November 14, 2018

Playful banter duets for coaxing people out of their shell, in restless warm-up phase of cultural excitement cycle

The last post on sultry anthems focused on their role in the 15-year cultural excitement cycle -- announcing that girls are getting more comfortable coming out of their shell and are willing to engage the opposite sex again.

The feeling is no longer mellow, vulnerable, and withdrawn, as during the previous refractory phase. But it has not yet taken off on another manic spike. It's the restless warm-up phase, where people are transitioning from withdrawn and emo into hyper-social and invincible. They're doing warm-ups and exercises to wake themselves out of their slumber, to prepare for the real auto-pilot activity they will be doing when their energy levels spike soon.

Another aspect of that social mood is practicing flirting with each other, something they'd gotten rusty on during the emo refractory phase. They can be more spontaneous and let their guard down during their manic, invincible phase to come, but for right now, they have to spar with each other just to get back into fighting condition.

During the late 2000s, this manifested in the pickup artist phenomenon, and the accompanying female strategy of endlessly engaging in "witty banter" and shit-testing.

The natural musical form this social dynamic takes is a duet between two people who have just met, and are playfully teasing each other back and forth, usually in a call-and-response fashion. The lyrics are one line of banter after another. The rhythm is danceable, highlighting the mating-dance nature of the social setting.

These features distinguish them from other popular duet forms, such as those between couples who are already in a relationship. Those are either celebratory or melancholy in tone depending on the relationship's trajectory, and slower in tempo and lower in danceability, to suggest a couple simply embracing or looking at each other across the dinner table.

The playful banter duets pop up during each restless warm-up phase, the most recent one being the late 2000s. Several songs have elements of the form ("Hips Don't Lie," "Beep," "My Humps"), but the purest example of back-and-forth banter was already highlighted in the post on sultry anthems.

"Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado & Timbaland (2006):

Before then, the last restless warm-up phase was the early '90s. An honorable mention goes to "Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul, which is sung between an existing long-term couple, but does fit the rest of the criteria. Although not technically a duet since the performer raps both the male and female parts, with studio effects used to make his voice sound like a woman's, the main example from this period has some of the funniest lyrics of any rap song ever recorded, and is notable for the guy never catching a break with the girl.

"I Got a Man" by Positive K (1993):

The next restless warm-up phase before then was the late '70s disco era, although the clearest example of the form comes from a rock-oriented musical.

"You're the One That I Want" by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (1978):

During the early '60s, the next restless warm-up phase back in time, the same duo made two duets that fit the playful banter form. "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" is the lesser, since it's not quite as energetic and suggestive of mating-dance rituals.

"A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)" by Dinah Washington & Brook Benton (1960):

And although I generally don't go back before the 1950s, for lack of a fine-grained intuition about the pre-rock era, the 15-year cycle does predict that we'd find a playful banter duet in the late '40s. Sure enough, it's probably the first one that comes to most people's minds, especially as the winter season approaches. A good theory turns up insights even where they're not expected.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" by Esther Williams & Ricardo Montalban (1949):

November 10, 2018

Sultry anthems come out of their shell during restless warm-up phase of cultural excitement cycle

While reminiscing about the decadent dance club climate of the late 2000s, I looked through the comments on YouTube videos for some of the major songs, and one phrase that kept showing up was "hoe anthem".

There are entire lists of hoe anthems out there, but they're a bit too broad, including anything where the woman is unapologetically sexual. That misses the tonal differences among them -- some are matter-of-fact, some are self-congratulatory, and others have the singer using her openness to lure in someone.

The ones I remember hearing were from the last category -- dark, sultry, and hypnotic, designed to make a connection between two people. They're not like the others that are bragging, annoying, and meant to get individuals to congratulate themselves.

As part of the restless warm-up phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, the late 2000s had an atmosphere of still being somewhat withdrawn that carried over from the vulnerable emo phase of the early 2000s, yet starting to feel comfortable coming out of one's shell after the refractory period. It was not yet the next upbeat, manic and invincible phase, but people were starting to wake up, get warmed up, and train for the next spike in energy levels.

Boy-girl relations in pop culture were no longer characterized by numbness or brokenheartedness, but that was still in recent memory. These sultry anthems tend to have a minor key and a downer tone, reflecting their ambivalent state -- eager to come out of the withdrawn phase, but still somewhat anxious about it since they have not yet taken off into a hyper-social manic phase. They're not upbeat, carefree, and cheerful like manic-phase music. But they are about two people coming out of their hibernation state, and getting warmed up close together.

They have to be somewhat direct and on-the-nose with their lyrics, since they're trying to wake up someone who's been used to aloofness between the sexes during the vulnerable phase. The female singer has to convince them -- both the male and female listeners -- that that phase is over.

However, the directness of the lyrics does not take the listener out of the mood, since the delivery is sultry and seductive rather than in-your-face and aggressive, and the danceable grooves let the audience lose themselves in the rhythm, so they aren't standing around awkwardly and self-consciously.

First a quick review of some of these from the most recent restless warm-up phase of the late 2000s. These were all big on the charts, though I'm focusing more on those that were also club hits (so, none from the more radio-friendly Pussycat Dolls). Summing up the genre: sultry, dissonant electro-pop.

"Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado (2006):

"Gimme More" by Britney Spears (2007):

"I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry (2008):

"LoveGame" by Lady Gaga (2009):

Before then, the last restless warm-up phase was the early '90s. Not quite as danceable as the other similar phases, but still more groovy than what else was on the charts at the time.

"I Touch Myself" by Divinyls (1990):

"Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" by Sophie B. Hawkins (1992):

"If" by Janet Jackson (1993):

Before then, the last such phase was the late '70s -- disco. No need for further comment.

"More, More, More" by Andrea True Connection (1976):

"Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer (1979):

The next phase further back was the early '60s, so you'd expect to see these kinds of anthems then as well. However, that was before the revolution of the mid-'70s through today, of moral and economic laissez-faire (if it feels good, do it). The culture was more restrained in the '60s, so these songs aren't quite as direct and uninhibited as the later ones, but they do contrast with the weepy emo music of the late '50s (and a fair amount that carried over into the early '60s), without being as unbridled as the late '60s manic phase music.

"Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas (1963):

"He's So Fine" by the Chiffons (1963):

November 6, 2018


I've seen nothing to change my calls from March and from August that the GOP will narrowly retain control of the House and Senate, while still having a poorer showing than in recent years. To make things a little more interesting on Election Day, let's say they lose 15-20 seats on net in the House, and win 0-1 on net in the Senate.

Read those two posts for extensive historical context, drawing parallels between these midterms and those of other disjunctive, end-of-an-era administrations -- Carter, Hoover, Pierce (and Buchanan), John Quincy Adams, and John Adams.

Those posts cover the "why" as well as the "what" -- the dominant party of a historical period, such as the GOP during the Reagan era, begins and ends its disjunctive phase with full control of government, including limping across the finish line during the midterm election. Voters do not transfer control during the midterm, as is usual, because the big issues are at stake during a disjunctive phase, not the minor issues that draw attention during the regime's heyday. And the opposition does not, or cannot, campaign on these revolutionary issues during an off-year election.

Still relevant:

This year's opposition Democrats are not offering enough of a radical change to counter the escalation of militarism, the record widening trade deficits and de-industrialization, soaring numbers of cheap labor immigrants, falling real wages and deteriorating standard of living, and last-ditch inflation of the bubble economy by cutting taxes without paying for them, leading to yet another record year for our national debt. So while voters will not be pleased with the GOP's performance so far, they will not transfer power to the Democrats...

The big story is the rise of the Bernie candidates, just as 1854 saw the first-ever explosion of the realigning Republicans. They began with no one in the Senate before 1854, and picked up 3 (out of 62). And they began with only 4 in the House and ended with 37 (out of 118). Whether they're affiliated with Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, the Democratic Socialists of America, or are their own economic populist and anti-imperialist, these candidates are the clear wave of the future...

For now I'm keeping the chances of this "two disjunctive terms" scenario below 50%, but when the Democrats fail to pick up either house of Congress in the midterms, I will raise it above 50% if the psychotic centrists double down on ignoring the major issues and offering only the status quo, at a time when it is rapidly disintegrating. When the status quo was strong, during the '90s, it was feasible to offer their take on the status quo and win. But by now, Reaganism is dead, and they must offer a wholly different system -- at least as radically different as the system that Trump campaigned on in 2016.

Democrats will keep losing until they internalize what Trump ran and won on in 2016 -- a repudiation of Reaganism (neoliberalism) by the GOP's own hardcore primary voters, crossover voters, and the leading candidate himself. Wanting to close the borders and deport illegals is only one part of the broader reversal of neoliberalism, which relies on open borders for cheap labor, and return toward Progressive Era or New Deal outcomes, which both relied on closed borders to protect domestic labor against boatloads of foreign scabs (immigration peaked during the 1910s).

Almost no Republicans support restricting immigration, let alone closing the borders or deporting illegals or building a wall. With full control over government since Reagan's initial victory, they have flung the gates wide open, given amnesty to millions, and lost sleep trying to import millions more. They are about maximizing profits for labor-intensive sectors of the economy, not airy-fairy bullshit like "maintaining white supremacy". That means they need endless cheaper and cheaper labor, and that's not going to come from here, so it must come from somewhere over there. It's that simple.

