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Wonder Woman

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2017 by Magadh

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I was, I must admit, a bit apprehensive when the full Wonder Woman movie was announced. DC doesn’t really have a very good track record in my book. I find the Superman movies insufferable and the Batman movies pretty uninspiring. If I never see another Scott Snyder directed movie it will be too soon. Still, Wonder Woman’s cameo was pretty much the best thing in Batman v Superman.

Why was I nervous about this movie? Well, if you’re reading this then you probably already know that there have been a real dearth female-led superhero movies. These, in fact, have not been all that inspiring. Supergirl (1984) was pretty much a trainwreck. Elektra (2005), which I’ve just actually rewatched, is not as bad as I remember. It’s just sort of boring. It didn’t make a lot of money, and I think that this confirmed in the minds of people running studios that centering superhero movies on women was a “risk”.

Of course, it’s not like there were a lot of choices to begin with. Comics have been, up until the last ten or fifteen years, very dude-oriented. There’s a lot to be said about how little girls might find reflecting themselves in the major comic imprints, but I won’t get into it here. You can just take it as read that the choices for girls have been pretty thin. The fact that this has started to change in the last few years is, I think, a key element of the backstory of the making of this movie.

Given all of this, one can easily see why this movie is a big deal. A studio has decided to center a project costing some $125 million on a female character and to entrust it to a female director to boot. If this thing had turned out to be a dog, the consequences for female-led movies, and for the chances of girls and young women seeing themselves reflected in the superhero culture would have taken a big hit. Fortunately, that is not the case. What follows is a few thoughts on what we have here and why it is important.

This is an important film, for the reasons noted above, and many others. I happened to see it in the company of a group of ten or fifteen teenage girls. What did they think of it? Well, if the fact that they were all talking selfies with the life-sized cutout of Gal Gadot in the lobby is anything to go by, I think they dug it.

You have to be willing to let go of your commitment to facts. This movie takes some big liberties with the history of the First World War. I do not care. I have a doctorate in modern European history. I know very well how Erich Ludendorff died (here’s a clue: not by getting stabbed with a gigantic sword). This is a superhero movie, not a documentary. Don’t get hung up. Focus on the story that is being told.

I would love for every girl in the country to see this movie. It shows that women can be a lot of things. They can be hard, or soft, or both, and it’s ok. Women can be empathetic without it being a source of weakness. In fact, it’s a source of strength, giving Diana a firmness in purpose and commitment.

Single sex communities are a thing. It’s ok boys. All the foolishness resulting from some places doing women-0nly showings illustrates the utter stupidity of the dudebro crowd. Listen gentlemen (and I use this term advisedly), sometimes women just want to hang out with each other. This doesn’t mean that they hate you (necessarily). Sometimes they just need some solidarity time. They’re in a different historical and cultural position than we are. If this upsets you, perhaps you could meditate on all the ways that women get the shit end of the stick in our society.

If I have to listen to one more person complain the women-only showings are discrimination I am going to barf. Look, suppose you’ve just eaten lunch and you’re standing next to someone who hasn’t eaten in a week. If someone presents you with a ham sandwich, it might occur to you that the starving person needs it more than you do. It doesn’t mean you’re individuality or personal worth is diminished. It just means that their historical location is different than yours. Is this discrimination. Yes. In fact, every moment of perception involves discrimination. Pretending that you don’t understand the difference between the descriptive and critical senses of that term suggests that you’re either stupid or dishonest. Just don’t bother.

Does Diana need a man to actualize her humanity? No, she does not. Steve Trevor works with her, but she has her own mission and her own moral compass. And she is strong. Incredibly strong. And fearless. And committed to helping people who need it, irrespective of the cost to herself. These are useful lessons for everyone. For young women coming up in our society, they are essential. I like the fact that this movie doesn’t make the common mistake of making the female lead into an appendage of her male colleagues. She has power and agency. And she hands out some really epic ass-whippings, which you’ve got to like.

The fight scenes are really well done. This is important because a lot of what’s good about this movie wouldn’t work if the beatdowns weren’t compelling. But they are.

Maybe the most important thing about Diana is her willingness to speak her mind. She simply will not allow herself to be silenced, or to be told where she can’t go or what she can’t do. That is a great example to set.

If you have daughters you should take them to see this movie. But you should also take your sons. They have to learn about what’s up with women too and there are some very useful object lessons here. Are the more complex elements of the nature of gender relations that they will need to learn? Of course there are. But it’s worth getting it fixed in their minds that women can be tough and dedicated in exactly the same measure as men can.

I hope this movie makes a ton of money. It’s just the sort of thing that could actually kick DC’s movie wing out of the doldrums in which it has been mired in the last few years. Here I’m obviously speaking culturally and artistically, since Batman v Superman did rake in like $827 million. This is a movie that needs to prove itself. It shouldn’t have to, but it does because it’s carrying the torch for a change in culture that really needs to happen. It’s a good sign that they’ve managed to come out with a thoroughly enjoyable superhero flick. Hopefully there will be more to come.

An Excerpt from the Putney Debates

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , on March 22, 2017 by Magadh

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I’ve been reading John Rees’s new book, The Leveller Revolution (which I’ll review either here or on Souciant.com pretty soon). Sometimes I think that if I had it to do over again (and by “it” I mean by academic training) I would have done early modern England. I still would be out of academia, but I think I’d be a lot less depressed. Studying modern Germany will do that to you.

This is not to say that there weren’t a lot of grim things associated with the English Civil War. Popular memory has to a great extent elided the brutality and atrocities that went on during the nearly a decade of warfare up and down the country. On the other hand, it is fair to say that our democratic traditions in the English speaking world (such as they are) are very much rooted the popular radicalism that took root in the middle years of the 1640s.

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Perhaps the most crucial moment in the whole period was the series of debates that took place at St. Mary’s Church, Putney, in October and November 1647. There, the agitators of the New Model Army met with army leadership to discuss how the English state was going to be structured. Already there was an important faction that saw a future not only without the King, but also with Parliament elected on a much broader franchise than had ever been imagined. I’ve reproduced a section of the second day of the debates here. The principle figures are Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, one of the most radical democrats of the period, and Henry Ireton, who at the time was a relatively conservative defender of the rights of property and the existing institutions of the state (although he did later side with the regicides). I think this is worth everyone’s time to read, as it really gets to the roots of how we think about the relationship between political rights and property.

 

Ireton[asked]:

Whether those men whose hands are to it, or those that brought it, do know so much of the matter as [to know] whether they mean that all that had a former right of election [are to be electors], or [that] those that had no right before are to come in.

 

Cowling:

In the time before the Conquest. Since the Conquest the greatest part of the kingdom was in vassalage.

 

Petty:

We judge that all inhabitants that have not lost their birthright should have an equal voice in elections.
Rainsborough:

putney4I desired that those that had engaged in it [might be included]. For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under; and I am confident that, when I have heard the reasons against it, something will be said to answer those reasons, insomuch that I should doubt whether he was an Englishman or no, that should doubt of these things.

