Farewell Virgil, My Guide
The first eleven or twelve decades burst with beauty. I never had enough time or money in my life to see the Museo del Prado, read George Eliot’s collected works, or attend all the Tony-winning musicals of a given year (2016 excepted, but it’s easier when all your statue are belong to Hamilton). To have the House of Earth’s Collected Works, all on the same cloud, was by far the most overwhelming part of the afterlife. I could hardly have begun to navigate it without my Virgil 4.7: the best guide an artistically inclined soul could ask for, at least until the Virgil 5.0 drops in a century or so.
In those decades I saw, listened to, and read everything I ever wanted to experience. After that I read the Twilight series. The well was clearly dry, but I needed fresh water and would turn over any stone, no matter how forbidding. In great pain, I began walking into a theatre screening Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, but my Virgil realized what was happening.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said.
“What else is there?”
“Come with me,” Virgil said. Within moments, I saw a whole other structure: The House of Earth Works that Weren’t.
“What is this?” I asked.
“For all of humanity’s creative output,” he explained, “there should have been more. This is where we hold it. I recommend John Keats’ Hyperion, as a starting point.”
The simulated heart in my chest pounded rapidly. “Hyperion? I can read the Hyperion Keats would have written if he lived?”
“Why didn’t you show me this before, Virgil?”
“You will understand,” he said.
And I did. It was as gorgeous as I had dreamed, but there was a sadness to each line. I felt not only the beauty, but the loss of the Earth that could not read such a masterwork. I could never have borne such sadness when I first arrived in heaven; I really did need every artwork I had experienced to prepare me for this new emotion.
I found out who killed Edwin Drood, and whom Austen would have married off in Sanditon. I heard Mozart’s completed Requiem. I saw the works of Basquiat, ages 28-64. I felt wonder again, always weighted with the bittersweet emotion of what untimely death had denied Earth.
“There’s more,” Virgil said, “now that you’re ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“To move past the death works. For the works that humans denied themselves,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
He sighed. “I shall start small. You watched Glee on television, correct?”
“Is this some sort of test to see if I actually deserve to be here?” Virgil looked at me quizzically. “OK, yes, I watched Glee.”
“We have seasons 7-10 here.”
“There were only six!”
“There would have been a revival.”
“Oh,” I said, “but then Cory Monteith died.”
“And Mark Salling and Naya Rivera, but no. It was Kevin McHale.”
Virgil sighed again. “No – he even crowned his career with an appearance on Nailed It. But he was not, in fact, a disabled gentleman in need of a wheelchair, and networks believed that reviving the series with McHale would lead to charges of ableism.”
“I mean, there are disabled actors who could have played that role, and I get that. But they also cast Lauren Potter to play Becky instead of having someone fake Down Syndrome. Doesn’t that count for something?”
“These debates grew heated and permitted no such nuance or balancing of scales. Now, knowing that there could have been four more seasons of Glee with older cast members, do you feel the loss of what humans cost themselves?”
I thought hard – mostly to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious. “I mean… no?”
“But now you understand the Principle Principles Principle, and being slightly prepared, this will oppress you less mightily,” Virgil said. “Here,” and he handed me An Alabama Tragedy, by DeAndre Morris.
“Who’s DeAndre Morris?” I asked.
Virgil only tapped the cover. I read. The original Virgil would have slowed me down with regular commentary in unrhymed dactylic hexameter, and even Dante’s Virgil 2.0 couldn’t have resisted the odd burst of terza rima, but my trusty 4.7 knew how to shut up, so I finished before long.
Then I read An Alabama Tragedy again. And a third time.
“Yes,” Virgil commiserated. “I know.”
“I think it’s the great American novel.”
“It wasn’t,” he said. “Because it never was.”
“What happened? Could it have been a race thing? I mean, I just can’t see it—I know I’m a white guy from the North, but the complexity here, the honesty and compassion… could this really have offended someone?”
“No. The book’s racial politics are impeccable as they are insightful.”
Virgil sighed, for once with more pathos than pedantry. “DeAndre Morris never wrote it. The inspiration for An Alabama Tragedy would have been Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, had DeAndre read it. He would have loved and criticized it in equal measure as he grew, and he would have vowed to write his own narrative about an unjust trial one day. But his school removed it from the ninth grade curriculum.”
“Atticus and the white savior thing? Racial slurs?”
“Yes,” Virgil answered. “The complaining parents also took issue with elevating a white woman’s novel so that it became the alpha and omega of American racial literature.”
“Look, the book gives an incomplete picture and has its issues, but it’s still a great work of art,” I protested. “Wasn’t there another solution beside cutting it entirely?”
“Of course,” Virgil said. “The parents and principal met with the teacher, who gave assurances that other material would be taught alongside Mockingbird – Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Randall Kennedy essay on language, an article considering how Go Set a Watchman darkens Atticus’s character. One parent was satisfied. One remained angry—her daughter would have been provided an alternate text, and the parent sought another school for the following year. But the remainder of the class, including DeAndre Morris, would have read To Kill a Mockingbird alongside the other texts."
“Why didn’t they?”
“Word of the contextual lessons spread on social media, and at the next school board meeting, a few other parents demanded to know why the school had cancelled Atticus Finch.”
“Which is their right,” I pointed out, “just like those other parents had the right to raise their objections.”
“They held a ‘Rally for Atticus’ across the street from the school. The predominately-white group read the whole novel aloud,” Virgil said. “Every word of it: slurs included. They used a bullhorn.”
“At that point, everyone took a side. Fights moved from social media to the hallways. With the political conflict over the novel obliterating its intended theme, the school sidelined it. Lee’s novel never enthralled and troubled DeAndre Morris, and the world lost An Alabama Tragedy. Morris became an investment banker.”
I felt it fully now: the ache of what might have been. I was nearly afraid to ask. “Is this the worst of it, Virgil? The worst loss?”
He shook his venerable head. “Follow me.”
We passed through a hall of paintings and assemblages I had never seen, with music I had never heard softly playing, and I felt a trickle descend from my eye. I hadn’t known eyes in heaven could still do that.
We halted outside a security door with a keypad. “This is the greatest loss,” Virgil said. “The most lamentable artistic victim of what was termed ‘cancel culture’ is held behind that door. You must enter the security code of your own free will; I am forbidden.”
Virgil said nothing.
“What is the code?” But I found I knew it after all, somehow, strange though the symbols on the keypad were. I stepped into the darkness, Virgil followed while a light snapped on, and I saw an enormous poster. Virgil knelt in reverence while I froze with surprise.
He knelt dumbly.
“There seems to have been some mistake. This existed. I saw this movie while I was still alive.”
“You did not,” he said, still genuflecting. “Look closer and see what was taken from you.”
I had not noticed at first, but the Space Jam 2 poster did have a difference. “Do you mean…” I scratched my head. “Are you talking about the D cups on Lola Bunny?”
Virgil had this weird look in his eyes when he finally turned them on Lola Bunny. I didn’t think I’d ever seen it before, until I remembered him taking me to the Secret Museum of art from Pompeii where he examined that statue of Pan with the goat. “If only the naysayers had not demanded her shapely form be flattened…” he said. “She would have been this perfection.”
“My dude, she’s a curvy rabbit.”
“She’s an apotheosis!” he countered, gesturing emphatically with his robed arm. “In Love and Death in the American Novel, your critic Leslie Fiedler wrote, Our great novelists, though experts on indignity and assault, on loneliness and terror, tend to avoid treating the passionate encounter of a man and a woman, which we expect at the center of a novel. Indeed, they rather shy away from permitting in their fictions the presence of any full-fledged, mature women. Lola Bunny is the most complete encapsulation of sexuality your American culture could ever have produced. She is a vision!”
“That sounded insulting. Virgil, should I be insulted?”
“She would have been a new archetype. She could have inspired so much… behold!”
A vast series of screens flicked on around us, all depicting Lola Bunny. At least half seemed to be tuned to PornHub.
Who was I to judge? I stood for a moment while Virgil gazed raptly at sundry unprintable acts performed by and upon an anthropomorphized rabbit. I reflected, and then I left Virgil 4.7 in the eternal bliss of his bunny porn.
My guide had left me with many experiences and more questions, like all great teachers. What common ground can be found among people whose most foundational perceptions clash? How do we draw the shifting lines of propriety, and what do those demarcations cost us? Who watches the watchmen? And in the end, who among us can truly claim qualification to weigh healthy body images for children against the sexual gratification of a facsimile Roman poet?
I could say with certainty only that I would reread An Alabama Tragedy often, and that I would mourn literature’s loss of it each time. And whenever I receive my Virgil 5.0, I’m keeping him the hell away from Space Jam 2.