The very small handful of Republicans who do support restricting immigration, however, do not come to that policy from a populist standpoint -- Steve King of Iowa does not want single-payer healthcare, soak-the-rich wealth tax to pay off the debt, de-globalizing our military, and so on and so forth, like Trump has promoted before becoming president (and getting promptly cock-blocked by the GOP Establishment). King wants the same ol' Reaganite garbage of tax cuts, deregulation, and imperialism, but he doesn't want it to go so far that "maximum profits" leads to 100 million new immigrants. Too bad, numbnuts -- that's exactly where laissez-faire and profits uber alles leads us.

To win dominant status, rather than an occasional opposition victory whose effects are fleeting, the Democrats must campaign on populism rather than elitism, and anti-globalization -- their spin on Trump's nationalism. If they refuse to adapt to the new climate of the Trump era, they will lose in 2020. No matter how minuscule Trump's accomplishments will be by then, all he has to do is say, "Hey folks, at least I'm promising the right policies of anti-globalization -- the Democrats won't even give you their word. They're promising to open the borders, send more factories overseas, and stay bogged down in the Middle East, NATO, and everywhere else."

At that point, he may even get away with the whopper he's been testing out about how it's the Democrats rather than the GOP who wants to gut Medicare and Social Security. If the Democrats refuse to campaign on single-payer, if they refuse to campaign on collective bargaining against the pharma cartels to crush the prices of drugs way down, if all they do campaign on is "protecting pre-existing conditions," then maybe voters will conclude the Dems don't actually give a shit about Medicare after all.

As of midterm Election Day, I see zero sign that the Democrats are going to try to steal Trump's own popular winning issues from him, leaving him with powerful weapons to beat the shit out of them with in just two years. It doesn't matter if he himself runs, or if he campaigns on behalf of Pence, Haley, or whoever.

I think it will take a second disjunctive, end-of-an-era term to finally break the Democrats' stubbornness and force them to do what the voters want, and shut their mouths about the fake idiotic crap that alienates 95% of the country. Otherwise, they are effectively extinct as a party.

November 2, 2018

Halloween spirit peaks during manic phase of 15-year cultural excitement cycle

Leading up to Halloween, I used to write an annual mini-series of posts on the social rituals surrounding the holiday, and how they've changed over time, from the perspective of both an observer and a participant.

Clearly I did not feel like it this year -- observing or participating -- then I realized I haven't felt like it in awhile. Going back through my archive, I notice that those posts are almost all from the manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, the first half of the 2010s. These links are collected in an appendix.

I don't think this personal experience is idiosyncratic, since I'm an eager participant in Halloween when everyone else is -- so if I'm not, likely they are not either. And I've been an informal cultural chronicler for my adult life, whether or not I like the way things are heading at the moment. If there were still as much excitement surrounding Halloween in 2018 as there was in 2012, I would sense it.

Beyond these personal observations, during the most recent manic phase, Hollywood re-released Ghostbusters into theaters nearly every year leading up to Halloween, to help get people in the mood. Even better, at least when I caught it, they were projecting film instead of digital, as part of the general interest in all things vintage during that phase. The movie had lain dormant since its original release in another manic phase (1984), and has not been re-released during Halloween season since 2014, as we've entered the vulnerable refractory phase.

Before the early 2010s, I was also really into Halloween during the second half of the '90s, during another manic phase. I was in high school, too old to trick-or-treat, but still felt excited to participate in the traditions all the same. To get ready for handing out candy, I used to dress up in face paint or full-head masks that I made, in black and white and as close to Expressionist in style as a high schooler could manage. Then I would play whatever spooky-sounding music I was into at the time (like the Residents) out of the windows, and generally try to create a playful haunted house atmosphere so that the kids would not feel cheated on the only holiday meant for them.

This period of participation began in either '94 or '95, when my best friend and I spent Halloween pretending to be leaf-stuffed dummies on his front lawn, with a "help yourself" bowl of candy next to us. As the kids came up to get their treats, we'd rise out of our chairs to give them a good spook -- assuming their helicopter parents had not ruined the surprise already by saying, "I think those are kids under there". It was affected and comical, all in good fun, not trying to make them piss their pants.

My participation ended in '99, during my freshman year of college when I wore black tie and a top hat with a plague doctor mask, scaring the Japanese girl in our dorm to death. "Ohhh, I don't like this holiday..."

During the 2000s, though, Halloween was mostly a joke, as highlighted in the 2004 movie Mean Girls -- no longer an occasion for dressing up as something out of the ordinary and scary, but just getting a free pass to dress like an ordinary sexualized attention whore at a party. Or to dress up as a self-aware topical reference. People were being their ordinary selves (ironic hipster, pseudo-slut), not changing roles as part of a temporary carnivalesque inversion.

As for the last vulnerable and warm-up phases of the cycle before the 2000s -- the second half of the '80s and first half of the '90s -- I was too young to know whether the teenagers and young adults were more excited or less excited for Halloween than they were during the previous manic phase of the early '80s. Taking hints from pop culture portrayals, there's only one big movie outside the genre of horror / occult to feature Halloween -- The Karate Kid from '84 has a fairly long scene set at a costumed dance for the high schoolers. Must have been a pretty big deal during the new wave age.

I don't think average teenagers and young adults were as into the holiday during the late '80s and early '90s as they were back then. Toward the end of the restless warm-up phase, in '94, My So-Called Life devoted an entire episode to Halloween, focusing on its carnivalesque spirit. Watch it here. It's one of the best portrayals of the holiday's social rituals, and in a sympathetic, appreciative tone -- not overdone and fanboy-ish, nor cynical and dismissive. But that was more of a cult hit, ahead of the curve that would see popular fascination with Halloween revive during the second half of the decade.

Before the '80s, Halloween was not really a holiday for teenagers and young adults, so it's hard to tell one way or the other how much they got into the spirit across the three phases of the excitement cycle before the early '80s manic phase. I assume they were warming up to it in the late '70s restless phase, especially in the context of disco, and not in the mood at all during the refractory phase of the early '70s. If there were another period where they really resonated with it, it would have been the manic late '60s, but that was back when it was still a holiday strictly for children.

Without getting into a whole separate post about why these rituals peak during the manic phase of the excitement cycle, it seems pretty straightforward, and would seem to generalize to other holiday rituals as well, such as Christmas.

During the vulnerable refractory phase, people cannot tolerate social-cultural stimulation, and these big spectacle-sized rituals like Halloween are too much for them. It feels almost oppressive, and they prefer something low-key, if at all. As their energy levels are restored to baseline again, they're open to the spectacle-level rituals, some are experimenting with them, but they haven't really caught on broadly either. During the manic phase, these spectacles are just one of the many outlets that their all-purpose excitation is channeled into.

Appendix: Earlier posts on Halloween's social rituals

1. Schools using diversity sensitivity as an excuse to ban Halloween costumes altogether.

2. Review of scary pop culture to get your children, nieces, and nephews into the proper mood.

3. Decline of trick-or-treating phenomenon.

4. Trick-or-treating as a measure of communal cohesion.

5. Halloween's shift from communal rite of rebellion to egocentric business as usual.

6. Changes in the carnivalesque nature of Halloween, especially the shift of the main celebration to "the Saturday night before Halloween" so as to not disrupt the work week.

7. Turning Halloween into an individual status contest.

8. Grab bag of topics, including the conservative drive to banish Halloween as pagan, Satanic, etc., without wanting to replace it with something else / better.

9. Another grab bag, including the prolonging of the Halloween season to the entire month of October, preventing any spike of excitement by the time it eventually arrives, due to 30 days of habituation. (Just like Christmas.)

10. Only incidentally about trick-or-treating, but an excuse to show how romantic the landscapes used to look back in the '80s when the society had not yet come down with collective OCD, and did not rake their leaves, letting them blanket the ground.

October 30, 2018

Neocon fanatic Frank Gaffney to replace Mattis after mid-terms, start war against Iran

An item at Blind Gossip says that Trump has tired of Defense Secretary Mattis and will replace him after the mid-terms. He idiotically discussed this plan with someone who is even farther away from Trump's 2016 foreign policy platform (isolationism) than Mattis is -- John Bolton, who he's already elevated to National Security Adviser.

Bolton is a crafty behind-the-scenes operator within the bureaucracy, and has chosen one of his own allies to replace Mattis, with Trump's blessing.

The identities of Mattis and Bolton are simple to figure out from the blind item. But what about the new Defense Secretary ("Beardo")? Here are the hints, where Mattis is Smoothie and Bolton is Mustache:

Smoothie’s best bet is to simply resign himself to the fact that the end is near… and try to keep from making any big gaffes before it’s his time to leave!

You definitely know Smoothie and Mustache, as they are currently high-ranking officials.

Frankly, you would have to be a Washington insider to know Beardo. The general public will meet him in a few weeks, after the midterms. And then, if everything goes according to Mustache’s plan, you will not stop hearing about Beardo for the next two years!

I did an image search for "neocon beard," and Frank Gaffney came up. He's a close Bolton ally, insane hardline neocon, sucked up to Trump big-time about getting out of the Iran nuclear deal, and is certainly not a known name to the general public.

