June 30, 2024

Imperial disintegration update, as Year of the Five Emperors continues

The all-out coordinated assault by the media sector against Biden remaining the nominee, in the wake of his abysmal debate performance, finally resolves the open question I had about why the 2024 polling and reporting was so different, compared to 2016 and '20.

Because everyone on Twitter and the rest of the media are take junkies, they cannot remember what happened five seconds ago, let alone five years ago. Not having my brain constantly plugged into the dIsCouRsE vortex, I retain my ability to see things clearly, including developments over time -- where there are clear trends or reversals, whereas the take junkies only experience a chaotic swirling flux of factoids.

In a thread from December of last year, I asked what no one else was asking -- why is the 2024 polling so uniformly pro-Trump and anti-Biden? In 2016 and '20, the propaganda said Trump was destined to lose with voters, when he won with voters both times (first time catching the DNC flat-footed and able to waltz into the White House, second time having it stolen by a very well prepared DNC). Suddenly there's an about-face -- the propaganda keeps saying how badly Trump is going to schlong Biden.

At first I speculated that the Democrats were going to let Trump have the White House rather than steal it again, since the past 3-4 years have gone so horribly for the Biden admin -- better to let Trump be the fall guy for the current stage of imperial disintegration.

But then in a comment from February of this year, I added that maybe they were only going to try to kick out Biden specifically, and then steal the election on behalf of Biden's replacement. The clue was that they kept harping on Biden's weakness, Biden's this, Biden's that -- and not the Democrats as a whole. Sounded like they just wanted to steal the election again, but on behalf of Anybody But Biden.

The same media sector that has been pumping out all of this polling propaganda has now called for Biden to step aside, in the interest of defeating Trump. So that settles it -- they plan to steal it again in November, only with someone else on the D ticket. They are still committed to taking the blame for the current stage of imperial disintegration, as long as they get to occupy the office -- nothing like jumping onto a sinking ship. But that's how overweening ambition corrupts people's minds.

They are no longer getting stinking rich off of occupying the White House, since our wealth levels continue to plummet (Central Bank money-printing shut off, interest rates jacked up, contracting rather than expanding the funny-money supply), our trade deficit soars off the charts, and our lucrative partnerships and patron-client relationships with wealthy foreigners go up in flames one month after the next. Not to mention that the purchasing power of the money they get from occupying the White House has eroded like crazy, with inflation off the charts, and global de-dollarization accelerating.

At this point, they are simply in it for the status and prestige of being on top of the pyramid, no matter how toothless its enforcement mechanisms are (couldn't get the country to wear masks or get vaxxed), and no matter how puny the material benefits are for parasitizing the White House. It's just about winning and coming out on top, rather than losing. Student government strivers on steroids.

Hyper-competitiveness is now driving the entire society right off of the cliff -- a process that has been going since the Reagan / yuppie revolution of the 1980s, and even incubating during the Me Decade of the Silent and Boomer generations during the '70s.

So my initial analysis of the post-2020 system is still correct -- we're at the Year of the Five Emperors stage of Roman disintegration, 193 AD. I first made this remark shortly after the Great Ballot Count Stoppage on election night of 2020, and followed up in a little more detail in this full post from July of '21.

The Roman Empire reached its stagnation stage under the Antonine dynasty in the mid-2nd century, much as the American Empire did under the Reagan era of 1980-2020. The chaos of the Year of the Five Emperors is spread out into maybe 4 or 5 years in our timeline, but is qualitatively the same transition to a new stage, of imperial collapse rather than mere stagnation.

There's no point in coping about the pace of collapse -- slowly, then rapidly. That's like saying when you throw a body out of an airplane, it only falls slowly at first, so there's still hope, it's not in free-fall or collapse yet. Yes it is -- it will accelerate as it plummets, and fall *really* fast later on, before crashing into the ground to its death. But it's already over the moment it's tossed out of the airplane without a parachute.

That is true for Roman decline, which began in 193, and hit the rapid free-fall sub-stage in the 230s, when one "barracks emperor" after another was assassinated and replaced from within the military.

I don't know what sector the American counterparts to the barracks emperors will be drawn from -- perhaps from the military again, one general after another replaced or assassinated. Maybe it will be finance or tech bros, who will shove each other aside in rapid succession and in a climate of leaderless chaos. The C-suite emperors. But something qualitatively like that will follow the initial stage of collapse that we have already entered as of 2020-'21.

Likewise in the American case, it doesn't matter that our collapse begins slowly and picks up speed over time -- it's a single indivisible stage, qualitatively different from the previous stage of stagnation (which itself was qualitatively different from the previous stage of expansion), and will be qualitatively different from the "recovery from rock bottom" stage that will follow it.

In the Roman case, that was the Tetrarchy under Diocletian in the late 3rd century. Who knows what individual will usher that in for America? But it will be qualitatively the same -- an impotent figure within the context of the former expanding / stagnant empire, but who has restored stability within the rump-state left after the hangover / free-fall collapse.

Diocletian not only had to rule with a junior partner, he had to concede the eastern half of the empire to the proto-Byzantines. That's a long, plunging fall from the powers and status of Marcus Aurelius of the mid-2nd century (stagnant stage) -- but a bump up from the abyss of the barracks emperors chaos of the mid-3rd century.

Just as there was no Roman renaissance with Diocletian, or any of his followers, for at least 1000 years later, there will be no American renaissance when we inevitably bounce back to a stable rump-state, after the current and coming collapse. Anyone peddling these hopes, on either side of the partisan aisle, and whether in government or outside it, and whether from an elite or wannabe position, is just another hyper-competitive opportunist trying to wring a few extra bucks out of the imperial treasury during its implosion, to pad their own personal crash-landing.

The only interesting open questions are events that don't necessarily happen during every imperial collapse -- like will one of our future leaders be slain on the battlefield during one of many hopeless and pointless attempts to shore up the contracting boundaries of its influence, a la Julian the Apostate trying to defeat the Persian empire in the Middle East and biting the big one near Baghdad.

Given how wicked and traitorous our elite class has become and promises to remain for the foreseeable future -- one can only hope so.

Read the rest of those extensive comment threads and posts for a broader survey of distractions to avoid, like any hope that we're in the French or Russian Revolution (those were pre-collapse), or Japanese sengoku (the Tokugawa shogun that followed it was *more* powerful, not less, than the shoguns that preceded sengoku), or any stage of Roman history before 193 -- like will there be an American Caesar, etc?

We already had a Caesar -- Abraham Lincoln, trailblazing leader and unifier and assassinated during the integrative civil war. Hoping for a second American Caesar in the 21st century or later, is just as hopeless as hoping for one in Rome during the Crisis of the Third Century and after.

The only worthwhile tasks now are preserving what our empire has already created, not hopelessly attempting another renaissance, and softening our landing / speeding the recovery into a minimized and relatively powerless rump-state, not hopelessly trying to cling to the plateau level that we reached in the 20th century.

Everything else is emotion-inflaming fan-fiction, and doomed overweening ambition.

April 25, 2024

Names and American ethnogenesis, from Dark Age revivals to purely New World creations

I still have plenty to cover in American architecture, but I hit on something pretty big that's worth exploring first. This is not exhaustive -- the big picture, with plenty of details, and as usual more to appear in the comments section.

I've covered names before on the blog, over 10 years ago, looking at trends over time, linking the rise of unique names with the status-striving cycle (vs. egalitarian times, when people feel compelled to give their kids the same names, so no one sticks out like a diva), and other matters.

But now we'll look at the role that given names play within the process of ethnogenesis. Strikingly, Americans began breaking from their British / European / Western / Olde Worlde roots right after landing in the New World -- *not* after the integrative civil war had wrapped up, which is when all other forms of cultural evolution take a distinctly, newly constructed American turn.

Already in the 17th-century, Puritans were giving their kids unique names by the standards of their cousins and ancestors back in Britain -- Prudence, Humility, Chastity, and other "virtue" names. Some of them have stuck, like Faith, Hope, Grace, and Felicity.

Benjamin Franklin, born in 1706, was given a name light-years ahead of its time, even in America, let alone back in Europe, where it was still distinctly Jewish -- 100 years after Franklin's birth, Benjamin Disraeli was the only Euro statesman with that name, and he was Jewish. And Franklin was not an outlier -- two other Benjamins signed the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Harrison V and Benjamin Rush.

A quick look over the other Founding Fathers (signers of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, or the Constitution), reveals all sorts of names that were unusual by contempo Euro standards -- Daniel (x3), Nathaniel (x2), Caesar, Titus, Abraham (x2), Josiah, Gunning, Jacob, Stephen (way ahead of its time), Richard (x5), Jared, Rufus, Arthur, etc.

As for US presidents, unusual names are already apparent with those born in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and it never stopped -- Zachary, Millard, Franklin, Abraham, Ulysses, Chester, Grover, Benjamin, Theodore, Woodrow, Warren, Calvin, Herbert, Franklin again, Dwight, Richard (more common in America by that time, but still not a typical Euro name), Gerald, Ronald, Donald, and Barack (Barry while growing up -- but even Barack, with its weak initial vowel, sounds more like a typically all-American 20th-century name like Brock, Rock, Doc, Spock, etc.)

Masculine names are far more conservative in their trends than feminine names, so the fact that this critical break with the Olde Worlde shows up in early male leaders is quite a testament to how eager we were to fashion a new identity for ourselves once we began adapting to a whole new environment in America.

Why do names defy the usual pattern of a new cultural identity being constructed only after the integrative civil war? Perhaps not as much cohesion is required to introduce new names into circulation via your own flesh-and-blood offspring. It's not like putting together Elizabethan stage plays, Viennese symphonies, or monumental architecture. Your children going to get a name no matter what it is, why not use the opportunity to make it a new one? It's cost-free and doesn't require much teamwork to make it happen, unlike the major cultural products like buildings, dramas, and paintings.

It seems like dialectal variation should behave the same way -- it costs you nothing to introduce a new sound pattern. But it does require lots of cohesion, since all the other members of your speech community must agree to the new sound pattern for it to catch on. Such cohesion only comes about from intense asabiya being born on a meta-ethnic frontier, and the outcome of an integrative civil war, when there is a strong sense of a new Us being fashioned, not just the old Us vs. Them -- but one Us vs. another Us, to determine who among the varied Us gets to set the new standard.

