Journal of a Plague Year On My 26th Birthday

Today is March 16, my birthday. I’m in Bali, still vacillating between staying out here and heading home before the borders get locked down indefinitely. I’ve been traveling around since I left Vietnam in mid February, first to South Korea, then to New Zealand, a roadie on COVID-19’s world tour.

It’s my dreaded 26th, a particularly American milestone that means I get kicked off my parents’ healthcare plan. This, I think, more than your 18th birthday or your 21st or your 25th, when you can finally hit up your local Hertz and rent a car, is the true point of entry to adulthood. No more living in blissful suspension above the comforting safety net of your parents’ care, no more trusting that you can simply go to a doctor when you’re sick and not have to worry about co-pays and deductibles and all that.

Of course, mine is a privileged experience. Many people have to reckon with these facts of life long before they’re 26. I’m very lucky compared to the average American. Still, navigating the online healthcare portals and comparing plans and trying to make some real decisions and judge the accuracy of my supposed mortality is a rather glum experience, and one that does feel like a turning point, an ingress into a kind of independence that is unwanted and unsettling.

There’s nothing ceremonious about this rite. In fact, that’s a key part of the ritual: the absence of ceremony, the mythless and mirthless nature of it. You are now on your own, no longer ramparted from the cruel world by your mommy and daddy. Pushed out of the nest to either learn to fly in mid air, or fledgle and hit the floor.

Welcome to the real world.

Welcome to life in the big city.

As I sit in my villa trying to decide if I have a sore throat because of the sudden shift in humidity from NZ to Bali, I read obsessively about the Coronavirus and envisage global doom from the strangely paradisiacal island, where grass is green, the girls are pretty, and the yoga stores are starting to close and coughs garner glares. No matter where I go these days, I find myself unable to remove myself fully from America. That was the case the whole time I was in Vietnam.  I battled with feelings of guilt about leaving the country, I think because it seems like such a pivotal time. So I read incessantly about the politics and happenings there, a concerned citizen removed from his land.

While in Vietnam and Korea, the effort to contain Coronavirus has very obviously been taken seriously by the government, America seems woefully unwilling to view COVID as a genuine threat, and frighteningly unprepared for the consequences of that nonchalance. I have seen people on Facebook and Twitter boldly declaring: “We will not be scared by a virus. We will not give in,” as if the virus is ISIS, or something. If we allow the virus to scare us into staying home, then we let it win. (That’s not how viruses work). In reality, this is selfishness masquerading as some kind of national zeitmotif, a patriotic rallying cry. Land of the brave, and all that.

I have read articles about people in New York and Chicago continuing to go to bars and party in the streets of Chicago, not caring if they infect others, not understanding that they could be a vector for someone somewhere getting the virus, someone more vulnerable than you. This recklessness and entitlement is bizarre and disturbing. It’s part of what makes people hate Americans, and consider us to be boorish and stupid. But the root of this indifference is not, at its core, a shallow sense of entitlement or basic stupidity – I think it goes deeper than that.

I have read about workers having to continue going to work as if nothing is going on, even if they might be carrying the virus, because the boss hasn’t shut things down and frankly they still need the cash,  as the realities of life in the big city are still in effect. I have read about people who are losing their jobs because of Corona virus, but still have to make rent. No reprieve is imminent.

In a country where toughness is the national virtue, and rugged individualism the ethos – where nothing is freely given, everything must be taken, and so rapacity and avarice are celebrated – there is little room for community, or empathy, or consideration for others. And that works out just fine for the companies that run the country, for whom unity is a threat to profits (see: unionization).

The US government is doing its part to ensure the safety of corporate profits, as usual, at the expense of workers. This week, the House of Representatives passed the Families First CoronaVirus Response Act. The bill calls for companies to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for employees, and up to three months of paid family and medical leave for those who contract COVID-19 or have to take care of a family member who has.

But that only applies to companies of fewer than 500 employees, which represents 46% of companies.  According to The New York Times, 59 million workers in America are excepted from these modest offerings. In addition, the Labor Department can choose to exempt some companies with fewer than 500 employees if it determines that these measures “would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.” The bill offers three months off only to those who are sick or are taking care of a sick loved one –  it does nothing to keep workers who might carry the virus at home. It isn’t designed to contain the spread of the virus at all – it’s designed to make sure the machine keeps running.

Nancy Pelosi, the blue-no-matter-who crowd’s queen, tweeted: “I don’t support U.S. taxpayer money subsidizing corporations to provide benefits to workers that they should already be providing. House Democrats will continue to prioritize strong emergency leave policies as we fight to put #FamiliesFirst.”

She followed that up with:

“Large employers and corporations must step up to the plate and offer paid sick leave and paid family & medical leave to their workers. Both now as we fight the #coronavirus and in the years to come. #COVIDー19″

This idea that the government stepping in to provide aid to its citizens is stealing from U.S. taxpayer money – a pool that is routinely siphoned from to fund illegitimate wars and tax breaks for the rich – is nothing less than a right-wing talking point. It’s the same point used to critique Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All platform (bUt It WiLl RaIsE tAxEs). Pelosi says she doesn’t support it because corporations “should already be providing” these benefits, and that they must “step up to the plate and offer paid sick leave and paid family leave to their workers.”

That’s some real tough talk. I’m sure CEOs of health insurance companies are quaking in their boots at the suggestion that they should do better.  A mighty finger wag indeed. Walmart and Target, in their beneficence, have offered two weeks of paid sick leave. A BBC headline – “Coronavirus: Amazon offers unlimited sick days to halt spread” – doesn’t tell the whole story; these unlimited paid sick days only apply to those who contract the virus, and so does nothing to reduce contagion. That comes after Whole Foods, owned by Amazon oligarch and the richest man on the planet Jeff Bezos, encouraged those of its employees with extra days of PTO to donate them to other employees in need.

I, for one, am not satisfied by this meager admonition. I don’t imagine that demanding that these corporations ought to gain a conscience overnight and offer some PTO out of the kindness of their hearts will be a particularly effective gambit on Frau Speaker’s part. Isn’t it time that the government subsidizes taxpayer money for something that would benefit taxpayers? Isn’t it time that we have a government that is for us and not the corporations? Isn’t it time that we stop relying on the munificence of billionaires, and realize that we have the power – that without workers, the machine will grind to a halt? To recognize that the forces compelling us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and go to work – student debt, mortgages, threats of eviction, need for food and Internet and health care – are illusory?

That’s what this strange period represents, the opportunity to understand that we have the power, that we always have had the power, and if only we could see through the obfuscations of the machine, we could seize that power, and take back our lives. That if we came together, we could right the ship in a moment and do away with the imaginary forces that make our lives brutal and despairing.

But the machine is sophisticated, and it is equipped for catastrophe. It’s greatest weapon is ideology. Louis Althusser wrote: “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” The ideology of American-ness is rugged individualism, toughness, a masculine obstinacy that rejects community and compatriotism. The American mantra is that we’re all on our own, and it’s better that way.


In America we are doers. We are earners, entrepreneurs and go-getters, risers and grinders – not whiners, deservers, querulous entitled welps as the media calls us. We work hard and we play hard, too. And if they’re going to make me work, if they’re going to throw me into the water at age 26, or 20, or 18 and tell me sink or swim, then I’m damn well going to do what I want ; if the show must go on, then I will continue to play. Those people who call me selfish for carousing in the streets don’t know me. They aren’t my friends – what do I owe them? They’re just triggered that I’m living my best life.

I read a tweet a few days ago from Roseanne Cash that said: “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.”  This tweet unnerved me deeply. It pissed me off and made me more anxious than other Corona-related tweets, even the much direr ones. Because it resonated with that voice in my head that told me I was never doing enough to achieve greatness, to become someone worthwhile, someone “successful.”

That fear of failure is both caused by the precarity that austerity causes, and the feeling that motivates those who continue to champion austerity. If I get sick or hurt, no one ‘s going to help me. If I can only rely on myself, I must constantly work to accumulate enough capital to have security – and if I had to work for everything I get, so should everyone else. This totally ignores specific circumstances and the disproportionate resources that certain people have. Dr. Emily Friedman (@friede) tweeted:

“Please stop. I’m a literary historian who specialized for a time in scented objects (used during plague). Dudes who got a ton done got stuff done ALL THE TIME, because they had massive amounts of domestic staff (up to but not always including a wife).”

That’s the ideology that encourages us to isolate, to focus solipsistically on ourselves and ascribe our value to our individual achievements, not our contribution to a collective – not just in an economic sense, but as a unique person, the ways that we contribute to our friend groups and enrich each others lives.

There are bright spots. Stories of people giving to others, strangers, when they don’t have to, of taking care of each other. Those are the stories that I cling to.

Like Mrotzie’s tweet: “Friends canceled their son’s Bar Mitzvah this weekend but decided to keep the contract with their caterer, a tiny Hmong-owned business. They delivered the food to friends in quarantine & sent pans home with others. Grateful for stories like this and for community in a bleak time.” Or the viral video of Italian people on their balconies, singing Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” together. I’m sure there are more examples of people doing the things that they don’t have to do, that they, themselves, likely felt ambivalent about doing because it meant losing money, risking their own security, making their lives that much more precarious.

Isolation is important right now. But how much better would it be if we knew that we had each other’s backs? How much safer would you feel if you weren’t accused of entitlement for wanting to avoid contracting or spreading a deadly virus? That you are lazy for not writing Fucking King Lear? And that if you happen to get sick and have to be hospitalized, you won’t be left with a hospital bill that could potentially ruin your life?

We’ve got two candidates for President, one of whom said “the younger generation now tells me how tough things are—give me a break… I have no empathy for it, give me a break,” and one who wants to eliminate all student debt, make college free and give free health insurance to everyone in the country – things that Coronavirus is revealing to be very possible, and not, as Joe Biden said, “pie in the sky.” Coronavirus should make this an easy decision. But we will still probably flub that, and things probably won’t go the way that they should. It’s not entirely that we’re stupid. The ideological apparatus of capitalism that has sought to isolate us for so long – it’s tough to beat. As a result, this plague will probably be much worse than it could have been. Still, every second of every hour of every day, the power to change the future is in our hands. It never leaves, that potentiality; a better future is always just a moment away, if only we would reach out and grab it.

Well, I had better get to work on King Lear 2: the Shrekkening. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face. We are the many, they are the few. A better world is always possible.

Impeachment: Who Cares

About a week ago, Nancy Pelosi said in a town hall that back when she was speaker of the house while George W. Bush was in office, and he and his cronies were publicly claiming that Saddam Hussein had uranium, chemical weapons, and a veritable stockpile of WMDs, she knew he was lying.

Full quote:

“When I became speaker the first time there was overwhelming call for me to impeach President Bush on the strength of the war in Iraq which I vehemently opposed…That was my wheel house, I was in intelligence, I was a ranking member in the intelligence committee… so I knew there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, it just wasn’t there… the intelligence did not show that was the case.

“So I knew it was a misrepresentation to the public…”

But, she said, she didn’t pursue impeachment because she “did not want to go down that path because of what it would mean for the American people.”

What did that war mean to the American people? It meant almost 4,500 American soldiers dead between 2003 and 2019. Of course, not to mention the number of Iraqi people who have been killed during the longest war America has ever waged, estimated from the hundreds of thousands to nearly a million. Rarely is that number mentioned.

We know they don’t care about brown people in faraway countries, but do any of these people actually give a shit about the American people like they claim to?

If Pelosi truly gave a shit about the American people, then she might have considered the gross mishandling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in which government aid came far too little too late, and 1800+ people died – mostly people from poor communities, mostly black people (Kanye West was right – George Bush doesn’t care about black people) many elderly and disabled people died – because they didn’t have the resources to evacuate, something that could have been avoided if the government had reacted with haste, or like it was an emergency. But they didn’t. They acted like it had taken them by surprise, like it wasn’t well known that the levees were structurally deficient, and that the funding once allotted to bolstering these safeguards hadn’t been shifted elsewhere – namely, to fund a war that was waged entirely to enrich the members of the ruling class. Then, there’s the fact that the rebuilding of Katrina was a privatization playground for the rich, who lined their pockets with government contracts, tearing down public housing and building charter school after charter school.

But Bush was endearing, and if given to malapropisms and the occasional blooper-reel gaffe, he was at least charming and self-aware. A guy you could have a beer with. Now, look – the doddering old Texan is back at his ranch painting pictures of dogs! How adorable! He’s holding events for the injured veterans of the illegitimate war that he started! And he’s friends with Ellen DeGeneres!

After Bush, there was Obama, that cheeky, handsome, oratorically gifted guy that we all loved. He gave the go-ahead for some 500+ drone strikes in the Middle East and Somalia, which killed between 1200 – 7500 civilians (the numbers are quite murky, and the US decided to consider all military-age males as enemy combatants rather than civilians in their death toll unless explicit evidence said otherwise).

How about that beloved, fatherly icon, still revered on both sides of the political aisle, Ronald Reagan? The Gipper, the great communicator, the handsome and urbane former movie star who, whether you agreed with his politics or not, you had to admit was darn handsome and an affable fellow. What about the CIA-led coup in Nicaragua that he countenanced? What about the fact that the CIA funded this operation, as Gary Webb of the Sacramento Bee later proved, by trafficking cocaine from South America into South Central Los Angeles, effectively inciting the crack epidemic that ravaged the black community there?

What about Trump’s fellow impeachee, Richard M. Nixon? His administration carried out a series of covert (i.e. illegal) bombings in Cambodia from ’69 – ’70 that killed an estimable 100,000 people, after explicitly saying he would not touch Cambodia. He waged a “War on Drugs” that was really a war on black people and leftists. Earlier this year, one of Nixon’s top aides from his presidency, John Ehrlichman, told CNN: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”

Was he impeached for that? Or for the then-provable war crime in Cambodia (which resulted in four American college students being killed by the National Guard in a protest at Kent State)? No, he was ultimately impeached for stealing from the DNC. The so called “Saturday Night Massacre,” was a bloodless, paltry reason to impeach Tricky Dick in comparison to the war crimes he had authored in southeast Asia, and the domestic campaign against the black community. Why was this the crime that couldn’t go unpunished?

Because it was an indiscretion within the elite. Trump’s mistake was that he committed an impropriety within the ranks of the politico-capital class, which threatened another faction of the ruling class. It wasn’t that he locked children up away from their parents in concentration camps with woeful, inhumane conditions, it was that he abused his power as president to mess with a political opponent.

Why wouldn’t Nancy Pelosi try hard to impeach Bush for waging a war that she knew was premised on lies? Why wasn’t Nixon impeached for his extralegal strafing of Cambodia, which had terrible repercussions for that country for decades? Why wasn’t Reagan impeached for the coup in Nicaragua?

Why was John F. Kennedy murdered for challenging the system, for threatening to break up the CIA, for going after the mob, for planning to withdraw troops from Vietnam and refusing to give air coverage to the CIA-led Bay of Pigs Invasion? And why did no one, Republican or Democrat, press too hard when, against all evidence, the Warren Commission determined that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone? (But don’t get me started on this….)

The answer is: because the rising tide of imperialism and military industry buoys all ships, regardless of party affiliation. Because Democrats and Republicans alike are all members of the ruling class, equally invested in America’s overseas campaigns and domestic austerity. The truth is: THEY. DON’T. CARE. ABOUT. YOU. And Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party are complicit just as much as the Republican Party.

So when you talk with misty-eyed reverie about the days of Bush, Obama, that incorrigible Clinton, and basically every other President before Trump, miss me with that “miss me yet?” tripe. Don’t tell me that Nancy Pelosi is a badass, a queen, a savior. Crooked systems are run by crooks, and most of them have been more nefarious than Trump. They’ve just been more adroit, more skillful at pretending noble intentions when they really want the oiiiilllll.

In that way, Trump has been kind of hilariously candid, telling the media that he wouldn’t cut off diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia or sanction them in any way after Jamal Khashoggi’s murder because there was a huge arms sale that was about to go down. He hasn’t said much about the obviously American-funded coup in Bolivia, conducted in order to install a pro-US regime in there that will sell us that sweet sweet lithium at a bargain rate, but I’m sure that we’ll find out all about that later. Maybe it will seem like an aberrant level of corruption given the guy’s legacy, but it’s hardly an anomaly. It’s par for the course.

But we can’t in good conscience abide this guy anymore. Because Trump is a clown, a national embarrassment, a dog-whistling white supremacist, an obvious sexist, and an amoral bastard. He’s downright offensive! Didn’t his parents ever teach him manners? This guy’s a bully! We’ve never had anyone this bad! Forget about Reagan’s crack epidemic and militarized crackdown on black communities in the ’80s, or the anti-welfare rhetoric – an obvious cipher for anti-black speak – that wasn’t racist in the way Trump has been. Bush basically ignoring the poor black communities in New Orleans during Katrina – that’s not racist. Trump, though, that guy’s explicitly racist. We can’t have that. Our basic problem with Trump is that he’s impolite. That he doesn’t – can’t – affect a veneer of grace and decorum like his politically-groomed predecessors. That this is our primary complaint with Trump is the real problem.

Ousting the big orange won’t do much besides assuage our consciences and help us to not be so sheepish when confessing our nationality to the Canadian couple we meet while on holiday somewhere in Europe. The fact is that it’s the policies of the United States, domestic and international, that are really in need of impeachment. And that won’t happen, because the people who benefit most from them also happen to be the ones in charge of the votes.

Do not get me wrong – I do think Trump should be impeached. He is a racist, misogynistic asshole. More importantly, his concentration camps at the border are destroying families and killing people. But the crime for which he he is being tried is that he messed with other members of the ruling class, and most people want him out of office simply because he doesn’t project that pretty-face that allows the United States’ brutal interventionism and suffocation of the working classes to continue under the guise of noble intentions. This is by-and-large political theatre to give the Dems a moral high ground, when in reality, they’re one half of the same sick system. So don’t celebrate too hard, because no matter what the outcome of this here impeachment thing is, the smart money’s on nothing changing at all.

We NEED to change things. Let me change that emphasis – WE need to change things. And that means not relying on politicians to save us, even when they’re handsome and witty and cordial and charismatic.

Hologramming The Dead

For the Super Bowl LII halftime show in 2018 hosted in Minnesota, it was reported that Justin Timberlake and his team wanted to bring hometown hero Prince back to life in hologram to sing alongside the former NYSYNC star. In the past, holograms of Tupac Shakur (Coachella 2012) and Michael Jackson (Billboard Music Awards 2014) have performed alongside physically present stars at shows. The hologram was, for awhile, all the rage in the pop music industry.

Hologram comes from the union of the Greek words holos, meaning whole, and gram, which means recording (e.g. Instagram, or gramaphone). Thus, a hologram is meant to be a recording of a whole person. The images of the performers are projected in such a way that they appear three dimensional if slightly pellucid, able to be seen panoramically and not just from a frontward-facing angle.

The world was amazed in 2012, when the company Digital Domain created a hologram of the late rapper Tupac Shakur—whose death has long been the subject of conspiracy theories that claim he’s still alive, maybe living somewhere in Africa—to perform alongside Snoop Dogg at the Coachella music festival in California. The technology was undeniably cool, reminiscent of the futuristic tech from Star Wars or Back To The Future II. Hologram technology has long been anticipated as the medium of the future. Now, it was here, signaling that we were living in the arcadian technological future we had always imagined.

Hologram technology is undeniably cool. Its pure commercial use—like the luminescent shark that we see frighten Marty McFly in Back To The Future, only to be revealed as an advertisement for Jaws 19—is mostly innocuous, and would be pretty neat. But there is an undeniable eeriness to resurrecting these icons, a creepy overstep that demonstrates our feelings of entitlement to celebrities, living or dead, especially considering the real purpose of bringing them back to the stage, which is much less to honor their musical legacy than it is to make money (I’ve been to the Coachella music festival—there are few events more consumerist and capitalistic than that). While bringing an artist back to life is superficially rationalized as a tribute, underneath, it’s a more insidious practice. When this trick of technology is used to dredge up the dead from their dreamless sleep and put them back to work, it loses its benignity.

Many celebrities have expressed trepidation at the idea of being posthumously reincarnated as a virtual, hologrammic version of themselves. Timberlake’s attempt to use a hologram of Prince for his show was foiled when an interview with Prince in Guitar World magazine from 1998 came to light.


Guitar World: With digital editing, it is now possible to create a situation where you could jam with any artist from the past. Would you ever consider doing something like that?


Prince: Certainly not. That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… it really is demonic. And I am not a demon. Also, what they did with that Beatles song [Free As a Bird], manipulating John Lennon’s voice to have him singing from across the grave… that’ll never happen to me. To prevent that kind of thing from happening is another reason why I want artistic control.


Though Prince hated the idea of his being posthumously used to turn a profit, the truth is, his hologramification was complete long before he died in 2016. Because the media industry synthesizes seemingly complete, panoramic virtualizations of celebrities—and makes that virtualization omnipresent in advertisements and media—celebrities can be said to be overtaken by their media ghosts while they’re still alive. We think we know a celebrity because we watch their television shows and listen to their music, read about them in tabloids and follow them on Instagram—yet all we know is an image, a body double, and often one that been carefully cultivated by marketing executives. From Rupert Till’s book Pop Cult: Religion and Popular Music:


Prince initially created an onstage character and developed a myth to surround him, to aid in the marketing of his music, and help overcome his shy personality. This has developed so that the semi-fictional character of Prince is now the main focus of his artwork. Prince’s self, or that perceived as such by the public, is his primary text, his body is the principal instrument he uses…


Celebrities in the music industry often begin as artists firmly committed to their artforms, only to wake up to find that they have become icons in a consumerist industry with little artistic control. By signing over their rights in order to gain the platform they to share their art on a large scale, they lose a crucial dimension of their humanity: their autonomy. The music industry is formed by “agents” and “agencies,” who work on behalf of an artist to create a recognizable brand, a platform, and ultimately financial success. In signing to an agency, an artist or movie star can find they’ve ceded their own agency to a system incentivized by capital, not motivated by a desire to help an artist fulfill their creative ambitions. It’s the closest thing to a deal with the devil that you find in the real world. Like Robert Johnson, the legendary blues guitarist who, as the story goes, went down to the crossroads in the Mississippi delta and signed over his soul in exchange for worldly fame and talent, celebrities sign a social contract that gives them fame and fortune, as well as amplification for their art—but it costs them their free will.

Celebrities live to see themselves replaced by a media doppelganger that is not really them. The dead, soulless image of them replaces them, even before they’ve physically died. They trade in their vitality, their reality as a human being, for immortality. As Bernard Dicky wrote in his biography of actor Billy Wilder: “Movie making is the transformation of living beings into dead images that are then given life by being projected on a screen… Since the stars have ‘died’ by giving up their image to celluloid, they can be immortal both in their lifetime and after their death.” Yet, this immortality comes on the condition of being commoditized. If you are valuable as a commodity, you can exist indefinitely, and beyond physical death.

When he was still alive, Prince was well aware of his commoditization by mass culture, his subsumption and replacement by a “persona.” Persona is the Latin word for a theatrical mask that was used to amplify an actor or singer’s voice (per = for, sona = sound). The persona gives the singer a bigger platform, but often the persona overshadows the person. As Till writes, the body becomes the instrument for the image, and not the other way around. Prince Rogers Nelson becomes secondary to the public image of “Prince.”

Prince found himself uncomfortably beholden to the image created to market him. In the early ‘90s, Prince battled with his record label, Warner Bros., over control of the release of his single “My Name is Prince,” which begins “My name is Prince and I am funky/ My name is Prince the one and only.” In 1993 he appeared in concert with the word “slave” written on his face. He lamented losing creative control to Warner Bros. “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1996. “But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave.” Prince railed against his enslavement by changing his name to a symbol that couldn’t be uttered, an act of reclaiming his identity. He didn’t simply change his name, he became something unpronounceable, which in itself is a pronouncement of inexpressible, inimitable individuality.

The simplification of an artist into an icon, a celebrity, cannot happen without the aid of a corporate entity, and, of course, we the consumers. By framing the status of celebrity as ultimate realization of the American dream, corporations entice us to believe that in achieving ultimate success, celebrities become ours to use, to deify or demonize, worship and abhor blankly, as if they aren’t real human beings. We don’t puzzle over our strange willingness to be hyper-critical toward celebrities. We shrug it off; it comes with the territory of being a star, we say. For many artists who become icons, the nightmare is the loss of not just creative control, but identity.


Entertainment Or Enslavement


There is something distressingly unnatural about our willingness to revive people after death, especially our readiness to wield and consume them as commercial products. Something undeniably Faustian. In this metaphor, who is the devil?

In a Wired magazine article from May, 2018, journalist Jimi Famurewa interviewed members of two companies that specialize in the creation of holograms for entertainment purposes: Pulse Evolution and Hologram USA.

Pulse Evolution made its name by bringing the king of pop, Michael Jackson, back to life at the Billboard music awards in 2014.  The hologram of the late singer, illumined on stage, danced and sung (or at least moved its luminous lips) to a track, previously unreleased, called “Slave To The Rhythm” (song choice was a bit on the nose if you ask me).

The fact that they chose an unreleased track, rather than an old standby like “Billie Jean” or “Thriller” was a very deliberate decision. Writes Famurewa in his article: “It’s not difficult to give yourself over to it. To believe that the King of Pop is really, truly back.” John Textor said regarding the Tupac Shakur apparition that his company, Digital Domain, conjured in 2012: “What made that [Coachella performance] unique was Tupac saying, ‘What the fuck is up, Coachella?’ That moment told everybody this was something different.” What made it different was that this performance was not a recording, an homage, nor even a resurrection. It was a replacement.


