Thursday, April 5, 2012

L'Internationale, Right Wing Elite Style

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is of course a Nobelized mind of nearly unmatched intelligence but all that sagacity usually made him keep his gloves on when handling right wing hysteria. He used to tentatively throw a "Disappointing" here, or a "Mr Ryan made a highly dubious assertion.." there. And that was as far as his frown went. But lately reading his latest op-ed was like finally watching him wake up to the sound of imminent disaster. Fascinating... Brilliant. Needed. But late, much too late.

Yes, Scott Walker attack of the Unions were a "power grab", the focus on tax relief to the ultimate rich through tax cut, tax holidays or trickle-down policies amount to a"corporate cash con" of national scope, and his "Oligarchy American Style" could have been written in 2008. Now the tides of radicalism in the Republican Party is so over the top that most of its member do not only embrace it but promote it in all media outlet with much vigor and foam at the mouth. It's like encountering 500 little Rush Limbaugh on every comment space of every country political websites all very high and all very angry. One could say that right wing spring madness is upon us -internationally.

Here in Canada, Stephen Harper is slashing in all that could be construe as a common cultural heritage with a jubilating efficiency and draconian cuts to the CBC/Radio-Canada  or in any department created for the protection of the public that could give Harper & friends a hard time with pesky legislation and scrutiny.  The Food Inspection Agency, Public Safety Canada, Transport Canada will all be affected for a grand total of more than 19000 jobs out of the door. So, more money to spend on useless jets and military posturing maybe?

Foreign Aid will now mean giving money to Canadian companies that establish themselves internationally and that offer foreign natives different "in-house training" programs. The money, Ottawa tout, will help "create jobs" in countries that need them the most. It almost makes sense. But nowhere is it mention the condition of these jobs, their salaries or the amount per workers that Canadian companies will pocket as pure profit as a gift from Harper & friends.

800 million in the2012 Canadian Budget will be taken from the poor and given to the richest of Canadian citizens under guise of tax cuts or frozen tax rates. The Conservatives, who at their heart are still the Reform Party, are now a Alberta private club affair: it's all steams a-head for oil, pipelines, mining, crude export tanker, gas and circumventing environmental hearing for a fast track from crude to pure cash for Energy investors. And prisons for kids. Promised are almost 300 million dollar in cuts to Correction Canada in the next 3 years but Harper won't build anything new. Guess we'll be calling those US private juvie prisons people soon...

And keep those private US Health Insurance phone numbers at the ready too. Your tax won't grow but all your private expenses will. Especially since Harper & Friends will cut 300 million per year to our Healthcare system. When Harper was only a mini Stockwell Day and the new tech guy for his Reform Party, he totally agree with the party's adherence to bankrupt the National Healthcare system and replace it with a two-tier private health insurance system. His Conservative Party is nothing like the party of Mulroney and Joe Clark  as much as the Republican Party of today has none of the restraint or moderation of the Republican Party under "Ike" Eisenhower.

The approach and grievances of the "build a firewall around Alberta" gang is transparent and did not change since Ernest Manning's day as the "soul" of the Social Credit Party Of Alberta:
-the demise of the National Energy Program that regulates prices,
-the dismantling of the Department of Indian Affairs,
-they were strongly against women right to choose in abortion cases,
-they opposed extending certain rights to homosexuals,
-they were against any immigration "designed to radically or suddenly alter the ethnic makeup of Canada"
-and they think that too much attention and power are given to Quebec and the rest of Eastern Canada.

Harper was a representative of that platform before the Canadian Alliance cannibalized what was left of the Conservative Party. I don't think anything he will do, now that he finally has a miraculous majority, will deviate much from that wish list of the Canadian Alliance Party/Reform Party/Social Credit Party.

 For certain projects public debate will be curtailed- which is ironic giving the new budget propensity  for vague wording and ambiguous itemization inexplicably free of charge ( about consultation of Aboriginal bands, “appropriate legislative and regulatory frameworks related to oil spills and emergency preparedness.”, the new "enhancement to governance and oversight framewok" for the CMHC )- which means we will probably need more of it.

