BOOK REVIEW | "LAST NIGHT AT THE VIPER ROOM: RIVER PHOENIX AND THE HOLLYWOOD HE LEFT BEHIND" BY GAVIN EDWARDS
RIVER PHOENIX is a perplexing HOLLYWOOD figure even decades after his untimely passing in front of the VIPER ROOM in 1993. his echo can be felt in the interesting career choices of like-minded actors who have transformed the profession in his wake. from peers like ETHAN HAWKE, KEANU REEVES, BRAD PITT and CHRISTIAN SLATER to those that came just after like LEONARDO DICAPRIO and even his own brother JOAQUIN. but by and large he has been forgotten by general audiences, except those that look back with 1980s nostalgia at the kid's adventure STAND BY ME (COLUMBIA, 1986) or the TRANSGRESSIVE nature of his young adult turn in MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (FINE LINE, 1991). his death was overshadowed six months later in the wake of the suicide of KURT COBAIN, a major cultural event that still has deep reverberations to this day. unlike COBAIN, it would seem in retrospect that PHOENIX was on the cusp, much like JAMES DEAN before him and HEATH LEDGER long after him, of his definitive work. his story is one of unfulfilled potential.
in LAST NIGHT AT THE VIPER ROOM: RIVER PHOENIX AND THE HOLLYWOOD HE LEFT BEHIND (ATRIA, 2014) author GAVIN EDWARDS does a good job of contextualizing both PHOENIX's career and personal history within the context of YOUNG HOLLYWOOD during the late 80s and early 90s. PHOENIX is positioned as a foreign entity whose youth was experienced not just removed from the HOLLYWOOD system, but outside of AMERICAN CULTURE entirely. he grew up in an itinerate existence all over the UNITED STATES and later in VENEZUELA with a family deeply involved with the CHILDREN OF GOD cult, a predaotry group known for its advocation of INCEST and SEXUAL ABUSE of children among other major moral infractions. as a child, he and his four siblings literally busked around CARACAS, singing as beggars and lived sans-formal education and socialization. more than that, during this period as a child he was SEXUALLY ABUSED and EXPLOITED. it is beyond compelling that someone that removed from an AMERICAN experience was able to develop such an empathetic acumen for acting at a high level.
EDWARDS makes the connection between how difficult the transition was from eldest child to breadwinner while still a teen, effectively supplanting the internal POWER STRUCTURE within his family. for most of his career he was in control, but it came at the cost of having no father figure to guide him through a DRUG CULTURE that ultimately struck him down, as he died after ingesting a speedball at the VIPER ROOM on the SUNSET STRIP. i dont want to go so far as to say that EDWARDS portrays PHOENIX as a martyr, but he does present him as a cautionary figure. someone that made unfortunate choices that he could not turn back from. i think what this book does a good job of is presenting a community enables and preys on youth. i dont know how a young person with that much cultural CHARISMA and SWAY would not be tempted to indulge and partake in the seductive underbelly of the entertainment industry. ETHAN HAWKE is presented as a peer that worried about such issues from an early age and took active measures to mitigate such, writing poignant journal entries to his future self.
the death of PHOENIX almost feels like an ancient allegory, a narrative that is doomed to repeat itself, as our HUMAN NATURE hasnt evolved in the slightest. teh same forces that exploited his FRAILTIES are still in existence, probably even more intently with the advent of modern social media. theres a thought.
RIP RIVER PHOENIX.
my introduction to SST RECORDS as a teenager, like i presume with most people, was through the AMERICAN HARDCORE icons BLACK FLAG. for me the record label, much like DISCHORD, EPITAPH, ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES or FAT WRECK CHORDS, was the symbolic representation of the DIY ethic and the attached value system of SELF-DEPENDENCE and COMMUNITY-BUILDING that 80s HARDCORE epitomizes. BLACK FLAG, more than any other band of that era, trail-blazed and literally fought for a nationwide network of alternate venues that later bands of multiple genres benefitted from.
so for me reading CORPORATE ROCK SUCKS: THE RISE & FALL OF SST RECORDS (HATCHETTE, 2022) by JIM RULAND was pretty eye-opening in that it very much showcases the CONFLICTED, DUAL LEGACY of a legendary label that both opened doors for untapped talent (from DINOSAUR JR, THE MEAT PUPPETS, HUSKER DU and SONIC YOUTH to SAINT VITUS, THE MINUTEMEN, SOUNDGARDEN and OXBOW among countless others) yet effectively exploited them in turn. and it is that second legacy of EXPLOITATION that feels incongruous with the initial ETHOS and CULTURAL WEIGHT of BLACK FLAG, as the band exemplifies more than any other of its era the idea of uncompromising INTEGRITY. such is the crux of this incredible book.
the band and the label both came out of a bloated 1970s cultural scene in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA that saw radio and means of promotion being corporatized to the point that all ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINTS were seemingly edged out of the conversation. what GREG GINN accomplished with his band and label was to promote an ALTERNATIVE COMMUNITY that appreciated different perspectives and musical ideas. his label very much promoted emerging scenes from seemingly unrelated genres of INDIE ROCK (DINOSAUR JR), MELODIC HARDCORE (THE MINUTEMEN, HUSKER DU, THE DESCENDENTS), DOOM METAL (SAINT VITUS), PSYCHEDELIA (THE MEAT PUPPETS) and even experimental NOISE ROCK (SONIC YOUTH). in turn, the CULTURAL LEGACY of the label was one of being at the forefront of culture, well beyond its HARDCORE roots. these bands mentioned are the well-known ones, for the label put out many, many more by more OBSCURE and AVANT-GARDE musicians that ran the gamut from JAZZ and ELECTRONIC experiments to IMPROVISATIONAL SPOKEN WORD performances. the label was very much over the map.
which gets at the current state of SST RECORDS. a dormant label that has largely been abandoned by its founder and has not nurtured the immense cultural legacies of its artists with comprehensive re-releases of landmark albums. worse, there are rumors that it has either misplaced or improperly stored master tapes. it just feels tragic that for a label that gave so many artists access to a community it fought so hard to initiate, that in the end they left it all to rot. or worse stagnate and fester as GINN refuses to voluntarily give artists their music rights back. music that his label has chosen to sit on, in some cases, for decades.
its that dual notion of GINN as both a RIGHTEOUS SUPPORTER and a CORPORATE GOON that is difficult to swallow for those on the outside. just the idea that SST RECORDS is as much a part of that soulless corporate business-as-usual approach that they supposedly were fighting against.
it is unfortunate.
the first time i became cognizant of the LEONARD COHEN song "HALLELUJAH" was a few years back when i learned that singer CHESTER BENNINGTON (of LINKIN PARK fame) sang as a eulogy at the private funeral service of his friend and mentor singer CHRIS CORNELL (of SOUNDGARDEN fame) in 2017. CORNELL had committed suicide a week before and BENNINGTON himself would perish similarly two months later. so given the circumstances there was a certain weight that i attached to this song as it seemed to be used to verbalize and channel this deep well of intense PAIN and SORROW from one close friend to another.
