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Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Soundtrack Friday Morning Videos: "When the Going Gets Tough"

This one was hard to find too, and the movie wasn't really worth the effort. But for the all-around awesome Danny DeVito, any price must be paid (give it time to load).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"So, this Debt Ceiling Thing is Routine, or the End of the World?"

Ah, Toby Ziegler, where are you when we need you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Debt Ceilings and Democratic Despair

My wife rarely gets engaged--must less enraged--by politics. This isn't because she doesn't have any concerns or lacks informed opinions--she has plenty of both--but because it fundamentally doesn't interest, much less fascinate, her; she's just not drawn to investing much of her time and energy into something that she often finds, on the surface at least, both perplexing and frustrating. But sometimes there's an issue which strikes her as so desperate or so obvious or so crazy that she overcomes her usual apolitical stance, and can't help but become engaged. And enraged. The ongoing crisis over the raising of the federal government's debt ceiling--which came to a head with President Obama's and Speaker of the House Boehner both speaking last night at length about why the opposite side hasn't accepted their respective plans--has brought our family to one of those times.

This is what Melissa wrote on Facebook: "I never get political (odd, considering who I am married to), but this whole debt ceiling thing is making me increasingly more disillusioned with the American government. It. Doesn't. Work. I do not believe there's a single elected individual who has anything but his or her own best interests in mind. The greatest country, my a$$. I'd move to Canada in a heartbeat, if I could."

I sympathize with her--in part because, just three months ago, Canada had an election which looks to have meaningful consequences for moving the country (though whether forward or backward or neither depends on your point of view, I suppose). This stands in contrast to the US, which has seemed plagued by ever-increasing paralysis, gridlock, and mutual distrust ever since Obama's election in 2008 (with even the Affordable Care Act, which should have been a game-changer for our country, having instead just left at the very least a slightly bitter taste in almost everyone's mouth, and a constitutional controversy that doesn't seem to have any conclusion on the horizon), and which has now given us, quite possibly, the Worst Congress Ever. But I also sympathize with her because this whole debate over the debt ceiling strikes me as having been taken over by two utterly maddening realities. First, there is a contorted reading of the fiduciary responsibilities which the federal government is granted under that Constitution which is, from what appears to me to be any kind of sound accounting perspective, absolutely bonkers. Second, there is a game of political chicken driven by the mutual incomprehension possessed by two entirely distinct types of parties: the first, the one led by President Obama, being a historically normal American political party, with all its usual problems and dynamics, while the second, the one being led by Speaker of the House Boehner (if he is really in control, which ultimately may not be the case; some Republicans may simply have gotten to the point where they lack "the emotional capacity to accept a bargain that they don't see as a humiliation for Obama") that has apparently committed itself to an fiscal ideology that is, at the very best, seriously half-baked. Let's take them in turn:

1) Here's the basic nonsense with the debt ceiling, as I read the situation. Step one: the federal government passes a budget. Step two: that budget authorizes the federal government to spend a certain amount of money. Step three: the federal government then goes forward spending that money. Step four: as the budget authorized the federal government to spend more money than it had on hand, that money must be borrowed. Step five: the federal government borrows the money. Except wait! We have apparently talked ourselves, over the decades, into a rather bizarre accounting situation: the president, having signed the budget which Congress has passed, apparently has the constitutional authority to spend X amount of money, but he doesn't automatically possess the constitutional authority to obtain the money which Congress has already appropriated for him to spend! It's as if you got a paycheck, deposited it in a bank account, made a budget with your spouse which included plans for spending that money, your spouse agreed to it, but then when you went to pay your bills found that you needed additional approval for the money to actually move from the account to wherever you wanted it to go. Plain crazy.

If you've followed this debate, then you'll recognize that I'm on former president Clinton's side in agreeing with the "constitutional option"; the very idea that money could be appropriated, that a budget could be set, but that the money so approved could not actually be obtained without additional Congressional approval not only appears to me as simply nuts, but also a violation of the president's responsibilities to honor public debts under the 14th amendment. To force the US government into default by elevating a dubious fiscal procedure into unalterable constitutional doctrine is the sign of a people who actually think defaulting is a good idea.

