Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fly Eagles Fly

Usually I wouldn't address something that is just sports but the recent Superbowl between the Eagles and the Patriots is a very special case. Very personal. My wife is a huge Eagles fan and Tom Brady is the Devil, so this was the one game I've been most invested in since the last one I played myself back in high school. That direct experience, which I've mentioned before, is also how I plan to show that this game has some interesting socio-political implications, as well as this whole post just being an exercise in self-indulgence.

Brandon Graham

First, let's look at the politics of this game as they are just within the world of professional football. Everyone with a lick of sense already hated the Patriots - even their own fans resent them for their cheating - and the Eagles came in as the scrappy underdog Americans are conditioned from birth to cheer for. But as anyone who's followed an NFL season knows, uplifting narratives don't have half the staying power as the demoralizing success of teams like the Patriots, who were shooting for their sixth Superbowl victory, which is currently a club of just one. For all that old timey grit and hometown love driving the Eagles, these sorts of contests in America have historically gone to the crass and the sleazy, as best personified in the Brady-Belichek tenure of the Patriots.

Bill Belichik and Tom Brady represent a common wisdom that is much too common in America. The power of the single, unencumbered superstar to drive a franchise to ever greater heights of wealth and fame. It's the logic that got Donald Trump elected and caused the housing market crash, the logic of ubermensch capitalism that has been harder to kill than Rasputin or Dracula. Tom Brady himself is exactly the sort of hero Ayn Rand would dream up, a completely self-certain and self-satisfied prick who's sole skill - throwing a goddamn ball - is presented as justification for his rich vampire lifestyle. This is aided and abetted by Belichik's management style, where every Patriot player is just a cog in the Fordist machine. This is visible not just in Patriots' fans' own dismal slogans, like "Do Your Job," but also in how Belichik's machine revolves around the arm and ego of Tom Brady.

Nick Foles

When it comes together, the Patriots offense really is worth the hype. Brady proved this with some of the longest Superbowl throws in history, usually to high-functioning freight rain Gronkwoski. The Brady-Gronk pairing, as sports journalism knobs have dubbed them, carried the majority of the scoring during the game and, when the stars were right, proved unstoppable.

But building a franchise around one or two star players is as risky as building a political movement around the mythology of the strong leader. The Patriots proved that too, in all their pre-game hagiography of Brady which was both reminiscent and reflective of the typical American presidential campaign circus, where whatever tired old hack the party's money-men agree on is puffed up and deified like a Roman Emperor. It's the Great Man theory in history, which has looked more and more like a fantasy for power-worshipping nerds ever since Election 2016. And since the collapse of the Patriots offense in Superbowl LII.

Jay Ajayi

Whereas the Eagles' offense proved the old mantra of "four yards and a cloud of dust." Every other first down, they sent the ball up the middle, which will never clear ten yards but will always close the distance a little, giving a team more flexibility with their passing. Nick Foles didn't throw as many passes as Brady, let alone throw as far, but he didn't need to as the rest of the Eagles' offense could be counted on to keep moving the ball down the field. This makes for a slow but inevitable advance, bringing the Eagles close enough for field goals even when the Patriots managed to stop the run.

Teamwork, as the after school specials like to say, but it bears repeating as so much of popular American myth revolves around a single rugged individualist, rather than the long grind of group effort. It may not be as photogenic as Brady's long bombs but, as demonstrated, it gets the job done better. All it takes to make a good quarterback is a good arm, but a good offense needs a quarterback who knows when to swallow his own ego and get out of the way. That's how a good team can carry a mediocre quarterback, but not the other way around.

Chris Long

The Eagles still couldn't have pulled it off, though, if their defense wasn't so scary. A good defense isn't a wall, it's a grenade that sows terror and confusion. A great defense is a white squall descending on Tom Brady's stupid preppy face. The pressure they kept bearing down on him had him throwing for the stands more often than not, anything to save himself from a blitz that would make even Jack "The Assassin" Tatum wince. With Brady in retreat, the morale of the whole team collapsed because, like all tyrants, they had everything to lose in this game and no support from their bloodless oligarch of a coach.

There's a lesson in all of this. The lesson I've been circling around in all the football talk - that the powers that be are not gods, not invulnerable, just contemptible little schemers like Brady and Belichik. No different from a crooked auto mechanic or a Brooklyn hustler, mortal and alone. A great mass movement can unseat everyone from the Patriots to the Senate, if they follow the example set by the Eagles in Superbowl LII: keep driving forward and never give your opponent the space to breath. It won't be an easy victory but it'll still win elections like it wins games.

*sad trombone music*

Also, Justin Timberlake is a twat.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Fiction Friday Returns!

A small boy with a kiddie-hawk haircut and holograph of happy cartoon mutants on his shirt gaped at Jerome. “Mommy, what’s wrong with that man?” he asked in innocent wonderment.

His mother, one of those high-strung yuppie sorts with a severe haircut, reluctantly looked up from her phone. “I’m so sorry,” she said automatically. Adding, grudgingly, because it was expected, “Would you like to sit down?”

As much as he enjoyed watching these sorts squirm, Jerome’s knee just couldn’t keep up with the train today. “Thank you. Yes, thanks.”

