October 20, 2019

Joker: neo-naturalism for the new Gilded Age (Part 2 on characters and themes)

Part 1 on visual and musical style here.

Almost none of the reviews I've read and listened to have accurately characterized Arthur Fleck / Joker in his role as a violent criminal. This is partly because most people came in with hardened preconceptions about the nature of the Joker as a character, but they still should have noticed how different he is in this movie.

First, Joker is not a vigilante a la Taxi Driver or Death Wish. A vigilante targets an entire group of people who represent a collective threat -- pimps, drug dealers, robbers, rapists, etc. For him, any member of that group is interchangeable with the others -- bumping off any pimp, robber, etc. will achieve his goal of stopping crime. Although a vigilante may have been the victim of a specific criminal, he generalizes that relationship to other criminals similar to the original one, seeking collective rather than individual revenge. His targets have not done anything wrong to him -- he sees them as a threat to a wider group that he belongs to, and is acting on behalf of that group.

Joker, by contrast, only hurts people who have already hurt him: the yuppies who attack him unprovoked on the subway, the co-worker who got him in trouble by giving him a gun, his mother for subjecting him to ongoing physical and mental trauma as a child, and the TV show host who sought ratings by humiliating him before the audience.

He spares another co-worker who treated him decently (and says so). Plus he spares Thomas Wayne, who he could have held a grudge against for telling him the brutal truth that his mother was delusional, that he was adopted, and to stay out of his life or else. It turns out that Wayne was the victim of Arthur's mother's delusions, and she has involved him in her delusions, causing him to get told off by Wayne. So rather than pursue a feud, Arthur takes his licks and leaves him alone. Arthur recognized that he himself was in the wrong, albeit from believing his mother's delusions.

Second, Joker is not a nihilist, anarchist, or other figure who believes in no rules, or that the rules don't apply to him, or that violence and destruction is fun and rewarding per se, a la the Joker from Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. He does not practice indiscriminate and callous violence. He follows fairly common and traditional rules for who you may harm (specific individuals who have already harmed you without provocation, and not those who have done you no harm). The same goes for property crimes -- he does not smash in the windows of random businesses, or blow up buildings of his targets in a propaganda of the deed.

When he says he "doesn't believe" in any of the political protest motives, he does not mean he believes in nothing, but that he does not have collective and larger-purpose motives. It's entirely personal for him, and that is a traditional ethical code (get revenge against the individuals who've wronged you).

And third, Joker is not really a sociopath. He doesn't torture or toy around with his targets like a sadist, he gets right to the point. And again he doesn't choose targets who haven't harmed him, like a sociopath would. He's not a predator, stalker, or hunter. He never tries to force himself on anyone. He does not hold a lowly view of other people in general, nor does he demean them.

And he can sense when he is in the wrong, how the other aggrieved party feels, and does not try to put the blame on them for feeling wronged. We see this not only when he leaves Wayne alone after their confrontation, but also when he's doing his rent-a-clown act at a children's cancer ward and his gun accidentally falls out of his pants and onto the floor, spooking them all.

In fact, a sociopath would only accept a job at a children's cancer ward in order to gain access to them as a child molester or serial killer. During a bus ride, he makes funny faces at a small child in front of him -- not to try to get close enough to harm him, but simply because he's an aspiring performer and wants to make his audience laugh and reward him with smiles. This is echoed later when he approaches young Bruce Wayne -- to make him laugh, not to harm him after getting him to let his guard down.

He is certainly dissociative, suffers from self-aggrandizing delusions, and is socially awkward or cognitively impaired at empathy -- like an autistic person, he can't easily comprehend what others are feeling. But a sociopath is not cognitively impaired -- they can understand what another person is feeling, they just can't emotionally resonate with it. An autistic is clueless, a sociopath is callous.

This makes Arthur more of a pitiful and doomed character out of Steinbeck. Lennie dreams of petting soft rabbits, but his lack of awareness of his own brawny nature leads him into crushing them to death as he pursues this dream. And Arthur dreams of fulfilling his life's mission of making an audience laugh and feel better -- and getting rewarded with laughter and applause -- while his socially autistic nature means he will never be able to read the room and know what the audience would like, so he only ends up making them feel worse, and he only receives distancing reactions from them.

He's not quite so doomed in his quest, though, since he does ultimately receive rapturous applause from the rioting protesters, after he has set an example of striking back at those who have wronged you.

Making this movie an "origin story" is therefore a decision to return to naturalism and various forms of determinism (heredity, upbringing, current class role, etc.). It's not the typical origin story of a villain from comic books, horror movies, or whatever else. Those villains always rise to the level of sociopath, serial killer, nihilist / anarchist, and so on. Because their violence is so extreme, it feels wrong to reduce it to a naturalistic explanation -- Michael Myers became a serial killer because he got bullied at school, or whatever.

But since Fleck / Joker is not that level of a villain, but is a fairly powerless and pitiful figure who is lashing out at those who have already wronged him, it's totally fine to assign him a naturalistic origin story. And his psychology may be abnormal, but it's not inhuman -- so, sure, investigate its origins in his upbringing, his class position, and whatever else. In a twist, we can't explore the role of heredity through his mother (a delusional psychotic) because he's adopted.