2) And speaking of actually wanting a default, here's a nice analogy from Tim Burke, who, like many of us, is tearing his hair out at the madness coming from the supposed Party of Fiscal Responsibility:

[My Congressman's story] gets you right here, in your Little-House-on-the-Prairiest places: “Every day families in southeastern Pennsylvania make tough decisions in order to live within their means. Many are forced to cancel their family vacations, put off a car repair, or cut out purchases they can no longer afford. When it comes to our country’s bank account, however, both parties in Washington have not been practicing these same responsible habits.”

But why stop there? Let’s take the analogy a little further, because you know, the cuts that have been proposed by the President and rejected by his Republican opponents go a wee bit beyond canceling your family vacation or putting off a car repair. What do families do when their incomes are cut dramatically and abruptly, say, when one or both income-earners lose their jobs, Congressman?

Let’s finish your story of what happens every day. Why, sure, first Mr. and Mrs. Smith cut everything that’s a luxury. Vacations, cable, subscriptions, leisure, eating out. They defer maintenance of cars, houses, and their own bodies. Golly! I guess that means that people who were making the things that the family used to buy are going to have a bad story of their own to tell soon! And gee, I hope the story gets better soon, because when you don’t maintain cars, houses, and bodies, they break and then they’re really expensive to fix. Or you can’t get to work, you end up homeless, or you end up dead, I guess the story could go that way too! Oh, dear. This is turning into a bad story indeed. This is a story of how people who were very well-off become people who are poor....

Now there are other stories we could tell about the Smiths. Sometimes that family goes and gets several new jobs, none of them as good as what they had before, and brings in enough money that they only have to cut a few things, juggle their budgets. You know, they bring in new revenue. They look for jobs, they try to get back to where they were, because they’d rather be well-off than poor. But my Congressman doesn’t like that story for America! Sometimes that family takes on more debt in the short-term and works its way out of that debt slowly rather than drastically. all the while looking for new revenue. My Congressman doesn’t like that story either!

Look, obviously the analogy--neither Congressman Meehan's, nor Tim's--is perfect. Governments are different from families or businesses, and the rules for each do need to be different. But folks...seriously. What are we looking at here? We are looking at the federal government defaulting on its debts. Maybe that won't be a complete apocalypse; in fact, it almost certainly won't be. And moreover, I'm not blind to the possible upside here; nobody who tends to prefer saints over neoliberals, as I do, could ignore that maybe it would be good for the country to be a little poorer, a little more restricted in its choices, a little less aggressive overseas and less ambitious at home. But the evils that would likely come along with that upside--a desperate, vindictive, retrenchment, in which the expansive nobility of FDR's social justice ideas, however compromised they may have been and however many pathologies they may have inadvertently introduced, is replaced for the foreseeable future with an abandonment of any interest in working comprehensively for a more equal society--are enough to make me, as usual, fall back on hoping (as I did three years ago) for some progressive compromises here.

But it appears that any kind of discussion of revenue is officially off the table, and the Republican caucus in Congress continues to press forward, now selling the implausible fantasy of tying any kind of deal with the President to a constitutional amendment which would, in theory anyway, permanently cap all federal spending. I suppose I can't blame them: they are acting like a proper parliamentary party, advancing the interests of their platform, except that they are doing so confident of the knowledge that, if they get punished in the next election, they'll still control enough veto points in our government to prevent the Democratis from doing the same. Default, and democratic despair seem the order of the day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Liberals, Neoliberals, and Saints