The Unwilling


In a YouTube video from WiredUK, Textor and David Alvi, the founder of another hologram company, Hologram USA, talk about the problems of the industry, but no mention is made to the potentially distortive effects to the way we perceive human beings, the moral questions that the practice raises, or the just plain strangeness of the burgeoning industry. It’s all spoken of as if all of this was simply logical. As if that which is imaginable is therefore inevitable. That the coverage of the industry all follow the competition between various companies highlights the rationale for each company’s founders and executives: if we don’t do it, someone else will.

The exhumation or rejuvenation of celebrities for their posthumous labor is especially grotesque when, like Prince, the celebrity in question had a distaste for their fame while they were still alive. Few celebrities have been more harassed and dehumanized during their careers than Amy Winehouse. In February, 2019 it was reported that the planned Amy Winehouse Hologram Tour, which was to be put on by hologram technology company Base Hologram would be postponed, due to “some unique challenges and sensitivities” of “remembering Amy Winehouse and her legacy in the most celebratory and respectful way possible.”

It is well documented that Amy Winehouse struggled greatly with fame throughout her career, and many believe that it ultimately contributed to her death of alcohol poisoning in 2011. In dying at the age of 27, she joined the famed “27 club,” full of famous musicians who died at the same year, earning her an even more compelling mythos. Perhaps it’s a testament to the hard-living lifestyle of the rock star, or perhaps it says something about the insidious nature of a culture that idealizes fame and arrogates the famous, ruthlessly criticizes them and drives them down dark paths, then imbues them with a mystical quality when they die young, and continues to exploit them even after death.

Amy Winehouse’s former manager said in a 2015 interview: “Fame came like a huge tidal wave…She got depressed, she got lost, she got into a bad crowd, started trying heavy drugs…” As her troubles with drink and drugs worsened, so did the tabloid’s lurid objectification of her. The public humiliation the media used to sell magazines was unmitigated and cruel.

In 2015 documentary Amy, in a tragically portentous interview clip shows Winehouse saying: “I’m not a girl trying to be a star or trying to be anything besides a musician… I don’t think I’m gonna be at all famous. I don’t think I could handle it. I’d probably go mad.” Journalist Paul MacInnes writes in his review of the film: “The idea of Amy as the object of our attention is central to the film. It’s difficult to watch without feeling in some way guilty, responsible in however small a way, for helping to push a vulnerable person into a spiral that ultimately claimed her life.” His choice of words—the object of our attention—emphasizes the objectifying, dehumanizing way that we consider celebrities in our culture. In 2009, Winehouse won an anti-harassment legal injunction to bar the paparazzi agency Big Pictures from following her, and all paparazzi from waiting outside her house to take pictures when she emerged. By all accounts, the cameras and public scrutiny that came with her fame terrorized her, driving her down a dark path and further seizing on the spinouts they instigated along the way. The culture of fame drove her to her death, then had the audacity to try to use her image posthumously to continue to make money.

It’s apropos to mention that Diana, the patron saint of “Dianification,” died in a car crash as she fled from a swarm of French paparazzi. Daniel Harris writes in his article “Celebrity Deaths,” from 2008: “It is a truism of celebrity worship that we end up murdering our stars, that our affection for them is so smothering that we kill them with kindness, hound them to death by siccing the paparazzi who drive them to suicide or send their limos careening into concrete.” Since her death in 1987, Princess Diana’s image has been commoditized to its utmost. Jill R. Chancey writes in her 1999 paper Diana Doubled: The Fairytale Princess and the Photographer: “The Diana memorabilia industry is still in high gear long after her death. Commodities such as porcelain Diana dolls, commemorative stamps and plates, picture books from a number of publishers, and memorial cassette tapes and CDs trade on the image of Diana…the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund has copyrighted a Diana logo for use on officially approved merchandise, a percentage of whose profits go to a philanthropic trust set up in her name.” (Anyone else have that purple Princess Diana-themed beanie baby?)


The Common Language Of Iconography


So why do we obsess over celebrities? Why do we need them in our culture? What do they do for us as individuals? Celebrities show and tell us who to be, by showing us what to buy: which shirts and underwear to wear, which brand of cigarettes to smoke and which colas to drink. We identify with their perfect, flawless images, blown up on the big screen, and seek to attain that same perfection. As Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin quote Bing Crosby in their book On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word: “every man who likes me sees in me the image of himself.”

Till writes that, like religious icons, which we have long viewed as “hollow vessels inhabited by god,” celebrities are also divine vessels which we fill with ourselves. By imagining ourselves as the celebrities, we deify and reify ourselves. In a sense, we are envious—we seem these celebrities onstage or on the gigantic screen, and we seek to be as actualized as they are, as certain and definite as they are, and so we consume them voraciously and collect them obsessively, wishing to embody them ourselves. The consumption of human images appears to serve us by giving us identity as it does the celebrities it simplifies, who achieve the fame and notoriety that we all desire.

The presence of icons in our culture simplifies things for us, allowing us to feel security in our identity by equating ourselves with god-like figures that we see on movies or TV. In some senses, it seems like a natural result of the ever-growing world, the apparent movement toward Lovecraft’s “terrifying vistas of reality.”

But while it seems to appeal to a part of human nature, the truly ravenous rate at which our culture consumes celebrities is not a natural consequence of observing talented or good looking people. It is a neurosis that’s been nurtured by the controllers of consumer capitalism. A world of media bombardment doesn’t merely permit us to pick and choose different celebrities to embody like products to brand ourselves, to integrate into our outward aesthetic—it demands it.




That doesn’t just mean self-definition by equation or embodiment, but also identification through negation. Not only do our fandoms become personality traits, but our revilement of certain celebrities allows us to define ourselves in contradistinction. Distinguishing ourselves by disgust is just as effective if not more so than defining ourselves by who we adulate.

Celebrities are the nodes of a mass culture that is built to fasten a huge, heterogeneous, urbanized country. This national iconography isn’t meant to unify us; far from it. It means to placate us with internecine conflict, to insulate our dissatisfactions and have us aim them at each other. Consumerism pacifies us by allowing us to define ourselves by the things we consume to elevate ourselves, but it also encourages us to self-define in relation, and contradistinction, to an “other.”


Black Bodies, Virtualized


Because of the emptiness that abstention from consumerism implies in comparison to the excessive fullness it seems to offer, the cogency of our beings appears to depend on our belief in the simplicity of others, to love or hate. That can mean hating certain celebrities, or certain groups of people. We covet the feeling of being certain, that is, certainly good, and for us to be certainly good, someone else has to be certainly bad.

Definition by negation is the basic psychological “benefit” that racism offers our psyche. Racism is sustained by the simplified belief in the “other,” a binary opposition to our own primary status. One of the most obvious forms of racism is stereotyping. A “stereotype” is the flattening of a human being into an iteration of a kind, or “type.” Stereotype combines the Greek stereós, meaning solid or three-dimensional, with type, meaning kind, category, classification. A stereotype takes a three-dimensional subject and converts it into a onefold symbol, devoid of depth or humanity. Like a celebrity, a stereotype is a simplified idea of a person—except it serves to embody an entire group of people.

No one has been stereotyped more in American history than black people. The National Museum of African American History and Culture lists the “Popular and Pervasive Stereotypes of African Americans” on its website. They are polar in their valences; either tranquil and placid or bellicose and violent. The “Mammy” stereotype was a matronly, peaceable woman, while the “Sapphire” caricature was a boisterous and quarrelsome female. The “Uncle Tom” was an docile and avuncular black man, while the “Mandingo” was a brute, aggressive and prodigiously sexual.  The website explains: “many of these stereotypes developed during the height of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and were used to reinforce the commoditization of Black bodies and particularly aspects of enslavement.”

The question we should ask is whether or not this is by design, or natural? We are all unafraid of the unknown, of being nobody—but why has this particular way of self-security by hatred toward black people been so prevalent in white America? Is it because the dark skin of the black person is frightful and strange to them? The only way racism could be a conclusion naturally arrived at and not a useful tool for somebody’s benefit is if we believe that those cosmetic differences were enough to inspire 300 years of brutality and enslavement, and not the more reasonable alternative: that it justified profiting off of another person’s immense suffering.

Historian Howard Zinn writes in his work The People’s History of the United States about the two factors that distinguished American slavery from other historical examples of slavery as the cruelest form in human history. First was “the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture,” and second was “the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave.”

Zinn discredits racism as a natural impulse that arose in the white mind upon first setting eyes on African skin. He explains how the white ruling class of the early colonies encouraged the growth of ideological racism with the legislative powers at their disposal, in order to secure their own unquestionable economic and social power. Zinn writes instead that racism originated in “that class exploitation which has made poor whites desperate for small gifts of status, and has prevented that unity of black and white necessary for joint rebellion and reconstruction.” Racism is one of consumer capitalism’s most useful tools, and it’s incentivized by the primary profiteers of its system. Zinn writes that “only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order.”

In a system of consumer capitalism, our identity is our value, and that value is constituted by our worth in comparison to another. All it takes is a little economic incentive—“small gifts of status”—to ingrain a deep need for racism in order to secure one’s identity. Racism diverts the attention of the white consumerist masses from the system itself, and keeps it focused on self-definition.

Capitalism, while perhaps not “run” by a cabal of oligarchs who meet annual at a secret pedophilic island (though it doesn’t seem so farfetched) has knowingly inculcated racism in the lower classes for centuries. Our simplification—of ourselves and of each other—directly benefits the system of capitalism, and the result is worse for some than it is for others.

 Black Museum

The Netflix television show “Black Mirror,” often features characters who have committed moral indiscretions, and the disturbing, technological punishment. Often, characters wind up trapped in a virtual purgatory. Their consciousnesses, digitally rendered and everlasting, are trapped in objects or in virtual worlds, where they live forever. In the Season 2 premier episode “Be Right Back,” a young woman brings her boyfriend back to life by uploading a coded approximation of his personality into an android.

The episodes also showcase another universal nightmare—having an audience witness your unending penitence for a terrible crime. In Season 2’s “White Bear,” a woman repeatedly has her memory wiped and is placed inside a park, where attendees can record her as she fumbles around in a terrifying world, only to discover that it’s a ruse; a punishment designed for her, after she was convicted of brutally murdering a small child (she doesn’t remember). The 2014 special episode “White Christmas” features a man whose digital consciousness is trapped in a cabin, snowed-in alone, for millions of years for a terrible crime he committed.

Of course, none of those personalities are truly the offenders, save perhaps the woman from “White Bear,” although she has no memory of her crime. The entity being punished is an exact copy, so close that it has leapt the uncanny valley and except for not having a physical body is indiscernible from a full human being.

In Season 4’s “Black Museum,” a young woman named Nish who is driving cross-country stops to recharge her solar car sometime in the not-too-distant future. She sees a building with a sign on top: “Rolo Haynes’ Black Museum.” She wanders in, meeting the proprietor, a smooth-talking, middle-aged white man. He introduces himself as Rolo Haynes in the flesh, and proceeds to show her the technological artifacts that constitute the museum, sharing the chilling tales that accompany each item. He tells her that he was in med-tech. He worked at San Juniper hospital in the R & D department—as he puts it, the perfect balance of business and healthcare. Juniper/Junipero is a recurring title used in Black Mirror, likely a reference to the juniper tree, an evergreen, like the amber-encased virtual person, which stems from the Latin junio, for youth, a la rejuvenate, and parere for producing. Junipero refers to the permanent youth of digital consciousness. Most of the items were experimental devices with monkey’s paw vibes. He explains that they were beta-tested on unwitting patients (and doctors), using human beings as guinea-pigs for potentially lucrative medical technology.

Eventually, he leads Nish to his best exhibit. Crouching in a simulated prison cell with a glass wall is a virtualized version of Clayton Leigh, a black man who, some years back was convicted of murdering a white television news reporter named Denise Stockley. Rolo explains how he obtained Leigh’s consciousness. Back when Leigh was on death row, Haynes approached him with a proposition: if Leigh licensed out a copy of his consciousness to Haynes as a public attraction, Haynes would give the lion’s share of the profits to his family. Leigh, wanting to take care of his family after he’s gone, agrees. His wife pleads with him not to do it. “Jesus Christ, Clay, it’s your soul,” she weeps from behind the glass window. “Ain’t no such thing,” Clayton says. “It’s just a computer simulation or somethin.’” “Then why does he need your permission?” She asks.

Haynes uploads Clayton’s copy into the cell, virtualizing him in ghostly form. Clayton’s consciousness, suddenly re-animated, is wide-eyed and confused. Haynes presses a button, and suddenly Clayton is strapped in a virtual electric chair. “See, I knew just seeing the guy walking around captive, that was good, but that wasn’t much of a draw,” Haynes tells Nish. “But pulling the lever yourself? Now, that’s an attraction.” He even sadistically simulates for Clay’s proxy the pain of the electric chair, which is anachronistically present in the near-future world, an indication of the inverse correlation between technology and empathy. “A perfect re-creation of exactly how the agony of electrocution feels,” Haynes proudly says. “Every volt simulated for real.”

Nish asks: “But wasn’t there some doubt? You know, that documentary?” To which Haynes responds with an undisguised allusion: “Fake news!” He nods with satisfaction. “There’s no doubt about it. The day he got the chair was a great day for justice.” With his set-up, Clayton would experience the real agony of the electric chair hundreds of times a day. The creepy montage shows small white children pulling the lever on the pleading prisoner. What’s even worse is that with each pull of the lever, Clayton’s consciousness is replicated again, but trapped in the peak moment of his electrocution. “Every time you finished juicing him, out pops a conscious sentient snapshot of Clayton, not a recording, a true copy of his mind perpetually experiencing that beautiful pain. Stuck forever in that one perfect moment of agony. Always on. Always suffering.” It’s reminiscent of the belief held by various indigenous tribes like the Kayapo people of Brazil, and apocryphally Lakota Indian leader Crazy Horse, that a having your photograph taken steals your soul.

It’s explained that an online campaign publicizing the posthumous executions destroyed the Black Museum’s attendance, leading Haynes to seek other ways to make money. This meant allowing rich white supremacists to fry Clayton’s consciousness for excessive periods of time, ultimately turning him into a lobotomized, slack-jawed creature. In the end, Nish, who is secretly Clayton’s daughter, kills Haynes, but just before his death, transfers his consciousness into the virtual electric chair and informs him that he is about to become a keychain souvenir. Always on. Always suffering. He screams and pleads, despite the fact that it won’t actually be his consciousness trapped in the plastic amulet, but another replica.

It’s all very blurry, as to the question of originality of consciousness, the humanity of that which is approximately human—about as proximal to a resurrection as you can get—and to whom that commodified, codified consciousness belongs. It’s a metaphor for the mediated, objectified black man. Clayton Leigh, a southern black man wrongfully accused of murdering a pure, helpless white woman and executed for it, is a composite of all the black men who were murdered by the state for crimes they didn’t commit, or killed in extrajudicial lynch-mobs. He is George Stinney Jr., the 14-year-old boy who was wrongfully convicted and executed in 1944 for the murders of two young white girls in Alcolu, South Carolina. He is Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy lynched and thrown into a river in Mississippi for nothing at all. He is the 405 black men executed out of 455 total executions (89%) for the crime of rape that took place in America between 1930 and 1972. He was the Scottsboro boys, 9 black teens in Alabama who were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. He represents countless more—wrongfully executed, incarcerated, or otherwise swindled out of their own identity by white proprietors. He also represents the rightfully accused, whose lives and images were pilfered and profited from, whose humanity was stolen from them—whether before they ever committed a crime, or after.

White people have always used black people. Flattened them, turned them into objects to preserve authority. They’ve used media of all kinds to virtualize them as criminals and miscreants, rapers and robbers, languorous and stupid and depraved. They’ve caricaturized them in drawings, played them in minstrel shows, put them on display in human zoos euphemized as “ethnological exhibitions.” Clayton Lee recalls Willie Horton, whose ragged, bearded and afroed-image was used in a campaign ad for George H.W. Bush in 1988. The ad, which helped swing the election for Bush, states: “Bush supports the death penalty for first-degree murderers. Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty; he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison. One was Willie Horton who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times. Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend. Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.” For millions of people, Willie Horton the man did not exist. But Willie Horton’s image, his evil, vicious face entered their living room, more real than real.

Shut Up And Dribble

The same way we imagine ourselves onstage, rocking out, moonwalking and commanding the crowd, we do the same to the athlete, whose movements are more elegant and superhuman than our comparative clumsiness. In David Foster Wallace’s ode to tennis player Roger Federer written in his essay “Roger Federer as Religious Experience,” written for the New York Times in 2006, he writes in a footnote:

“There’s a great deal that’s bad about having a body. If this is not so obviously true that no one needs examples, we can just quickly mention pain, sores, odors, nausea, aging, gravity, sepsis, clumsiness, illness, limits  — every last schism between our physical wills and our actual capacities… great athletes seem to catalyze our awareness of how glorious it is to touch and perceive, move through space, interact with matter. Granted, what great athletes can do with their bodies are things that the rest of us can only dream of. But these dreams are important — they make up for a lot.”

Athletes literally embody how we wish to move. They’re the closest thing to real life superheroes. We celebrate them for their superhuman physical abilities. We fantasize about inhabiting their bodies, soaring above the rim or spinning away from defenders, or slicing a forehand so it glides down the baseline past the opposing player. We literally embody them in virtual facsimile in video games. Because we revere them so, we cling to them, and eventually feel so attached to their image that we feel we own them. When they speak up, and deviate from poster-childishness, they cease to be hollow, neuter objects onto which we can project ourselves. We feel that our fanatic worship of these athletes gives us a partial-stake in their existence. Thus, their demonstrations of free will are often met with hatred and fury.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant have both been the subjects of heavy criticism for their decisions made to leave one team for another after their contracts have lapsed, and they became what is known in the sports world as “free agents.” In 2010, LeBron left his home-state team the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, and in 2016 Durant departed the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors. Both of their decisions were widely criticized. But also, both men were assailed with harsh criticisms of their characters. They were called cowards and “soft.”

The term “free agent” is awkwardly antithetical to what we want our athletes to be; we want them to be dogged but mindless competitors, heroes mastered by the masses, champions willing to sacrifice everything for us. We can’t simply allow them to do what they want to do. When an athlete deviates from our social tenets in his or her personal life, the public can sometimes be forgiving. We can tolerate certain indiscretions that indicate human imperfection, should they undergo the ritual of public apology and penance – a la Tiger Woods, who confessed to having extramarital affairs in 2010. Other men can still look at Tiger Woods post-scandal and be enraptured by the fantasy of being him (perhaps even more so).

The gravest sin an athlete can commit is not to cheat on his wife, or take steroids, or even to operate an illegal dog-fighting ring, as NFL QB Michael Vick was convicted of doing in 2007 yet resumed his career in 2011.  The worst thing an athlete can do is to make a political statement. In their representation of the peak of bodily, kinesthetic intelligence, athletes are valued purely for this variety of intelligence, and no other kind.

After LeBron James and Kevin Durant criticized President Donald Trump on James’ HBO show “Uninterrupted,” Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham said on her show that “someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball” has no right to talk politics. “Must they run their mouths like that?” she says. “Keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said: shut up and dribble.”

Kevin Durant, the other player in the car with LeBron James in the “Uninterrupted” segment, later said of Ingraham’s remarks: “To me, it was racist… Ignorance is something I try to ignore. That was definitely an ignorant comment. I do play basketball, but I am a civilian and I am a citizen of the United States, so my voice is just as loud as hers, I think—or even louder.”

To many white fans, the black basketball player who gets paid millions of dollars to bounce or throw or bat a ball has nothing to complain about. By becoming rich and famous, athletes seem to relinquish their right to make political statements—especially statements about the mistreatment of black people in America—because of their transcendence of race, their admittance to the white world. The implication is they should consider themselves lucky, and leave it at that.

The fact that athletes “make the big bucks” makes unrelenting criticism of them fair game for many fans. That’s especially true when the athlete is black, and the fan—who fancies himself “part owner” of the athlete—is white. He feels that the political-racial statement from the athlete—whose salary they “pay” by purchasing a ticket—is a direct criticism of him, which therefore makes the athlete “ungrateful” for the fan’s years of patronage. He feels that he has done well to forgive their blackness and revere their talent objectively. How could these athletes therefore imply that he is racist?

In Spike Lee’s 1994 movie Do The Right Thing, Lee’s character Mookie says to the racist Pino, played by John Turturro: “sounds funny to me. As much as you say n*gger this and n*gger-that, all your favorite people are ‘n*ggers.’” To which Dino replies “It’s different. Magic [Johnson], Eddie [Murphy], and Prince are not n*ggers. I mean, are not Black. I mean they’re Black, but not really Black. They’re more than Black. It’s different.” O.J. Simpson once told New York Times sports reporter Robert Lipsyte: “I was at a wedding, my wife and a few friends were the only Negroes there, and I overheard a lady say, ‘Look, there’s O.J. Simpson and some n*ggers.’” Lipsyte reported that Simpson beamed with pride, recalling the deracialized distinction he had received. “I knew right then he was fucked,” Lipsyte says in the documentary O.J.: Made In America.

The unbeatable standard to which great NBA players are held—Michael Jordan’s ghost—was everything these players aren’t. Jordan was loyal to his first team, psychotically hard-working and dedicated to his craft, and, perhaps most of all, he was totally apolitical as a basketball player and a businessman. A famous, though apocryphal quote often attributed to MJ explaining his unwillingness to take a strong political stance throughout his career: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” Jordan’s abstention from social, racial or political commentary made him the perfect athletic icon. Everyone wanted to be “like Mike,” and as Spike Lee and MJ’s commercials told us with their cute reverse-psychology – “it’s gotta be the shoes.” No political statements ever got in the way of MJ’s value as an icon.

The sense of ownership over celebrities, a result of our vicarious embodiment of them, is especially hideous when applied to black sports stars, beloved almost solely for their physical qualities. As Durant mentioned, there is an unavoidable racist implication in telling prominent black athletes to “shut up and dribble,” when being a black person in America is an unavoidably political existence.  Since the days of slavery it has been good business to keep black men and women docile.

No basketball player has been more criticized, and with more rancor, than has LeBron James since he came into the NBA directly from high school in 2003. James was called a quitter, a choker, a whiner, a cry-baby in his days playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was vilified after his move to Miami in 2010. Some cavaliers fans burned his jersey. The owner of the Cavaliers wrote an open letter to Cavaliers fans, saying: “You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal… This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”

Before, he was a vessel that we could use to contain our hopeful adoration—we want our kids to be like him. One misstep, however, and we use him in the exact opposite fashion: god forbid our children ever turn out like him. Their sense of entitlement cannot be extricated from his race. A black athlete’s appropriation by a fanbase is that much easier, because the feeling is that the successful black person owes a debt to white society. The insinuation of entitlement to these athletes is also inherently scarier when the athlete is black, because historically when a black man has deviated from societal expectations in such an incendiary way, mob hatred like the kind LeBron experienced has ended with real violence, real lynching. White people didn’t just burn the jerseys of black men.

Mark Johnson, who wrote Basketball Slave: The Andy Johnson Harlem Globetrotter/NBA Story, told “While they were all upset, I was jumping up and down. Not because he was going to Miami, but because after 50 years, a Black player not only had a choice of playing in the league but was now able to choose the team he was going to. What he did was unheard of.”

When the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals in 2011, many people rejoiced at his failure. When he was asked if this bothered him. He responded: “Absolutely not, cause at the end of the day, all the people who are rooting for me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today, they got the same personal problems they had, today…they gotta get back to the real world at some point.” James points out that the world in which thousands if not millions of people were flinging criticism at someone they don’t know personally at all is a fantasy—that they’re scorning an image of a real human being in order to make themselves feel better. It’s that much more satisfying when you feel taller than a guy who’s 6-foot-8.

To fail to acknowledge the racial component of all that is simply to ignore context. It is true that we simplify and criticize both black and white athletes profligately and without empathy. But only with black athletes do we demand that they be stripped of the racial component of their identities in order to make us comfortable. That they de-racialize themselves.

Of course, to suggest that all the media attention that players receive hurts them is wrong. Players receive benefits from their status as an image; shoe deals, advertisements and endorsements (LeBron James made $52 million from endorsements in 2018). Michael Jordan smartly rode his social simplification all the way to the bank. For black athletes in America—a country in which the median white family owns 10 times more wealth than the median black family (Pew Research), it’s quite understandable to avoid being political. Just look at how Colin Kaepernick’s career has been impacted by his act of protest.

In 2017, Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, made a bit of a gaffe during a meeting between NFL players and owners to discuss the kneel-down protests in 2017. McNair said that we: “can’t have the inmates running the prison.” McNair sounded not a small amount like a slave owner afraid that his property might revolt. NBA player Draymond Green responded, suggesting a few different ways to change the dynamic between the front office of an organization and its players.

“For starters, let’s stop using the word owner and maybe use the word Chairman,” Green wrote in an Instagram post. “To be owned by someone just sets a bad precedent to start. It sets the wrong tone. It gives one the wrong mindset.”

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, responded to Green’s comments in an ESPN interview: “We own equity. We don’t own people… And there’s a big difference. This is a country where we have corporations, and you put up your money and buy equity. E-Q-U-I-T-Y…don’t try to suggest that because we have a team and the nomenclature is ‘owners’ because we own shares of stock, own equity, that it’s analogous to slavery. That’s just as bad [as McNair’s comment]. It’s just as bad.”

In a final self-defensive sweep, Cuban says: “Ask anybody who’s ever played for me. Ask anybody who’s ever worked for me. I’m far from perfect, but that’s certainly not a connotation that you’re going to hear from anybody that I’ve ever been associated with…”

In the end, Cuban’s argument is rooted in defensiveness, and it’s surprising how incapable he is to cast aside his feelings of personal offense to listen to a valid criticism. His self-defense keeps him from trying to understand Green’s perspective as a black person in American society, instead fighting to delegitimize a gripe which is based in Green’s subjective experience as a black American, something that’s pretty inarguable.

