Stray Thoughts 12/29: Is it the opium or can you see that as well?

LOEG opium.png

  1. It’s funny, for broad values of “funny:” twice in the last two days I’ve seen messages on social media from friends gainfully employed as artists lamenting the inherent uselessness of art in the face of diminished labor protections, increased nuclear capacity, destroyed women’s rights, empowered white supremacy, etc etc etc.Certainly, those are valid feelings and the prospects for the future are bleak: In the 1980’s, in response to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives, a restive and stultified American public elected Ronald Reagan, a hilariously underqualified musical comedy actor, to slenderize and flay Johnson’s various programs until they were inexpensive parodies of themselves. The formula was so successful that Republicans played the same tape loop for the subsequent thirty years and now find themselves re-empowered to eliminate government programs through privatization and simple destruction, because they are a hateful and immoral people who think of poverty, blackness, womanhood, frailty and foreign citizenship as character flaws deserving of punishment.

    But I still like art. I like it even more now than I did three months ago.

  2. I’ve been watching the NBC show My Name Is Earl, Greg Garcia’s astonishing sitcom about a mean-spirited lowlife who wins the lottery and gets hit by a bus in the same day, filling him with the deep belief that a larger force than himself is punishing him for being a lousy person and prompting him to list every bad thing he’s ever done and make good on it. The premise (not to mention the title) recalls AA’s Twelve Steps, obviously, but the execution is shockingly courageous: Earl actually goes to prison in the third season and the show finds humor in a lot of the things that journalists write with such obvious and well-justified disgust and anger about – the shitty food, the horrible cruelty of solitary confinement, the basic unfairness of the whole enterprise – and the supporting characters are strippers, hookers, grifters and plenty of other folks on the loserdom continuum with moderate respectability at one end and criminality at the other. I’ve never seen anything like it; Earl’s belief in karma is absurd, and the show acknowledges it as such from the jump, but it drives him to do good things. His brother is an adorable, sweet-natured doofus who will do all kinds of horrible things if he thinks it will make people like him, and Jaime Pressley, who plays Earl’s shrewish ex-wife, delivers one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. It’s up – nah, it’s down there with the other truly great sitcoms about America: The Simpsons, Community, Parks & Recreation and South Park.
  3. I’ve always loved Alan Moore but until recently I began to worry that his old work threatened to age out of relevance; now his preoccupation with the dangers and cruelties of the 20th century seems more prescient than anything else. He has a highly disturbing and crankily well-crafted miniseries about the zombie apocalypse from last year, called Crossed +100, which I highly recommend for the current predicament; there’s also Watchmen, his ongoing project with Jacen Burrows, Providence, and the joyful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I contend is his best work. They’ve all been knocked for their doominess in the past but I’m feeling doom; reading them helps.
  4. Speaking of zombies someone at the Times demonstrated in this fascinating Upshot feature that people who fear immigration overindex on viewership of The Walking Dead; it’s worth noting that The Walking Dead is one of the most popular TV shows in America, of course, but perhaps also that zombies reflect our fear of the masses and that the correlation, while not 1:1, is close enough to merit some interesting observations. The socialist writer China Mieville observed in 2012 that zombie movies often seem influenced by TV news depictions of Palestinians; one movie he cites before its release, World War Z, is in fact fairly shameless Israeli propaganda. (The Moore book has a very interesting attitude toward this.) This is not to say that zombie movies are always anti-immigrant, more that they are about our fear of each other, in whatever scariest form we happen to take.In light of all that I recommend this excellent, Pulitzer-worthy LA Times piece from May, which I would have given at least one finger or three toes to have written, about a major contributing cause of the opioid epidemic in the rural US, namely Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ intricate disinformation campaign around its morphine derivative Oxycontin, and then this trailer for the upcoming film Patient Zero:
  5. Music for the moment: David Bowie’s Blackstar, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, George Michael’s Patience, Fountains of Wayne‘s self-titled record. It can’t be all bad. If it’s all going to end before Star Trek, let us at least enjoy some of it.

Author: samthielman

Sam Thielman is a reporter and critic based in Brooklyn, New York. His blog is, his twitter handle is @samthielman, and if you can't find him you should check The Strand.

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