Review: Django Unchained

WARNING: There are spoilers for people who haven’t seen Django Unchained. If you still want to see this movie, don’t read this article.

I wasn’t expecting Django Unchained to have a very advanced view of race relations in America. I expected it to come down as “slavery is really bad,” and in that respect I wasn’t disappointed. I will also say that it is a very well-put together movie. Quentin Tarantino knows how to put a movie together, the problem is that he is not as deep as he’d like to think he is, and the movie left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

The problem with Django Unchained is that it is a revenge story. The plot of the revenge story is as follows. Somebody does something really, really bad. The Hero corrects this by killing the bad guy. The hero wins and order is restored. Django Unchained takes the revenge plot and places it within the context of the slave plantations of the American south. In this, we are given a thematic sequel to Inglorious Bastards, which I didn’t really like. I liked Django Unchained a bit more, but it still has much off the problems with Inglorious Bastards in that it has a troubling view of history. Quentin Tarantino is obviously shocked at the crimes of the Holocaust and the slave trade, but I don’t think he’s handling it in the best way. It’s easy for us to get angry about this and want to kill the sons of bitches who were responsible, but it is not for us to do that. My ancestors were not interned in death camps or shipped across the ocean like a sardine, then have their entire identities stripped away. I don’t know what it’s like to be socially repressed, and I am fully aware of how problematic it would be for me to do it.

There’s also the fact that, for a movie ostentatiously about black people, there is an awful lot of white person driving the plot. Dr. Shultz is probably the most engaging character in the movie. He’s articulate, has most of the best lines, and is the closest thing the movie has to a decent white guy. He also “frees” Django, but only because he needs him to track down his bounty. He openly says that while he finds the institution of slavery distasteful, but he takes advantage of it any way to meet his own ends. Django, for his part, isn’t really that developed a character. He’s basically a Nat Turner, an archetype of the Black Man’s rage against the White Man. Despite that, he is still lacking in agency of his own. He exists in the White Man’s world, despite the fact he is an agent against that world. Django is quite simply, not a very engaging character, despite the movie being about him.

The thing about Quentin Tarantino is that really, he’s not writing these stories for Jews or Black People, he’s writing them for the ancestors of the oppressors. Our culture has come to the realization that our institutions are based on a history of violence against all kinds of people, such as Jews, people of African descent, Hispanics, Asians, women, homosexuals, First Nations, forgive me if I miss anybody here. As a straight white cisgendered male, this brings up questions of my own identity. This is not to belittle the discrimination of others, quite the opposite in fact. We simply don’t know how to process being “the bad guy.” Some of us ignore it completely, and some of us make Django Unchained. Neither of these is a healthy way to come to terms with this, and I think the best thing is just to move on. We should acknowledge what happened in the past, and we should get over it. Again turning to Django as Nat Turner, we have the archetype of the unruly black man fighting against the tyranny of the White Man, in service of the White Man’s guilt at being the White Man. There is a bit of displacement with Stephen, the Uncle Tom house servant, but Stephen’s status as part of the White Establishment connects him thematically to the White Establishment. To take this to its most troubling conclusion, we have Stephen so we don’t have to see Django kill the powerful white man. Sure we see him kill a lot of white guys, but when it comes to the man we are lead to believe is the most evil man in the South, the dead is done by his white partner.

If you’re expecting a look into America’s dark heart, this is probably not the best movie, it’s too one-dimensional for that. Quentin Tarantino is, at the end of the day, an exploitation film-maker who has somehow managed to get into the big leagues, and has somehow gotten the idea that he’s got something deep to say about the human condition. In the end, Django comes off as highly problematic, but again, I was expecting it to be. If Quentin Tarantino wanted to bring up issues of race, he has only done so in as much as we can all agree that Quentin Tarantino is not cut out to be bringing up the question of race.

FURTHER READING

Surviving “Django” by Roxane Gay

Needs more Antonin Artaud: The New Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp’s Racially Insensitive Bird Hat

THE LONE RANGER

So they’re making a Lone Ranger movie, which I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have any reference to “Alejandro Jodorowsky” on the internet immediately sent to my email inbox. Yes, I do that.