But he was adopted by a delusional psychotic, profoundly neglected, beaten to the point of traumatic head injury by the mother's boyfriend, had been institutionalized himself, perhaps a victim of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (at the hands of his mother), and loaded up on various psychiatric drugs (some of which may be inappropriate and causing iatrogenic harm, if his mother misled the doctors as to her son's condition).

Current circumstances -- dim job prospects, rising crime, urban anomie, austere government policy -- may play a role in other narratives about psychological breakdown and violence, but it's rare to see one focus so much on childhood and parental influences. There's no such investigation in Taxi Driver, any Batman movie, Blue Velvet, Silence of the Lambs, or scores of others. The brief scenes of childhood abuse in Natural Born Killers is a partial exception, but the throwaway exposition tacked on to the end of Psycho does not count as an in-depth narrative investigation. This places Joker more within the mainstream of Gilded Age naturalism than Midcentury existentialism (free will, agency, making your bed and lying in it).

As our material and ideological conditions have returned to those of the Gilded Age -- hyper-competitiveness, laissez-faire economics and morality, Social Darwinism, and widening inequality -- the subjective sense of hopelessness and determinism will re-emerge into the zeitgeist. When society keeps breaking further and further down, the forces of the world feel too over-powering to be stopped. Only when societal breakdown has been tamed -- as during the Midcentury -- do people feel like they have more agency and are not merely molded and tossed around by fate.

October 17, 2019

Joker: the return of naturalism for the new Gilded Age (Part 1 on visual and musical style)

After one of my rare visits to the movie theater, I sided more with the audience than the critics on Joker. The movie may polarize responses because it's trying to integrate two different movies, one about his background and origin and another about his initial acts in his new criminal role as Joker. It wasn't the most seamless weaving together of the two narratives, but it did the job.

It may have also polarized responses for bringing such crystallized expectations to it -- choosing a protagonist from a high-profile franchise, and a director from a comedy rather than thriller background -- and then frustrating those who had showed up wanting something different. I've never paid much attention to comic book franchises, in film or elsewhere, and I haven't seen a single one of the Hangover movies in full, so I didn't go in with any hardened view of how it should have been.

I did see it after having read and listened to extensive spoilers, though, including endless comparisons to Taxi Driver (whether they enjoyed the supposed parallels or not). Joker bears little resemblance to Taxi Driver -- it's the contrasts that stand out more, and reveal the differences between the zeitgeists behind the two.

I'll split up my review into two parts, this one on the physical aspects of visual and musical style, and another on the conceptual aspects of themes, characters, and narrative style.

On the cinematography, it differed from the earlier Batman / Joker movies by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan in opting for a more realistic than heavily stylized look. The cinematographer is mainly known for the Hangover movies as well, so this could have been making the best use of their limitations (comedy films rarely stand out visually). And certainly it's less stylized than the neo-Expressionist look of Taxi Driver's scenes of city streets at night. Joker rarely uses striking compositions, dynamic camera movement, bold colors, or chiaroscuro lighting.

The low-style visual approach reinforces the naturalistic themes, characters, and narrative. This is not a real comic book or superhero / supervillain movie, nor do the Joker's crimes rise to such a level that they seem unnatural and in need of a more stylized visual delivery.

In fact, the only memorable stylistic device is the frequent use of shallow focus, putting Arthur Fleck / Joker in focus, and rendering everyone and everything else blurry, even his immediate surroundings and people sitting right next to him. This choice was not just some fashionable gimmick, nor was it used for utilitarian purposes (e.g., to de-emphasize things and people in the background that might distract our attention from key figures in the foreground).

When he's sitting in bed with his mother watching a late night talk show, there is no clutter of distracting objects -- just him, his mother a foot away, the bed, and a few odd pieces of furniture and decoration. And yet everything other than Arthur is blurry. Ditto for the shot of him looking out the window of a bus -- there's little action going on in the foreground, and not much in the background either. This shot is echoed later when he's in the back of a cop car. So minimizing distractions is not the reason for the extreme shallow focus.

What this does is visually convey not only Arthur's loneliness and isolation from the people, things, and places in his world, but his psychic state of dissociation and increasingly solipsistic retreat into his own mind. After what he's been through, he has begun to live so much in his own mind that on a raw perceptual level, anything beyond himself is just one great big blur.

By the end of the movie, his dissociation has gotten so bad that he feels disembodied from even himself. In one of the movie's iconic shots, only his head remains in focus -- the entire rest of his body below the neck has floated off into the blurry background of the dressing room. Usually shallow focus at least respects the integrity of a subject's body, but here this is violated in order to show how far he has traveled off into a dissociative fugue. The promotional still below is not the best example from this sequence (it's most striking when he puts a gun under his chin), but it's not out on DVD to do a proper screenshot.


Thus, the heavy use of shallow focus does not undercut the otherwise realistic visual approach. It is not used for purely stylistic effect, to delight the visual sense, but to try to render as scientifically and objectively as possible the dissociative breakdown and solipsism of the protagonist.

Unlike the effective naturalistic visual approach, the musical style did not achieve its goals. This may owe to the comedic background of the team of filmmakers, where music tends to use existing pop songs or well-timed flourishes to echo a bit of physical comedy.

To its credit, it did not rely on contemporaneous hit songs, which Arthur would have been oblivious of. Nor did it employ a melodic approach to the score, which would have suggested dynamism, action, and coherent structure in a movie about the cold impersonal shaping effects of the environment on a person, and a slow dissociative melting-away rather than a series of psychotic explosions. (Contrast this with the heavily melodic and thrilling soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, whose antisocial protagonist wields more agency and experiences more exciting events than that of Joker.)

