Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 19, 2020

Icelandic Noir

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Iceland,television — louisproyect @ 5:10 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JUNE 19, 2020

Over the past couple of months, I have been bingeing on Netflix like most house-bound CounterPunchers. In case you haven’t seen them yet, I highly recommend two series that originated on Iceland television: The Valhalla Murders and Trapped. Both are close relatives to the Swedish Marxist detective stories that I reviewed on CounterPunch in 2014. They succeed both as social commentary and art.

What’s surprising is that a tiny nation (364,134, a population smaller than Wichita, Kansas) can produce the type of television drama that not only competes with Sweden’s but leaves HBO and Showtime in the dust. After reviewing the two TV series and a couple of Icelandic films that also merit watching during these pandemic social isolation days, I’ll conclude with some thoughts about Iceland that CounterPunch author and Iceland citizen José Tirado helped stimulate.

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February 28, 2020

The Bureau

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 3:39 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 28, 2020

A while back, I noticed a brief reference in the N.Y. Times to a French spy thriller titled “The Bureau” that sounded intriguing. The Times reviewer described it as “a workplace drama with an arthouse aesthetic, set at an unusually exciting office: the D.G.S.E. (France’s equivalent of the C.I.A.).” It added that you might want to pass on it if you’re looking for James Bond-style chase scenes or can’t stand being confused.

Now that I have begun Season Two of “The Bureau” on Amazon via a $7.99 per month Sundance Channel subscription, I can report that this is on the same level as the 1965 film version of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” Like John le Carré, the creative team behind “The Bureau” are far more interested in the psychological aspects of the spy trade that involve wholesale deception. Like the actors who portray the characters in “The Bureau,” spies must lie for a living. Or, to use a less judgmental term, pretend.

Unlike the typical spy movie that features men and women with extraordinary powers, those in “The Bureau” are all too human. You never see them in a spectacular knife fight like Matt Damon in his very first Jason Bourne role. Instead, they are mostly sitting at desks staring at computer monitors as I did in my 44-year programming career. Instead of debugging Cobol programs, however, they are typically monitoring the movements of their targets through G.P.S.

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January 7, 2020

You

Filed under: television — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

On Christmas Eve, the NY Times ran an article about a Netflix series that caught my eye:

“You,” one of television’s more addictive treats, returns for a second season on Thursday. It has moved to a different shelf of the candy store — it’s now a Netflix series, after premiering on Lifetime — but it’s as tasty, and as bad for you, as ever.

The first season won a rabid following, and a lot of critical attention, for its clever fusion of the conventions of the romantic comedy with the conventions of the bluebeard serial-killer tale. As Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) — cute, courteous, literary and deranged — pursued his quest to be the perfect New York boyfriend, the bodies piled up, and the rom-com was shown to have been a horror story all along. The distance between the genres vanished.

Addictive is the right word. After my wife and I watched the first episode of Season One, we were hooked. With a superficial resemblance to “Dexter”, the Showtime series about a serial killer, it stars Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg, the young, handsome, and amoral manager of an Upper East Side antiquarian bookstore who kills a bunch of people throughout the two-season series. Like “Dexter,” there is almost continuous voiceover as the main character ruminates on the challenges he must overcome in order to maintain a relationship with the women he meets and then falls in love with. When he runs into a rival for their affections or someone bent on keeping them apart, he does not think twice about murder. Unlike Dexter, who only killed people who deserved to be killed—usually for having beaten a rap like O.J. Simpson—Joe Goldberg’s standards are set at a lower bar. When someone gets in the way of consummating a romance, he becomes deadlier than a puff adder.

“You” got its title from a novel written by Caroline Kepnes, a 42-year old Brown University graduate. You understand why after reading the first paragraph:

YOU walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn’t slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. You’re so clean that you’re dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello—when most people would just pass by, but not you, in your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte’s Web and where did you come from?

