political awareness olympics

I don’t want to talk about the shooting that happened today in Connecticut.  I don’t, because there is nothing to say – nothing I could possibly say – except it is horrifying and heartbreaking. It will be brandished in headlines everywhere, the privacies of the families effected will be for weeks invaded, they will, at least in the eyes of the media, be reduced to this single event, and soon this circus will drop out of existence and spring up and suck the last drop of publicity and sensationalism out of a tragedy elsewhere.

There are always vampires lurking, waiting to use these events to their advantage.

And the most cowardly type are those who I have seen today, and on other occasions, updating their petty little social networking pages about how this “isn’t real tragedy” and how we all (meaning those of us who are touched by the awful things that happen close to home) “don’t know what tragedy is.” Then, they usually go on to talk about war and foreign policy, and this ill-timed and self-masturbatory speech is usually incredibly poorly informed and especially dickish. These people love becoming a little parasite on the backs of events larger than themselves – especially when those events cause others grief and pain – because it is their chance (they seem to think) to look like they are so globally sensitive and well-informed and smart.

They will almost always only rally against worldwide injustices when something happens that people feel terrible about en masse.

An example: after the teenager from Coquitlam, Amanda Todd, killed herself because of bullying, I saw not one but SEVERAL facebook groups spring up with titles about how “Amanda Todd Doesn’t Matter” with banner pages featuring only the most grotesque images of war, famine, and dead children.

There are a lot of things that make me want to punch through my computer screen on a daily basis, but this really got to me in a special way.

If you really cared about those things, why are you using someone else’s name – the name of a victim – to draw attention to other tragedies? If you truly, really cared and were informed about such matters there would be absolutely no need to invoke and make small another tragedy in order to prove you are “so evolved” and not a “slave to the media.”

The thing is, people who really and truly are educated about violence know that violence is one and the same, perpetrated one place or another, it is always a tragedy. Nothing is “more” tragic or “less” tragic when it comes to violent deaths, they are all acts of immense violation and horror, and cannot and should not be measured against one another.

In fact, those who truly do care about war and foreign policy usually show the most compassion in events like this, because they are what these vampires pretend to be: actually intelligent and compassionate.

Funny thing – none of those who I have seen today who suddenly have sprouted a global awareness that dwarfs all others ever once talk about injustices except when one has occurred on home soil (or close to) and then suddenly, they whip out the fallacy of attempting to compare violence with violence. Death with death. Victims with victims. If they sat down and thought for half a moment, they’d see it’s all the same and all worth our hearts and emotions.

But they don’t see that because it’s all about ego. And only the most pathetically sociopathic use tragedy to elevate themselves.

You just look like assholes.

It is absolutely and undeniably true that injustices and war and slavery and everything else that occurs around the world on a daily basis and that we, as residences of the developed world, consistently benefit from these things and enjoy a certain standard of living because of the awful shit that goes on elsewhere, and it is also absolutely true that this should not be censored from media but should take precedence and even wipe out pointless celebrity-based stories or weight loss tips.

Our society has it’s priorities right fucking messed up.

So these egotistical assholes aren’t entirely wrong – they are, in a selfish and roundabout way, identifying a real issue that desperately needs reform. But it is a huge issue, and it confuses and angers and saddens me when there are those who decide only to bring it up when people are reeling in the wake of disaster.

And rationally, a shooting leads to pondering other tragedies, which is good in a sense because suddenly our awareness and scope is torn open and we are forced to confront the monsters we try to ignore on a regular basis.

Thing is, people who use one monster to force the hand of their personal agenda are part of the fucking problem.

Don’t be stupid.

Don’t be an asshole.

Allow people to feel genuinely for a great and horrible event without making it all about you, you privileged infantile fuck.

Who Owns a Fucking Gas Mask?

endisnear

Sorry, everyone.

The world won’t end on the 21st of this year.

I know, I know, you’re all disappointed, not relieved. Or maybe still clinging to the belief that the Mayans were right, and shit is gonna go down hard in nine days.

I’ve been quietly cultivating the theory that our generation wants nothing more than to watch it all burn. Oh god, the tantalizing prospect of the world “ending” is euphoric. Everything the generations we were birthed out of, the generations that have culminated in us, gone.

All predicated on the belief that we can do it better.

If only someone wiped the slate for us. Say, an asteroid, an errant planet, any number of disasters.

Also predicated on the misguided belief that we would definitely survive that shit.

We wouldn’t be the heroes the world wants, but the heroes the world needs.

I could probably frame this, and would have probably framed this had I still been pursuing ‘higher’ education, within the comfortable confines of the Freudian ‘Death Drive’. But I won’t. Well, not right now at least.

Mostly though, at least here in the developed world, those of us who have never faced extreme poverty would be pissing ourselves and crying over lack of a hot shower or easy access to food.

Really, the “end of the world” would reveal what maladjusted, ill-equipped, infantile and infinitely needy babies we all really are. There would be no sweet vigilantism, no great utopia waiting for us on the other side of fallout. There’d just be misery and bullshit.

But we want it anyway because right now, something’s wrong. Actually, a lot of things are, and we want instant gratification, not the slow snail-paced change that seems to be taking forever to take root. After all, we’re just in time to be too late. December 21st, 2012, is our great hope. Maybe, just maybe, this time it will all be real.

With nothing holding us back, we could do better.

Let’s take a stroll back on some of the other ideas that came from “we could do better.”

“Discovering” America, which led to manifest destiny and genocide, and, a few hundred years later, the final death cries of the American Dream, which never really manifested itself. What a legacy “doing it better” leaves behind. And that’s just one obvious example. History is littered with other failures born out of the idea that “we can do it, but better.”

Like remote controls with infinitely more buttons. HD television. Hell, 3D television.

It used to be we’d go into space if we wanted to do better.  Develop some life-saving vaccination and eradicate smallpox.

And then we didn’t.

Sure, there are people who, quietly, have been forging onward with these pursuits, but in between reruns of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shore, you don’t hear much about them.

(Look, I love HD TV and Jersey Shore, so don’t think I’m knocking all the awesome shit we have.)

The end of civilization at least as we’ve come to understand it, “civilization” that provides comforts, pre-ordained desires and roles, will come. It’s already rolling in. Don’t worry kids, it’ll happen. You just gotta be patient. And I know MTV or Spike TV’s “Manswers” hasn’t really taught you the virtue of that, but you’ll see.

The “end of the world” isn’t going to be a spectacular, dazzling one-off fireworks show. It won’t be a single “whoopsie daisy” on the part of a nuclear warhead operator. It will be us, slowly but surely, eating ourselves alive and then, when we’ve picked our own bones clean, setting into the future and selling out our own grandchildren to satisfy greed that we live daily denying we are party to.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. We are fucked, and it’s a lot worse than we’d like to imagine.

The apocalypse fantasy has been so prevalent and gaining momentum in popular culture – you see it everywhere. Video game franchises. Movies. Books. All this depressing shit that everyone is eating up. What’s funny is that is all a diversion from what is really happening here. The mythos about the collapse of civilization hasn’t come correct. Gas masks and AK47s are a lovely fantasy, as are hippie utopias, but look. That shit isn’t the case. Who owns a fucking gas mask? (Okay I do, but it doesn’t work, it’s a WWI Canadian issue masks so like, that tells you something right there. Also it smells like 50-year-old ass.)

During the Cold War, less than 1% of Americans had bomb shelters, even when the threat of nuclear war seemed extremely real.

What does that tell you?

We are creatures of habit and denial.

