The author is a prominent American social critic, blogger, and podcaster, and one of our all-time favorite pessimists. We carry his articles regularly on RI. His writing on Russia-gate has been highly entertaining.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with the brilliant Dmitry Orlov, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
You can find his popular fiction and novels on this subject, here. To get a sense of how entertaining he is, watch this 2004 TED talk about the cruel misery of American urban design – it is one of the most-viewed on TED. Here is a recent audio interview with him which gives a good overview of his work.
If you like his work, please consider supporting him on Patreon.
Author and commentator James Howard Kunstler returns as our podcast guest this week for an update on where we are in The Long Emergency timeline.
In this wide-raging discussion ranging from the pervasiveness of propaganda in today’s media to the risk of nuclear war, Kunstler also re-news his warnings of a current secular economic slowdown.
After too many years of market interventions, magical thinking, racketeering, and bleeding the 99% dry, he warns that our culture and economic system will soon reach a snapping point:
The important story is what happens in the financial sector and how it effects the economy in the next twelve to eighteen months. As we know, the financial system is the most abstract and fragile of all the systems that we depend on because the other systems can’t run without it. The trucks won’t make the food deliveries to the supermarkets unless the finance system works. The gasoline won’t get to the pumps at the stations.
Nothing’s going to move if the financial system cracks up. People no longer trust each other to transact, to get paid. And so they stop transacting.
We’re talking about a falling standard of living and getting used to an economy of “less”. It sounds kind of Ebenezer Scrooge-ish to suggest that people may have to do with less rather than more, because more has always been the expectation in our lifetime. But that’s probably a fact. And as I’ve said more than once, reality has mandates of its own. Circumstances are going to inform us about how this economy is emerging and where we need to go with it. And we can either pay attention or just sit there with our fingers in our ears.
What we’re talking about here is the armature of our culture and economy that people hang their lives on. And that armature is crumbling. There are fewer things that people can hang a life on in a meaningful way, or a way that even ensures that they can have a little bit of security looking into even a short-term future.
For example, I had a day yesterday that felt like national Murphy’s Law Day. I got a screw in a tire. The screw was in a place where, under New York State law, they’re not allowed to fix the tire if the screw is near the outside of tread. So I had to buy a brand-new tire. And then I was going to take the trash to the dump in my old pickup truck, which I keep around for that purpose. But the battery was dead. So I had to go down to the auto parts store and buy a new battery, and bring it home and put it in.
Now, I’m among the lucky people in this land who can actually buy a new tire and buy a car battery. But probably some enormous percentage of the population, like 78% or 84% — I’m not quite sure what it is — they don’t have enough money to buy a new car battery if their car dies on some god forsaken freeway shoulder 38 miles from home. Imagine how crazy-making that is. I can easily, because I was a truly starving bohemia until well into my 40s, struggling just to pay the light bill while writing book after book. So I know what it’s like to live day after day in that kind of financial anxiety.
I imagine that the financial anxiety out there right now is just so extreme that there’s a whole mass of people who are being pushed to the limits of their sanity.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with James Howard Kunstler (57m:11s).
Chris: Welcome everyone to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. And it is March 7, 2108. We are now half way through the twenty-year period of strange adjustment I set forth as being critical all the way back in 2008. Now, what’s the next ten years going to hold? Hm. Well, if recent events are any indication, things will go faster and faster as the quickening sets upon us, and events will become harder and harder for the average person to interpret let alone integrate. Who better help to orient us to this rapidly deforming landscape then a regular guest and my personal friend, James Howard Kunstler.
Jim, of course, is well know author and social critic who hardly needs and introduction to me audience. His best-known works include The Long Emergency, in which he argued that declining oil production will result in the reversal of modern industrialized society and compel Americans, at some point, to return to smaller scale, localized, semi-agrarian communities. He also wrote the book series that began with World Made by Handand sequel, The Witch of Hebron, A History of the Future, and most recently, The Harrows of Spring which uses fiction to really entertainingly transport us into what the future of less might look and feel like. Welcome, Jim, it’s so good to have you back.
Jim Kunstler: It’s a pleas to be here, Chris, and you make me blush.
Chris: That’s not easy, I’ve heard.
Jim Kunstler: It’s a white privilege thing.
Chris: [Laughter] We’ll get into that too, I guess. Hey, you know, so at kunstler.com you now write posts twice a week, and recently you had a few pieces on your blog, the most current of which is title Light it Up. And in there, it opened with this line, “It must be hard on The New York Times editors to set their hair on fire day after day in their effort to start World War III. Today’s lead story, Russian Threat on Two Fronts, Needs Strategic Void in the US, aims to keep ramping up twin hysterias over a new missile gap and fear of Russian meddling in the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections”.
All right, Jim, two things I want to ask you about this. First, the nearly hysterical attempts, and I didn’t mean that in a funny way. I shouldn’t have laughed right then. The nearly hysterical attempts by the mainstream media to ignite a war with Russia. And second, people’s reactions to your pointing this out – I will note for everybody listening – this is kind of risky area for both Jim and myself to be discussing because we might as well be saying that we think the whole Communist under every bed narrative is overdone at the heights of McCarthyism. That’s how it feels to me, right. Never the less, let’s begin with the war on Russia, Jim, which is being actively promoted by the largest media interests being somehow in our collective best interest. War with Russia feels wildly dangerous to me, and it the prime reason I rejected Hillary Clinton as a candidate in 2016. She openly advocated for immediate war with Russia which I, I think for very good reasons, considered and still consider both unnecessary and insanely dangerous. Tell us what’s going on here in your mind?
Jim Kunstler: I think what is really going on, what’s sort of behind the insanity of this, is the very strange and mysterious collapse of the intellectual class in America. Now, you’ve got a class of people in the media and academia, highly educated people, the permanent bureaucracy in the government who now believe in crazy things and are proposing dangerous things and seem to have just completely lost it. It does demonstrate something about the madness of crowds. Some things, in a way, are beyond the rational reach of analysis. You know, you’re just in kind of unchartered territory of group herd emotion whether it’s wildebeests or lemmings or people on the upper east side of Manhattan setting their hair on fire.
I think the real question you have to ask is what happens to a society when the thinking class can’t think anymore? To me, that’s the most dangerous thing. And the mendacity they are showing is amazing. The New York Times did another amazing thing about ten days ago. They published a lead editorial by David Leonard, and the headline of the editorial was an interrogatory which went as follows: Still Don’t Believe in Russian Meddling? Okay. Now, the curious thing was this was the only editorial on the op-ed page that day that didn’t have a comment section. Okay. So they pose the interrogatory, and then they really don’t want to hear any answers about it. Because I would have been happy to write in and say, no, I’m among the 1,416 people who actually think this is an overblown farrago.
Chris: So this is interesting because I’m a data guy, and I love evidence, and I’m pretty well read. I’ve not yet personally read a single piece of evidence that I would consider compelling that says Russia has meddled anymore than IPAC meddles or gosh, actually a thousand-fold less than that, or France might have meddled or any other country that has an interest. But I haven’t seen the data yet except I’m supposed to believe from the Mueller that indictment came down that 13 Russians operating out of a crack little house were somehow an existential threat to this thing called the United Sates. My comment there, Jim, might be that if that’s true, if they posed a threat, we’re in really bad shape.
