John Mahoney as W.P. Mayhew

“The truth, my honey, is a tart that does not bear scrutiny.”

There are many Johns in the Coen brothers’ weird thriller Barton Fink (Turturro, Goodman, Polito), but the chameleonic Mahoney, playing a tragic caricature of William Faulkner, always stood out to me. An ostensible gentleman with a pleasing Southern accent, Mayhew is a lot like the movie’s protagonist: a celebrated writer who’s sold himself to Hollywood, he’s a bit haughty, a bit selfish, and completely incapable of listening. He’s also a raging drunk and a woman-beater, a man we’d easily hate if he didn’t seem so sad, so lost, and so lonely.

You know what? Maybe I should just stop here. As much as I love Mayhew’s character, there’s little I can say about him that could provide any unseen insights. I think you’d do better to read this little celebration of Mahoney’s great work, and assume that its views mirror my own.

Why Are You Still With Him?

See, this is what I’m talking about.

There’s this documentary called Radio Bikini that came out in the 80s. It’s about an A-bomb test that the United States military pulled shortly after the end of World War II. They blew up a couple of atomic bombs over a bucolic tropical island called Bikini Atoll, and then sent a detachment of soldiers to play around in the irradiated blast zone. The purpose was, purportedly, to observe the effects of the bomb on the environment. The event was heavily advertised, and all the television networks reported on it like kids chattering about their great new toy. Sprinkled between the gung-ho patriotism are interviews with a displaced Bikini native, and one of the soldiers who was sent into the test site. It’s a disturbing true story of blatant, human hubris.

Here’s the movie, in case you’re curious about it.

I first saw Radio Bikini in 1993, in my high school Physics class. I still remember the shock of the conclusion, when the camera pulled back to reveal the effects that fallout had left on the poor veteran. I wasn’t mature enough to really appreciate the film, though, so I watched it again recently. It stung far worse than it did before. Out of curiosity, I looked for reviews about the film that might provide unique perspectives on the material.

That’s when I found this:

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Oh dear. So much to talk about.

First off: all movies are emotionally manipulative, okay? If a movie doesn’t make you feel something, than it’s failed as a movie.

Second: There is original material here. The interviews. Was he trying to knock the film for using actual footage to make a point?

Third: The guy says he likes this documentary a lot, but then backpedals and says it’s only enjoyable for “hippies and leftists.” Right, because only left-wingers would appreciate a story about the dangers of nuclear weapons. How much of your spine must you be missing to say something like this? Is this man’s allegiance to his political party so overwhelming that he’s unable to recognize the basic human folly, and the cruelty in this film? Did he forget what species he belongs to? It’s always the same tired deflection: if it’s a movie about something stupid that our nation has done, it’s obviously a media/Hollyweird/libtard hit-job. This dude needs to untangle himself from the Reaganite circle-jerk and look at the world the way that a human being does.

Finally: the credential. By closing with “God Bless America,” the man reveals his brainwashing. He refuses to acknowledge that his precious America once misled its own citizens, condemning them to pain and disfigurement, and he buries his head in its bosom with complete forgiveness. I love my country too, but to dismiss an event like this and only show anger to the people who report it is insane. It’s like getting smacked around the kitchen by your lover, and then getting mad at your friend who calls the cops about it. Then it’s like refusing to press charges, running up and kissing the lover, and saying, “Don’t worry, I know you didn’t mean it.” What the fuck is wrong with people? What happened to self-respect and responsibility?

Governments are not God, okay? They are not infallible, and they do not deserve blind worship. They are institutions of humanity, and therefore must be flawed. Hell, the Bible is full of stories about flawed rulers. Why doesn’t anybody remember that? If this joker above actually cared about God at all, he’d understand this. Maybe then he’d recognize the awful things that were done to God’s creations in this film, and adjust his viewpoint a little bit.

Well the good news is that nothing like this could ever happen again. It’s not like the government is spying on us, right? Surely if some violation of our civil rights was going on, we wouldn’t blame the person who told us about it, would we? Or do we need another black eye before we stop defending our abusive boyfriend?