Green responded to the paternalistic spiel from Cuban, when he was a keynote speaker at Harvard University. “When you look at Mark Cuban, for instance, with the whole equity thing, we all can own equity and that’s fine. But Mark Cuban will never know or understand how it feels for me, a young black African-American, to turn on the TV and see what happened in Charlottesville. He’ll never have that feeling… So, when I say, ‘Hey maybe we shouldn’t use that word,’ to be honest, I really don’t expect him to understand…”

Perhaps it’s a big ask—given the system that encourages us at every end to invest fully in fanaticism for athletes, celebrities, icons—but we, as individuals, should strive to approach public figures as image rather than actuality. In a hyper-mediated world, in which people in the public eye are constantly thing-ified, turned into products for public consumption, being able to maintain our critical distance is vitally important, so that we can remember that athletes are human beings, with real lives that are not duty-bound to what we want. We need that critical distance, not just so we don’t hurt their feelings, but so we don’t become so absorbed in our idolatry and masochism that we wake up one morning and find that we don’t have a real self, or that our identities are based on loving—or hating—someone we’ve never met.


Disneyfying The Dead


While our entertainment figures are ostracized for making political statements, our real political figures—political in the sense of dissenting, countercultural and often (and especially) anti-capitalist—are transformed into simple, inoffensive entertainment figures. In its sophistication, capitalism has found a way to whisk away those who would encourage criticality in the consumer masses, giving them the old Vaudeville Hook and replacing them with a dancing, smiling marionettes.

Most nefariously, they even monetize them. Just look at Che Guevara—an anti-capitalist revolutionary figure if ever there was one—whose visage has been reproduced ad-infinitum on T-shirts and coffee mugs and iPhone cases sold at tourist shops across the world. While it’s up for debate as to who has historically been silenced by an actual assassination by powerful puppeteers, it’s an indisputable fact that many figures of revolution have successfully been silenced by a smiley simplification, replacing them with dopey, depoliticized likenesses. Instead of trying to suppress them, our culture comes to falsely-celebrate these figures for their admirable buy apolitical qualities—courage, fortitude, wisdom, perseverance, blah blah blah—affixing these platitudinous qualities to their mechanistically reproduced image they’re simply meaningless icons.

This process has been sometimes referred to as the “Disneyfication” or “Disneyisation.” One of the first uses of the term comes from Andre Kehoe’s book from 1991, Christian Contradictions and the World Revolution: “This bogus culture imposed hour after hour on the people by the media is a serious interference with free thinking and therefore free action. It is part of what Peter K. Fallon of New York University, in an admirable phrase, calls the Disneyisation of society.”

The Disney Company has a history of using racist caricatures in its cartoons. Their most famous and regrettable racist character is probably the infamous Uncle Remus from the 1946 film Song of the South. Remus was a simple and contentedly subjugated “Uncle Tom” figure who lived in a romanticized version of the Antebellum south. When it was initially released, the NAACP criticized the film for “the impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship.”

The whistling, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dahing Uncle Remus, played by James Baskett, was kindly and docile. He was the original Disneyfied black man. To Disneyfy black people is to pigeonhole them into roles of docility in order to preserve the status quo. After all, the term “status quo” is a shortening of the Latin “in statu quo res erant ante bellum,” meaning “the state of things before the war.”

No major revolutionary figure in America has been more Disneyfied than the civil rights leader, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In popular mass culture, Martin Luther King has been transformed from a fiercely political figure, into an image of passive “anti-racist” figure, an advocate of pacifism and love. The “anti-racism” with which he is now associated invokes a understanding of racism as being pure heuristic, superficial, surface level, which does not implicate the “system.” He represents the push to eradicate the sort of racism that kept black people in the back of the bus or outside of white swimming pools, bathrooms and schools—surely a good fight, but one more related to the manifestation of racism than its real causes.

In reality, King was a radical thinker who recognized the evils of capitalism and militarism and their relationship to the situation of black people in America. While the pseudo-liberal disposition of the US public in the 21st century permits something as obvious as literal segregation to be abjured, it cannot oblige criticism of systemic racism and capitalism, which King spoke against more and more in the years leading up to his death.

“We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order,” King wrote in a Report to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Staff in 1967. In a 1967 speech to the SCLC in Atlanta, King said “[O]ne day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…” He concluded: “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing‐ oriented’ society to a ‘person‐oriented’ society.”

In tragic irony, Dr. King himself has since been “thing-ified,” virtualized, capitalized upon and incorporated by a racist system as a token black character in its lexicon. Disneyfied.

The Disneyfication of Martin Luther King, Jr. can be witnessed in its full effect each year on January 21—Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America—as conservative politicians and the Twitter accounts for various monolithic government agencies issue PR statements declaring their respect for the Reverend. In 2018, The US Marine Corps Twitter account tweeted: “Today, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — a man whose fight for equality strengthened our nation.” They tweeted a picture of King gesticulating onstage, with the quotation: “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” The USAF tweeted another quote from King, a vague statement denouncing injustice (who isn’t against injustice, right?). King spoke against America’s militarism frequently. The NRA tweeted “Today, the men and women of the @NRA honor the profound life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King applied for a concealed carry permit in a ‘may issue’ state and was denied. We will never stop fighting for every law-abiding citizen’s right to self-defense. #MLKDay.”

The NFL, who has been criticized for essentially blackballing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick from the league because of his famous national anthem-kneeldown in protest of shootings of unarmed black people in America—a non-violent political protest reminiscent of, hmm, someone—tweeted: “Today we join players around the league in celebrating the life, legacy and lasting impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. #MLKDay.”

The Twitter account for Yum! Brands, the conglomerate that owns KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, WingStreet and more, tweeted another MLK quote, devoid of context so as to become insipidly inspirational: “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve,” ostensibly equating its restaurant’s servers, the exploited underlings that allowed the massive corporation to accrue $5.68 billion in 2018, with Dr. King. That one was pretty shameless.

But arguably the worst tweet came on MLK day 2017, the F.B.I. tweeted: “Today, the F.B.I. honors the Rev. Martin L. King Jr. and his incredible career fighting for civil rights. #MLKDAY,” and a picture of the quotation: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Coming from the same F.B.I. that had wiretapped him, blackmailed him, and even wrote him a letter urging him to kill himself, the sentiment seems a little disingenuous.

The Disneyfication of Martin Luther King Jr. has been an act of deliberate pushback to black progress in America. As opposed to the radical change he really preached in his lifetime, he has become an icon of slow change, a path which white people prefer, and which MLK perceived as the greatest impediment to black progress, as he wrote from a Birmingham jail cell in 1963:


First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.


Disneyfication allows us to accept Martin Luther King Jr. for his banal, universalized qualities, but not for his truly hortatory message. Members of a “liberal” society in the 21st century can almost all agree to oppose the simple, standalone form of racism, whereby people are judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. The Disneyfied Reverend Doctor has been mechanistically reproduced as a defense mechanism for white people to wield, a figure whom they can purport to revere (a proverbial, perennial “black friend”) and thereby avoid confronting the systemic racism that might actually implicate or require something of them—or take away the modicum of superiority over black people that the system appears to offer them, the identification by contradistinction that feels threatened when a black man suggests that the wealth of the powerful white men ought to be redistributed.

So has been simplified and posthumously defanged one of America’s greatest revolutionary figures, used to perpetuate the same system he fought against.




Disneyfication is a process that not only posthumously strips revolutionary icons, but an all-encompassing process that befogs American life, estranges it from reality by cartoonizing it, depoliticizing and therefore de-realizing, i.e. simplifying it. Whereas the Internet is the truly perfect amorphous representation of Baudrillard’s concept of “hyperreality,” Disneyland is its perfect physical embodiment. It is a place of characters and caricatures, a world that condenses complicated truth into something not only simpler, but far sweeter, richer and more satisfying. It is the land of ageless, changeless, immortality. The status quo physicalized; a world preserved in sweet, treacly amber.

Baudrillard writes of the happiest place on Earth in his book Simulacra and Simulation: “[E]verywhere in Disneyland the objective profile of America, down to the morphology of individuals and of the crowd, is drawn. All its values are exalted by the miniature and the comic strip. Embalmed and pacified.” Baudrillard calls the Magic Kingdom the objective profile of America; the perception of America, fabricated and realized in a world of simple, objective logic. It is an embalmed, meaning dead but preserved, nostalgic retrospection embodied—the time before the world. The people are all characters, with broader smiles, smoother skin, eternal lives. Disneyland is the dead, yet hyper-alive version of reality, where everything is cherub-cheeked and doe-eyed (except for those swarthy, Orientalized villains that stalk in the background, who are vile but ultimately harmless). It is immortal, manicheistic and downright euphoric.

Baudrillard writes of the horrific experience of leaving Disneyland and walking through the parking lot, a shocking return to the barrenness of the real world. “The contrast with the absolute solitude of the parking lot—a veritable concentration camp—is total… Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America, which is Disneyland.”

We prefer to remain pretend-denizens of the magic king. If we could sign our souls away to Michael Eisner and the cryogenized ghost of Walt Disney to simply become one of the animatronic automatons chanting “it’s a small world after all,” or one of the characters—not just the actors playing them, but the characters themselves—and stay forever young, forever simple, we would. The very fullness of that world of make-believe inspires a hatred for the “real” world. The fear of returning to that bleak world away from the glittering pretend arcadia keeps us coming back.

Disneyland is the ultimate—or most literal—purveyor of the “magical” effect consumer capitalism has on us, the one that overwhelms us and swathes us like a warm blanket. Once we’ve been admitted, we never want to leave. Consumerism and media have us convinced that Disneyland is an accurate representation of the real world, and that the boring, empty wasteland outside its friendly confines is the real fraud. When the park closes and we’re forced to leave, we have to return to the horrors of the “real” world. Sparser, colder, vaster and emptier. So we spend our time in constant, covetous pursuit of the Disneyfied world. A place out of time, a land of immortality.


Rerun, Reboot, Recycle


Our addiction to emotional comfort, and its identification with pop cultural images, is great for producers. Recycling images with prefabricated clout is easy, and we eat it up because we already know it and love it. Like Coca-Cola’s ancient slogan from the 1950’s says, the images of the past are “dependable as sunshine.” What better emotional comfort to vest ourselves in than nostalgia? What’s more comforting than our old favorites? The songs and movies that we loved as kids, that remind us of “simpler times.” The state of things before the war.

When Robin Williams died in 2015, he bequeathed the rights to his name, signature, photograph and likeness to a charitable organization that his legal representatives created. Some have speculated that it was a decision made to avoid legal disputes with IRS regarding the posthumous evaluation of his name and rights to his image, similar to the suit in which Michael Jackson’s estate is currently involved. As the New York Post explains, the provision in Williams’ will protects his family “from incurring estate penalties due to his posthumous earnings.” But he might also have been thinking of the possibility of being capitalized on after death, becoming another trapped spirit in the haunted mansion.

It also might go back to a feud between Williams and Disney from the early ‘90s. following the release of the acclaimed animated film Aladdin in 1992. In a 1993 interview, Williams spoke on his disagreement with entertainment titan. “The one thing I said was I will do the voice. I’m doing it basically because I want to be part of this animation tradition. I want something for my children. One deal is, I just don’t want to sell anything–as in Burger King, as in toys, as in stuff… Then all of a sudden, they release an advertisement–one part was the movie, the second part was where they used the movie to sell stuff. Not only did they use my voice, they took a character I did and overdubbed it to sell stuff. That was the one thing I said: ‘I don’t do that.’ That was the one thing where they crossed the line.”

Perhaps Williams took the grudge to his grave. In 2015, with the concept of an Aladdin reboot being discussed, an anonymous Disney executive told the New York Post that Disney owned enough excess material from Williams’ original recordings as the genie to furnish a whole new movie. But, thanks to the clause in his will, Disney was legally not allowed to use the recordings. “When he was on form, the hyperactive motormouth we love from ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ and ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ was making 30 jokes a minute,” the unnamed executive told the NY Post. “Now, because he insisted on a final say on such material, [the jokes] will remain in the vaults.”

The reboot of Aladdin, officially announced in 2016 and released in 2019, features Will Smith as the genie character that Williams once played. Throughout the 2010s, the culture of reboots, revamps and remakes has grown stronger as Hollywood has begun to re-capitalize on film franchises whose bodies are barely cold. The benefit of reanimation is that there is no need to familiarize people with new characters and plots, better to simply use those tried and true stories of yesteryear.

Movie reboots and remakes have been rampant in Hollywood in the last 10 years. These uncreative, recycled storylines represent the blatant, artless consumerism of today—the ultimate, pure patronization of consumers. That we still patronize the studios by buying tickets demonstrates either our obliviousness or our indifference. In the last decade, Hollywood has rebooted popular films and film franchises, from Star Wars, to Halloween, Tron, Blade Runner, Top Gun, Terminator, Ghostbusters, Mad Max, to Mary Poppins, Aladdin, Lion King, Dumbo, and a host of other Disney Films which have been reshot as live-action films.

The same willingness of tech companies to dredge up the dead in holography allows Hollywood execs to revive film series’ that have run their course, shoot unnecessary sequels, shot-for-shot recreations, or exhume the images of deceased movie stars to be pasted into films and commercials, as has been done to Paul Walker, Oliver Reed, Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn, Bruce Lee, Louis Armstrong, James Cagney, Gene Kelly, Cary Grant and more.

It shows the flagrant capitalism of the entertainment industry, their allegiance to the dollar and little else. There are no qualms had in dredging up the dead to make money—whether it’s a dead story, or a dead person. It’s no wonder that Marty McFly, in the far-flung year of 2015, was attacked by a holographic advertisement for “Jaws 19” (now, how long until we reprise Back To The Future?)

The creepiest thing about these these uncreative, recycled products, is that there is death, literally and figuratively, built into them, and that their mordancy passes through the screen and into us. The immortality with which we associate celebrities, and crave for ourselves, is the death of vital experience. Without the perspective that we are not absolute, that we are not objects, but subjects, our lived experience is dead.

When we consume the same things over and over, we identify with those immortal, infinite images, and if they cannot die, we reckon that neither can we. We become slaves to the deathless, juvenescent icons of Marilyn, Audrey, Sinatra and Crosby. If we admire them, we embody them, and so we dream that we too can live in on in eternal celluloid, even as our physical shells age and disintegrate. Ernest Becker writes in The Denial of Death that through the identification with symbols, “man’s natural yearning for organismic activity, the pleasures of incorporation and expansion, can be fed limitlessly in the domain of symbols and so into immortality. The single organism can expand into dimensions of worlds and times without moving a physical limb; it can take eternity into itself even as it gaspingly dies.” To truly live is to be aware of death, to know that you are just a human being. It is a humbler existence, and it is deeply personal; cherishable because it is perishable. I believe that our mortal salience is a gift, not a curse. The ageless celebrity represents the opposite of the memento mori, the reminder of death—it obviates our mortal salience.


Michael Jackson


The HBO documentary Leaving Neverland made major waves in 2019, when it explicitly detailed the allegations of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck who both claimed that Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children. The documentary, by nature, compels the viewer to form an opinion on whether you believe these two men—whose stories are shocking and disturbing and tragic—or you believe that Michael Jackson was really the harmless, gentle creature that he portrayed himself to be, cartoonish and strange but harmless. Either way, the viewer is forced to confront the idea that, whether he was a predator or purely a victim, Michael Jackson was deeply warped, and quite possibly very dangerous.

In Leaving Neverland, the viewer comes face to face with these two men, each telling their stories of how Michael Jackson manipulated them into performing sexual acts at very young ages. We’ve known about these allegations, or allegations like them, for years. In a 2004 Comedy Central special called “For What It’s Worth,” Dave Chappelle spoke on the allegations against Michael Jackson:

“Maybe he did it. Who knows? Who knows?! That’s the thing, that’s what I wanted to say, who knows? Who the fuck knows? Mike, God, and this little boy know… And the only reason I can talk about Mike is because… he is a freak…That’s why people let you talk about him. Because if I brought up Catholic priests fucking kids, it’d get quiet as shit.” At this, the room falls silent, and Chappelle offers a knowing look. The crowd laughs uncomfortably. “But when Michael Jackson does it, it’s okay, because he’s a freak. His face is all… cut up. And just remember, when you look at that thing that he calls his face, that he did that for YOU somehow.”

Chappelle points to the fact that a systemic, or deep-seated institutional evil—especially something as sacred as the Catholic Church—is taboo to talk about. Institutional evil is frighteningly unassailable, and its persistence makes us complicit. But an individual is much simpler to denounce and dismiss as a lone aberration, a “freak.” One can criticize Michael Jackson because he’s a freak, without having to say anything critical about where that freakishness comes from.

Yet, we’ve long known that Jackson was a product wrought by a brutal consumerist machine that had exploited him since his youth, an institute that we patronize consistently. We knew that he had been distorted by a machinery that was designed to entertain us.

If there was anyone truly emblematic of “the American dream,” it was Michael Jackson. He came from a poor black family in Gary, Indiana, and made it to superstardom. He achieved the ultimate dream—and as the result, became an icon in pure distillation. He didn’t just lose his agency or a dimension of identity; he was, from the start, deprived of the chance to organically form one. Everything Jackson became was molded by the machine that capitalized on him.

Jackson’s idealized grasp for a childhood in his adult years—alleged and proven—is an attempt to replenish this impoverishment. “People wonder why I always have children around,” Michael said in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “It’s because I find the thing that I never had through them. Disneyland, amusement parks, arcade games — I adore all that stuff because when I was little, it was always work, work, work.”

But it’s also an attempt to hold onto the eternality with which he’s been associated his entire life. As a pure icon, he’s meant to be inhuman, ageless, immortal—forever young, like his self-claimed animated analog Peter Pan. His whole identity is rooted in the image, rather than the reality, and his life represents a desperate attempt to live up to the immortality that defines him. To be the imperishable image that he believes himself to be.

Michael Jackson was the purest human result of a mechanized, exploitative machine, one that had its claws into him since the age of six. His commoditization has been the most thorough and continuous of any celebrity we can think of. Everything about Michael Jackson was influenced by the interests of the consumerist machine. All things conventionally human about Jackson passed through the sieve of celebrity and came out warped and deviant on the other side, from his aesthetic tastes to his alleged sexual proclivities.

In a 2003 TV-documentary called “Living with Michael Jackson,” Martin Bashir interviewed Jackson over the course of 8 months, traveling with Jackson and gaining insight into Jackson’s every day life. In one scene from the documentary, Jackson and Bashir ride in a limousine in Las Vegas. Bashir asks Michael Jackson what he thinks he’s worth. Michael demurs and says “c’mon Martin,” but when Bashir suggests a billion dollars, Jackson nods, seemingly pleased, and says “it’s over there.”

Forbes magazine estimated that Jackson earned nearly $2 billion during his solo career, from 1979 until his death in 2009. Even dead—perhaps especially dead—Jackson is a source of tremendous revenue. As of 2014, Forbes estimated that Jackson had earned over $700 million since his death in 2009. In 2012, Jackson’s silhouette appeared on a billion Pepsi cans. From 2011-2014, Cirque du Soleil produced “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” selling 3.7 million tickets in 27 countries and earning $371 million in revenue. Michael Jackson is consumer capitalism’s gift that keeps on giving, a well that never runs dry. He, like Prince, saw his public perception as commodity, an image, but his distillation was altogether purer. Whereas Prince suffered the confusion of which ego was the alter—Prince the artist, or Prince Rogers Nelson the person—Michael’s iconization was too intractable. There was no Michael Jackson underneath. He was hollow.

When Pulse Evolution conjured the hologram of Jackson for the performance at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, more than a few articles were written re: the eeriness of the conjuring. Sarah L. Kaufman wrote for the Washington Post: “Is it bad to be reminded of a great entertainer after his death? Well, no. Is it creepy to project a known perfectionist as a hologram, in a performance before millions, enshrined in Internet eternity, and over which he had no control? Um, yes.” Creepy? Perhaps. But desecrative? Not when it comes to MJ. While it could rightly be suggested that some celebrities—perhaps even most—would detest the thought of their posthumous hologramification, Jackson would likely not be among them. Unlike Amy Winehouse, Robin Williams, or Prince, to be immortalized thusly was perfectly in line with Jackson’s greatest dreams. A perfectionist—perfected. Forever and ever.

In one scene from “Living with Michael Jackson,” Jackson’s limo ferries Jackson and Bashir to the Venetian shopping mall, one of Michael’s favorites places (along with Disneyland, which he recreated in microcosm with his Neverland Ranch). As they climb in the escalators—fans swarming below—Jackson talks about how he loves the mall’s decor, which is wall-papered with Renaissance paintings and trimmed in gold, a Faux-Sistine chapel in the middle of the desert. Bashir asks him if he doesn’t think it’s a bit tacky, and Michael laughs. Tackiness, gaudiness, elaborate, over-the-top opulence is Michael’s taste. He loves the ornate, the Aurelian, the overdressed, because it’s regal, timeless, ancient but preserved: ageless.

MJ steers Bashir and the cameras toward an Egyptian-themed store where Michael says he has purchased a “tomb.” He points to a brilliant gold sarcophagus, a replica of “the anthropod coffin of King Tutankhamun. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” MJ says. “Look at the face.” Bashir asks: “would you like to be buried in something like this?” Michael giggles and says “No.” Then: “I don’t ever want to be buried.” Bashir asks: “what would you like to happen to you?” Michael answers earnestly: “I would like to live forever.”

According to many, Michael Jackson was obsessed with immortality. In a 2007 interview with Ebony magazine, Jackson talks about his desire to live forever:


Everyone wants immortality. Everyone wants what you create to live on, whether it be sculpture or painting, music or composition. Like Michelangelo said: “I know the creator will go but his works survives. That is why to escape death I attempt to bind my soul to my work” and that’s how I feel.


Fine, a poetic sentiment about his art living on past his body. But Jackson’s fixation is on transcending death is more literal. In “The Michael Jackson Tapes,” Jackson tells Rabbi Schmuley Boteach: “I think growing old is the ugliest, the most, the ugliest thing. When the body breaks down and you start to wrinkle, I think it’s so bad…that’s something I don’t understand, Schmuley. And I never want to look in the mirror and see that.” There have also been reports that Jackson was obsessed with the idea of cloning himself in order to preserve his body.

The sort of immortality that Jackson sought—and avidly, surgically pursued while still alive—is a self-Disneyfication. He wanted to live on as a perfect, innocent cartoon image. Baudrillard writes in Simulacra and Simulations: “By an extraordinary coincidence (one that undoubtedly belongs to the peculiar enchantment of this universe), this deep-frozen infantile world happens to have been conceived and realized by a man who is himself now cryogenized; Walt Disney, who awaits his resurrection at minus 180 degrees centigrade.” Like the progenitor of the characters that Jackson loved and clung to, even sought to embody, Michael Jackson wanted to live on, non-biodegradably, for eternity.

Michael Jackson died in 2009. He was buried at the Holly Terrace Grand Mausoleum at Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park, nearby the graves of Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable. He was reportedly buried in full concert-regalia and several items from his performing career. The casket chosen as his final resting place is a gold-plated caskey made by the Batesville Casket Company called “The Promethean,” an appropriate name for Jackson’s sarcophagus.  Like the demigod Prometheus who molded the first human beings clay, Michael Jackson created himself from scratch, self-chiseling an inorganic face so bizarre that it hardly resembled a human being. He was a pure product of the consumerist engine, which uses dead images for profit and mass-pacification. Psychologist Erich Fromm writes in The Sane Society:


Conceptually the instruments of mechanization five thousand years ago were already detached from other human functions and purposes than the constant increase of order, power, predictability, and above all, control. With this protoscientific ideology went a corresponding regimentation and degradation of once autonomous human activities: “mass culture” and “mass control” made their first appearance. With mordant symbolism, the ultimate products of the megamachine in Egypt were colossal tombs, inhabited by mummified corpses…


Jackson’s love for all things Egyptian, his desire for immortality, his pursuit of a smooth, unwrinkled, plastic and perennially juvenescent face, even his alleged sexual fetishization of young males – they all can be seen as the results of a system that used him from birth to death, commoditizing him so thoroughly that his own self-image was inseparable from his public one.

When Michael Jackson died in 2009, fans began to pour into The Field Museum in Chicago to gaze at a bust of an Egyptian that appeared to resemble the deceased pop star, which was complete with a nose that had been so eroded through the centuries that it looked strikingly similar to the King of Pop’s. While the image he left behind resembled the Egyptian masks that persist to this day, Michael Jackson’s life less favors his pharoahic character from “Remember the Time,” and more like the zombie from “Thriller.”

After Leaving Neverland came out, social media roiled with stark opinionated takes. For those who had ever considered themselves fans of Michael Jackson, it became necessary to form a strong, definite opinion about Michael Jackson. I felt compelled, too. Actress Amber Tamblyn tweeted this: “As a former child actress, I can’t help but watch this documentary and think about how wrong it is for children to be put in the position of performing for the soul purpose of pleasing adults. It’s such a slippery, dangerous, often abusive slope.” Her tweet could be in reference to Robson and Safechuck, both dancers whose careers Jackson promised to help. But it could also be in reference to Jackson himself.

When I was younger, I often defended Michael Jackson against his allegations. I think it was an exercise in demonstrative empathy, a stand made against collective persecution. Here was someone who was, since a young age, exploited by people who should have known better. He was our fault; the least we could do is sympathize with him.

After watching the documentary, I realized that, perhaps while absolutely vilifying Michael Jackson was wrong, I shouldn’t defend him absolutely, either. That isn’t to say that Michael Jackson shouldn’t have to answer for his crimes, if he is a sexual abuser of children. Nor am I suggesting I would turn a blind eye, or not sympathize with these men—who I believe. But perhaps my criticism would more importantly be directed at the system that allowed such a thing to happen, and my own participation in it.

