War Machine gets 36 to life

I stopped reading about War Machine after Sir Nigel Longstock, a character I play on the Co-Main Event Podcast, banned him from MasterTweet Theatre. His offense was that he nearly beat a woman to death. Up to that point, our funny mixed martial arts podcast had regarded him as a resource. For example, he legally changed his name from Jon Koppenhaver to War Machine approximately two weeks before he was cut from the UFC. Then he ventured into adult cinema. Finally he went to jail, where his use of Twitter skyrocketed. It also got less funny.

He was still an aggressively dumb person pronouncing on his own excellence, but in the context of an assault conviction, it didn’t strike the right tone. As his tweets went from defiant to self-pitying to Jesus, using him on the show started feel like hackery, at best. Then he did that thing to Christie Mack, and it was over. The guy named War Machine who loses prize fights is funny. The guy named War Machine who assaults and rapes people is not.

At first I typed that he did that thing to Christie Mack and we knew he was a bad person, but that’s not true. We knew before that. The time he spent in jail, Tweeting aggressively-capitalized critiques of Society, was for attacking ordinary people in parking lots and bars. He got blackballed from pornography because he stormed around a party punching strangers. Even before he assaulted Mack, he was a pro fighter who pressed his advantage outside the ring. He was evidently awful. He just hadn’t done anything life-defining yet.

Is this the salient difference between a comic figure and a sociopath? We care how the sociopath has hurt people? War Machine is going to spend the rest of his life in prison. The sentence he received today makes him eligible for parole in 36 years. He will be 71. The body he used to punch and rape people will be gone. The mind that chose to do those things will probably be gone, too. The man will be gone, and what comes out of prison in 2053, still legally known as War Machine, will be a relic of this world.

This world will be gone. Good, one is tempted to think, when considering the operation that produced this person and turned him loose to hurt other people until, collectively, we decided to hurt him forever. I could stand to let that one go. But first, show me what else you’ve got.

Friday links! Get confident, stupid edition

You know what the problem is with this country? No one has the courage of their convictions anymore. We’ve suffered a nationwide crisis of confidence, and now Americans are afraid to go their own way and live as devil-may-care visionaries. People are so concerned with fair play and rules of decorum that they aren’t willing to stand up for what they believe is right. We have all become hobbled by our sense of ethics and the way things ought to be done, afraid to act because we might be wrong. Also, the sun makes us colder each morning, and birds crawl silently along the ground. Today is Friday, and everyone in America is extraordinarily confident. Won’t you explore that classic mark of genius with me?

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I just want to help people

I got into public service because I want to help people. As you may have heard, I recently made several hundred million dollars selling my column to Lee Enterprises. Now that I am rich, I can do whatever I want, and what I want most is to fight for you, the ordinary, struggling, not-at-all-rich stupid asshole. I love you, and that’s why I am running for governor. I’m also up for US representative, and I wouldn’t say no to the Senate or even a judicial appointment, if it’s federal. I just really, really want to help people. Sometimes I want to help them so much I attack one of them.

I don’t want to do it, of course. I apologize for doing it, in the past and, unavoidably, in the future. It’s just that so many things are fake, especially questions. Don’t you hate it when somebody asks you a fake question? I come into public life full of cold-pressed juices and good intentions, with a message anyone can understand: “I’m here to help. Put me in charge.” But immediately people start in with the fakery, asking “how do you plan to help?” and “what do you think about this other plan to help?” until I’m just like SHUT UP YOU FAKE SON OF A BLLLEEAARGH! And then I help them through a coffee table.

Anyway, I think politics is a natural fit for me. It’s certainly the the most direct way to help people, by making laws for them and stuff. I would also like to create jobs. Ever since I got rich, I’ve been worried that not enough people are working. You can read all about my new life as a helpful and violent multimillionaire in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. As with all my columns, I wrote it six months ago, so I’m lucky that recent events unfolded the way they did. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Kathy Griffin’s head photo is wrong aesthetically, not morally

A photo of Kathy Griffin taken by Tyler Shields for TMZ

The thing about performatively threatening the president is that you want to make it symbolic. Broadly speaking, there are two ways to do that. You can threaten a person who symbolizes the president, as Snoop did when he expressed his frustration with powerful clowns. Or you can make the threat itself symbolic. If I sent you a drawing of me stabbing you in the chest with a knife, you would probably go to the cops. But if I sent you a drawing of one stick figure urinating on another, with the figures labeled “me” and “you” respectively, you would probably take it as less a literal threat than a gesture of contempt. Introducing symbolism lets you perform violence against the president and expect it to be taken as an artistic expression rather than a threat.

