Ask me anything


I think that I need to finish my first novel- that vampire thing I always talk about- pretty soon. I'm always switching gears and trying to take on new perspectives thanks to that pesky hypervirus that infected my brain a few years back, but I'm feeling a growing distance forming between the me that conceived of bloodampersandink and the direction that I'm rapidly heading into. Back then, I was the fish out of water naive wannabe artist grappling with the whole falling for the bad girl thing and adjusting to life out here on the coast, and those are the goggles through which the protagonist sees the world. There's some decent sized chunks of my budding feminist dialectic in it and perhaps the early seeds of my confusion, guilt, and recriminations about my gender identity but there's no room for my full blown transgenderism or the other trappings of the rapid queering of my worldview over the last two years in the novel. I think I was trying to light the way for a contemporary brand of enlightened (post) feminist compatible masculinity, but I've fled so far and so fast from heteronormativity that I'm not sure that I can see it without squinting anymore.

It's becoming a retrospective, a eulogy of sorts I guess. This is my Dear John letter to heteronormativity, to accepting my life as a man. I'm occupying a strange kind of space right now that is completely outside the binary gender system. I've been kind of shocked at how easily and readily my friends have adapted to my... well I'm not sure if I should call it queerness or eccentricity or even if I ought to make a distinction there. For most of my life Mark has been a signifier of some kind of oddness because I've almost always been seen as an eccentric in one way or another but it's really reached it's apotheosis in my gender identity. To several, I'm Mark as if saying my name in italics is enough to define my otherness (which is just peachy with me). To some I'm one of the girls. I also have three separate nicknames integrating the word "Dyke." At some point I'll talk a bit more about the butch/femme paradigm and how it became a cornerstone of my queer informed perspective on gender and sexuality.

I was feeling pretty anxious and confused about the whole thing when I started writing this, and then I saw an article over at the Huffington Post about how Lady Gaga has posed for a magazine cover topless in leather pants, pointy Edward Scissorhands gloves, and a strap on. She's out there doing that so that I can be here doing this. Thank you Lady Gaga for reminding me that it's my responsibility and duty to go flat out. I'll be a Little Monster until the day I die.

Taylor Swift is not one of us, one of us, one of us.

I've been thinking lately that a lot of people these days have lost their sense of what it means to be subversive and dangerous. Not even subversive, I guess. The essential issue is that you can't just go by what turns your gut when you're trying to figure out what's out there having a noxious effect on the general state of affairs. It's like people are standing knee deep in sirloin talking about how there's beef in the streets a good five blocks down. To a degree, that's what got me all riled up about that site that spends its time digging for symbolism and conspiracy where there almost certainly is none. People want their conspiracies and degenerate behaviour to take on familiar forms that they can recognize and denounce. The problem is that life is not a Dan Brown novel. Symbolism in the information age is a complicated beast, and human behavior is even more complex.

I'm a student of the occult. It's fascinating, fun, and useful but as with all things you can't rely on it or a singular version of it to make sense of the whole world for you. That's when you start getting bent out of shape about a Jay-Z video and miss the real and far more serious things going on in pop culture. Beyond being distracting, conspiracy theories- especially ones that focus on occult oriented ur-groups like the Illuminati- promote a really poisonous world view. Conspiracies run by globe spanning monolithic entities are by their very nature unstoppable. Ascribing them objective reality does precisely nothing but promote defeatism, apathy, and paranoia. But I covered that on the last episode.

This morning I got an article passed my way called Why Taylor Swift Offends Little Monsters, Feminists, and Weirdos. I'm all three, so I got ready to be offended. I'll be honest here; I've never knowingly heard one of her songs. The first I'd seen of her after having vaguely heard her name here and there was the incident with Kanye West. I don't put any stock in music award shows whatsoever, so all I really got out of it were the internet memes and the like. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Taylor Swift is in fact everything I hate. I'm not really going to get into it from the perspective of her being an incredibly regressive figure when it comes to femininity and sex. I'd rather you read the original article for that, because it's done quite well.

The thing that really angers me about her is how she is allowed to blatantly front like she's some kind of social outcast and moans on endlessly in her songs about how the pretty boys don't go for her. You'll notice a brilliant side by side comparison in the Autostraddle article of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga expressing their perceived freakishness. Taylor is staring out the window wearing massive framed glasses and some absurd t-shirt. The Lady Gaga shot is from the Bad Romance video with the frizzy pink hair and giant iris contact lenses. The implication is that Swift's glasses are a poorly staged affectation while Gaga's appearance is the product of a far more febrile and thus genuinely unconventional mind.

