Salem, Oregon is an awful place. Anyone who tells you otherwise has either never lived here or has ten children they are trying to shelter from the real world. For Christ’s sake, Salem is one of two towns in the entire country which actually has a city ordinance on the books making it illegal for a theater to sell tickets to an R-rated film to someone under the age of 18. I mean it, world leaders: you should nuke this shithole.
But, for those of us who are left to rot here, we must develop our coping mechanisms. Mine is a heavy drinking problem. It’s taken some time to find adequate watering holes in which to drown my sorrows. Most bars around here have serious problems: they are either devoid of class and ambience, or they close at midnight on a Friday, or they have piss poor beer and spirits selection, or they are frequented by assholes who never escaped the orbit of their fraternity. But, there is a small handful which I have found worthy of getting me drunk.
Brown’s Towne is a good place to be to begin the night. They slow down and close too early, but that’s why you start the night and don’t end it there. They have a great selection of Ninkasi brews on tap, and stock a good selection of spirits. Their burgers aren’t half bad either if you need some ballast before you start your binge. Lately they have been hosting a lot of good live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights as well. Most recently, I enjoyed a show by a band called Faerabella.
Faerabella describes themselves as a gypsy steampunk jazz band. I’m not sure what makes them steampunk, other than that their two male members (the stand-up bassist and the horn player) wear wide brimmed hats with aviator’s goggles on the side-band of the hat. Nevertheless, their music was fantastic. Their lead singer, a lovely woman with golden tones and range like a sniper rifle, knocked it out of the park. My scrotum bunched up with fear and exhilaration while she was singing a ballad about stabbing her husband to death. Dark and brutal stuff. Well worth a listen. I’m told you can find them on the iTunes Store.
They are also great sports. The entire time I was there, our mutual friend Geoffrey Queen – the man who invited me to the show, in fact – was screaming at the top of his lungs, “I slept with everyone in the band, and they all have huge dicks!” Yes, Geoffrey Queen (pronounced “joff-rey”) is in fact a queen. And proud to flaunt it, bless the man. A heavy drinker after my own heart and a true friend. I had recently started dating his good friend Bev and was a bit enamored with her, which brought him no end of delight. This was a feeling he expressed repeatedly while I was there that night, as he couldn’t remember anything that happened more than five minutes previous at any point. Five times, he touched my nipple and said, “Seriously, I just love you. But don’t worry; I’m not trying to fuck you.”
Eventually he passed out at the table and a huge bull dyke in his circle of friends had to drive him home. I was left waiting at a table where I knew nobody drinking Ninkasi IPA for an hour waiting for Bev to return from an evening in Portland. Eventually a strange person with massive mutton chops and a Windsor cap engaged me in conversation. He was wearing a vest and dress shirt – really going for the anachronistic British look. Right down to his teeth, which seemed to be rotting out of his skull. Nevertheless, he was perfectly pleasant. He related to me how he worked for a private custodial and maintenance firm here in town which now does all the work on state buildings which the state will no longer pay its own workers to do. He went on to tell me how most state buildings in Salem are in horrible repair and on the verge of collapse. One, he said, had so many cracks in its foundation that it looked like cobwebs.
Just when I was started to get bored of the man, my lady friend showed up and rescued me. It was ten o’clock. Time to move onto Venti’s, the traditional second stop of the night…
Venti’s downtown location is delightful. Upstairs is a café which by day serves the most delicious food around. I heartily recommend their chicken teriyaki with vegetables and noodles. Downstairs is where the real party is at though, in their dimly lit basement bar. The space is small and always packed every Friday and Saturday night, but the atmosphere and music selection leaves nothing else to be desired. They have a list of taps offering microbrews from all over the Northwest and beyond, and – to my great delight – they refuse to serve any domestic beers. The selection is superb, and their spirits top notch. They even offer some of those that are harder to find at other bars, like those from the Rogue Distillery in Newport, Oregon. Try their Spruce Gin or you, dear Constant Reader, are patently un-American.
An alternate second or third stop of the night in Salem’s downtown district is Gilgamesh. This tap house offers a beautiful selection of beers and wine, and hosts live performances on a regular basis. I was there one evening recently with Upton Charles, Bev, Geoffrey Queen and some mutual friends. I was minding my own business and enjoying a Hopscotch, which is so fucking delicious it makes me proud to be part Scottish. Geoffrey was busy showing his driver’s license to another group of strange twenty-something women (no doubt trying to recruit more “bitches” or “wives” to his ever-growing harem), attempting to convince them that his last name really was Queen. Upton was getting solidly drunk off of his sixth Vader, which is a rich dark beer with an espresso flavor – I also heartily recommend this one.