Re-reading those paragraphs, I got sick to my stomach upon noticing the give-away clue words -- "gaffes" and "Frankly". It's Frank Gaffney, no question.

As a so-called anti-Islamic anti-jihadist conspiracy theorist, will Gaffney use his position as head of the war department to invade jihadist ground zero, Saudi Arabia? Only a gullible MAGA-tard would think that at this point.

Having bad-mouthed the Muslim Brotherhood means nothing either -- Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood are sworn enemies, since the former favors direct militarist jihad while the latter prefers Islamist infiltration of civic institutions instead. Strategic differences, not ideological. The only way to tell if someone is against jihadism and Islamism is for them to want nothing to do with either Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

Generally speaking, the GOP aligns with Saudi Arabia, since the military controls the GOP and therefore aligns with the militarist approach to jihad favored by Saudi Arabia. Democrats are controlled by the media, finance, info tech, and intel sectors, and therefore align with the more financial and propaganda approach to jihad favored by Qatar.

The litmus test is Syria -- both of these fanatic Islamist nations want to destroy the secular nationalist government of Syria. If someone criticizes both Saudi Arabia and Syria, they are controlled by Qatar (liberals). If they criticize Al-Jazeera or the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Syria, they are controlled by Saudi Arabia (conservatives). If they criticize Saudi Arabia and Al-Jazeera / Muslim Brotherhood, and defend Assad against the jihadists who want to replace him, they are controlled by no Middle Eastern nation, and they are the true anti-Islamists (anti-imperialists on the Left or Right).

Neocon garbage only uses their attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim immigrants who bring their alien ways to this country, in order to further their own goals, not the goals of those who they dupe among the electorate.

Gaffney will not defend an anti-jihadist government like Assad in Syria or Hussein in Iraq or Qaddafi in Libya or Arafat in Palestine. That is what Trump promised during the campaign -- they're bad guys, but they're secular strongmen who keep the jihadist whackjobs in line, and that's the only alternative, so let's just leave the secular strongmen alone, unless we want more jihadism being spread all around the world. But Trump the candidate was not a neocon looking to prolong the Cold War in the Middle Eastern theater.

Gaffney, like all neocons including his ally Bolton, will use smokescreens about the Muslim Brotherhood in order to give a 100% free pass to Saudi Arabia, jihadist militias, and radical Islam as it truly exists and stems from our Saudi ally. He will instead try to attack a secular state like Syria, or the non-jihadist Muslim government of Iran, which is in fact the target of the jihadists. Absolutely nothing will change about the US military having as their #1 ally the jihadists and Zionists in the Middle East, and directing foreign policy in alignment with Saudi and Israeli goals, mainly against Iran.

The blind item says Bolton will try to make sure that we never stop hearing Gaffney's name for the next two years -- most likely an invasion of Iran, sponsored coup against Iran, something big to do with Iran. It's the only place the neocons have left to go against the original Axis of Evil, and one of the few things that strongly unite the Pentagon, the jihadists, and the Zionists.

Rationalizers have been saying, "It doesn't matter if Trump has bent the knee to the neocons on foreign policy -- at least he hasn't started another Iraq War". Famous last words. Bush Jr. didn't start his Iraq War until the start of his third year, 2003, after the midterms. Ditto for Bush Sr., in 1991 after the midterms.

I haven't brought that timing up for fear of jinxing it, but that doesn't matter now that we know an insane neocon is going to replace the relatively milder Mattis (still a deluded and failed imperialist, but at least realistic on Iran and the nuclear deal).

The only possible saving grace this time around is that we're about to plunge into a major recession or depression, thanks to the central banks of the world tightening their monetary policy. Our chief central banker Jerome Powell, popper of the Everything Bubble, is one of the few Trump appointees I actually like (naturally Trump himself hates his guts).

Hopefully that will make it too untenable to undertake a massive war that must be financed by an insane amount of debt (trillions), knowing full well it will all be wasted rather than earning a return on the investment, just like all the other failed neocon wars ("Blood for no oil," in Greg Cochran's phrasing).

The choice will be between feeding America or fattening up the generals. Imperialism is necessarily globalist, sucking the core nation dry in order to fund the failures of its chessboard players on the other side of the world. This will weed out the mouth-breathers on the Trump supporter side, from those who genuinely don't want any more of our over-extended empire, especially in the Middle East, bankrupting the treasury and staining our honor with yet another pathetic failure, not to mention all the pointless death and destruction inside the targeted nation.

As we head toward the Second Civil War, an invasion of Iran could easily be for our neocon era what the Bleeding Kansas conflict was for the plantation slavery era. And unfortunately, that would not be solved by the next presidential election -- like the 1850s, we appear bound for two, not just one, terms of disjunctive, end-of-an-era rule. The opposition has collapsed just as much as the Whigs did back then, albeit in a less formal manner.

A war against Iran, like spreading slavery beyond its original boundaries, ought to ignite the opposition into finally re-aligning themselves into the dominant party and de-throning the party that has shaped society in its image for the past several decades. But just watch how many Democrats, liberals, and MSNBC anchors and talking heads are going to respond to a war against Iran with tepid annoyance at best, and eager war-mongering at worst, just like Hillary et al during the last major war in the Middle East. Gleefully joining in with the dominant party's major action was hardly what the opposition needed in order to win over voters in the upcoming election.

Whatever particular form these policies take, there can be no doubt that after the mid-terms, we're going to enter a truly dark phase of this increasingly neocon administration.

October 29, 2018

Locating horror: Stalking the freely mobile vs. torturing the imprisoned

To instill a sense of dread in the audience for horror fiction, the victims we're identifying with must experience futility in their attempts to avoid the villain. Once our fight-or-flight reflex kicks in after the villain's opening move, we must know that simply fleeing is not an option, leaving us only with the more terrifying decision to confront the force that is trying to do us in.

There are two fundamental ways in which the victims could develop the feeling of there being nowhere to hide from the villain: either they're trapped in a location with him, or they are free to roam from one location to another, but always being relentlessly stalked and pursued by him, so that he could strike at any time and place.

Different types of villain are best adapted to those two choices of setting. When the victims are free to move around various locations, they are like game animals that must be tracked by a hunter, and the villain is a hot-blooded type who is in his element being out and about, constantly on the move. When the victims are confined inside a single location, they are like trapped insects in a spider's web that can be played around with at the trapper's leisure, and the villain is more of a cold-blooded type who is a clinical control freak.

Still, that is not to say that the two types are equally frightening, only in their own distinct ways. It is more unsettling to be pursued like a game animal because there are no external constraints on our movement, eliminating one of our potential hopes -- maybe we'll just out-run it, or flee its domain, and be rid of it. As the victim tries out that option, and fails, we cannot hold out hope for anything other than confrontation, which we are hardly guaranteed to win.

If the victim is only trapped, we can never know for sure how well the "flight" option would work against the villain, if only they could break free from the constraints imposed by their location. Perhaps the villain isn't that powerful on his own -- maybe he has merely cheated and tipped the scales in his favor before the attacks even began. He's just shooting fish in a barrel. The victims, and the audience, do not fear the villain himself so much as the dungeon-like location that prevents them from simply fleeing, or from directly confronting a villain that may not be very dangerous in a mano-a-mano scenario.


This key distinction in location, and in the method the villain uses to attack his victims, helps to clarify types of horror fiction, such as the slasher movie. Early on, academics referred to this genre not as "slasher" but "stalker," which is more accurate. All sorts of villains may attack by slashing, even in serial fashion, but not necessarily by relentlessly tracking and pursuing their victims across a range of locations.

The heyday of the slasher movie was the first half of the 1980s, with Halloween from 1978 serving as a lone harbinger of a broad phenomenon soon to explode. Michael Myers, like the prototypical slasher, stalks his victims around multiple residences, inside and outside of the houses themselves, not to mention the local school, and other places around the neighborhood.

This rules out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from being another early harbinger, since the villains abduct their victims and trap them inside a single isolated house that they themselves control, and their behavior is more like leisurely torture than determined hunting. They give off a playful sadism, because they know the victims cannot get away -- unlike the relatively more serious and determined persona of the slasher villain, who could very well lose track of his prey if he isn't focused on them.

That movie came out in 1974, too early to be seamlessly incorporated into a phenomenon that exploded during the first half of the '80s. Rather, its setting and villains place it more within the mainstream of other '70s horror films, where the single focal location is cursed, haunted, or controlled by psychos -- the dance academy of Suspiria, the suburban home of The Amityville Horror, the remote hideout of the rape gang in The Last House on the Left, the high school gym that Carrie seals off during her attack, and so on.

Likewise, Black Christmas is less a forerunner of the slasher / stalker genre, and more of a "haunted house" movie typical of the '70s, taking place entirely within a single sorority house, whose villain is more of a leisurely torturer than a focused hunter.

Finally, we can exclude 1960's Psycho from being an "early slasher" since the attacks take place entirely within the isolated Bates Motel, which is controlled by a torturer rather than a hunter.

Cycles in the stalker type

Other than the slasher phenomenon of the early '80s, when else have horror movies featured villains that stalked their victims, rather than a dangerous location? We're looking for trends or broad phenomena, not lone examples.

