Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

4:44

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My Facebook has been hopping up and down with the track The Story of OJ on Jay-Z’s new album 4:44,  talking about how ‘adult’ he’s become, and now having watched it about half a dozen times, I can’t help but wonder if this is as ‘woke’, politically speaking, as Jay-Z gets. I mean, its message is pretty straight-forward, if a bit disjointed. For starters, these lyrics are as beat-it-into-you as possible:

Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga /
Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga /
Still nigga, still nigga

This is a great zinger:

O.J. like, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” …okay

And the visuals of the music video are a send-up of the racist cartoons that were household comedy for half a century (and themselves animated versions of racist caricatures of a century before that), but then the second half of the piece seems to be a suggestion not for Black people to uplift themselves but for rich Black entertainers to invest their money, leading to possibly the weakest and most controversial lyric in the piece:

You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit /
You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it

Forgetting the obvious anti-Semitism of the second line for a moment (as well as the fact that “credit” doesn’t rhyme with “did it”), and forgetting the stereotyping involved for the comparison, it also flies in the face of, well, the message of the first half of the piece. If the first half is saying, “no matter what you do or how you conduct your life, you’re still Black in the eyes of greater society,” then how do Black people go about emulating Jewish people?

Sure, there are similarities in two historically disenfranchised people that has resulted in a surfeit of them falling to certain employment categories – entertainment being a common one – for lack of other options, but an obvious schism of cultural assimilation and the ability to do such is a great part of Jewish-American history: In effect, Jewish people, at least in New York City, have breached that barrier and become white. German Ashkenazi came in and Anglicized their names, inter-married and adopted the habits of the dominant culture, turned around and discriminated against their Eastern European counterparts for being “backwards” and sticking to their Lower East Side and Brooklyn shtetls… basically, what literally every persecuted minority in the United States has ever done, including my own heritage of Irish and Tsalagi peoples.

The difference is how society reacted, and it really helps to have a white face: The Irish became white, the Cherokee did not despite continued protestations that they are, and Blacks never can. The extent to which Americanized Jewish people have become white is clear in the age-old Borscht-belt joke about only being “Jew-ish.” There is no such thing as Black-ish. Hell, in this political climate the DuBois double-consciousness question as to whether one can truly be both Black and American comes back to the fore, as it seems the entire country is aligned in erasing the history of our first and only Black President.

Of course, the second line could also just be a more base reference to the stereotype of Brooklyn Jewish landlords, which is itself a controversy that has flared up many a time when it comes to race relations in New York. It’s certainly a topic that’s been played with at least in passing by other Black artists from Brooklyn, such as Spike Lee, though the lyric may not be a conscious attempt to reference such. That said, this lyric –

I told him, “Please don’t die over the neighborhood /
That your mama rentin’ /
Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood /
That’s how you rinse it” 

– suggests this man has never heard of redlining. I know he’s heard of Urban Renewal, for he grew up in the Marcy housing projects, but suffice it to say this shit is systemic.

The first line about strip clubs, by contrast, is pure Chris Rock, which means it’s pure Bill Cosby and plenty of Black comedians before him: The only problem is, yeah, you can save money when you can earn money, and you can’t earn money if you can’t get a good job. One of the major aspects of the disenfranchisement of a people is that merit alone doesn’t land you work: Connections do, and breaking into an industry is hard if you don’t have an introduction – and that’s assuming you have the right skin color – else you’re just likely to see a lot of doors slamming in your face.

Every lyric that follows is about investing,  which when coupled with a rich Black entertainer’s criticism of another rich Black entertainer – and let’s forget the cruel and cynical position that in order for a Black man to get rich he’d better be great at writing lyrics or an even greater athlete – rings hollow.