These are the thoughts of Joe Goldberg as Guinevere Beck—the You—enters his store. The reference to “Charlotte’s Web” is a tip-off that Joe is a bibliophile. Called Beck by her friends, she is a writing major in Columbia University’s graduate school. Like the author, she is a Brown graduate whose best friends graduated with her. The best way to describe them is as characters from Lena Dunham’s “Girls” but much richer and much more obnoxious. The ringleader of this clique is named Peach Salinger, a descendant of J.D’s clan who lives in a mansion on the Upper East Side and spends much of her time and energy trying to convince Beck that she is too good for a measly bookstore manager.

“You” manages to combine elements that you’d never think possible. Besides being a portrait of a psychopath, it skewers the pretensions of Manhattan’s privileged quasi-bohemia. Besides Peach, there’s Benjamin “Benji” J. Ashby III, who Beck has been sleeping with at the time Joe becomes her suitor. As a committed and expert stalker, Joe is in the habit of finding out as much as he can about his heart’s desire before making his first move. When he spots Benji having sex with Beck through her ground-floor studio apartment window from across the street, it doesn’t take long for Joe to plot his rival’s demise. As is generally the case with his victims, Benji is a total phony. Like Peach, he is a trust fund bohemian who is trying to get an artisanal soda business off the ground. Artisanal soda? Brilliant.

The class distinctions between Joe, who for all we know never went to college, and this crowd almost make you cheer for him. When I was watching the first season of “You,” I mentioned to my wife that Joe reminded me of the eponymous character in Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” In a film based on her novel, Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley, a New Yorker barely scraping by. His main talents seem to be buttering up to wealthy people who might help him put together some kind of career. Luckily for him, one rich bastard hires him to go to Italy and persuade his wastrel son Dickie, who lives on a yacht, to return to the USA. When Ripley’s mission fails largely because of his kowtowing to Dickie’s every whim, the father cuts off his funds. In desperation, Ripley kills the son and assumes his identity. Written in 1955, Highsmith’s novel is distinguished by her anti-hero’s ability to elude capture through his skills as a liar and a killer. Highsmith would have considered Caroline Kepnes a kindred spirit.

As for Kepnes, she acknowledged Highsmith’s influence in an interview with Book and Film Globe. When the interviewer said that Joe reminded him of Tom Ripley in the Patricia Highsmith series, she replied:

When people ask about writers you’d like to have coffee with, I always think of Patricia Highsmith. She is just so excellent with classism. Ripley can pass with these people. Dickie’s dad pays him to go to Europe. It’s exhilarating. In You, I wanted Joe to be someone who doesn’t want to win these people over. Joe doesn’t want to “fit in”. He won’t endorse that value system. He wants Beck to shun it.

In addition to skewering Manhattan’s rich kids who went to Ivy schools, Kepnes—like Highsmith—is great at spinning a Hitchcockian yarn. If you might recall, “Strangers on a Train,” one of Hitchcock’s classics, is based on a Highsmith novel. Such is the state of popular culture that you can only find something that good on Netflix rather than in a movie theater. In nominating “The Irishman”, now streaming on Netflix, as best film of 2019, I can also recommend “You” as the best television series of the year. It is a tour de force of writing, acting and direction. You better start watching it now or I’ll kill you.

 

January 4, 2020

Watching the Watchmen

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 2:19 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 3, 2020

On October 25, 2019, I supported Martin Scorsese’s put-down of Marvel Comics super-hero films in a CounterPunch article. The article appeared just five days after HBO began streaming “Watchmen.” I knew little about Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel that inspired the series, but decided to begin watching the watchmen. Written in 1985, it shared Scorsese’s dim view of super-heroes. In a 2017 interview, Moore’s vitriol surpassed Scorsese’s:

I think the impact of super-heroes on popular culture is both tremendously embarrassing and not a little worrying. While these characters were originally perfectly suited to stimulating the imaginations of their twelve or thirteen year-old audience, today’s franchised übermenschen, aimed at a supposedly adult audience, seem to be serving some kind of different function, and fulfilling different needs…In fact, I think that a good argument can be made for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as the first American super-hero movie, and the point of origin for all those capes and masks.