While we were patronizing Gilgamesh that night, there was a one-man show going on: described as a ukulele thrash performance. I meant to pay more attention to the man as he head banged and violently strummed his little instrument on stage, as I had been planning to write it up as part of this series of venue and entertainment reviews. But by the time he was getting warmed up I was already drunk. I don’t even remember his name. It all just descended into background noise, harmlessly ricocheting off of my eardrums. But I’m sure it was quite good. Anyone who tries to reinvent the sound of an instrument like the ukulele in shocking ways is okay in my book, damn it.
A short time after Geoffrey returned from his escapades at the other table and informed me I was to be one of his wives as well, one of Upton’s friends showed up from out of town, trying to catch up with his old pal. This poor unsuspecting straight-laced bastard is named Kurt. He’s always been awkward but eager to impress: a man with simple tastes and interests, always trying to show greater depth than he may actually possess, bless his little heart. Although, he’s a perfectly kind and agreeable person to be around. Trying once again to entertain us, he started falsely flirting with Geoffrey, who he’d never met before. Everyone was laughing, and then suddenly he was unzipping his pants as if to taunt Geoffrey. Before I could warn him to be careful what he was doing, Geoffrey’s hand was down Kurt’s pants and grabbing his bare cock. Kurt leapt to his feet, his face red as a spanked ass-cheek, and fled the area wailing in horror. The whole scene suddenly became very ugly or hilarious, depending on how drunk or uptight you were. Geoffrey and Bev and Upton and I enjoyed a good guffaw, but some other members of the party made excuses and departed not long after. Kurt may never recover from having another man’s hand on his business.
When something like that happens, it’s time to move onto the closer: Half-Time bar and grill on high street, at the northern edge of downtown Salem. Full disclosure: Half-Time is a dive bar. Located in what was once a Rockin’ Roger’s burger joint, it’s small, looks seedy on the outside and only a little less so on the inside. Its main redeeming value is that it’s pretty much the only bar open after 12:30 in downtown Salem, unless Brown’s Towne is unusually busy and decides to keep their doors open later. Half-Time has other great qualities though. By that time of night, since you don’t care about what you’re drinking anymore, you can take advantage of their $1.75 Pabst-in-a-can special, which is on all day and night, every day and night. You can also take advantage of their awesome bar food. I’m always amazed by their bartenders, because the cheap dullard who owns the place – and often sits around drinking by himself or inviting himself to sit with paying customers – usually only staffs one person at a time to cook and bartend simultaneously. Nevertheless, these good folks fry up some of the best damn sweet potato tots and nachos around.
When they aren’t slaving away, the bartenders are all good company as well. My favorite is Larry, who has a shaved bald head and a gnarly bushy beard. When he’s not working or drinking at Half-Time, he’s drinking somewhere else. After he’s off his shift, he’s always hanging out with the patrons well into the night, often rap-battling them inside the phone booth in the parking lot, surrounded by an awed crowd of onlookers. The staff there also has a delightful game called “Hide the Gnome” which they play amongst themselves. They attempt to hide a small ceramic gnome from the next bartender on duty at the end of their shifts. The only rule is that it must be hidden somewhere behind the bar. When things slow down, they can often be seen tossing the shelves back there, cursing the wily ceramic beast.
Well, it’s last call and I’m sitting here in the corner of the Half-Time now, putting the finishing touches on this post. Larry is closing up shop. Upton and Bev are passed out on the table next to me. Geoffrey has long since departed chasing some man meat. After I finish up these last few sentences and polish off my sixteenth drink, I’ll haul these sorry wrecks home in a taxi and stagger to bed. On the way home, I might try to drunk dial Comrade Richard “Bingo” Little and threaten him with violence if he doesn’t post an argument to Disputationes that I can refute soon. But apart from that, it’s more and more nights and weird mornings to come in this land of Salem. If you know any good nooks, corners, holes or hideaways in which to pass the time around this berg, leave a comment and share. We Salemites have to stick together; it’s us against sobriety.
By Upton Charles
Before I delve into this too far, let me just say that I, your author, have been deemed to be a hipster. I once sported a look referred to some as “hipster lumberjack.” I used to work in fashion. I used to live in Brooklyn. I listen to Wolf Parade.