I didn't immediately glom onto Lady Gaga the way that I did Shirley Manson or Pink. It took constant immersion on the dance floor during a year that was superheated with club anthems for her to catch a toehold with me. Even so it wasn't until I began curiously peeling back the layers and slowly realizing how self constructed she was that I started down the road to becoming a Little Monster. The Rolling Stone interview was when my adoration reached critical mass. Perhaps bits and pieces of it had to do with her elucidation of her origins, intent, and dialectic but it was the revelation that she is good friends with Marilyn Manson that changed everything for me. Suddenly it all slid into focus and I realized that she is in many ways the Anti-Christ Pop Star. The aesthetic similarities between her current oeuvre and Manson's Mechanical Animals phase didn't begin to surface overtly until the premiere of the Paparazzi video and has only just barely seen it's most dizzying heights with the release of the Fame Monster. Compare the videos for Bad Romance and The Dope Show if you're still skeptical.

Real geeks, the crazy visionary ones who sat in the bleachers pining for adoration and understanding of the seemingly tyrannical masses did sit in the bleachers and probably at one point or another wore glasses and stared out the window. But they never, ever let their drama stay that small. It took on truly cosmic proportions that transformed them into avatars of their dreams, nightmares, and insecurities. They built new identities, new mythologies in their little dark corners. Strapping on a pair of frames and doing your best to look meek doesn't make you an outsider, it doesn't validate you as an artist. It just outs you as a cynical predator, or a stooge for cynical predators looking to make money off teenage malaise.

I'm sure that there are people out there that are worried that there are millions of little budding maladroits out there being hoodwinked by Taylor Swift's driving in cars while crying about boys who look like sunshine at two in the morning. The real maladroits are the ones crouching in corners cursing her attempts at co-opting their suffering while the truly wretched self styled Bellas wander through life listlessly waiting for their Edwards to appear. Probably while driving in a truck while crying at two in the morning. Taylor Swift is the kind of thing that conservative parents foist on their children when they catch them with purloined copies of The Fame Monster. It's a sad state of affairs that leads to inventions like the artificial hymen, but there are now and always will be dark forces trying to hold us back. Taylor Swift might be getting her moment in the sun right now, but it really seems that the culture is not primed to be wrapped up in a regressive throwback response to the excesses of the teen idols of Five Years Ago. MTV can hand out statues to whoever they want, it won't change the fact that the people spoke long before Kanye West rushed the stage; Lady Gaga is the biggest thing to happen to pop since Madonna and she isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and she's there precisely because she's a freak. Welcome to 2010, it's a beautiful time to be a Little Monster.

I've got 99 Problems but the Illuminati ain't one

I have the tendency to ask people this one rhetorical question; “You know what I hate?” The problem is that question never comes off as rhetorical because I hate a lot of things and people actually want to guess what’s bugging me this time even though it’s usually something brand new when I say that. I might even start a new tag called “TIH” or “things I hate” in long form. In a tag cloud it would be the size of your face.

I’m pretty sure in that last entry I meant to talk about the decontextualization of imagery in the information age, but it got lost in the shuffle of Everything I Wrote in the Last Five Years. In a certain way, the Internet experience is frequently one where people take slices of non-native media and either present them naked of their original context or present them in a new context that reconfigures their meaning. Typically this phenomenon spawns “memes” which result in “lulz.” But it also has to do with what I was talking about in reference to Fight Club where people actively refuse to look beneath the surface of the act being presented or write off the symbolic as being arbitrary. In recent years, the word “random” has been repurposed to refer to anything allegorical, symbolic, or surreal that the speaker cannot account for or understand without further investigation which is not likely to be forthcoming. It’s a close relative to “tl;dr.”

Disastrously, a second phenomenon has risen into prominence on around the same timeline that is perhaps even more insidious, although occasionally useful for clever, subversive minds such as my own. I don’t have a neologism for it yet, but it will likely involve an unsubtle reference to Dan Brown. The way it works is that someone of at least and usually not much more than average intelligence makes a ridiculous postulation somewhere on the Internet that seems legitimate because they cited a few sources that look like they could be credible because they got printed somewhere off the Internet on actual paper with a solid binding. The most well known incidents include that one time that Dan Brown stole a bunch of half baked conspiracy theories and joined them together with a few action verbs and called it a novel and a rather bizarre and quickly forgotten flash video about how google and amazon were going to take over the world with friendster being the lynchpin of their awesome scheme. No, I did not make up the word friendster, someone actually owns a copyright on it and allegedly had a service by that name at some indeterminate point in the past.