There was the slasher revival of the second half of the '90s -- Scream and Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, etc. This is the stand-out trend of its time. The Blair Witch Project also had a villain that stalked its targets across a variety of locations (around open wooded areas as well as inside houses).

During the first half of the 2010s, the dominant trend was the paranormal haunting -- Paranormal Activity (a forerunner from 2009, with the series continuing into the 2010s), Insidious, The Conjuring, and so on. In a unique spin on the haunted house formula, these three iconic movies emphasized that it was not the location itself that was dangerous. Rather, there was a demonic stalker that would follow the targets from one location to another once it had initially locked onto them, making flight a pointless option.

This fixes the basic weakness of the haunted house formula -- why don't they just fucking leave? "Because they've been trapped inside" reduces the action to the villain shooting fish in a barrel, and the tension reduces to the uncertainty over when -- not if -- the villain will kill off the next victim. And "they're too emotionally or financially invested in remaining in place" is unconvincing, when they're in imminent danger of brutal murder.

It Follows also featured a villain that relentlessly stalks its victims in serial fashion across a wide range of environments. The villains of Let Me In are hunters who track their prey all over the place. And in The Babadook, the demon that cannot be gotten rid of pursues its victim once they have read about it and become aware of its existence.

These periods of stalker villains -- the early '80s, late '90s, and early 2010s -- all lie within the manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. When people feel excited and invincible, they don't resonate with horror victims who are trapped inside a single location and get picked off with no real way to challenge the villain. They also don't want to see a villain who is cold and leisurely -- he too must be on the move, making the plot more action-packed.

With their higher free-floating level of arousal, audiences during this phase are more inclined toward harnessing their manic energy toward a confrontation with the villain, rather than withdrawing from direct conflict due to concerns of over-stimulation.

Cycles in the torturer type

During the proceeding vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle, after energy levels have peaked, they go into a refractory state where they want to avoid over-stimulation at all costs. In horror movies, this leads to agoraphobic characters who are not roaming all around while being stalked. Action taking place all over the place would be too much social stimulation for audiences in a refractory state, so the characters with whom the audiences are trying to empathize must be set in a single isolated location.

And because these audiences are in a vulnerable rather than invincible mood, the victims they're watching must also be more powerless than taking decisive action against the villain. Vulnerable people feel like they're being tortured by something with immensely greater powers, unlike the manic people who feel like they're only being outmatched in a contest against someone who they could conceivably defeat.

We've already covered this trend in movies of the '70s, the first half of which was a vulnerable phase, after the manic late '60s, and was more akin to torture porn than to the slasher genre.

After the manic early '80s, the trend of horror movies of the late '80s was no longer a stalking slasher but various evil forces confined to a single cursed location, such as Hellraiser, Pet Sematary, and House. There was also the evil toy trend, such as Dolls and Puppet Master, whose attackers haunt only one house, and behave more as sadistic torturers than hunters.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, from '87, is more of its own time than it is of the early '80s zeitgeist of the original, set entirely within a single mental asylum in which Freddy Krueger tortures the victims in highly elaborate ways, which pre-figures the elaborate traps of the Saw franchise during the next wave of torture porn.

The most prominent period of torture porn was the 2000s, kicking off in the first half's vulnerable phase with The Cell, Cabin Fever, House of 1000 Corpses, and Saw, as well as endless remakes of '70s torture porn like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When slasher movies were inevitably re-made, they were transformed into torture porn.

The early 2000s also saw a revival of atmospheric haunted house movies that were light on gore compared to torture porn, beginning with The Grudge.

One major exception was The Ring, whose villain relentlessly stalks its victims across multiple locations, not just within its own lair.

As the vulnerable phase has returned in the late 2010s, so too have the stalker-hunters been retired in favor of leisurely tormentors whose victims are confined within a single locked-down location.

The Saw franchise has been revived with Jigsaw, Don't Breathe is set in a home whose psycho owner operates a sex torture dungeon in the basement, Get Out also relies on a single household and its creepy domestic dungeon, Krampus features a demon that terrorizes the Christmas guests of a single family's home, The Belko Experiment is set in a sealed office building, the victims in The Witch are a single nuclear household tormented within their homestead, Hush is set entirely within one victim's home, the evil in Hereditary is localized within the protagonist's household, and although we never encounter an external villain in It Comes at Night, it is still set within one agoraphobic household being shared by two nuclear families, whose distrust tears them apart.

The Conjuring 2, unlike the original from the early 2010s, does not develop the theme of demons that can stalk their targets no matter where they move to. It's more of a standard haunted house movie, where they make no attempt to flee, and even worse, where they are not trapped in place by the evil force.

The major exception is A Quiet Place, where the victims are stalked by hunters across a variety of environments, and where the deaths are not elaborate gimmicks designed by a sadist as a leisure activity.

Cycles in the transitional stage

As the cycle shifts out of vulnerable and into the neutral baseline energy level of the warm-up phase, there's a mix of both types, with the torture type continuing on from the last phase, while a few experiment with the stalker type again, now that they are no longer avoiding stimulation at all costs.

The late '70s were mainly a continuation of the early '70s, as described earlier. But Halloween was a clear signal of a new stalker type of horror movie, and even Alien hinted at this. Although the movie is set within a single spaceship, the different areas look and feel so distinct that it feels more like a variety of locations. We would only feel like the spaceship were a single gestalt setting if the frame of reference were the rest of space, other planets, other ships, and so on. But it feels like a self-contained community with a diverse mix of discrete locations.

The early '90s mostly continued the trends of the late '80s. Demonic Toys joined the torture toys trend, and Bram Stoker's Dracula continued the haunted house trend set by Hellraiser and others. Gremlins 2 is also set entirely within a single haunted location, in which the villains deploy an array of specific attacks akin to the gimmicky traps of torture porn. The original movie from the manic phase had the villains terrorizing people all around the town, and with less specific and less elaborate attacks -- reflecting their greater sense of urgency, since they might lose track of their prey.

More naturalistic movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Misery still featured psychos who did all their torture within their home lair, even if they ventured out to lure in unsuspecting victims.

The two harbingers of the late '90s slasher revival were Candyman and Wes Craven's New Nightmare, both of which also set the template for drawing explicit comparisons between slasher movies and urban legends.

The late 2000s generally continued the torture porn trends of the early 2000s, whether sequels to Saw and Hostel, further re-makes of '70s torture porn, or new entries like The Human Centipede. (Cabin in the Woods was made in this period, although shelved for release until 2012.) Building on The Grudge, the atmospheric haunted house trend caught on with The Grudge 2, An American Haunting, The Haunting in Connecticut, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The Descent moved the cursed single location from a house to a cave into which the victims have fallen.

As mentioned earlier, Paranormal Activity was more of a harbinger of the early 2010s, since the threat was not from a house or other single location, but from a demon that had been following its victim for most of her life, across multiple changes of residence. This novel variation on the haunted house theme is not elaborated on much in this first barebones example, which would have to wait until Insidious, where the family does move out of the haunted house, and the demons follow their victims to their new home anyway.

In Paranormal Activity, the concept of stalker demons is only there to tell the audience why they're not taking the obvious decision to simply move out of a haunted house. The tone is naturalistic and documentarian, so they could not have the characters stupidly and suicidally staying in a haunted house. And since they're aiming to create a sense of fear in our everyday settings, the characters cannot be trapped in the house by a malevolent superior being -- they have to be going about their quotidian routine, able to leave if they felt like it.

October 21, 2018

Final Girl character type mediates between normies vs. abnormality, not hedonists vs. puritanism

The received analysis of the "Final Girl" character type in horror movies -- the one who is left standing at the end, as the others are killed off -- is that her endurance owes to her being more abstinent than the other characters.

She is typically a virgin, or far less sexually active at any rate, and is less inclined to drink or do drugs compared to the others. The villain, in this analysis, is an enforcer of puritanical morality, punishing the hedonists and going lighter on the relatively more abstinent one. When they do confront each other, the Final Girl is in a stronger position to outwit or outlast the villain, since she has not had her energy and focus sapped by sex and alcohol.

Two opposed camps have sprung up around this shared analysis, the hedonists taking a negative view of this character type because they don't like the puritanical moralistic message that they believe the movie conveys, and the abstainers appreciating the hard-nosed no-nonsense view of the dangers of hedonism.

But this analysis misunderstands the relationship between the villain, the Final Girl, and the rest of the characters. The villain is supposed to be an enforcer of patriarchal and puritanical morality -- yet he is typically neither a husband nor a father, not a powerful elder of the community, and is a slave to his own desires and passions, primarily bloodlust. He is a poorly socially integrated loner or outsider, powerless at an institutional level -- resorting to violence as an impotent form of blindly lashing out -- and if anything, his sexual identity is that of a bitter angry incel.

He targets the rest of the characters not because they are hedonists, but because they are socially integrated normies -- teenagers having sex and socially drinking were things that normies used to do back during the outgoing / rising-crime period of the 1960s through the early '90s. He lashed out at them for taking part in the normal social group behavior of their time and place, which he was ruthlessly excluded from (whether or not that ostracism feels justified to the audience).

The Final Girl mediates between these two sides, as a marginal normie. She associates with the rest of the characters, but is still less likely to participate in their normal social behavior. Or her family life is more disintegrated than the families of the other characters. Compared to the others, she is noticeably farther away from the ideal teen of her environment.

