Monday, July 18, 2016

Secret Sun-o-Vision: Stranger Things


2016 has been a messed-up year.

I probably don't need to remind anyone of that but it bears repeating anyway. 

How's it been for you? Every time I think 2016 is doing smacking me around it gets another lick in. But I can't really complain, given the endless ticker-tape of terrible news coming in from all around the world, so much so that it threatens to become routine. 

All hell has not quite broken out everywhere yet, not the way it has in Syria or the Ukraine, say, but it could only be a matter of time. I don't need to read the litany here; you're all smart people and know what's going on out there.

The Olympics, that beloved mash-up of mostly obscure and unloved sports and high initiate ritual, isn't looking like it will offer much relief this year, as Brazil is rocked by political scandal and bad omen.  

America's one-time great escape from reality, the summer blockbuster, is slipping from its grasp as studios focus their money and energy on the foreign market. This is why nearly every movie title these days has either a numeral or a colon in it. 

At some point Hollywood is going to run out of material to recycle and its competitors are going to catch up with its technology. Until then, it's nothing but remakes and sequels as far as the eye can see.

With more and more people shunning the multiplex, television is filling the (yawning, gaping) void. Many of the top writers in the business have migrated into TV, which offers more room to breathe than the hyper-controlled world of moviemaking in the 21st Century. 

And here's where we get to the flip-side of 2016.

Earlier this year I wrote about how a lot of the themes I'd been exploring here seemed to be coming to fruition and Netflix's new series Stranger Things is practically a tulpa in this context. 

It's basically a checklist of Secret Sun standbys, from remote viewing to alternate realities to human experimentation to old-school geekdom to the friggin' Clash*. 

It also ties into another theme this year, this theme of planetary retrograde. I've taken advantage of all these backsliding planets to recover a lot of things from my past and in that regard Stranger Things feels like a kind of punctuation to that process.

I binged the entire thing and have already begun my re-watch but I wanted to riff on my immediate impressions. Suffice it to say, it's been a sync motherlode, personally-speaking.

The story starts off with a Twin Peaks-type mystery; a young boy named Will Byers goes missing after riding his bike home from a friend's house one night. He comes from a broken home with a single mother who isn't entirely stable and has a low-paying job as a cashier. 

He's obsessed with Lord of the Rings and comic books and Star Wars and the rest of it, loves to draw and likes The Clash. He and his friends get bullied a lot by the "mouth-breathers" at school, who all think he's gay.

Yeah, you could say I related to young Will. Except I loved baseball when I was his age. 

And didn't play Dungeons & Dragons, mostly because it wasn't really big when I was his age and by the time it was I didn't have anyone to play it with. The comic store I worked in didn't even sell any D&D stuff at the time, just to give you some context.

If you've watched the show and have read this blog over the years, you've probably picked up on some of the other connections, like the peculiar nature of the Byers' living room. That seemed awfully familiar. A little too familiar.†

So was the general theme of bad shit happening to kids, something else I was all too familiar growing up with. Actually, just this past week I was talking about bad shit happening at a local quarry when I was young and sure enough that very theme pops up in Stranger Things.

Anyhow, as Will goes missing a strange young girl appears, who's apparently escaped from a secret government lab. Will's friends take her in and soon discover she's no ordinary kid. And so the game is afoot.

Stranger Things has been called a pastiche, and to be sure it wears its influences on its sleeve. There's a lot of licks lifted from E.T., The Goonies, Firestarter, Akira, Altered States and a whole host of other 80s classics. There's a healthy dose of X-Files and Outer Limits in evidence.



But there's a lot taken from lesser-known films such as Beyond the Black Rainbow (if you haven't seen it, do so) and especially Wavelength, a decidedly-obscure movie Secret Sun readers are probably familiar with

A lot of the themes the series explores are well familiar to readers of this blog, so much so that it very much feels like its producers have spent some time here (I first made the connections between Wavelength and MK Ultra). The Clash references almost feel like winks in that regard. 

Given that this series was originally supposed to take place in Montauk, I'm wondering if the producers googled my Eternal Sunshine posts and got linked to the Wavelength piece.

The faux-Tangerine Dream music in Stranger Things certainly doesn't disabuse me of that particularly suspicion. 

Well, either way.

Speaking of MK Ultra, its star is Timothy Leary's goddaughter Winona Ryder, whose father was a Leary protege. 

Winona is now 44, which scares the shit out of me. Winona's had a hard go of it  the past several years, having fallen from grace several years ago after being arrested for shoplifting. Which means she's perfect for the role here and adds a spiritual connection to the source material that helps complete the circuit. 

In more ways than one, actually. 

It was refreshing to have something to watch, finally. My problem with most TV (or movies) these days is that I just can't get into the subject matter

I'm hard to entertain. I admit it. I've just consumed too much pop culture over the years. This series was pre-sell for me, there's no doubt about it. But I wouldn't have stuck with it if it weren't so well-done. I'm not really into things with kids but this was not a kids' show, it was an adult show that had kids in it. Big difference.

You'll notice I'm not going into the storylines or plot points in any great detail here. And that's because I want you to watch it. Once it's sunk in we can dive into the nitty-gritty and see if we can't parse some of the finer points.

Long story short: it's great. Go watch it.






* Not just The Clash but also a weird 1983-specific Clash sync. In one scene, we hear "She Has Funny Cars" by The Jefferson Airplane. One of the pivotal events of my youth- and certainly of 1983- was my purchase of the Casbah Club bootleg of The Clash at Brixton Academy. That album starts off with a lift of the drum riff from "Funny Cars." 