And even though we’re watching it all happen, when everything finally exhales it’s last, pitiful breath even as we’re still pillaging and wanting more, we’ll still stand around after scratching our heads.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like that!

We can do better!

If we can, in fact, do better, I suggest we stop sitting around with our thumbs up our asses and actually do something, instead of counting on some fallout to do all the dirty work for us.

We are the reigning champs of passing the buck.

Oh, and you know what else won’t happen this year – just in case you’re on the less depressing train of a “global shift of consciousness” en masse – you’re just as delusional. You’re not gonna listen to some asshole tell you that on the internet because we all have our personal poison of denial in order to make it through the day, and hell, I don’t listen to assholes on the internet, but it’s true. There is no “higher state of consciousness,” there is simply a breaking point where we’re forced to adapt.

Luckily for us, we’re also the reigning champs of adapting, which make us a particular annoyance to like, all other life forms on this planet.

Like many of you, I am a little bummed that, in fact, planet Niburu or whatever the fuck doesn’t exist and won’t knock us out of orbit or whatever was supposed to happen.  That there’s no great asteroid heading our way at warp speed.  That there is nobody and nothing that will be responsible for our demise other than ourselves.

It sucks, true.

Because that means we are responsible for our actions, and we are only beginning to face the very real, and very, very, frightening consequences.

So here’s hoping that once December 21st passes without incident, except maybe a few misguided people drinking laced kool-aid in bunkers (please don’t, really, don’t, not for this reason at least, it is the worst reason), we can finally start cleaning up the mess we’ve made and been wallowing up until now. There are things worth saving, but we really need to sort out what those are. It’s not a mystery, really. But it will be hard going.

Some asshole on the internet said it best:

“Being a pessimist is great … I’m either always right or pleasantly surprised.”

Here’s raising a glass to a future of being pleasantly surprised.

RAVENOUS: Meat, Masculinity and Manifest Destiny

ImageIn researching wendigo myths for a fiction project I’ve been working on, I figured I’d break from the academic and historic articles and watch the 1999 film Ravenous, starring Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle and directed by Antonia Bird. Ravenous is a darkly humorous satire that is fantastically skewering and clever. Set in 1840’s California, the film revolves around cannibalism, specifically invoking the Wendigo myth against a cultural backdrop of Manifest Destiny and the budding American Dream. Throughout the use of the story of the wendigo, the movie explores indoctrinated violence and the “masculine” act of meat consumption, repressed homosexuality and colonialism.

The movie begins with Captain John Boyd (Pearce) receiving a medal for single-handedly capturing an enemy base during the Mexican-American war.  After being presented with the medal, he is seated for a steak dinner with his fellow officers; a dinner that he can’t stomach, and is later berated for being unable to keep down.

Image

VIOLENCE & MEAT CONSUMPTION

In today’s western culture, you ain’t a real man unless you’re eating bacon by the pound, and having a near-sexual relationship with steak. Many meat-related commercials only vaguely attempt to disguise metaphoric imagery of what amounts to a man fucking meat. It is a ridiculous attitude with numerous health and environmental pitfalls, and Ravenous makes eating meat seem putrid and vile while showcasing this masculine love-affair with cooked flesh. In fact, as you’ll see later, this salacious boner-inducing flesh-consumption-sex segways into embedded homoeroticism and the subsequent and ingrained denial of (and this ties back into channelling homoerotic desire into “acceptable venues” like sports or violence).

Image

When Captain Boyd is seated to eat the much-coveted steak dinner, we see a rare steak, completely lacking any kind of sauce or flavouring, with flies buzzing around it in the summer heat. While his comrades in arms eagerly scarf their portions (with appetizing close-ups to their juice-drizzled faces), Captain Boyd simply stares at this flesh on his plate. Lacking any dressing, the meat is exactly that: dead flesh. It’s completely naked and without the usual mealtime trappings people enjoy dousing upon sliced up corpse, it looks startlingly indistinguishable from human flesh (I’d encourage you to google autopsy photos and then go to your local meat counter. Pork is the closest meat to human flesh, in taste, texture, etc. but you’ll notice that sliced up, most mammals are pretty indistinguishable). As Captain Boyd stares at his meat while others have a consumptive love affair theirs, he has flashbacks to the battlefield – an obvious reality check that war heroism is scarcely ever the beautiful heroics we are so trained to accept.  Boyd played dead and ended up behind enemy lines, and after being buried under the stacked corpses of his fellow soldiers, he inadvertently swallows a hefty amount of their blood that trickles down from their wounds, but he’s trapped and unable to escape. However, by consuming their bodily fluid, he becomes strengthened, emboldened and manages to single-handedly capture the enemy’s base, which in turn results in his medal for “bravery”.

But after the ceremony and his sadly impotent inability to eat meat without vomiting at the sight of it, his superior reprimands him and sends him to Northern California because his is, after all, a “coward.”

REPRESSED HOMOEROTICISM: “The potency of someone else pulsing through your veins”

Robert Carlyle’s character of dual-identities, the frontiersman Colqhoun, who arrives near-dead and freezing outside the fort and subsequently leads the men into a trap so he can eat them, and Colonel Ives, the “real” Colqhoun, who is a high-ranking and respected military official, is the most likable character(s) in Ravenous. Although a villain, Ives is more like a much more playful Lestat (Interview With the Vampire) to Boyd’s much more pathetic Louis. Ives is entirely at ease with his cannibalism, and is eager to “recruit” Boyd to his lifestyle. Their tense relationship is fraught with frustration, desire and denial of desire, and is very near to a comedic romance. Ives makes being a wendigo look, well, appetizing.

Boyd’s relationship with Colqhoun/Ives is where the satire of the movie most obvious. It’s easy to see the metaphor for homosexuality in their relationship, and the portrayal of “giving in” to the pleasures of the flesh of another man, and the nourishment one can derive from it. Ives is salubrious, strong, healthy and despite being cast as the villain, completely charming. Boyd on the other hand constantly struggles with his emasculating “cowardice” that models of masculinity have consistently berated him and bullied him for. For a large portion of the movie, Boyd is Ives’s prisoner as Ives attempts to sway Boyd into embracing cannibalism. While Ives effectively hides his cannibalistic nature while in the social realm, Boyd can’t quite seem to manage the same camouflage, often appearing disheveled and half crazed. But Ives sees in Boyd the same urges that are within him, and between the two we see the conflict between repression and liberation. As Ives tries to “recruit” Boyd, their relationship begins to become hilariously homoerotic.

Image

Boyd never consumes the flesh of a man without heavy amounts of shame, apprehension and regret. Although he is told that there is no “cure” for being a wendigo, he persists in denying the  very thing that he is. Ives has fully embraced his nature, and only wishes Boyd would as well. In this sense, he’s not especially a villain but something much more nourishing. Ives doesn’t want Boyd to live repressed, and as he feeds the weakened Boyd soup made from the flesh of a man, he is effectively healing Boyd, and makes remarks throughout the film that are laden with sexual overtones, commenting on the “potency” of another pulsing through your veins. The act of consuming human flesh is literally having someone inside you, which mimics the act of sex.

Although consuming meat and reveling in it together is an acceptable male-bonding pass-time, and even a culturally promoted one, it’s hard to deny the sanctioned homoeroticism of it. It is an indulgence in flesh, and the “celebrated” trope of men and their barbecues and man parties centered around the consumption of meat has become the hallmark of rugged masculinity. (In fact, society has tried to make meat consumption associated with heteronormative men for so long that the disingenuous “holiday” was created focusing on the two straightest possible things: steaks and blow jobs.  But steak and a blow job day is missing an important component: nobody said the blow job had to be given by a woman.)