EcoEnergy Programs are deleted, National Council on Welfare gone, the new "modernized" immigration system will be controlled by corporations for corporations...  after spending more than 12 million dollars on advertising on its promotion, the Jim Flaherty Budget was a right-wing hit love song promising that the best was yet to come.

So when I read Krugman finally calls US conservatives "fraudulent""phonies", it fun and heartwarming. But when he calls their policies "wishful thinking", we all have to stop smiling. There is nothing funny or left to chance here. The right wing forces are not the Three Stooges. There is in all countries caught in the grip of a conservative administration a very deliberate, a carefully calibrated, a very thoughtful process of dismantling 80 years of social democracy economical policy that relied on the citizen as a emancipated agent in a union of equals to transform that same citizen as a pure economical assignee- from citizen to consumer, from a protector of national good and commonwealth to a producer and consumer of goods, period. The government that must be "drown like a baby in a bathtub" to paraphrase a conservative policy maker, is to be no more concern by its citizens than ...a bathtub by a drowning baby.

The "economic growth" of the world 2% rich elite is what is sought after with austerity measures from now on. Everything else must be paid for at the most expensive price by you... while you drown in debt. The right wing motto never was prosperity for all. Too bad millions will lose much before they will ever figure it out.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Crazy Brits Make for Interesting TV: Sherlock and Black Mirror

Sherlock & Black Mirror
I don't know exactly what's in those pints but whatever it is, keep it coming!

I already spilled my guts about my total infatuation with The BBC ONE Sherlock revival. Smart, charming, quick witted, cute like a slightly deranged poodle and- in the first season at least- openly gay, he was one hell of a success on my screen time list. Watching the show set up Sherlock and Watson explosive chemistry was akin to an intoxicating head rush. Like it's main protagonist, the show's writers trusted the viewers to jump and follow the stories without missing a beat and asking pointless question - and of course, they did. Those who knew the Conan Doyle canon by heart were treated to little inside jokes, while the others were just so grateful to be totally in the thrall of such masterfully controlled script writing and engaging acting that they just savored the experience and tagged along, smiling just like Holmes (sometimes more) all the way.

So Season 2 was a bit of a disappointment when a Sherlock in love started to save devilish dominatrix in distress in film noir settings and when everybody and his senile mom could easily suspect what was wrong with the savaged darkened marshlands of the Hound of Baskervilles.The wit had dulled, the scripts were of the written on a corner of a pub napkin variety, the famous Holmes/Watson banter, that magical tit for tat chemistry, falling flat most of the time... One  could appreciate Russell Tovey's cameo that brought  Georges from Being Human to fight his inner demons and some potentially ironic werewolves as a moment deserving a chuckle or two no more. But where the two first installments of this season stand lacking in finesse and human connections, the last episode made up for it in suspense. Though a bit teary and obvious in its emotional contrivance, it all came down to a duel of Masters, with a hair-raisingly creepy Moriarty exceeding our expectation as super villain to the point where we as viewers cannot tell illusion from reality and neither can Watson. In another word, the head rush was back and we could see that, for the creators of Sherlock, the best was undeniably still yet to come.
(Source: machomachi)

Daniel Kaluuya gave the same maladapted warmth that made him such a joy to watch in The Fades to his prisoner in Black Mirror. Describe as an "hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected ", but focused on how new technologies affects aspects of our humanity. Writer Charlie Brook's Black Mirror travels the usual road of sci-fi dystopian  fantasies: uncomfortable arrangements are made with the truth and the devil inside our institutions and individual souls. The opening episode was a playing for shock affair with a pig, the prime minister and a lot of youtube. If it sounds like a schoolboy ideas of a dirty joke it's because it basically is. But what saved the whole enterprise and made it worthwhile despite the usual rehash about our voyeuristic instinct was the often straight to the heart criticism of  the actual state of our 5th estate. Little shards of truth rarely make a complete picture, scraps of details on camera with a voice over is not news. But that is what we get stuck with while trying to reconstruct the world around us, politically or otherwise.  And nothing, not even art, can really help us make sense of it but immediacy, Charlie Brooke seem to tell us. We see, we feel, we forget and grow older, colder, faster.