That's some pretty specific synchery going on there, especially since I bought the album at the same flea market I got a lot of old comics, including the John Byrne issue of The Comics Journal, artist of the issue of the X-Men that is repeatedly mentioned in the first episode of Stranger Things.

† Around the same time this story takes place (November 1983) I had my cop nightmare, which played uncomfortably like the abduction scene in the Intruders TV movie. It went like this: I was sitting with my mother and stepfather in the living room (aka the owl room) and we were worried about my sister, who was late getting home. 

Suddenly we saw flashing lights in the front window (pink and purple, significantly) and I went to get the door. There was a cop on the front porch but I couldn't see his face. As I opened the front door he took out his gun and shot me in the stomach. Or chest. I had a strange feeling of accomplishment after having that dream. Which raises all kinds of weird issues not unrelated to this series.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dog Days: Another Look at the X-Files Reboot


The X-Files "Event Series" has been released on DVD. The hype is over and so is the inevitable controversy and things have returned to status quo in X-Files fandom. Or perhaps status quo ante.

I wasn't thinking much about The X-Files after the miniseries. I can't say it didn't live up to my expectations because I really didn't have any. I remember watching the teaser doc on Christmas day and not exactly feeling like Santa brought the 90s back.

But you can't exactly make a snap judgment based on soundbites taken out of context in a promotional teaser like that. Also, being aware of the power of the zeitgeist --and also the behind-the-scenes interplays that gave the original series its kick-- I was all too aware how hard it is to reheat that gumbo and make it fresh.

Indeed, there are all kinds of potent and compelling ingredients that gave the series its bite, many of which fans may never be aware of (even if, as they say, the truth is out there). Many of the things that made the show magic simply can't be recaptured, even if it was obvious to me some wished very much to do so. Getting the band back together is a laudable goal but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the days when everyone was young and fiery.

No matter how hard you try you can't turn back time.

Neither can you undo the damage the intervening years have done to our culture and the fabric of our society. Many of the worst nightmares depicted on The X-Files have come true. If a prophet is not welcomed in its hometown, neither is he welcome in the dystopia he prophesied, even if only in allegorical form.

But something else was bothering me, dating back to the schedule announcement. Instead of a six-episode serial that would tie up all of the countless dangling threads left over from the original series, the plan was to bookend the event with two mytharc eps and fill the difference with standalones, including two comedies.

I smelled trouble right away.

As it happened, one of the standalones was essentially a mytharc ep (though it tied into the old mytharc rather than the new) and another tied into the arc by spending most of its time focusing on Scully's family. 

But the "narrative whiplash" I worried about was in full effect here, four very strong-willed writer/producer/directors creating four entirely separate visions of the show (or five, really, given how wildly disharmonic 'Babylon' was with Carter's myth eps). 

Each episode looked, played and felt completely different from the one before, with Carter's 'My Struggle's' feeling more like an X-Files TV movie than episodic television.

Worse, the stakes were raised so incredibly high in the first episode that the second seemed like an entirely different series.  Seeing the pair back in their 90s power suits made sense as fan service but less so as continuity (do FBI agents even dress that way anymore?)

And fan service seemed to be the order of the day, at least servicing a segment of the fan base that controls and dominates the fan press and to a lesser extent, the message boards.

Carter is keenly aware of how that segment of the fanbase can create, control and steer the conversation, whether in Reddit groups or as reviewers for media outlets. So he made sure most of their favorites were back: Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan.

Which is fine, especially since Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan weren't available. I don't think there was anything objectively wrong with Glen Morgan or James Wong's episodes, they're both highly-capable writer/directors, they just didn't feel particularly "event." Certainly nothing like the bookend episodes, which were nothing if not event-full.



Of the three, Glen Morgan worked the hardest to recapture the early season X-Files vibe; soaking up what's left of Vancouver's original ambiance, signing up Rancid singer Tim Armstrong for a major guest role (providing some Secret Sun Clash Convergence), and replaying one of his greatest hits in recreating the bedside drama of the seminal 'One Breath'.

But some fans felt cheated by the title: they were sure 'Home Again' meant a return of the notorious Peacock Brothers from the fourth season shocker, 'Home'. Strangely, "Band-Aid Nose Man" was somewhat of a retread of a monster from a fan-favorite episode from the sixth season, "Arcadia." 

As a director, Morgan served up some effective visuals that, again, recalled early X-Files. But the story strangely just seemed to stop, rather than end.

Some fans felt the death of Scully's mom played more like angst-porn than drama. But in an event series, you want major events in your characters' lives. That's the whole point. I just wasn't sure how Scully's ordeal connected to a Band-Aid Nose Man. 

It seems to me it would have been more effective had the subplot tied into the main arc the way "Founder's Mutation" did, if the tulpa here was more explicitly UFO-based.

I wrote about James Wong's episode in detail on The Solar Satellite, which was a remarkable replay of past iconic scenes, so much so that it was practically a clip show. But fans were certain it was to lead to William's return in the miniseries, and it didn't. Carter loves to dangle those carrots. Fans howl and scream but don't realize it's actually what keeps them tuning in. 

Just ask the producers of Fringe.

Fringe is germane to this discussion because as I said, 'Founder's' looked, felt and played very much like a Fringe episode, with a special guest appearance by Duchovny and Mulder. That's no knock-- it's very much like first season Fringe, which I still think is great TV (I'm less taken with the other seasons as time goes on)-- it's just a stylistic difference.

Part of the problem with Carter enlisting Morgan, Morgan and Wong for The X-Files reboot was how short a tenure the three actually had on the series and how atypical their episodes were to what the series eventually became. And they've all spent a lot of time since then doing other things and soaking up other styles and influences.

