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won’t hold together

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1. Today was a good day. The park with my wife and daughter, lunch at a nice place and outside because it’s finally getting warm enough to do that. She had a bit of a tantrum about riding in the stroller from the park to the cafe where we ate, but it subsided. I looked in the bookstore, but there weren’t any magazines or books that I wanted to buy.

2. Later, I watched a hockey game, read a few pages of an advance copy of William Gibson’s Spook Country while my daughter played in the backyard. My wife got home from shopping – bearing hot dogs – and I fired up the grill for the first time this year. Very dad-ish, yes? My daughter has never had a hot dog, and wouldn’t eat one this evening, despite the fact we lathered it in cheese. I think she is thrown by the name. She loves dogs, and periodically would say “ruff-ruff” as we ate them and laugh a bit, but still refuse to eat them.

Whenever I grill hot dogs, I wince at every bite worried that I will encounter a raw spot inside.

3. We watched the Sopranos this evening. I think it was the first good episode of the new and last semi-season. When the jokes work, you get the sense that Chase is writing (whoever is listed in the credits), and that the episode, in turn, will work.

And it did. And in particular, it returned to one of my favorite themes of the show, and a theme very close to my heart. The ambivalence of Tony’s relationship to his son – and his semi-son Christopher – pivots on a deeper ambivalence about masculinity, violence, class transition, and self-improvement. And shame. To put it this way seems very abstract – sounds like guild speak, no? Try it this way instead: Just as he wants Christopher not to be an alcoholic but finds something deeply distasteful and unmanly about his success in not drinking, he would like his own son, Anthony Jr., not to repeat his mistakes, not to go into the “family business” of profitable violence, but can’t help hating his son for his, what, effeminate softness and affluent idleness. He wants, in short, his son to be tough like him without experiencing the situations that make that sort of toughness possible or even necessary.

I grew up with just this sort of mixed message from my own father, and I bear the fruits of it today in spades. I’m not going into to detail, but trust me on this one. (Themes like this, generally not well aired in mass culture, are the reason that this show has a lock on a demographic that is both unusually wide and extremely narrow at once…) It is, I think, an experience that a lot (most? all?) children of men (and women?) who “came from nothing” and “fought their way out of poverty”… and whose children live very different lives – and live in very different neighborhoods – than the one that they have lived.

My father took his first steps to making his (and mine) in the world through violence, though of a different sort that the Sopranos. He was a hockey and football hero from a shit town and from an imploded and very poor family, and likely channeled lots of his own father’s abusiveness into his athletic performance. These skills (this violence) made, in the long run, a successful career path open to him, and it was one that structurally resembles that of the various enforcers and captains on the show… (hint: if my work is strangely preoccupied with labor issues – downsizing, deskilling, intensification, Taylorism – you do the oedipal math to figure out where he ended up…)

4. Things become even more interesting when Anthony Jr.’s invigorating turn to the dark side occurs not through committing an act of violence himself, but through watching (as, of course, do we) someone else perform an act of particularly gruesome violence on another person. The last few episodes have been slightly-preoccupied with the question of who has “popped their cherry,” in terms of ultraviolence, and who hasn’t. Anthony seems to have joined the club – but somehow, now, all it takes is what might be called televisual participation rather than the real thing.

5. After the show, I scroll through the rss reader and come to this. Let it be said I do not recommend clicking through to view the videos. I have a pretty high tolerance – both viscerally and ethically – for viewing this sort of thing, and lord christ has there been a lot of it to view the past several years. Just being honest, I generally find those deeply resistant to viewing this sort of material to be a bit quaint or even hypocritical. I generally back up into a rationalization about the necessity that the impact of violence around the world register – register, perhaps, in particular upon people like me, who write about culture and politics for a living. I have viewed military attacks on civilians, beheadings, and of-course the state run executions of VIPs.