A 2009 study from Pelin Kesebir and Chi-Yue Chiu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that obsession with celebrities helps reduce our fears of death. “What we found is that the universal fascination with celebrities can be explained by this desire for immortality,” Kesebir said in an interview with the New York Daily News. “Famous people are perceived as immortal in the symbolic sense, and their perceived imperishability serves as a buffer against our fear of the nothingness that comes after death.” Psychology Today explained how the study showed that people even believed that a plane was less likely to crash if a celebrity was aboard. “It can make us believe in the possibility of a meaningful existence in the face of death,” Kesebir said to Psychology Today. “We all need these buffers,” Kesebir says. “Famous people can serve as inspirational figures. They can provide the kind of existential stamina. They can show that you yourself can become immortal. So they’re in a way what’s best about a culture. They can serve as compasses. I don’t think that’s unhealthy.”

I disagree. I think there is a precariousness to celebrity worship and identification with icons that, in the context of capitalism, induce us to close ourselves off, to shut our personal borders, to self-celebrate and dig ourselves in, subconsciously believing that our lives depend on that certainty. It’s bad for us, sure, but worse for those that are victimized to our intractability. The process by which we identify ourselves with immortal icons leaves us lacking a critical capacity for empathy, and that can be dangerous. Just ask Wade Robson and James Safechuck.


The Danger


The most salient truth of simplification is that the more we view human beings as simple objects, the more we see ourselves the same way. Whether by identification with or contradistinction to, we objectify ourselves—harden ourselves—by the consumption of human icons.

Some people might suggest that celebrity totems are materials as good as any in building a self. As Kesebir suggested, we all need buffers, inspirational figures, heroes. If we don’t need them, they’re still inevitable—after all, icons and symbols are everywhere, and we’re consistently coaxed into consuming them. That can be OK, so long as it’s viewed as something silly, and there is a healthy amount of critical distance between the subject and object of affection.

The truth is, if you found your church on images of the dead, you will soon find yourself inhabiting a haunted mansion. The ghosts will never leave you alone. Invariably it will become their house. Investing in the dead icons of consumerism ensures that your life does not belong to you. The specters of dead icons will cling to you so tightly that you cannot distinguish between yourself and them. They will haunt you, prohibit you from having your own dreams. And as Prince said: when you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave.

The integration of media into the everyday American’s life—especially through social media—has breached the televisual Great Wall that made children ask their parents what planet the TV-people lived on. We have difficulty resisting the seductive certification that media offers us—especially social media, which puts us onscreen, alongside the real celebs. Seeing ourselves up there in perfect, plastic pixilation appeals to our desire in immortality. We invest in our avatars, our online analogs, curating content for our “personal brand,” emulating an “aesthetic” rather than understanding ourselves as complex, constantly changing human beings.  We abandon our depth, our own agency, because our reification in the virtual landscape seems to offer something sweeter than subjectivity, it grants us objectivity, a belief in our immortality. Social media allows us to verify ourselves, to more fully embody the images of the celebrity that we idolize. As Ari Stillman writes:


More than a public sphere experienced as private, Facebook’s affordance might better be understood as potentially rendering its users into public figures through the publication, circulation, and discussion of private information…everyone now can attain celebrity status through the internet and Facebook especially.


As we understand the big others that, like omnipresent ghosts, show up on our televisions, movie screens, radios, computer screens and phones as objects and entities, so we understand ourselves. And our simple little selves propagate the same objectifying gaze that consumerism has cultivated in us—which presents a greater danger than our own simple calcification. Because going forth into life with this perspective threatens to exploit or literally harm others.


As It Should Be


The hologram is the ultimate manifestation of the technological capitalization on a human being. It is the highest form of slavery; highest, not in the sense of its abjectness and cruelty, for in that sense it doesn’t compare to the original form of slavery. It is highest in that it is the most remote, the most putatively harmless, the ultimate manifestation of an inhuman conception of human beings, something that can be recreated and therefore should be. Fans were surely thrilled to see Tupac onstage, as they likely were to witness Michael Jackson reborn. Where’s the harm in all this, one might ask?

The harm is that we don’t question the morality of a technology simply because it produces an entertaining and cool effect. As Jeff Goldblum’s character says in Jurassic Park: “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We lose the critical capacity to wonder whether things ought to be simply because they can. We simply consider them inevitable.

We become complacent in a capitalist society in which every avenue is explored and ultimately exhausted in pursuit of profit. But much of the technologies that result far from benign. We praise ourselves for our own industriousness, our great works, without stopping to consider if these works are really for the betterment of the world and not potentially hazardous for our health. Prince told Guitar World “everything is as it is, and it should be,” especially where death is concerned. “If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age.” Hologram technology represents the unmitigated belief that there is no “should be,” no sense of morality that ought to temper our pursuit of profit. Why accept absence when we can have beautiful, uninterrupted presence?

That sense of fatalistic entitlement does not trifle with the scruples of real interactions with other human beings. And therein lies the danger.

Because it’s the same attitude that sanctioned chattel slavery, and the conquest of the Indians: manifest destiny, the idea that if we can do something, it’s our right, and in fact our destiny. As a result of this attitude, there is no accountability on human beings to think about the real impact on human lives. It is uncriticality, plain and simple. If it makes us feel better, if it appears to serve us emotionally in some way—even if it’s a cheap, insalubrious, ultimately sadistic pleasure that it offers—we see no good reason to resist.

To paraphrase Marquis de Sade, the eponymous hero of sadism: “my ability to do a thing confirms my right to do it.” By swallowing this idea, we become complacent as a culture and unsympathetic. We too readily accept the oppression and cruelties visited upon other people as coming with the territory; we too easily swallow the narratives that require the least of us.

The new human image synthesis technique known as the deepfake makes it possible to paste people’s faces onto other people’s bodies convincingly on videos. Already, fake porno films with celebrity’s faces have hit the Internet. We readily accept this creepy new technology because it creates a perfect storm of pleasure, an irresistible chemical confluence, by combining sexual pleasure with the pure consumption of the cheap, holy image of female celebrities.  But we forget how deepfakes leave us vulnerable to a similar fate; how, in a world of overabundant information, a world of fake news and photoshopped images, the bastions of truth are quickly depleting, and soon, nihilism will be our cultural disposition.

While it might not sound terribly unpleasant to concede to meaninglessness and consent to be opiated by media, to become objects unto ourselves and therefore evade the difficulties of moral decision-making, without this individual resistance, not only do we lose a crucial part of our existence, but we become complicit in the endangerment of those groups of people whose existences are not particularly valuable to the machine. When we start to see things as inevitable and look at them uncritically, entire groups of “other people” become dispensable. That’s the danger.



What Mr. Rogers Would Say About The World Today

I was recently on a plane from San Diego to New York City – a 5.5 hour flight – armed with nothing more than a book. I settled in, and was pleased to see a documentary on the offered docket of in-flight entertainment, one that I had been wanting to watch but never gotten around to it. It was about Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers, called Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood growing up, I don’t think. What I mostly recall from my RGB cathode-irradiated youth was Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon and other Japanese shows of the convulsion-inducing ilk. Slightly before that – or perhaps concurrently with, it’s all a hippocampal haze – were the Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows like Hey Arnold!, Animaniacs, Dexter’s Lab, Johnny Bravo, et. al. Foggier still are recollections of Nick Jr. (short for Nickelodeon Jr.), a set of programming that was hosted by that disembodied proto-emoji, the definitive little brother to Orwell’s Big, known simply as Face. That era of my televisual upbringing was stocked by Rugrats and Blues Clues, and more (my apologies to those programs who lent a hand in raising me that I am forgetting to thank).

But my childhood did not feature Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. PBS, in large, I remember being pretty averse to. I never watched Sesame Street. Where was the action? I only remember ever watching The Magic School Bus while at school, particularly when the teacher wanted to demonstrate the concept of friction(?) and human biology – I’m sure you remember that age-old episode where they shrink the bus and go inside poor young Arnold—the stuff of legends. Never Arthur, nor that insufferable cue-ball Caillou, or the cringey kids of ZOOM. Between the Lions bored me. Zoboomafoo admittedly had its moments. I vaguely recall watching a little Wishbone in my day. But Dragon Tales? Blechh. I remember thinking myself too cool for those semi-educational, moralizing kiddie shows, even when I myself was a kiddie. The world of fast-paced, flashy and amoral entertainment had already seduced me by the time I was five or six.

I feel that I am worse for it. While we all acknowledge how formative those years are, we as a nation, or as a people, perhaps do not consider enough media’s early role in forming children’s characters and psyches later in life. I would guess that for many parents—and I’m not on my high horse here, I don’t even begin to fathom the difficulties of child-rearing, and hopefully won’t have to anytime soon—the goal of children’s media is to keep their attention occupied for chunks of time. Not to educate them.

Watching  Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I learned about the father of kids educational TV, and his philosophy. For Fred Rogers, a child was not just a pre-person, a cog yet to turn out in its function, but a full human being already, albeit with yet unformed concepts of the world (and smaller limbs). His program gave that full person the respect it was due. In its three decades on the air, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was always fighting an uphill battle to compete with the fast-paced, irreverent kids shows featured on major networks, Yet it managed to last for 33 years, from 1968 to 2001. It stood tall through fraught cultural periods, times of factionalization and division in America, and various national disasters and tragedies, not only moving through them but confronting them, addressing them and explaining what they meant to children watching at home. The show took on concepts like death and addressed segregation. When Bobby Kennedy was shot, it told children about the word “assassination,” and explained why it happened. The program respected kids’ full humanity enough not to leave them in the dark.

Human beings, as a rule, I think are more attracted to brighter lights, bolder headlines, and flashier graphics, just as I was as a kid. We also want things simplified and narrowed. It’s understandable – looking at the whole world with a constant, open-mind is not only exhausting, it’s terrifying. It can feel like open water.

As a result, much of our television programming today caters to that fear. Though the program Fred Rogers created for children was vastly more sophisticated than the crap being propagated for adults on stations like Fox News, it’s certainly of a much less popular kind. In 2007, Fox and Friends did a segment on Mr. Rogers. In the bit, the hosts suggest that Rogers—who died in 2003—was responsible for “ruining an entire generation.” They blamed him for the putative entitlement of the millennial generation, saying that he told children that they were special “even if they didn’t deserve it.” They vapidly sermonize: “He didn’t say, ‘If you wanna be special you gotta work hard.’ The world owes you nothing and you gotta prove it!” One of them avers: “This evil, evil man has now ruined a generation of kids.”

To me, the “millennial entitlement” narrative is complete tripe. Moreover, to suggest that telling a child they are special is coddling them is ridiculous. Perhaps we should repeal child labor laws while we’re at it. What’s particularly disgusting about the segment is that it’s so careless. The concept behind it is so thin, yet it was rolled out willy-nilly—an approach that was completely antithetical to Mr. Rogers,’ who was gentle and considerate of how everything he said could leave a profound impact.

The Murdoch-ian program merely found a crease in the skin, an angle, and pursued it to its utmost, either unaware or apathetic to who it might impact, and how. They created a trashy, paltry narrative because they could, and because it was flashy and polar and bold. They did this, likely, despite knowing that it didn’t hold more than a sip of water. They knew it was incomplete, and rather vicious. They knew it would sell. Because a partial narrative is far more comprehensible, and digestible, than the whole truth—and a lot more conclusive, and comforting. That’s something universal—the desire for narrative satisfaction, drawn out of a story that is too mysterious to wrap our heads around completely.

To many, Mr. Rogers was a soft-spoken old codger who wore cardigans and was a little too interested in children. Making such an offhand and derisive assumption about him—dismissing him, calling him a coddler or weirdo or, in the parlance of our time, a “snowflake” (made ironic by the fact that Rogers was a registered Republican his entire voting life) – that’s exactly the sort of thoughtlessness he fought and taught against. Because it’s self-protective; a partial, societally-approved line that keeps one from trying to see the whole picture, and moreover, inside themselves.

Though from afar he seemed a paragon of virtues like kindness, empathy, patience and especially perseverance through love—the closest thing to an American saint I can think of— Won’t You Be My Neighbor? does not portray him as flawless. Just as someone who tried his damnedest. That’s one of the documentary’s salient points: no one is the whole package, no one is perfect, not even Mr. Rogers. He embodied hope, yet when the documentary reveals that when PBS asked him to do a series of PSAs to address the tragedy of 9/11, he doubted himself, struggling to see how it would make any difference. At times, even he could be cyncical. Mr. Rogers was not the second coming of Christ—as his son jokingly refers to him onscreen—he is not someone prohibitively pure and therefore not worth the effort to emulate. The only solution he could ever offer us was to try: to do “whatever we can to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own -by treating our ‘neighbor’ at least as well as we treat ourselves.”

He didn’t know all the answers, and never purported to. The only belief he ever espoused was that life, in all its mystery, in all its uncertainty and even scariness, was always worth it. In 1997, Rogers accepted an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement. In his acceptance speech, he told this story:

“Last month a 13-year-old boy abducted an eight-year-old girl; and when people asked him why, he said he learned about it on TV. ‘Something different to try,’ he said. ‘Life’s cheap; what does it matter?’

Well, life isn’t cheap. It’s the greatest mystery of any millennium, and television needs to do all it can to broadcast that – to show and tell what the good in life is all about.”

The word “wholesome” is a sort of derisive or at least dismissive term, used to describe campy sitcoms and families with golden retrievers featured in their Christmas cards. Ironically, the term is used to describe that which tells a partial story, one that excludes the tragedies and terrors of reality. But real wholesomeness describes that which never shies away from truth, and never takes an easy way out—like hatred, or anger, or fear—but looks at everything as being part of the same lovely thing, and responds in kind. Wholly. When you regard the avatars of its antonym—partiality, telling half the story—like Tucker Carlson and other manipulators, benders and fracturers of truth (i.e. liars)—one can see that wholesomeness, or the pursuit of it, is the truest and best way a human being can aspire to see, and act. Even if it’s not always comfortable.

It can be terrifying, trying to see everything as it is, and Rogers was not immune those fears and doubts. Nor was he immune to hopelessness and despair, and even anger, the documentary shows. He simply tried to respond with love, and never stopped. He fought the good fight. Rogers kept a quotation by his desk that he frequently referenced in the speeches he gave. It’s from The Little Prince, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret;
it is only with the heart that one can see rightly,
what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

It’s hard to communicate the message that he tried to – that there is a truth, a beauty, a love that you cannot see. The big, underlying thing that can’t be talked about adequately. It’s easier to gravitate to the easily identifiable messages that are beamed at you constantly from every medium. But that underlying thing is the real truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. You may not discover it in a pure, distilled form that you can mainline like a tincture of Tucker Carlson’s poncey face. But you’ll probably be better for trying, and you won’t be deluding yourself. As for me, I’ll never join them. So I might as well try to beat ‘em.

One of the most famous songs from Mr. Roger’s neighborhood goes like this:

“It’s you I like, it’s not the things you wear. It’s not the way you do your hair, but it’s you I like. The way you are right now, the way down deep inside you. Not the things that hide you. Not your caps and gowns, they’re just beside you. But it’s you I like. Every part of you. Your skin, your eyes, your feelings. Whether old or new, I hope that you remember, even when you’re feeling blue, that it’s you I like. It’s you, yourself, it’s you. It’s you I like.” Today, lots of people would dismiss that as “liberal snowflake” blather.


But me?

I think it’s wonderful.



The Impossibility Of The Chimera

Fittingly, the word “chimera” has various meanings. The first, historically speaking, refers to a beast from Greek mythology. Like other Greek monsters – the Centaur, the Minotaur, the three headed dog Cerberus, Medusa, the Sphinx, some amphibious versions of sirens, the harpy, the hydra, etc. – the chimera is a biological union between different things, grafted together (rather haphazardly). The resultant union is discordant and strange, producing a bestial creature that often serves as the antagonist to the Greek hero. See: the Minotaur to Theseus, Medusa to Perseus, the sirens to Odysseus. Specifically, the OG chimera of Greek mythology is fire-breathing hybrid creature with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. From the mythological meaning comes a second one for the term “chimera”: a medical term for organisms carrying two genotypes for the same trait, causing a muddling or gynandromorphic effect that manifests in things like heterochromia (having two differently colored eyes) or the possession of both sex organs.

While genetic chimerism is real, the monstrous chimeras of our mythologies are definitively not. Moreover, they seem purposefully outlandish. Garish creatures with Frankenstein(…’s monster)-esque exposed seams and of Turducken grotesquery, impossibility feels to be tied inextricably to their incongruous multiplicity. They cannot exist, especially since the disparate animals that anatomize them already stand alone elsewhere. The amalgams are therefore perverse. Unnatural. It makes sense, then, that the second definition of “chimera” offered by Merriam-Webster is this: “an illusion or fabrication of the mind; especiallyan unrealizable dream.” The chimera is often judged horrid and generally evil. But what its concoction invokes foremost is power. Divine potency. Certainly there is a devilishness to the sirens and harpies, a hellish ferocity in Cerberus, and yes, a terrifying, rabid aggression in the hydra, the minotaur, the namesake chimera (all of which might be interpreted as an agitation for such a sordid existence). But there is also an arch beauty in the seraphic Sphinx. A pure majesty to the horse-bird Pegasus. And let us not forget that angels, too, are hybrid creatures, and they are glorious harbingers of the divine. Hindu and Egyptian gods with animal heads were celebrated and praised, not reviled as orcs and used purely to blame worldly pitfalls (as the Scylla and Hydra were blamed for treacherous vortexes that ensnared Greek ships). The point being that the chimerism that pervades various mythologies does not necessarily carry a monstrous or evil valence with it – it only suggests power.

The chimera is many things at once. It wears many hats – or, more aptly, it has many heads. But its duality – or triality, or quaternality, etc – is inharmonious. Sometimes monstrously so, but always remarkably – anyone can see the incongruency, and the more obvious or garish, the more monstrous the creature is likely to be. The subtler combos – man and winged creature, horse and winged creature, woman and fish – are less jarring. To be sure, those transmogrifications in which the human head is conserved are certainly more savory, because even if the combo is inelegant – as one might aver about the centaur, or even the mermaid – at least it doesn’t forsake human sensibility and intellect for snarling bullishness, or the replacement of a pretty face with vegetal fish-eyed countenance. In the case of human-animal hybrids, distance from humanity is connected to repugnance. In the case of those creature collages that don’t have any human parts, it’s the sheer number of ill-matched pieces that quantify their abominability. A hydra – while scary by nature – is less off putting than the original, Iliadian chimera, which looks like something cooked up in a mad geneticist’s lab.

The thing about the chimera – and what I speculate is its point, if I can use such a word – is that they are purely impossible except in a world of fantasy. Whether or not the monsters of Greek mythology or Frankenstein might have ever been fully believed as fact I can’t truly claim to know (Frankenstein was written in 1823, and people were fooled by Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938). Yet, when you consider the modern, non-academic definition of chimera – an “unrealizable dream” – we can take these mythic figures as having at least transformed into symbols emblematic of impossibility, purposely unbelievable. If that is the case, what is the meaning of their apocrypha?

I think that the chimera symbolically exists to demonstrate that being many things at once is an impossible dream, one that causes much suffering. It’s as futile an effort  as all the king’s horses and all the king’s men trying to reassemble humpty dumpty. Unlike in Frankenstein, stitching together a collection of dead things will never make a live one.

Such is the endeavor of fighting against a life in conflict. Living too many ideas of a correct life at once – dividing our allotted attention among the fantasies of who we ought to be, dispersing our focus among our daydreams like the ambulatory functions distributed among the multiple heads of the lion-snake-goat hybri –  leads not to erudition, though it can, or a polygluttonous appetite for learning and a Renaissance-range of skills, though it might. It leads to a variety of lives halfway-, or third-of-the-way, or quarter-of-the-way-lived. Fractious, conflicted, and ultimately confused. As someone important says in the Bible in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

I quote the Bible not because I am Christian, but because this idea of living a muddled, multiplicitous and therefore uneven life – and the response to the problem of chimerism – exists in so many religions, within that metaphoric Zen nougat at their bases, which Aldous Huxley, in his book The Perennial Philosophy, called “the unitive knowledge of the divine ground of all being.” The key word being unitive: unifying, self-coalescing. Anti-chimeric. Many of these religions have come to suggest that the achievement of our reconstitution requires abnegation; charity; penitence. And surely it does, at least in a sense. Yet we circle back to the metaphoric interpretations of the wisdom in religion that “Perennialism” favors. Though charity and abnegation are certainly vital, for them to be prerequisites to self-actualization is illogical, even impossible. Pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps cannot be the way. Solving a conflicted mind with a conflicted mind is like paddling against a river to pacify the current, stirring a spinning cup of tea backwards to neutralize its whirls. If charity – enacted charity, for true charity is not offered as a deliberate act but a natural one, springing forth from an anonymous and empty consciousness – but if charity practiced is a requirement and not a symptom of the aforementioned enlightenment, then it is because it demonstrates to the practicer the joy of being momentarily outside of oneself, offering a sample of the pure ecstasy of being outside of a fraught and conflicted consciousness (which is probably the same as a burst of dopamine in your head, but lets not split hairs, and I’m no scientist). Still, the Buddha eschewed asceticism, and Zen monks do not subscribe to nor prescribe any stringent meditative or charitable practices, because they know that right-thinking does not come necessarily from right-doing. Not to say that exercise can’t help clear a muddied mind, but that a mind that is fundamentally split cannot be “solved” by contradictive action. And trying and trying to conquer, to polish, to scrub away the conflicts and imperfections of the mind is a bit like trying to scrub off a leopard’s spots.

Is our conflicted nature really our nature? Is it inherent? Probably. It could be that we picked it up, accumulated tension from a world built to make us split at the neck. But in my assessment (and other, more educated opinions from more educated folks) our status as chimera is more likely attributable to our existence at a liminal evolutionary stage. As the late Terry Pratchett wrote poetically that human beings exist at the “place where falling angel meets rising ape.” So we’re caught between unfettered, ethereal, transcedent life and unfettered, corporeal, unthinking bliss. In the meantime, we dither about in the middle. Fettered.

The argument can be made that it is precisely because of our predicament, our fascination in vacillation, our ability and proclivity to serve two, three, four or more masters that a perfectly, ecstatically imperfect life is possible. And its not after self-abnegation, abstemious practices, self-flagellation and demonstrative charity. It’s simply with the acceptance that our life will always be conflicted that the conflict resolves. Because when you realize you will always be multiple, you cease to be so. When multiplicity is the only option, then optionality dissolves (it’s only an option when there’s another, isn’t it?)

I­­t’s possible that this particular age of existence is a bit stuffier and overcrowded and in your face with an overabundance of windows into other, seemingly “better” alternatives to your life than any previous generation. It’s certainly the case that we have access to more idealized imagery than ever before. Does it make us more dissatisfied and anxious to see these images, thanks to TV and movies and now social media? It certainly does something to us. I reckon that it does make things worse. Yet I can’t help but feel that the difference is negligible. After all, the dread of comparing oneself to others is nothing new. It’s a human foible as old as the ten commandments (read: thou shalt not covet), and though Instagram is essentially a delivery service of food for envy, it is not the reason human beings think in should/would/could hypotheticals more than they, well, should. Do you really think that if you finally manage to delete Instagram once and for all, you’ll suddenly be rid of envy, covetousness, anxiety? I’m willing to guess that you’ve probably deleted the app in a vain effort before, a gesture that you likely knew in your little pixelated heart of hearts was empty. It’s OK. This stuff, this uncomfort, this so-derided need for “instant gratification” from jackass condescending boomers, it’s all too deep, now. We’re steeped. We were bound to be, and it’s still OK that we are. But roiling against mal-tendency to imagine what we ought to do, to try to unchimera-ize ourselves is a self-surgery for which we are not equipped.

What is better – and indeed truer – is a simple acknowledgment: that we were never such a creature of conflict, such a grotesque mistake of nature as we shamefully imagine. The standard to which we are comparing ourselves – that’s the unrealizable dream. We, on the other hand, are the “perfect” reality. The platypus is no chimera – only through a lens of our querulous imagination does it all appear “unnatural.” Probably, gene-splicing and all that (see: I’m not a scientist) can and has created something unnatural, like the sterile mule, but the consciousness that the creature itself expresses cannot be “unnatural.” Even if a creature is born flawed; blind, deaf, dumb – it is still just as it should be, simply because that’s just how it is. Our proclivity to abstract, to envision other ways we could or should have been, it’s a gift, it’s a massive part of what make us human.  We can’t reject that. We cannot abnegate, purge ourselves of our oft-lamentable hypothesizing ways, for a neuter, purgatorial paradise. We can only accept the vicissitudes of our constant conflict as features as necessary to our sight as the rods and cones in our eyes.

An Indian parable describes a group of blind men who hear that a new sort of animal has come to town. They go to check it out. Because they are blind, they must discern its shape by touch. One feels its trunk and says: “the creature is like a thick snake”. Another rubs its ear and say it is like a fan. Another its leg and determines it is more wall-like. Another feels its tusk and says it is like a spear. Which is it? It’s all of those things, and none of them. Nothing, and everything is a chimera. Perhaps more accurately, being a chimera – a strange admixture if uncomplimentary and clashing things, which can grind and scrape and hurt a bit – is not only natural, it is vital. Subjectivity mandates that all things are irreducible, infinitely interpretable. Nothing is one thing, only an incoherable collection of angles, points of view that are anything but absolute. The same goes for us. We are a mish-mash, and it is the friction between heads that actually illuminates our worlds, lets us see and examine the cracks between things. In essence, our conflict makes the world subjective. The solution to the wholehearted, anti-solipsistic belief that other beings are real, and therefore worthy of empathy, charity, is to fuse the objective and subjective, to make the distinction between them specious, illusory. It takes no shortage of whimsy, but mostly it takes love. Self-love foremost, which becomes love for the “other” (as the sense of otherness fades when the division between the external and internal world does). The mental habit of comparison is hard if not impossible to be scrubbed off our minds, but it can be realized and understood, and then it cannot harm you. This solution has so many different words and terms, and like the Perennial philosophy’s universal definition of self-actualization, the way to that end is similarly pervasive.