This approach to the score is one of the few similarities to Taxi Driver, whose score is mostly simple variations on a single motif, and plodding dissonant harmonies. However, Joker's score is too dramatic, almost bombastic, in its energy levels for a movie that is not very dramatic. Taxi Driver's score is more appropriately moody, despite being more dramatic in its plot.

And the instrumentation for Joker is too orchestral, taking away from the movie's overall naturalistic approach. Taxi Driver used a Midcentury jazz arrangement that feels more at home in New York during the 1970s. Joker needed an arrangement that was softer and more informal. Perhaps an elevated take on the moody, mellow country-crossover music that was dominant throughout the '70s, leading up to the year that Joker is set in (1981). Not the most exciting genre or period of music, but it would have done the job better for this movie -- more plausible as the background for lower-class characters, and more evocative of the tone of pity, disappointment, and bleakness that pervades the plot (at least until the final act).

The use of "Rock and Roll Part 2" for Joker's triumphant dance was great -- drawing from a moody, emo period that is more simple riffs than full melodies (early '70s, glam), rather than other stadium hits like "We Are the Champions" that are too melodic and high-energy to fit into this movie.

There should have been a counterpart to this song in the earlier part of the movie, to set up a contrast with the triumphant final act. Keep it in the glam rock genre, to make the comparison obvious, but one that is more yearning and self-pitying. Not melodic, layers of droning instruments, and a final vocal layer that is just disembodied sighing, to suggest dissociation or disintegration. With lyrics about one's childhood. The perfect choice -- "Cosmic Dancer" by T. Rex (also hits on Arthur's penchant for dancing).



October 16, 2019

Tulsi is Gaia from Captain Planet

On the commentary to tonight's debate, the Chapo Trap House hosts were comparing Tulsi to Rogue from X-Men for having a shock of gray in her hair, then began humming the theme song to the X-Men animated series.

But if we're talking characters from early '90s cartoons, they missed the more apt comparison -- a swarthy Earth Mother, stewardess over the environment, mellow and unflappable in a very aloha kind of way. And of course, streaks of silver through her black hair. It's Gaia, the overseer of the heroes from Captain Planet and the Planeteers:


October 11, 2019

Upside of deep recession: depopulating the swollen professional class

A major factor overlooked by commentators on the rise in inequality, and loss of working-class collective power, is the over-production of the elite class. So far, only Peter Turchin and related academics have discussed these dynamics.

The ranks of the professional class have exploded during the rise of neoliberalism -- signaled by the explosion in college enrollments and the migration into mega-cities, compared to the populist New Deal era when hardly anyone was maximizing their career ambitions, and when they were content to stay close to their humble geographic origins.

Expanding the share of the population that is professional, or professional-aspiring, necessarily shrinks the share of the population that is working-class. And therefore, empowers the professional class, while neutering the working class. Not to mention concentrating more wealth and power in the mega-cities, while robbing it from everywhere else, including urban areas that are just not in the top tier.

A populist or socialist outcome would be for this top-heavy distribution to shed a bunch of slots in the upper layers, reducing the power of professionals to collectively hoard as much as they can, and increasing the collective power of workers to get more of it for themselves -- while remaining in their working-class jobs.

Thus, "college for all" is an anti-socialist goal. It would only worsen these tensions by further depleting the working class of members, turning everyone into strivers. The goal is for working-class people to earn more income, enjoy more benefits, have more humane working conditions, and exercise more control over how their workplace is run. They can only do that by sacrificing individual ambition for the greater good of collective bargaining power. Feeding them all into a college program, in pursuit of professional careers afterward, would make hyper-competitive individualists out of the entire nation.

The upcoming recession is going to be far worse than the 2008 financial crisis, since none of the underlying problems were addressed -- indeed, they were encouraged to fester and grow. The so-called recovery was merely the central bank printing over $4 trillion out of thin air, and handing it out to rich morons to gamble on whatever struck their fancy (quantitative easing).

Those middlemen restricted these trillions of free dollars that the central bank handed them, to the professional class and above. None of it was spent in a way that could create well-paying and humane jobs for the bottom 80% of society. This make-work program for the elites is the Shark Tank economy -- strivers competitively begging for funny-money that the investors had gotten for free ultimately from the central bank.

After the coming financial crisis, though, the central bank will not be able to do the same thing. The success of the last / current project of quantitative easing owed to belief that it would be undone over the course of the recovery. Supposedly, the central bank was not permanently monetizing a shitload of debt that it took on via creating the over $4 trillion that it handed out to the financial elites. That was only supposed to be an emergency measure, and the central bank would contract the money supply that it had so massively inflated.

So, everyone treated the funny-money as though it were real -- if you had a social connection to the central bank, through however-many layers of financial middlemen, congratulations! You could live like kings and queens, despite doing unproductive work.

Only now that the central bank has failed to minimize its debt burden, and has already announced further rounds of quantitative easing -- to zero positive effect in the stock market, contrary to the original rounds -- the jig is up. There is no credibility left to the idea that they can just create another $5 trillion or $10 trillion, hand it out to rich morons, who dole some of it out to the top 20% of society, and somehow that emergency measure will correct and solve itself.

