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Monday, April 03, 2017

There Will Be Blood: An American Tragedy

In these trumped up times, a 2007 film review for Time magazine by Richard Schickel about an obsessive, idealist con man turned monster makes for interesting reading 10 years later.

Schickel is writing about Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal in There Will be Blood, a Hollywood film and modernist parable filled with acts of violence that are sometimes accidental, sometime inevitable, and about the empty spaces within a man who allows his disillusionment to turn to destruction. The film is what they call a slow-burner; it requires time for Day-Lewis to realistically explore the life-long processes of disillusion and within its two and half hours I find it hard not to draw parallels with a character who could easily have been Donald Trump's grandfather.

I also wonder if Trump will not be how we define America in the early 21st Century. A disconnected nation staring into an abyss of unhindered populism was a country waiting for Trump. An angry, fearful, resentful people, some of their frustrations completely legitimate, some exaggerated, whipped up by the rhetoric of a man who can offend, threaten, flip-flop and be downright nuts and it matters not a jot. A man who wants to "grab women by the pussy", and who thinks it's okay for other men to call his daughter, Ivanka, "a piece of ass" and is still electable. Can you imagine the public lynching if Barack Obama had acted in this way?

Trump is subconscious whitewashing at its best; even the Western media's term for his new wave of facism is kind of pretty and non-threatening. Populism isn’t ideology, it’s described as energy, as a well-intentioned but necessary evil: entitled and noble, naive and skeptical, good-willed and dangerous all at the same time, and not going away any time soon.

I can only agree with the last part. Acting aggressively creates an adversarial environment, which, to me, is neither noble nor good-willed. Nor is it necessary. It's just one more face of fascism made acceptable by a voting majority. Lest we forget, in every age of anger, nationalism has always been the go-to remedy for disorder and meaninglessness. When cultures based on self-interest crash, nationalism remains its inescapable evil twin.

With Russia now the house that Putin built, America is being rebuilt, too, by a madman walking on a political razor's edge. However, as long as America's economy is strong, Trump supporters will accept his hate speeches and his lies, when they believe it's for a greater good. Nation building takes stink, sweat and blood, as any history student knows and any American pioneer will proudly tell you.

Meanwhile self-serving interest is alive and kicking; Trump's personal agenda is going well: The Trump brand is thriving. His family is planning a second hotel in Washington, D.C. He is busily promoting his properties. He has paid little political price for violating his promises not to bring his children into government. His tax returns remain secret, and so for the most part do the details of his campaign’s Russian connections. As embarrassing as it is that the health bill collapsed, it would have been far worse for him politically had it passed.

And if any of us feel like saying a little prayer for the Trump administration (i.e., Trump's children, in-laws, cronies, et al.) to fall, then don't. You can bet a wounded Trump is even more dangerous than a pacified one. Think on this: He is at least as capable of destroying the independence and integrity of the U.S. intelligence community as that community’s revelations are to destroy him. Did someone call this new wave Trump is surfing on, an energy? Only if it's a metaphor for fossil energy. Like its counterpart, it's unsustainable, and destined to deplete the world as it burns itself out.

If rational minds survive, future historians - with more scholarly aplomb than me - will be better able to thread through the decades to pinpoint how we arrived at our current global mess. It will be with the sort of incisive look that benefits from decades of distance, when a person can critique more objectively and not assign blame. Blame is entirely a concept for the present, for those of us too close to be detached from the time we are in, because if you stop to think about it, no single thing is really to blame. Not Trump. Not his supporters. Not the critics who failed to take him seriously.

The issues are more complex than simply a matter of black or white. Still, scholars of this decade, who nevertheless understand the threads pulled yesterday have played a part in unravelling the tapestry of today, will find it difficult to detach themselves from their emotions. I do. We are human after all. As much as we might try and understand with reasoning, the conclusion we reach can be flawed by emotion. The whole deal with humanity is that it is subjective; being objective is hard, even when looking from a distance of time.

A historical lens may correct our vision, but vision will always be open to human interpretation. Even those of us, who understand the futility of drawing artificial lines where none exist, will have to stand on one side or another because now they have been drawn, and for a time they do exist. It doesn't matter how private an individual you are, or how much of an invasion of privacy you feel it is to have to air your political ideals out in the open, it seems you are forced to show your "true colours" one way or another.

It must be terrifying for people of colour to see so much of their world under the diktats of Trump's WASPish Christianism, where they feel their way of life so threatened that they must perversely destroy it, in order to preserve a semblance of it. Seen through their eyes, it's a world where political institutions, law enforcement, even the press, colour code who we are, how we should act, and the extent to which our life has value. It's a world where character and humanity is now judged over having the "right" opinion. It's a world where xenophobic Christianism dictates one law for "humans" and another for "barbarians", corrupted by the worst of ancient Greek and Roman culture as Islam was corrupted by an Arabic one.

In another time, another world, it would have been offensive to ask a human being whether they care about the loss of human life simply because of who they are, or the colour their skin. Now it feels as though Muslims in the West are forced to speak the obvious for fear of violent retaliation every time some disillusioned mind decides to wreak a few seconds of chaos. When a white peadophile is discovered in Britain, do I, as a person of colour, really need to go to every white person and ask them what they feel about child abuse? I think I would be treated as someone who was obnoxious, rude or insane. And rightly so.

Obviously there comes a time we all need to take a stand, but the motivation must be rational, not irrational. Using tragedy to reinforce racist stereotypical myths shows the pendulum has swung too far the other way. It's part and parcel of today's global culture of imbalance, where we are much more concerned with building walls instead of bridges. We build walls between people of different colours and creeds, and then wonder why they don't shout their support over the top when something happens on our side of the line.

It has to be noted that the walls we build today to keep others out, may one day be used to lock us in. We don't need a bloody Hollywood epic to tells us that what we do to others today may come back down the line to bite us on the ass.

We no longer need to watch a slow-spiral of American destruction of epic proportions onscreen to imagine what it would be like and import lessons from it into our own lives. We can watch it live. We can choose to turn real human suffering and tragedy into online conspiratorial myth; if we don't believe it, it never happened. The first of the month was a perfect sign of the times: With fake news so unbiquitously spread online, the sure-fire giggle of April Fool's Day fake news is not as funny as it once was. We are now one long running April Fool's joke.

It used to be the case that fiction was a sphere in which to explore the parts of us that are better never explored in reality, but not now: The confusion, anger and violence that fills our communities is apt enough as a crucible, the war is on our streets, not our 65" SMART TV screens.

We are left in the uncomfortable position of owning our own paradoxical natures, coming to terms with the fact that what is most human about us is also maddeningly inconsistent. Yes, we live in obsessive, idealist times. And it no longer makes for interesting reading.

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