Climbing Sand Dunes

Batman TDKR movieThe thing about climbing up sand dunes is that you keep sliding downwards. If you slide downward one step for every step you take upwards, you stay in place and get nowhere. Worse, if you slide two steps down for every step up, you go backwards!

To climb a sand dune successfully, you have to take more steps upwards than you slide downwards. I’ve climbed sand dunes; it’s hard; it takes effort (or a dune buggy).

The thing about social progress is that, without real effort towards moving upwards, society tends to slide backwards. Or just stay in place.

I’m particularly angry right now (those with delicate sensibilities might want to leave the blog temporarily just in case I lose control).

Labels have their uses, but they can mislead us into thinking they really describe, let alone explain (let alone define!), a person, thing, or idea. With that caveat, I’m essentially a ‘progressive’ ‘libertarian’ tinged with a dash of ‘socialism’. And I believe that merit comes from,… well, merit (not title, not birth, not wealth, not popularity).[1]

Given that I’d like my vote to be effective, I generally vote Democrat, but I don’t consider myself a democrat (more so some times than others). And, in truth, that party’s views most often align with — or at least come closest to — mine.[2]

sand duneBut sometimes the left makes me just as angry as the right. Maybe more so, because I expect more sense — more thoughtfulness — from them. (And, yeah, I realize that’s probably an error on my part.)

What’s got my pantaloons bunched is an interview I just saw wherein two (obviously liberal) talking heads — a “media reviewer” and a “comedian” (neither of whom I’d ever heard of) — completely and contemptuously dismissed without consideration the idea that violence in the media was any kind of problem.

You motherfucking moronic wastes of skin.

It would be evil and wrong of me to wish that, among the 80 people who die from gun violence every single day in my country, that someone you cherished was on those horrific rolls. But it does seem it has to actually touch someone that closely before the point sinks in.

The assertion repeatedly mouthed by these two idiot mouthpieces (in anticipation of President Obama’s town-hall meeting tonight) was that a Tarantino movie doesn’t make people go out and buy a gun and then shoot people. Sadly, I’ve made that same stupid argument, long ago.

I was wrong then, and you’re wrong now.

Completely wrong.

Pulp FictionWell, no, you’re right, in the very narrow, very specific, very cherry-picked, very literal sense you (and I then) meant. I didn’t watch Pulp Fiction and then go out and buy guns and shoot people (in fact, we went out for drinks and to discuss what a great movie it was).

But you’ve missed the point, and you’re completely wrong in principle.

It’s not this movie or that movie. It’s every fucking movie.[3] And TV show. And video game. And Saturday morning cartoon. And comics. And toys.

Not to mention the news. Not to mention the real world is filled with violence every single day.

Let me ask you a very simple question:

Does the environment in which a child grows up affect the child?

I dare you to say no. You are so going to lose that debate.

Second question. This one is apparently harder for some of you.

What do we get when children grow up in an environment that is not only constantly awash in violence, but presents it as a viable solution to problems?

Facing off against the bad guy? A fist fight is just the ticket.

Too far away to hit? Shoot bullets at them. Lots and lots of bullets (it’s a sign of affection). Don’t worry if the bad guys shoot back. They almost never hit the good guys.

This all comes up, in small part because of San Bernardino, but in large part from what that led to: President Obama’s recent Executive Action regarding gun control. And let me be clear: I’m with him 100% on this one.[4]

Batman TDKRThe awful reaction of the liberal left here smashes head on into some notes I made while watching the animated movie version of the Frank Miller classic (and seminal) 1984 gnovel, The Dark Knight Returns.

Make no mistake, the original text has all the violence… the murders of children… the crowbar beatings… and tons and tons of gunplay.

But it is, first of all, different as static images on the printed page. Animating those images, giving them voice and sound effects, gives them more power, more immediacy, more reality.

But what got to me taking notes was the rating given the movie.

PG-13. And labeled as containing “Mild Violence.”


Murders of children; mass murder of innocents; crowbar beatings; dozens of rounds of gunfire as a way of saying, “Don’t run away! Come back!”

