Now Isn't That Special

Thanks to your generosity, friends and neighbours, the tip jar I put up last week filled up quickly, and the grand total came to enough to pay for year of hosting plus a few bucks extra.
That made me very happy. Thanks again to everyone who helped out.
But Paypal arbitrarily and inexplicably restricts me from transferring any more than US$100 total out (even if the balance is higher than that), unless I add a credit card number, a restriction of which I can’t recall being notified when I created the account.
Problem is : I don’t have a valid credit card. I know that this marks me as a freak and a sport, to be warded off with a crucifix and hounded out of the village by torch-brandishing consumers, and I accept that. Korean banks will not give me one because I’m a dirty foreigner and I do not hold one with a Canadian bank, as I have not lived there for more than a decade and do not plan to again in the forseeable future.
So there’s money just sitting there, and I have no idea how to get at it. Paypal won’t allow me to add my wife’s credit card, for example, because her surname (in the way of Korea) is different from mine, and the surname field on the You Must Give Us Your Credit Card, Little Man page is not editable.
Which leaves me up sh-t creek without a sh-tpaddle, as Jim Leahy would say, because I still need to transfer $50 to my new hosting reseller before he sends Frankie and Rocco around to bust my kneecaps.
Anyone got any ideas how to get around this?


My heartfelt and humble thanks to the folks that have kicked a few bucks (or a lot of bucks, in some surprising but very welcome cases!) into the hosting kitty over the past few days, by the way. I’ll leave the button up over on the left, I guess, should anyone else get the urge to help out.
As it stands, though, I have enough for a year or so of hosting now, I think. You people rock!
I promise to try to write more in future. Although given the post just to the south, there, for example, that may not actually be a Good Thing. Your call.

Horrible But Exceedingly Clever

When my old rock and roll alco-compadre DV was here for a whirlwind visit last June, one of the missions on his checklist was to try and track down Takashi Miike movies. He figured, quite reasonably, that it might be easier to find them in the black markets in Seoul than in Chicago.
That didn’t turn out to be the case, and we failed Mission Miike miserably, combing the Yongsan black market and Namdaemun in vain. Still, we had a reasonably enjoyable time trying, which is what life’s all about, after all.
Although DV’s tastes have always been more extreme than mine in most things, I was keen to check out these movies that he was so intent on finding. In the last few months, I’ve been bittorrenting my little heart out, and have managed to download and watch a handful of Miike’s movies, and they’ve, like, blown my mind, man. Phrases like ‘fanatical intensity’ and ‘horrible but exceedingly clever’ are used to talk about Miike’s transgressive oeuvre. That doesn’t even begin to describe it.
So far, I’ve watched

and I’ve never seen anything like them. I don’t know if I love or hate them, to be honest, but I’m glad I watched them. I must admit I don’t know bugger-all about Fine Cinema. I don’t have any trace of the fanboy otaku fetishization of things Japanese that seems to elevate some of the lamest Japanese culture-crud to cult status. I like David Lynch, and Kubrick, and I like Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch too, but I couldn’t possibly engage you in an intelligent discussion of why. I just do, OK?
Don’t know much about no art, but I knows what I likes.
Still, I do know when something I’ve seen or heard or read has reached into my skull and scrambled the curds around. I walk around in a daze for a couple of days, and then puke up some poetry, or get valve-clearing drunk and bang my head against the wall for a while in search of the reset button.
Those are good things, in case you were wondering.
But Miike’s stuff? That’s a whole other kind of thing.
Here’s a little quote from a book called ‘Agitator — The Cinema of Takashi Miike’ :

“When Kiyoshi accidentally strangles her in his rage, he takes her home and deposits her corpse in the garden greenhouse. He sends the visitor (who has been filming throughout with Kiyoshi’s consent) into the house to fetch some garbage bags, then continues to mark the parts of Asako’s body that he intends to cut off for easier disposal. He discovers that he becomes aroused by the sight of her naked body, then turns to the camera and says he finally discovered the feeling he couldn’t acknowledge before: a desire to have sex. If this is what he repressed, then he has been denying himself since his children were born. The moment when being a parent became more important than being a lover, he conformed to his duty and repressed his desires. The choice to make him rediscover a desire for sex (which he will then naturally act upon because realisation equals liberation) instead of a random other emotion is therefore anything but exploitative. It’s quite the opposite: being true to the character and to the film’s theme.”

