Tag Archives: socialism

Tinker, Tailor, FBI.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see both the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and J. Edgar, I want to make some comments before they’re out on video already for a year or two. It’s so rare that I get to see Oscar-potential movies while they’re actually in the theaters (last year, I had a three-movie-marathon with True Grit, The King’s Speech, and . . . I forget . . . all in one day (thanks to a regular theater, a 2nd-run theater, and a re-release to a wider audience). But I digress.

First, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as directed by the director of the original Swedish vampire film that made me think vampires could be interesting again, Let the Right One In. A truly inspired bit of daring movie-making, that one. With TTSS, he brought along his truly wonderful talent at evoking atmosphere and style, but I was rather underwhelmed by the film as a whole. There’s really nothing I can pinpoint as any one particularly weak point (except maybe the somewhat impenetrable script — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If everything else is good, and I get a sense that the plot is making sense, I can let a dense script I’m not immediately grokking wash over me knowing I can watch it again some other time for the details). But even the script isn’t a failure by any means; the dialog was well-written with the tension-filled spareness of a Pinter play.

The acting was also quite good all-round — but I wasn’t blown away. Which is my failing. For months, I’d been so worked up about this film, about Gary Oldman, that I expected a tour de force performance. What I got was skillful subtlety, and natural and believable underplayed drama. Well, except for John Hurt, but then, his angry forcefulness was exactly what was needed and entirely appropriate for character and tone.

This asplosion not in any film reviewed here. Or, anywhere.

Did I not like it as much as I was hoping because, what, I was expecting a Bourne movie? Bond? Mission Impossible? No. I’m familiar with the book (though I haven’t read it) and the original production, so I knew it was going to be a realistic, non-explody, spy film. I loved The American, for example, even though — no, because — it was stark and understated and atmospheric and tension-building and virtually no actiony-action. (I’m actually the only person I know who liked The American.) But then, I really didn’t know what to expect with The American except that it’d been described as a European-like film — which is a plus in my book! I simply, for some unknown reason, went into TTSS with high expectations — and they were ironically fulfilled in that it’s an excellent film, but not what I expected.

Then there’s J. Edgar. I pretty much got exactly what I expected with that film, and that may be one of the reasons for its surprisingly low RottenTomatoes score (although Ebert, who I almost always agree with, gave it a high 3.5 arbitrary stars). It was a rough, uneven, hit-and-miss film with much unfulfilled potential. Part of the problem is Leonardo DiCaprio. I can’t buy him. I recognize he’s a good actor who takes on challenging roles, but he’s . . . so . . . it’s the very weird dissonance he creates in my mind where I can’t decide if he did well or not, like one of those “magic eye” pictures where if you work at it, the 3D image will pop out at you — but usually, it’s just lingering on the edge of being and you know you can bring it into focus if you try. . . . Anyway, that’s DiCaprio for me in any adult role he’s in. He was great in Gilbert Grape, perfect in Titanic, quite wonderful in Gangs of New York. But I could just barely accept him in Shutter Island (good film!), though, I’ll admit, I accepted him in Inception. But as J. Edgar Hoover, I just can’t quite bring my opinion of his performance in focus, but I’m pretty sure I see the outline of an opinion that he was out of his depth and gave a pretty 1.75-note performance. His squint gave the other .25.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the makeup! OK, DiCaprio’s was passable, but what the heck was the Play-Dough and stipple monstrosity that was “Clyde Tolson”? It looked like Odo came back from Deep Space 9 with chicken pox and a bee sting allergy. Also, the film skipped around in time indiscernibly. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been two or three very different time-lines that went along at their own, but chronically forward, line — but there were points in which it skipped around in time just enough where you couldn’t quite tell by any visual cue if it went forward 1 year or 15 before skipping back 30.

Those flaws aside, the story surrounding Hoover and his longtime companion and possible lover, Clyde Tolson, was nearly perfect in its level of intimacy, its tone, and its anxiety. They played it quite well. Although, unfortunately, there’s one scene in which they have a fight resulting from Hoover’s repressed fear and Tolson’s sense of betrayal, in which they’re rolling around on each other and despite the sincere drama of the moment, I couldn’t help but hear Mark Russell in my head singing, “Sexual, subli-MA-tionnn . . . sexual SUB-li-ma-tion. . . .” It was just too contrived and blatant. But, as a whole, as I said, it was well-done and dramatic as I couldn’t help but cry a little at the end in Hoover’s bedroom.