There are six degrees of separation between Moore and me. Twelve years ago, I worked with Harvey Pekar on a comic book about my comic life as a Trotskyist. Harvey always insisted on calling what he did “comic books” rather than the somewhat pretentious “graphic novel.” Like Moore, he wanted to break with super-hero mythology but on a different basis. Moore’s “Watchmen” made these figures loathsome while Pekar sought to ignore them altogether. Instead, he rooted his comic books in what he called the “quotidian” life of ordinary workers.

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November 24, 2019

The Wild District

Filed under: Colombia,television — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Two seasons of “Wild District” (Distrito Salvaje) are now available on Netflix. This is an outstanding Colombian TV drama about a former FARC member who is coerced into becoming an undercover agent. It is both the lead character Jhon Jeiver’s (Juan Pablo Raba) story as well as pointed social commentary about the country’s failure to resolve long-standing problems of crime, corruption and the elite domination of the state.

“Wild District” depicts a government and police department that turns a blind eye to criminality. Season one, which premiered on Netflix last year, is set during the period that opened up after the Colombia government and the FARC came to an agreement that would allow the long-time revolutionary movement to become a legal, electoral-oriented party. By now, that agreement has largely become undone as the government resorts to the murderous policies that have been in force for the past fifty years at least.

Jhon Jeiver (Juan Pablo Raba) is a legendary FARC guerrilla who moves to Bogotá after the peace treaty is signed. Hoping to live a normal civilian life, a hope deepened by his disillusionment with the FARC, he is a fearsome fighter who has killed many soldiers and rightwing military members. As such, he is subject to arrest for war crimes but the military intelligence officer who recognized him from an old photo decides to force him to go undercover and penetrate the country’s gangs that are staffed with both ex-FARC and paramilitary fighters. His prowess qualifies him for membership in a leading gang that has deep ties with Bogotá’s bourgeoisie that makes the men around Trump look like boy scouts by comparison.

Jhon Jeiver seeks only to fulfill his obligations as an undercover cop and return to normal life as a father to his teenage son who is beginning to adopt the grubby values of the rich kids he goes to school with. His story is a combination of family and police drama that is told exceedingly well. As for its ability to tell the story of Colombia’s social and political fault lines, it leaves a lot to be desired but it is likely that it never would have been funded if it cut the FARC some slack.

The other major character is Daniela León (Cristina Umaña), the country’s Attorney General, who hopes to prosecute construction company magnates who have been getting overpaid for underperforming projects. They are willing to kill people who interfere with their criminal enterprise, including Jhon. He has his hands full trying to penetrate criminal gangs at the lower levels of society and at the same time trying to help the Attorney General extirpate the rot at the top. None of this comes easy since he has big problems raising a troubled teen-aged son as a single father. His guerrilla mother was killed by a FARC combatant who had her pegged as a spy. All in all, both the FARC and the big bourgeoisie come off as bad guys. Jhon is an existential hero who has no illusions about a better world. If you’ve seen Humphrey Bogart in “Key Largo”, you’ll be familiar with his character.

In season two, Daniel León has a much larger role. In every episode, the scene alternates between her efforts to become Colombia’s first female president and Jhon’s to track down missiles that have been smuggled into the country from Venezuela. In almost every aspect of story-telling, character development, and social commentary on Colombia’s intractable capitalist ills, season two is even better than the first. My enthusiasm was only dimmed by the extravagantly distorted portrayal of Venezuelan society.

Jhon is dispatched into Venezuela as an undercover agent seeking to buy missiles on the black market. He is arrested by Venezuelan cops who are depicted as sadistic monsters who would make the actual Colombia police force look genteel by comparison. In prison, he meets an idealistic politician who has been falsely arrested for subversion. He is so bent on making Venezuela a virtuous state once again, he refuses to take advantage of a release from prison offered by the government in order to keep the democratic movement alive. The words socialism and imperialism are not mentioned once.

Once he escapes from prison, Jhon returns to Colombia to track down the stolen missiles. In the course of his search, he runs into a hitman nicknamed Monsanto (a brilliant touch) who is attempting to destroy León’s campaign through murderous attacks on her ex-husband and a friendly reporter.

