Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Day At the Klan Rally- Ugh

            Recently, as a few people may have noticed, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the removal of the Confederate flag from outside of the South Carolina state capital building.  In response to the state senate’s vote the Ku Klux Klan demanded and received a rally on the Columbia court house steps.
            This was something that I never expected to see in my lifetime. When I consider the Ku Klux Klan, I think of some bygone era, cast in sepia tone, just after the Civil War with a group of men come swooping in on horseback to rape, kill, and burn- or maybe I’m just remembering Birth of a Nation.  So, being a naturally curious person, I ambled off to the rally to see what I could see and while there I noticed several things:

            1. There Was Counter “Black Power” Rally That No One Went To: I went to this one first, mistaking it for the Klan rally. The New Black Panther Party had sauntered in from New York and Los Angeles to protest the other protest. It looked well organized. A group of people stood up on the courthouse steps, each taking their turn yelling into a microphone. It was relatively peaceful, due mostly to the fact that they barely had anyone listening to them. Even the majority of their own group, had abandoned the Black Power rally to go yell at the Klan.

            The counter-protest’s main message, as usual, was that black people, “must offer renewed and vigorous resistance to generations of oppression.” I walked away as a young lady, with a strong Brooklyn accent, was describing how the song Amazing Grace was one of these tools of oppression.

            2. The Klan Seem to Have No Reason for Being There: Ostensibly they were there to protest the removal of the Confederate flag, but you wouldn’t know that from their actions. First they gave no speech or declaration of intent, which is standard at a rally. They hadn’t even bothered to bring a megaphone. All they really did was march about waving Confederate and American Nazi flags, with one man holding up a sign promoting free speech.

That will change some hearts and minds.

            This was not so much a Klan rally as a Klan/Aryan Nation rally. There were, off and on, about 30 members there- not counting the children. No one was hooded, granted it was over 100 degrees, but I saw plenty of AB and Aryan Nation patches on jackets and a few were wearing the pseudo-bund outfits of the American Nazi Party. But this is hardly surprising as these groups tend to intermingle, despite being officially separate.

            As I’m sure you’ve all figured out, their real purpose there was just to agitate. The Confederate flag issue being a pretext for them to flash their asses. They paraded about here and there, sporadically yelling “White Power” in an uncoordinated manner (to which “Black Power” was screamed back) and screech obscenities at the crowd, trying to get them riled up enough to crash the police barriers surrounding the protest.

            They then produced the flag of Israel, stomped on it, spit on it, and tore it to pieces- all for reasons which were beyond me. This being South Carolina, I assume most of the crowd had no idea which country the flag was representing, and if they had, quite a few of them (including the New Black Panther Party) might have joined in. Had they actually wanted to start something, they should have done it to one of those red, green, and black pan-African flags which were being waved about by the crowd.  That would have created quite a stir. But they proudly stuck to their delusions that America is secretly controlled by an Illuminati of Jewish bankers, and thus any impact was lost.

           3. The Crowd Quickly Became Much More Interesting to Watch:  Having arrived 15 minutes late, I decided to stay for the rest of the rally. The crowd came and went in waves. Spectators would mosey up, scream, holler, and threaten, then leave after a few minutes. Very few people stayed for the entire thing. Well again, it was over a 100 degrees that day.

            The feeling I gathered from the crowd was that everyone wanted something to happen, but no one was willing to be the goat and start it. No one jumped the police barricade, no one threw anything at another group. It was simply an exercise in taunting, where neither party could fully hear what the other side was saying. Both wanted the other side to attack first, knowing that that group would get the hammer smashed down on them faster than you could say “Jack Robinson”, but neither side took the bait.