So the professionals won't be living it up like they were during the Obama years. In fact, the crash will be worse than any we've seen because there is no higher financial power left to bail out the institutions that became compromised during the current bubble. Earlier neoliberal bubbles only took out a regional bank, hedge fund, sector (savings & loan), at most the big Wall Street investment banks in 2008.

But now the quantitative easing program has compromised the central bank itself, the one that prints the world's reserve currency no less. So that's it -- whereas the central bank could bail out the Wall Street banks last time, there is no central bank of the solar system that can bail out the de facto world's central bank.

On the bright side, though, all of these depopulated professionals will have no choice but to get real jobs and pursue working-class goals rather than whine for the continuation of a professional-class bubble economy, which is no longer do-able. It will be a boon for populism and socialism -- real socialism, not the SJW-ism of today's professional class.

I discussed this issue earlier, in the context of Bernie tanking his campaign by catering to these professional-class strivers with appeals to Nazi-hunting as the justification for socialist economic programs:

The only glimmer of hope is that the upcoming recession will be a Great Depression-level catastrophe, so painful that it forces the libtards to stop masturbating to their Nazi-hunting fantasies, and train their sights squarely on the real-world threats of laissez-faire, oligarchy per se, and inequality, uniting the great majority of the country in that fight to bring back order after decades of teetering neoliberal chaos.

Their fantasies are luxuries that can only be afforded during comfortable times, and so far the current economic bubble has yet to fully burst. If they were working-class, they would have been mired in hard times for awhile now, but they are all professional-class strivers who have benefited massively from Obama's re-inflation of the info-economy bubble.

Once the global central banks are no longer running the printing presses, the venture capitalists who fund their online media outlet will cut them off, and they will have to move back in with their parents in flyover country, bye-bye Brooklyn. Only when they are materially forced to re-join the human race will they be able to pursue a humanizing political project like socialism.

That proved to be timely, as one of these online media sites -- Splinter -- was just shuttered by its investors, who don't have an endless line of free credit at the central bank anymore. Time for their laid-off staff to move back to wherever they came from, and liberate themselves from the hyper-competitive shithole of Brooklyn.

It will be good for their moral fiber, and hopefully for working-class politics -- they'll have to shut their mouths about alienating culturally liberal bullshit, if they want their minimum-wage job to pay $15 instead of $7. There's no way for them to amass a huge movement to compel employers into raising wages, while shitting all over the majority of the country. Before, there was no cost to them for doing so -- now that they're part of the majority themselves, they have no choice but to conform and shut up about matters that are irrelevant to winning higher wages and better working conditions for themselves.

Final word goes to Aimee "The Vest" Terese, who detonated a bunch of the Splinter staff (and related people elsewhere) for their direct role in hamstringing Bernie's campaign by trying to push him into being an extreme leftoid rather than the culturally moderate populist he won so many people over with last time. These are only two remarks among many ("pmc" means professional-managerial class):



October 9, 2019

Why dropping ID pol in favor of class is harder for left than right; Why only finance can save Dems from libtards

Below is an expanded version of a comment to a recent post about the interplay of class and ethnicity in the Democrat primary system. Naive Marxist theory would predict the clustering of groups by class, and perhaps secondarily by race, and yet it was the exact opposite way around. Whites of both elite and working class status lined up behind Bernie, and non-whites of both classes lined up behind Hillary.

That is largely true this time, except for the rift among whites along class lines, with working-class whites sticking with Bernie and professional whites defecting to Warren. Non-whites remain unified across class lines behind their machine candidate, Biden, and will easily defeat the deeply divided white camp of the electorate. Biden, a status quo candidate during a time of realignment, will then flame out to whichever GOP-er replaces Trump as the nominee.

This raises the issue of how Democrats, leftists, populists, or whoever, can undo the focus on identity politics in the Democrat primary system, given how entrenched it is. Basic sociological theory tells us it will be far harder for Democrats than for Republicans, because although both sides have identity politics to distract from class issues, it is easier to put aside those on the right, compared to those on the left.

I detailed these distinctions during the last primary season, and didn't see anything like it at the time or since. Most people with morally liberal brains just don't get any of this stuff, even if they have a PhD in sociology. If it has to do with in-group vs. out-group dynamics, they're color-blind to it (see Haidt's typology of morally liberal vs. conservative minds). So I'm reviving it now, and expanding on it a bit to reflect what's transpired in the meantime.

* * * * *

I hate being right so early. From way back in February 2016, the shift from ID pol to class will be easier on the right than left.

Reason: left-wing ID politics are about ascribed status, right-wing ID politics about achieved status. People stick to their ID guns more when the identity is beyond their control, an innate core of who they are.

In addition to evangelical Christianity, I'd add gun owner and non-urban resident to right-wing ID pol that are based on achieved status. They choose to own guns or not, and choose to live in rural or suburban places. They're not born into it, and it's not beyond their control.

Of course, this only applies to the electoral base of each party -- Trump defeated right-wing ID pol during 2016, but in office the GOP elites took over, buried economic populism, and threw meaningless right-wing ID pol to the rubes instead.

For Dems, it would be the opposite pattern. It's a daunting challenge for them to kill off ID pol during a primary, and focus on class instead. But if they successfully did so, they'd have an easier time doing economic populism in office (e.g., under a Bernie admin -- or FDR admin).