i had owned and was familiar with the first few COHEN releases from the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the popular resurgence surrounding this obscure track from this 1980s track in the 2000s was something i was unaware of. partly due to the fact that i was overseas. so i read ALAN LIGHT's book THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN: LEONARD COHEN, JEFF BUCKLEY, AND THE UNLIKELY ASCENT OF "HALLELUJAH" (ATRIA, 2013), which examines the unlikely trajectory of the song to a modern standard, largely unbiased by personal sentiment toward the song.
what drew me to the narrative surrounding "HALLELUJAH" is the unique FLUIDITY to which the song as a construct has lent itself. it really is incredible that such a well-known song has, in fact, no definitive version. there are lyrical variations with regards to the verses, as COHEN shortly after its release on the VARIOUS POSITIONS (COLUMBIA, 1984) record was still very much tinkering with it in live settings. famously JEFF BUCKLEY recorded a version on his celebrated GRACE (COLUMBIA, 1994) record, which itself was a cover of a previous JOHN CALE cover. to make things even more interesting, the CALE version utilized an expanded "alternate" set of lyrics. most modern covers from the likes of RUFUS WAINRIGHT, K.D. LANG, BON JOVI, IMOGEN HEAP, DAMIEN RICE and BONO are based on this BUCKLEY cover of a cover, so you can see how this game of telephone gets extended indefinitely. the song has been covered over the years by everyone from REGINA SPEKTOR, NEIL DIAMOND, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE and THE OSMONDS to BOB DYLAN, JOHNNY MATHIS, BRANDI CARLILE, MICHAEL MCDONALD and even ADAM SANDLER. its an incredibly unique phenomena that has allowed the song to be utilized by a whole trove of artists and institutions, in both SECULAR and RELIGIOUS settings.
as a former secondary english teacher, this responsive MULTI-INTERPRETATIVE relationship audiences have developed with this song is incredible and utterly unique. it raises questions about the nature of AUTHORIAL INTENTION, as COHEN's original version is just that: a version. it is unlike other modern standards like "IMAGINE" by JOHN LENNON, "LIKE A ROLLING STONE" by BOB DYLAN or "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER" by SIMON & GARFUNKEL in that new renditions of those songs inevitably become compared and measured to the original. with "HALLELUJAH" the original recorded version is perhaps one of the more obscure versions as it was on a commercially unsuccessful record that relieved little airplay. later iterations are the one's that captured the popular imagination. i cant think of that ever happening elsewhere outside of the GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK songwriters like IRVING BERLIN, JEROME KERN, COLE PORTER or GEORGE GERSHWIN (among many others) who wrote with the intention of public performance. its a very interesting phenomena.
and then there is the song itself. "HALLELUJAH" utilizes references from several the TORAH narratives to draw out the spiritually redemptive power of SEX, INTIMACY, and ultimately, LOVE. he very much is interested in the idea that SPIRTUAL, some would say RELIGIOUS, power embedded in LOVE is when we suffer and are DEBILITATED and DEBASED by it. when one throws up their hands in the air with confoundment and deep FRUSTRATION at the PAIN and SUFFERING it brings and in defiance look up and say screw it, hallelujah. that "broken" hallelujah is the point of the original iteration of the song. what makes the song so FLUID and PLIABLE is the degree to which interpreters play up the various aspects of the lyrics (its SENSUALITY, CELEBRATION, FRUSTRATION, AMBIVALENCE, etc.) and minimize other aspects. coupled with the variated lyrics and multiple established versions of the song and you have a song that is able to be played at both WEDDINGS and FUNERALS, CHURCHES and SYNAGOGUES, COFFEE HOUSES and ARENAS.
attached below are but a few noteworthy iterations of the song. again, its a compelling trajectory of a lost song, on an album initially rejected by his label, that found a second life as one of the most popularly appreciated, and commercially viable, songs in modern history.
its really mind-blowing. id recommend THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN for anyone interested in the delicate interplay between AUTHOR versus AUDIENCE and AUTHORIAL INTENTION versus INTERPRETATION. it is worth reading for those interested in the CREATIVE PROCESS as well as LITERATURE in general, since COHEN very much was a TRANSCENDENT literary talent.
in his book A COLONY IN A NATION (NORTON, 2017) THE NATION editor / MSNBC host CHRIS HAYES deliberates on the historical, political and cultural roots of our bifurcated justice system in which in-group/out-group dynamics related to race have fundamentally defined the AMERICAN experience. his basic argument is that one of the root causes of said bifurcation is that extent to which the power and influence associated with WHITE FEAR has been at the helm of both policy and implementation of our criminal code.
and, in essence, we are all culpable. ALL OF US.
i think the power of HAYES argument lies within his own self-examination as a PRIVILEGED, EDUCATED WHITE NEW YORKER who benefited from gaps in the universal application of criminal codes. whether such be innocent infractions regarding marijuana use and possession at college (or the NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONVENTION) or his benefiting from CONTROVERSIAL "BROKEN WINDOW" policy in BROOKLYN and the rapid reinvestment that has defined the hyper-gentrification of the borough in the last two decades. at the core there is this latent assumption that the push and pull, ZERO-SUM of AMERICAN democracy and our style of CAPITALISM is that all the benefits i enjoy come at the expense of someone else's maltreatment and denied opportunities. and that is a bitter pill to swallow. it is a dynamic that HAYES struggles with throughout the book. the extent to which WHITE FEAR subconsciously internalizes the majority of our decisions regarding public SAFETY, ORDER and even criminal REHABILITATION.
denying others their status as citizens of the realm has been backed into our culture going back to the first ENGLISH colonies on the eastern seaboard. subjugation of others was a defining characteristic of the colonialists definition of success. and that has yet to change. through our criminal justice system we seek to SECLUDE and PUNISH those that have trespassed our laws, denying them their humanity and any opportunity at realistic REHABILITATION. what does that say about us as a country? as a people? are we all AMERICANS or is that an adjective that necessitates further qualification? because the implementation of said laws and moral codes is more tied to a continual system of "haves and have-nots" than any universal prescript. its all a fraud.
or so it seems. i wrestle with this sort of question all the time living comfortably and quietly in suburbia. the only disorder i see is dogs barking out of control on the FOURTH OF JULY or perhaps some lost STATEN ISLAND driver moving erratically on the parkway. who am i trampling on? what SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION am i unwittingly supporting and REINFORCING through mindless CONSUMERISM. i appreciate HAYES forthright self-examination and it has resulted in me doing the same.
what's interesting about the narrative of iconic professional skateboarder TONY HAWK's career is that it parallels the story of SKATEBOARDING in general. his success and notoriety is the result of a burgeoning, bubbling subculture finding its moment in the media imagination and spotlight, when corporate sponsors and the sporting world effectively caught up. sort of.