Although the second season of X-Files is probably my favorite, the series really defined its style in its third season, when Morgan and Wong were working on Space: Above and Beyond and Darin Morgan was writing comedy episodes that were held in check by a very tightly run organization overseen by Carter and Bob Goodwin.  

Carter let the other producers do whatever they wanted here and it comes up X-Files essentially because of the umbrella concept and the principal actors in it. But as I said, you had a much different David Duchovny and a much different Gillian Anderson than 20 years ago. 

Of the three, only Glen Morgan seemed conscious of the style and look of the series as it had been established in its original run. Even Carter himself seemed to veer off model when it came time to do his comedy episode.

As I wrote about here in January Carter took a lot of heat from the media for the radicalism of 'My Struggle, Part 1' and it's entirely reasonable to assume he anticipated that, which is why he sweetened the pill with the standalones and the comedy. 

Mulder descends to the Underworld


I don't know how much good it did him when he started tipping sacred cows in 'Babylon',  an ambitious piece of television that is as semiotically-fascinating as it is narratively-fractured.

'Babylon' was ambitious, wildly-ambitious,  but at the same time totally extraneous for an event series (there was no real need for one comedy episode in a six episode run, never mind two). Carter likes to show off how many balls he can juggle with his comedy eps and likes to press people's buttons too, but no one was expecting- or even asking- for an episode like this. 

That being said, there was a boat-load of fan service in 'Babylon', the trip sequence having David Duchovny line-dancing and being whipped by a dominatrix and a long 'shippy scene at the end with Mulder and Scully holding hands and pondering the meaning of it all, while a popular song by The Lumineers played in the background. 

I'm not exactly sure what Carter hoped to achieve in the splintered, hypersensitive environment of 2016 (and of course he'll never tell us). I can only speculate, knowing how far and how deep the entheogen theme runs in The X-Files, that it was a damn-the-torpedoes manifesto. 

That in fact Carter was arguing that an entheogen-based spirituality is the only viable alternative to the civilizational-suicide that religious --and political-- fanaticism presents us with.*

That's a ballsy thing to say on network TV in 2016, but I feel as if Carter's reach exceeded his grasp here. No one was really in the mood to yuk it up over terror cells, coming so soon after Paris and San Bernadino. 

It also felt like network was leaning on Carter to balance out the ISIS villain plot-line with some good old-fashioned Hollywood flyover-bashing, which felt egregious and out of character. So 'Babylon' managed to alienate liberals and offend conservatives, which was not really what the series needed to be doing after leaving the air in its first run under a storm-cloud of controversy. 

Again, I'm certain this was a function of network pressure but these are the kinds of problems an executive producer should anticipate. Unless, of course, Carter just doesn't care and wanted to ram his message through and let the stones fall where they may.

Which, knowing how Carter operates, is entirely possible.

And it should be noted that 'Babylon' did make explicit what was long implicit in The X-Files- the connection to the Mystery Religions. This is no longer a matter of conjecture or speculation- 'Babylon' put it all out there on Front Street.

TWO DECADES IN THE MAKING

Then there's 'Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster'.

Now, Darin Morgan wrote some of the very best episodes of The X-Files, winning an Emmy for one, and then moved over to Millennium to write one if its very best episodes, a blistering attack on Scientology long before it was fashionable to do so. 

In between Morgan hit a very long dry spell. They call it "writer's block." Too much success-too soon can do that to a writer, especially a writer who was very much sheltered and protected by his boss.

Now, Morgan was supposed to write an episode for the fourth season of The X-Files in 1997 but dropped out at the last minute, leaving the executive writing staff high and dry and an entire production staff waiting for work (without which many of them wouldn't get paid). He quit the show soonafter.

The story goes that 'Were-Monster' was an unproduced script for X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz's Night Stalker reboot in 2005, but I have a very strong feeling this was in fact Morgan's unfinished 1997 X-Files script repurposed for Night Stalker and then repurposed for The X-Files reboot. Why?




Well, one thing you can say about Darin Morgan is that he does his homework. As Tracy Twyman wrote, it's entirely probable this episode is based on Nicholas De Vere, self-styled lord of the Dragon Court (Vere, Were- get it?). 

Which, again, dates this script back to X-Files Season Four vintage, when De Vere was big news on USENET. Not only that but we also see the two stoners from 'Coprophages' and 'Quagmire'. So it's a pretty safe bet we finally got to see the episode that 'Memento Mori' replaced. 


STRUGGLE

I will say this; whatever the critics said, fans were on fire after the season premiere. Not only the fanbase proper but also the conspiracy and UFO communities online. Carter didn't throw a large rock into the center of the pond, he dropped a bunker-buster.

By comparison, the drawdown in energy from Sunday night to Monday (with 'Founder's Mutation') was palpable. Reaction was still highly positive, but definitely muted. 

I think this was a mistake on Fox's part- they should have let the pilot sink in and left everyone hungry for more. That's just basic showbiz.

There was the de rigeur praise to 'Were-Monster', especially in the media (who were relieved by the unchallenging escapism more than anything else) but that was a fait accompli before the episode even aired. However, there was also a flurry of negative reaction to it as well. 

The conspiracy/UFO fanbase had gone silent by this point. I'd say this cost the miniseries a million/million-half viewers overall. 

By 'Home Again', the mood had shifted, in the press and in fandom. Grumbling arose. And 'Babylon' was incredibly polarizing, for several reasons. 