Is Cancel Culture Canceled?
Disclaimer: This is not a story. This is a think piece inspired by the challenge. I know this doesn’t exactly fit the brief, but I’m posting here if, for nothing else, to get the submission numbers up.
Listen. I’m a big fan of canceling certain things.
White men? Cancel ’em.
With special attention to Ted Cruz, Britney Spears’ Dad, Jeff Bezos, Josh Hawley, Elon Musk, Woody Allen, David O’Russell, anyone associated with Fox News and anyone who has ever uttered the phrase “not all men” in a serious way.
Racists? Cancel ’em.
Go back into your hidey-holes because your supreme orange leader has retreated into the depths of the Mar-a-largo swamps from whence he came.
Cops? Cancel ’em.
Say their names. George Flloyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Amir Brooks…and the list goes on. No further comment needed.
Transphobes? Cancel ’em.
JK Rowling, why?! At this point, your patronus is probably just a parrot that shouts “sex is real” over and over again to exhaust your enemies.
Sexists? Cancel ’em.
See white men.
If we’re being serious though, those who use the phrase “cancel culture,” are likely also using “free speech” as a euphemism for “people should be able to say whatever hateful, dangerous lies they want without consequence.” Cancel culture has largely become a bogeyman for those on the right that allows them to spend time arguing over utter nonsense – like whether Mr. Potato Head should be a male potato – rather than having substantive debate over policy that would actually serve their constituents. If said bogeyman was personified, I have no doubt they’d be gender non-conforming and vegan, donate monthly to Planned Parenthood and own a collection of t-shirts that say, “Eat the Rich.” Truly the stuff of the collective conservative nightmare.
The greatest irony here is that conservatives, white nationalists and other extremists are actually trying to use the principle of free speech to undermine the very democracy that grants them such freedom in the first place, a system they so often purport to revere and assert they are attempting to protect. This is particularly prevalent on social media platforms, which again, exist as fairly unregulated public square-type spaces. Their existence is at least in part due to our democratic society (as opposed to say, China, where popular social media platforms are banned or heavily censored), and yet, they are frequently used to destabilize it.
This is where civic republicanism comes in. (Don’t let the term “republicanism” scare you.) This political doctrine posits that individual freedom can actually only be achieved and maintained by the community. In a society where individualism has run amuck like the U.S. – where anti-fact, anti-science, anti-racial equality and anti-gender equality sentiments have been given far too much credence as of late – it becomes harder and harder to maintain a functioning democracy. And just as the challenges plaguing citizens’ right to free speech change over time as cultural norms change, so too will the actions needed to maintain free and fair institutions. Today, this often means having more nuanced conversations and making more careful determinations about what should and should not be protected as free speech, and what constitutes its obstruction, particularly when it comes to electronic forms of communication.
Where it gets tricky is when folks make accusations about supposed attempts to squash free speech that are disingenuous. Here, I’m thinking specifically of the upheaval that occurs when colleges cancel speaker appearances after public outcry (see Milo Yiannopoulos). In these scenarios, there’s typically a swift response from conservative commentators. “Cancel culture strikes again!” they yell, claiming that schools are limiting the free exchange of ideas that is crucial in academia, conveniently ignoring the fact that they otherwise spend most of their time demonizing intellectualism.
It also often seems that outspoken critics are not so much concerned with free speech as they are with giving their own views a public forum. Something tells me that if a speaker was advocating for abortions on demand, the same folks slamming cancel culture now would be out there demanding that the school rescind its offer to the speaker, without any fear of its implications on free speech. The reality is that academic institutions are simply trying to determine the best way to maintain their integrity and proper functioning by asserting that speakers who regularly incite violence and inflame tensions with outright lies shouldn’t be given a platform; they’ve deemed the risk of giving them a public forum too great. And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t examine such organizational decisions and explore the proverbial “slippery slope” to censorship. We absolutely should, but we need to do so in a way that embraces critical thinking, mutual respect and a basic understanding of the concept of free speech in and of itself.
What’s more is that, for all the supposed fear over cancel culture, it actually hasn’t had much of a meaningful impact on political leaders, celebrities, corporations or power structures and institutions. When a celebrity gets “canceled”, for instance, they may endure some public shaming, become the topic of various think pieces or lose sponsors. Other than that, though, most maintain their success and remain comfortably seated with more economic and social capital than many of us could ever dream of. Take the case of Louis C.K. To be blunt and brief, the man cornered MULTIPLE unsuspecting women and jerked off in front of them. Now he is performing at sold out comedy shows across the country while using his appalling, perverted past behavior as fodder for his material. (This also begs the question, who are the people still going to watch this man’s shows? And where is his shame? Somehow, he still parades around with the inflated self-importance like only a mediocre white man can.)
So what do we really mean when we say something is “canceled”?
If we’re talking about attempts to make something more inclusive or call out behavior that marginalizes or brutalizes others, the meaning of canceling something or someone can be two-fold. As British sociologist Stanley Cohen wrote, we may use collective moral panic or public shaming as “warning signs of the real, much deeper and more prevalent condition.” Though the way in which folks may approach it – particularly on social media – may vary, with some being more thoughtful than others, the important piece is that it often signals to a very real and pervasive problem that may only be able to be effectively addressed if it is thrust into the limelight (take the #MeToo movement, for instance).
On the other hand, the distance and anonymity that social media provides can lead to vehement calls for cancellation without much critical thought or empathy, simply because it’s easier to place the blame and ridicule on someone else than to reflect on how we too might be worthy of criticism, and/or how we might be complicit in and benefit from the structures that negatively impact others. It’s simpler and much more comfortable to point the finger than to do the real work of dissecting and atoning for our own sins. And on the Internet, it’s also wildly more entertaining. With memes, GIFs, TikToks, YouTube videos and the like, there are a veritable plethora of avenues with which to express our disdain that will live on in infamy and probably make us laugh while doing it.
One of the great ironies of canceling someone else is that it often seems to evoke the same behavior for which someone is being canceled in the first place. Take, for instance, Taylor Swift recently decrying a sexist joke in the new Netflix show Ginny and Georgia. The lead character, played by Antonia Gentry, a 24-year-old biracial woman, says the following in one episode: “You’ve gone through more men than Taylor Swift.” Is the line sexist? Sure. But is it worthy of calls to “cancel” the show and the actress? Given the otherwise quite progressive content of the show and the fact that the actress likely had little power to change it as a relative unknown in Hollywood, I’d argue no, but that’s beside the point. What deserves attention is the fact that calls to cancel are coming from enraged “Swifties” who have leveraged sexist and racist attacks against the actress in response to her saying a line in a TV show that she didn’t even write.
If these people actually cared about the issue of sexism and not just blind defense of their lord and savior T Swift, we wouldn’t be seeing this kind of commentary. In this case, we see so-called cancel culture creating the very conditions it (insofar as we can even say it is a cohesive movement) purportedly works to dismantle. Not to mention how extra problematic the situation has become with her fans trying to silence a young Black woman with a tiny public platform in comparison to Swift, who is 31 years old, whiter-than-white, has millions of followers and is on the record saying she didn’t want to be labeled a feminist just a few short years ago. And let us not forget that Swift herself was “canceled.” One has to wonder, if it was such a challenging experience for her – as she’s publicly spoken about multiple times – why wouldn’t she have empathy for others facing something similar? Perhaps it has to do with a lack of emotional maturity that we do little to foster in a world where we’re constantly trying to address complex issues in 150-characters or less.
Regularly, we see cancel culture play out among popular “low-brow” media content like a Netflix show, but what about “high art”, as noted in this month’s challenge? It’s interesting that it would be suggested that cancel culture may somehow be responsible for censoring work of any substantive creative significance, when what I think we’re really talking about is not cancel culture at all, at least in its current manifestation. Rather, the calls for banning such work – from books like Beloved and Brave New World to art like the Last Judgement and the Vietnam War Memorial – have most often, if not entirely, been from conservatives and/or Christians (often one in the same) who wish to shield the masses from questioning the dominant world order and discourage critical thinking that might expose their values for what they are – devoid of humanity, logic and nuance – in the name of preserving the structures from which they derive their power, however unearned and egregious it may be.