Her being less than a total normie means the villain feels less hostile toward her than toward the others, and perhaps even feels a certain kinship with her, as a fellow loner or outsider. Rather than single-mindedly destroying her, the villain may try to seduce her, feeling that she is reachable in a way that the others are not.

This creates some tension within the Final Girl herself -- does she sympathize more with someone who is even more outside the norm than herself, or more with the normies who are under attack from a force of abnormality? Fundamentally, she is normal herself, not pathological like the sociopathic villain, so she sides with her fellow normies -- even if, in some cases, it takes her awhile to figure out that the villain is a warped psycho, qualitatively the opposite of her, rather than a kindred spirit who is simply quantitatively further out toward the margin than she already is.

And it sets up tension within the villain as well, leading to his downfall. He thought he could win her over, and it would be the two less socially integrated figures joined in a non-normie union -- or even an anti-normie union, where they go beyond withdrawing from the normies to actively trying to destroy them. By misinterpreting her marginal social status as stemming from pathology, projecting his own status onto hers, he goes easier on her, and lets his guard down around her.

This could be his only chance to become socially integrated -- albeit with just one other individual, rather than an entire group, but that beats total isolation and ostracism. His wishful thinking gets the better of him, and viewing her as a kindred spirit leaves him vulnerable to her plans to kill him off in order to protect her fellow normies. Her mere withdrawal of respect -- whether it had been out of fear or affection -- is enough to shatter his delusional dreams, and cause him to collapse into despairing powerlessness, neutralizing him as a threat anymore.

* * *

Without going into an exhaustive review, three key examples of this tension come to mind.

First, Nancy Thompson in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy Krueger is clearly intrigued and fascinated with her. He taunts her with hallucinations of her dead friends, rather than treating her as just another prey to be hunted down. He also takes on a more flirtatious tone with her, rather than an angry or hostile tone, and explicitly refers to his killing off of her boyfriend as eliminating his romantic rival ("I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy"). At the end, it is her withdrawal of fear and respect that causes him to collapse.

I don't think that move would have had the same neutralizing effect if it had been one of the fully normie girls or guys who he had targeted earlier. "Fear me or don't fear me, I don't care, I'm killing you off because you're normies who have ostracized me." But because Freddy did feel misplaced kinship with Nancy, and tried to seduce her in a way that belied some level of affection for her, he opened himself up to his own destruction when she dashed his dreams of winning her over.

Second, Sarah in the horror-tinged fantasy movie Labyrinth. She comes from a broken home, in which she is marginal compared to her baby brother. In a moment of anti-sociality, she wishes that the villain would take away her brother so that she wouldn't have to babysit him, and could indulge her own interests. She regrets making this deal with the Devil, and yet still has trouble resisting the Goblin King's fascination with her, as he attempts to seduce her over to his side, hoping that the two of them could be a union of anti-normies against the rest of the world.

She disillusions him about the idea that she wanted her baby brother gone for sociopathic motives. It was just out of fleeting frustration, not an enduring desire to sow chaos, subvert norms, or sever social relationships. As she realizes that he is her opposite, she withdraws her fear, respect, and affectionate curiosity toward him, causing him to collapse. That would not have worked if it had been a target who he did not already care about winning over as a kindred spirit. If Hoggle, Ludo, or the baby brother himself had withdrawn their fear of him -- big deal, he would keep callously exploiting them anyway. But the one chance of winning over an object of his affection? That is too much for him to withstand.

Third, Veronica in the serial killer comedy movie Heathers. She not only makes a deal with the Devil (J.D.) to kill off her fully normie friends, who have made her the black sheep of their social clique, she gives into his sexual advances, and they do become an anti-normie couple. Like Sarah in Labyrinth, she comes to realize that her anti-social impulse was an unimportant frustration with certain individuals, whereas the villain who she has aligned herself with is pathological and therefore targets normies in general.

When J.D. wants to blow up the whole school, that is the last straw for her. By the end, she does not just express regret or balk at his plans, as she had done in earlier attempts to wiggle her way out of his grasp. She directly confronts him with a withdrawal of fear and respect, calling him a mere psychopath, not the cool rebel she originally thought he was. After she ruins his dreams of winning her over to kill all normies, he gives up his entire anti-normie project and commits suicide. That ego destruction would not have worked if she had been a generic popular girl or jock who called him a psychopath -- it had to be someone who he treated as a kindred marginal spirit and felt capable of winning over to the anti-normie crusade.

These two Final Girls show a character arc that wraps up in redemption after making a deal with the Devil. In what way did they align themselves with the villain? Not to punish the hedonism of her peers -- Sarah's object of hostility was a little baby, incapable of sex and drugs, and Veronica engaged in casual sex and drinking herself. So that cannot be the role of the villain, and those are not the themes of the movies that the Final Girl appears in.

Rather, she aligned herself with the villain around the goal of lashing out at full normies who were in some way responsible for her assuming a marginal social status. Veronica was the black sheep and butt of jokes in her clique, and Sarah was stuck babysitting her brother instead of living a normal teenage lifestyle because of the baby himself, and her callous stepmother who stuck Sarah with the duty of looking after the baby while she herself spent the evening out on a prestigious social date.

The true theme is deviance vs. normality, with the Final Girl being a marginal-status go-between. It has little to do with hedonism vs. puritanism, with the Final Girl being the abstinent go-between. And the Final Girl becomes a heroine by defending normality against the pathological forces of deviance that threaten it -- an effort on behalf of a group that she belongs to (however marginally at first). She does not become a heroine by winning a contest among individuals as to who can outlast the villain -- the socially blind conclusion of the standard analysis.

* * *

Boomers originally came up with this completely clueless analysis, which stems from their undying worldviews that every action must always take the form of a status contest, and that their hedonist project is under assault by puritanical forces that must be stopped.

The Gen X-ers who appreciate these movies, however, have still accepted this framing, only disagreeing about which side is good or bad. Yes, it's still a status contest among individuals, and yes, the more abstinent individual wins instead of the hedonist individuals -- but that's a good message, not a bad message.

It's time for a fresh look at the pop culture phenomenon of the Final Girl, as well as the quarter-century of analysis on the topic, from a late X-er / early Millennial perspective that sees the Boomer view for the fundamentally mistaken view that it is, rather than accept it analytically but take the opposite side of the value judgment. That stance prioritizes the Culture War implications rather than the objective understanding of the culture itself. For when you troll into the Culture War, the Culture War will troll back into you.

The correct understanding of the Final Girl trope still allows for a battle between two sides who approve or condemn the message. But now, it is between who approves of deviance threatening normality, vs. a marginal normie defending full normie-dom from deviance, even if they are somewhat sympathetic to the deviant side.

Boomers cannot appreciate this drawing of battle lines, because their worldview is all about the debate between "If it feels good, do it, man" or "Keep it in your pants, if you know what's good for you." It's a guide to individual survival and pleasure, only arguing about how those two may conflict with each other. It's not about social cohesion, which opposes normality and integration against abnormality and disintegration.

Boomers grew up in a socially cohesive world, which they took for granted, and have only ever concerned themselves with individual well-being. But Gen X-ers, and especially Millennials, grew up in a more and more socially fragmented world, making them more aware of concerns about social welfare. That allows them to understand a cultural phenomenon that is distinctive of a socially fragmenting climate -- like the Final Girl -- and to more generally re-analyze the zeitgeist of the mid-1970s through the present.

October 15, 2018

Baggy replaces skin-tight, as manic exhibitionism gives way to vulnerable coziness, echoing early 2000s, late '80s, and early '70s

One of the most bizarre reminders that we have entered a similar cultural phase as the early 2000s is the revival, seemingly out of nowhere, of really long boxy sweater jackets on girls. I can't find any contemporaneous pictures, but they do reliably make lists of early 2000s fashion items.

I distinctly remember seeing them in college. Was it a bath-robe? Trying to imitate granny's duster? Whatever it was, why are you wearing that outside of your dorm room? It just seemed so unnatural for young babes to be dressed up like old maids.

Fast-forward 15 years, and here is just one of many in Forever 21's sweater section:

The rest of their sweaters are a lot more billowy, boxy, bulky, and balloony than just five years ago, when slim-fitting was the norm.

And it's not just what they're wearing on top -- pant legs have not flared out this wide since the heyday of the boot-cut, velour trackpants, and JNCO jeans during the first half of the 2000s.

Since the late 2010s, several articles such as this one have taken note of the revival of looks from the early 2000s. And while some may be meaningless self-aware references on the runway, the flared pant legs and oversized tops are widespread and spontaneous shifts among ordinary people.

There were similar shifts during the second half of the '80s, as the skin-tight jeans of the early '80s gave way to the looser-fitting "mom / dad jeans" (and parachute pants at the extreme), and as sweaters, jackets, and coats blew up to blimp-like proportions.

Finally, the early '70s saw the same shift -- pant legs flared far out from the slimmer "mod" look of the second half of the '60s. This was the peak era of bell-bottom jeans, but all pants were flared. Tops were not as boxy as they would become by the late '80s, but they were still more loose and flowy in the sleeves than during the '60s. Collars were also gigantic, along with big ascots on blouses -- similar to the rise of the turtleneck during the late '80s, and the slouchy cowl neck during the early 2000s and today. Something that obscures the underlying body contours.

