Archive for April, 2015

Omnia Gallia

April 28, 2015


Now that “outside agitators” have neutralized Martin O’Malley as a credible alternative to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, who’s next?  Not that it really matters.

It certainly seems as though the usual suspects have revived the ol’ single-wing playbook from 1968.  If I may refresh your recollection, that strategy was successful in igniting a fearful white “blacklash” that elected Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.  The next eight years gave us egregious corruption, blatant war crimes on (at least) three continents, and rampant corporate pillaging that left the United States with a ruined economy, an irreparably damaged international reputation, and a permanently dispirited citizenry.  Not surprisingly, these are exactly the sort of conditions that create a sense of personal insecurity among the populace … which is exactly what you need if you intend to operate an authoritarian regime that demands obedience and rules through fear.


So at this point, it’s probably best to be an undeclared candidate for president –or any other office.  For the moment, discretion may remain the better part of valor.


Chekhov’s Gun

April 5, 2015

Within the past week two wildly different phenomena have repeatedly resurfaced within my field of vision: crocodiles … and “Chekhov’s Gun.” The crocs appeared –more or less unbidden– several times on my computer screen through the magic medium of the internet, while Chekhov’s Gun revealed itself as an implicit or metaphorical cinematic presence in one film I watched early in the week, before actually materializing in two others I saw a few days later.  More on the crocodiles later.  For now, let’s stick with Anton Chekhov.


How many guns did author/dramatist Chekhov actually own?  The historical record is unclear on this point, but it doesn’t really matter, because every firearm that has appeared on stage or screen since the late 1890’s can be considered Chekhov’s Gun. How so?  Chekhov famously declared that dramatic process requires a remorseless efficiency in which no useless, extraneous material is presented to the audience: if a rifle is hanging on the wall in the play’s first act, it must be fired in the second or third act.  Anything less is a betrayal of a tacit promise to the audience that the playwright isn’t wasting their time with trivial details which don’t advance the dramatic arc of the story.  Is this an early recognition of physiological limitations on working memory?  Who knows.


But Chekhov’s Gun is no mere intellectual abstraction.  According to a few hundred firearms research specialists surveyed by Harvard University, the underlying principle described by Chekhov has managed to escape from the shadowy confines of artistic imagination and is now fully present in the so-called “real world” (and might actually have been there all along).  For example, in homes where a firearm is present, both homicide and suicide are deemed (much) more likely to occur than in houses without guns.  Not surprisingly, such homicides and suicides will frequently involve gunshot wounds.  Furthermore, these researchers also conclude that firearms (in general) are more likely to be used in commission of a crime than in defending a potential victim of crime, whether inside the home or in the great outdoors. So if a gun is lying around somewhere slowly gathering rust, either onstage or off-off-off-off- off-Broadway, somebody is eventually going to transform its potential energy into kinetic energy.  Kaboom!

Now, don’t go hastily drawing the unjustified conclusion that your humble author is some kinda anti-gun zealot. As Samuel Beckett once said in a completely different context, “Au contraire.”  After all, as the National Rifle Association will hasten to inform you, a well-armed citizenry has long been America’s only guarantee against tyrannical government.  Unfortunately, these days an armed citizenry is also likely to be the ultimate guarantor of tyrannical government.  Either way, you’re screwed.  Time to stock up on the late-model Carl Gustav Mark IV and related ordnance.

But I digress.  The point of mentioning Chekhov’s Gun in the first place was to point out that creating dramatic tension on the printed page or onstage often requires priming the audience’s expectations with a character, object or image that will later reappear in the story.  Since most stories are built around the accumulation and eventual resolution of conflict, this “thing” should somehow relate to the configuration or dimensions of the story’s core conflict, and should be central to the process of culminating the conflict and/or precipitating its catharsis.  So, from this perspective, will any old thing suffice?  Can just about anything function as Chekhov’s Gun?  Or is implicit lethality somehow required?  Well, if the story’s dramatic conflict in any way involves mortality –as it so often does– it seems plausible to expect that the generic Chekhov’s Gun will have to have at least the potential for deadly force.  Which brings us to …


Long before the Chinese invented gunpowder, millennia before the Beretta family began arming Italy’s condottieri with portable musketry, mankind confronted raw mortality in the form of predators that sat closer to the food chain’s apex than did homo sapiens.  Bears.  Wolves.  Fanged cats.  Sharp-taloned eagles.  Giant snakes.  Sharks.  And armored, long-jawed crocodiles.  The presence of such creatures on the fringes –or especially, in the midst– of the human environment provoked deep anxiety then … and still does today.  Often, in the prehistoric past, these powerful animals were understood as gods –or at least as their representatives on earth.  In today’s postmodern era, human agency is often assumed to be somehow present:


Villagers in Chieftainess Chanda Mukulu’s area of Kasama are living in fear of attacks from alleged ‘human’ crocodiles on the Chambeshi River.  A resident of Chanda-Mukulu told [reporters] that three people have been killed in bizarre circumstances since January. In a recent case, a body of a fisherman was found naked on the banks of a river with crocodile bites on his right armpit while his clothes were found bundled a few meters away. Although most of the people in the area depend on fishing as their source of income, fishermen are now living in fearMartin Chanda warned people behind the practice to desist from [these attacks], saying the trend inhibits [economic] development in Kamasa.

A fearsome two-meter Nile crocodile that became a sightseeing attraction on the Greek island of Crete last year has died in a lake, probably of cold, regional water management official Vangelis Mamangakis said on Monday.  The reptile was last seen in mid-February, Mamangakis said, adding that an initial veterinary inspection suggested death from cold exposure.  Nicknamed Sifis — Cretan for Joseph — the crocodile had assumed nationwide notoriety after being discovered last summer at an artificial lake.  Local officials say the beast had likely been abandoned by its owner up to two years ago.

As colleagues cheered him on, a Mexican policeman pumped 10 gunshots into a protected species of crocodile crawling out of a lagoon in the town of Ahome in western Sinaloa, officials said.  The American crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, has protected status in Mexico, the environmental agency PROFEPA said Monday.  The officer now faces charges over the killing.  However, Sergio Liera, head of Civil Protection in Ahome, said his department ordered the animal killed because it posed a threat to local people.

And yet … Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel is permitted to flourish.  Is El Cocodrilo thus a symbol of outsider competition?  Was this some kind of Holy Week ritual that enacts sacrifice and redemption?  Quien sabe.

Death. Fear. Anxiety. Simmering tension. Slaughter.

Repeat ad infinitum.