Being Negative Is Lazy, Easy And Safe

If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that people who are positive and sunny are generally phonies, fakes and full of shit. They are wearing masks that cover that the dark rot at the center of their souls or, if they’re actually happy, they’re only that way because ignorance is bliss. We all know that the darker, more cynical and more depressed someone is the more real they are, the more truth they see and the more they have to say.

I regret to inform you that this is all bullshit. Maybe not the part about the phonies – we live in a society that values image above reality, and so many unhappy people put desperate masks of positivity on, like serial killers spraying perfume to hide the smell of the rotting carcasses of their victims. These people may be giving positivity a bad name. But the rest of it – the idea that only the depressed and the morose and the negative people have truth, especially in the arts, is nonsense.

In fact it might be the exact opposite. The more I learn – or more specifically, the more I unlearn 40 years of cultural conditioning – the more I realize that being negative and cynical is actually living on easy mode. It’s the default setting, it’s the simplest way to be. It’s using your brain exactly as it was evolved to be used and not going above or beyond in any way. It’s lazy, in fact.

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THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD: The Wizarding World Films Get Their Own ATTACK OF THE CLONES

I walked out of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with one burning question that I hope to see answered at some point in the next of three more planned film in this Harry Potter prequel franchise:

Why the hell are these movies about Newt Scamander?

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Pete Davidson And The Dark Side Of Civility

Civility: it’s the new dirty word. If you’re a progressive or know progressives you’ve probably heard the word spat in a way that drips with hatred and scorn, often by people who have never so much as shoved another human being but are very, very, very vocally for visiting violence upon people they personally identify as Nazis.

But is civility so bad? Yeah, probably. At least the way that we mean it these days, a way that was personified in the terrible Saturday Night Live segment with Dan Crenshaw this weekend. A quick catch-up in case you have been mercifully unaware of this brouhaha: Pete Davidson, the Lil Xan of SNL, made fun of then-candidate Dan Crenshaw for having one eye (or more accurately for his intense looking eye patch). The world, always looking for things about which to be mad, got up in arms. The next week Crenshaw came on SNL, mocked Davidson in return, and got an apology.

That’s great, right? I mean, I’m a Buddhist who believes in restorative justice, so isn’t this like the best possible outcome from the whole thing – a moment of unity and compassion and forgiveness? You might think that… if you didn’t know Dan Crenshaw’s policies.

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The Universal Mass Shooter

There used to be a familiar refrain in the aftermath of a mass shooting: don’t name the killer. Don’t give him the fame he wanted. I never took to this – it always seemed like magical thinking to me, a connection to the old days when a name was a power object – but I understood the rationale well enough.

Today we don’t really know the names of mass shooters, and I don’t think it’s because this campaign for an attitudinal shift worked. I think it’s because no one can keep up with them. Of all the statistics about shootings in this country, this is maybe the one that shakes me the most: these events are so common we don’t even have the time or the energy to care about who did it.

I come from the world of true crime and serial killer fascination; reading about and learning about the worst offenders in history are hobbies of mine. I do not turn away from these people – if anything I’m fascinated by these deadly outliers. But the mass shooter is no longer an outlier; he’s an increasingly banal figure stepping out of the shadows, unsurprisingly legal weapon in his hand. He’s angry, disaffected, almost always white. 99% of the time a he. We are fascinated by novelty – there was a time when mass shootings were so novel that they warranted songs about them, not in protest but in kind of stunned amazement (“I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats, about one of the few mass shootings carried out by a woman) – and the reality is that mass shooters are no longer novel.

At the same time mass shootings are not quite banal. We are in a place where the same horrifying thing happens with almost clockwork regularity; we endure scheduled public traumas. The horror is real but everything else is kind of a blur. It’s the equivalent of being jumped by six guys – each fist and foot is a new and terrible pain, but the people beyond the limbs are out of cognitive range. The fists and the feet are almost independent agents of hurt.

There’s another song I think about, Phil Ochs’ “Universal Soldier.” It paints a picture of one soldier throughout history, fighting and dying in all wars:

He’s five foot-two and he’s six feet-four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years
He’s a Catholic a Hindu an Atheist a Jain
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill
And he knows he always will
Kill you for me my friend and me for you
And he’s fighting for Canada
He’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians
And he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way
And he’s fighting for Democracy
He’s fighting for the Reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide
Who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall
We now have a Universal Mass Shooter. The details may be different, but they’re just masks worn by the same horror. And if we can’t keep up with the shooters, how can we possibly keep up with the victims?

A STAR IS BORN And The Crisis Of Authenticity

What does it mean to be authentic? What even is authenticity? Is it a simple, stripped down identity? Is it who you are when you’re alone, in the dark? Is it in an impossible thing that does not exist because whatever you are doing right now, even if you’re faking it, is authentically you?