I think it's going to come down to the informational sector elites, who control the Democrat party, getting sick of being the opposition rather than dominant party, and defunding and otherwise shutting down left-wing ID pol during their primaries. Definitely not the media / entertainment cartel, since they massively profit from culture war content. And probably not the info-tech cartel, since they're neck-deep in ID-pol-motivated censorship.

Most likely would be the senior faction of their elites -- the finance sector. Sure, they're all personally woke, and their brands have been crafted to be woke as well. But they don't make profits from catering their services to culture war libtard rubes, and they do not have a mass audience interface like the social media platforms, so the big banks don't need to engage in culture war censorship. None of that cultural BS affects how much Goldman Sachs will make by bringing some phony tech bubble startup to its IPO. None of that impacts how low or high the central bank will set interest rates, how much quantitative easing they'll be doing, etc.

Of all the major Democrat coalition members, the ones who keep the most silent on culture war crap have been the finance crowd. It's amazing how little you hear of the typical libtard crap on MSNBC's sister network, CNBC, or on Bloomberg (let alone more culturally conservative Fox Business). That is true for all the major propaganda narratives of this cycle -- Me Too, Russiagate, impeachment, and imagining Nazis / fascists / white nationalists under every bed and in the rapid ascendancy.

The banks have incredibly stronger powers to wield -- they can make it so their targets can't hold any banking accounts, can't get loans, can't send or receive funds, can't even cash their paycheck without going to a payday loan shark. Compare that to the limpdick shit that the social media companies can do -- kick you off Twitter, oh no, it's the end of the world. Or slandering you on a libtard cable news segment -- oh no, please, not the hatred of over-40 wine moms.

And yet the banks have largely (not to say completely) refrained from using that power against cultural conservatives, Trump supporters, Bernie supporters, anti-Establishment types of any stripe. People already have such a low regard for bankers, they don't want to draw the public's ire any more by politicizing their business activities -- beyond the obvious of supporting one party over another, or one candidate over another. Not materially casting out huge swaths of the population for holding taboo ideas.

From a related post, Bernie's followers should bring back the New Deal coalition of big banks and labor unions, squeezing the professional-managerial class strivers from either side.

So far, there's little sign of improvement among the various groups in the Dem base -- they're pretending 2016 did not happen, and are right back to whites vs. non-whites as the first filter, and then professional vs. working class as the second filter (distinguishing Warren from Sanders among whites).

I don't pretend to be certain that there actually is a way out of this mess that the Dems started with the ID pol phenomenon. They obviously weren't planning ahead. But if there is, it will come from the working class and the finance elites, not from the broad professional class or the media or the tech sectors.

Aside from Dem elite intervention, the only solution is a hostile takeover of their primary by Trumpian populist Republicans -- they flood in and vote for Bernie in massive numbers, not giving a shit about Pocahontas or the right-hand man of My Cool Black President.

That needed to happen between '16 and '20 -- and it has not. So there will be no shift to class, away from ID pol, and we'll get another awful GOP admin after Trump leaves. Populist rhetoric, elitist policies, and right-wing ID pol to keep the rubes from grumbling.

In the meantime, Bernie supporters on the left should re-orient their efforts away from the media and tech world, and toward the non-culturally motivated finance sector, as well as organized labor and the broad working class (except for urban non-whites who are locked in to the Democrat machine candidate).

October 6, 2019

Mid-2000s nostalgia from Aimee Terese, in praise of catcalling

As the vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle draws to a close this year, Me Too is dying because people are all emo'd out by now. When the restless, warm-up phase begins next year, people will be eager to come out of their shells and start mixing it up with each other again, to re-establish a baseline of normal energy levels.

And in order to overcome the oppressive taboos against sexuality that have prevailed during the vulnerable phase, they will start making quite overt signals that horniness is back in fashion -- just to make sure the awareness is public, giving people permission to stop feeling so negative about the opposite sex. Catcalling will make a major comeback, for one thing.

To the Millennials who don't remember, or to Gen X-ers and Boomers who've forgotten, this isn't the first time this cultural and emotional shift has happened. The first half of the 2000s were incredibly emo and sex-negative, and suddenly that began changing around 2005. The second half of that decade was like a return to the disco era, with no inhibitions about the two sexes getting up close and personal with each other.

Not all Millennials, though, have forgotten that atmosphere circa 2005. Here's the anti-woke Left princess praising catcalling:


Adding some fashion nostalgia to bring it more to life:


TFW no almost-17 Lebanese big-hair gf...

Reminds me of some other Mediterranean Australians of the five-foot firecracker type, in full 2005 style and sex-positive attitude. Thank God we're almost there again:



October 3, 2019

Songs about traumatic childhood produced by vulnerable phase of 15-year cultural excitement cycle

During the vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, people's energy levels have crashed into a refractory state where everything feels painfully over-stimulating, and puts them in a mindset of being victimized or traumatized.

To see how this is reflected in pop culture, consider the ultimate level of victimization -- child abuse of one kind or another.

Wikipedia has a list of songs about child abuse, although it's not only physical abuse that's covered -- anything that leaves the singer psychologically traumatized. There has to be some kind of painful conflict within the family, whether the parents fighting with each other as the child tries to block it out, or getting heated against the child, all the way up to physical abuse by one parent toward the child or toward the other parent.