Which sounds a little out there perhaps, but defensible in terms of story and character. If it offends you, though, you’d best not read further.
Because that paragraph doesn’t begin to describe what happens later in the scene — or what happened in the previous scene for that matter (in which Asako is raped and murdered by Kiyoshi) — events so simultaneously horrendous and hilariously bizarre that you find yourself dazed by the utter nastiness of it. Kiyoshi begins to have sex with the corpse — filmed in unswerving, all-revealing Miike style — and finds himself unable to, er, withdraw, apparently due to rigor mortis. After the corpse voids its bowels on him during his struggle to disengage, doglike, things proceed to get worse.
Yes, worse.
Miike’s been making movies for a little over a decade, and in that time he’s made more than 40 of them. The half-dozen or so I’ve seen so far have opened up and played a flashlight around in corners of my brain that see the light rarely, if at all. The sex scene, if that’s what you can call it, in the last ten minutes of Gozu, for example, as illuminating as it is of the allusively Lynchian psychological mysteries of the main character, had me, unshockable me, sitting there with jaw literally agape at the imagery. I won’t go into details, since spoilers suck, but it was the first movie I ever went back and watched again immediately after the climactic (and utterly bizarre) finish, looking for the threads that led to it.
If you want scrape your mind raw, and get down deep inside the churning sh-tpool that is our modern global culture, get right into some Miike. If you can laugh at rape and murder, giggle along with necrophilia and dismemberment, this stuff’s for you. Indelible memories of Miike were part of the engine behind my rhetorical flourishes in this piece I wrote up the other afternoon. The twining of sex and violence is a worrisome thing, of course. Every Miike movie I watch leaves me feeling a little guilty for laughing, and a little dirty for watching, I admit. But I also feel a little awestruck at the artfulness and audacity of it all. And once the distorting lens has been removed as the credits roll, the parodies of human viciousness that I’ve been watching have illuminated some things for me.
Miike brings it together pretty well himself, in an interview here :

C: In the torture scenes, the needles below the frame are like having needles stuck into your own eyes.
MT: Yes, I did want the audience to feel it. Particularly Japanese men, wanting to have a nice wife, a pretty wife, and to be happy – it’s something they all want to do. I knew by getting them to sympathise with the character, I could make them feel the pain that he’s going through.
C: Can you tell me about your use of sound to create atmospheres? Like the noise of the piano wires…
MT: When things are being severed, I’m using meat with a similar-type bone. When we were recording the sound, rather than turn up the recording volume, we put the microphone very close, almost in the hole – I wanted the audience to feel the vibrations, coming through.
C: Any other influences?
MT: (grins) I like Monty Python.

I’d recommend you watch a few Takashi Miike movies, but you might hate me afterwards.
[Update : In some kind weird blogospheric serendipity, I see Matt’s just posted something about The Happiness of The Katakuris, which was a Miike remake of a Korean film, The Quiet Family. Weird.]

I Wish It Weren't So

I’ve put off doing this for a long time. It makes me feel weird and a little ashamed. But when the going gets weird…ah well, you know the rest.
My good friend and kind host, who’s been providing a home for this site gratis for the last few years, isn’t going to be able to do so much longer. This wouldn’t be a problem if I could reasonably spare the bucks to pay for my hosting, but the sh-tty thing is: I can’t.