I don’t mind laughing about people who buy into idiotic conspiracy theories, but what I do mind is people who use lazy scholarship and selective application of it to poison the well for those of us who are actually in it to win it, especially when it comes to so called occult analyses of pop culture. I’m no slouch when it comes to this shit. Today I’m calling out “The Vigilant Citizen” because they’ve caught press not only from my favourite screwball corner of the net- Coilhouse- but The Huffington Post on a slow news day for their kooky suggestions that everyone from Lady Gaga to Jay-Z are fronting for the Illuminati. You know guys, I read the Illuminatus! trilogy too. It was diverting and an interesting variation on Catch-22, but it’s derivatives like The Invisibles really showed it up. Stop fronting like you’re legit when you’re tilting at windmills like a motherfucker while I break it down like an instructional Ikea video on rewind.

First of all. There is no such thing as a “semi-subliminal.” Either you’re subliminal or you are not. Next up, occult symbolism does not work like “that kinda sorta looks a bit like that, so it must not only mean that but it’s also a perfectly functioning symbol.” Symbols are charged images that point the way to powerful concepts. You don’t half ass it in the occult, especially if you’re biting from the OTO, which is one rigid fucking organization no matter what kind of dirt old man Crowley was up to back in the day. Which doesn’t really explain how Satanism, the OTO, the Illuminati, and the Knights Templar all come together into one ur-group. I’m fairly certain that both the Illuminatus! trilogy and Foucault’s Pendulum are both found in the fiction section of your local library. The whole thing about the spontaneous manifestation of the ur-group in Foucault’s Pendulum was an extended shout out from Umberto Eco to his hero Jorge Luis Borges who wrote some pretty nifty shit about the interplay between fiction and reality, the creator and the created. It was not an expose of the secret chiefs of Lemuria or wherever.

As far as that skull in the video goes, it’s fairly simple. For the Love of God is the world’s most expensive piece of artwork, the product of a cynical ploy by alleged artist Damian Hirst. When art critics referred to it as the kind of thing that only a third world dictator would want to own, the hip hop world seized on it. One of 50 Cent’s video games was all about murdering a country full of Arabs to get it back. I’m sure there’s some stealthy narrative in there about how Fiddy is actually one of the Merovingians or something. Look how easy that was. Anyway, pouring a viscous black liquid over it has nothing to do with drinking blood out of a skull, especially since there is no drinking of anything in the video. Essentially, it’s just HOVA stunting. He’s telling you that he’s so far ahead of the game that he can trash the world’s most expensive art without blinking. In fact, in that video, and at least one other for a Blueprint 3 single feature him trashing and insulting traditional symbols of wealth either as a measure of how wealthy he is or as a way of disassociating himself with what he sees as juvenile street culture in favour of a more mature and sophisticated vision of wealth. Kind of when Denzel threw the pimp coat in the fire then went skeet shooting in a really naff jacket with elbow patches in American Gangster.

The whole video is about Jay-Z abandoning the common tropes of gangster rap and going “onto the next one,” which is clearly inspired by high fashion. An institution well known for shallow and frequently less than accurate appropriations of various cultural symbols. Dragging The Crow and The Dark Knight into the mess was just goddamn stupid. I mean seriously, Heath Ledger was not wearing skull make up in that movie. It was a sinister interpretation of classic clown face paint. “Deeply occult” my ass. A title riffing off Saint John of the Cross with a central theme evocative of gnosticism and Frederick Nietzsche does not qualify as “deeply occult.” Kenneth Anger films are “deeply occult.” Asshole.

As for The Crow, gangsters the world over are obsessed with it for the simple reason that it looks slick and they typically come from places where they do not expect to live past the age of around twenty five. These two clearly tamed and non threatening death figures, especially the one that keeps fucking up his make up, represent Jay-Z’s triumph over death if it represents anything at all. It also suggests that the halo is telegraphing that he’s reached the status of being a hip hop saint, a position he has confirmed numerous times from The Black Album to the present by placing himself in the exclusive company of the Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur.

Here’s how it breaks down. Symbols do not have occult power on their own, removed of context. They only function in a magical capacity when manipulated as a part of a ritual made irrelevant by the fact that HOVA himself is never seen in the video to be taking part in any of the ritual acts that the imagery is supposedly referring to. If you want to know why he puts that creepy pyramid you see on money on his clothing line, then go read The Secret. It’s called The Law of Attraction and it’s about as secret as the fact that The White Stripes are not a brother-sister duo.

