The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Take Him, He’s Mine” (S2, Ep. 3)

Special Note: This is my 500th post on this blog. Wow. We’ve come a long way, baby!

And so we come at last to the third episode of the second season, and the establishment of a pattern that will come to play such a prominent part in Dorothy’s life: her fraught and contradictory relationship with Stanley.

When Stanley comes by to ask Dorothy to go out with him to help salve his broken heart, Dorothy pawns him off on an unwilling Blanche. Unfortunately, the two of them bond more than she had expected, and this sparks yet another round of recriminations and feuding between Blanche and Dorothy. Meanwhile, Sophia and Dorothy go into business together trying to sell sandwiches.

One of the great strengths of The Golden Girls is the way in which it really helps shed light on the messiness of personal relationships. It would have been far too easy to paint Dorothy and Stan as mutually hating each other, and it appears that was indeed the goal in the first episode in which he appears, there’s clearly a lot of chemistry between Bea Arthur and Herb Edelman. One can actually imagine the two of them as a couple that once loved one another (even if their marriage came about in less than auspicious circumstances). The series shows us instead that the ties that bind a couple together during 38 years of marriage cannot be so easily dissolved or snapped; however much we might want it, there is rarely is such a thing as a truly clean break.

Dorothy’s flare of jealousy at Blanche’s budding relationship with Stan also speaks to the complicated relationships that exist between women. I know that I, for one, can completely understand Dorothy’s feeling of betrayal  and jealousy at the thought that her best friend might be sleeping with her ex-husband. I mean, who wouldn’t feel that way? Even if you are divorced from someone, even though they might have betrayed you in the worst way possible (remember that Stan left Dorothy and married a woman half his age), you still can’t let those feelings go.

But, this being a sitcom, balance has been restored by the end. Blanche jettisons her relationship with Stanley, correcting understanding that to persist in it would put an irreparable strain on their friendship. It’s rather touching, really, to see how they privilege their feelings for one another over their ones with men. It’s a dynamic that will be one of the constants in the entire series, and for me it’s one of the most enjoyable things about it.

Lastly, we should make at least passing mention of the Sophia/Rose part of the story. Admittedly, it lacks the gravitas of the other, but it is definitely hilarious. The “Bacon-Lettuce-and-Potato” bit (they run out of tomatoes for the sandwich) has to be one of the most hilarious segments in the second season.

Next up, we get to take a look at the strange case of Frieda Claxton in what is arguably one of the funniest episodes of this second season.

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So About Tom Bombadil

In the vast universe of Tolkien fandom, there is perhaps no figure more polarizing than Tom Bombadil (though perhaps Peter Jackson is up there, too). Some Tolkien fans swear by this character, while others loath him. When it quickly became clear that he was not going to make an appearance in Jackson’s films, there was a similarly divided response. Some felt that this was a deep betrayal of an essential component of Tolkien’s vision, while others breathed a welcome sigh of relief. I was of the latter mind.

I’ll be the first to admit that for a long time I was decidedly not a fan of Mr. Bombadil. He was too foolish and silly, too full of sing-song and rhyme, to be pleasing to me. He just seemed so out-of-step with the other parts of the novel that I personally found infinitely more interesting. Try as I might, I just could not find the charm in the ridiculous. I read through these sections, but they always felt like a tedious hurdle to jump over, the one separating the quaint and enjoyable sections dealing with the Shire from when things got good starting with the incidents at Bree.

Through the years, though, I’ve come to really appreciate this interlude of the novel. Sure, it doesn’t have the soaring height of operatic grandeur that we see in the sequences, but it does have some truly sinister bits. Who does not feel a faint thrill of terror at the power of Old Man Willow, whose heart is rotten but whose sway over the Old Forest is unparalleled? Who doesn’t feel a faint chill upon seeing the barrows rearing above Tom’s house, knowing that there are wights living there?

On this most recent reading of the novel, however, it is the passages detailing the homely virtues of Tom’s house that provided me the most pleasure as a reader. Tolkien was an absolute master of creating atmosphere, of showing us how particular spaces and places were more than just settings. Places like the House of Tom Bombadil represent an entire way of life, an ethos that saturates every aspect of it. In this case, it is an oasis in a world grown increasingly chaotic. However, it is an oasis that is itself dangerous, a place that operates according to its own rules.

