. Puritanism, on the other hand, rests on a fixed and immovable conception of life; it is based on the Calvinistic idea that life is a curse, imposed upon man by the wrath of God. In order to redeem himself man must do constant penance, must repudiate every natural and healthy impulse, and turn his back on joy and beauty.” – Emma Goldman

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”  – Albert Camus.

Since my last piece regarding the myth of “woke fascism” I have received numerous messages and emails which seem to misunderstand much of what I wrote. So, I wanted to clarify. While there is no such thing as “left fascism,” I do not deny that there are authoritarian currents in what passes as the left today. These do not amount to fascism, but I think they do pose a threat to the democratic process and often aid the far right, as I will talk about below.

In today’s social media culture, radicalism is often reduced to performative social justice or virtue signalling. The way this works is through an impulse among many self-identified progressives (and some leftists) to amplify socially accepted ethics while policing the thought and speech of everyone else. I have seen this manifest in many forms, from “canceling” a person because they may express a divergent opinion regarding gender expression, or in “mob justice” mentality where a group of people gang up on one person online and troll them incessantly for expressing something that is considered unacceptable to today’s progressive sensibilities.

Certainly, the pandemic has exacerbated much of this as well. For instance, anyone who criticizes Big Pharma or discusses the well documented crimes of the medical establishment in the past may be cast unfairly as an “anti-vaxxer,” an ableist, or worse. I may have been guilty of some of this myself. It stems from a desire to find some order and meaning in a world where neither seldom exist and in an era of mistrust and misinformation. But there is an impulse to punish anyone who dissents from this “order” because they are perceived as a threat. And it usually isn’t very helpful at confronting unhinged conspiracy theories or dispelling false information.

I have witnessed some of this myself especially when it comes to topics like sex, gender and sexuality. Many progressive-minded people, primarily Americans from my experience, appear to be on a Victorian/puritanical crusade to purge culture and the world of anything that may be considered “abusive,” might “trigger” someone, or that may make them feel uncomfortable. An urge to shut down discourse or debate. Unfortunately, the #MeToo movement has contributed to this in a rather pernicious way. And no matter what radical veneer it might display, it is liberal authoritarianism at work.

To reiterate, while “woke fascism” is nonsense, progressive or liberal authoritarianism is not. And liberalism often plays handmaiden to real fascism. Back in the 1980s, self described “radical feminists” like Andrea Dworkin launched a crusade against pornography. In the process, she and others linked arms with conservatives and the far right. Like an echo from the Temperance movement of the early 20th century, these women were merely repeating a similar narrative of reactionaries. Their narrow focus on abuse ended up stamping out much of the incredible progress made by sexual liberation movements in the 1970s.

To many of them, almost any expression of sex, sexuality and the human body were to be defined as oppressive, immoral, degenerate and traumatic. And all of this supposed “debauchery” required severe and draconian government action to surveil, censor and punish the so-called “offenders.” This episode was like a repeat of the notorious “Red Scare” of the McCarthy years where thousands of people where labeled “perverts” or “sexual deviants” and blacklisted from jobs. Countless lives were ruined. Families destroyed. Many committed suicide due to the trauma. And it demonstrated that puritanical crusades never really died in American society. One look at the vicious battle being waged against reproductive freedom and we can see it in action today.

In addition to echoing the Temperance movement, Dworkin and others like her ironically echoed Christian fundamentalists and Calvinists. Without a doubt, most pornography produced today is a product of capitalism. It is exploitative because capitalism is exploitative. But viewing it outside of this lens renders the issue hollow. It becomes just another liberal crusade that ends up aiding conservatives, evangelical Christians and the far right.

With religious zeal, Dworkin rained down fire and brimstone on any who dared deviate from her thin line of what was acceptable and what was obscene. Unsurprisingly, she gained enormous support from the Reagan administration and notoriously anti-gay bigots like James Dobson. Today, celebrated, self described radical feminists like Gail Dines and Julie Bindel appear to be repeating this, although now it is risibly being reframed as a “public health crisis.”

Ironically, it is often the elite in the LGBTQ community who appear to be taking up this crusade today. Since marriage equality passed in the US, bourgeois respectability politics have sadly gained ground too. Now, more than in the past, prominent, powerful and wealthy LGBTQ couples seek to mimic their heterosexual counterparts. Heteronormativity, along with shaming and virtue signaling, has become all the rage in some circles.