In another sexually tense scene, we see Ives voluntarily removing his shirt so Boyd and other military men can see if Ives still bears a wound where he was shot (presumably to prove Boyd’s accusations against Ives). Ives flirtatiously and coyly removes his shirt, while stating “my last physical examination was not so long ago, surely Major Knox has no desire to hear me…cough”(implying of course that one of the men present should be holding his penis).  Finally, after a near-striptease, Ives reveals his bare and unmarred shoulder to the men in the room while staring down Boyd with an unnerving sexual air as he reveals his flesh. The gesture is decidedly classically “feminine” and calls to mind the old hollywood sex symbols of decades past.

Image

There is also a notable and highly sexualized scene where Ives has Boyd’s blood on his fingers and, in mid-conversation with Boyd, stops to sniff his fingers – a gesture normally associated with vulgar reference to “straight” sex – a man smells his fingers, or tells another man to, to share the odour of a woman’s genitals and revel in sexual conquest. The blood on his fingers while performing this gesture also calls to mind menstrual blood – which is ironic considering the homosexual overtones and very lack of the fertility that menstrual blood implies. Culturally, however, engaging in sexual activity while a woman is on her period is often considered taboo, lending yet another layer of discomfort to this scene. Ives is playing at tantalizing Boyd with the blood and tempting Boyd’s desire for flesh – and it works. The “coup de grace” of this gesture is when Ives seductively relishes sucking the blood from his fingers as Boyd looks on, tied up and Ives’s prisoner, and can only salivate.

Image

In the end, Boyd and Ives reach a critical conflict, culminating in Boyd managing to trap both of them in a massive bear-trap. When the trap shuts, they are in an embrace not unlike lovers, and engage in a brief, whispered conversation before both die. Ives tells Boyd that tricking him into falling into the trap was “really sneaky,” and then goads Boyd by offering him the promise of flesh one last time – Ives asks if he dies first if Boyd will then consume his flesh. Ultimately, they both end up dying in the embrace of one another, and of the trap – the all-consuming power for the flesh of man was the end of both men, but the only reason they were destroyed was Boyd’s willingness to sacrifice himself rather than become, completely, a wendigo.

Image

COLONIALISM

The most overlooked component in Ravenous is colonialism – and the lens of colonialism offers a reading that fits in nice alongside the reading of repressed homosexuality. The movie co-opts an aboriginal myth (of the wendigo) in order to tell a white story. Through the course of the film, the myth is changed and harnessed for purposes of white colonizers, and to tell their story.

Image

As insidious and appropriative as this sounds, there is something clever about choosing to use an aboriginal story in the film. In a sense, the wendigo myth can be read as being about capitalism, about greed, about consuming and destroying, so it makes sense that those who are falling into becoming wendigos (through war, and through attempting to fulfill Manifest Destiny), are white men. White men are inherently metaphorical wendigos in the time and space of Ravenous, and even still today from a cultural standpoint. One of the mere two Native characters in the film (a scout) explains the story of the wendigo, and when Boyd asks if people “still do that,” the scout shows him a drawing of Jesus Christ and explains Christians eat his flesh every Sunday, cleverly (and humorously) drawing in Christianity to the narrative of consumptive greed – and Christianity historically had so much to do with the oppression, colonization and genocide of First Nations peoples throughout North America. So by demonstrating via this myth the “nature” of the colonizers, it creates this multi-tiered satirical strategy to skewer and also dismantle the colonial power. It is notable that while in the end of the film the perpetuation of the wendigo is an inevitability despite both Boyd and Ives’s demise, the only person to escape the entire fiasco and the only person throughout the film who had working fucking knowledge of how to deal with being a wendigo and in identifying wendigos was the completely overlooked is Martha, the only woman and one of only two aboriginal people residing in the fort.

The long-story-short version of this is that white people appropriate and colonize everything, even culturally-specific cannibal myths. There’s nothing they won’t completely get their hands in, appropriate to themselves, and subsequently destroy. Ravenous does a hilarious job at demonstrating this fact, and the entire movie is indeed a “dark humour” satire that does a fantastic job dissecting and mocking the very notions of masculinity, Manifest Destiny, and colonization.

Image

For me, Ravenous is one of those rare, kitschy movies that has a perfect balance of excellent storytelling, a bang-up cast, a bizarre but completely enjoyable soundtrack, and on-point satire that plays hide-and-seek with the viewer – it’s not always entirely obvious, but the moments that it is illuminate other moments in the film where it could be deemed as hiding. Not everyone will get a kick out of this movie, or even get this movie, but the ridiculousness is all part of the game. Ravenous pokes fun at masculine conventions, colonial attitudes and repressed homosexuality as much as it does at itself, which lends a certain humility to the film as a whole. Cast upon the backdrop of such epic historical ventures like war and westward expansion – fables of greatness that the American Dream is ultimately founded upon – the central story becomes uproariously funny and about all the mistakes and ill-founded hope that such a “Dream” is built on. Martha was bloody right to get the hell outta dodge – that shit will eat you alive.

If you are wondering about appropriation of culture, especially of Native cultures, I highly fucking recommend you visit Native Appropriations and read the shit outta that website, you will learn a lot.

What We Must Save, We Must Destroy: Breaching from Myth to Reality in The Hunter

SPOILERS BELOW

Image

The Hunter was released in the fall of 2011, and is hailed as a meditative and “atmospheric” film. Directed by Daniel Nettheim, starring Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Conner and Sam Neill, the film centers around Dafoe’s character, a hunter and trapper hired by a biotech company who wants blood and tissue samples obtained from a Tasmanian tiger. The company is convinced that there have been recent, reliable sightings of the animal and want to capitalize on presumably cloning, etc. The Hunter is deployed to the supposed habitat of the tiger and is lodged at the home of a mother and her two children, whose father has been missing for two years after he was also pursuing the tiger and fighting for a moratorium on logging practices in the area.

The film undoubtedly critiques the greed of capitalism and the destruction of the natural world this greed leads to. The men working for the logging companies in the film are unfortunately stereotypically demonized as intolerant red-neck hillbillies bent on making a buck. The only whisper outside of this stereotype is when the equally stereotypical “greenie” mother of two says that the loggers would never actually hurt anyone – their children go to school together, after all, but regardless, the the loggers are cast as a one-dimensional stand-in for greedy corporations. I feel this choice was misguided, and despite the small amount of screen time allotted to the establishment of political backdrop, nuances could have been achieved. The other side of the forestry war, the “greenies” as they are called, are equally typecast as near-inept hippies getting high and borderline chaining themselves to trees. Although the greenies are eventually successful in getting a moratorium on logging further into the wilderness, they do occupy the same eye-rolling space as the loggers. But this is perhaps the weakest part of the film, and it is merely background noise that feels as if the director and writer included it only as obligation – and while these sides to the forestry industry are important, they were dumbed down into black-and-white, simplistic “sides” where no room for other dialogue is present, which, in a film that has an environmental overtone is rather disappointing. Capitalism is bad and destructive and filled with redneck assholes, but the alternative is weed smoking hippies? You can do better than that, especially when so much is at stake.

But casting aside the backdrop, we are catapulted into the at once isolated and vast realm of the wilderness, seeking, alongside Dafoe’s Hunter, an animal supposed to be extinct. When we travel into this wilderness, we are consumed by silence – which is rare in movies today. Observed and effective silences require of an audience a challenging patience and a willingness to be absorbed into something not immediately rewarding.