Cultural Communism

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In her seminal analysis of Adolf Eichmann’s trial for crimes against the Jewish people, Hannah Arendt contrasts the Israeli government’s extrajudicial extraction of Eichmann from Argentina with that of the extrajudicial assassinations of Talaat Bey and Simon Petlyura, by Shalom Schwartzbard and Soghomon Tehlirian respectively, who protested the difficulty of seeking justice over state-sanctioned genocide against their peoples through the most efficacious means suggested (I forget by whom) of disobedience of unjust laws: One must break them and then demand to be punished for said transgression. She argued that the inherent justice in their actions (and subsequent acquittals) was due to the fact that they at the time had no state representative judiciary who could try their case through proper means, and thus put themselves at risk of trial unlike the Israeli agents who kidnapped Eichmann. In this she made a point about the Israeli government’s conduct of the trial – but not its result or their competence to try it – as to the statement however wittingly or otherwise it made about the nature of legal and political representation of a people, as compared to a nation, and the implications therein.

I found that this above other points she made diverged fundamentally from my worldview, for a conceptual reason of jurisdiction. If admission to the international stage of humanity – the existing “comity of nations” – and thus true protection of human rights requires a self-governing homeland, for which all those historically, ethnically, linguistically and culturally linked draw their political representation from – which is to say, the power of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine, for instance, stems from Russia, not their proportion or protection in the Ukrainian polity – then I am, have been, and will always be stateless. Or, rather, I’ve been by circumstance forced to develop a worldview which depends on a different font of support, not unlike traditional Marxist concepts of class consciousness: The rich seek to stay rich, the middle classes seek to become rich, and the proletariat, seeing no means of becoming rich for such a goal is far too distant even to comprehend, seeks equality for all.

This stems from the fact that the Cherokee Nation will never be a nation, for after all it cannot even determine its own citizenry, that power being granted solely from the United States Government’s adherence to their own census, the Dawes Rolls. Indeed, since there is an economic incentive to limit their own numbers in the form of federal subsidy and grants, the leadership of the current beneficiaries of such a system jealously guard induction to preposterously low populations and therefore neuter their own existence. This is also largely the case of Black America, in the sense that the connection with contemporary African societies is quite distant culturally, yet exist as the Ur-minorities in the American polity – a colonized people within the nation’s own homeland. Save for the craziness that was and is Liberia (though unlike us they did elect a female President), the only way forward is to enforce the American Great Experiment of eliminating “minority status” as codified in so many European societies for so long both politically and socially.

By definition, and thanks to being of mixed heritage, I have no choice but to come out against ethno-nationalism in all its forms, for it does not and cannot represent me in any way, and an international stage in which it is dominant is one that will eventually seek to destroy me. Arguably, my very existence is dependent on a system that has already eschewed such a social format and thus is the prime example of, and the largest proponent of, a system that is at least on paper ethnically and culturally neutral. That is to say, I see only one way forward, and that is to continue the Great Experiment because I depend on it, which means not only must I combat any and all administrations that attempt to define the country by ethnic or cultural lines but also must combat any and all who would seek to dismantle the administration for its failure to adhere to any one of a number of economic and political precepts, for this administration is the only one of its kind. Which is to say, I must oppose radical Marxists, even if I am a radical Marxist, for I cannot trust human tribalism not to rear its ugly head during an interregnum.

That presents a philosophical problem, for as Communism is a doctrine that many pundits, like those who would defend modern American Conservatism, argue has never failed because it had never been tried – that Communism has not failed, only that we have failed Communism – so too does this paint me in the corner that radical change is not only bloody and risky – as most radical reform results in disaster, both in the short and long term – and puts me in the direct firing line, thus I oppose it, but that it also means that under any other circumstance my political stance would also by definition be directly reflective of those circumstances and not the position I hold now, which would be a hard thing to argue to others not in my specific position should I seek allies. I am become an anti-tribal tribalist.