So for all you people who are like me and are slowly phasing the mainstream out of your life, apparently the guys doing Pirates of the Caribbean (i.e. Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer) are making a Lone Ranger movie. Armie Hammer, who I’m not familiar with and sounds like a porn star name to me, stars as the Lone Ranger, and Johnny Depp is Tonto. Yes, Johnny Depp is Tonto. There are problems here, mainly by casting a white man in a red man’s role. The only reason it’s not red face is because Johnny Depp is wearing so much face make up. Admittedly, he looks pretty cool, especially considering he has a bird on his head, but couldn’t they find an Indian guy?

Alright, let’s place the unfortunate implications thing aside and say that they just couldn’t find a Native guy who wanted to play Tonto because of some of the controversy around the character speaking in a pidgin dialect. It should be brought up that Johnny Depp does not really have that good of a history playing First Nations guys. I have only heard rumours of The Brave, a movie Johnny Depp directed and stared in about an Indian guy who volunteers to be part fo a snuff film so that his wife and children can get out of the sickening poverty he lives in. Admittedly, the character in that movie is more the horrible reality for First Nations people, where as Tonto is more of a white man’s idea of what the First Nations were like during that time period; mystical warriors in a world that is moving on from them. Basically that makes them the American version of elves. Make of that what you will.

Also, why the hell does Tonto have a bird on his head? This has not been sufficiently addressed in my opinion. Why is he wearing a dead bird on his head? I looked up the whole feather-headdress thing. They’re supposed to be eagle feathers and your supposed to take the feathers off. WHY IS THERE A DEAD BIRD ON HIS HEAD? I’ve also checked the Wikipedia page on the Potawatomi, the tribe Tonto is supposed to be from, and they have no dead birds on their heads.

So asside from the whole issue of a white guy playing Tonto, there’s the whole accusations of Jodorowsky similarities. To be honest, beyond a certain level of Tonto being somekind of shaman in a funny hat I’m not seeing it. The trailer looks good, but I’m not planning on seeing this in theatres.

Houston Press: Will the Lone Ranger be the Alejandro Jodorowsky Summer Movie We Didn’t Know We Wanted but We Do?

Jezebel: Johnny Depp Takes Tonto Character from Racist to Merely Culturally Insensitive

 

That hat.

That fucking hat.

Goodbye to Slam

Some of you may be wondering “Dylan, what ever happened to the Ontario International Poetry Slam? That thing you blogged about.” Well, I lost. I didn’t lose miserably, unless you consider coming in fifth to last miserable, but other than that I had a good time. It’s also made me decide that the Poetry Slam just isn’t for me. It’s taken me awhile, but quite frankly I don’t like it that much. I thank it for getting me into poetry, but I honestly think we can do better.

Aside from that, I enjoyed most of the poets, and while I disagree on who got past. I would have voted for other people, but ultimately I feel that the winners deserved what they got. Good luck to everyone, and I hope you enjoy yourselves.

The Inevitable KW Poetry Slam Rant

Trigger Warning: FUCK YOUR GODDAMN TRIGGER WARNING!

Dear KW Circle Jerk

You want a fucking rant? I’ll give you a goddamn fucking rant!

I have tried to be polite, and I have failed. I have decided that I will talk to you in the only language you understand, rants. This is a difficult process for me, because I’ve been taught to hold back on the sheer amount of concentrated rage I can express, so that I don’t offend, or more importantly frighten, the people around me. Well to be quite frank, I have been offended, day in and day out by you. So because we are all one big happy poetry community, I am going to bring up some of my problems with you.

1) YOU ARE NOT CUTTING EDGE!

I have heard you call yourselves cutting edge. This is a bold-faced lie. The KW Poetry Slam is about as cutting edge as Justin Bieber. The only real difference you have from Justin Bieber is that you are working in a genre that wants to be popular, but isn’t. Sure, Slam Poetry is better known then the academic branches (whatever those are), but at the end of the day you are still the popular form of the left-wing, and you are still pandering to your audience.