Mild Violence.

And it’s not, no way, no how, a social problem.

We’ve lost our minds. And touch with reality.

And our way.

[1] Which requires a definition of merit. The dictionary definition is essentially a tautology. Something has ‘merit’ if it ranks high in some value criteria. In other words, it has merit if someone thinks it has merit. You can just imagine how much merit I give that definition.

Merit, here, for me, is the ability to contribute usefully to society. People who can do a job successfully have merit (and there are many kinds of jobs needed in society).

[2] On the other hand, I tend to favor smaller government, gun rights (gun control is hitting what I aim at), and limited capital punishment (no, it’s not a deterrent, but sometimes you have to take out the trash).

[3] It still chaps my ass that Sherlock Holmes just had to be another visceral summer action movie. And Robert Downey Jr. is not my Sherlock Holmes.

[4] If he talked more often like he did there (or in Charleston), I’d have been much more of a supporter! (Honestly, the way he usually talks makes me cringe.)

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “Climbing Sand Dunes

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Incidentally, as “violent” movies go, Pulp Fiction barely qualifies compared to some I could name. (You’d think a “media reviewer” could come up with a better example. Django, for example, or even Kill Bill.)

  • Sirius Bizinus

    It’s because of interviews like you mention with the talking heads on 24-hour news stations that I think liberal, conservative, Democrat, and Republican are largely meaningless terms. I mean, you have the GOP which promises smaller government, but then people in the party demand that we take more government measures to incarcerate more people, blow money hand over fist on defense spending, and throw money away on contracts.

    Meanwhile, you have Democrats who try to appeal to the raw emotion of the issue while their presidential candidates remain silent. Their talking heads are incredibly condescending, and they pick and choose which social norms they wish to enforce (I remember Bill Maher saying that it was okay for a Democratic President to use drone strikes to kill people, but he’d be uncomfortable with a Republican using the same drone strikes; apparently only certain parties have to pay attention to due process).

    Personally, I identify as right of center. That said, I’ve yet to meet a GOP candidate that is willing to actually be moderate. Even GOP moderates are not really moderate; they say some really awful things down here in Alabama. You’d think every candidate here was running against Obama.

    Even worse, the Libertarians are way too far to the right for me to be comfortable with them. If they had their way, we’d have ENRON scandals every other weekend.

    As to your point about violence, I have to say that it’s been weighing on me too. I’m currently trying to finish the rough draft on a sci-fi novel, and it has violence in it. My goal was to make sure that the violence was always seen as being justified by flawed people, and I also wanted to show how violence negatively impacts people. My biggest fear, though, is that people will just think it’s cool and edgy. Violence isn’t edgy; it’s beyond the edge of humanity.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I agree very much the labels don’t really mean what they purport to mean anymore. As with much of the social environment now, they are just icons that appear at the head of bullet lists of simplistic intentions. They are ink blots in which people see themselves, aligning with the ones that reflect their views with the least distortion.

      Bill Maher, and let me be quite clear on this, is an ignorant asshole.

      I have social libertarian views, but they don’t extend to deregulation. I see libertarianism as about personal freedom, but a society absolutely requires cooperation and regulation with regard to public safety.

      “My goal was to make sure that the violence was always seen as being justified by flawed people, and I also wanted to show how violence negatively impacts people.”

      Those are good goals, and make no mistake, I’m a huge Tarantino fan. He’s one of my favorite storytellers! (Although my favorite, and I think his best, is the least violent: Jackie Brown — based on Rum Punch, by Elmore Leonard.)

      I’m also a big fan of Thai martial arts films, some of the most brutal made. (Thai stunt people have the interesting philosophy that broken bones heal, but film is forever. They’re right, and that’s one hell of a level of commitment to the art.)

      But I’m also a fan of Lawrence Kasdan and Aaron Sorkin (and Robert Frost and Shakespeare and Ogden Nash and A.A. Milne — Pooh is a personal hero).

      I enjoy a good shoot’m-up as much as I do an order of McDonald’s fries, but neither are — by any stretch — all I consume.