Names are not quite as demanding on cohesion -- not everyone has to give their kids the same new name, whereas everyone does have to pronounce the vowels in "cot" and "caught" the same, if that's to be a new sound pattern. Probably the other members of the community, when they hear a new name, think "Huh, that's a little odd-sounding... but all the other cues tell me it's a member of Team Us, so I guess that's just a new name that some of Us are giving Our kids, better make an exceptional note of it and put it on the safe-list."

Whereas if they hear a funny-sounding name, and all the other cues point to it being a member of Team Them, the strange name is just another aspect of Them-ness, and to blacklist the name as belonging to Outsiders. The other cues being grooming, clothing, subsistence mode, religion, language, totem symbols, folk customs, food traditions, music, dance, and the rest of it.

* * *

Within the general population, Americans have been even more eager to fashion a new cultural identity for themselves, separate from Olde Worlde roots (especially Euro / Western, with Ancient Saharo-Arabian being a possible exception). Right up through the end of the American Century, the top 50 names for baby girls in 1999 included purely American creations, chosen for sounding too exotic for Euro ears, like Samantha, Madison, Jessica, Alyssa, Kayla, Brianna, Grace, Destiny, Brittany, Amber, Savannah, Danielle, Brooke, and Sierra.

Quibblers will claim that Jessica comes from Shakespeare, after the character in The Merchant of Venice. But that was not a real person's name, only a character's name in a stage play. And in the play, it's the name of a Venetian, not an English speaker. It never caught on after that -- and Shakespeare in general, and that play in particular, have always been popular. It was only used on rare occasion, by offbeat parents who wanted to show how cultured or unique they were.

The true reason for Jessica's rise in popularity is its sound similarity to already popular names -- the skyrocketing Jennifer, along with recently trendy names ending in "-ica" like Veronica and Monica, and the appeal of making a feminine form of the popular male name Jesse. Jennifer and/or Jessica also spun-off the name Jenna circa the 1970s and '80s, which is *not* from Shakespeare, but does sound like an already popular name, whether Jennifer or Jessica or both. Jenna then spawned rhyme-mates McKenna / Kenna and Sienna.

There's another character in The Merchant of Venice named Nerissa, and yet that name has never become popular -- outside of the same rare offbeat parents, and the cultured individual who chose the stage name for the Hololive vtuber Nerissa Ravencroft.

To the extent that Nerissa is appealing enough to become the stage name for a major entertainment brand like Hololive, it is due to being a member of a rhyming class of names -- Melissa, Alyssa, Kissa, etc. In fact, it's a minimal mutation of Melissa, changing the initial nasal to another nasal, and the medial liquid to another liquid. Phonology, not semantics and referents, are what drive the evolution in names.

Portia, another character from the same play, caught on somewhat better than Nerissa, but it's not clear that it's due to that character, instead of the prestigious car manufacturer's name, Porsche, pronounced the same in American English. In fact, the spelling variant Porsha is another trendy American name -- and as usual, the midwits who spin their BS folk etymologies behind names, claim that it's a German word meaning "offering". Nope -- it's just a typically American-sounding name, regardless of any false cognates it may have in the world's myriad languages or its literatures or its luxury brands.

No one behaves according to what a name "means" across the zillions of false cognates it may have somewhere out there -- it's how it *sounds* that drives our behavior.

This is because names are not a private affair -- they serve as shibboleths in a social context, identifying members of Us from members of Them. If you don't recognize anyone's names, you must be dealing with Them. If their names are already known, or familiar-sounding enough, you must be dealing with Us. Shibboleths are about pronunciation and sound, not meaning or substance. I don't care what your name alludes to -- it sounds totally weird to my ears, so you must be an outsider, to be treated like one.

As America separated itself from its British, Euro, Western, and Olde Worlde roots, the names belonging to the latter groups became contaminated-sounding -- too Them, not sufficiently Us. Hence the present situation, where the top 50 baby girls names for 2023 include not only many of those from 1999 listed above -- but wait, there's more!, like Ava, Mia, Chloe, Avery, Addison (rhymed from Madison), Zoe (rhyming with Chloe), Layla (rhymed from the already popular Kayla, not descended from or alluding to its false cognate in Arabic), Brooklyn, and Maya (with lower-ranking but still popular rhyme-mates Kaia, Gaia, probably Raya, Vaya, and who knows what else next).

Gotta love the absolutely desperate cluelessness of the semantic-focused spin-meisters at thebump.com (as in, baby bump), who claim that the name Kaia has Scandinavian, Estonian, Greek, Japanese, Hawaiian, and Hebrew roots -- a post hoc rationalization for everybody! Nope -- it simply rhymes with the already popular Maya, and doesn't sound Euro, so it's suitably American.

I got a pleasant chuckle from hearing Dasha on Red Scare saying she was eager to have a baby boy so she could name him Honor, with the usual wahmen's rationalization about it being semantic -- a latter-day virtue name. But nope, it's simply a rhyming variant of the already popular Connor. She was so eager and bubbly while spinning the rationalization, though, that I hate to "decode" what was really guiding her decision -- typical male-brain always trying to analyze things, just let a girl feel her feelings, sheesh! ^_^

BTW, we can probably add McKenzie to the pure American creation list -- it's tempting to think of it as adopting a surname to a given name, but it also comes in the non-surname form of Kenzie, without the Celtic patronymic prefix "Mc / Mac". The same goes for McKenna, which comes in the non-surname form of Kenna.

Ultimately these all trace back to the earlier popular name Mikayla, which may be a purely new creation, or a novel feminine form of the male name Michael -- but in any case, where the initial sounds of "mik" are not a patronymic prefix at all. Mikayla comes in a rhyming pair with Kayla, and that supposed shortening does not involve dropping a patronymic prefix -- so we don't need to assume that process is happening either with McKenna to Kenna, or McKenzie to Kenzie.

Also, the supposed Celtic surnames are tightly constrained by phonotactics -- there are a zillion Celtic surnames that begin with Mc / Mac, and yet the three most popular ones belong to popular rhyming classes. Mikayla, Kayla, Layla, Shayla, Jayla, etc. And Kenna, Jenna, Sienna, etc. (Kenna may also be a novel feminine form of the recently popular male name Ken.) And even Kenzie is a close rhyme for the popular late-20th-C girl's name Lindsey.

The stressed vowel is produced a little higher in the mouth for Lindsey, but given the tendency for Western American dialects to lower front vowels (e.g., Valley Girls pronouncing "bitch" as "betch"), maybe they were already pronouncing Lindsey as "Lendsey", making Kenzie a perfect rhyme for it after all.

I'll only briefly reiterate Stanley Lieberson's important finding that naming trends do not follow appearances in popular culture, but rather the opposite -- some name is already climbing from obscurity into prominence, and the culture creators sense that just as well as their everyman audience does, so they choose it for their cultural work. They're two sides of the same coin, not one causing the other.

There are a few exceptions, IIRC, but in general it is pure post hoc rationalization to point to some pop culture character that came out before a name became super-popular and say, that figure made the name popular. It was already becoming popular before the character, and the character's creator was jumping on the bandwagon just as much as real-life mothers were.

Just as one example, Wikipedia, citing one of those dumdum baby name sites, claims that Kayla's popularity was due to a character by that name who debuted in 1982 on Days of Our Lives, a popular American soap opera TV show. In reality, Kayla's popularity was already shooting through the roof before 1982 -- it ranked #578 in '81, up from #594 in '80, way up from #678 in '79 and #677 in '78, up from #694 in '77, way up from #854 at the start of the '70s.

It did shoot up big-time during '82, when it ranked #132, but this is just how exponential growth and decay works -- it builds slow, then goes really fast, then slows down / tapers off, then gently declines, then crashes, then mellows out. That is a completely endogenous process, it doesn't get some external injection of oomph just before entering its steep-climb phase. And Kayla's growth was already well under way before a soap opera writer jumped on the bandwagon at the right time.

Good culture creators do not influence the everyday lives of millions of people -- they have an intuitive knack for spotting what is already in demand, and delivering it to the audience. Someone senses that the name Kayla is building steam among real-life mothers -- well, if that's what they want, then that's what they'll get, a new (fictional) person in their lives named Kayla.

* * *

That brings us to regional variation within America. As usual, the main source of cultural innovation is along the meta-ethnic frontier with the Indians, Mexicans, and somewhat the Japanese -- out West. Back-East names are more conservative, notwithstanding the Puritans' novel virtue names. Back then, Puritans *were* on the meta-ethnic frontier with Indians -- but over time, that frontier shifted further and further out West, leaving East Coasters to favor Euro-LARP-ing names more than West Coast Americans do.

Here is a data visualization from over 10 years ago, demonstrating the pattern that everyone always finds with names in America. The distinctive, new, all-American, non-Euro names are born from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast. Even within the Deep South, Louisiana or Mississippi is more likely to spawn a new popular name than Georgia or South Carolina.

Take just one salient example, the quintessentially American name Brittany. It was rhymed from the already popular Whitney, not the false cognate from the name of a region in Northwestern France, which pronounces the "a" vowel, unlike the American girl's name, which is pronounced BRIT-nee, where the "a" is silent, and where the stressed syllable is first rather than last, just like Whitney. The spelling variant Britney, as in Britney Spears, makes this clear.

At its peak of popularity, circa 1980, it was most distinctive of Utah and a broad swath of states from the Plains and Rocky Mountains region, and only somewhat distinctive of states east of the Mississippi River (Britney Spears was an outlier for being born in Mississippi).

This geographic gradient reflects the general pattern -- constructing a new identity is done by those closest to the meta-ethnic frontier, where they are being shaped into a whole new people by their conflict with the meta-ethnic nemesis, and must cohere very intensely into a new Us in order to fend off and perhaps even conquer Them.

The standard dialect in American and Canadian English is Western -- East Coast dialects sound the most harshly non-standard, whether Yankee or Confederate. And so the pattern goes with names, a linguistic element that is also strongly based on sound / phonology for determining how standard it is. It's a shibboleth.

* * *

I'll wrap up with a discussion of a very broad and in-depth discovery I made in the comments to the previous post, about America being a Dark Age culture out of sync with the Old World timeline, which left the Dark Ages behind circa 1300 -- but was part of a previous Dark Age before circa 700 BC, with Classical eras from 700 BC to 300 AD and from 1300 AD to present.

I explained this cycle by referring to the relative dominance of nomadism vs. sedentarism, with much of Eurasia being united by the Steppe as a source of nomadism, putting them all on the same timeline and cycle. Nomadic dominance leads to weak central states, and other aspects of Dark Purity cultures. Sedentary dominance leads to strong central states, and other aspects of Enlightened Perversion cultures.