The film has a very Tarkovsky feel to it, embodied by the silences and a certain film colour palette that seems to mimic the near-bleak but still beautiful way Tarkovsky films the natural world. It reminds me perhaps most of Stalker, especially since there central character is essentially a navigator whose speciality lies in finding the elusive.

Image

The Hunter tells us something tragic throughout the silences and landscapes that are in such danger of being torn apart for profit, and that we can only view and be part of for a brief fleeting amount of time before death takes us or we must go back: that sometimes we must destroy the last vestiges of something in order to save it.

In the most lengthy and captivating scenes of The Hunter, we watch quietly as he sets trap after trap, kills and guts animals for bait, sleeps, walks, retraces his steps waiting to find what he is looking for. Although these scenes have a calmness to them, a man in the wilderness alone creates tension. Every time he ventures out we wait, much like he is waiting, for something to happen. It brings us to a primal awareness – in the wild we are helpless and far from the comforts of civilization. The Hunter could drop off the face of the earth and no one would find him.

Fading out of existence is a key to understanding the film. Like the Tasmanian tiger, the man whose (former) home the Hunter is lodging at, went missing in his pursuit of the animal, leaving his children and wife behind. Both the tiger and the children’s father were lost into nothing more than rumours and memory. The film asks the question of how value and memory and desire change when something is considered to be “lost”. For the children’s father, mundane objects come to represent him wholly – the Bruce Springsteen record he left on the player, the blue water bottle they got him for his birthday. With the tiger, sightings and stories, lusted after and savored. In both instances, the fantasies are much more beautiful than the reality.

The Hunter eventually stumbles upon the remains of the father’s body as he gets closer to finding the tiger, presumably the man was shot in the head by someone also pursuing the tiger. When the Hunter finds this body it is in that moment that paranoia of being watched culminates, that someone else is out there, and the realization that if he does not find the tiger, replacement after replacement will come until it is found and the land exploited and destroyed. The full terror of ruthlessness quietly peaks. And someone is following the Hunter. The specter of capitalism and the thirst for money and to own and recreate a legend hunts him down. After managing to trap the new mercenary in a steel leg-hold trap, the Hunter gains the upper hand and kills the man, dragging his corpse into a crevice and simply leaving him there to decay – ultimately the same fate as the father.

The Hunter returns to find his lodgings burnt to the ground, presumably by the mercenary sent to replace him. It is revealed that the mother and daughter were killed in the fire, but the young mute boy, the keeper of mythologies, who lent his father’s knowledge to the hunter’s search is still alive.

Image

Again, the Hunter sets out, occupying a den he believes to belong to the last remaining tiger, sleeping there himself until, after several cold days, he finally sees her. He grabs his gun and runs to follow her, and as she walks away over tundra he hesitates. The tiger, aware of his presence, looks down and slows her pace, resigning to her death. This time, the Hunter does not hesitate.

As he goes to her body, he is sobbing, torn apart by his act of truly decimating the last of a species. Like one would carry a dead child or lover, the Hunter carries her body gently and lights a fire. Instead of gutting her and delivering on the terms of his employment, the Hunter burns her, collecting her ashes in the blue water bottle once belonging to the father, and scatters them over her territory.

It is because he realizes that in order to save something, he must destroy it. To bring the Tasmanian tiger back to a “real” status would be to butcher it all over again and subject the quiet, living, breathing lands it occupies to the pillaging of our species, who are adept at leaving no rock unturned in our obsessions to dominate, to own and to control. We do not leave well enough alone, and this is perhaps the greatest lesson.

The Tasmanian tiger, as with other extinct species, occupies a certain mythology in the cultural realm. The tiger seeps through various facets in the film – old, grainy footage of the last known tiger in captivity, rich with nostalgia and the odd magic of watching a creature that was wiped off the face of the earth. Through the drawings of a mute child, a distorted tiger but with the charm and imagination and innocence of a child’s hand – a child who ultimately guides the Hunter to the correct location based on his missing father’s information. And of course through the cold and calculated dialogue of the biotech company – through “confirmed sightings” and desiring the death of the tiger, a piecemeal of its body for their own profit-driven purposes.

If the biotech company were to get hold of the tiger, the mythology would breach back into reality and suddenly, the quiet wilderness it occupies would become overrun, exploited, filled with people wanting part of the very last of this species. Like starving wolves to a vulnerable kill we would come and we would destroy if only for a glimpse of something we thought we had destroyed. So we must consider, in this instance, what is mercy for the land and for the prospective last remaining being of a species?

Image

The young boy who is steadfast by the Hunter’s side throughout much of the film and ultimately responsible for giving the Hunter the knowledge about where to find the tiger is the keeper of this mythology. Because he is silent throughout the film, the boy never breaches into a vocal “reality,” he never disturbs or disrupts with his own voice, keeping him in a different realm himself. He communicates in different ways, through pictures and gestures that we must interpret, much like the remnants of Tasmanian tiger myth itself. In the end, the Hunter seeks the boy out after he is taken into foster care after the death of his remaining family. The boy is a stand-in to tell us that the vessel of mythology, the endurance of mythology, and the very idea and inspiration of mythology, is much less painful and more valuable, stronger and everlasting than the reality of the story itself. It is why the tiger must be destroyed – to salvage the nourishing and cautionary tale of its existence.

Although I would have preferred a more subtle, ambiguous ending that did not require a full CG of a Tasmanian tiger, the ending was nonetheless suitable and did not detract from the film as a whole. I was hoping we’d never really get to see the tiger, keeping it only a desired reality, a dream, just out of reach the entire film. But perhaps the touching mournfulness of both the tiger and the Hunter in the final moments of the film were worth it. The beauty and necessity of destruction, despite the pain and responsibility of that, were conceptually heartbreaking.

The Hunter was a moving film that incorporated elements of almost everything I look for in a film. A required patience, attention to silence and the vastness of landscapes, perfect amounts of tension and mystery, and something existential and almost out-of-reach, yet universal. It is a film worth seeing, if only for the immense and overtaking beauty of the landscape. That alone inspires a respect and sadness for the natural and last vestiges of uncharted world which may too soon be only a myth itself.

IN HELL WE WILL ALL BURN BRIGHTLY: Bret Easton Ellis’s Empire vs. Post-Empire

A piece I originally wrote for & posted at Numero Cinq.

People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.
People are afraid to merge.
Disappear here.

These are the refrains throughout Ellis’s seminal work, Less than Zero. To put it simply: a novel about a group of entitled and privileged white kids doing drugs and fucking in the 1980’s. Certainly it is about much more, and it is a paranoid, dubious novel of mounting suspicion and tension with no heroics and no payoff.

Everybody suffers, even the rich and privileged. They just have the resources to hide it, or get high enough to forget or become apathetic.

You’d think that reading about poor little rich LA kids would be annoying, enraging and most of all, boring. (Although if you’re like me and follow White Whine on tumblr, you might actually think the opposite.)

But it’s not boring – not when Ellis is behind the novel.

Recently he released the follow-up to Less than Zero, a novel titled Imperial Bedrooms. It’s long time coming since in between his first novel and Impreial Bedrooms Ellis wrote classics like The Rules of Attraction and American Psycho, rising to prolific and cult status in the pop-culture of North America. Imperial Bedrooms once again follows Less than Zero‘s “protagonist”, Clay, who is now all grown up and successful. Along with the release of this novel, Ellis has coined the ideas of “Empire” and “Post-Empire”.

It’s no secret that these ideas are heavily influenced by American essayist, author, playwright/screenwriter and political activist, Gore Vidal. Even the title of Imperial Bedrooms is likely influenced by Vidal, who wrote a book called Imperial America and said that “the empire is collapsing.” You don’t really need to be acquainted with Vidal’s ideas in order to understand Empire and Post-Empire, though. Vidal more or less elucidates the concepts in a socio-political light. Ellis does it in a much more interesting way: through pop culture.

