4.5/5 thumbs up
Justin Timberlake’s new record, The 20/20 Experience, was released yesterday after almost two solid months of ubiquitous promotional excitement. On paper, the stakes couldn’t be higher: 1) JT’s last record, FutureSex/LoveSounds, was the exceedingly rare album that was both a critical and a commercial smash; 2) he’d been out of the music game since before the invention of the smartphone, during the entirety of which time the demand for new JT music somehow never waned; 3) and, during this hiatus, not a single pop star of his artistic and commercial caliber had arisen, leaving all the weight of being his generation’s Michael Jackson/Prince still squarely on Timberlake’s shoulders.
The most impressive thing about The 20/20 Experience, then, is that it’s so completely self-assured. It’s artistically sophisticated without a lick of pretension, it’s immaculately professional without sacrificing personality, it’s sweet and poppy and soulful and serious all at the same time. It’s as if the last seven years never happened, as if (you ready for this?) Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, One Direction, Owl City, Flo Rida, LMFAO, Susan Boyle, Bruno Mars, the David Guetta sound, “I Gotta Feeling,” fun., Carly Rae, Psy and that other Justin were all just products of an exceptionally weird collective fever dream.
This is the case musically as well, and The 20/20 Experience is a natural development of the sound Timberlake and Timbaland crafted on FutureSex/LoveSounds, ignoring basically everything that’s been on your radio since 2006. Actually, the touchstone here seems to mostly be Timberlake’s 2002 mega-hit “Cry Me A River,” employing many of the same sonic flourishes that made that record such an unusual, and unusually great, piece of music. Of course, this means that the album also has a lot of beatboxing, and if you hated that about FutureSex you’ll hate it about this one.
The fear was that JT’s new throwback-y look meant that he would be diving straight into Michael Buble-isms, but the 40′s jazz-crooner look is just that – a look. The music itself effortlessly incorporates what feels like the whole scope of R&B history: Prince (The cut “Spaceship Coupe” features a guitar solo that sounds uncannily like the Purple One himself), the pace of D’Angelo’s Voodoo, James Brown, the Jackson 5, Maxwell, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson. It’s a widely varied album that pronounces itself both a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of most of them too.
A lot of the flak the album has been catching from various quarters (Grantland, Slate, the New York Times) centers on the length of the songs (they’re almost all over seven minutes), and these critics condemn the record for conflating song length with artistic achievement. But The 20/20 Experience treats the long-song format exactly right. Instead of falling into the traps many famously-indulgent long songs do (endless guitar soloing, repetitiveness), The 20/20 Experience‘s songs are constantly moving, and the second half of each track takes the chance to explore the songwriting possibilities inherent in their respective first halves. That is, the last four minutes of, say “Let the Groove Get In,” are just as tightly-written as the first four, expertly constructed to keep your ear interested and your body moving. Another concern of 20/20‘s detractors are the “anodyne” lyrics. Timberlake hasn’t gotten any better in that department, but his lyrics are dumb in such a specifically JT sort of way that if he suddenly became Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello overnight, I would miss the way the dumbness of the lyrics as they are mesh with the particular intelligence of the music itself.
Perhaps the most notable achievement of this album is that it’s a good album about a happy marriage; Timberlake was recently wed to Jessica Biel, and all the songs on this record are ostensibly about how much he likes her. Most musicians become complacent and artistically fallow during times of personal contentment. But Timberlake pulls it off by pairing his love-struck lyrics with resolutely strange, sometimes tonally dark music – as if he recognizes that happiness and contentment can be just as weird as sadness and isolation. And weird it is, and unique to the artist – what makes 20/20 so good, ultimately, is that it’s a reminder that Timberlake is still the only pop star alive who has the charisma, artistic vision and vocal precision to sing this kind of music and send it to the top of the charts. And that’s why it’s so good to have him back.
Key Tracks: The “Darling Nikki”-esque “Pusher Love Girl,” electro-jam “Spaceship Coupe,” Latin/Michael Jackson hybrid “Let the Groove Get In,” soul strut “That Girl,” the gorgeous song-of-the-whale ballad “Blue Ocean.”