So I’ve finally taken the plunge and set up a paypal account tip jar, and if you’ve gotten any pleasure out of my ranting and babbling over the years, and you’d like to do the equivalent of buying me a couple of beers, as thanks or as fuel for more of the same, well, I’d be in your debt. I’ll use any dollars or euros or yen or shekels thrown my way to keep this site online, and if folks do kick in, I promise to try and write more frequently as a token of my appreciation.
I’m putting a button over in the left column as well. You have my heartfelt thanks if you decide to shoot me some coin, friends.
Edit: Nuh-uh. Long since deleted. If you want to help me out and get some hosting for yourself, go here.
In happier wonderchicken news, the contract for the upcoming book has arrived, and all systems look to be go, so if I end up rich and sexy and famous out of the deal†, the beers’ll be on me. It’s a promise.
[Update : †Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.
Also, I just realized I probably put up my little ‘help me, I’s monetarily disadvantaged!’ plea here at the worst possible time, as blogger wallets snap shut all over the web thanks to the MT 3.0 brouhaha (man, I love that word), making a sound like distant automatic weapons fire. So go give Rageboy some money, if you can only afford to help out one weblogger with a tip jar and a bad attitude this year. It sounds like he might need the help more than I do. And he’ll kick my ass if he doesn’t get his meds.]