But I bought my clothes at Goodwill because I was poor, not because I wanted to look poor. It was more by chance that my “style” was accepted. I never wore black framed glasses, though I’m pretty sure my eyesight is bad enough that I could use them. I’ve only worn make-up on Halloween and only wear a scarf when it’s really fucking cold outside.
So, having noted this, I fucking hate most hipsters. Emo kids, “scene” kids, Sublime-obsessed “hippy” kids – they’re all awful. (The Sublime kids are especially awful. I used to kind of like Sublime and they have fucking RUINED it for me.) They’re all stupid, self-serving little fuckers.
Yet I’ve begun to wonder if it’s just because they’re kids and now I’m an “adult.” Were my friends just as bad when I was younger? Is Mumford and Sons a legitimate band and I just “don’t get it”? Is “Gotye” NOT a really stupid band name?
I recently went to a concert in Portland (hipsters!) for the band Dr. Dog (beards!) and found myself hating about 90% of the crowd. But the worst offender was right in front of me: A kids about 6ft 4in and his group of friends who slammed their way in front of me (and several others) just as the show started. He proceeded to be an asshole in the following ways:
-He jumped around and flailed his arms with no regard for anyone else trying to enjoy the show.
-He was smoking weed. This didn’t bother me, but the fact that he never offered to anyone else irked me.
-He invited more of his friends up to the front because, in his words, “There’s plenty of room!” This was a lie and he knew it.
-He kept yelling for the band to play a particular song, but when they finally did play said song, he didn’t appear to recognize it.
-He and his friends were chanting, “One more song!” during the encore, which they didn’t seem to realize almost always contains 4-5 songs. (With few exceptions. If the band plays a song in an encore and the song is 10-12 minutes long, then you shouldn’t expect as many. If the first song is 2 minutes long, it goes without saying that the band will play more than that.)
-He got angry at me when I folded my arms to prevent him from hitting me in the face with his shoulder every time he jumped around. (He seemed to think that i was elbowing him in the back. I informed him that if he stopped slamming into me and being a general asshat that his back would be just fine.)
-He wouldn’t shut the fuck up for one fucking second.
Now, I’ve been to a lot of concerts and I know how to act. This guy (and his friends) seemed like they had never been to a concert before, nor had they managed to learn any basic social skills.
So are the kids just pieces of shit or am I just too old? Or is it some combination of both? I’m not sure, but I think that the next time I go to a concert, I’m gonna sit and drink beer with the old farts.
Author’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from today’s new post to Disputationes, the debate and dialectics blog recently undertaken by Comrade Richard “Bingo” Little and myself. What you read here is the beginning of my point: that everything is doomed to oblivion. On Disputationes, you’ll find the rest of my argument as well as Comrade Bingo’s counterpoint (which I must grudgingly admit is quite astute — but still wrong, damn it!). I’m very excited to be launching this new blogging venture with my partner Comrade Bingo, and I hope you’ll follow us there as well, dear Constant Reader.
Pessimus, or Everything is Horrible
By H.J. Herrick
So I’m supposed to tell you poor fuckers why your lives are doomed to mediocrity and despair through no fault of your own. Unless you were born rich, with power and influence. And even then you may not be happy (you fucking sociopathic bastard). Well delivering shit news like this to good hardworking suckers such as yourselves is never easy, dear Constant Readers. I didn’t ask to be the Harbinger of Doom, but I did ask to know the Truth, and have spent my life trying to lift up the dark underbelly of Society to find it. Take it from me: the Truth is a grim ugly Bitch of Death, and it wants to eat your children alive.
So here is how I find myself in this position… After disappearing from public life for some months while serving a brief jail sentence for some trumped up bullshit, I emerged from solitary confinement to go on a horrific month-long ether, psychedelic mushroom and booze-fueled binge across Oregon. While drinking moonshine under a bridge somewhere (I think I was in Marion County, but I blacked out for a few days here and there, so who knows?) I came across my old colleague and friend, Comrade Richard “Bingo” Little. Always the chipper lad, Comrade Bingo had plenty of nice things to say about my needing to buck up and look on the bright side of Life. Naturally, I snorted some strong uppers and composed myself so I could argue the opposite position: that Life and the World are twin Dogs from Hell snarling and gnashing teeth, ready to rend our balls from our bodies. I argued that nothing could be done to better my situation, or the World’s. I was doomed. We were all doomed. But he persisted. Eventually we argued to an impasse, and agreed to continue the debate later in a more civilized forum. So here I am, in this new area and back at the typewriter, arguing the case on the behalf of Chaos and Misery. I’m sure he’ll tell you all about that contrary “The World is a wounded unicorn searching for a healing rainbow” bullshit later, but for now it’s time to sink your teeth into some real meaty and awful rotten stuff: Reality.