And it is precisely those own rules, which Tom alone seems to have mastered, that really sets this part of the novel apart. Bombadil remains an enigma to even the most devout and meticulous of Tolkien fans, and I for one think it’s better that we remain in the dark about whether he is one of the Maiar, or whether he is something else altogether. To some extent, Bombadil seems to exist outside of history. The events of the world outside–that have such dramatic, larger-scale historical consequences–don’t really seem to affect him in any meaningful way (recall that the Ring has no effect on him).

This is not to say that this sequence isn’t important in terms of history; far from it. After all, this does include the sequence in which Tom relates to the gathered hobbits the glimmers of the history of the North that the Hobbits, in their blissful ignorance, have largely forgotten. Though the reader doesn’t know it at this point, these are the rival kingdoms that emerged after the splintering of Arnor, as well as the rise of the Witch-king. There is something hauntingly beautiful about these tales, rendered all the more so by their inscrutability. They are part of the vast skein that underlies this particular thread in the pattern of Tolkien’s world.

And, of course, I would be remiss without mentioning the fair Goldberry. Unlike the other two prominent women in this universe–Galadriel and Éowyn–we don’t really learn much about her. She does, however, fit nicely into the way that Tolkien tended to view women, with her golden hair and her inscrutability. One gets the sense, though, that there is a great power that she, like Tom, keeps carefully concealed. Again, though, I see this as one of the things that makes her such a compelling character, and I am grateful that Tolkien doesn’t tell us more than he absolutely needs to.

So, I have to admit, I’ve become quite fond of Tom Bombadil. Comforting and enigmatic, powerful yet aloof, he remains one of Tolkien’s most fascinating creations.

And that is saying quite a lot, indeed.

Screening Classic Hollywood: “Auntie Mame” (1958)

I miss many things about classic Hollywood, but one of the greatest casualties was the opening credit sequence. In fine classic Hollywood style, the opening to Auntie Mame is a riot of colors, designs, and patterns, a harbinger of the flamboyant personality embodied by Mame herself.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

When his father unexpectedly dies, Patrick is sent to live with his father’s eccentric, larger-than-life sister Mame (Rosalind Russell). Mame is full of wit, vivacity, and joy, swanning about New York with a social group as eclectic and flamboyant as she is. When the Great Depression hits, she manages to snare a Southern gentleman as a husband (Forrest Tucker), go on a world-wide tour, and even begin penning her autobiography. Unfortunately, her exuberant lifestyle clashes with Patrick’s upper-class aspirations. However, through it all she remains true to herself and in so doing forces Patrick to be true to himself as well.

From her very first appearance, Russell is nothing less than divine as Mame. With her glaring orange outfit, her rat-a-tat-tat, rapid-fire delivery, and distinctively husky voice, she is the embodiment of flamboyant femininity. She owns who she is, and she feels no shame about it. Her honesty is bracing but refreshing, especially compared to the stuffy, hypocritical, and disgustingly fake affect of Patrick’s soon-to-be-laws, who are the most loathsome type of New England WASP.

Beneath all of her exuberance, Mame has the proverbial heart of gold. Unlike his father, who treated Patrick with what amounts to contempt, Mame clearly has a profound fondness for her nephew. What’s more, she treats him as an adult rather than a child, and she bears him an affection deeper, richer, and more genuine than she has had for any of her other “hobbies.” This obviously extends into her fervent, and accurate dislike, of Patrick’s first love interest, and she accurately sees that this woman will lead Patrick into unhappiness.

Mame is fiercely protective of Patrick, and she gives him the chance to be loved for who he is rather than what his father (and his father’s patriarchal surrogate, Mr. Babcock) want him to be. Whereas they want to forge him into the same sort of frigid, buttoned-up man that they are (and they threaten to succeed), she wants nothing more than his happiness, even if that means telling him unpleasant truth that he doesn’t want to hear. With her profound ability to cut through the bullshit that bourgeois culture uses to obfuscate its own inner rottenness, Mame also exposes the hypocrisy of postwar American culture as a whole.