Jim Kunstler: And don’t forget they spent $100 thousand. [laughter] $100 thousand. Oh my God. What an overwhelming tie to bad money. I think what we’re seeing is really a very crude setup to delegitimize whatever happens in the 2018 elections if they don’t like it. If the New York Times doesn’t like the outcome for some reason, if three fewer democratic candidates for Congress get elected than they wanted they’ll haul that out and find six Russian trolls on Twitter and say, well, that disqualifies the whole election. Let’s have a do-over, and this time don’t let the Republicans vote. Or something like that. And I’m not even a Republican. You know, the weird thing is that I remain a registered Democrat. You know, I registered for the first time during the McGovern campaign in 1972 when I was in my early 20s. The only reason I remain a registered Democrat is so I can vote in the New York State primary. But I’m completely alienated from whatever the party used to stand for. It used to be the party of the thinking class. The old chestnut was that the Republicans were the dumb party, and the Democrats were the smart party largely because the Democrats were the one who poured out of the Ivy League universities. But the Ivy League universities now have gone mahogany, as my people say, so they can’t be trusted. And I don’t want to sound like a paranoid, a paranoidic [PH], but I don’t feel comfortable around the intellectual class in America anymore.
Chris: And isn’t that kind of fascinating?
Jim Kunstler: Oh, it’s weird. The weirdest thing you can imagine, but luckily, I have a sturdy enough sense of the universe and my place in it that I’m not running around with my hair on fire about it. But it sure provides me a lot of weird material to write about.
Chris: Well, before we more on to that really rich territory, I just want to close up this idea that there are active interests that are attempting to promote war with Russia, and I’m confused. I have the opportunity to talk with people who are very well read or who have held senior positions in various places or whatnot, and I can’t find anybody who’s been able to answer affirmatively in any way that I understand what exactly is it that Russia has done that’s so against US interests? Because everything Russia’s done so far has been a reaction to something the US already did. Russia didn’t create an issue in Syria. They had to react to it after the United States, France and the UK went in in 2011 and started stirring stuff up and funneling arms to really dangerous, unsavory characters. They didn’t annex Crimea until after Western interests had come in and completely destabilized the entire country through a coup, and on and on and on.
So they’ve been reacting, and more recently, Putin came out with what I think should have been front line, top, above the fold headlines in this country which is, he came out and said, I need to remind you all that we have these really dangerous weapons, and you are playing a very dangerous game. And, by the way, please stop deluding yourself, you cannot protect yourself from these things. There is no such thing as a winnable nuclear war. My God, do we have to revisit the concept of mad?
Jim Kunstler: Yeah, I think that was a very clear message to the USA to remind the permanent bureaucracy and their handmaidens that nuclear war is unthinkable, so please stop thinking about it, and please stop talking about it because it ain’t going to happen unless you want to blow up the world. And somehow The New York Times and the State Department needs to be reminded about that.
Chris: Where is that coming from?
Jim Kunstler: What’s the that?
Chris: Where is this urge to go to war with somebody? Is this just, I mean, listen I’m in America so everything’s a racket from renewing my car license to getting healthcare. So is this just sort of a Raytheon McDonald Douglas wish list saying gosh, we think terrorism is a marketing avenue sort of run its course, it’s hard to really expand budgets. By the way, we have a new class of weaponry that terrorists can’t really complete with. So we need a new marketing foil. Is this a Madison Ave campaign being run for the defense industry, or is it, what’s happening here? I don’t even understand it.
Jim Kunstler: I’m inclined to not think that it is just a straight out military industrial intelligence complex conspiracy to keep a permanent enemy in view. I do think that it is just more of, you know, it represents a kind of psychotic fugue state that an organism, in this case a country rather than a person, you know, the fugue state that they enter when they’re under extreme stress and distress. And I would say that the source of the stress is something that you have been talking about for the last several years which is the trouble that we have with the equation between our energy supply and our energy inputs and how that affects our financial system and ultimately the economic system.
The financial system, when we say financial system, it kind of suggests we’re talking about the one tenth of one percent who just cream off, or asset strip, rents and stuff in the economy. Basically, kind of a giant rip off. But the economy is different. The economy is all those millions of people who no longer have the wherewithal to go in and even buy a car on an installment loan. The economy is the supermarket in my town full of hopeless, overweight people subsisting on pepperoni sticks and having no purpose that they can find in everyday life at every level, you know, at the practical level and really quite at the existential level. I think what we’re seeing is kind of a typical reaction that a person or a collection of persons go through when they’re under extreme stress and they start to sort of abstract their world in the collective imagination. And that’s what’s happened.
But, you know, you’re quite right about Russia. We have done nothing but antagonize them for the last ten years. We told them back in the early 90s we promise Yeltsin that we were not going to expand NATO, and here we are with NATO running clear up to the Russian border with the Baltic States. And NATO putting tanks there and running war games right next to their border. We have the takeover, not the takeover, but the coup that we engineered in Ukraine which was certainly much more overt than anything that 13 Russian Facebook trolls might have done in the American election of 2016. We have all the sanctions that we slapped on them to make their economic life difficult, like depriving them of participation in the SUISSE system of financial clearances that most of the rest of the world has to use in order to send shipment of ores here and there and do all the other large scale international transactions. So you know, we’re just pushing their buttons. Plus we’re calling them names. And the most remarkable thing to me is how even-tempered Mr. Putin has been in response. And yeah, I’m not a Russian agent.
Chris: Well, listen, I think people need appropriate context here. It was last year, because you mentioned those NATO so called war games, and they aren’t games, by the way. They seemed deadly serious to me. But United States move an entire mechanized brigade into Estonia, right up at the Norva border there, putting it less than artillery range away form St. Petersburg, second largest city in Russia. So we put hundreds of artillery pieces right within range of the second largest city and called it a game.
Jim Kunstler: And by the way, how stupid is that to the Europeans who really have to depend on Russian exports of natural gas in order to heat their houses? Do they want to spend the next untold decades just freezing to death?
Chris: You know, I can’t even begin to account for the stupidity of the Europeans in all of this. Brussels is somehow coopted. I don’t know what happened there, but clearly their own interests are not aligned with the United Stated in terms of antagonizing Russia for that one simple reason. If Russia turns off the gas taps for any reason, particularly in winter, all of Europe suffers badly and instantly. Why would you do that? Again, but what has Russia done that’s that bad? What have they done? Did they falsify intelligence and attack and entire nation and kill a million people? What did they do?
Jim Kunstler: My view is that, and this, maybe this is hopelessly naïve, I don’t think so. My view is that after the communist regime fell and after the early 90s when they finally kind of shook off the worst of the chaos that they were going through in their transition, I think their main desire was to simply be treated as a normal European nation, you know, after three quarters of a century of being this kind of abnormal monster on the fringe of Europe. And I think they wanted very deeply to be regarded as a normal European nation, as a normal European trading partner, and we have done everything we possibly could to frustrate that. And maybe there was some feeling over the last twenty years that if we allowed that to happen that their influence over Western Europe would somehow eclipse ours. I mean, that’s a hypothetical, and I don’t really know. But otherwise, the reason for our antagonism remains pretty mysterious.
