Category: 2010’s


“Oh My God, Do I Pray”

(Lyrics credit to 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” for the headline of this essay.)

Kristy messaged me out of the blue yesterday. We hadn’t spoken in three or four months. The last conversation had orbited the mental health of a shared, quasi friend. The talks were earnest but oblique. We both knew how bad our friend’s situation had gotten, but we also knew how little we could do for her. That brief, angry sigh and then months of silence.

Kristy’s most recent message was about the music video for “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” by Run the Jewels. I had shown her the music video once. It’s a powerful video about police brutality (although here my friend and valued peer, Isaiah Taylor, makes a persuasive argument about its misguided shortcomings). I used to write about music videos every day for a paycheck. I was giving Kristy the rundown of my essential music videos of the 2010s. “Alright.” “Hood.” “Desire.” “Oblivion.” “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” We were cosmically stoned.

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As my mother and I work our way through Hannibal, the most common query I hear is “I wonder if Jack’s wife will be in this episode.”

Gina Torres plays Bella Crawford, the wife of Jack Crawford (head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit). Bella has terminal lung cancer, and her arc in the series initially involves the question of whether she should tell her husband that she’s dying and, later, whether she should kill herself because her suffering is so total. Bella is an intelligent and proud woman. She didn’t choose to die, but she can choose how to die. She doesn’t want to burden her overworked husband with her impending death, and when he does find out, she doesn’t want to burden him with how awful that death will be. She wants to control those final moments.

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A month or so ago, my dad and I watched The Matrix. I hadn’t seen it since since I was in college and lived in the dorms. That was 2010. I remembered not caring for the film anymore the last time I sat through it. The Matrix (and, to a lesser extent, its sequels) had defined action filmmaking in my early teens and preteen years. Then, I watched it with some friends my sophomore year of college and found it unwatchable. It turned out my childhood instincts were right… sort of.

The Matrix is a deeply problematic allegory about being white and realizing that you’re both trans and that your politics sit somewhere on the spectrum of revolutionary socialism. Mr. Anderson is Neo’s dead name. It’s the one he has to adopt to survive in the corporate blue collar cishet world he inhabits by day. At night, he escapes to a world of genderqueer ravers and hackers seeking valuable corporate data. But, by day, Neo wears the mask of a person who is forced to exist past their death. Keanu Reeves plays Neo with a soft, feminine sincerity and warmth. It’s what he brings to many of his best roles. He falls in love with the masc Trinity, embodied by Carrie Ann Moss’ lean vulnerability and strength. The sapphic undertones of The Matrix are only slightly less apparent than the Wachowski sisters’ crime drama, Bound.

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I’m at my dad’s for the evening.

Back in June, I realized I was in a suicidal depressive state. I was in the “oh, transitioning is harder than just saying you’re trans” phase of coming out as nonbinary. I was living in literally toxic health conditions with another severe depressive. The most intimate friendship I’d had in the last decade ended suddenly and forcefully, and it took away two other friendships that were vital in me accepting I was genderqueer. 2017 in all of its misery and greed and cruelty was happening in national and local politics. Nazis were emboldened each day. They killed publicly. Rape culture was on full display through our President (and the litany of post-Weinstein revelations more recently). I was finally confronting the trauma of being a sexual assault victim as well as reckoning with how rape and sexual violence plagued so many of the closest women in my family and my dearest friends.  There weren’t days that I didn’t want to kill myself. There were occasional hours where I could be more protective than “lying in my bed, almost catatonic” but that was only if I was high. I had just dragged myself across the finish line of my final semester of college, and I was only able to batter my corpse across that achievement because I had started going to class high. It was the only way I could force myself to be around people.

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In an early episode of Hannibal, FBI profiler Will Graham describes Stockholm Syndrome as an evolutionary defense mechanism. His point was that if you can learn to empathize with and gain the affection of your captor, then you’re more likely to survive. If you antagonize someone who has total, lethal control over you, you’re more likely to be killed. There are few things more hardwired into people than their survival instinct, and so the drive to do what your oppressor asks of you is natural because the alternative is death.

Will is portrayed as a prodigy at psychological profiling. Will has high-functioning autism, and unlike the majority of folks portrayed as being on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum in popular culture, Will isn’t a mathematical or scientific savant. Will is a vessel for overpowering, disorienting empathy. Will can figure out how the show’s serial killers think because Will has a singular ability to place himself in another person’s mind. To feel how they feel. To see the world the way they do. To interpret their motivations and fears and desires.

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At the end of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus‘s second act, B.J. “Terror Billy” Blaskowicz infiltrates the smoldering remains of the New Orleans ghetto. After the Nazis dropped an atom bomb on New York City to end World War II, the Reich turned New Orleans into a walled-off prison to house all of America’s undesirables — Jews, people of color, LGBT folks, Communists, etc. B.J. Blaskowicz, an American G.I. and Nazi killer extraordinaire, is searching for the last remnants of resistance and finds it in Horton Boone and his band of hedonistic, Communist revolutionaries just trying to survive and kill every last Nazi they can before their time finally comes.

