In which we send the Commune intern into the maelstrom of popular culture.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado was probably seen by about twenty people, despite or because of being the sequel to a perfectly good movie if you like watching Benicio Del Toro as a killing machine. The sequel adds Josh Brolin playing, as always, a huge thumb wearing human clothing. Like all movie openings, this one features that night vision effect. Some people carrying ragged loads are seen from above and moving bottom to top across the screen, which is to say, south to north, so we know they are heading for the US border. As they are intercepted by ground vehicles, one figure breaks from the group, runs, is swiftly hemmed in. He reaches into his pack, does something or other, is still. As border agents approach, we see that he is kneeling in prayer; we see the grenade in his hand, the detonation, the prayer rug. Cut to a huge retail outfit in Kansas City where a series of dark-skinned humans walk in and blow themselves up in a choreography designed to maximize deaths of what appear mostly to be white women and children. We are a couple minutes in and I have already done too much summarizing. Here is the laconic IMDB tag: “The drug war on the US-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border.” The writing for the film was begun in 2016; it was released in June of this year. There is literally nothing to say about this movie except that it seems to contain the entire fantasia offered by the US government in response to the refugee caravan so much in the news of late. Like, they just cribbed that shit. One has to suspect that one of the film’s twenty viewers was some operative from 1600, possibly that oleaginous fuckboi Mike Pompeo sneaking off from his duties to catch a matinee. But of course the film fails to explain what to do if no Muslim/MS13 terrorist collabo materializes at the border and it’s just tired and starving people fleeing catastrophe. At that point it’s tear gas all around, I guess, and hope Sicario 3 has a more helpful explainer in the pre-credit scene before Pompeo passes out in a pool of his own filth.
“2002,” by a person named Anne-Marie, is in the style of much ENDM (Electronic Non-Dance Music): guitar arpeggios scrubbed until they gleam in the digital moonlight and everything with hard gates, vocals in what I have come to think of as the Halsey style, breathy and faux-innocent, moving back and forth between isolate explication and a multitracked chorus that perversely expresses a far greater loneliness. It is very contemporary-sounding. The chorus comprises phrases from Britney, Jay-Z, *NSync, Nelly, Britney again. Why does she hate Christina Aguilera, we wonder? Still it’s cute. Not all the songs quoted are from 2002; that is simply where the songs gather, as the celebrants gather in the woods to dance on the hood of an abandoned car. Of course it has to be an “old Mustang,” that elected representative from the country of the past, in particular from the era of US industrial majesty (see The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift for the hypercase). The song is not so different from the similarly adorable “90s Country” by Walker Hayes, also presently on the charts. Though in no way new, this has in fact become the dominant genre of WM (White Music), the song as explicit aggregation of other songs that mark out a lost era, a nostalgia for hegemony passed off as a general remedy for the bummer of adulthood. Easy enough to laugh about MAGAM (Make American Great Again Music), even if Anne-Marie is English. Still, it’s not clear that the Compassionate Keynesianism of renascent democratic socialism is any less nostalgic. Do we even want to hear the music of the future, the music that says there is a way out? Probably not, it always sounds like lounge music + Adderall.