Chris: So I want to turn now to this concept of psychological operations, or PSYOPs. So first, a definition. Psychological operations, or PSYOPs, are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasonings and ultimately the behavior of governments, organization, groups, and individuals. And so I got a quote here from a recent piece by Kaitlyn Johnstone in medium.com. The piece is title “The US Empire is Acting Like a Despite Cornered Animal Because that’s what It Is”. And the quote is. ‘I insist that American’s are generally good hearted human beings who just happen to have a lot of ideas swimming around in their heads which benefit their governments war machine and ruling oligarchs. Indeed, American itself could be described as one gigantic, ongoing PSYOP infecting 323 million otherwise healthy homo-sapiens. Propaganda is one of the most under appreciated and overlooked aspects of human experience. The way those empowered use media to manipulate how people think and vote affects every significant issue in a truly massive way. Yet it rarely even comes up in conversation. Americans are some of the most aggressively propagandize people on our planet, and the mass media machine keeps acting stranger and stranger.”
That resonates with me. That comports with how I view things at this point. What’s your view here?
Jim Kunstler: Well, I noticed the other day, and not for the first time, that whenever NPR talks about Russian meddling, which is actually incessantly, they never say alleged Russian meddling. They always discus it as though we should take it for granted that it’s been proven, and the evidence is there. But you know, I don’t think that the people in the media, for example, are that different from my educated friends just in my community who are not in the media who also seem to believe the same things. So again, I would attribute it more to a consensus of delusion rather than necessarily a PSYOP.
I think that one of the more obvious PSYOP aspects of this was the way that John Brennan, the head of the CIA, seems to have engineered the release of the 17 separate US intel agencies stating that Russia had interfered in the election. That happened in January of 1017. And that seems to have been the spark that ignited this hysteria. And if that was a PSYOPs, it wasn’t a very complicated thing. And they didn’t have to do much to set off this popular consensus of delusion. And of course, as we know, there really wasn’t any, there was no fact in that brief that was leaked to The Washington Post and other newspapers. You know, but somehow people took it almost instantly to be established fact.
So probably, I mean, this also might sound outlandish, but I don’t think that we can over estimate the trauma of Hilary losing the election to that class of people. They just haven’t gotten over it. And then, you know, there’s the added problem of Trump himself being an extremely unappetizing person who behaves impulsively and appears to be a dangerous character, an impulsive childish character with no decorum. And one of the things that saved Barrack Obama’s reputation and presidency was the fact that he presented himself with tremendous decorum despite the fact that he was doing some pretty bad, or at least inept things, like, for example, not organizing any kind of legislative challenge to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the flood gates for all of this bad money coming into politics. He could have done that.
Of course, the executive doesn’t legislate, but he can organize his majority in Congress to redefine what the personhood of a corporation is vis-s-vis political expression and money. He could have started that process very easily. And he could have gotten a national consensus of the voters and the population and his supporters behind that because it was such a bad thing. But he did not a darn thing. But he presented himself with such decorum that people simply liked having him as the face of the American government. And so he got away with it. But Trump, Trump is a boorish, clownish character who – you know, there are a lot of people who don’t like the fact that he’s president, including myself. But I resent even more the dishonestly and the mendacity of the people who used to be my political allies.
Chris: I think that that’s the greatest sin to the intellegentsia crowd is that not only is Trump not part of the intellegentsia crowd, but he wears that proudly.
Jim Kunstler: He wears it exuberantly and flamboyantly and boorishly.
Chris: He doesn’t even want to be part of their club, and it’s just so insulting.
Jim Kunstler: Well, he’s this mad bull waving a red flag at them. And what does that do to the bull? It only makes the bull crazier. And so we’re seeing increasingly crazy behavior from the thinking class who should know better in this country.
Chris: Right. Well, I want to get back to this idea that you said that it’s established fact now about Russian meddling. There’s no word alleged in front of the NPR pieces or elsewhere. So I have nine questions, a series of nine questions. See how many you can answer with a yes or no, and we’ll just sort of get to the end of them, and see if we can connect a few dots, okay.
Jim Kunstler: Do you want me to answer as you go along?
Chris: Yes. Just either yes or no if you can. If you need to mort [PH], that’s fine too. So question one. Jim, have you personally seen any evidence offered that Russia hacked the DNC servers?
Jim Kunstler: No.
Chris: Has any evidence been offered that Russia released the Podesta emails?
Jim Kunstler: No.
Chris: Did the DNC and Podesta emails reveal active collusion within and by the DNC to derail the Bernie Sanders campaign and to elevate Hilar Clinton?
Jim Kunstler: Established fact.
Chris: Has there ever been any evidence offered that whoever leaked the emails might have fabricated them or altered them in any way?
Jim Kunstler: Yes, I think we have plenty of reason to believe that.
Chris: That the emails were fabricated or altered?
Jim Kunstler: Oh, the emails. Excuse me. I’m sorry. You mean the Hilary and Podesta emails?
Chris: The Podesta and Hilary emails. Has anybody ever countered and said these were fabricated or altered?
Jim Kunstler: No. Nobody has ever made the claim that they were not what they were presented to be. That is, authentic emails from Podesta and Hilary and the DNC.
Chris: So these emails, however they came to light, reveal evidence of corruption and collusion within the DNC?
Jim Kunstler: Yes.
Chris: And, next question, has evidence been offered that the Clinton Foundation took money in large sums from Russians?
Jim Kunstler: I think that’s already been proven. And I think that the amount is above $100 million.
Chris: So, yes, is it not true, as reported by The New York Times in 2015 that the Clinton Foundation took in $145 million from interest linked to Uranium One?
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. Apropos of what I just said.
Chris: Yes. Exactly. Did any of those Russians have strategic or financial interests they were seeking to advance that they were then successfully carried out?
Jim Kunstler: The answer to that is duh.
Chris: Yes. Last question. Has any evidence been offered of Trump collusion with Russia been offered yet?
Jim Kunstler: No. Not to my knowledge. There was kind of a weird, feckless meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russia lady lawyer in New York that seemed to amount to absolutely nothing.
Chris: This is where I get, so as an outside observer, again, I’m not a Trump fan. I’m not an RNC, I’m not a DNC. I’m like pocks on both houses kind of guy. I’m just relentlessly agnostic when it comes to politics. But I do love data, and I like to connect dots into coherent narrative. So help us. How do we connect those dots into coherent narrative that says Trump is the one that needs to be investigated for potentially damaging national security interests? Shouldn’t there be at least wo investigations going on?
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. Perhaps even three, or two and a half. I’m still waiting for the Justice Department to do something about the FBI officers who were misbehaving in the last eighteen months around these investigations. We had Mr. McCabe. We have Bruce Ohr and his wife who seem to have been doing side dealings on their own with the people who were pushing the dossier. And of course, the famous Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and others. You know, we haven’t heard a peep about what the Justice Departments interest in their behavior might be. And you know, they seem to have left a broader and more obvious trail than anybody else.