Last week, the big conversation amongst politics and political theory blogs was an argument over neoliberalism, begun by Henry Farrell here, continued by Matt Yglesias here, and sprawling outward to include all sorts of commentary (see here, here, and here for a start). The gist of the argument, as I see it anyway, is an old one that touches on all sorts of concerns many of us who consider ourselves on the left have: what, if anything, can be done to give socialist and/or populist and/or radical democratic policy options a greater chance of electoral success, when a lot of the best, most thoughtful, and most successful liberal thinking in the country--of which Yglesias is but one example--remains resolutely in the "neoliberal" box, in which the claimed egalitarian potential of monetarily guided market growth and indirect subsidies via tax breaks are preferable to the class-based perspective exemplified by union power, rising and minimum wages, expanded welfare, and job protection? This is a concern not simply because of some old Marxist argument which suggests that every success egalitarian reformers have in making a little bit of peace with capitalism makes real egalitarian reform of our society and economy less likely, but because those reforms are, many of us on the left claim, not sustainable in themselves, and become more and more beholden to corporate sensibilities and interests with every electoral iteration. (The current legal and political arguments over the Affordable Care Act and the debt ceiling are only the most recent bit of evidence which arguable supports the left's argument.) Hence, the difference between "leftism" (which, whatever its particulars, is fundamentally concerned with gaining equal access to society's pie for all, and the historic and economic structures which make it such divisions difficult to achieve) and "neoliberalism" (which, however one chooses to explain it, is fundamentally convinced that attacking structures is mostly useless and often counterproductive, especially in comparison with simply working with capitalism to increase relative size of the poor and middle-class's slices of pie) is a political difference, with the former insisting that good politics has to be about organizing alternatives to and opposition to the current structures of society, and the latter insisting that good politics involves technocratic mastery of, and a consistently compromising approach to, the current social structure.

I freely grant that talking about organizing alternatives and opposition drives many a smart and decent egalitarian batty, because the efforts seems so repetitive and pointless. Far better, perhaps, as Tim Burke suggested (and then suggested again, in a response to me), to adopt a kind of "sociocultural libertarianism" in which you opt-out of most of these debates over reform. We should accept that there's always going to be so many different metrics for measuring success in any policy debate that it's wrong to make a fetish of any one of them, that there's no solution that'll fully achieve one's stated goals (particularly because there's no way of achieving any of those goals without releasing, as Tim wonderfully put it, "a lot of extremely rivalrous visions of praxis, with varying degrees of improbability and/or undesirability", into the room), and that if all that means you lose any given policy argument (like over the Affordable Care Act, or over the debt ceiling), you might as well just accept it, make something satisfactory out of it, wait until next season, and quit using the loss as a pretext for arguing that there's still that one thing you haven't tried yet that'll solve all your problems.

It would be unfair to call Tim's call to "chill out" a bourgeois, neoliberal call, because it really isn't...but it does share some elements with it, and I think he'd admit to that. "Satisficing" in the context of our present socio-economic structure is, in a sense, very much what the neoliberal, Ygelsias position entails: it means asking what can be done with our present liberal capitalist modernity that has done most of us (or at least most of us who hang out on the internet) a fair amount of good, and not day-dreaming about some plan that will suddenly make the leftist, structure-challenging approach to reform politically viable. What neoliberalism assumes, as Ygelsias apparently assumes as well (though perhaps this is unfair to him as well), is that liberalism is what we've got, and so why not be content with technocratically "nudging" it (as Henry observes in another follow-up post) as best we can?

It's here that I think a post from Noah Millman (a post which brought out comments from some much-missed bloggers like Pithlord) is directly on point:

The broad point is: alternatives to neoliberalism won’t be as liberal. They will be less-likely to prioritize efficiency. They will also be less-likely to prioritize positive-sum solutions. They will also be less-likely to prioritize basic fairness or democratic principles or whatever else. They will assign a higher priority to increasing the economic and political power of the people they are trying to represent (or their designated representatives).

I think this is a vital observation, because much of the left, in confronting this frustrating reality, often handicap themselves, I feel, because of their determination to remain liberals. And if your primary concern is equality...well, why should you be? Obviously there is good reason to be liberal in the broad, original sense--to be open-minded and respectful of difference and appreciative of individual rights and concerns. But the construct of liberalism, much less neoliberalism, with its bone-deep commitment to fairness and efficiency and individualism and neutrality and elite (as opposed to populist or radical) democratic procedures? Is that really the best model to follow if one's hope is to engender social democratic challenges to the prevailing, unequal structures of society? Perhaps one of the reasons we on the left often find ourselves frustrated is because we're too often taking many of our talking points from people uninterested in examining radical alternatives that take us away from the assumptions of liberal modernity.