But in the 15 million Merits episode, the metaphors grow smaller and more focused. If you've seen THX 1138 or read Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood or H.G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes, the elements here are nothing new. Daniel Kaluuya's gentle geek persona and the frail, touching voice of Jessica Brown-Findley from Downtown Abbey are reality TV fodder and passive prisoners to a rat wheel of a place that feel horrifyingly familiar. All we can hope is that no marketing exec will ever tie our eyesight to  search engine optimization and pay per click porn - ever.  The episode is a slick stylish affair, all in drab modernist grey blueish tone and glacial steel. Rupert Everett, playing the X-Factor "bitchy" judge with evident delectation,  makes the girl's Juliette innocence a rating gimmick and the guy's Romeo angry resentment a ticket to a bigger, emptier cell. Nothing new here then, but a sick feeling that the walls are coming closer and the screens bigger.

Friday, March 30, 2012

New TV, Old Tropes: A Review of "Hell on Wheels"

Hell on Wheels
It's no Deadwood, but at least it's trying.

Rewriting history is fun. Heroes become villains, villains heroes. One can tell much about where the wind is blowing politically just by watching TV rewriting history, myths and legends.
In the news we expect it, of course. However  fantasy, sci-fi or historical dramas - even  animes and kiddy shows - contain more concrete and accurate political analysis than any Meet the Press right now. And westerns in particular usually lay it thickly like it is.

Westerns give the creators of the shows and its audience the opportunity to start a-fresh, to create the country from the ground up, to their presumed image, all gloves off.
Women are then girls, Natives are Savages and Black people are finally bought and sold again as easily as Kleenex boxes and all is right with the world as God meant it, amen. If  it seems to you like you can recognize by smell just a whiff of the stuff from which GOP's erotic dreams are made, you have the gist of it.

With such a comforting (for some) but reactionary setting, what type of hero do we introduce? One who comfort the rest of the protagonists in their way or one who challenge them? Usually, for demographic sake, creators tends to go with the Loner: available (dead wife means the female audience can always dream of Mr. Strong Silent Type), righteous (vengeance fantasy is good for the slightly frustrated male audience), but sensitively receptive (the "loves me some natives and Blacks are people too as long as I'm still the hero and get the girl" syndrome). Here - everybody's happy!

Deadwood followed the same principles - Timothy Olyphant was eye candy with a soul and a gun. And all things to all men.

So what made that show different? The muddy realistic setting for one, that made for the TV western what Taxi Driver night shots did for New York. And Ian McShane - who could be the Oliver Reed of our time if not for the sad fact that he is not completely insane. And last but not least, great writing based on magnificent little vignettes in characters studies of Calamity Jane, Wild Bill, Wyatt Earp, E.B. Farnum, Mr. Wu, etc... Weary scarred individuals, cruel mob bosses and lonely eccentrics creating slowly but surely the basis for our modern world.

So, what about Hell on Wheels?

Strong silent loner? Check.
Muddy hellhole? Check
Church settlement scene that is an exact knock off of Deadwood's? Check
Non veroled, healthy as an ox prostitutes? Check

Colm Meany, despite his name, might look just too damn decent for a dark villain of first grade manipulative savage capitalism gone unchecked - not an oily old snake like Cy Tolliver, nor a brutal megalomaniac with a twisted tender heart as Al Swearengen.

But, on the other hand, Hell's scope of study of politics might be less restrained to a small town in the making and incorporates the whole land from sea to shining sea.