So 'My Struggle II' had a lot to accomplish and there was no way it could have done so, not in the 40-odd minutes Carter had allotted himself by giving up a slot to 'Babylon'. And certainly not given the ordnance he wanted to drop in American living rooms.



"AND THEN EVERYONE DIES. THE END."

The rap on X-Files was that it always promised that all hell was going to break loose but it never did. 

Well, of course not. If it did there wouldn't be anything left to do on the show, not if you wanted to preserve the illusion that all of this was happening in real time. You had to kick the can down the road. 

Well, it's clear to me that Carter finally let the genie out of the bottle and gave fans what they'd been promised but did so in a way that they didn't quite realize what was happening.

Pretty typical Chris Carter strategy, actually.

Now, Carter had previously said that he had written a script for a third X-Files movie and I can't help but wonder if we just saw it. Or most of it (Carter wrote the actual teleplay for 'My Struggle II' while working on another episode) at least. That in fact Carter simply repurposed his storyline from X-Files 3 and adapted it to the small screen.

After rewatching the 'My Struggles' I'm more convinced than ever that what we saw was culmination of the series' mythology as it is commonly understood and not the revision that we'd all been led to believe. 

Or again, most of it. Carter publicly said he was going to end the series on a cliff-hanger and I read a leak saying that the story ended, well, the way it ended, some time before the episode aired. I just wasn't sure if it was a spoof or not. Carter is intensively secretive and likes to circulate false information to throw internet spies off the scent.

And of course, the entire storyline of 'My Struggle' was a misdirection, at least in this experienced Carter-watcher's opinion. 

I've written in-depth about 'My Struggle II' and exactly why I think the "conspiracy of men" storyline was a misdirect and that what we actually saw take place was in fact the Colonization that the entire series had been working up to since day one.

Sigils. Friggin' sigils.

If you don't want to work your way through that thicket I'll just restate my arguments here. See the post for elaboration.

• Tad O'Malley is a Syndicate plant. He has way too much money and access for an Internet conspiracy host and appears and disappears at strategically-timed intervals. His role is to get Mulder and Scully back in the game. Note how he coaches the abductee. Note that the ARV crew and the abductee are both eliminated as soon as O'Malley rubs them all over Mulder. Note how he's able to stay on the air long enough to direct people to Scully's alien vaccine.

Plus, sigils.

• The Old Man is a Syndicate plant. He's Michael Kritschgau redux, whose role it is to get Mulder believing that the Colonists don't exist. The fact that he'd be upwards of 100 years old and meets Mulder, alone, in the center of Washington DC in the middle of the night is proof he's a fraud. 

In a deleted scene, his alleged daughter appears and tells Mulder the Old Man is dead. She looks to be in her mid-40s (more his grand-daughter's age, in other words) and not particularly grief-stricken. Mulder doesn't seem to buy it.


You should put some ointment on that

• Cigarette Smoking Man is an impostor. Carter said that CSM and the Lone Gunmen were going to be brought back in a way that respected past story-lines, which is why the Gunmen came back as hallucinations. CSM wasn't just burned, he was completely incinerated and then atomized. There was no coming back from that.  He had also been exiled by the conspirators, which is why he was hiding out in New Mexico.

"CSM" is his son Jeffrey- also badly burned- surgically altered to take his place in the new Syndicate. The last time before 'Struggle' that we saw Mulder holding a gun on CSM was during the aborted colonization in 'One Son', where Mulder encountered CSM while he was looking for Jeffrey.

The fact that 'My Struggle II' repeatedly references 'Patient X'/'The Red and the Black', meaning the episodes when Jeffrey was introduced, is proof of this. Carter also uses Monica and Miller's introductions to CSM to call his identity into question ("Who are you?").

• The Spartanburg virus is a modified version of the Syndicate's smallpox virus. The first live test of the smallpox virus also took place in South Carolina (in 'Zero Sum'). What the Colonists need is viable hybrid DNA to create the slave race. Which brings us to...


• Scully is the new Cassandra Spender. Her DNA will be used to create the slave race. She will inadvertently create the vaccine which will infect everyone with the marker (seen in 'Herrenvolk') and activate their dormant alien DNA. Everyone else will die. Carter repeatedly signals her hybrid status by zooming in on her green eyes, a marker of alien hybridity in UFO lore.

So all hell broke finally loose and it all ends with Scully about to be abducted into a UFO. We know this by the blatant visual parallel made between Scully on the bridge and Cassandra on the bridge before her abduction. The eye extreme zoom is weird and unsettling, making me wonder what parallel messaging we're getting here.

A reviewer called this a "dick move" but what it is is a ballsy move. 

Carter's been ending this story since 'Erlenmeyer Flask'. The only season finale that couldn't double as a series finale is 'Talitha Cumi', written when he was completely exhausted. He did the 'shippy ending three times in a row (S8, S9, IWTB) and got nothing for his trouble.

At some point you have to just write, "And then everyone dies. The end.", and walk away. Though chances are pretty good this is not the end. Not with the money at stake.

Some fans have been thrown off by Carter's statements about the Mytharc in interviews, as if expecting the hyper-controlled, hyper-secretive producer to reveal major plot spoilers in interviews when he's been known not to distribute scripts to people working on his films.

BACK TO THE FEATURE

Carter is the Great Sphinx of pop culture. He throws mystery upon mystery, symbol upon symbol, hint upon hint, layer upon layer in his scripts and reveals absolutely nothing in his interviews or director's commentaries. He won't let his fans in- not even a little- into his private world. His secrecy and paranoia towards the press is legend in Hollywood. 

This hasn't exactly ingratiated him with the fanbase, not in this age when pop culture mavens make themselves available, practically 24/7 to fans on social media and at conventions. 