(And some are not about traumatic childhood at all -- they're just depressing songs that the list-maker associates with a damaging childhood, but are not actually about that topic.)

To ensure that these resonated with the popular zeitgeist, we'll only consider those that made it onto the main Billboard chart, the Hot 100. I'm going with the weekly charts, since using the narrower year-end charts only gives a handful of examples. As in the previous case studies here, I'm categorizing songs by the first year that it was released to the public, either as a single or on an album. These years are grouped into the standard phases of the excitement cycle model: 2015-'19 is the current vulnerable phase, 2010-'14 the last manic phase, 2005-'09 the warm-up phase before that, and so on back through earlier 5-year blocks.

The model predicts a concentration of such songs in the vulnerable phase, and sure enough that's what we find. Here is a table of the songs in order of year released, along with the phase that year belonged to:


The model makes no prediction about the overall number made, or long-term trends, only about cyclical patterns. As it happens, there were a whole lot of child abuse songs in the vulnerable phases of the late '80s and early 2000s, but not so many during the current vulnerable phase. That suggests a longer-term decline. But we see the cyclical pattern in the relative absence of such songs during either half of the '90s, or the early '80s, late '70s, etc.

There were songs about child abuse released in the early '80s, late '70s, back to the late '60s, but they did not chart -- they were in the wrong phases. Still, you'd think there would have been some in the vulnerable phase of the early '70s, but none are in the list. They only became popular starting in the late '80s.

Perhaps the high number in the late '80s reflected the near-peak level of violent crime and child abuse, which didn't peak until 1992 (overall crime) or 1994 (child abuse: see Finkelhor). The early 2000s peak was most likely from Gen X-ers who were recalling their childhoods from that earlier crime and abuse wave, despite the rates having declined by the early 2000s. The shift in attitude from manic in the late '90s to vulnerable and emo in the early 2000s awakened those memories of victimization, leading them to write a bunch of songs about child abuse even though it was far less common by the time the songs were written.

By now, the late-20s Millennials making pop music didn't grow up during the crime-and-abuse wave the first time around, and rates are still declining into the present. That makes it harder for performers to tap into their personal experiences, or current affairs, to make songs about child abuse.

In any case, let's set aside the longer-term trends, and look just as the phases of the cycle. If each phase were equally likely to produce these songs, then there would be 1/3 of the total (22) in each phase, or roughly 7 per phase. Instead, it is heavily lopsided toward the vulnerable phase, which produced 14 of the 22, heavily away from the manic phase (3 of 22), and fairly away from the warm-up phase as well (5 of 22).

For now, we can test the main prediction that these songs will cluster most in the vulnerable phase, and collapse the other two phases into non-vulnerable phases. Then using a binomial test, the probability of getting a result as extreme as this one, or more so, is 0.0035 -- very unlikely. They do in fact cluster in the vulnerable phase.

A secondary prediction is that, among the non-vulnerable phases, such songs would be less common during the manic phase, when people feel invincible and on a constant high, and relatively more common during the warm-up phase. That is apparently true from these results (3 in the manic phase, 5 in the warm-up phase), but I'll run a tedious multinomial test later and post the results in the comments, maybe update the main post as well.

Hopefully this little study will serve as a hint into the cyclical pattern of widespread moral panics -- those involving victimization, at any rate. I'll get around to that when time permits.

For now, a reminder that the "Save the children" moral panic of the late '80s was not restricted only to the conservative busybody housewife types, like Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center. It encompassed the urban bohemian childless 20-somethings as well, who were no less earnest -- if less annoying and imperious. It was indie music made by good-natured social workers. In less cocooning times, the entire society was looking out for one another, and women channeled their maternal instincts into caring about unfortunate children in general.





September 30, 2019

How ethnicity and class stopped Bernie in '16 and '20; Who he needs to win in '24

In a highly complex economy and multiethnic empire like America, material resources will flow not only through a class hierarchy (from owners to managers to workers), but through ethnic patronage networks. Who is at the head of such patronage networks is less relevant than the fact that the recipients are chosen based on ethnic group membership, and are expected to provide political support to the party that heads the network.

That could be old-fashioned machine politics, which relies on low-status drones to show up to the polls on the appointed day, in return for local leaders making sure their drones do not starve or go homeless. But it could also be the selection of a "talented tenth" among the protected ethnic group, who aim to join the elite class through having seats reserved for them at the upper-status table.

Universal populist or socialist outcomes are threatened by both aspects of this system, which means-tests its rewards. In the class dimension, are you an owner or a manager / professional? If so, here are your goodies; if you're a lowly worker, go fend for yourself. In the ethnic dimension, are you a member of a protected ethnic group? If so, here are your goodies; if you're from some other group, go fend for yourself.

Bernie Sanders and his most ardent supporters have been trying to overturn the prevailing system in favor of a universal populist system. But they lost their Democrat primary last time, and are shaping up to face even bigger losses this time. What were the relative contributions of class and ethnic forces to his movement's undoing, and how could they recover for 2024?

We'll start with the 2016 primary, when things were simple because there were only two candidates, Hillary and Bernie. If class were the stronger force, then the elite voters would tend to favor one candidate, and ordinary voters the other. If ethnicity were stronger, members of certain ethnic groups (those protected by the machine) would favor one candidate (the boss), and members of other groups (those not protected by the machine) would favor the other (the reformer).

