Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: The Year Everything Broke

Sitting here on the wreckage of the last days of December, I feel myself resisting the urge to look back on 2014, a depressing, awful year.  Not for me personally--I've had a pretty good year, and that will maybe be another post--but for this country, and the world in general, things are not good.  ISIS, ebola, letting ourselves get dragged back into the quagmire of Iraq.  The emergence of Putin's Russia as a military actor, as if we needed another goddamn problem.  A string of police shootings of unarmed people, resulting in a string of acquitals and failures-to-indict.  Bill Cosby being revealed to the world as a serial rapist.  The torture report revealing the full depth of horror that our country perpetrated in the name of the War on Terror.  The continuously depressing statistics of campus rape, and the miscarriage of journalism at Rolling Stone that provided a full compliment of ammunition to the reactionary forces.  The depressing, never-ending culture wars rippling through comedy and video games.  And to cap it all off, a Hollywood studio bowing to the demands of terrorists.  How do you process all this shit?

Some of these things just don't have a bright side.  The situation in Iraq, for instance, is just bad all the way down.  This army of evil fundamentalists plowing through the country, murdering masses and subjecting the survivors to their totalitarian regime is horrible.  Us allowing ourselves to get pulled back into the war we fought so hard to extricate ourselves from is horrible.  And, if you accept that we had a moral obligation to go back in (not an unreasonable position), the half-ass way we're doing it that ensures no real victory is horrible.  There's just nothing good there.

But a lot of these things that seem depressing now, really do have some positive to them.  I mean, the things we've learned from the torture report (That the program was not limited to "the worst of the worst" in "ticking time bomb scenarios," but rather was a vast program where we tortured 119 detainees, at least 26 of whom were wrongly held in the first place [often based on bad information from other torture victims]; that the program was set up by an outside company who were also charged with evaluating its success, for a cost of over 180 million dollars; that the tortures themselves were far worse than anything we were told about; that the agents carrying out the tortures protested against the methods; that we got much less actionable intelligence from torture than we were led to believe; and that the terrorist threats we were supposedly being protected from were wildly exaggerated in the first place) are horrible, but at least the truth is out there in the open now.  Whether that will make a difference after the next attack remains to be seen, but at least our eyes are now fully open.

It's incredibly frustrating that we're still dealing with the same police situation that we had in 1992, but doesn't it feel like, for the first time, this is being seen as a national issue?  People are angry.  I don't expect change to happen quickly, but I feel like it's going to happen, because there is a political will there now.

And while it seems like there's a lot of rape stories in the news, that's not a bad thing.  It doesn't mean there is more rape, just that people are paying attention to it.  I really think there's a huge cultural shift going on right now, where things that were more or less accepted at one time are not being accepted any longer.  That's what's happening with Bill Cosby, and why a story that's been around for decades is suddenly a story.  Yes, Cosby was supported by a whole system of people who were financially invested in protecting him, but on some level, I just don't think what Cosby did was considered that horrible in the 70's.  Bill Maher even talked specifically about this, recalling the scene in Animal House where a frat pledge ponders raping an unconscious woman.  As it happens, they were running a Cheech & Chong marathon on TV on Christmas Eve and I saw about the same joke in two different Cheech & Chong movies.  People just thought differently about rape, about what rape even is.  And what's going on with the Catholic Church, the military, Penn State, colleges, Cosby, none of these are new situations.  People are just suddenly saying "Hey, that's not OK."  Expect a lot more stories like this over the next decade.

Similarly, those culture wars, specifically Gamer Gate and the various outrages over "politically incorrect" comedy are the result of changing attitudes and triumphs of a progressive agenda.  The only reason Gamer Gate exists is because the world has already changed.  The only reason reactionaries are angry about "political correctness" is that they've found that audiences no longer respond to their "naughty" rape jokes and "transgressive" racist jokes the way they want.  These are the death throes of an old world.

Which leads me to The Interview.  I've been trying to figure out the silver lining here.  Things have settled down a bit now, and I watched the movie on demand last night.  (The hype it inspired probably works against it, making us expect something a bit more substantial for all the fuss when all it has to deliver is a typical Seth Rogan bro comedy with a few good laughs.)  I mean, it's awful that North Korean terrorists (apparently) are hacking Hollywood studios, it's awful that a studio gives in to terrorist threats, you might even argue that it's not that cool to make a movie about assassinating another country's leader (I don't really feel that, but I could see the case).  What good actually came of all this?

Maybe the answer is that people have seen the need for an independent infrastructure for getting movies made.  Movies and TV shows are expensive and complicated works of art, so it's understandable that they haven't really been able to become as independent as music or books or art, but maybe The Interview will be seen as the beginning of a change.  Maybe someone can start working toward building that infrastructure where films can be made outside of a corporate system.  It's a big jump, but hey, bigger changes than that have occurred.  We've passed the Winter Solstice, and these long, dark nights are getting incrementally shorter.  Maybe there's some light on the horizon.

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