I’ve always thought that there was something deliciously queer about the Mame story and its various iterations. In this film, that queerness stems in part from Russell herself, who commands the screen with every biting remark and scathing witticism. She resists the dominant ideology that says that she should behave as an appropriate woman, and this liberates both herself and Patrick from the stuffy, irritatingly hetero pretensions of everyone else (including and especially his potential in-laws).

Mame’s queerness is particularly evident during the dinner party that she throws for the Upsons, in which her unruly energies–the flaming (literally) drinks, the pickled rattlesnake, the presence of her unmarried-and-pregnant secretary–are on full display. Unlike Patrick, who has internalized the shame of America’s upper classes, Mame has embraced her chosen family, and she reminds him of what he risks giving up if he joins with the Upsons, with their annoying accents, their restricted homes, and their too-sweet cocktails (nauseatingly sweetened with honey). The film makes it quite clear who has the right of it in this situation. Mame promises Patrick a life lived on his own terms, with a merry band of misfits, all of whom are united in their love of life.

Just as importantly, the queerness emerges in the film’s aesthetic, in the brash Technicolor that seems to exist for no other reason than existence. Blue is a particularly prominent shade, one that appears in both the décor of Mame’s magnificent home and in those moments when the screen fades, leaving Mame’s face saturated with blue. To my eyes, the blue conveys a sweet sort of melancholy so sharply at odds with the exuberant joy on evidence throughout the rest of the film. The film is sweet, but also a little sad, and it’s in the blending of those two sentiments that it really excels.

Auntie Mame is the very best sort of film that classic Hollywood can produce. Hilarious, touching, and gorgeously shot, it’s films like this that make me glad I watch these old movies. They help us to see that, even in a seemingly repressive and conformist culture like the 1950s, there was always the possibility of resistance, no matter how subtle it might seem. Life, as Mame says, is a banquet.

To put it bluntly, it’s a damn fine film.

“Nine for Mortal Men, Doomed to Die:” The Tragedy of the Nazgûl

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to argue that the Ringwraiths of The Lord of the Rings are anything other than evil. They are the ones who lead the attack on the good guys, and they are terrifying as they hunt the hobbits in the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring. They are Sauron’s most powerful servants, the only beings with Rings of Power that have given into the Dark Lord’s seductive songs.

And yet, as I was reading LotR for the umpteenth time,  something jumped out at me about the rhyme that tells why the Rings were given to certain races. When I read that nine rings were given to mortal men “doomed to die,” I thought…what a striking description. After all, the Elven kings are described as being under the sky (drawing attention to their closeness to the earth), while the Dwarves are discussed in terms of their halls of stone (signifying their allegiance to mining and to craftsmanship). These descriptions suggest that the Rings speak to some essential quality in those who bear them, and so it stands to reason that what sets Men apart, and what draws them to the Rings (and what the Rings draw out of them) is there awareness of the inevitability of their deaths.

We don’t get a lot of detail about the Ringwraiths or their origins. We know a bit about the Witch-king of Angmar, though even his origins are shrouded in gloom. But embedded in that little stanza, I think, tells us a great deal. They were clearly great men, sorcerers and kings, who were tormented by the idea that all of their accomplishments would be for naught when it came time for them to die. Faced with the reality, can we not understand (at least a little) why they might be seduced by the possibility that such a fate might be avoided?

Tolkien was fascinated (rather gloomily, in some ways) with the fact that humans, unlike Elves, have been blessed (or cursed) with the gift of mortality. While Elves must face all the Ages of the world unfold before and around them, Men–even the long-lived Númenoreans) get to shuffle off this mortal coil. But of course this is the one thing that humanity cannot quite accept, despite the fact that the Elves, and Ilúvatar, understand this mortality to be a gift. Humans can escape from the prison of the corporeal world; the Elves usually cannot. Though humanity yearns for immortality, it does so with a severely flawed understanding of what that infinite life would actually entail as far as lived reality.

It is revealing, therefore, that in the rhyme Tolkien uses the word “doom.” I’m of the mind that almost everything in Tolkien’s work is deliberate. The man loved words, and he loved their histories, and he surely knew that “doom” originally meant “judgment,” so that death is in a way a judgment. Yet beyond that, doom also has something about the pre-ordained about it. While Tolkien’s body of work suggests that death is a gift that should be embraced (even if it isn’t), one can’t escape the negative connotations that this particular word has accrued.