That’s where Kathy Griffin messed up. This picture of her holding a severed head is not symbolic enough. With its big stupid hair, the head looks too much like Trump. And campy though it may be from a special-effects perspective, we are clearly looking at a murder scene. The violence is not symbolic, and neither is its target. It’s a photo illustration of Griffin holding up the severed head of the president.

A lot of people have condemned it as a threat. Threatening the president is illegal, even in a joking context, and the AV Club reports that the Secret Service is investigating. I bet their investigation finds that Kathy Griffin ain’t gonna do shit. This photo was obviously a stunt. K-Griff herself said it was all a jape, once it turned out no one thought the picture was cool. I quote Twitter:

2/ OBVIOUSLY, I do not condone ANY violence by my fans or others to anyone, ever! I’m merely mocking the Mocker in Chief.

— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) May 30, 2017

Welp, there goes your plausible deniability re: that could have been anybody’s head. But more importantly, why didn’t anyone think that picture was cool? I submit that the moral condemnations are a dodge, and a reasonable person would not take this photograph as a threat. The problem with it is not moral but aesthetic. All it achieves is to neatly convey the pitfalls of political art.

What does this picture make us think? It tells us that Griffin is very displeased with President Trump. After that comes a howling silence. There is no nuance to any of it, no source of additional meaning. Her face is expressionless, suggesting neither knowingness nor innocence, irony nor sincerity. She makes no comment on her own attitude toward the president. She makes no substantive comment on the man himself, like if the head were smoking a cigarette or wearing Gaddafi glasses or something. Unless you want to argue that her blue blouse symbolizes support for the Democratic Party, the only idea this picture conveys is “Kathy hate Trump” in capital letters. But a piece of paper with that printed on it wouldn’t be audacious enough to go viral.

This audacity introduces the defense that it’s not the photo that matters but the act of releasing it. In the same way the art wasn’t in Warhol’s soup cans so much as in the act of painting them, “Trump Head” is not a photo but a concept piece. Publishing this picture is like putting a shark in a lucite tank or submitting a urinal to the Grand Central Palace exhibition. What happens when Griffin issues a blunt, potentially illegal expression of hatred for the president? You could argue that’s the artistic question examined here, and it’s not a photo but rather a piece of performance art.

Except what happens is utterly safe and predictable, so it fails as performance, too. It’s not as though this picture will cost Griffin her gig in Branson. With the possible exception of Log Cabin Republicans, the overlap between her audience and people who will be offended by this photograph is small. Here lies the natural sin of political art. Where good art asks questions or introduces unfamiliar sensations, political art is tempted to tell people what they already know.

That’s why Bill Maher sucks now. He’s not surprising me to make me laugh; he’s agreeing with me to make me clap. Griffin’s severed head photo does the same thing. It styles itself as defiant, but it’s a bid for applause. It seems dangerous to hold up the head of President Trump, but when you think about it, anyone else’s head would have been riskier. That’s what makes him so insidious.

The worst thing about having this man as president is the brutalization of the poor, sick, and brown. The second-worst thing is the terrible judgment his election laid upon our country’s soul. But way down the list, and perhaps too little remarked, is the problem of how his flat, stupid badness has flattened and stupefied art. So many of us feel so strongly against him that we are apt to mistake any mirror for a picture. The question of how to say something interesting about this man is getting increasingly hard to answer, and yet he is so terribly important.

Yes, I can hear my parents having sex by Superman

Note: This weekend, Dan Brooks was injured in a freak accident while throwing hammers at a trampoline, so today’s Combat! blog is a guest post by humanitarian and immigration rights activist Superman.

As a virtually indestructible alien given superhuman abilities by Earth’s yellow sun, I get a lot of questions about my powers. Yes, I can cook food with my vision. No, I do not need special scissors to get a haircut. My hair just grows this way, with the gel and everything. I don’t understand why—probably for the same reason I can hear Lois Lane say “Help me, Superglub!” as the room in which she is trapped slowly fills with water, even though she is underground and thousands of miles away. And yes, this same super hearing means that I can hear my parents every time they have sex.

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