What the late 2010s, early 2000s, late '80s, and early '70s share is their place in the 15-year cultural excitement cycle: they are the vulnerable, mellow phase after energy levels have crashed from the manic invincible phase.

During this social-cultural refractory period, no more excitement is possible, and they're over-sensitive to attempts to get them excited again. So they just want to be left alone for awhile while their energy levels have a chance to recover to normal. Normal levels are reached during the restless, warm-up phase, when they are excitable again, but have yet to take off on another manic spike. Then the cycle repeats.

It's straightforward to interpret the shift toward blanket-like clothing as one method of insulating themselves from social contact during an over-sensitive refractory phase. Apart from insulation against unwanted attention, it gives them a cozy and secure feeling that they're more likely to seek out during a period of vulnerability.

I wrote two comments here and here on exhibitionist clothing styles during the manic phase -- mini and micro-mini skirts during the late '60s vs. midi and maxi dresses during the '70s, skin-tight jeans during the early '80s vs. loose and even baggy jeans during the late '80s and early '90s, thongs during the late '90s vs. boy shorts during the 2000s, and leggings-as-pants during the early 2010s vs. the return of denim and now flared legs during the late 2010s (and presumably the early 2020s).

An earlier post on the decline of the No Pants Subway Ride discussed the long-term trends in exhibitionism vs. covering up as reflecting the long-term trends in violent crime rates. As crime rates soared, it brought the risk of rape into the front of women's minds, and they responded by covering up and obscuring their figure, so as to not draw unwanted attention in the first place. That was evident by the early '70s, and reached its peak during the late '80s and early '90s. And it happened as well during the Jazz Age, with its boxy shapes, during another wave of rising crime rates.

It's only during falling-crime periods when women start to worry less and less about rape, and feel less worried about going out in public with their shape easily visible to all. We've seen that not only since the second half of the '90s through the recent trend of "leggings as pants," but also during the Midcentury, whose iconic woman is the "sweater girl" wearing a tight-fitting "bullet bra" that left nothing to the imagination.

Here, then, we see a case where the manic phase of the cultural excitement cycle does not resemble the outgoing / rising-crime phase of the crime-and-cocooning cycle. Manic, invincible-feeling people are exhibitionistic, whereas rising crime rates make people feel vulnerable and want to cover up in everyday settings.

Typically, the manic phase and the rising-crime phase resemble each other, since it is outgoing-ness that leads to rising crime rates, as potential predators find more targets when more people are out and about, and when people are trusting and letting their guard down during a fun-loving zeitgeist. Manic energy levels and extraversion are similar, but not identical, and the case of covered-up vs. baring-all reveals their separation.

October 11, 2018

No higher finance gods left to be deus ex machina for neoliberal bubble: Full pantheon of central banks already divinely intervening

As we near the end of the neoliberal bubble that began nearly 40 years ago, it's worth reflecting on the escalating scale of interventions that have been needed to resuscitate the economy (for the elites, anyway) after each successive near-death catastrophe. By the 2010s, we have reached the peak of that scale, as an entire global network of central banks has teamed together to prop up the "everything bubble".

The basic logic is that when an institution is about to go bust, a relatively bigger institution must intervene to save it. Bigger in scale, in wealth and resources, in social status, in influence, etc. A peer institution would not suffice, since whatever is causing the first institution to suffer near-death collapse could just as easily affect institutions at the same level of complexity. And certainly lesser institutions can not rescue greater ones.

"Big" can only be rescued by "bigger", and once there is no bigger, further rescues become impossible, and they sink or swim on their own.

Almost right out of the gate, the deregulation agenda of the Reaganites nearly blew up one of the largest banks in the nation -- Continental Illinois, in 1982. In the first clear case of "too big to fail," it was rescued by the FDIC, a federal government agency. That was a fairly small-scale rescuer needed to jump on the grenade.

By the end of Reaganism's first decade, deregulation mania had wiped out an even larger swath of the economy -- not just one bank, but an entire group within the finance sector, the savings & loan industry. Now it was no longer possible for just one puny federal agency to bail them out -- the full national government had to pass legislation, sign it into law, and survive judicial scrutiny. That was the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989.

As the Reaganite trend continued toward pointless financial speculation, in place of productive investment, the rescuers would bail out hedge funds, not just lowly regional banks or thrifts. In 1998, Long Term Capital Management imploded and posed such a risk to the Wall Street banks that not even the federal government could serve as the rescuer. They had to go higher to the big banks on Wall Street themselves, along with the central bank (the Fed) serving as a mediator, giving its stamp of approval and trustworthiness.

That was before the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999 (by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act), so the Wall Street banks had not been able to scale up to the behemoths they would become in the 21st century, after the barriers were removed between commercial banking, investment banking, and insurance. Any individual one of them was not so much greater than a hedge fund, or group of hedge funds. One of them bailing out LTCM would have been closer to a peer trying to bail out a peer -- not good enough, and the full network of big banks was needed, plus the central bank coordinating the rescue without, however, supplying funds itself.

When the Tech Bubble 1.0 popped in the early 2000s, it was not bailed out and re-inflated, since the tech sector controls the Democrats -- who had pumped up the Dot-Com Bubble under Clinton -- and the Republicans had just taken office under George W. Bush. So even though the central bank slashed interest rates to cope with the popping of a bubble, there were no "too big to fail" cases that got massive rescuing. Rather, with the military party now back in full control of the government, it would be pointless military speculation that would misallocate trillions of dollars -- the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and receive "too big to fail" protection by the federal government and by the senior member of the governing coalition (the Pentagon).

At the end of the Bush years in 2008, the finance sector would again face a collapse -- not of an individual bank, a sub-industry within finance, or a hedge fund. Now it was the entire finance sector that was about to get wiped out, and nearly 10 long years after the repeal of Glass-Steagall, these Wall Street banks were much higher on the complexity scale than their Clinton-era dinosaur ancestors. In a quantum leap from LTCM, the central bank itself had to directly intervene to bail out these "too big to fail" mega-banks, except for Lehman Brothers.

But even as the big banks survived near extinction, the broader economy was still moribund. And simply slashing interest rates to 0 was not enough of an intervention. Now the central bank would purchase assets directly by the trillions of dollars (quantitative easing). And even then, it needed the other central banks of the major economies to do so as well!

The (re-)inflation of Tech Bubble 2.0, not to mention all the rest of the "everything bubble," could not have been orchestrated by just one central bank alone. That scale of intervention had already been taken out with the rescue of the mega-banks in 2008, just a few years earlier. A bigger rescue requires a bigger rescuer, meaning now a single-minded team of central banks. It was as though they had formed a single central bank for all of Planet Earth, with the Fed, ECB, BoJ, etc., serving as mere district banks within it, akin to the member banks of the Federal Reserve system, albeit with some members ranking above others, in the same way the New York Fed ranks highest in the Fed network.

So, after this everything bubble of globally synchronized growth got popped earlier in the year, who is there left to rescue it? No one -- that's who. There is no central bank of the solar system, no central bank of the Milky Way, no intergalactic central bank, and no central bank of the universe or parallel dimensions. We have reached the maximum on the scale of complexity -- globally synchronized growth, propped up by globally synchronized central banks. That's as big as big gets, leaving no one bigger to bail it out.

This history suggests that it's not so much about the scale of financial resources that could be deployed -- with fiat currencies everywhere, there is an infinite amount of cheap money that could be pumped into the failing system.

But everyone would look at that and say, "Sorry, I don't believe it." Their gut intuition is that big requires bigger to rescue it. So it's more about the social standing of each layer in the institutional pyramid. It's not so much a central bank coming to the rescue by providing money to a cash-starved bank -- it's more about the qualitative stamp of approval from a higher-ranking institution, not the quantitative amount of resources that stem from that approval.

"Credit" comes from the word for believing, in the sense of trusting -- you extend someone a loan if you believe they're good for it, and you don't if you don't believe they're good for it. When in doubt, the borrower needs someone or something to vouch for their credit-worthiness. When a bigger institution rescues a big one, it's like they're vouching for the dying one -- we think they're good for it, so we'll extend them a lifeline. That approval from a higher-up assuages the doubts of the spectators who are witnessing the crash victim.

The rescue is not "supplying liquidity to an insolvent institution," or "reducing uncertainty in a chaotic atmosphere," but reassuring the doubtful who fear the institution is worthless, as well as those who fear that one sick institution may by symptomatic of a broader underlying sickness. Nope, nothing to worry about, we higher-ranking layers of the pyramid give it our stamp of quality approval.

Following the lead of higher-ranking authorities, everyone else stops panicking about the sick institution, and extends it their own credit-worthiness. If these spectators are within the finance sector, that means being open to giving them actual funding. But if they are not financial actors, they will still extend their subjective approval, believing that health has been restored to the system, and acting accordingly.

Crucially, it is not taking it on blind "faith" -- there's an infinite supply of that, too. It may look delusional to a clear-minded observer who still sees that the patient is deathly ill, but it does have a rational basis, namely following the lead of higher-ranking authorities. In a world where value is socially constructed, an individual, a firm, an entire sector has value if the higher-ranking layers of their pyramid say it does. They are credit-worthy if their higher-ups are willing to extend them credit -- however misguided or hopeless some observer may think that extension of credit to the moribund patient to be.

