Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Moonrise Kingdom" and the Whimsy of Covert Masculinity

            First, let’s get this out of the way. I’ll occasionally review films on this blog. These films will probably not be in theaters, because, as a dad, it’s hard for me to get away and go to a theater. The films I review could be recent films, or they could be downright ancient films. They just happen to be movies that I’ve recently seen and find interesting. I’m a critic on a shoestring budget, armed only with a Netflix account.
             Now, this brings us to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which premiered last June, but I only saw it recently. Much ink has already been spilled over what Anderson himself has referred to as his “handwriting,” that is the unique imprimatur that he puts on his films. We recognize, over his seven features, the same filmmaking that relies upon pans and long shots. We recognize a pallet of basic colors that have a warm, vintage look to them, as if shot in Kodachrome. We see the same characters, typically men but occasionally women, rebelling in their ineffectual deadpan way against the tidy, tweedy, oak paneled, tennis courted world of the patrician eastern seaboard bourgeoisie.
            Bottle Rocket has men pretending to be boys, pretending to be criminals. Rushmore has boys pretending to be men, pretending to be criminals. Darjeeling Limited has men who have remained boys, but pretend to be men. Masculinity and the lampooning of traditional masculinity play an important role in these films, and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception.
            However, with Moonrise and 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson embraces traditional masculinity as redemptive, empowering, and noble, while still camping on that idea. His previous films portray masculinity as a kind of grail quest doomed to failure that has been undertaken by misguided, ill-equipped boy/men. Darjeeling has adult men who have remained boys and fail to even commit to the quest of redemptive adult manhood, because masculinity, in their case, can never be achieved. In Life Aquatic you have a middle-aged man, played by Anderson perennial Bill Murray, who has made a living out of appearing to be a virile, adventuresome tough-guy, but has now grown weary of the callow form of masculinity that he shallowly used as a façade for most of his adult life.
            Not so with Moonrise. This is a story about a twelve year old boy who successfully rebels against his unhappy circumstances as an orphan and a foster child. He runs away from the play-acting of traditional masculinity that happens at the Khaki Scout summer camp that he’s staying at, and he embraces true masculinity by surviving by his wits and hard work in the wilderness of the real world. He also rescues, in valiant fashion, his twelve year old girlfriend from her unhappy, intellectual, patrician, eastern seaboard parents, and forms a powerful bond with her that is strengthened, not weakened, by their respective traditional gender identities.
            Anderson knows that he can’t tell this story with a straight-face, because it would be dismissed as hopelessly old-fashioned by jaded modern audiences, so he invests the film with his fey, ironical imprimatur. The girl’s house only resembles a real house. It is a kind of life-size dollhouse. Each scene is stuffed full of kitschy, campy vintage artifacts that form a pastiche of 21st century culture with 1960’s culture. Everything is the platonic stand-in for the aesthetic ideal. A car is not a car, but a “car.” A boat is never a boat, but a “boat.” The setting of the story itself is a fantastic, mythical place that only resembles reality. It is the Moonrise Kingdom, a place somewhere between night and day; a place that resembles the dour, difficult world of struggling adults, but is invested with the whimsy and imagination of childhood.
Wes Anderson: The Titan of Twee
            Indeed, the films of Wes Anderson, and increasingly twee culture as a whole, function as a form of wish-fulfillment for the restoration of traditionally defined gender roles, and a return to a prelapsarian childhood idyll. The characters in Moonrise pursue old-fashioned love ironically because they are children, and because they live in a fantasy world where those ideals are possible. Fantastic Mr. Fox fights off the bad guys, provides for his wife and children, and dutifully protects his community, but he can only do this in a stop-motion animated world populated by talking animals.
            This marks a change in Anderson’s filmmaking. He is no longer interested in showing directionless men in their thirties floundering in a boyhood that was never allowed to happen because of domineering, achievement oriented parents. The main character in Moonrise is a prematurely adult kid who eagerly wants the responsibility of a husband, and probably a father, but he is stuck in a world where that noble undertaking is impossible. Wes Anderson, artistically, is no longer a boy trapped in a man’s body, but a man trapped in a world that refuses to grow up; a world that can only be appealed to with the escapism and moral evasion of irony and caricature.

Further reading: 1) Stephen Marche’s essay in Esquire on quirk culture in America. 2) Ryan Bradford’s reviews of the new films I Am Not a Hipster and The Comedy.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Notes on "Tragedy and Hope"

