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Theaters are probably screwed

Creative Commons: PxHere

The trouble with capitalism in this country specifically is that it can see about as far as its own nose. The pandemic, which has revealed the cruelty, folly, and craven selfishness of every evil institution and person, has likewise shined that searing spotlight on the movie industry, and the industry, at every level, has stumbled about with that same blindness.

The plain thing to do is to shut everything down until the plague passes us. That is what has worked in other countries. Read a newspaper if you don’t believe me. The fact that this is inconvenient to rich people is beside the point: It is plainly the right thing to do, which means that in America, we don’t fucking do it.

Because we subscribe to thoughtless, shortsighted capitalism above all else–because once you have yours you are obligated by law to say fuck everybody else–the film industry in particular is now forced to essentially allow itself to be gutted because the individual segments of it won’t work together to weather this thing. It is as if you were faced with a ravenous zombie horde, but instead of reacting as one human being, you watched your individual arms and legs argue over which of them should get bitten by the zombies rather than, you know, work together to run away from them.

Warner Bros. has announced that it will simply issue same-day releases of its entire slate of movies for 2021 on HBO Max, the ultimate concession to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic that also throws theaters to the wolves. There is a lot to unpack from this news, starting with the fact that no mention is made anywhere of revenue sharing with theaters. Why should there be? Studios have done everything in their power over the years to extract more and more revenue from theaters, which remain the only practical model by which you can charge people to see Captain America vs. Godzilla per ass rather than per household.

Is that good for the moviegoer? In the immediate term, yes, it is. This sort of thing should have been in place earlier. I’m sorry that I don’t live in Manhattan or Anaheim, but I would still like to see The Lighthouse within some reasonable interval of when it came out. I don’t always have time to go to a theater, and there are some movies that I don’t feel like dragging four children to go see. The theatrical release is, in a time of streaming, at least somewhat outdated, and theaters have known this. It’s why, before this plague, they all started tacking on table service and bars.

At the same time streaming and video games and every other thing in life joined television in the cavalcade of things stealing novelty from the movies, theaters have been forced to make up for their historic decline in revenues through obnoxious means: Half a damn hour of trailers before the feature, on top of advertising prior to the trailers. Memberships and rewards programs to entice more people to come more often. All of it, ultimately, resulting in a less pleasant experience when you do bother to go.

Now, of course, that experience can literally kill you. I already wrote at Paste about just exactly how steamed that makes me, in light of everything.

And yet Warner’s move here pisses me off just as much. An industry with hundreds of thousands of employees, the basis for the blockbuster movie model, will simply be abandoned. Theaters will close and it will be harder to make blockbuster movies, which in turn will cause a downturn in earnings for studios who have not been able to see past the blockbuster since the turn of the century. If these same execs are dumb enough to greenlight the latest Robin Hood movie, they are absolutely dumb enough to keep trying to bet the farm on blockbusters when the model is no longer viable.

They could, instead, participate in some form of revenue sharing. But they will not do that, because under capitalism it is stupid, criminal, to consider giving somebody something for nothing. If there is no immediate benefit to your bottom line right now, you are honor-bound not to do it. The possibility that there could be mutual benefit at some unspecified point in the future is not to be considered. We must eat the fucking marshmallow NOW.

If you think everything will remain the same and the industry will just limp over the finish line, you should know Hollywood has had a big collapse once before, in the ’60s, as TV ate away at viewership, standby genres like Westerns and big movie musicals became less popular and created bubbles that burst, and as antitrust rulings brought an end to things like the B-movie due to the end of block booking (a studio forcing a theater to play a whole slate of movies). The entire swirling confluence of post-war American cultural forces led to it, really.

We’re in a time of such upheaval again, and it’s not at all unreasonable a thought, to my mind, that a mainstay of public life like the theater could come to an end as a result. Besides throwing a bunch of people out into the street who were pulling down a wage, what is that going to do? I know it seems like I’m worked up about the specific way in which I get to watch dumb movies, but this stuff does matter. What stories get told, by whom, and to whose monetary benefit are all important things–things that are part of the same cultural concerns as stuff like representation of women and minorities.