Chris: Right. So the way I add all these dots up, and the reason I pulled up this whole idea of a psychological operation or at least psychological things being in play, this feels like, in psychological terms classic projection. The DNC, to point a finger at one of the sets of parties here, really screwed up very badly. And they got caught. And it was ham handed and really inelegant, and they’ve been sued by people who donated to Bernie Sanders who found that those monies were actually used against him, not for him, and they thought that was a breach of something. And in defense of that, I love how their lawyer argued this for the DNC and Wasserman Schmidt and all those people. He said, hey, this is a first amendment right. This is their free speech. That’s just them exercising free speech as a way to sort of dodge this. But instead of saying wow, we need to look in the mirror, we did some things, let’s fix this, let’s rebuild our party base, they said, oh, Russians.
Jim Kunstler: By the way, I’d like to point out a strange phenomenon that I think is very largely responsible for the hysteria level that we’re seeing and the delusional level. You know, many of us turn on the cable news now and again, maybe even every night for a little while. And I wonder how many people notice this major change that is taking place. You know, 20 years ago when you turned on Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw on the network news, they would go to their correspondents in the field and you would get a half an hour of people reporting from Beirut and people reporting from Paris and people reporting from Lagos and Rio de Janeiro, and that was how the news was reported from people who are actually reporters. And now, there are no reporters left on CNN or FOX News or MSNBC. What they do is they say, and now we go to our panel. So all we’re getting night after night are gangs of competing kibitzers. We’re not getting news. And I wonder how many people have noticed that profound change in the way most Americans are getting the so- called news, which is no longer news.
Chris: Yep. Well, it’s certainly interesting that what’s passing for content these days is really devoid of context, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve actually enjoyed reading through sometimes when Putin gives a press conference it might be four hours long. So when he was asked a couple years ago about the Crimean thing he rewound to the year 1724 and started there. There was all this context, you know, and in that larger sweep what he was saying made perfect sense. And for most, I think, consumers of US news, Crimea just sort of appeared out of the mist, and Russia seized it inappropriately. No context around the voting or they’re all Russian speakers or they used to be part of Russia as recently as 1954.
Jim Kunstler: Or, the fact that is the site of their most important warm water naval bases and ports. The whole melodrama over Ukraine was insane, and it was just another angle on the delusional politics that we’re sinking in the quicksand of delusional politics that we’re in.
Chris: It feels to me a little bit like what’s happening here. Did you see the movie Trading Place? Eddie Murphy. A long time ago, right. These two old white trader guys and they make this bet that they can elevate this shoe shine boy up to exalted status and then ruin him just for fun. And they trade a dollar at the end. Ha, ha, Mortimer, I told you I could do that, right. And of course, twist at the end he ends up outsmarting them which was fun. But I really feel like what’s happening here are that there are groups that are, particularly in the media, that are very interested in keeping everybody divided, focused on the wrong things, providing no context because context only muddies the narrative they’re trying to put forward, and I think it’s convenient to have so-called people on the left and the right at the street level fighting each other when if fact the real threats they’re facing are not the people they’re pointing their fingers at. Not even close. Right.
The real threats in this story are the people who are sucking this country dry. They’ve been running a scheme and a racket for a long time that was okay as long as you could exponentially expand the economic pie forever, but that’s not happening anymore. And it can’t seem to happen. And there’s all this debt, and of course we have the resource issues, all of that. And so something really uncomfortable is lurking under all this. But what most people are focused on and venting their anger towards and pointing their finger at isn’t the real threat in their lives. Not even close.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. And a lot of the people, especially people in the media, belong to the former middle class. Because the newspaper racket and the news media in general is kind of a collapsing industry full of people who can barely make a living anymore. so you’d think that they would be at least sensitive to that angle of that matrix of rackets that our country is turning into. But they’re not. If you ask yourself whether people believe this stuff, and it’s a broad spectrum of strange beliefs that we’re now immersed in, and they range from the war mongering and Russia hating of certain groups on the left to the identity politics issues which, you know, I think a lot of people sincerely believe in what they’re saying and doing in identity politics, but I don’t think that it’s a good thing for the country. And yet, those people sincerely believe that they’re doing a good thing.
So I think what really going on there is just a frantic amount of virtue signaling of people desperately trying to demonstrate that I’m a good person. I’m a good person because I believe this. Please give me brownie points. And it’s really kind of very basic human status seeking which is such a fundamental human group behavior, or the behavior of a human within a group. And so in the absence of other kinds of meaning in our culture, people are just grabbing for that brownie point gold ring on the merry-go-round of identity politics.
And to some extent, Russia hating has become incorporated into that as just part of the boiler plate of that personality. It’s so incoherent and unreal that I think you’re going to see the collapse of a lot of kind of individual world views at a certain point. And it’s going to be a kind of pathetic spectacle when people like, I don’t know, Charles Blow of The New York Times discovers that the things that he’s been believing for the last ten years are mostly figment. So I continue to see it as a group psychological problem. And now incorporating certain kind of fashion trends and a certain reward system for making people feel good about themselves in the absence of an economy that can make them feel good about themselves.
Chris: Well, I think you’re touching on something really important here which is. to bring out my compassionate side, is to say rather than seeing all of this as people being naively misled that underneath that what we’re finding is that the American experience of life is so devoid of meaning and purpose, that to be offered something that offers the energy of purpose and direction, however scant, is still snapped up because that’s the energy in the story. We live in such a bereft culture that, according to Sebastian Junger and the study that he did for his book Tribes, of the 22 veterans committing suicide each day in America, 11 of them never saw combat. They just find that the Esprit De Corp and the sense of belonging they had when they were in unit is so perversely missing when they come that they’d rather check out than stay part of that. I can’t think of a more damning indictment of culture than that.
Jim Kunstler: When what you’re experiencing in wartime is more meaningful and important to you than anything you that you can find when you come home, that’s pretty grotesque. And what we’re talking about here really is what is the armature of culture and economy that people can hang their lives on. And that armature is crumbling. And there are fewer things that people can hang a life on in a meaningful way or a way that even ensures that they can have a little bit of security looking into even a short-term future.
I had a day yesterday, for example, for me it was like national Murphy’s Law Day. I got a screw in a tire. The screw was in a place where, under New York State law, they’re not allowed to fix the tire if the screw is near the outside of tread, so I had to buy a new tire. A brand-new tire. The tire was two months old. And then I went back, and I was going to take the trash to the dump or transfer station in my old pickup truck which I keep around for that purpose, and the battery was dead. And I had to go down to the auto parts store and buy a new battery, and bring it up and put it in. So I am among the lucky people in this land who can actually buy a new tire and buy a car battery.
But probably some enormous percentage of the population, like 78, 84, I’m not quite sure what it is, you know, they don’t have enough money to buy a new car battery if their car dies on some god forsaken freeway shoulder 38 miles from home. Imagine how crazy-making that is. I can easily imagine because I was a truly starving bohemia until well into my 40s. You know, struggling just to pay the light bill writing book after book. So I know what it’s like to live day after day in that kind of financial anxiety. And I imagine that the financial anxiety out there is just so extreme that you know, there’s a whole other group of people that are just being pushed to the limits of their sanity.