But then so too do minorities flock to cities such to the point that cities exist in their own social and political universe apart and distinct from the nation-state as a whole, which only means that, in my personal worldview, I’ve come full circle that my current state of existence – a mixed-blood minority in an ethnically-diverse city in a polyglot nation – is and has always been a mere blip in the long run of humanity, and that the circumstances that led to my existence have only cropped up a few times in history and then only briefly. If history is linear, I have much to fear. If history if cyclical, and it has every indication of being so, present administration included, then all I need to do is eat and die as me.

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  • Published: Apr 6th, 2017
  • Category: Media
  • Comments: 1

Ghost in the Shell

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Setting aside for a moment the obvious charges of whitewashing, the controversy of which I can only hope hurts Paramount Pictures in the box office as much as that recent execrable Matt Damon flop of a movie, there are essentially two criteria by which to assess Scarlett Johansson’s lead in Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell: Its quality in comparison to Shirow Masamune’s seminal manga series and Mamoru Oshii’s classic anime feature film, and its worth as a stand-alone science fiction film. It fails miserably on both counts. There will be spoilers in this review, but nothing can spoil it more than what they did to themselves.

The cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction contains artistic works that have common themes – subversion of representational government power by corporate power, technological and cybernetic advancements that outpace and exceed regulatory authority or societal understanding, dense and sprawling urbanization – and are generally musings as to the nature of individualism and humanity in a world with fewer political and economic rights, a restructuring or revisionism of cultural touchstones, and constant contact with otherness. The story it wants to tell goes back to the heart of speculative fiction as a reaction to a world that is changing, and can reach topics such as corporate ethics and asymmetric warfare in Alien and Aliens, labor and civil rights in Blade Runner, and identity and trans-humanism in 1995’s Ghost in the Shell.

“Theme,” however, may be the wrong term, as a “theme” can be a backdrop without reasoning or justification behind it. Star Wars, at heart, doesn’t require its setting to tell its story and doesn’t particularly gain from it except such as to present lovely visual backdrops for what is essentially a very common story. That is why it is dubbed a “space opera,” and animes such as Cowboy Bebop are called “space westerns.” Just as noir had common themes of neorealism, expressionism and morality in an uncaring and often-times hostile world, making it prime for police procedurals, detective thrillers and gangster films, it’s used more nowadays as an allusion to certain stylistic options – dark and smokey interiors, stark backlighting, et cetera – than the ideas underneath.

1989’s manga and 1995’s movie contained thoughts on consciousness and individual identity if all of one’s body is mass manufactured – protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi at one point spies a salarywoman with the exact same face, body and hair as her, and muses on reinventing herself – in a Japanese society for which dolls retain strong cultural importance, and which also has concerns about cultural identity under internationalist corporate hegemons supported by technology, a concern even today when “helper robots” are being developed partly because they are more amenable to a very insular people than immigrant labor. In the manga and anime, the Major works in a counter-cyberterrorism paramilitary police force where almost everybody has significant mechanical prosthetics either in part or in full, and whose aim is largely that of social stability, often in the face of foreign incursion or influence – many of the antagonists are seen as either Russian agents, American moguls, armed refugees of foreign wars, terrorists and the like – but the overarching ‘villain,’ so to speak, in the original manga series and the 1995 movie is a virus devoted to industrial and political espionage and manipulation crafted by an internal (and rival) military division for the purposes of influencing international relations that has gone rogue, achieved self-identity, and requested asylum, leading questions as to the nature of life and sentience.

The 1995 movie, its sequel, 2004’s Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, also directed by Mamoru Oshii, and the television series Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex were incredibly dense with the characters’ philosophizing about such issues while also dealing with problems unique to the setting: mental disorders in an age of always-online consciousnesses, the ability to copy and implant memories and entire identities into surrogates both human and entirely synthetic, and scenarios there-in.

