On 1994’s PCU, Now vs. Then

pcuwide

How well has 90s campus culture flick PCU held up since 1994? Pretty well, all-in-all. Though I’m not on campus currently, the media zeitgeist driven mostly by journalism/English majors tells me that what was of concern then is of concern now. Mostly race and sex issues. OTOH environmentalists featured prominently in this film, and they seemed to have taken a back seat lately to the black/white divide and alleged gender discrimination (in Silicon Valley et al.). From the vantage point of 2015, political divides have become easier to grok. Fewer abstract, we-‘re-all-in-this-together problems – of which the Earth dying in the distant future would be a prime example – and more seemingly tribal conflicts that even a caveman could comprehend. Politics has become cruder, more debased. (This even as our understanding of politics has become more sophisticated.)

I noticed in the film too that the Republicans on campus were pitted against the party lovin’ protagonists along with the myriad campus groups deemed politically correct. As if the free speech absolutists and the conservative right were two different groups. But that was then, this is now. I see little distinction between the bro-ey, grow-a-thicker-skin libertarians and the conservative establishment in the current day. As I’ve written before, the libertarian represents the progressive’s most formidable opponent in the second decade of the 21st century, with the decline of the 80’s style Satanists-are-ruining-our-kids religious right.

We’ve come a long way since atheist Frank Zappa squared off with Christians advocating for censorship. In fact atheism is now associated with old white guys like “Islamophobic” Richard Dawkins. That’s its most salient feature, apparently, not the metaphysics. In 1994 you could plausibly paint “PCU” libertarians as something equidistant to the left and right. No longer.

On Anthologies, and the Gradual Demise of Hating Television

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Netflix offers a new series to stream called Black Mirror, an anthology sci-fi show the likes of which has gone out of fashion in recent years with the ascendance of the can’t-miss drama. Whereas Outer Limits, Tales from the Crypt and even a third stab at the Twilight Zone made their mark in the 90s and early oughts, in today’s “Golden Age” of television – which I enjoy very much, don’t get me wrong – the anthology model has taken a hit.

I hope the anthology can make a comeback. Perusing YouTube for poorly made stuff like HBO’s “Perversions of Science” (could you imagine prestigious HBO pushing this now?) is getting old. But what I want to focus on was an the episode of Black Mirror I watched called “Fifteen Million Merits.” It’s about a guy living in a world in which crude media – mostly cruel game and talent shows, and porn – is omnipresent, and impossible to escape without incurring what appears to be a financial penalty. The fears underlying this episode appear to me have come about ten to fifteen years too late. Lowest common denominator entertainment and debased reality TV haven’t been a prominent theme in public criticism of media since around the time the Surreal Life went belly up in 2006.

The gradual demise of assuming that mass media is turning the nation into one of unadulterated boobs has gone mostly unnoticed, but it’s implicit in the rise of quality television. Everyone’s enamored nowadays of scripted gems like Orange is the New Black and Breaking Bad. Not Cheaters and Jerry Springer (or god forbid Shasta McNasty). The idea that Hollywood would inevitably turn to cheaper-to-produce reality television indefinitely turns out to have been an erroneous prediction.

Fears surrounding the one-to-many nature of television has been supplanted by anxiety about the many-to-many nature of consumers/YouTubers/bloggers cocooning themselves into their favorite niche, be it political or entertainment-based. While neither situation is ideal, I prefer the latter. It at least requires engagement, not passivity.

Right, Left & Catcall Video

The right has been reacting to that viral NYC catcall video with a collective shrugging of the shoulders (while the further right has taken glee in its inadvertent criticism of black and Hispanic men). See here and here. They downplay the idea that the woman was harassed or suffered from anything more than mild inconvenience. Meanwhile the left accepts the terror of catcalling, but claims the video makes minority men look bad; so they strain to bring white guys into it all where they demonstrably weren’t. White men are still awful! Don’t take your eyes off the ball(s)! 

My take is that yes, it must actually be annoying and uncomfortable to be the the center of unwanted attention. But then I’m also fairly introverted, as I suspect many of the upper-middle class hipster transplants to New York City are.

