Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's Crumb Time! Or, the Loneliness of the Middling IT Professional

I had planned to stay away from the topic of gym shooter George Sodini as the matter was too sad and sordid to deserve further comment. However, seeing as Lawrence Auster (the gold standard in starched-shirt traditionalist rectitude) has seen fit to link to Sodini's diaries and even given over his site to "'Game' studies", I suppose I can be excused for indulging in a bit of speculation on those topics myself.

During my first reading of Sodini's diaries I experienced a strong sense of uncanniness, a feeling I was unable to shake until it occurred to me that the trajectory of Sodini's life (at least until its evil climax) followed that of the Crumb brothers pretty much to a 't'. Charles, Robert, and Maxon ("Max") Crumb were first unleashed on us in the 1995 indie documentary of the same name. Though styled as an inside look at Robert's life and career as a cult comic book artist, the perverse charisma of the two supporting brothers soon hijacks the movie and transforms it into an intense exploration of male sexual frustration and the grotesque forms in which it- inevitably- unleashes itself.

Robert Crumb grew up the middle brother in a lower middle-class family of 7. While wholly predictable attempts have been made to scapegoat the brothers' post-adolescent dysfunction on parental abuse and the ravages of the "suburban nightmare", the truth is the Crumbs were an entirely decent, if intellectually and culturally stunted, family. By Robert's own admission the boys enjoyed a wholesome childhood consisting of Catholic mass, Disney entertainment, and games of make-believe in the backyard. Indeed the boys' later issues may well have stemmed from their refusal to leave this halcyon cocoon of safety and innocence that a prosperous, well-ordered 1950's America seemed to bestow on all its children. An early love of comic books led the boys to found their own "comix company", the name of which ("Animal Town Comics") was as touchingly sweet as the baby forest critters that filled its pages.

Yet interests that seem sweet and adorable at ages 7, 8, or 9, become frivolous and silly by ages 12, 13, or14, and downright weird by 16, 17, or 18. Charles Crumb Sr. was a man's man, a WWII veteran with 20 years of Marine Corps service under his belt. Yet the author of Training People Effectively was never able to steer his comic book-loving wimpo sons toward more manly pursuits, with tragic results by the time the boys reached puberty. Charles Jr. was the first one thrown into the teen dating gauntlet, and if awkwardness and wry intellect were not handicap enough, there was the small matter of his savage persecution by the school jocks, one of whom (a certain Monsieur "Skutch") made it a point to mercilessly beat Charles whenever he so much as approached a romantic prospect. Charles retreated into himself, and by the time we encounter him 30 years later he is the clinging revenant of a life that was still-born, with never a steady job, an existence outside his parent's home, or even the most basic intimacy with a woman to its credit. Shortly before the release of Crumb Charles finally succeeds in taking his own life, ending a squalid existence hemmed in by old books, a cat-infested home, and a neighborhood long since too dangerous to escape a claustrophobic life with mother from thanks to its successful "integration" during the '70's.

Though baby brother Max manages to leave the house, his life fares little better. After going on a brief rampage of low-intensity sexual assault (highlighted by the public pantsing of a girl), Max crashes in a San Francisco transients hotel and learns to occupy his days with panhandling, sado-masochistic yoga, and the occasional foray at "outsider" art. He has no sort of romantic life either, claiming that repression of early sexual desires left him incapable of even touching a woman without going into an epileptic fit.

Robert, with all his brothers' weirdo predilections but neither of their passing good looks, somehow manages to avoid their bleak fates. Moving out of the house and to a new city, he lands an illustrator's job at a greeting cards company. Soon after he finds himself betrothed to a marriage-hungry girl from the old neighborhood who managed to track him down and corral him at the altar. Not surprisingly these doses of real life do the sensitive depressive a world of good.

But then matters take a turn for the strange. Robert and his wife hook into the Cleveland hippie scene (such as it is), and by the summer of '65 are dropping acid. This proves a revelatory experience for the aspiring artist, who picks up and relocates to San Francisco and draws a series of LSD-inspired comics that are a hit with the counter-culture. An album cover assignment for Janis Joplin's group follows, and suddenly Robert is tasting the fruits of celebrity: beautiful young hippie chicks, girls that months ago he never so much as dreamed of approaching, are suddenly throwing themselves at him. He meets the carnal onrush with complete abandon, eventually leaving behind a wife and infant son, as well as a string of jilted lovers, in his wake.

