Time to Leave the Funhouse: Part III – Being Careful Going Forward

The new faces of America… for now, anyway. “A republic… if you can keep it.”

The system, though sorely tested, has held.

Two weeks ago today, a mob incited to violence by the delusions of reality trolls focused on a jacked-up TV star committed symbolic and literal desecration of the United States. That spectacle combined tragedy and farce, with a body count that has grown since I began writing about it that day. This essay began as a stream-of-consciousness rant in real time. Now, with two weeks of perspective, new events, the Biden-Harris inauguration, and a fitting coda delivered by an embodiment of the kind of America Trump and his followers sought to destroy, “Time to Leave the Funhouse” seems like an apt slogan for the coming years.

For all our futuristic boasts and hardnosed pretense, the USA exists in a state of arrested adolescence. Not because so many of us love fantasy, but because so many of us hate facing reality. Instead, we puff up our egos to mythic proportions while glutting ourselves with junk food and diversions. For all our cowboy bullshit, this nation is spoiled rotten. Even as our teeth, infrastructure and fellow citizens fall to pieces, Americans wrap ourselves in mythology and drugs to keep from recognizing the truth: Our nation is unsustainable. Without immediate action and major changes to our way of life, we are doomed not merely as a nation but quite possibly as a species too.

America, we have a problem here.

Hell, even our iconic cowboy mascot is a fake. Real cowboys in history were low-paid laborers – often queer, usually non-white, occasionally trans, and inevitably poor – who literally waded through shit in service to other men’s wealth. Not one American in a thousand was a cowboy; not one American in a million could actually live that life. Yet the cowboy, imported from South America and embellished by Hollywood, embodies These United States even as we divide ourselves by such iconography. It’s no accident that our swaggering cowboy president G.W. Bush left a legacy of catastrophes, that his fans burnt the former “Dixie” Chicks in effigy, and that would-be cowboys posed with both Union and Confederate flags while lynching effigies of our first Black American president. The Cowboy archetype, though based in history, is a whitewashed product of capitalistic racist fantasy. He might not be racist by default (and has, in fact, been reclaimed in Black American communities lately), but his popular image perpetrates a lot of racist trash. The quickest way a rich white dude can grab cred from working-class white folks is to strap on a cowboy hat, adopt a Southern drawl, and pretend to be “just plain folks” while hating on “subhuman mongrels” and “race-traitor” white liberals. Kid Rock’s been playing that game for decades, and Fox News rests on its foundations.

Yee-haw, Detroit! Mah Daddy’s car dealership shure did feel like the South back when I was appropriating hip-hop instead of playing Shitkicker Millionaire!

Donald Trump plays a variation on that archetype: The Self-Made Man – a brave, tough-talking All-American guy whose ostentatious wealth attests to his superiority over effete ideas like “taste.” The Self-Made American is the Cowboy in a business suit, his vulgar roots undermining elitist peers. He gobbles Big Macs and talks as though the world is his locker room; after all, it is. As Trump himself said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Edison could get away with ripping off rival inventors. Harvey Weinstein could get away with raping movie stars. Trump got away with a laundry list of crimes against humanity, yet still had literal armies of Americans willing to kill and die on his behalf. While the future actions of those devotees have yet to be determined, the proof of that willingness turned 1/6/2021 into a funhouse mirror of 9/11/2001. Both became icons of symbolic wars against America. Two weeks ago, we waged that war against ourselves.

Seven years ago, in an essay called “Coloring the Symbol of a Man,” I said that “a leader – especially an elected leader – is a symbol of whatever that person leads.” Barack Obama, that “subhuman mongrel” whose existence so offended classic rock icon Ted Nugent, embodied the end of an unbroken chain of white men representing our United States. That symbolic overthrow (accentuated by the failure of cowboy president George W. Bush, plus the defeat of Vietnam survivor John McCain and Sarah Palin, Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the American Right) made all manner of absurdities seem possible. Obama was a Muslim. He was coming for your guns and children. He was somehow a Marxist Nazi Zionist Mao-worshipper who was probably the Antichrist and definitely part of a long-range plan by time-traveling malcontents. The fact that Obama never lived up to any of the dire prophecies about him just made everything worse. It’s no accident that Trump gained political momentum by mainstreaming Birtherist conspiracy crap. Even after Obama had graciously stepped aside (despite warnings that he would do exactly what Trump tried to do four years later), the mere fact that a (half-)Black American had personified “OUR country” for eight years drove many Americans unsane. A mythic Deep State reigned even as The Donald declared his absolute disdain for propriety and precedent. Instead of governing in any rational form, The Donald’s administration became a daily exercise of performative cruelty. Hidden symbols were unfurled openly by people convinced that secret cabals hid themselves in pizza dungeons and furniture stores. [*1] 

The past few years have been literally and symbolically deranged. That madness climaxed in a orgasmic surge of perverse superheroes in a bloody-handed LARP.

Christ, folks – pick a mythos, already! Oh, wait – they did: It’s racism.

All nations have symbols. All symbols can be poisoned. Human belief may be the most potent force on earth, and humans believe all kinds of awful things.

My fellow Americans, I say this as a creator and consumer of fantasy media: We need to be more careful about what, and whom, we choose to believe.

My fellow creators, meanwhile: We need to be more careful about what we put out there, and more conscious of how it is received.

Obviously, I love fantasy. My career and (to a degree that disquiets even me) identity encompass 30 years of creating exaggerated worlds of adventure. Before I began writing, I was an actor. Since childhood, I’ve loved comics, myths, and action movies. In those creations and entertainments, I’ve sought significance in the mundane world. Whenever possible, I’ve held the mirror up to my audience and myself, asking “What do you see reflected back at you here?” As a creator and a fan of fantasies – whose inspirations include real-world culture, language, and psychology – I understand what Joseph Campbell called “the Power of Myth.” And so, when I look at the narrative cast over the events of 1/6, I see the ultimate tragedy of a collective Narcissus slashing himself to death in a shattered mirror. And if that analogy seems overripe, remember that a young Air Force veteran got herself killed storming the Capital building, acting out an action movie trope, in service to a TV star’s gospel, while absurdly garbed cosplaytriots staged selfies nearby.

She wanted to be a hero. In the minds of many, she became one. And yes, on many levels, that is an American tragedy.

Much as I hate what she did, I feel sad about her death.

I feel sadder, though, about the deaths of people whose names we’ll never know unless we knew those people personally.

When this ridiculous saga appears in history books, that woman’s name will be mentioned while the 400,000-and-then-some Americans who died of Covid-19 remain nameless. The fact that one of those dead Americans, my friend and collaborator Jackie Cassada, was herself a fantasy author writing about incarnated dreams and reality wars, compounds the irony in ways that have me feeling sick myself. The fact that Covid-19 bookends the Trump presidency with one of the largest body-counts in US history is poetic enough to choke Shakespeare on Aristotle’s dick.

I feel sad about that, too.

Sad, and angry, and very, very old.

America, we need to get the fuck over ourselves.

We’re not a nation of cowboys or Self-Made Men. Our nation holds many wonders and promises, but we’re best served by seeing what we are in real life, not which fantasy suits us best.

Now, I love mythology. It’s my living. It’s my art.

I respect its power, though, because I know first-hand where that power – pro and con – can lead.

Mythology is vital to the human experience and society. Used carelessly, however, it creates monsters. Not the consciously created monsters like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (an analogy for the destruction caused by men who wish to play God), but rampaging creations like that American Frankenstein’s Monster, Donald Trump.