What is even more of a threat to her campaign is the persistent efforts of her campaign manager to turn it into a tool of oligarchic interests. In the climactic final episodes of season two, the missiles, her campaign, the oligarchy, Monsanto and Jhon all collide to highly dramatic effect.

Despite her efforts to redirect her campaign to its original idealistic goals, León discovers that it is much harder to take the reins of the state to eliminate capitalist abuse under conditions of capitalist rule. She faces the prospects of being the nominal head of a reformist government whose “deep state” ties to the ruling class make reform impossible. Was she being used to placate the masses with false hopes? As an oligarch puts it to her in the final episode, “Everything must change in order for it to remain the same.” Do those words ring a bell? They come from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”. They were spoken by an aristocrat who throws his support for a revolutionary movement during the Risorgimento that failed to root out the feudal privileges that held Italy back from entering the 20th century. Despite the obvious willingness of the creative team to lie about Venezuela, they are capable of telling the truth about their own country.

October 21, 2019

Shtisel

Filed under: Jewish question,television — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

Over the past month, I watched seasons one and two of “Shtisel”, an Israeli soap opera (for the last of a better term) about haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews living in Jerusalem. It has little to do with Israeli politics or society since the characters disdain the Zionist project entirely. In season one, Rabbi Shulem Shtisel, the bullheaded patriarch of the Shtisel clan, decides to prevent the young students at the yeshiva where he teaches from watching the air show of the Israeli air force to their dismay. His son Akiva, who teaches there as well, overrules his father and allows the kids to watch the planes through the yeshiva windows. This should not be interpreted as his openness to Zionism, only his “softness” to the kids. He has zero interest in politics. All his energy is focused on drawing and painting, “hobbies” frowned upon in the Haredi world. The conflict between father and son provide most of the tension in this stellar drama. On a personal level, you are drawn into their test of wills but on a larger canvas, this is the central drama of the ultra-orthodox everywhere in the world, one between the closed, ritualistic and suffocating social norms and the yearning of young orthodox Jews to taste the forbidden pleasures of the outside world.

None of the characters in Shtisel are played by the Haredi themselves, an outcome dictated by their disdain for television entertainment, especially one that was critical of their values. Dov Glickman, who plays the father, is a veteran Israeli actor who began his career performing in the IDF’s naval revues. His son is played by Michael Aloni, who also played one of the cops in “Our Boys”. Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky conceived the idea for the show and have co-written the scripts. They bring a level of realism that you might expect from men who grew up in an ultra-orthodox family.

If you are a Jew, “Shtisel” might resonate with you more than the average viewer but rest assured that once you get past the oddities of Haredi life (they pray before drinking a glass of water), you will find each episode immediately recognizable and touching. For example, in season one Akiva has fallen head over heels in love with a woman who is probably 7 years older than him and widowed twice. Since the Haredi use matchmakers often given instructions to bring together a man and woman together based on traditional values, the idea of Rabbi Shtisel’s son marrying an older woman and one who had two husbands dying on her was not one he would tolerate. He must have taken Tina Turner at her word when she sang, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Once you get past the ultra-orthodox parameters of the conflict, you soon realize that Akiva’s determination to marry the woman he loves rather than one his father deems “appropriate” is basic to family dramas of any religion or race. What makes “Shtisel” so amazing is its ability to make the narrowly particular so universal.

For those who have seen the 2017 American film “Menashe”, you will immediately recognize its kinship with the Israeli TV series. What made “Menashe” so exceptional was the willingness of an American Haredi man (Menachem Lustig) to take the leading role of a widower who will have to accept his son becoming part of another observant family unless he remarries. Like “Shtisel”, matchmaking is a key part of the drama. I consider “Menashe” a masterpiece and urge you to see it on the usual streaming services including YouTube.