            While the screaming continued, I decided to walk around and look at the crowd. I quickly discovered that the emergence of these two fringe groups brought a lot of other fringe groups out of the woodwork, all using the spectacle to pimp their politics.
         A lot of these alternative agenda types lacked staying power. Many of them flitted in and out of the crowd like mayflies. Perhaps they had dreams of spell-blinding those assembled with their mystical oratory, and magically melding them into a force that would follow them- if they did, they had been watching too many movies, because in the real world that never happens.
         First I bumped into what must be South Carolina’s only two Communists, who came out protesting in sweaty t-shirts and berets. They handed me a leaflet entitled, “Why Ignoring the Klan Sends the Wrong Message”, which called for solidarity in protesting against the Klan (which is what everyone there was doing, so handing it out was a waste of time) and “other forces of economic oppression”- You can fill in the blank on what was meant by that. This was an obvious attempt to gather support for their own cause, by uniting people against a perceived common enemy (kind of like how the Nazis gained power). They were loud for half a minute, then quieted down, until they finally slunk off after 10 minutes. They just don’t make Commies out of the same steel as they used to.
        One young guy, hoisting the South Carolina State Flag, kept trying to lead the crowd in prayer.
         “This is the third time in a month that the people of South Carolina have come together in prayer.” He yelled.
All of this fittingly occurred around the Strom
Thurmond Memorial
          I hadn’t heard of the first two, and this certainly wasn’t a third. He started screeching The Lord’s Prayer but stopped after three lines, when no one else joined in. He looked about, desperate for attention. The crowd wasn’t just uninterested in his antics, they were actively ignoring him. Even in the heat, I could feel cold shoulders spring up about him. As far as they were concerned, he could peddle his crap elsewhere. He moved to a different part of the crowd and tried again. And then again, and a third time. No one wanted to hear it. Probably because, this being South Carolina, every other meeting has some joker trying to start a prayer circle! He was a dime, a dozen.
A passing woman, tarted up in coke-bottle glasses and a drab dress, handed me a free newspaper. It was the Freedom Socialist: The Voice of Revolutionary Feminism- an outfit run out of Seattle, Washington. It was supposed to cost $1 (with a “solidarity price” of $2, whatever that means), but she was obviously having difficulty giving the damn things away, since I sure as Hell don’t look like a woman, revolutionary or no.
A few more people showed up, blasting a beat from their Mp3 player over powerful speakers. They yelled over the speakers that they were here to “dance for justice.” A few young people joined in, gyrating like spastics. But once again the Klan hogged all the attention and the justice dancers left downhearted.
4. The Police Were the Only Competent Group There: I read several news articles about the rally with headlines like, “KKK, Black Panther Party Clash Over Confederate Flag” and “KKK Faces Off With New Black Panther Party in Heated Competing Rallies.” These are much more dramatic than what occurred. The groups never clashed. Their rallies were on opposite sides of a very large building. And if they were competing by sheer numbers, then the Klan won hands down- not that it was full of people supporting them.
And the reason the rally didn’t get out of hand is because the police were on the ball. Nothing got past them. Every time things were about to get out of hand with the protesters, the cops were on them like white on rice. I couldn’t believe how fast they moved.
There was one incident near me, where a skinhead, in suspenders and Doc Martens, rushed right in the middle of some New Black Panthers waving a Confederate flag and yelling “White power.” We all know what could have happened. Out of nowhere in jumped the police and, in less than half a minute, shut the whole thing down. There were multiple accounts of this all through the rally.
And Then They Left- When the hour was up, the police surrounded them and led them away. The Klu-Kluxers marched off, leaving us to ponder… what? Not much. There was no real point, just an exercise in lung power. No one was happy on either side. I doubt anyone had been convinced to change their opinion. Nothing constructive occurred. It was a show for the sake of a show. Shock for shock’s sake. The only thing I got out of it was a sunburn from the hour I spent watching the demonstration.
Damn you Racism!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ken Russell's The Devils- An Overlooked Masterpeice

            One of the more controversial films ever made, it is based on The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley, published in 1952. The book itself is based upon actual events in the French city of Loudon in the early 17th century. In it, accusations are made against Urbain Grandier, an outspoken Catholic Monseigneur, who is accused by the local order of cloistered nuns of witchcraft and trafficking with the devil. This is parlayed by Cardinal Richelieu (the go-to villain of French period pieces) into a political struggle to demolish the city’s walls, the last metropolis in France to retain such fortifications. This is a move which Grandier vigorously opposes and which results in him being burnt at the stake.
            Oliver Reed plays the lead, Urbain Grandier, in a more restrained manner than his usual scenery chewing style, but is still able to express incredible intensity even when absolutely still. He and Ken Russell worked well together on several projects. So well in fact that Russell cast Reed in a leading role on his next film Tommy, a musical, despite the fact that Reed couldn’t sing. While Reed eventually gained a reputation (deserved or not) of being an abusive alcoholic jerk- or just being a standard Englishman- and was reduced to making terrible TV movies, before dying on the set of Gladiator, The Devils was shot when Reed was at the high point in his acting prowess, and it shows. The final scene, when we learn Grandier's fate, is perhaps one of his finest performances.
            Playing opposite him is Vanessa Redgrave as a hunchbacked abbess of a convent of cloistered nuns, Sister Jeanne. She develops a lust for Reed’s character and when it is not returned, she leads the charge against Grandier, accusing him of canoodling with the devil and causing her and her fellow nuns to be possessed. Her character mainly conveys hysterical tendencies and sexual frustration with which she gives a no-hold-barred performance, managing to standout in a film that is already over the top. Her character’s fantasy scenes (most of which were originally cut) contain much religious iconography with some not-at-all subtle sexual innuendo and what really gave the film its reputation.
            Russell, as always, manages to do more with less. This was a fairly low budget film, but you would never know it from the richness of the atmosphere, the costumes, and the pseudo-decadence of pre-revolutionary France. The sets were modeled after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and were crafted to give the possessed nun scenes an alien quality, which distorts the reality of the situation. Russell often juxtaposes the nun’s writhing and other bizarre antics with scenes and peace and beauty. This comes is especially effective in one scene where Reed is performing the sacrament of communion by a peaceful river, interspersed with scenes of the nuns running riot in a cathedral.
            The Devils initially received very mixed reviews and some very strong emotions due to its sexual and religious content. Some called it “a grand fiesta for sadists and perverts” while others claimed it was Russell’s “most brilliant cinematic achievement.” But no one ever states that it is a boring film. The possessed nun scenes are its most notable part, and the cause for its acclaim and X rating in both America and Britain- dooming it at the box office.  The controversy has stuck with the film over the decades. So much so that the parent company (Warner Brothers) refused to release it on DVD, even after film critic Mark Kermode discovered 20 minutes of missing footage (including the infamous “rape of Christ scene”) which would guarantee sales amongst fans. Eventually Warner Brothers relented, but only after a lengthy online petition and with a very limited run.
            The new edition of The Devils is still edited and censored from the original cut. To get past the X rating (NC-17 for you millennials) all of the male nudity had to be cut (a flapping penis is only acceptable if the character is blue apparently) and much of the full frontal variety from the cathedral scenes, a more grotesque version of the enema from the first exorcism attempt, a few frames of Grandier’s legs being crushed, and some overdubbing of the nuns yelling “cunt” and “fuck me.” But a lot has been added to make The Devils a much more striking film than it was before.