It may have been forgotten by now, but the 2016 primary was mainly split along ethnic rather than class lines. This showed up in the various exit polls, but to get a more reliable and large-sample-size overview, we turn to the American National Election Survey. As part of their 2016 survey, they asked respondents whether they voted in the primary, and if so for whom, as well as a battery of demographic and opinion questions.

Since the main ethnic split is non-Hispanic white vs. everyone else, that's the one used below. For class, the most reliable signal of aspiring to join the elite class is getting a college degree.

This was Bernie's 2016 support in % by ethnicity and class:


If class were stronger, the degree column would be similar, and the no degree column would be similar. If ethnicity were stronger, the white row would be similar, and the non-white row would be similar. Lo and behold, ethnicity trumped class -- by a lot. Non-whites only gave Bernie around 30% -- and that was true for both working-class and elite minorities. Whites gave Bernie just under 50% -- again, regardless of whether they were working-class or elite.

To show how much greater the effect of ethnicity was, relative to class, the following chart shows how unified or divided the ethnic and class groups were. The two bars on the left show class differences within each ethnic group, while the two bars on the right show the ethnic differences within each class. The differences are expressed so that positive numbers reflect Bernie's typical support base -- whites and the working class. Click to enlarge.


The two class difference bars are small in size, compared to the two ethnic difference bars. Each class difference was small -- only 4 points. Each ethnic difference was large -- 22 and 14 points.

The left-most bar being negative means that it went against the prediction from Bernie's overall performance -- you'd think that, even if he lost minorities, he still would've been more popular among those without a degree than those with a degree. And yet he was slightly more popular with elite minorities than with working-class minorities.

I interpret that to reflect the elite minorities relying somewhat less on the machine politics to avoid starvation and homelessness -- if they have a college degree, that's not a real concern. That gives them a little more freedom to shop around, although they are still primarily concerned with patronage for protected ethnicities (reserved elite seats for the talented tenth).

Notice that the ethnic difference was larger among the working class than the elite class. Again I take that to reflect reliance on patronage. Working-class whites are left out on the stoop, as far as machine politics or elite promotion goes, while working-class minorities at least get the protection of the machine in exchange for their votes. Elite members of either ethnicity aren't so reliant on the machine for basic survival, so they won't be quite so polarized by the campaign between the machine vs. the reformer.

In sum, Bernie lost a battle over ethnicity -- he did not motivate enough white people of either class to turn out, and he did not demoralize the minorities on his enemy's side into staying home. Of course, a successful strategy would not have referred directly to ethnicity, but the reformist anti-machine pitch would have struck an ethnic chord nonetheless, since it's mainly minorities who are plugged into the machine, or have elite seats reserved for their group.

"We can't allow the future of all of America to be manipulated by the corrupt urban machines any longer. The American people -- all of the American people -- need real change, right now."

That would have resonated with both the white working class and the white professional class, neither of whom owe their survival to the machine or the talented tenth patronage networks. Throw in Trump's reminder that minority drones voting for the machine only get to avoid starvation and homelessness, rather than truly thrive, and that would have demoralized a lot of the drones into staying home in apathy.

Fast-forward to the 2020 primary, and Bernie is not only losing the ethnic battle but the class battle too. Most of his former professional white supporters have defected to Elizabeth "Barabbas" Warren, although his working-class white supporters remain fairly faithful. He (and Warren) still have minimal minority support, which remains consolidated around the machine candidate (Biden).

This development also shows that ethnicity is stronger than class in these primaries. If Bernie's professional white voters from 2016 had chosen to defect solely on the basis of class interests, they would've simply gone over to Biden. The elite class would be united behind Biden, rather than split along ethnic lines as they were in 2016. Instead, they demanded a candidate of their own -- it could've been Harris or Buttigieg, but they found their ideal match with Warren.

So, just as in 2016, the elite class is split, with minority elites favoring the machine candidate, and white elites favoring an anti-corruption reformer -- only this time, a reformer who is solidly professional-class in her goals (Warren), rather than one who focused on the working class (Bernie).

Unity vs. fragmentation is therefore along the ethnic dimension -- whites are fragmented, minorities are united. That is not a picture of class struggle, where at least the elites would be united, and the working class either united or divided.

Incidentally, why did professional whites abandon Bernie this time around? They still wanted to reject the machine candidate who draws his support from minorities -- they still want to be the white crowd, just as they do in their choice of neighborhood, school, culture, and hobbies. But they always have to make sure everyone knows they are the good white people, the noble white people -- not those bad, disreputable white people.

Back in 2015 and most of 2016, professional white liberals just assumed that working-class white Democrats would follow their lead on everything. So they had no reason to reject a coalition with working-class whites during the primary, and were perfectly fine being part of the Bernie group.

However, during and after the general election, professional white liberals learned that a good chunk of Bernie primary voters had actually defected to Trump, since he was more populist than Clinton (who was a woke elitist). Although it was only 10-15% of Bernie voters who switched, that had to have been concentrated among the working-class Sandernistas in the Rust Belt, and not the prog crusaders of the coastal elite bubbles. So among working-class white Bernie voters, the defection rate was probably closer to 50%.

That, combined with the broader elite backlash against the white working class for putting Trump over the top in a way that no other Republican could have dreamed of, made the professional white Bernie supporters want to find a candidate of their own for 2020. They could not tolerate mixing their purity with the pollution of the deplorables -- who, by voting Bernie-then-Trump, proved themselves to be crypto-fascists.