What’s that, Richard? You’re twenty-three years old and you’re going to tell us, in the face of eight thousand years of recorded human history, why we need art?
There’s something scientists call the “shower principle”. It goes like this: you have all your greatest epiphanies when you’re taking a shower, because your mind is basically blanked out by the sensation of being surrounded by hot water. This allows you to think without thinking about thinking, if that makes any sense. Noted Maine resident Stephen King describes it as a back-to-the-womb experience: you’re in similar conditions as you were in utero, when your mind was at its most fertile – it grew from a single cell to a complete human brain in nine months, after all.
Anyway, all that to say I had a shower principle experience the other day. I was contemplating, as I sometimes do, the difficulty of being certain about anything, and particularly how hard it is to reason your way to solid conviction. I often reflect on this. Sometimes, reading a lot of Christian and conservative writing, I find myself thinking, “this doesn’t make one blessed lick of sense”; I also read a number of secular-liberal websites (because they’re the only ones that have anything interesting to say about art, television, music, science, film, popular culture, and What Are the Best Cigars and Why, etc. etc.), but after reading their writing about religion and politics, I find myself thinking the exact same thing as I did about the conservatives – which tends to be more infuriating, because such websites are entirely predicated on how much more sense they make than those wacky religious nuts.
But on the other hand, both sides have arguments for their own platforms that are winning and make a whole lot of sense, which only serves to reinforce the reality that it can be difficult to merely think your way to certainty. This is why the Puritan movement of the early 1600s and their modern-day Christian descendants bother me so much; their sense that they could flaccidly appropriate impoverished secular Enlightenment rationalism to reach “right doctrine” and prevent people from celebrating holidays seems…stupid.
[Sidebar: I served as both an editor and the chief indexer on a book called "The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1653" by my esteemed friend and all-around cool guy Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn. This means I spent five days a week, every week, from September 2011 to July 2012, reading the flaccid Enlightenment appropriations of the Puritans and getting them forever imprinted on my cerebral cortex, only getting a break when Oxford University Press decided to take a whole month off for Christmas. All that to say, I know my early 17th-century Puritans. If you have 900 spare dollars, please purchase one of these handsome five-volume sets.]
So anyway, between rinsing and repeating I realized this: truth exists, but it can only be grasped firmly by something other than the reasoning portion of your brain.
For instance, even though lah-de-dah postmodernist academics have convinced themselves intellectually that there’s no real truth, and cannot convince themselves otherwise, they do not seriously believe this, viscerally, in their guts; and indeed, they don’t live their lives as if all truths are relative.
A quick sidenote in order to provide some perspective on the post- and post-postmodern mindset: once upon a time, I and a friend of mine, an attendee of a large east-coast women’s college, were sitting on the Red Line of the DC metro after a Nationals game (back when everyone went to Nats games to see the other team), and I asked her – apropos of nothing, in hindsight – if all truths were relative. She replied, “yes.”
I, grinning on the inside, prepared to unleash that lethal weapon of logic, the trigger all Christians are just itching to pull:
“Well, is that truth relative?”
I think I was expecting her to maybe vanish into dust, screaming, like that one bad guy at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; or perhaps to bow her head in contrition and meekly murmur that I was so right and what was she thinking, and that she’d repent of her folly. Instead, she just smiled and said, “of course it is.”
I was, to put it mildly, nonplussed. Then I asked, “well is the truth that the sun rises in the morning relative?”
To which she replied, laughing, “No, that’s science.”
I realized a couple important things about the postmodern ideological project that day:
1) When people say “all truths are relative,” they actually mean, simply, that “different people believe different things.” That is to say, if Sanjit the Hindu believes that he was born into a certain low-level caste and thus deserves whatever horrible things are meted out to him, he really believes it. Since that belief can’t be invalidated – there’s no scientific evidence that can confirm or disconfirm the Hindu concept of death and rebirth – it is completely and utterly true for Sanjit, such that if you were suddenly find your consciousness downloaded into Sanjit’s brain, you would find yourself living in a world of karma, reincarnation, and the depredations of many-armed gods.