But, being the Marxist that I am, I couldn’t help but see the movie from another perspective. Most of Hoover’s career was, as was depicted in the film, an obsession with a war against terror, I mean, against the Commie Menace. Now, I know Clint Eastwood, socially and politically, is a complex guy who has a foot in both the liberal progressive and the conservative camps, so I’m not terribly certain whether he wants us to cheer for Hoover and his elimination of communism in America (after all, the only depiction we get of the people Hoover fought were legitimately dangerous and violent anarchists — which, by the way, is a different ideology from communism), and no glimpse of American socialism of the 1910s through 30s that wasn’t through Hoover’s eyes, or whether he wants us to realize Hoover’s view is a skewed and ideological one. Is Eastwood taking it for granted that the audience knows who Emma Goldman was and what the Chicago union strikes were all about? Or does he side with Hoover’s ideals, but just not as neurotic about it as Hoover was?

In any case, I booed (mentally) with the 1919 anarchist bombings, sure; but, when Emma Goldman, the mother of American anarcho-socialism, appeared (and with such an eerie likeness that I questioned the accuracy of Maureen Stapleton’s portrayal of her in Warren Beatty’s epic film, Reds), I cheered! She’s a hero in my book, and a movie very desperately needs to be made about her. (Probable sociopath Ayn Rand got a sympatheric TV movie made about her, but Emma just gets cameos.) But as I was saying, in this time of the 2nd great-ish depression, thinking about the fascist iron fist that was brought to bear down on the nascent socialist movement in America during the 1st Great Depression, makes me frustrated and angry. People today have no clue that, especially before WWI but continuing into the Depression, the socialist party was a viable and legitimate party in America with supporters from all walks of life (except the wealthy capitalists, the politicians they bought, and the police they used to protect them), from Woody Guthrie to John Steinbeck to Albert Einstein.

If the development of modern capitalism had been mitigated and wasn’t allowed to take complete dominance in America in the early 20th century, I’m just guessing here of course, but I seriously doubt we’d have the boom-bust collapse of the economy across the predominately postmodern capitalist world we have now. (But then, to be fair, capitalism was needed then in order to get us to a state where it can destroy itself by making capital wealth ownership by the few, unnecessary. Which is the state we’re now in, with capitalism self-destructing.) But, if socialism had been allowed to remain side-by-side with capitalism — even if in a lesser role — and share the “base,” then when capitalism collapsed as a viable socio-economic model, viable and evolved socialist models for the 21st century could’ve been ready to take over. Yet, thanks to the war-on-pinkos waged by the likes of Hoover (and McCarthy, whom, according to this film, Hoover disliked greatly), all reasonable ideas of socialism were lumped in with the violent anarchists and eradicated as one boogey-scapegoat. And, while Hoover’s pet project and legacy, the FBI, became enviable in the realm of criminal investigation, I’m less than pleased about how corrupt, like most of government, it has become. (Although, really, with all the bugging and wiretapping the FBI was doing in the film, often for Hoover’s own secret personal files, I guess they really haven’t changed all that much!)

So, what was Eastwood’s point? Does he share his contemporary, Beatty’s, leftist sensibilities and made Hoover into a murkily depicted ideologue who changed history on his own terms? Or as a flawed hero who but for being sadly repressed (I know, fortunately, Eastwood’s liberal progressive opinions on homosexuality) and conflicted, did the right thing, badly? I can’t tell. And I don’t think that ambiguity, useful in arthouse films, is a good thing in this very Hollywood biopic.

Big Bad Things CAN happen; we have the ability to change things.

I learned in a theory class last year that people have a tendency to think that the way things are are the way things have always been and always will be. Before the Enlightenment, people had a good reason to believe this. For centuries of feudalism everyone followed the feudal ideology living lives defined by birth, and going to war only when the royalty or pope needed them to for the purpose of the Crown or the Church.

