Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trumpocalypse Maybe

So that happened. And quit it with that post about the electoral college overriding the will of the electors. Hillary had more total votes, but this election was contested under a certain set of rules, and we have to honor the fact that she lost with more total votes.

1. The electoral college has to go, as Trump said himself in 2012.
This is the second time in five elections that someone has lost with more votes than their opponent. Obviously this is one of the very dysfunctional systems Trump won by lamenting in the first place. Go ahead, candidate of change, show us some integrity!

2. It wasn't all racists.
There just aren't that many white hoods to go around. There also aren't that many white people to go around anymore. A big part of the Trump vote were people who felt left behind, people whose insurance premiums are skyrocketing. Many of them mistakenly think Obama personally raised their rates. (Price-gouging big pharma C.E.O.s seem to have avoided blame...) Many more voters didn't know or didn't care that there was a Republican congress in power who should've been equally accountable. It doesn't matter. It's over and the damage is done. Even the non-racist Trump voters voted in the name of change, and boy are we all going to get it.

3. Your black, latino, gay, and female friends get to be angry with you the first time racist, homophobic, or misogynist legislation happens.
You voted based on the interest of your family, or at least you believe you did. The fact that you didn't consider what might happen to the families of your friends and neighbors is going to come back to haunt you. Expect some backlash. Expect some declined invitations. Expect fewer wedding and Christening gifts from your gay friends, friends of color, and some female friends. You just showed us that at the very least, our rights weren't important enough to consider when you voted. If laws making us second-class citizens are passed, we have every right to be pissed off at you. Friendships end when there is a lack of basic respect by one of the parties involved. It's a lot more than sour grapes when you show your friends that level of disregard.

4. Democrats, governing to the center leaves you vulnerable.
I give Obama credit as a human being for reaching across the aisle as many times as he did, but as a politician, it will be thought of as his fatal flaw. He looked at the Republican-majority congress and got the legislation through that he thought he could, but voters mistook those compromises as his principles. By running to the left and governing to the center, he discredited left-wing populism. Trump stepped into the vacuum with nationalist, right-wing populist rhetoric, and appeared principled (to some) by comparison.

The next time Democrats have power (assuming we recover from whatever form the Trumpocalypse takes) in the White House and not in congress, the president and his Democratic allies in congress need to put forth the laws we need and force the other side to reveal themselves as the problem when they shoot those laws down. Then we need to loudly show the voters who the problem is. Obama, in his pragmatism, probably thought that would be a waste of time. His legacy will unfortunately suffer because the voters mistook him for all three branches of government. Many of them probably believe Democrats have been in power for decades, based on how George W. Bush has been erased from history.

5. We owe Trump a chance not to be as terrible as we think he'll be, based on his atrocious campaign.
Trump was credited with "being real" while running, so he now must make every effort to fulfill his promises to the working class. If he brings Apple factories back to the U.S.A., and allows those jobs to be good union jobs rather than the child labor jobs they currently are, we all have to expect to take a hit on our retirement accounts. (Remember, we are Wall Street too, whether we want to admit it or not.) We'll all have to pay more for products as well, and as a result, our employers will have to be forced to pay us more. This will be worth it, if it means an economy where everyone's labor is valued and everyone can participate in the economy. To keep his promises, Trump must harm the fortunes of all of his oligarch golf buddies and old prep school roommates. I never believed he would actually do it, and I still don't, but I'd be thrilled to be wrong.

The anti-government radicals must now govern, and be held responsible for all of the results. You no longer have the black boogeyman to kick around, boys. It's all on you to reign in corporate power without becoming the fascists many of us fear you to be.

6. You are responsible for the increase in hate crimes that has already happened, and all that happen during your tenure.
When Chad and Todd and the neanderthal frat boys, who somehow feel ostracized despite their trust funds, go out on a Saturday night to gay bash or run over someone they perceive to be an illegal immigrant, that's on Trump, and all of you who voted for him. He showed you who he was and you failed to recoil in horror. You need to own that shit.