This is not cancel culture. Rather, it is censorship in its truest form; one that threatens human autonomy and democratic society at every turn. It is laughable hypocrisy. It is religious zealotry at its finest. If these folks are so concerned with women and children, for instance, why are they not actively running campaigns to end underage pornography and child sex-trafficking on Pornhub? Why are they instead screaming at women outside of abortion clinics? If they care so much about freedom of religion with all their incessant talk of the “War on Christmas”, why are they in the streets with tiki torches shouting “Jews will not replace us”? The answer is that they don’t actually give a fuck about any of these purported American values – they only care to preserve and promote their own views – those of white supremacy, racism, sexism and homophobia to name a few. Did anyone hear cries of cancel culture from the liberals (and other generally sane people) when conservatives went nuclear about Ellen DeGeneres coming out on primetime television? How about when they freaked out over an interracial couple in a Cheerios commercial? And god forbid you ever bring up the villainous Dixie Chicks (now just “The Chicks). These people literally invented cancel culture, and now they’re trying to claim its another liberal conspiracy to ban Santa and force men to wear dresses. (I see you Harry Styles, you sexy English teacup, you.)
Certainly, some “high art” may be problematic and worthy of critique, especially older work that we examine in a modern context. Artists are human, and thus, they are not without fault. Their work can be, and often is (at least in part) a product of their time. As society advances and cultural norms shift, so do the ways in which we must consume art. We can recognize the value in Gone With the Wind while also recognizing its racist themes. We can recognize the great direction and production of Hitchcock films while also understanding that his work was often sexist, painting women as the arbiters of evil calamities due to their overly emotional natures and general stupidity. Here, we’re asking people to be media literate – to ask who makes something, why, to what end etc. The same questions should be asked of those who wish to censor creative work – to achieve what purpose? What is the “correct” interpretation of said work that they’d like to sell? (And no, before you ask, the privilege of separating the artist from the art does not extend to Woody Allen, if for no other reason than literally everything he creates is very obviously and inextricably connected to who he his a la objectionable and troubling relationships with young women and children.)
When it comes down to it, the idea that in order for speech to be inclusive, some of it has to be rejected is always going to be a challenging one. And that makes sense, insofar as on the surface, this seems to be a contradiction. What’s missing is a genuine commitment to want to preserve that freedom as opposed to promote one’s own agenda or silence someone else’s. We cannot effectively grapple with the concept of and challenges to free speech if we cannot start on common ground. When liberals and conservatives cannot even agree on observable reality, how can we ever expect to address such a complex issue in any meaningful way? I don’t have the answer, but let’s keep talking about it while we still can.
A Play For The World Stage
“Popular Opinion” here dubbed “Po”, will be representing the angel on my shoulder, the force for good, or at least a more agreeable representation of bad.
“Harsh Honesty” here dubbed “Ho”, will be my little devil, my sinister realist, the necessary villain.
Here and Now; An inner dialogue between two of the multiple personalities residing within a mildly psychotic but otherwise amicable housewife.
A debate of absurd musings representing honest reflections on the complexity (or lack thereof) of modern conflicts.
Let the play begin...
Po: Maybe it’s over-sensitivity towards over-sensitivity that’s destroying high art. And for that matter, maybe high art is a little too high, or a little too arty, to be worthy of rescuing anyway. What about the minorities? The poor? The innocent? The voices of real life? Don’t they deserve to be protected, at least more than your “high art”?
Ho: You’re assuming there’s some choice involved. And you’re right, there is a choice. But the choice isn’t who to protect, it’s who to throw under the bus. Good ’Ole John-Doe FamousFace might not be quite as in-need or rescue-able as a starving Dickensian orphan, but my question is why does someone need to be thrown under the bus in the first place? The only answer I can come up with is that all good stories need a villain. Victims of victim mentality require someone to paint as an aggressor. So go ahead and spit on me; call me “priviledged”; call me “insensitive”; label me a “capitalist pig.” It’s that kind of dramatic distraction which is necessary for a culture to become brainwashed and devoid of independant thought (aka: a society on it’s way to communism.)
Po: Oh, so it’s your assertion that all victims are just making it up? That aggressors must be “painted”? That they don’t exist already? Or if they do exist that they don’t deserve to be called out? So who would you throw under the bus?
Ho: Nobody, that’s my point. I think that anyone should be allowed the ability to accuse anybody else, and that the accused should have the ability in turn to share their side of the story. Ideally of course both parties would be telling the truth, but I’m not naive enough to believe that all alleged victims are incapable of deception.
Po: That’s easy for you to say; you were lucky enough to be born “normal” in a society which values normalcy. You don’t know anything about what it’s like in the real world. You don’t know what it is to be different; to have thoughts and feelings which you’re afraid to express.
Ho: “A society which values normalcy?” ...If there’s anything that this society hates it’s normalcy. Or atleast an old fashioned view of normalcy. Of course “normal” is one of those words with transient meanings, isn’t it? But if your definition of “normal” includes a skin tone, sexual inclination or biological gender which unilaterally excludes one from being worthy of human sympathy (to put it more simply, if “normal” is synonomous with “white heterosexual male”), then it’s certainly not something which is valued by the predominant culture we live in.
Po: So what? It’s about time “white heterosexual males” got their comeuppance.
Ho: So we’re in the business of punishing people for the wrong-doings of their ancestors are we? The son should be prosecuted for the sins of the father?
Po: Of course not, but according to you we’re in the business of ignoring all the wrong-doings of white people altogether! Of crushing all the voices of their numerous victims throughout history! According to you we ought to be in the business of ignoring anybody who’s ever been persecuted, killed, raped, or conquered by your honorable white men. If you’re so in love with white men why don’t you just go marry one?
Ho: Well I did as it happens. But that’s besides my point... I married for individual reasons, not skin tone or genetalia. (...though honestly masculinity is a highly attractive quality which has been somewhat curtailed by sensitivity-worship of late.)
Po: So what is the point? You’re talking trash about minorities having too much group-think, in-group preference and “over-sensitivity.” But you’re allowing society at large to put them down and keep down, under the guise of “free speech”, all while secretly advancing the interests of your own group!?
Ho: Free speech is more than a guise, it is the foundation of all the “good” in our culture; Of all the indomitable backbone and rugged individualism which we of good concience hold dear. I don’t keep some mythical secret agenda. I’ll gladly advance the interests of my own group, as long as we can agree that my own group is “Homo-sapiens.” And not some artificially imposed category therein.
Po: You’re no homo. You’re a bigoted twat with delusions of granduer.
Ho: Perhaps your problem with me is that I have not fallen headlong into the popular modern trap of becoming “queer” or “trans” or “feminist” (or any of the other feasible minority-statuses that those of us with pale skin-tones may reliably claim) and using my personal problems as a foothold to talk drivel without restraint in a backhanded attempt to prove that my new “community” is just as persecuted as yours?
Po: You’ll be cancelled for that. And besides, you have fallen into that trap. You’re claiming that white men are the new persecuted group and you’re using your attachment to one of them as leverage to create sympathy for your pathetically one-sided position in a “play” of unrestrained drivel with the backhanded intention of dispelling the popular opinion that you have nothing worthwhile to say.
Ho: One sided?! One sided?! I’m literally arguing with myself over this! ...You know what? Who gives a flying f------------
*It is with grovelling apologies, gentle readers, that I must report the rest of the play to be cancelled due to cultural insensitivity.*
Art is not Art
“Miguel, we have a problem,” Sienna sounded harried, as she continued to send documents to the printer.
“Senora, nothing is wrong, we are locked up for the night. The security systems are armed, we can go home and be sure nothing will go wrong in the museum.”
“The Puritans from Madrid have influenced the government once more. Our most precious art works are to be destroyed in less than twenty four hours. We are to open the doors to the morality inspectors tomorrow. It’s time to move things into the caverns.”
“But the Picasso’s are too fragile to move, the damage, los cerdos!” Miguel thumped the desk and Sienna’s keyboard jumped under her fingers.
“Not to mention the statues. They weigh tons, especially the marbles. Even the modern wire sculptures in the great hall will have to go. Calling them pigs isn’t even close. Perpetually offended, they will not stop until they destroy our entire collection. Only landscapes will survive this purge.”
The head curator of the museum continued with her instructions.
“This is an all call. I want you at the delivery entrance to let staff in. If we follow my plans, we’ll be able to save the most precious by hiding them below. We must get everything out of the vaults as well.” Sienna gathered the papers from the printer, slapping them into folders marked with the names of various department curators.
“Can we buy more time?” Miguel asked as he began sending out texts coded with the words no one wanted to hear.
Avocado mango salad is on the menu.
The words would glare up from text screens in crimson red. The alert was out. From cell phone to computer screen, even to the few who only had land lines at home, the plea screamed to art lovers they could trust.
“Is the big forklift charged?” Sienna barked her question as they locked the office door behind them.
“Both of them, we’ll move the biggest marble Orgy first, into the deepest of our storage caves. You’ll open the passage immediately. The first team should be at the cargo dock in ten minutes. You hand them their flow chart, and I’ll bring the two tonne lift into the main hall. Have Carlos meet me with the cargo blankets there.” Miguel went down the stairs three at a time.