What it takes is loving one’s conflict by understanding it not as discord, but as a natural state of being. This is the lesson of the perennial philosophy, expressed in so many different platitudes, yet all espousing the same thing. It is to live in the present, by recognizing that the disharmony created by comparison – whether comparing your own woebegone circumstances to someone else’s experience, or to your own, previous state where you were happy(er), or even a future/hypothetical state that could be better – is part of the only existence that there is, and loveable for its intricacy if not for its particular social currency (that is, its own instagrammability/lackthereof). To love the negative, the neutral and the positive equally is to erase their distinction. It is amor fati, to love fate – and that means all fate. It is the love of whatever circumstances have befallen you. As Joseph Campbell would say,  it is to mythologize your life – to turn your life into a story of incomparable mystery – by accepting the particular peculiarities, the idiosyncratic anatomy of your personal chimera. Let it be your spirit animal, strangely shaped but not misshapen, warped in form but not deformed, utterly unique – without a referential model to which it may be compared, and therefore always exceptionally beautiful.

Out Of Bounds

The world—my Amerocentric ass says, the world, immediately presuming that America equals the entire world, well, let me take responsibility—my world, through the lens of a twenty-something white guy from Indiana, has reached a level of absurdity for which even my comic books did not prepare me. Over the last year, bearing witness to the utter inanity that is the Trump administration and the state of America at-large has changed a lot about what I thought I knew.

Boundaries were always the reason for our comfort, I guess. And perhaps that is the problem that Trump’s election is indicting. Boundaries that made things black and white, good and evil, Jesus and Satan. Politicians were bred from the start to become those banal, symbolic figures who are clean and rigidly-defined if incessantly demure. There was a gap between us, and them. But somewhere along the line, the integration of media into the everyday-American’s life breached the boundary, that televisual Great Wall that made children ask their parents what planet the TV-people lived on. It could have been social media, putting our own faces up on a screen with Myspace, then Facebook and the rest; or it might have been reality TV and the more obscure parts of our heterogeneous culture making it on mainstream television. Either way, the dam has been knocked down. And the era of segregating truth from fiction has gone the way of the dinosaur.

I think we are still in the stage of looking at one another and asking “is this really happening?” And who can blame us? The surreality of the world we have sewn is definitely hard to accept. It defies all that we been raised to expect (perhaps my generation [b. 1994] is the cutoff]) Yet we cannot turn to any other planet for find company in our misery. We have no context to know whether or not this is atypical for the evolution of a species angling toward some kind of transcendence—we think.

And so, the idealism that inspired us as young children—noble, but still part and parcel of the binary-thinking that has led to our breakdown—must also be traded in, for a new—and though it may feel inappropriate, light-hearted—pragmatism, that accepts the limitations of our yet transient individual existences. Meaning, we must accept, even embrace the absurd, and take advantage of the malleability that this newfound post-truth culture has given us. And that is why I am asking you to consider a seemingly ridiculous possibility for the 2020 United States Presidential Election: NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich.

The use of words like “segregation” and phrases such as “black and white” in reference to the American Platonism of the last 50 years was not accidental. I believe that race relations, especially between black and white people in the United States, are the biggest reason for the violent energy that has befogged our country. I think that, despite dissolving the lines between pedigreed politicians and cultural figureheads, the current administration has sought to sustain itself by denying the primary reason behind its own path to power, by saying: things are simply what they are, tautologically. By reducing things to a singular physical version of themselves, they oversimplify and thereby attribute cause to the most superficial dimension of any issue. Crime in black communities is therefore attributed to physical blackness, rather than any underlying cause that you can name (poverty, social inequality, etc.) The ease with which proponents of this physical reductivism are able to dismiss this “underlying cause” theory as lunacy—in a national, gaslighting trend—is enough to infuriate those who are committed to a spectrum-based (or what some might call an “open minded”) approach. It’s enough to make the most anti-second amendment “liberal” want to buy a gun, and I believe it is at least in part the inspiration behind radical leftist movements that harken back to Che and Fidel—also icons, also idealists.

Perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps history will forever be motivated by clashes between extremes. Bloody revolutions and the like. But aren’t we all adults here? At least, we thought we were, pre-2016. And adults, real human beings that have made that leap—or, at least stuck our chins over the cusp—compromise. They adapt, and at some point if we are going to win the grand cosmic marathon and transcend our fleshly entombments, we are going to have to start acting without being motivated by instincts masquerading as ideals.

And that, my friends, is why Kerr and Poppovich are the perfect choices for 2020. One boundary that rapidly dissipated in the last year was the one that existed between sports and politics. National Anthem Protests, White House Visits rejected and rescinded; we have seen the icons of disparate realms rub shoulders, and cold ones.

Gone are the days when politicians held their tongues, lest they say something misinterpretable. Donald Trump tweets violent, incendiary and hateful messages out on the daily. There can be no return to the time of Camelot, when the great orator and clean-cut American idealist John F. Kennedy helmed the “greatest country in the world.” The only effective response must be to kneel, deign to the level of the Manacheist American, and approach the problem sans emotion (as much as one can be asked to, obviously as a white male I speak from a place that more simply facilitates a dispassionate, unaffected philosophy).

And the most pragmatic solution, which both embraces the absurd new world and accounts for the realities of the binary thinking that is still so prevalent, is to vote for two white guys who have lived and worked in a community that is predominantly black—and moreover, two men who have used their platform in privilege for the better, by consistently speaking out against the oft-denied but all too thinly-veiled white supremacy of the current administration.

It is not that they simply have “worked with the black community.” More importantly, they have worked with and spoken out for men who have transcended the social shackles that hamper the average black person in America. Men who are in that sense, larger than life, and worthy of tons of respect—but still, far too easily dismissed by a large population of Americans, with platitudinous disparagements like “stick to sports,” and the suggestion that “we pay your salary.” You don’t hear anyone telling Donald Trump that he should stick to shitty reality TV and going bankrupt. Instead, it is far too easy for the white population to ignore the protests of these black men, who seemed only to demonstrate any societal worth by sheer luck, being 6’8” and “freakishly athletic,” to dismiss their accomplishments in a manner that is totally racist, but covertly enough to be denied.

Michelle Obama used to say “when they go low, we go high,” and in a way, I’m still championing that mentality. Just, in a subversive, and probably harder to swallow way. I am suggesting that “we,” whatever faction we may be, go low—get on the same level, digress for the sake of progress. LeBron James, probably the best player in the NBA and one of the greatest of all time, rose up from an impoverished life in Akron, Ohio to become not only a tremendous athlete, but a tremendous man and role-model for young people everywhere. But I am simply not sure that our nation will vote for LeBron James, despite how deserving he might be. Trump, in a large sense, is a backlash reaction to the election of Barack Obama. This dramatic shift has all the violent feeling of a revolution, and some of the blood. I fear that electing another black man as president would only increase the philosophical divide. Moreover, the responsibility of bringing us up, of delivering us from this muck, does not fall on the black community. It falls on the white community, namely the white man, whose desperate desire to stave off obsolescence has been the origin of much of the violence in our country for the last 300 years.

Popovich and Kerr are potentially the perfect intermediaries for a peaceful transition. Popovich is virulent in his criticism of Trump. In October, he said: “This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner– and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers – is as low as it gets.” He went on: “We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day.”

Kerr wrote in Sports Illustrated in September: “Instead, we get Trump’s comments over the weekend about NFL players, calling them ‘sons of bitches’ for kneeling during the anthem. Those just crushed me. Crushed me. Just think about what those players are protesting. They’re protesting excessive police violence and racial inequality. Those are really good things to fight against. And they’re doing it in a nonviolent way. Which is everything that Martin Luther King preached, right? A lot of American military members will tell you that the right to free speech is exactly what they fight for. And it’s just really, really upsetting that the leader of our country is calling for these players to be ‘fired.’”

Kerr is the main seat on the ticket, because of his cool-headedness—his nickname in college was “ice”—and Pop the VP, for his passionate fire. Joseph Campbell once wrote that a good coach sees a player’s personal abilities and encourages his natural tendencies, rather than trying to put him in a box and make him play a certain way. These men are successful coaches because they do just that—they treat their players as people, as partners, not as cogs to be put into boxes. Trump has garnered support by appealing to simpleton logic that categorizes people and things, uncritically—and that appeal, sadly, is something to be taken into consideration. Its popularity in our country today is the reason why we just can’t see eye to eye, why people can’t comprehend why saying something like “it’s OK to be white” is racist. That is the point of what I’m saying here. I don’t know if Kerr or Popovich are actually fit for the office. They probably don’t want the job either—but I would argue that it might very well be a duty owed. Nor am I trying to say that a black man who is deserving of the position should not be considered. I guess, what I’m saying is that it’s not as simple as choosing between turning the other cheek or fighting fire with fire. I admit, it could just be that we are in a really, terribly shitty time and riding it out is the only choice. And, and I mean this sincerely, it might just be that I am being a coward. That I am too afraid of a collision that I fear is imminent, that I am being a real Neville Chamberlain and adapting a policy of appeasement to a bully. I suppose you can never underestimate your own tendency toward self-preservation, especially when you’re a white dude whose personal experience of racially-motivated violence is almost always mediated by a computer screen. After all, I wrote this without much exogenous research, telling myself it was purposeful, to express my authentic feelings minus the pretensions of statistics and citations. But I’m forced to admit to myself that it might just be that I’m inhibited by the knowledge of my own irrelevancy. It could be that I am totally out of bounds here. But I can’t help but feel that if we approach the conflicts of our country today with the same mentality as we always have, without remembering that this is just a game, then we may be in danger of losing—big.




They Stole My Idea

In 2012 when I was almost exclusively a science fiction writer (cough cough, this) and trying to be the next Vonnegut, I wrote a short story called “The Family Giant.” Obviously I did nothing with it, and it has been gathering dust in my docket for 5 years until recently, when I saw a trailer for a new Matt Damon/Kristen Wiig movie called “Downsizing.” Apparently somehow, these hollywood pervs managed to hack my computer and stole my idea.

Now, read my story below and tell me what you think! That’s really all I got, just a repost.


The Family Giant

By John S Mannheimer


George tenderly clenched the square of paper between his nails and slipped it under the microscope. It was the grocery list. Papa wanted more Gouda, his favorite cheese. Emily wanted steak. And Mama wanted wine, specifically a bottle of Brunello d’Orcia 2004. George glanced to his right, at the bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet 2003 sitting next to the microscope. He had drunk most of it. Only a few measures formed a small black-red lagoon at the bottle’s bottom. That ought to last a few more days, anyway, he thought. At the list’s finish was a postscript, scrawled in his mother’s sacchariferous cursive: “We are so grateful for you, George,” punctuated by a heart. He rolled his eyes. Sure they were. George’s mother left a similar note each time he headed to the grocery, or painstakingly built a doghouse like he had last month—father’s injury precluded him from any heavy lifting, so the task fell to the able-fingered son. George had been sad to see Rocko go. The black spotted mutt was the last bit of company George had in the vacuous house. Oh, the sacrifices he made in the name of family.

George left the empty house and slumped into his cheap car. A large man would have been cramped in the small, cage-like chassis. But George was small framed and thin, among the reasons his family had decided that he was the obvious choice for Giant. He didn’t eat too much and he was quite responsible. Besides that, he was never all that involved in the family dynamic. At the dinner table, he was quiet and aloof, stirring the contents of his plate judiciously until dismissed. The car’s modest engine switched on with a rev that sounded like a remote control car. George turned the wheel and zipped onto the road.

The grocery store was nearly empty when he arrived. The aisles, once emptied of food by ravenous patrons during the shortage were vibrantly filled with verdant greens and juicy red meats at purportedly low, low prices. George recalled the gnashing chaos of supermarkets on television as a child. Every time Papa put on his coat to head to the store, George would hold onto his leg to weigh him down, until his mother pried him off and Papa disappeared out the doorway. George feared for his father’s life. It was not uncommon back then for people to get trampled in the fracas.

Now, the same aisles that were once inundated with wild shoppers were empty, save for endless shelves of produce, milk, and meat. George picked up a steak, hefting it in his hand, figuring he could take about half of it for himself. The other half ought to appease Emily and the rest of the family for a good month. Next, he picked up a bottle of wine—the best money could buy, why not? It was a rarity for him to buy wine, whiskey, or any other spirit—only about once per month and a half—so when he did, he chose top shelf. It was in no danger of being depleted quickly. Usually he simply had to count on himself not to drink the majority, which could be difficult sometimes in the lonesome, empty house. If George continued to take it for himself, though, he would have no choice but to switch to a cheaper brand, and that wouldn’t be fair to his mother. She was a connoisseur, and already suffering enough from having to drink the same, albeit high-end wine for months at a time. Who was George to deny the little lady’s simple pleasure?

George reached for the last, red wheel of Gouda cheese. The grocery store was so empty that he hadn’t noticed a figure in the corner of his eye, and neither had the figure, so as it happened, two hands met on the red wheel of Gouda. The figure drew hers back sharply.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I hadn’t noticed you,” she blushed.

“No, it’s all right,” George said, the forgotten ecstasy of human contact tingling on his hand. “It’s my fault, I’m not used to their being anyone in here,” he admitted. The store’s cooling system clanged hollowly, echoing through the store. He seized the Gouda wheel, the last one, and handed it to the girl, a pretty brunette. She smiled shyly and accepted the offering with a “thank you” and placed the cheese in her cart.

George had never seen the girl before. It seemed strange, as the small town had only been made smaller by the Shrink. She might have been the last girl in town that was his age.

“Are you shopping for yourself?” George asked, strolling alongside as she rolled her cart down the chilly aisle. She picked up a gallon of milk with an appraising look, then set it down in favor of a half-gallon.

“No,” she said. She looked up at George with big brown eyes. Why was she dressed so cutely? George at once felt naked in his unwashed white t-shirt and mesh black shorts. “I’m a Giant,” she admitted.

“Really?” George asked excitedly. “Me too.”

“Oh?” She asked, continuing to peruse.

“Yep,” George said, for once proud of his Gigantism. “My mother and father and sister all live with me at home,” George said. “…And dog,” he added grimly, remembering Rocko.

“They do dogs now?” She asked.

“Unfortunately,” he sighed. “I lost my only bit of company because of it. To be fair, it was my sister’s dog. But now the house is all the more lonely.” This was his first social interaction in months, maybe even a year. He felt rusty.

“I have a cat,” said the girl. “I won’t let them have him. He’s all mine,” she smiled and made penetrative eye contact with George, and he was too shocked to demure.

“That’s smart,” George picked back up. “Say, what’s your family like?” He asked. “If you don’t mind my asking.” She half-smiled, but did not look up from the dairy products. George remembered the game. He was never very good.

“There’s Mom, Dad and Tony, my little brother.”

“How old is he?” George asked.


“Emily’s eighteen,” George mentioned offhandedly.


George felt he should grab something off the shelf, selected some peanut butter.

“Would you like to meet them?” she asked suddenly.

“Really?” George said, dropping the peanut butter loudly into his basket. “Sure, I’d love to.” Not wanting to seem eager, he added: “It can get pretty boring at home.”

She nodded understandingly. “How’s tomorrow? I get off work at six. Why don’t you come by?” She wrote down her address on a piece of paper and handed it to George. “My name’s Evie.”

“George,” he said.

“Well George, I’ve got to finish shopping.”

“Oh, of course,” he said. She turned to a different aisle, actually the one he had planned to go next, but he decided to wait for her to finish. “It was nice to meet you,” he called after her.

For the first time in a year, George had a reason to spruce up. He doled out a ration of the groceries to the family, picked up a new note Mama had left: “Need more toothpicks for kindling” and headed off in his diminutive automobile.

She answered the door to the modest house, accepted the flowers that George had brought and on which he had contemplated circularly for hours deciding whether or not they were too much. Evie had dressed up, too, which eased George’s mind. She, too, had apparently been looking forward to human contact, so few and far between for giants. She showed him around her home—it was illusorily large, full of empty space like his own.

The dinner Evie had prepared, however, was quite immodest—roasted duck and cranberry sauce, served with buttery asparagus and milk, a meal that George didn’t take lightly, cleaning his plate in conscientious appreciation of how expensive a Giant-sized portion of duck went for. He told her what there was to tell her about his job, which was basically that he drilled holes in metal sheets all day long. Evie worked as a clerk at the hobby shop.

“Do you like that sort of thing?” George asked with a mouthful of duck. “Crafts and what-not?”

“MmHm.” She nodded vigorously, raising both eyebrows as if incredulous that George hadn’t already known this about her. “It’s sort of my passion.”

“Well, you’ve got to have one of those,” George agreed. “Otherwise, life can get to be pretty burdensome, and you can stop really living. For yourself, that is.”

She smiled at that, seemed to understand what George was saying perfectly, though she cocked her head in a way that made it feel to George as though she pitied him. George pushed the thought aside as he swallowed the last spear of asparagus.

“Would you like to see?” she asked.

“See what?” George said.

“Where they live,” she said.

“I’d love to,” he said. “Would you like some help?” He pointed to the dishes.

“Just leave them,” she said, getting up. “It’ll give me something to do later,” she explained. George knew the feeling well. His home was perpetually clean as a whistle, not as a result of a propensity for cleanliness, but boredom.

He followed Evie upstairs to the attic. What he saw made his own family’s home look like a motel. It was a regular Garden of Eden. Immaculately constructed hills and valleys, a phosphorescent sun that doubled as a moon, dangling from the ceiling by invisible fish wire. The walls were painted sky blue. Distant picturesque mountains were painted on the backdrop. At the top of the highest hill was a beautiful green house, like the emerald palace somewhere over a rainbow. There was a quixotic windmill spinning slowly, pushed along by a gentle, oscillating fan mounted to the wall, painted blue to blend with the skyline.

“It’s—it’s wonderful,” George gasped. Evie folded her hands together proudly.

This was her hobby.

George walked carefully along the path that cut through the mock-hilly terrain and Evie followed. The land was elevated to about his waist, and the path divided it in half like a foreboding canyon.

“Hold on,” said Evie. She squeezed past George, who had forgotten what it was like to feel a woman’s soft body squeeze by you—he had taken those movie theatre brush-bys for granted—and unscrewed a plastic bridge which connected the two lands over the chasm. “Bridge out,” she called toward the house, which made no response. “Dinner time,” she noted to George, looking at her watch. “We’ll have to wait.”

While they waited, Evie gave George a tour of the remarkably crafted meadowland. A tiny speaker system simulated family rainy days once or twice a week. (Evie’s mother loved the sound of distant thunderstorms as she went to sleep).

There were trees with waxy aesthetic apples hanging down, a pool table and a pool, a home gym where hilarious hundred-gram weights were hefted. George felt a twinge of shame for the world he had bought in-store for his own family, colorless in comparison to this paradise. Their nights and days relied on George’s switching on and off a reading lamp. Their chairs and tables and doghouses were made of toothpicks and woodchips jointed by gobs of Elmer’s glue.

Evie tapped her watch. “They should be about finished now. Would you like to talk to them?” She asked.

“Talk to them? But how could I do that?”

“Simply,” Evie said nonchalantly. Like a goddess, she reached out into the phony sky and plucked from it a tiny brown and white and yellow broach, shaped like a soaring bald eagle. It had hung just below a cloud. Affixing the eagle to her collar, she tapped it three times. Feedback bounced around the attic walls, buffeting George’s eardrums. Evie peered searchingly over the land she had created and with a dainty pluck, uprooted a plastic bush. Beneath it was a black pole, roughly two centimeters long, standing straight up. George squinted hard and realized the pole was a microphone stand, the eagle broach’s companion.

“Watch,” Evie smiled enchantingly. She bent over, and with a gentle but effective flicking of her finger, rapped on the little green house’s door three times. Evie pulled her collar up to her mouth. “Mother, Father, Tony,” she whispered. “There’s somebody here I’d like you to meet.” Her voice came through the sound system gently like the simulated wind. It must have sounded like a loudspeaker to them, because the tiny wooden door that George could have crushed between his fingers swung open, and three little figurines shuffled out to meet the giants.

Squinting down on the hill, which looked like a shrunken set from The Sound of Music, George could barely discern the three tiny faces. He could, however, tell what they were wearing. Mother wore a fluffy pink dress, crafted from a billowing inch of fabric. Father wore suspenders and a loosened tie, and penny loafers, though he himself might have been crushed by a piece of loose change. Tony wore a white t-shirt and jeans, and his indistinct face was framed by shoulder length hair. The father figure trotted down the hill, taking his place at the microphone stand.

“Guys,” Evie spoke into her broach. “This is George. He’s a family giant, too.”

“Hiya,” the father said. His voice, like Evie’s, filled the room. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Paul.”

George was in awe of this carefully crafted world. It made him feel like a lousy son. “Nice to meet you, sir,” he said. “I’m George.” Paul shrugged and cupped his hand to his ear.

“Oh, you’ve got to use this,” Evie said. In the excitement of things, he had forgotten something he knew quite well, that shrunken people couldn’t hear his voice. He had been unable to communicate to his own family, only receive their microscopic messages, never deliver his own. He could attempt to write smallishly, but rarely did, taking the size barrier as an excuse to not have to communicate.


George took the microphone and repeated himself. Paul nodded, hearing George’s voice through the loudspeaker system.

“So, George,” he continued. “What are your intentions with my daughter?”  George was startled. He looked at Evie, then at Paul. Paul made a grand gesture, indicating that it was a joke.

“I’m just kidding you, Georgey. It’s fine to meet you. We don’t get many visitors besides our Evie. It’s tough the way things have worked out for people like us.”

George nodded. It was tough from his side of things, he knew that much. He hadn’t much considered how tough it would be for those who shrunk.

“What’s your family like?”

George scratched his head. “Well, there’s Papa and Mama, and Emily,” he said.

“Oh! You’ve a sister!” Evie’s mother had chassed down the hill to join. “Mary,” she introduced herself. Tony remained at the doorstep looking bored. “How old is she? What’s she like?”

“Eighteen,” said George.”

“Oh my, Paul,” Evie’s mother said, nudging her husband.

Paul’s father said: “Our Tony is eighteen as well.”

“It can get pretty boring up here for an eighteen year old boy with no girls around. Evie’s mother whispered scandalously into the mic, but the sibilant secret spilled across the entire valley. Tony had apparently had enough of this soiree and returned inside. George saw him through the house’s window, slump onto his bed, picking up a book.

George remembered how boring it indeed could get as an eighteen year old boy with no girls around. He also remembered how boring it could get as an eighteen year old with no one around. This miniature paradise that Evie had so lovingly constructed for her family was ideal for the two parents. It made for a perfect retirement home. But it was no proper place for the pent up energy of a young man. When Tony grew up, then what? He would never be able to “grow up” enough—not to take on the world alone. The Shrink was irreversible. If their was a growth process, they could just enlarge the food itself. Instead, they had to shrink the people. George stretched his arms, brushing his knuckles against the attic’s wood ceiling, suddenly thankful for his lean, gangly limbs.

Evie and George returned downstairs to the living room. George nearly mistook the amorphous fuzz that occupied the couch as a cushion to sit on. Before he could, the cat leapt out of the way, into Evie’s lap.

“They’re wonderful people,” George said.

Evie smiled sadly. “Yes, they are. I’ve tried to give them the best for their situation. It’s really not fair how it all turned out.”

“No,” George agreed. “Why did you get chosen? It’s not every day that I meet a fellow family giant my own age,” he said.  “Most of them are the fathers. We’re a more unique species. Untraditional providers.”

“We are, aren’t we?” She looked to the attic in reverie. “As you can guess, we were too poor to get by—Tony was so thin—things had just started to get bad by the time I got out of high school. I worked two jobs, Mother did too, and so did Dad, but it was still barely enough. That’s when we opted for the Shrink.” George nodded. He knew the formula—poor, working class family in no way equipped to accommodate the massive food shortage. In his case, Papa’s bum-knee made George the obvious choice for Giant. George obliged, not keen on the idea of being reduced to centimetric stature, not overly sentimental about being separated from his family.

But Evie had done it out of love (for she so loved her family that she gave them up). George was simply a black sheep. He gave up his three relatives willingly, secretly blaming them for his own resultant loneliness.

“It’s amazing, what you’ve created for them,” George said.

Evie shook her head quickly emphatically, her face reddening. She looked as if she urgently needed to defend herself against the compliment. “No, no, it’s the least I can do. Really. There isn’t much for them in the way of niceties.” Yeah, thought George. Besides three extravagant, full meals a day delivered on the doorstep without having to lift a finger. “After all,” she said, “Family is the most important thing, don’t you think?”

George nodded, though the thought had never once crossed his mind. Surviving had always been the most important thing for his family.

“I just feel the worst for him, though,” said Evie.

“Who?” George asked. “Paul?”

“No—Tony. I’ve tried to provide the best I can, but he’s growing up. It really crushes me to think what kind of a life he’s been born into,” Evie went on. “He was just a boy when they did the Shrink. You know, it was a very tough decision on my parents, allowing me to be the Giant,” she reminded George, as if certain he were judging their irresponsibility and blaming them for Tony’s prospectively terrible life.

“No, of course—I understand fully,” George assured her. “We all had to make sacrifices back then,” he said somberly. “It was a hard time, for people like us, Evie.” Evie nodded sadly. Then, she leant forward and gave George a warm kiss on his freshly shaven cheek, just a sheepish peck—but nonetheless it surged warmly through his whole body, causing a happy grin to break out on George’s red face. Evie smiled shyly, just barely grazing his finger with her own, as if by accident. George was suddenly mitten by this auburn haired girl who thought that family was the most important thing.