But there are notable exceptions that spun off from the Eurasian landmass -- America and Japan, which remained a Dark Age / feudal culture until very recently, and arguably remains one, just like America.

(As a timely reminder of America's weak central state, look at who is sent to deal with all the anti-Zionist protests on college campuses right now -- not a federal organization like the US Army, FBI, etc., but city-level forces like the NYPD or state-level ones like the Texas National Guard, under the authority of mayors or governors, who are like regional counts, dukes, or barons from the feudal Dark Ages, not the president or any other federal official, who are like the king and central royal court from the Dark Ages. In Europe, where central states are stronger, they would send in a national-level gendarmerie like Spain's Guardia Civil for protests erupting around the nation.)

Looking over the names of American presidents, and having delved into the European Dark Ages so much recently, I can't help but be struck by three presidents having names that end in "-ald", as though they were a Frankish or Viking chieftain named Theobald or Grimwald.

This is one domain of naming trends where substance, meaning, and allusion do come into play -- not at the level of individual names, which are tightly constrained by sound patterns, but broad sources of inspiration to draw from, while obeying the all-important sound patterns. Not every name can be a totally original coinage.

In the 19th century, in the Old World itself, there was a general backlash against the centuries-long consolidation of central states and their overly rigid and dehumanizing / domesticating cultures. The Romantic movement, the Gothic novel, the Grimm brothers collecting and publishing fairytales, a Gothic revival in architecture (technically part of the civilizing phase of the cycle, but the earliest stage of it, and so feeling more thankfully barbarian in comparison to Neoclassical), Wagnerian operas about the Dark Ages and Bronze Age mythologies of Germanic peoples, and so on and so forth.

This didn't last very long in Europe as a major cultural phenomenon, not making it out of the 19th century, but it does still linger as a minority tendency. It was more of a temporary pressure relief valve for all that stultifying order and domestication that had been building up since 1300 -- not an endless new trail they were going to blaze.

Heavy metal bands that tap into Britain's Stonehenge era will always be more popular in America, a bona fide Dark Age feudal society. And as the Old World empires all bit the dust in the early 20th C, most of them fell under American vassalage (except for China), and so they adopted some degree of our very eager indulging in the Dark Age cultures of the Olde Worlde.

In names, this backlash and Dark Age revival showed up in old Germanic names making a comeback within Europe itself -- in Britain, Albert, Herbert, and other -berts, along with Robert, which never fell totally out of fashion after the Dark Ages. The first and only British prime minister to have such a neo-bert name, other than Robert, was H. H. Asquith -- Herbert Henry -- born in 1852. Among royalty, Prince Albert (husband to Queen Victoria) was born in 1819, and several generations of his male descendants were named Albert as well.

America would take that revival and make it permanent, with Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump.

Elsewhere in Europe, Engelbert made a 19th-C comeback in the eastern German-speaking lands, including places in their sphere like Slovenia. Oswald made a brief comeback in Eastern Europe as well.

But in America, not only did we elevate the popularity of Robert to all-time heights during the early-mid 20th century, and maintain other lesser ones such as Albert, Herbert, Norbert, and Gilbert, we enshrined this Dark Age suffix as a full name unto itself -- Bert / Burt. For real people like Burt Lancaster and Burt Reynolds, this may have been a nickname for Burton, but that's still a nickname that no British Burtons had used before. And in the case of Bert from Sesame Street's Bert & Ernie duo, it was spelled like the suffix and was not a shortened form of Burton / Berton / Bertram / etc.

The open-ended productive use of -bert continues outside of existing -bert names, into American novelty names in pop culture. There's icons like the Dilbert comic strip, the Q*bert video game character (a very rare American-created, rather than Japanese, arcade game from the Golden Age), the name Goobert that the most popular English vtuber, Gawr Gura (alias Gooba), gives to some of the characters she plays as in video games, as well as fellow Hololive EN vtuber Fauna naming her sourdough starter culture Doughbert. All part of her love for fantastical fairytale forest culture. Back when men had real names like Dagobert, Rigobert, and Humbert. ^_^

(The protag from Lolita, Humbert Humbert, is supposed to be stereotypically Euro, and a fish out of water in America, and yet he has a very American name -- a Dark Age Germanic -bert name. The only finishing touch to Americanize it would be shortening it to a monosyllabic nickname like Hum.)

Born around the same time as the first -bert prime minister was the first -ald, Archibald Primrose. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two separate Harold prime ministers were born, Macmillan and Wilson. (Harold was Harald in the Dark Ages.)

Sidenote: Boris Johnson has a Dark Age name, after the greatest of the Bulgarian emperors, from the 9th century, who is responsible for Christianizing Eastern Europe, bringing literacy to them, and establishing the foundation for Slavic liturgies.

I think the -ald ending is not as productive in American English cuz it's not such a well-formed syllable, lacking an initial consonant. Maybe just -bald or -wald would work, but -bald has a false cognate with negative associations. And we're familiar enough with German toponyms that -wald sounds too much like the name of a place, not a person. IDK.

Aside from these Germanic names from the Dark Age, there are several others originally from Greek -- meaning Byzantine, not Hellenic. We're Dark Age, so must our Greek inspirations -- either Byzantine or Bronze Age.

Christopher and Stephen were only common during the Dark Ages in Europe, going into decline during the Renaissance and falling into total oblivion after then. But in the 20th C., there can be no more all-American names than Chris and Steve (the most ubiquitous Boomer name). As pointed out earlier, America was *really* early on the Stephen trend, with a signer of the Declaration of Independence being a Stephen. In fact, although he went by Grover in adulthood, the late 19th-century president Cleveland was born and raised as Stephen.

The last and only British ruler named Stephen was king during the 12th century, during their empire's integrative civil war (the Anarchy), as the English were consolidating their initial victory over their meta-ethnic nemesis (the Vikings / Danelaw, who were expelled by the Norman Conquest).

Then there are Bronze Age Greek names like Jason, that were never that popular even during Hellenic Greece. Nor was it popular during the Dark Ages. There's one Italian born in the 1400s named Giasone (del Maino), and another born in the 1500s (De Nores). Otherwise, almost all Jasons of any note are Americans born in the 1800s and after. It's so iconically American that it has been chosen as a rhyming inspiration -- for Mason, Payson, Grayson, Chayson, Kayson, Brayson, etc.

There are so many Greek names from the Classical era that we are famililar with -- Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Archimedes, Euclid, and the list goes on and on -- yet we have decided to entirely ignore them, preferring instead the monster-battling heroes of the pre-Classical era, or the heroic Christian martyrs of the Byzantine / Dark Age era. Nothing could be less appealing to American honor-culture sensibilities than "being good at math and philosophy" or "being a theater kid".

Speaking of "monster-battling" -- Bronze Age epithets like Homer's "swift-footed Achilles" fell into disfavor during the Classical era. Too concrete, and therefore animalistic or barbaric. The Romans did include a descriptive term like "august" within their 17 other elements of a full name, but that dilutes its power. And like "august," they weren't so concretely physical.

It just doesn't pack a punch like Charles the Bald, a 9th-century Carolingian emperor, whose own father was the emperor Louis the Pious. Or the 12th-century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa / Rotbart -- Redbeard. Or the 10th-century Viking king, Harald Bluetooth. Or the 7th-century Byzantine emperor Justinian II the Slit-nosed. Or the 12th-century British king, Richard the Lionheart. Or back to Boris of the 9th-century Bulgarian Empire -- known as The Baptizer. And on and on and on...

Well, leave it to a neo-Dark Age culture like America, where our politicians are now known as Crooked Hillary Clinton, Lyin' Ted Cruz, Sleepy Joe Biden, etc. During Trump's first primary campaign, I pointed out that he descended from literal Vikings -- the clan MacLeod, whose namesake was a Viking ruler named Ljotr. At least that's the tradition, it could be a case of legitimizing one's group by means of an illustrious legendary foreign founder, much like the Rurikid dynasty in Russia claiming descent from a non-existent, legendary Viking ancestor.

Whether he has authentic Norse DNA in his veins or not, Trump surely is a Dark Age feudal leader of a weak central state, and he knows what buttons to push to resonate with its cultural values. And weak central state people love nothing more than blunt epithets. See also the once-common Italian-American practice of blunt epithets like Fat Tony, Danny No-Shoes, Jimmy Too-Short, etc. Or African-American rappers and gang members using epithets like Fat Joe, Megan Thee Stallion, etc.

Europeans haven't named leading figures "fat" since the days of Louis the Fat (also, the Fighter), a 12th-century king of the Franks. Maybe there are a few straggler examples into the 13th or 14th centuries, but once the proto-Renaissance showed up during the 1300s, it was all over for blunt epithets.

I'll bet that's a very broad phenomenon, but I don't have time to look into Dark Age Middle Eastern, South Asian, Central Asian, or Chinese cultures right now.

I'll bet Japan loved blunt and concrete epithets from about 1200 or 1300 onward, perhaps right up to the present day. The most popular vtuber in Japan, Marine, has a family name Houshou, meaning "treasure bell/chime", which seems to function more like a concrete descriptive epithet, and not a family name indicating who her parents are. Likewise, Korone is known by the epithet in place of a family name, Inugami, meaning "dog(gy)-god".

So when translating their full names into English, instead of Marine Houshou, it's Marine the Treasure-bell. And instead of Korone Inugami, it's Korone the Doggy-god, like good ol' Dark Age epithets. ^_^

Although the English Hololive girls don't have this format for their names, as members of Dark Age America and Canada, some of them do make epithets of their own, like Gura referring to herself as the Shark, Mumei as the Owl, Bae as the Rat, etc.

Without getting further into the Dark Age weeds, I'll just note that Geoffrey (later, Jeffrey) and Richard were common Dark Age Germanic names that were resurrected and made super-common in America during the 20th century.

Also, Arthurian legendary names. Not just Arthur, but Morgan, Guinevere / Jennifer (and similar-sounding names like Gwendolyn, Gwen, and Gwyneth, which most Americans pronounce as Gweneth, all of which also hint at the character Gawain), Elaine, Lynnette, Taliesin (Frank Lloyd Wright's headquarters), and perhaps not Lancelot -- but Lance! That has to be the connection. Monosyllabic shortening -- of what other possible longer name? Gotta be from Lancelot, given how much we're obsessed with Camelot. Some of these, but not all, were part of the limited 19th-century Romantic backlash in Europe, but we made them permanent, or are entirely responsible for (like Lance).

