The Morning Jolt

Culture

The Only Thing She Got Wrong Was Everything

The Only Thing She Got Wrong Was Everything

In a new black-and-white short film, Madonna declares we have entered a “new age of tyranny” where “all marginalized people are in danger” and “where being uniquely different might truly be considered a crime.”

Notice what stirs her to this declaration of modern tyranny. It’s not an angry mob at Middlebury College surrounding Charles Murray and assaulting a professor. It’s not the riots in Berkeley preventing Milo from speaking. It’s not a judge imposing a fine of $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a wedding.

It’s not civil asset forfeiture, where law-enforcement authorities can seize property from someone without charging them with a crime. (Justice Clarence Thomas is the most prominent judicial figure asking how this doesn’t violate “the Due Process Clause and our Nation’s history.”)

It’s not private probation, where private collection agencies take over the role of the government in collecting fines.

It’s not the vast domestic surveillance tools in the hands of the National Security Agency.

No, it’s the legal democratic election of a president and congressional majorities she doesn’t like. Notice that the president and congressional majorities can’t agree on key details of their agenda, and the courts struck down one of the new president’s first executive orders. Criticism of the new president and his legislative allies is unrestricted and fairly common. You don’t have to like any of this, but governmental checks-and-balances and freedom of expression is pretty much the opposite of tyranny.

Also notice Madonna’s artistic stance against this “new age of tyranny” requires her to march towards the camera in semi-Fascist chic clothing holding snarling dogs.

America’s Opioid Addiction Crisis Is So Much Worse Than We Thought

Christopher Caldwell’s “American Carnage” is one of the more spectacularly reported and important works of journalism to come down the pike in a while. I don’t know about you, but I feel like every six weeks or so I read something about the opioid addiction crisis that tells me it’s much worse than I thought.

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor. Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2 percent of the population.

Salisbury, Massachusetts (pop. 8,000), was founded in 1638, and the opium crisis is the worst thing that has ever happened to it. The town lost one young person in the decade-long Vietnam War. It has lost fifteen to heroin in the last two years. Last summer, Huntington, West Virginia (pop. 49,000), saw twenty-eight overdoses in four hours. Episodes like these played a role in the decline in U.S. life expectancy in 2015. The death toll far eclipses those of all previous drug crises…

A heroin scourge in America’s housing projects coincided with a wave of heroin-addicted soldiers brought back from Vietnam, with a cost peaking between 1973 and 1975 at 1.5 overdose deaths per 100,000. The Nixon White House panicked. Curtis Mayfield wrote his soul ballad “Freddie’s Dead.” The crack epidemic of the mid- to late 1980s was worse, with a death rate reaching almost two per 100,000. George H. W. Bush declared war on drugs. The present opioid epidemic is killing 10.3 people per 100,000, and that is without the fentanyl-impacted statistics from 2016. In some states it is far worse: over thirty per 100,000 in New Hampshire and over forty in West Virginia.

Caldwell’s report is thorough and unsparing. It’s hard to dispute that America’s pharmaceutical companies at the very least were remarkably uncurious about the explosion of demand for painkillers. In West Virginia, state attorney general Patrick Morrissey is suing McKesson Corporation, contending they should have recognized something was wrong as they shipped more than 100 million doses of painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia — a state with fewer than 2 million people — in a five-year period.

Here’s a story of enormous suffering among the American people, hitting all walks of life, fueled in part by big pharmaceutical companies chasing profits and averting their eyes from the human consequences. It’s rather amazing that the Democrats couldn’t capitalize on this in 2016, and indicates how little they focus on some communities in America.

Logan and the Realm of Films That Are Well-Done but Not Enjoyable

Caught Logan this weekend. Spoilers ahead…

By and large, Logan earned those rave reviews. But I came away thinking that every creative decision that made it bold and intriguing and strikingly different from the usual comic-book fare also made the movie not particularly fun to watch.

The time: The last time we saw the character of Logan/Wolverine, it was at the end of Days of Future Past, and a dystopian future had appeared to be averted. Life for the X-Men seemed to be going very well, in what was, if you keep up with the team’s math, 2023 or so, but that looked not all that different from the film’s release date, 2014. Suddenly in Logan, we’re a few years down the road, and everything’s gone terribly wrong.