On The Turning Away

It’s hard to get your balance these days. Turn over a bucket, hop up on it, perch there precariously, look around as the cascade of chitinous black beetles surf in on surges of liquid shit. Pull up your pantlegs as the wave breaks around you and the brown spatters fly, squeak a bit, pray that the bugs (and the rats whose glowing eyes you see in the murk around you) don’t know how to climb.
Which is a melodramatic way to say that I don’t quite know what to say. Got some outrage? Get in line, sucker. Got something to say about rapin’ and torturin’, about beheadin’? So does every other Right Thinking Citizen, and by crikey, they’re making sure that those somethings are heard.
Let’s roll. Stay the course. Bring it on. Cut and run. Never forget. I’ll be back. Duck and cover.
Wait, that last one doesn’t fit in, does it? At least not yet.
It’s getting hard to stare unflinching into the actinic glare as the doors of hell swing open these days. The impulse, even after we’ve been bombarding ourselves with images like goatse and tubgirl and Daniel Pearl and Michael Jackson’s face, graveyard-joking all the while to show how tough and desensitized we are, is to turn away. To stop tattooing those horrible pictures on the sensitive cauliflower folds.
But each new iteration exerts its sick fascination, and the rays of doomlight — shining from Lynndie England and Nick Berg, from Madrid and Kabul — glitter over our mental horizons, lighting up the whole mediated clusterfuck as it whips itself into ever-bloodier froth. The tender-fleshed, bright-eyed Friends-consumers we were only show up in the quietest moments. Our shell-shocked outrage-fatigued palimpsest faces are hanging out in the wind, just like our asses. Can’t really make out the old stories of who we were on our faces anymore, and can’t make out the new stories either, scrawled in blood and filth, littered with copyright and trademark symbols and viagra ads and homemade porn and watermarked photos of piles of naked bodies.
Not piles of corpses. At least not yet.
The impulse is to turn away. But we tell ourselves that it’s weak and unworthy to avert our gaze. We’ve been told that it’s our ethical responsibility to bear witness, to see with eyes clear the evil that’s done in our names or otherwise, to understand and remember it, to prevent it ever happening again. Possibly at the risk of losing the chance to stop it, but pay that no never mind.
We love freedom. They hate freedom. We love liberty. God bless America. Down with the Great Satan.
We’re gonna shove democracy up their asses until they love us, just like Mike Tyson.
But not turning away can lead into an addictive room of mirrors. Bearing witness changes from a duty and a rite to a habit and a vice. The feed only gets notice when we unhook it, and we’re not fed the world by our umbilicals, we’re pulled further out of it. Schroedinger’s cat doesn’t die unless we see it happen, but if we’re watching it on video, it doesn’t really matter which way it goes. Kill ’em all and let god sort ’em out.
So we watch. We stagger from table to buffet table, dyspeptic and enervated, mildly turgid under our loosened belts. We snap and grin with our cams and camphones, and our photos are products that refer to themselves, not us. Our kaleidoscopic images proxy the world, and let us maintain the illusion that we aren’t really a part of it, and that the bad things are happening over there. That those chants and tribal signifiers that make us feel so good and so strong and so right actually mean something other than ‘go team’.
Smoke ’em out. Read my lips. No blood for oil. Support the troops. Rock the vote. Not in my name.
It becomes easier when everyone else is Them. We didn’t saw off poor Nick’s head, it was those scum, those vermin, the evil-doers, those others. We didn’t stick blunt objects up prisoners’ asses, either, or rape them or set dogs on them, we didn’t rip those kids apart with our amusingly-named ordinance. That was other people, a few bad apples, and they’re not us! We’re consumers of the images, don’t you see? We didn’t make this world! We didn’t maim that boy! It was them. Them! We didn’t slit Daniel Pearl’s throat, we didn’t knock over the gravestones, we didn’t fly airplanes into the World Trade Centre! We didn’t sell arms to Saddam, we didn’t sell arms to Iran, we didn’t ask for the double-anal pissporn, we didn’t do any of that shit. We are watchers. Watching makes it real, and watching keeps it separate from us. Watching is a noble act, at least until it gives you a hardon.
The basic truth gets obscured. What’s the difference between Osama bin Laden and George Bush? There isn’t one. What’s the difference between that fucker Amrozi who set the bomb that killed my friend Rick and me? There isn’t one. What’s the difference between the animals that sawed off Nick Berg’s head and the animals that beat prisoners to death at Abu Ghraib? There isn’t one. Between the Pope and Saddam? Between that old lady in front of the TV in a trailer in Alabama and that old lady digging up roots in a field in Kazakhstan?
We are one. We are all meat and electricity. And if there is more than that, we are all equally a part of that divine More. Or none of us are.
These ones go to 11.
I remember standing when I was maybe 14 in a circle of faces in the icy parking lot of the only arcade in town, out in front of what used to be Sonny’s hardware store. It was snowing, and I was in my shirtsleeves. Someone had yelled fight! and we’d all tumbled out past the steamed-up windows, out of the humid warmth into the snow. I can’t remember the names of the two combatants, but I can remember their faces. And I can remember the faces of the people watching. They were avid. Grinning. This was different from the clumsy, reluctant pecking-order school fights I’d seen (or been a part of) before. This was the real thing. One of the two was already down on the ice, on his back, eyes unfocused, by the time I took up a position on the outer edges of the ring of spectators. He was clearly finished. That didn’t matter, apparently. The victor hauled back his heavy winter boot and kicked the prone one in the head. I remember most clearly the sound, and the way that the head moved on the slack neck, and the colour of the blood on the ice. One kick, two, three, then someone at the front of the ring stepped in to stop the fun.
The look I saw on many of the bright tight faces was disappointment. That was the first of many fights I saw in my violent little hometown over the years, and the pattern was never different, except that in later years the fights were always fueled by alcohol. You go down, you get boot-fucked. It was a thing common enough that we had created a special name for it. Some people died, some needed reconstructive surgery, some were barred from entering the village limits. Being big and strong and stronger still of liver, and having good friends around at all times, I never got bootfucked. Being me, I never bootfucked anyone, though lord knows I there were times that I wanted to. In a legendarily violent town of 3000 people, you quickly understand the rules of retribution and revenge.
When I was in 17, I read Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. It hurt. It put images in my head that I didn’t want in there, that are still in there more than 20 years later, and I hated him for it. The abstraction of brutality, the matter-of-fact articling of such utterly transgressive violence twisted my melon and started me wondering where it might lead.
Well, now we know.
Even back then, even as a callow teen, I defended his right to have written it, though I was inclined to want to punch him in the face for having done so, were I ever to meet him. Growing up media-starved (and smart, drunk and angry) in a town where you could choose between two CanCon television channels, where there was no movie theatre, no bookstore, only a tiny library and not even the dream that such a thing as the internet might ever exist, it was a rapid education I received in those three years between my freshman witnessing of my first bootfucking and the graduation ceremony of reading Ellis’s deadpan fantasia of dismemberment and death. The first lessons stay with you the longest.
Today I can find movies and photos and paintings and stories of the same and worse, three clicks away, without even breaking a sweat. And as often as not, these things really happened.
My impulse to turn away usually wins out these days. This may be the wrong thing to do. When a puppy shits on the floor, we rub his nose in it (or at least we used to, in less kind, gentle days) for a reason.
But I guess I realized at some point that there is something I can do about a man who starts a war, perhaps, but there is little I can do about a man who kills and dismembers another person, unless that person is me. And there’s still less I can do about a man who aquires money or fame writing about it.
Or, you know, a woman.
I also realized somewhere down the road that whether it’s fiction or photo, documentary or gore-flick, fake or genuine, no representation of violence is anything like the real thing. Our frisson of revulsion, our predictable and pointless anger at the perpetrator, our self-serving hollow vows of ‘never again’, our demonization of the other who would so transgress those ethical standards we hold out as self-evident, our self-congratulatory conviction that we‘d never do anything like that, and our complacence in the face of the indisputable fact that everyone, everywhere seems to be doing it anyway…. well, what are you going to do? Cheer the killer monkeys on? “We are nihilists, Lebowski. We believe in nothink!” Been there, done that, and it’s a dead end too.
I haven’t got any answers. But I am pretty sure that regardless of whether you have nightmares about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (or the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre) or the horrors of Abu Ghraib, no matter how accurately and horribly that fact or fiction is captured and portrayed for you, these things are to the real experience of violence as American beer is to the real thing. fucking close to water.
No wait. I mean – ‘a weak approximation’.
But the killer monkeys just won’t stop. And sometimes, you just have to turn away, all the while realizing that if you haven’t got the stomach for the imagery, you would be destroyed by the reality.