In that sense, we can perhaps gain a more nuanced understanding of why it might be that these men would give themselves up to temptation. It seems that the desire to push against boundaries–whether that is mortality or some other moral injunction–is hard-wired into the human brain, leading us into some of our greatest bursts of creativity and also our greatest follies. Unable to see what is right in front of our eyes, we often engage in precisely the sort of destructive behavior that is our undoing. This, it seems, is exactly what happened to the Nazgûl in their attempt to thwart the inevitability of their own deaths.

As always, beneath the seeming moral clarity offered by The Lord of the Rings, there is a vast system of moral philosophy that is as contradictory as any in the world outside the text. The tragedy of the Nazgûl, and men like them, was that they could not (or would not) recognize the gift that they were given in the form of death was, in fact, a gift. Instead, they sought to avoid it. In doing so, however, they brought about a fate far worse than the death that they shunned. At the time of the novel, they live a sort of half-life, slaves in mind and body to a will greater than their own, unable to die yet, paradoxically, unable to truly live either.

Perhaps, when Mount Doom explodes in fiery ruin and destroys the Ringwraiths, it is a release for them. With the destruction of the One Ring, perhaps they can at last find peace.

But perhaps that’s a fool’s hope.

Film Review: “Lady Bird” (2017)

Whenever a film receives a lot of praise from the critics, I’m always a bit skeptical. After all, is it really possible for a film to be that good?

Leave it to a film like Lady Bird to prove me absolutely wrong.

The film is, at first glance, a straightforward coming-of-age story. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) feels trapped in her humdrum teenage life in Sacramento, and she is particularly dissatisfied with the vision that her mother (Laurie Metcalf) has of her life and her future. She yearns for a brighter future outside of Sacramento, of going to a college on the East Coast and escaping.

One of the things that really stood out to me as I watched the film was how well it captured the ethos of 2002 (when the film begins). From the Justin Timberlake playing on the radio to the references to 9/11 to the barely-concealed poverty that afflicts Lady Bird’s family, so much of it rang true to my own remembrances of that time (I was roughly the same age as Lady Bird at the time).

Lady Bird is a film about how incredibly awkward it is to be a teenager. Sure, it can be exhilarating and exciting to do all the teenage things–apply to college, act in a play, even sleep with boys–but there also the flip side of these things. You don’t always get into the college that you wanted (despite your highest hopes), you don’t always get the part that you think you deserve (and you have to pretend to be happy for your best friend who does), and boys can be real shits.

It’s worth pointing out the absolute brilliance of Ronan. She manages to make Lady Bird a charismatic and likable character, even if she does do and say some pretty shitty things to both her family and her friends. Ronan, however, imbues her with a paradoxical awkward grace, a teenager who is at once supremely confident in her abilities yet profoundly uncomfortable with her impending adulthood. She likes to think that she is ready for the great big world of college, but throughout the film she increasingly realizes that this might not be as true as she would like to believe. While she is sometimes selfish and carelessly cruel, Lady Bird also has a proud and empathetic heart. Like all of us (teenagers and otherwise), she’s a contradictory person, and the film shows those contradictions in all their messy details.

It is also a film about the tensions that inevitably arise even when a mother and a daughter love one another fiercely. While there wasn’t as much attention to the “mama drama” component of the narrative as the trailers had led me to expect, the fraught relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is still one of the most important aspects of the film. Though it’s clear that they love one another, I’m still not entirely sure that they like each other. And, indeed, that is one of the questions the film asks: should parents and children like one another, or should they be content to love each other? Is it even possible to do both and still maintain a healthy parent/child relationship?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Metcalf threatens to steal the show. She has one of those faces that conveys a certain world-weary sadness in tandem with a frantic energy. There are several moments in the film when the camera is just about to cut away from her, and we see a certain frown twitch her lips downward, a mute testimony to the conflicted, yet intense, love she bears for her troublesome daughter. Just as Lady Bird feels burdened by her family, Marion bears her own scars and burdens, the result of her own soured relationship with her mother (briefly alluded to) and the family’s struggle with impending poverty. She knows that Lady Bird is ashamed of their circumstances, and it clearly breaks her heart. For all that, though, she clearly loves her fiercely.