The gloom: There’s been a fascinating discussion about whether the America of 2029 seen in Logan represents dystopia. I think Sonny Bunch is correct (words I never thought I would write) is that this is a pretty good future for most of humanity, but one of near-extinction for mutants, the genetically-gifted heroes of the world. One of the rarely-discussed realities of the fictional world of the X-Men among fans and creators is that the general public that fears mutants has very good reasons to do so. The X-Men comic was always meant to be an allegory about discrimination and prejudice, with Charles Xavier/Professor X and Magneto offering philosophies roughly akin to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The problem with powerful mutants as an allegory for any minority group in our real-life society is that if people were born with immense powers of mind-reading, magnetism, or the ability to shoot lasers from their eyes, everyone who didn’t have those powers would have perfectly logical reasons to be terrified.

Still, the world of the X-Men taps into the same vein of Harry Potter, aiming to appeal to any kid or teen who feels different and an outsider and wants to find some place where they’re recognized as special. The X-Men, along with the hard luck of Peter Parker and the nomadic loneliness of Bruce Banner, offered young readers a valuable lesson: The world wasn’t always going to reward you for doing the right thing. Sometimes it would hate you or fear you for making that choice. The dream of a better world was worth fighting for, but it was, at least at this point in our history, still a dream, waiting to be realized.

The world of Logan suggests that the gradual extinction of mutants has created a much safer world for the average human being.

The aging of the characters means we see Logan and Professor X as shadows of their former selves. Logan, once arguably the deadliest man on the planet, struggles to handle a bunch of guys trying to steal his hubcaps. Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of an elderly, mentally deteriorating Charles Xavier will break the heart of anyone who’s dealt with a relative with Alzheimer’s. At one point, the movie’s villain scoffs, “It hurts to see you like this, Logan,” and he might as well be speaking for the audience.

This raises the stakes of the movie considerably. Logan might not make it out of any given fight scene, and Xavier can’t telepathically shut down any adversary. But by making the movie more “real”… do we want to be reminded of the cruelty of aging and mental deterioration in an X-Men movie?

The elusive backstory: The movie comes right up to the edge of explaining what happened in recent years, but never quite spells it out, which is surprising considering the importance of this in the mind of the audience. Professor X has some sort of degenerative brain disease that gives him seizures and his powerful telepathy means everyone around him experiences them as well. At some point (really just a year ago?) in Westchester (the site of Xavier’s school), he had a seizure and as the report says on the radio, “injured 300 people and killed seven mutants.” Logan shuts off the radio at a most inconvenient time, but we can surmise that Charles accidentally killed the X-Men. Let me put it this way: If the only person left to help Logan care for Professor X is Caliban, then it seems safe to assume that the rest of the X-Men are dead. (Although clearly someone — a woman? — is protecting mutants at some unseen hidden sanctuary in Canada.) One of the big themes of this movie is the importance of connection and family, yet the movie won’t show its cards on the fate of the old “family” of these characters.

The fictional world within a world: One of the movie’s odder twists is the revelation that this fictional world has X-Men comics and even a Wolverine toy. As noted, most of the X-Men movies have portrayed them as “feared and hated by a world they’re sworn to protect” — so it seems odd that a group of fugitives would be celebrated has heroes in any media, never mind their own merchandising for kids. Within the film, Logan scoffs at the comics as wildly inaccurate “ice cream for bed-wetters” — perhaps an accusation at the comic movie genre as a whole — but it turns out that there’s an extremely important plot point related to a coded message within those comics. Who’s writing and publishing them?

Finally, it will not surprise you that some reviewers are insisting the film is an anti-Trump argument:

Like Children of Men, its vision of the future has political teeth. In passing, we see massive lines of Latino deportees at an intimidating border wall. The mutant minority has mostly died out, and a Limbaugh-esque radio host says he’s sick of talking about their extinction. We learn of an American biotech firm that’s exploiting the uneven relationship between the U.S. and Mexico by setting up a lab conducting horrific experiments south of the border. Their victims are overwhelmingly black and brown — but so are nearly all of the non-Wolverine heroes of the movie. As is true of most great X-Men stories, the film is a story about the forgotten, the desperate, and the marginalized finding strength in one another. Logan is a superpowered protest against Trumpism — and a chillingly effective one, at that.

Look, if you think America of today is dystopian, you can’t plausibly argue that dystopia began January 20. Maybe this reviewer’s been talking to Madonna.

ADDENDA: I chatted about Matt Mackowiak about the state of Obamacare repeal and replace, the state of the GOP, and the outlook for traditional conservatism in the Trump era.

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