This month's issue of The Atlantic contained two review essays which exemplify this attitude: one by Caitlin Flanagan on Cesar Chavez, the other by Christopher Hitchens on Mohandas Gandhi. Flanagan's story is somewhat sympathetic to Chavez, or at least reluctant in its condemnation of him, but perhaps all the more damning because of that; Hitchens attack on Gandhi, by contrast, is almost predictable. But what is most predictable in both pieces is how little use both authors see--especially in Flanagan's case, as she looks back as a globalized member of the American elite at her family's one-time Berkeley-liberal infatuation with the United Farm Workers when she was a child--for anyone who approaches issues of justice and equality from anything other than a technocratic, melioratic, redistributive approach. For Chavez, his attempt to push forward efforts on behalf on exploited workers meant making use of not only the union-organizing lessons of the Wobblies but also a "mystical Roman Catholicism" which led Chavez to make hunger strikes, peregrinations complete with crucifixes, and celebratory Masses part of his campaign. In Flanagan's view, his determination to pursue equality in this devout and "hard way"--her words can barely hide her rueful smile at how "the mighty Berkeley Co-op," where she once worked fundraisers for the UFW, and where "shoppers (each one a part owner) went in to buy no-frills, honestly purveyed, and often unappealing food", has been replaced by a Whole Foods chain store--is what best accounts for his ultimate susceptibility to cult-thinking, paranoia, and irrelevance. "Like most '60s radicals...[Chavez] vastly overestimated the appeal of hard times an simple living...as everyone from the Symbionese Liberation Army to the Black Panthers would discover, nobody actually wants to be poor". Hitchens, as one might expect, takes Gandhi's opposition to modern complexity and meritocracy even further, suggesting that his campaign to free India from British rule really has more in common with the reactionary attitude of Wahhabism and Islamic fundamentalism generally, than anything that can be called humane. Dismissing the idea that justice and equality can be rooted in what he labels (invoking again his well-known attacks on Mother Teresa, attacks which I think are actually quite persuasive...just not in the way Hitchens supposes) "redemption by self-abnegation", he concludes that Gandhi's vision for India revealed him to be a "friend of poverty" rather than a friend to the poor, and moreover reveals him to be a believer in what he caustically calls the "grotesque" and "conceited" notion that "the meek should inherit the Earth".

What do these articles, or the examples of Chavez and Gandhi for that matter, have to do with the argument about liberalism, neoliberalism, and the left? Perhaps only this: as a long-time reader (and really, an admirer) of Matt Ygelsias, I'm fairly confident that his opinions about Chavez and Gandhi would be substantially the same as those Flanagan and Hitchens laid out...and he wouldn't be alone amongst those pundits and economists and lawyers who have developed the monetarist, nudging, neoliberal approach to increasing egalitarianism in finding a lot of sympathy with those views. Chavez and Gandhi were, well, saints--meaning people who are, as George Orwell famously put it, "anti-human" and "judged guilty until proven innocent", and if there's anything which liberalism in all its varieties prides itself on being, it's human--grounded in the human experience, addressing the needs and wants of the human individual, taking seriously solely that which pertains to the human being present before you. That's a powerful and important force for equality...but it's not the only one, and not necessarily the best one, especially if you open you eyes to historical, structural forces (one of which might very well be sin) which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the solitary individual before you, whatever rights she may possess, to be able to equally enjoy the goods of society. Taking on those unequal structures requires a perception and conviction which very well can--and I think, more often than not, usually does--incorporate elements of the liberal, even technocratic, idea: after all, why wouldn't one want to make use of tax credits and hidden subsidies if that serves to accomplish one's immediate ends? But a serious--call it "utopian," if you will, in the spirit of Erik Olin Wright's excellent book--effort to actually empower the meek in their places and in their lives (as opposed to promising job retraining and college loans to help them join the elite)...well, that's going to require structural work, and structural work will require a comprehensive vision of some sort. Liberalism alone can't get you there.