They said goodbye and agreed to see each other again in two days time. They both knew it was a silly protocol in a town with a population density below 1—but that was the point. The reason you play the game, George thought, is that it’s fun. Besides, George had work to do.

The next day, when he returned from his career as a professional screwdriver, George brought with him an array of tools, purchased at the hobby shop in town. He had sneaked in when Evie wasn’t working, afraid he might frighten her off. Now, he emptied the plastic bag onto his dimly lit kitchen table, and made better use of his capable hands than he had using the simplistic power-drill allowed.

The next morning, he had produced a new table—he had dug into his savings to buy faux-oak, the finest and most expensive form of plywood the shop offered. Along with the table came four handcrafted chairs and a ready-made full desk (his mother had wanted to start writing her autobiography, so he thought it would make a perfect workspace. He left the fragile pieces of furniture in front of the house. Bleary-eyed, he looked at the house that had come with the shrink—it was simple, cheap, plastic. His mother had written a note, he recalled, suggesting perhaps a change was in order—not now, but whenever he could find the time. But that was more than a year ago, and the suggestion hadn’t been raised since, and George had already forgotten about it.

He leaned forward and carefully felt the siding of the small, foundationless country home, which sat in the center of a waist high table. It was located far away from the television room, far from George’s private dwelling. The hobby shop offered all sorts of house models—Victorian, Colonial Georgians, Barbadian chattel houses—but his own family was stuck with the “Sears Catalog Home”—plucked directly from a Levittown somewhere. The plastic screeched as he rubbed his fingers on its false vinyl exterior. It certainly wasn’t like the verdurous mansion that sat high on Evie’s hill. Perhaps he would buy them a new place. He blinked and committed the idea to memory, before going upstairs to rest up for his date.

He greeted Evie at her door with a bouquet of flowers that he could not really afford. She accepted them, but a deathly pallor had come over her face. She held out her hands. “Don’t come in!” She warned.

“What is it?” He asked, taking an instinctive step forward.

“Stop!” She admonished tearfully. “Oh, George. It’s terrible—Tony’s run away!” She collapsed limply onto George’s slight figure, nearly knocking him backwards. But he caught her, and gently brought her eyes up to his.

“Why would he do that?” George asked.

“I don’t know,” She wailed. “Mom says he’s been fighting with her and Dad, and that he was threatening to do something drastic. Oh, George, I don’t know what to do, he could be anywhere.” She grew frantic. “What if he’s fallen through a crack? What if he’s found a way outside? The birds—George, he’s so small he might look like a rice to them. Quick, we’ve got to shut the door.”

“Wait.” George furrowed his brow. “I’ll find him,” he said. Evie looked up.

“But George—” she began.

“I’ve got sharp eyes, Evie,” George said. “And better hands. And I’ve got another advantage—I know the mind of an 18-year-old boy.” Evie dried her face and sniffled once. Then, she nodded her assent. George nodded, taking off his shoes, and entering the house deftly, one paw at a time.

If I were an eighteen-year-old boy, where would I go? He thought. Scratch that. If I were a half-inch tall eighteen-year-old boy, where would I go? Swimming in the toilet? No. Why would that be appealing to anyone of any age? Come on, George—think. Win the game, right here, right now.

Three hours later, Evie inside from the front step. “How’s it going, George?”

“Swell,” he hollered back. But it was not going swell. He had made very little progress since his heroic vow to locate Tony, as the act of scanning the porous carpet with each footstep, then when finally sure that there were no Lilliputian virgin boys hidden inside, suddenly remembering that squishing the brother of the love of your life and the possibly the last marriageable woman in fifty miles is not the way to win the game, and painstakingly checking again had hampered his purported eagle eyes and dexterous fingers from plucking the long-haired little bastard from the clear blue sky.

George carefully tiptoed into the television room, and after investigating each fiber on the couch cushion, plopped down, dog-tired. Where could this little asshole be? Anywhere, really. Between the goddamn quarks in the atmosphere. No taller than a penny, nearly inaudible—it was like trying to track down in ant in a haystack—something like that, at least.

George reached for the remote control, then thought better. Reruns in perpetuity. TV had lost its appeal since the shrink’s introduction. Cable companies didn’t try to entertain the few giants that were left to roam the Earth. Instead, he looked to the bookcase affixed to the wall. There were great, old tomes—Paul and Mary must have been great readers, pity the books, too couldn’t be shrunk down. There was Tolstoy and his compatriot Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the gang, a load of Encyclopedia Brittanicas…George squinted at volume S…it seemed to be inching itself out of the bookcase, slowly but surely, until…

The book crashed violently to the ground. George stood up suddenly, vigilantly, certain that the heavy leather-bound volume had squished Tony and George’s chance with the flattened Stanley’s sister along with him. But when he peeked under the book, there were no cute, infinitesimal intestines splattered across the cover, no miniature brains exploded like the tiniest of watermelons on the carpet below.

George stood. The shelf on which the book had rested stood at eye-level. How the hell did that thing fall? He squinted hard at the now yawning chasm between R and T. Sure enough, there was the little bastard. Tony, attempting futilely to scale the spine of volume T, slipping and sliding off with each grab. “Tony,” George said.

Tony wheeled around, petrified. The gust of George’s voice seemed to knock him down, where he remained in a scared stupor. George remembered that Tony could not respond—at least not audibly. With his reputedly dexterous fingers, George plucked the tiny creature by his collar and hefted him from the bookshelf. He dropped Tony carefully onto the palm of his hand, and jaunted up the staircase, bearing good news.

Tony curled nervously into a ball, bouncing up and down with each gigantic step George took, desperately grabbing handfuls of palmy flesh. Just as George reached forward to grasp the attic door, he felt a small sting. And another. He looked down to find Tony biting George’s skin with all his might. George prodded him tenderly with his finger. “Stop that, you little jerk,” George said. Tony wouldn’t let go until George managed to shake him free with a small earthquake.

When the aftershock had gone away, Tony stood on wobbly legs. George bent down to within inches of the scrawny Micro sapiens. “What is it?” George asked. Tony pointed to his ear, then to George. “I’m aware,” George said. “I can’t hear you.” Tony shook his head. He pointed to George then mimed him plucking something from his palm, and placing it in his ear. “If you think I’m going to put you in my ear, forget it,” he said, cupping his other hand to make it so Tony could distinguish his response. “Not after that biting display you put on.”

Tony slumped desperately. George wasn’t sure, but he thought tears were coming from his shrunken eyes. He pointed to his mouth, then to George, indicating that he wanted to talk. Sighing, George thought how the boy must feel. “OK,” he nodded. But how?

George swung open the attic door. He snaked through the canyon and unlatched the bridge that barred him from the house perched on the lush, plasticine hill. Reaching forward, he rapped on the great, faux-oak door three times. A little, matronly face peeked out. George pointed to the microphone at the hill’s base, and as Mary scurried down the hill, holding the bunches of her dress, George plucked from the wall the broach that would allow him to communicate with her.

“George?” she asked excitedly. “Have you found him? Have you found our boy?” George nodded, extending his hand to show Tony, who seemed less than eager to return to the house from which he had escaped only hours before.

“Oh, thank god!” she cried. “Thank you, George,” she smiled with great relief. “Paul!” She turned and shouted back to the house. “George found our boy!” She turned and whispered into the microphone: “He’s napping. He has no trouble sleeping, even when our boy is missing!” Paul poked his head out from his upstairs window like a groundhog, looking around bleary eyes. “George has Tony!” Mary called up to him. Seeming only pleasantly surprised, Paul rubbed his eyes and descended the stairs to come meet Mary.

“Hold on,” George said, looking at Tony, who looked back to him. “I’ve got to have a talk with Tony.”

Mary cocked her head. “Oh? A talk?” Then she smiled. “But of course, by all means—talk away. We’ll be inside the house.”

“Um,” George began, looking momentarily at Tony, who stood on the uncertain earth of George’s trembling hand. “Actually, I think we should talk alone,” George said. “And seeing as the loudspeakers ring throughout the room…” George said. “Would you mind?” he asked. The parents looked at one another confusedly as George offered his hand on the phony green turf. Nervously, the old couple crawled onto George’s palm. They embraced their found son momentarily. Then, as Tony crawled off onto the hill, they found themselves flying on the nimbus of George’s massive hand, out of the attic and onto a hallway table. George held up a finger to indicate that he would just be a moment, then pointed to the table, mouthing the words: “Stay right here.” The parents nodded powerlessly.

Back in the attic, Tony had taken his place at the microphone. George tapped the broach to test it, making Tony cringe.

“Sorry,” George said. “So…why did you leave?” George asked.

Tony shrugged. “There’s nothing for me, here.” George was somewhat shocked at how deep this little creature’s voice was.

“No,” George said. “I suppose not. But where were you headed?” George asked. “What were you doing at the bookshelf?”

“Well,” Tony admitted. “I remembered that Dad had a collection of…magazines hidden in between the encyclopedias…”

“Oh,” George nodded. “But those would be too big for you to enjoy anyway,” George said.

Tony shrugged. “Well, I figured I could stand over the good parts, you know…” he looked at the ground ashamedly.  “Put yourself in my shoes,” he went on. George imagined putting himself in those incredibly small shoes. “There’s no girls up here,” Tony said. “Never will be. I’m never going to go hungry, sure—but in another way, I’ll always be starved.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked down. “What kind of life is that?”

“No kind,” George agreed.

“I’m going to die—a virgin,” Tony said. George nodded vaguely, suddenly understanding this little hero’s tragic dilemma. That’s what the shrink was—survival. It didn’t allow families to keep living, just keep surviving.

George sighed. Then, and idea.

“Listen buddy,” he said. “There may be something I can do.”


The next day, Tony woke up around one o’ clock. The sun beamed through his window. A single flake of dust about the size of his finger tip drifted by his the light. He stretched his body out and scratched his head. He wondered what the hell this George character thought he could to make his doomed existence any better, let alone worth while. Hurling himself off the canyon was still at top of the list as far as Tony could see. He walked downstairs and ate a few chicken fibers and pancakes. Nothing to do, like always.

Some fresh air, perhaps. Tony’s parents were nowhere to be found. His dad liked to hike around the attic and his mother enjoyed gardening. All the windows were open, making it feel like the house itself was breathing in and out the perpetual spring that his sister had so lovingly created for them. He loved her and thanked her for how she had provided for them, but envied her and wished he had the foresight as a twelve-year-old to demand not to be shrunk. But he had been frightened, and naturally clung to his parents.

He pushed open the door, squinting at the pseudo-sun above him. “No clouds today,” he mocked the world with no one in earshot. He sat shirtless on the stoop of his house. Everything the same, every day and night. Nothing much happens around here, he thought. Same trees, same trees, same windmill spinning the same direction. Suddenly, Tony jolted, not believing his eyes. In the distance stood a new, pink house. A realtor’s sign was posted in the front yard, with the big red word “SOLD.” He squinted hard. In the front yard was a long chair, and on that long chair was a thin, brown-haired girl basking in the sunlight, catching a tan.



What u think?

The Definitive, Somewhat Short Guide To Who Killed JFK By An Arguably Non-Crazy Person

The JFK files have been released, thus far yielding no smoking guns, nothing to rouse public opinion from the state of complacent acceptance that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman, into the level of skepticism that was always appropriate for a story of such magnitude.

My friends all know that I’m on board with the notion that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy (I have made that fact abundantly, annoyingly clear). So a few of them have asked me what I thought about the new file dump. I told them I was cynical as to whether it would make any difference. Because, in my opinion, all the evidence needed to determine that Oswald did not act alone–even to determine who probably worked in concert to murder John F. Kennedy–was already out there.

BUT, I haven’t yet seen a good, comprehensive consolidation of that information on the Internet in a form shorter than an entire book. I have attempted to do that for you.

This is, my  Definitive, Somewhat Short Guide To Who Killed JFK By An Arguably Non-Crazy Person.

It won’t have everything. As ardent a believer as I am–you might even say a “zealot”–I am not an expert. This guy is, sort of, which doesn’t exactly lend credibility to the rest of we theorizers.

lmao I’m serious.

So I’m going to miss some stuff. And much of it will seem conjectural, or circumstantial–but I ask that you consider the alternative throughout–that being the illogical yarn spun by the Warren Commission–which claims that a lone nut in Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. And consider what you know about the official story of how things went down. I assume, not all that much. And yet you are more inclined to believe it – why? Simply because it has been canonized by the powers that be as inviolable truth? I’m asking you to open your mind as you read, and think to yourself: perhaps I just don’t know.

I’ve done my best in consolidating and curating the information I find most important and compelling. It’s not the most authoritative, nor the most organized, I would guess. But I would argue that this is gonna be your best, semi-coherent, semi-short article from a semi-non-crazy person you can find on the Internet. So here we go.

We’re going to begin with the figure who I believe played the most integral role in coalescing the interests of the parties who wanted John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, out of the picture in 1963. Lyndon Baines Johnson. Like a detective, we start with motive.

What is LBJ’s motive for killing JFK?

LIFE Article

Well, lets start with the fact that LBJ was about to go down, big time. In 1963, James Wagenvoord was the editorial business manager and assistant to LIFE magazine’s Executive Editor. Wagenvoord says that the magazine was working with Robert Kennedy, John’s brother and then Attorney General, on an explosive investigation into LBJ’s history of corruption. Not only was Lyndon Johnson in danger of taking political injury, but he was actually in danger of facing prison time.

This starts with Johnson’s relationship with fellow crooked politician, the secretary to the Senate majority in 1963, Bobby Baker. Wagenvoord says: “Beginning in late summer 1963 the magazine, based upon information fed from Bobby Kennedy and the Justice Department, had been developing a major newsbreak piece concerning Johnson and Bobby Baker.  On publication Johnson would have been finished and off the ’64 ticket (reason the material was fed to us) and would probably have been facing prison time.  At the time LIFE magazine was arguably the most important general news source in the U.S.  The top management of Time, Inc. was closely allied with the USA’s various intelligence agencies and we were used…by the Kennedy Justice Department as a conduit to the public…The LBJ/Baker piece was in the final editing stages and was scheduled to break in the issue of the magazine due out the week of November 24 (the magazine would have made it to the newsstands on Nov. 26th or 27th).  It had been prepared in relative secrecy by a small special editorial team.  On Kennedy’s death research files and all numbered copies of the nearly print-ready draft were gathered up by my boss (he had been the top editor on the team) and shredded.  The issue that was to expose LBJ instead featured the Zapruder film.  Based upon our success in syndicating the Zapruder film I became Chief of Time/LIFE editorial services and remained in that job until 1968.”  (From Wagenvoord’s personal blog)

Bobby Baker

Who was Bobby Baker?

The book ”A Texan Looks at Lyndon” by J. Evetts Haley was published in 1964. The book details the relationships between Lyndon Johnson, Bobby Baker and Billy Sol Estes–three verifiably crooked men from Texas. Another important claim made in the book was that Johnson was culpable in the deaths of Henry Marshall and John Douglas Kinser. Known Johnson crony Malcolm “Mac” Wallace was convicted of killing Kinser in 1951, and for his crime was given a 5-year suspended sentence (which we will return to momentarily). Wallace had been working for Johnson since 1950.

Back to Baker. Bobby Baker was LBJ’s closest associate, and had the nickname “Little Lyndon.” Baker, LBJ’s confidante, was the subject of a senate investigation beginning in 1962. In his 1968 book The Dark Side of Lyndon Baines Johnson, investigative journalist Joachim Joesten wrote: “The Baker scandal then is truly the hidden key to the assassination, or more exact, the timing of the Baker affair crystallized the more or less vague plans to eliminate Kennedy which had already been in existence the threat of complete exposure which faced Johnson in the Baker scandal provided that final impulse he was forced to give the go-ahead signal to the plotters who had long been waiting for the right opportunity.” Pretty straightforward stuff (though a bit of a run-on sentence). Johnson knew the investigation could potentially lead back to him and his many skeletons – including the murders of Kinser and Henry Marshall.

Henry Marshall and Douglas Kinser

In 1960, Henry Marshall held a senior post at the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in Texas. That year, he had started to investigate Billy Sol Estes, LBJ’s other right hand man. I guess he was his left hand man, if Baker was the right hand one. Nobody has two right hands, after all. Except this guy. 

In his investigations, Marshall discovered that Sol Estes had purchased 3,200 acres of cotton allotments from 116 different farmers (source). Marshall wrote to his superiors in D.C.: “The regulations should be strengthened to support our disapproval of every case (of allotment transfers).”

When he found out that Marshall was meddling with this plot (no pun intended) to illegally buy up land en masse, Sol Estes sent his lawyer to meet with Marshall, who told him that he was aware that Sol Estes was involved in a “scheme or device to buy allotments, and will not be approved, and prosecution will follow if this operation is ever used.”

A. B. Foster, manager of Billie Sol Enterprises, then wrote to Lyndon Johnson aide Clifton Carter that they would “would sincerely appreciate your investigating this and seeing if anything can be done.”

On June 3, 1961, Marshall was found dead lying beside his truck. He had been shot 5 times. A doctor performing an autopsy found a 15 percent carbon monoxide concentration in Marshall’s body and determined that it may have been as high as 30 percent when Marshall died. It was deemed by the Roberson County Sheriff a SUICIDE.

Nolan Griffin, a gas station attendant in Robertson County says he was asked by an out-of-towner for directions to Henry Marshall’s farm. Griffin was later able to identify the stranger as this man:

Malcolm “Mac” Wallace.

Malcolm Wallace was an accomplished henchman on LBJ’s payroll, as well as Edward Clark’s, who we will return to later (I’m getting my yarn all tangled). Wallace, along with being likely responsible for the murder of Henry Marshall, was previously convicted of killing a man by the name of Douglas Kinser.

Barr McClellan, author of Blood, Money & Power and a former member of LBJ’s legal team, alleges in his book that both Wallace and a man by the name of Douglas Kinser were having affairs with Lyndon Johnson’s sister Josefa Johnson in 1951. McCellan states that Kinser,  the proprietor of a mini-golf course, asked Josefa to approach her brother for financial help. When Johnson refused, McLellan alleges that Kinser sought to blackmail him.

On October 22, 1951, Mac Wallace went to Kinser’s golf course and shot him to death. A customer wrote down the license plate number of the car Wallace fled in, and he was later arrested. Wallace was convicted by a jury of his peers for the crime of “murder with malice afore-thought.” Eleven of twelve jurors recommended the death penalty, and the twelfth recommended a life sentence. Instead, Judge Charles O. Betts decided that justice was a five year prison sentence, which he promptly suspended. Wallace walked out scot free.

What the fuck?

How is that allowed? Well, that was apparently the state of the state of Texas at the time. A boys club, and if you were a member, you were utterly unassailable. You could literally be convicted of murder and let walk. And if you’ll keep reading, you’ll see that this was–and perhaps is still–the state of the country at-large.

Hopefully this has given some insight into what might have been the personal motivation for LBJ to want the president dead – so that he could assume his role and do away with these pesky senate investigations and magazine exposés. Whereas we are clamoring for anything and everything to come to light regarding our political leaders today, the ethos of the day for journalism was: you do NOT publish information detrimental to the president’s image. Recall that FDR asked reporters not to photograph him in a wheelchair as it could dampen national morale. Actually as I fact checked this I learned that it’s not really true lol; from TIME magazine’s Matthew Pressman: “As for incriminating images, it took far more than a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ for the FDR administration to discourage photos and newsreel film of the president in his wheelchair. Rather, the Secret Service used force…they would seize the camera and tear out the film.” But I’m leaving it to show that something analogous may have been the case, because the evidence is there that the exposé was in the works before the assassination. Yet afterward? Poof. Gone.

Along with a desire to avoid his own ruin, Johnson simply hated John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby. So did his friends, the men who had made Johnson’s political career in Texas–and that’s the key part. Johnson was in the pocket of the Texas oligarchy, the oil men, and unlike JFK, he was morally flexible. Johnson was concerned first and foremost with his own political status, and therefore able to be bought. The perfect guy for the office of “most powerful man in the country” (according to those with the power to put him there).

Big Oil

Edward Clark and Clint Murchison were two oil tycoons whose names recur in the works of JFK theorists as being the ones who funded and helped orchestrate the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

What was their motive in wanting Kennedy dead? JFK wanted to abolish or reduce the ultra-high tax allowance–called the oil depletion allowance–of 27.5%, which would have lost the oil industry millions–even hundreds of millions. From the New York Times December 15, 1963: “Nowhere is oil a bigger political force than Texas, producer of 35 per cent of the nation’s oil and possessor of half of its obtainable oil reserves. As a Texan in Congress, Lyndon B. Johnson was a strong advocate of oil industry causes – low import quotas and the 27.5 % per cent tax allowance for depletion of oil reserves.” While campaigning, John F. Kennedy had previously stated his intentions to preserve the oil depletion allowance, writing to Gerald C. Mann, the director of the Democratic campaign for Kennedy in Texas: “I have consistently, throughout this campaign, made clear my recognition of the value and importance of the oil-depletion allowance. I realize its purpose and value…” Philip F. Nelson, author of LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, wrote that this allowance paved the way for the oil industry to save up to $280-$300 million a year.

Jim Marrs reiterates the importance of the depletion allowance to the oil industry in Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy: “Under this allowance, an oilman with a good deal of venture capital could become rich with virtually no risk. For example, a speculator could drill ten wells. If nine were dry holes and only the tenth struck oil, he would still make money because of tax breaks and the depletion allowance.”

While he had campaigned with the promise of keeping the oil depletion allowance, Kennedy changed his mind three years later. In January of 1963, Kennedy presented his proposal for tax reform, writing that the oil depletion allowance would be removed.

The oligarchs of Texas did not want that. Kennedy had also poked the bear in 1962, with The Kennedy Act of 1962 which had also enraged these millionaires. Joe Siracusa, author of The Kennedy Years and  Encyclopedia of the Kennedys: The People and Events That Shaped America believes that these men contracted the assassination.”The motive?” Siracusa writes, “JFK had infuriated big oil with the Kennedy Act of 1962, slapping taxes on US oil firms that would have cost them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”

In Age of Inquiry, by Robert Clayton Buick just what the Kennedy Act did: “In October, 1962, Kennedy was able to persuade Congress to pass an act that removed the distinction between repatriated profits and profits reinvested abroad. While this law applied to industry as a whole, it especially affected the oil companies. It was estimated that as a result of this legislation, wealthy oilmen saw a fall in their earnings on foreign investment from 30 per cent to 15 per cent.” 

These guys also had been grooming J. Edgar Hoover, the famous director of the FBI, to be their man on the inside. From Anthony Summers’ The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover: “Recognizing Edgar’s influence as a national figure, the oilmen had started cultivating him in the late forties-inviting him to Texas as a houseguest, taking him on hunting expeditions. Edgar’s relations with them were to go far beyond what was proper for a Director of the FBI.”

People would stay at Clint Murchison’s Del Charro Hotel in La Jolla, California frequently. BIG people. J. Edgar Hoover was one. From Anthony Summers book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover: “Allan Witwer, the manager of the hotel at the time said: ‘It came to the end of the summer and Hoover had made no attempt to pay his bill. So I went to Murchison and asked him what he wanted me to do.’ Murchison told him to put it on his bill. Witwer estimates that over the next 18 summers Murchison’s hospitality was worth nearly $300,000.” Other guests at the hotel over the years included Texas Governor John Connally and Lyndon Johnson; mafiosos Johnny Rosselli, Sam Giancana and Carlos Marcello were others.

On the night of November 21, 1963 – one day before the assassination in Dallas – there was a meeting alleged to have taken place at Clint Murchison’s house in Dallas. This allegation comes from Madeleine Brown, who also claims to have been LBJ’s mistress. Watch this video to hear the story.

From a separate interview: “Tension filled the room upon his arrival. The group immediately went behind closed doors. A short time later Lyndon, anxious and red-faced, reappeared. I knew how secretly Lyndon operated. Therefore I said nothing… not even that I was happy to see him. Squeezing my hand so hard, it felt crushed from the pressure, he spoke with a grating whisper, a quiet growl, into my ear, not a love message, but one I’ll always remember: ‘After tomorrow those goddamn Kennedys will never embarrass me again – that’s no threat – that’s a promise.'”

Madeleine Brown’s story has been disputed by Gary Mack, co-producer of the Emmy award winning JFK: The Dallas TapesMack writes in 1997:

“Madeleine has claimed over the years that she attended a party at Clint Murchison’s house the night before the assassination and LBJ, Hoover and Nixon were there. The party story, without LBJ, first came from Penn Jones in Forgive My Grief. In that version, the un-credited source was a black chauffeur whom Jones didn’t identify, and the explanation Jones gave was that it was the last chance to decide whether or not to kill JFK. Of course, Hoover used only top FBI agents for transportation and in the FBI of 1963, none were black.”

However, this is contrary to an anecdote from C. David Heymann’s RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy, in which Robert Kennedy is purported to have sent out a memo to the FBI saying that the Bureau needed to hire more black employees.

“The only person who didn’t respond to the memo was J. Edgar Hoover,” said John Seigenthaler, Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant. “I sent a second memo, after which he wrote me saying it was a violation of federal regulations to inquire into the race of government employees.” When Hoover claimed that besides that, there were already two black employees directly under him, Seigenthaler says: “We went back I showed the memo to Sal Andretta, chief administrator of the department, who’d been there for years, and he said, ‘Hell, they’re Hoover’s drivers.’”