 

Ireton:

NPG 3301; Henry Ireton copy attributed to Robert Walker, after  Samuel Cooper, and  Sir Anthony Van DyckThat’s [the meaning of] this, [‘according to the number of the inhabitants’]? Give me leave to tell you, that if you make this the rule I think you must fly for refuge to an absolute natural right, and you must deny all civil right; and I am sure it will come to that in the consequence. This, I perceive, is pressed as that which is so essential and due: the right of the people of this kingdom, and as they are the people of this kingdom, distinct and divided from other people, and that we must for this right lay aside all other considerations; this is so just, this is so due, this is so right to them. And that those that they do thus choose must have such a power of binding all, and loosing all, according to those limitations, this is pressed as so due, and so just, as [it] is argued, that it is an engagement paramount [to] all others: and you must for it lay aside all others; if you have engaged any otherwise, you must break it. [We must] so look upon these as thus held out to us; so it was held out by the gentleman that brought it yesterday. For my part, I think it is no right at all. I think that no [54] person hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom, and in determining or choosing those that shall determine what laws we shall be ruled by here—no person hath a right to this, that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom, and those persons together are properly the represented of this kingdom, and consequently are [also] to make up the representers of this kingdom, who taken together do comprehend whatsoever is of real or permanent interest in the kingdom. And I am sure otherwise I cannot tell what any man can say why a foreigner coming in amongst us—or as many as will coming in amongst us, or by force or otherwise settling themselves here, or at least by our permission having a being here—why they should not as well lay claim to it as any other. We talk of birthright. Truly [by] birthright there is thus much claim. Men may justly have by birthright, by their very being born in England, that we should not seclude them out of England, that we should not refuse to give them air and place and ground, and the freedom of the highways and other things, to live amongst us—not any man that is born here, though by his birth there come nothing at all (that is part of the permanent interest of this kingdom) to him. That I think is due to a man by birth. But that by a man’s being born here he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here, and of all things here, I do not think it a sufficient ground. I am sure if we look upon that which is the utmost (within [any] man’s view) of what was originally the constitution of this kingdom, upon that which is most radical and fundamental, and which if you take away, there is no man hath any land, any goods, [or] any civil interest, that is this: that those that choose the representers for the making of laws by which this state and kingdom are to be governed, are the persons who, taken together, do comprehend the local interest of this kingdom; that is, the persons in whom all land lies, and those in corporations in whom all trading lies. This is the most fundamental constitution of this kingdom and [that] which if you do not allow, you allow none at all. This constitution hath limited and determined it that only those shall have voices in elections. It is true, as was said by a gentleman near me, the meanest man in England ought to have [a voice in the election of the government he lives under—but only if he has some local interest]. I say this: that those that have the meanest local interest—that man that hath but forty shillings a year, he hath as great voice in the election of a knight for the shire as he that hath ten thousand a year, or more if he had never so much; and therefore there is that regard had to it. But this [local interest], still the constitution of this government hath had an eye to (and what other government hath not an eye to this?). It doth not relate to the interest of the kingdom if it do not lay the foundation of the power that’s given to the representers, in those who have a permanent and a local interest in the kingdom, and who taken all together do comprehend the whole [interest of the kingdom]. There is all the reason and justice that can be, [in this]: if I will come to live in a kingdom, being a foreigner to it, or live in a kingdom, having no permanent interest in it, [and] if I will desire as a stranger, or claim as one freeborn here, the air, the free passage of highways, the protection of laws, and all such things—if I will either desire them or claim them, [then] I (if I have no permanent interest in that kingdom) must submit to those laws and those rules [which they shall choose], who, taken together, do comprehend the whole interest of the kingdom. And if we shall go to take away this, we shall plainly go to take away all property and interest that any man hath either in land by inheritance, or in estate by possession, or anything else—[I say], if you take away this fundamental part of the civil constitution.

 

Rainsborough:

Truly, sir, I am of the same opinion I was, and am resolved to keep it till I know reason why I should not. I confess my memory is bad, and therefore I am fain to make use of my pen. I remember that, in a former speech [which] this gentleman brought before this [meeting], he was saying that in some cases he should not value whether [there were] a king or no king, whether lords or no lords, whether a property or no property. For my part I differ in that. I do very much care whether [there be] a king or no king, lords or no lords, property or no property; and I think, if we do not all take care, we shall all have none of these very shortly. But as to this present business. I do hear nothing at all that can convince me, why any man that is born in England ought not to have his voice in election of burgesses. It is said that if a man have not a permanent interest, he can have no claim; and [that] we must be no freer than the laws will let us be, and that there is no [law in any] chronicle will let us be freer than that we [now] enjoy. Something was said to this yesterday. I do think that the main cause why Almighty God gave men reason, it was that they should make use of that reason, and that they should improve it for that end and purpose that God gave it them. And truly, I think that half a loaf is better than none if a man be anhungry: [this gift of reason without other property may seem a small thing], yet I think there is nothing that God hath given a man that any [one] else can take from him. And therefore I say, that either it must be the Law of God or the law of man that must prohibit the meanest man in the kingdom to have this benefit as well as the greatest. I do not find anything in the Law of God, that a lord shall choose twenty burgesses, and a gentleman but two, or a poor man shall choose none: I find no such thing in the Law of Nature, nor in the Law of Nations. But I do find that all Englishmen must be subject to English laws, and I do verily believe that there is no man but will say that the foundation of all law lies in the people, and if [it lie] in the people, I am to seek for this exemption.

And truly I have thought something [else]: in what a miserable distressed condition would many a man that hath fought for the Parliament in this quarrel, be! I will be bound to say that many a man whose zeal and affection to God and this kingdom hath carried him forth in this cause, hath so spent his estate that, in the way the state [and] the Army are going, he shall not hold up his head, if when his estate is lost, and not worth forty shillings a year, a man shall not have any interest. And there are many other ways by which [the] estates men have (if that be the rule which God in his providence does use) do fall to decay. A man, when he hath an estate, hath an interest in making laws, [but] when he hath none, he hath no power in it; so that a man cannot lose that which he hath for the maintenance of his family but he must [also] lose that which God and nature hath given him! And therefore I do [think], and am still of the same opinion, that every man born in England cannot, ought not, neither by the Law of God nor the Law of Nature, to be exempted from the choice of those who are to make laws for him to live under, and for him, for aught I know, to lose his life under. And therefore I think there can be no great stick in this.

Truly I think that there is not this day reigning in England a greater fruit or effect of tyranny than this very thing would produce. Truly I know nothing free but only the knight of the shire, nor do I know anything in a parliamentary way that is clear from the height and fulness of tyranny, but only [that]. As for this of corporations [which you also mentioned], it is as contrary to freedom as may be. For, sir, what is it? The King he grants a patent under the Broad Seal of England to such a corporation to send burgesses, he grants to [such] a city to send burgesses. When a poor base corporation from the King[’s grant] shall send two burgesses, when five hundred men of estate shall not send one, when those that are to make their laws are called by the King, or cannot act [but] by such a call, truly I think that the people of England have little freedom.

 

Ireton:

I think there was nothing that I said to give you occasion to think that I did contend for this, that such a corporation [as that] should have the electing of a man to the Parliament. I think I agreed to this matter, that all should be equally distributed. But the question is, whether it should be distributed to all persons, or whether the same persons that are the electors [now] should be the electors still, and it [be] equally distributed amongst them. I do not see anybody else that makes this objection; and if nobody else be sensible of it I shall soon have done. Only I shall a little crave your leave to represent the consequences of it, and clear myself from one thing that was misrepresented by the gentleman that sat next me. I think, if the gentleman remember himself, he cannot but remember that what I said was to this effect: that if I saw the hand of God leading so far as to destroy King, and destroy Lords, and destroy property, and [leave] no such thing at all amongst us, I should acquiesce in it; and so I did not care, if no king, no lords, or no property [should] be, in comparison of the tender care that I have of the honour of God, and of the people of God, whose [good] name is so much concerned in this Army. This I did deliver [so], and not absolutely.