A poet named Toby Martinez de las Rivas made the shortlist for the Forward Prize, the top award for a book of poetry in the UK; just recently he had a long selection in Poetry, the leading if traditionally reactionary poetry journal in the US. I mention this because some readers have suggested he might be a fascist. They point to his book’s title, Black Sun, and how it is a fascist symbol. Not really, he explains. He was aware of the symbol’s significance but up to something else entirely, and “trusted the critical engagement of [his] readership” to follow this. Perhaps he is another Malevich, the Russian artist whose “Black Cross” seems like a project to see how much sheer force of abstraction it would take to escape Christian symbology. Maybe that’s it; Martinez de las Rivas was trying to be super not-fascist. Anyway he insists it’s no big deal: “The association seemed to me—and still seems to me—highly tenuous, and amounts to one symbol at Wewelsburg castle which seems to have held no particular significance to the Nazis; in fact, it was not called a “black sun” until 1991.” It is hard to imagine a more disingenuous claim, given that it is checks watch after 1991. The author lives in the same world as you and I, the world featuring a neo-Nazi movement chock-a-block with black sun imagery on flags, tattoos, shield insignia, you name it. The poet has also suggested that “perhaps the truly radical now would be to see a deep political shift from the left to the right, or the substitution of a committed neoGeorgian ruralism for a (de)constructivist urbanism in the halls of innovative poetics.” He’s really worried about Marxist dogma’s perncious effects. Then there is the matter of the poetry. Martinez de las Rivas likes to capitalize “the West”; he likes the word “white” a whole lot. He loves pastoral England, still pure and true; the city not so much. Oh, there is also the poem “Elegy for the Young Hitler,” which purposes to humanize that well-known human. This is a brave and important task for poetry in 2018. In so doing, the poem reduces genocide down to banal psychology. Of course there is in the end little import in the question of whether this one poet dude is kinda fashy, and little surprise in the vulnerability of Poetry magazine, founded three years before “Black Cross,” to fashy verse culture; after all, their fortunes have been forever tied to Ezra Pound. It is part of their brand. What is surprising is how persistently people accept that the only possible positive verdict depends on someone actually declaring they are a fascist, as if it were an identification rather than a world-picture. Of course there is a legitimate fear that people will be wrongly slandered. We should be much more afraid of the day when a poet or anyone else does say they are a fascist, feels like saying such a thing openly is something one can get away with. At that point we have already lost.
Ella Mai is one of the many singers we have been gifted in this era of great female R&B, aka the era while we await the increasingly unlikely return of FTP Twigs. Her single, “Boo’d Up,” turns on that device wherein the distinctly nonlinguistic body is heard to say syllables and make sense. “My mind’s telling me one thing but I guess I should listen to my heart,” she says at the end. Her heart, per the chorus, is telling her, “ba-dum boo’d up” and variations. The heart speaks of matters of the heart. If we could hear the kidney speaking, it would surely be a discourse on piss. Driving across the bridge, J and I were discussing how much we liked this device no matter how familiar. Why is it so satisfying? In part it is because, given the heart’s limited communication skills, it must wait for the development of new expressions like “boo’d up” that it is able to pronounce. The heart is nothing if not patient. There is also something in the promise that the crucial ideas begin in the body. This is a staple of seventies feminism, and the opposition of body and mind, nature and culture, is often projected onto non-white cultures in exoticizing and mystifying ways. It is also true that the sense that the most important matters do not begin from ideas or even feelings is probably inseparable from theories of revolution more broadly. The language, the realization, the leap — these come from lived experience. Not that one’s body is always right, not at all. And as long as it is a single body, the methodological individualism of the human instrument, there are real limits. But we are waiting for the social heart, or perhaps the collective spleen, to learn how to say again, aux barricades. Maybe that is the music of the future.
“But of course the film fails to explain what to do if no Muslim/MS13 terrorist collabo materializes at the border and it’s just tired and starving people fleeing catastrophe.”
During the extended peak of the California fires, Instagram filled with horrifying pictures of the landscape under duress, the sun going down as seen through the Apocalypse filter provided gratis in the form of clouds of burnt shit in the atmosphere. San Francisco had its worst air quality day ever, competing with the worst air on the planet. And the pictures were spectacular, all flare and diffusion, the setting sun a fierce and sickly red, otherworldly. One had the sense that, after eight fine years of selfies, vacation porn, and food portraits, Instagram had finally found its true calling. This is what it had always been for. As we walked around behind our N95s, waiting to see if friends and loved ones would be burned out or worse, we marveled at the beauty of it all. This was a kind of retrospective nostalgia. The very fact that we could call these images “apocalyptic,” as we did over and over, day after day, caption after caption, was bathed in the idea that we still lived in a world where these images were exceptional, were somehow more like religious visions or like movies than like life. The images won’t be so interesting in a couple of years. We will long for when they seemed worth posting. The red will just be red. The light will just be light. Here is how the world looked as it was ending, stored in a cloud that machines will preserve and no one will access, one day.