2017’s Ghost in the Shell eschews all that, and thereby solves the problem of perhaps being overly dense by being unconscionably dull. It reduces ideas to mere style, confuses reference with inference, and in doing so it says to me that the art that it portrays is intellectually, culturally and morally bankrupt. To add insult to injury, and there is great injury here, the movie itself is rife with one-dimensional protagonists and supporting characters, run through with massive plot holes, advances its plot by forcing its leads to make wanton and brazenly stupid decisions, and rejects any hallmark of the genre for a paint-by-numbers revenge plot that is as hypocritical as it is predictable. It, like Spike Lee’s 2013 remake of Korean thriller Oldboy, is the aping of a superior film by a so-called fan of the work while somehow missing everything that made the film worthwhile.

Mamoru Oshii’s Major Motoko Kusanagi was a contemplative, intelligent, supremely competent and capable female protagonist who had proper working relationships with her team, was raised almost all her life in a full-body prosthesis thanks to Japan’s legendary healthcare and thus inducted into what are essentially Special Forces due to her familiarity and skill with the body she possesses, and also possessed understandable concerns, interests and goals. Rupert Sanders’ Major, who for two thirds of the film went by some white name in deference to Scarlett Johansson’s white face, was a headstrong, reckless ball of anger who gave cursory lip-service to her status but otherwise treated herself as a Marvel Comics superheroine – perhaps because Johansson is already experienced at playing Black Widow for the current crop of schlock blockbuster action flicks – foregoing her team and getting herself captured at every turn, and murdering security guards, random thugs and basically anybody who looks askance at her with abandon. Once finding out that she is actually the brainwashed result of Evilcorp’s kidnapping and experimentation with a waifish Japanese street urchin named Motoko Kusanagi, Scarlett Johansson’s character can’t actually come around to call herself by that name, because perhaps even the actress is somewhat embarrassed by the stark contrast. She all but destroyed a strong female role, and in the most narratively simplistic copout.

The scenery is a pastiche of cyberpunkish stylistic touchstones of an urbanity devoid of any understanding of urban planning – indeed one area is simply called the “lawless zone” – or how anybody would feasibly live in such a city, which is something that the manga, television series and anime movies went out of their way to portray. The 2017 live-action movie attempts to shoehorn no less than four set-pieces from the 1995 movie, but without the context or competence displayed in the original, and to make matters worse, Mamoru Oshii’s trademark basset hound was also copied wholesale, in a stunning theft of artistic watermarking that makes me openly wonder whether the current producers actually understood what they were doing.

For the aped scenes, on every level is the point missed: In the 1995 movie, the Major finds herself hopelessly outgunned by a walking tank, but her motivation for being there – it’s guarding her target – and her actions in combating it – taking advantage of positioning to attack the vehicle it’s guarding, targeting weak points and forcing it to waste its ammunition, attempting to open its hatch to unhook its human pilot – denote a motivation as well as a strategy to actually overcome the problem. In the 2017 movie, the tank remains, as is the Major’s target, but the Major is already in possession of the target and thus has no reason not to retreat, and has no strategy to disable it except for firing wildly with a small-calibre weapon and pointlessly fiddle with the hatch as the tank is remotely controlled. The action remains, the thought behind it having been wholly excised and replaced with blind rage.

Similarly, her boss Aramaki in the manga and anime is a shrewd, responsible political strategist who does not put himself or his team in danger without a full plan in effect. His goals and the Major’s occasionally conflict, but they are understandable from his point of view and the means in which he works towards them are intelligent. In the live-action movie he passively allows all comers to dictate the parameters of his department, such to the point where he has no control over his subordinates and even allows a direct assassination attempt on his own person for no gain, just so a scene can be shown where he heroically saves himself. It is, I suppose, a testament to an American producer’s translation of this Japanese work that, like our current political climate, all characters are fundamentally incapable of acting competently and are thus forced for the vast majority of the film merely to react.