Chris: I complete agree. To think about those poor formerly middle-class journalists struggling to both crank out articles explaining that Russia is the greatest threat we face, and then banging out the next article that says 42 percent of people are retiring with less then ten thousand in savings. And then banging out the next article that says oh, look, consumer credit hit a new all-time high, that much mean that people are feeling positive about things, and not being able to connect those dots into a different narrative which says people are borrowing money because they have to put the new battery on the credit card. That’s a mark of survival, not confidence, or something like that because the larger narrative that has to be told here is that the systems are crumbling, and that makes us all nervous.
In The New York Times, last week, there’s an article that just, you know, gut punches me that no white whale bred last year. None of them bred. Like okay, and wait, 80 percent of insects are missing from Germany. And hold on, 100,000 orangutans have been lost in the last seven years. They just come out daily, right. And you know, so I think the funniest, quippiest way I saw that captured was a picture on Twitter where somebody had noted, they said, we’re spending billions trying to find life on other planets and spending trillions killing the life on this one.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. That’s analogous to Elon Musk’s Mars project. He wants to ramp up this gigantic Mars exploration program and colonization program when we haven’t demonstrated we’re capable of colonizing the Earth successfully yet. A lot of what we’ve been saying over the last ten minutes or so points to what I think is really probably going to be the important story, and that is what happens in the financial sector and how it effects the economy in the next twelve to eighteen months because, as we know, the financial system is the most abstract and fragile of all the systems that we depend on because the other systems can’t run without it. You know, the trucks won’t run, the trucks won’t make the food deliveries to the supermarkets unless the finance system works. The gasoline won’t get to the pumps at the stations.
Nothing’s going to move if the financial system cracks up. And by crack up, you know, there are many features of that, of course. One of them is that people doing transactions no longer trust each other to transact, to get paid. And so they stop transacting. Another feature of that which I know you’ve talked about with John Rubino and Charles is the short-term destiny of the dollar and whether it’s going to have any value.
Chris: Let me just riff on that for a second because as were’ talking here, just last night, the Commerce Secretary, Cohn, took avail [PH], and so just the revolving door of the Trump administration had another hit. So the idea there is that Trump’s going to get to activate his trade wars. There’s only two ways he can actually get what he wants. One is trade actually going into some sort of tailspin because everybody’s doing tit for tat, retaliatory, Smoot-Hawley style trade stuff. That’s a possibility. The other is he gets a weaker dollar. Either way, I think he’s happy with that. And so, of course, today, S&P futures opened, they were down nearly 30 at one point, the S&P’s very close to going green on the day right now, just relentless buying from the open buy “somebody”, and of course, gold is down.
These are the two ways that the system signals that all is well, don’t worry. You know, and to me I just find it hysterical because to think about gold going down here is to say that somehow that news wasn’t dollar unfriendly. So it feels like, I can hear them straining from their little cubicles. The whole system is just so perverted. I can’t help but feel like I know exactly what 1911 felt like. It wasn’t the Arch Duke getting shot that caused World War I. It was the giant bon fire with all the dry tinder and the fuel poured on it that needed a spark. And this just feels just horrendously, grotesquely imbalanced worldwide, everywhere from geopolitical standpoint, financial, everything, all courtesy of activist Central Banks who thought a committee of people could set the prices of everything and that would somehow work out.
Jim Kunstler: And at the moment, I think that the markets signals that you’re describing are particularly incoherent. Obviously, the gold signal is incoherent. But I think all the signals are a kind of noise at the moment. And the bottom line is that in order for the economy, so called, to evolve or emerge this bottleneck of trouble that we’re going through, it has to be so severely reorganized that it is almost impossible for the people who run the current economy to imagine what that would be. It would be everything from the replacement of a chain store system of commerce back to a much more regional and local Main Street form of commerce. And you can describe what that’s like fairly simply. But the difficulty of getting from point A to point B is just unbelievable. I mean, you’re talking about reorganizing just about every supply chain and manufacturing and trade relationship that there is.
Chris: Well, moving from a position of living well beyond your means to living within your means.
Jim Kunstler: Yes. And we’re also talking about a falling standard of living and getting used to what you started at the very beginning of the podcast referring to it as an economy of less. And you know, I mean, it sounds kind of Ebenezer Scrooge-ish to suggest that people may have to do with less rather than more because more has always been the expectation in our lifetime. But that’s probably a fact. And as I’ve said more than once, reality has mandates of its own, and circumstances are going to inform us about how this economy is emerging and where we need to go with it. And we can either pay attention or just sit there with our fingers in our ears going la, la, la, la, la. And that appears to be the choice for now because the journey that we have to go on is just too difficult for people to imagine.
Chris: So let’s talk about sane or coherent responses to an incoherent set of signals in a system that seems bent on careening into a brick wall at a very high rate of speed. Your response has been similar to mine which was to move to a more rural-ish sort of location to begin to enjoy a more direct connection with your food, be that through chickens, a garden fruit trees, things like that. My diagnosis and prognosis for a lot of this is that our nature connection is really vitally important to us and being connected to the rhythm of life is really important. And if people want more meaning and purpose, it’s not going to be because Elon’s company invents a better app, and Google helps you AI your way to happiness through better shopping. It’s that we slow down. What I want to advocate for, in the minutes we have remaining, this discussion of how less is more in this story possibly, right.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. And I find that, you know, I have done a similar thing, as you have. I’ve basically created a homestead in a small town. I found a piece of property that was literally a five-minute walk to Main Street, and yet I’m on the edge of town, literally the edge of town. And that stuff is all working out pretty well. My garden is working out well, and fruit trees are now about six years old. But I find that the most difficult thing is the construction project of forming people around you of people that you can rely on and people that have some sympathy with the project that you’re undertaking and why you’re doing it, and the things that they’re doing themselves. Because a lot of the people in my community – I have friends that are manual laborers on local, boutique farms around here. And they’re not typically blue-collar people, they’re people who actually went to college. And they’re struggling to the degree that’s it’s very hard for them to build up their own module of self-sufficiency. They’ve gone, to some extent, straight to serfdom.
And so it’s not clear to me how the town that I live in, for example, is going to reorganize itself, although I’m quite sure that it will because human societies do. They are an emergent phenomenon. That’s the only way that they really go from point A to point B or make whatever journey they have to make from one way of life to another. But I find the social component is something you really have to work at very hard, maybe even more hard than planting the trees and planting the garden.
Chris: I would agree, and it’s part of the reason that I have some hostility towards these PSYOPs because I think they set back that enterprise. I think it’s more difficult to engage people in that real conversation about the what’s and the why’s of responding coherently to this world as it unfolds. I just find that a harder prospect when people are distracted by, and consumed by, things that have no bearing on that discussion, really.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah, well, the other weird thing is that you and I both live in a milieu, having made a choice to move to a small town in rural New England. But you and I also venture out and to fly over America. And when you actually see the way people live in suburban Dallas, Texas and Albuquerque and Minneapolis and Nashville and Atlanta and you just see the worrying, blurring incoherence of this life of constant motion and noise it’s even easier to understand why people can’t think, and particularly why they can’t think about their future. And any change in their daily life because it’s just too overwhelmingly – it just produces to much cognitive confusion.