Sienna nodded, “Agreed. Get the forklift moving. I’ll get our people moving.”
Sienna opened the big delivery doors as her first team arrived. Her head of Greek art grabbed his folder and said one word.
“Miguel is bringing the forklift. Get the protective blankets and meet him in the main hall.”
Carlos ducked into a storage room followed by four others on his team. The low slung flat trundle dollies they loaded disappeared up the long hall toward their prized exhibit of Greek artists, the Venus would be the second work to make its way into the hidden system of underground hiding spots.
“Alicia, miniatures and pottery,” Sienna gave her the list of all possible offensive works. “Bubble wrap is in storage three, take your team and get these pieces protected and into moving boxes. It shouldn’t be more than two hours before Miguel can get to them.”
“He will have the ramp open, Senora?”
“It is already. I’ll be up to help as soon as the rest arrive and get their instructions.”
“Si, senora, come girls, up to the glass exhibits first. They are most fragile and require careful handling. The bronzes will go last,” Alicia jogged toward the stairs, her team on her heels.
“Gregor, start with the Renoirs and Rembrandts. I thought my grand father’s precautions were outrageous. Building secret doors and hiding access to the caves. Now the opinions of a few who bring blind bigoted obedience from politicians, will destroy art works so precious we insure them for millions. All because these Puritans have convinced them, nudity of any sort leads to rape and must be eradicated.”
Sienna handed the last folder to her assistant as they walked back to the office.
“Shred the inventory lists, Leena. Shred all of the emergency documents as soon as the teams report they are finished moving the pieces we need to save. I don’t want anyone to find evidence of where they disappeared to. Thankfully, we are a private museum, although we do have some public funding.”
“How did you hear of this purge?”
“Senor Calderas at the National Museum of the Arts. They came in without warning yesterday, with sledgehammers and black paint. They arrested him for trying to stop them. His lawyer sent word.”
Leena crossed herself, “What has gone wrong with the world. Why art? Why?”
“When leaders are so petrified of public opinion and those opinions are twisted to attack the slightest offense true democracy is not possible my child. Anyone who can sway opinion and make their view seem reasonable no matter how perverse will find support.”
“But Senora, it must be stopped,” Leena cried. “The beauty, the colors, the world will be grey if this continues.”
“Ah but it started with noble intentions. Equality for all, is a great cause, unfortunately social pressures were asking for us to be all the same, instead of celebrating the differences that make beauty, uniqueness. But leave it for now. It is difficult to comprehend. You shred the paperwork. I’m going to help Alicia with the porcelain cherubs. Nude babies with wings, it seems, are now child pornography.”
As Sienna made her way up the spiralling ramps to the top floor, she glanced down to see Orgy slowly rolling down toward the open maw in the wall leading down into the safe storage rooms. Lines of people pressed against one side of the passageway, staying clear of the forklift and its stunning burden. She spotted the half clothed Madonna nursing child in the arms of her strongest custodian.
She lifted her eyes heavenward, once again thanking her grandfather and his foresight. With luck, they’d have the collections secreted and the back wall that gaped open would once again be covered by the colorful Degas mural which brought tourists from all over the world to stand in rapt admiration before it.
She knew she’d be questioned, the museum ransacked, and likely they’d damage more of the collections she’d dedicated her life to sharing with the world. It would be worth it to keep the best of it safe until this madness ran its course. Destroying offensive statues, did no good, it only brought the ugliness of intolerance into the limelight.
She sighed and then continued upward. No matter what the Puritans of Madrid wanted, she would bear the punishment and save her small oasis of beauty from this berserk moment in history. At least torture wasn’t an option to force her to give up her secrets.
Her employees might know where everything was, but the locking mechanism was only known to her. With luck this little tempest would pass before anyone tried to break down the reinforced wall.
“Horrible, is it not?” Alicia said, sweeping her arm across her body, pointing at the blank spaces where graceful nudes stood on pedestals and shelves only moments before.
“Art is not art it seems. Continue, I’ll take care of the cherubs in the angel room,” Sienna found smug satisfaction in the desolate appearance of the room.
“Si, we will be done before we must open in the morning. We practised this rapid removal technique twice. I thought you were silly to insist.” Alicia rolled a languidly supine pale rose glass nude into protective bubbles.
“We were warned. Senor Calderas had his lawyer call me. He was arrested for not obeying the first order to destroy. I think our solution is better.”
“Will you be all right when they arrest you?”
“I’ll be fine, Alicia. Torture is still frowned upon, no matter how righteous the reason for arrest.”
She heard the whisper behind her as she turned into cherub alcove. “You are far braver than I, senora.”
Freedom of speech,
Freedom to act,
Freedom to have an opinion...
In attempt to make everything fair for all, nothing is fair for any.
Lost sheep wandering, thinking not on their own--lost--incapable of being their own-- seeking advice from a slim, rectangular prisim at the end of their noses in the form of a hypnotizing pulse of blue light that harms eyes as well as sense of direction--
What is personality?
Have we a personality?
The modern generation of majority rules is condesned into a unified idea of what is fair and what is not; what is offensive and what is not; what is acceptable and what is not. Those who can think for themselves are afraid to act, for, if they do, they could be banished-- exiled-- CANCELED... never again to return.
This cookie-cutter fit of what is right and what is wrong...
What is so wrong with us all just taking a deep breath and agreeing to disagree?
Trying to be considerate without nitpicking?
When offended, politely informing each other of said mistake in subtle and gentle ways?
Learning and growing together.
Instead of CANCELING, voicing opinions in a beautiful, loving manner so that one may actually learn from the error of their ways and receive another chance. After all, none are perfect- not even you- and none of us fully agree with the set and forget, unspoken cryptic law of the uncancelable.
That narrow road that none of us follow quite flawlessly but all pretend to know.
That roaming into the taboo that none desire to speak of in fear that the greater opinion will differ from what you believe.
That conforming, deforming, disheartening, overlurking cloud of fear and shame that hovers and causes to cower.
This longing we all have to blindfold ourselves and hook our own links into the long chain before us to be blindly dragged along with everyone else, lest we be intentionally beaten and left on the side of the road for dead.
What a life. What a strange life we all strive to live. Opinions are useless. Your mind is not your own. Are these the frothy, foaming suds of brainwashing bubbling up to the surface? We are all different. We have a right to our own opinions. Not to encourage apathy or oblivion, but rather learning and sharing. If one knows not, let them know. If one disagrees, let them be. Shine your own light when you can. Be an example for all. Pray that one day they change-- or perhaps one day you will find the change is best made on your own end.
Agree to disagree.
Teach, not fight.
If I should say when I felt like I needed a job, it would be when I realized exactly who I was to the people around me. I guess you could say I am gangster, but I always wanted to be a nerd. I just carry that perception with me; but when I really look back on life, I can see the impressions I have left on people in the wake of what has been going on. This embodies the spirit of what you see on Instagram. I guess it stems from the idea of the prototypical black male. When I was young, I use to kick it with my friends. We would all be outside boxing, slapping, and learning different ways to grow. I guess you could say I took up a very aggressive and dominant approach. I really am a pretty big guy. You could say all the hard work I put in playing football paid off; but anyways, there is a point where you realize how things actually work, and your supposed to go with the flow and not be different, but I really am different, and I try to express that in the nicest way possible. Sometimes people obscure their work on purpose, and this is where cancel culture and over sensitivity destroys high art.
Everybody has heard the phrase that big money talks and little money walks. I believe that most people accept this phrase and side with the best route that’s going to make them the most money, but I can only see parts of the route where I am self sufficient. It stems from the focus put in to the things that are in reach. Products are often valued according to what they contain and how efficient it is to manufacture. Most people put little thought into the skill that it actually takes to make them. That’s why people are more valuable than an actual physical product. Business will often shelve service commodities to everyday people. This upholds that natural flow of supply and demand. So, most black Americans of the Millennial generation have turned to businesses in the drug industry to fuel them through their late adolescent through adult years. People will need this boost to fuel themselves into retirement. So, when skill is determined, it’s evaluated off of what you can retain, and that’s through the use of current technology of what is expected to be available. However fascinating life may be to the average person may not be as fascinating to the next person, and that’s where people relate on different topics with their perceptions. You can’t even post a curse word on Instagram without getting flagged, and sometimes this may be the only true way to communicate what you really mean. Naturally, people have accepted slang into their daily lives with opprobrium. This is what embodies some of the most profound art. High art should be defined off real skill; but currently, there is not a sufficient price threshold that actually depicts a realistic figure. So, these skills have been afforded through a salary and company budget. When we review art, we can see that art actually has a demand that is unique to everyday life; and with the specific style or flair, you can find yourself doing testimonials for commercials. All of which are really far out of reach with the amount of black income. However, if I say anything, I will tell my dreamers to keep dreaming and embody what they feel throughout every aspect of their art. One day people of all ethnicities will be able to have privileges to express themselves.
art that stretches past skyscrapers,
not scraping the sky but high-fiving it, stabbing it.
the sky is a beautiful thing,
meant to bleed.
but some people are pacifists,
they preach against the stabbing,
that the sky is just like us.
when it is scraped,
a bandaid is slapped across it.
and the work is soon forgotten.
in order to be remembered,
you gotta make it bleed deep,
let rain drip from cuts in the clouds.
some people don't like the blood we produce,
calling it painful and strange.
but beauty is pain
and no pain no gain.
the sky was made to be scraped and stabbed.
it can take our abuse,
so why can't you?