Speaking of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Franks, that given name was confined to the Dark Ages until resurrected in America during the 19th century, including the birth of the Father of Modern and American architecture himself. Post-Dark Age Euros only used variations like Francis, Francisco, Francois, Francesco, etc. -- not Frank itself, or even the related Franklin, which was also resurrected in America during the 19th century, including the greatest president in our history, the New Deal trailblazer himself, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The name Frank just sounds too, well, frank, to domesticated sophisticates, so they could only preserve it in the frilly-and-gay embellishment Francis, Francois, etc. In America, nothing could sound more embarrassingly prissy than the name Francis, in place of the honorable alternative Frank. I think San Francisco would sound -- and then become -- less gay if it were renamed San Franco!

I have no idea if there's a case of convergent evolution between American names and Euro Dark Age names, in the same way that our similar environments have produced similar architectural styles (closed-solid-heavy slabs and caves and fortresses). There may be something there, but I haven't looked into it yet. Maybe later, in the comments. That would require cross-cultural confirmation as well, and I really doubt I'll get into the evolution of popular name sound patterns all across Eurasia, from the Bronze Age to present.

But just based on how Frank went to Francis / Francois / etc., then back to Frank in America, there could be something to how prissy-and-sissy names sound during the 1000 years of the cycle when sedentarism is dominant over nomadism. Francis has changed the hard "k" into a sibilant "s", then added a high-front vowel (connoting things that are small, weak), and another "s" after it.

I mean, you can totally make up a barbarian name -- and yet instantly recognize it as barbarian. Conan, Thundarr, Krull, Chewbacca, etc. Only some of that is semantic association with known, existing barbarian names. Some of that has to be purely an effect of sound symbolism, e.g. the absence of high-front vowels and sibilants (at least voiceless ones like "s" and "sh" -- "z" is "zh" are OK).

Alfred, Dagobert, Harald, Arthur -- no high-front vowels, no sibilants (especially voiceless ones). Just a brief impression, without a systematic survey, but may be something there...

February 27, 2024

Aaron Bushnell: assessment, and online reactions (TikTok Zoomer carelords vs. Twitter Millennial ironycels)

First an assessment of the US Air Forceman who self-immolated in front of the Israeli embassy in DC, to protest his being called to duty to support Israel's war against the Palestinians in Gaza. But mainly, a look at the polar opposite worlds of Twitter vs. TikTok, in light of their reactions to the seismic event.

The main questions being spun by the take-havers are what should we categorize this event as (mere suicide, expression of mental illness, martyrdom, sacrifice, etc.), and what effect will it have?

We can rule out mere suicide since nobody who simply wants to end their life lights themselves on fire in a public space and announces it and performs it as a political spectacle. Most mere suicides occur so inconspicuously that they may not be detected by acquaintances of the deceased for days or weeks, and are known only to the general public through amassing them all into national-level statistics, unaware of any single individual who committed suicide and/or their motives.

Nitpicking the reasons why mere suicides never choose self-immolation is irrelevant -- it is simply an objective truth that 0% of mere suicides use this method, which means we do no lump it into that category when engaging the pattern recognition lobes of our brains (which is only a branding exercise for most take-havers, they are highly ideological and retarded).

Why do some insist it's mere suicide, a call for mental health help, etc.? Probably projection from their own depressive mindset, their impotence in political activism, etc. Surely if I'm a depressive failure, everyone else is too. Sure thing, buddy.

But analyzing take-havers' motivations is not interesting. The main point is that they're objectively wrong when downplaying the severity and gravity of the event.

Both libtards and conservatards downplay it. Sometimes for the same reasons -- projecting their own depressive symptoms onto others. Sometimes for opposing partisan reasons -- libtards wanting to prevent a further fracturing of the Democrat coalition, since they are deeply divided over Israel vs. Palestine, and conservatards wanting to prevent a loss of faith in their own efficacy, after getting upstaged by a leftist against US intervention in the Mideast, something that their media hero Tucker Carlson is usually a champion of, in favor of focusing on America's domestic crises instead.

So, it's just like Bushnell described it himself -- an extreme form of protest, destined to become a spectacle.

That raises the next question -- what will come of it? It has already become a spectacle, there's no putting that genie back in the bottle. People may not talk about it every day for the next 100 years, but the effect will last in their minds.

Just like it only took one spectacle on election night 2020 -- the Great Ballot Count Stoppage -- to irreparably damage the legitimacy and authority of the national government, whether or not the masses keep grumbling about it every day for the next 100 years. The effect remained in their minds, and therefore in their behavior -- when ordered and threatened to take an experimental drug over a potential bad flu, those who were inclined not to do so, refused. They defied federal orders because they are illegitimate after having occupied the office only after the Great Ballot Count Stoppage. Why obey those who stole their way into the White House?

Why do take-havers mistakenly believe it'll all blow over, just cuz it'll no longer be the top trending hashtag on Twitter within a few weeks or months? Again, not interesting, but for the sake of completeness -- because they're projecting their own obsessive fixation on ThE DiScOUrSe onto everyone else. Since their own attention is in constant flux according to what's trending in the media, so must everyone else's be.

But 99% of the country doesn't fixate on discourse, and is not mentally unwell enough to be take junkies, and will not flush out last week's events just cuz this week has new events. The typical normie Republican voter still remembers the Great Ballot Count Stoppage, and treats the federal government as illegitimate to this day -- regardless of a zillion other events having flushed it out of the media over the years, including right-wing media.

Parents will never forget the insane torture that was foisted on their children through the school system during the Covid hysteria. Their eagerness to move on and get back to normal does not mean that they've memory-holed those events, just cuz their Facebook feed no longer has message after message about the topic. The next time they are asked to comply with systematic insanity against their children, they are going to say HELL NO, and the power-tripping administrators and teachers union have had to back off.

How many people forgot about 9/11 after a few weeks or months? It took at least 5 years to no longer be in the foreground of daily conversation, and it's still remembered and influencing our behavior to this day, over 20 years later. People react to actual events in the real world -- not to the topics du jour of the media. If the real-world importance was big, they will file that away as worth remembering, while irrelevant events will get flushed out of their memory. Only obsessive discourse junkies fixate on the topics du jour, and forget the milestones of last month, year, and decade.

The impact will not be the same everywhere, of course. It will cause shockwaves inside of the American military, the Democrat party, and the actively pro-Palestinian / anti-Israeli governments and militaries of the Middle East -- Yemen under the Houthis, Iran, and Hezbollah and allied Shia of Southern Lebanon, not to mention within Palestine itself (but then they have a self-interest in fighting against Israel, whereas the others need a higher purpose and inspiration to join the fight against Israel).

Given how unstable Egypt has become, a spectacle like this could set off a positive feedback loop there as well, whether it spawns a wave of self-immolation protests, or rouses the Egyptian people to topple their bought-off government (since the Camp David Accords of the late 1970s), or inspires a coup within the military that results in active warfare against Israel (breaking the Camp David Accords).

The ability of Israel to lash out at the Palestinians with no consequences, was predicated on converting the Arab-Israeli wars into a domestic Israel-Palestine conflict. Before the Camp David Accords, Israel was at war with the broad Middle East (which would've also included Iran if they'd had an Islamic government, rather than the US-allied Shah). Israel got bitchslapped out of Egypt's territory by an American Republican president in the good ol' 1950s (Suez Crisis), then won a resounding victory in the '67 war, but was quickly quagmired to a stalemate during the '73 war.

Only with the US buying off Egypt and Israel together -- the major militaries involved -- could there have been a slow winding-down of the Arab-Israeli configuration of the wars, shrinking it into a narrow domestic conflict between Israel and Palestine.

When Egypt's elite can no longer refrain from intervening on behalf of Palestine, and therefore against Israel, that whole reprieve from regional war is over. Egypt has never been more unstable in that matter, so it's only a question of how soon, not whether it will happen at all. And these public spectacles of martyrdom are just the sort of thing that could accelerate the timeline within Egypt.

And it will not merely go back to the Arab-Israeli configuration of the mid-20th century -- this time a more powerful Iran will join the anti-Israeli side, and it's not out of the question that the other regional power-player, Turkey, could side against Israel (probably not heavily, though). Not to mention global powers like Russia (militarily) and China (economically), likely the Saudis and perhaps Pakistan if Israel keeps pissing everyone else off. The Saudi-Iranian alliance is already a massive change since the last time, and weighs against Israel's survival as a Zionist state.

Thus, the downplayers are also projecting their own irrelevance in this conflict. They are not members of the military, so they think no one else is in the military either -- and won't take this much more seriously than civilian bystanders will. Those who are not Democrats, assume no one else is a Democrat either -- and so, no Democrats would listen to Bushnell, since Democrats don't listen to Republicans (projecting being a Republican onto everyone else).

Some are not Americans, projecting that onto actual Americans, who will of course take this more seriously than those in countries that are not party to the Israel-Palestine conflict. And most of the downplayers are not from Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Southern Lebanon, or Iran -- and project their own "big whoop" attitude onto the masses and elites, civilians and soldiers, of those places that are heavily involved in the conflict, assuming no positive feedback loop will get activated over there because of an act in America.

* * *

It's ironic, cuz during the Trump years including the BLM / Antifa riots of 2020, the right-wing take-havers explained that right-wing protests would not change anything, that protests only work for leftists, because leftists are in power, and protests are really an internal form of bargaining within the liberal / leftist / Establishment system, akin to a bratty child throwing a tantrum at their parents.

In other words, there could be a million Trump voters marauding through the streets, and they would get shut down instantly and overwhelmingly, for being anti-Establishment, whereas BLM and Antifa are approved and sponsored by the Establishment, so their marauding would be forgiven and maybe even their demands met. Hell, the January 6th protesters got far worse treatment, and they didn't even burn down bookstores, police offices, or murder bystanders like BLM / Antifa did.

So then, by their own admission, Bushnell's act will succeed -- he's a leftist, not a right-winger, he's in the military and thus able to petition the military, and he's an American petitioning the American government. In none of these domains was he "politically homeless" and doomed to impotence at best and cruel persecution at worst.

Unlike BLM and Antifa, though, his refusal to take anyone else out with him will make him more sympathetic to neutral / independent types, as well as right-wingers themselves.