Again, I use that word deliberately. The root of monster means “a portent, an omen, a warning.” Mary Shelly’s warning is a sympathetic creature. I feel no such sympathy for Donald Trump. Unlike Victor Frankenstein’s unwilling creation, and despite his family’s wealth, Trump projects himself as that Self-Made Man. Fine, then. Let him fucking own what he has become: a warning of where our pride and carelessness can lead. 

To the Greeks whose myths provide our science terminology, myths have multiple dimensions. Literal names have symbolic connotations, numerical significance, sometimes musical tonalities meant to invoke metaphysical forces. The same is true of other languages, too: Sanskrit, Hebrew, Mandarin, and more. Yet English, despite its twisty corridors of meaning, is a language of commercial trade and diplomatic expediency. So, too, are its home cultures, England and North America. Our myths, then, become fractured things, thrown together – like our languages – from bits of other cultures that we seldom understand in context. They’re pretty, sure, and often more potent than we expect. America is a myth writing itself on a daily basis… sometimes even, these days, on an hourly one. At its best and worst, that myth is powerful as hell.

And yes, again, I used that word deliberately: Hell – the myth-forged punishment ground remixed from older legends until it consumed its original sources in a pervasive garish nightmare. 

Well-played, Stefani As usual.

Today, we seem further from that hell than we did when I began this essay two weeks ago. Another set of symbols triumphed, and those symbols – though in some senses as fantastical as the ones employed by Trump – are more subtle though no less passionate. In a characteristic burst of self-conscious mirror-play, Lady Gaga’s garb recalled the mockingjay pin and costume employed by Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: a teen-lit fantasy/SF series about multicultural rebels toppling a decadent Capital. The oroboroean tangles involved in a media-crafted queer-icon persona, whose name was inspired by a pop song from a British band whose queer-icon frontman was commenting on American media banality, wearing a red, white and gold echo of a film adaptation of a fantasy book series, to sing a parody of a British drinking song that became this nation’s anthem, at the Capital, while figuratively overthrowing its previous queer-phobic media-persona figurehead, are – I’m certain – obvious to Stefani Germanotta, the real-life artist behind Lady Gaga’s façade. There’s symbolic value, too, in having the young Black female poet Amanda Gorman read a poem she composed while watching Trump fans storm that same Capital. Trump’s revolution – despite its non-white enablers – was an assertion of white supremacy. Having a young Black poet laurate proclaim “The Hill We Climb” was a symbolic purge of those Rebel flags and Holocaust hoodies that claimed that ground only two weeks before.

Two. Weeks.

These are, as the saying goes, interesting times.

Amanda Gorman wants to run for president. If today is any indication, she already has my vote.

America is confronting its mythologies and the monsters birthed from them. The racism and genocide that laid the foundation for all American nations (not merely the United States) began on distant continents. It holds pervasive sway, though, in American realities. These past few years, more than ever before, have forced Americans to face the mythologies we’re raised with and the monsters they so often breed. As I’ve often said before, the United States is an experiment founded upon genocide in which slave-owning men made eloquent promises that a diverse populace has yet to fulfill. The tension between those promises and the realities behind them have made American nations (again, not only the US) the vibrant and volatile center of the modern age. Even outside this region, that tension has shaken the world for nearly half a thousand years. This month’s chaos shook our myths to their foundations. Monsters came out, and living people died.

Trump’s cult, and the associated QAnon creed, are Apocalyptic cults in every sense of that word. They claim revelations from higher powers in an endgame struggle with forces of destruction. As ridiculous as their claims are by all rational standards of inquiry, the adherents of those cults are right about one thing: This is the end of their world, and things are being revealed that have been hidden from sight for too long. This culture is facing transformation, with old comforts dying in service of new realities. That is a frightening process, and things are being lost that can never be reclaimed. That’s scary. I get it. This new world doesn’t look like Leave It to Beaver, and though few of the guys hefting battle banners in Trump’s name are old enough to have watched that program on TV, the mythic America it portrays is part of their view of “the way things ought to be.” [*2] MAGAmerica is, at its heart, dedicated to preserving a mythic United States in which any cowboy can become a Self-Made Man if those pesky libtards and scary brown people would just get back in their places where they belong. Trump’s final act, the declaration of a slavery-denying “1776 Commission” on Martin Luther King Day, was as blatant as a Stars-and-Bars. [*3] When Q’s promised Apocalypse failed to occur, the cult turned upon itself. The results, again, remain to be seen. I doubt, though, that’s we’ve seen the last of them. From Haven’s Gate to Islamic State, atrocities have been committed over less.

Fellow Americans, we need to sort this funhouse out. We must be more careful and conscious of our mythologies, of the ways they guide us, of the purposes to which they can be put, and of the people – even me – who craft those purposes, and to what ends.

Otherwise, we’re just spinning frantically until our funhouse finally burns down.

Five lives ended in our Capital that day. Several more have followed since.

Now, at the threshold of symbolic new beginnings, let their tragedy be the warning we all hear.

BEHOLD THY FOOTNOTES!

*1 The fact that QAnon’s nonsense echoes the Satanic Panic which encompassed weird fantasies about heavy metal and D&D adds to the funhouse-on-acid feel of Trumpian mythology.

*2 The title of a book by Rush Limbaugh, whose impending demise adds yet another layer to this age’s over-piled irony cake.

*3 It was also canceled by Executive Order on the first day of Biden’s presidency.

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Time to Leave the Funhouse: Part II – The End of the Apprentice

It’s all fun and games until someone storms a Capital.

On January 6, 2021, Donald Trump staged a brash act of his alternate reality – an alternate reality in which he is a persecuted prophet fighting for American greatness. He then walked away and let his people die.

Five people perished for his vanity. More could have. More probably will.

And Trump could not care less.

When All-But-President Biden implored him to stop the madness, Donald Trump reiterated his pity-party chant. He reinforced, once again, the reality in which he remains the star of earth’s largest TV show. For days before the event, Trump and his enablers spun a beautiful dream of “a historic moment” in which those who attended would be blessed by posterity for upholding his vision of America.

As I posted in reply on Trump’s Twitter account that day, it was historical. Just not in the way he’d wanted it to be.

I’ve made a lot of mordant jokes about “this season finale of The Apprentice.” Wednesday’s travesty, however, was funny only from the perspective of, say, the Joker. There was plenty to mock, all right, and an ironic commentary on America’s obsessive narcissism culture. We are living in a Shakespearian play told by an idiot, and that idiot, ultimately, is ourselves.

Five people died for it.

That photogenic would-be martyr who betrayed her oath to this country and its Constitution was killed by believing in a fantasy. For wanting to be a hero in an action movie staged by the greatest Dungeon Masters since Adolf Hitler or Chairman Mao, she died. Four men died, too, one of them a cop who was reportedly beaten to death with a fire extinguisher, another of whom died of a heart attack after supposedly Tasering himself in the nuts.

All for the glory of the Donald Trump myth.

Make no mistake: Donald Trump is not even the ringmaster of this circus. He is, as his rival Hillary Clinton said in 2016, a puppet; Trump’s sputtering school-bully response – “You’re the puppet. You’re the puppet” – revealed that he knew she was right. Regardless of her flaws (and they are legion), this nation owes Hillary Clinton a huge apology. While I’m sure she’s glad she wasn’t in the hot seat when Covid-19 hit, we as a nation would have been far better off if she had been. And if a President Clinton had lost a reelection bid, there would not have been virtual war in our Capital this week.