Follow the rest of the post here!
Greetings. I am Upton, the new writer here at The New Apocalypse. I’d like to thank Mr. Herrick for his introduction in the previous post.
As was mentioned by Herrick, we met at what was, at the time, the biggest dive bar in New York City. It was also one of the few places where you could get a drink for any price close to reasonable. It was a haunt of mine mostly for the cheap drink and good people watching. The place was roughly the size of a live-in trailer and about as luxurious. The clientele generally consisted of punk rock kids and seasoned drunkards. Most of the Williamsburg hipsters stayed away from the place, though it was the bar where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs formed.
I was drinking a Corona out of a bottle (one of the two beers served there) and heard some guy in an ragged blazer ranting on about Wall Street and the collapse of the housing market (Note: This was back in late 2007). Most people were ignoring him in that way that New Yorkers do. I was a transplant in the city and could tell that he was, too. The city must have been taking a toll on him, I thought. Why else would he stumble in here?
We got to talking and drinking and found we had a lot in common. A general distaste of most things (especially in the Bush II years) bonded us. I was a nice, warming thing to meet someone like him a city that was both literally and figuratively cold.
We shared a joint outside after last call and Herrick mentioned that he was starting a blog. Good God, not another one of those, I thought. I was less warm to the idea as I was a writer for print and, like many at the time, I saw blogs as an enemy rather than a future. But I wished him the best in his efforts. I stumbled back north to the L-line, and then home. I never really expected to see Herrick again.
But here I am, broke as hell living in Oregon. It isn’t where I thought I would be, but there are worse things. Things have changed a bit: The Mars Bar closed down, we have a new (er) president, work is harder to find, the garbage island in the Pacific is bigger every day. I recently went to a dive bar off Broadway called The Half Time that boasts $1.75 tallboys of PBR. I’d found a new home.
And who was in the bar but that crazy bastard Herrick! We started talking a bit more and he told me once again about his blog. I’ve become more open to the idea, so I agreed to come on board. Why not? It’s not like I’m getting paid to do anything else…
So I’ll be joining you here for a while. It should be a blast.
Boehner Cries Like a Bitch Again
In other words — by the numbers — what has been lost for the Democrats this week? Other than a little dignity, that is. Well, they’ve definitely lost the fucking House of Representatives. There’s no doubt about that. The Democrats have lost all but the slimmest majority in the Senate since their soaring heights at 60 seats earlier in this past term. At least its a slim majority, and not a split or a Republican majority… Great Magnet forbid.
The New York Times is even painting this on their front page November 3rd edition as “A REBUKE FOR OBAMA.” But honestly, is it really? Not even the same voting pools showed up this year as in 2008. The Democratic base that elected Obama totally failed to show up and support Obama’s minions in Congress. I blame young voters and ethnic voters, all of whom are always terrible at turning out in midterm elections. It’s the same reason that Clinton not only lost the House but also the Senate in 1994………… wait. What? Holy shit. I just remembered! Clinton lost both houses of Congress in 1994 and he went on to be a two term President widely remembered as one of the most competent of the late 20th century. Do you think…. could that mean… that this is totally fucking normal and that it didn’t even end up as badly as it could have?!?!?!? FUCK YES!!! But the 24-hour news media or a blubbering John Boehner (soon to be the new Speaker of the House; pictured above) would never let the explanation be that simple… To them, this is so significant they could either fill a room with 33 commentators to shout over each other or just fake human emotions, respectively.
I might even go on to remind the Dear Constant Reader that sudden House shifts are routine in our nation’s history after traumatic economic crises. Democrats lost more than 100 House seats in 1894 after an economic collapse in the U.S. brought about sudden voter outrage. In 1932 — oh yeah, after the Great Depression began — Republicans lost 97 seats in the House at the same time F.D.R. assumed power. And, in the second of Franklin Roosevelt’s unprecedented four terms, Democrats lost 72 of the 97 seats they had just gained in 1938 (midterm backlash, just like Clinton and Obama’s).
