Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

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Last week, I cranked out a little column called “Five Comics To Help You Survive The Age Of Trump” that got a fairly healthy number of hits and re-tweets and all that shit — for which I’m grateful, rest assured — but while that piece focused entirely on currently-running series, the perhaps-unbelievable truth is that comics’ ultimate response to the “Trump Age” actually came out way back in 1971.

If there’s one creator who could predict the future with uncanny accuracy it was, of course, Jack Kirby — and he frequently did just that. Kirby was — and remains — comics’ pre-eminent visionary, but one could actually make a strong argument that the fruits of his boundless imaginative prowess constitute the single-greatest body of work produced by any artist in any medium in the last century. Every great creative genius has a greatest work of his or her own, though, and it’s a fairly safe bet that the majority of Kirby fans and scholars would point to his Fourth World opus — a long-form series of connected titles comprised of Forever PeopleNew GodsMister Miracle and, believe it or not, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen — as representing “The King Of Comics” (a title that he will never relinquish) at his absolute apex. The raw, undeniable power of Jack’s illustrations from this early-’70s period is still breathtaking to behold, it’s true, but what sets his Fourth World books apart from the already-stratospheric heights achieved by his previous works (he did, after all, create a multi-billion-dollar mythical juggernaut you may have head of called the Marvel Universe) is the sheer philosophical, conceptual, and metaphysical weight of the (sorry to use the term, but) “senses-shattering” storyline that he was able to marry seamlessly with his jaw-dropping visuals. Add in a  poetically bombastic writing style that the ill-informed have often chided as being “clunky” and/or “unrealistic” (as if “realism” was ever the point) and the end result is a true modern epic in every sense of the word. If, in the far-flung future, our civilization is effectively plowed over and forgotten to the point where no trace of the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, or any other purportedly “holy” books remains, one can actually envision some neo-primitive survivor stumbling across a couple issues of any of these comics and basing a new religion on them, so soul-shaking and perspective-rattling is the magnitude of their scope. These aren’t just comics — they are four-color transmissions from a consciousness quite beyond our understanding, but one that we recognize to be undeniably true and good. To many readers of the time, they were almost “too much” to fully take on board — no less an authority on subjects both comic and cosmic than Grant Morrison has described his first youthful encounter with them as leaving him feeling as though he’d been “mugged by the word of God” — but with the full advantage of hindsight, we can finally see them for what they were and are : a gauntlet thrown down in the spirit of showing us the way forward, if only we possess courage enough to accept the challenge.

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Unfortunately, of course, all too often we don’t. A world based on kindness, voluntary co-operation, peace, understanding, mutual respect, and open communication was what the so-called “Flower Power” generation claimed it was aiming for, absolutely — and of all the Fourth World books it was Forever People that made the most direct appeal to these ideals via its youthful protagonists (Big Bear, Mark Moonrider, Beautiful Dreamer, Serifan, and Vykin, The Black, for those of you who may not know) — but Jack had fought in the European theater during WWII. He’d helped to liberate the concentration camps. He’d felt the sting of anti-Semitic bigotry personally as a youth. And he understood the frightening siren call of surrendering your individuality to a kind of comfortable-but-deadly “group mind” exemplified by the blank-eyed masses shown on the first page of Forever People #3 (cover-dated July, 1971) shown above.

He also knew that a charismatic charlatan able to tap into humanity’s darkest and most primal fears could then exploit these masses to his own ends after sufficiently strip-mining them of their critical reasoning ability and promising them “safety” and “security” as part and parcel of joining his movement. “Leave it to me — leave it all to me — and I’ll take care of everything” has been the demagogue’s hollow promise since time immemorial. It was at the core of Hitler’s appeal. Mao’s appeal. Franco’s appeal. Mussolini’s appeal.

And today, both depressingly and predictably, it’s back to rear its intellectually and morally worthless head yet again. A vulgar and combative con man with a lifetime of broken vows, both business and personal,  trailing in his wake has grabbed this country by the — well, you know what — with talk of building walls to “protect” us. Of kicking out millions of people for the “safety” of those who remain. Of destroying our purported “enemies” utterly and without mercy. Of putting our unemployed citizens back to work in factories and production plants that by and large no longer exist. Of ridding our communities of crime root and branch not by addressing its causes, but by turning loose the power of militarized law enforcement. All we have to do is give in. Trust him. Follow him. Place our faith in him. Surrender to him. But before Donald Trump, there was Glorious Godfrey.