I call it a must see!


Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Story of the Cock and the Ass- A New Aesop’s Fable

            One crisp winter evening, on a struggling farm, the Cock entered the Ass’s stable and hopped upon his head.
            “What are you doing?” Asked the Ass, “It is not natural for you to be in here.”
            “I go where I please.” Said the Cock. “One place is as good as another.”
            “But you belong in the coop with the hens and chicks, where the Farmer put you. What will he think if you stay here?”
            “I prefer it in here. The coop is so crowded and noisy. With less people about, it’s much more comfortable for one of my size. The Farmer will just have to understand that.”
            Though he did not say it, the Ass enjoyed the Cock being there as well, and they spent the night appreciating each other’s company. The next morning the Farmer entered the Stable and saw the Cock on the Ass. He raised a fuss, for he always became angry when things were different from what he had imagined, and chased the Cock back to the hen house.
            Later when, in defiance of the Farmer, the Cock returned, the Ass turned him away. For he was afraid of what others would think and say. The Cock left, never to return. The Ass spent the rest of his days miserable and alone.
            Too late he realized that “True happiness only comes from being yourself.”

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In Defense of Creating Roadkill

             The other day I killed a possum.
           It was on one of those backwoods roads where asphalt is an optional extra and streetlights are rarer than unicorns. I was zipping along, on my way to a birthday party, taking directions from my GPS like an automaton, when the damn thing ran into the road from a clutch of trees, right into the space my passenger side tire was about to occupy.
            What the Hell? It was not a busy night. I was the only car on the road. Why did the damn thing have to pick that exact moment to charge across the street? Did the sight of my headlights suddenly remind it that it had urgent business on the other side? Was it done on a dare- maybe peer pressured into the run by some older possums? Was it just not paying attention? Was it suicidal? Was it blind?

In my rearview mirror I saw its corpse slumped by the side of the road, missing a head. My stomach sank. I felt I had committed some great sin against … God? Heyzeus? Mother Nature? All of it together, smothered in Catholic guilt.

Living in the South, I’ve seen more than my share of roadkill. Dogs, cats, deer, and plenty of possums splattered all over the place. But this is the first time that I caused any. I had violated the 6th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” It’s pretty simply and there is no addendum excluding mistakenly squashed possums.

For some reason the casualty rate seems higher on Southern roads than Northern Highways. It might be because of the winters, either animals spend more time curled up somewhere or their corpses are pleasantly hidden from view in a snowbank. And on the matter of deer carcasses, I’ve often wondered if they had been hit by a passing motorist, or if the bodies had fallen out of the back of some careless hunter’s pickup.

Had I really committed a sin? I didn’t do it on purpose. Legally speaking the slob behind the wheel bears responsibility for the collision. Even if the pedestrian was blind, stinking drunk, and suicidal, the impetus was on me to make restitution, to do penance, to pay the piper. Despite me following every precaution, I was responsible for the smeared corpse on the highway. What happened to the no-fault accident? What happened to personal responsibility? What happened to an act of God?

Well screw that! I am declaring an emancipation for all of us. You are forgiven for past roadkill. You are pre-emptively exonerated for all highway carnage that flings itself upon you. From now on when some pigeon or squirrel or possum throws itself under your wheels, we are not to blame! We must never feel guilty for it any more. I absolve you, I forgive myself, and I damn them. It’s about time these stinking beasts learn to look both ways before crossing the fucking street!

Go forth and drive in peace.