What I’m saying is, F.D.R. rallied from the aftermath of the worst financial crisis in U.S. history to lose and win again the support of Congress during the greatest war in our nation’s history — all accomplished during a decade and a half of his Presidency. Clinton managed to win re-election handily in 1996 after losing both houses of Congress in 1994. He went on to be one of the few Presidents in recent history to leave office with a national budget surplus rather than a tremendous deficit. Obama will do the same (okay, perhaps minus the budget surplus — we’ll see).
Seriously: consider his possible opponents. Romney? Palin? Pawlenty? Gingrich? Come on, people. Do you really think those young and ethnic voters that didn’t care to show up for Russ Feingold are going to forgo Obama and allow Sarah Palin to assume power? If you think that… not only should you think again, you should eat a gun and relieve us of your miserable company.
This is a typical midterm election backlash which typically comes from impatient and stupid voters who have spent the last two years doing what they do best: stoking their own ignorance and anger. Ask yourself: who showed up to vote? CNN and any other news network with 3D holographic data-points can tell you: angry and/or old Republicans showed up to vote! The same angry and/or old conservatives who showed up to vote in the midterms after F.D.R. and Clinton were elected! In 2010, the Democrats that lost their seats got thrown out by pieces of shit like the guy pictured at right. I’m not too worried about Obama’s base being outnumbered by their kind in 2012.
Not only is the 2010 midterm backlash normal, its not even as severe as the last few cycles. This time, we didn’t lose 100 or 70-some House seats. We only lost 50-60 House seats, and Democrats still retained the Senate! Jesus, it’s not all doom and gloom! This way, there is no risk of an impeachment hunt and the grim political kabuki theater that inevitably ensues. The kind of kabuki theater Clinton faced. This time, there is no chance in hell of repealing Health Care with Democrats retaining the Senate and Obama holding the veto pen. This time, the people will quickly realize — as they have in all precious backlash cycles — that the new President’s policies aren’t to blame.
In other words, people: you have to give a guy more than two years to fix an economic crisis that took the previous President eight years to create.
Anyway, by the numbers things went badly this week for Democrats but not as badly as it could have gone and not as badly as many would have you believe. It’s true we’ll face some gridlock in Washington D.C. for a while and the compromises we get will probably be bitter ones where Democrats and Republicans smile shaking hands for the cameras but spit venom behind closed doors. But the important point is that people will soon find out these Republicans they’ve elected can’t accomplish anything they’ve promised and they aren’t who they said they were. I mean, how can you repeal Healthcare when you don’t control the Senate and the President still holds the veto pen? A promise like that is broken the second it’s made. It’s just a sad commentary on how stupid this year’s voters were that it will take them months to realize that. Therefore, the backlash will subside just as all waves break and roll back.
On the more immediate bright side, my home state of Oregon has gone blue again. Peter DeFazio (D – House) and Ron Wyden (D – Senate) both won re-election in Oregon this week. Best of all, in a narrow race John Kitzhaber won election to his third term as Oregon’s governor after being forced out by term limits while still relatively popular just a few years ago. He is the first governor in Oregon’s history to win election to a third term this way. I’m not all that optimistic that he’ll be able to achieve much until the next election cycle for the Oregon state legislature, since it looks like both chambers of the Oregon state legislature will be evenly split for now and unable to do much of significance. Nevertheless, I’m counting my blessings since I can’t imagine this state in the maniacal hands of a crazy-asshole-former-Portland-Blazer-who-couldn’t-shoot-free-throws-to-save-his-fucking-life-turned-dick-bag-Republican Chris Dudley. The terror would be unfathomable. Not to mention, I’m much more liable to sleep at night with Kitzhaber holding the veto pen should any crazy ass budget proposals come out of the legislative chambers.
Which brings me to my next — and much more local and personal — point of interest. At the same moment races across the country were being decided, the Eugene, Oregon Public School Board was hearing a new budget proposal from Superintendent George Russell. This proposal is intended to bridge an expected 30 million dollar budget shortfall coming in the next school year. The proposal — among other things — would layoff over 100 teachers (virtually every teacher hired within the last three years) and increase average class sizes to over forty.
It would close six elementary schools and fold their kindergarten through third grades into neighboring elementary schools while the empty husks left behind are to be sold for disposable funds. Where do the fourth through fifth graders go, you might ask? They will be folded into programs heretofore — and by George Russell’s own admission and to our collective best knowledge — never tried anywhere in the country: fourth through eighth grade middle schools.