The secondary characters also deserve praise. Lois Smith exudes grandmotherly charm as Sister Sarah Joan (and come on, who doesn’t love Lois Smith in literally anything?) Beanie Feldstein is also sublime as Lady Bird’s best friend Julie, imbuing the role with a careless ease. Lucas Hedges also deserves praise for his charming awkwardness as Danny, Lady Bird’s onetime boyfriend who comes out to her in one of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes.

Director Gerwig has a strong sense of atmosphere, and Lady Bird’s house manages to convey both comfort and imprisonment at the same time, a doubling that is true of Sacramento as a whole. Both home and city have a stale beauty about them.

Gerwig crafts a compelling yet simple portrait of the pleasures and pitfalls of female adolescence: the torment of young love, sublime joy of friendship, the conflicted feelings of family. Hopefully, the film’s critical acclaim heralds more such stories from Hollywood.

Executives, are you listening?

Tolkien’s Heirs (IV): Robert Jordan

In my inaugural entry in this year’s Tolkien Appreciation Month (which always takes place in December), I thought I would do a little spiel about Robert Jordan. Since I’ve been making my way through The Wheel of Time, it felt like this month would be a fitting time to speak about why Jordan deserves the recognition as one of Tolkien’s heirs.

There’s no question that Jordan clearly set out to write a fantasy in the Tolkien mold. The Eye of the World, like many other first entries in a fantasy series, follows the LotR paradigm: simple man from simple country folk; interloping magic-wielder who leads him on a quest, etc. The Blight looks suspiciously like Mordor, and there are numerous other parallels. This isn’t an indictment of Eye, however, as I’m not one of those who thinks that imitation somehow cheapens the work. Jordan clearly understood that this was a narrative archetype that worked and that could be used to address the cultural and social concerns of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and so he used it to explore issues in his unique way.

Thus, once we get beyond The Eye of the World, it quickly becomes clear that Jordan has something in mind that is more akin to the vast scope of The Silmarillion than to the mostly straightforward quest narrative of The Lord of The Rings. Beyond the scope of the series–which, we should remember, ended up being 14 books long–there is the vast tapestry of Jordan’s created world. Like Tolkien, Jordan understood that the actions of the past continue to press against the present and, to some extent, dictate the contours of the future. Thus, each book reveals a bit more of the history of this vast world. However, Jordan also took a key lesson from Tolkien: sometimes, there are aspects of your world that should remain beyond the reader’s gaze, tempting them with the lure of the perpetually unknown.

Like Tolkien, Jordan is also interested in the great philosophical questions that are, for many, the hallmark of truly great literary/artistic expression. To what extent do individuals control their own destiny? Are we all doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over? Are we all caught in a grand struggle in which we are but bit players? Of course, there is ultimately no answer to these questions, and it is this key tension that makes fantasies of this sort such a pleasure to read.

Unlike Tolkien, for whom people of colour and women were largely ancillary, Jordan involves them very much in the center of his created world. Many of his nations and peoples are explicitly depicted as being non-white, and some of the most compelling characters (Nynaeve, Egwene, Moiraine), are women. His perspectives on the relationships between the sexes–to say nothing of the neat way in which the Power is divided among women and men–may be quite old-fashioned (and even regressive), but at least he does give his female characters something meaningful to do in the novels themselves.

However, Jordan does have a fairly straightforward conceptualization of good and evil. Sure, there are characters that struggle with the right and wrong thing to do, but that’s not quite the same thing. It’s pretty clear that the Dark One is the embodiment of pure evil and the Forsaken, his most powerful servants, are likewise creatures of malice and unscrupulous desires. Taking a page from Tolkien’s book, however, Jordan also recognizes that there is something irresistible and compelling about the supposedly evil characters. We know that they cause untold damage to many hundreds of innocent people, yet we feel ourselves drawn to them anyway.

While it is commonplace to praise an epic fantasy author by comparing them to Tolkien, that praise has become so overused as to be almost meaningless. In Robert Jordan’s case, however, he most certainly deserves the title. Through both his world-building and in the depth of  the philosophical questions that he asks, he demonstrates (thankfully) that epic fantasy is not a genre that should be taken lightly. Indeed, it well deserves its place as one of the literary genres that tells us the most about how a culture thinks. And, in the hands of writers like Jordan, it can attain that rare thing: true beauty.