Let me make this clear. Women have been writing about how their vaginas are beautiful vortexes of creation since the 1960s. It has been close to fifty years now. It is no longer cutting edge. It is cliché. The Poetry Slam has been around for almost thirty years, it is not longer the new form, it is the establishment. Every Slam Poet writes about some cause. Heck, I’ve written about police brutality. I have yet to see anything at the KW Poetry Slam that is something I would describe as new.

You want to write about being a feminist, that’s fine, just don’t call yourself cutting edge unless you are.

Actually, what would make a poem cutting edge anyways? That it is faster than previous generations of poems? That it’s not only a poem, but a camera and a butter knife and what have you?

2) FUCK COMMUNITY

This connects to my accusations that you are pandering to the audience. I hear a lot about community at the KW Poetry Slam. I hear a lot about community in the Poetry Slam world in general. You know who else has community? INBREED CANNIBAL HILLBILLYS!

Actually, that’s not a bad way of describing the poetry slam. Controversy to sampling aside, poems have been known to be recursive for years, centuries even. I’m not holding cannibalism against the Poetry Slam in general. It’s the incestuous hillbilly thing that bothers me. You average Poetry Slam usually has the same few people, and eventually rules start developing. You expect certain things. You start so what anytime someone says Marc Smith. Why do you do that? Really, has anyone ever explained why this happens?

Anyways, my point is that the KW Poetry Slam has itself up so that a certain kind of poetry keeps up. It’s not that Kitchener-Waterloo only has poets from this kind of area, it’s just that the KW Poetry Slam attracts the same kind of poet. And they all do the same kind of poem. The “I am a beautiful snowflake and I am going to tell you about all the horrible things those rich white men do, but don’t worry because we have the power to change the world,” poem. Seriously, that is the only poem I hear from you. Could it kill you to write something that has nothing to do with that, and maybe, I don’t know, grow as an artist?

3) SOCIAL COMMENTARY ALONE DOES NOT ART MAKE!

I’m not saying art isn’t about social commentary, I believe that is one of art’s functions. My problem is that you are only social commentary, AND IT IS GETTING ANNOYING.

“Oh, Dylan, you can’t say that,” says the Slam Poet. “You’re just ignoring the fact that our society perpetuates rape, and Stephen Harper is destroying our country, and that Israel is setting up a Holocaust in Palestine. You just don’t have a social consciousness, like we do. Don’t you care about saving the world?”

You know what Slam Poet? No, I don’t care about saving the world. Fuck saving the world. I am so sick of you going on about saving the fucking world. You only talk about saving the world. I am at this point ready to say fuck the world, let’s end it now and put it out of it’s fucking misery because I am sick of you saying that I need too.

“But Dylan, art can be a powerful force of social change,” the Slam Poet says.

No, art is not a force for social change. Art is a byproduct of social change. Was Hitler suddenly defeated by a play? Did Pol Pot suddenly decide not to commit genocide when he heard a poem about how bad killing people is? Among all the poems, all the songs, all the books and movies made about George W. Bush’s grand eight year fuck up, did he show any sign of stopping? At this point, your only hope of poetry having any social change, is that the wind caries your piss in the general direction of whoever it is you are complaining about.

Again, I want to reiterate that good art can, and does, discuss political issues. There is a difference between a work that addresses social issues, and examines its effects on human beings within a society, and a piece that just talks about them. There is a difference between saying “The War on Drugs has a negative effect upon society,” and “The Wire.” There is a difference between saying “Good art cannot flourish under a totalitarian state,” and “The Master and Margarita.” There is a difference to saying “Since 1993, there have been 5000 unanswered deaths of female factory workers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,” and “2666.” These works show fully realized human beings, humans with strengths, desires and flaws. Human beings who are not mouth pieces for the author to go off on whatever rant he feels like. These are what I like to experience as a reader and viewer. I’m not asking you to give the next Great Canadian Novel, but you could at least seek to try giving us something human instead of talking about what affects humans.