All the main thing that I speak for, is because I would have an eye to property. I hope we do not come to contend for victory—but let every man consider with himself that he do not go that way to take away all property. For here is the case of the most fundamental part of the constitution of the kingdom, which if you take away, you take away all by that. Here men of this and this quality are determined to be the electors of men to the Parliament, and they are all those who have any permanent interest in the kingdom, and who, taken together, do comprehend the whole [permanent, local] interest of the kingdom. I mean by permanent [and] local, that [it] is not [able to be removed] anywhere else. As for instance, he that hath a freehold, and that freehold cannot be removed out of the kingdom; and so there’s a [freeman of a] corporation, a place which hath the privilege of a market and trading, which if you should allow to all places equally, I do not see how you could preserve any peace in the kingdom, and that is the reason why in the constitution we have but some few market towns. Now those people [that have freeholds] and those [that] are the freemen of corporations, were looked upon by the former constitution to comprehend the permanent interest of the kingdom. For [first], he that hath his livelihood by his trade, and by his freedom of trading in such a corporation, which he cannot exercise in another, he is tied to that place, [for] his livelihood depends upon it. And secondly, that man hath an interest, hath a permanent interest there, upon which he may live, and live a freeman without dependence. These [things the] constitution [of] this kingdom hath looked at. Now I wish we may all consider of what right you will challenge that all the people should have right to elections. Is it by the right of nature? If you will hold forth that as your ground, then I think you must deny all property too, and this is my reason. For thus: by that same right of nature (whatever it be) that you pretend, by which you can say, one man hath an equal right with another to the choosing of him that shall govern him—by the same right of nature, he hath the same [equal] right in any goods he sees—meat, drink, clothes—to take and use them for his sustenance. He hath a freedom to the land, [to take] the ground, to exercise it, till it; he hath the [same] freedom to anything that any one doth account himself to have any propriety in. Why now I say then, if you, against the most fundamental part of [the] civil constitution (which I have now declared), will plead the Law of Nature, that a man should (paramount [to] this, and contrary to this) have a power of choosing those men that shall determine what shall be law in this state, though he himself have no permanent interest in the state, [but] whatever interest he hath he may carry about with him—if this be allowed, [because by the right of nature] we are free, we are equal, one man must have as much voice as another, then show me what step or difference [there is], why [I may not] by the same right [take your property, though not] of necessity to sustain nature. It is for my better being, and [the better settlement of the kingdom]? Possibly not for it, neither: possibly I may not have so real a regard to the peace of the kingdom as that man who hath a permanent interest in it. He that is here to-day, and gone to-morrow, I do not see that he hath such a permanent interest. Since you cannot plead to it by anything but the Law of Nature, [or for anything] but for the end of better being, and [since] that better being is not certain, and [what is] more, destructive to another; upon these grounds, if you do, paramount [to] all constitutions, hold up this Law of Nature, I would fain have any man show me their bounds, where you will end, and [why you should not] take away all property.

 

Rainsborough:

I shall now be a little more free and open with you than I was before. I wish we were all true-hearted, and that we did all carry ourselves with integrity. If I did mistrust you I would [not] use such asseverations. I think it doth go on mistrust, and things are thought too [readily] matters of reflection, that were never intended. For my part, as I think, you forgot something that was in my speech, and you do not only yourselves believe that [some] men are inclining to anarchy, but you would make all men believe that. And, sir, to say because a man pleads that every man hath a voice [by right of nature], that therefore it destroys [by] the same [argument all property—this is to forget the Law of God]. That there’s a property, the Law of God says it; else why [hath] God made that law, Thou shalt not steal? I am a poor man, therefore I must be [op]pressed: if I have no interest in the kingdom, I must suffer by all their laws be they right or wrong. Nay thus: a gentleman lives in a country and hath three or four lordships, as some men have (God knows how they got them); and when a Parliament is called he must be a Parliamentman; and it may be he sees some poor men, they live near this man, he can crush them—I have known an invasion to make sure he hath turned the poor men out of doors; and I would fain know whether the potency of [rich] men do not this, and so keep them under the greatest tyranny that was [ever] thought of in the world. And therefore I think that to that it is fully answered: God hath set down that thing as to propriety with this law of his, Thou shalt not steal. And for my part I am against any such thought, and, as for yourselves, I wish you would not make the world believe that we are for anarchy.

 

Cromwell:

putney5I know nothing but this, that they that are the most yielding have the greatest wisdom; but really, sir, this is not right as it should be. No man says that you have a mind to anarchy, but [that] the consequence of this rule tends to anarchy, must end in anarchy; for where is there any bound or limit set if you take away this [limit], that men that have no interest but the interest of breathing [shall have no voice in elections]? Therefore I am confident on’t, we should not be so hot one with another.

 

Rainsborough:

I know that some particular men we debate with [believe we] are for anarchy.

 

Ireton:

I profess I must clear myself as to that point. I would not desire, I cannot allow myself, to lay the least scandal upon anybody. And truly, for that gentleman that did take so much offence, I do not know why he should take it so. We speak to the paper—not to persons—and to the matter of the paper. And I hope that no man is so much engaged to the matter of the paper—I hope [that] our persons, and our hearts and judgments, are not [so] pinned to papers but that we are ready to hear what good or ill consequence will flow from it.

I have, with as much plainness and clearness of reason as I could, showed you how I did conceive the doing of this [that the paper advocates] takes away that which is the most original, the most fundamental civil constitution of this kingdom, and which is, above all, that constitution by which I have any property. If you will take away that and set up, as a thing paramount, whatever a man may claim by the Law of Nature, though it be not a thing of necessity to him for the sustenance of nature; if you do make this your rule, I desire clearly to understand where then remains property.

Now then—I would misrepresent nothing—the answer which had anything of matter in it, the great and main answer upon which that which hath been said against this [objection] rests, seemed to be that it will not make a breach of property, [for this reason]: that there is a law, Thou shalt not steal. [But] the same law says, Honour thy father and [thymother, and that law doth likewise hold out that it doth extend to all that (in that place where we are in) are our governors; so that by that there is a forbidding of breaking a civil law when we may live quietly under it, and [that by] a divine law. Again it is said—indeed [was said] before—that there is no law, no divine law, that tells us that such a corporation must have the election of burgesses, such a shire [of knights], or the like. Divine law extends not to particular things. And so, on the other side, if a man were to demonstrate his [right to] property by divine law, it would be very remote. Our [right to] property descends from other things, as well as our right of sending burgesses. That divine law doth not determine particulars but generals in relation to man and man, and to property, and all things else: and we should be as far to seek if we should go to prove a property in [a thing by] divine law, as to prove that I have an interest in choosing burgesses of the Parliament by divine law. And truly, under favour, I refer it to all, whether there be anything of solution to that objection that I made, if it be understood—I submit it to any man’s judgment.