But Carter doesn't seem to care. Certainly not judging by recent interviews. After a certain point you stop negotiating, as Jonathan Lethem said of Jack Kirby.

From the epic 'Redux II'


Having cracked the code some time ago my ears pricked up when I heard there was going to be this Redux-redux move in the new Mytharc. Knowing the politics involved I knew to pay close attention to what Carter was showing us rather than what his characters were telling us (two rules on X-Files: 1. everybody lies, 2. everybody dies). They'd almost certainly turn out to be two separate realities.

I understood the real-world complexities that drove the 'Redux' storyline so to see Carter revisit it so directly is utterly fascinating to me. I mean, riveting. 

Carter was essentially reversing 'Redux I and II' here, moving the timeline back to 'Herrenvolk' and 'Zero Sum' (and arguably, to 'Erlenmeyer Flask' and 'Anasazi' and 'Paperclip') and then at the very end, fast-forwarding us to 'The Red and the Black', if not to 'Amor Fati' (Mulder dying, aliens invading). 

'Redux' had Mulder losing his belief in aliens, 'My Struggle' had him lose his belief in Colonization. 'Redux II' had Mulder fighting to find a cure for a dying Scully, 'Struggle II' flips the script. 

And just as we see 'Red's' pivotal alien war over the bridge referenced--if not actually replayed-- in 'Struggle II' (which set Scully on the road from skeptic to believer), we also see Mulder's battle with Krycek from 'Red' replayed earlier on, complete with a dead-on Krycek ringer. Why is this important?

Because it was Krycek's encounter with Mulder that ended the 'Skeptic Mulder' arc and rekindled his belief in his mission. It also directly presaged what? Mulder (and Scully's, to an extent) close encounter with the rebel alien rescue mission.

What we are really seeing then is 'Redux' replayed then what would have actually gone down in 'Two Fathers'/'One Son' actually go down, capped off with a reenactment of the scene where Mulder gets "CSM" to spill the master plan. 

It all ends with a note-perfect reenactment of Scully's close encounter from 'The Red and the Black', a sequence that was originally intended to signal a ramping up of the Mytharc but actually presaged its ramping down.

This all almost starts to seem like a kind of ritual, a ceremonial turning back of the clock to a point in time before something was lost. 

And in this case you realize a lot was lost: the X-Files' do-no-wrong aura, its air of mystery, its "hot factor",  and the sudden end of the Syndicate arc in the middle of Season Six, which alienated a lot of fans and still has not been properly explained. 

I still highly doubt that decision came from the writer's room. The evidence points to the contrary.

This all sounds rather contrived until you think about 'Babylon', with its explicit, upfront, no-two-ways-about-it ritual enactment of the "Descent to the Underworld", the defining myth-theme of the ancient Mysteries. Or the fact that The X-Files was writing rituals into its scripts from the first season on.

Or the fact that 'My Struggle II' has friggin' sigils in it.

CHAO AB CHAO

So basically what this series boiled down to for me was a X-Files feature film called The X-Files: My Struggle and four bonus featurettes. I watched and rewatched 'Founder's Mutation' pretty carefully and I'll definitely rewatch it with the commentary track. 

The other standalones? We'll see. 

I originally signed on to The X-Files because of the UFO and conspiracy angles. That's why I showed up at 9 PM on September 10, 1993. Those are the episodes I return to. 

A lot of fans don't roll that way. I get that. But those episodes still surprise me with new information, new connections, new syncs. What could make them sometimes intimidating or frustrating in their first run makes them rewarding in repeated viewings and it looks like the same pattern holds true here. 

'My Struggle II' didn't scan with me on first watch but then again, 2016 hadn't really happened yet. 

Timing is everything.

You see, the reason I thought to write about it at all again was thinking how the whole "all hell breaking loose" tableau we see in 'My Struggle II' certainly seems to be threatening to unfold in the real world. 

There are scenes in the season finale that look uncannily like very recent news reports. And not just in this country, all around the world. Those two 'Struggle' episodes feel increasingly like a sneak preview of 2016 (this story just showed up as I was polishing this piece).

And as I wrote before, those disturbing scenes in 'Founder's Mutation' with the birds repeated themselves in my yard not once but twiceI lost count of my eerie X-Files syncs a long time ago, but that was pretty effin' strange.

All of this was a pretty apt foreshadowing of 2016, a year in which the local environment seems to becoming increasingly toxic for me. A year in which death has taken the old and the young in my family circle. 

A year in which a filler post about Fox's Lucifer TV show (very loosely based on a comic I was reading back when The X-Files was originally on the air) unraveled into an epic series of posts following the X-Files' thruline of alien technology and tracing back the Lucifer archetype to its ancient roots, two pursuits that turned out to be all too connected.

So as it happens, the old warhorse hasn't lost its prophetic powers. That much I can say for sure.

UPDATE: I listened to the director's commentaries on 'My Struggle II' and 'Founder's Mutation'. Didn't get much out of the former but it was a real pleasure to hear Carter and Wong talk about the making of the latter. Carter is far less guarded and more relaxed than he usually is with these things and I definitely got some interesting insights into the episode. 

It's a shame there isn't one for 'Home Again'; I'd very much like to hear more of what Glen Morgan has to say about the ep and the reboot in general. Carter revealed that the sigils in 'My Struggle' were inspired by mysterious graffiti he saw all around the hotel he was staying in while working on the show. Which opens up all kinds of fascinating possibilities. 