The real Masters of this Dungeon, meanwhile, sit far away from the chaos they have made. In Moscow. Behind keyboards in someone’s office, spare room, or basement. In whatever headquarters News Corporation favors this week. From dungeon trolls to heads of state, they’ve turned America’s obsession with self-mythology into the instrument of self-destruction.

This Wednesday, five people died in it. [*1]

The inevitable result of a TV-obsessed nation electing a TV star who turned the US government into an egocentric circus, with the full support of a TV network owned by a foreign tycoon whose citizenship-of-convenience should be revoked after today’s events.

And yet, just hours later, Sarah Palin – yet another American media confection – was spewing nonsense on Fox News, perpetrating new myths about Antifa infiltration of her precious right wing. More people will probably die believing that trash. No one will be coming for Rupert Murdoch’s adopted citizenship, though, for hosting such seditious sewage. On the contrary, I’m willing to bet his income soared this week, because that’s the kind of toxic myth creation our society is built upon.

Adding insult to a slew of injuries, the invaders dressed themselves as veritable cartoon characters, some with logos from Marvel Comics films and characters, others decked out in videogame drag. I’ve learned that at least one person photographed in the company of Q-Shaman-Boy and an asshole bearing a Confederate battle flag was a member of the White Wolf LARP community. Another supposedly belonged to the medieval recreation society where I met my first wife. My outrage isn’t just political, it’s personal and professional as well. For a creator of fantasy media, such grotesque misuse of our vocation feels like a punch in the gut.

America, we need to stop this shit.

Our addiction to nonsense is literally killing us.

Neil Postman, in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, spotlighted America’s obsession with prefab mythology. That phrase, amusing ourselves to death, has been stuck in a groove inside my head these past few years. On Wednesday, four people literally did amuse themselves to death, took another person with them, and might have killed even more people if they’d had the chance. Any sane society would take what happened as a warning of our impending collapse. To many Americans, however, it was just another episode in this crazy TV show, and we’re all eager to see what the next installment brings. Personally, I love horror films… and that’s what this feels like: a horror film in real time, where we can’t look away, but we can’t stop watching either because hey – at least we’re not bored, amirite?

Then again, we don’t have to clean the blood off our clothing and stare at the empty place at our table or bed where a human being used to be.

I admit then when I finally got numb to it all, I brought up Red Dead Online and started playing another round of American mythology. At least those bullets and deaths won’t hurt.

I try to be conscientious. Even I am not immune, though, to this society’s death-grip on the joystick.

The myth-rich escapism of a West That Never Was.

Fantasy is great. Fantasy’s essential. I wrote years ago, in the final pages of Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, that “such tales invent, but they do not lie. They tell the truth, even in the midst of fantasy.” As Atlantic writer Spencer Kornhaber states in his article “The Superhero Fantasies of Trump’s Mob”: “fiction, fantasy, and what-ifs are part of coping; escapism is seductive even in the best of times.” The power of coping, healing and inspiration within fantasy media is, to use that overused word, awesome. Trouble comes, however, when the audience cannot tell fact from fantasy and stops even trying to care.

There’s sick symmetry in the recursive way Trump’s signature claim to fame, The Apprentice, echoes “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: the Goethe poem (based on earlier tales) later popularized by Mickey Mouse… by way of Disney, who made much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe possible, and whose designs and tropes undergird so much American mythology (up to and including Walt Disney himself)… in which a sulking would-be wizard takes a shortcut to power that backfires in disastrous fashion. It’s a fractal monster which grows bigger and crazier the longer you stare into it, and the fact that I just referenced Nietzsche’s dictum and Jurassic Park in that sentence reveals how deep the rabbit hole goes. (Hello, Alice. We’re mad here…) This remix Wonderland of ours has its charms, but the dragons here are hungry enough to eat their own tales/tales…

You get the point.

Donald Trump is a problem.

He’s not, however, the problem.  

Much as The Donald™ would hate to admit it, America’s problem with mythology is a lot bigger than he is.

From the Times of Israel article “Trump’s presidency as another remake of Disney’s Fantasia,” Dec. 31, 2019 https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/trumps-presidency-as-another-remake-of-disneys-fantasia/

End of Part II

INEVITABLE FOOTNOTES

*1 *It’s also worth noting that security experts have pointed out the ominous possibility that the entire Capital building has been compromised by surveillance devices planted by so-called “protesters.” Considering that foreign actors have already been implicated, during Donald Trump’s reign, of hacking our government’s secure systems, bribing Republican officials via the NRA, and outright buying favors from the administration, the probability that foreign or domestic enemies have used Wednesday’s chaos as an opportunity to plant bugs in the Capital is quite high.

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Time to Leave the Funhouse: Part I – Most Dangerous Games

Worst. LARP. Evar.

America is a nation of mythologies.

All cultures have myths, of course. We have more than usual. We manufacture them, too. Our Hollywood films and comic books and pulp fictions and video games flood humanity with interactive mythologies chewing on their own tails like an Oroboros serpent. Cowboys and Gumshoes and Cops On The Edge™. Such tropes are the grammar of our cultural language, foundations of commerce and identity alike.

I know this because I work on the American Myth Factory floor. Donald Trump is a product of that factory, too. MAGA is a myth. So is QAnon.

Yesterday, four people died in the name of those mythologies.

They chose roles in a titanic game, and they lost their real lives in service to those fantasies.

When I say “myth,” I’m not using the superficial definition of “a lie, not real.” I’m referring to the deeper power of cultural symbols – a level of reality cloaked in fantastical garb. People need myths. Cultures need myths. Myths breed, and are bred in turn by, human consciousness. Just as our physical senses are delineated by spectrums of colors, sounds and textures, our cultures and identities are delineated by symbols of language, media and mythology.

If that sounds crazy, that’s because in a sense it is.

Yesterday, a mob of human beings, many dressed in costumes straight off a fantasy convention floor, stormed the symbolic heart of America in service to a baroque mythology crafted around an American icon and the lies he tells about himself.

Four of those human beings died. At least one of them was a conventionally attractive woman who served in our Armed Forces – someone who, at first glance, resembled an old sweetheart of mine. That disconcerting resemblance pointed to a deeper truth: Those people, all of them, however repugnant I find their actions, were someone’s sweethearts. Someone’s lovers, partners, parents, kids. Those mobs of people, and the people they endangered – and, in some cases, were prepared to beat and kill – are not pixels or abstractions. Their lives are human lives.

This is not a fucking game.

Yesterday, that person chose to betray the oath she swore to protect one American mythic cornerstone – our Constitution – in service to another: a TV con man who has used, and has been used by, American mass media for roughly half a century. That con man assumed the ultimate US iconography, the office of our president, to become a living symbol of America itself.

In the funhouse version of Trump’s America, she was the hero of an action movie. She’s being treated as such by some people, as a villain of one by others. I’m sure she saw herself in those terms, and she died in service to those myths. 

That IS crazy. And before someone objects to my usage of that word, I’m using crazy in the original sense of “full of cracks; unsound.”

American mythology is crazy in that sense. In its name, we do crazy things, sometimes at great cost.

I feel sad about the human costs of our cracked society.

We’re careless with our mythologies. And that’s literally killing us.

This Ain’t GTA, Jimbo. What exactly did you plan to do with those Zipties once you got the chance to use them?



