Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kill Us, Vol. 2

How is the ongoing drama in Ferguson, Missouri like the movie Kill Bill, Vol. 2?  No, I am not saying Tarantino is a racist, far from it. There is no superficiality in this comparison. I will supply the hints, you will try to see the pattern. At the conclusion, we'll see if you're right or not.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2
The movie mostly centers around Bill's drunken brother Budd. He's a real sad sack. He lives in a mobile home parked out in the middle of nowhere, probably because Budd can't afford the rent at a trailer park. He works as a bouncer in a low-rent strip low-rent, most of the time there are no customers for him to bounce. His boss is an abusive coke head. His life sucks.

The Bride wants to kill him for his participation in the wedding-day massacre a few years back, the one that left her in a coma for years. The Bride is a former top assassin, an assassin of assassins, a complete professional.

His mobile home is in a gully out in the middle of nowhere. I did mention that, didn't I? Budd is a man of routines. He goes to work. He goes by a liqour store, a package store, for his daily needs. When he's not at work, he's in his old mobile home drinking himself silly.

What does the Bride do? This exemplar of assassins? She charges right in the front door. Budd disables her with a rock-salt blast from his shotgun. He then carts her off to an old cemetery and buries her alive.

These quotations are from the Guardian article:

Figures published last year by Missouri’s attorney general showed that seven black drivers were stopped by police in the town for every white driver, and that 12 times as many searches were carried out on black drivers as white, despite searches of white people being far more likely to turn up something illegal.

The penalties issued for minor offences uncovered during these stops make up almost a quarter of the town’s annual revenues, leading to resentment that poorer residents are being milked to fund the salaries of white bureaucrats. Some say that one of the defining sights of Ferguson comes on the days when traffic court is in session: a queue of black residents wrapped around the block, waiting their turn to be punished by a white prosecutor in front of a white judge.

Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson, concedes that the failure of black residents to vote in local elections has perpetuated the problem. But, she says, many "don’t show up because they are too busy working out how they are going to eat and feed their families the next day."

Tentative Conclusion
What do you make of this little puzzle, this conundrum of cultural tropes and sad history? "Racism!" you shout, but how does that fit in with a completely non-racist action movie?

A few more hints are needed.

Kill Bill Vol. 2
I believe in character-based fiction. The people embedded in the story drive the story, not the other way round. It's hard to see what I'm talking about in Kill Bill v2 because so much of the movie is wrapped around very good dialog. I'm a fan of noir dialog, and this movie has it, every damn word is Red Harvest gold. The truth of KBv2 is covered up by excellent filmmaking and dialog straight out of the heart of hardboiled fiction. Here it is, so simple, yet so easily missed. The Bride is a lethal creature, the deadliest assassin in the history of assassins. She wants to kill a man, Budd. He lives in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of a gully, one road in and out. How does an ace assassin kill Budd? Well, she sure as fuck doesn't charge in the front door. She has to know, in part because she left one of Bill's henchwomen alive to tell him in volume 1, that Bill knows she's coming to kill them all. Bill would tell everyone, including his drunken brother Budd. Budd will be waiting for her, he'll probably be sitting just inside his door with a shotgun. So how does she kill him? The ace assassin would either...

...firebomb the trailer and cut Budd down when he runs out.

...or, the better approach, build a sniper nest on the hill overlooking the trailer and shot the man when he opens his door the next morning. If she wanted to kill him up-close, spine-shoot the bastard, then walk down and cut him to pieces with her blade.

But she doesn't do that. All the surface layers are a lie. The good dialog, the great acting, the sets, the noir ambiance, a lie. Underneath, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is another typical plot-driven piece of Hollywood shit.

Under racism, which is real, which is oppressive, is a system of control utilizing racism as one of its tools. Racism controls both the people oppressed by it and the people supposedly benefiting from it. It feeds fear and misapprehension. It is the perfect misdirection. The economic and political system in place in Ferguson is a microcosm of modern America. We are kept distracted by this or that thing. We are kept divided by race and economic class. We are told to fear each other. All the while, wealth is extracted from us, keeping us so busy with our daily lives, we cannot see the inequalities, the rigged game. Ferguson ably demonstrates what the rich have long known: it is possible to make money off of poor people, even against their wishes. The political power structure of Ferguson is parasitic on the black population. They use racism as a tool in this parasitism.

The shocking thing, whites go along with the inequality for almost the same reason the black community does. They're too busy, they're afraid, they're distracted...except they're afraid of their black neighbors. They've been told by word, deed, and image that they need to be afraid. They've been told it's a zero-sum game. They can hear the subtext of the message the police in Ferguson deliver: "You benefit from the system, look what we do to people who don't support the system." The cops could make it more blatant and shout, "It's all for you!" They don't need to, the message is clear. It's the other side of racism. Still the same coin. Control is still there. The present neoliberal regime sees the absolute necessity to divide the lower classes, to distract them, to make them afraid, to make their lives an unending rat's maze of difficulty. Like Tarantino's movie, this is at the bottom of the experience. Racism is the distraction, the tool, control is the plot.

Someone else gets it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and I think alike. Here is the link to his essay:

One little point from Kareem's essay. Notice the power of racism to control not just the population, but the reaction to oppression. After Kent State, outrage and protest. After Jackson State, crickets.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Value of Fiction: We Can Dream It All Over Again

To those who have not heard, an unarmed young black guy named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri was shot for jaywalking. According to the witness, his only crime was in trying to argue with the cop who approached him. I grew up around cops, and not one of the cops I knew would have shot a kid for a little lip. In my mind, I put one of them behind the wheel of the cop car that night.

    Officer Mucklow turned onto Green street. It was a quiet night. Two young black men were walking down the middle of the street. He had seen them around before, they were local kids. He wasn't sure, but he thought they both lived somewhere along this block. He eased the cop car slowly up parallel with them.
    "Hi, guys."
    "Hey, man."
    "Do me a favor and get up on the sidewalk."
    "We live just up there." The kid pointed to a house a few doors down.
    "Still, it'd be nice if you got up on the sidewalk."
    "I don't see why. There aren't any cars out. You just like bossing people around. We're almost home anyway."
    Mucklow smiled. "Tell you what. It's a slow night. I'm going to drive up to the end of the block. I'm going to wait there. If you two haven't gone home, if you're still walking in the middle of the street by the time you get to me, I'll give you each a fifty-dollar jaywalking ticket. How's that sound?"
    Without another word, Mucklow pulled out ahead of the kids. He drove down to the end of the block and got out of his car with his ticket book in his hand.
    The kids were still defiant, they continued to walk in the street...until they came to their houses. They each went inside.
    Mucklow got in his car and drove away. Quiet night.

There is also a chance that the real Officer Mucklow would not have said a word to the kids, it being a small town, no traffic on the side streets. Knowing Lloyd Mucklow, growing up across the alley from him as a kid, if he even turned down that street, he would have passed the kids in his patrol car, giving them both a friendly wave as he did so.