Until the Scottish rebellion marked the beginning of a zeitgeist that would not really be sensed until the French Revolution. Once that happened, the Western world realized the world can be changed. The Way Things Have Always Been need not be! People have an ability to literally change ideology, alter classes, abolish rulership within a generation, that would have been considered literally impossible only decades earlier.

Continue reading Big Bad Things CAN happen; we have the ability to change things.

The free market corrects (for errors in being trusting).

I listen to a lot of podcasts, most of them about skepticism, humanism, science fiction, writing, grammar, literature…and there’s one I listen to called “Sex Is Fun.” It’s an educational show that focuses on sex-positive health issues, issues of sexual identity, lifestyles, concerns and dysfunction, product reviews, sexual politics, as well as being fun and entertaining.
(If you’re giggling, judging, or shocked, get over it. Sex is a part of life, part of being human, and I think the American neurosis of making sex a taboo and fringe topic is part of what’s lead our culture to be schizophrenically obsessed by and sheltered from it, with some of the highest rates of rape and child molestation and harassment of any modern country.)
OK, to the point of this blog entry…

I’m using this podcast as an illustration of why I disagree with the economic libertarianism, true laissez-faire objectivismist philosophy is unworkable and morally bankrupt.

A year or so ago in the SiF podcast, the hosts discussed those herbal “performance enhancers” that are supposed to increase libido and “male performance.”
(One of the problems right there with deregulation: While over-the-counter medicine is stringently regulated by the FDA, “herbal supplements” are not regulated at all! You can walk into you local Walgreen’s or grocery store, pick up some herbal supplements, homeopathic remedies, and have absolutely no idea of what’s in them and what it does. They could do absolutely nothing, or they could have undocumented side-effects, they could have effects with other medications no one has tested for, and every unregulated capsule can have radically different potencies from capsule to capsule.)
And after trying several that are on the market, (another problem of lack of regulation: You have to be your own guinea pig or trust the reviews of some other guinea pig who may have completely shoddy or non-existent experimental controls, methodology, and data review procedures,) the main host and his co-hosts came to the conclusion that they’re all useless and ineffective. (Herbal supplements don’t have to prove any kind of efficacy to be put on the shelf. They can’t make any specific claims about curing any diseases or illnesses, but other than that, they can say whatever they want and leave it to the buyer to beware regarding supplements with untried and unproven pharmacology (no matter what the Indian shaman says about saw palmeto).)

Except one. There was one enhancement supplement which actually did work! Miracle! Ah, except, it was later found out that the manufacturer was putting in the same chemical that is used in Viagra and was taken off the market.

Now, I’m actually only through phase one of this story, there’s a part two coming. But let me stop to say this is the point in which your market libertarian will jump and exclaim: “Ah ha! See, the market adjusts! Let the free market work and it will adjust. People who do underhanded things will not be able to sell their wares and people will move on to the competition.”

Let’s keep in mind that this example of the unregulated and free market allows some someone to do what they want until they get called on. The manufacturer of this product may get sued, may have a settlement to pay, may even have criminal charges filed (which is only possible in a NON-truly libertarian society, by the way)–but all of it after the damage is done. Libertarians love to use the argument when fighting for gun ownership rights that the police don’t prevent crime, they come in after the crime has already happened to take names and investigate it (actually, this is an argument I myself believe in)–but market libertarians are blind to the fact that their disgust for why police are ineffective is exactly the same reason why market libertarianism, objectivism, is ineffective at anything except encouraging abuse, corruption, greed, people taking as much advantage of other people as possible and doing everything and anything possible to get away with it.

And they will too, for a long time, without regulation and stringent monitoring. How long do you think this supplement company got away with it? How many people possibly took the supplement before someone checked things out? How many people may have encounter heart or vision problems before someone decided to try making a connection with this supplement and pay for a chemical analysis of it? Could have been a day, could have been years. And that’s the nature of the market. It adjusts only after damage is done, and that damage could be great and widespread before someone does anything about it. And by then, the perpetrator could be long gone.