 

Rainsborough:

To the thing itself—property [in the franchise]. I would fain know how it comes to be the property [of some men, and not of others]. As for estates and those kind of things, and other things that belong to men, it will be granted that they are property; but I deny that that is a property, to a lord, to a gentleman, to any man more than another in the kingdom of England. If it be a property, it is a property by a law—neither do I think that there is very little property in this thing by the law of the land, because I think that the law of the land in that thing is the most tyrannical law under heaven. And I would fain know what we have fought for. [For our laws and liberties?] And this is the old law of England—and that which enslaves the people of England—that they should be bound by laws in which they have no voice at all! [With respect to the divine law which says Honour thy father and thy mother] the great dispute is, who is a right father and a right mother? I am bound to know who is my father and mother; and—I take it in the same sense you do—I would have a distinction, a character whereby God commands me to honour [them]. And for my part I look upon the people of England so, that wherein they have not voices in the choosing of their [governors—their civil] fathers and mothers—they are not bound to that commandment.

 

Petty:

I desire to add one word concerning the word property. It is for something that anarchy is so much talked of. For my own part I cannot believe in the least that it can be clearly derived from that paper. ’Tis true, that somewhat may be derived in the paper against the King, the power of the King, and somewhat against the power of the Lords; and the truth is when I shall see God going about to throw down King and Lords and property, then I shall be contented. But I hope that they may live to see the power of the King and the Lords thrown down, that yet may live to see property preserved. And for this of changing the Representative of the nation, of changing those that choose the Representative, making of them more full, taking more into the number than formerly, I had verily thought we had all agreed in it that more should have chosen—all that had desired a more equal representation than we now have. For now those only choose who have forty shillings freehold. A man may have a lease for one hundred pounds a year, a man may have a lease for three lives, [but he has no voice]. But [as] for this [argument], that it destroys all right [to property] that every Englishman that is an inhabitant of England should choose and have a voice in the representatives, I suppose it is, [on the contrary], the only means to preserve all property. For I judge every man is naturally free; and I judge the reason why men [chose representatives] when they were in so great numbers that every man could not give his voice [directly], was that they who were chosen might preserve property [for all]; and therefore men agreed to come into some form of government that they might preserve property, and I would fain know, if we were to begin a government, [whether you would say], ‘You have not forty shillings a year, therefore you shall not have a voice.’ Whereas before there was a government every man had such a voice, and afterwards, and for this very cause, they did choose representatives, and put themselves into forms of government that they may preserve property, and therefore it is not to destroy it, [to give every man a voice].

 

Ireton:

I think we shall not be so apt to come to a right understanding in this business, if one man, and another man, and another man do speak their several thoughts and conceptions to the same purpose, as if we do consider where the objection lies, and what the answer is which is made to it; and therefore I desire we may do so. To that which this gentleman spake last. The main thing that he seemed to answer was this: that he would make it appear that the going about to establish this government, [or] such a government, is not a destruction of property, nor does not tend to the destruction of property, because the people’s falling into a government is for the preservation of property. What weight there [is in it] lies in this: since there is a falling into a government, and government is to preserve property, therefore this cannot be against property. The objection does not lie in that, the making of the representation more equal, but [in] the introducing of men into an equality of interest in this government, who have no property in this kingdom, or who have no local permanent interest in it. For if I had said that I would not wish at all that we should have any enlargement of the bounds of those that are to be the electors, then you might have excepted against it. But [what I said was] that I would not go to enlarge it beyond all bounds, so that upon the same ground you may admit of so many men from foreign states as would outvote you. The objection lies still in this. I do not mean that I would have it restrained to that proportion [that now obtains], but to restrain it still to men who have a local, a permanent interest in the kingdom, who have such an interest that they may live upon it as freeman, and who have such an interest as is fixed upon a place, and is not the same equally everywhere. If a man be an inhabitant upon a rack rent for a year, for two years, or twenty years, you cannot think that man hath any fixed or permanent interest. That man, if he pay the rent that his land is worth, and hath no advantage but what he hath by his land, is as good a man, may have as much interest, in another kingdom as here. I do not speak of not enlarging this [representation] at all, but of keeping this to the most fundamental constitution in this kingdom, that is, that no person that hath not a local and permanent interest in the kingdom should have an equal dependence in election [with those that have]. But if you go beyond this law, if you admit any man that hath a breath and being, I did show you how this will destroy property. It may come to destroy property thus. You may have such men chosen, or at least the major part of them, [as have no local and permanent interest]. Why may not those men vote against all property? [Again] you may admit strangers by this rule, if you admit them once to inhabit, and those that have interest in the land may be voted out of their land. It may destroy property that way. But here is the rule that you go by. You infer this to be the right of the people, of every inhabitant, because man hath such a right in nature, though it be not of necessity for the preserving of his being; [and] therefore you are to overthrow the most fundamental constitution for this. By the same rule, show me why you will not, by the same right of nature, make use of anything that any man hath, [though it be not] for the necessary sustenance of men. Show me what you will stop at; wherein you will fence any man in a property by this rule.

 

Rainsborough:

I desire to know how this comes to be a property in some men, and not in others.

 

The Neoliberal War

Posted in Articles with tags , , , on March 16, 2017 by Magadh

drone1The drone is the perfect tool of liberal warfare. It is notionally the most precise means of taking the war directly to the enemy. It allows U.S. forces to avoid the niceties of international law and the vulnerabilities that arise from putting boots on the ground where they are not wanted (which, let’s face it, is practically anywhere). The representatives of the U.S. security apparatus are conveniently insulated from any blowback from their actions. Safely ensconced in the air-conditioned shipping containers at Creech AFB, the  front line agents of this end of the conflict are far out of range of any direct retaliation by enemy combatants. Never again the smoking ruins of Khobar Towers, or the Marine barracks  in Beirut, or the gaping hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole. More importantly, no more flag draped coffins and Gold Star families.

 

The central lesson of the Vietnam wars has finally been fully metabolized by the U.S. Government. Counterinsurgency warfare is dirty and difficult. It has the capacity to generate unpalatable images of people not easily classifiable as enemy combatants killed, maimed, covered in napalm. Lacking the underlying basis of legitimation in the defense of Western civilization that made the World Wars, the process of acquiescence is further disturbed by their propensity to generate dead white people. While non-white bodies can pile up like cord wood, the will to fight even for the most noble of causes deteriorates each time another Wally Cleaver comes home in a sack.

 

drone2To most Americans, the drone war is invisible. To its victims it is omnipresent. Each facet implies a psychological benefit to the overall process. Those in the conflict zones live life in a Benthamite panopticon, their lives reduced to mute pantomimes that might at any time call for a Hellfire missile from the empty air. Every act undertaken under the open sky (and sometimes within buildings as well) is translated into a symbolic code to deciphered in the cool darkness of a distributed military architecture. Each individually generated fragment of code synergizes with thousands of others, independently generated into a mosaic of life and threat. In most cases it is simply impossible to know when the flows and eddies of information will map lethally onto the ineluctable logic air to ground fire.