Peter, a filmmaker
“So tell me, Peter, how was your experience with your first movie? Why did it come out after so long?”, asks the reporter, looking at him with respect and admiration, sitting in the television studio.
“Well, it was a bad experience, I should say,” responds the director, smiling, a slight discomfort emerging in his casual, easy-going tone: he has been here before many times, the host is his friend, a cinephile who loves his work and is always ready to promote it.
“Tell me more about it. How was it called? Captain Johnson?”
“Yeah, that’s the release name. But I did not choose it. I called it Vigo.”
“Weird. The movie's spectacular, but the audience only got to see it after the second, Disingenuous, released in 1997. How that happened?”
“Well, Charles, the studio who’d financed it did not want to give me the rights. I mean, I had them technically, but they would just refuse to give me the movie.
“What a shame. You must have felt terrible.”
“That's how Hollywood has met me. I was baptised in flames.” They both laugh for a while, but Peter’s smile is bittersweet because only he knows what he had been through, a reaction noted instantly by his chum.
“This is the most outrageous thing I’ve heard. What's the name of that studio?”
Peter thinks that he has been carried away, and perhaps does not deserve so much pity. He is no longer a restless young man, who watches a tremendous amount of films, for whom the world of cinema is a realm to be discovered and conquered, an oyster to play with like a magician’s hand with a camera, and if he has learned something during all these years, is that one must tame his tumultuous pride and try to forgive if forgetting is impossible. ”Well, they've given it to me in the end. But my music was removed and I had to put it back using the negatives.”
“How strange. I die to know more. And I am sure that our audience also. We always love to have you here.”
“Thanks a lot!”, he begins calmly, peering at the camera in front of him, from where they gather most of the footage and air it, the lilt of the voice full of resigned peace. “It was by the time when Pulp Fiction came out, in 1993, and a lot of studios had more confidence in new, young guys, because of Quentin’s success,” success which he did not have the intention to replicate, even if he was astonished by Tarantino’s witty dialogue and glamorous violence, in whom he instantly recognised a kindred spirit, but whom did not envy.
No, his esthetics were different, understanding even from the early days of adolescence that art, cinema particularly, had to rely on a personal approach, deciding staunchly not to become the director hired by studios to shoot films following scripts with each he did not have any intimate, sentimental connection, but to write by himself, according to the impulses that came both from daily existence and the overload of information to which he, as a child born in the seventies when names like Martin Scorsese, F.F.Coppola and others were in their prime, was exposed, and which had influenced him profoundly. Afterwards, he watched the work of the French New Wave, whose filmmakers had served as an inspiration for movies like Alice does not live here anymore or The taxidriver, but nothing had impressed him more vividly than Robert Altman, namely with Nashville, Short Cuts and The Player.
At that time, he lived with his father, who had a radio show, and who would often bring his two boys to visit his workplace, who were enthralled to be there. Peter could not help himself but fiddle with the microphones and inspect the area, amazed by the cameras and the arrangement of lights and by the people who had to perform in a more or less theatrical way, trying to catch the audience’s attention, deffinetly succeeding to impress him, on whom his elder brother had to keep an eye, although often not only failing to do so, but also participating in the misadventures as a faithful partner, like happened with that episode when they had tried to shoot a movie, one of Peter’s first directorial attempts with which, as he used to jest, he was contented, filmed alone at home, during a night when they would often watch adult pictures, a guilty pleasure whose noises, without the knowing of the two brothers, could be heard in the background of their new artistic product, and, even if every flick needed a theme and theirs incidentally had already one, it sood to reason that the world could not see it, let alone mom and dad, to whom, for a moment of excessive pride, they had had the intention to show, in hope to revel in admiration and approval.
By the time he turned 20, the family ended in a divorce. Peter did not know exactly why but thought to himself that his parents loved the idea of each over, not the actual persons. Attached to mom and dad with equal intensity, he decided to move to L.A. with his father, who possessed an apartment in L.A., from where he could go to his job easier, accompanied frequently by the son, whose now matured curiosity did not make him wander around aimlessly, but to explore in a tranquil, wise fashion, without bothering anyone, having totally understood that television was not his primary passion, but cinema, which invariably mitigated the adolescence angst, and, overall, provided a deeper worldview, not to mention the emotional relief and the opportunity to escape the pesky reality.
And, eventually, it got to a point when solely consuming other people’s creation wouldn’t bring satisfaction any longer: to write felt imperative. Would he be able to find a studio providing the money and make a feature? He could not tell, but the idea demanded to come down on paper, and so the script materialized as if having its own will and potential body, or skeleton, to clarify, the whole anatomy being the actual movie, edited, cut, the end titles executed. The concept was not too precise, but he trusted his guts, the general idea revolving around a television host, Vigo, father of two boys, one of whom gets kidnapped and the terrorists are asking for a peculiar ransom, meaning that he would have to say live a lot of disclosing material concerning Reagan and his outrageous power abuse, espionage and other felonies. Compelled to report to the police, Vigo finds it difficult to communicate the message, because later the government and the FBI get involved, and the material, menacing to compromise the president's career, cannot be by no means made known to the large public, the core and moral dilemma of the plot residing in the struggles which the father has to overcome in view of saving his son, constantly facing the reluctance of superiors, who are put under pressure by higher forces, unwilling to risk unhesitantly their jobs even for a noble cause. That’s not to say that the authorities do not do all in their power to find the kid, and they eventually succeed, although it is too late, because Vigo, threatened to have the second son taken away, does not support the pressure any more and satisfies the claims of the terrorists, aided by a friend who is a DJ and has access to the microphones, with whom they get fired afterwards when the affair is settled down and their desperate act is now superfluous and detrimental, although neither of them has any regrets or doubts, sure of having done the necessary action.
Doubtless, the prototype for Vigo was his father, whose charisma and gentleness he attributed, putting down the screenplay, to the character, refusing a lot of actors, terrific and poor, it did not matter, who did not manage to convey a similar kind of both tender and manly aura, suited for what he believed represented a modern tragic hero, who required to be a particular sort of badass and look good on the screen and exert a kind of visual magnetism, a prominent trait of film, until finally coming across someone who corresponded to these criteria, in whose soft, baritone voice he could recognise a little bit of his dad, saying to himself, “He is cool!”, and instantly knew that the search finished there. Then the shooting began, and it all went fine, even if Peter had abandoned the film school, under the impression that creativity was suppressed, and so relied only on intuition and powerful memory, when it got about choosing how the scenes should be executed, where to put the camera, the colours that should be used, the lightning, all tasks which he was afraid to fail in the beginning, but growing more and more confident as the hindrances, solved, miraculously evolved into tempting puzzles, providing a tremendous sense of self-accomplishment and validation, whereas the cinematographer, recognising his talent, made practical suggestions and contributed that his vision would materialize as faithfully as possible, avoiding to meddle excessively - the cause of so many boisterous, short-term collaborations. With the rest of the actors, things also went smoothly, having to insist now and then, yet usually avoiding to start a conflict, and when he failed to do so the tension was beneficial to the script, fueling them with genuine emotions fitted to portray the misadventures and the sufferings of a family put in such an unfortunate situation, an aspect around which gravitated the general storyline, portraying the dynamics between Vigo, his wife, and the people who had the power and prevented them to disclose confidential information, of which the terrorists got hold unexplainably.
“I always appreciate how your movie does not have any black and white tones and doesn't depict the characters as bad guys and good guys,” says the host appreciatively. Peter wants to open his mouth and say something. “I am sorry to interrupt you-“
“It is fine.”
“But I'd like you to tell me more about the long tracking scene when the FBI finds the terrorists' location, but they are in the building nearby, and the camera kind of just follows them a lot, and it is so interesting.”
“Yeah, I remember. That was cool. But it could have been even better, if...” He is dithering; there is a pause, his buddy peering at him amiably.