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A smooth-talking huckster from the dread world of Apokolips, Godfrey even looks like Trump, doesn’t he? And his travelling revival show — rumored to be based on the religion-as-spectacle efforts of Billy Graham — eerily echoes the Trump rally 45 years before there was such a thing. Life itself is the problem, Godfrey tells us, but he alone can make yours right if you just, ya know, fork it over to him, and allow yourself to become one of his zombified, technologically-augmented “Justifiers” — shock troops in his army to remake the world in his own image. Purposely conflating unity with submission to the point where the average attendee of his batshit-crazy carny show can’t tell the difference anymore, Godfrey doesn’t just have answers, he has all the answers — hell, he has the answer. It’s called “Anti-Life.” And it’s gonna Make America Great Again.

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Like all would-be conquerors, though, Godfrey is himself merely a pawn for the power behind the throne he looks to place himself on, just as Trump is a front for the very same “global elites” and “international bankers” he rails against. A 20-percent cut in the corporate tax rate and a six-percent (for now — watch that cut get bigger and bigger with successive income tax “reform” packages) slashing of the top marginal personal tax rates ain’t gonna do shit for Trump’s working-class base, but it sure will make the rich bastards who owned all those shuttered factories where they used to work happy. And if you know Kirby’s Fourth World, you already know that the puppeteer pulling Godfrey’s strings is none other than Darkseid himself, a creature of such unyielding and incalculable evil that the pages he was depicted on could scarcely contain his malignant ferocity. As always, no matter how wretched the public face of mass control may be, the one that hides in the shadows, controlling the would-be controller, is even worse.

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Of course, our intrepid youthful heroes were able to scuttle Godfrey’s plans in the pages of Forever People #3, but their victory was shown to be a temporary one. The forces of darkness and dehumanization, Kirby knew all too well, would always be there to haunt us, and would always find a willing audience among those frightened to be truly alive — as well as to the extend the basic right of self-determination to others. I’m glad Jack’s not here to see the rise of Donald Trump. He was a kind, caring, loving, generous, and brilliant man — and as famous as he is for saying that “comics will break your heart,” (an opinion he arrived at thanks in no small part to another staggeringly duplicitous con artist, Stan Lee) I think this sorry and reprehensible period our nation has entered into would have crushed him perhaps beyond all hope of repair. But I’m even more glad that his work — in all its undeniable vibrancy, vitality, heartfelt integrity, and glory — is with us still, and resonating as clear a clarion call as it ever has. They may have Donald Trump, but we have Jack Kirby — is there any doubt who you’d back in that titanic struggle of cosmic absolutes?

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Jeb Bush has a plan to save America from our supposed economic crisis — according to statements that have issued forth from his own mouth, we all need to work an unspecified number of longer hours, we shouldn’t expect to retire until we’re 67 or 68, and we’d better not look forward to Medicare being there to take care of our health insurance needs once we finally do get to stop working because he wants to “phase it out.” Apparently, if we enact all of these austerity measures (let’s just call ’em what they are, even if Jeb and his corporate sponsors think we’re stupid enough to think of them as “reforms”), then — and only then — will we get ourselves out of this mess he insists we’re in.

In short, then, poor, working-class, and even middle-class Americans should just buckle down and get ready to have a shittier life, while the rich — well, he’s not telling them they have to do a damn thing. In fact, as we all know (even if some of us don’t want to admit it), they tell him what to do.

There are just a couple of problems with this line of “thinking” — one being that we’re not, as far as I can tell, in the midst of any sort of “economic crisis,” so these are “solutions” in search of a problem. Oh, sure,  there was a massive crisis going on a few years back, one brought about by the very same Wall Street de-regulation that ol’ Jeb wants to bring back, but the worst of that’s behind us and we seem to be on solid ground again. It could all go belly-up again, absolutely, but if it does, it won’t be the fault of the average American worker — just as it wasn’t last time — so asking them to bear the brunt of the clean-up cost is not just tremendously unfair, it also makes no logical sense. Might I humbly suggest that if the markets do go into “meltdown” mode again, that it should be the wealthy and irresponsible speculators who cause the mess that should be tasked with footing the bill for fixing it?