2) There is a difference between “fact” and “truth.” Let’s bring everything back to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the film, Indy’s teaching in his classroom full of swooning coeds and he says, “Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.” This quote has stuck with me ever since I saw the movie as a kid. My dad told me Indy’s pontificating was a whole bunch of crap, but that distinction – between saying something like “God is love” and “The countertops are granite” – is a real thing, and it’s key to understanding why a postmodern-y person can say stuff like “truth is relative” and then affirm that the sun does, indeed, rise every morning. Truth – that which provides meaning, that which runs beneath the surface of observable phenomena – is what is relative.
So with that definition of truth out of the way, let’s turn back to the fact that the practically postmodernist person seems, despite his claim to the contrary, to feel some eminently non-provable truths. Like, say, that the powerful love you feel for your spouse is not just a chemical in your head, it’s something more magical. Like what you feel when you see a sunset over someplace like Bryce Canyon National Park. Like what is affirmed to you (and here we finally get to the point) when you read a story or see a film or hear a piece of music that punches you right in the gut and sends shivers up and down your spine. That’s truth. Merely saying ”there is a God because of _______” or, “There is no God because ________” has accomplished little else than to make the hearer either unsure of what he or she believes, or superficially re-convinced of what they were already certain of. At least that’s been my experience.
In the face of a beautiful piece of art, we find ourselves affirming the existence of real, actual Truth, regardless of what we profess with our mouths. You can say “all truth is relative” all you want. But the power of, say, Hamlet to express the dark, nebulous contents of the human soul, across boundaries of culture and geography, does more to confound that mindset than debate-team rejoinders like “but is that truth relative?” ever could.
Not that argumentation doesn’t have its place. It does. But what we respond to in a good argument is not its content but its form, the beauty of the language in which it is expressed, the honesty and humility with which it is presented. We respond not to the particular reason, but to the reaffirmation of the general beauty of reason. We respond to the art of argument.
In short, creating art and sharing it is how human beings speak truth to each other, and it’s in echoing the creative spirit of the Creator himself that we re-inspire creatures of dust and ashes with the breath of life.
Since I mentioned Hamlet, 16th-century essayist Samuel Johnson, the father of English literary criticism, had this to say about Shakespeare:
“Shakespeare’s plays are…compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination; and expressing the course of the world.”
That quote, which probably solidified Shakespeare’s reputation as the greatest writer in history, is to my mind the final word on what makes any great piece of art great. But don’t take Johnson’s word for it. Read a great book, look at a great painting, watch a great movie, listen to a great piece of music, and understand that Truth is real.
I had not thought of the words “Occupy Wall Street” for who-knows-how-long until that phrase got mentioned on the 30 Rock finale. Remember Occupy? When a bunch of college students sat around and talked about how totally sucky big business was and, like, full-on got on the news and stuff?
If I’m honest, I didn’t think much about the Occupy movement while it was actually happening, so maybe the fact that I don’t think about it now either doesn’t mean much. I guess I just had a hard time getting behind thousands of people having a movement about, uh, well…wait…what was it about again? And when was the last time a “movement” ever felt so sedentary? Here, look:
Occupy, as far as I could tell, was a bunch of unemployed, inarticulately mad college students who wanted to share in their collective anger by camping out in front of places where adults went to work during the day. At the time, my advice to any one of them would have been to do what their parents did and get a job, sir. But it would have gone unheeded.
That’s because in this age, anger over the status quo is a moral imperative. If you aren’t mad, it can only be because you aren’t paying attention, or worse, you are a soulless suit. We all know that there is only one person who would tell you that an honest day’s work was more important than your social activism: The Man.
So the Occupiers camped and chanted. We aren’t happy with the way things are! We want change! We want the future! And we won’t stop yelling until we get it!