Short Fiction: “The Midwife” (Part 7)

It was on her second day out from the city that she encountered her first obstacle. She had thought that her natural sense of direction would lead her where she needed to go, but she had not anticipated the many twists and turns the road would take, and she certainly had not expected the rockfall that suddenly blocked their way forward.

Frowning, she wondered if perhaps she would be able to scale it, but decided almost at once that to do so would be the height of folly. Aside from the fact that she had not climbed anything since she was a girl stealing apples from her neighbor’s orchard, she also had the babe to think of. While he might be as calm as she could wish, he was still a weight that would drag her down to her death if she dared to try.

Just as she had decided that she had no choice but to scale or turn back, a shadow passed over the sun, and as she looked up she felt her heart skip a beat.

She knew all too well what the creature was that was above her, with that lion body and the wings of an eagle, and the eerily beautiful face. It was a sphinx.

Slowly and languidly it circled, as if it knew that she would not be able to escape but enjoyed toying with her.

She whimpered deep in her throat as the creature slowly approached, until it landed a few paces from her. For a moment it stood, but then it folded its legs until it lounged insolently, its eerily beautiful face holding her in its inscrutable gaze. She felt as if she were at the mercy of some great force, something so far beyond human understanding as to be terrifying.

“I seek passage beyond.” It was, she knew the customary thing to say to guardians of this sort. Besides, perhaps if she was lucky the creature would give her the means of getting across the rockfall.

“I can see that,” the spinx said, a trifle irritably. “Do you think that I am blind?” It narrowed its eyes. “Mortals are fools that will believe anything, ‘tis said. You may pass. But only when you have made me an offer that I accept.”

“Why should I offer you anything?” she demanded, her fear making her angry. “What right do you have to demand?”

The creature chuckled. “Because this is my domain. Did you think this fall happened on its own?” It laughed, an eerily beautiful sound. “

Siska knew that she had nothing to offer, so she said the only thing she thought might sway the heart of this creature.

“I carry a babe in arms. The laws of old say that I may pass.” It was well-known that the creatures of the hinterlands adhered to a set of laws that could not be transgressed, and that one of them was that a child should not be harmed.

Or so she had been told.

The creature laughed deep in its throat, its bronze eyes sparkling with vicious mirth. “Oh, little human woman, don’t try to use the old laws against me. The law only states that I cannot harm the child. It says nothing about you, and it certainly doesn’t say that I have to let you pass.

“You will have to do better than that, little mortal. I ask you again: what will you give me that will let you pass?”

For a paralyzing moment, Siska could think of nothing, and despair washed over her.

Then, in one of those moments of pure inspiration, it came to her.

She stepped forward, and made her offer.

Weekly Rant: The Unbearable Privilege of Susan Sarandon

In case you missed it, Susan Sarandon stands by her earlier condemnation of Hillary Clinton. According to Sarandon, if we’d had Hillary elected, we’d be at war, fracking would continue unabated, and we would have had more of the “sneaky” parts of the Obama administration (the deportations, drone strikes, etc.)

Of course, I’m not at all surprised by Sarandon’s stubborn refusal to admit she was wrong (and her selective memory of the Christ Hayes interview, which I was watching in real time). And to some extent I really don’t care what she thinks. She’s really quite amazing as an actress–as her most recent turn as Bette Davis in Feud demonstrates–but I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the idea that we should look to the stars for inspiration. They’re just people, after all, and thus prone to flaws and mistakes just like anyone else. The danger is that many people follow their lead, and when a powerful progressive voice declines to support a progressive candidate, and even make the specious argument that Trump might hasten the revolution, I get pissed. And not just at Sarandon, either.

For the real rub about her interview is that it speaks of a sentiment that still has a strong pull on the far Left. Those who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein still refuse to admit that they were mistaken, even though we know that the number of Green Party voters in the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan would have decisively tipped the election to Clinton. They still believe that Clinton would have been more dangerous and destructive than Trump, even with mountains of evidence to the contrary (which continue to grow higher each and every day).