B.J. and Horton ultimately become comrades, but their initial meeting is a tense, drunken screaming match where the pair trade shots of Horton’s homemade shine and B.J. throws the entire kitchen sink of liberal critiques of Bolshevism at this person who has spent years staying alive and fighting against the Nazis in America. He implies that Horton is a coward because, before the war, Horton and his crew protested the imperialist American war machine. He thinks that Horton’s entire viewpoint about American politics and capitalism nearly amounts to collaboration with fascism because, maybe if he had worked with America instead of against it, the Nazis would have never won the war.

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The second season of FX’s Justified orbits around the scene where Mags Bennett discovers that her son Coover has been killed by U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens.

Mags Bennett is the matriarch of a clan of weed dealers nestled in the hills of Harlan, Kentucky. Mags runs a general store as her legitimate business front. As long as you have the common sense to not interfere in her criminal business interests, you might mistake her for a feisty grandmother. She’ll treat you to moonshine. Her “apple pie” shine is the best in Harlan County although the glass in which she serves it to you might be poisoned. She’ll take in an orphan girl whose father Mags had killed. She’ll baby her grown sons; they still call her Mama… even when she’s smashing one their hands in with a hammer. Coover should have known better

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A thing I’ve thought about a lot since I was a kid is “praxis.”

Of course, when I was a child, I didn’t know what that word meant. “Praxis” is the practical realization of an idea. As a child, “praxis” was the answer to the question, “what does it mean to live a Christian life?” I’m not religious anymore. I’m an agnostic. But as a kid, I was very devout in my faith, and living a Christian life wasn’t some theoretical concern. These were questions that I arranged my life around.

I didn’t drink til I was 20 years old. I felt that maintaining a purity of body was essential to spreading the Gospel. I didn’t engage in sexual relations while I was still a believer. It was forbidden by the Bible, and I took that command seriously. I didn’t swear. I read the Bible. There were phases where I was so concerned with this question that I was taking my Bible with me to high school and reading it on the bus and before classes and at lunch. I went to a weekly Bible study. I didn’t want to simply “believe.” Being “born again” wasn’t enough. I had to grapple with the core tenets of the belief system that I was subscribing to. And if I wanted to be someone capable of proselytizing for Christ effectively, my actions in real life had to embody those beliefs.

Eventually, conflicts arose between my Evangelical Christian upbringing and a growing sense of social liberalism/faith in science and reason. The latter won out. But the question of “praxis” remained. Instead of asking “what does it mean to be a good Christian,” I was asking “what does it mean to live a life that embodies the pursuit of social justice and equities in the quality of life?” As it turns out, those ideals are much harder to live up to.

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I started dating my first real girlfriend in the final weeks of my senior year of high school. Before that, I’d “dated” girls that I called “girlfriend” and they called me “boyfriend,” but that was middle school and considering the fact that we never kissed or went on dates or called each other on the phone or really did much of anything besides hold hands as we walked around the school, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t really count. I digress. This girl and I dated for a couple months. To this day, I’m not sure I ever had a more natural romantic relationship with somebody. We were both too young for the guarded cynicism of adult relationships. We were simply ourselves, and we were happy. Emphasis on “were.”

It was all well and good until this girl came back from a Christian bible summer camp. I’m a “teapot agnostic” now, but I was a devout Christian at the time. I read the Bible. I went to a weekly Bible study. My faith was integral to who I was. But this girl made me look like a militant atheist. She was a hardcore Southern Baptist. She exclusively wore ankle-length denim skirts to school. Her parents wouldn’t let her listen to the Beatles. My spirituality at the time was imbued with a degree of (and I hate to use this word now cause it’s so condescending but that’s how I was at the time) tolerance. I didn’t think gay people were sinners. I respected the rights of other folks to have different religious beliefs than me. This girl did not.

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(This is not a review of The Tree of Life. I reviewed the film for this blog three and half years ago when I was 22 and not yet a professional writer. You can read it here, but, like I said, be kind to young me and keep in mind that this particular piece is not a review but an essay on the philosophical subtext of Terrence Malick’s film.)

A child is yelled at by his father, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees men carted off by the police, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees his mother offer water and tend to criminals the same way she tends to him and his brothers, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees a girl, and he can’t look away or focus on anything else, and he doesn’t know why. A child shoots his brother through the fingertip with a BB gun after promising he wouldn’t harm him, and he doesn’t know why. A child straps a frog to a child’s rocket and fires it while other boys cheer him on, and he doesn’t know why.

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