But far from the base flaws in filmmaking for which the producers attempted to hide behind a gloss of technical tinsel, and far from the complete misunderstanding of the setting, the format, and the characterization, the greatest sin that this movie has managed is that, as a science fiction film, it asks no questions and offers no ideas. Its characters aren’t just dumb by comparison, they are dumb, and seem content to remain that way forever. I watched this movie in IMAX 3D in a nearly empty theatre in Kip’s Bay, and had my eyes closed for a third of the film, for I could no longer bear to witness what was before me. It hurt me to watch this film, and I feel ashamed that I chose to do so, for I knew better, and now I have nobody but myself to blame for how I feel right now.

White Flight

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A personal narrative I thought was more or less substantively true, one that was promoted by the last three mayors or so of the phoenix-like resurrection of New York City from a den of sin and depravity to a modern, crisp, attractive destination, is the effective reversal of decades of White Flight – the domestic emigration of middle-class white families and their tax base due to racism, from federal subsidies for home ownership in newly-constructed yet segregated suburban townships to overt red-lining covering entire districts straight on from the LaGuardia administration in the 30s and 40s. The narrative, it goes, is that once violent crime started going down in the Dinkins administration straight on to historic lows in the Bloomberg administration in the new millennium, domestic immigration of the white, taxpaying types started up again, revitalizing – and gentrifying – neighborhoods en masse, such as Williamsburg and Park Slope. Indeed, Amanda Burden the former commissioner for the Department of City Planning under former mayor Bloomberg was an avowed cheerleader of gentrification, and indeed volunteered her rather contemptuous opinions of current mayor de Blasio’s emphasis on affordable housing – after all, her doctrine was more on real estate values, which meant getting the ‘right people’ into those houses, not getting the right houses for the existing people.

I say “thought” and not “think” because, despite this narrative, White Flight never ended. According to the US census, the non-Hispanic white population of New York peaked in 1940 – the first year the city differentiated between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white people – at 6.8 million out of a total New York population of 7.4 million. It’s at this time that the red-lining efforts were mostly discussing an “infiltration” – the actual term on analytic documents of the time – of undesirable Greeks, Jews, Italians and Irish, as there were only half a million Black residents and only 150,000 people of Hispanic descent. For the narrative to be completely true, one would imagine that the white population would have bottomed out in the 1990 or 2000 census, and then seen an uptick since then. However, between 1990 and 2010, a further loss of 450,000 white residents of New York was still tallied – the last census has the lowest number of white residents in 70 years of unbroken decline at 2.7 million out of a total of 8.1 million, meaning that while the city on the whole only gained ~700,000 people between 1940 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white proportion of the city went from being 92% of the total to 33% of the total… and is still falling, both in ratio and in raw numbers, though perhaps not as fast as it once was.

There is some weight to the narrative of yuppies moving into certain gentrified neighborhoods – aside from Manhattan, Brooklyn is the only borough that saw an increase in the white population between 2000 and 2010, gaining about 40,000 (for an equal loss in the Black population of Brooklyn, which statisticians have argued represents a trend in which they’re leaving the area entirely due to high cost of living and relatively low employment rates and remuneration, rather than a white population that simply relocates to the suburbs) which lends support for a narrative of population replacement, though the city itself noted that domestic emigration, not immigration, remained paramount, and that population numbers were buoyed by childbirth, longevity and international immigration, so those broad statistics can be interpreted in part by the relatively high childbirth rates of orthodox Jewish communities in South Williamsburg and Borough Park as much as homesteading by white yuppies in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.

There is also a more holistic interpretation in that the city is and has always been an entrepot of international humanity, which it then disseminated to the rest of the nation, in which case the truth hidden in the statistical data of a declining white population is that in the first half of the century the largest batch of immigrants were white though of Catholic and southern European heritage, who then flocked to Yonkers and New Jersey and Long Island, and that nowadays the largest batch of immigrants come from Asia and Latin America, who will in turn homestead in the suburbs. Of course, this other narrative somewhat glosses over that so-called ‘white ethnics’ can also be racist and bound by tribalism – the character Archie Bunker was, after all, modeled after creator Norman Lear’s Jewish father and played by Irish Catholic Carroll O’Connor – and so too can new Asian immigrants.