In truth, sexual “deviance” from the norm has always been looked at through the lens of Protestant Christian purity in the US. It is seen as something to suppress, police or expunge. And with so many prominent queer people clamouring to join the mundane cultural mainstream, the avantgarde and the different are increasingly being vanished or marginalized. But there is also an increasing conservativism within bourgeois LGBTQ circles which serves to perpetuate the oppressive systems of capitalist exploitation, class and nationalistic militarism. Just look to how many Pride Parades today are inundated with sponsors or contingents from corporations, banks, police and the military sector for an idea of how far it has gone.

Despite what many might argue, there is nothing radical about appealing to authority within a deeply authoritarian society. And while we recognize the silliness of “woke fascism,” we should not ignore the abuses of progressive or liberal authoritarianism masquerading as radicalism. Opposing societal ills like misogyny, homophobia and racism should never court censorship or echo reactionary structures of oppression.

The true radical experience should always be liberating for everyone, but especially the poor, the marginalized, and the powerless. It should ultimately condemn punitive ideologies of retributive justice, because wallowing in a state of perpetual victimhood or narcissistic woundedness only ends up serving the powerful by reinforcing their hierarchical worldview. Radical liberation revels in its creative imagination to transform society from a place of trauma to one of solidarity. And anything less than that is not worthy of our energy.

Kenn Orphan December 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

The Dangerous Myth of “Left Woke Fascism”

How anyone could believe that “left woke fascism” is actually a thing is staggering. But I have encountered this line of thinking many more times than I am comfortable with lately, primarily among Americans.  Sadly, it has become very fashionable in some corners on the internet to bemoan and decry the supposed scourge of leftist “wokeness” and to equate it with the real menace of far-right authoritarianism, violence and brutality. It is a myth that has gained alarming traction.

Without a doubt, the politics of identity have long been used in order to maintain hegemony and neoliberal policies. It is a cynical, but effective, way to distract from issues of class and capitalist exploitation. And it has been used to silence people who may offer a differing point of view by unfairly casting them as racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. But the nonsense of “woke fascism” has been created by far-right ideologues and peddled by grifters like Bari Weiss, Bret Easton Ellis, Jordan Peterson and Glenn Greenwald who rake in tons of money off this ahistorical, erroneous and dangerous rubbish.

“Wokeness” is a new term, but it is derived from the mid 20th century. “Stay woke” was a phrase Black American workers used to encourage attention to civil and labor rights issues. It was later revived by activists in this century. As is the case of all progressive movements under capitalism, the term was co-opted by corporations as well as the police/surveillance/military sector to whitewash real systemic inequities with feel good, empty slogans or lifestyle choices which simply amounted to more profit for their particular brand.  

But terms matter. While there are certainly self-described “left-wing” governments that are anti-democratic or even authoritarian, fascism has always been a far-right ideology rooted in the marriage of corporation and state, and maintained through violence, racial/ethnic/religious supremacy, scapegoating of immigrants and other minorities and unfettered nationalism. It is one thing to decry the excesses of political correctness or “cancel culture,” it is quite another to use terms like fascism for these particular societal trends.

It comes down to this: there are no “woke leftist fascists” who are aiming to whisk people off to concentration camps and/or wipe out mass sections of humanity because they fail to use the correct pronoun. There are, however, real fascists who would like nothing less than doing this to the people they view as genetically, culturally or religiously inferior to them and a threat to the traditional power arrangement in society. There are real fascists who dream of dropping leftists into the ocean as they did in Pinochet’s Chile. The song “Start up the Rotors” by Polish singer Kel’Thuz fantasizes about this openly and is shared widely by far right trolls on the internet. And one other recent instance is a chilling reminder of this. Following the Rittenhouse verdict, a member of the notorious Proud Boys expressed online: “The left wont stop until their bodie(s) get stacked up like cord wood.”

And yet I’ve seen an argument being used that attempts to equate mean tweets, “canceling” or even threats by a few left-identifying people on Twitter or Facebook as being evidence for “woke” or “leftist fascism.” While any kind of bullying, doxing or censorship of ideas should be condemned, these incidents do not amount to anything remotely fascist in nature.

The terrifying reality is that right now actual fascism is gaining ground. It has manifested itself in the laws that make it more and more difficult by the day for people of color and the urban poor to vote or organize. Laws that criminalize protest and grant impunity to people who plow down demonstrators with their cars. Laws that give people the right to become bounty hunters on women and those who assist them with access to a safe abortion. Lawmakers and police who openly cavort with white supremacist militias. Lawmakers who dismiss or even assist an attempted coup. Lawmakers who threaten other lawmakers with violence, rape or death. Lawmakers who deny science and ignore public safety in favor of the fossil fuel industry, corporate profit or the gun lobby. Lawmakers who pose with their family carrying assault rifles for a tweet in the immediate aftermath of yet another horrific mass shooting. These aren’t some trolls on the internet. They are elected officials and public servants.