That’s right: your innocent little cherub fourth graders will be wandering the same halls as sinister drug dealing eighth graders.
The best part is that all of the actual sustainable cuts to the budget proposed above (and others not even mentioned) only account for about two thirds of the 30 million dollars Russell needs to cut to break even (which is required of school budgets every year in Oregon law). The last third comes from one-time-only-funds like selling properties the district owns — luckily, there will be six more of those this coming year — and using up every last dime of reserve funds the district has left.
Wait. It gets better still.
After spending every last spare dime the Eugene school district has in its piggy bank, Russell is retiring at the end of the year and leaving the next year’s inevitable mess of a budget gap in the hands of some other poor asshole. Not only that, Russell’s budget calls for that very same replacement asshole to get a raise of some $70,000 per year.
That’s right: the new superintendent of Eugene schools will get a $70,000 raise at the same moment over 100 of Eugene’s teachers are packing their bags and heading for the unemployment lines.
Having worked in public schools elsewhere in the past, having many friends among Eugene teachers as I do now, and valuing the futures of children everywhere as I do, I can only conclude that this budget proposal is disgraceful and un-American. How can this motherfucker Russell ask those teachers left after cutting 100 to take a 20 to 25% salary cut for the coming year with the same straight face he’s using to reassure Eugene parents that these new class sizes of 40 to 45 and six fewer instructional days won’t adversely affect their children’s education?
If you live in Eugene, Oregon, you need to get in touch with George Russell and let him know his budget proposal for Eugene schools is an unacceptable, unimaginative and un-American piece of shit. You need to tell him that he can’t leave one third of the problem for the next asshole to fix as long as he leaves a $70,000 tip. You need to tell George Russell that the children of Eugene are more important than his bottom line.
More importantly still, you need to tell your Oregon state legislature that public schools cannot survive another catastrophe like this. Nor can its teachers. They are already at the breaking point, though their brave smiling faces would never show it to their students or to a callous and unsympathetic public which expects so much of them.
Bottom line: schools can’t fix the problem by cutting budgets from the bottom up. They need new income from above. Eighty-seven percent of Eugene’s operating budget is in its personnel. You can’t make cuts without firing teachers. Cutting 20% of Eugene’s budget every year means cutting 12 or 13% of its teachers every year.
Fact: schools cannot operate without teachers, and the students aren’t fucking going anywhere.
Conclusion: this entire process is completely unsustainable and the biggest losers are your children.
Only possible solution: new money from the state or the federal governments.
Your job if you want to help: write your fucking local, state and national representatives (Eugene is just one of hundreds of districts across the country having the same problems, after all) and demand action. Before its too late. Even better, vote Democrat across the board — local and national — in the next election. H.J. Herrick and his friends — the teachers of Eugene, Oregon — would thank you.
Hell, we’d even buy you a beer.
While I’ve been focusing a lot of energy on poetry lately — you can see some at The New Apocalypse‘s cousin site: 365 — I promise you, dear constant reader that I haven’t neglected my petty drug habits and inane rambling essays on the esoteric. In between tormented poetic introspections, I’ve been working all summer on catching up on movies, TV series and documentaries I’ve missed over the past few years with a brand spanking new Netflix account. This deal is sweet as a virgin’s honey pot; for basically ten bucks a month, you can watch hundreds of hours of this crap streaming online right at your TV or laptop computer. Or — failing that — you can watch a scratched-up-but-somehow-always-still-functional disc delivered right to your home mailbox. Amidst all that rampant upper-fueled viewing, I’ve been developing a few movie reviews. In today’s post, I offer you reviews of two recent documentaries which offer differing views on the present human condition and the roads we are building into our collective future: Collapse and The Cove. In each of today’s reviews, I’m looking at a documentary which centers around a powerful figure whose life is wrapped up in his own obsessions. Those obsessions are created by each man’s past experiences and informed by their present outlook on what they think will become or could become the future.
In our first film — Collapse (2009) — we are introduced in the opening sequence to a man named Michael Rupert. He is a former Los Angeles police officer turned investigative reporter and radical thinker. After working on the force for a while and marrying a C.I.A. agent, he discovered what he still believes to be the assassination by the C.I.A. of several U.S. soldiers who discovered too much about a secret C.I.A. program being operated on domestic soil to distribute and test illicit substances. He quit the force then only to find himself the victim of several mysterious near fatal accidents after his wife divorced him without explanation. He then became an investigative reporter an worked to expose that incident and others in journals, newspapers and eventually his own publication: From the Wilderness. His investigations turned into obsession. What he uncovered and the theories he devised based on that information led him to conclude that modern society was on a collision course with self-destruction. The rest of the film consists of a 82 minute monologue in which he explains how he publicly predicted the 2008 financial crisis well in advance (as well as other systemic disasters), then goes on to predict and explain how modern industrialized society will collapse under its own weight within the next fifty years — if not the next ten.