Endlessly yelling about perceived inequality. This is the activism of our age. And it was not only the heart of the foolish, short-lived rabble-rousing of Occupy. It is the mentality that rears its simplistic head in every cultural nook and cranny–just as much the fuel of the vehement rally cries of presidential campaign slogans (“Change we can believe in!”) as of the quieter jadedness and condescension of hipsterism.
The reason this is all “foolish” and “simplistic” (strong words, I’m aware) is that it is almost never difficult to identify the problems in any system or organization. Go ahead, try it. Think of your family structure or work place or city or state or country. Now think of some problems in that system.
See? It’s easy.
The result is a social activism that is often little more than a loosely organized group of people being vocal about systemic problems as an end in itself. Or, in a word, whining. Loud whining. And we don’t really need any more of that, do we?
So yes: racism, violence, and poverty are bad (so insightful of you to say so!). But the trouble is that racism, violence, and poverty (et. al.) are enormous and complex problems that require serious, thoughtful solutions. People who whine loudly make the news; people who think deeply make meaningful contributions to social change.
And while the Occupy movement is the whipping boy of this post, it is only one example of our loud whining. The 24-hour news cycle values speedy reaction more than serious thinking. Your friend’s angry facebook, or, ahem, blog posts are not always beacons of articulateness or depth. Many of us find ourselves complicit in all the foolish yelling.
At some point, hopefully someone will realize that the Martin Luther King Jr.’s of the world didn’t just whine loudly. They had dreams that they articulated with eloquence and they wrote letters from prisons with real insight. Which is to say that they did the hard but indispensable work of thinking seriously about solutions and conveying them with clarity and power.
In any case, Occupy is now dead and gone, and I, for one, won’t be among the mourners. RIP, Occupy, and may your gravestone be a testament to the truth that disorganized yelling isn’t the path to meaningful social change.
If you’re reading this blog, its entirely likely you fall somewhere between the social media consumer categories of “I know that Facebook and Twitter exist” to “I practically have a bluetooth implant of my Twitter feed directly to my brainstem”. So, if you’re a guy in this case and you have a signifigant other, you probably know that she uses Pintrest. Pintrest, the über hip, Internet collage site takes what most girls did in adolescence with cutting things out of magazines and streamlines it, takes out the glue sticks and tape, and lets folks post things they think are fun and interesting and beautiful — usually photo-based — all in one place. Dudes do it to, like me, but I think it has really captured something that women especially gravitate toward and does it in a unique, fun and interesting way.
Uniquely true of Pintrest too, what would have normally only resided in the diaries of womenfolk, locked away from prying eyes of men and mean girls, allows people to share and repin and like — to get a real sense of what another person likes, in a way unique from, say, Facebook or Instagram. That being said, social media has played a unique role in the relationship I have with my now fiancé, and I thought I would share a few tips for dudes who might be looking to impress as well as get to know better their significant other.
1. Look at her Pintrest page regularly. If your significant other pins, especially if she does regularly, open up the view where you can see all of her pins, and see what she has posted recently. Looking through her pins and boards can be helpful in terms of getting to know what kinds of things she values, or what hairstyles she may be considering, what kind of food she might want to try, or other things which are important to her. This week I noticed my fiancé posted a number of recipes, some new dresses and clothing, and a few craft projects it looks like she’d enjoy trying out.
2. Like, comment, and open a conversation in real life. Assuming you get a Pintrest account, try “liking” or commenting on things that you genuinely like of hers. It might be weird to talk about, leave space in real life conversations for where you can bring up things she’s pinned. “I saw you posted about that room full of books, I thought it was interesting, what did you like about it?” or even what might be easier is to start with some of the food items, “that double stuffed cookie crusted pecan pie looked super tasty”. It’s important to remember that sometimes someone just posts something because it was aesthetically pleasing too, so just because someone posts 45 photos of a pixie haircut, doesn’t mean their about to lop off their fair locks tomorrow, nor does it mean she’s expecting to buy or you should buy her the $5000 dress she posted — but they can make for good conversation starters.