and it is that tension between the SELF-DEFINING, DO-IT-YOURSELF PUNK ROCK ethos of an underground culture with the demands of corporate AMERICA in a pre-internet age that make the autobiography HAWK: OCCUPATION: SKATEBOARDER (HARPERCOLLINS, 2000) such a compelling read. in essence the books central claim is that SKATEBOARDING is an ACTIVITY and LIFESTYLE pursuit that has no inherent need for competitions or external judgement. it is its own PURPOSE and needs no outside validation. however, what initially differentiated HAWK and his crew in the original POWELL & PERALTA sponsored BONES BRIGADE (i.e. STEVE CABALLERO, MIKE MCGILL, TOMMY GUERRERO, RODNEY MULLEN and LANCE MOUNTAIN) was their domination of the nascent vert and freestyle competitions of the 1980s. HAWK's ability to master technical tricks and apply a freestyle aesthetic to vert skating and expand its lexicon of tricks was his road to notoriety. this is not to say that he was the most innovative or consequential skater (my vote would be MARK GONZALEZ or RODNEY MULLEN), but he was among the most popular.
the fact that HAWK was able to bridge the cultural divide between the world of BIG BROTHER, TRANSWOLD and THRASHER with that of ESPN is probably the GIFT/CURSE of his life. the former publications have a vested interest in the continued promotion of the SELF-DETERMINING, SELF-PERPETUATING and SELF-MADE aspects of the SKATEBOARDING subculture. cable sports networks are interested in selling beer commercials, which means they have no interest in the culture of SKATEBOARDING and every incentive to promote nonexistent rivalries and hold up individual personalities in order to fulfill their lucrative agenda. HAWK is about the subculture and its SELF-MADE ethos, but he is also undoubtedly a byproduct of the competition circuit (which is anathema to such values). he also is the face of SKATEBOARDING in the popular mindset and has garnered marketshare that has undoubtedly helped popularize the sport and allowed opportunities for countless skater-owned companies to flourish.
its an interesting dilemma and something i found quite compelling to parse through and consider in his autobiography. learning about how the culture concurrently shifted ECONOMICALLY and STYLISTICALLY based on outside ENVIRONMENTAL pressures was interesting as well. much less interesting were the exploits of his travels, his fascination with meeting DONALD TRUMP (way back in the day) and the ups and downs of his personal relationships.
nearly 20 years later we are still very much living in an ecosystem influenced by the BIRDMAN, as well as MATT HOFFMAN and KELLY SLATER respectively. whether or not that sense of purity remains with all that inevitable exposure is a matter of opinion. in the age of social media omnipresence this is probably all a mute point anyway. all compelling to consider.
in the modern age we are spoiled with examples of both awe-inspiring, mind-bending and deeply challenging ARCHITECTURE. the rate of INNOVATION with regards to techniques and materials is something we take for granted, much like the parallel track that we see with computing technology. unlike digital technology, prominent architecture is not an ephemeral entity, instead it is a tangible representation of our current culture for future generations to appreciate, inhabit and incorporate into their owned lived experience.
what makes ROSS KING's book BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME: HOW A RENAISSANCE GENIUS REINVENTED ARCHITECTURE (BLOOMSBURY, 2013) so compelling is that it relates how the first modern skyscraper, the dome of the CATTEDRALE DI SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE (i.e. the FLORENCE CATHEDRAL), was built effectively for the first time since antiquity during the middle ages. in the 15th century when the dome was built over an 18-year span, FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI had to bitterly compete against successful rivals (notably LORENZO GHIBERTI) and repeatedly convince the powerful wool guild (who were funding the operation) of unproven techniques such as a 360-degree oxen-driven pulley system, cross-fitted herringbone patterns of bricks with embedded (and hidden) iron rings and a dual layer dome with lighter materials used the further up it went. according to KING, the success of the raising of the dome of SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE sparked an era of innovation that caught the imagination of later artists, sculptors, architects and technical-minded local standouts like MICHELANGELO, DONATELLO and LEONARDO.
for me the most interesting aspect of this book is how BRUNELLESCHI was alone among his peers in taking the time to study the works of antiquity, especially the ruins of ROMA, for REFERENCE and INSPIRATION. during this period the common view was that their was nothing to be gained INTELLECTUALLY, TECHNICALLY or ARTISTICALLY from their PAGAN antecedents, as the regional powers of what later became ITALY were superior in their CHRISTIAN worldview. in fact, marble from old buildings was often repurposed into churches and headstones among other trivial entities. it is hard to believe that BRUNELLESCHI was alone in his efforts to unlock the secrets of creating not only a dome, but one with a hexagonal pattern. he found such an analogue in spa from one of NERO's palaces, and spent years devising a plan to make such work on a larger scale.
it would seem that convincing a massive paying entity to entrust that you're unproven techniques will be successful decades down the line in the most public of forums is quite the achievement. feels like the modern-day analogue to the lunar landing or the construction of the PANAMA CANAL. i couldnt help when reading about BRUNELLESCHI's curt, caustic temperament and sense of innate superiority the contemporary WILLY WONKA / TONY STARK figure of ELON MUSK. makes you wonder how he will be remembered generations down the line.
BILL BUFORD's seminal examination of FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM in AMONG THE THUGS (SECKER & WARBURG, 1990) is interestingly less about sport and more about the GROUP PSYCHOLOGY of CROWDS and how one's personal sense of IDENTITY becomes transformed and reorientated immediately within a new emerging collective construct. BUFORD goes to great detail about the EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL and PSYCHIC ramifications of such a transformation, embedding himself with everyone from psychotically impassioned MANCHESTER UNITED fanatics to xenophobic NATIONAL FRONT meetings. what comes across is that there is a real sense of intense satisfaction and joy in losing yourself in a CROWD, especially a violent one. for me it was very difficult to read about these accounts (from violent sackings by hooligans in ITALY, GERMANY and ENGLAND) and not think of the JANUARY 6TH INSURRECTION and the seeming misguided nationalistic fervor and over-exhilarated testosterone levels that senselessly fueled it. that same jingoistic SMALL DICK ENERGY seems to carry both through to their destructive ends.
part of what i appreciated about this book is its GONZO-like lack of objectivity as BUFORD is, as the title attests, in amongst the thugs. he doesnt participate in the violence, but is embedded during senseless violent uprisings abroad and attempts to gain an appreciation for why these skirmishes happen from an insider's perspective. is the phenomena of FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM an expression of a repressed and effectively impotent middle class seeking a vehicle for self-determination? is it a nationalist expression of a post-war subset of the BRITISH population that wishes to express its dominance in a post-colonial context? is it an expression of deep DISSATISFACTION with a changing cultural and economic landscape that leads to an ALIENATION that can only be reconstituted through group affiliation? what is on full display, and BUFORD attests to his own experience of such, is the thrill of watching a crowd arise from nowhere and transition into a violent entity where all sense of INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY and PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY are subsumed into this GROUP ETHIC and IDENTITY. chaos and lawlessness doesnt happen all at once, it is pushed along by small transgressions that reestablish the MORAL PARAMETERS of a group. one person takes a step into the street which leads others to do so, thus blocking traffic. one person anonymously breaks a car window, thus making such ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR to the entire organism. its a destructive downward spiral initiated by many MINOR TRANSGRESSIONS that leads to absolute CHAOS.