Flickr Kicks Orkut Ass

I’m not real big on the ‘social software’ thing, but Stewart and the gang at Ludicorp have made such a cool, cool thing with Flickr. Join me, why don’t you? The water’s fine!


Long time since I’ve done this. My apologies. And yeah, not much to say at the moment that isn’t too angry to want to preserve for the ages.
Rather than hunt-n-peck out the diatribes that have been orbiting my brain and screeching like scalp-furrowing harpies of late, and instead of, like, bringing everybody down, man; instead of pointless wonderchickensian ranting, I invite you to enjoy some possibly-relevant and heart-lifting music.
One of my faves from the fine and excellent Canadian band The Tragically Hip, downloadable as always for the next day or two [4.8Mb]. [Update : Link removed after two days. Sorry!]

If there’s a goal that everyone remembers
It was back in ol ’72
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I remember is sitting beside you
You said you didn’t give a f–k about hockey
I never saw someone say that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr
Isn’t it amazing anything’s accomplished
When the little sensation gets in your way?
Not one ambition whisperin’ over your shoulder
Isn’t it amazing you can do anything?
We hung out together every single moment
‘Cause that’s what we thought married people do
Complete with the grip of artificial chaos
And believin’ in the country of me and you
Crisis of faith and crisis in the Kremlin
And yeah we’d heard all that before
It’s wintertime the house is solitude with options
And loosening my grip on a fake cold war
Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish
When you don’t let the nation get in your way?
No ambition whisperin’ over your shoulder
Isn’t it amazing, you can do anything.
Next to your comrades in the national fitness program
Caught in some eternal flexed arm hang
Dropping to the mat in a fit of laughter
Showing no patience tolerance or restraint
Fireworks exploding in the distance
Temporary towers soar
Fireworks emulatin’ heaven
Till there are no stars anymore
Fireworks aimin’ straight at heaven
Temporary towers soar
Till there are no stars shinin’ up in heaven
Till there are no stars anymore
Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish
When the little sensation gets in your way?
No ambition whisperin’ over your shoulder
Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish, eh?
This one thing probably never goes away
I think that this one thing is always supposed to stay
This one thing doesn’t have to go away