“C’mon, Peter, don’t hold back. I've heard some rumours about a missing frame, but I would like to know more.”
“Exactly. By the way, Charles, how come that I didn't already share this story with you?”
"I guess because I didn't ask?"
"Ha-ha! Right." He does not want to delve into too many details, because the memories still hurt a little bit, even after so many years, but he also has learned to be objective, grateful, and not to bitch about anything, which, unfortunately, isn’t always possible. Charles stares at him encouragingly, curiously, and his heart melts. “I do not know where to begin-“
“From where you wish. You know how they say, start from the beginning.”
“Ok. So I had to fight for the rights of my movie-“
“I used to wait outside the studio building,” approaching whoever he knew that had at least remotely something to do with Vigo, and repeat, “Give me my movie! Give me my movie! And they eventually got tired of this skinny young man and said, “We are going to give you your movie, but under one condition: the title should remain Soft Blow, as we released it.”
“I want my ownership rights! I wrote and directed the film! We had a contract. Why don’t you respect it?” he asked furiously the head of the studio, more scrawny from endless, torturing insomnia nights.
“Yes, we had a contract, but you did not respect it,” the other answered nonchalantly.
“What do you mean? I delivered what's on the script.”
“It is on the script, but not in the movie.”
“But I did not remove anything. I delivered you the product...”
“Not the product we wanted!” Perplexed, he could not find the strength to continue the conversation, having the dizzying sensation of hitting perpetually an invisible wall of stupidity, consumerism, malignancy, and perversity, as the boss, who had seemed so nice back when signing the contract, made a theatrical gesture of stern dismissal, too obvious for a fragile soul to cope with, and accepted the defeat, but only temporarily, for, during the days to come, Peter discovered that he cherished his movie, to which he habitually referred as “my baby”, more, desperately more than his ego, and realized the moral obligation of retrieving it at all costs and restoring the original version, since they’ve tampered with it and replaced the soundtrack, cutting a few scenes(How dared they! Bastards!), and, above all, shortening a long shot, the pinnacle of the visual side of the film, for the realisation of which they had to discuss a lot with the director of photography, making plans and drawings, not to mention the location scouting.
So it was now clear that he failed to fool them: the script, in a subtle way, contained the promise of a gorry story, but the execution was too personal and artistic. The FBI seeking for the kidnappers narrative line had to satisfy the audience’s proclivity for entertainment, visceral pleasure, and violence. However, his take on the few killing episodes was moderate, realistic, opting for showing the blood without exaggerating its proportions and without giving it too much screen presence, knowing that Vigo intended to reflect primarily the inner conflicts of the characters, although recognising that describing cruelty in a raw form had also its merits, as, for example, in Taxi Driver, which he admired tremendously, and which was not the type of movie that he desired to make. Conscious that this part of the flick did not have the maximum tension, the decision to introduce some wild, unusual elements imposed itself. Writing the script in 1991, the courage to get it financed came to him only in late 1992, and the shooting began in the spring of 1993 when he was 23, still a very young boy, who had seen, the recent year, Robert Altman’s The Player, from where, fascinated by the long tracking shot from the beginning, he had the inspiration to do a similar experiment, not after rewatching Orson Welles’s The touch of evil and Barry Lindon by Stanley Kubrick, who had done similar exploits.
To have the guts to film at least a 4 minutes segment without cuts meant a great deal of effort and concentration, for which, needless to say, the whole crew, especially the director, received well-deserved praise, and so the temptation of achieving it appeared irresistible, although his ambition did not reach such huge proportions to attempt to replicate the structure of Rope, which Hitchcock made to look like one long scene. The idea occupied his mind for a few weeks, constantly sharing his considerations with the director of photography, who was not scared by the ambition of the project, although there were moments when the force of their imagination seemed so fruitless that the only viable solution felt just to choose another technique, less complicated and more commonly employed, but a treason of his dreams nonetheless, a shame about which no one would know except himself, and he would prefer to fail in the eyes of the crowd if that would guarantee him to stay true to his idealistics esthetics, instead of succeeding without making the most out of it, and so the pain continued relentlessly, until, in an instant of revelation, he got out of the pickle by remembering the scene in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta's character enters the Copa Cabbana club with his girlfriend for the first time, and the camera moves without interruption, following all his steps from outside the building until taking his seat inside, intending to communicate to the viewer the sentiment of being present and performing the same action as the protagonists. Peter was pleased with what he came up with, although it was not enough: he had to push the limits a bit further. Concluding that the camera had to fly and provide a general point of view, he discussed the details with the cinematographer, who recognised that it was complicated to achieve that, but not unattainable.
“So our informer got the wrong intel, I assume. The kid is not here, God damn it!” shouted the exasperated FBI agent, finding the place empty, whereas the rest of the crew was still going up the stairs, arriving a few seconds later.
“Where the fuck are they, Captain Johnson?”
“They’ve left! Don’t you see?!”
“What do we do now?”
The answer did not come immediately, for the Captain spent a few minutes looking pensively around, scrutinizing the squalid room, where his eyes found a pair of opened cuffs, an empty mug and a plate containing the remains of a freshly eaten soup, to which he came closer, squatted, and discovered that it has not become cold, an obvious sign that the prisoner didn’t leave the place a long time ago, then he got up, his face, on which the camera was zooming to make a close-up, losing its pallid expression of despair, replaced by one of practical, temperated hope. “They must be nearby. C’mon guys, let’s have a look!” Suddenly, as if driven by a new surge of energy, the team started to walk to and fro around the room, seeking vainly for a clue, without taking relinquishment into consideration, spurred by Cpt. Johnson, and visited like a storm all areas of the building, where everything from carpet to lamp was turned up and down impetuously, at which point the remaining option was to visit the opposite construction, too big for a similar operation, yet a junkie from outside it, asked if he hasn’t seen anything strange, a boy particularly, luckily had an answer according to which a group of five adults and a kid had recently entered the edifice in a hurry. There was no time to hesitate, and so they followed the trail, which soon led to the actual location, when the terrorists, surprised, pissed-off and afraid of being caught, ran away, although not taking the boy with them, who sat in a corner of the room, whereas they kept scouting the zone, only one playing the role of the guardian, who got shot first, the others not having enough time to take the prisoner.
Now the next step was to catch the villains, who attempted to flee in a car a tire of which Captain Johnson managed to shoot, then another, so the fugitives had to flee by foot and seek shelter a few blocks away, where the crew waited patiently for reinforcements. When more agents showed up, the mutual fire intensified, so the possibility of surrender wasn’t taken into consideration at all, the pursuit recommencing with zealous cruelty from both sides, a terrorist receiving a bullet in the head. Seemingly, the victory was on the right side, but, as if out of nowhere, a van approached drifting from a corner nearby, for which the attackers, apparently, had been expecting and which provided a way out, because it sped up as soon as the terrorists got in, without leaving to the disconcerted FBI, whose vehicles were parked near the initial place, any chance of catching up, although they tried by foot, raging.
All these events were shot as one long, continuous scene, the camera following the characters from the start, moving like an observant, inquiring eye of a hawk, up to the final moments of the partial failure, and catching in its mechanical line of sight all sorts of human depravity and misery: ruffled drug addicts, whose wrists, covered with macabre bruises, did not have a free place for another injection, their fatigued features representing a reflection of an experience teeming with regrets, errors and traumas, which led to the inability of keeping the gaze straight and proud, also avoiding, safe one of them, to peer at the lenses, being instructed to do so, they for whose genuine portrayal Peter had opted to cast real persons, the so-called disgraces of society, to whom, compassionate, he was firmly convinced of making a favor by giving the money for the job, despite currently nurishing sporadic thoughts of remorse, feeling that, in some way, he took advantage of someone else’s misery; derelict prostitutes, their hair tousled, among whom there were a few of illegal age, on whose resigned face one could discern the brutal marks of an innocence lost too prematurly and who had a certain intrusive, harsh, devoid of tenderness manner of talking, a slightly ungraceful, jumpy lilt, as if walking on a field of snake nests, a broken Barby doll as single weapon, and a lifeless set of gestures similar to the one of a worn out puppet, moved by a sleazy, greedy, corrupted puppetier/pimp – that come with it; numb, listless groups of drunks, exempted of the energy to do something for their own good, but having enough to wobble in their hopeless addiction, without the desire to take a bath, a detail to which the overwhelming presence of flies, attracted by condensed debris of barf mixed with alcohol on the beards, shirt and collar, understanding, doubtless, that the victims lacked the strength to be productivly offensive, pointed conspicuously; and, finally, the most boisterous personages of the territory, with no trace of narcotic, nor booze consumption, dressed in shirts with Hawaii motifs and denim pants, were the two dealers, who whether ploded along in laced boots veifying if some of their marchandise was needed, whether stayed alert in one place, from where their line of sight could easily cover the surroundings and recognise any possible opportunity of making profit, impervious to the misery around, and to whom one of the agents decided to speak. “Do you know those people?” he said, taking cover against a destroyed car, panting.