The power and appeal of liberal modernity it obvious, and as a consequence late capitalism probably isn't going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. The problem--for us on the left, and for everyone else--is what follows when some assume that, because it's not going anywhere, there is little reason to imagine anything beyond it, and it is just too-frustrating-to-be-worth-it to attempt to argue for a way of believing, acting, organizing, and sacrificing which it might at the structures of capitalism, and point in a different, more equal direction beyond it. Some will always assume that, of course; not everyone is going to find anything remotely appealing about saints. But I would hope that there will always be some believers attempting to articulate something a little bit more comprehensive, and perhaps even keep alive some of the means (most particularly unions, but there are others as well) by which those more comprehensive, structural challenges can make a political dent in the system.. It's a way to keep up leftward pressure on the neoliberals, at any rate.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer Soundtrack Friday Morning Videos: "Purple Rain"

Though I've returned from our vacation, and took a Harry Potter break last week I think I'm going to keep this feature running for the remainder of the summer, if only because some of these videos are pretty hard to find online, and I don't want my hard work to go to waste. This is a good example: Prince is very protective of his artistic property, so you won't find this available for embedding on Youtube. Which is too bad, really, as the movie deserves it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

That's About Right

Biking in to work this morning, at 9:30am, and seeing as I passed a bank sign that it was already 91 degrees out, I figured this had to be part of the explanation. (Via The Pantagraph.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

What 3900 Miles in a Toyota Sienna Can Bring You

So, about our long family journey--we left on Saturday, June 25, arrived home on Monday July 11, and in those 17 days had some wonderful times. (Some bad times too--uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, disagreements and arguments, mixed up schedules, etc.--but they were thoroughly outnumbered by the good times.) Most of what happened involved all of us together, making memories, laughing, and exhausting ourselves (and sometimes annoying each other) as we tramped from one site or city or family to another, but, for those who care, here's a selection of some of my favorite moments.

A little personal introspection:

It was overpriced, and I was probably the only one in the family to truly enjoy it (hence my spending about 90 minutes wandering around by myself), but I loved the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

Getting as close as I could to Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, NY. No one else in the family wanted to get as soaked as I got that cool and misty morning. It was stunning.

Visiting the site of Henry David Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, in Concord, MA.

A good number of my friends are the sort who find the sentiments inscribed on this marker, and the whole mystique which surrounds Thoreau's experiment with "simplicity", so precious as to be gag-worthy, if not simply outright nonsense and pretension. I disagree with them, to put it lightly.

Food matters, of course:

While walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, we stopped for some absolutely delectable cannoli at the famed Mike's Pastry in Boston's North End near Paul Revere's house. All sorts of flavors, and every single one of them were quickly consumed...

...as the picture attests.

In New York City there was also some really, really good pizza at Franscsco's Pizzeria (too bad none of the inside pics turned out)...

...as well as some homemade pastrami, which my old pal Ross Bailey and friend of his had slaved over, following the strict instructions of another friend of ours, Nick Zukin, co-founder of Portland's Kenny & Zukes. I was fantastic.

Most importantly though, there's spending time with friends, old and new:

Spending a hot Sunday evening wandering around Laumeier Sculpture Park with John and Rosalynde Welch and our families, St. Louis, MO.

Getting a personal guided tour around Harvard Yard in Cambridge, MA, through the generosity of our friend (and Dialogue boss!) Kristine Haglund, a Harvard alumni herself.

Ross, Ashton, and Wendy Bailey, our guides to New York City, in Morris Plains, NJ.

Finally, Ross and I meeting up with Damon Linker and Noah Millman at a cool outdoor lunch spot near Damon's Newsweek/Daily Beast office on the west side of Manhattan, New York City. Ross and I walked the High Line for a while after this lunch, and that just might have been the highlight of the whole trip for me.

There's a lot more I could put up: a wonderfully intimate guided tour of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House; a beautiful, sunny day swimming in the shockingly cold Atlantic ocean at Hampton Beach, NH; spending time at church historical sites like Kirtland, OH and Palmyra, NY...but that's enough for now. It was a great trip.