It also reminds me very much of the graffiti used by the 'Low Men' (read: MIB) in Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis (which it did when I first saw it) and I'm definitely wondering if Carter was drawing on the same influence here.

What a lot of fans don't realize is that sigil magic is nothing new to The X-Files. The so-called "Navajo writing" in the 'Sixth Extinction' series and 'Providence/Provenance' is no such thing, but in fact the sigils reported from the craft seen in the alleged Kecksburg, PA UFO crash in the 1960s. 

It's explicitly identified as "magic" in 'Biogenesis' and implicitly in 'Provenance'.

UPDATE: More unhappy prophecy.


* That tracks with the history of the series and with Carter's episodes in particular. This is a guy who underwent the peyote ritual during his vacation then put it in one of  his scripts.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Expanding Your Vision


I was driving around with my daughter the other day and listening to the top 40 radio station with her. And each and every song I heard was like a flashback, usually to the late 80s or early 90s. 

As each song played I pointed out where the piano changes came from (say, from every 80s House music song ever) or where the drum beats came from (say, early 90s hip-hop) or where the chord progression was stolen from, not to mention how much of the vocals were in fact completely digitally processed (Auto-Tune makes me seasick, still).

It's not supposed to be like this. I'm supposed to be out of touch and today's pop music is supposed to be alien and unfamiliar to me, but it was all too familiar. I'd heard it all before, every bit of it.

Is this why sales of recorded music are at an all-time low? 

I read that Beyonce's new album sold a million copies, all told. Like it was a big deal. Not 5 years ago that would have been a crushing disappointment. An embarrassment. Not anymore.

This is where people chime in about streaming but streaming ain't paying the bills. Musicians and songwriters are up in arms over the pittance they receive from streaming and if they can't cover basic costs they'll find something else to do. Even ostensibly-successful ones. Some of us said so all along but were dismissed as alarmists. And here we are.

And I would argue that streaming is a vote of no-confidence in the music. You love it, you want to own it.

Similarly, the movie charts are filled with sequels and remakes and just plain old ripoffs and they wonder why ticket sales are dropping. The sequel to Finding Nemo is a hit, but the sequel to Independence Day is a disaster. And everything else hovers somewhere between, but closer to the latter than the former.

Print book sales were up last year but e-book sales were way down, leading the market to an overall loss. Another major chain went Chapter 11 (Hastings) and Barnes and Noble reported a major loss for 2016. You may have noticed that merchandising takes up more and more floor space at their stores and now they're talking about putting restaurants and bars in some locations. Not a sign of rude health for the book market.

Cable TV providers are all experiencing subscriber losses as people cut the cords and drop TV service. You can see the reason for this- digital cable is a blizzard of redundant stations, locked stations, and crap stations, all of which make the few good ones nearly impossible to find.

Even allowing for market correction in response to saturation, these are not the symptoms of a healthy culture. Social fragmentation is making it nearly impossible to mass-market anything anymore, which becomes a major problem when you're investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a feature film.

But there's also an economic issue at work here.

Main Street America still hasn't recovered from the Great Recession, in fact it's still raging in many parts of the country. Heroin has become an epidemic all across America, cutting across ethnic and class divisions. College graduates face a shrinking marketplace and ballooning debt. But you surely knew all this already, didn't you?

It's hard to think of an instance in today's economy where the scales aren't tipped, the dice aren't loaded, the game isn't rigged. 

But something else is missing: vision. It's disturbing to think that the three biggest pop culture phenomena I could think of these past few years were The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. They might all be fine television but I doubt they're inspiring too many people to break out of the rut we seem to be stuck in.

Where's the vision?

Some might then object that there's no resisting the technocrats and their social engineering agendas but I wonder. I wonder how much of that is just the Big Psych-Out, in which the war is lost before the battle is ever joined. It makes me wonder about how people seem to play a part that's been written for them, and fall into the Hegelian Dialect by default.

BABYLON'S BURNING

It's at points like this I seriously start to wonder about our species and our place in this environment. We seem to have all the tools to carve out comfortable little niches for ourselves but this ability isn't quite adaptive as it seems. 

Societies seem to reach a peak of technological and cultural advancement before imploding. That's basically what history is. Don't ask me why but there's something inherently anti-adaptive about higher intelligence and advanced civilization. It's a raging contradiction, but the record speaks for itself.

It's a process I became keenly aware of while reading about the Sumerians and the Babylonians. The Sumerians rose, declined, and gave way to the Akkadians, who simply repeated the process themselves. 

Then came the Babylonians.

Babylon was once the greatest city on Earth- the Greek historian Herodotus was dumbstruck by its size, scope and technological prowess. A little over a century later it was a backwater, its population moved en masse to another city after constant internecine warfare among Alexander's generals.

You see this in microcosm in families, when you'll have a figure make a great fortune that is frittered away by idiot grandchildren, most often on drugs and fast living, before the line eventually dies out. An addiction to the lifestyle of the idle rich has toppled dynasties since we crawled out of the caves. 

And today people are looking at the Birth-School-Work-Death cycle of modern Capitalism and thinking there's got to be another way. There may be, but it's going to require two things: vision and really hard work. I think the Technocratic agenda is going to show itself to be another in a long line of false utopias, in fact I think it's falling apart already. But it's not going down without taking a lot of victims with it.

THE VISION THING

It boils down to this: I can't control what they do, but if I'm lucky I can control what I do. This is why I'm grateful Mitch Horowitz is talking up positive thinking so hard, and putting it back in an magical, spirit-based context. The fact is that we're bombarded with negative thinking all day long (as opposed to critical thinking, and people often confuse the two), in fact it's an integral part of that technocratic agenda I mentioned before. Making you feel defeated is an important part of an opponent's strategy.