4) I DON’T NEED TO BE ANY GOOD AT POETRY, BECAUSE THIS IS A POETRY SLAM

I have gotten this response from a prominent member of the KW Poetry Slam. I will spare her the indignity of saying the name of this individual, but this quote has stayed with me. This is probably the most disturbing, offensive thing I have ever heard at a poetry slam. Talking about rape and genocide is expected, but this is something that I find disturbing on several levels.

I admit, I am not the best poet. I am not very strong at metre, and I write very infrequently. I do like to put effort into my pieces. If you have heard some of my poems, then you should know that the next time I perform them they will be different. In fact, I was thinking of reworking a few of them to have stronger mnemonic devices so I can more easily perform them without a page. And the Poetry Slam is a very seat of the pants type of poetry. But there is still that one line, that you don’t really have to care about poetry. You just want a creative (I use the term loosely) way to bring up social critique. Ultimately, you don’t change, and without change, you can’t have good art.

It may seem foolish, but I expect the standard of art I hear to be of the same standard as the guy who does my plumbing. My father always told me that you should put your best into whatever it is you do, even if it is something you hate. Well God help me, I love poetry. Can you blame me for wanting to put in a little extra effort? And can you blame me, for being offended when people take a thing I love and treat it shabbily, as if poetry was just a prop in their trunk of polemics?

So to wrap this up KW Poetry Slam, shut the fuck up and look at yourselves. Really look at yourselves. You are not as deep as you think you are. You are not as good as you think you are. You are not the avant-garde, you are not the new face of poetry. I am even going to say that you are not horrible. You are not offensive enough to be horrible. You are just average, and in the end that is a bigger sin then being horrible.

ADDENDUM: When I wrote this I was tired and angry at things beyond my control. If I have offended you, I am sorry, but I stand by my basic point. The KW Poetry Slam has become a recepticle of all the faults of the Poetry Slam form, and has become dry, unchallenging, and boring. It is ultimately inevitable that the Slam would become an institution, and with it loose much of it’s vitality. In the name of good art, it is time for us to seriously consider an alternative.

Upcoming Shows


I’m going to be performing at the Ontario International Poetry Slam.

Yes, that’s right. I, Dylan Tern will be performing in a poetry slam with poets across the continent. So you all go to the website and buy yourself an all-access ticket, because beside me there are poets with actual presence and clout in the slam poetry world. Poets like Brian Omni Dillon, Kait Rokowski and Lauren Zuniga. It should be an exciting day of poetry.

The Problem of Chomsky

Anyone following the career of Noam Chomsky is soon confronted with a problem. In fact, it has become known as the “Chomsky problem”. Chomsky has achieved eminence in two very different fields, theoretical linguistics and political commentary. The “Chomsky problem” is that his approaches to these fields appear to contradict each other. In politics Chomsky is a radical, but in linguistics he takes positions that can easily be characterized as reactionary. He treats linguistics as a branch of biology. He traces language to a “Universal Grammar” resident in the physical brain. He believes that our linguistic nature is hard-wired into our genes. Because they diminish the influence of environment on human behaviour, such claims can be used to suggest that certain modes of social organization are natural and immutable. As a result, they have often been associated with conservative politics.

Chomsky himself professes to see no problem. He believes that linguistics is a natural science, and research in the natural sciences must be objective and based on the evidence alone. Indeed, part of the researcher’s job is to divest himself of his cultural and political prejudices before entering the laboratory. These methodological principles were established by the seventeenth-century scientific revolution of Newton and the Royal Society, which was in Chomsky’s view a progressive development and an immeasurable boon to humanity. He sees no reason why the methods of the natural sciences should not be applied to the study of the human mind.