 

So far as the American public is concerned, the invisibility of the conflict eliminates the necessity, at least for most people, of thinking of it at all. Out of sight and very definitely out of mind, the invisibility of the drone war forestalls the need to soothe (or one might even say to embalm) one’s conscience. Otherwise reasonable (and reasonably critical) individuals can simply block out the reality of the situation through an assumption (more often than not simply tacitly made) that the people who get vaporized in drone strikes must have done something to deserve it. Collateral damage (i.e. surplus corpses) there may be. But if the good wars of the 20th century teach us nothing else, they teach us that the death of a few innocents is an unavoidable, if regrettable, concomitant of traversing the path of greater good.  And if those collateral losses outnumber the actual targets of (at least in some sense) legitimate violence by more than 25 to 1 the end must still be seen as justifying the means.

 

drone3The drone war reflects, in a certain sense, the perfection of limited, asymmetric warfare. Ideally, if not in every case, the application of violence can be limited to those who demonstrate by their actions malign intent. Rather than requiring the deployment of massed bodies of soldiery to far off places, the conflict can be bracketed, undertaken by a small cadre of anonymous joystick jockeys who have graduated from ninja level Mass Effect skills to the ‘leetest of the ‘leet. The relationship between this cadre and their opponents is both destructive and symbiotic. Prevented from striking back directly, the forces of Al Qaida, ISIS, and whoever else are limited to acts of pure terrorism against soft targets. Here the designation pure indicates only that it is not covered under the aegis of states sanction. State terrorism is different, more complicated in the sense that the actions that constitute it might, in some measure, be covered (less likely legitimated) by international law. Viewed in human terms its outcomes are hardly less grim. In any case, the perpetration of public atrocities facilitates the continuation of a conflict that benefits both sides. The cycle of violence is self-perpetuating and the medium is quite clearly far advanced in the process of becoming the message.

 

The capacity of this sort of warfare to cut off the malice at its source is touted every time it is announced that some important (though heretofore generally anonymous) member of the enemy hierarchy has been dispatched in a strike as surgically precise as the excision of a tumor. Perhaps it has, on a time, occurred to the agents and facilitators of this mode of conflict that they are fighting a postmodern enemy, one which has no center and thus one whose command and control structure is extremely difficult to degrade no matter how many explosions one causes. In fact, the state of continual war that this entails is functional to the complex of class fractions that run advanced capitalism, as it tends to occlude the pathways of democratic control that promoters of the neoliberal order find so pernicious.

 

In the industrialized world, warfare itself is in the course of becoming neoliberalized. This process was already far advanced by the self-reinforcing dynamic described above. War is a profit center. The other motivations that have at times governed its dynamics: religion, nationalism, racism, etc., have increasingly become epiphenomenal to the process of accumulation. The process is now, also, fundamentally different from that of accumulation by dispossession, in which war was undertaken for the control of resources or territory. War has now become a matter of the circulation of capital. It is the return of Keynesianism, but as if it was run by Darth Vader.

 

At its leading edge, war is decreasingly a human process. Rather, the goal is to make it a matter of autonomous, AI-governed systems making decisions and undertaking actions in the basis of merciless and unflinching algorithms. In the future, war will become like the weather, an event experienced as natural, sine ira et studio, an event for which there is no humanly comprehensible reason. It is becoming both hypercomplex and brutally simple. The technology, especially as current capacities and systems synergize with developments in artificial intelligence, is becoming increasingly prone to internally generated dynamics of such complexity as to far outstrip the abilities of human beings to understand them or to predict future outcomes. As artificial intelligence develops to the point that it becomes self-conscious and self-reproducing, it may turn out to be the case that it has goals and inclinations beyond the reaches of our souls. When that happens, capital itself may become autonomous and self aware. When that happens what place humans will have in the resulting order can hardly be guessed.

 

 

Punk as Absence

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , on October 22, 2016 by Magadh

blackflagI discovered punk rock when I was in eighth grade (which would have been in 1982 or so). My buddy Chris introduced me to it. In seventh grade he’d turned me on to Iron Maiden. At that point I thought Number of the Beast was the most transgressive thing ever recorded (and so I was fascinated by it). One day, toward the end of eighth grade, Chris said to me, “Iron Maiden is ok, I guess, but Black Flag is way better.” Our mutual friend Brian (who we all called Chauncy for reasons I never quite understood) hooked me up with a tape that had Damaged on one side and the Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables on the other. I was hooked.

dksThe music spoke to me in a way that metal never did. I always thought of metal as kind of thuggish, and that was never me. Strangely, punk didn’t seem that way to me at all. I got hassled at school all the time and I was pretty much a social pariah. Punk gave those experiences a meaningful narrative. The jocks and the rednecks and the cool kids and cute girls who made my life unpleasant were all scum. I and the few friends I had who’d tumbled on to this thing were privy to a sort of secret knowledge, of bands and scenes and signs and movements and languages. There’s a line from an old song by the German punk band Die Ärzte that goes something like, “Wir haben erlebt was andere nicht mal ahnen [We experienced what others don’t suspect].” That summed it up quite nicely, although I only heard it later.

It was only later too, once I’d learned a bit of the history of the cultural formation with which I had aligned myself, that I started to wonder what it was really all about (i.e. was it about what I thought it was about or something different). It was in the course of this that I worked out that talking about “the” punk scene was really a misnomer. The punk scene, like the underground scene more generally (and probably most cultural formations) is not a cohesive organization but a set of overlapping micro- and macro-scenes. There is no central unifying text or positive content, only a set of more or less overlapping networks.

Once I realized this, the culture of punk seemed to me to involve a paradox. People spent a lot of time and spilled a lot of ink in the 1980s trying to figure out what punk was and (what often seemed more important) what and who it wasn’t. If you read the letters section of Maximum Rock n Roll in those days you would see at least one or two, and more often significantly more, assertions that someone was a poser, or that some band was bunch of posers, etc. Even when I was 14 that stuff seemed like a stupid, sterile thing to argue about. In any case, this grated harshly against the ideals of freedom and the varieties of aesthetic expression that were fundamental to my attraction to punk at the most general level. On the one hand, authenticity was key. On the other, there was no such thing.

lydonI remember in this context reading an interview with John Lydon in which he asserted that anyone calling themselves punk at that point was being fundamentally inauthentic. There was a certain sense in which he had a point. From his perspective, he and a few dozen people in and around London in the mid-1970s had created a thing, which had then died (on an electrically tense night in the Cow Palace in San Francisco if not before), and they had moved on. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple.

The London punk scene of the mid- to late 1970s was influenced by the sort of glam/art rock scene in New York, radiating outward from the New York Dolls, which was itself heavily influenced by bands like the MC5 and the Stooges. The more you dig into it, the more you find that each of these scenes was connected (sometimes by personnel, sometimes by style) to bands and scenes that had gone before. In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus makes the point quite effectively (pace Stewart Home’s rather nasty critique in Cranked Up Really High) that there is a line of cultural connection that can be drawn connecting Dadaism, Lettrism, Situationism, and a bunch of even less well known movements for the revolutionization of art and civilization, with the various punk-related scenes of the 1970s.

yotIn the early 1980s, I and my friends took part in inscribing the hardcore punk scene into the culture of small town eastern Washington. By that point the denizens of the “original” scene of Lydon and his compatriots had mostly moved off to serious musical careers, straight suburban lives, or spiralling drug addiction (or some combination thereof). By then too, the original impetus had fragmented, leading to the formation of complexes of microscenes in Los Angeles, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and dozens of other cities (and hundreds of small towns) in the U.S. and around the world.