the process is improvised yet curiously with regards to HOOLIGANS is in some regard well-organized. there are multiple leaders that emerge once the process is underway who effectively direct traffic and initiate battles with like-minded and similarly constructed rival factions from other football teams. there is even an UNSPOKEN CODE OF CONDUCT in which the object of violence is to be directed at other rival factions and not the police. there is oddly a sense of RESPECT for the police. the squads are attempting to evade such and conduct their TOXIC DISPLAY OF MASCULINITY outside the auspices of the law, which means away from the physical presence of the police. that is unless, such takes place overseas. in that case the dehumanized concept of the "other" is attached to all foreigners. their life and property is completely disregarded, in fact, their "otherness" is seen to be the root cause. it is never the HOOLIGANS fault that they were collectively "set off," they were merely defending the honor of their country. again, this is very much in sync with the warped mindset of modern insurrectionists on JANUARY 6TH and the REPUBLICAN media echo-chamber the promotes and profits from its proliferation.
again, AMONG THE THUGS is easily one of the most affecting sociological examinations i have come across and its examination of the GROUP PSYCHOLOGY surrounding VIOLENT MOBS is more relevant now then ever before. sadly. id consider this book required reading for anyone interested in the concept of CROWD BEHAVIOR and what happens when your sense of individual accountability gets folded into a COLLECTIVE IDENTITY.
thing that struck me about HOUSE OF WOMEN (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2017) by SOPHIE GOLDSTEIN was how beautifully illustrated it was. if i had to pinpoint a style, it would be informed by the likes of AUBREY BEARDSLEY, traditional JAPANESE UKIYO-E woodblock prints, GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM and a hint of HINDU ICONOGRAPHY and MUGHAL ARCHITECTURE thrown in the mix. i found myself looking repeatedly at the panels and just basking in the potency of the visuals which were just stunning throughout.
the narrative itself follows four women that on a fact-finding mission from an intergalactic empire that seeks to learn about the far limits of its reach and the inhabitants therein. the more involved these four women become with the local inhabitants and the CULTURE therein, the more they become drawn into a PSYCHODRAMA that they have little control over. plot-wise it reminds me of a short story (whose author i forget) i read in college about a man that starts dating a woman out of pity, only to get sucked into the relationship and ultimately become discarded in the process. the short story and this graphic novel both play with notions of POWER, CONTROL and ROMANTIC DOMINANCE. its always interesting when those who feel they are in control of a situation learn that it is them that are being manipulated.
i feel like the pure artistry of the panels themselves leaves the reader in a similar position whereby we are being sucked into a narrative that we have little control over as well, but very much enjoy the seduction nonetheless. i highly recommend HOUSE OF WOMEN to anyone interested in theory surrounding ORIENTALISM, POST-COLONIALISM or FEMINIST theory. it is a graphic novel most definitely worth seeking out and exploring and coming to your own conclusions about.
much is being said about the state of the RUSSIAN government under VLADIMIR PUTIN's regime, especially in the wake of his recent invasion of neighboring UKRAINE and the senseless barbarism that has unfolded within public view. and rightfully so.
but what about the RUSSIAN people? what are their lives like under his regime? the recent book BETWEEN TWO FIRES: TRUTH, AMBITION AND COMPROMISE IN PUTIN'S RUSSIA (CROWN, 2020) by MOSCOW correspondent for THE NEW YORKER, JOSHUA YAFFA, delves deep into this question and exposes a compromised CIVIL SOCIETY whose participants are rendered complicit by their involvement with an ever more authoritarian state apparatus. specifically YAFFA reports on the coercive political squeeze rendered on RUSSIAN television producers, orthodox priests, humanitarian workers, CRIMEAN zookeepers, artists and historians under PUTIN's reign. within all these aspects of RUSSIAN life, their is a FAUSTIAN BARGAIN that pits ACCESS and INFLUNCE against OSTRACIZATION ostracized and EXILE. seemingly the most corrosive aspect of this state of affairs is how this bunker mentality fixes itself in the wider population, in which CYNICISM and a certain brand of NIHILISM takes root whereby you question the motives of all successful people, both domestic and foreign. when you have a population that has lost its sense of national cohesion, you have a weakened political construct that is easier to be controlled by an authoritarian like PUTIN.
which gets at the subtext i inferred through this book. to me this community corroding mentality and its related strategic breakdown of national identity seems eerily MAGA-esque. just reading about in detail about these various compromised aspects of RUSSIAN CIVIL SOCIETY and the corrupting influence of PUTIN's regime made me consider a future DYSTOPIA where DONALD TRUMP and his acolytes have dominated all manner of national discourse. where one is in a constant internal discussion of how to satiate an ever-shifting party line that has no rhyme or reason. where subservience and loyalty to the state is the only currency that matters.
i feel like i have lived this before in theocratic regimes in MYANMAR and KUWAIT as well as outright military dictatorships like VENEZUELA and NIGERIA. but these corrosive systems have known, discernible boundaries with philosophical underpinnings (all of which i disagree with). in RUSSIA and TRUMP NATION, its a lot more vague and mercurial in nature with the potential to morph the identity and moral compass of its population. to my ears this sounds like elderly ALBANIANS i met during my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer, who wished for the return of an ENVER HOXHA-like regime to return and provide a sense of NATIONALISTIC pride and IDENTITY that a weakened CAPITALIST economy in a post-COMMUNIST world order couldnt provide.
i hear desperation.
and it is that sense of desperation that rings more true today given current events in EASTERN EUROPE. BETWEEN TWO FIRES is a deeply compelling book that i am not remotely doing justice and is well worth investigation for anyone compelled to consider the extent to which genuinely authoritarian governments corrode their populations sense of PURPOSE and IDENTITY. i know i will return to this book in the future. highly recommended.
touring is an activity that often gets romanticized in the public consciousness since it reeks of personal freedom and the seemingly endless enticing possibilities that come with a constant change in scenery. the REALITY is much different, as witnessed in NEW YORK CITY comedian TODD BARRY's tour memoir THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG: ONE COMEDIAN'S TOUR OF NOT-QUITE-THE-BIGGEST CITIES IN THE WORLD (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2017) which effectively journals his time on the road at small secondary and tertiary stateside markets.
this memoir is less about his craft as a writer and comedian and more about trying to not get ripped off by small-time promotors, enduring multiple connecting flights and combatting BOREDOM on tour by seeking quality COFFEE and FOOD, as well as small museums and eccentric roadside attractions. the nearest comparison i could relate to this memoir is HENRY ROLLINS' similarly constructed GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG (review linked HERE) which follows the personal hardships of a life on the road with no guard rails or safety nets. BLACK FLAG at the time was trailblazing a new path and establishing a network of nontraditional venues and communities and ROLLINS account gets into the MINUTIAE of what said travails meant on a day-to-day basis. it also gets at the PERSONAL TOLL of such an extreme NOMADIC existence, which is similarly relayed in BARRY's less extreme memoir.
you really get the sense in THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG, that the sheer REPETITION of the experience is what leads to all these cycles of experiencing new physical situations, such as commenting on the quality of hotel accommodations, backstage green rooms, bathroom cleanliness, venue layout and REFRESHMENTS available on site. i imagine once you have your jokes down and your routine polished, the routine physical details of your predictable day-to-day existence are what take over, which is the opposite of the romanticization of being on the road for a living.
which is the point.