St. Hogwart's Fire (or, Hogwarts 90210)

Jacob Levy linked me to this old cartoon by Lucy Knisley over the weekend, guessing that I'd be pretty much it's perfect target audience:

He's not wrong: between my general HP madness and my fondness for 80s pop culture, surely this is the sort of thing I'd drool over. The problem, however, is Knisley's casting: she gets some basic roles wrong, which I argued with Jacob and others, including Melissa, over the weekend. So let's set things straight here and now. If Jo Rowling had been American, and been hit by inspiration roughly 15 years earlier, the resulting movies would have looked like this:

Michael J. Fox as Harry Potter (short, enormously decent, with obsessive undercurrents)

Eric Stoltz as Ron Weasley (tall, red-headed, and constantly being upstaged by Harry (see the Back to the Future saga for proof))

Sarah Jessica Parker as Hermione Granger (the cartoon suggests Brooke Shields, I suspect primarily on the basis of the hair, but SJP is no slouch in that regard)

Mary Stuart Masterson as Luna Lovegood (blonde, spooky eyes, and sweetly and innocently insane)

John Cusack as Neville Longbottom (nebbishy and put-upon when young, but grows up to become a dorky, nerdy, kick-ass superman)

Molly Ringwald as Ginny Weasley (red-haired, mouthy, a complete romantic, yet doesn't take crap from anyone)

Billy Zabka as Draco Malfoy (in this version, obviously, Draco would have no need of Crabbe or Goyle, but we can make it work)

James Sikking as Arthur Weasley (if he can parent Doogie Howswer, then you know he could handle the Weasley clan)

Edie McClurg as Molly Weasley (just picture her saying, with that prim, sweet smile, "Not my daughter, you bitch!")

Jeffery Jones as Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge (the jokes write themselves, obviously)

And finally, Christopher Lloyd as Albus Dumbledore (here there I can be no questions, I presume)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pötterdämmerung (or, It Ends, Again)

[Art by RLKarnes, here.]

Well, we're back from vacation. And just in time for the Twilight of the Gods, Potter-style--or in other words, a midnight showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2", which finished up about seven hours ago. Don't look for much of a review of the film here; I'll say something about it, but I've more to say about the whole HP thing, and the mixed joy and sadness I felt as the movie came to close. No Friday Morning Video this morning, folks; throwing up some old pop music video today would seem almost...disrespectful.

Take a peak around the web, and it's obvious: us fans are melancholy, exhilarated, and wistful. An odd mixture, that--but then, this has been an odd journey. It comes to an end--or at least, some sort of "end", even if the passion doesn't fade (though it almost surely will)--with a movie that contained almost no surprises; we just wanted to see it, with these actors, on the big screen. The story almost wasn't the point--we've known how it ends for four years now, and have had all that time to deal with it, reflect upon it, and even amend it (if we're inclined towards fan fiction, as I am). Moreover, we've known that Rowling's story wasn't a grand epic, though it often read like and affected us like one. It wasn't the sort of story that invited emotional revolutions or world-historical analogies: it was just the story of a boy, however much Rowling (and the script-writers who followed in her wake) arguably struggled with the very different, heavier, stranger, darker, more mature story within the bildungsroman which she, until the very last word, insisted (perhaps most crucially to herself) that she really was writing. We know all that. And we know that these films we love are, well, just adaptations: just riffs on the essential tale. So why were we--and here I mean the hundreds people who, like me and my oldest daughter, watched the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows Part 2 at our local theater earlier tonight (one of whom stood up a few minutes before the movie began, loudly called for everyone's attention, and then proposed to his girlfriend in front a cheering, costumed crowd), and I mean the millions more across the world who did the same early this morning--so caught up in it all? Caught up to, dare I say it, a Wagnerian degree?

I would suggest this partial explanation: because in a world where a relatively small amount of disposable income, a smattering of education, and the presence of some sort of mass media environment makes possible the emergence a participatory fan culture--of a fandom, in other words--the objects of fan affection don't take on the character of gods...but they do take on the character of a shared and venerated set of referents; they become something that, in however small way, we orient ourselves towards and around. In a sense, I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said by social psychologists and cultural historians about kings and Hollywood actors and athletic stars for generations: geeking out over a person, to say nothing of a story or practice or art, is a particular part of human nature (maybe not every human's nature, but more than a few of us). The fact that this particular obsession takes the form of following through on a narrative that's already been enacted for us already, on page, doesn't necessarily change the way it works. At least not for me; as a member of this community of fans, I needed too see this film, to be part of it and all the joys and controversies and debates which surrounded it, perhaps even more because I knew how it ends.