7secsGiven this process of fragmentary diffusion, it is not surprising that the question of what it all meant seemed so crucial. But, of course, there was no there there, at least in the sense of a coherent cultural something binding it all together. Even within the subgroups there was immense variation. Looking at straight edge, just as a for instance, the scene that grew up in D.C. around Minor Threat was much different than that in New York around bands like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, and both were different than the scene in California (Stalag 13, Uniform Choice, and others), and from the one in Reno centering on 7 Seconds. [NB. If you’re reading this and thinking that different bands might be more representative do bear in mind that I’m just tossing this stuff off the top of my head. If you know better (or think you know better) feel free to write your own blog post.]

stalag13This didn’t stop people from arguing about it, often quite nastily. A lot of it was social. The scenes that existed were often projects or projections of groups of friends, mostly high school or college age. These sets are fractious at the best of times, so it’s not at all surprising that charges of apostasy of various kinds might be made, especially when there was the possibility of amplifying them by having them printed in MRR, or Flipside, or whatever. These social dynamics synergized, once again, with the fact that the culture being appropriated was diffuse and acephalus. And so the grousing and griping spun on and on without ever really bottoming out or discovering very much that was fundamental.

Ultimately, the work of defining what punk was and wasn’t was left unfinished because the moment of its realization was missed. Green Day came along, and grunge, and the powers of the recording industry once again became convinced that there was some coin to be made. What it all meant became a matter of supreme indifference to any but the most neurotic purists and zine writers. Just what was punk? “Let’s make lots of money, and worry about it later.” So it has continued, although renewed corporate interest has not, in fact, managed to kill off the residual fragments of the punk scenes of what you might call the “intercommercial” era (i.e. the period between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s during which records types didn’t care very much about underground music). And still the devotees of crust and other abiding punk forms know what they are doing and with whom they share common ground without having to have an overarching theory to explain it.

And so, perhaps, it has come to this: punk was (and is), at its heart, an absence. If punk ever meant anything, if it was ever worth anything, it was because it created a space in which identities to could be created and explored (mostly) outside the hegemony of the dominant cultural forms. This did not mean that these identities were created sui generis. Nor did it mean that coercion was entirely absent. Some of the identities that people created were racist, sexist, homophobic, or chauvinist, the persistent influence of these tendencies distorted and constrained the cultural space of the underground. But still the space endured, not unique and certainly imperfect, but still a place where kids who were weird, or gay, or feminist, or otherwise marginal could take a hand in making themselves rather than merely reproducing images of what they were supposed to be.

Wynonna Earp

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , on August 5, 2016 by Magadh

earpAround the middle of May, my friend M. texted me.

“I’m just going to tell you that I am obsessed with Wynonna Earp.”

A lot of my friendship with M. centers on comics, and we had talked about whether we might watch the show in the months before it premiered, if only because it was being heavily advertised in the books we were both reading.

M. thought that the original comic hadn’t been that impressive and so she wasn’t terribly excited for the show. After that we didn’t really talk about it, so I was surprised when I got her text. I know M. well enough to know that if she likes something it’s generally worth checking, so as soon as I got home I fired up Amazon streaming and tucked into the available episodes. I’ll be honest, the opening scene didn’t really grab me. But as the first episode went on I was hooked. I watched the rest of episodes over the course of the next few days I got through the first seven episodes. Then I called M.

“Are you up to date on Wynonna Earp.”

“Yeah. Now I have to wait for the new episode like a peasant.”

True enough, but now we each had something to look forward to on Friday night.

Friday after Friday the show got better and better, and when the credits rolled on Episode 13 M. and I agreed that the people running the show had created a real brilliancy. If only Syfy would have the sense to renew it.

“They’re sending the cast to Comic-Con,” M. assured me. “They wouldn’t be doing that unless they were going to renew it.” I wasn’t sure I entirely shared her confidence, but you couldn’t deny the logic of her position. In the meantime both of us started embracing the world of Wynonna Earp fan culture, especially on Twitter.  I think the first thing that either of us discovered was Oblivious Wynonna (@ObliviousWyn) which is still my favorite of the (many) Twitter feeds out there. As things went on I think we both felt more and more ingrained in the fan community as we (and everyone else) waited to see if Syfy would do the right thing. And, to all of our collective relief, they did.

This is a show that I think more people should be watching. And maybe people who know me will be surprised by this. Well, I thought I might talk about some of the reasons that I love this show, and maybe that will convince some more people to get on the team here.

1. Wynonna. She’s one of those rare figures in modern popular culture: a young woman who takes charge of her own agency. She doesn’t need a father, or a brother, or a boyfriend, or whoever to tell her what to do. She does her best to figure things out and then acts on that basis. Sometimes she makes mistakes. That’s ok. That means she’s human, not that she needs someone else telling her how she should live her life. She has control of her own sexuality as well. If she wants to sleep with Doc, she does. If she wants to sleep with Dolls, she does. And it’s not assumed that she has a capital “R” relationship with either one just because she did. If that happens it will be because both parties want and accept it. And if Wynonna wants to do something else, she will. This doesn’t mean she’s closed off from people. It just means that she wants to do things her way. Society doesn’t like this, from anybody really, but especially not from young women who are supposed to be in need of some sort of guidance and structure. As a character, Wynonna doesn’t give in to that narrative. At all. It’s refreshing.

2. WayHaught. Homosexuality is a thing. It’s normal. People just need to get over it. The community of nerds and scifi fans are no less given to homophobia than anyone else in American society. So it’s pretty cool to see a show in the scifi genre that just assumes this to be the case. The people running the show don’t feel the need to turn it into some kind of tortured passion play. Waverly and Haught are attracted to each other. They’re consenting adults and they act on their attractions. Full stop. There doesn’t need to be anything more to it than that, just two people who love each other. It’s nice to see a show for once treat this topic as if it were a part of normal human experience.

3. Bury the gays. Emily Andras should get the Nobel Peace Prize for the kick to the groin that she dealt this nauseating trope. I’ve got a piece on this topic brewing for Souciant.com, so I’m not going to say too much about it here. But it was nice that Emily Andras has assured the fans that neither Waverly nor Nicole were going to be killed off in the finale. So when Nicole caught a bullet in Episode 13, it was kind of cool in the sense that a) we all knew she was going to get back up, and b) the vast majority of the people watching the show knew that it was essentially a statement that being gay wasn’t going to be a death sentence (as it all too often is elsewhere).

4. The story-telling. In Wynonna Earp the pace of things can seem a little breathless, but that’s because they don’t really spend too much time on back story. They tell you things when they are necessary, but the people running the show see pretty confident in letting the viewers’ imaginations fill in the gaps unless it’s something that absolutely necessary to have nailed down. It’s all too easy for shows like this to get bogged down in the attempt to give the full background of every event. I think that show runners must feel like this makes for nuanced storytelling, but often it just seems to mire the narrative in unnecessary detail. Wynonna Earp preserves a lot of the feel of its comic book origins in the sense that it tells its story in discrete, manageable chunks. Also, they didn’t really bother with monster-of-the-week episodes, by and large anyway. Pretty much everything that happened moved the story forward and that did a lot to keep me feeling like a war rolling along with events.