One would think such a streak of sexual prowess would be enough to balm any man's ego and forever square away his issues with the opposite sex. Yet Crumb recognized his unlikely good fortune for what it was- fortune, a fluke. The underground artist and pseudo-bohemian had not suddenly blossomed into a superior human being compared to the gangly geek who'd been a total flop with the ladies back in Philadelphia (if anything, he was now more selfish and self-centered). The fact that all it had taken to make him irresistible was celebrity of the most trivial kind (unlike the vast majority of Boomers Crumb had no use for the music of the 1960's- or any era, for that matter, of more recent vintage than 1939) served only to inflame old resentments and make the female sex seem even more contemptible in his eyes. Eventually Crumb's seething psychosexual hostility would express itself in the bedroom, yet to his astonishment he found this only fanned the flames of female passion. With such perverse positive reinforcement, Crumb's sexual exploits became wilder and more outrageous, till by the time renewed domesticity and a censorious 2nd Wave Feminism shut down his personal sexual carnival, he had succeeded in living out his darkest fantasies. Yet in spite of all the worldly achievements, the accumulation of lovers and hangers-on and sycophants, Crumb remained irredeemably alone, unable to even return the hug of the abandoned son who took up the charcoal pencil in a desperate attempt at wining his old man's approval.

To this gallery of life outcomes (terminal depression, asceticism, hedonistic self-isolation) we must add George Sodini's nihilistic rage, for Sodini was as much a creature of the forces that created Robert, Charles, and Maxon Crumb as any fourth brother. In his diaries it's all there. The distant father. The emasculating bully who sabotages his halting first steps at a sexual identity (in this case, Sodini's own brother!):
My dad never (not once) talked to me or asked about my life's details and tell me what he knew. He was just a useless sperm doner [sic]... Brother was actually counter-productive and would try to embarase me or discourage my efferts when persuing things, esp girls early on (teen years). Useless bully. Result is I am learning basics by trial and error in my 40s, followed by discuragement. Seems odd, but thats true. Writing all this is helping me justify my plan and to see the futility of continuing. Too embarassed to tell anyone this, at almost 50 one is expected to just know these things.

I was always open to suggestions to what I am doing wrong, no brother or father (mine are useless) or close friend to nudge me and give it bluntly yet tactfully wtf I am doing wrong. A personal coach or someone who knows what he is doing would be perfect. Money is highly secondary for a solution.

Some were simply meant to walk a lonely path in life. I don't usually look out, but just happened to notice. Holy fuck. I have masturbated since age 13. Thanks, mum and brother (by blood alone). And dad, old man, for TOTALLY ignoring me through the years. All of you DEEPLY helped me be this way.
Yet despite all the similarities one quickly notices a crucial difference between Sodini and the Crumbs. For despite occasional flashes of wit, it is obvious Sodini is rather mediocre in comparison to the scintillating brothers. His social opinions (where he even has them) consist of little more than self-canceling cliches (he manages to use both "liberal media" and "Amerika" in the same sentence); his insight into his own character is shaky at best; even his spelling is atrocious. Contrast this to the highly-intelligent Crumbs, who through brutal honesty AND piercing insight manage to exude an undeniable charisma. In "human biodiversity" terms I would rate Sodini's IQ at 110 or 115 at best, while the Crumbs' are comfortably in the 130 and up range. In his diaries Sodini talks about his unsatisfactory experiences with Christianity, expressing the sort of puerile blasphemies that most bright individuals grow out of (one way or the other) by early adulthood. Charles Crumb, on the other hand, uses Hegel and Kant for recreational reading.

The fundamental injustice of Sodin's life was that he suffered all the social handicaps of the introverted, semi-autistic nerd without ever reaping the benefits of his particular strengths. With just a little more brainpower Sodini could have been admitted to Carnegie Mellon, landed a job in one of America's prestigious coastal tech corridors, and eventually found a mate in a social setting more forgiving of geeky engineer types (under-Americanized Asian females, for whom even the nerdiest white male may as well be Steve McQueen, can always do in a pinch). Even Sodini's crippling loneliness would have been assuaged by a passion for his own cutting-edge work (though this can have its own perils as well).

But unfortunately Sodini was a Milhouse, a dork who couldn't quite cut it as a nerd because of the demanding cognitive entrance requirements. And so George Sodini bumbled along, locked in a tolerable but mildly irritating career that provided a decent yet hardly glamorous lifestyle (at nearly 50 his net wealth was only $250,000), honest yet far from prestigious work (as a law firm IT flunky he would have been under the thumb of the same top-dog, alpha male jerks he'd resented since high school), and which made only occasional demands on his weekends and nights, making their yawning emptiness even more apparent.