but i think BARRY is doing a service in promoting and, in essence, glorifying these small venues in out-of-the-way cities and towns in his memoir. it shows that meaningful ART and CULTURE can happen anywhere, even ASBURY PARK or rural MISSISSIPPI. kind of ironic it took a NEW YORKER to make that point. THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG is definitely a quirky yet thoroughly enjoyable look at life on the road and as a solitary entertainer. i dont know how standup comedians do it, i would be absolutely petrified having to walk into new surroundings and attempt to make a room full of strangers laugh. respect.
internal band dynamics are always a tricky thing. there are tons of examples of bands that from the outside looking in seem like a consolidated front made of co-equal partners yet such is far from the case. probably no modern METAL musician is more defined by this in the popular consciousness than former METALLICA guitarist and MEGADETH frontman DAVE MUSTAINE.
his memoir MUSTAINE (IT BOOKS, 2010) written with veteran scribe JOE LAYDEN is very much defined the the shifting internal dynamics of not one, but two iconic THRASH METAL bands and provides a much-needed counterpoint to the popular narrative of this influential yet highly CONTROVERSIAL musician. i'll admit right at the beginning that i am not the biggest fan of MUSTAINE. in interviews he always comes across as a condescending BRAGGART and an unrepentant EGOIST, and that was before his conversion to CHRISTIANITY and conservative politics. his voice and his attitude towards his peers has always been GRATING, but i will say that the dude is supremely gifted as a guitarist and a songwriter. it was no doubt his sense of abandon on his instrument and his reckless behavior that initially lifted METALLICA from obscurity and helped establish the nascent THRASH METAL scene in the 1980s. MUSTAINE as a historical figure is absolutely instrumental in the evolution of METAL music. period.
its interesting how much ink in this memoir is dedicated to the internal strifes of both bands. METALLICA was a band of alcoholics that discarded one of their members, MUSTAINE, in essence for being a mean drunk. that is popular story, but its interesting that MUSTAINE points to his substantial songwriting credits during his period with the band to suggest that it may have been more about artistic control. in essence METALLICA had three main songwriters in JAMES HETFIELD, LARS ULRICH and MUSTAINE. one theme that is carried throughout this memoir is MUSTAINE's sense of being an underdog, which is rooted in his growing up very POOR, without a father figure and with a mother whose identity got taken over by the JEHOVAH's WITNESS community. HETFIELD had similar circumstances with his deadbeat father and a mother that passed on after being taken advantage of by the beliefs of her CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST community. he is portrayed as being psychologically WEAK, UNASSERTIVE and essentially a patsy to ULRICH, who in turn is portrayed as privileged, wealthy son of a bohemian DANISH TENNIS professional. ULRICH is effectively presented as being a duplicitous MACHIAVELLIAN figure (which is probably pretty accurate). METALLICA was very much a surrogate family for MUSTAINE and his dismissal echoed the rejection of his father towards his family. no doubt it was a traumatic effect and was a primal event in his career and personal relationship trajectory thereafter.
but what i found more interesting was his reaction to this dismissal, fair or not. he created a new family in MEGADETH of which he was the sole leader, whose only other longtime member (absent two breaks of which we are now living in the second) is DAVID ELLEFSON whom he deems as dismissively as "junior." the rest of the band throughout is made of a revolving cast of opportunists, scabs, legends and METAL lifers. what struck me in particular is how MUSTAINE never questions his own motives, paving over bad decisions during his many drug-addled years as MISGUIDED or MISINFORMED but not ill-intentioned. he comes across as incredibly naive and largely absent-minded or uninterested in the financial and emotional needs of his bandmates. throughout the memoir he is his absentee father. he wants the leadership and the acclaim but none of the responsibility that comes with it. its interesting that he, more than any other METAL figure, should have been aware of the trauma that comes with bad leadership in a band setting. yet he just kept the cycle going.
the biggest bummer is the whole born again CHRISTIAN nonsense at the conclusion of the book in which he considers whether it is ethical or not to play with "satanic" bands. that is just so beyond LAME. he is an artistic leader who can tour with whomever he wants, but it just feels antithetical to ROCK N ROLL in some basic core manner. it also presumes his own purity as a CHRISTIAN which is beyond DISAPPOINTING and, again, just LAME.
thats my reaction to this memoir basically. MUSTAINE is a supremely gifted musician who deserves credit for his achievements and contributions to THRASH METAL, but as a person he just comes across as an ass. even in his own memoir in which he is trying to counteract the popular opinion of him being an ass. its beyond CONFOUNDING. go figure.
what i always loved about the work of MAURICE SENDAK in his iconic children's picture book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (HARPER & ROW, 1963) is his ability to present an inventive interior world of CHILDHOOD that is marked by an IMAGINATION that is truly unbridled. it marks a stage of development where fears are primal and all-engrossing since safeguards built by experience have not been scaffolded yet. consequently the joys are that much higher, untouched yet by adult conceptions like failed aspirations and disappointments. it is a pure world of childhood AMORALITY and undiluted EMOTION.
reading through SENDAK's work you cant help but take stock of how far you have ventured from this EDEN-like mindset of your early youth. you start remembering the game's you played with imaginary friends and how existentially frightening it was to be left alone in your room in the dark.
i don't mean to romanticize this period because in many ways CHILDHOOD is a frightening time both physically and emotionally, something SPIKE JONZE unquestionably hit the bulls-eye with in his 2009 film adaptation of this beloved children's book. his film showcases the EXISTENTIAL DREAD that comes with an overactive imagination and the inability to curb one's emotions. that LACK OF CONTROL can be TRAUMATIZING in the moment, something we later become numb to and dull the edges around such as we continue ever closer to death. maybe we just get better at deluding ourselves of such or maybe we just get caught up in a world of adult responsibility.
whatever the case, rereading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE always makes me reconsider that at our heart we are all hopelessly lost in our own emotional and imaginative worlds. it is just a matter of how much that world has been coopted that really determines our AGE.
easily one of my favorite books ever. should be read again and again by children and adults of all ages.
when the COLONIES were established, particularly MASSACHUSETTS, there was a lot of inter-religious bickering and "dialogue" between JOHN WINTHROP and his PURITAN subjects. what THE WORDY SHIPMATES (RIVERHEAD, 2008) by SARAH VOWELL presents is how much of our nation's values and identity is formulated in this heated and highly idiosyncratic discussion amongst newly migrated uppity JESUS FREAKS that were too moralistic and strident to find a home in ANGLICAN ENGLAND.
these arent the founding fathers as the CONSTITUTION was still more than a century in the future, this was literally one of the first proto-AMERICAN communities. and already their discussions about, for instance, the role of the state in religious affairs was of paramount concern and would shape a nation and a national discussion that continues to this day. and that is of interest due to the fact that in current AMERICAN politics there is this quixotic notion/fantasy that the farther back you go, the more CIVILITY reigned. this is of course not true. RHODE ISLAND was founded ROGER WILLIAMS, a religious refugee from the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, due to his incompatibility with their less conservative CALVINIST government. all these people left for the NEW WORLD in the hopes of establishing a new CHRISTIAN UTOPIA, its just there was a fierce debate and disagreement about which UTOPIA to strive after.
there is also the dynamic brought up by VOWELL that with the democratization of political power came a parallel democratization of RELIGION. as CHRISTIANITY fragmented from CATHOLICISM into various PROTESTANT sects, there inevitably followed further splintering therein in the NEW WORLD. this schism at the micro level accounts somewhat for the modern AMERICAN phenomena of being suspicious of those with power, intellect or both. enter the figure of ANNE HUTCHINSON who because of her gender was effectively routed out of the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY for exhibiting all the skills, knowledge and charisma needer of a religious leader. HARVARD COLLEGE in fact was essentially created to train male. clergy in response to HUTCHINSON. again its interesting that the table for these series of unfortunate cultural dynamics were set by the mid 17th century, well before insurrections, tea parties and talk revolution.
if anything, that sense of MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS (along with the political malleability of the bible) would see itself manifest in, funny enough, the doctrine of MANIFEST DESTINY and the effective rationalization of the genocide of native peoples that survives to this date.