5. This.

6. The fan community. I absolutely love Wynonna Earp fans. They’re sweet and funny and they are nice to each other. I must be hooked up on about twenty different Twitter feeds, from Wynonna Earp Fans, to Oblivious Wynonna, to Haught’s Handcuffs, to Doc’s Moustache, and many others, and pretty much every day I see something that makes me laugh. I heartily recommend the “Tales of the Black Badge” podcast anyone who wants to dig a little deeper. I guess one thing that I like in particular is that as a group, Wynonna Earp fans are inclusive. I’m a hetero white male. I see myself reflected everywhere in society, and it gets really boring. So it’s nice to be associated with a fan community in which queer friendliness is simply assumed. It’s nice not having to discuss it. And I don’t mean this in the kind of phoney way that a lot of people will say that they’re glad that they don’t have to talk about it because they’re frightened by difference and want to ignore it. I mean it in the sense that it’s just assumed to be a way that people are and it’s embraced by everybody.

I haven’t had many days lately quite as happy as the one when I found out that the show had been renewed. I was driving home from work when M. texted me with the news. She and another friend had been watching the Comic-Con session with the stars of the show on Periscope and let me know in real time. I really should have stopped for a coffee or something on the way home, because I knew that the announcement was happening then and, as it was, a nearly got in a car wreck through sheer joy. They got a ten episode run starting in Spring and I can wait to see what they do for an encore. Until then I’ll be reading Oblivious Wynonna tweets and revelling in the joy of my fellow Earpers.

Our Triumphant Return

Posted in Articles with tags , on June 5, 2013 by Magadh

Things have been a little slow around the bunker for the last few weeks, at least so far as our media activities are concerned. Which is not to say that they have been slow in general. We’ve both been involved in a number projects related to our immediate survival, as well as projects of a more elective nature. The Captain seems to have taken a mate from among the tribes that wander the hoary northwestern forests. I don’t know what he had to pay as a bride price, but I did seem him collecting ears from his fallen enemies over the last couple of months, so maybe that had something to do with it. In any case, the two of them have been sequestered in some far pod of the complex for the last few weeks, involved I suspect in the performance of some sort of extensive blood ritual.

Be that as it may, we need to get back down to business. We have a whole bunch of stuff backlogged for review. I should start working through this tomorrow, but until then I thought I might lay out a little something for your edification.

Readers of my posts will know that I have an interest in black metal. This is more historical than anything else. It was in the early 1990s that I first heard Enslaved’s Hordane’s Land 12″ and the first releases by Emperor. I still remember my shock at hearing Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky after hearing Soulside Journey a year earlier. But as a long time devotee of the hardcore scene (with which I had been involved for ten years by that point), it seemed perfectly natural that the extreme metal scene would move in the direction of a more primitive approach. Back in those days the bands mostly seemed pretty apolitical, although as things went on their fascination with their “Viking heritage” often mutated into extreme nationalism of a particularly idiotic sort. It’s hard to think of any utterance less convincing than Fenriz’s claim that they didn’t intend any political implications by putting the phrase “Norsk Arisk Black Metal” on the back of the Transylvanian Hunger LP.

As time has gone on, I’ve found the emissions of the increasingly commercialized black metal industry decreasingly interesting. But as a historian, I am fascinated by the early history of the “movement” (if such it can be called). The available historical material is very uneven. The release of Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s Lords of Chaos in 1998 was exciting although somewhat blighted Moynihan’s underlying politico-social agenda. More recently, Until the Light Takes Us, a documentary film made by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, provided a lot of interesting material on the dynamic between two of the most important early figures in the Norwegian black metal scene: Kristian “Varg” Vikernes and Gilve “Fenriz” Nagell.

Now that a bit more time has passed since the seminal events surrounding the early history of black metal (the murder of Euronymous, the church burnings, the trial and imprisonment of Vikernes, etc) a bit more complex and nuanced historical account is increasingly coming into view. I’ve recently seen two documentaries produced in the last six years or so on the history of Mayhem, both of which feature several of the most important figures involved with the band (including Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud and Kjetil Manheim but not the nutty and self-promoting Vikernes) tell the tale of its earliest history. The testimony of Manheim, who left Mayhem after the release of the Deathcrush and now works in the noise scene, is particularly compelling. He seems to be one of the few people involved in that milieu who wasn’t a complete nutter, and his portraits of Euronymous, Per “Dead” Ohlin, and Vikernes illuminate the early history of the scene in important ways.

For those with an interest, here are the relevant links:

Once Upon a Time in Norway: The History of Mayhem (2007) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h9XzRdFIhc

Pure Fucking Mayhem (2008) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_Qoj9ViExY

For those wanting a broader perspective on black metal, this documentary has interviews with people from Naglfar, Gorgoroth, Bloodthorn, Dark Funeral, Rotting Christ, Enslaved, Ulver, and Impaled Nazarene, as well as some less interesting folks. Lots of good information and ruminations on the cultural meaning of the form, but the live footage is not all that super.

Black Metal – The Norwegian Legacy (2008) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lDztQkk0_4

Ok, that your lot for now. We’ll be back in the next day or two with stuff that doesn’t involve listening to a bunch of right wing asshats.

Magadh

Slayer and Me

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2013 by Magadh

slayer3In the fall of 1985 I had some cash on hand. I had been corresponding with a girl who I’d met over the summer and I had been planning to try to go out and see her again over Christmas break. I had saved up a wad of cash with which to do this by the time she told me around the end of November that I shouldn’t bother. That was a hard knock to take, but I salved my wounded pride by going out on a bit of a spending spree. I only remember two of the things that I bought: a brand new Roskopp skateboard (and a set of OJ II wheels to go with) and a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits.

I didn’t really know that much about Slayer at the time. All my information came from an article about speedmetal that I’d read in Maximum Rock n Roll. I was intrigued, but also kind of skeptical. I had been into the punk scene for a few years and in those days the punk/metal division was still taken quite seriously. I was serious about anarchism (or so I thought) and singing about Satan, or your dick, or whatever, seemed unacceptably decadent to me. Still, there was obviously something seriously transgressive about bands like Slayer and Celtic Frost. I lived in a small town with a lot of churches, where Christianity was jammed up my nose all the time. I wasn’t sure I approved of their aesthetic choices, but I sort of felt like we had something in common.

Although I lived the agricultural region of eastern Washington State, there was a pretty decent record store. It was run by a bunch of old ex-hippies and was also kind of a head shop. My mother warned me against going there, so of course that became the place where I spent a lot of my free time. It was a dark little place that shared a building with a beauty salon out in the neighborhoods away from downtown. There were banks of records and cassette cases in just about every inch of available space. They had a lot of interesting stuff, mostly from the 1960s and 70s, but for some reason they also got stocked some punk stuff in the early 1980s. I’d made some pretty awesome scores there already: the Bad Brains I and I Survive/Coptic Times 12”, the This is Boston not L.A. compilation, my first copy of Damaged, you get the idea.