George made a decent effort at making himself attractive to women, zapping a ratty-looking mustache, dressing with purpose, even putting in regular hours at the gym. In late photos one could even call him sharp-looking. But decades of solitude had taken their toll on the man, leaving him baffled and angry as to why first dates came so easily and second dates not at all. Based on his diaries I think it obvious: Sodini had become a creep, so much so that his desperation, callousness, and monomania were instantly apparent (and repellent) to any woman who bothered to scratch beneath his superficially "nice guy" exterior. Robert Crumb is a creep too, but through exceptional intelligence and self-awareness he exerts a very real charisma, and so is able to pass off self-centeredness as sensitivity and an fetishistic mind that whittles women down to nothing but their erogenous landmarks as artistic talent.

Terribly ordinary George Sodini had none of these qualities, though, and I can even now imagine him on yet another first date. He is showered, shaved, in a fresh Gap ensemble. As the entrées are cleared (the daily special never disappoints at the Macaroni Grill) and the wine begins to circulate George is feeling good, even a little cocky. The conversation is now leaving the safe, shallow waters of getting-to-know-you chitchat and entering the high seas of soul-barring disclosure. Yet the intimacies that come naturally to most people at this point (accounts of past relationships, consuming passions, even strong opinions on politics, art, or culture) is terra incognita for George, who hasn't had a girlfriend in 25 years and as a result is now consumed by THE burning question of our time- the availability and distribution of attractive young females. The fact that the overwhelming majority of humanity is oblivious to this issue merely highlights its importance to him. Who, after all, worries about the availability of breathable air or the workings of the nitrogen economy? Yet George is acutely aware that at this nexus of female flesh lie the troubles and hopes of mankind. He can't hold it in any longer. He must speak from the soul! "You know, there are over 30 million attractive, available women in the United States. Instead of bombing the Middle East..." And just like that George's social calendar opens up from here through the holidays. In Pittsburgh.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Race Reality vs. The Wire, or, Watching Liberal Porn on Sunday Nights

The Wire is now part of the weekly viewing lineup at our house after a friend whose taste we both respect praised it as one of the finest series ever. For those who think it frivolous for this blog to devote even as little space as it does to the analysis of television and film, let me just point out that these receptacles of low-brow, mass consumer, pop culture pap are pretty much the only game in town anymore with respect to the creation and diffusion of society-defining myths. In less than a generation "Jedi" will become the 2nd largest religious denomination in England (Islam, of course, will be by far and away the largest) so what we see on the moving picture screen today may very well become our descendent's reality tomorrow.

In any case let me say that while I think The Wire is definitely quality television, I am baffled by its status as greatest series ever (a designation which I feel would much more deservedly go to I, Claudius, The Singing Detective, or Ken Burn's Civil War). Yet the fact that those hyping it the most (better than Tolstoy!) are invariably trend-setting "whiter people" (the series was in fact the impetus behind Christian Lander's blog) reveals, I think, the secret of its appeal. For when it comes down to it, what Wire admirers are really swooning over is the show's subtle but incessant multiculturalism. While not a pointedly political series, through dint of sheer diversity- its large cast of characters hail from a wide variety of racial, social, sexual (and sexual orientational!) backgrounds and are, to one degree or another, portrayed as sympathetic whether police officer or perpetrator- the show pushes the venerable liberal line that whatever the superficial differences that divide us, deep down we're all made out of the same basic, fallible, indomitable, messy, sublime human stuff.

The central preoccupation of this blog is traditionalism and at its heart traditionalism is not a politics but a basic orientation of society toward the transcendent order of the universe (truth, goodness, beauty and all that). This truth is recognized as existing outside and above man, and will defeat any of his attempts at self-deification- a self-deification which necessarily entails the perpetuation of some lie. Such lies are often rooted in egotistical, selfish impulses (greed, amoral ethnic supremacism), but are no less destructive if rooted in altruistic impulses such as pity. The racial and cultural egalitarianism that have been imposed on Western societies over the last several generations represent the latter form of untruth, and can no more escape their own ruin than any other untruth for all their supposed grounding in the cult of "human kindness". Arch-neocon Nathan Glazer, for example, famously reconsidered his opposition to affirmative action on the grounds that blacks had no other viable path to integration if social success were predicated on merit alone. In order to secure social peace society would have to nurture the kind lie that blacks were equal in their cognitive abilities to whites, and so engineer proportionate representation in all strata of society (even the most elite). Through such dissimulation America would create a caste of confident, happy, America-loving buppies who would uplift their racial brethren to middle-class respectability. Glazer's benevolent con, however, did not quite work out as planned.