3. Make a Secret Board with her. This might make you step out of your comfort zone a little, but for me and my fiancé, we have a Secret Board (a board only certain people can see, on our case, each other) which we post things to when we think about each other. Sometimes it’s wedding stuff, sometimes its a recipie one of us wants to try, sometimes its a quote or meme which reminds us of the other. But this allows for folks to post things they wouldn’t normally let the rest of the universe see. Which is nice, because maybe she’d like to show you some engagement rings that she likes, but would feel awkward sending to the universe at large.
4. Pin things which remind you of her. Okay, so you’re here on this blog today, that means you probably troll the blogosphere for the next Evangelical controversy, or play armchair theologian adversus your least favorite modern pastor/professor/theologian, but between causing the next Reformation from your Twitter account, you probably see things which remind you of your significant other. Maybe JT posts an article on marriage or Complementarianism, maybe it’s a book you saw on Amazon, or maybe it’s a fun review of a restaurant you’d like to take her to. Try installing the Pintrest Bookmarklet into your browser so you can easily pin something either to your Secret Board or to your board directly. It cuts out a lot of the process, plus she knows you’re thinking about her throughout the day.
5. Act on something she’s pinned. This one can involve the most risk: actually do something about something she’s pinned. This could mean buying a dress she posted about (try and slyly checking to see she hasn’t and finding her size, maybe ask her friends), but what might be easier to plan a date where you make something she’s pinned. I did this on our third date with my now-fiance. She posted some cookies to her Pintrest wall and I decided to make them — it blew her away that someone would think about her like that. Now, a word of caution: this was a bit of a risk because she could have thought it was über creepy. Also, again, sometimes women post things on a whim, and don’t think twice about it, so that’s why having a conversation about her whats and whys of pinning can be helpful (especially if whatever you’re doing involves money). The other word of caution is men many times are pretty clueless when it comes to aesthetics, so do your homework before you try this at home.
Guideline: Social Media is only beneficial to your relationship if it is a starter and not an ends. If I only posted things to our Secret Board, if I only bought her things, if I only like and comment on my fiancé’s boards, I’m toast. Social media, in general, is only beneficial when it is working to help start conversations, help start projects, help as starting points in a relationship, but the moment it becomes the ends in itself, it’s self-referential, idolatrous Babel. But in instances where it can lead to us having great food we wouldn’t otherwise try, or talking about a beautiful home library we’d love to curl up in, or imagining our future home splashed in some offbeat color we wouldn’t otherwise normally try — it can be a lot of fun as we do it together.
File Under: Just a dude talking about Pintrest. Nothing wrong with that. Gonna go eat a steak and watch some UFC now.
Welcome to a new column I’ve informatively and alliteratively titled “Mystery of the Month.” One of my interests, beyond music and facts about space and animals, is the unexplained. Not the paranormal, chupacabra/bigfoot/aliens/conspiracy-lunatic type of thing, although I do love The X-Files quite a bit; I’m talking about unsolved cold cases and true-crime incidents that, while officially corroborated and completely within the bounds of accepted scientific fact, have defied and continue to defy explanation utterly. And there are more of these than you might think – a quick jog through Wikipedia’s murky depths will uncover dozens and dozens of these strange happenings; disappearances and deaths and disturbances that for one reason or another we will never be able to even begin to provide an explanation for. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s something about investigating these cases that reminds me, in a peculiarly compelling way, of just how finite we really are as creatures, and just how small compared to the big bad world; so in “Mystery of the Month,” we’ll take a dive down the rabbit hole together and venture into the dark wonderland of the weird.
This month, we consider the Lead Masks Case, which is the name given to the events surrounding the 1966 deaths of two TV repairmen in Brazil.