But Mack continues: “Actually, there is no confirmation for a party at Murchison’s. I asked Peter O’Donnell because Madeleine claimed he was there, too. Peter said there was no party…

“Could LBJ have been at a Murchison party? No. LBJ was seen and photographed in the Houston Coliseum with JFK at a dinner and speech. They flew out around 10pm and arrived at Carswell (Air Force Base in northwest Fort Worth) at 11:07 Thursday night. Their motorcade to the Hotel Texas arrived about 11:50 and LBJ was again photographed. He stayed in the Will Rogers suite on the 13th floor and Manchester (William Manchester – author of The Death of a President) says he was up late.”

Madeleine Brown’s son, Steven Mark Brown, filed suit against  Lady Bird Johnson and the Johnson estate in 1989, claiming that Johnson was his father, but the suit was dismissed.

Make of Madeleine Brown’s account what you will. This fact remains: John F. Kennedy was threatening to cost the oil industry nearly $300 million, and when Lyndon Johnson became president, the oil depletion tax allowance did stay at 27.5%. Big oil men from Texas did not like the yankee New Englander in the oval office. He had double-crossed them, and now was threatening their livelihood–or at least the magnitude of their opulent lifestyles. Certainly, they would prefer a homegrown boy of their own in that office – one they knew they could trust.

Organized Crime

In order, Johnny Rosselli, Sam Giancana and Carlos Marcello

Johnny Rosselli, Sam Giancana and Carlos Marcello were previously mentioned as having stayed at Murchison’s luxury hotel in La Jolla. All three men have been tied to the Kennedy assassination by various sources.

Marcello and the other elites of organized crime did not have a problem with John Kennedy as much as his brother, Robert (or Bobby). In 1961, the younger Kennedy as the Attorney General launched a war on organized crime, calling America’s attention to a “private government of organized crime with an annual income of billions, resting on a base of human suffering and moral corrosion.” From The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy by University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato: “The Mafia detested the administration of John F. Kennedy as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy raised the number of mob convictions from 35 in 1960 to 288 in 1963.”

This was also seen as a double-cross, after the Kennedy patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy had used his mafia connections to encourage voters to elect his son for the presidency.

Sam Giancana

Sam Giancana was the leader of the Chicago crime family from 1957–1966. From a National Geographic article by Patrick Kiger from October 23, 2013 entitled WAS KENNEDY TIED TO THE MOB?: “Giancana had longtime ties to the Kennedy clan, going back to JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who was involved with Giancana in the bootlegging business during Prohibition. Additionally, Gianciana was an associate of singer Frank Sinatra, a close Kennedy friend, and allegedly was a donor to JFK’s 1960 Presidential campaign, at a time when politicians weren’t required to disclose their deep-pockets contributors.” Many have alleged that Giancana helped Kennedy win the crucial 1960 West Virginia primary. In 2009, Frank Sinatra’s daughter Tina Sinatra told 60 minutes that her father was a friend of both Giancana and the Kennedy’s, and that he served as an intermediary for Giancana and Joe Kennedy in soliciting Giancana’s connections to help Kennedy secure the primary over Sen. Hubert Humphrey. In The Dark Side of Camelot, Seymour Hersh also alleges that Joe Kennedy met with Giananca regarding the same. According to Professor Larry Sabato, Joe offered “the president’s ear” in return for their aide.

But in 1961, Joe Kennedy suffered a stroke that rendered him immobile and, according to the JFK library, “barely able to communicate.”

From J. Randy Taraborrelli’s book Sinatra: Behind the Legend, Taraborrelli claims that Sinatra remarked once, after President Kennedy cancelled plans to sleep at Sinatra’s house, “You know, if Joe Kennedy hadn’t had that stroke, none of this would be happening. Bobby would never do this if Joe was around to stop him.” Attorney General Robert Kennedy wrote in a Justice Department report: “Sinatra has had a long and wide association with hoodlums and racketeers, which seems to be continuing.” Names of associates included Sam Giancana.

In fact, it is widely alleged that Sinatra was held responsible for the Kennedys’ betrayal, but they couldn’t off him, because, you know – he was Frank Sinatra. From Sabato’s Half-Century: “When the Kennedys turned on Giancana once they were in the White House, Sinatra had to work hard to deflect the mobster’s wrath at Sinatra on account of the Kennedys’ unfaithfulness. In atonement, the singer played at Giancana’s club, the Villa Venice, with his ‘Rat Pack’ of fellow entertainers, for eight nights in a row.” He goes on to say:  “Sinatra worked his way back into Giancana’s good graces, but the Kennedys never did.”


Though the mafia particularly despised Robert Kennedy, I think it’s important to note that JFK was on board with his brother’s directives. Here’s a reminder of why this assassination and cover-up is still important – because John Kennedy was murdered for being an idealist, rather than an opportunist. Being a president who wanted to make the country better, help people, clean up corruption – and he was murdered for it. Now look at the white house. This is what they’ve allowed.

Carlos Marcello

When asked by historian and author of Robert Kennedy And His Times Arthur Schlesinger who he thought was principally responsible for the death of his brother,  Bobby Kennedy allegedly responded: “that guy in New Orleans.”

That meant Carlos Marcello. Marcello was the Sicilian-American boss of the New Orleans crime family for 30 years.

In 1962, Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Ed Reid published an anecdote about Marcello in a study of organized crime called The Grim Reapers, in which a friend says Marcello made a rather surprising remark about the President and his younger brother. Friend of Marcello Edward Becker told the House Committee on Assassinations that he said something to the effect of “Bobby Kennedy is really giving you a rough time,” and Marcello reportedly responded by suggesting that he and the President were to be taken care of shortly: “You know what they say in Sicily: if you want to kill a dog, you don’t cut off the tail, you cut off the head.” Robert Kennedy had authorized the extralegal deportation of Marcello to Guatemala using a fake birth certificate that stated he was born there. From the House Committee on Assassinations document: “Marcello ‘clearly indicated’ that his own lieutenants must not be identified as the assassins, and that there would thus necessity to have them use or manipulate someone else to carry out the actual crime.”

Someone like James Files, who confessed to shooting John F. Kennedy under instruction from Johnny Roselli and Charles Nicoletti, who were both lieutenants in the Chicago crime family, under Sam Giancana–alleged to be working in conjunction with Marcello’s New Orleans men.

Roselli is alleged by mobster-turned-author Bill Bonnanno (who was a fellow inmate in prison at the time and a member of the La Cosa Nostra crime family) to have said that he fired at Kennedy from a storm drain on Elm Street. This is reiterated in M. Wesley Swearingen’s 2008 book To Kill A President: “Roselli bragged to the source, who was a made man in La Cosa Nostra, that Roselli had shot at and may have killed John Kennedy…Roselli and his men then finished the job from the sewer drain and the grassy knoll while the police and witnesses were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.’”

Before the House Committee on Assassinations was fully formed in 1976, though, Rosselli died. He didn’t exactly pass gently in his sleep. His body was recovered in 55-gallon steel fuel drum floating in Dumfoundling Bay near Miami, reportedly strangled, stabbed and dismembered. Sam Giancana was shot in the back of the head in 1975 as he was grilling sausage and peppers. Charles Nicoletti was shot three times in the back of the head while sitting in his car in March 1977. All were due to testify at the Committee at the times of their deaths. Here’s a video about it.

More from Reid’s book, regarding a separate conversation between Marcello and three other men at his 3,000 acre plantation in New Orleans:

It was then that Carlos’ voice lost its softness, and his words were bitten off and spit out when mention was made of U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was still on the trail of Marcello. “Livarsi na petra di la scarpa!” Carlos shrilled the cry of revenge: “Take the stone out of my shoe!” “Don’t worry about that little Bobby, son of a bitch,” he shouted. “He’s going to be taken care of!” Ever since Robert Kennedy had arranged for his deportation to Guatemala, Carlos had wanted revenge. But as the subsequent conversation, which was reported to two top Government investigators by one of the participants and later to this author, showed, he knew that to rid himself of Robert Kennedy he would first have to remove the President. Any killer of the Attorney General would be hunted down by his brother; the death of the President would seed the fate of his Attorney General.

No one at the meeting had any doubt about Marcello’s intentions when he abruptly arose from the table. Marcello did not joke about such things. In any case, the matter had gone beyond mere “business”; it had become an affair of honor, a Sicilian vendetta. Moreover, the conversation at Churchill Farms also made clear that Marcello had begun to move. He had, for example, already thought of using a “nut” to do the job. Roughly 1 year later President Kennedy was shot Dallas–2 months after Attorney General Robert Kennedy had announced to the McClellan committee that he was going to expand his war on organized crime. And it is perhaps significant that privately Robert Kennedy had singled out James Hoffa, Sam Giancana, and Carlos Marcello as being among his chief targets. (168)

The House Committee on Assassinations determined in regard to Marcello: “The committee found that Marcello had the motive, means and opportunity to have President John F. Kennedy assassinated, though it was unable to establish direct evidence of Marcello’s complicity.” The House Committee on Assassinations also concluded that Marcello had connections to one Jack Ruby (the assassin of Lee Harvey Oswald, widely-accepted to be the lone shooter). Edward Becker, friend of Marcello’s stated to the House Committee on Assassinations that “it was generally thought in mob circles that Ruby was a tool of some mob group.”

Marcello has also been recorded by the FBI confessing to the killing of John F. Kennedy from a prison cell in Texarkana, Texas, stating that he hired two men to carry out the assassination. From Lamar Waldron’s The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination—“Yeah, I had the little son of a bitch killed. I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it myself.”

Other players include Santo Trafficante, a Tampa-based crime boss. Anti-Castro exile Jose Aleman told the HSCA that Trafficante told him in 1962 that JFK would not be re-elected, because “he is going to be hit.” Aleman stated that he believes that Jimmy Hoffa was also involved. Frank Ragano writes in his book Mob Lawyer that he carried a message from Hoffa to Trafficante and Carlos Marcello that instructed them to go-ahead with the assassination of Kennedy. Ragano states that Trafficante later told him, when he was on his death bed, “I think Carlos f**ked up in getting rid of Giovanni (John) — maybe it should have been Bobby.” Trafficante told the HSCA that he had previously worked with the CIA in plots in 1960 and ’61 to assassinate Fidel Castro.


The House Committee on Assassinations also concluded in 1979 that the FBI had failed to appropriately investigate the mafia and Marcello’s involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy, and had actively sought to discredit Edward Becker, who reported the threat made by Marcello to FBI agents BEFORE the assassination in 1962.

As I said before, J. Edgar Hoover was known to pal around with the Texas oil tycoons, and was present at the party Madeleine Brown alleges took place on November 21, 1963 at Clint Murchison’s house. It is alleged by Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s secretary in Anthony Summers book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life Of J. Edgar Hoover that Hoover essentially blackmailed John Kennedy into putting Lyndon Johnson on his ticket.

“During the 1960 campaign, according to Mrs. Lincoln, Kennedy discovered how vulnerable his womanizing had made him. Sexual blackmail, she said, had long been part of Lyndon Johnson’s modus operandi abetted by Edgar. ‘J. Edgar Hoover gave Johnson the information about various congressmen and senators so that Johnson could go to X senator and say, “How about this little deal you have with this woman?” and so forth. That’s how he kept them in line. He used his IOUs with them as what he hoped was his road to the presidency. He had this trivia to use because he had Hoover in his corner. And he thought that the members of Congress would go out there and put him over at the Convention. But then Kennedy beat him at the Convention. And well, after that Hoover and Johnson and their group were able to push Johnson on Kennedy. LBJ,’ said Lincoln, ‘had been using all the information that Hoover could find on Kennedy during the campaign and even before the Convention. And Hoover was in on the pressure on Kennedy at the Convention.’”

And, like the mob, Hoover HATED Robert Kennedy. Hoover outright denied the existence of a nationwide crime syndicate, and preferred to focus on beatniks and commies than the problem of organized crime in America.

Sam Giancana, the nephew of the aforementioned chicago mob boss of the same name, wrote in his 2007 book Mafia: The Government’s Secret File on Organized Crime: “Under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s watch, the criminal organizations that would become known as La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia, and the Outfit were allowed to operate unimpeded for decades,” Sam Giancana, nephew of the famed Chicago mob boss, wrote. “Bureau resources focused instead on high-profile cases like the Lindbergh kidnapping and the apprehension of notorious bank robber John Dillinger—cases that were intended to elevate Hoover’s stature, undeservedly, to that of America’s quintessential crime buster.”

But RFK changed all that. He diverted from the old way of doing business, and as AG took the reins of the FBI from the long-tenured Hoover. He resented him, resented that he refused to follow dress codes. In Curt Gentry’s book Hoover: The Man and His Secrets, Gentry says that Hoover had instructed FBI tour guides to mention that Hoover was named director of the FBI in 1924, the year before the current Attorney general was born. In Burton Hersh’s book Bobby and Edgar, Hersh makes the claim that Bobby had a direct line to the FBI director’s office, and even had a buzzer that would summon Hoover when rung.

It is alleged that Hoover believed he was slated to be relieved of his position, soon, to make way for someone more suited for the new direction the Kennedy’s were paving for American government.

In a memo that was part of the newly released JFK File dump, Hoover dictates in the weeks after the assassination:  “The thing I am concerned about, and so is Mr.  [Deputy Attorney General Nicholas] Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.” In another memo from November 25, he states or writes: “the public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.”

All this is circumstantial, but it paints a broader picture of the widespread discomfort and agitation that the Kennedy’s were causing the “old guard” of American government.


E. Howard Hunt (left), and Frank Sturgis (right)

John F. Kennedy famously (famously in small circles of conspiracy theorists, perhaps) was quoted in the New York Times as saying that he intended to “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” The massive failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion was a terrible embarrassment and source of frustration for Kennedy, and the perceived lack of support that the CIA got from the Executive branch was seen as a betrayal by the President.

In these days (maybe still, I don’t have a clue) it has been said that the CIA was more or less of a community with impunity, rather than an organization balanced by power-checks and protocols. James W. Douglass writes in JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters that Harry Truman’s approval of National Security Council allowed for the Agency to engage in: “propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas, and refugee liberation groups.” The act made it so CIA operations could now be “so planned and executed that any US government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons, and that if uncovered, the US government can plausibly deny any responsibility for them” (Ibid). In Peter Janney’s book Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, Janney quotes Eisenhower speaking to then-CIA director Allen Dulles, telling him: “The structure of our intelligence organization is faulty,” he said to Dulles. “I have suffered an eight-year defeat on this. Nothing has changed since Pearl Harbor. I leave a ‘legacy of ashes’ to my successor.”

Eisenhower famously warned America of the military industrial complex, part and parcel of the “secret societies” that John F. Kennedy spoke of in his speech. Eisenhower had approved the plan for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1959, so that JFK inherited it upon his arrival in the oval office. It was a wholesale failure, and was quashed by the Cubans in two days. The failure ruined the relationship between Kennedy and the CIA. Kennedy saw them as dangerous, volatile warmongerers, and they basically saw JFK as a pussy-foot, indecisive, and probably cowardly.  Historian Arthur Schlesinger says that Kennedy planned to cut the CIA by 20% by 1966. He fired CIA director Allen Dulles. Dulles would later be the second in command to Earl Warren in the Lyndon Johnson-formed Warren Commission, which determined that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

The CIA had previously worked with many of the Mob people I mentioned before; Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante as well as Johnny Rosselli were all involved in the 1960-61 plots to assassinate Castro. Working alongside them were major CIA agents E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis. These two agents would later be pinned as Watergate conspirators. But they have also been alleged to have been directly involved in the assassination of Kennedy. Both testified to the HSCA that they were not involved in the assassination (though James Files, the seemingly discreditable pony-tailed inmate in the above video–actually very lucid and believable if you listen–says he saw Sturgis in the crowd at Dealey Plaza). More interestingly, E. Howard Hunt confessed on his deathbed to being involved in a CIA plot to kill Kennedy, and implicates Lyndon Johnson as being the head of the chain-of-command that allowed the plot to come to fruition.

Jack Ruby

Jack Ruby was a known affiliate of the mafia. Ruby assassinated lone assassin Lee Harvey Oswald 48 hours after he was arrested in a movie theatre.

When he was incarcerated, Ruby stated the following to the press:

“Everything pertaining to what’s happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts, of what occurred, my motives. The people had, that had so much to gain and had such an ulterior motive for putting me in the position I’m in, will never let the true facts come above board to the world”

When asked if these people are in high places, Ruby replied, “Yes.” Here is the footage of that.

Then, as he walks down the hall, he says something to the effect of: “I want to correct what I stated before about the vice president. When I mentioned about Adlai Stevenson, if he was vice president there never would have been an assassination of our beloved president Kennedy…the answer is the man in office now.” Here is that footage.

Ruby said he would testify if he was moved from Dallas to Washington D.C. He told this to Earl Warren, the leader of the Warren Commission, formed by Lyndon Johnson to investigate the Kennedy assassination. But he was never moved, and died in Dallas in 1967, just four years later.

Malcolm Wallace Fingerprint

In 1998, Walt Brown, a longtime investigator of the assassination and author of The People V. Lee Harvey Oswald (1992), Treachery in Dallas(1995), Referenced Index Guide to the Warren Commission (1995), JFK Assassination Quizbook (1995) and The Warren Omission(1996) stated that a previously unidentified fingerprint in the sniper’s nest of the school book depository from which Lee Harvey is alleged to have fired the two shots that killed President Kennedy, had finally been identified, and attributed to one Malcolm “Mac” Wallace. However, the FBI has denied that the fingerprints match. Watch this video.

Glen Sample, author of The Men On The Sixth Floor–a book with Malcolm Wallace’s picture on the cover–does not believe the fingerprint holds up to scrutiny. He claims to have had two police fingerprint identifiers examine the print, and say that they did not match the print of Malcolm Wallace.. “Both of our experts are working police I.D. officers,” Sample wrote. “They go to court on a regular basis, testifying as expert witnesses. They said that the print was clearly not a match. But what about the 14 points? They said that it is not uncommon to have a set of prints that have many matching points, but when they find points that do not match, these negate the matching points.” Walt Brown, author of Treachery in Dallas  and the first investigator to introduce the fingerprint to the public eye as evidence, responded by saying that the two fingerprint examiners used by Sample “were local I.D. bureau guys from San Bernadino, and not in the category of either Nathan Darby or the people that it was hoped would examine the originals within the law enforcement communities charged with the proper investigation.”

Billy Sol Estes

The Texas fraudster Billy Sol Estes, who was so close to Lyndon Johnson in the early 1950’s and ’60s before going to jail in 1965, agreed to testify before a grand jury in 1984.  From Sol Estes obituary in The Guardian: “In 1984, Estes testified under immunity before a Texas grand jury. He claimed that Johnson had ordered Marshall’s killing, which was done by an aide named Mac Wallace.”

From Billy Sol Estes Lawyer Douglas Caddy in 1984:

My client, Mr. Estes, has authorized me to make this reply to your letter of May 29, 1984. Mr. Estes was a member of a four-member group, headed by Lyndon Johnson, which committed criminal acts in Texas in the 1960’s. The other two, besides Mr. Estes and LBJ, were Cliff Carter and Mac Wallace. Mr. Estes is willing to disclose his knowledge concerning the following criminal offenses:

I. Murders

1. The killing of Henry Marshall
2. The killing of George Krutilek
3. The killing of Ike Rogers and his secretary
4. The killing of Harold Orr
5. The killing of Coleman Wade
6. The killing of Josefa Johnson
7. The killing of John Kinser
8. The killing of President J. F. Kennedy.

Mr. Estes is willing to testify that LBJ ordered these killings, and that he transmitted his orders through Cliff Carter to Mac Wallace, who executed the murders. In the cases of murders nos. 1-7, Mr. Estes’ knowledge of the precise details concerning the way the murders were executed stems from conversations he had shortly after each event with Cliff Carter and Mac Wallace.

That includes Josefa Johnson, Lyndon Johnson’s own sister. She died in 1961 of a cerebral hemorrhage, and anecdotally she is alleged to have been “wild,” and a potential liability to her brother’s political career. She would have been able to tie her brother to the murder of Douglas Kinser, too.

It also, notably, includes “President J.F. Kennedy” among Johnson’s murder victims.

Later, the letter states: “Mr. Estes, states that Mac Wallace, whom he describes as a “stone killer” with a communist background, recruited Jack Ruby, who in turn recruited Lee Harvey Oswald. Mr. Estes says that Cliff Carter told him that Mac Wallace fired a shot from the grassy knoll in Dallas, which hit JFK from the front during the assassination.”

No charges were possible, since the three men in question–Cliff Carter, Mac Wallace and Lyndon Baines Johnson were already dead. The only result from this Grand Jury testimony–which was only for Texas and not federal–was that Marshall’s death certificate was changed to read: “Cause of death – murder by gunshot.”

Lee Harvey Oswald

So where does Lee Harvey Oswald fit into this? Lee Harvey Oswald died in ignominy, from a bullet fired by Jack Ruby. The “nut” that J. Edgar Hoover had championed as the lone assassin shouted “I’m a patsy!” as he was being taken from FBI questioning to jail (patsy means “fall guy,” or scapegoat).

Obviously, if a criminal’s declaration of innocence meant anything, then there would be very few in jail. Still, it seems less likely that a lone, left-wing zealot was the one who killed Kennedy as he drove through the very heart of right-wing, anti-Kennedy sentiments, sentiments that had been particularly roiled in the last year following the affronts to the oil industry. Hours before he was killed, “Wanted” posters of Jack Kennedy were being distributed in Dallas that looked like this.

In the above video, Oswald says that the reason he is being taken in is because he had previously lived in the Soviet Union. After being discharged from the marines, he moved to the Soviet Union and attempted to become a citizen, but was rejected. In 1963, he was living in New Orleans. He then moved to Dallas in October, and found a job at the Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald was seen at the School Book Depository–the location of the sniper’s nest–just before the shooting at 11:55, and just after, at 12:35, leaving. He arrived at his home at 1, according to his landlady, Earlene Roberts, who told the Warren commission that a police car drove by the home, stopped, and honked twice, before leaving. Roberts said: “Right direct in front of that door-there was a police car stopped and honked. I had worked for some policemen and sometimes they come by and tell me something that maybe their wives would want me to know, and I thought it was them, and I just glanced out and saw the number, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s not their car,’ for I knew their car.” At this point, Oswald left his home. Shortly after, he was involved in a confrontation with Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippett, and Oswald reportedly shot and killed the officer.

Fellow employee Charles D. Givens testified to the Warren Commission that he saw Oswald sitting on the sixth floor at 11:55. Another employee, Howard L. Brennan, testified that he saw a man fire a rifle from the sixth floor, but he did not name Oswald. He had difficulties with identifying the man, and said he did resemble Oswald, but could not be sure. Brennan told the commission: “After Oswald was killed, I was relieved quite a bit that as far as pressure on myself of somebody not wanting me to identify anybody, there was no longer that immediate danger.”

Dallas Police Officer Marion L. Baker and the Superintendent of the Book Depository, Roy Truly, told the Warren Commission that they encountered Lee Harvey Oswald immediately after the shooting sitting in the building’s lunchroom, drinking a coke. From the Warren Commission report reiterated in Mark North’s book Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover in the Assassination of President Kennedy:

REP. BOGGS : Were you suspicious of this man?

BAKER : No, sir, I wasn’t.

REP. BOGGS : Was he out of breath? Did he appear to be running or what?

BAKER : It didn’t appear that to me. He appeared normal, you know.

REP. BOGGS : Was he calm and collected?

BAKER : Yes, sir. He never did say a word or nothing. In fact, he didn’t change his expression one bit.

TRULY : The officer turned this way and said, ‘This man work here?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ . . . [Oswald] didn’t seem to be excited or overly afraid or anything. He might have been startled, like I might have been if somebody confronted me. But I cannot recall any change in expression of any kind on his face. . . . Then we left . . . Oswald immediately and continued to run up the stairways .

Oswald was not arrested. He turned and headed home, figuring that there would be no work done that day, amidst the confusion and chaos.

From Pamela Ray’s book, To Kill A Country, this is Lee Harvey Oswald’s recorded testimony made to FBI agents after he was arrested, also printed in “The Last Words of Lee Harvey Oswald, compiled by Mae Brussell.”

2:25 – 4:04 P.M.   Interrogation of Oswald, Office of Capt Will Fritz

          “My name is Lee Harvey Oswald. . . . I work at the Texas School Book Depository Building. . . . I lived in Minsk and in Moscow. . . . I worked in a factory. . . . I liked everything over there except the weather. . . . I have a wife and some children. . . . My residence is 1026 North Beckley, Dallas, Tex.” Oswald recognized FBI agent James Hosty and said, “You have been at my home two or three times talking to my wife. I don’t appreciate your coming out there when I was not there. . . . I was never in Mexico City. I have been in Tijuana. . . . Please take the handcuffs from behind me, behind my back. . . . I observed a rifle in the Texas School Book Depository where I work, on Nov. 20, 1963. . . . Mr. Roy Truly, the supervisor, displayed the rifle to individuals in his office on the first floor. . . . I never owned a rifle myself. . . . I resided in the Soviet Union for three years, where I have many friends and relatives of my wife. . . . I was secretary of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans a few months ago. . . . While in the Marines, I received an award for marksmanship as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. . . . While living on Beckley Street, I used the name 0. H. Lee. . . . I was present in the Texas School Book Depository Building, I have been employed there since Oct. 15, 1963. . . . As a laborer, I have access to the entire building. . . . My usual place of work is on the first floor. However, I frequently use the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh floors to get books. I was on all floors this morning. . . . Because of all the confusion, I figured there would be no work performed that afternoon so I decided to go home. . . . I changed my clothing and went to a movie. . . . I carried a pistol with me to the movie because I felt like it, for no other reason. . . . I fought the Dallas Police who arrested me in the movie theater where I received a cut and a bump. . . . I didn’t shoot Pres. John F. Kennedy or Officer J. D. Tippit. . . . An officer struck me, causing the marks on my left eye, after I had struck him. . . . I just had them in there,” when asked why he had bullets in his pocket.