“What people? The ones shooting? No,” came the nonchalant reply. “They ain’t from around here.” This dealer was a person of colour.
“Really?” The conversation was put abruptly to an end because the terrorists began to fire repeatedly, and the dealers ran away, whereas the FBI began to make their way from cover to cover, crouching, and, due to their slow movement, the camera had to follow in the same rhythm, which permitted to capture faithfully the ghastly human condition, for most of them were too stoned to care, only some girls and women realising the extraordinary danger of the situation, without doing so much as lay down, tears of fear covering abundantly their contorsioned, grimaced faces. It took 10 attempts to film the episode, due primarily to the fact that a drug addict would look exactly at the lenses, yet Peter, although exasperated, wouldn’t rage at him, aware of the risk taken by not casting an actor and mostly regretting the decision, thankful that one take was almost perfect, and the troublemaker turned his gaze almost in an imperceptible fashion, an aspect which would represent an easter-egg of the movie, the audience intended to question its existence and attribute particular interpretations to it.
As the events unfolded, the camera travelled from one group of people to another and the FBI were not always in its line of sight. They talked to themselves, desperate, or moaned, and sometimes engaged in conversations between which the viewer had to choose the most important and pay attention to it.
So the fact that the studio removed the whole part and other elements, the movie ending with the retrieval of the kid and having one hour less than planned, was difficult to cope with; besides, they had replaced the soundtrack. He refused to appear in the credits, opposed the short release of the movie, and got fired, until finally deciding to reach a compromise and behave less cockily and brashly, and even then the employees of the studio would rebuff him, who kept coming almost every day to have a word with someone, always mentioning that the possession of the film was of paramount importance, his person becoming a meme at which one would laugh and make jokes about, to whom they gave the nickname “the director who still wants his movie”, but the company grew bored of that distraction at some point, to the effect that, one day, the producer approached him.
“You really are persistent, aren’t you?”
“I worked hard for this film. I am the director. And the writer.”
“And I want it back.”
“Ha-ha! Listen, we are tired of this. You’ll have your movie but under one condition.”
“And what would that be?” asked Peter wearily, already debating if he would have to accept it or not, a multitude of terrible, oppressive thoughts buzzing in his mind, his palms beginning to sweat.
“We’re gonna give you the negatives and you should do what comes to your mind. But the title has to remain Captain Johnson. As we released it.”
“Ok,” he said, strangely relieved that it was somehow so little of a sacrifice: he also had had enough.
“And listen, kid, be careful with what you put in your movies. I am not so much an artist like you, but I’ve learned that not everything can be shown. Some things might seem offensive and risky. And that’s not a way to reach success, be sure of that.”
“I imagine how happy you were,” says the interviewer.
“Yes, kind of. I introduced again my music but was unable to restore properly the last scene because a frame was missing. It seems so little, like, it is not a big deal, but it ruins the flow. So I had to eliminate one minute and forty-five seconds.”
“It was still impressive, but I imagine how it could have been.”
“You are too kind. As always.”
Charles smiles amiably and affectionately. “Now, I’ve gathered some questions from our viewers, but I am afraid that we do not have enough time to go ever them. Could you visit us one of these days? Maybe next Monday?”
“Unfortunately, I couldn't do that. I’ll be at Cannes Festival next week.”
“What a shame! I mean, I am glad for you, of course, but...”
“I understand,” says Peter, sorry for letting down his friend, but also relieved that he does not have to satisfy the intrusive curiosity of the crowd, because he is exhausted already, the recollection of such unpleasant events having its toll on him, although the maturity, through a lot of more painstaking experiences, has taught him not to dramatize and, if possible, to stay detached. Besides, people could inquire about intimate stuff and write libellous comments, and not once has he been accused of being a racist, a misogynist, a pretentious artist whose movies promote even infantile sex and are not LGBTQ+ friendly. Surely, they wouldn’t discuss these controversial matters here, yet purely the thought of it made him sick, realizing that he had enough for today.
“Well, good luck with the promotion of your new movie and see you next time. Always a pleasure to meet you, Pete. Goodbye.” They shake hands. “We’ll keep in touch.”
“Of course. Goodbye. Perhaps I’ll come up with another story next time. What do you think about that?”
“I am sure that those who watch our show would be excited to hear more from you. And your new movie.”
“Maybe. But I can be boring and convoluted at times, you know me. And I doubt if they’ve made it ’till the end.”
111 S. Michigan Ave. Midnight 2021
Grant walked up the stone steps as he had done many times before, his hand brushing against the paw of the bronze lion. Not so much a scepter as one living on a plane of time intersecting another, Grant passed through the locked doors and darkened hallways to once again visit. A personage occupying his gallery looked up more perturbed than startled.
“Excuse me, the gallery is closed.”
“This is the time I always come.”
“I have work to do, you cannot be here.”
“I must remove the painting.”
“The one directly in front of you.”
The wisp of creative presence shifted in the dimness creating a play of light and shadows exposing of its full countenance. Transparent yet firm. Instantly familiar.
“Mr. Wood, I apologize, but I must remove that painting before the museum opens in the morning.”
“It is offensive. It doesn’t meet will our current cultural code and standards.”
“To begin with, the name is terribly derogatory...American? We now prefer to think of a borderless world with all nations and races joining hands as one. And Gothic? My cousin went goth fifteen years ago and there is nothing goth about this work, no darkness, just two pale figures scrubbed clean.”
“Ah ha. Have you ever been to Iowa in 1930 or Paris to paint by the Seine in the sparkling sunlight? The house was my inspiration. It still stands in Eldon, Iowa. It is constructed in the Gothic Revival style. I so loved the Gothic Cathedrals of Paris. I sketched the house and then tried to imagine who would live there. I knocked on many doors but had a difficult time finding the faces to match my vision. I ended up using my sister Nan and my dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby as models who posed separately for me in my studio in clothing I specially ordered for them new from Sears and Roebuck. So not your definition of goth and very intentionally American.”
“Your quaint history really doesn't matter at all. Projecting an intolerant prejudicial image with no diversity or thought for how your message would impact those who view it today is, well, insensitive.”
“Insensitive? How so?”
“It shows oppressive monogamy, is misogynistic, reeks of toxic masculinity, speaks to racism, and has overtones of Judeo-Christian bigotry.”
“Gee, and I thought I had created the single most recognizable American icon in history.”
“That doesn’t make it good...or right.”
“And you saying that also doesn’t make you either good or right.”
“I take your remark as extremely offensive. I suppose you can defend your assertion?”
“Well, as I said in 1941 right before my untimely death, pancreatic cancer if you care to know, ‘those who resent the painting are those who feel that they themselves resemble the portrayal,’ so whatever modern evils you see I’d suggest are not on the canvas but in you.”
“That is also offensive! I will report you.”
“Report away...but you see, there is no monogamy in the work. It is a depiction of a father and daughter. There is no dislike of women just a stoic appreciation of support of family during hard times. America in 1930 was deep into the Great Depression, you must have heard...the one before 2008? Those living in the cities received government assistance, but those in rural communities had only their families. As for toxic masculinity, you do know that I was...how do you now like to phrase it...gay?”
“But no diversity represented at all.”
“That does not speak to racism. This work was created as part of the Regionalist school and the area around Cedar Rapids, Iowa at that time was dominated by German and Czech immigrants who came to the area because the rolling hills of fertile land so resembled their home country. As to diversity, during hard times families all took on whatever roles were demanded of them for survival. This man and his daughter equals, dressed is this depiction as one would for a family photo album for a traveling photographer unmoving before a camera requiring long exposure times. In this you choose to see Judeo-Christian condemnation...is it the hay fork design that I repeated in the and on the overalls that is giving you thoughts of eternal damnation? That is in your pejorative mind not in my pigments.”
“But, sir, Mr. Wood, you surely can see how the painting sends the wrong message?”
“The wrong message? To whom? It did receive some criticism back in the 1930s when it was reprinted in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Some Iowans were furious at being casted as pinched and grim-faced, but to me it was always a celebration of the steadfast Midwestern spirit at the time...”
“....At the time, of what possible use can these pinched and grim-faced old coots have in the world today? It’s a downer an, even if you didn’t intend to, the negative and damaging messaging of your work is clear. You should have painted with current cultural values in mind if you expected to hang here in downtown Chicago forever.”