I will not eulogize the woman killed in yesterday’s chaos at the capital [*1]. She made a decision to violate her oaths of service because malcontents and a con man told her to do so. She made her decision, and she died by it.

That said, her death is a tragedy in the classical sense of that much-abused word.

It’s the tragedy of a person, a mob, and a nation that have all given themselves over to absurdity because that fantasy seems more glamorous than the hardscrabble truths of a nation in decline.  

As Reed Berkowitz wrote in his essay “A Game Designer’s Analysis of QAnon”, the QAnon fiasco is, in a sense, a titanic RPG. A literal Augmented Reality Game. A cosplay convention with live ammunition and a body count. As that would-be hero yesterday took bullets and died, overgrown children in desperate need of significance ran around in impractical tac gear and costumes out of a video game. There’s a straight line leading from those tricorned Tea Party fools, the jackass offending both Nordic and Indigenous gods with his “Q Shaman” persona, and the “reality TV” spectre whose ubiquity kicked off this American tragedy.

That would-be martyr I will not name was a casualty of trolls. Three other people died nearby; I don’t know their names right now, but I’m sure we all will soon. One cop may or might have died too – reports, as if this writing, disagree about that. All of these casualties were extras in someone else’s LARP. Sacrifices to the vanity of men and women whose lives are so devoid of meaning that they’ll throw people’s lives away in pursuit of a glorious moment where a con man’s lies consumed the surrounding reality.

I know something about reality-war games. After all, I’ve spent the last 27 years creating one. Mage, in its various incarnations, deals with covert warriors seeking control over Earth’s reality. An idealistic premise became a cautionary satire about the nature of “truth” and the consequences of our actions. Certain elements of that series aged poorly; others became – often to my dismay – more relevant than ever. During my second run as head of Mage, my collaborators and I have tried to critique the concept while underscoring the realities beneath our fictions. The stress of doing that led me to resign in 2019. Whether or not I’m getting paid to manage it, however (which these days, I am not), Mage is part my reality. It probably always will be.

Portrait of the artist as an old Mage.

During those times when I wasn’t involved with Mage directly, Mage defined me even when I didn’t want it to. As my collaborator Nicky Rae – another casualty of Trump’s deranged antics – told me the other day, my influence defined Mage too. Even when I didn’t want it to. I’m intimately familiar with the responsibilities of such influence, and the ways in which glorious absurdities can unhinge a person’s life. Unlike Donald Trump, Q Shaman, Fox News pundits, and the multitudes of reality-twisters who craft this tragic LARP for pleasure, power and profit, I care what happens to the people who enjoy my work. I’m cautious, always, to inspire people toward constructive outcomes in their own lives, and to remind them that the fictions my collaborators and I create are not objective truths.

I’m also not blind to the fact that if things had gone differently in last year’s election, that mob might well have stormed the Capitol and died in the name of Biden instead of Trump… and that my sentiments toward them would be far more charitable than my current thoughts about the traitor veteran and her cosplay compatriots. I’m sitting here at 4:00 a.m. writing these words from a profound sense of sadness that we’ve come to a point in US history where one mob or the other seems inevitable, and that lives would have ended either way.

I doubt Donald Trump feels sad about anything except his 12-hour Twitter ban and his impending departure from the biggest stage on earth.

Donald Trump could not care less about the people who died yesterday. Whether they died in a Bastille moment or gasping on a respirator in an ICU, they were nothing to him but props in his legend. I don’t say this because I hate the man, though I do. I say this because his entire well-documented history portrays a man who cares about no one but himself.

Remix Narcissus with the Wizard of Oz, sample Eric Cartman, and project that Frankensteinian monstrosity through Maleficent’s mirror, and you get Donald Trump.

Our myths are killing us.

The ways in which this image alone twists its circuitous path through American myth, culture, irony and sincere beliefs could spawn a Masters thesis in cultural phenomena.

End of Part I

NATURALLY, THERE ARE FOOTNOTES

*1 An alliterative phrase that sounds like a blurb off an old comic-book cover seems like a fitting description of yesterday’s disgrace.

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Trumpsurrection Now

Trumpsurrectionist in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

WE
FUCKING
TOLD
YOU.


But no – that was just “political differences.” We were being “extreme” and “intolerant” because we “live on the left coast,” we would “grow up someday,” and we would “just learn to accept that not everyone agrees with you.”

I have been saying for 40 years that the Republican Party was enabling a Fascist takeover of the United States.

I have been saying for 40 years that underneath all that garbage about “rule of law,” “traditional values” and “love of country” was a violent, ravenous, racist monster waiting for an excuse to break free, toss the Constitution, and impose total dominion over everyone who disagreed.

I heard it in the voices of speakers at Florida Bible College during my brief flirtation with Evangelical Christianity in the late 1970s.

I saw it in the faces of the mob outside of Straight Inc. back in 1987, when they moved in to beat and stab me – possibly to death – and then tell the cops it was my fault.

I saw it when a “pro-life” mob from Operation Rescue shoved a clinic defender through a plate glass window in DC back in 1991.

I watched it babble from a podium, for hours, different voices with the same subtext, during a Prosperity Gospel event I was ushering for in 2005.

I screamed back in its face at a 2008 anti-Obama rally staged before he even took office, a week or two after his election, when the Tea Party trappings and yee-haw birther trash was already being deployed against the first Black American president.

I have written about it in my books, in my blogs, in emails and letters to the editor, and on Facebook and Twitter and LiveJournal and more. When Donald Trump egged on his followers in 2016, when he made funnies about cops bashing people’s heads against police car hoods, when he shook hands with Ted Nugent and urged his followers to “FIGHT LIKE HELL” against the votes of over 7 million American citizens.

I
FUCKING
TOLD
YOU
THIS
WOULD
HAPPEN.


And there it is.

NOW will certain people finally fucking LISTEN?

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Me and the Gender Blues

This one’s public but not for sharing. Thank you!

Me at around age 20, which is about as physically androgynous as I’ve been.

——————————————–

“Phil, are you queer?”

The question confused me. I was around 12 years old at the time, and hadn’t really thought much about sex, much less about my relationship to it.

Dad clarified: “I mean, are you interested in boys instead of girls? I mean, sexually?”

I replied out loud that I didn’t really think much about that. Sure, by that time I’d begun to get “those feelings,” avoided trying to climb ropes in gym class, and nurtured fantasy crushes on Shanna the She-Devil and Katie from Valley of the Dinosaurs. I knew about the basic sex stuff from health class and talks with Dad and Mom, and felt an embarrassed fascination for the Playboy and Vampirella magazines Dad kept in the bathroom he shared with Mom. In terms of sexual identity, though, I really had no idea. In what I now recognize as the first stirrings of my kinks, I felt drawn to the half-naked barbarians and slave girls writhing in death traps and octopoid coils on the covers of pulp novels and magazines like Savage Tales. But was I queer, though? I called myself that word without knowing the sexual or decidedly negative connotations it had at the time.

In response to my confusion, Dad said the finest and most memorable remark in his long and checkered history of parenting: “Even if you are, you are still my son and I love you.”

This was a huge thing for any father to say in the mid-1970s, an era when it was still technically illegal to be gay in many parts of America. For a Sicilian military officer to say that to his only son was titanic. In hindsight, every other thing he has said to me, pro and con, over our 55-year relationship, pales in significance to that moment. At the time, I felt puzzled and annoyed and a little bit offended. As I grew older, seeing so many queer friends of mine rejected by their parents – in one case, to the point where one committed suicide after coming out to his family – I realized what an enormous act of love and acceptance my father’s conversation with me had been that night.