When Oswald states “I have never been in Mexico City,” that information can be corroborated by J. Edgar Hoover himself. There was an imposter of Oswald in Mexico city in the weeks before the assassination. From Larry Sabato’s book The Kennedy Half Century, in a taped conversation between J. Edgar Hoover and LBJ the day after the assassination, Hoover says the following:

“We have up here the tape and the photograph of the man who was at the Soviet Embassy using Oswald’s name. That picture and the tape do not correspond to this man’s voice, nor to his appearance. In other words, it appears that there is a second person who was at the Soviet embassy down there. We do have a copy of a letter which was written by Oswald to the Soviet embassy here in Washington, inquiring as well as complaining about the harassment of his wife and the questioning of his wife by the FBI. Now of course, that letter information—we process all mail that goes to the Soviet embassy. It’s a very secret operation. No mail is delivered to the embassy without being examined and opened by us, so that we know what they receive. . . . The case, as it stands now, isn’t strong enough to be able to get a conviction. . . . Now, if we can identify this man who was at the . . . Soviet embassy in Mexico City. . . . This man Oswald has still denied everything.”

The FBI had known about Lee Harvey Oswald, US marine turned Communist and wannabe defector, since the 1950s. From Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship by John Newman : “‘A file concerning Oswald was opened,” Hoover wrote to the Warren Commission, “at the time, newspapers reported his defection to Russia in 1959, for the purpose of correlating information inasmuch as he was considered a possible security risk in the event he returned to this country.” Now, someone had pretended to be him, and applied for a visa to Cuba from Mexico City, a thread that was not pursued by Hoover or Johnson, but was simply noted on a recorded phone call. Newman also writes that Hoover had previously written to the State Department in 1960 regarding the possibility that someone else was using Oswald’s identity.

But it’s all buried by a single act of what is alleged to be “patriot fever,” by Jack Ruby. Just 48 hours after John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, his alleged assassin was dead. There was no trial. The American public never got to hear Oswald defend himself. His testimony would have been watched by millions of Americans. That was a liability that somebody could not countenance.

Eduardo Galeano writes in Memory of Fire, Vol. III: Century of the Wind :

“Oswald strenuously denies it. But no one knows, no one will ever know what he has to say. Two days later he collapses before the television cameras, the whole world witness to the spectacle, his mouth shut by Jack Ruby, a two-bit gangster and minor trafficker in women and drugs. Ruby says he has avenged Kennedy out of patriotism and pity for the poor widow.”

What do you think? Was Oswald the marksman that Warren Commission claims? Or was he in the lunchroom, sipping a coke, without a bead of sweat or a trace of guilt on his patsy face? Was Jack Ruby overcome by passion? Or was his life bought by powers in “high places,” as Ruby himself alleges?


The connotation of the word “conspiracy” has ruined any suggestion that there is something more than what the government has told us, regarding not just this assassination, but anything mediated by an authority figure. To categorize the untold story of what happened to our 35th President alongside the Loch Ness monster, Alien-pyramid building and others is to rely on the notion that an institution such as the United States government is incapable of an act of evil. But that’s just the sort of source from which evil in pure form generally comes–a conglomeration, a coalescence of more than one man to form a force, encouraged by mutual desire and the indistinct ownership of guilt, dispersed across an area too wide. Just like any evil created from a corporation. The stars and stripes may blind with an inculcated association of benevolent patriotisim–but its just another logo.

It was a coup d’etat. Is that so farfetched? I mean, there’s already a term for it. That means that it has happened before–again, and again. They have sprinkled the history books all across the world–but is that “things like that don’t happen in America.” The country of slavery? The country that raped the Native Americans? The country that committed genocide for the corporate interests of a fruit company? What about this is so hard to believe–and what’s the other option? That a “lone nut” in Lee Harvey Oswald, who shouts “I’m a patsy!”–who shows no desire to own up to his act, despite the consensus of his motive being a desire for fame, possibly as a hero to Communists?
Do you believe what you are told because the government says so, in a 900 page document that you have never laid your eyes on? Is it not possible that you. just. don’t. know?
Most of this stuff, I suppose you would call circumstantial. But I argue that everything mediated by an authority figure, the literal distance between you and the TV screen on which you watch the news, is circumstantial, and must always be treated with an appropriate level of skepticism and scrutiny.
A conspiracy is simply the covert planning of something done by parties whose interests have coalesced. For me, the writing is on the wall.
Obviously this is something I’m passionate about. And–it does bug me a little that people can’t see the relevance of investigating the JFK assassination–a cover-up that perfectly emblematizes the impunity of rich men and men in positions of authority–to our country today. Clearly it has carried over. Clearly it has set a precedent which we are seeing be manifested to an inane, near-farcical degree in our government today. It just so happens that the knuckleheads at the top aren’t quite intelligent enough to be as discrete. To deny the past as inconsequential will forever keep us from understanding the root cause which belies the ugliness. There IS a deeper reason for everything. Don’t be so dismissive. Dismissing it as a “conspiracy theory” is to suggest that things are simple, that there are not grander, intangible forces underneath the ugliness–and that is to suggest that fixing the problems is simple too, and yet, lo and behold, it’s not. Let’s all put on pink hats and make clever signs and go march around! Oh look, apparently that does fuck all! I’m not saying I’m better than that, but I am saying that closing your mind to the possibility of deep rooted evil present in the American government is short-sighted. Why the hell would it be farfetched to think that there was a conspiracy to kill a president? There literally already was a conspiracy to kill another president, Abraham Lincoln. Another idealist. An actual human being, trying to do actual things for the country, instead of using the powers of his office to perpetuate his own power, and the powers of his country club buddies. 
John F. Kennedy was riding in a convertible on November 22, 1963 through Dealey Plaza when he was shot to death. The motorcade had been en route to the Trade Mart in Dallas Texas. He was carrying with him a speech at the time of his murder, a speech that he never got to read. This is what he would have said:
” I want to discuss with you today the status of our strength and our security cause this question clearly calls for the most responsible qualities of leadership and the most enlightened products of scholarship. For this Nation’s strength and security are not easily or cheaply obtained, nor are they quickly and simply explained. There are many kinds of strength and no one kind will suffice. Overwhelming nuclear strength cannot stop a guerrilla war. Formal pacts of alliance cannot stop internal subversion. Displays of material wealth cannot stop the disillusionment of diplomats subjected to discrimination.

Above all, words alone are not enough. The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence. If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.

My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions–it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations–it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

We in this country, in this generation, are–by destiny rather than choice–the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

On November 26, 1963, just one day after former President John F. Kennedy’s funeral, four days after the assassination, National Security Action Memorandum 273 (NSAM-273) was approved by new United States President Lyndon Johnson . It expanded US forces in Vietnam, negating Kennedy’s agenda.

Francis Bator, who had been President Johnson’s Deputy National Security Adviser wrote in the New York Review Of Books:

Professor Galbraith is correct [Letters, NYR, December 6, 2007] that “there was a plan to withdraw US forces from Vietnam, beginning with the first thousand by December 1963, and almost all of the rest by the end of 1965…. President Kennedy had approved that plan. It was the actual policy of the United States on the day Kennedy died.

Professor James K. Gailbraith writes in an article for “The Nation” in 2013:

Had Kennedy lived, the withdrawal plan would have remained policy, and the numbers of US troops in Vietnam would have declined, unless and until policy changed. Might Kennedy still have “reversed the decision” at some point? Of course he might have. But there is no evidence that he intended to do so. 

Now, imagine what could have been. Then tell me it’s not important.

RE: Are Villains Necessary?

Wanted to do a little follow up to clarify some things about the previous post. Had a little Q & A with a friend of mine regarding the content of the last blog post.

John: my post won’t show up on my feed anymore for some reason so i can’t see your comment but let me respond to it in like an hour on here
JH: Yea no worries
John: I only read it once but essentially my response would probably be like–the embrace of subjectivity is the only panacea for an at-large population
that there can be nothing axiomatic and nothing universal no matter how responsible or flexible an ethical system is if it is attempting to be perennial
at least thats what i think you were asking?
that it all has to flow through your own particular hills and valleys, address your subjective deficits and misconceptions and flaws and shit like that
that absolute meaning–which is something that I didnt address–is real if it flows through your idiosyncratic sieve honestly, unimpeded by calcified ideologies and ego-driven lenses
JH: I was more attempting to get at the nature of your big question. So the purpose of writing a book addressing cultural hegemony is sort of lost on me in that it looked like you sought a solution to such a concept through spirituality while also sort of acknowledging that that may be a futile effort
John: yes but only acknowledging that there is no panacea
at least not one that can be definite as an external mythology or system
JH: So your book has a bit of a nihilistic lens then? Or is the goal to push a particular panacea
John: and a proper diagnosis of the problems in white male identity I think is essential
the purpose of the book is to indicate that a state of ambivalence that resonates with the indefinite nature of the current stage of human evolution is the only solution, and the methodology for the application of this feeling of “happy uncertainty” or something is completely subjective, but that all polarities, all narratives are impediments to a life that it is honest and vitally alive
JH: Ok. It’s just the trouble I was having is reconciling how you simultaneously acknowledge the market space for a solution to these issues of identity and responsibility of power, while also claiming, in my opinion wisely, that some of these issues may be inexorable with cyclical power structures
John: even that narrative^ “soft spiritual nihilism” is a narrative that will calcify and impede
JH: Ok i think i get it a bit more, it just sounds like youre searching for an answer you already kind of have
Johnthey are inexorable in that it will take a long long time is my main point
JHSo you think humanity can be empowered by spiritual nihilism and we lose none of the colorful passions that come along with competing, even dangerous ideologies? And what specific facets of white male or i guess broader culture are you seeking to rectify?
Johni think ascribing a name to “it” like spiritual nihilism is antithetical to what I’m suggesting. There is no way to rid us of the “competitiveness,” and while perhaps ideologies spur a certain creativity, I think they are much more likely to impede it. Ingenuity can only increase when the strictures of an external belief system are removed in favor of complete admission of ignorance, an embrace of personal subjectivity. The problems Im addressing are the ones that come with the polarization of ones self in order to distinguish the borders of ones identity–Im saying that seeking security through exogenous beliefs is dangerous and counterproductive for the ultimate goal–which is not something I pretend to know–but Im speculating that its somewhere up there at an elevated state of consciousness. white male protagonism, white male defensiveness is the most clear and present manifestation of what you could call identity defensiveness, which leads to things like the alt right and white nationalism and all that. call it beneficent solipsism, spiritual nihilism, whatever–those ascriptions do not help because its not a panacea, not a cover-all in that its not a one-size-fits all, discreetly applicable “solution,” its a suggestion of a state to angled toward, and its my opinion that the methodology will always be different. This operates under the assumption that there is a basin of absolute truth that underlies all creation–a greater consciousness–which is canalized by the organic body, more or less. Ideologies narrow the valves, or obstruct the canals, so to speak. The other important thing is that the reason it cannot be physicalized as an “ism” is that it will fail, again and again, and if it is treated again and again as an ideology or methodology to be applied, a certain practical philosophy, then it will be quickly be calcified and disposed of. It might seem vague, glib or unhelpful, but its the explanation of why ambivalence, why an admission of ignorance–especially in relation to the white male identity which is so predicated on the marginalization of everything–other races, the environment itself, God–is the way to contribute to a better world for yourself and others
and, also importantly Im saying that this is only meant to serve as a motivator toward incremental change–that its going to be a very slow, and frustrating progression, and that–as you were saying–perhaps the battle of ideologies will inevitably push that incremental growth and I simply can’t see it, that does less for your own personal growth, something that is always the impetus for more pervasive change–not to mention your own quality of life in a world that is in my assessment pretty uncertain and confusing in its advice for how to become the person you’re meant to be. This is essentially a long-winded way of saying “open your ears/open your heart, you dont have to be right, right now.”


im not saying dont join the DSA, I’m saying dont make anything your gospel


ideologies can be vitalizing but only from a certain distance, a presence of mind that can easily be lost when you drink too deeply of yon kool-aid



Are Villains Necessary?

I’m back in Montana, trying to get my lazy ass to finish this book I’ve been working on for 2 years now. Trying to tie it all together. Mostly, I’ve been looking for the correct answers to redeem the questions I ask. I don’t want to merely diagnose a problem and leave it hanging in the air without at least trying to offer some kind of solution.

Mainly, the question is this: what does one do without a true mythology to structure her or his life? Mostly, his; the subject of this question is the American white male, who is so often the perpetrator of violent acts in this day and age, and in a more general sense, I believe still harbors a violent dissonance that is the source of much conflict in America. And a big reason for this violence is this state of mythlessness, and the resulting purposelessness.

I believe we’re at a crux in our existence, in which real religious mythologies are too unbelievable and negatively stigmatized, and ideologies have taken their place, often in their most extreme manifestations. We’re hampered by a double-consciousness (to reinterpret W.E.B. Du Bois) that both craves a mythological structure and is too smart–or we believe we’re too smart–to buy into one simply, unaware that the content is of secondary importance to the commitment, or the pretense, of investing oneself in vitalizing belief. Or, it doesn’t matter if we are aware of this fact, as our relatively impressive human intellects still prohibit us from becoming card-carrying members of any one justice league. Personally, the prospect of pretending life is meaningful has always unimpressed me as being weak-minded and sheep-like.

But when some buy into an ideology, after much discernment and skepticism, they might discover the pleasure in zealotry, and buy in fully. Even if the membership is only half-bought (6 month plan, perhaps), the risk is of a conversion that I think is too complete. Because, in my assessment, joining the resistance to be a hero is not going to be the solution, but only a source for more violence. Everything calcifies eventually–hardens, rigidifies, becomes unintegrated objective pseudo-truth rather than subjective absolute truth. Invariably one develops what is essentially an idolatrous ownership over the skeletalizing mythology that they have chosen. And at that point, if stubbornness or surety eclipse the willingness to admit ignorance, or the potential to be wrong, then in the macroscopic view of things, from the eye of Kang and Kodos, it doesn’t matter what belief-system  one has chosen. All calcified belief exists in the same atmospheric layer that is a lengthy distance from the Earth; a cold patch where all is coagulated and unmoving. And brittle.

Because all it does is reinforce the us and them narrative on either side, thereby making the groups mirror images of one another and embroiling the country at-large in constant frivolous tension.

Through the journey of writing the book, I’ve been trying to think of what the correct mythology would be to guide the young white American male away from violence and into a more open-eared, receptive character. There are seemingly fewer men of this kind in positions of public veneration than there are on the opposite end of the spectrum–or perhaps they are simply more easily dismissed by younger men, even those striving to be better, because of the ease of their ascription as “sissies” driven by white-guilt and excessive and self-serving apologism (see: “cuck”)

This is an oversimplification, and one biased by lots of internal things in the etched-up inner-topography of the young white man seeking a mythos. But it’s an understandable heuristic. Because from afar, it is a near-impenetrable character, one of which genuine comprehension would require the all-at-once surmounting of all kinds of deeply driven-in white-masculine dogmas on which the basis of one’s entire identity is predicated.

So it will be hard to rely on the guru to guide you on your hero’s journey to a state of awakening that is not the demonstrative, virtue-signalling pretension of “wokeness.” Nor will the deliberate attainment to a deep-left ideology bring about the necessary internal change.

Through my own personal self-investigations and attempts to admit subservience to something–the essential struggle of the young white man in today’s world, a struggle which, far from being solely politically or practically beneficial for the country, is necessary for (or indistinguishable from) a spiritual awakening in the context of being a human being, not just a white male human being–I began to think of the seemingly more benign or neutral sources that lend mythological structure to my life.

I thought–who are my heroes? Who are the men I look up to? OK, I’m going to tell you who was number 1. And you will all ridicule me but I don’t care!

Jon Motherfucking SNOW!

Legitimately, the admittedly fictional hero from Game Of Thrones is pretty much the only person that I, like, revere. And I was asking myself what that means? What this fanboy-ness can teach me about me?

Jon Snow is the “great white hope” to a t, and that’s not a promising persona for the young white American male’s ideal new hero. He is also a simple reiteration of the Christ-like revenant, having been literally killed and resurrected, being the “prince that was promised,” the holy son etc. Unabashedly the writers of GoT have swathed Jon in impenetrable plot armor, clearly visible in his many near-death experiences (the arrows raining from the sky in the Battle of the Bastards miraculously leave him unscathed, his reemergence from the hole in the ice in the damn near suicide-mission up north, and of course, what’s nearer to death than actually dying as he did in Season 5). Interestingly it’s a role that he laments; as the “chosen one,” much in the same way white male self-simulated protagonism can be tempered by a sense of pretended humility that is a less integrated, more ancillary belief in comparison to the egocentric messianism that it modifies. However, if Jon Snow and his unwilling or confused heroism are interpreted slightly differently–not as an emblem of white privilege, but as an emblem of the human plight, the human fight for meaning, then the TV show yields a much more interesting and universal message. For that, you have to look at the conflict in the show that transcends the context of Westeros.

So a couple months ago, I started thinking about Game Of Thrones as a show, and what to me has become a kind of perplexing if not philosophically redolent final plot line in the TV show. Game Of Thrones has always, for me–perhaps with some mixture of intention by the writers and, according to some (ahem, Travis) a modicum of interpretive indulgence on my part–been a show of deeply metaphysical meaning; a show about narrativity, and the intrinsic fictionality of belief systems in real life in the same vain of Shakespearean stories. Dramas like the Tempest, King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing all contain soliloquies about how, no matter what the stakes of any particular human conflict might seem, all terrestrial conflicts are equally illusory; the most grave tragedy and the most lighthearted comedy are equally inconsequential. Or, perhaps that’s the wrong word. Logically it is difficult to relate the importance or unimportance of a worldly happenings using a dictionary that is inextricable from that same world. Perhaps an idiom would be best: the point is, no story, no matter how seemingly meaningful, is the end of the world. 

However, in the final eschatological act of GoT, they are facing the end of the world–the imminent clash between mankind and the Army of The Dead will determine who will inherit the Earth. Is it so simple as a battle between light and dark in the binary style that Americans seem to gravitate toward? Is it Manachaeism in pure form?

In order to properly literarily analyze this shit as I was trained to do so well by my glorious alma mater, we will need to draw some quotes as evidence.

While they’re headed up to the arrow head mountain with the loose and poorly-written plan of capturing a wight and bringing it back with them, Jon Snow gets to talking with Beric Dondarrian. Dondarrian is the most equipped to understand Jon’s dubious status as immortal superhero, having been killed and resurrected himself something like 6 times.

“I don’t think it’s our purpose to understand. Except one thing — we’re soldiers,” Beric tells Jon Snow as they venture North. “We have to know what we’re fighting for. I’m not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords…[I’m fighting for] life. Death is the enemy. The first enemy and the last…The enemy always wins. And we still need to fight him. That’s all I know. You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here, but we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves. Maybe we don’t need to understand any more than that. Maybe that’s enough.”

So this is pretty overt on the part of the writers in my humble opinion. Monologues like these, along with the oft-repeated “it doesn’t matter whose skeleton will be sitting on the iron throne if the army of the dead…you’ll be ruling over a graveyard/ashes, blah blah blah, ” etc. pretty much hit you over the head with the notion that our personal destinies are actually quite impersonal; that the purpose with which we have been imbued, while unique to us and necessary–look at the variety of characters and the interweaving of storylines, the diversity of roles that had to be played, from Samwell Tarley with his books to Bran’s journey to become three-eyed raven to Arya becoming one of the faceless men–are nonspecific in their culminations. Or, more aptly, they are all the same: to strive for life. To fight for life. The roles of Berric and Jon, as he sees them, are as “soldiers,” and nothing more. Purposeful, but nonspecific.

When you fight for life, there is no victory, because there is no binary opposition. Death is embodied here in a literal army, yes–but that’s where Game of Thrones self-aware references to its own fictionality a la Shakespeare becomes important. Now the message is not that we are literally meant to fight death by seeking to stave it off with medical technology or something. Death always wins. We are simply meant to strive in the direction of goodness, charity, to fight for life and the living, no matter how hard–“You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here, but we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves…” That means even the unawakened, inveterate, unregenerate–they, at some level, are innocent and defenseless, nonconvertible, at least in this generation. I recall the storytelling trope of a good girl or guy being almost converted to an “eye-for-an-eye” mentality by an edgier half-hero half-villain, only to change her or his mind at the last second. This trope elucidates the struggle for the awakened to avoid becoming embittered and calcified, too driven by worldly impulses like the desire for revenge, or jealous of those who have committed to something, to recognize the truth and therefore beauty of the undefined position that she or he is in. To try to maintain that sense of uncertainty happily, is the best advice possible for an uncertain time. Perhaps, life will even canalize your passage into a narrower avenue of purpose, something discreet; a confrontation with your own personal night king.

Along the way–and even after this definite sense of purpose seems discovered–ignorance must be continually pleaded, again and again. In my assessment, there is no way to keep the mirror so polished that you and your sense of purpose don’t periodically crumble. And that cycle of failure must be endured. Even embraced. That’s the structure that you claimed you wanted in a mythological regimen. It’s the only thing absolutely true that the world can offer right now, and it’s the only way to find real love in being alive. When he is resurrected after being killed by his own men, Jon Snow says to Ser Davos: “I did what I thought was right. And I got murdered for it. And now I’m back. Why?” Davos responds in his fleabottom accent: “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know. What does it matter? You go on. You fight for as long as you can. You clean up as much of the shit as you can.” Jon Snow says: “I don’t know how to do that. I thought I did, but… I failed.” And Ser Davos replies: “Good. Now go fail again.”

The frustrating fact of the matter is that if everyone had this nondescript desire to do good, the world would be immediately buoyed. Not only would our contextual conflicts dissipate but the things that are killing our world at large, like Global Warming–a nice concrete analog to the White Walkers, a threat that exists outside of and unaffected by our petty squabbles–and other dire environmental problems would be greatly reduced, too. But instead, as our awkward condition as half-intellectual, half-physical beings (to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, at a place between rising ape and falling angel) dictates, we succumb to the polar, binary conflicts between our arbitrary groupings, choosing to fight horizontally instead of vertically.

Our duty then is to try. Like JS, to fail, again and again. To clean up as much shit as we can. And to try to remain willing to consider that we are still complete idiots. It might not be what we always wanted, but it’s better. I look back at my days of ingesting comic books as a kid, and I recall tales of Manacheistic justice, a black and white world in vivid, Ben-Day dot coloring, as told by the myth-makers at DC (sometimes marvel). Tales of heroes and villains, bad guys and good. But I also recall the occasional story of Superman saving the world from misfortunes reaped by mankind’s own sewing–like a dam on the verge of collapse–or a natural disaster man did not precipitate. The conflicts with evildoers were necessary to furnish issue after issue, no doubt–just as the conflicts in Game of Thrones between bookends of the White Walker threat were necessary to tell a story worth watching. But the true message of modern myths, I thought for awhile–and archaic ones, for that matter–is that such tales are selected untruths to be integrated cosmetically. But now I’m thinking, perhaps this is the wrong way–perhaps our deficit of definite meaning, this American mythlessness that is the source of a current state of violence–actually yields an opportunity. To live a life of self-sanctity and self-love that is unprecedented in other myth-driven societies throughout history.

Because I think that rather than relying on self-somatized mythological structures in your life–which is dangerously close to believing in villains of disparate essences to yourself–you should believe in the one thing that you know to be true in this world, and that is yourself. A beneficent solipsism, if you will–a state that describes its own dangers in the name. If there is anything divinely incarnated, it is you. And if you believe in that, humbly, not with a commitment to meticulously humble yourself, but instead with the knowledge that hubris will inevitably, recurrently get the best of you, then I believe you will discover pockets of purpose meant especially for you. This way, you have a lesser chance of being waywarded by an ideology or niche path held in too high of regard, and a much better chance of becoming the you that was “intended.”

As a white male who wants to try to do the right thing, all of this, I think, is very important. It can be tempting to side with an ideology, and if you’re not too vigilant or are already bitter, an ideology that is explicitly defensive of the white male identity is probably very appealing. Secretly, the white male American might covet the plights of marginalized groups whose struggles for justice are enviably and unassailably righteous. But that is because he doesn’t see that the struggle as it is externalized–in the form of a righteous, personally-invested crusader, fighting for a just cause–is attached to an horrific history of oppression whose relation to these “crusaders” lives is probably lamented. Not to say they are ashamed–although they have often been made to be, I would guess–only that the effects of things like slavery still cause them pain today. For however much a white male moans and groans that he feels the wanton criticism of “snowflakes” for the sole crime of being white, a black person likely feels a similar burden of criticism, only manifold–not to mention the racism that exists today–for the crime of having melanin in their skin.

The only way to change yourself–or better yet, to know yourself better, to become the vital and better version of yourself and further your personal evolution–is to know that there are no villains. In the real world, I’m not exactly certain what I’m advocating here, because I think that punching Nazis is generally good, but that’s just a practical measure. I am talking about internally, not as a matter of practice in the physical world). Essentially, I think that the message of one of the most popular TV shows and its protagonist is that life is not a TV show, and you are not the protagonist. We all have so, so much to learn, about ourselves first, then each other. About the world, about life. We have a beautiful, brilliant future that we very well might be in danger of throwing away. My solution, for now, vague and deficient of advice for application, is this: strive forward bravely and without the arrogance of the men that came before us. Walk around with an open heart, and though someone might put a knife through it, you will not be killed. You cannot be. Don’t try to be like someone you see as a better man or woman. Jon Snow doesn’t want your adulation (he never asked for it). Be your own hero, instead. Don’t mythologize your life too much. Or do, and fail. But then go fail again. Clean up the shit. Honestly, I don’t know. But that’s OK. Because, while over-belief is dangerous, we can still learn from each other. And I’m OK with taking home one characteristic from the King in the North.

He knows nothing.