His critics caution that empirical science is closely linked, certainly historically and perhaps conceptually, to capitalist political economy. These discourses both emerge in late seventeenth-century England, and they conquer the world together. Surely this suggests an affinity that ought to trouble those who advocate one but castigate the other? The interviews now published as The Science of Language and How the World Works show that this paradox is at least playing on Chomsky’s mind. The conversations range promiscuously, and although one book is largely concerned with linguistics while the other is mainly political, Chomsky seems happier than usual to discuss the mutual implications of his two fields of interest.

“How Noam Chomsky’s World Works,” by David Hawkes

I’ve been something on a William Blake kick since I’ve started reading his biography by Ackroyd. Hanging out with William Blake has been a pretty awesome experience, as he gives some of my anxieties and ideas more form. He’s what I like to consider a memetic ancestor, he’s the figure that stands at the crux of stuff that has affected my life. Without William Blake there would be no Allen Ginsberg, no William S. Burroughs, no Mage: the Ascension, no Doors, no nothing. When I ever get around to setting up that Voodoo Ancestor Altar, I may even set up a place for Memetic Ancestors like William Blake. I’m certain he’s somekind of Saint, and that if I were to contact him with spiritualist techniques he would respond.

Anyways, I bring up William Blake now because my reading of his biography has brought up some interesting aspects when met with the above article. I’m sure you all know about Noam Chomsky, who’s a local demagogue of linguistics and rallier against the Capitalist Man. As you can see there is a problem in his thinking that brings up a problem. Chomsky is a scientist, using scientific principles on the subject of language, and thus he is blind to the affect science has had in the creation of the system he now fights against. While he is a child of Newton, as the early post brings up, he fails to see that the mechanical nature of the Industrial-Scientific World has helped create the Rex Mundi that is capitalism.

Is it wrong to assume that Capital is an evil spirit? A Self-directing entity that has gained incredible control over our area of the universe? The idea dosen’t really seem so outrageous to me. I’m an aspiring magician, and as such I will have to deal with many things that I can’t actually perceive, at least not right now. This is a problem for the Newtonian Chomsky however.

This Chomsky cannot do. The logical conclusion of his political commentary is that capital acts as an independent agent, insinuating itself into the human mind and systematically perverting it. But this is incompatible with his scientific assumption that the mind is merely an “emergent property” of the physical brain. As Chomsky himself reminds us, the idea that human beings are purely physical entities, devoid of discarnate qualities such as mind, spirit or soul (or indeed ideas), has become plausible only over the past three centuries. Thomas Kuhn refers to this as a “paradigm shift”, but Chomsky rejects the concept because it implies that scientific truth is historically relative. For him, the Galilean revolution of the seventeenth century was simply an unprecedented, almost miraculous leap forward, and he sees it as his task to extend this revolution to areas, such as linguistics, in which its impact has been delayed. He does not attempt to explain why it occurred in the first place.

This ultimately leads to the problem that humans are objects, which is ironic since under this time money has become a spiritual entity. Money is without body, yet it affects us all. In some respects, pre-Enlightenment folks may have not been wrong in saying that the world will end. It already has. The Great Beast has taken it’s form as Capitol, and now has much more influence then any religious body.

The problem, as the article points out, is that we have become objects to be sold on the open market. We have forgotten that we have souls. It is time that we start to remember that we have them. Only when we take back our spirits from the machine of capitalism, or as Blake put it “these dark Satanic mills,” will we trulley be free.

Follow up from Last Post: eBay and the Occult

I have had more time to read about the whole eBay banning occult things, and I may have been mistaken. In my rage, which probably hade nothing to do with the occult items, I got carried away and did not do much research. eBay will continue to sell magic items (tarot cards, occult books), but actual services (tarot readings, psychic attacks on rival businessmen, fertility spells for the barren). There are still problems with this ban, which is dealt with in the Wild Hunt article below. I just felt it was best to alert you all to the current events.

Rune Soup – “Mere Words, No Matter From the Heart” – Also talks about the use of the word “witchcraft”

The Wild Hunt – eBay’s Magical Ban: The Problem With Selling Speech

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