It’s also true that our now-President started his career in racist exclusion in New York real estate, and whose son-in-law carries the torch of a current real estate business model of aggressively harassing New York tenants in order to flip their housing for more ‘desirable’ clients. How to reconcile the prevalence of this practice with current demographic data requires a more in-depth set of interpretations about who exactly is benefiting from such, what the numbers are – what people are moving in and how many, what people are moving out and how many – and where they’re doing these sorts of practices, but a cursory conclusion is that there are still great swaths of the city avoided by capital investment, the people benefiting from such rapacious activities are not very numerous and the people moving out under duress are far greater in number, but not so many as to offset those filling in every bedroom in Bronx and Queens – still areas that are ‘terra incognita’ for the sorts who left half a century ago and never returned.

The Achilles Heel of the Free Press

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A quick and dirty guide to propagandizing in America, in three steps:

Step 1: The Craven

Unlike a number of other countries, our news media is entirely composed of private for-profit enterprises, which is why historically the city with the most newspapers – New York – is the one that invented what we call “yellow journalism” in the name of business competition and was a strong example of “tabloid journalism:” Fact-neutral sensationalism crafted specifically to entice readers, not necessarily impart information, so as to maximize newspaper sales, subscriptions and ad revenue. The name of the game was profit margins, as evinced in the very terms themselves: ‘Yellow’ because the cheap paper the news was printed on was yellow and ‘tabloid’ because the newpapers themselves were smaller with condensed print; both cost-saving adjustments incidental to the pejorative definitions they picked up.

In the enterprises on this front – in which the New York market exemplified but other markets also followed – competition required and requires slavish adherence to two principles:

a) The need to scoop stories the fastest, which puts pressure on fact-checking.

b) Embellishment and hyperbole just a hair’s breath short of the legal definition of libel.

There is a third principle, not strictly necessary but can be helpful, which is that of partaking in an overt political stance, where a paper can generate a market niche by catering to a constituency that no other paper caters to. This is not to say that such a political stance is necessarily ideological on the part of the paper’s publisher – quite the opposite; it is often-times business decision, a mercenary undertaking that can and has been shifted as markets themselves have – but it also has a bearing on how the news can be colored if not compromised.

While journalistic standards have since been codified – after all, the publisher Joseph Pulitzer who owned the New York World, a scion of sensationalist pablum, also established an award for integrity in reporting – if not universally enforced, the profit motive has never gone away, and we see it in varying degrees in just about every paper still in print, which means journalistic integrity has, is, and will always take second priority to financial profit.

By comparison the market for national television news was somewhat less competitive, being more of a cabal between the Big Three – NBC, CBS and ABC and their local affiliates – but it was Ted Turner in Atlanta that revolutionized the market and the manner in which television news was shown through the creation of the CNN, whose innovation was that of the 24-hour News Cycle. That cycle, unlike morning and evening papers or the evening television news, didn’t change reporting – because fact-finding can only happen but so fast – but it did change how the information was disseminated. Emphasis was given to two sectors, which are quite similar to the original principles, and indeed similarly non-conducive to journalistic standards:

a) The excruciatingly short deadline to be the first to report on a piece of news.

b) The need to fill all 24 hours with stuff that will glue people to seats.

The former has obvious effects on fact-checking – there is no incentive at all to fact-check, as it doesn’t matter how wrong a story is if it is incredibly popular and thus promotes ad revenue; it can always be “corrected” later on – but the latter only magnified the need for sensationalism. The network created shows like Crossfire and the Situation Room, in which any and all issues are depicted as “controversial,” with two opposing viewpoints, with equal treatment of pundits on each side of the issues discussed. This can be gamed, which is exactly what CNN’s progeny and main competitors Fox News and MSNBC did, which brings us to the second step.