I’m happy I get to watch Dune without fucking catching the plague. But as with every other shitty thing about this shitty country during this shitty pandemic, it reminds me that it all comes at the cost of some other person or institution undeservedly getting screwed. But nobody fucking listens to me, so I guess I’ll just throw my hands up and do it.

There is yet much to do

Photo: Ted Eyten, creative commons

They will shriek and gnash their teeth, but it is over. It should rightly have been over four years ago, when 3 million more of us said “no” to the bullying, to the tantrums, to the lies, to the utter disrespect and small-mindedness. But, because things are in place to prop up the votes of some of us over the votes of others, we have all had to watch as vandals have ridden roughshod across everything. It was plainly wrong, plainly stupid, and it could have been avoided if everybody sat down and faced the simple fact that the will of the people and the vicissitudes of our stupid electoral system only occasionally align.

Read more…

You will live to see it

When my grandfather was born in 1919 in Hong Kong, it was a British dependent territory, but there would’ve been people walking around him, not even all that old, who would have remembered the 1897 decree that took it out of China’s hands. I don’t know the first detail about his own grandfather besides that he did at one point end up in San Francisco in the late 1930s. I also know that he basically had to have remembered what living in China during the Opium Wars was like.

During the Bush years, I expressed dismay to my father. I can’t remember which piece of shit thing W. had just done. We’ll say he’d just invaded his fourth or fifth country, or cut his 29th tax, or issued his 300th executive order. Zipped the body bag on his 4,000th or 5,000th stop-lossed troop, maybe.

“You can’t see something glacial move when you’re standing on top of it,” he told me, which sounds like something somebody probably once told him on a day he despaired. He would’ve had plenty such days. He remembered the Stonewall Riots. He was a young man when Bobby and Jack and Dr. King were killed. He had to duck and cover in school. His whole life, from when he was born until I was old enough to go to school, he lived with the nagging feeling that one of the stupid old men running the Kremlin or the White House would push the wrong button and destroy us all.

It all feels impossible today, when the only woman in the presidential race – indeed, the only good candidate; the clearly superior candidate; the person, male or female, who should fucking be the next president – steps down. It’s not for me to sit here and say “Oh, don’t despair. It’ll all work out in the end.” Because it might not. My grandparents made it out of Cuba alive, and we don’t hear from the ones who didn’t. The ones, right now, whom Trump is cheerily erasing.

History is a tide. It moves slowly and it knocks over everything, and everyone, and we live atop what it has left behind, in the world it chooses to give us. This is hard to accept on days like today, when your own individual actions seem completely fucking meaningless. There will be other days. Despite everything, I believe you will live to see them.

I’m not doing this because you told me to

I proposed to my girlfriend and she said yes, and it was wonderful – everything everybody always says it will be. In one way it is a grand new step into a new part of my life. In another it is really not that much at all.

I have been living with her and her kids since July. The other night, somebody came by to appropriate my old television set and coffee maker – the last vestiges of my old place that I wasn’t using in her house and that I wasn’t able to palm off on a charitable organization or a local buyer. I’ve been ferrying kids to after-school activities, putting them to bed, cooking them dinner. I’ve been walking the dog and feeding the cats. We’re here for each other every day in every way that actually counts.

So yes, it feels like the rings and the flowers and the hooting and hollering are just an annoyance – another sad obligation, like standing in line at the DMV or turning in your Selective Service paperwork. Yeah, here I am, sure. Here’s me, following these rules.

Marriage has historically been about control, and a lot of people still want it to be about that. It was about controlling young women, controlling property, controlling heritage and inheritance. It’s now the goal of the worst political actors right now to make it about controlling personhood in the strictest sense: You straights over here get to be a family, you gays over there don’t get to be.

I was hearing this awful bullshit during the years It was supposed to Happen For Me. I had a girlfriend once who went on about the fact she wanted a princess cut diamond (it had to be a diamond). Like it mattered, like the whole thing would be ruined if that wasn’t a part of the whole road show. (We broke up. She’s married now. I sincerely hope she’s happy. I sincerely believe we would not have been.)

My twenties ended in a rowdy apartment in Colombia, with me jobless and among my gay father and his gay husband, with no money and no career and no relationship, and I was so happy. Most of my friends had already been married. I returned to the United States during that time twice, both times for weddings. The second time I stayed for money – and It kept Not Happening For Me. The years turned brown and fell off the branch. My health worsened. The grandparents I keep in contact with died. My brothers and most of my friends long ago married off. I was living with the sense that It would never Happen For Me.