Chris: Well, if there was one piece of advice I would give to somebody, regardless of whether they were in Albuquerque, Nashville, Atlanta or wherever is I would say, get rid of your TV. I cannot believe how exquisitely good the programming is, and I use that word very carefully, the programming, is in order to insert ideas and to establish fact by reputation rather then evidence. And I don’t know how you could possibly – I’m not saying I’m better than these people because I can resist that sort of programming – I’m telling you I can’t, it’s that good, so I don’t have a TV in my house that operates with that programming on it because it’s astonishing how good it is.
Jim Kunstler: Well, yes, but what we’re also confronting there very directly are the diminishing returns of technology which are biting us back all over, and we are not paying sufficient attention to it, maybe no attention at all. This is what happens when you have cable TV and social media and the internet and people plug into all that stuff all that time. It has blowback, and apparently the blowback is pretty simple. It makes people delusional and stupid. And it may be no more complex than that. And that perhaps human beings can’t really cognitively tolerate that much intervention in their brains everyday to have to think about this stuff. It’s probably much more important to think about the thing on your workbench that you have to fix in order to make a water hydroelectric turbine work. Or what kind of crops you’re going to plant in this planting bed, or something directly related to reality. But living in a mediated reality as much as we do has got to produce pretty bad psychological kind of entropic blowback.
Chris: I think we’re about to tune in, turn off and drop out I guess. I don’t know.
Jim Kunstler: Well, there’s a lot to be said for that.
Chris: It is overload, and that’s part of running a successful racket is to make sure your marks are unable to sort of spot the movement of the hands, you know, to figure out where the pea is under the cups. But just to me, to battle every year, to figure out what happened to my healthcare coverage, and making sure that I’m not accidently dropped because they just send the letters along with the other stream of letters they’re sending you with nothing special on the outside to say, oh, by the way, we just changed your coverage or dropped you or whatever. Just to keep up with that alone is a pretty full-time enterprise. Don’t get me started on how extraordinary taxes are, and on and on and on. So I think it’s just overload. And so when you have people who can’t manage the flood of things that you have to manage. I mean, you just had to manage the idea that you had to confront that somebody somewhere had decided that it was illegal to fix your tire.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. Right.
Chris: Everywhere you turn you will discover there’s something like that, but what’s consistent is wow, I have to open my wallet again.
Jim Kunstler: And a great part of what you’re describing is actually very cruel. Especially the medical racket because not only does it fail to get people well, but it really torments them and antagonizes them and makes them feel small and threatened just by the prospect of having to go into he emergency room. Nobody wants to get three stitches and be charged ten thousand dollars for it. so that’s pretty scary.
Chris: Well, I totally agree. So with that, we’re out of time here for today. Obviously, you and I could do this for a long time.
Jim Kunstler: There’s a lot to think about out there.
Chris: There is. This is very interesting. It’s getting super interesting right now. And I guess my closing remark is I sincerely hope that if I had to pick one thing over the other, I would rather have a financial market correction that we then have to pause and think about than a war with Russia, but that’s me.
Jim Kunstler: I absolutely agree with you, and I’ve been actually saying the same thing on my blog for the last six months that the most likely outcome, and probably the thing that we need most, is for the financial system to whack us upside the head with a two by four and say wake up. Within five minutes that would put and end to all this sort of Russia hallucination and other nonsense. So that, to me, is I think probably the likely place that we’re going to. And of course, Mr. Trump is going to be, as I said a year ago, he’s going to be the designated bag holder for that. Okay. He’s a good bag holder. Let him be the bag holder.
Chris: Agreed. All right, Jim. Tell people how they can follow you and your writing.
Jim Kunstler: I publish my blog Monday and Friday. I put it up before 10:00 in the morning. It’s at kunstler.com. K-U-N-S-T-L-E-R.com. And my books are all available at Amazon and other places. I would urge you to go to your local book seller. There are very few of them left out there, but if you have one go to them.
Chris: All right. Well, thank you so much for you time today, and we’ll talk again soon.
Jim Kunstler: A pleas, Chris.
Ramón Estévez regrets his name change to Martin Sheen | Culture
At the beginning of the sixties, Ramón Estévez was desperate. His first steps as a television actor had gone well, but he felt stuck in that medium and wanted to get into theater and film. However, at the time, his name held him back: there were few successful Latinos in the United States. “Whenever I called for a position, whether for work or for an apartment, they answered me hesitantly when I gave my name, and when I arrived, I found the position already filled.” He said in 2003. And so, Ramón decided to create an artistic name by merging the name of Robert Dale Martin, the CBS network’s casting director, who had helped him in those essential appearances on the small screen, and that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who, as Estévez’s little sister Carmen recalls, “regularly appeared on TV.”
This is how Martin Sheen came about, and owing to his great talent, he triumphed first in theater and, later as an actor in the movies, notably: Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Departed, and Wall Street. However, the identity of Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez did not disappear: this name remains in all of Sheen’s official documents (passport, driver’s license and marriage license)… and in the actor’s soul. Last week, in an interview with Closer magazine, he confessed that one of the great regrets of his life was his change of name. He speaks with pride of the obstinacy of his son Emilio, who kept it despite “his agent’s advice to change it”. In relation to his own decision, he reflects: “Sometimes they convince you, when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later.”
Over time, Sheen recovered his Galician roots, the land where his father, Francisco Estévez Martínez, was born. His father was an immigrant who left Parderrubias, in Salceda de Caselas (Pontevedra), for Cuba at the age of 18 in 1916. He left with no Spanish, a language he learned on the Caribbean Island. In the early 1930s, he emigrated to the United States to a modest Irish neighborhood in Dayton (Ohio), where he married another immigrant, Mary-Ann Phelan.
Martin Sheen’s life has been profoundly marked by his childhood. His father worked at NCR Corporation, an industrial conglomerate that began manufacturing cash registers. Shortly after his marriage, the company sent him to the Bermuda Islands where his first children were born. Sheen was the seventh of ten children (nine boys and one girl), and the first to be born in Dayton, in 1940, after the family moved to the US. His left arm was clasped by forceps during birth, leaving it three inches shorter than his right arm. As a result of this, the character that Sheen interprets in the series The West Wing of the White House, President Josiah Bartlet, puts on his jacket with a strange twist of the body. As a child, he suffered from polio which kept him bedridden for a year, and at the age of 11 his mother died. Thanks to the support of a catholic charity and his own father’s efforts, the family remained united against the distribition of children to orphanages or foster homes, a common practice at the time.
He was the eccentric of the family: he decided to go into acting. Against his father’s objections, Ramón, the most reserved son only enjoyed the theater and decided to study acting. “You don’t know how to sing or dance!”, his father told him, to which his son replied: “You love westerns and in those nobody sings or dances”. “But you don’t ride a horse either!” was his father’s comeback. Despite this discouragement, he moved to New York, following in the footsteps of his idol, James Dean.
In the mythical episode Two Cathedrals of The West Wing, he explains how the character President Bartlet reflects the experiences of his own childhood and adolescence. Estévez/Sheen: a practicing Catholic and relentless campaigner against global warming, a man in favor of civil and immigrant rights, he was arrested several times during demonstrations outside the White House. His activism began when he was just 14 years old in a golf club where he worked. He led a strike of caddies, protesting against the club members’ use of bad language in front of children.