In my review, I stated:

Like John Travolta’s Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever”, Menashe has a low-paying job as a clerk in a retail store—in his case a small supermarket owned by a fellow Hasid. He owes his landlord back payments on rent and is constantly hitting up his boss for loans. In the first hint that the film is not romanticizing Hasidic life, Menashe argues with his boss about selling unwashed lettuce to a Hasidic housewife, a violation of strict Jewish dietary laws. He is told that the store’s profits are more important than following scripture.

Among the key characters in “Shtisel” is Shulem’s brother Nuchem who has returned to Jerusalem from  Belgium where he runs various businesses, much of which seem to be bending ethical rules of one sort or another. When one of them is on the verge of failure, he implores Shulem to sign for a loan to keep it afloat. Shulem agrees but only on one condition. His brother has to sign a statement acknowledging his refusal to live up to his responsibilities as a son. He left it up entirely to Shulem to look after their ailing mother, a situation obviously not restricted to the ultra-orthodox.

Judaism is an odd religion. It is based on the need to carry out “mitzvahs”, which means commandments. So, when I was growing up, you frequently heard something as a “real mitzvah” in the sense of being charitable or benign in the Christian sense, like Jesus attending to lepers. However, for the ultra-orthodox, the mitzvah would be something like saying a prayer before drinking a glass of water or wearing side curls—acts having little to do with ethics.

In 2001, I read a book titled “Postville” by Stephen Bloom that told the story of the Rubashkins, a Lubavitcher family that had taken ownership of a meatpacking plant in Iowa in order to turn it into a major purveyor of kosher meat. Bloom, who is a secular Jew and writing professor at the U. of Iowa, ingratiated himself into their world and spent many evenings with them drinking vodka and sharing feasts at Friday night shabbat dinners.

Even if they followed every single mitzvah to the letter, these were people of the deepest moral failings. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants offered accounts of Rubashkin fostering a hostile workplace that included 12-hour shifts without overtime pay, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and sexual harassment.

Sentenced to 27 years for his crimes, Sholom Rubashkin’s sentence was commuted by Trump in 2017. No doubt Jared Kushner helped persuade his father-in-law to free the monster because his understanding of the “mitzvah” was the same as the packing house owner. Just say your prayers and you will be “righteous”, whatever that means. Kushner has donated $250,000 to the Lubavitcher movement that unlike the Haredi depicted in “Shtisel” sees Israel as evidence of God’s will.

In 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu was running for his first term as prime minister, the Lubavitchers ran a costly campaign with the slogan. “Netanyahu. It’s good for the Jews.” The campaign was financed by Josef Gutnick, a wealthy Australian businessman with close ties to the late Lubavitcher rabbi and a major supporter of the settlement movement.

On September 7th, the Sunday Times Book Review covered Times reporter Bari Weiss’s new book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism”. The reviewer was Hillel Halkin, a rightwing Zionist who found her attempts to synthesize liberalism and Zionism laughable. Halkin is a regular contributor to The New York Sun, a neoconservative newspaper that was launched by Conrad Black in 2001 as an alternative to The New York Times. Black was found guilty of financial fraud in 2007 and sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison.

Halkin’s review was in keeping with tendencies both in the USA and in Israel to align Judaism with reactionary politics. In the case of Israel, of course, the term reactionary is relative. Even under the most “liberal” Zionist government, Israel was already moving rapidly toward consolidating an apartheid state. Halkin understands this tendency and fails to understand why Weiss does not. It would occur to me that before very long, the split in Judaism will become so deep that the two camps will begin to consider each other as mortal enemies. Halkin sounds like he wants to “bring it on”:

Weiss fails to realize that she herself is an example of the wishful thinking about Judaism that is ubiquitous among American Jewish liberals. One might call this the Judaism of the Sunday school, a religion of love, tolerance, respect for the other, democratic values and all the other virtues to which American Jews pay homage. This is a wondrous Judaism indeed — and one that has little to do with anything that Jewish thought or observance has historically stood for. “We’ve always been there,” Weiss approvingly quotes a friend of hers, hurt to the quick by the proposed banning of “Jewish pride flags” at the 2019 Washington Dyke March. Always? As if the right to define oneself sexually as one pleases were a cause Jews have fought for over the ages!