7. If Trump starts to live up to his fascist rhetoric, we must all shut this country down to stop him.
Whether you like him or not, we all need to admit what Trump said on the campaign trail. He did threaten to attack the press by "expanding libel laws" if they criticized him (though in truth, they couldn't have rolled over harder for their orange ratings cow if they tried). He did threaten to jail his political opponents. He did play footsie with assassins with that "my second amendment people, maybe there is a solution" bullshit. He did say "I alone can solve all of these problems" during his odious R.N.C. speech (which Hillary would've been crucified for, based on the level of America-bashing in it). The promise of solving all of our problems if we just give him all the power is something that fascists do. The fears of the majority of us who didn't vote Trump are real: they are based on his own words.

In the event that he attempts to overreach, we are prepared to shut this country down in the name of justice. Remember, we are the majority, though we lost. And Trump needs us a hell of a lot more than we need him.

I didn't sleep very well election night, but I slept fine the night after, because I realized there are still more of us, and all of his supporters are not deplorable, though they do need to answer for those among them who are. I realized I owe this man a chance to earn my vote in 2020. I owe him a chance not to be what I think he is based on the hideousness he's shown me so far. If he reigns in corporate power without becoming a fascist, brings jobs home, invites all of us into the economy, and owns his inevitable failures and shortcomings rather than scapegoating the least powerful among us, there's a chance I could get behind him. If he does what I think he'll do instead, and gets congress to legislate like a more racist, more homophobic, more ignorant, version of the George W. Bush crew, I'll be among the many stubborn obstructionists he'll have to contend with. I think we just burned down the house because some of us were mad about our helpings from the kitchen, but I would love to be absolutely wrong about that.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Damnation (Salvation?) and Technology in Black Mirror

All week I've had two songs stuck in my head: the soul-crushing "Exit Music (for a film)" from Radiohead's 1997 tech-angst masterpiece "OK Computer", and Belinda Carlisle's sugar-bop scrunchie anthem "Heaven is a Place on Earth", from ten years earlier. The reason for the manic-depressive playlist in my head is the Netflix show "Black Mirror".

You hit a certain age and everything reminds you of ten things that were very similar. You aren't cynical, but you've seen and heard a lot, and pop culture is aimed at young people who spend a lot of money on shit they don't know they don't need. "Black Mirror" is one of those wonderful experiences that makes you struggle to find something it reminds you of. The series is a master class on plot twist embedding, re-purposing pop music, and leaving the viewer haunted and questioning the way only a good book usually can.

The standout episodes from season three include the first episode, which focuses on our cultural obsession with social media instant gratification in the form of views and likes, and the third and fourth episodes, which may be the best two hours of television I've seen this year, including the final two episodes of "Game of Thrones" season six, which I loved.

I never would've thought a television villain would top Cersei's triumphant wine-tasting as she watches the Sept of Baelor, full of her enemies, burn to the ground on her orders. But the troll in episode three of "Black Mirror" pulls it off, in part by staying off the screen.

(Black Mirror spoilers from here on down.)

The episode, masterfully titled "Shut Up and Dance" in another pop music reference, focuses on a sad, weak kid who gets a virus on his computer. His sister borrowed it. He understandably barked at her not to do that and took it back, shutting himself in his room. We know he's a sad, weak kid because he's a busboy at a greasy spoon. He gives a little girl a toy she left behind by accident. Her mother thanks him, taking in his popsicle stick physique and sad dog eyes. The buff cooks call him a knobber, which is the Queen's English for something less than civil. We never see him at school, but are left to guess he's underage due to his riding a bike to work and his later confession to be waiting to take his driver's test.

At home, in his room with his laptop, he locks the door and pulls down his pants. Next scene, he's washing his hands. We get it. He gets a message from an unknown e-mail saying "I know what you did". A hacker taped his solo session without his knowledge and threatens to send it to all of his e-mail contacts if he doesn't do as he's told. This moment was psychologically scarier than anything I saw on the visceral season premier of "Walking Dead", and I mean that as a compliment to "Black Mirror" rather than a knock on the former. (Sorry Glenn, sorry big ginger gent who also died.)

The boy does everything he's told, meeting others whose online sins have left them vulnerable to the same troll or team of trolls. The boy buddies up with Bronn from "Game of Thrones", who has a name, but to me he's Bronn. Bronn is a husband who the troll caught seeking a prostitute because "you get bored and want to fuck a twenty-something". They're forced to rob a bank and Bronn is told he can go home. The boy's punishment continues, though, and we're left with this nagging feeling like, why is he being pummeled so hard for having a good English wank? Shouldn't that be the very definition of a victimless crime?