As I explored my identity for the next several decades, I soon realized that I was queer. Not that we used that word to define identity back then; in my teens and 20s, it was more acceptable, even in queer communities, to call someone a faggot or a dyke than to call them queer. That word got reclaimed long after I’d started going to gay bars and Gay Student Alliance meetings (“Lesbian” was added during my involvement, and “Bisexual” wasn’t added until after I left college) and NOW gatherings and Silence = Death rallies. When I drew my own takes on those nude barbarians, they were male almost as often as they were female. As far as most folks in my world were concerned, there were only two genders, too; you might be androgynous, or a transvestite, or physically intersexed, but the terminology surrounding gender identity on social media today literally did not exist during my teens and 20s. Most of it originates within the last two decades, some of it even within the last five years or so, and both my age and my sexual identity are a lot older than that.

Physically very much a guy (if only because I’m so fucking furry), I wasn’t androgynous. I preferred girls and didn’t even like most guys, so I figured I was straight. Yet I have genderfluid physicality, got crushes on dudes, and often found myself wondering what would happen if I kissed various male friends of mine on the lips. Given that most of the guys I wondered about at the time also presented as straight, I figured it would be awkward and more trouble than it was worth. I felt more in tune with the gay clubs, and with the men I knew who were bisexual and gay, than I felt with the guys who were all masculine and shit. Even so, I didn’t fit in comfortably with the stylish flamboyance of the gay and bisexual men I knew, either. I was a jeans-and-T-shirts kind of guy and had neither the money for a sharper wardrobe nor the desire to pull it off even if I could. My one experiment with early 80s “style” is best left in the dim mists of memory. On someone else, it might have looked good; on me, it… didn’t.

For the most part, I related with women more than with men. Most of my friends were girls or women, and I certainly trusted them more than I trusted any male friend I had… a trait I hold, with very few exceptions, even now. I felt fascinated by femaleness – not with playacting “femininity” as a social construct, but with the experience of being female. As anyone who’s roleplayed with me knows, I play women by default, and I typically write female characters and perspectives, too… not from the “she breasted boobily down the stairs” voyeuristic sort of way guys often write and play female characters, but from a position of fascination and, as I eventually realized, yearning. Writing in my acting journal around 1984 or early 85, I acknowledged that every character I wrote or played manifested some aspect of myself. Discovering Carl Jung’s work during the 80s, I considered that female aspect of myself my Anima… or, as I called her, my Dancer, my Huntress, my Muse. I dreamed a lot about meeting “my female self” in the woods, in mountains or on a beach, and though I initially looked for my Muse in other women, I eventually realized – as I wrote in the Author’s Notes to my 2013 short-fiction collection Wyldsight – that she was an inner aspect of me.

Ironically, my explorations outside masculine gender norms led to me becoming more comfortable with my masculinity. When I stopped giving a shit about whether or not people thought I was gay, “faggy,” “a fairy,” or whatever, most of my earlier shyness and insecurity fell away. By my late teens, I figured that any guy who was worried about being perceived as gay was insecure about his masculinity. Body-shy and easily overwhelmed by sensations as a child, I became voracious for sensation as a teen. I kept that part of myself under wraps, so to speak, while I lived at home, but threw off as much clothing and as many inhibitions as I could when I reached college. Eight years of theatre and four years of nude modeling tend to obliviate body-shame. My preference for going barefoot emerged during this period, too; many of my characters go shoeless because that attitude toward defiant sensation is so much a part of who I am. The more I got into dance, theatre, modeling, music, sensuality and sex, the less I cared about how people perceived me. The fact that theatre and the punk rock, New Wave, Renfaire and Pagan subcultures I was into at that time were pretty damn queer anyway helped a lot in that regard. My late-teen music idols were Rob Halford, Henry Rollins and Wendy O. Williams: artists who, as Rollins put it, chopped up their gender closets and used them for kindling [1]. Although I identified as male, if only out of habit and a lack of better terminology, I did the same with mine.

Because anal sex is a non-negotiable no-go zone for me with partners of any gender [2], I limited my sexual explorations with other guys to make-out sessions and manual or oral stimulation. That must mean I wasn’t actually gay or bisexual, right? And despite those explorations and crushes, all my meaningful romantic and erotic connections were with women, and so I was “just fooling around,” I guess? Sure, right, whatever.

During college, I referred to myself as “straight but not narrow” with regards to my sexual identity. After I discovered a button stating, “Don’t assume I’m straight,” I stuck that pin into my favorite jackets and started referring to myself as bi. Although the word polyamory wasn’t in common usage then, my first wife and I were essentially polyamorous and had experiences with “both” genders.

By the time we divorced, and I joined the White Wolf staff in my mid-late 20s, I was in full-on Whatever Works mode. Kink, previously theoretical, became part of my surroundings. Soon, however, I set all of that aside to enter a monogamous relationship with my second wife between 1994 and 2001. After our marriage broke down, I discovered and embraced ethical polyamory, renamed myself Satyr, defined myself as a pansexual ethical slut (thank you, Dossie and Janet!), and did whatever I felt like doing with whichever intriguing adults were interested in doing it with me. During that period, I learned that “queer” was now considered a catch-all term for non-mainstream sexual identity, so yay – I finally had a name for all those confounding identity issues.

During a short but intense relationship within a poly quad, I began embracing that interest in men; sadly, a traumatic violation – combined with knowing a bunch of predatory unethical sluts of various genders – led to me distrusting not only my partners in that relationship but most other people in general. Between the emotional vortex of that period, a post-divorce/ post-rape depression, and a series of exciting but exhausting partnerships, I paired up monogamously with my friend Ann in 2004-2005. When that partnership broke up, I went back to my Satyrian ways, albeit with a bit more restraint than I’d used between 2001 and 2004.

When I looked back on my increasingly prolific sexual history, I realized I was hearing variations on a certain phrase a lot from my partners: “You’re the most female man I’ve ever met.” Not “feminine” – female. It wasn’t always a compliment but was said more often in a positive way than in a negative sense. That observation, combined with my explorations into shadow-work, demi-Jungian “aspecting” [3], and recognizing and redefining masculine experience and identity, inspired me to view my “self” as a tapestry of identities. Several of them were decidedly androgynous and outright female. After considering the experiment of a female social-media persona (and then rejecting the idea as too much work), I created Cedar Blake: the female aspect I’ve written and published under since around 2005.

Initially, I’d intended Cedar to be a pseudonym for romantic and erotic fiction, and I approached a friend of mine about becoming the “face” of Cedar on social media and author biographies. Eventually, though, I decided Cedar was a significant aspect of me: the conscious psychic construct of that Muse I’d been writing about and roleplaying since the late 1970s. After an ugly break with a now-former friend and creative collaborator, I worked around the resulting writer’s block by consciously aspecting Cedar Blake while I was writing. “She” wrote the novella Dream Along the Edge [4], and the experiment succeeded so well I repeated it years later in order to get past a similar block in 2018’s book Gods & Monsters, giving Cedar a byline each time.

(A related aspect, Silk, came out of that period, too; she doesn’t write, though – she’s a literally psychotic character I’ve played in World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, and Grand Theft Auto, as well as a feral autistic werecreature in Werewolf and Monsterhearts.)

