Saturday March 16, 2019

As William Bowers once said, “I went and saw me some Spider-Man” — only this time, in the current redux, the current version of the myth, the film is called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I’d heard good things, but I couldn’t recall if I’d seen the trailer. Suffice to say, though, that a hum of excitement could be heard as I approached the theater. Signs appeared on the side of the road announcing “FEEL THE LOVE” and “TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN.” Which isn’t to say that in my heightened state, I’d lost touch with the ground of being. There were moments of wild paranoia, for instance, during the lead-up: creepy, nationalistic, body-police fitness commercials, followed by slight release into the sanitized exoticism of an ad for “Trident Tropical Vibes,” some light, safe corporate capture-attempt; goofy GEICO; plush digital high-energy stuffed-bear comedians joking on the carpet stage of a playroom. Caged Dumbo released into the world of an elderly filmmaker’s “acclaimed imagination” — no magic, but “IN REAL 3D AND IMAX.” And for those not yet satisfied with the menu, try another product from the Disney Kingdom: the myth of the Lion King in a new reanimated register. Thankfully the Columbia Pictures logo intervenes to save us, graffiti’d into a gun-toting cowgirl, along with a variety of other versions from other dimensions.

The film begins and quickly sets its terms: cops and prep schools versus the “droppin’ science” teacher-uncle, the surrogate dad who distills wisdom extracted from the streets and tunnels of the metropolis. All against the backdrop of the cop-father to whom young black men are expected to publicly humiliate themselves and say “I love you.” The radioactive spider-god Anansi erupts into this, effecting a permanent radical reorientation toward reality. In the Spider-Verse, the psychedelic narrative begins not with a drug but with the bite of a spider. “Why is this happening?” wonders this new speciation of the myth. Next we find ourselves in a miniature allegory about Brooklyn’s rejection of Amazon, the corporate behemoth figured here as Green Goblin. The Spider-Verse is rich with allegorical potential, able to accommodate in its mapping practice beasts and alchemy amid DARPA and NSA. By these means, audiences arrive into a multi-color, multi-dimensional anti-Trump national allegory. The question the nation is trying to answer, apparently, is “How do we destroy the collider?” Stan Lee appears as the good wizard, the benevolent Gandolf of the comics universe, promising each of us that the mask always fits eventually. With references to a fictional corporation called Alchemax, the film conjures up for those who have ears to hear figures like Malcolm X and others of the Black Radical tradition, through whose hands the key to revolution once passed. Who else, though, can show us the ropes of a new horizon, eagles flying? How do we retrace Peter and Miles’s steps across dimensions to defeat Kingpin, the film’s version of Trump?

Sunday June 10, 2018

Señor Ernesto de la Cruz, the patriarchal musician-god worshiped by the protagonist in the Disney-Pixar film Coco (2017) says, “Never underestimate the power of music.” The film’s secretive, cunning protagonist Miguel abandons his matriarchal, tradition-obsessed shoemaker family in order to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, only to then embark on a trippy, out-of-body journey through a magical-realist alternate-modernity Mexico among the souls of his dead ancestors in the company of spirit-creatures and a dog named Dante. To resolve the contradiction between its content and its form as animated digital spectacle, the film must imagine a distinction between moral and immoral action: valid artistic aspiration and talent cultivation on the one hand, and murderous, deceitful capitalist fame-chasing on the other. Spirit-animals and ancestors will come to our rescue, the film suggests, and justice will triumph, the false patriarch-god crushed beneath the weight of a bell — this latter symbol resonating, of course, in ways both sacred and profane. Liberty Bell, Mission Bell, Taco Bell: all are potential referents, threads of sense woven into the film’s system of meaning.

Monday April 23, 2018

A course begins to take shape before my eyes. Are there works of literature, I wonder, that can be usefully classified as examples of “hippie modernism”? Works by the Beats, certainly, and the Black Mountain poets. Thomas Pynchon. Richard Brautigan. Philip K. Dick. Utopian science-fiction writers of the 60s and 70s: Marge Piercy, Samuel R. Delany, Ernest Callenbach, Ursula K. Le Guin. If only there was a way to teach this material in conjunction with other media. My interests are always broader than the merely literary. Consciousness set loose explores countless ontological realms, digital abstractions accessed through screens and hashtags. I’ve somehow only just now discovered the manifold psychedelic riches of Adult Swim’s anthology series Off the Air. What’s the value of hippie modernist literature when one can feast one’s eyes on Hiraoka Masanobu’s “Land”?