I don't think vision starts with the group, I think it starts with the individual. In fact I think the reason why so much of pop culture is failing is because it's groupcentric and lacks the power of an individual voice. It all feels committee-driven, focus group-driven, devoid of vision. Devoid of magic.

It's going to continue to fail unless it gets off this road, and that applies to the groupthink that we see so much of today as well. We're already past the fatigue point with that.

If you need a good dose of vision, I'd like to recommend Gordon White's book The Chaos Protocols, which is full of practical and practicable ways to expand your vision and improve your personal circumstances.

I think we're in an interesting situation, one that reminds me of a period in the 20th Century when young people had dropped the ball and left it up to older weirdos to keep the home fires burning. When you had old bohemians (and Theosophists and Rosicrucians, even) keeping it real until the tides came back in. 

An interesting model to consider as you work on your own vision of vision.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Mandate of Heaven

 
I realize I haven't updated the blog in over a week. Most of my free time has been spent buried in research, and spending a lot of time not being able to believe what I've been finding.
 


And it seems that every time I found myself stuck at a dead end, some new connection or clue would fall out of absolutely nowhere and open the story up all over again. 


It's a story that seems ready to finally be told. It seems to want to be told. The problem is that doing so on a blog is simply not practical. It requires a lot more time and effort.


But it seems that the world outside continues to crumble and shatter and dis-integrate. As I write today there was a devastating car bomb attack in Baghdad, ostensibly blamed on Islamic State.

But I've been reading countless texts talking about the centuries of slaughter that took place in the very same places we are seeing it today, thousands of years before anyone ever heard of Islam.


A Babylonian court poet would call on an ancient incarnation of Lucifer in protest of the carnage in a famous epic poem of the time. The Babylonian version of Lucifer was not a devil either, he the "firstborn son of God" and the "shepherd of mankind," who was "the door," that blocked the gods of war. He was even called on to drive out demons. (Gee, this all sounds oddly familiar).


Yet, when it came time to defend his people, the Babylonian Lucifer did so with "zeal."


Reading all this historical material I am thunderstruck by how familiar it all seems. The Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians- perhaps more than anyone in history, they all thought they enjoyed the Mandate of Heaven. 


Until they didn't.


Rome was the Eternal City. Until it wasn't.


Then, as now, the enigmatic complexity of the Lucifer archetype suits the complexity of the world, no matter how hard ideologues across the spectrum try to pretend complexity away. 

It suits the difficult choices many of us will find ourselves having to make in the days ahead. As much as some might look for simple answers, they'll be faced instead with increasingly complex questions.

Indeed, many now believe that the current political, social, and economic arrangements are not only unsustainable, I think most intelligent people agree that if we continue on the roads we are on, all these social and political trends are all leading us to wide-scale civil conflict. And possibly worse.  

This is especially relevant in the wake of Brexit, which too many people seem to think was a populist uprising and not in fact the brutal calculation of business elites chafing under the yoke of the EU's Byzantine regulatory regime. Either way, the Rubicon has been crossed and Europe's troubles have only just begun.


Not to mention NATO's, which fester in the shadow of Russia and China's rise as serious military powerhouses (and the subsequent collapse of most of Europe's military capabilities). This at a time when serious questions are being raised about the rolling porkfest that we call the American defense budget.

There are a lot of people predicting the dawn of a new Dark Age anyway, for many parts of the world at least, that systems are always inherently finite and subject to collapse and that there are simply too many pressures on them already, that breakdown is inevitable. 

"CRASH EVERYTHING YOU CAN"

Think about this; at some point, hackers, probably state-sponsored, are going to unleash not a virus, but an artificial intelligence on the Internet with one simple command: "crash everything you can." 

I'm sure there are programmers working on algorithms designed to crash Facebook, to crash Google, to crash Apple, as we speak. At some point this is going to happen. It may even work.

Similarly, I can't help but wonder if there is a force at work deliberately trying to crash the neoliberal, Capitalist world order from within, attacking it from its left rather than the right, or if it's finally succumbing to its own contradictions. 

Maybe there's a reason hedge fund billionaires are buying remote island getaways. We all want to believe that the elites know what they're doing, which means it will all work out somehow, but maybe they don't. 

Maybe they've been bluffing all along.

So as intractable as many beliefs and attitudes might seem at the moment, or how powerful certain arrangements, institutions or alliances may appear, history teaches us that once open conflicts begin, many of them will shift radically and many will actually dissolve, literally overnight. 

What makes sense in an aura of relative peace and prosperity falls away when civil war and economic disaster strike. Or as Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."

We're already seeing a return to an archaic kind of paganism, not the happy-funtime LARP variety of the alleged neopagans, but the grim, fatalist paganism of Santa Muerte and the Wotanist sects. The old-time paganism where things get killed. This may in fact be humanity's default setting. A careful reading of history probably backs that up.

Suddenly, the demon-haunted nights of ancient Mesopotamia seem relevant again. Where exactly does Babalon end and Lilith begin?

THE GREAT UNKNOWABLE

Our mythic history is filled with ambiguous figures offering us technologyparticularly rebellious figures like Prometheus (a Titan) and Semjaza (an Angel), but even more established figures such as Hermes, Cadmus, and Osiris, the civilizing forces of the ancient world. 

There's always been a shadow side to these figures, speaking to our desire to return to Edenic innocence.  

The common denominator is that the figure who is a teacher of actual practical techniques with which to improve the human condition, not just abstract philosophies or spiritual dogma, is never really completely trustworthy. These characters are something we seem to have mixed feelings about, and always have.