THE WORDY SHIPMATES is a very interesting book that really gets at the root of the peculiar values found in the greater AMERICAN consciousness. well worth reading for all HISTORY buffs and those curious about our cultural and sociopolitical origins.
relationships are complicated. ive always felt that there is something intrinsically narcissistic about ROMANTIC LOVE in general given that you pursue someone because of how they make you feel. when i started reading about BUDDHISM years ago before i moved to JAPAN this point was brought up again and again in different texts and it has long stayed with me.
the graphic novel SHORTCOMINGS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2007) by ADRIAN TOMINE is an extended meditation on the nature of a crumbling relationship and the undergirding reasons / desires / projections / obsessions that make breaking up so difficult. in essence there is that shared IDENTITY and sublimated EGO in that of another that is shattered and discarded. to some extent reading about the protagonist BEN TANAKA and his self-obsession felt like the dialogue in a WOODY ALLEN or INGMAR BERGMAN film where you know this clinging nature is only pushing the object of his desire away. he is so self-concerned and incapable of addressing the needs of his partner MIKO that he is basically manufacturing a self-fulfilling prophecy for his own alienation.
i think one particularly interesting aspect of SHORTCOMINGS is how it examines inter-racial relationships from a CONSERVATIVE ASIAN perspective. specifically the ingrained CHAUVINIST notion that how somehow dating an ASIAN woman is seen as less exciting or revered than that of a CAUCASIAN woman for an ASIAN man. this idea of a "white prize." that somehow if a CAUCASIAN male dates an ASIAN female that something is amiss but not the other way around. the graphic novel definitely dives deep into notions of TOKENISM, ORIENTALISM and POST-COLONIALIST thought in a very organic manner.
TOMINE is a deft writer who has a profound ability to subtly expose uncomfortable truths in an organic, unforced manner. i am looking forward to become more acquainted with his writings moving forward and highly suggest SHORTCOMINGS to anyone interested in thought-provoking writing, irrespective of an interest in comics or graphic novels. it is that good.
there is evil and then there is SACKLER FAMILY evil.
EMPIRE OF PAIN: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SACKLER DYNASTY (DOUBLEDAY, 2021) by PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE is a cautionary journey into the depraved depths of boundless GREED that marked the IMMORAL behavior of the SACKLER FAMILY and the pharmaceutical business, PURDUE PHARMA, that they owned and operated over three generations. this operation was so successful in its peddling of addictive opioids in part due to the BRAZEN nature of their incapacity to showcase HUMAN EMPATHY or any SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY to their fellow man, instead hiding behind a fig leaf of false LIBERTARIAN-inspired dogma that is all to apparent in similar MORALLY CORRUPT CAPITALIST ENTERPRISES (i.e. tobacco and firearms).
but the outrage i felt reading this book is not limited to the SACKLER FAMILY and their unethical marketing of OXYCONTIN (and VALIUM before it) for widespread, common use. its tentacles went much further into the the very heart of the CORRUPT INCENTIVE STRUCTURES that are the basis of our federal LEGAL, POLITICAL and MEDICAL systems. every system failed. multiple times. it seemed that the whole capitalist system enabled this company to reek PHYSICAL, MORAL and PSYCHIC DESTRUCTION on the most DESPERATE and VULNERABLE elements of our society and profited unimaginably. and its not even a DEMOCRAT or REPUBLICAN issue, since everyone has blood on their hands over multiple administrations of inactivity. that and members of each have taken money from them and/or worked on their behalf (MARY JO WHITE and ERIC HOLDER of the OBAMA ADMINISTRATION to name only two prominent PURDUE PHARMA attorneys).
what also made EMPIRE OF PAIN so compelling, aside from its flawless construction as it expertly unveiled layers of interweaving depths of CORRUPT BUSINESS PRACTICES and IMMORAL BEHAVIOR over generations and geography, is how it is just as much concerned with the appearance and presentation of POWER and INFLUENCE. these ill-gotten gains were seemingly symbolically laundered through the name rights of institutes and galleries associated with numerous prestigious museums (THE MET, LOUVRE, TATE MODERN, NATIONAL GALLERY in LONDON, BROOKLYN MUSEUM, SMITHSONIAN, GUGGENHEIM, BRITISH MUSEUM and the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY) and universities (HARVARD, COLUMBIA, OXFORD, NYU, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY, YALE, CORNELL and TUFTS). this "philanthropy" was a bid for immortality and a fraudulent display of MAGNANIMITY for cultural and educational concerns that was really based in basic, primordial instincts towards POWER and INFLUENCE. the fact that these institutions allowed such to happen just shows the vacuous nature of their INFLUENCE-PEDDLING to begin with. nobody is spared in this narrative.
well, actually there are a few heroes. namely the artist NAN GOLDIN who utilized her unfortunate experience with OXYCONTIN and its community of survivors to chasten and call out the SACKLER FAMILY and those institutions that enabled them. her leadership is one of COURAGE and DEFIANCE and all those enabled virtues devoid from any member of the SACKLER FAMILY. there is also MASSACHUSETTS ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY and her NEW YORK counterpart LETITIA JAMES, as well as attorneys from across the country who tirelessly went after the family members themselves, even after the shell-game involved with the BANKRUPTCY COURT shenanigans of PURDUE PHARMA. their efforts are honorable and well within the scope of the public trust that defines their position.
the sad part about EMPIRE OF PAIN is that you are hoping that this constant craven display of INHUMANITY over many generations in one family is an anomaly in our system, a blip, but deep down we all know that this isnt the case. in fact, PURDUE PHARMA and their EXPLOITATIVE shell-game of an operation is our system. their bending and subordination of our LEGAL, FINANCIAL, POLITICAL and JUDICIAL structures to seek their needs and not the publics is as AMERICAN as BASEBALL or JAZZ.
this book really made me reflect on my own individual responsibility in the enabling of these types of structures and practices. the clothes i wear, the car i drive and the food i consume are all made available through unsustainable and exploitative practices on my behalf. i dont know how we exit our COMPLICITY as passive consumers within this complex system which seeks to generate consumer and investor value at the expense of limited resources and undervalued labor.
