1984? Here’s what it looks like: Blacklist

Last night I abused myself with 5 episodes of  Blacklist,  a paen to the CIA, FBI and other pro-military, pro-capitalist propaganda that pings a list of hot button pseudo-feminist values in a graphic novel format. I suffered this un-climactic jerk-off to understand what disgusts me about scoring for crappy tv shows. It’s not because I’m no longer in touch with culture or my hand isn’t steady. I’m reading Bukowski!

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It took 3 three episodes to get what’s going on in the show. I kept waiting for the story and I fell asleep during parts of the 4th and gave up entirely during the 5th episode. There is nothing going on.  There’s only tension and interest created by visual and audio spectacle and an underlying theme justifying capital punishment, warfare and violent competition, with women playing power roles.

Stylewise, the show’s an animated comic book with video images of live actors rather than cartoon drawings. Music makes an A/V comic book without a compelling story possible. Sans music, this show has no continuity, doesn’t hold interest, there’s no story. Stories can be propaganda, values are always implicit if not explicit but media without a compelling story is overtly propaganda.

Comic books are as important and valuable as any other way to tell a story. A comic book story can be great, entertaining, enlightening, exciting, enriching, delightful. A TV show or movie following a comic book format, for instance, Tarantino’s films can be cool. But using music as a special effect to laver feelings, like lard, on a slab of bad writing is abusive and should be punished but for commitment to freedom of expression. Even so…

Without a commercial sponsor, what is being sold in this particular kind of media is the militaristic, capitalist values it glorifies. Who pays for it? Who benefits from perpetuating these values? Take a look at the backers. The Blacklist criminalizes anti-establishment villains while it glorifies establishment authority, capitalism and warfare and it seems weirdly asexual and counter-romantic. However, using the title, Blacklist, has a specific anti-progressive effect: it defuses associations with another Blacklist, that of former U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and his buddy, Richard Nixon, a real blacklist that purged the motion picture industry of most of its greatest and best writers, film makers and composers.

When I say I never watch TV, I really mean, really, I haven’t watched TV since 1960.  I only go to movie theaters when friends ask me, which isn’t often since I don’t encourage it. I’ve seen many films. In my 3rd and 4th years of high school, I stayed home and watched independent TV broadcasters in LA, who at that time, having no other programming, ran nothing but old films 24/7; every film made since 1915. I fell in love with cinema and went to college and got a degree in it and made films for many years. I’ve seen many films many times and I also watched a lot of early TV; Edward R. Murrow, Skelton, Ceasar, Benny, Gleason, Groucho, Sullivan, Reiner; live.

It sickens me to see the potential of the broadcast media ignored. I understand that telling the truth would get in the way of business as usual because art requires authenticity. But I miss the art.  Watching this Blacklist crap last night, I felt a kinship with Carson McCullers, W.C. Fields, Samuel Clemens and Henry Bukowski, all of whom drank themselves to death. I wanted to drink a pint of whiskey. It’s not just that the media is propaganda and stupidly written and poorly performed and directed and edited but that there are sufficient numbers of viewers that don’t know better than to take in this crap, and from this I infer there’s all these uneducated people populating the world now, who don’t know the difference, who literally wouldn’t know Debussy from Darwin beyond the name.

It’s not easy for people who were not adolescent in the 40s or 50s  to understand the relationship between culture and story-telling media even though they may appreciate the wit of filmmakers of the early 20th century. They appreciate Casablanca and The World of Apu and Citizen Kane but they miss the connection with culture these works enjoyed because the connection between media and culture has changed. The  propaganda of law enforcement melodramas is a world apart from the media world of these  films. The satire of John Stewart about things we can now only laugh about and “reality TV” that are just freak shows doesn’t connect with a community in action about the ideals of the culture.  As Lenny Bruce put  it during his obscenity trial, “if something is mostly art with maybe a little shit in it, that’s alright but, when it’s the other way around, then it’s shit.”

US Federal Budget - 2011
US Federal Budget – 2014

We don’t laugh about what’s at stake but some good could come from laughing about the absurdity of the $149 billion US Navy budget. It’s ridiculous. Imagine all those hugely expensive steel ships, submarines and jet planes pouring greenhouse gasses into the air and creating nuclear fission waste  like there’s no tomorrow and what’s funniest is that they are literally creating no-tomorrow. The irony is that we don’t need those ships and airplanes and nuclear weapons, they’re a useless liability in light of current technology, like the aging copper wire telephone infrastructure. The good thing about the U.S. Navy is that it does have this absurd cost that is dragging the quality life down for most Americans and we can’t avoid seeing how really stupid it is. So it let’s us see real clear that the reason  we can’t get rid of the US Navy isn’t because it’s iconic but simply because the political mouths all this money feeds from the billions Congress allots them  from the federal treasury allows this organization to promote it’s survival on shows like Blacklist, thus perpetuating the U.S.Navy and it’s not really anyone’s intention that this wastefulness helps to  kill our chances of survival. And the funny thing is that we are this organization and we are self-destructing. Praise the lord and pass the Scotch. I’ll take mine with some yoga.


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