Ellis places Empire America circa 1945-2005. Empire is essentially complete delusion. Misguided ideas and inordinate investment in the power of celebrity. Patronizing political correctness that actually covers up insidious oppression and hides truly damaging opinions. An overall denial of the ultimate frailty and delicateness of human existence. An attitude of self-righteousness and indestructibility, hiding behind politically correct outrage.

The Empire is collapsing.

Ellis has really only elucidated the ideas of Empire and Post-Empire via example. Things that are Post-Empire, according to Ellis? Twilight, Jersey Shore, Charlie Sheen’s breakdown, Tracy Morgan saying he’d kill his son if his son turned out to be gay.

Empire? The Hills, R.E.M., and everyone’s outraged reactions to the emerging Post-Empire zeitgeist. I haven’t read it anywhere explicitly, but I’m pretty sure we can file Oprah under Empire, too. Maybe founding her own channel is a last-ditch attempt to keep the crumbling Empire from entirely collapsing.

Ellis’s twitter account is largely devoted to calling out Empire attitude vs. Post-Empire manifestations in pop culture. Calling out things for being  Empire is the new, biting insult – insinuating over-sensitivity, being ‘behind the times’ and generally taking oneself much too seriously.

Empire is ego; ego in the sense that all the arrogance of oneself is in seriousness rather than satire.

So if Empire can loosely be defined as having a stick up one’s ass, what is Post-Empire?

Post-Empire is a new kind of realism. Calling bullshit as it is, stripping celebrity of it’s bulletproof myths, candidness, breakdowns, testing “politically correct” boundaries, irony, offensiveness in the face of a reserved attitude that hides insidious cultural uptightness for the last 60 years.

You may have noticed recently the internet exploding with socially conscious youth calling out establishments previously thought of as benevolent and beneficial as inherently racist and oppressive horseshit. This is Post Empire. Really believing “Multiculturalism” actually means equality and colourblindess is so very Empire.

North America is crumbling and it is denial vs realism. Entitlement complexes everywhere are being challenged. The indoctrinated children of Empire do not like this. It might be worth noting that Empire children are largely made up of baby boomers, who are now, as a collective generation, being blamed for shitting on the most recent generation’s chances at the American Dream. Or more succinctly, lying about the American Dream. They are a generation of greedy liars who killed their grandchildren to feed themselves. It’s a harsh depiction but this is how Post-Empire eyes might see it. Post-Empire is rising and Empire is rapidly falling.

Ellis has boiled down these concepts into useable, and I’d like to say palatable terms – and these terms are coined for and owned by the masses. This is no longer academic theorists with their complex theories that must be distilled in condescending pablum form for consumption of the uneducated. Hell no – Empire and Post-Empire are the observances of those who can’t or haven’t accessed the Ivory tower; these concepts come from “the bottom up.” And academic arrogance? That is so fucking Empire.

And when I say “uneducated,” I don’t mean stupid. I mean simply those who haven’t gone through the motions of paying for a post-secondary education. In a lot of ways not doing so in this economic climate is far more intelligent and utilitarian than doing so. In a lot of ways not entering college or university is Post-Empire.

Ellis isn’t the first author to conceptualize the “fall of America,” but he is one of the few who feel that it’s deserved.  I have often heard Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club, Choke, Survivor and a short story called “Guts” that has made people pass out and vomit at readings) compared to Ellis. I only vaguely saw their connection – they both kind of do similar things with the grotesque, but I find Ellis a much more elegant and minimalistic author, whereas Palahniuk is less refined and more up-front about the gross stuff; Ellis builds to near-poignant moments of profound disgust. Not to say one is superior to the other – Palahniuk was recently named the most likely heir to Vonnegut’s throne, and I can see why. He has the same penchant for short, truthful quips that are audacious, hilarious and true. While Ellis dissects with precision in his writing, Palahniuk hangs his from a tree and guts it.

In Choke, a character named Mrs. Mancini says:

“We’ve taken the world apart … but we have no idea what to do with the pieces … My generation, all of our making fun of things isn’t making the world any better. We’ve spent so much time judging what other people created that we’ve created very, very little of our own. I used rebellion as a way to hide out. We use criticism as fake participation.”

If you’re like me and come from a liberal education background, and even if you don’t, that statement should give you the chills. You should feel accused, you should feel like a fraud, and you should feel utterly useless. If you don’t, maybe you’re in denial.

But once you get over that, you’re Post-Empire. We don’t have to do anything, just sit back, grab a beer and watch it all crumble. The greatest show on earth is getting our assess handed to us by ourselves.

And here’s the thing about both Ellis and Palahniuk, and maybe what everyone who says they are so closely linked is getting at: they both give the distinct impression that the decline of the Western, First-World way of life is absolutely deserved. They both force readers to look at what we have done with no sympathy for what has led us here, just the facts. Just the horrifying truth of our greedy, ego-obsessed selves digging our own hole with fervour.

I have to say I agree with them; that we brought ourselves to this point, and now everything we held so dear is being shown as nothing but illusion perpetuated over the last six plus decades. And guess what? We’re pissed. We are in the Post-Empire now, and there is no going back.

The most chilling part is that neither author and the concepts of Empire and Post-Empire give us a solution. This is simply the way things are and we don’t really have a choice.

In the end of Less than Zero, Clay narrates the final lines, perhaps as a prophet of the Post-Empire era that, at the time, the world was gearing up to enter.

“The images I had were of people being driven mad by living in the city. Images of parents who were so hungry and unfulfilled that they ate their own children. Images of people, teenagers my own age, looking up from the asphalt and being blinded by the sun. These images stayed with me even after I left the city. Images so violent and malicious that they seemed to be my only point of reference for a long time afterwards. After I left.”

We’re all fucked now.

People are afraid to merge. Disappear here.

It’s Post-Empire, baby. Grab a seat and enjoy the show.

We’re the All-Singing, All-Dancing Crap of the World, or: You’re Doing it Wrong – The Fight Club Identity Crisis

Originally posted here sometime last year – then written and re-edited for posting at Numero Cinq. Welcome back, Fight Club piece.

Missing the fucking point is pretty standard fare in life. People tend to get so pumped up about Fight Club that they miss a lot about the movie. Mainly that the “Space Monkeys” are the worst fucking part.

(Although I will admit that watching Jared Leto get his face beat to pulp is kind of excellent. Maybe even better than watching Christian Bale axe him to death  in the film adaptation of American Psycho.)

Fight Club is one of those movies that pretty much everyone in the Western world has seen, and a novel that most people have read (and claimed to have read prior to the film – PRO TIP: Fight Club the novel is exactly like the movie, except for alterations to like, two scenes. So no, having “read the novel” doesn’t give you any fucking cred).

So most people think that is what is being criticized, and overlook the inherent satire within the bounds of Fight Club and Project Mayhem – it is set up within the film to look like a legitimate alternative to the capitalist machine, but it is being skewered just as much as capitalism is.

Thing is, people get really fixated on the ideology of the movie, and fail to distinguish that there are two separate things going on:

  1. The obvious critique and satirization of a Capitalist society, and how it is inherently repressive and one must find solace ‘outside the system’ and
  2. The satirization of masculinity, and critique of masculine violence as a “positive” venue or positive manifestation of nihilist philosophy.