it just feels like this level of EXPLOITATION is bound to happen again and again on repeat because the incentives are there at every level to perpetuate such. again, seemingly we are all COMPLICIT. i just dont see this changing. ever. it is like JELLO BIAFRA riff on the PATRICK HENRY slogan which sums up our collective ADDICTION to CONSUMER CULTURE, damn the consequences, "give me convenience or give me death."
this is an excellent book, probably the best thing ive read since starting this blog a few years back. absolutely highly recommended.
oh my god, I WANT YOU (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2020) by LISA HANAWALT is absolutely insane.
this graphic novel is very much in touch with a level of DADA-esque absurdity that i was not prepared for. it ranges from lovingly-detailed drawings (that would make ALBRECHT DURER proud) of HIPSTER ANTHROPOMORPHIC animals hanging out at clubs, parties and the like, to crudely drawn sexual and FECAL-OBSESSED observations. and then there are random drawings of animals with ever more outlandish hats.
what i take from it all is that I WANT YOU is essentially a 20-something taking in her lived experiences and manifesting them through an absolutely feverish sense of unbounded creativity to the point of ABSTRACTION and SURREALISM. utilizing ANIMAL HEADS with HUMAN BODIES (complete with fashionable HIPSTER attire) seems as apt a vehicle as any for describing the SURREAL experience of experiencing real AUTONOMY for the first time as a young adult. those SOCIAL NEGOTIATIONS of learning what your boundaries are and how odd and difficult it is when you make mistakes regarding such. it is at that stage when you learn what your limits are and what your actual preferences are with regards to friends and romantic partners. so why not have a HUMANOID CAT date a HUMANOID DEER and witness the chaos ensue. doesnt feel that much difference than my experience in my early 20s.
if you are a fan of TRANSGRESSIVE art and a DADA-esque comedic sensibility than definitely check out I WANT YOU and the work of HANAWALT in general. but then you probably already knew that given her day job as the production designer and producer of BOJACK HORESMAN on NETFLIX. this graphic novel is definitely something i will revisit in the future and attempt to grasp in better detail, because i am so lost i dont know where to begin.
or maybe that was the point all along.
SPYING ON WHALES: THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF EARTH'S MOST AWESOME CREATURES (PENGUIN, 2018) by noted paleontologist NICK PYENSON, curator of fossil marine mammals at the SMITHSONIAN's MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY in WASHINGTON D.C., is a compelling journey through the process of SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY and the individuals that participate in the learning and uncovering of the hidden ECOLOGICAL, EVOLUTIONARY and CULTURAL secrets of these celebrated majestic animals.
throughout the book there is much effort made to stress the importance of PHYSICAL EVIDENCE and the COLLECTION OF DATA in the generating of suppositions regarding the history of WHALES and their role in various ecosystems within the water column. as new specimens are collected and technological modeling methods perfected, more nuanced HYPOTHESES are rendered and informatively debated among experts. what is presented in SPYING ON WHALES in essence is an intelligent and complex lineage of animals who have evolved physically and tactically to exploit their unique placement in the food chain.
one aspect of such is the GIGANTISM of some species, namely the BLUE and FIN WHALES, whose size is a hypothesized reaction to being able to efficiently travel long distances at depth and take advantage of seasonal feeding grounds hemispheres away. their size also renders a sense of PROTECTION as they are essentially apex predators in that would-be predators seek easier prey that require less energy to submit to their will.
another aspect presented is the CULTURAL and interpersonal relationships among WHALES that utilize language and, in the case of ORCAS, coordinated pack maneuvering. unfortunately since we do not speak their LANGUAGE or have any insight into their coded communications, the idea of the true depths of their CULTURAL INTERACTIONS with one another is a tantalizing off-limits as of now.
the aspect i found most interesting included the ECOLOGICAL significance of BLUE WHALES in that they spread nutrients throughout the water column and serve as an integral part of multiple ECOSYSTEMS. through their feces they spread nutrients near the surface that were originally taken at depth. likewise when they perish and fall to the ocean floor as a WHALE FALL (great band name!), their carcasses serve as fuel for a whole series of creatures at various points in its DECOMPOSITION. in essence the connect the oceans and spread vital nutrients to various shareholders.
which makes CLIMATE CHANGE, WHALING and ECOLOGICAL DEGRADATION by the hands of humans such a sad point of reality in the book. as conditions change and deteriorate rapidly, many of these less flexible WHALE iterations are seemingly doomed to perish and become extinct as they are perfectly evolved for a past set of ENVIRONMENTAL PRESSURES. it seems doubtful that benevolent efforts by mankind will undo the damage our industry and petroleum-based economy has done unto the globe and its myriad of interconnecting ecosystems.
sadly this book feels like a EULOGY. at the same time the more flexible and coordinated of the WHALE species will find a way to survive. what is hopeful is that there are a series of committed scientists, like PYENSON, that are seeking to investigate and learn as much as possible about WHALES, their relatives and their vital role in the ocean (both past and present) for the sake of posterity.
BOOK REVIEW | "IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM" BY YEONMI PARK WITH MARYANNE VOLLERS
NORTH KOREA is by definition UNKNOWABLE. it is a cultural and historical black hole whereby its inhabitants live in isolation from the outside world in a warped cocoon of state-controlled DISINFORMATION, PERSECUTION and outright POLITICAL REPRESSION on a level unseen elsewhere. its true victims are its people, who for the most part are ANONYMOUS and their stories UNKNOWN.
such is what makes the recent publication of the IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM (PENGUIN, 2015) memoir by defector YEONMI PARK such a gift. her stark, harrowing account of a life of subsistence and constant struggle to survive in the HERMIT KINGDOM as well as her escape to CHINA, repatriation to SOUTH KOREA and struggle to catch up with her peers thereafter is a narrative of singular WILL, COURAGE and sheer PERSISTENCE. to say it is impressive is a massive understatement, this memoir showcases a girl in her early 20s who has experienced unimaginable SORROW and HARDSHIP.
any part of her journey i could extrapolate on, but for me the most central part of her narrative is her frank account of being TRAFFICKED (along with her mother) in CHINA after escaping from NORTH KOREA. this human slave trade by sex traffickers preys upon a political grey area whereby the CHINESE government refuses to recognize political refugees and actively sends back NORTH KOREAN defectors. traffickers know this and use such to establish a BLACK MARKET that buys and sells NORTH KOREAN women to poor CHINESE farmers. it is cruel system that preys on the most VULNERABLE and DISPOSSESSED elements in their society. just the idea that PARK gives voice to her own experience of being TRAFFICKED is an act of such BRAVERY and STRENGTH that is hard for me to comprehend, if not vocalize given how much of a TABOO such is in socially CONSERVATIVE KOREAN society.
what is also interesting is her experience in CHINA during the 2008 BEIJING SUMMER OLYMPICS when the government raided all levels of trafficking infrastructure and repatriated countless TRAFFICKED NORTH KOREAN women back home (to an unknown fate yet one can only imagine). all to save public face. one can only estimate what their policy is now during the current 2022 BEIJING WINTER OLYMPICS. nothing was learned on assumes, which is PREVENTABLE and undeniably TRAGIC.