It could have Happened For Me earlier. I’m convinced that if I’d committed to it, at least once before I could’ve been married – maybe twice. But I would not have been in that gay-ass apartment on the night I went from 29 to 30. I would be here now, working on kid #3, probably miserable, like my father was miserable when he made what I have come to realize was a logical choice at the time, even though it hurt everyone whose life ever touched his: To go in for the flowers and the cake and the married-filing-jointly, for the ability to legally sire children with his last name who maybe might be there to carry his ashes up the mountain when time caught up to him. (We did.)

Fit yourself into the fucking box, they said to him, and there wasn’t any recourse for him but to do it. Get in the fucking box, there’s a house and kids and birthday parties and graduations and family photos and trips to Disneyland here, there’s your mother’s joy at seeing her grandchildren play outside, there’s your grandmother sitting your little wife down with your first born son in a quiet room in the house you played in as a boy and leaving her a little pitcher of water because your grandmother remembers how thirsty it is to breastfeed sometimes. She’s Great-Grandma now, and she’ll give them your same bag of marbles to play with on the floor. It can Happen For You!

When the box is everything, then you leave everything behind when you leave it. When everybody else is in the box and you are outside it, even if you know it’s fucking bullshit, you feel lonely out in the cold. Some just get desperate and look for any way into it.

This is why I was careful to the point of timid, because it is everywhere, the fucking box, and it makes you distrust your own happiness. It’s why we waited, why I met the kids and lived in the house and became a part of the family before asking the question. It’s almost silly now, because the answer was no mystery. The promise has already been made.

Here’s what is important: That I got some folks together that we both care about and surprised her and sang a little song with the right wingman on the piano. We ate and drank. I think it is some bullfuck to expect a woman to do something the man would never do, so I did not kneel, and I won’t ask her to take my name, and I’ll wear an “engagement ring,” too. The fucking metal is not important. The fact I needed to make her feel special is.

I fucking hate weddings as I hate the devil, all Montagues and thee. But I love this woman, here at the end of all things. That is real.

It’s hard to write about this stuff when a fascist fuck is president

I had to rattle off my family history about a dozen times when I went down to Cuba at the end of last year. The people there treated me like some kind of unicorn. As it turns out, having a mother from Isla de Pinos (which they call “de la Juventud” today, because Castro I guess) is another mark of distinction. I didn’t quite pick up what it means, but it meant something because everybody who introduced me to everybody else brought it up.

“His mother was from the island!” they said a couple times. I figured the part-Chinese and part-American parts of me would be the draw, and they were, but everybody marveled over la isla, too. Even when you’re on an island, there’s another island.

Every interaction between a Cuban and an American is fraught, but there was another layer to it with me, the unspoken thought among the folks I met and came to know there: This one actually knows how lucky he is.

It was jarring having to come back and write about Nancy Drew and Méliès and fucking Donald Duck, while we’ve got our own dictator proudly prancing about, bragging about how there’s apparently nothing he can’t get away with. Writing about movies or developing video games in my spare time increasingly feels like tap-dancing on the deck of the Titanic.

This is where I’m supposed to say that art is important, or where I’m supposed to justify what I do. I haven’t got it in me, I’m afraid. Things are terrible right now, all over, and I’m increasingly losing hope that anybody knows what to do about it, or is capable of doing it. Since the days of W., when I came of age and realized how dumb and mean-spirited the majoritarians in my country are, I’ve privately thought that the only way we can slide back from it is on the other end of true cataclysm. More and more, it looks like that’s just were we’re heading, and that the hands on the wheel won’t loosen their grip to let the rest of us steer toward something, anything else. Some even seem to want it. My grandfather, an escapee from China and from Cuba, a survivor of Castro’s gulags, taught me from a young age that I do not.

One of the first days we were over there in Cuba, we took a trip over to Manaca Iznaga, which was a sugar plantation of old, one with a great watchtower still standing there. It’s seven or eight stories up, and all the peoples of the world were gathered there having a go of the thing, scaling it and looking out over the land. It was put there to keep an eye on the slaves toiling in the fields.