      It’s not the individual pieces, especially those in which violence is an organic part of the story — what individuals in that situation might indeed do. It’s the culture. And the idea that violence isn’t a last-resort desperate solution.

      The villains can gloat and be gleeful about it — casual shocking murder is one way to establish that your character is a bad Bad Guy. (To really make the point, have him kill a dog or baby… my favorite line in Open Range (a really good modern western) is when Kevin Costner adds, “And they killed our dog.” That’s what really made him and Robert Duvall mad. Very well-staged gun-fight at the end of that film!)

      But the Good Guys shouldn’t use violence as their go to solution (unless they kill our dog — then all bets are off; bring the thunder).

  • drpearmain

    I’m one of those people who claps their hands over their ears and closes their eyes when I think something violent is imminent in a movie I’m watching. I don’t watch a lot of films because I find them too stressful.

    It is thus deeply ironic that I live in a country where violence is rampant. They murder,rape,molest and abuse women and children without conscience or mercy. Recently a five year old child wet herself while sleeping. Her mother’s boyfriend beat her to death for it. The President of my country stands up at a rally and sings a song about killing farmers with his machine gun to much loud cheering from his audience. These farmers and their families are suffering the most horrific deaths due to this attitude. Murder for them comes as mercy after the torture inflicted on them beforehand. Even if guns were banned outright in my country I believe they would still find ways to torture and kill each other. The lawless don’t care about gun control laws or using guns responsibly. They are the ones that should be targeted, not the guns. Maybe America is different.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “I don’t watch a lot of films because I find them too stressful.”

      Which is exactly what I mean about how deeply embedded into the culture it is.

      Most become immune to the full horror of it; people can get used to almost anything. But if they can tear away from it for a while, it’s possible to experience the power of it. I’ve noticed that, after a long period of watching baseball, watching a movie makes my heart pound (with alarm, not excitement).

      “It is thus deeply ironic that I live in a country where violence is rampant.”

      What country is that?

      “The lawless don’t care about gun control laws or using guns responsibly. They are the ones that should be targeted, not the guns. Maybe America is different.”

      America definitely is different in many regards. We’re a very large, very powerful country (a world leader; in many ways, the world leader). We’re also very dynamic and very stressed by a vast diversity of world views among citizens. We believe, deep in our DNA, in rebellion and individualism.

      And we just love guns!

      Still, there are laws that make sense, even for the law-abiding. Background checks do work, but what works better is required training. There is also that, here, roughly half of gun deaths are suicides. That’s a tricky problem all its own.

      But it’s impossible to make guns go away. The trick is finding a way to live with them.

      FWIW, see my For The Record post on guns: FTR: Guns.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Note: It’s reflective of our culture that, while the generally gentle sport of baseball was once America’s pastime (even obsession), our favorite sport now is football, a sport so brutal its players frequently suffer from life-altering concussion.

    In fact, the sport is so brutal that its owners tried to keep the concussion problems a secret for fear fans would disavow the sport if they realized and appreciated the full consequences in store for many of its players.

    Contrast this with NASCAR where, let’s face it, part of the attraction is the chance of a fiery car crash (how did the ‘r’ and ‘e’ get mixed up in fire-y?).

    The thing is, they’ve made the cars so safe, the drivers almost always walk away, unaided, without a scratch.

    OTOH, compare football with boxing, another brutal sport that isn’t physically kind to its practitioners. And the same problem obtains: concussion.

    As a libertarian, I support the right of people to get rich destroying themselves for my entertainment. Even baseball can be punishing, especially on pitchers and catchers.

    But I do think our interests reflect our collective unconscious. Note to self: try to find a graph of baseball and football popularity over time. It would be interesting to see how much it correlates with our social condition.

    Further note to self: Think about ways to quantify and characterize our attraction to violence over the ages. After all, public executions have always been big crowd draws. Per Maslow, death is one of the big three.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I don’t often say this, but I thought the President did very well tonight. He got out a lot of points that are important.

    The Right, of course, is losing their shit in an entirely predictable — and socially unhelpful — way.

And what do you think?

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