Step 2: The Stupid

In cases of issues in which natural controversy cannot adequately fill the time – because there is already an expert consensus for one stance that cannot be answered by the opposition – the controversy must then be manufactured. The easiest and cheapest solution is to undermine expert opinion by literally giving time to opposing arguments, no matter how banal or insipid, and thus “even the playing field” by presenting conclusive scientific, sociological, legal or political analysis as unproven, if but for the sake of continuing the debate and thus granting a reason to keep watching.

This is lucrative so long as the opposing view has a market; ie: an audience. They will tune in to see their worldview defended, as political stances can indeed be sold – though in this case the media enterprise attempts to butter its bread on both sides by presenting both sides.

This of course has the adverse effect of undermining facts themselves, as by definition in this format they cannot end a debate with a clear victor, for that would cause one half of the audience to stop watching (and, arguably, the other half as well for after the controversy is concluded there is no ‘news’ to watch). Indeed, nothing can end the debate, because the debate itself is profitable for the private media organization: In fact, the more extreme the stance, the more emotional the response, and the more likely people will watch it. Scholarship is debased by design.

Step 3: The Evil

With such a system in place, it becomes patently easy for interested parties and propagandists to game media sources that are amenable and suppress the few that attempt to resist. The best way to defend a lie is to attack the very idea of truth, which is child’s play in the format by which Americans receive their news.

Need an expert? Pay somebody to pose as one. Fox News has so many discredited “experts” that an entire cottage industry – Late Nite contemporaries of Jon Stewart – has risen to quantify and criticize them, but that industry has had absolutely no effect on Fox News’ popularity or viewership: It merely profits off of the opposing view, for the simple reason that the debate is never concluded. If no expert is willing to lie on television, launder source material by reporting on reporting of bloggers and lumpenpundits: Effectively, wallow in rumor and hearsay.

Need to muddle an issue? Run counter-articles and claim that the opposition is lying and/or compromised. Because the industry runs on confirmation bias, people will accept what is effectively an auto-immune disease for investigative journalism because it bolsters their preconceptions. Breitbart and the Drudge Report have taken extreme stances that even the New York Post and the Washington Times have failed to venture, knowing full well that their readership will never abandon them, to the point where they will regurgitate articles from RT – the modern Pravda – derived almost entirely of anecdotes, misrepresented statistics or straight lies. Alternatively, simply just out-shout the competition: Internet memes, as evinced by the racist Pepe the Frog character, have been weaponized and can be produced and disseminated faster than anything ever before.

The danger of this situation is that its solution is not fact-based high quality reporting, because by its very nature it is quicker on the draw, cheaper and thus far more prolific than the effort and expense required for quality. It drags truth down on equal footing to lies and then outproduces its competition. It is still, at heart, a business venture. This is also why counter-propaganda fails to work: Liberal venues such as Buzzfeed, Vox and the Huffington Post have established their business models on this phenomenon, but they are not nearly as large, rich or as numerous as those on the right: They simply can’t compete for volume, though they have proven that even self-described free-thinking liberals can fall victim to confirmation bias, as in their zeal they also play fast and loose with fact-checking.

In such a manner these enterprises not only profit off markets all too willing to hear what they want to hear, but they have the effect of maintaining and cultivating those markets, creating a self-supporting propaganda machine that puts our facile and blundering attempts in the Cold War and the Second World War to shame, and absolutely dwarfs our comparatively cute attempts in the last century.

Angela Carter was right

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Hell, cities have entire personas. Paris is a beautiful woman in her late 40s, once divorced and too smart and self-assured to enter another marriage, but is not against having relations with men on her own terms. New York is a barrel-chested Black transvestite in his early 40s, bombastic and highly theatrical, who doesn’t take shit from anybody. New York and Paris are friends, because of fucking course they are. Paris says some offensive shit sometimes, but New York is used to it and brushes it off as from a person who doesn’t change and can’t harm by it, and while New York openly steals Paris’ fashion choices, so too does Paris from New York, though she would never admit it.