Although it's a minor tendency, some woketards of the BLM / Antifa persuasion did try to lessen his status by saying he was an evil white military man, so don't praise him or copycat him or anything like that.

But it's not 2014-2020 anymore, so the peak of politicized violence is over (zero protests or riots after Roe v. Wade got repealed). Most on the left did not amplify woketard voices in this instance.

If anything, this event will catalyze a shift away from BLM / Antifa organizing and violence -- none of which required sacrifice from the participants, they got away with everything and were never in any danger. They were not suicide bombers, nor self-immolaters -- they were just paramilitaries of the Democrat party running riot throughout the turf they controlled. They destroyed other people's stuff, not their own. They took others' lives, not having to risk their own in the process.

There's nothing inspirational about that kind of protest, except to those consumed by seething bitter revenge fantasies. But politicized anger has run its course and is getting exhausted, not replenished, after 2020. So, few to recruit to a would-be re-run of the 2014-2020 riots, driven by vindictiveness rather than martyrdom.

The starkest sign that Bushnell's act does not belong to the same category as BLM / Antifa actions is that no one in power is parroting him, lionizing him, etc. Unlike the top-level politicians and CEOs wearing black arm-bands, taking a knee / raising a fist, plastering the relevant slogans and logos on their social media, and so on and so forth. One is confronting the powerful, the other is in cahoots with the powerful. Anyone eliding this crucial distinction is just a propagandist for the Establishment, regardless of their branding.

There's also been a huge, rapid change in the generations within the relevant age group -- 25 year-olds today, like Bushnell, are Zoomers, not Millennials. For the record, 99% of woketards, BLM rioters, and Antifa paramilitaries were Millennials, with a small Gen X vanguard in leadership, and no Zoomers (who were too busy doing high school homework during 2014-2020, to go burn down a police station or summarily execute a MAGA hat-wearer, or even launch fake rape accusations during the #MeToo hysteria).

* * *

That leads into what I thought would be a major topic of this post, but looks like will be more of a reflection in an epilogue after all. And that's the unbridgeable chasm between the two main social media sites -- Twitter and TikTok (Reddit being parasitic off of Twitter, not the other way around, and like its Twitter host, being reflexively hostile to TikTok per se, as existential nemeses).

All of the depressive, projecting, ironypoisoned, coping downplaying comes from Twitter. I was really shocked after checking TikTok, but there is nothing like that there, from either political faction. It's more sincere, serious, resisting the ironic detachment from the Twitter-verse -- confessional, emotional, staring directly into the camera, and connecting honestly with the viewer one-on-one, heart to heart.

There was a big crowd within Tumblr that was like that, and they have migrated to TikTok, or they were too young to be on Tumblr but the would-be carelord Tumblr youths of today choose TikTok to begin with, since Tumblr's dead. The insane woketard SJW types migrated to Twitter (and somewhat to Reddit).

I realize that the Twittertards project Twitter-dom onto TikTok, and assume that everyone there is an insane ranting SJW with blue hair, which has opened up a lucrative (cash or clicks) market for rage-baiting Twitter accounts like Libs of TikTok, who provide the Twitter users what they want to see from TikTok -- i.e., the minority of unhinged SJWs who are speaking their crazy Twitter-esque threads out loud rather than writing them in text format.

But just scroll through the videos within the #AaronBushnell hashtag on TikTok, and hardly anyone looks counter / sub-cultural, none are ranting at the top of their lungs, they aren't demonizing white people, saying Bushnell should not be honored cuz he was white / male / in the military, or whatever Satanic imagery the Twittertards want to be shown via Libs of TikTok. No irony poisoning in their messaging (from any side), no glib dismissive tone of voice, no smugness, no Daily Show snark and caricatured facial expressions of superiority, no cynicism -- it's just the polar opposite world from Twitter.

Mainly this is generational -- TikTok is largely Zoomers, while Twitter has always been and still is mostly Millennials (and some Gen X-ers). Bushnell himself was a Zoomer, as is the right-wing public risk-taker Kyle Rittenhouse. Millennials are too selfish and entitled to sacrifice, they've always been that way, and they'll never change. Exploring why is not relevant now, the point is descriptively, that's how they are.

Libtards trying to downplay Kyle Rittenhouse's defense of public spaces during the 2020 riots was also largely projection of their own cowardliness and selfishness, based on generational differences. Who's this high-school pipsqueak trying to defend a public space at grave risk to himself? You're just supposed to burn it down when the elites grant you immunity, like a good little Millennial brown-noser and seething revenge-fantasy-masturbator.

Branding Zoomers as nihilistic doomers is, once again, just projection by cynical Millennials who have been defeated by the world and given up.

Zoomers certainly do not hold a rosy view of their future, but that does not lead them to passivity, cynicism, and irony-coated depression. If anything, they are pissed at the certain shitstorm that the future holds for them, and they're inclined to take bigger risks to make life livable -- they have nothing to lose, unlike Millennials who grew up in relative harmony and material paradise and upward mobility (until they had to leave home).

Call it idealism, zealotry, whatever -- they are far less inclined than Millennials to just take the shit sandwich the world is handing them, and obediently gulp it down. Millennials had much to lose, and Zoomers little -- how much worse could life actually get by slapping the sandwich out of society's hand and taking a big risk to get something good to eat?

Millennials learned not to bite the hand that feeds, since that hand fed them plenty. Zoomers grew up being fed by a stingy hand, and now owe no obedience.

And no, that's not their literal parents' hand feeding them -- Zoomers' parents fed and clothed them all right. But society writ large did not. Claiming that Zoomer risk-takers are just "mad at dad" is, once again, pure projection from Millennials who were overly indulged by their wealthiest generation in world history Boomer parents, imagining that the only reason a young person would lash out at the system is cuz mom & dad didn't give them enough money to hang out at the mall on the weekend.

January 23, 2024

Wide-ranging thread on shoot 'em up video games, vidya in general, and Japanese vs. American aesthetics

Might as well put a new post marker here, since the comments section for the last is getting a bit long. I'll be adding post-length-comments to this post, to make an ongoing thread.

The basic topic is shoot 'em up video games, inspired by watching Fuwamoco play a 2000s Touhou "bullet hell" game the other night. It is rare for non-Japanese people to play video games, rather than simulators, so I take notice and appreciate it every time it happens! But then, they're turbo-weebs, and you can't integrate yourself into Japanese culture without playing video games (created by the Japanese, with an illustrated, not photorealistic, style).

Below is the first "post in the comments" that kicked it off, which I'm putting here to get the ball rolling. More to follow in this post's comment section...

* * *

Frogger was the original "bullet hell" game -- not even appropriate to call the genre a "shooter" or "shoot 'em up" etc.

*You* are the one getting shot at, like crazy, and you don't shoot back -- you can only navigate your way through the moving geometric minefield of bullets, much like the frog navigates his way through the geometric formations of moving hazards, i.e. the vehicles that make up the several lanes of traffic moving in opposite directions, the alligator teeth in the river section, etc.

In "bullet hell" games, you shooting the enemies is only 5% of the gameplay, and it's like shooting fish in a barrel, after the difficult other 95% of gameplay has been performed -- i.e., dodging the bullet waves.

Frogger is only missing that 5%, but it would be trivial to program it in -- right before you land on the safe space at the end, you have to lash out your tongue to hit a dragonfly that's sitting in the way of the lilypad you're trying to land on.

Surprisingly, no one has drawn this clear parallel before. However, the wiki on Frogger says that it was created explicitly to tap into the female demographic, as opposed to the highly popular shooter genre which girls were not very into (e.g., Space Invaders, Galaga, etc.). And they succeeded.

This may explain why "bullet hell" games are at least semi-common among female streamers -- Fuwamoco just played Touhou: Mountain of Faith, and Marine is a huge Touhou player and fan. They're more about fine-scale motion, not large-scale swerving and zigging / zagging, slow speed, not racing all around the screen, defensive rather than offensive, hide-and-seek rather than being aggressive and chasing down the enemies.

They still take a lot of spatial skill, so they're not very common among female players -- but if she does have spatial skill, this defensive and cautious style of playing is better suited to her personality, as opposed to an offensive and risky style that characterizes "shoot 'em ups" proper, which are for guys with spatial skill.

Then there are the bona fide "gamer girls" (not just empty branding) like Korone, who take on Salamander (Life Force in America), which is not only a shoot 'em up, but one of the hardest ones ever made! Much respect. ^_^

And yet even "bullet hell" games have lots of male fans -- it's part of the broader trend in video games towards taking away your offensive abilities, and making you passively hide-and-seek from an all-powerful enemy. Same time-frame as the survival horror genre, which largely robbed you of weapons and ammo (mid-'90s through IDK), and then took them away altogether (from IDK through the 2010s and '20s).

A Euro-LARP-ing pseud would use a fake & gay term like "slave morality," i.e. glamorizing the behavior of slaves. Gamer nerds call it "masocore", a more straightforward term. They're not slaves, they're just downers or masochists or hide-and-seekers, rather than aggressive, offensive, and active. It's a reflection of the broader end of our imperial expansion (and ditto for Japan's failed imperial ambitions), and with it, the end of the heroic age of our culture (and those in our orbit, like Japan).

December 12, 2023

Venetian ethnogenesis and its role as the creative hotbed of the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire

I've been trying to write up various posts on describing and tracing the history of striking visuals in cinematic history, having been motivated by watching the 1970s TV show The Incredible Hulk -- from what I've seen, easily the best photographed TV show ever made.

It's not as great as the movies from the same time period, since they had long production schedules and could deliberate more over composition (how things are arranged within the frame), unlike a weekly TV show. And perhaps the more talented people went to work in movies instead of TV. But I've been blown away by how vibrant the colors are, and how much contrast in brightness is shown within a single scene (i.e., dark shadows along with bright highlights).

But the iconic look of movies and TV from the second half of the '70s and into the early '80s is for another post. And so is the history of high-contrast visuals within movie history (not so surprising spoiler -- back to D.W. Griffith, in his shorts from the late 1900s, before his features and way before German Expressionism).

Then I thought how far back such a style goes in visual media that are not photography or movies. Naturally I looked into European painting -- Caravaggio, chiaroscuro lighting, that whole phenomenon. But that wasn't what I was seeing in the Hulk TV show -- Caravaggio et al. are using contrasting bright-dark tones for the purposes of rendering 3D volumes within a 2D medium like a painting.