But this one stopped me in my tracks. I viewed the first linked video, which seems to be the gruesome aftermath of the whole affair. The second video, I am guessing, is really the first in the sequence – a lot of yelling and not much to see except for tight-packed men’s shoulders. In the third, we finally get what we are here to see. She is quickly pulled, head locked under a man’s arm, into the center of the crowd. A crowd, of course, of men. She is standing, she is screaming, and then she is not. She has been pulled to the ground, or hit by something and then fell.

This is where I turned the video off. I did not want to see her head get crushed by stones. There are, it is terrible to report, a total of 6 videos in the sequence. I can’t even imagine what happens in the next three in the sequence. Or I can very much imagine it, but this time, don’t want to see it. I can’t really explain why this one is different from the others, the ones that I made it all the way through. It is nightmarish.

6. I have nightmares every night. In fact, I think I only have nightmares. I can’t remember having any other sort of dream for the longest time. On some level, I think, I take this as a normal facet of adult-life. It does not, on the surface at least, affect my waking behavior. I am not even particularly troubled by this fact. I am not even sure that I dislike having nightmares. Obviously, the question becomes are these things that I am dreaming actually nightmares at all?

In fact, it wouldn’t at all be fair, but if you were to tell me that you often or even occasionally have dreams that are not nightmares, I would almost automatically think, on some level, that you were a something of a simpleton.

And I now suddenly realize that this is a good explanation of the origin of my particular academic interests. I write about the necessary relationship between fictional form and social disorder. I also, more recently, have been fascinated by texts that attempt to work beyond this seemingly essential relationship.

7. I have posted on these sorts of videos and images before. The dead children during the bombing of lebanon, etc etc. After partially viewing the stoning, I went outside to have a cigarette and thought about what I might write about this one. I can’t remember now what I said about the previous ones. Any angle I might try to take, and the head swims. To politically particularize this is to lose the visceral reality of it, to mine it for an abominable use-value. Not to politicize it is perhaps even more horrible – to see this event, and all the others like it that happen all the time, both in view and out of it, “clickably linked” or not, as ineffably random or simply markers of a depraved and in-actionable “human nature.” I do not know what to say, and so I say this. Which is abominable. I could have remained silent, which is abominable. And, worst of all, perhaps, is to resolve all of this into a clever, safe crux – which is exactly what I am doing right now as I type these words. My own inhumanity chases me at exactly the speed that I type these words now. The more I say, the worse it gets… But to say nothing would be worse. And there’s the crux, the cleverness, the barbarism, the intensified barbarism of the self-conscious critic of snuff again. A knot that only tightens as you type.

8. I wonder how many of you clicked through and viewed the videos, and of those who did, how far you got with them.

9. NB: I provided you with the link, but ordered you not to follow it. I hoped that you wouldn’t see it, yet I advertised its contents. I want you, my reader, to be both humane and hard, aware and not. I want you both inside and outside of the dark chamber at once, don’t I? And then I link you away to distract you from the problem at hand….

Have you followed the link? Which link did you follow? Did you follow it down to the end?

10. I am not sure that this post, in a sense, isn’t above all else a reenactment, a fan-fiction repetition, of Christopher’s situationally-complex paean to l’art d’être un père that he offers, drunk once again, toward the end of tonight’s episode of the Sopranos.

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 7, 2007 at 12:09 am

Posted in meta, teevee

5 Responses

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  1. Didn’t (so far) follow the link; didn’t watch the videos; what you wrote held together, for better or worse. My machine is too slow for mpegs anyway, so it couldn’t happen.

    You get all kinds of readers, I suppose. But I sent this post URL to a friend and said, you know I feel very close to that sort of problem: realizing that you’ve extended your own personal ethics as far as they can stretch, till the pain of it is unbearable — but it’s your *ethics*, so you’ve *got* to bear it, *you* have no choice. And yet it could be otherwise; for others it is otherwise. And that may not be accurate for you, but this post was one of the most memorable things I’ve seen on any personal blog in a while, so thank you for that, at least.

    pica

    May 11, 2007 at 10:30 pm

  2. Pica,

    Thank you so much for the comment. Extremely nice of you to say so. I’m constantly on the way to quitting this thing, mostly due to total exhaustion, but a comment like that is enough to keep me kicking for awhile longer.