London, eldest of the three and perhaps the most stodgy, yet often invites New York to inject life to his parties. They are business partners, after all, and while the witticisms of New York are almost ad verbatim borrowed by London in other settings, it is indeed London who set New York up in business in the first place. The relationship is far more mutual than that of, say, Chicago, who obsesses over all things New York minus, notably, the “Black” and “transvestite” part. London doesn’t care about such things, so long as the money flows, and indeed they have fruitful dealings and amicably compete over other London proteges, the brothers Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

It is an absolutely subjective observation to ascribe personalities to cities, but it shouldn’t and indeed can’t possibly be controversial to suggest that cities exude a form of cultural zeitgeist that defines and differentiates them – from the banal “standing in line” versus “standing on line” to far more deep-seated issues concerning acceptable norms and tolerances pertaining to them – and with that it’s less a form of accurate depiction as it is a narrative that penetrates to the core. How, after all, does a city where the gay rights movement was launched with a street fight between cops and minority transsexuals (a circumstance that Los Angeles attempted to whitewash, but Los Angeles always was a hater), that founded a musical genre and cultural movement named after submissive male prostitution and oozes gender and sexual fluidity (a distinction London completely missed when copying it, natch), whose most famous mayor’s sexual orientation was left intentionally vague, end up producing our current Commander in Chief, who is almost diametrically opposed to all of that: A crude, incurious, insecure, jealous womanizer?

It’s no surprise Trump hates New York – he seems hell-bent on destroying everything about it, in whole and in detail – but it is a surprise that people are surprised that New York hates Trump, a native son. That’s where the personality comes in: New York is well-adjusted and confident, but that doesn’t mean New York is secure in his position. New York is a savvy businessman, a ruthless pirate, a firebrand intellectual, sometimes broke and often lonely. New York is in love with himself because nobody else is, but New York also brokers straight deals with aplomb and has affairs everywhere. New York is always of two faces, between two realities, where even doctrinaire Marxists learn to hustle; where Know-Nothings share neighborhoods with new migrants who then become Know-Nothings; the only city in America where women have a harder time in the dating scene than men because men are intimidated by aggressive, professional women.

That duality pervades everywhere: Where a law and order mayor can show up in drag one day on a lark (and be promptly molested by Donald Trump), where hoodrat nightclubs that are responsible for fully half the murders in the area have at least one gay night a week, despite a self-reporting localized gay population of less than two percent, and it’s by far the most lucrative night. Where doctors working for the CDC have to ask very specific questions to macho, ultra-masculine alphas who don’t think they’re homosexual so long as they’re giving, not receiving. Where a meat market specializing in one gender by night lends its street frontage by day for butt-augmenting lingerie for the other gender, right on the main strip in a heavily-Catholic sleepy residential neighborhood. New York encompasses all types, and does it in full stride while heading to the office, laughing along with the stupid, misogynistic jokes just so the deal can be struck. New York needs to make that face in order to conduct his business with the world, has made peace with that understanding – London taught him well – but carries on without giving a fuck with the rest of his life.

Trump is at times that face, and that face is what some see New York as, but New York is not that face. New York has many faces for business: Among equals, New York had Morgan, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Bloomberg. New York invented Trump to fleece the rubes, the schmucks – after all, New York wants an empire, and you don’t get an empire by playing nice or fair – but Trump was never meant for New York. A city whose arguably best mayor was called Little Flower, who accepts all and embodies all, who is more than a little dirty and likes it that way, while still emanating class and rarified distinction: This city understands the use of masks because it has to, it always had to; even those of arrogant bullies, but that arrogance drawn inwards simply cannot be. It can be sloughed off and discarded when it has lost its use.

© 2009 Big Smoke. All Rights Reserved.

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