Adios. I’m- wait for it- On To The Next One.

Five Years, One Post

I talk about altered states of consciousness a lot, but it’s not all that often that I really dig in and talk about the mechanics of it or the magical perspective on it. I hate to really rehash what smarter, more experienced magicians have elucidated elsewhere so I’ll be brief here. One of the underpinnings of the school of thought generally referred to as postmodern magic (whose most famous iteration is probably my native Chaos Magic) is the concept of gnosis as a kind of magical fissile material. Traditional magic uses ritual to raise energy to apply towards whatever change the magician is trying to effect. You see that principle in pop culture whenever someone say sacrifices a person or an animal to achieve a specific end like Low Shoulder attempting to sacrifice Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body, or the latin incantations in the Harry Potter world.

English artist Austin Osman Spare however, developed a highly influential paradigm that hinged on his understanding of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind. He basically posited that in order to achieve your goal, you have to interrupt normal consciousness and embed the desire in the unconscious. Variations on this theme crop up frequently in the contemporary new age movement and seems to have achieved some measure of validation in the murkiest depths of theoretical quantum physics (more like hypothetical quantum physics, but i digress), but it’s the derivative of Spare’s work that post modern magic pioneers in the burgeoning UK scene in the eighties employed that is of interest here.

In order to achieve the necessary interruption of conscious thought necessary to fire the desired intent into the subconscious, authors such as Peter J Carroll and Phil Hine advocate the achievement of altered states of consciousness achieved by dancing, ingestion of certain drugs, intense fear, fatigue, orgasm, meditation and other such activities. In my five years of sporadic use of this paradigm, I’ve come to look at extreme emotion and altered states of consciousness as not being the products of certain thought processes or the arbitrary results of related stimulus, but as tools that can be manipulated and applied towards a number of effects in both magical and more prosaic pursuits which has lead me down some very interesting trains of thought as a writer and nascent film critic.

Almost every day I’m in a venue where not just the merits of individual films (which we can broaden to really include all narrative) are debated, but the merits of different critical paradigms as well. It’s really soggy earth that you tread on when you start trying to define what objective metrics you have at your disposal in judging something as mercurial and divisive as film. There is one objective metric that cuts across all art though, and that metric is emotion.

Discussion of The Notebook for example, will always skew towards it’s ability to make the audience cry to the point where it will almost be inevitably classified as having been engineered specifically to make the audience cry just as deliberately as the Jackass franchise was engineered to provoke unease and disgust. It’s hardly a mystery or a scandal that filmmakers from screenwriters through to producers, directors, actors, and art directors make a great many of their creative decisions based on the expected emotional response of the audience, sometimes to the exclusion of all other considerations. The sociologist and psychologist are drawn to questioning why we are drawn to these communal evocations of emotion. The magician (and the politician) are drawn to pondering to what ends the emotions evoked (or energy raised, to use the ritual magic vernacular) can be applied.

Basically, most films without an overt political or religious agenda that are engineered to provoke a specific (and usually intense) emotional response seen from a magical perspective are spells lacking a purpose. Equations lacking a result. You could of course posit that it’s all one big money spell, but I want to narrow the scope here to films that were produced with the overriding goal of producing an extreme emotional response, to the exclusion of profit. Generally speaking, writers and directors considered to be at the top of their craft working in the horror genre for example are enjoying the fact that they are making money at what they do but their passion lies in scaring or disturbing their audience. Money is not the primary artistic (which is interchangeable with magical) goal in terms of the phenomenon I want to explore.

I first found the outer edges of this territory when I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and happened upon a specific passage that I’ve come back to countless times in my writing. In a conventional three act screenplay it’s what’s called “plot point two,” the point at which the protagonist is at his lowest point and he is forced to- in the words of Zombieland’s Tallahassee- “nut up or shut up.” The dark night of the soul (which is the wordplay at the heart of that one movie’s title) in a microcosm.

In an uncharacteristically poetic moment, Hunter describes being able to see the high water mark of the zeitgeist of the 1960s and goes on to explain the root of it’s failure, which in his estimation (and a notion shared by many other observers), was that success was implied, assured. In terms approaching the occult he states that the general attitude was that their energy would simply prevail. My head was in a very strange place when I originally read the passage as around the same time I had been reading about the ill fated free concert at Altamonte, an essay on the occult potential inherent in raves, and The Invisibles among other things, and slowly a picture started to sew itself together in my head.

