Tags: the end of all things

The robot uprising

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein


I'm hip-deep in Naomi Klein's perspective-altering book The Shock Doctrine. Klein is a columnist for The Nation, so her political bent is clear, but this is definitely not a preaching-to-the-converted book. Reading this stuff reminds me what people mean when they say there are so little differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. Obviously Bush II has made painfully clear the devastating consequences of the differences that do exist, but the economic policies of both parties have, over the last thirty or so years, encouraged the drift of wealth away from the national infrastructure and into the private coffers of the rich. We hear this a lot, and though many of us know it intuitively to be true, we can't speak with any specificity about the apparatus that makes this true.  

Klein addresses that in very clear terms in this book, beginning with the displacement of Keynesian economic thought with Milton Friedman's pro-corporatist theories. Klein also illustrates, quite convincingly, that Friedman's economic policies thrive in totalitarian states. This was proved in the South American Friedman "laboratories" of Chile and Argentina in the 1970s, in which established and highly-regarded social-welfare structures were dismantled after violent political upheaval, and replaced with aggressive privatization and corporate empowerment. There are disturbing parallels between what happened there and the privatization efforts in places like post-Katrina New Orleans (especially on the public education front) and, nationally, in the post-9/11 United States. 

I haven't finished the book yet -- I'm not even halfway through, actually -- but it's already had a strong effect on me. I can't recommend it enough. 

The above video is a "short film" (really more of a long commercial) based on the book, from Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron. (Alfonso is the guy who directed Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien.) It addresses Klein's contention that radical economic change is easiest to apply after major upheaval, such as what follows catastrophic natural disasters or campaigns of fear and repression. The malleable mindset brought about by these conditions is similar, she contends, to that which follows torture. She devotes hundreds of pages to this thesis; it makes for fascinating, terrifying reading. 

Read it!

Transformers

I saw Transformers yesterday, and I've come to a conclusion which will explain it. Michael Bay is a robot. It is the only way someone can make a film in which the robot scenes are, for the most part, fun and exciting (as long as they don't talk), and where the human beings behave as some mechanical intelligence believes they might. The people spoke and acted like they were written by a toaster: he was trying to get humans right -- he just couldn't quite get the hang of them. 

This is one of the most insulting movies I've ever seen. Now I've seen Michael Bay films before, so I know what to expect. I came in there prepared for a lot, and I got all of it: the American military fetishization, slow motion shots of people holding hands with heart-lifting music, A-list actors slumming for a paycheck (in this case, John Turturro and Jon Voight), insane plot developments (at one point a special forces team turns on other members of the American government on the baseless word of some kid they just met who loves his pet robot, and the Secretary of Defense, who's standing nearby, goes along with it all). And explosions. Lots of explosions.

The explosions were cool. The scene in the beginning where a robot attacks a military base looked great, and at that point I was optimistic. There's a neat scene where Starscream, the evil jet, gets into a dogfight with other jets over LA. But then, you know, people started talking, and I wept into my popcorn.

I could have done without the crass stereotypes, too. The fat guy who eats an entire plate of doughnuts while waiting in an interrogation room, spreading crumbs in a three foot radius around him on the table (who then gives up his friend in the most excrutiatingly telegraphed "joke" I've ever seen in a movie); the soldier who is always lapsing into Spanish and has to be reminded by his cohorts to speak English (nothing like right-wing propoganda to make a movie go down easy), and the black characters who yell and clown and have crazy mothers who give them the finger or are worried about the carpet when the FBI storms the house. 

Just typing this, I find myself getting pissed off. And I'm equally pissed off at the people who grew up with the toys and the cartoons who are checking their brains and their ethics at the door so they can agree to like this turd. So let me sum up:

Fuck this reductivist, stereotyping, racist, right-wing, anti-intellectual movie. And fuck Michael Bay.

SCIFICTION about to disappear

The archived stories of SCI FICTION, the fiction branch of scifi.com, will no longer be availabe come Friday, according to a statement on the website's homepage:

"As of Friday, June 15, 2007, SCI FICTION will no longer be availabe on SCIFI.COM. SCIFI.COM would like to thank all those who contributed and those who read the short stories over the past few years."

I knew this was coming, but it still stings. There are so many great stories there, including all those wonderful reprints. There are other good online venues for fiction, but I think few will argue with me when I say SCI FICTION was the best of its kind. This is a real loss. 

If there's anything you've been meaning to read but have been putting off, do it now. 

Thanks to johnjosephadamsfor sounding the bell.