The decidedly antisocial Silk.

To be clear: I do not have Multiple Personality Disorder or Disassociative Personality Disorder. For me, these aspects are conscious imaginary constructions. Essentially, I give names and physical descriptions to characters that reflect elements of my personality which I choose to emphasize at certain times and set aside at others. I don’t dress as these characters, speak in their voices (much), or say things like, “Cedar is talking now”; those could be valid tools for aspecting, but I don’t employ them except in certain roleplaying situations. It’s a mind-game I play with myself, and it works for me, so I stick with it. Although I began doing this sort of thing long before I read her work, I refined the technique from Debbie Ford’s book The Dark Side of the Life Chasers, and it has worked for me for over 20 years.  

By the time I met Sandi in 2007, I’d established that Satyr, my “default everyday aspect,” is pangender, but I’d stopped referring to myself as pansexual because I had hurt a few guys’ feelings by being interested in playtime but not in relationships with them. The term genderqueer was starting to make the rounds by the mid-2000s, but I was trying to redefine what a man could be and so I still asserted a masculine identity, if only to show that men didn’t have to be raging assholes. Exploring why so many men, including me, could so often be raging assholes became the subject of several posts and essays I published around that time-period [5]. The term nonbinary was still on the linguistic horizon, but my interest in conscious aspecting, plus sexual and gender experience and identity, was leading me in that direction. My long relationship with Coyote Ward – who identified as a pangender pansexual autistic person with multiple personalities – involved a lot of discussions about multiple identities (conscious and otherwise), gender constructs, autistic experiences, and other related topics. The fact that I’d been fascinated since childhood with shape-changing, identified so strongly with werecreatures, and wrote extensively about shape-shifting in various media should have made all of this stuff obvious to me a long time ago. Even with a metaphysical artist’s mindset, though, I still kept thinking of myself as a guy.

Old habits die hard, especially when they’re enforced by a larger society.

And let’s be honest here: mainstream society is not the only culture that enforces its ideas about identity.

When I began, several years ago, to toss out references to being nonbinary myself, I got repeatedly and aggressively queer-and-gender-policed by folks who probably hadn’t even been born yet when I first began kissing boys and going to gay bars. The notion that I might be in some sense female was even more harshly attacked, with several people telling me to “stay in your lane” and “stop being so performative” when “discussing queer spaces and experiences.” The fact that I’d been involved with the GSA, ACT-Up and NOW during Reagan’s reign isn’t obvious when you look at photos of me. When folks see me, they see a dude, and as a now-ex-friend of mine phrased it, “No one cares about why you think your life story is important.” Yes, I get the white-guy pass and privileges, and I’m neither young nor pretty enough to fit 21st century notions of what “nonbinary” is supposed to look like. Thus, “you can’t be queer, so shut the fuck up and stop looking for cookies” has been a common enough response that I haven’t bothered coming out about this stuff until now.

If I seem agitated about it here, that’s because I’m expecting similar responses to this post.

My one-and-only (so far) experiment with full-body shaving. Although it had interesting sensory effects, and certainly altered my perceptions of myself as a furry satyr guy, it also took three of us over two hours to shave all that fur, and it itched like mad while my fur grew back.

After discussing this pushback with various trans and nonbinary friends of mine (including Raven Bond, who likewise transcended conventional ideas about gender even though Raven defaulted to “he/him” pronouns as well), I’d decided it was too much effort to discuss my gender identity in public. Especially in the years following Raven’s and Coyote’s deaths, Trump’s rise, and my ensuing furious depression, I really haven’t had the emotional bandwidth to deal with getting cross-checked by “warriors” on my own team for whom everything’s a fight and everyone’s the enemy. Besides, I’m not going to start wearing makeup and dressing differently; those manifestations of gender don’t suit my female aspects any more than they suit my male ones. I am who I am, and I have been that way my entire adult life. New insights and terminology give me deeper perceptions about who I am, and influence the ways in which I communicate who I am, but they don’t change the person I manifest in this world even though I’m more conscious of the people I can manifest in other ones.

(Consciously manifesting psychic reality through artistic and metaphysical practices is a whole other topic, and this essay is long enough already.)

It’s not accurate to say I feel “like a woman trapped in a man’s body.” Physically and otherwise, I’m a guy. In many regards, I like being a guy; what I don’t like is getting stuck being only a guy. My fascination with shape-changing is sincere; if I could swap out bodies to suit my various aspects, and shift between those aspects physically at will, I would do that in a second. I can’t do that physically, however, so I do it through my art and my roleplaying. In hindsight, I realize that my interests in acting, psychology, RPGs, modeling, writing, and magic originate at least in part from my desire to be more than one “me.” Gender and sexuality are elements of that desire, but the desire is bigger than sex, art, gender, or identity. A few years ago, I commented to Sandi that I resent being stuck in just one body. Thoreau’s words “I am infinite; I contain multitudes” always rang true for me.

Because I’m temperamentally incapable of doing anything simply [6], these recent insights and conversations have coincided with a degree of physical dysphoria that goes beyond gender. The person I feel inside doesn’t match the person I see in reflections these days, not because he’s male but because he no longer looks like the Me I’d gotten to know. Grief-eating, aging, chronic pain, quarantine, depression, social isolation, social-media aggravation, virtual-only contact with most people I know, and a dramatic weight-gain crossed with  a drastic reduction in vitality have conspired to mess with my perceptions about my self. This body doesn’t feel like me anymore, and to be honest I don’t like it much. Adding that sensation to recent discussions about gender identity just throws my established center of balance even more off-kilter, and the fact that so many people think they know me (pro and con) because of their perceptions about my work just increases that sense of dislocation in my own skin. I feel paradoxically more than and yet less than I was a few years ago – more conscious about my self/ selves, yet less comfortable with the aging furry meat sack I wear in this incarnation.

And so (finally!), I made my decision to “come out” with such an uncomfortably intimate presentation about my gender and sexual identity – a gesture of solidarity to other nonbinary folks who physically present in an apparently binary way, and an assertion of my fuck-you attitude toward folks who think they get to determine who I am.

This essays is an absurdly long way of saying, “I’m here, I’m queer, I always have been both, and anyone who has a problem with those facts can go take a flying fuck at the moon, and miss.” 

I am who I am.

You are who you are.

Labels are just society’s window-dressing on infinitely complex selves.

Thanks for reading.

Take care of yourselves, be whomever you are, and respect other people on their own journeys. There’s room enough here for us all.

Although I recognize the problematic elements of these gender-flipping memes, I was struck by how much this result resembles the internal impression I’ve always had of Cedar Blake. Too much makeup by far but the rest is pretty accurate.

—————————-
1. Rollins was referring to rumors that he was gay; although he’s ostensibly heterosexual in practice, Hank’s onstage physicality is aggressively genderqueer. As for Halford’s closet, it had been kindling long before he officially discarded it. Anyone who understood enough of the lyrics to “Raw Deal” (which I did), and enough of the subtext to “Jawbreaker,” “Evil Fantasies” and “Breaking the Law” (likewise), already knew Rob was into other boys.

2. Sorry, butt-enthusiasts – it just squicks me. I don’t care what other consenting adults find arousing, but the poop chute has always grossed me out. I know about the prostate and extra stimulation and all, and I’m not interested. Thank you – butt, no.