When you see someone's face being half lit up and half in shadow, with the dividing line down the middle, it tells you their face is not flat but protrudes along that line -- that protrusion of features is like a mountain chain that is blocking the light, coming from the direction of the lit-up half, from reaching the other half, leaving it dark. Or using shading to show muscles in full 3D sculptural pseudo-reality.

I'll call this the "sculptural" use of chiaroscuro.

Certainly the classic TV shows and movies of the 1970s employ this form of chiaroscuro -- which can be used to render the 3D volume not only of individual people, but animals, buildings, particular elements of a building (like a column), and other objects that could be placed within the frame.

What makes the Hulk look so striking is not just this form of chiaroscuro, but its use at the total composition level -- breaking up the frame into regions of darker light, and brighter light, often several such regions alternating with each other as a function of distance "into" the frame, or from left-to-right across the frame. That is, not just a simple breaking-up of "left half dark, right half bright" -- even though that, too, is a welcome degree of contrast from a uniformly lit scene that leaves the aesthetic lobe of our brain unstimulated.

I'll call this the "compositional" use of chiaroscuro. Typically, works that use it also use sculptural chiaroscuro for the smaller-scale figures, buildings, etc. within the overall scene. It's taking that for granted, and applying it at a higher scale, and for purely aesthetic purposes, not necessarily for realism (if only our everyday environments always had such striking contrasts in them...).

It is most evident in exterior scenes that involve some kind of landscape -- across such a distance, some regions may be naturally brighter because there's nothing blocking the sunlight from directly striking them, while other regions may be darker due to a building, a large tree or group of trees, a patch of clouds, or some artificial obstruction put there by the movie-makers in order to give some variety to the brightness levels around the landscape.

In still photography, this compositional chiaroscuro is the defining feature of the work of the American pioneer Ansel Adams, and sure enough, that is mostly of landscapes. He used crafty technical tricks after already taking the negative, like "dodging" and "burning" to brighten or darken the targeted regions within the final print, increasing the contrast from what he'd originally shot. Artificial or not, it makes a more striking result, and that's all that matters. As a great artist, he didn't want his audience to suffer from an unstimulated brain.

I doubt any such tricks were applied in post-production for a weekly TV show like the Hulk, and even in feature films, I think it's more used for limited optical effects, not the entire look-and-feel of the movie.

* * *

Well, Caravaggio and others under his influence were not using chiaroscuro compositionally -- at most, it may have been applied to a small intimate space like a room where a half-dozen people are gathered together. And more likely, to a single individual in a portrait, for sculptural purposes.

He was working in Rome circa 1600, and even back when that city was the center of a thriving imperial culture, they did not use chiaroscuro compositionally. Roman frescos use shading to carve a 3D form out of a 2D painting on a wall, but not to create dramatic tension and variety across an entire scene or landscape.

Nor, for that matter, did the more well-funded painting style of Florence. I was really shocked to see how little the big names of the "Italian" Renaissance -- Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael -- used striking brightness changes across a composition. They're way too evenly lit, on the scenic scale, to make an impression on that lobe of our brain.

Their lesser known contemporaries in that region were scarcely any better, although some might have used it once in awhile to experiment, or because that specific patron wanted that kind of look, I don't know.

But to give credit where it's due among the Florentines, Ghirlandaio used chiaroscuro compositionally in his Adoration of the Shepherds (1485), where there are alternating levels of brightness "into" the frame (basically, bright-dark-bright-dark-bright). And across the frame, the right two-thirds is relatively darker, and the left third is brighter -- but this simple scheme has several sub-regions that stand out from that, to make it a more complex rhythm, with the top-left being dark, and the bottom-center being bright, and the distant bright landscape on the right side that is shown through a dark opening.

Partial credit for his Old Man and His Grandson (1490), where a small landscape in what is otherwise a large portrait has varying brightness levels into the distance. Most of this painting uses shading sculpturally (facial features and clothing folds), and even then it's pretty evenly lit, not like Caravaggio.

Raphael's very late Transfiguration (1520) is about as close as the Florentines got to the Venetian level of lighting and coloring. It does have alternating levels of brightness, but they're all explained within the frame -- the light emanating from Jesus, brightening those who have nothing in their way with him, and the earthen mound blocking this light and casting some people in shadow. Not much varying brightness "into" the distance of the landscape either.

Pre-Renaissance Florentines like Cimabue and Giotto also did not use chiaroscuro compositionally.

Although I may be missing the odd work or two by other Florentines, it's clear that compositional chiaroscuro was not a recurring technique for any single artist or school or period in Florence and Central Italy generally. Not the way it was for Ansel Adams.

As far as scenic-level variety in brightness, it's as if the Renaissance in Central Italy was still stuck in the Dark Ages -- or the Roman era, for that matter! Nobody had adopted it as a signature style at any point along the way.

Rather, the main compositional innovation of the Florentines was linear perspective, i.e. how to arrange things within the frame in order to simulate 3D spatial reality. Everyone already knew, and applied the knowledge, that the further away something is, the smaller it appears to our eye, and close-up things appear larger. But working out the precise mathematics of these relationships, to the point of laying out a grid or fabric of space onto the canvas, only took off during the Florentine Renaissance.

This goes along with their use of chiaroscuro primarily for sculptural purposes -- they really wanted the closest possible simulation of 3D reality within a 2D medium.

* * *

This brings us to their main rival during the Renaissance period -- Venice. Not only were they political-military rivals, they practiced opposing cultural movements. What was more important? -- autistically accurate simulation of 3D spatial reality, or the striking use of color and lighting to activate the neurons of the viewer?

This was the war between Florentine "disegno" (drawing) and Venetian "colorito" (coloring, but in the full sense of combining hue, saturation, and brightness). Here is a brief overview, which in an uncanny coincidence, I linked to in an old post nearly 10 years ago to this day, about how girls should choose multicolored patterns for their "tights as pants," if they didn't want the 3D volume of their lower half to be fully rendered by a monochrome pair.

And yet, still relevant -- although girls now wear baggy jeans or sweatpants that don't expose anything, their tops have gone skin-tight and micro-mini, like yoga pants for the torso. If she wants to not fully render the volume of her boobs and nipples, while still taking part in the crop-top and bra-less trends, she can choose one with multicolored patterns that will obscure the precise sculptural details of her figure. So far I've only seen girls with monochrome, usually white, crop-tops or "bras as tops" (similar to "tights as pants"). But if you want that funky-yet-wholesome vibe, go for a multicolored pattern!

Anyway, back to Renaissance "Italy" -- there was no national unification back then, not since the collapse of the Roman Empire. There was a patchwork of rival city-states, some under foreign imperial occupation, but one of them was actually on an expansionist path -- not reaching the level of an empire, though an expanding Great Power nevertheless, akin to Sweden in the 17th C., or Japan in the 19th and early 20th C. That would be the Republic of Venice.

Venetian ethnogenesis begins on the not-quite-so-meta-ethnic frontier between the native Italic peoples of the late Roman Empire, and the invading / migrating hordes of Germanic people during the middle of the 1st millennium. Although the Germanic people gained a foothold over almost all of Northern Italy, under the Kingdom of the Lombards, some Italic people fled to / remained in the inhospitable lagoon communities in Venice. The Lombards were coming from the west, and Venice is nestled right against the eastern coast of the peninsula, so that was the furthest frontier left between the Germanic invaders and the Italic natives.

The difference was pronounced enough -- barbarian migrants vs. more civilized and settled natives, Germanic vs. Italic languages, although the Lombards were Christianized and even Catholicized by the time they took over Northern Italy. So, not quite as intense as if there'd been a major religious difference.

At the same time, Venice had already been occupied by the Byzantine Empire, which used to control much of the Italian peninsula during the mid-1st millennium. They too were foreigners, speaking a different branch of Indo-European (Greek), and yet they were more sedentary and civilized and Mediterranean and in a sense the originators of Christianity as an institution or organized religion. So they were not so foreign to the Venetians, and the latter gladly accepted being a final outpost of the Byzantine sphere of influence, rather than get absorbed into the barbarian Germanic sphere.

This also made them opposed to the Papal States, the rump state left after the Roman Empire collapsed. They were very similar ethnically to the Venetians, but they always pushed for Roman and Papal supremacy, in a sad LARP of their imperial heyday. So, Byzantine sponsorship didn't look too bad for Venice, compared to the alternatives.

Gradually, the feeling of being encircled by the Germanic barbarian kingdoms made the Venetians cohere to such an extent, in common defense against their ethnic nemesis, that they could do some militaristic expanding of their own.

Although not referring to Venetian military expansion, the Florentine Renaissance humanist Petrarch did note how cohesive, communitarian, and solidarity-driven the Venetians were: Venice was "solidly built on marble but standing more solid on a foundation of civil concord." Not the feuding, sniping social climate that would produce literal Machiavellians, like Florence. The guild system, akin to mid-20th-century labor unions, has always been strong in Venice, back to the High Middle Ages. Nothing like getting encircled by invading barbarians, and pinned against the sea-wall, to grow a little solidarity within the community!

* * *

First Venice became more independent from their Byzantine sponsors, as that empire got long in the tooth by the turn of the 2nd millennium. But then the Venetians organized large galleys into a navy that went on to control maritime territory from the nearby Dalmatian coast (across the Adriatic Sea), as far east as Cyprus. And not long after that, they turned toward the Italian mainland and reconquered Northeastern Italy and even parts of Lombardy itself.

In their eastward expansion, they wound up fighting in the First Crusade in the Levant, where their elite must have gotten a further dose of higher asabiya from an even more intense meta-ethnic frontier -- the Seljuk Turks were Muslim, Turkic rather than Indo-European, were a mighty empire rather than a patchwork of fiefdoms like the Lombards, and were fighting to the death rather than leaving the Venetians alone in their little corner of land. At the same time, the Seljuks never came close to invading Venice, so this did not heighten their sense of needing to band together for collective self-defense like the Germanic invasion of Italy did.

The main period of Venetian expansion, beyond the nearby Dalmatian coast -- that is, from 1200 to 1500 -- seems to coincide with a lull in the growth of empires in the region, or their decline and collapse. Although the Byzantines had been past their peak for centuries by then, the Fourth Crusade circa 1200 more or less finished them off, before the nascent Ottoman Empire dealt Constantinople the coup de grace a few centuries later. And Venice took a leading part in the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, carrying off immense wealth from their former sponsors.