And then there’s the Spanish context. Francisco Estévez did not teach his children Spanish, but the Estévez family went back to their roots. Francisco was able to return to his hometown in Galicia in 1967 (just as Sheen landed his first big role in In the Custody of Strangers), where he began building a house, while making regular trips back to Dayton. He would never see this house finished. He died in Dayton in 1974, and was buried with his wife and son Manuel, who had died in 1968. His only daughter, Carmen, ended up working as an English teacher at a school in Madrid, where she married. For years people in Madrid have bumped into Sheen during his visits to his sister. Carmen finished building her father’s house and inaugurated a river promenade dedicated to his memory. Indeed, she has kept the memory of the Estévez alive in Salceda de Caselas.
The Camino de Santiago, a dream come true
In the early years of the 2000s, Sheen, his son Emilio Estévez and his grandson, Taylor, walked the Camino de Santiago. In Burgos, the grandson met a girl, and at the end of the walk he decided not to return to Los Angeles, but to remain in the Castilian city, where he got married. Influenced by that experience, Sheen and Estévez made the film El camino (2010), in which both co-starred and the latter directed. A few months ago, Sheen spoke proudly of El camino, a great success, and a faithful portrayal of his spirituality. During filming, at a lunch under huge pergolas at the back of Burgos cathedral, Sheen explained: “I am a Catholic, and a lot of that spirituality is in this movie. I have had an extremely happy life, with the normal highs and lows of a career. I have survived disease and my family is wonderful [his four children, including Charlie Sheen, are actors]… I believe in a church that does incredible work in the Third World. Other things, like some of the pronouncements from the Pope [at that time, Benedict XVI], are more difficult for me. I live my faith, and it is between God and I.” A few meters from Sheen and the journalist, at the long tables, was a strange group that didn’t not look like actors: “That’s my wife, that’s my sister and her husband, that my best childhood friend… I’ve invited them to come and have a good time with Emilio, Taylor [who worked as an assistant] and me”. Taylor Estévez currently works as a stunt coordinator in California.
Carmen Estévez says that for decades the family did not understand their father’s deeply Galician sense of humor, until they realized that for much of the time he was not being serious. This sarcasm was inherited by his son Ramón/Martin, and he made a display of this in Burgos. In response to a question about his career, he said: “With my resume full of bad movie titles, what can I say. I’m an actor and that’s how I’ve supported my family. But I’ve been in about 10 films that I can be proud of…” at which point he dropped his cup of coffee and blurted out: “See? For gloating over my career. Divine punishment”.
Buzz Lightyear: To Lesbians and Beyond | Culture
The first homosexual kiss in a Disney movie has been more than expected. Many of us wanted to see it in Frozen: some interpret the ice princess’s song “Let it Go” as a reference to being gay. Lots of people awaited it in Luca, where the love between protagonists Luca and Alberto was at times more obvious even than that of the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. We longed for a legendary, effervescent kiss, the fruit of a rebellious and passionate love. It was going to be a vindictive kiss, full of fireworks. It would be one of those kisses that precede the mythical The End, when the screen fades to black behind the lover’s mouths. It was a kiss that was going to take everything over. Above all, it was going to be the great kiss of the 21st century, undoubtedly the century of homosexual visibility and the century of the gender revolution, the moment when women fall in love and kiss for the first time and do all of it on the big screen. (Well, not all of it.)
The first lesbian kiss in Disney history appears in the recently released Lightyear, and it has sadly led to the censorship of the film in 14 countries in the Middle East and Asia. The kiss takes place in 1995, that is, 27 years ago. The first homosexual kiss of the Disney Pixar factory recognizes that it is years late. It is a 90′s kiss. It comes not from the 21st century, but the 20th. How? The film starts with the following premise: in 1995 Andy, the protagonist of Toy Story, went to the cinema to see Lightyear. This is the movie he saw then. Lightyear, therefore, is not the end of the saga but its prequel. In addition, the controversial kiss does not happen between a young protagonist and her girlfriend, but between two mature women who have been married for years. We are not facing a rebellious kiss, much less a political or ideological one. This kiss is not intended to be a novelty or to make anything visible. It is an absolutely conventional gesture. Thank you, Disney Pixar for going beyond my wildest dreams when it comes to normalizing visibility. And thank you for listening to your workers and refusing to remove the scene. In the long run, it will be more profitable to sacrifice box-office earnings than dignity.
In addition to being between two women, the kiss happens between two mothers, on the day that they celebrate their son’s birthday. It is not the classic Disney kiss, a culmination of the romantic love between the leading couple, but a stolen moment of quotidian happiness. It is a fleeting kiss, insignificant in the history of lovers. It lasts just seconds. It is not charged with any special meaning in the love story. It speaks of a way of building affections and meaning different from that imposed by the traditional heterosexual canon: seemingly unimportant gestures of are everything. It represents a kind of love where kisses do not represent a turning point in the lovers’ lives, but rather small anchor points in their story history. In this gesture, romantic love is not ultimately the center of life but part of it. In Lightyear, we witness the anodyne kiss on the lips between space explorer Alisha Hawthorne and her wife, and we realize that partners are not at the center of any story, but rather one of those fragments that give meaning to life. It is a sapphic kiss in the sense that it is another way of building love, more horizontal, quieter and healthier.
Alisha—a female, lesbian and black—does not have as much screentime as Buzz Lightyear—male, white and the story’s protagonist. She is the protagonist’s friend, confidante and inspiration. Together they are trapped on an uninhabitable planet due to a mistake he made. From that moment on their lives run parallel but radically different–almost like the story of lesbian and heterosexual love. She adapts to the circumstances and begins to live the life that has befallen her, without rejecting its difficulties. The conditions are not the best, but Alisha falls in love–with a woman–and celebrates her luck. Together they have a son. Along the way, she takes care of those she loves, she has a granddaughter, she fights and she investigates. She fills her life with meaning, and she dies. Buzz, on the other hand, insists on “finishing the mission,” “being important,” “saving the world,” “succeeding,” “being a hero,” “doing things alone” and “being the first.” Buzz, who will never know love, embodies many of the traditional values of heteronormative love, starting with the desire for protagonism and the sense of a linear life narrated through love or milestones, leading only to deep, intimate failure.
Lightyear attempts to travel into space to escape from the planet where he is trapped, failing over and over again. Additionally, though, time is altered every time he subjects his ship to hyperspeed. Every time he returns, a few minutes have passed for him and a few years–four, ten or twenty–for Alisha. He burns through life, while she lives it. In one of the final moments, Buzz Lightyear explains to Alisha’s granddaughter why he and her grandmother became space rangers. “We just wanted to be important,” he says. “Trust me, she was,” she says. And the hero understands that his whole life has been a huge misunderstanding. He will have to return home, knowing that his home is the one he has tried to flee all his life.
The film is a masterpiece, full of action, emotion, humor and imagination. Its commitment to diversity includes a warrior over seventy years old, a rebel whose role is essential in saving the world. No one is talking about the old woman for the simple reason that old age remains invisible even when it occupies the center of the scene. The film also gives us Sox, an adorable robotic cat that demonstrates how the only technology that works is that which helps people, not that which attempts to change them. It is truly one of the great Pixar movies, much more than action and stars.