It’s an evil place, if there are such things. And people just walk obliviously along now, and buy shirts and tchotchkies there, and enjoy the view. I did, too: A reed of an old woman approached me and guessed I was from Germany. I laughed and felt bad about it, and I told her where I really am from, and once again I told someone why I know Spanish. You got out, said the look on her face. And I bought the shirt off of her for $12 because I couldn’t say no to her.

They’ll do the same here, whatever may happen. Whatever people are expelled or disappeared or erased will just be nameless ones who aren’t around to talk about it. And you or me or somebody else who was around for it will see somebody who got out and wonder what it must be like.

I’ll keep on living, of course. I’ll do as I’m doing and look for ways I can help. I have so many amazing things to live for, just starting with the woman I’ve chosen to be with and the family we have together. But sometimes it helps to articulate that it’s hard and that it looks dark.

No more adventuring for me…

Work has been awful and my gaming, writing, and design aspirations have just fallen by the wayside. But I finished more stuff for Paste this week and now it’s time to get back into it! Wish I could throw Dark Souls 3 on the done pile in the meantime.

Published: Nobody’s Son

The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett. | By kristykay22, from Flickr. Labeled for non-commercial reuse on Google Image Search.


Nobody’s Son: The Legacy of Dashiell Hammett
Paste Monthly – May 2016
Article link | http://bit.ly/2mF7WdM

Dashiell Hammett is one of those proto-artists few people actually know. I say “few,” but the truth is that anybody with an unhealthy enough obsession with Honorably Manly Cinema probably knows him by reputation at least.

I had a few incorrect notions about Hammett’s life, which the research I conducted dispelled. This was another article that was enlightening to me. And how about that first epigraph from Akira Kurosawa?

“Here we are, weakly caught in the middle, and it is impossible to choose between evils. Myself, I’ve always wanted to somehow or other stop these senseless battles of bad against bad, but we’re all more or less weak – I’ve never been able to. And that is why the hero of this picture is different from us. He is able to stand squarely in the middle and stop the fight.”

That right there describes everything I desire out of heroic fiction. The outside world is harsh and callous, but Beowulf can punch it in the fucking face. Crime cuts down the innocent, but Superman can stride through bullets like a light winter flurry. It’s rare something that primal makes its debut.

Published: Superman is not Jesus

Superman

You know his name. | By mayantimegod. Labeled for non-commercial reuse on Google Image Search.

Superman is not Jesus
Paste Magazine – 16 April 2016
Article link | http://bit.ly/2lJLXO2

This was one of the more well-received articles I’ve written for Paste in the last year. Lots of people have dumped on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice for all sorts of different reasons. I hadn’t watched it prior to writing this article (and maintain I didn’t need to), but I’ve since seen it and I wouldn’t change a word of this piece. For me, the biggest tragedy is that Superman is a total sourpuss, no longer invested with mythic righteousness.

I drew on a lot of character history to write this one, and it’s got to be just about the most fun I’ve had writing for Paste. I loaded up on books and learned a lot of things I hadn’t known about Superman and his creators.

supermanbooks.jpg

This will be on my library record forever.

This was an important one for me, silly as it may sound. I hope Superman comes out of whatever his next inevitable adventure is looking much better than he looked in this last one. We need a moral Superman now more than ever, God knows.

Yeah, yeah, I haven’t posted in a year

I’m rectifying that. It’s been quite a long story, and one I promise to tell soon. Stay tuned.

I’m published in Paste

The The Glienicke Bridge between West and East Berlin, the “Bridge of Spies” from the film. | David Stanley, 1987, labeled for reuse by Google Image Search, 21 Nov. 2015

Paste Magazine – 20 Nov. 2015
Article link | http://bit.ly/1N0nObW

It’s been a while, but I’m back in the freelance game with an essay/review/article for Paste Magazine, one of my favorite places for entertainment news. There are a lot of great writers on Paste and I’m happy to be among them for the first time. I’ve got other things in the works for them coming up, which should hopefully be on before too long. Check out the article. It’s nice to finally be able to write (semi-)professionally about my family’s experiences. It’s too bad that I do so at a time when another terrorized and misunderstood population is trying so desperately to do the same thing my own family did 50 years ago: Get the hell out of an awful situation and into a safe, free country.