With the Byzantines effectively wiped out as a Mediterranean power, the Arab invasions also long gone, the Vikings long gone, the Frankish Empire long gone, who else was there to check the expansion of Venice? France was a growing empire, but was oriented more toward unifying France, then the Hundred Years War with England, and maybe getting a piece of Northwest Italy. But they weren't in Venice. The Spaniards, ditto. In 1200, the German Empire wouldn't even begin for another 300 years, nor was the Holy Roman Empire a bona fide empire yet, as it would become under the Austrian imperial era. The various Turkic and Mongol empires were stopped in Eastern Europe, before crossing the Alps down into Venice.

And for much of this time, the Ottomans were only beginning to conquer Anatolia and Thrace, and some of that they were mired in their integrative civil war (Ottoman Interregnum). They did eventually unify and dominate the Eastern Mediterranean by the 1500s, and almost immediately the Venetian Republic went into stagnation, then decline, ultimately becoming absorbed into the Austrian Empire's sphere of influence circa 1800.

This highlights what I've said earlier about Sweden in the 17th C, Japan around the turn of the 20th C, and Alexander the Great -- these bouts of insane expansion are mainly due to the sorry state of their neighbors at the time, who are mired in civil war, imperial collapse, etc.

For Sweden, their neighbors were bogged down in the Thirty Years War, and the Reformation and wars of religion before that. After that was over, and once they met an enemy no longer mired in civil war -- Russia during the Great Northern War -- Sweden went away as a Great Power.

For Japan, the Joseon Dynasty was collapsing in Korea, and the Qing Dynasty / Empire in China was also collapsing, not to mention the moribund Euro empires that had colonial holdings in East Asia. Once they ran into an expanding empire not mired in civil war -- America during the Midcentury -- it was over for their expansion.

For Alexander, it was the collapse of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and his "empire" did not last beyond his own death.

* * *

What did the Venetians do with their rising levels of cohesion, to match their geographic expansion, and sense that they were a special people? Why, cultural innovation! How else are they going to let themselves and others know that they're a new people, not just descendants of the Roman Empire, and not like other Italic peoples, e.g. those residing in Central or Northwest Italy (let alone the South).

In music, they pioneered the Venetian polychoral style, where groups of musicians and singers were physically separated into different wings, and accordingly developed more of a "working-against" and alternating style, when multiple voices are present. This paved the way for the Baroque era, through the pioneering German composer Heinrich Schutz, who worked in Venice.

In the dramatic arts, they invented the commedia dell'arte, where masked and sometimes dancing performers play stock character roles in performances that are partly scripted but also improvised.

In architecture, they did not innovate very much, but kept going with their Venetian take on the Gothic trend (originally from France during the Capetian expansion). Notably, they did *not* take up the Ancient Roman or Greco LARP that their Florentine and Roman contemporaries did. Oddly enough, Palladio was a Venetian, but found very little success in his home city or region -- only abroad, especially in the British Empire and its later American off-shoot, both of whom were big-time into Roman LARP-ing as a way to legitimate their nascent empires (i.e., they were not upstarts or arrivistes, but inheritors of an ancient civilization).

But more than anything else, Venice invented the use of compositional chiaroscuro. Not just "in the medium of painting" -- ancient and Medieval mosaics did not use it either. Nor did cave paintings. As a recurring stylistic feature, it was totally new! And it was the trademark of the Venetian school, which is usually known for their use of bold hues, vibrant saturation, and glowing brightness of colors.

But just about every expanding empire loves its bold, rich, vibrant colors -- and every declining and collapsing empire turns toward a pastel, drained, and grayed-out palette. Once the cohesion leaves, so does the sense of special purpose -- and with that, the will to live a vibrant cultural life. Might as well go gray. So the Venetians were not unique in using bold, vibrant, glowing colors. Unique within Italy, perhaps, due to no other expanding states there. But not unique within Europe or the Near East of that period, where multiple empires were expanding and very fond of bold vibrant colors (back to Gothic stained glass for France and England).

What did make them unique was compositional chiaroscuro, something that has been inherited into the American imperial visual style, from Ansel Adams landscapes to '70s Hollywood cinematography.

The revolutionary Giovanni Bellini already began developing this style in his St. Jerome in the Desert, and Agony in the Garden (1450s), a subject also painted by his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna around the same time, also using chiaroscuro compositionally. It reached its height by the end of the century, in his St. Francis in Ecstasy (1480) and Holy Allegory (1490s). The striking contrast of dark-bright all around the frame is self-evident in the latter, so let's explore its subtler use in the former.

Of course there is sculptural use of chiaroscuro to render his facial features, the shape of individual boulders in the rockface, the branch posts, etc. But there are also shadows cast on the ground or other surface -- which do not render a 3D volume at all, but add to the contrast in bright vs. dark within the frame.

Then there's the variation in brightness around the landscape -- dark at the near section of the rockface, then bright on the middle of the top row of stones, before darkening somewhat again on the left / far stone along the top, more muted levels where the donkey is, dark at the next level back where there's vegetation, then brighter where the small town is, darker going up the hill, before reaching a bright reversal on the castle at the top, and even the sky has a brighter lower half and darker upper half.

Why does the brightness level change in this rhythmic way? No natural reason! Maybe there's a large building casting a huge shadow where it's dark, or a huge expanse of clouds. But it's not clearly motivated by the physics of the scene. It just looks too cool to do it any other way! Contrast, variety, stimulation, excitement, rhythm, dynamism -- that's what our brain wants, and he's giving it to us! Call it poetic, dramatic, stylistic, whatever -- but it's not coming from physics or mathematics like some other uses of shadow.

This would become a Venetian trademark after Bellini. See Giorgione's Adoration of the Shepherds (1505), Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1520), Bonifazio Veronese's Adoration of the Shepherds (1520s), Palma Vecchio's Diana and Callisto (1520s), Paolo Veronese's Deposition of Christ (1540s), Jacopo Bassano's Adoration of the Kings (1540s), and Tintoretto's Christ at the Sea of Galilee (1575).

Compositional chiaroscuro would also become a fixture of other imperial styles, including Spanish (El Greco's View of Toledo ca. 1600), French (most Poussin landscapes, e.g. with Orpheus and Eurydice ca. 1650), and not to mention it too many times, American (Ansel Adams). Not so much in Russian painting, aside from some Neoclassical painters of the first half of the 1800s (this shows it is not an "Eastern" thing that Venice got from being more oriented toward the Byzantine Empire than the Papal States, once upon a time). But as a thriving, enduring aesthetic phenomenon, it all began in the Venetian Renaissance, as the most cohesive people in the Italian peninsula sought a way to distinguish themselves stylistically from their feuding and Ancient LARP-ing compatriots.

This greater level of cohesion, as well as stylistic distinctiveness (at least, since the Ancient period), must be what makes Venice so much more romantic and sought-after and thought-about, compared to other places in Italy that are no slouches in the art-and-history department. Assuming you don't want to indulge in Caesar LARP-ing, Venice is the place for the most vibrant culture in the Italian peninsula after the Crisis of the Third Century. It may not even be right to call it the place for "Italian" culture, or the cultural leader of "Italy" -- it's Venetian culture, not "Italian". Most importantly, their Renaissance did not owe to economic factors like new riches, but ethnogenetic ones -- being encircled by strange barbarian invaders, as well as facing off against religious rivals from a mighty empire in the Holy Land.

November 13, 2023

Thoughts on Hardcore (1979) by Schrader: Manic Pixie Dream Girls, thriller vs. action "rescue" movies, and complex / useful vs. simple / superfluous violence and nudity

I wrote another post in the comments section on an unrelated topic, which I'll copy-paste into a new post, because search engines don't see comments, only the main body of posts. In case someone is looking for insights into this movie.

* * *

Hardcore by Paul Schrader has a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in it. A quirky, corporeal, free spirit with an earthly guardian angel role to play vis-a-vis the protagonist, who is a down-on-his-luck sad sack (divorced dad of a daughter who's run away). They form an odd-couple partnership.

She nurses him back to health, keeps him sane, guides him through hell, and keeps him on the right track to achieve his loftiest goals, including winning over or winning back a girl -- not the MPDG herself, who as usual does not end up with him in the end, nor even a romantic interest (i.e. his estranged ex-wife). But *does* help unite him with his daughter.

The movie came out in 1979, during the restless phase of the 15-year excitement cycle ('75-'79 in this case), when the MPDG type proper comes out.

The character, Niki, is played by an actress (Season Hubley) who was born in the manic phase of the cycle (1951, during the '50-'54 manic phase), like most other MPDGs. As shown in her topless scenes, she is a butt girl rather than a boob girl, just like most other MPDGs. Height varies a lot among the type, and she's 5'5 fwiw.

I knew while watching the movie that she'd be born in a manic phase, and I was right!

Sidebar: there's a "doomed MPDG" type in Frenzy by Hitchcock, recalling this post about Michelle from Frantic by Polanski. That post also contains links to earlier entries in my MPDG series, which began in 2019, tying it into my series on the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, which I began in 2017 (and has its own category tag in the blog's sidebar, unlike MPDG's).

Frenzy was made in '72, during the vulnerable phase of '70-'74, like Frantic ('88, during the '85-89 vulnerable phase). So she doesn't quite get to play the full guardian angel role for the down-on-his-luck sad-sack protag.

In fact (spoilers), she winds up getting killed in the process of trying to help the protag realize his lofty goals.

Still, I knew that like Emmanuelle Seigner, she must've been born during a manic phase -- at least that much of this type stays true to the proper MPDG role that comes out during a restless phase. And sure enough, the actress who plays Babs (Anna Massey) was born in 1937, during the '35-39 manic phase.

Niki, the MPDG, is the stand-out character in Hardcore. Still thinking about her the day after viewing, she made a real impression, and without a theatrical or melodramatic performance either.

George C. Scott's character, the father in search of his teenage runaway daughter, is too literally Puritan to give the audience much of an emotional opening to connect and empathize with. He bottles everything up for 99% of the time, and lets it explode during the other 1% -- but unless you're also a Dutch Calvinist Midwesterner, for whom this is normal and expected behavior, it can be hard to connect with.

Contrast with Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, written by Paul Schrader just a few years earlier. His extensive monologue voiceovers open up his mind to the audience, not to mention his more "tell it like it is, nothing held back, no BS" back-East behavior, which lets him pour his thoughts and feelings out even in the presence of other characters, whether socially appropriate or not. It may feel like wincingly tip-toe-ing through a seedy motel entrance, but it's still an opening for the audience to connect with his mind.