Problem number two — these ideas are bound to be wildly unpopular, even among the hardest of  hard-core GOP ideologues. I don’t know if any “Tea Party” types are out there reading this, but if you are, ask yourself — do you want to work even more hours, for even more years, and have to pay for your health insurance expenses entirely out of pocket, just because a guy who inherited all his money and stature and has probably never even put in a 40 (let alone 45 or 50) -hour week himself thinks you should? Of course you don’t.

Of these two problems Bush faces in selling this fundamentally flawed bill of goods to the public, it seems to me that the first one — the fact that there is no actual “economic crisis” going on —should probably be insurmountable, but let’s face it : if Fox “news” decided they want to get on board with this crap and convince people that there’s a “crisis,” then a fair number of folks are going to believe it. And if and when Bush becomes the GOP nominee, that’s exactly what they’ll start doing. Chances are that they’ve even got a snazzy on-screen logo and a well-rehearsed set of “talking points” ready to go for just such an eventuality. Mark my words — the day after Bush’s acceptance speech at the Republican national convention, Fox is going to be talking about this crisis-of-their-own-creation incessantly.

Problem number two, however — getting people to actually vote for a guy who openly boasts about how much worse you’re going to have it under his prospective administration — well, that could be a trickier one to navigate. Fortunately for Jeb and his paymasters and handlers, there’s a solution : Donald Trump.

Clearly, Bush’s economic “plan” is the most aggressive full frontal assault on anyone but the richest of the rich that we’ve ever seen. In fact, they’re not even trying to disguise it. The old days of hoodwinking everyone into accepting a candidate, and a set of policies, that are openly hostile to their own economic well-being are apparently over with. They used to tell us that huge tax cuts for the rich and de-regulation of the financial markets would result in a “trickle-down” windfall for everybody, but it seems that they either don’t think you’re stupid enough to swallow that line again (being we have four-plus decades of proof that it just doesn’t work that way), or they’ve become so brazen that they don’t even think you’re worth the effort it takes to lie to you anymore. Take your pick.

Let’s not beat around the — errrmmm — Bush : these are some seriously radical policies that Jeb is tossing out there, and he’d be getting called to account for them a whole lot more , even by the cowed corporate press, if it weren’t for Donald Trump. Captain Comb-over just has a way of making anyone else in the room look sane and reasonable by comparison, and even though his act is resonating with a sizable chunk of GOP base voters right now, we all know he’s not gonna be the party’s nominee. Every single Republican office-holder in the country right now is running for president, but you don’t need a crystal ball to predict how this is gonna work : after a defeat or two in the primaries and caucuses, the heavy contingent of “also-rans” will quietly drop out, one by one, and throw their support behind the “establishment candidate” as a means of blocking the guy who thinks Mexicans are a bunch of rapists and POWs are chicken-shits (as opposed to chicken-hawks, like himself) for getting caught. Trump’s support is probably maxed out at the 25% or so he’s currently enjoying in the polls, but the sky’s the limit for whoever the rest of the party decides to coalesce around as the “ant-Trump” candidate of choice (more than likely that will be Bush, but if the powers that be decide his name is too tainted-in-advance, they may go for Scott Walker in a pinch). Everybody else other than Trump might be polling around 10, 5, or even 2% right now, but as the field narrows, their numbers will grow, while Trump’s will remain pretty much right where they are. In a field of 16, sure, Trump can be top man for awhile. Once the field winnows down to two? No chance.

In fact, you might say that in a very real sense, Donald Trump is the best thing that could possibly happen to Jeb Bush. Sure, he’s turning the whole GOP primary season into a circus freakshow, but he puts Bush — who would otherwise be branded as exactly what he is, the candidate with the most extreme economic platform in American history — in a position where he can emerge as a “reasonable” and “sensible” alternative. Even if there’s nothing remotely reasonable of sensible about his ideas. Hell, people may even breathe a sigh of relief once he’s anointed. “Yeah, Jeb wants me to work 50 hours a week until I’m 68 years old and pay for my own medical expenses out-of-pocket when I’m frail and vulnerable, but geez — it was either him or Trump, ya know?”