As the global growth continues to melt down, it will reveal the uselessness of funds and faith. Unlike these unlimited resources, "order-of-magnitude higher-ups who can vouch for your worthiness" does have an upper limit, and it has already been reached with the global central bank network of the post-2008 era.

The popping of this bubble is not just the end of yet another business cycle, on the order of years, but the end of an entire period or regime, namely the neoliberal era, that has lasted on the order of decades. It heralds the transition in political periods that we are about to see, out of the Reagan / Thatcher / Mitterand / Craxi period, and into one dominated by populist figures akin to Bernie, Corbyn, Le Pen, and Salvini.

Just as in the last turning point of the 1970s, stagflation has returned for everyone but the 1% -- and suddenly, even their costs of living and doing business are going up, while their assets are collapsing in value. This will cause a crisis of belief in the entire neoliberal model, as shown by the rise in democratic socialism and conservative populism among the post-Boomer generations -- and not just among the masses, but among the elites themselves. Or at least, the would-be aspiring elites whom the neoliberal model has entirely failed.

Ocasio-Cortez won her shocking victory in a district full of downwardly mobile elites and frustrated aspiring elites, who live next door to the closeted Alt-Right Trump voters who also feel failed by the entire system -- and who may in fact work within the same industry as the socialists, namely tech, finance, and media.

This phenomenon was absent during previous collapses within the neoliberal era, and the fact that it has surged from seemingly out of nowhere is a clear signal that this era is ripe for realignment. And with no higher institutions left to bail out the global neoliberal order, the realigners will not have to contend with reformists and rescuers, and can get on with the business of building a whole new system in place of the collapsed old one.

October 7, 2018

Slutwalk era feminists ignoring Handmaid's Tale cosplay of Kavanaugh witch hunt

As discussed before, women on the Left whose main focus is anti-imperialism and foreign policy have largely tuned out of the circus surrounding Kavanaugh's confirmation. Men with a foreign focus held up pretty well, too, despite some reflexive anti-jock outbursts during the day of testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh.

Supposing the GOP buckled and installed some other orthodox Reaganite alum of the George W. Bush White House -- what difference would it make for mass surveillance of citizens, or unending military occupation of the entire world? Even if the GOP put some squeaky clean non-jock on the Supreme Court, it would make no difference for the agenda he would be implementing.

If his appointment truly would threaten the Reaganite status quo, he would not be included in the GOP Establishment's club of potential Supreme Court nominees, and George W. Bush would not spend whatever political capital he has left lobbying pro-choice moderates like Susan Collins to assure her that Kavanaugh is only going to work on corporate deregulation, union busting, and enhancing the spy agencies -- not that throwaway right-wing cultural stuff that the rube voters always fall for.

Aside from this group of Leftists whose focus is on big-picture material issues, what about feminists who focus only on the social-cultural domain? Shouldn't they be the most eager to enlist in this culture war where one side's position is "genocide the jock rapists"?

Strikingly, a major contingent of feminists has completely tuned out the alarming appeals to join the army against Kavanaugh -- the sex-positive, Girl Power 2.0 feminists from the Slutwalk era of the early 2010s. As with the anti-imperialists, it's not like they approve of his nomination -- they just can't be bothered to give a damn, when there are more pressing issues.

These include Anita Sarkeesian, Laci Green, Arielle Scarcella, Bria and Chrissy, Stevie Boebi, and others who got famous on YouTube and Twitter. At most, they have a few re-tweets of anti-Kavanaugh comments, maybe one or two of their own -- during the entire weeks-long saturation coverage -- and several have not commented at all.

One major exception is Cleo Stiller, who hosts a similarly themed show, but on corporate TV (Sex Right Now, on Fusion). Her Twitter feed is full of Resistard rage.

An earlier post contrasted the phases of feminism across the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, showing that this kind of sex-positive, invincible-feeling, girl-power feminism peaks during the manic phase. Most recently, that was the early 2010s, and before that the late '90s, early '80s, and late '60s.

As the cycle has collapsed into the vulnerable refractory phase, the main tendency in feminism is no longer to portray women as invincible badasses, but as pitiable prey for omnipresent male predators. This echos feminism of the early 2000s (Law & Order: SVU), late '80s (date rape, ritual sex abuse), and early '70s (all hetero sex is rape).

The trendy thing today among grassroots feminists is to dress up not as a defiant slut with skimpy clothing, but as a covered-up concubine from the Handmaid's Tale, or to otherwise strike a sexually submissive note, like wearing black tape across their mouth.

And now their main demand is for the white knight FBI to swoop in and rescue an entire population of damsels in distress, not to get out of the way of strong independent women who can handle their own business.

Five years later, the SJWs seem cute and quaint in comparison to the obnoxious mob of libs launching laughably false accusations of rape -- and serial gang rape! -- in a feeble attempt to score points for some do-nothing dipshit political party. Fretting about how girls are portrayed in video games, or how many genders there are, is innocuous in the grand scheme of things.

October 1, 2018

Dream pop music's 15-year cycle

While catching up on indie music for the first time since I resonated with it in the early 2000s, I'm struck by how similar the mood is 15 years later.

What stands out most to me is the revival of what's variously called dream pop, shoegaze, or noise pop. Repetitive riffs without an intricate melody, lack of contrast between verse and chorus (similar flow across the phrase structure), layers of sound (often distorted), hazy vocals, an overall impression of an ethereal dreamlike state, and a warm tone rather than a cold or neutral tone, either sweet or bittersweet -- not downbeat, moping, or funereal.

In fact, it sounds uplifting compared to what's going on in the mainstream during the same time period -- the vulnerable phase when everything is sad and emo.

My hunch so far is that the indie world has its own 15-year cycle of excited, withdrawn, and returning-to-neutral phases -- but that it lags behind the mainstream's timing by one full phase. I speculate that the indie people are waiting for the normies to clear out of the arena, as it were, before they put on their own show of a similar mood and tone, so that they don't overlap in zeitgeist.

That is, when the mainstream is excited, indie is returning to neutral, when the mainstream then crashes into numbness, indie takes off into excitation, when the mainstream then returns to neutral, indie crashes into numbness, and the cycle repeats.

So, the bounciest that indie or alternative music is going to get, happens right after the mainstream has already gone through that phase and has entered its refractory phase. That would be the late 2010s, the early 2000s, the late '80s, and the early '70s.

But that's a broader topic for future posts. Sticking just to the dream pop phenomenon, here are two contempo songs that could easily have been on the soundtracks for Lost in Translation and Blue Velvet, during previous instances of this phase of the cycle (the latter was fittingly included on the Twin Peaks revival of 2017, two full cycles after Blue Velvet):

Alvvays, "In Undertow" (2017)

Chromatics, "Shadow" (2015)

From the last phase that was sad and numb for the mainstream, but upbeat for the indie world, here's one from the actual Lost in Translation soundtrack, and one inspired by the Jesus and Mary Chain sound of the previous instance of this phase in the late '80s:

Death in Vegas, "Girls" (2002)

The Raveonettes, "Remember" (2003)

Now one from the actual Blue Velvet soundtrack, and one that's close enough to the late '80s, which just so happens to be a cover of a song from the previous instance of this phase in the early '70s (by Slapp Happy):

Julee Cruise, "Mysteries of Love" (1986)

Mazzy Star, "Blue Flower" (1990)

Finding counterparts from the previous instance during the early '70s is a little harder, since the sound is so associated with female vocals, and there weren't many rock bands with female singers back then. The androgynous glam rock is about as close as there is, along with the birth of Krautrock and "cosmic" music in Germany:

T. Rex, "Cosmic Dancer" (1971)

Kraftwerk, "Autobahn" (1974)

September 27, 2018

Unlike Thomas, Kavanaugh's nom taking place in social mood of vulnerability rather than normalcy

One difference between the attacks against Thomas and Kavanaugh is the social-cultural mood at the time. By the early 1990s, the mass hysteria over sexual predation was beginning to enter a skeptical phase -- after the unqualified panic of the second half of the 1980s, which included the date rape panic, the Satanic ritual abuse panic, and the daycare abuse panic.

In 2018, we are not quite yet into that skeptical phase, and in fact are in the unqualified panic phase, where people are open to believing the substantiated charges (Harvey Weinstein) as well as the unsubstantiated charges (Christine Ford).

An earlier post charted the phases of this cycle, showing how they map onto the phases of the cultural excitement cycle. There are three distinct phases -- manic, vulnerable, normalcy -- that last about 5 years each, for a cycle that repeats about every 15 years. This draws on "excitable system" models in biology, such as the activity level of a neuron.

During the manic, invincible phase, there is neither panic nor skepticism -- people are feeling invulnerable during a manic high. This is the late '60s, early '80s, late '90s, and early 2010s.

When the manic phase crashes into a refractory phase, people feel over-sensitive and therefore vulnerable. They're more likely to feel like predators are everywhere -- hence willing to believe any claim of predation -- and wanting to avoid them at all costs, but finding nowhere to hide. This is the early '70s, late '80s, early '00s, and late 2010s.

