Gutbrain Records

Saturday, 15 April 2006

Did you pay your taxes? Vice President Cheney is expecting a return of 1.9 million dollars. When Bush says his tax cuts are working, that's what he means.

Speaking of so-called "conservatives" — have you ever heard of one who conserved something? — I was musing the other day on how they get to have it both ways with Hollywood.

On one hand, Hollywood is a pervasive, evil force – controlled completely by liberals, naturally — which corrupts our children by bombarding them with all sorts of decadence and obscenity.

But on the other hand, Hollywood consistently churns out movies which portray the rule of law and due process and "innocent until proven guilty" as futile at best and fatal at worst. Is there better propaganda for the actions of the current administration?

Let's face it. Too many of our heroes are fascists. The Dirty Harry movies, the Death Wish movies, anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it, countless hundreds of others all show how violence is the answer and you'd have to be delusional or evil not to take the law into your own hands.

Munich is about this to some extent. One of the Palestinian terrorists wears a cowboy hat and throughout the movie, old black-and-white Westerns are playing on television sets in the backgrounds of scenes.

Is there anything more appealing than the violent fantasy of the black-and-white Western? How many photos of Ronald Reagan in a cowboy hat have you seen in your life? A hundred? A thousand? That's a dress-up game that our current President likes to play, too.

In the black-and-white Western, the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black hats. When the black hats threaten the town, the white hats get together and kill them all, thus insuring peace and freedom for all. Hooray! Kill for peace!

Munich attempted to show why the posse isn't as successful in real life as it is in the movies and, of course, lots of people were pissed off at Spielberg for abandoning simplistic moralizing.

Fritz Lang fled Hitler's Germany and arrived in Hollywood where his first movie was 1936's Fury. Spencer Tracy plays a man who is wrongly suspected of being involved with a kidnapping gang that has terrorized a small town. The townspeople want to lynch him right away but the sheriff insists that nobody actually knows that he's guilty of anything. He can't hold back the mob, though, and they storm the jail house and burn it down.

Tracy survives but everyone thinks he's dead. He stays in hiding and orchestrates a trial of the whole town for murder, hoping that they'll be found guilty and get the death penalty.

This is one of the few movies I can think of which strive to show how horrible society would be without due process. It contains this interesting conversation, between a barber and two customers. The first customer is berating the second for filling the high-school students' heads with "radical ideas". If he doesn't stop, the parents will have to "get a law".

SECOND CUSTOMER: It's not possible to get a law that denies the right to say what one believes – in peacetimes, anyway.

FIRST CUSTOMER: Who says so?

SECOND CUSTOMER: The Constitution of the United States.

FIRST CUSTOMER: I dont believe it!

BARBER: You should read it sometime. You would be surprised... I had to read it to become an American. You never had to because you was born here.

In 1940, George Orwell's Inside the Whale, a collection of essays, appeared in print. Discussing the writers of the 1930s and their politics, he had this to say:

With all its injustices, England is still the land of habeas corpus, and the overwhelming majority of English people have no experience of violence or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not at all easy to imagine what a despotic régime is like. Nearly all the dominant writers of the 'thirties belonged to the soft-boiled emancipated middle class and were too young to have effective memories of the Great War. To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial, etc etc are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism.

On Friday, April 7, 2006, the New York Times printed an article about how President Bush suffered some hostile remarks from his audience in North Carolina, where he was making a speech about what he calls, with typical irony, national security.

The Times made sure to note that Bush enjoyed some support from the crowd as well. I thought it was remarkable that the article contained this paragraph, without any mention of Hollywood or movies or any attempt to explain the probable context:

Plenty of the comments were far gentler. One man thanked the president on behalf of an Iraqi friend, for improving her family's life there. A woman told him, "My heroes have always been cowboys."

Thursday, 06 April 2006

For a while I've been keeping an eye on this independent publishing company called Black Coat Press. They publish a range of material but what interests me most are their translations of early and obscure French pulp fiction.

Take for example Paul Féval's 1862 novel Jean Diable, published in English by Black Coat Press a few years ago as John Devil, which anticipated Fantômas. Another interesting title is Arnould Galopin's Doctor Omega (Le Docteur Omega), published in France in 1906 and perhaps a prototypical Doctor Who.

Last week I found out that Black Coat Press is also publishing French comics in English translation. Their Hexagon Comics Library promises more than 40 volumes of comics first published in France between 1963 and 2003.

I discovered this by finding the first volume of Wampus on a bookstore shelf. Wampus is a shape-shifting alien, in service to a mysterious and malevolent cosmic entity, who comes to Earth for the sole purpose of terrorizing — and ultimately destroying or enslaving or something — humanity.

The first volume contains the first four issues of the 1969 comic-book series. Wampus goes to a different country in each, getting more evil and destructive with each succesful act of destruction and mayhem. He visits France, Germany, the United States and Japan.

There is an amusing moment when Wampus is in New York City. He spends some time looking around and checking out the scene. Eventually he sits on a bench by the Hudson River and thinks, "There's so much chaos and anarchy here that my presence is almost unnecessary..."