“Who are you to judge me? No artist can create with a future they have not experienced nor cannot imagine in mind. Artists are very simply the human conduit between their world and that which lies ahead. Our job is to see the universality of simple moments and convey them using the tools of our time because our souls press us to...certainly not to be judged by whatever standards are trendy for a moment but so humans can connect emotionally, intellectually, spiritually over millenniums and learn from what has come before.”
“Sorry, I don’t see it. It has been my experience that there is nothing the past has to teach me.”
“What happens when you become the past?”
"That will never happen, current culture is based on sustainability."
Grant shook his head as his work was removed leaving the walls of that gallery and all the others in that great old building linked together by interconnected hallways and directional signs empty.
Can’t Cancel Chandler, Can Chandler Cancel Me?
It was 11:42 PM and I was reading a short story by Ray Bradbury called There Will Come Soft Rains.
Feeling immobilized and devoid of creativity for fear of its destruction upon exposure to the world I stood, in my mind at least, on the edge. Its still not clear what is beyond that edge because I have a dear friend named Chandler.
I love Chandler which poses more questions than answers.
It seems only a decade ago this would not have been the case.
It seems only five years ago this would not have been the case.
I have a dear friend named Chandler. Chandler loves me and I love Chandler dearly. It's that perfect type of friendship that finds you and saves you when you need it most. It's the type of friendship that you know is remarkable the instant it materializes. It's not something you only recognize as amazing in hindsight. Although hindsight, like an aged bourbon, adds to the richness. If bourbon doesn't do it for you supplant a good wine perhaps. Anyways...
For many years in my most desperate moments I have reached out to Chandler. An email here, a text message there, all vague in nature.
I was alone.
And in my most lonely moments it was Chandler whose presence occupied my mind. It's strange how some things are so consistently the same while other things change without our consent. Equally strange is how we divide change into different categories. Assuming, perhaps erroneously, that change is progress and inevitable.
I say all this to say that 2012 is not 2021.
We know this. Chandler knows it. I know it.
I’ve been breaking it would seem. Breaking in several directions. Its not so easy to take a side. Shit is so fractured and fractious it’s enough to immobilize anyone who tries to see how all the pieces fit.
Yet I wonder if Chandler would still love me if Chandler knew the things that I knew.
Chandler senses when I'm in need even though we haven't seen each other in years.
I stood on an emotional cliff all but prepared to jump. I didn’t though. Chandler called me at 12:54 AM and saved my life.
I hung my head and felt the tension melt away at the sound of Chandler's voice on speakerphone as Chandler told me I was special and powerful. Together we shared the memory of someone special and powerful and talked of a past that’s more than just the past.
Would Chandler understand my grief over the past being the past?
Would Chandler still love me the way I love Chandler if I told Chandler it did not have to be this way?
We spoke, me and Chandler, of a party in Long Beach CA in 1990. Sublime was the band playing and Gwen and a fledgling band called No Doubt were dipping their toes in the competitive waters. But she had a voice that should have been heard by anyone with a will to live for the sake of living.
The truth is her voice vibed with nature. Sometimes I listened simply awestruck, wondering how somebody could produce something with their body that sounded so profoundly beautiful.
We spoke of her beautiful voice and the power she carried with her wherever she went. She was the love of Chandler's life and to me she was like a magnet. She drew me into her world to see it for what it was and there was a cost well worth paying for the experience, which lives on as I type.
I'm not sure if Chandler watches the news. I know Chandler says Chandler doesn't judge anybody and I want to believe that. I get a little bit of slack you see because I suffered an incredibly serious vaccine injury. As a result I'm not instantly considered a card carrying constituent of that group of ignorant antivaccination disruptor's we all too often hear about.
I expressed my concerns about the vaccine and Chandler did not judge me, but we really didn't even scratch the surface.
If fate should have Chandler in my presence in the next two weeks as we tour rural Connecticut and my childhood neighborhood perhaps, I can find out the answers to some of these most important questions. Because the question: would Chandler still love me takes on so much responsibility.
In 2012 our spirits connected instantaneously one afternoon in June. By October we were temporarily roommates under the most interesting of circumstances. Chandler was afraid and I was afraid but together we were the best of friends.
We could have been alone but instead we were together in a fusion of intellect and unequivocal love. I still drive by that house on Garnett St and remember our many late-night talks. Together everything was alright. What could possibly be worth risking such precious comfort and safety?
Alas Chandler had been here for her and not for me. Of course, that is not to say that Chandler does not see our lives colliding as a cosmic gift. But when she did what we inevitably knew she would do the dye had been cast.
Despite of melding of minds during mutually anxious times it didn't make sense when things didn't work out between Chandler and her for Chandler to stay in a strange city where Chandler had no roots.
It was an unusually warm evening even for Austin on that first day of November when I helped Chandler pack the car.
Chandler was afraid, and I was afraid, but now we were to be apart and afraid separately.
I knew that Chandler had the tools to succeed whereas I always seemed to be falling short. I couldn't breathe when Chandler closed the trunk. It was as if I was severed from the natural world with that sound. To this day the sound of a closing car trunk produces a lump in my throat. Severance. Finality. The sun starting to go down and after Chandler left I stood in the empty driveway feeling perhaps more lost than ever. A space once a refuge from the wilderness of the lost and the wicked now stood empty and quiet and it was getting dark. I did not cry. But I needed to.
I wonder if Chandler would love me after the conversation the way Chandler loves me now. I love Chandler regardless and I suspect Chandler would love me still, but in this state of affairs there's no way I can say so for sure.
Chandler said that Chandler would get the vaccine if it meant not getting sick and would get every booster shot too. Chandler didn't know it as we spoke in the small hours of the morning, but I shed a tear because I wanted to say so much about the reality of what's going on.
But then what would Chandler think of me? Chandler said, in a sincere effort to comfort me, that we simply have to trust the science and thank goodness after all that we have such smart scientists working on our behalf. I listened.
I love Chandler and Chandler unconditionally loves me. But what does unconditionally mean? Would Chandler still love me the way I love Chandler if I expressed to Chandler that the narrative is a trick, and I can prove it?
Would Chandler still love me the way I love Chandler if I told Chandler that through the new economy, they're going to make us all digital slaves? Would Chandler understand that saying these things out loud is difficult for me and I wouldn't do so if I didn't have to and if I wasn't sure?
Would Chandler still love me the way I love Chandler if I said that the social movements that are publicized as progress and as movements striving for justice are actually the exact opposite? That the individuals behind them are predatory, malignant, and interested in power first, followed by profit.
Would Chandler love me the way I love Chandler if I told Chandler that all of the social welfare programs being designed to help the poor are actually classist, racist, and governed by artificial intelligence designed to create a digital plantation upon which we will all live?
Would Chandler think I was mentally ill for saying these things which I can prove so easily?
Would Chandler still love me the way I love Chandler if Chandler heard me questioning these things?
Would Chandler assume that I am an anti-vaxxer? A white supremacist? Would my 15 years of work with youth in the community be for naught all in an instant?
Would Chandler assume I voted for somebody even though I don't vote?
Would Chandler cancel our friendship?
Would I find out once and for all the answer to a question I have had for some time now: are friendships that are so powerful they feel like a cosmic bond still ultimately cancelable?
The date is March 29th, 2021 and it's just past 7:00 PM. I venture to say that there is nothing safe from cancellation.
It seems reasonable to conclude that ultimately people like me will be cancelled.
Would Chandler come to my aid during my darkest hour?
Would Chandler be brave enough to withstand the onslaught of the woke mob, knowing that I am a pragmatist at heart and wouldn’t make assertions I couldn’t substantiate?
Could I blame Chandler for looking out for number one and leaving me to the wolves?
We both agreed that there's a sense of unreality, yet we did not discuss its finest features from our individual perspectives. That is to say we didn't discuss a mutually agreed upon definition or description of what makes our current state of affairs seem so surreal.
Perhaps there were some assumptions made on both sides.
Perhaps we both held back a little simply to protect that cosmic bond whose strength is but a veneer underneath which the tenuous chords of friendship are the weakest they've ever been.
Would Chandler agree with me and stand with me to strengthen the bond that saved me more than once? I believe I need to hang on to Chandler and so I lie by omission. But how much longer can I do so?
Chandler should be the exact type of person who would be at my side encouraging me and those like me to step out of the shadows and enter the public square for true and real debate.
Would Chanlder see that what's at stake is everything that makes being human worth being human?
All of creation stands at the edge beside me. We've been corralled here over time and I wish I could tell Chanlder that we're actually standing here side-by-side.
Chandler would you understand if I told you fine art and music and tik tok superstars being cancelled is not the real threat? There's endless cancellations and endless reasons why.
All I know is I can't cancel Chandler; can Chandler cancel me? I truly hope not.