As a matter of historical record, it was Greek and Roman high society, not the Jews, that practiced and preached polymorphous sexual freedom. Judaism fiercely opposed such an acceptance of sexual diversity, against which it championed the procreative family, the taming of anarchic passions, and the cosmically ordained nature of normative gender distinctions that goes back to the first chapter of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image. … Male and female created he them.” And while we’re at it, it was the Greeks, not the Jews, who invented democracy. What mattered to Jews throughout nearly all of their history (and still does to a considerable number of them today) was the will of God as interpreted by religious authority, not free elections.

Judaism as liberalism with a prayer shawl is a distinctly modern development. It started with the 19th-century Reform movement in Germany, from which it spread to America with the reinforcement of the left-wing ideals of the Russian Jewish labor movement. As much as such a conception of their ancestors’ faith has captured the imagination of most American Jews, it is hard to square with 3,000 years of Jewish tradition. Weiss has delivered a praiseworthy and concise brief against modern-day anti-Semitism, but if she thinks this long tradition is ultimately compatible with contemporary American liberal beliefs, she might want to take a closer look. Honestly regarded, Judaism tells another story.

October 18, 2019

Our Boys

Filed under: Counterpunch,Palestine,television — louisproyect @ 9:34 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 18, 2019

Last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a boycott against Israel’s channel 12 for producing the HBO mini-series “Our Boys.” He described it as anti-Semitic and slandering Israel internationally. This month I watched “Our Boys” and can recommend it not only as a docudrama but as a brutally honest retelling of how the Israeli cops apprehended 3 West Bank settlers that murdered a 16-year old Palestinian boy. They were seeking to avenge Hamas’s killing of 3 teen-aged boys who were settlers like them. What makes the show so authentic was the division of labor between Israeli and Palestinian film-makers who were determined to get the story right. The Israelis wrote the script for the Jewish characters. They were either cops or part of the West Bank settlement that bred the racism that allowed 3 men to beat a defenseless teen with a wrench until barely conscious. They finished him off by pouring gasoline down his throat and then setting fire to him.

It was left to director/screenwriter Tawfik Abu-Wael to bring the Palestinians to life. To his great credit, he has made the parents of the martyred son Mohammed Abu Khdeir two of the more fully realized Palestinian characters in any film I have seen. As the father Hussein Abu Khdeir, Johnny Arbid portrays a man being torn by two opposing forces, even to the point of splitting him in half psychologically. On one side is the Palestinian community that is mainly interested in his son being exploited as a martyr to benefit the movement. On the other is the Israeli police that needs his cooperation to help them make the arrest and prosecution of 3 settlers acceptable to most Israelis. His presence at the trial is key, even if it means defying the Palestinian political leadership. They denounce the trial in advance as being a farce that would allow the 3 to go free. His wife Suha Abu Khdeir (Ruba Blal) can accept his decision to cooperate with the police but is still distrustful enough to consider not showing up for the trial. Their drama, including the horrors of discovering what happened to their son, helps to draw you into the story.

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July 19, 2019

Vice; The Loudest Voice

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,television — louisproyect @ 3:02 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 19, 2019

Two of the more infamous Republican Party operatives have become the subjects of biopics within the past year. In “Vice”, a 2018 film now available on Amazon streaming, Adam McKay portrayed Dick Cheney as a cynical opportunist who was both responsible for the “war on terror” and the extension of executive power that enabled the Bush White House to suspend habeas corpus. Currently running on Showtime, “The Loudest Voice” examines the life of Roger Ailes as a modern-day equivalent of Citizen Kane if Orson Welles had portrayed his fictionalized version of William Randolph Hearst as a monster straight out of his mother’s womb.