As the over-sensitivity wears off and the nervous system returns to a normal baseline of neither over-stimulated nor under-stimulated, people start to become skeptical about how vulnerable they truly were during the previous phase. Sure, we felt vulnerable, but we felt too vulnerable -- so much so that we believed all sorts of bogus charges. We let ourselves become gullible, and now that our emotional state has returned to baseline, we won't get suckered by far-out charges. This is the late '70s, early '90s, late 2000s, and by projection the early 2020s.

Thomas dodged a bullet by being nominated in the early '90s, once the backlash had begun against the sexual abuse hysteria of the late '80s. Roberts and Alito also dodged a bullet by being nominated in 2005, after the subsiding of the early 2000s outrage over sexual abuse (Catholic church revelations). All three were nominated during the return-to-normalcy, healthy dose of skepticism phase.

Gorsuch got nominated during the vulnerable phase, but before a widespread panic had exploded. He was nominated in January 2017 (and confirmed in April), whereas the Me Too movement broke out in October. His nomination did come after the constant accusations against Trump during the 2016 campaign season, but that was not a widespread zeitgeist -- just targeting one individual for clearly partisan reasons.

Kavanaugh's nomination falls not only during the vulnerable phase, but once the mass panic had clearly broken out. This heightening of the social mood is the main difference between his nomination and Gorsuch's, not any qualities about the individuals themselves.

Does anyone believe that if Gorsuch had been nominated after the Me Too phenomenon took off, he would face no accusations like the ones Kavanaugh is facing? Gorsuch does seem to be gay (white hair before age 50, silver before age 40, owing to homosexual degeneracy accelerating the physical deterioration process). So maybe the accusations would have been in the mold of those against Catholic priests or Bryan Singer. But still, something that resonated with the sex abuse panic that took off by fall 2017.

None of this means that Kavanaugh's confirmation will get blocked, although it does explain why it has been rockier than those of Thomas or Gorsuch, the two most comparable cases. And it explains why the majority of Americans came around to believing Thomas over Hill in 1991, but may (or may not) come to believe Ford over Kavanaugh in 2018.

Major political choices by the dominant coalition of a historical period do not reflexively respond to the short-term cycling of the social mood. Even if a majority of Americans currently believe the charges against Kavanaugh, will they still feel the same in a few years? No -- the mood will have shifted into the skeptical phase, after Me Too goes too far.

Is the dominant coalition going to give up a lifetime appointment to the highest court, based on the fleeting social mood? Don't count on it.

"But the GOP can nominate any other tool of the Reaganite orthodoxy, and still secure that lifetime appointment!"

Not as long as the social mood is vulnerable and overly credulous about predators being everywhere. The opposition would mount similar charges until the mood changes in a few years -- and the dominant coalition is not going to wait through years of constant obstruction. They will have to nip that in the bud, and confirm Kavanaugh despite it leaving a temporary bad taste in half of the country's mouths, based on the transitory social mood.

September 25, 2018

The counter-revolutionary distraction of character assassination -- against Thomas, Kavanaugh, or other Reaganites

At first it was mainly delusional liberals who were leading the charge against Kavanaugh, wielding their same ol' ineffective weapons from the arsenal of identity politics. But now that a good number of class-oriented realigners on the Left are joining the pile-on, all while the accusations have become increasingly risible, it's time to look at how pointless and self-defeating these strategies always are -- not only for their short-term failures, but their sapping of energy that could have been devoted to long-term and big-picture changes.

First, how about a quick reality check on the last time that liberals tried to derail a conservative Supreme Court nominee using flimsy allegations of sexual harassment? They failed abysmally when they came for Clarence Thomas in 1991, who has been safely implementing the Reaganite agenda ever since. And because their attacks were personal rather than collective, they resulted in no broader understanding, and no further escalation of goals.

In their framing, only this one individual was the problem, not the entire Reaganite judicial army -- and his disqualifications were said to be of a character nature, rather than stemming from the powerful and wealthy interests whose agenda he would be implementing. So, once his appointment was fait accompli, that was the end of that campaign by the opposition.

The dominant coalition of a historical era rarely has major problems in re-shaping society, across all branches of government, at all levels of government. That's what makes them the dominant coalition. The opposition struggles to achieve even small-scale victories, let alone to defend them against the incessant reactions by the relatively stronger dominant coalition. So, it was a no-brainer that GOP-appointed Thomas would get seated on the Supreme Court in the Reaganite era.

But that doesn't mean the opposition had no chance for advancing their goals -- provided that their attacks were of a collective and political nature, so that even if they failed to derail this particular appointment, they would have built support for blocking similar appointments who would enact a similar agenda, making victories possible in the medium or long term.

While the outcome of the character assassination against Thomas may have been uncertain back in 1991, when they first deployed the strategy, by 2018 it is no longer hypothetical -- it will fail just as spectacularly against Kavanaugh. At least with Thomas, the allegation was that he used his institutional role to get away with harassment of a structural underling. With Kavanaugh, he had no institutional role giving him leverage over the accusers -- just a high schooler or college kid of similar social standing as them. There's no institutional or structural critique behind the allegations against him, and therefore nothing political to be made of them.

Indeed, the liberals and Leftists who are chasing the short-term endorphin rush of piling on have already admitted that they are not seeking a broader change in the make-up of the Supreme Court, the agenda it would enact, the structural changes in society it would pursue, or anything like that.

They're saying, "Look, you Republicans could shit-can Kavanaugh and replace him with any one of a million other Reaganite clones, and it won't make a lick of difference to the outcome of upcoming Supreme Court cases. So please, just give us this one particular scalp, let us orgasm, and then we'll fall into a deep refractory-period slumber, while you appoint Kavanaugh's clone in his place. Deal?"

These are the pleas of a defeated, and defeatist, opposition. When we lose yet again, please just give us a consolation prize rather than total humiliation, and we'll go back to impotently whining instead of collectively organizing against your agenda. This is politics as therapeutic medication of individuals, not politics as wielding coalitional power to shape society.

And that's assuming they even get their scalp! When they do not, they will suffer greater depression from the cognitive dissonance of getting totally humiliated by the dominant coalition, without the innocuous consolation prize that they had so non-threateningly requested.

And yet, the outlook for the realignment of the Democrats -- or whatever party replaces them -- is not hopeless. The reactions to the allegations against Kavanaugh have been far less indulgent among the up-and-coming Congressional realigners like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, or DSA fellow traveler Julia Salazar who is headed to the NY State Senate. Refreshingly, Tulsi Gabbard's Twitter account has not issued a single response piling on against Kavanaugh, which she must see as largely a distraction from her big-picture efforts against corporate oligarchy and globalist militarism.

Sure, they don't approve of him being appointed, and they may have a few token responses against him on Twitter, but they're not singling him out for a scalp while saying go ahead and put any other Reaganite in his place. And they're not droning on and on about the identity politics issue of sexual misconduct among drunken teenagers -- but universal healthcare, ending the Pentagon's failed occupation of the whole world, and other issues relating to class and empire.

I don't read too many Leftist commentators on Twitter, but Briahna Joy Gray and Rania Khalek have also been relatively bored by the Kavanaugh pile-on, and have continued their long-term big-picture focus on class-and-empire issues.

It's hard not to notice that they're women of color, while the Leftists who are hooking MSNBC's Kavanaugh coverage straight into their veins are more likely white and male. (Sex seems more important than race here.) Will Menaker from Chapo Trap House, John Iadarola from The Young Turks, and sadly the Bernmeister himself. It's not a perfect correlation, but the difference is still pretty striking.

We understand why liberals of both sexes and all races are piling on -- libs don't care about fundamental change, and just want a small concession to make them feel less pathetic in their defeat.

But the Left should be rising above that. The fact that guys on the Left are still so drawn into the pile-on suggests a personal rather than collective motive -- they see Kavanaugh as the womanizing jerk from Hollywood movies who has monopolized the means of reproduction, leaving them sexually frustrated. Or if it turns out he was a virgin during his youth, he's still the smug preppy frat boy type who they have to engage with for male-male status competition, and they'd rather not have to compete on "stereotypically masculine" dimensions that frat boys are into.

They've been good at ignoring the distractions of Mueller-gate, having learned their lessons from the pointlessness of the Valerie Plame Affair. But now there's a more personal appeal to joining the powerless Centrist hysteria du jour -- venting about those fucking frat boys!

Whatever it is, Leftist guys need to get over it and help out their women with the big-picture work of realignment, instead of retreating into their comfy man-caves where they feed their personal spite addiction all day long.

Related posts:

Fight SCOTUS pick on populist grounds, not abortion or other liberal identity politics issues, especially since the Reaganite Supreme Court has enshrined abortion, flag-burning, pornography, and gay marriage -- all things that the Founding Fathers had intended to flourish, and that were originally sanctified in the Constitution. The Reaganites are libertarian experimentalists, not conservative traditionalists, so fear-mongering about them using the state to regulate personal choices has always been crying wolf, and normies tune it out by now.

Kavanaugh ruled in favor of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in union-busting campaign by management. There was a way to tie the individual record of Kavanaugh into the broader Reaganite agenda, and Trump's personal benefits from Kavanaugh's rulings, in a way that would call the president's bluff on being a working-class friendly Republican realigner.