On August 20th, 1966, a boy named Jorge was out flying a kite on Vintém Hill, a sort of park-like area that’s right smack in the middle of Rio de Janeiro, when he stumbled across two guys lying side by side in the brush, dressed to the nines in their best suits, dead. The men were later identified as Manoel Pereira de Cruz and Miguel Jose Viana, two electronic technicians from Campos los Goytacazes, a town several miles northeast of Rio.
Police were called in, and some exquisitely weird things presented themselves to the investigators immediately. One, there were no signs of violence or a struggle – it appeared as if both men had just laid down and died peacefully right then and there. Two, both men were wearing waterproof raincoats over their suits, and near them were two towels and an empty bottle of water. Three, they were wearing lead masks – a kind of mask with no eyeholes used to protect against radiation.
And four, a notebook was found near them, and in the notebook was written,
16:30 Hs. esta local determinado.
18:30 Hs. engolir cápsula, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal máscara.
At 16:30 be at the agreed place.
At 18:30 swallow capsule, after effect protect metals await mask signal.
Police were later able to piece together a rough account of what happened before the two men arrived – three days before they were found, Cruz and Viana told their families that they had gotten some money to buy work supplies and a car, and took the bus out of Campos to Niteroi, the Rio neighborhood where Vintém Hill is located. In Niteroi, they purchased the raincoats and towels, and stopped in at a local bar to buy a bottle of water. The bartender, when interrogated, said Viana looked nervous and checked his watch often. From there, the two men went to Vintém Hill, and whatever happened to them happened.
To this day, the deaths of Cruz and Viana remain unexplained – toxicology scans were never even performed, because the coroner’s office was full; by the time they got around to it, the bodies were too decomposed to have any tests done on them.
The list of questions that spins off from the case is simply endless, but I’ll hold myself to only a few:
It seems fairly clear that the men were poisoned. The mention of a capsule, the water bottle used to wash it down, the fact that a tox screen was never perfomed, and the lack of physical violence done to the bodies seems to suggest this pretty strongly. But who did it? It wasn’t suicide. Also in the notebook was a list of codes for TV parts, which suggests that the two men went to Niteroi to do exactly what they said they were going to do – buy equipment for work and return with it – and that the Vintém Hill visit was merely one item on the itinerary. The bartender mentioned that the men, after purchasing the bottle, got a receipt to return the empty bottle to the bar so it could be reused. And per the note, after the effect of the capsule kicked in, they planned to “protect metals” and “await mask signal,” whatever that could possibly mean. All of which suggests that Viana and Cruz certainly weren’t planning their deaths.
This implies that they were killed. But how, and by whom? Were they tricked into taking poison? Some have suggested that they planned to buy radioactive metals from whomever they were meeting, hence the lead masks and the “protect metals” part of the note. But why the capsule then? And why the waterproof coats and the towels? And if the meeting was at 4:30, but the pill-taking was at 6:30, isn’t that an awfully long time to make a clandestine exchange?
The UFO nuts love this one, for obvious reasons, and there are reports that the two men were themselves UFO-obsessed and planned to meet with aliens or something that day. But, again, if the two men really thought they were going to meet aliens, why did they also buy TV parts? Why did they think they’d be able to return to the bar with the water bottle and then go back home to their day jobs, after meeting with freaking aliens!?
What makes this case great is that it’s so beautifully bizarre. It’s like a harmonic convergence of weirdness – any given explanation will account for one or two of the details, but the incongruity of the other facts renders those explanations incomplete and unsatisfying. And yet we’re stuck both with the fact that something really did happen on Vintém Hill that day, and with the sneaking suspicion that, considering the aggregate eeriness of the clues we have before us, we may not want to know what exactly that something is.
30 Rock, Tina Fey’s show about a show, came to an end last night, leaving a huge TGS-sized gap in our hearts and in NBC’s Thursday comedy lineup (The Office ended, too, but who cares); and, well, the finale was perfect. Absolutely perfect. It’s so rare for a show to stick the landing that, when it was over, my roommates and I applauded in spite of the fact that we’re three dudes in our apartment, and Tina & Co. couldn’t hear us. But what I took away from the finale – besides a renewed appreciation for its whip-smart sense of humor, the consistent and comprehensive quality of the acting, and how sorely the show will be missed – was the sense that the show finally revealed itself for what it was: a story about people and what makes them tick. Which is, after all, what all great works of art are about.
