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Happy Walpurgisnacht, all.  I don’t have anything to say, really, but I didn’t want the day to pass unacknowledged.  For those of you who don’t know, Walpurgisnacht is (functionally) the Vernal equivalent of Hallowe’en. While Hallowe’en falls on the eve of All Saints’ (or All Souls’) Day, Walpurgisnacht falls on the eve of Mayday.  In a vein similar to Hallowe’en, Walpurgisnacht is a night for the mischief-makers.  It’s a night that belongs to the pagan/heathen partiers, who take full advantage of the knowledge that the mess will be cleaned up by the uptight prudes who pretend that the holidays were their idea all along.

So cheers, folks.  Here’s to the pranksters, the heathens and the pagans.  Here’s to the old gods and the old places in which they reside.  Here’s to Walpurgisnacht, here’s to Hallowe’en, and here’s to pagan holidays that have successfully resisted Western religions’ attempts to co-opt them.

Here’s to the things that go bump.

Arrrrrrrrr!I hear X-Men Origins was leaked.  So now copies are spreading about the internet like wildfire.  And the studio is squealing like a stuck pig.  I even saw one pundit (I don’t remember where) who tried to tell me that illegally downloading movies takes food off the tables of all the poor schmucks who work in the industry (in a word:  Bullshit.  I used to work in the industry – there are obscene sums of money involved in even low-budget films.  We don’t have to worry about the paychecks of the working class of the film industry.  Especially because their jobs are well over and paid for long before there’s any kind of product to be ‘pirated’).  But the studios want us all to sympathize with their pain.  Want us to see the ‘problems’ that internet ‘piracy’ causes.  Their argument, in a nutshell, is that people who download movies are stealing from the studios because if they (the ‘pirates’) couldn’t download the movies, they would purchase them instead.  Setting aside all the inherent flaws in this argument, let’s take a quick look at the legal process of purchasing a movie.  Our case study will be the Disney film Bolt, my two-year-old’s current favorite movie.

First off, we have to pay the studio just to find out whether or not we like the movie (there was a day, you know, when record stores would let you listen to an album before buying it.  Really).  In this particular case, the question isn’t  whether we like the film, but rather whether our son does.  We are careful and conscientious parents, so we don’t let our boy watch movies until we’ve seen them first.  So it’s off to the in-laws’ so the boy will be well taken care of while we check out the show.  Thirty-five to forty dollars later, my wife and I have learned that the movie is fine for the boy to watch.  Cost breakdown:  $20 for our tickets, $15 to $20 for refreshments (when it’s just the two of us, we ALWAYS get refreshments, because we love them so, but also because refreshment sales is the only real profit our local cinema makes.  You DO know that the overwhelming majority of ticket sales goes to the studios, right?).

Now we can move to the next step, which is finding out whether our son likes the film.  This time we go to a matinee, and we bring some of our own snacks (no theater sells any form of snack food we’re willing to feed our son), so we spend less money.  Let’s say 15 to 20 dollars.  When it’s all said and done, we find out that our son does, indeed, like the movie.  And it’s only cost us somewhere in the area of fifty to sixty dollars to learn this.  Let’s call it $55.

Since we’ve learned that the boy likes the movie (loves it, actually.  He’d watch it 5 times a day if we’d let him) we now have to buy the DVD, to the tune of $25.  This brings us to the nice round figure of $80 invested in this movie.

Then, my wife reads an article about marketing in movies, and she tells me about it over dinner.  So the next time we watch Bolt, I watch with a more discerning eye.  I notice that, during the course of the movie, we repeatedly see a U-Haul truck.  Not a made-up company, but U-Haul.  And I realize that this is happening because U-Haul gave Disney a great deal of money for it to happen.  I also realize that this particular marketing campaign is not directed at me, but rather at the two-year-old sitting next to me.

A smart and long-term investment on U-Haul’s part, actually.  Someday – years from now – my son is going to move somewhere.  And when he does so, he’s going to rent a U-Haul.  He won’t do so because they offer a better product than anyone else, or better customer support, or better prices.  He’ll do so simply because he feels kindly disposed toward them.  Because during this formative time of his life, those trucks and that company are becoming intricately associated with things (and people) that he loves dearly.

And when he moves again, he’ll rent from U-Haul again, even if his previous encounter with them entails sub-standard equipment, half-assed customer service and over-inflated prices.  And he’ll have no idea why he’s doing so.

In a nutshell, Disney got paid a lot of money to program my son. And many, many other children.  Even worse, I paid eighty dollars to have this occur.  And my family is just one of tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?  Millions?) of families affected just by this one studio and this one film.

And the studios want us to believe that someone else is the bad guy.