Also, the law is not our friend anymore. The Swede is a fascinating creature of pure logic. More than a Norwegian, he is the stereotype of the perfect German soldier of some old WWII movie: efficient, loyal, cunning, cold and distant to the point of being slightly psychopatic. But actor Christopher Heyerdahl infuse him silently with enough of a scarred humane quality that we are always enjoying his company and can't wait to see what he'll do next to surprise us.

Lily Bell is a satisfactory heroine. Without going all out Ripley, in dire circumstances she kills to survive and acquire the aura of a survivor that won't get fooled again. Her coldness gives her backbone and we can only root for her as she plays Doc Durant as much as he tries to play her. Unfortunately, it also makes her just plain cold. So our prayers go to the prostitutes.

But my favorites are Joseph Black Moon and Mr Ferguson. Keeping a minimum of self-respect when playing a character that is a member of a minority in our times is a major feat. Long gone are the scripts letting a character like a long lean gentle but stern and unarmed Sidney Poitier could insist loud and clear that is name is Mr Tibbs, period.

Now we'll get some interchangeable ex rapper or another mumbles his few lines and get thrown out of our collective memory just as fast by a continuous chain of bizarrely bad decisions, crude thinking, incompetence or just open idiocy... But here is Common all gentle manner and grave present voice, his dignity intact in the Wild West. In this world, he becomes it's moral center. No angelism, just a Rorschach test of their obsession with power, guilt and displacement. Since Common can act and can make a character grow by giving him an inner life, he will not stay as a simple projection of a race relation simile. If he does, the responsibility will squarely fall on the writers" shoulders.

And finally here is Black Moon with Johnny Depp's Dead Man haircut and scenes after scene of self-loathing angst and childish self effacement. The last time I saw a First Nation aboriginal smile freely on TV without the chapel of any stereotype was in North of 60 and Northern Exposure in the 90's. Again, the writers need to break free and give Black Moon a presence that can enrich the whole show.

The railroad in itself is a character in Hell on Wheels, like a bloodline or an old aunt with bizarre presents.It is undeniably a symbol of what was to come to and become of the Great Far West. But good stories are more than symbols, not less. And I think the writers of Hell on Wheels have what it take to let his hero and stories make a stand about what exactly they intend to built out of all the mud.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New TV, Old Tropes: A Review of "TOUCH"

See Ken & Barbie laugh, see Ken & Barbie cry!
See them fight evil monsters from Mars and kiss and have babies!
Sometimes creating new TV seems as easy as dressing old stories in new clothes.

If you look hard - or like for most shows,  not that hard- you can still see Mary Taylor Moore, the Lone Ranger, Marcus Welby, MD or Hill Street Blues underneath all those Jimmy Choo's ecologically responsible leather pumps and electric blue moire shirts. The Jeffersons "antics" are recycled daily on black sitcoms and our new "girl power" is all about singing and dancing and twirling in great looking clothes - with or without magical drama.

So I usually skip TV nowadays like I skip politics. Better for my overall health and brain capacities. But bright moving pictures have their attractive forces, some even call it culture, others entertainment or calling out to our voyeuristic nature.  I however am just dying to see how TV execs juggled and weave yesterday's successful ideas with today's superficial seasonings...  Let see...

Touch: I'm happy that Kieffer Sutherland is back on TV in a show that will give him more to do than torture and kill bad guys while screaming about it. Time that he flexes his emotional muscles for a change. But Touch is just too much of it. Even Touch by an Angel was less emotive or preoccupied with spiritual pandering and more restrained. All this talk of "destiny" sound like an echo reverberating from old "Heroes" episodes. But the superpowers here are replaced by the combined  abilities of super-serendipity and ultra-synchronicity.
Managing so that the random addition of actions at the four corners of the world make sense beautifully in less than 60 minutes is the whole point of the show.
That kid may well be Jack Bauer's descendant after all...
With the obligatory unnerving soft smiled boy genius, mean incompetent if for once beautiful black woman, 911 references and a terrorist cell of Arabic descent. Danny Glover lends his credibility and generous empathy to this affair to not much purpose.