The film is very atmospheric and plays on the viewer’s desire to buy into Rupert’s anti-establishment and conspiratorial views throughout. It’s filmed — as Rupert incessantly chain smokes — in a dark-meat-locker-looking basement somewhere in Los Angeles by the director and interviewer: Chris Smith. During the monologue, the director intersperses footage of Rupert in his earlier exploits, photos of his publications, and archival footage which illustrates Rupert’s points. Throughout the film the viewer is easily drawn in as Rupert convincingly explains his predictions about the coming collapse of society.
Rupert explains that “peak oil” — the time at which the world’s oil supply peaks and then begins to decline — has already occurred within the last decade. Declassified government documents confirm this. Therefor, he explains, the global economy which is based on this resource — which we only began extracting from the ground a little over a hundred years ago by the way — has already begun to decline. Imagine: all of the fossilized energy which has been stored inside this planet since its creation/formation has been strip-mined by human beings in less than two hundred years. Rupert also debunks all the popular fixes for oil dependence: nuclear, clean coal, wind, solar, hydroelectric, wave power, zero-point energy, biodiesel, etc. Because in the future the only means of generating power will at best be wind and solar — and because those forms of energy cannot be transmitted over long distances via power lines — all future civilization will be local and decentralized. And it will not be industrialized. In other words, because nothing can replace the edifice created by fossil fuels — and because at least five billion of the people who exist on this planet exist only because of the modern conveniences invented in the last century — civilization will collapse as soon as a sustainable supply of oil disappears and billions of people will starve to death and be swept aside by the global chaos that ensues as slowly collapsing governments fight over what resources are left. In the end, Rupert believes — as I tend to believe — that five hundred years from now the historians of humanity’s survivors will look back and write that the twenty-first century gave birth to the Dark Ages.
Now, the filmmaker tries to paint this very convincing picture and then pull the rug out from under the viewer at the very end by de-legitimizing Rupert. Because Rupert is a man obsessed and emotionally wrecked by his obsession, Smith tries to show how — in his own words — “… that [Rupert’s] obsession with the collapse of industrial civilization has led to the collapse of his life.” At the end we see how Rupert is avoiding eviction after the failure of his most recent book and the director transposes several quotes (published in the 80’s) from Rupert’s critics which claim he is a paranoid delusional. Here I think the director falls short.
While Rupert’s obsession is certainly destroying his life, the director unfairly debunked and dismissed Rupert’s theories when he pointed only to Rupert’s personal problems as evidence of his theories’ illegitimacy. Yes; Rupert is an unhealthy and obsessive individual, but he also happens to be a genius. His logic is sound. His theories about the edifice of fossil fuel and its collapse are inscrutable. His facts and figures can’t be argued with. But that’s just my opinion. You can watch and judge for yourself. Are you like the director — too eager to dismiss Rupert because you are afraid he might be right and your children will never be able to watch Netflix on some thing called a laptop — or are you like me?
In our second film — The Cove (2009) — the director (Louie Psihoyos) creates a fascinating narrative of the life and exploits of dolphin-trainer-turned-dolphin-liberator Ric O’Barry. The subject of this film got his start as a dolphin trainer for the show Flipper. Before that show came along the general public didn’t know much about dolphins and didn’t adore them overmuch. But the show was green-lit by its studio decades back and O’Barry was hired to capture and train several dolphins which could then all be used as rotating stand-ins for the character of Flipper. You’ll learn that O’Barry actually lived year round in the house by the Flippers’ dock which was supposed to be the family house in the show. There, in that enclosed bay, he lived with those dolphins for the entire TV series’ run and befriended them. He would even drag his TV out to the end of the dock with an extension cord so his dolphin friends could watch themselves on TV. Then the show was cancelled and the dolphins were taken away from him. He said he still visited them for a time after the dolphins were sold off to a theme park and performed shows for the public. Of course, he learned right away as dolphins for the first time because theme park animals that they cannot survive happily in such a place. They are acoustic animals and aquatic theme parks are basically like giant noise sinks for aquatic animals. It would be like capturing a human being, taping their eyes open and making them watch war-crime footage for years on end.