The Warren people are not even trying to reel back in the working-class white Bernie voters. They must remain ritually clean, and a demographic that has revealed itself to be dirty crypto-fascists cannot be allowed back into the holy circle. At the same time, they can't tolerate contamination by the corrupt machine demographics, so they're just splintering off into a purity cult that does not intend to win anything. Better to die pure than to live polluted.

This one-two punch is why Bernie will garner less support this time than the last. And that also means the Democrat nominee, likely Biden, will do even worse in the general than Hillary did. Last time, there was only a two-way fracture among the Democrats -- machine drones and disillusioned reformers. Now there will be a three-way fracture -- machine drones, bitter fans of the professional-class reformer, and disillusioned fans of the working-class reformer. For Democrats, party unity and enthusiasm will be lower in 2020 than in 2016.

So how could Bernie and his diehard supporters recover by 2024 to pull off a realignment then, if not right now? His most pressing problem is the lack of college-educated white support, which he had back in 2016 but lost to Warren fans. Those professionals left over their disgust toward the deplorables in Bernie's coalition, so the only professionals that Bernie could scoop up would be those who are Independent or Republican -- the kind who prefer Tucker Carlson as their mainstream news source, and Michael Tracey as their go-to Twitter journalist.

Obviously they would have to be economic populists, but a good chunk of them are, despite having college degrees. And they would love to join up with former Trump-sympathizing populists, regardless of what party or class background they had come from, and regardless of who they have to support now, after Trump's failure to realign the system in office.

Bernie or his successor would still have to ignore -- indeed, demoralize -- the machine drones, but bringing in the Tucker fans would make that all the easier. Those newcomers would have even less loyalty to urban Democrat machines, or to the talented tenth elite promotion system. They're mainly white, after all.

Why wouldn't they go with their pure class interests and choose Warren? Because she's an impotent polarizer and a puritan, not to mention an annoying libtard. The newcomers would want to feel socially and culturally welcome, not hectored by wokescolds for their original racist sins, male privilege, bla bla bla.

Bernie actually offered that, relative to Hillary, in 2016 -- she was the polarizing, annoying woketard, not him. He, or his successor, needs to bring that back. And what's stopping him now? -- he's already lost the professional white liberals to Warren or her successor. He needs all the help he can get from professional whites who are moderate or conservative on social issues, but still populist and anti-interventionist.

Tulsi and Yang have made a pitch in that direction, but they have minimal or no political capital to amass an army and make changes happen. Bernie should start laying the ground by going on Tucker -- like he did on Joe Rogan -- all throughout the primary and general election, preaching the realignment rather than just "vote blue no matter who". And there is no realignment except through massive defections from the dominant to the opposition coalition.

It should be simple -- "I just want all Americans to be taken care of on a material level, and to be left alone in social and cultural matters." Whoever brands as the non-crazy Democrat will win the defectors. So far, only Biden is attempting that, to attract yuppie Republicans. Bernie must go even further, to attract populist Republicans. That means ignoring the concern-trolling libtards when he says "live and let live" to cultural conservatives. For every yuppie libtard Bernie lost to Warren, he would pick up two moderate populists who watch Tucker.

ANES variables: v161021a, v161270, v161310x

September 29, 2019

1984 songs were so awesome they dominated next year's chart

Everyone already knows the best years for music were 1983 and '84.

But here's an additional piece of evidence: the Billboard year-end chart for 1985 was mainly made up of songs that had been released before 1985.

There are always some songs released (as singles or on albums) in the end of the previous year whose success will take off during the current year. But for a majority of this year's hit songs to have been mined from earlier releases? Was this year so empty? Well, if it's 1985, then yes, let's try to keep the fun spirit going from '84.

Of all 100 songs on the '85 chart, only 40 were released in that year. A clear majority, 60, were released either as singles or on albums that were released before '85. Almost all of those were from '84, but there were also 3 songs that had been mined from albums released fully two years earlier in '83 ("Neutron Dance," "All Through the Night," and "Penny Lover").

It's not just that '84 was one of the single greatest years for music, it was also the final year of the early '80s manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. The crash / refractory / vulnerable phase began in '85, and that would begin shifting the zeitgeist away from fun-loving new wave and toward emo soft rock and power ballads.

That set up one hell of a contrast between albums released in '84 vs. '85 -- and evidently the audience was still resonating with the earlier phase and rejecting, at least for the year, the new phase. Just have a look through the albums released in '85 -- the most notable ones are from indie bands (Psychocandy), not mainstream ones. That was the start of the college rock / modern rock bubble of the second half of the '80s.

I don't know whether this is part of a more general pattern, but I'll look into it. That is, looking at each of the three phase transitions during an entire cycle, is there a tendency for one of them to be resisted more than the others?

I know I still preferred the early 2010s music to that of 2015 and after -- that's what first drew my attention to the existence of the excitement cycle in the first place, how emo everything became all of a sudden. You'd think people would be most averse to giving up a good thing, like the manic phase, to plunge into a refractory period -- not leaving behind the emo victimization phase for a return to normalcy, or leaving normalcy behind for an excitement spike.

Then again, maybe this is unique to the '84-'85 transition. In any case, something highly unusual and worth noting for the pop culture historical record.