What infuriates me the most about Sarandon and those like her, though, is how insulated they are from the results of their “protest” votes. They claim to care about black lives, about the environment, about queer people, about immigrants, about a host of liberal causes. Yet, when they are given the choice between a party that is against all of those things, again and again they spurn it and throw their votes to an unviable third party (the reasons why a third party is unviable will be the subject of another rant). Rather than seek out actual policy proposals that would advance these causes and candidates who could effectively work with other legislators to implement them, those on the far Left would rather hold every candidate up to a purity test that they are destined to fail. Like those on the Right, who fetishize principles (“fetal life,” “the second amendment,” “free enterprise,” “the sanctity of marriage,” and the like”) over people, the Left cares more about purity than about the actual lives of actual people who are affected by their decisions.

This, my friends, is the insidious danger of false equivalence. Once everything is equal, once every candidate is equally flawed, and each party equally corrupt, then it becomes possible to vote your conscience, even if that means throwing everyone else under the bus. Once upon a time we on the Left were the party of getting things done, of hammering out solutions and compromises to move a progressive agenda forward. Now, we’ve become the bomb-throwers, the ones willing to destroy the entire system with absolutely no idea how to replace it. And a lot of my white progressive friends continue to refuse to see how their protest votes actively hurt the very people and causes they claim to care about.

Well, I hope that Sarandon and her ilk are happy with what they have wrought. When the Republican tax plan destroys graduate education; when the revitalized oil, gas, and coal industries destroy the environment; when net neutrality is gutted; when the court system is completely remade in Trump’s image; when white nationalism and white supremacy continue to grow in power with Trump’s tacit encouragement; when the progressive clock is not just rolled back but demolished; when the world trembles before the possibility of nuclear war; remember that we could have had a Clinton presidency. Remember that this didn’t have to happen.

And for the love of all the gods, vote Democrat in 2016.

Though you might not realize it, some of our lives depend on it.

Including mine.

Reading The Wheel of Time: “Winter’s Heart” (Book 9)

Hello, friends. It’s been a while since I published an update on my progress of reading through the Wheel of Time series, I thought I’d try to get myself caught up. And so we come to Winter’s Heart.

The novel picks up immediately where the preceding novel left off: Faile is a captive of the Shadio and Perrin is attempting to rescue her; Mat manages to escape the city of Ebou Dar and in the process kidnaps the Seanchan princess Tuon; and Rand has to confront the darker parts of his psyche while preparing to undertake a mission to cleanse saidin of the taint that has kept it from being a viable resource for almost three thousand years.

Overall, I would rank this in the middle tier of the series. It has some of the strengths of the first three books and some of the weaknesses of the middle volumes. It has a strong narrative momentum that keeps the action moving forward, even if in the long run many of the storylines remain unresolved.

For all of its narrative weaknesses, we have what is arguably the most important event to happen in the series thus far: the cleansing of saidin. The sequence is a tightly-woven one, with multiple switching viewpoints and alternating lush and staccato description. As with so many other incidents that occur in this universe, the consequences of the cleansing will be tremendous, but the irony is that many will continue to refuse to believe that Rand has succeeded in this most momentous of events.

Say what you will about Robert Jordan: the man knew how to write a battle scene. The ending duel between Rand’s soldiers and the Forsaken is one of the most breathtaking ones in the entire series, and I know that I for one was holding my breath the entire time. The fact that we also get the perspectives of several members of the Forsaken–most notably Moghedien–makes this part all the more compelling. As we will later find out, it will also reveal that Halima, the reincarnated Balthamel, has finally stumbled dangerously close to being revealed for who she really is.

Unfortunately, several plot lines also don’t move very far forward. The capturing of Faile–the payoff of which still eludes the reader–is one of the most frustrating parts of the entire series. One wonders what, exactly, is the point as far as Faile’s character goes. I suppose you could argue that it reveals the extent to which Perrin still thinks in terms of his own desires rather than the grand stage upon which he is acting, but I’m still frustrated by it. This is one of those rare points in the series where I find Perrin more insufferable than either Rand or Mat, and that is really saying something.