There are a lot of people who genuinely believe that starting violent all-male “clubs” and committing acts of terrorism are actually being touted as a solution in the Fight Club world. A hell of a lot of fight clubs began springing up after the release of the movie – a cult phenomenon. Cult is a descriptor here for a reason. The “inside joke” about Fight Club is that if you worship the general philosophy and take it legitimately seriously, you’ve entirely bypassed the point and become exactly what the movie is satirizing. Quoting Fight Club excessively does not make you edgy or intelligent (“Sticking feathers up your ass does not make you a chicken”), it just proves that you’ll fall for anything that seems remotely cool and anti-establishment. Plus, Fight Club quotes are so quippy and simple – they really elucidate nothing deeper. Durden’s one-liners (and they are abundant) are like easy-to-digest commandments that everyone clings to as profound. Funny thing about profound stuff – once it saturates the mainstream, it tends to lose its kick.

We’re all grappling for ways to define ourselves outside the status quo. At the end of that day that’s what Fight Club is really about – considering the things we cling to. Nihilism and rebellion are still laced potently with self-definition and ideology. We put ourselves in box after box until the day we die – then it’s just one last box.

And like us, the Space Monkeys feel “free” because they are told they do – the framework of the entire ideology they are following suggests freedom, suggests bringing down the “system” that trapped them in jobs they didn’t want to buy shit they didn’t need – things that ended up owning them. But what have they traded in that entrapment for? Just another set of rules tailored to play up their egotistical, douchey attitudes. Tailored to exaggerate the “underdog” and machismo mentality of the stereotypical men of the lower-middle class. Created to specifically appeal to a sense of helplessness and impotence in order to gain credential. Although Tyler’s one-liners and incredibly quote-able dialogue has much truth to it, the enactment of the ideas within the film suggest another form of brainwashing going on. All these men are willing to become something else and to follow rules in order to gain the coveted label of “space monkey.” To be part of “project mayhem”. To no longer have an identity. Which is just as restrictive as the capitalist society they so loathed in the first place.

The thing is, Palahnuik is not lamenting the loss of masculinity in the sense that he is showing us how Capitalism has made the modern man more effeminate, and therefore the solution is to beat each other up then get all bro over each other after. Or blow shit up. See, the institution that men can only touch each other without being gay is by being violent is pretty fucked up. I’d like to highlight some key moments of the film (and novel) that illustrate why Palahnuik is actually tearing “traditional” views of acceptable masculinity (and by extension, Capitalism) a new one, along with the “modern” masculinity of Calvin Klein models and suave businessmen.

First, and most fucking importantly:
Violent Masculinity is Masochistic, Sadistic and essentially eats you alive.

Everyone is content to ignore, or gloss over, or say it’s just funny, or “not get” the fact that Edward Norton is fucking beating himself up. In his desperate search for a remedy against his “single serving life”, he has created an alter-ego who physically and mentally destroys him. He has a psychological breakdown. Tyler looks like the Narrator wants to look, acts like the Narrator wants to act, and fucks like the Narrator wants to fuck. He also pours lye on the Narrator’s hand after affectionately kissing it, giving him the nastiest chemical burn of his life. Tyler/Narrator are both suicidal and self-harming. In and of itself, sure, this is viable and not necessarily negative. Many philosophers and intellectuals have touted nihilism, absurdism and/or suicide as a means solving crises, but that’s not exactly what is going on in Fight Club.

Tyler has an audience in two ways. First, the guys who will later comprise Fight Club, and if they’re lucky, Project Mayhem. Secondly, the actual audience (that’d be us) outside the film. Here’s the thing – all the secondary characters who regard Tyler as a great leader, all the “space monkeys”, they’re supposed to be idiots. In the film, they blindly follow the orders of a dude with a split personality who shit-kicks himself on the regular. Jared Leto’s extreme blonde character is laughable. Meatloaf’s Robert Paulson is pathetically comical (although with his ‘bitch tits’ and lack of testicles, he is meant to be the ultimate showcase of failed masculinity – and yet he is the kindest character in the story. Who doesn’t like Bob? You’d go for a beer with him, I know it). Yet audience members who think this is really cool and endeavour to start their own, for real and serious Fight Club, don’t think twice that they are the space monkeys. They are willing to blindly follow whatever awesome model of being a man is put forth to them, and this is just as bad as the men who follow the capitalist model of masculinity and success – once again, exactly what the movie is critiquing so harshly.

But things get complicated because Palahnuik is pretty intricate in his interlaced critiques. See, he is actually saying that capitalism is shitty, and corporations really do have a vice grip on the genitals of humanity, and that this has forced people to desire shit they don’t need, and become pathetic, needy creatures. It’s a different kind of self-destruction. And this is where his critique is obvious and apt, and the portion of the movie (and novel) people tend to quote fucking endlessly (Everyone knows this movie. Nobody needs to get in a dick-waving, tit-size-comparing contest over who can quote more Fight Club. And Merlin fucking Mann agrees). But because the alternative that Palahnuik is offering seems to be far more productive and positive, people automatically tend to assume that this is what they should be doing in order to subvert the capitalist machine. Once again – they ignore something crucial and revealing in the plot:

Once the Narrator realizes he has had a psychological split, he tries to stop Project Mayhem.

Edward Norton as our Narrator is just as trapped by Tyler as he was by capitalism. The narrator ends up going head-to-head with Durden in an attempt to subvert their act of terrorism – the bombing of several large credit card company headquarters. In the movie, the Narrator wins. By shoving a gun in his mouth (Tyler’s phallus; well, their shared phallus), and pulling the trigger. It’s pretty fucking clear: this model of masculinity will eat you alive. It will force a suicide. It is all-consuming, just as much as the Capitalist model is. The narrator pretty much gives himself a metaphorical blowjob in the end, and his ejaculation is so intense it nearly blows his fucking head off – it is a closed-loop system of self-destruction. So in this case, no, self-fellatio is sadly not the most awesome thing you can possibly do. But at the moment of “ejaculation”, the Narrator is purged of Durden. He lets go of his bizarre, macho pretences and shares an affectionate (post-coital?) moment with Marla as skyscrapers topple down around them (yeah, all the dicks go flaccid at the end of it all). So the end of the movie is tied up in a pretty neat package: capitalism is brought down, the Narrator gets the girl, and Tyler gets a bullet to the head.

But once again things get conflated – the critique of Capitalism and the call for its downfall is not one and the same as Tyler’s offered model of masculinity/nihilism. Tyler’s masochistic ideology is not feasible – he gets fucked in the end because he is just another damaging ideology that traps you in a sick cycle. So in this manner, Tyler isn’t always an opposition to capitalism, but a parallel to it.

Copy of a Copy of a Copy by copperthistle on DeviantArt

Tyler Durden’s doctrine of being a “man” is a doctrine of self-harm, and ultimately feeds into the same close-loop system as capitalism. In a way, it becomes the same all-consuming ideology it rebels against. There is a point in the film (and book) when Fight Club transforms into Project Mayhem where it becomes something perverse. When followers are gained and ego intervenes, things change very quickly. It never is every man for himself, it’s every man for Tyler Durden. When it is just the narrator and Tyler, it actually is appealing in a way and makes sense. But as soon as it becomes popularized and gains followers who want to be drones but in a different way than they already are, the ideology becomes unsustainable and morphs into its own small culture.