But Osiris and Cadmus have more in common with Prometheus and Semjaza than one might think at first. Osiris, the civilizer, got pretty messed up himself by Set, who came to represent authority when he took the throne. Afterwards Osiris became a figure of judgement, leaving all the nurturing to Isis. 

Another way of looking at it is that Osiris became the King of Hell.

Cadmus was punished by Zeus for killing the Dragon of Mars and condemned to spend eternity as a serpent, in much the same way as the Serpent in the Garden was cursed by Deus to crawl on his belly for leading Adam and Eve to the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The parallels between the two narratives could fill a really boring academic treatise.

Hermes himself would often use his bag of tricks against the gods- authority, that is- on our behalf. In some ways, Hermes could be said to be a rebel himself, in that he was willing to bargain, to cut deals, to work magic with us, all away from Olympia's all-seeing eye. 
But at the same time Hermes was never to be entirely trusted. He had a devilish streak all his own.

Even so, Hermes certainly seemed to be more interested in human beings than the other Olympians which is why he was seen as a rock star in the ancient Mysteries.

Prometheus not only gave fire to humanity but also taught the civilizing arts and sciences. For those favors Zeus dreamed up a particularly sadistic torture, the sick, kiddie-raping bastard. Semjaza and his band of Hell's angels were tossed into the pits for doing pretty much the same. Again, the offense here was going up against the established order, which in the ancient world's conception of the universe was the same as upsetting the cosmic order.

The mandate of Heaven. 

Then, as now, there was an ambivalence about this process and an ambivalence towards science and technology in general. Science and sorcery were one and the same back then, after all.  

And truth be told, science doesn't have an unblemished track record when it comes to creating human suffering.


Machines and engines of war were undoubtedly known to the authors of Enoch (the Assyrians were masters of them), and the skills that the Watchers taught their human followers were the literal double-edge sword; war became a much nastier affair than it had been, or at least it seemed to be in the ancient legends. 

With technology came sieges, ruined cities and dead babies. It would only get crazy worse when the Romans came to town with their artillery (you saw Gladiator, right?).

So Enoch makes special mention of the bloodshed that followed on the heels of the fallen angels' technology as the reason for the archangels stepping in to send the Watchers off to Tartarus. Or so the story goes. Enoch neglects to mention what favors the Archangels ever did for us.

So if Lucifer-- in whatever ancient incarnation you choose to perceive him, take your pick -- was condemned and or exiled in an age when earthly and heavenly authority were seen as contiguous, he's bound to be freed in an age when authority is increasingly seen necessarily as corrupt and illegitimate, no matter where you sit on the ideological spectrum.

I'm more and more convinced of this having discovered who he really is, how far back his history goes (at least twenty-five centuries before Jesus) and how exactly he was called on by magicians and sorcerers for thousands of years- Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian magi, even Jewish exorcists recognized his elemental power. 


Lucifer was a god of the people, not the temples or the kings. This is a covert tradition.* 


He was called on when shit got severe, when nothing else seemed to work. When you were fucked. His spells make Norwegian Death Metal sound like the Berenstain-friggin'-Bears, even today.

His fearsome rep is well earned, believe me. Not a god to be trifled with.


Then, as now, it seems that this current is not only aroused during times of crisis, it actually thrives on them. Crisis points are actually when the subroutine is activated.

And appropriately enough, the hacker who exposed the Clinton email scandal (and many other members of the elite) calls himself "Guccifer." If that isn't a sign of the times I don't know what is. 


There's even a Guccifer 2.0 now.



TECHNOLOGY IS KILLING OUR BRAINS

Technology- knowledge- is the defining standard of power of our time, and so the struggle against the Mandate of Heaven in the future will be over technologies, or more concisely, systems of knowledge. 

Yet we're seeing technology having a devastating effect on human intelligence and basic competence. This is exactly what I warned Timothy Leary about back in 1993 when he was going around hawking virtual reality. I told him that the more people immersed themselves in virtual environments the less they would be able to function in the real world.

He got very angry at me over this but this recent "adulting" theme has proven me right. Young people who are whizzes on their smartphones but can't boil an egg or drive a car has become kind of a joke, but it's not really funny if you want to sustain a functional civilization.

This ties back to the question of human evolution, which not only makes no sense in relation to all the other animals on the planet but has no actual internal logic either. Threats, intimidation and harassment help keep most biologists quiet but the gaps are there, they're glaring and only getting worse. 

We won't even go into the face-punching absurdity of cavemen genetically engineering wild wheat into a usable food crop.


And perhaps most glaring of all, our science and technology seem to have an anti-adaptive aspect, in which they encourage us to de-evolve. 


And they also seem to discourage us from spiritual pursuits, which has a proven historical track record of demographic collapse for cultures that embrace the scientific at the expense of the spiritual. This goes back to Ancient Greece at the very least, and probably long before.


This too might be at the core of our ambiguity towards technology. It's certainly at the core of many traditional societies' briefs against Western Culture. And they have a point.


Whatever we think or do, there is a War in Heaven, as Gordon puts it. People in high places are fighting over these very same issues. I think a lot of powerful people have come to realize that the technocratic utopia that dominates Western thinking now is a mirage and trying to reach it will only end in tears. 


That doesn't mean these people are on your side. But it does mean that things may be opening up in very interesting ways in the near future. This may or may not have to do with space weather, which seems to be shifting, finally. But I do think things are about to change and change hard.



*This we can tell by the glaring difference between the paucity of available texts and the near-monotheistic devotion to him described in those we actually do have.

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