At this point, it had gotten hard to explain why we humans want to keep going to infinity and beyond. But there is a moment, at the end of the film, when we understand: when the elite protectors of the universe excitedly observe the bronze statue of Alisha, a black lesbian woman, the source of meaning for humanity, because she is the one who knew how to live a small life with greatness.
George Michael revisited: binge-eating ice cream, sex and ecstasy | Culture
George Michael abhorred fame and avoided interviews. Over his 30-year career, the singer of “Faith” released only four studio albums as a solo artist. But his figure left a lasting impact on popular culture. The public’s fascination with him lingers even today, as demonstrated by the recent release of both a documentary and a book about his life, just when the artist would have turned 59. The two works depict the pop star’s life from dramatically different perspectives.
The musician himself worked on the film George Michael: Freedom Uncut with his former collaborator, David Austin. It follows the career of one of the best voices in pop, starting in the eighties and ending in 2016, the year of his death. Narrated in the first person, the documentary gives a partial glimpse of the star. In contrast, journalist James Gavin’s book George Michael: A Life explores the singer’s dark side in great detail. The biography chronicles Michael’s addiction to GHB, also known as liquid ecstasy, his depression and his dependence on sex. According to the account, Michael spent his later years sinking into drugs and prostitution and alienating his friends, including Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!. Gavin spoke with more than 200 friends and acquaintances of the artist, resulting in a portrayal of an emotionally fragile and insecure man. According to the author’s thesis, which several friends corroborate but his family denies, the performer died not of a heart condition, as was said at the time, but of an intentional overdose: suicide.
The documentary film focuses on the eighties and nineties, the artist’s creative peak. The book, meanwhile, primarily describes his last years of life, when he made headlines more for his arrests than for his music. Both are pieces of a puzzle that the artist created before the public over three decades.
It is difficult to understand the career of George Michael, who would turn 59 this June 25, without delving into his biography. Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in 1963, he rose to worldwide fame alongside his school friend Andrew Ridgeley. Together they formed Wham!, a group adored by teenage girls and despised by critics. Michael enjoyed a global fame that he never wanted. He felt undervalued as an artist, relegated to the status of a teen star. He also didn’t take well to playing the role of a heterosexual idol in order to sell records to the female public. He was ready to embrace his sexuality, but society wasn’t. At the time, both Elton John and Freddy Mercury were married to women. In Spain, Miguel Bosé walked hand in hand with Ana Obregón. A mainstream artist couldn’t afford to be gay.
Still, George Michael represented his sexuality with a certain impudent joy in public. In his later years, looking back, Michael said his sexuality had been an enigma, even to him, but his music was always honest. “I do want people to know the songs I wrote when I was with women were really about women and the songs that I’ve written since have been fairly obviously about men,” he said. “So when it comes to my work I’ve never been reticent about defining my sexuality.” George Michael was sex. His music was too.
On his first solo album, he broke away from his good-boy image to present himself as a sexually liberated man–in a trajectory later imitated by many pop artists, including Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. His first solo song, “I Want Your Sex,” was dedicated to a man, but his then-girlfriend, makeup artist Kathy Jeung, appeared in the music video. “[Kathy] was in love with me but she knew that I was in love with a guy at that point in time. I was still saying I was bisexual,” he explained in a 2004 interview with the British magazine Attitude. The song caused controversy for defending promiscuity in the harshest years of AIDS, and its explicitly sexual lyrics were censored on several radio networks.
In the music video for his second single, “Faith,” Michael played the role of the American macho, wearing a leather jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, combined with close-ups of his butt swaying to the beat. The singer was asserting himself as a mature composer. At the same time, he was sexualizing himself. The song made him a worldwide success. He began to rub shoulders with pop royalty, including Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince. At that time, pop stars were at the heart of popular culture. But only George Michael used his role to confront record companies and eventually renounce media overexposure.
If singers were kings, MTV was their palace. In the 1990s, a good music video could boost a song’s sales and its artist’s fame. That’s when George Michael decided to disappear. He barely promoted his long-awaited second album, much less commercial than the first. Its first music video, “Freedom,” featured the five most important top models of the moment. The video was directed by first-timer David Fincher, who before revolutionizing Hollywood already revolutionized MTV. It has gone down in history as one of the best video clips of all time.
Freedom: Uncut, the new documentary, focuses on that creative stage of the singer. Some of the participants in that video, such as Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, give interviews about Michael, and the film includes discarded footage that Fincher did not use. While the documentary focuses on his art, it also touches aspects of his personal life, including the deaths of his mother and Anselmo Feleppa, his great love, who died of complications from AIDS in 1993.
The two deaths had a devastating effect on Michael, and they triggered the spiral that Gavin focuses on in his book. The author calls the singer a “pathetic, lonely and broken figure.”
George Michael did not publicly come out of the closet. He was wrenched out in the most shameful way possible. In September 1998, a plainclothes officer made a pass at him in a public restroom in Los Angeles, California. When the artist played along, he was arrested. Searching him, police found marijuana and crack. The former leader of Wham! was fined only $810, but the media’s penalty was devastating. Tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic lashed out at him. It was no longer the eighties, but a scandal like that could still end anyone’s career. He explained himself the best way he could: with a song. The video clip for “Outside,” the single from his greatest hits album, was based on the famous incident. It portrays several men dressed as police kissing in the bathroom of a club, while a press helicopter records different couples having sex. Michael took control of the narrative, as sexual and as honest as ever.
But no song could silence the news that followed. A few months later, the musician was arrested again after a car accident. The police found him “drenched in sweat” with “eyes open and pupils dilated.” It was his seventh arrest in 12 years. In the biography, Gavin expands on this stage, at the time portrayed by the press at the time in a disjointed and sensationalistic way. The author places it in the context of the impulses of a depressed, frustrated man taking refuge in drugs and sex. “For Michael, GHB seemed heaven-sent,” the journalist writes about the drug, a central nervous system depressant closely associated with sex parties. “Apart from fueling his sexual compulsiveness, it made a depressed, self-hating man feel attractive. It brought joy where there was little. GHB gave him confidence … but it also took him to a new and terrifying level of self-destruction.”
Gavin describes one of the music industry’s brightest stars as a lonely, friendless man, secluded in his mansion. He spent his days watching episodes of his favorite soap opera, Coronation Street, while binging on Haagen Dazs ice cream and junk food and using GHB. The author writes that the singer held parties with prostitutes and large amounts of drugs in his mansion in north London.
The journalist’s description is consistent with statements made this week by Kenny Goss, who had a relationship with the singer between 1996 and 2009. In an interview on the English program Piers Morgan Uncensored, the art dealer recounted that everyone around him knew that Michael would die soon. “I spent a lot of time worrying about him,” he recalled. “What’s the line he says in one of his songs? He says, ‘I can see it in your eyes when you look at me that way, it tears me in two’. And it really did.”
George Michael died on Christmas day of 2016. The official report says that the death was due to heart failure. His fans remembered him with “Last Christmas,” a song that many read as a Christmas carol, but which actually tells a tragic story about heartbreak and distrust. “All my songs are autobiographical,” the singer used to say.
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