Got into a discussion/argument with a random Internet pundit yesterday.  He did a post on his blog about Islam, in which he stated that he thinks ‘Islamophobia’ is understated.  He seems to feel that we should all live in mortal fear of Muslims.  I wasted a few minutes of my life trying to reason with the poor guy, but realized that I was being stupid when he professed to have read the Koran, specifically referring to ‘the nasty parts’.  He actually tried to convince me that within the pages of the Koran lies adequate reason for all right-minded global citizens to fear the ‘Muslim Threat’.  Painfully obvious that he had never actually read the book.  Or if he had, he had done so with extremely prejudiced eyes.

I actually kind of like the Koran.  As religious texts go, It’s not too terribly offensive.  It’s extremely dull, but not too offensive.  The fact that it belongs to a western religion is a strike against it, but it’s actually more interesting to read than the perennial favorite of the western religions:  The Bible.

Two quick facts, little-known to most Americans:  1)  The Koran is not the only scripture of religious import to Islam.  The Old Testament also plays a prominent role.  2)  The word ‘Jihad’  makes an appearance a grand total of four times in the Koran.  In none of those instances does it refer to an armed conflict (or a conflict of any kind).  In the Koran, the term ‘Jihad’ refers to a struggle – specifically a spiritual struggle.  And any idiot can tell you that a spiritual struggle is, above all, a personal one.  It’s not something you do with a group.  Especially a group with machine guns.

Anyway, this guy I was arguing with kept trying to convince me that Islam poses a threat to the world, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Eventually, I realized where he was coming from.  He had pretty much told me everything I needed to know with the first word he used.  Or, rather, the second part of that word:  phobia.  The guy is just plain living in fear – even abject terror – of Islam.  Or, more accurately, of Muslims.  And his fear is irrational, a fact that obviously bothers him.  So he professes to a knowledge of the Koran, which gives him the ability to claim his fear is a rational, reasoned fear.  It’s kind of sad, actually.

Since I’m aware of the fact that this guy is not alone in his fears, I started to wonder about the nature of those fears, and their genesis.  To be sure, they have roots that go back to the Crusades (you remember the Crusades – when the Pope saw that too many Christians were being killed by other Christians, so he invented an outside enemy for his flock to focus their considerable homicidal energies on), but while the seeds may have been planted in the Middle Ages, the Bush-Cheney cartel did a fine job of pouring Miracle-Gro on it.  But the propaganda alone doesn’t really explain the fear.  What – exactly – are so many Americans afraid of here?  What is it about Muslims that strikes so much terror into the heart of Joe Sixpack?

Belief.  Real, intense, white-hot belief.  The Kind of belief that Americans never see in their own lives.  The kind of belief that can drive people to obliterate themselves because they feel their faith demands it.  Americans don’t get this.  America has a different kind of belief – the kind that just asks you to show up on Sunday and perform the proper rituals.  Americans feel drawn to religious institutions not out of any spiritual drive but rather out of a simple need to belong.  And when we Americans are confronted with people who are willing to die for their beliefs, they scare the crap out of us.

Before anyone starts shouting, let me just say that I’m not talking about ALL Americans here.  Just the majority of them.  I know there are people in this country who are truly religious.  I also know that there are people in this country who are truly spiritual.  And I know that sometimes these are the same people.  But I know that these people are – by far – the minority.  Most Americans subscribe to one religion or another out of fear.  Simply because they’re afraid that the Beard In The Sky will punish them if they don’t.  Which is also the only reason most Americans behave themselves.  The average American (possibly the average person) is lying, thieving, raping, murderous scum, and the only thing keeping them from acting upon it is the threat of retribution.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at any situation in human history in which the rules were removed.  Riots.  Wars.  Show me any break-down of the social order, and I’ll show you the true face of human nature.

Now, this all got me thinking about the nature of belief.  Specifically, the nature of American belief.  What, if anything (I wondered) do Americans believe in strongly enough (or love strongly enough) that they would be willing to die for it?  Religion?  Not likely.  Sure – there have, on occasion, been Americans who have willingly chosen to die for their beliefs – but they are so rare as to be statistically nonexistent.  Their country?  Another big ‘no’.  While there are (and have been) plenty of people who will stand in line to fight and kill for America, those who have actually willingly died for it are intensely rare.  Family?  Sadly (and inexplicably, to my mind), also no.  Hell, I know many, many people who can’t even be bothered to give up their bad habits for the sake of their family.

Which brings us to the True American Belief System:  Hedonism.  This is the belief that burns strongly enough in America that its adherents are willing to die for it.  Americans have proven – repeatedly – that the one thing they are more than willing to sacrifice their lives for is their own pleasure.  Here we drug and drink and smoke and eat and sex ourselves to death every day.  Here we willingly risk our lives just to achieve the pleasure of the moment.  This, my friends, is the true American object of worship:  Personal pleasure.  It is this, not money, that we – as a people – love most.


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April 2009