3. See these articles, as well as references to aspecting in various RPG books I’ve written:

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/aspecting-song-of-my-selves/

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/gaming-the-magic-avatar-part-1-of-3/

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/gaming-serious-fun-part-2-of-3/

4. Initially published in 2014, reprinted in my 2020 collection Valhalla with a Twist of Lethe.

5. See the following essays:

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/thoughts-about-being-a-man/

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/6-points-to-understanding-conflicts-with-men/

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/natural-impulses-young-animals-shadow-manifestations-and-the-nature-of-maturity/

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/silence-or-violence-logan-suicide-and-the-culture-of-masculine-silence/

https://satyrosphilbrucato.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/hope-is-the-bravest-rebellion-cultural-ptsd-and-the-challenge-of-our-age/

6. This essay, for example, was supposed to have run 500 words or so.

Posted in Art, Aspecting, Aspecting, Bio & Interviews, Health, Sensory Processing Conditions, Sex & Gender, Spirituality & Reflection, writing | Tagged | 5 Comments

Know Our Rights

To make something clear, these are the words of Amendment 14, Section 1 – the basis for Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage equity decision that Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Trump SCOTUS pick Amy Coney Barrett all want to overturn:

_________________
Amendment XIV
Section 1.


All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

_________________


“ALL persons,” “NO state, “ANY law.”

That Amendment was passed in 1868 – ironically, by a Republican majority, back when the GOP was “The Party of Lincoln,” not of neo-Confederates.

The same year, “a novel interpretation of constitutional rights,” mentioned in the headnote (NOT in the ruling) of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, gave us the idea that corporations are considered “persons” under Amendment 14, Section 1. It’s worth noting that judges Thomas and Alito have both repeatedly agreed with this “novel interpretation” of that Amendment.

Ten years later, another “novel interpretation” of those words gave us Jim Crow and the infamous phrase “separate but equal.” Plessy v. Ferguson determined that it was perfectly legal to discriminate against Black Americans so long as there were “provisions” made to accommodate their separation from white society.

We know how well that turned out.

You would think that a Black American judge who was born before Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned would know that, too.

These are not arcane shades of legal complexity. These facts should be common knowledge to all Americans, and the fact that so few people know them – and that so many people like Thomas, Alito and Barrett count on us not knowing them when they posit absurdities like Thomas’ statement – is a condemnation of the civil ignorance of American society.

As the saying goes, however, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” There is even less excuse when judges whose literal job it is to know what the Constitution says present us with shit on a platter, glazed with bald-faced lies.

Amendment 14, Section 1, is clear: “ALL persons,” “NO state,” “ANY law.” The fact that those “privileges or immunities” were violated for over a century anyway does not make it right or legal to overturn the law when it is finally observed.
The words “unless my holy book says those persons are icky” are not found in Amendment 14. Nor are the words, “corporations are persons, too.”

As for Thomas’ nonsense regarding “the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the 1st Amendment,” Thomas is once again lying through his teeth. He knows it. I know it. Every other American should know it, too. It takes a pretty “novel interpretation” of the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” to extrapolate from them “feel free to ignore the rest of the following laws if your local preacher doesn’t like them.” As the records surrounding the drafting of our Constitution make clear – clear in ways both Thomas and Alito already know but presume that YOU don’t know – this argument was debated by the authors of the Constitution, and it was soundly rejected. Thomas, Alito, Barrett and their enablers know damned well that Obergefell vs. Hodges has a firm constitutional foundation.

What they want is nothing less than the ability to rewrite the Constitution at will when it suits them.

The American Right complains endlessly about “activist judges.” Yet the sort of “novel interpretation” they protest is exactly what they strive to do whenever they have the power to do so.

They count on popular ignorance about our Constitution when they tell bald-faced lies in public as justification for denying the rightful protection of our laws to citizens they dislike.

Know your rights.

And don’t let these tax-funded parasites take them away while pretending to be “patriots” of the nation they betray.

ALL persons, NO state, ANY law.

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Unsustainable Escalation

TOPSHOT – Police officers clash with protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd’s death continue. – Police fired tear gas outside the White House late Sunday as anti-racism protestors again took to the streets to voice fury at police brutality, and major US cities were put under curfew to suppress rioting.With the Trump administration branding instigators of six nights of rioting as domestic terrorists, there were more confrontations between protestors and police and fresh outbreaks of looting. Local US leaders appealed to citizens to give constructive outlet to their rage over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, while night-time curfews were imposed in cities including Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP (Photo by JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Dear Police: Has it dawned on y’all yet that there IS no scenario where you and your fellow officers get to beat and gas thousands of people, who are angry that your fellow officers keep killing citizens, and then get to relax and be the heroes afterward.

There isn’t.

Sooner or later, you lose.

This isn’t Russia, or Haiti, or China, or some other nation where oppression is so ingrained in the culture’s fabric that people eventually give up and do what they;re told.

This is the USA – a heavily armed nation whose cultural mythology is literally founded on rebellion.

Right now, the majority of citizens still believe in civil solutions. Do you really want to be on the front lines if they STOP? Do you truly want to spend each day of your careers on the front lines of a civil war? Because I assure you, that is where we’re headed if things do not change, and change right NOW.

Your unions back Donald Trump, and seem ready to stand with him even as he continues to violate the laws you swore to uphold. Spokespeople say it’s because Trump “respects police officers.”

That’s absurd.

Donald Trump does not “respect Law Enforcement officers.” You’re his pets. You’re his attack dogs. He pats you on the head for as long as he feels you’re loyal, and will throw you under the bus the second you’re no longer useful.

Just ask our Armed Forces personnel.

You are being played. You are being used. You’ve been manipulated into an untenable position and you’re not even being paid well for the privilege.
Meanwhile, every city you gas, every kid you pepper-spray, every mom you haul off to an unmarked van and every protester whose head you run over with a bike exponentially multiplies the number of citizens who hate you. Not just at the protests, but forever, EVERYWHERE.

Is that really how you want to live? How you want your families to live? Feared and hated and distrusted by the majority of your fellow citizens? You think you’re feeling tired NOW? Imagine these past three months as the rest of your entire lives.
More to the point, do you want to be in this situation for the rest of your lives because some “fellow officer” committed a crime and then ran to hide behind you? Again?

Is this situation really worth it?

Sure, you’ve got “friends.” Those Blue Lives Matter/ Proud Boys/ MAGA/ Boogaloo folks. They adore you, right? They’ve got your backs when everyone else despises you?

Nope.

Half of them fantasize about killing you and taking your stuff because they want to be you but without constraint.

Those “friends” despise you. You’re a proxy for the violence they wish to commit, and they want to have you by their side when they commit it. The moment you become inconvenient to their aims, they will turn on you. It isn’t you they support – it’s what you do to people they don’t like.

Is that why you joined the force? To be fall guys for bigot cowards who can’t even be bothered to pay the taxes that sustain you?

Is that why you go out and put yourself in harm’s way again? To buddy up to THAT?
Very soon – within the next month or so – every US cop will have to make a choice about which side of history they’re on.

The current side is not the winning one. No matter how many tanks and guns and bullets and Tazer shields and whatever other Robocop nonsense your would-be masters give you to field-test for them, sooner or later, you’re still human.

Is this what you want – an eternal state of siege where things never go “back to normal,” and bodies keep piling up on all sides, and there ARE no quiet nights again? To wear a target on your back that’s even bigger and more obvious than the ones your job already provides? To be loathed by civilians as well as by “thugs”?

I know some Rambo-roiding would-be-Punisher motherfuckers probably think they want that to become their “new normal.”