It’s almost enough to make one wonder — and surely I can’t be the first person to suggest this — whether or not Trump was put up to this whole thing by either Bush himself, or someone very close to him.

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What’s all this got to do with director Paul Solet’s new offering, Dark Summer (now available on Netflix instant streaming — which is how I caught it — or on Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! Factory)? Not much, except for this : I had time to piece this entire (conspiracy?) theory together while I was watching the movie, and trust me, friends — a flick has to be pretty boring indeed to make your mind wander off to the traveling sideshow that is the current GOP presidential contest. Think watching-paint-dry boring. Or watching-the-flagpole-rust boring.

A stupid premise doesn’t help matters much, either — and Dark Summer has one of the most insultingly stupid premises you’ll ever come across : Teenage loser Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) is so obsessed with apparently-unattainable classmate Mona Wilson ( Grace Phipps — by the way, what sort of script gives a last name to the barely-seen-at-all victim, but not to any of the actual principal characters?) that he “cyber-stalks” her until she commits suicide. This results in his being placed under house arrest, ankle-bracelet and all, and ordered to stay the fuck off the internet. He quickly gets around that restriction with the help of a friend named Abby (Stella Maeve) who’s obviously sweet on him, and their constant “third wheel,” Kevin (Maestro Harrell). Right off the bat, then,  the problem here in terms of audience identification is pretty self-evident, I would think — we’re supposed to be putting our sympathies behind a relentless creep whose campaign of non-stop harassment led the recipient of his unwelcome advances to take her own life, and unless you’re a grade-A asshole (and we’ve already spent enough time talking about two of those), that’s just not likely to happen.

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Oh, sure, Daniel tries to win us over with lines like “it wasn’t like that — I just wanted to get to know her,” and we’re supposed to feel bad for him because his dad ins’t in the picture and his mom is away on business all summer (can you even sentence a minor to house arrest without parental supervision?), but if you’ve ever been pestered by even the most easily-dismissed internet “troll,” your sympathy-meter is going to be registering very low for this movie’s protagonist.

Still, while Daniel might be done with Mona, she’s in no way done with him. The first thing he sees once he illegally gets back on the internet is her offing herself, and then she proceeds to haunt him both online and, increasingly, in the physical world — sending various low-grade “eerie” hallucinations his way, and generally fucking with his psychology until he very nearly snaps (apparently internet “stalkers” aren’t actually nuts to begin with — who knew?). They end up having a seance and all that shit and we’re even treated to the old “unquiet spirits can’t rest” line a time or two, but whatever — the whole “haunted internet” premise was handled considerably more deftly in Unfriended earlier this very year, and this is all eminently forgettable garbage.

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Perhaps even more offensive than screenwriter Mike Le’s insistence on trying to convince us that the victimizer is actually the victim here, though, is the plodding pace of his script and the utter lack of imagination or even basic engagement with the material shown by Solet’s lifeless, plodding direction. I know there’s only so much you can do with five characters (the other being a parole officer who seems about as interested in his job as Solet himself, played by Peter Stormare) confined to a typically soul-dead suburban rambler, but come on. Watching a ceiling fan spin around or a kid walking back and forth in his yard isn’t very interesting under even the best of circumstances, and these are from that. Solet’s “breakthrough” indie horror effort, Grace, was a bit of slow-burn, as well, but at least the “clinically detached”  vibe the director adopted worked for that one’s rather more “outre” subject matter — here we need some reason to get invested in the proceedings, and he seems downright pathologically determined not to give us one.

At least this flick clocks in at a mercifully brief 81 minutes, though, so if you decide to blow off my heartfelt advice you won’t have wasted too much of your summer on Dark Summer — but I would urge you to resist whatever natural contrarian impulses you may possess and take my word for it here. I wouldn’t even wish a forced sit-down in front of this on a Donald Trump or Jeb Bush voter.