Which means Palahnuik is also up to something else: critiquing pop culture and people who blindly “buy into” shit because it’s “cool.” Like Edward Norton in the beginning of the movie, with his ikea catalogs and single serving life. Everyone wants to escape, but what to? Perhaps ultimately, people need to be told what to do in order to be fulfilled. It certainly makes things much easier and frees us from the shackles of responsibility – which actually isn’t faithful to nihilism at all. In a philosophy that is marketed as being all about profound meaninglessness, we search for meaning. We grapple for a point, for something that can help us define the self and guide us. Even having no self (as the Space Monkeys supposedly don’t) is a form of identity – being free of the self is only what it is in contrast to having a concept of “self.” Both are illusory in their extremes.

And Fight Club is self-aware in this sense. In both novel and movie form, the zeitgeist of Fight Club knows it’s the shit, and that it’s going to attract followers who are unaware of the ridiculous eventuality of the ideology.

Palahnuik’s response to capitalism and the masculinity model it perpetuates is essentially a toxic alternative to an already cancerous existence. The Narrator goes to disease support groups in the beginning, and it’s funny because he isn’t diseased. At least not physically. He’s infected with this empty notion that he needs to somehow ‘man up.’ There’s no support group for men who don’t feel like they measure up, or are trying too hard to measure up and failing to meet the unattainable standard. The Narrator’s constant displacement and fakery are simply more symptoms of a world that offers men nothing emotionally fulfilling. When the Narrator is emotional (when he cries into Bob’s bitch tits), he is placated and can sleep. Yet the only place he is able to achieve this is in a support group for men who have no balls (Seriously?). It’s a powerful overriding notion in society – men can only be emotional when they are emasculated, and even then it is shameful. How sad. The rest of the time? The expectation is barbaric sado-masochism.

This can be seen as slightly allegorical of something, too. Masculinity Studies (it exists, I’m not making it up) is a fledgling field, akin to Women’s studies. But it hasn’t taken off. Why? Men don’t want to talk about what it feels like to be men. So far the central point of this arena of academia is solving that crucial problem.

In an era where God has widely been proclaimed dead and non-existent, and that this fact should make people feel free, the cold hard truth is that it has made people feel helpless and search for meaning elsewhere. Apparently a lot of people have found it in the philosophy of Fight Club. The easy, digestible, single-serving quotes that are so very easy to spew up in response to, well, almost anything. Quotes that make you supposedly sound badass, that are supposed to conceal yet instead reveal innate inexperience and total lack of independent thought. People who actually have cause to be nihilistic and hate capitalist culture usually don’t rely on movie quotes to elaborately craft their don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. The irony is, of course, people who quote Fight Club as if they are some kind of revolutionary underground genius are the beautiful and unique snowflakes that Durden rallies against.

The first rule of Fight Club? Come on, we all know this…
All together now:
You do not talk about Fight Club.
Yet nobody can seem to shut the fuck up about it.

Space monkeys.

Fight Club offers a little shot of a power-high. Which is why people can’t stop quoting it to death – they want to share what they know because it makes them feel so fucking badass. Just like buying that slick new car does in Capitalist society – it’s a show of power, just in a different way.

Fight Club is one of those cult phenomenons that people still cling to as a flagpost of identity definition. The cult of Durden is just as bad as the Cult of Masculinity, the Cult of Personality, the Capitalist Machine. Which is what is so highly intelligent and scathing about the film/novel.

Listen: Fight Club is a great film. It remains one of my favourites, and something I can watch over and over despite the sickening number of times I’ve seen it. It is intelligent and eviscerating in the skewering it gives capitalism, masculinity and the viewers themselves. It is successful because it appeals to different levels of thought and engagement, and it has become a cult phenomenon to space monkeys everywhere who believe that Fight Club is an alternative lifestyle that offers fulfillment and an answer to capitalist masculinity. And in a way, perhaps, it does offer an answer – because Fight Club/Project Mayhem is a very familiar structured identity.

Just like your single serving self is used to.

X-Men: First Class: The Romantic Tragedy of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr

i'd like to point out that the positioning of McAvoy and Fassbender makes it look as if they could be holding hands.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS

I had the pleasure of seeing X-Men: First Class in theatres last night – and it has been my most giddily anticipated comic book movie of the year. Thanks to the 90’s cartoon, I’ve been a nearly lifelong X-Men fan, and the relationship between Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is the crux of everything X-Men.

Frankly, the film was easily read as a story of two gay fathers raising their adopted children.

First Class is more or less an origins story of Professor X and Magento’s relationship, as well as the formation of Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted, and hence the X-Men team itself. Additionally, the film shows the start of Magento’s Brotherhood – an organization/team that, although not directly opposing Xavier’s X-Men, has a different and competing philosophy.

When Erik and Charles are shown as their older selves (in most of the X-Men universes), they have a tense relationship that is laden with undertones of being romantically involved in the past. They both care a great deal for one another and are responsible for saving one anothers’ life many times over, and even continue to sporadically (if begrudgingly) work together to achieve common goals. Their history with one another is a rich one, and it is clear the men have a great deal of love for one another. It is true that due to a lack of overt sex scenes or very clear romantic affection shown onscreen, that one could argue that they are simply very close friends.

I’m of the opinion that that is laughably simplistic horseshit. Charles and Erik were a couple and very intimately involved on every level (physically, intellectually, emotionally) for a long time. They belong together. Had their personal philosophies and dedication to a higher cause not diverged so much, and had their personalities not both been stubborn, their trajectories as characters in the X-Men universe probably would have continued together.

I’ve been told, already, that I am just arbitrarily saying the two men are gay because they are close and that not all men who love each other are gay.

This often seems to be a blind assessment of people who are uncomfortable with the potential sexuality of the characters. Yes – Erik and Charles went on to father children and both men had relationships with women – but that doesn’t mean it is impossible for them to love one another and be sexually attracted to one another. Nor does that mean they could not have shared an intimate relationship in the past. Nor does that mean they are gay characters – being gay is a label one should take on for themselves, and as far as I know neither Erik nor Charles in any X-Men universe has come out and said they identified as gay. So sure, they are ‘straight’ characters. Nothing is cut and dry. The point of this isn’t to tell everyone that Erik and Charles are gay – because they are not. It’s simply about analyzing their relationship within the film, and not labelling that relationship under some arbitrary sexuality header. Frankly, their relationship is more complex and subversive to that. To simply label them gay would diminish the complexity of their intimacy and love for one another.

The X-Men universe functions fairly overtly as an allegory to discrimination of all kinds in society, whether it’s sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia – the list is endless. Mutants, despite their gifts, are feared by society, and often violently pursued. In some plot lines, a mutant genocide is attempted or desired.

X-Men: First Class begins with a young Erik Lehshnerr and his mother being taken to a concentration camp during the holocaust. When they separate him from his mother, his power (to control metal via magnetism) manifests and he bends a gate back trying to rescue her.

This, of course, piques the interest of a Nazi official, another mutant apparently interested in eugenics, Sebastian Shaw. Shaw himself is a mutant, capable of absorbing energy from, say, a bomb, and then re-releasing that energy. Shaw, after killing Erik’s mother in an attempt to force Erik to use his ability, becomes Erik’s father figure and nemesis.

Erik and Charles meet after Charles becomes involved with the CIA and manages to track down Shaw at the same time Erik does. Charles saves Erik from suicide when Erik refuses to let go of his grasp on Shaw’s submarine, which would have drowned him. The first words exchanged between the two men (once Charles manages to calm Erik down) are “I thought I was alone.” The conversation they have can very easily be read as being about their (potential) homosexuality – or at least those desires. It’s worth mentioning that Erik did experience life in Nazi Germany, where those who were gay were persecuted just as all other groups were. The overtones of persecution because of a difference are what X-Men is all about, so it would make sense that within this paradigm there was something more to hide from the world.

