Monday, November 19, 2012

Holidays and the Diplomat's Dinner Table

Do we even celebrate holidays any more in America?

We do stuff, yes:
 We spend money.
 We drink.
 We complain to friends.
 We travel, or we host others.
 We dread the tension and conflict.
 We worry.

Where is the celebration in all this? 

Holiday commercials are supposed to represent the middle ground where conflicts and tensions have been resolved and where relationships have been negotiated. These commercials may be the most aspirational of all, even more so than those of luxury brands, because there's a stronger emotional hook for a wider audience. People in the commercials are attractive, presentable, sometimes even clubbable. We gaze on our own families and despair.

The dinner table at the center of many family celebrations is a treacherous place, but the messages we get during the holidays ignore that.

The dinner table on TV is that of the diplomat, the professional trained to navigate through nuance, subterfuge, and concealment.

Is diplomacy possible any more for those who do not live and work as diplomats?

People bemoan the general loss of cordiality, yet we don't discuss the hard work of self-restraint required for tactful, considered communication. The middle ground of forbearance and circumspection begins to look like Iwo Jima.

My motto this year comes from the film Wargames:

"The only winning move is not to play."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Age and Treachery


At the core of the conflict within Skyfall is age versus youth, treachery versus skill. Silva's near-Oedipal obsession with M pits his (relative) youth and skill against her cunning and experience. Bond's first encounter with the new Q goes less dramatically but highlights the same issues. Q brags that he could do more damage with his laptop while wearing his pajamas than Bond could do in a year of field work. Bond ultimately reminds Q that judgment--a singularly human capability--is the most important element.

Skyfall is not a reboot of the franchise as much as it is a return to its core values. We are left with Eve Moneypenny, the bloom of youth whose inexperience in the field nearly killed Bond; Q, the consummately skilled technician whose poor judgment permits Silva to access MI6's computer network; Malory, the new M, who though younger than 's M has seen his share of treachery at the hands of the Irish Republican Army; and Bond himself, the figure at the crossroads whose youthful skills have now become experienced judgment in the exercise of treachery--all in the service of Her Majesty, of course.

Skyfall permits Bond to mature, and in so doing, it extends the franchise even farther away from its supervillain, planet-destroying past. The supervillain of today is the lone wolf, the small group, the sleeper cell. I, for one, bid the Moonrakers of the past goodbye as I greet this Bond with warmth and regard. 

Here's to age and treachery. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

True Masks


A quick list of a few dichotomies in Skyfall...

Trust, suspicion
Revelation, concealment
Presence, absence
Clarity, obscurity
Culpability, innocence
Inner, outer
Truth, deceit

So we can order them thus:

Revelation          Concealment
-truth                   -deceit
-presence            -absence
-clarity                 -obscurity
-inner                   -outer
-innocence           -culpability
-trust                   -suspicion
-loyalty                -betrayal

Skyfall reverses these easy dichotomies through the trope of the shadow. For instance: Bond shadows an opponent, staying within the shadows himself in order to gain clarity, to see information revealed. Bond uses the shadows to project his own absence; it is in this projection of absence that his own presence becomes most valuable. 

Or another one: Bond, M, and MI6 are culpable because of the nature of their operations; what they do is illegal in most locales, though sanctioned by their own government. Their culpability helps preserve the innocence--whether authentic or not is another matter--of the populace.

The game of fidelity and betrayal is a complex one. Without the shadows, the supposedly positive characteristics, if practiced by Skyfall's characters, would lead to the deaths of many--as the deaths of the first three agents revealed by Silva bear witness. The ecosystem of betrayal--the supposedly negative characteristics--depends on the ecosystem of loyalty. 

Trust is the currency of those in the shadows. Without trust, cover stories cannot hold, false identities cannot be offered, and deceits cannot be perpetuated. This trust is the superficial trust of the average man on the street--the one who believes someone is a janitor because he's pushing a broom and wearing a uniform. It is the trust we depend on daily, yet it is the least secure trust of all.

Espionage fiction has always mined these dichotomies. Skyfall's effectiveness--indeed, that of all of Daniel Craig's Bond films--lies in the scripts' fidelity to a set of practices based on deception.

Well done, Commander Bond.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Calculus of Severine

#skyfall #spoilers #007

So I've watched Skyfall twice now, trying to get a handle on how best to write about it. 

It is rich, it is lush, it is too much for one post.

Some ideas:

There are no opposites.
Everything is in shadow.
Damage comes from revelation, not concealment.
A transition is simply the moment when the transitioning elements cohere.
Life is betrayal.
Happiness is an illusion.
The comfort of modernity, of civilization, is predicated on a lie.

What is the ecosystem of betrayal?

One wonders if, after the helicopters pick up Silva on the island of Hashima, Bond didn't take one more taste of the 50-year-old Macallan. One wonders if Bond is deliberately shaking when he points the gun at Severine.

What are we at the core?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Remember, remember...the sixth of November

Politics and nursery rhymes. What to make of them? What to make of the Guy Fawkes rhyme on this #Election2012 day?

This week...just the Monday and Tuesday of it have been the observant dilettante's dream. Guy Fawkes Day brought about the defacement of a few websites, but idle Twitter threats by various #anonymous account holders did not materialise. I shared drinks with a few friends at The Queen Vic on H Street NE in DC last night while the +New Orleans Saints  made chutney out of the +Philadelphia Eagles. No masked crusaders burst in with ideas that would bring us back to our senses.

Today...well, if you don't know what America's been doing today, then please move on to another Plusser's post.

I have been struck by the rhyme scheme and internal pattern of repetition in the Guy Fawkes rhyme:

Remember, remember (A)
The fifth of November (A)
The gunpowder treason and plot (B)
I know no reason (C)
Why gunpowder treason (C)
Should ever be forgot (B)

The internal rhyme of 'treason-reason-treason', along with the repetition of the word 'treason', were aptly expanded in Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. 

But what is it we're not to forget?

Can we remember something if we've not done it?

How much political action is mere spectacle?
How do we define participatory politics?

How much social media is bread and circuses?