I wondered- from a magical perspective- about Woodstock as a mass ritual given the constant refrain of energy, consciousness raising, and vague occult principles surrounding it. The problem- as Hunter pointed out- wasn’t that there was a lack of energy raised, it was the lack of a direction for it. An equation without a result. An incomplete spell. Interestingly enough, Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea tapped into that principle in the climax of their Illuminatus! trilogy, resulting in an apocalyptic struggle for control of the energy raised between the forces of absolute control and absolute chaos.

Without delving too far into occult theories of etheric energies, we can still say that emotional responses can be used to inform and contextualize rational thought, sometimes to the point of overthrowing reason. In the context of film, the easiest example is the religious fervor whipped up by Passion of the Christ or the polarizing political effect of Michael Moore’s filmography.

Violence in film is an interestingly complicated issue though. You can’t simply wield it like a club and expect to get a uniform, lazer like response directed at the target of your choice. Prior to the release of Saving Private Ryan, the Second World War- and the Normandy invasion in specific- was a vague specter in the collective unconscious. It was a valiant victory far away from the visceral horror of Vietnam until Spielberg left the most indelible mark on cinematic violence since The Wild Bunch. At the time of production, he mused that it had been rather difficult to capture a level of violence that exceeded what contemporary audiences were used to processing without trouble. In a particularly inspired move, he used video (rather than film) cameras on an unprecedented scale in the opening invasion sequence to capture the invasion from a disarming first person perspective. It went on to become possibly the most critically lauded war film in history.

Less than ten years later, Fight Club was vilified in the mass media ostensibly because it celebrated violence, when in reality it was a deeply misunderstood film that ruthlessly criticized the rapid desensitization of western audiences to glamorized violence in film by using the very same techniques as Spielberg to portray young men so lost that they had to resort to violence in order to feel something genuine. It was further criticized for intentionally and deeply disturbing audiences with it’s portrayal of violence, much like what Spielberg was celebrated for but quite unlike the widespread praise lavished on The Exorcist for driving audiences to flee theaters if they were able to escape them before fainting, with no apparent justification or reasoning behind the offending content than to produce that exact response.

What I’ve come to recognize about violence in film is that you are essentially free to provoke as extreme an emotional response to it as you want as long as the content and it’s context do not provoke uncomfortable questions in the social and political power structure. Over the past year, I’ve explored film to a depth and breadth far surpassing anything I’ve ever been capable of before and I’ve run across what seems like an ever increasing amount of extreme content in film from a whole host of countries ranging from Japan (Ichi The Killer, Audition) to France (Martyrs, Irreversible), Russia (Cargo 200), and Sweden (Millennium The Film).

I wouldn’t say that I’m drawn to that kind of content, but I’ve long been curious about it and why it’s there. I don’t have any blanket answers, but I can safely say that the one that got me thinking the most was oddly enough Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. Far from being a cartoonish slaughterfest like it’s predecessor House of a Thousand Corpses, it was one of the decade’s most haunting and well constructed films that balanced the inhuman sadism of it’s protagonists with jarring scenes of innocent joy and familial love. It wasn’t so much that people who could cut a man’s face off and force his wife to wear it like a mask could then drive off down the road eating ice cream; it was that they seemed completely well adjusted and even endearing while arguing about the ice cream.
Again, and by complete admission by Zombie himself, The Devil’s Rejects is essentially an answerless equation. He created a portrait of extreme villainy so deft in it’s subtle strokes that it’s lack of statement or agenda becomes almost maddening. It did get me thinking though. About how if I could learn how to create something that unsettling and aim it in the right direction, it could take a kneecap off. Until it got that whole ball of yarn unrolling- which brought together the threads of all the most persistent topics I’ve covered in the five years I’ve been throwing words at the Internet- I didn’t really have a coherent answer for why I should elect to dig as deep as I could into disturbing content in my narratives as I was considering. It wasn’t so much that I was toying with arbitrary violence, but that I was unsure what the final point might be that would vindicate it’s usage until I was contemplating the brutal efficacy of The Devil’s Rejects and how envious I was of Zombie’s ability to make the audience feel something that intensely and arguably did it most effectively in a sequence in which not a single drop of blood was spilled. Emotion, especially extreme emotion- as I reminded myself- is a tool and in this case a tool that I could use like a whetstone to sharpen my narrative’s dialectic into a knife point.



Welcome to it.

These are my ramblings. Have a go if you think you're hard.