Everything I Hate about DeviantArt…

…conveniently smushed together in one picture.

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Does this offend you? Good. Did I offend you? Good! We’ve established an important boundary. Let’s move on.

Six-Thousand Pages of Torture Porn (Or: America is Awesome!)

Day Six, The Torture Report: So the hottest whips ‘n’ chains story since Fifty Shades came out last week, and all anyone’s doing is griping about it. You just can’t trust those market trends, can you?

Turns out that the U.S.A., God-appointed bearer of the gleaming sword of liberty, has been committing war crimes for the last ten years: torturing detainees, both guilty and innocent, in some mighty creative ways. Seriously, Christian Grey’s got nothing on our boys in uniform. I wonder how Dick Cheney must feel. After all his sales pitching about how we’re the “good guys,” this has to be embarrassing.

Oh wait, I forgot: Dick Cheney doesn’t get embarrassed. Like the rest of his buddies, he never apologizes, never pauses to say “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” never evinces any sign of soul-searching whatsoever. Nope, after this report came out, his reaction was to call it a load of hooey, and to paint the monstrous behavior described therein as completely justified, even though the report flat out states that torture does about jack-shit at the job of extracting information.

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Gosh, what a kind and loving man. I can see why people worship and defend him. He puts me in mind of a disingenuous huckster who sells you a used car but doesn’t tell you about the engine until after it’s set you on fire.

Big Dick: “Trust me, we’ll be greeted as liberators. It’ll all be over in six months. Everyone will be safe, terrorist attacks will stop, chocolate will rain from the sky, it’ll be great.”

Us: “Fuck yeah! Let’s do it…hey! You didn’t tell me we’d be hated by the rest of the world!”

Big Dick: “Yeah, you’re going to get that when you go into a long occupation like this. Sorry, no refunds.”

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell gave the usual tired spiel about how revealing crimes the US commits somehow makes the terrorists stronger, makes Americans less safe, blah blah blah etc etc etc. He was also heard muttering through his false teeth, “I remember the days when old white men could do whatever they wanted and nobody would dare to complain!” Then he went back to ranting about how gay Mexicans stealing our health care are the REAL problem.

Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn

Droves of angry people ran to the airwaves to denounce the report as well, saying that its writers hate America, and are determined to besmirch the nation’s image. I find this troubling, because it tells me that some folks just can’t stand the idea that their government might do something bad. They don’t want to hear it, they don’t want to look at it. They’d rather willfully delude themselves into thinking America is “awesome,” and shout down anyone who would point out a flaw. These are the same people who send you family photos full of perfect shining smiles, and whose kids win all the school awards and sports trophies and never seem to have any problems. Does anyone like being around people like that?

Just when the excuses and deflection were getting embarrassing, John McCain stepped up and showed the rest of those cowards in the Senate what a human being sounds like. I won’t paraphrase him, because I can’t do it justice:

Where the hell was this guy hiding? I hope he shows up more often.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t entirely agree with him. I don’t think the US can burnish its image just by changing interrogation techniques. The stains run too deep. You do know why these atrocities were committed, right? The news doesn’t seem all that interested these days (Taylor Swift just released an album after all), but there’s a freaking WAR going on. It’s not supposed to be pretty. Nobody plays nice in war; torture is GOING TO HAPPEN. It is a symptom of a greater disease, a disease that we, the citizens of the United States, are responsible for. You can’t pump your fist, slap a yellow ribbon sticker on the back of your SUV, and then lower your head and cover your eyes when things get ugly. Instead of whining about how hideous the sores make you look, why don’t you take steps to kill the infection?

Ending torture won’t restore our honor anyway. So long as this foolish “War on Terror” continues, more horrible things will crop up. Supporters of the war (read: investors) don’t want their dirty dealings to end, so they’re trying to keep the focus on the crimes themselves, rather than the cause. Don’t listen to them. The fictional WMDs, the return of the Taliban, the shame of Abu Ghraib, the Unknown Knowns, and the hundreds of young Americans coming back dead or paralyzed: they’re all branches grown of the same root. The day we regain our status and become worthy of the world’s goodwill again is the day this war stops.