So there I was on a dark day in early December with a pocket full of money, minutely examining every possible purchase. I was going through the “S” section, searching (as I recall) for a copy of the Sex Pistols Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle that a friend of mine claimed to have seen there. The records were separated alphabetically by artist, but within the individual letters there was no organization, so one had to spend a bit of time searching for any particular thing that one wanted to find. It was then that I stumbled upon Hell Awaits. The cover was striking, and the pictures on the back suggested real depravity. I bought it and took it home feeling like I was about to start chanting spells from the Necronomicon.

slayer1slayer2I went straight to my room without talking to my parents. They were pretty mellow people, but I still didn’t want to show them something like that. I opened the plastic, pulled out the vinyl, and set it on the player. Slowly the reverse recorded noise at the beginning came up and the hair rose on the back of my neck. Then the music kicked in and my jaw dropped. One minute and thirty-five seconds in, a new age dawned for me. Dave Lombardo’s thundering drums pushed forward one of the heavy passages of metal ever produced and it was January 1st in my apocalyptic Year Zero. I sat slack-jawed. I had simply never heard anything like this. Then they kicked it up into fourth gear and it seemed like the world dissolved. I was torn between utter astonishment at the music that I was hearing and sheer terror that one of my parents would walk in on the black mass that had suddenly broken out in my bedroom. I remember thinking, “If there really is a god, this kind of thing must really piss him off.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yew9L0Xjm_g

***

In the fall of 1986, I was living in Portland, Oregon when I heard that Slayer had a new record coming out. Once again, I had read about it first in Maximum Rock n Roll, and once again the source of my information came with a bit of skepticism. I was reading an interview with some hardcore band from Europe (I don’t remember who) and their comment on Reign in Blood centered on the fact that the first song dealt with Josef Mengele. For that reason (and I think justifiably) I was dubious. By this time I had heard the rest of Slayer’s back catalog, their first LP Show No Mercy and the Haunting the Chapel 12″.  I thought “Chemical Warfare” was pretty impressive, but in general I didn’t feel like that stuff measured up to Hell Awaits. I’d also spend months living in Nottingham in the U.K., hanging around in the punk scene with a lot of really seriously politically aware types. These were the early days of what would come to be called grindcore, and my of the arguments about the relative merits of punk and metal (and possible combinations of the two) were all around. I had made the acquaintance of bands like Concrete Sox and Heresy, who were at the forefront of such combinations, but who also retained a definite political consciousness that seemed to make singing about Satan seem absurd. [People familiar with this period in the U.K. punk scene may remember degree of loathing inspired by Onslaught, partly for their Satanistic stylings, partly for the their idiotic racist comments. For an illustration of this one has only to listen to opening to the Stupids Peruvian Vacation LP (linked below)]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJIiv1pbiG4

Around that time I renewed my acquaintance with a friend from high school who had moved to Estacada outside of Portland. He came into town to transact a little business with me. As it turned out, he was a couple of dollars short, but he happened to have a cassette of Reign in Blood, which I accepted in lieu of the full amount. My buddy and I went back to my dorm room (I was in college at the time), performed the appropriate spiritual ablutions, and slipped the cassette into my tape deck. This time things got going a bit more quickly. This time the blow fell more quickly: twenty seconds in Tom Araya unleashed a jet engine shriek, Lombardo’s double kick spun into action, and the whole band galloped off toward the black plains of Gehenna at hypersonic speed. Reign in Blood was a whole new level of brutality. By this time I’d heard everything Metallica had released up through Master of Puppets. I’d snaffled a copy of the demo version of Exodus Bonded by Blood, and even owned a Venom record or two. None of them came close to this. One after another, the cuts on Reign in Blood struck like bomb blasts in rapid succession, sucking the wind from one’s lungs. I think I managed to say something like, “Oh shit” before being pummeled into silence. I made it about through “Jesus Saves” before I had to hit stop. I couldn’t take it anymore. The sky had grown dark, and something cold brushed through the room on blackened wings. I thought I was going to have an attack of vertigo.

I know without having to look it up that the first time that I saw Slayer was 1 November 1986 at Pine Street Theater in Portland. I know this because it was the night after Holloween and I was still addled from an extremely ill-advised chemical cocktail that I had ingested the night before. Shows in Portland in those days could be really hairy. There was a big skinhead scene in town and even the ones who weren’t white power tended to be extremely aggressive. Pine Street was packed. I’d never seen it so full of people and it seemed like every skinhead in town was there, in addition to all the other lunatics in the area. I spent most of the night at the back of the pit trying to stand very still. I remember trying to find my way to the can and being in mortal fear that I was going to brush up against the wrong guy. I was kind of out of my head and I was pretty much convinced (not without justice) that practically everyone in the joint was itching for a fight. I spent a lot of nights in Portland in those days wondering when I was going to get my ass kicked, but that had to be just about the most paranoid I ever was at a show.

Overkill was opening for Slayer on that tour, which really seemed like a bad idea. Overkill weren’t bad, but pretty much every song they did sounded like the intro to a (much better) Anthrax song. The fact of the matter was that the crowd was simply not into what they had to offer. They soldiered on gamely through a torrent of abuse and death threats. When they left the stage we all sort of collectively noticed that there were gigantic banks of Marshall cabs on either side of the stage. The drums were on a riser that seemed to be about ten feet high. The air was electric with tension as we all waited for Slayer to come on. Smoke swirled on the stage. The lights when down. Four spectral figures moved into place in the dark. The kick drums thundered out, the lights came up, and without any further preamble a tidal wave of noise smashed into the audience. Chaos broke out; frantic moshing with no order or direction. Fights broke out, but the beefy and aggressive Pine Street bouncers seemed strangely (or wisely) reticent about wading into the pit to sort it out. I felt as if I had been transported to some different plane. This was, I am certain, the loudest noise that I had heard to that point in my life. I stood transfixed through their set, feeling like an interdimensional portal was about to open and swallow me up. I both wanted it never to end, and hoped that they would stop so I could make my escape. When their set was over, I headed out as quickly as possible, convinced that the darkness and aggression would leak outside and pursue me into the night.

***

Slayer was, for me, the quintessential band of the 1980s. I was fascinated by them. In the winter of 1989 I was in Scotland, up late, and watch whatever was on TV (which in those pre-cable days was not much). The last thing on at night turned out to be a show called Headbanger’s Heaven (or something like that), hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Night. It featured performance footage of various metal bands, and after showing about half and hour of Ozzy Osbourne, they did a segment on Slayer. In between bits of concert highlights, they played an interview with Tom Araya. The presenter asked him about their new material, noting that it was slower than their older stuff, to which Araya responded, “When you’ve already put out the perfect thrash record which keep trying to recreate that?” It sounded slightly arrogant, but he really had a point. I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve ever heard by Slayer, but nothing quite packs the punch for me of Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood. To a greater extent than any two other records I ever heard, they changed the way that I looked at music, at heaviness, at drumming, at aggression in art.

I am writing this two days after hearing of the death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman from liver failure. I suspect that it had something to do with the collateral effects of the spider bite that he suffered a couple of years ago, but I’m guessing that he didn’t live a particularly healthful lifestyle otherwise. Slayer has had some rocky times over years, and particularly recently. Dave Lombardo, probably the single most influential drummer in extreme metal, had been in and out of the band, but had recently been kicked out (apparently at the insistence of Kerry King) over some sort of contractual issue. And then there are the occasional news items in which Tom Araya claims to actually be a practicing Christian. Who knows what to believe. For me the death of Jeff Hanneman is the end of an era. As the predominant songwriter in the band, he created a sonic onslaught that left me reeling and from which I have yet to fully recover. If it is true that it is better the reign in hell than it is to serve in heavan, I say, long may he reign!

Magadh