I see part of the solution to catcalling to be certain trends in social life that both the populist left and right have bemoaned. Namely the everyone’s-looking-at-their-smartphone trend. A friend of mine who works at Airbnb recently complained to me about the lack of vandals among the younger crowd these days. “Those kids who skate, steal, etc. are the savior of humanity,” he texted. (Just now got the irony of that.) But those kinda kids are the ones who make women feel uncomfortable out in public. I’m old enough to remember witnessing this kind of thing. They’re the kids who loiter in front of the mall talking shit to the fat girl who’d hoped to escape their peripheral vision. Now those young men are at home playing video games that rival the intensity of a 1980s summer blockbuster. Or…looking at their smartphone, alone together.

The shrinking of youth-dominated street life has its upsides.

I’ve written nostalgically about my youth. But it wasn’t all good, for everybody.

Visual Evidence of Doomed “Liberaltarianism”

As if the notion of a progressive-libertarian alliance needed any more flaying, see the sign-holder below from the recent NYC shindig on capitalism and climate change (screenshot via Reason).

The more thoughtful libertarians like to make a distinction between the free market and capitalism, with some even proclaiming to be “free market anti-capitalists.” And these are precisely the libertarians who’ve attempted to appeal to progressives. Sadly for them, the bright young thing below has latched on to the term “free market” and mashed it all up with “capitalism,” obliterating the subtle distinction between the two some libertarians would like to claim exists – and adding “genocidal” to boot.

The hair-splitting that goes on with terminology is missing a huge cultural element to what animates the left. Profit, business, and all that anti-humanistic bean-counting, “crony” or not, is synonymous with white racism, they believe. And no amount of harping about true, pure and authentically free markets – contra big fat Really Existing Corporations or whatever – will change that.

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For Netflix, a Dearth of Commie Documentaries

Muppets-Most-Wanted-gulag

Kermit vs. the Gulag. Hilarious!

 

But Nazi docs? Well, there are tons. Here’s a list:

 

  • The Rape of Europa
  • The Unknown Soldier
  • Fighter
  • Nazi Medicine
  • The Double-Headed Eagle: Hitler
  • The Goebbels Experiment
  • Hitler’s Children
  • Mystery Files: Hitler
  • Forgiving Dr. Mengele
  • Orchestra of Exiles
  • Inside the Nazi Hunters
  • Steal a Pencil For Me
  • Bugging Hitler’s Soliders
  • The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
  • Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State
  • Nazi Temple of Doom
  • Paper Clips
  • Human Lampshade: A Holocaust Mystery
  • Hitler, the Tiger and Me
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Hitler’s G.I. Death Camp
  • Homo Sapiens 1900
  • Hitler’s Secret Attack on America
  • Bombing Hitler’s Dams
  • 3D Spies of WWII
  • Nazi Mega Weapons

 

Did I miss anything? This isn’t to mention the more dramatic treatments concerning National Socialism, ala The Pianist.

Now let’s see how many communist documentaries I can come up with, gleaned from the #1 movie and TV show streamer in America…

I type “communism” into the search field and nothing comes up. Ditto for “soviet” and “communist.” Jeesh. Ok, so for “Mao” I get “Mao’s Last Dancer,” but it’s unavailable to stream. For tittles related to communism however I get:

 

  • Inside North Korea
  • Crossing the Line (about an American defector to North Korea)
  • Camp 14: Total Control Zone

 

But I also get the Nazi doc “Double-Headed Eagle” again, and “Commune,” about a 1960s hippie commune in California.

What do I get for “Cuba”? Cuba Gooding Jr.

So what’s going on here? Why the apparent almost total disinterest in telling the story of Real Existing Socialism? The bias of filmmakers of course, and especially documentarians, who have an even stronger political axe to grind than directors of fictional fare. This phenomenon was discussed in a Hollywood Reporter piece earlier this year, where one guy working the film festival circuit is quoted as regularly contending with “left-wing propaganda.” On the Donald Rumsfeld doc “The Unknown Known,” he tells THR, “Audiences came with the expectation of wanting to see (Rumsfeld) pilloried and anything short of that happening in the film leaves them unsatisfied.”

(When conservative docs do get publicized and succeed despite progressive bias, they tend to be either superficially partisan or religious. Sigh.)