Do you, though? Do you REALLY?

Eternal escalation is unsustainable failure.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Please de-escalate now, while we all still can.

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Self-Made Mythology

My dad is, in many ways, an archetypal self-made man: a Siciliano kid from an immigrant family in an ethnic ghetto, he became one of the youngest Commanding Officers in the US Navy, commanded two ships, then worked Stateside with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did diplomatic work with NATO, helped overhaul the Pentagon’s computer system (and by extension Dad helped create the internet), then retired with honors to form a computer company, retired from THAT to form his own tax business, and somehow managed in the process to be a competent carpenter, an excellent people-person, and a modestly successful man financially. He schooled the Bronx from his accent and personality (in what would these days be called “passing” and “code-switching”), and still combines a formidable intellect with people skills, mathematical aptitude, and an intense work-ethic.

My father is awesome, I love him deeply, and I have all the respect in the world for him.

Dad, Me Carol

My father Philip Brucato sr, me, and my stepmother Carol Brucato.

That said, he did these things at a time of great opportunity – when the US Military was still the force that won WWII, not the one that lost Vietnam. By his own admission, he learned to game the system in order to get whatever money he needed for a given military project because – for that military – there was always money to be found. Dad had the right set of skills and virtues at the right time and in the right place. As I’ve pointed out to him, a poor kid going into the Navy now does not have the income or opportunity that Dad had back in the early 1960s. That time has passed, and many of its opportunities have passed away with it.

Also, if Dad’s skin had been a shade darker, and his ethnicity harder (if not impossible) to groom out, he would not have had those opportunities even then, no matter how hard he worked. As his contemporary General Colin Powell knows all too well, the highest military officer in the land becomes “just another n—-r” when that uniform comes off.

As I’ve often said, my father and mother raised me and my sister to know that bigotry in all forms is morally wrong, intellectually stunted, and socially counterproductive. Being the children and grandchildren of immigrants, they both remain conscious of the realities of American prejudice (if not always of American privilege), and they passed that awareness on to me (if not always successfully to my sister).

Many people never get that awareness, though, either from their parents or from their circumstances, especially not if the people in question are raised amidst the mythologies of White America. And so, the myth of the self-made man (or, less-often, woman) remains strong and seductive even when evidence reveals otherwise.

Now, America can still be a “land of opportunity” for lucky , hard-working people with the right virtues and circumstances in the right places and at the right time.

But as the attached article (long but worth reading) attests, the story is always a lot larger and more complex than the mythology would have us believe, and the vast majority of Americans – no matter how hard they work or how willing they are to “do whatever it takes to get ahead” – will never achieve even modest financial and/ or professional success.

Especially not when that mythology is used to destroy the same opportunities that allowed “self-made” people of previous generations to do the things they did.

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A Different Solution to an Enduring Problem

In 1992, while the nation’s cities were burning in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, I was living in Richmond, VA. At that time, we had one of the highest crime rates in the nation – even hit the #1 spot, per capita, for homicides one year. Richmond was a key spot along the Route 1 corridor for transporting guns and drugs from Miami to Washington DC, Baltimore and New York City, and the racial tensions were so profound that a “novelty” bumper sticker from a lower-class white neighborhood read, “Oregon Hill: That Better be a Tan.” Despite being majority-Black, with a Black governor and a Black police chief, state capitol Richmond was still the revered “Capital of the Confederacy,” home of thousands of Civil War cosplayers and so many monuments to Confederate luminaries that a primary artery in my then-home district is named Monument Avenue.

Things in Richmond could have gone VERY poorly that day.

riots-Los-Angeles-1992

LA, 1992

And so, the police chief, the city council and the mayor arranged for open city hall discussions all over the city. Anyone could come, and speak, and listen, and witness for three or five minutes. I went that night, and totally lost my shit about cops and racism and whatever else came boiling out of my Dead Kennedys-worshipping punk rock mouth for several minutes, then went back into the crowd to listen to others speak their piece. I met my friend Terry Thompson that night, and we stayed in touch for years afterward, until I got sucked under by White Wolf’s implacable timetable and Terry got driven out of his neighborhood for being Gay While Black.

Lots of people unloaded. Folks of all races and genders did everything from scream incoherently to speak with history-worthy eloquence.

Y’know what didn’t happen?

Riots.

Richmond didn’t burn.

A powderkeg that had every reason to go off that week never did.

Lots of shit has changed since then. There were riots this past weekend in Richmond, and given the volatile combination of internet fragmentation, media-induced hyperfactionalism, net-connected extremist groups, and a certain proud white nationalist in the White House, it might be naive to think that what worked so well in 1992 could possibly succeed today.

But why aren’t more city leaders at least fucking TRYING anymore?

Lots of misery and rage and devastation could have been prevented this weekend if, instead of staging Standing Rock cosplays, the various city councils, mayors and police departments had held open-house meetings. Yes, this would have been complicated by COVID, but that happened anyway. Whatever might have occurred had the Thin Blue Line not decided to close ranks around the murderers of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, we’re now going to face a pandemic eruption the likes of which this nation has not seen in at least a century.

(By the way, police chiefs and officers everywhere – fucking thanks a lot for that.)

COVID or no COVID, a solution like that employed in Richmond that weekend in 1992 would have been a massive improvement over when went down instead.

Doing a brief web search this morning, I found plenty of articles and photos from the 1992 riots. I didn’t find anything about the potential urban nuke of Richmond, VA, that week, though, because as far as I am aware nothing fucking happened. The authorities acted wisely and decisively, and while that didn’t stem the city’s many other ills that year, it prevented them from being even worse than they could have been.

The current system does not work.

We need better answers and responses and behaviors if our nation is to do anything but go down in the books in whatever passes for our future as one of the bloodiest imperial collapses in human history.

It’s not impossible.

I know, because I was there at a time when such solutions worked.

Protest Riot

Minneapolis, 2020

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Our Spartacus Moment

Hollywood loves its “I am Spartacus” moments – those moments where good, decent people stand up or walk away, refusing to allow the bad guys to continue with their evil plans.

Sparticus

But although we do have a few of those people – AOC, Greta Thunberg, Bernie Sanders and the Parkland Kids being perhaps the most obvious examples – depressing numbers of people are either standing paralyzed with fear, fighting amongst ourselves over trivial bullshit, gleefully joining the bad guys, or – worst of all – being “good Germans” and just doing their jobs without protest or refusal so that the bad guys can implement their agendas.

As I’ve said many times lately, on this wall and elsewhere, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Rupert Murdoch and Vladmir Putin (and, for that matter, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi) have only the power We The People give them. Aside from perhaps Putin – who’s got a long history of getting his hands dirty and killing people personally – those “powerful” people need other people to enforce that power.

If the Secret Service decided, “Y’know what? Fuck this shit,” then Donald Trump would be alone.

If “good cops” would stop protecting bastards in blue, the bad cops would wind up in the same slammers and graves that other criminals do.

If every invisible staffer in Fox News refused to work, Tucker Carson and Laura Ingram would be ranting alone in empty studios.

The people who are turning our world to shit need other people to help them do it.

And for me, the most depressing and infuriating element of this absurd era is that so many people are willing, able, and even eager to help them do it.

If you love those Spartacus moments on the screen, then become that person in real life.

Refuse.
Resist.
Speak out.
Say NO.

Such people rule the world only because we let them.

So stop letting them destroy it.

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