The Wire, then, is no more than a refrain on tired liberal themes, and in its first two seasons (the furthest extent of our viewing, dear reader) the chief instrument of advancing such themes is the character of D'Angelo Barksdale. We meet D'Angelo early on, when police interrogators try to wring a confession from him by prompting D'Angelo to write a letter to two orphans recently manufactured as a by-product of his uncle's drug trade. D'Angelo, who is soon reduced to tears, nearly colludes in his own incrimination, showing us his big heart; the two orphans are fictitious (the murdered man was a loner), showing us the police are hardly noble and confronting us with the sort of exquisite moral ambiguity liberals just love to rub everyone's faces in.

This introductory encounter struck me as basically believable, yet the more time we spent with D'Angelo, the more ridiculously contrived his character became. Here is a series of famous quotes, ordered by increasing absurdity (which just happens to correspond to the show's narratological progression):

On corporate capitalism:
Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down to the basement and say, "Hey Mr. Nugget - you the bomb. We sellin' chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I'm gonna write my clowney ass name on this fat-ass check for you." Shit. Man, the nigga who invented them things? Still working in the basement for regular wage, thinking of some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.
On the pointlessness of inner-city violence:
Why can't we just sell the shit? Everything else gets sold in this fucking country without people getting shot. Why can't we just sell it?
    On the differences between checkers and chess:
    "Yo, why you playing checkers on a chess set?"
    "Yo, why you give a shit?"
    "Now look, check it, it's simple, it's simple. See this? This the kingpin, a'ight? And he the man. You get the other dude's king, you got the game. But he trying to get your king too, so you gotta protect it. Now, the king, he move one space any direction he damn choose, 'cause he's the king. Like this, this, this, a'ight? But he ain't got no hustle. But the rest of these motherfuckers on the team, they got his back. And they run so deep, he really ain't gotta do shit."
    "Like your uncle."
    "Yeah, like my uncle. You see this? This the queen. She smart, she fast. She move any way she want, as far as she want. And she is the go-get-shit-done piece."
    "Remind me of Stringer."
    "And this over here is the castle. Like the stash. It can move like this, and like this."
    "Dog, stash don't move, man."
    "C'mon, yo, think. How many time we move the stash house this week? Right? And every time we move the stash, we gotta move a little muscle with it, right? To protect it."
    "True, true, you right. All right, what about them little baldheaded bitches right there?"
    "These right here, these are the pawns. They like the soldiers. They move like this, one space forward only. Except when they fight, then it's like this. And they like the front lines, they be out in the field."
    "So how do you get to be the king?"
    "It ain't like that. See, the king stay the king, a'ight? Everything stay who he is. Except for the pawns. Now, if the pawn make it all the way down to the other dude's side, he get to be queen. And like I said, the queen ain't no bitch. She got all the moves."
    "A'ight, so if I make it to the other end, I win."
    "If you catch the other dude's king and trap it, then you win."
    "A'ight, but if I make it to the end, I'm top dog."
    "Nah, yo, it ain't like that. Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early."
    "Unless they some smart-ass pawns."
    And, now, ladies and gentlemen, on the meaning of The Great Gatsby:
    He's saying that the past is always with us. Where we come from, what we go through, how we go thought it all this shit matters. Like at the end of the book, ya know, boats and tides and all. It's like you can change up, right, you can say your somebody new, you can give yourself a whole new story. But, what came first is who you really are and what happened before is what really happened. It don't matter that some fool say he different cuz the things that make you different is what you really do, what u really go through. Like, ya know, all those books in his library. He frontin with all them books, but if you pull one down off the shelf, none of the pages have ever been opened. He got all them books, and he hasn't read nearly one of them. Gatsby, he was who he was, and he did what he did. And cuz he wasn't willing to get real with the story, that shit caught up to him. That's what I think, anyway.
    As one would expect, liberal critics have just eaten this up. Britain's Guardian gushed: "What makes The Wire truly different is the way drug dealers are characterised. Most shows prefer to simply demonise." Yet in truth The Wire is simply repeating liberalism's oldest and most discredited tropes. Liberal support of black emancipation and the Civil Rights Movement was always premised on the idea of black assimilation and the superficiality of race. Though it might take time and involve significant public investment, liberals fully expected that one day "blackness" would simply disappear as a public phenomenon and with it all of the coarse traits associated with ghetto culture. Classic old-style liberals like theater director Robert Brustein could thus innocently await the day when black actors, liberated from playing servants and mammies, would happily jump aboard interracial Shakespeare productions (with a white actor in the role of Othello, natch).