Authenticity haunts A Star Is Born, the third remake of a movie starring an actor as a singer and a singer being an actor. Authenticity is what Jackson Maine hungers for, what he strives to embody and, in the end, maybe what kills him. He tries to be authentic in his rootsy, bluesy rock n’ roll, always preaching that you have to have something to say, something meaningful. When his protege and wife, Ally, plays Saturday Night Live he is disgusted by the falseness of her pop persona and the shallow repetitiveness of her lyrics. Where’s the pain, where’s the blood? He looks at her and sees a phony, and later he takes out his anger on her, cruelly tearing her down with words. Are the insults authentic?

More importantly, is Jackson Maine authentic? He believes he is, but the script, by Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters and Eric Roth, gives us hints that Jackson is fundamentally full of shit, that he wouldn’t know an authentic person if she punched a cop in a bar for him. Jackson Maine, played with such crusty greasiness by Cooper that I could smell him from the screen, is presenting a persona that is utterly false, and it’s quite possible that he doesn’t even know who the authentic Jackson Maine even is, or if he does, he hates that person and needs to kill him.

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The Words Of My Imperfect Teacher

The first time I met Noah Levine, I thanked him for saving my life. And I meant it; in the weeks after experiencing the consequences of my past actions – I had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman 13 years prior, something I did not recall but responsibility for which I accepted – I had become sober, but I was floundering with how to deal with my new reality. I was shamed, my life as I knew it was over, and I didn’t know how to live with myself. As is common for the newly sober I threw myself into sobriety memoirs; I wanted to read about other people’s hard bottoms and see that they had survived and maybe even flourished afterwards. One of those books I read was Dharma Punx, Noah’s story of being a young drug addict and alcoholic who got sober and got into Buddhist meditation.

The first time I ever meditated it was based on the instructions that Noah wrote in that book. I sat on my couch and focused on my breath, counting each one, starting over if I got distracted. I couldn’t get past four that first time (today I can sometimes get to ten. Don’t set goals in your meditation would be my advice. Just do the thing). I picked up Noah’s other books – Heart of the Revolution, which presented spiritual awakening as a form of guerrilla warfare against a corrupt and degenerate society, and Against the Stream, which really explained the Buddha’s teachings as a form of radical countercultural protest. These things spoke to me deeply.

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HALLOWEEN 2018: The Shape Of Trauma

This contains full spoilers for the 2018 Halloween.

In the original Halloween II there was an elaborate, soap opera-y reason for Michael Myers to come after Laurie Strode yet again – she was his secret sister, and just as he had killed Judith, he wanted to kill Laurie. This kind of explanation was needed to franchise the characters; if you were going to have Laurie and Michael face off again and again you needed to have a reason. As John McClane once wondered, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” The answer, for decades, was that Michael Myers cared deeply about Laurie.

What Halloween 2018 asks is… what if he didn’t? What if Michael Myers did not care about Laurie Strode at all, but rather Laurie Strode cared so much about Michael Myers that she couldn’t let him go, couldn’t leave him behind, and as such she ends up in the middle of his 40th anniversary prison break, once again being stalked by The Shape who, in other circumstances, would have been happy to just keep killing strangers.

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Suffering And Acceptance In Video Games (aka CALL OF DUKKHA)

I play Call of Duty online multiplayer. Maybe more than I should; perhaps any COD online is too much, as the game is the opposite of what I am trying to cultivate in my mind. No, this isn’t a military violence thing, rather it’s an acknowledgment that shooters like this are twitch-based games. They are about reflexes and reactions, and I am trying to train my mind to respond more slowly, not more quickly. I think they make me kind of jumpy and amped up in a not-great way.

Maybe I’ll kick the habit, but in the meantime I was playing this morning and noticed some serious dukkha happening in the game. Not to me, although I do notice my own suffering sometimes when the game isn’t going my way. No, I saw it in another guy who was ranting and raving about the other players, whom he was calling the kind of slurs that I as a straight white man cannot repeat.

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FIRST MAN: Neil Armstrong Is Trapped In A Glass Case Of Emotion

This contains spoilers for First Man (by which I mean bigger spoilers than “They get to the Moon”).

Ryan Gosling has given many performances that are the equivalent of a glass of water that had some fruit briefly dunked in it – he is so stoic and blank that he just gives you the hint of an idea of the concept of an emotion. Often, as in Drive, these performances have left me cold. But in First Man Gosling – playing one of America’s most iconically emotionally distant men – finds another place to go within that stoicism. As Neil Armstrong Gosling lets us get beyond that stoic exterior and gives us the fragile, live wire trauma that is hiding just beneath the surface.

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Michael Myers Is Not Mentally Ill

Lately non-genre publications/sites have been covering genre films, largely because that’s where the clicks lie. You get all the mainstream mags and the generic film blogs covering movies that were once the sole province of Fangoria or Starlog, and sometimes you end up with writers who don’t know a lot about genre doing the coverage. Add to that hot take/problematic culture and you end up with something along the lines of what Little White Lies published recently, “How Halloween stoked our fears and misunderstanding of mental illness” by Frazer Macdonald.

The piece is well-intentioned – it takes to task how horror movies use mental illness as a shortcut to making a villain/killer scary – but it’s applied incorrectly. Very incorrectly. See, Michael Myers isn’t mentally ill. There’s nothing “wrong” with him, nothing to be “fixed” or healed. And that is what makes him scary.

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