The boy is forced to fight a man to the death, and the man reveals he was "looking at pictures of kids". We realize the boy has done the same and think, "You fuckers, you just made me feel bad for a pedophile for forty minutes." We remember his kindness to the little girl at his job. We remember how protective he was of his computer. We remember all those times we thought "but all he did was masturbate, this seems harsh" and it all makes sense. Plot twist embedding at its finest, subject matter aside.

Somehow, floss kid manages to win the fight against the older perv and it cuts back to all the people the troll had been blackmailing. They receive that grinning troll meme-emoji-whatever the kids call it and the troll wrecks their lives anyway. Radiohead blares as the beaten-up boy receives a call from his mother, shrieking about what he's done, and the police grab him.

The real trick with "Black Mirror" is it makes you think for days afterward. Who was the real villain? The troll was absolutely merciless, but his victims were far from innocent. At the same time, who the hell was (s)he to do that to four human beings (s)he had no context to judge? We lack context, as the troll does, and I think that's the point. The boy's family is destroyed, and they are innocent. Bronn's family is likely destroyed, and we don't know if his infidelity was brought on by a frigid partner, we don't know if his wife was cheating too. Another character is revealed to be a CEO who forwarded a racist e-mail, but we don't know if she's racist in her hiring and firing, or merely guilty of distasteful humor. The fourth character's "crime" is even never revealed, we just see his family imploding in their living room. Lots of collateral damage. No context. The trolls are merciless, omnipresent, and unaccountable. The secret destroyers are so terrifying, we're left wondering if it's okay to pity a potential pedophile. That's how you hammer home a point. I was overwhelmed with the horror of the plot and the beauty of the writing structure all at once.

After all that, a palate-cleanser was in order, and episode four provided not only that, but the most uplifting television sequence since the end of HBO's "Six Feet Under". "San Junipero" is a love story between women where thankfully the fact that they're both women is incidental. It starts in a setting so eighties you can smell the Aqua-net. This is a story of a reluctant lover (the hilariously named Yorkie) being won over physically by the more experienced party girl Kelly. Then Yorkie has to get Kelly to admit there's something between them emotionally, and she's worth Kelly overcoming her fear of emotional attachment.

If all that sounds pretty standard, it is, until we find out the party town is actually virtual reality, and in the real world, Kelly is elderly and dying of cancer, and Yorkie was paralyzed in her youth in a car accident following a coming out to her parents that didn't go well because religion. The first emotional thing Yorkie convinces Kelly to do is to visit her in reality.

Then we learn San Junipero isn't just for ill people. The consciousness of dead people who've spent time there can be saved there for as long as they want. (They never really explain how this is funded, which is the only little wart on a flawless hour of television.) We realize they've created Heaven.

The rest of the story hinges on Kelly's decision to either join the husband and daughter who predeceased her without being "saved" in San Junipero, or to enjoy Yorkie's company for as long as they both choose to be there. Kelly marries Yorkie so she can let her off life support, but we aren't sure she'll join her.

Cue Belinda Carlisle cooing "Ohh, bay-be do ya know what that's worth? Ohh, hea-vun is a place on earth". Of course Kelly joins her as the credits bleed in, but that's where the cut gets devious. During that one synth part of the song, we see shots of Kelly and Yorkie dancing in slow-mo ecstasy, followed by side-by-side high-tech U.S.B.s, stored by robots, likely the devices containing Kelly and Yorkie's...collective consciousnesses? Souls? In a cut shot, we see all the blinking lights of all the "saved", and one last "hea-ea-vuhn" from Belinda. You cheeky bastards. If I'm not doing it justice with my writing, I sincerely apologize. It's brilliant and needs to be seen, heard, and felt.

Does it matter that the gods in the machine gave Yorkie the romance she deserved to have during her life? Should that cheapen it somehow? Does it matter that, in this instance, the gods we made were kinder to us than the gods who made us? Fluff that '87 'fro and spin with your love on the dance floor like you're young and carefree again, but know that with a show this good, the questions it generates will linger on your mind for days afterward.

The key to great sci-fi is that it doesn't stretch reality too far, it only advances us two or three steps from where we are today. For a terrifying, exhilarating look at where we're headed, watch "Black Mirror".