    And it is exactly such faded, 40-year old product that the "innovative" and "cutting-edge" Wire is still peddling. Scratch beneath the surface of any ghetto kid, allow for the tough exterior and colorful street idiom, and underneath you'll find a potential chess champion, or insightful social critic, or Great Books lover. All of this is about as fresh as a Norman Lear sitcom, and to be frank somewhat embarrassing to non-geriatric "advanced whites" who've grown up on multiculturalism and are acutely aware of the "culturally imperialistic" premises inherent in race-blind liberalism. To show just how hoary The Wire's "innovative" ideas on race are, consider an episode from one of Lear's most popular creations, Diff'rent Strokes. When the show's two young Harlem adoptees are denied admittance to an elitist prep school because of poor test scores, their failure is ultimately attributed to the entrance exam's cultural bias!
    Arnold: My question was even trickier, Mr. Drummond.
    Mr. Drummond: Oh, like what?
    Arnold: Like they asked me how many people could sleep in a house with 3 bedrooms and double bed in each room.
    Mr. Drummond: Oh, and what was your answer?
    Arnold: 18.
    Mr. Drummond: 18!
    Arnold: Yeah! We know people who get 3 in a bed, 2 on the floor, 6 in the coach, and 1 in the bathroom!
    (Audience Applause)

    Of course the The Wire should not be singled out for its Pollyannaish ideas regarding race and cognitive ability. The media's breathless reaction to a study showing Obama has miraculously raised black test scores through his very elevation to the Presidency is just the most recent example.

    Yet the biggest lie peddled by the show is that the inner city's violence and social decay are simply a logical reaction to the incentives of our capitalist system. "Buy for $1, sell for $2." In scenes featuring drug-ring "CEO" Stringer Bell this theme is hammered home with deliciously ironic (to liberals at least) hammer strokes. Bell, for examples, takes a community college course in economics where the lessons he learns in "elasticity of demand" and product marketing prove immediately applicable to his criminal dealings.

    The show and its liberal admirers never once acknowledges the dominant role played by savagery and unreflective impulsiveness in black culture and thus black violent crime. Real-world instances of such savagery, expressed in the form of "wilding" incidents, have been extensively documented on Auster's View From the Right. And the motivation for such incidents? Poverty? Social isolation? Or simply the impulse to "Git 'em"?:
    • A gang of black teenagers jump a Columbia graduate student and chase him into oncoming traffic, where he is hit by a vehicle and killed: "A source said the arrested boy told cops he boasted to his 15-year-old pal before attacking Yu. 'Look what I do to this one,' the teen aggressor said, according to the source... Investigators initially suspected Yu was a victim of a mugging, but began to back off that theory yesterday. 'We don't believe it was robbery,' a police source said."
    • Former San Diego running back Paul Lowe on growing up in Watts: "One night, we raised hell at a dance and on the way home we jumped this guy. He was a Negro. We didn't know him and he didn't start up with us. There was no reason for us jumpin' him. You didn't have to have a reason. It was just something to do. We knocked him down and the leader of the gang began to kick him in the head. He had on big boots and he stomped him until he darned near killed him."
    So here is a handy-dandy scorecard of Reality vs. The Wire for readers who have borne with me to this point:
    • The Wire: blacks exhibit extraordinary initiative and entrepreneurial finesse in running the inner-city drug-trade (the show frequently makes unfavorable comparisons- again, delicious in liberal irony- to their hapless "wigger" imitators)
    • Reality: Success in the drug trade depends on willingness to engage in extremely risky and dangerous activities, perfect if you're a low IQ thug with poor impulse-control and risk-assessment skills. If drugs were legalized tomorrow, who would dominate the inner-city trade, blacks or the same inner-city ethnic retailers who control all the groceries and liquor stores right now through thrift, grueling work hours, and the ability to procure cheap labor from relatives dragooned into the family business?
    • The Wire: The black underclass is just as receptive to high culture as anyone
    • Reality: Concepts such as Descartian skepticism, readily appreciated by any white 12 year old who's seen The Matrix, are often impenetrable to middle-class, college-enrolled blacks; and the "with-it" arbitrators of high-culture would as soon die as presume to impose a dead, white, rich writer like Fitzgerald on them.
    • The Wire: Inner city violence and social decay are the unimpeachably logical reactions to capitalism's perverse economic incentives
    • Reality: Blacks fight because sometimes they're just understimulated
    The dearth of conservative themes and attitudes in popular culture have lead to a certain desperation among younger, hipper conservatives, who jump at any crumbs Hollywood throws their way or else guiltily rationalize their affection for some particular instance of liberal entertainment they simply cannot help but enjoy. The Wire may have many excellent qualities, but once I saw it was based on fundamental untruths it quickly ceased to be compelling even as entertainment.