her journey out of CHINA included a nighttime escape across a section of the GOBI DESERT during winter into neighboring MONGOLIA. this route was initiated by PROTESTENT MISSIONARIES who judged PARK and her mother for their "sinful" activities while attempting to survive on the run from crime world traffickers. this inclusion is absolutely maddening, as it showcases the hollow compassion of these international missionary groups (some of whom i personally dealt with in ALBANIA during my PEACE CORPS years) who leverage help with an unfounded sense of MORAL SUPERIORITY. maddening, just absolutely maddening. PARK and her mother should be commended for surviving in such a system. period. no qualifications. leave JESUS out of this.
basically ever step of her incredible journey, including learning to live and thrive in hyper-competitive SOUTH KOREAN society, is worthy of further examination and respect. the unimaginable COURAGE to give voice to being a victim of the international HUMAN TRAFFICKING is remarkable and should be celebrated. this is a singular book that i highly recommend to anyone interested in inspiring books that celebrate the HUMAN SPIRIT in the face of absolute MORAL DEPRAVITY and immense PERSONAL HARDSHIP. IN ORDER TO LIVE is the most AFFECTING book i have read since reviewing for this blog. could not recommend it anymore forcefully. required reading.
i read at wrote this review not knowing how YEONMI PARK has been effectively championed and co-opted by AMERICAN far-right media elements including CANDACE OWENS, BEN SHAPIRO, JORDAN PETERSON, JOE ROGAN and the like. to say that such is unfortunate is putting it mildly. it is beyond disapointing.
her current decisions dont alter the validity of her experiences outlined in the book or the incredible sacrifices her family made in seeking freedom in SOUTH KOREA. what it does showcase is at best her naivete towards conservative politics in AMERICA and at worst her true character as someone who sympathizes with those that align themselves with wannabe autocrats and regressive inhumane policies. how ironic.
i just wish to make sure my audience understands that i was not aware of such during the creation of this article.
i read film historian VITO RUSSO's THE CELLULOID CLOSET: HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE MOVIES (HARPER & ROW, 1981) while still in undergrad in the early 2000s. its themes regarding IDENTITY and REPRESENTATION in the media very much resonated with me at the time.
i should backtrack and say that a running thread throughout much of my academic career as an ENGLISH major devouring literature and film was the relationship between the author/auteur and the audience. the read/viewer completes a loop set out by a creator whereby SIGNALS are interpreted and assigned VALUE. part of the interesting thing about interpreting art in a college setting is how diverse audiences divine diverse meanings. i knew this phenomena implicitly from my time growing up abroad, but my college and graduate experience, as well as my years as a teacher abroad only further cemented such. with THE CELLULOID CLOSET i was presented with meanings regarding MEDIA REPRESENTATION in film culture culled from a segment of society i was not familiar with at the time: the GAY community.
it still blows my mind how much subtext i missed from the likes of HOWARD HAWKS, DEREK JARMAN, NICHOLAS RAY, GREGG ARAKI, JAMES WHALE, BILLY WILDER, JOHN HUSTON and STANLEY KUBRICK among many others. there was definitely a CODED LANGUAGE regarding MANNERISM, DIALECT and general AFFECTATION that went way past me at the time. what was also lost on me was the unfortunate longstanding history of depicting HOMOSEXUAL men as effeminate self-hating sissies who were undeserving of affection, loyalty or respect. this was in part a cruel legacy of the PRODUCTION CODE of the 1930s that was initiated to "ensure" a level of MORALITY in entertainment, but like any standard bearer of NORMATIVE CULTURE, only served the hegemonic interests of an AMERICAN body politic that despised all that threatened the status quo. thus HOMOSEXUALS were brutally depicted along with ethnic minorities, women and all elements of "foreign" cultures.
the fact that some were able to utilize CODED LANGAGE and IMAGES to bypass the censors and address the experiences of a minority audience in a mainstream film is super fascinating to me. VITO's book is basically a catalogue of examples that showcase the evolution of HOMOSEXUAL depictions in film over time.
in a post-MARRIAGE EQUALITY AMERICA, this conversation may appear quaint, but this is the type of book that really makes you consider how far we have come as a culture in the past century and why it is so utterly disappointing and beyond depraved that there are current elements in our society that want to take us back to this closeted time. THE CELLULOID CLOSET and the documentary that shares its name should be required reading/viewing because it provides evidence about how ostracizing and traumatizing any segment of society effectively degrades us all. as a society we should be more aware of how the AMERICAN experience is lived by all elements of society, not just the CAUCASIAN perspective. this book helps introduce such a unique perspective in a novel way.
i could not recommend it with more enthusiasm. it is desperately needed in our current cultural and political moment.
it feels like during the pandemic a fair amount of us garnered a new hard-earned appreciation for the daily rituals of public life. those mundane daily events like going to a grocery store or talking with your neighbors or even going to a movie or concert. the loss of that sense of INTERACTION with society since the pandemic began has been on my mind throughout, leading me to realize how ISOLATED i felt.
reading SEEK YOU: A JOURNEY THROUGH LONELINESS (PANTHEON, 2021) BY KRISTEN RADTKE was quite an affecting experience. the graphic novel is an extended meditation on the PHYSIOLOGICAL, SOCIOLOGICAL, TECHNOLOGICAL and CULTURAL phenomena that make AMERICAN life such a uniquely isolating experience. it really is a deep dive into how LONELINESS works and the myriad ways it affects our MENTAL HEALTH and PHYSICAL WELL-BEING. i could go down the list of all the studies cited and heart-wrenching anecdotes shared throughout the book, but instead i will just make a general statement: everything comes down to EMPATHY. the idea of sharing and having reciprocated our values, aspirations, disappointments, obstacles and successes in the eyes of others is essentially to our sense of identity with a communal context. corrosive POLITICAL DEBATES, SOCIAL MEDIA ALGORITHMS, MORTGAGE PAYMENTS, FAMILIAL RESPONSIBILITIES, NORMATIVE GENDER PRESCRIPTIONS, etc. all rope is into an intense INTERIORITY that is difficult to break free from. in essence our personal SUFFERING gets in the way of our ability to see through the bullshit and EMPATHIZE with one another.
i have had the pleasure of working abroad in the developing world and i have long been struck by the strong communal ties therein. specifically in NIGERIA and MYANMAR there was a sense of being a valued member of a community (usually tribal) that went beyond one's INTELLECT, WEALTH or POLITICAL POWER. i often wonder being back stateside how much one's ECONOMIC STANDING plays into our sense of identity and ability to EMPATHIZE with one another. my instinct is that such is paramount. reading SEEK YOU: A JOURNEY THROUGH LONELINESS i was interested in hearing about that aspect but it never came up.
i feel this graphic novel is a transformative achievement and something i will be revisiting and referencing from here on out. this review most definitely did not do justice to the length and breadth of the ideas presented therein, but it showcases where my head is at relative to it at this moment in time. i cannot advocate for this book strongly enough. it is PROVOCATIVE and deeply AFFECTING as it touches a subject nobody wants to acknowledge in AMERICAN society: the fact that we celebrate our ALIENATION and ISOLATION from each other and pay the price on the other end with devastating consequences.
in my opinion SEEK YOU: A JOURNEY THROUGH LONELINESS is required reading. definitely wort checking out.