The two subjects have quite a bit in common. To start with, they were both products of an America that Norman Rockwell once painted but no longer exists. Growing up in Casper, Wyoming, Cheney enjoyed life in “The Oil City” that was ranked eighth overall in Forbes magazine’s list of “the best small cities to raise a family.” Ailes hailed from Warren, Ohio, a mid-sized city like Casper, that like the rest of the pre-Rust Belt region relied on manufacturing to provide the solid middle-class existence portrayed in Rockwell paintings. His father was a foreman in Packard Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors. Just like Michael Moore, whose father worked for GM in Flint, Ailes idealized the Warren of his youth, seeing it as a place where motherhood, apple pie and the flag reigned supreme. Like Steve Bannon, Ailes’s right-populism revolved around the notion of making a new world of Warrens possible by keeping out immigrants and toughening up trade policies long before Donald Trump became President.

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February 22, 2019

Netflix series on the Sinaloa drug cartels

Filed under: Counterpunch,crime,drugs,Mexico,television — louisproyect @ 2:55 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, FEBRUARY 22, 2019

Not only was Ernest Mandel the leading Marxist economist of his time, he was also a big fan of crime stories. In his 1984 Delightful Murder: a Social History of the Crime Story, he made an essential point about organized crime from a Marxist perspective as well as showing a remarkable grasp of popular culture:

Organized crime, rather than being peripheral to bourgeois society, springs increasingly from the same socio-economic motive forces that govern capital accumulation general: private property, competition and generalized commodity production (generalized money economy). The Swedish pop group Abba summed up the situation eloquently in their song: ‘Money, money, money — It’s a rich man’s world.’ (Their own fate is a vivid illustration of this law: with the huge income generated by their records they promptly created an investment trust and contributed on a large scale to the election funds of the bourgeois party coalition.) But a rich man’s world is also a rich gangster’s world particularly since the top gangsters have grown richer and richer in relative terms, and are certainly qualitatively richer than even richest police, or the overwhelming mass of politicians. (Nixon himself was conscious of the disparity.)

A couple of months ago my wife reminded me that season four of Narcos and season three of El Chapo were up and running on Netflix. Although I hadn’t written anything about the El Chapo series, it seemed like a good opportunity to cover both since they dealt with the drug cartels in Mexico that were very timely given El Chapo’s trial. In addition, they are about the best entertainment available on Netflix. The two series are closely related since they deal with the Sinaloa cartel that El Chapo ruled over. In season four of Narcos, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is only a bit player. Primary attention is on Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna), the founder of the cartel for which El Chapo served as a sicario (hitman). Another important character is Kiki Camarena (Michael Peña), the DEA agent who was tortured and killed by Gallardo’s henchmen in 1985. His death became a cause célèbre that led to the first in a series of escalations of the drug war.

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October 26, 2018

The Octopus

Filed under: Counterpunch,crime,television — louisproyect @ 2:26 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 26, 2018

Recently I had the opportunity to watch season one and two of “The Octopus” (La Piovra, another term for the mafia, just like Cosa Nostra), an Italian TV series that ran from 1984 to 2001. All ten seasons of this outstanding drama about one cop’s determination to take on and destroy the Sicilian mafia can be seen on MHz Choice, a VOD website devoted to European film and television and mostly focused on what the French call policiers and well worth the $7.99 monthly subscription fee. If after having seen my CounterPunch article about Swedish, Marxist-oriented detective series on Netflix, and moreover have appreciated such fare, you’ll be motivated to subscribe to MHz Choice since it has a sizable offering of Scandinavian crime fiction. For my money, literally speaking, this is the only genre on Netflix that is worth my while in recent years and if your tastes are similar to mine, MHz Choice is well worth the price of a subscription.

Having seen at least a half-dozen Italian films about the Sicilian mafia over the years, both narrative and documentary, the main takeaway is that the Italians would never dream of making the sort of films that established the reputations of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. Scorsese tends to portray his characters as morally deficient but even with the worst of them, like Joe Pesci’s Tommy De Vito in “Goodfellas”, you are likely to find them demonstrating a raffish charm. As for “The Godfather”, it depicts the Corleone family as the good guys sustaining the “honor” of a virtual benevolent society against the bad gangsters, no matter that no such family ever existed. The “Sopranos” on HBO was obviously made in the same spirit and helped to convey the impression that with their malapropisms, Tony’s gang was just a modern version of Shakespeare’s clowns but with a violent streak.

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