The woman tried her best to politely ignore him once he was settled on the seat, between a grumbling fat man in a heavy suit and a fatter woman who sniffed with indignation at Jerome, the train, and just the whole world in general. They all tried their passive aggressive best but the little boy just couldn’t let things go - “But what’s wrong with him? Why’s his skin look like that?” His little voice carried up and down the subway car, even over the squeal of the rusty tracks.

“Mason, stop it!” his mother hissed back. And again to Jerome, she said with repressed bitterness, “I’m so sorry. He knows better than this.”

He clearly didn’t but Jerome just chuckled. “It’s fine, really,” he assured her, making a magnanimous gesture with one gnarled hand. Then, addressing the little boy directly, “Hey Mason, want to know how my skin got like this?”

The boy answered with an excited "Yeah!" while his mother tittered "No he doesn't – No you don't!"

Ignoring her, Jerome told Mason with more than a hint of pride, "I let it happen! I let myself grow old!"

Learn Jerome's shameful secret here, exclusively at Eastern Iowa Review!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Willard Goes West

It's refreshing at a time when Hollywood can't stop congratulating itself on its progressivism to see an uncompromising look at the era of the Indian Wars. As the War Nerd so aptly put it, the First Peoples of the Americas and those 19th Century Americans were engaged in a war of extermination on both sides, with no quarter asked or given. That people speak English and Spanish in New Mexico rather than Comanche or Apache has nothing to do with who was right or wrong but simply who had the industrial base and the birthrate.

Hostiles kicks off with this cold, clear view of the Old West right away with a Comanche gang massacring Rosamund Pike's homesteader family. It won't be the last time she's brutalized in the course of the film and it sets a very deliberate formula for the ensuing two hours: people are cruel, there are no heroes, and gunfights are a matter of sheer dumb luck.

It's a far cry from the usual genre fare at the multiplex and thank Christ for that. I blissfully skipped the latest Star Wars and Marvel film and all those other Disney properties, opting instead for something both old fashioned and on the bleeding cultural edge.

The Western is really the quintessential American movie genre - and it still reflects the cultural zeitgeist even with all the changes from Unforgiven on. The old adventure pictures with noble white hats battling dastardly black hats reflected a popular imagination embracing the post-war vision of a nation as a global leader, the wide open plane representative of the potential and optimistic future just as much as science fiction's rocketry. Now, that plane is just as wide but reminds us how small we all are, how weak and mortal in the face of this great big world.

That old fashioned terror gets a good workout with Pike as she goes from getting massacred to kidnapped and raped to just the generally crummy life on the trail in late 1800s America. She's really the core of the film, emotionally and thematically, even though much of the actual plot revolves around Captain Joe Block chaperoning a dying Apache chief to his ancestral burial ground. It's forty miles of bad road, as Cameron said of Aliens, but much further than that and with fewer respites from the elements or - the greater threat - other human beings.

These sorts of travelling narratives are common - it makes up half of The Lord of The Rings - but many of those embody the threat of the open road in some persistent antagonist, always nipping at the heroes heels until the climactic battle just as they finish their journey. Hostiles has no such over-arching conflict because that sort of thing never happens in our dreary Real World. If it's not Comanches it's poachers, if it's not poachers it's some Army sergeant gone rogue. Or it's just the punishing rain. By the time Block is facing down the gun-toting libertarians - who sneer at his presidential order, proudly racist but happy to shoot other white men over their God-given property rights - you can feel not just his weariness but his bitter incredulity at these constant hurdles. "Great, now this..."

Block himself is just as far from the traditional Western hero as the film is from any redemptive message. Played by Christian Bale with the sort of big filthy mustache they only had in those days, he's much less the gunslinger than the morally apathetic veteran of a counter-insurgency war with no end. Captain Willard on the river, knowing damn well if they search the local's sampan they'll have to kill everyone. But where Apocalypse Now was still enamored with the American Dream and how it supposedly died in Vietnam, Block is on the front lines of the dirty wars that carved a United States out of the wild and free North American continent. He's right there where the Good Old Days were born and it's the bloodiest birth since the aforementioned Alien franchise.

A contrast to Block appears at times. Soft-hand intellectuals and bureaucrats from the East Coast, bleeding hearts for the poor put-upon Red Man. What might have been a reactionary's dichotomy is muddier though, as these are the same pillars of civilization who dispatched soldiers like Block to the Indian Wars in the first place, now full of sympathy and sentiment since the poor put-upon Red Man doesn't look like a threat by 1892. Not to the big cities at least. Most of the serious things never register with the cities, which is how climate change is already sinking Miami into the Atlantic.

But Hostiles admirably does not stake out a morality one way or the other. Comanches massacre the farmers, soldiers torment and murder Apaches, it's a Shankill road gang fight played out across sagebrush and valleys. Hostiles feels like a longer movie than it is but it's a rare case of this being a good thing. It brings you closer to the psychology of the characters, whose common humanity is ground downward with every passing mile by such common human cruelties, until the brutality of everyone from the soldiers to the Native tribes is comprehensible. It's not so much some innate or socially normative evil as just frustration, lashing out in ever more gruesome ways because why the hell not? Screw it, burn the world and God too.

It was the best time I've had at the cinema since Get Out.