Erik sticks around with the CIA initiative because of Charles. Charles helps Erik overcome a lot of his past anger and pain by using his telepathy. Being “inside” Erik’s mind is intimate on levels even more than the obvious sexual metaphor. Notably, Charles waits for Erik to give him permission before accessing sensitive memories, after which both men are in tears and Erik manages to exude more power than he thought possible. It is quite likely the most intimate scene between the two men in the film, and they even show some physical affection afterward (although nothing that would cross any eyebrow-raising lines, unfortunately). The potential physical sexuality between the two men is only expressed in “appropriate” circumstances (Charles embracing Erik to hold him back from certain death, Erik laying on top of Charles to save him from being tossed to his death from a crashing jet). This is usually the case in cinema where there are two close male characters – and no, this kind of physical contact is not always gay.

There are several scenes of Charles and Erik working together and speaking together in intimate environments. They play chess in a sequestered room – a scene that is potently that of a romantic couple. Perhaps the most “gay” imagery of the two is a shot of them, from the back, sitting on the steps of the Lincoln monument in Washington, with America’s most phallic monument between them. There’s no mistaking that it is a giant erection – the ultimate phallus – and they share a quiet and reflective moment staring at it. Obvious, but hilariously brilliant.

Watching the relationship between Erik and Charles bloom is interesting. Charles is a young idealist who uses cheeseball scientific pickup lines on girls he meets in bars (which we never actually see working), and is usually cock-blocked by his “sister”, Raven (Mystique). Raven even asks Charles if he would ever date her, and he refuses on grounds of “feeling responsible” for her. Charles further rejects a potential sexual relationship with her when she confronts him, nude (in her natural blue form) and he reacts with disgust. It’s highly unlikely his shock and mild revulsion are due to her blue skin – he’s lived with her for years and presumably would have grown used to her unconventional looks (not only that but upon meeting her for the first time he is far from disgusted by her) – but to her form as a sexual being: he is not attracted to her because she is not Erik – because she is a woman. When he is confronted with a svelte and otherwise culturally ideal female form (aside from the blue skin), he doesn’t even partially rise to the occasion.

Charles and Erik both reject romantic relationships with women, and are even aggressively against potent displays of female sexuality – except for the scene with Angel – but this was an exception as they “shared” her – it is important to note that Erik and Charles were on the bed together, reclining like lovers. Angel was simply for ‘display’. Of course the strip club scenario normalizes the scene, but why was having Erik and Charles in bed with one another whilst sharing a sexual experience necessary? It seems to be a technique of displacement of their transparent desire for one another. Also, Angel’s “fairy” appearance in this scene can be analyzed, since “fairy” is a slang used for members of the gay community – often in a derogatory sense. It is also important in this scene that neither Charles nor Erik is interested in Angel in a sexual capacity. Later in the film, Erik violently ties Emma Frost to a bedframe after pursuing her and finding her in a sexual situation with a Russian officer, and although the scene itself is incredibly sexual (just as Emma Frost is another idealized female character), Erik ends up nearly killing her. Emma is the object of desire for many males throughout the film, and although she is the right-hand woman of Erik’s nemesis, it is interesting to note that she has no sway over him: he either lacks the sexual weaknesses of other men or he simply is not drawn to her sexuality. It’s also worth mentioning that Emma is a telepath, like Charles. This aligns her as more or less a female alternative to Charles, which Erik still rejects.

Charles rejects the advances of Raven, as well. This is a tricky one since he and Raven essentially operate as siblings. It is alluded to that Erik may have slept with Raven, but when he gets to his room to find her in his bed, he engages in a brief conversation with her and then the scene is cut. I find it far more likely, given Magneto’s character, that he simply spoke with her and, having satisfied her desire for approval (he tells her she is perfection when in her natural blue form), she simply leaves. Early on in the encounter Erik expresses that she is too young for him and does so in a way that doesn’t even show a flicker of sexual excitement having found her, naked, in his bed.

In the end when Charles suffers the accident that will leave him partially paralyzed, it is worth noting that Erik immediately blames the female CIA agent (who operates with them as a secondary character throughout the film), Moira. She is not a mutant, she is an “idealized” version of the feminine, and she is heterosexual. When Xavier is crippled by a gunshot, Erik immediately runs to him, blaming Moira (who shot the gun with no intention of hitting Charles), saying “you did this” and attempting to choke her (a violence towards an ideal that was also demonstrated when he tried to strangle Emma earlier on). Erik’s aggression towards Moira is not towards her character, but to the status quo – the expectation of a “normalized” heterosexuality that neither Erik nor Charles adhere to. He is, in short, attacking the very idea of desirable femininity and the pressure to be in a heterosexual relationship. The pressure exerted by the outside forces (anti-mutant, society’s collective fear of mutants – and ostensibly Erik and Charles’s relationship) is what cripples Xavier.

Ultimately, Erik and Charles have somewhat divergent goals and completely divergent philosophies. Erik is jaded, cynical (understandably so – his character is fantastically sympathetic in this regard throughout the film, and I was left championing his view), while Charles is a young idealist, untouched by the same persecution and abuse that Erik suffered. Despite being able to access Erik’s memories and suffering with him, Charles still can’t completely grasp and understand his pain.

But although they differ in this way, their qualities balance one another and make them an incredibly realistic couple. One really gets the sense that they belong together. As Erik is holding his wounded friend, he even says they belong together; that they are “brothers.” It’s quite a stretch but I would encourage considering the similar sound of “brothers” and “lovers”. And in their case, the two terms of partnership are interchangeable.

The beautiful part about their on-screen relationship is that neither Erik nor Charles are stock characters. They are both incredibly full and real, complex and at times unpredictable characters. They are very human. This complexity and dedication to not having “stock” stereotype characters (for the most part) has been one of the major advantages of the X-Men comics and franchise. Most of the characters are extraordinarily well-written and real. In this sense, Charles and Erik really do defy labels in terms of their personal relationship. As stated before, I would not say that they are simply gay – the nature of their relationship defies that in its complexity and incredible intimacy. Their shared intimacy goes beyond a sexual relationship, although I do think there is ample inference that they are romantically and sexually involved with one another. There is passion between them, and on a level that is not purely idealistic or philosophical. Their complexity also, thankfully, makes them difficult to categorize and pin with a label – they are too subversive and subtle to simply be “a gay couple”.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender had great on-screen chemistry, and it was a shame that popular hollywood restrictions forbade even a simple kiss between them. A friend told me that the director of the film, Matthew Vaughn, intended to direct it as a romantic tragedy. I think he achieved his aim. If Vaughn did indeed state this as his intention, I think that it is a reasonable reading of the film to see a relationship between Charles and Erik that is romantic and sexual. They had sexual tension, but they were also very comfortable with one another – a sense that there is desire but not an unfulfilled one.

Of course, nowhere in the mythology of the X-Men do Charles, Erik or any other character state that Magneto and Professor X were at one time romantically involved; simply that they have a past as close friends and colleagues. So yes – it is also a reasonable contention to state that I just see dicks everywhere and am reading too much into their on-screen relationship.

I don’t see, however, how the possibility of a sexual relationship between the two beloved characters would change anything about them, or about how one would view them. Sure, it adds another dimension to their relationship, but it should not diminish them as amazing characters. If anything, I think it adds another layer of tragedy to Charles and Erik’s broken relationship. I don’t understand why anyone would feel revulsion or even threatened by this reading. It literally changes nothing. Just as the lack of this relationship would.

Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Caleb Landry Jones (Banshee), James McAvoy (Prof. X), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggart), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Lucas Till (Havok)