There are a few bright spots in this sluggish plot. Elayne continues to be a character I like, even though she doesn’t really accomplish very much in this book. She nevertheless proves that she is a canny and cunning manipulator, a fitting successor to her mother and someone who will make a fine Queen of Andor when she finally manages to solidify her power. I personally find it very refreshing that Jordan actually gives a great deal of attention to another powerful female character, one who is determined to forge her own destiny. Compared to Min, she also thinks about Rand a remarkably small amount, and that too is refreshing.

At this point, it’s hard to ignore one of Jordan’s most notable shortcomings as a writer: his chronic inability to wrap up a storyline. By this point, we have so many characters and they are all doing so many different things in so many parts of the world that it feels as if we are never going to see the Last Battle. At the same time, we are also forced to realize that each action and thread is pregnant with possibility and significance, each instant a step forward along the road to the Last Battle.

Next up I’m on to Crossroads of Twilight. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I won’t be spending too much time on that one. It is, even now, my least favourite novel. But I’ll still try to find something interesting to say about it.

Stay tuned!

Screening Classic Hollywood: “My Darling Clementine” (1946)

Today in classic Hollywood, I’m writing about My Darling Clementine, one of John Ford’s finest westerns and a stellar example of the postwar iteration of America’s favourite genre.

Directed by John Ford (the western director par excellence), the film details the events leading up to the famous showdown at the OK Corral. It stars Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp, Victor Mature as Doc Holliday, Linda Darnell as the singer Chihuahua, Cathy Downs as the titular Clementine, and Walter Brennan as the cruel Newman Clanton.

If anyone was suited to play a stalwart, noble, yet reluctant lawman, it would be Henry Fonda. There is something at once both soft and hard about Fonda, his voice conveying both a certain softness and a harsh grittiness in equal measure. His face also bears this out, with its oscillation between somber gravitas and almost-waifish innocence. It’s not just that Fonda plays the role of Earp; he really does seem to embody it (and, if I’m being honest, he also seems to embody a bit of the American spirit).

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Fonda manages to embody the best of the American spirit in the person of Wyatt Earp.

If you want my personal opinion, however, it’s not really Fonda who owns the screen, but his co-stars Victor Mature and Walter Brennan. Though Brennan excelled at playing either solemn and pious men (as in Sergeant York) or slightly batty old man (as in Rio Bravo), he plays a brutal villain in this film with equal ease. Clanton is the self-serving, tribalist whose ethos is emblematic of the rot that has settled into Tombstone. Though loyal to his sons, he has no sense of civic duty, which makes him a perfect foil for Fonda’s Earp, who is loyal to both family and the state.

Doc Holliday is something else altogether. There is something deliciously dissolute about Mature’s Doc Holliday. Part of that stems from Mature’s physical persona, which always have something voluptuous about it. His face has a certain softness to it, a propensity to what Bruce Babington and Peter William Evans refer to as voluptuous enslavement. It’s fitting, then that he would play a consumptive who seems to have a weakness for women and an unwillingness to commit to the one woman who seems to truly love him in a selfless way. It is also fitting that the body politic that the film attempts to construct has no room for this sort of dissolute masculinity, so that his death at the shootout (which is unhistorical by the way), redeems him from his own dissolution.

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My Darling Clementine creates a western world that is brutal and unforgiving, seemingly yearning for the domesticating hand that can only rest in the moral rectitude of a man like Fonda’s Earp. Of course, the reality is also that he cannot stay, and so he resigns from his position as the marshal. The restoration of the social order has no place for the type of violence that Earp represents (which is a common trope in the western genre as a whole).

The ending is fittingly bittersweet. Though one would certainly hope that the Earp and Clementine would find romantic fulfillment, the world that the film has created has no space for that sort of fulfillment. One senses in this inability to bring this romance to a satisfactory conclusion a residue from the recently-ended War, which had left so many men and women scarred both physically and psychologically. Many films of the postwar period struggled with the question of how to reintegrate men back into the fabric of society, and Clementine shows what happens when those attempts fail.

In my estimation, My Darling Clementine well deserves the reputation it has accrued as one of the most significant western films to come out of Hollywood’s golden age. It reflects an American culture attempting to restore the order that had been disrupted by both the Depression and World War II and never quite succeeding. Like all great films, it ultimately raises as many questions as it answers.