So, O’Barry dedicated his life to freeing captive dolphins even as their success at that first theme park caused dolphin captures to increase exponentially worldwide for the next forty years. Now there is a booming industry — which O’Barry blames himself for starting with the show Flipper — that captures and puts on display hundreds of dolphins every year.
However, that is merely prologue. The subject of the film is mainly O’Barry’s time in the coastal Japanese town of Taijii. That town — which seems pleasant enough on the surface — is actually the world’s number one supplier of captive dolphins and of dolphin meat.
Yes, that’s right. Dolphin meat.
As it turns out, the International Whaling Commission — the only body in the world dedicated to anti-whaling practices — doesn’t consider dolphins to be a type of whale. Therefor, Japanese fisherman can round-up hundreds of dolphins near their breeding waters in Taijii, sell the prime females to collectors from aquariums around the world, then herd the rest into Taijii’s secluded and infamous cove (hence the name of the film). There they are slaughtered for their meat. The fishermen of the town have kept the cove off-limits to journalists and cameramen for decades because of what goes on there and the Japanese government assists them financially in doing so. In other words: they know how negatively the rest of the world looks at this practice.
Furthermore, the film proved that these fishermen are selling this dolphin meat the Japanese government, which is then repackaging it and selling it with labels claiming it is exotic and expensive fish of various other kinds. If that wasn’t enough, the reason dolphin meat shouldn’t be sold at all — much less advertised as other meats to artificially inflate its value — is because its got over 500% more mercury content than any other animals in the sea. This is because dolphins and whales occupy the same level of their food chain that we do on land. In other words, all the mercury we are dumping into the ocean (the mercury content of the ocean has gone up 1 to 3 percent every year since the mercury content of the ocean began being measured) is collecting in dolphins and whales and sharks: the ultimate end of the oceanic food chain. What will the end result of this be? Mercury poisoning at mass levels in the Japanese public if this continues.
The filmmakers — and Ric O’Barry — also do a pretty good job of convincing the viewer that this practice will probably continue since Japan an other countries are desperate to satisfy their public’s demand for seafood. At our current rates of ocean fishing, scientists say, there will be no more fish in the oceans within the next fifty years. While Ric O’Barry doesn’t seem to have a long-term solution to the problem, he is more optimistic than Michael Rupert that action can actually be taken to solve some or all of the problem. To that end O’Barry contacted the filmmakers, who in turn assembled a veritable secret agent team of experts. Their goal was to expose what was going on inside the cove in Taijii.
They came up with a plan — detailed in the movie — to infiltrate the cove by cover of darkness and install hidden cameras underwater and under false rocks along the shore to capture evidence of what happens there. Much of The Cove details how that operation was executed and the footage and evidence that they uncovered in the process.
I warn you, dear Constant Reader… If you don’t want to see dozens of Japanese fisherman impaling the hearts of hundreds of crying dolphins as an entire mile long cove turns from ocean blue to blood-red… don’t watch this film.
O’Barry, at the film’s conclusion, seems optimistic that this evidence will give him what he needs to affect some kind of change in the globe’s attitude about whaling and dolphin protection (maybe even amongst the general public of Japan itself, which is still largely ignorant of the mercury-choked dolphin meat they’re being fed). That is the difference between him and Michael Rupert of Collapse: optimism.
In the end, I’ll let the viewer decide if there is any hope of shaking people out of their apathy. But I think you can guess how I feel about that, dear Constant Reader.
In any case, The Cove is an excellent film insofar as it exposes a global problem which most people don’t even know is a problem (because no institution exists to expose it). However, while Collapse unfairly dismisses Rupert, I feel The Cove unfairly glorifies O’Barry. Yes, O’Barry and the film crew succeeds in their goal of exposing dolphin fishing, but they utterly fail to convince me that anything will change as a result. The one thing the film overlooked is that the revulsion of the general public whenever they are outraged by something is always outweighed by the greed of the corporations and governments they work for.
So, to sum up, I felt like both of these films presented fascinating portraits of fascinating characters and exposed massive problems in society which can’t be escaped. However, both films were skewed in their perceptions by their creators and presented — in both cases — what I felt to be an incomplete or short-sighted view. In other words, both films barely had time to scratch the surface even as fascinating and scathing as they were.