Now for part two. So that enhancement supplement is taken off the shelves, people know about it, they move on to the competition. The SiF podcast hosts come upon another enhancement supplement called “Boom Energy.” They check it out, actually talk to the manufacturer and distributor, and are convinced this supplement is “all natural.” The distributor is quite aware of the other, nefarious product, and assures the hosts and the audience that they’re on the up-and-up. And the product works. Even three out of the four female co-hosts report some marked amount of increase in libido and positive physical changes. Boom ends up sponsoring the podcast for nearly a year.

Then guess what. Yep, you guessed it–Boom is outted as also including low dosage of the Viagra active ingredient in their product.

So, how well did the market react and adjust? Just as one company is shut down for its practices, another one well aware of it and the results, does the same thing. Why? Because the drive of the profit motive is too high for people who care more about money than service or ethics. And the deregulated, open market fosters and encourages that kind of corporate sociopathy. In a deregulated industry, what incentive does the unscrupulous company (it’s owners, operators, R&D, etc) have to not put out a shoddy or potentially harmful product if they know the only thing that’s going to stop them is if finally enough people are hurt by it that a connection is made and a privately funded investigation is opened, when you plan on having made enough money by that time to skip off to the Camen Islands?

And that time is shorter only if there’s potential and significant harm (imagine a world in which over the counters weren’t regulated, and you could and would be expected to buy your heart medication, diabetes medication, anti-psychotics, AIDS inhibitors, liver disease treatment drugs off the shelf from companies that have nothing to hold them accountable to quality control safety and efficacy except possible eventual lawsuits?!) When a company puts out a completely ineffectual product, cognitive biases, placebo effect, confirmation biases, permit that product to sell and make ridiculous despite their ineffectualness. Even private clinical research can’t stop a company from putting out a worthless product and taking advantage of people who because of the nature of the product, can only assume it’s on the shelf because it works. We don’t even have to live in “that world,” it’s all around us right now! Test after test after test have shown the ingredients in Airborne do absolutely nothing to stop or even shorten a cold, homeopathic remedies are water, many herbs do not do what they’re advertised to do (although they may cause unresearched side-effects and drug reactions), and yet our store shelves are filled with it.

The market libertarian assumes that the average consumer will take the time and effort to research every product and company they chose to buy from. Think about it: Do you have time enough to do what you try to do already–work, family, friends, a life and pursuit of happiness, that you have time to research every product you buy from shampoo to peanut butter, to make sure independent laboratory tests (assuming any have even been done, have been published, and been done by someone not paid by the company itself!) show the product to be safe and contain what it’s advertised, and show a consistently better-than-placebo level of efficacy? (Yes, I suppose that may apply to products like shampoo as well *grin*.)

Our level of trust in aspects of the government is pretty low for many reasons. I myself trust the government far less than the average person. But even slightly flawed programs like the FDA, Medicare, the pre-Bush Veteran’s Administration, pre-Reagan banking regulation and housing finance regulations, worked well enough to help protect us to a degree far higher than if they didn’t exist and it was a consumer wild west out there. The neo-cons want to destroy the government and replace it with corporate rule, the objectivists want to destroy government and replace it with a utopian idea of free market rule (that somehow can magically withstand the machinacions and control that could be leveraged by mega-corporations). The problem isn’t necessarily government, it’s government that’s for sale that’s the problem. And that’s been the case for 100 years now, since Presidents Harding and Hoover and the robber barons who literally bought laws to protect their corporate interests at the expense of both labor and the consumer. And it took a giant step forward with Reagan and the Bush’s (and with Clinton as well, lest he’s put on some pedestal. He wasn’t as bad at handing government over to the wealthy and the corporate as Reagan, but he’s not innocent of it either. And neither will Hilary.)

Whether we can return to a truly representative democratic government that’s for and by the people, I don’t know. Instead of the corporate media controlled charade we have now, where each candidate (except a couple who have less than no chance of getting a nomination) is different from the other in only degrees. The power of global market capitalism may be too powerful and the handing over of America to the wealthy elite too far advanced. Some anarcho-socialists believe nothing short of revolution, complete market collapse, or massive environmental disaster of continent-size scale can wrest control of government back into the hands of the people.

One can only hope.