American fascism resembles other fascistic societies, but it inhabits its own, unique sphere in history. It is the wealthiest and most powerful empire the world has ever known. And there is no indication that this will change in any way of significance any time soon. To ignore or downplay the real rise of fascism in this context or be a handmaiden to its growth is not only the height of foolishness. It invites a kind of horror words could not begin to describe.

Kenn Orphan, December 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Seeing the Sacred in the Mundane

These photos were taken 10 years ago at a train station in China. An old man apparently died while sitting there causing alarm among others awaiting their trains. But then a Buddhist monk calmly walked up to the man, held his hand and bowed. There was silence as onlookers took photos and took in this sight of reverence.

The photos resonated with me the first time I saw them. I felt sadness for the man because he died alone. But also because I think they offer a simple and profound meditation on what it means to have a body and what it means when that body is no longer animated by a soul. What it means when time stops for you or for another. And that all of that is the epitome of the sacred.

So often we think of the sacred as being something that exists outside of our ordinary lives, something necessarily ethereal, often within a religious setting or context and only the purview of saints. And I think when we do this we often miss it in the mundane transactions, travels, rituals and routines of our daily lives.

But sometimes it tears through the cloak of our illusions just long enough for it to demand our undivided attention, as in this instance. And in the simplest of gestures we see it clearly, if only for a moment. A few quiet words of reverence. A holding of a hand. A bow. And suddenly we realize, we are all waiting for our train to arrive.

Kenn Orphan, December 2021

Photo taken on November 25, 2011. (Reuters/Asianewsphoto)

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Censorship, the Myth of Free Data, and the False Solutions on the Table

There is a line I keep seeing repeated on social media. It goes something like this: “They are allowed to decide what is acceptable to post and what is not. It’s free, after all.” Things like that may make snappy and snarky comebacks to people complaining about internet censorship. Only it isn’t true. Not by a long shot.

Facebook, Twitter and virtually every other social media company make billions of dollars off our personal information. Some of that information is freely given by us, most is not. Carefully crafted algorithms capture and bundle our mundane or most intimate details and sell them to advertising agencies and political public relations firms, who then attempt to manipulate our fears, desires, pleasures and prejudices to sell us a product or influence our way of thinking about an issue.

These social media giants hold a monopoly on what has become the commons for humanity. A place traditionally available to everyone in the community. They have privatized these commons and operate them without any oversight, no requirement for hearing and responding to complaints, and no democratic process.

This may sound like I am plugging for the supposed Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. I am not. I believe that Haugen is advocating for the exact opposite of what is needed. In addition to this, her access to power should be suspect. She has been given exclusive interviews by Big Media and her testimony has been welcomed before government bodies in the US, UK and EU. She enjoys bipartisan support at a time when we are told such collaboration does not exist. Compare this with how Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have been treated.

Haugen is celebrated by the powerful because she is no threat to them. On the contrary, she made her career from the very algorithms that filter out dissent on search platforms like Google. She also worked in counterespionage in her time at Facebook, advocating for greater “protections” in the name of American “national security.”

If one reads between the lines it becomes obvious that Haugen’s “solution” to the problem of social media tyranny is to put even more control into the hands of despotic intelligence agencies and the ruling class. If she is successful, the new social media landscape will not only see the censorship of racist, white supremacy and violent nationalism, it will effectively silence the left in its analysis, criticism and resistance to the predations of late capitalism, war and ecological destruction and all of its mechanisms of oppression.

The hard truth is that none of this will be solved under the existing structures and arrangements of power. We live in an era of expansive, technological mass surveillance, by both corporations and the corporate state. The ruling class has always used this in order to quash dissent and control thought and resistance. That much has never changed. But its scope is greater than at any other time in human history. And it will use meaningless slogans like “protecting children” or “preserving democracy” to distract the public from its increasing authoritarian overreach. Therefore, putting more tools of censorship into the hands of the few and the powerful will only ensure less democracy, not more.

But we can use our own agency to resist both corporate censorship as well as data mining. We should oppose draconian legislative actions that curtail freedom of expression and speech, or put more control into the hands of corporations or intelligence agencies and the politicians who are in their service. And we can stop repeating the lie I stated at the beginning of this essay. Social media has never been a free service for any of us. But it has certainly given a lot of advertisers, wealthy investors, intelligence agents and politicians a free ride.

Kenn Orphan December 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!