The finale has the internet buzzing – as the internet is wont to do – about the show’s legacy and the magnitude of its achievement. Wesley Morris at Grantland has a great article about how 30 Rock is basically the only show in the last 20 years to get race right (encapsulated in this clip); The New Yorker has a piece about how it’s one of the few to get New York right.
And it’s one of the few to get liberal silliness and conservative asininity right, to get both the reality of gender differences and the problem of gender inequality right, to get the vapidity and profundity of TV as a medium right. And this is all possible because 30 Rock is – was – a deeply human show; so much so, actually, that trite bloggerific phrases like “deeply human” seem kind of insulting. Maybe it’s enough to say this: 30 Rock was, above all, a show that told the truth, and that’s why, like Kenneth, it will still be around long after we are.
Lisa Kokin is a mixed media artist from California. I love the assemblage/collage aspect of her work and I especially love the delicate detailing in everything she does. I mean just look at those leaves in the first photos!
One of my favorite covers I’ve heard in awhile. Happy Tuesday.
Honesty’s a funny thing, approached from a certain angle – we crave it, the same way we crave food and water and sleep; and a person’s emotional, and even physical, well-being is intimately tied to how often he or she receives interpersonal communications that are congruent with capital-T-Truth and capital-F-Facts. Weird!
When you sense disingenuousness in another person (“BS,” as the kids say), it irritates like chemical fumes; and when you discover that a friend has outright deceived you, it can be crushing. And yet self-deception in its array of guises remains a pastime of sorts for everyone, all the time.
I bring this up in reference to the backlash (and 2012 was the year of backlash, and backlash to the backlash, and backlash to the backlash to the backlash, world without end, amen) that has arisen in the last month or so regarding Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty – namely, certain elements of the left-wing blogosphere have condemned the film as “pro-torture” because it portrays torture as having been a useful tactic in the hunt for Bin Laden.
Let’s table the puzzling and much broader question of why liberal pundits feel entitled to make such a large number of sweeping ethical claims for the moment and talk about that particular, terrible smell wafting over from Salon.com. That’s right, y’all; it’s a big pie of secular-dogmatic liberal BS! Yum. Actually, let’s dispense with trite labels – “liberal” is not a bad word, and can be indeed a very good word; but “sophistry” is a bad word, and that seems to be the definition of most liberal (and conservative, and internet) discourse these days.
Torture is bad – I think we can all shake hands and agree on that, regardless of creed or how much we like sending soldiers off to war. But to condemn a film as “pro-torture” on the grounds that it portrays torture as potentially helpful is playing a dangerous game with the truth. Because the truth is, of course torture works – any child whose brother won’t stop punching him in the arm until he gives up the Xbox controller knows this. Any parent who gives in to the shrieking demands of their toddler for more Cheerios in her little plastic yellow bowl knows this. In fact, we all know torture works because knowing that coercion gains us things is hardwired into our DNA. Metaphorically, of course. I’m no geneticist.
And this is where things get real hairy; to deny that torture works, and to lambast a film for acknowledging this truth, is to miss out on the entire reason torture is a truly terrible thing. If torture were a tactically disadvantageous idea, it wouldn’t be as thorny a problem – the insidious pull, the nagging feeling in the back of an operative’s mind that if I just pulled a couple fingernails this would all be over with and we could just go home, wouldn’t be there. That torture works is the very reason it’s so peculiarly evil, and such an important issue to tackle. And that’s what lends the film its moral weight, its raison d’etre, as the French maybe sometimes say – we successfully used torture to help us find and vengeance-kill a man in a foreign country. How proud should we be of that?
At least that’s what Bigelow and Co. are asking of us; and I, for one, think she deserves a more reasoned, non-torturously glib response.