Okay, this makes it all sound entirely performative and ritualistic, and of course it wasn't. I really did want to see how they handled Harry and Professor McGonagall and Neville and the Order of the Phoenix and the whole of Dumbledore's Army confronting Snape and organizing Hogwarts against Voldemort's attack (absolutely my favorite part of the movie, crammed with all sorts of wonderful character moments and visuals and dialogue, as was the battle itself, though I must register a strong dissent at killing off Lavender.) I really did want to see how they handled the Chamber of Secrets scene with Ron and Hermione (not what it could have been--I would have liked a little more dialogue, and by the way, why did we get the whole room exploding in water and drenching them, instead of, for example, that water attacking Hermione, as the Horcrux-locket fought back against Ron?--but it was wonderful that it was on screen at all). I really did want to see Ciarán Hinds as Aberforth Dumbledore (very nice, but his scenes were compromised by the fact that, throughout both parts of "Deathly Hallows", Kloves and Yates never did figure out how--or perhaps never even seriously attempted--to explain why Dumbledore's backstory or family were important to Harry's choices at all). And I really did want to see how they handled the revelation of Snape's ultimate loyalty and tragedy (to which I have to disagree with the emerging critical consensus: while Snape's final moments with Voldemort and Harry were dramatic and powerful, I found the pensieve scene rushed and not a little incoherent--seriously filmmakers, would it have killed you to give the single most important sequence in the entire story of Snape from all seven books five additional freaking minutes of screen time?). So no: it wasn't all ritual and performance; I really was curious about, excited and anxious about this final movie, and I really did cheer as the all the work which went into it came to an end. But let me be honest: there's almost no way I could have disliked the movie last night, and definitely no way I would have missed it (though the midnight showing was perhaps a little much). I'm too much a fan, too caught up in the exultation and sorrow and reflections of this concluding moment, for it to have been otherwise.

And now? Well, it was nice seeing the Epilogue from the book on screen, but I really kind of wish the film had ended with that wonderful scene of the trio standing on the broken down bridge to Hogwarts castle, Harry having broken and thrown the Elder wand into the abyss, leaving our heroes with no magical ties left to the curse of Voldemort, and simply standing, holding hands, and staring into their future. Like the somber artwork at the beginning of this post, that's the moment I think the movie should have ended upon--since, after all, that's where all us fans are standing as well. Having gone through it all, we wonder what comes next (Pottermore, perhaps!).

Not that everything about the fan experience has been, or ever will be, somber: one of the great joys of Rowling's works, and the whole fandom her work inspired, has been the humor, the whimsy, the silliness, the defiance, the delight of it all. I'm talking about The Mysterious Ticking Noise (which another group of fans before the showing last night started chanting out for all of us); I'm talking about Wizard People (beware--not child appropriate); I'm talking about A Very Potter Musical; I'm talking about thousands of gags and stunts and parodies online. But for now, I'm thinking of the more somber stuff out there--the expressions of devotion that take the deepness lurking about Rowling's story, and turn it into something that captures both the sadness and the fulfillment us true fans feel. (Start with the "documentary," The Battle of Hogwarts, easily the best fan film I've yet seen, and go from there.) And if you want to try to understand how we feel, staring out into a future in which we've done pretty much everything any Harry Potter fan could offer their Gods, you could given this video a listen:

And, since we live in the age of the mash-up, this one as well:

It's nearly 11am CST, the day after my own personal Pötterdämmerung; I've survived, and I'm happy I went through it all. And if Rowling writes another book...I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Summer Soundtrack Friday Morning Videos: "If You Leave"

Not much that can be said about this one, is there? From what was pretty clearly John Hughes's best work, I think.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Obligatory Canada Day Post

We interrupt this vacation to provide the essential geek/Canada Day image for all my comic-book reading friends north of the 49th parallel (Jacob is actually the only one I can think of right now, but I'm sure there are others). Enjoy!

If you need more, there's always this.

Summer Soundtrack Friday Morning Videos: "I Can Dream About You"

For the longest time, the only video version of this song I was aware of was this one, and hence I assumed Dan Hartman was black. Thank goodness the internet has made it possible for no one in the future to make a similar embarrassing mistake.

I started watching this movie once, actually, but gave up on it before it got very far, which is rare for me. I suppose some people like it though.