    So thanks… I really appreciate it.

    CR

    May 12, 2007 at 12:01 am

  3. Despite our testy testosterone beginnings at Long Sunday and latrine tributaries, there’s something sincere about your writing despite your tendency to Family Values…I thought this post interesting too, looking over here more thoroughly for the first time.

    I think what I like about some of your posts is that you are either honest or find it important to try very hard to be. Sometimes I’ve thought you missed by a mile at LS, and my hateful bitch comes out. But, by this, I can then say: If you think I am a simpleton for not nearly always having nightmares, I find that interesting enough to query you on it, although since we’ve already done the obligatory mud-wrestling quickie and, at that several-months back point anyway, I was ‘stupid, stupid, stupid’…and I said you were ‘all ego’ etc.–I don’t mind being honest and saying that I don’t have nightmares most of the time. I would say that about 90% of my dreams are pleasant and I don’t know why. Once in awhile I will have a nightmare in which I nearly get killed by something, and will wake up screaming out; and during the winter I had a severe depression for about 6 weeks–but the worst part of that is that I always had wonderful dreams to compensate, and waking was the most painful thing imaginable. I may be too old to feel guilty for any length of time, though. In your 50s, you should be responsible (I am, but adolescent as well), but I gave up guilt awhile back, due to electro-guilt treatment by insane Marxists. I had to stop talking to them before I became a KKK candidate. Shit.

    I didn’t watch the videos, but that’s partly because there are just so many that the internet orders you TO watch, that I’ve become jaded about watching most of them or not, because there’s no time to watch the Internet TV if you’re a creature of the Outdoors (I am, whether or not it would seem like that.)

    I lost interest in The Sopranos after I’d watched enough episodes last fall, so I skimmed that part of your run-down on the new season thus far. My feeling is that it’s a good show for style, because they hired the right actors who have no stretch to the perfect accents (I LOVE to hear Falco talk), but that it may be that the Mafia is not so powerful anymore, which is why we can begin to ‘understand’ and ‘forgive’ them, because they are runnin’ scared to some degree by now, i.e., we may be unable to catch Bin Laden, whether or not we try or not hard enough, but we definitely can catch mobsters without much trouble. One episode had the whole Soprano Family in the kitchen, and it looked just like Norman Rockwell to me. CIA still not fully domesticated, so even histories of CIA slyness and KGB cleverness, however dead, I now find gripping.

    I’ve got to go out now, but maybe you did write up something on Robbe-Grillet awhile back. Note it here if you get a chance, or I will search later. I’ll try to be polite if I comment here (I have to say that given that my reputation is quite the opposite), but I’ll say something personal right now: You sound as if you work a lot, so only throw out the blog if it’s really too exhausting. I can see that some of it will interest me, but if I was always exhausted, I’d throw it out myself. Overwork may well cause nightmares.

    [comment very hard to post here, don’t know if you have that problem frequently.]

    patrick j. mullins

    May 17, 2007 at 2:26 pm

  4. I’ve known about that video(s) for a while. I haven’t followed the link yet. Maybe one day I will. Maybe I won’t. I probably will. Not today, though.

    belledame222

    May 24, 2007 at 10:27 am

  5. Patrick,

    Thanks for the nice comment – no hard feelings on my part. I sort of felt like we were having fun when we scrapped before, in some way anyway…

    The nightmare bit was perhaps a tiny bit hyperbolic… I was thinking, in a sense, about literary form when I wrote that, its default “nightmarishness.” Nobody wants to read a story that isn’t for the most part about ever rising tension and the like…

    And I actually think that Chase is thematizing exactly what you say about terror vs. mobsters. Though I’ve now missed an episode due to my Europe trip – no spoilers, anyone, please. It’s the only good thing about coming back in a few days, catching up with the show…

    CR

    May 24, 2007 at 3:33 pm


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