That's where the MPDG comes to the rescue in Hardcore. This type is always on a rescue mission of some kind, but here it's not just within the narrative, helping him achieve his goals and rise out of the depths he's currently in -- it's to chip away at his Puritan exterior on behalf of the audience, who can finally see what's really going on inside and connect.

Only the earthy prostitute and occasional porno actress can get him to drop his guard -- her sharing of her good-vibes hippie-dippie Venusian religion prompts him to explain the tenets of his Calvinist religion, in a way that he'd never opened up about before. He and his religion come off more sympathetically after this, since he's not thundering down a sermon to her, just matter-of-factly explaining it to her like he's a Sunday School teacher and she's a new student. She (and we) may not resonate with it, but it's not off-putting either.

Her playful teasing gets him to use sexually profane slang ("sucking off"), contrary to his buttoned-up usual speech.

But most of all, she's the only one whose attentive and nurturing behavior gets him to open up about where his wife is in the whole family picture. (Before he simply lied and said she was dead, not estranged / divorced and living in some God-forsaken place back East.) It's a nice small-scale cathartic moment for him, to have a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, so that he doesn't keep bottling everything up until it explodes in an aimless counter-productive rage.

Nice spin on the typical MPDG formula of coaxing a wary sad sack out of his shell, to liven up his lifestyle. Usually it means the guy leads a boring ho-hum routine, but still in a relatable way and allowing us to empathize with him (the security of routine, can't get hurt if you don't risk much exposure, etc.). But in Hardcore, he's so bottled-up and seething that her coaxing him out of his shell is necessary to make him relatable to the audience.

Great attention to detail in the costume design, too, where she's wearing a t-shirt that simply has the word "SniFF" printed on it. Believable as a novelty t-shirt, but emphasizing that she's an earthy / sensual type, not necessarily a smell fetishist (in which case the shirt would be a deep inhaling "SNIFFFFF") -- just curious and exploring the world through the corporeal senses, rather than intellect and reason and logic and argument. Sniff, sniff, sniff...

Not something a Puritan would have printed on their shirt. The right small detail can go a long way toward cementing their odd-couple relationship, and her corporeality vs. his cerebral / spiritual approach.

Season Hubley gives a nice physical performance in her poses as well. At first, she's shown as a typical stripper / prostitute, casually taking off her top and spreading her legs akimbo, high-heeled shoes kicking right up against the glass partition in the peep-show booth. Meant to be salacious and provocative, like anyone who sells sex for a living -- emotionally checked-out from the situation, not like a trusted confidante.

But by the time they form their unlikely partnership and have bonded somewhat, her pose changes completely. Head bowed somewhat in humility, cocked to the side in curiosity, leg raised on one side while sitting down to convey an air of opened-up, informal relaxation -- the right tone for a confidante to create, if she wants the other side to let their guard down -- rather than stiff, stern judgement that he'd be used to in a setting where he's confessing about what's gone wrong in his life.

More images here.

Reminder that in Taxi Driver, the MPDG is not Jodie Foster's character Iris -- she represents the lofty goal that the down-in-the-dumps protag is striving to reach (saving her from a life on the streets).

And she's not born during a manic phase, but a restless phase, which produces the wild-child type (1962, during the '60-'64 restless phase). True to that type, she comes across as numb and glib about her wild-child teen runaway prostitute lifestyle. She does wear a boho costume, but that just shows that the MPDG is not about costume, but the role she plays in the narrative.

She does provoke the ho-hum protag -- but more for the sake of provocation, shocking a square, to convince herself that she's cool and hip, unlike him. Not to chip away at his exterior, to get him to drop his guard, so she can nurture him and rescue him from the depths, so that he can achieve his goals in life.

Rather, the MPDG is Betsy, played by Cybill Shepherd, who naturally enough was born during a manic phase (1950). She's not a wild-child who provokes for the fun of it all. She views him as an intriguing social-emotional rehab project for her to work on, nurture, and encourage, so that he can walk on his own again and accomplish greater things than what he's currently mired in.

She's the one who the protag literally describes as an angel descending, the one who inspires him to let his guard down, take a chance on opening up and connecting to other people (including women), even if he takes that too far due to his rusty social skills from having been isolated and alienated for so long.

But by the end of the movie, when she rides in his cab again, they clearly have no hard feelings, and in fact smile knowingly at each other, as though she were the one who started him off on his quest toward rescuing Iris and cleaning up the scum from the city in his own humble way. Very tender and endearing final moment, even if (as usual) the MPDG and the protag do not wind up as a couple. Her rehab project has turned out a success, and the guy who recuperated due to her intervention is grateful for her support and encouragement that began the process of rising out of the depths.

And of course Taxi Driver came out during a restless phase, 1976.

Last thought on Niki from Hardcore. Her getting the protag to drop his guard and open up serves a further narrative purpose -- turns out, the daughter ran away and joined the seedy porno world on her own, because she felt her father was too emotionally distant, cold, judgemental, and driving her friends away as potential bad influences. She ran away to find someone who would befriend her, however parasitically.

When he finally tracks her down, she's reluctant to go back to the same family environment that repulsed her in the first place. So the father has to open up, be vulnerable, and show that he's at least aware that his bottled-up Puritan behavior was responsible, while still asking her to understand that he does love her but never felt comfortable showing it.

He's been changed by the MPDG's rehab process, and he's now able to prove that to the girl that represents his lofty goals (rescuing his daughter from the streets at least, ideally bringing her back home). She wouldn't have believed him if he'd shown up thundering a Puritanical sermon against her, or coldly listing the consequences of her actions, etc. That would've been more of the same, and she wouldn't have decided there was anything worth returning to.

But now able to open up, confess in a sympathetic way, ask for forgiveness again in a sympathetic way, showing a positive catharsis -- not merely on a blind revenge mission against the men she hooked up with -- he convinces her that life will be different, more socially and emotionally supportive, connected, and warm back home. So she decides to go back with him after all, thanks to the MPDG's decision to take him as an intriguing rehab project, acting as his earthly guardian angel when institutions (the church, the police, his own family) could not save him.

Heh, Peter Boyle's character in Hardcore is similar to an MPDG, although from the male camaraderie angle, not the female nurturer angle.

He's a bit boho and unconventional himself, earthy and sensory-based (as well as logical, being a P.I.). Opens up, holds nothing back, no-BS, hoping some of that attitude will rub off on the bottled-up Puritan protag, who he refers to as "pilgrim" -- not just referencing his Puritanical religion, but conveying his awareness that the protag is on a kind of quest or journey, and needing a guide such as himself.

And he doesn't take on the father's case just for the money -- it's also to protect the protag, like a surrogate patriarch (whereas the MPDG is more maternal and nurturing). He guides him along the way to achieve his lofty goals, steering him through the hellish depths so he doesn't remain mired there forever.

He plays a similar role toward Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, as the supportive, concerned, and advice-giving Wizard. Not as central in the narrative, nor as helpful, but still in the same mold.

And sure enough, Peter Boyle was born during a manic phase (1935). The suite of traits that females pick up from imprinting on such a phase, are also picked up by their male cohorts -- they just get expressed in a more masculine instead of feminine manner. But still very similar to each other.


Noirish thrillers like Hardcore and Frantic create more narrative tension than action-oriented takes on the "rescue a family member" story like Commando and Taken.

In the action movies, the main theme is revenge, and we know from the outset that the family member will be rescued, in good health, and the rescuer will survive as well. The tension is not put into the narrative, but into the overcoming of various obstacles in the protag's way -- we know he's going to overcome them, but who specifically are they, what settings are they located in, how exactly does he eliminate one or the other threat, the precise way in which he's going to execute the main villain.

In the thriller movies, we don't even know if he's going to find the family member, let alone will they be alive and in good health or want to return with him. We don't know whether their fate remains undisclosed, and if the protag is going to resign himself to losing her after an ultimately fruitless search, maybe taking revenge on the most likely culprits or maybe just calling it quits altogether in order to maintain some sanity. He's not an unstoppable juggernaut, which is more relatable to the audience, whereas the action revenge movies are more about a fantasy of power.

Having to sift through masses of people, rather than quickly narrowing down who the abductors are, adds to the narrative tension, setting up a sense of hopelessness -- and that opens the door to the role of a guide for the protag, which is not really crucial in the action movies, where he's a one-man army. Maybe the guide is a surrogate patriarch, or an MPDG proper, or a doomed MPDG. But some kind of earthly guardian angel to guide the protag through the depths of hell, in order for him to rise above it and achieve his goals.

So it's not just more tension in the plot, but also in the character dynamics, for the thrillers.

Thrillers do feature violence, sex, action, and sometimes vindication or revenge -- but they all serve a purpose for the plot, sense of place, and characterization. Whereas in an action movie, we know roughly how it ends from the beginning, and they strike us as more superfluous and just giving us what we want to indulge in as a guilty pleasure.

For example, there's a totally pointless T&A scene in Commando (it was the '80s), where the protag chases one of the bad guys into a motel, and in their struggle they break into the room of a nude couple that had been bumping uglies, unaware of the plot of the movie.

In Taken, the kidnapped daughter is shown in her underwear and then topless, while she's on display in a white slavery market by the villains. That may anger the audience, but not the protag, who isn't witnessing any of it.

In Hardcore, the porno that the daughter appears in is witnessed by the protag (after being tracked down by the P.I.), causing him to break down, and add to his determination to save his daughter. It makes the nude scene more poignant and gut-wrenching and anti-pornographic, rather than voyeuristic (which is how the scene in Taken comes off).

There are seductive nude scenes in Hardcore, however, like when the protag first converses with Niki in the peep-show booth. Not the most erotic performance of all time, but still titillating and a bit sensual, rather than enraging or depressing and anti-pornographic. It adds to the complexity of tone in a thriller rather than a straightforward action movie.

Hardcore also uses nudity in portraying the making of porno movies, whereby it all comes off as choreographed, orchestrated, mechanical, and therefore artificial, fake, and not sensual and seductive.

It's not enraging or depressing like the ones where the runaway daughter is performing and being witnessed by the father after the fact. Nor is it titillating like Niki's bantering peep-show booth performance. Maybe not *anti*-pornographic -- merely not pornographic. Showing the behind-the-scenes process of shooting the scene, dispelling the fantasy, conveying a tone of hollowness or numbness.

Complex tone.