I am currently reading Dr. Carroll Quigley’s landmark 1966 book, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in our Time. This is a history book that covers the major events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries up until almost the time of the book’s publication. It is also a favored text for conspiracy researchers because a small portion of the book is devoted to the foundation of influential policy groups by major forces in the world of financial capitalism. The goal of these policy groups was, and is, nothing less than to manage the economies of every country in the world using the leverage of central banking.
            These revelations are really only a small portion of a very exhaustive (1348 pgs.) political history provided by an interpretative historian, but the discovery of the machinations of these financial scions is immensely valuable because Dr. Quigley discovered their objectives through exclusive access to primary documents. He was granted access to the complete records of the Council on Foreign Relations, which have now been made public, and the records of its even more secretive parent group The Round Table in the early 1960’s. This access was granted to him, no doubt, because he was an establishment intellectual who was writing a book that puts world government by bankers and technocrats in a mostly favorable light. Although Dr. Quigley disagrees with the secrecy and subterfuge employed by the global elite, it’s clear that he has no problem with world government controlled by experts, per se.
            Dr. Quigley’s research reveals the Council on Foreign Relations as a front group for the powerful Anglophile secret society known variously as the Round Table or the Milner group, after one of its founders, Lord Alfred Milner. This group was headed by various figures emanating from JP Morgan’s circle of influence and is described by Dr. Quigley as “cosmopolitan, Anglophile, internationalist, Ivy League, eastern seaboard, high Episcopalian, and European-culture conscious.” (937) In short, a secretive power bloc emanating from the WASP upper echelons much like the Order of Skull in Bones as researched by Dr. Antony Sutton.
            This group maintained members in editorial positions at some of America’s most prestigious magazines and newspapers including “The New York Times, New York’s Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Washington Post.” (953) Their members also headed the powerful Institute of Pacific Relations in the 1950’s, an influential, communist-leaning think tank that sent some of its members to important State Dept. appointments. Dr. Quigley reluctantly speculates that due to the IPR’s influence, the way was eased for the communists’ accession in China after the defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek.
            Curiously, given his overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy headed by banking elites and their tax exempt foundations, Dr. Quigley dismisses the idea that these men have designs for world hegemony. He summarily dismisses these notions as the pabulum of paranoid, right-wing, “professional anti-communists.” He insists that these men are using their vast fortunes in good faith, and he lovingly describes them as merely “gracious and cultured gentlemen of somewhat limited social experience who were much concerned with the freedom of expression of minorities and the rule of law for all.” (954)
            This apologetic point-of-view is all the more confusing given Dr. Quigley’s grim outlook on the world’s future that reads today like prophecy. He writes that “in the twentieth century, the expert will replace the industrial tycoon in control of the economic system even as he will replace the democratic voter in control of the political system. . . (the private citizen’s) freedom of choice will be controlled within very narrow alternatives by the fact that he will be numbered from birth and followed, as a number, through his educational training, his required military or public service, his tax contributions, his health and medical requirements, and his final retirement and death benefits.” (866)           
            The role of the Council on Foreign Relations in our present government cannot be overstated. Obama's White House is loaded with lifetime members of the organization including Susan Rice, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Stephen Flynn. In 2009, outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say about the opening of the CFR’s Washington office near the White House, “We get a lot of advice from the Council (on Foreign Relations), so this will mean I won’t have as far to go to be told what we should be doing and how we should think about the future.”
Dr. Carroll Quigley
            Private citizens should take a vigilant interest in the influence of tax exempt foundations, think tanks, and banking institutions on their government. Doing so may mean the difference between living as constitutionally protected, free individuals or as a numerical value to be taxed, controlled, and propagandized to by a shadowy technocratic oligarchy.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Welcome to Iconoclasm Today!

            Hello and welcome, friends, to Iconoclasm Today! the occasional blog of news, opinion, , and culture that is also a testament to my personal neuroses. I am Michael Gillham. I find myself here in the early twenty-first century in a mountainous backwater of the United States during the twilight of the American Empire. I am an aspiring member of the intellectual bureaucracy, an earnest, hard-working drudge of the American peasantry attempting, in my plucky Dickensian fashion, to ply an entry into the lower echelons of the chattering classes. I am a young man looking to win my way into the parasitic intellectual professions that keep America afloat with an inexhaustible supply of inky, indecipherable bullshit. I am talking, of course, about the opportunistic league of writers, intellectuals, and college professors that the State employs to delude the young that their futures are in good hands and assure them that they are special snowflakes, safe and free at last in the most enlightened society that was ever engineered. It is necessary to preoccupy the intellectual with pedagogical position because a person who thinks for themselves is a public menace who must have his ego massaged by a bureaucratic architecture lest he harass and disturb the decent and industrious public.

            I hold a Master’s degree in English which qualifies me to do next to nothing in an economy eviscerated by public debt and imperial corruption; an economy now primarily propped up by hale, optimistic, ruddy complected Protestants largely incapable of independent thought who serve a parasitic class of lawyers, intellectuals, physicians, and politicians who are even less disposed to independent thought. These cogs perform admirably as men of business, entrepreneurs, financiers, bankers, abattoir workers, car salesmen, and such, but I possess none of the optimism or delusion required for success in these professions.

            This charming mismatch of my personality with my surroundings has lent me with a colorful personality replete with the usual peeves and eccentricities that one can expect from such an individual. For example, I adore things like poetry, opera, cats, herbal tea, old films, and long novels. I claim to be preoccupied by such things as “politics,” “ideas,” and “morality.” I am obsessed by manias that I call “freedom” or “liberty,” “peace” and “love.” I am also not without my philistine interests, including but not limited to: comic books, trashy horror films, chocolates, football, and television. These things, taken as a whole, lend me the titular character of an iconoclast. That is a curmudgeon, a crank, a kook who belongs to the Neolithic past yet finds himself adrift in the technocratic age with no recourse but to become a mad, bearded, muttering hermit.

            But, dear reader, have no fear. I am a congenial enough hermit who adores having visitors in my cave. I will offer you a cup of tea and a place by my fire if you are willing enough to hear the tangential yarns of a young man who has addled too early but is not without a misplaced, youthful sense of optimism. Along the way you may meet my lovely, adoring fiancée and our sweet little daughter, my various friends and relations, maybe even my two cats, Ozzie and Satchmo. You never can tell.

            We will discuss many things without the stuffy formalities of form and structure; anything from politics and religion to film, books, and current events. We will cover anything and everything that my obsessive fancy happens to light upon, and perhaps have a few laughs along the way. Questions? Comments? Post freely and often. Look, my dears, we are very near the end. Thank you for coming and you are most welcome. Salutations, salutations, salutations.