Tag Archives: Political Satire

Transmet Volume 1 gives us its mission statement at the point of a gun

WARNING: This post contains vulgarity in quotes from the source material. Some of Spider’s more colorful metaphors have been omitted, but conventional swear words (S, F, etc.) are depicted as originally written. Also since this is a post about a comic that started in 1997, I’m not especially careful for the spoiler sensitive, as a discussion of the plot is necessary in many places.

Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right and you can blow a kneecap off the world.” ~ Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #3)

I got into this marathon diary of Transmetropolitan (Transmet) because somehow binging The West Wing didn’t seem to be the appropriate tone for our current election season. But in truth Transmet bumps up against another Sorkin property, The Newsroom. The first half of volume 1 is focused on outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem’s version of Will McAvoy’s “What Makes America Great” rant from the first episode of The Newsroom:

To back up, for the last five years Spider has been “up the mountain” after fame has made it impossible for him to write in the city. Spider is content to spend the rest of his days isolated from the rest of the world, but for a nagging editor who demands he write the final two books of a five book contract he signed years ago, or face being sued into destitution. The first issue is largely spent showing the contrast between these worlds, and these two Spiders. Spider begins as an isolationist, army jacket wearing, hair down past his butt, hillbilly, but by the end of the issue has assumed his city persona (in part due to an accident with the shower singeing off all his hair):

Spider up the mountain

Spider up the mountain

Spider fully formed

Spider fully formed

Spider takes a job at The Word, the city’s most prominent newspaper, under the direction of his old friend and editor Mitchell Royce. His first column focuses on the transients, a group of humans who have chosen to change their DNA with that of an alien species (who look like the typical “grays” we see in sci-fi). They are no longer content in their human bodies, and wish instead to become their true identity, in this case an alien species. The transients have specific needs that the Civic Center is unwilling to provide, and so the transients (under the direction of a former band manager, Fred Christ), congregate in the Angels 8 district and declare their desire to secede from the city. The non-violent movement is quickly marred when someone pays off a few transients to start a riot, which gives the Civic Center the excuse they need to respond with deadly force, with Spider caught in the middle beaming the story out to the public from the roof of a strip club.

This situation has parallels with trans-gendered rights. The transients want equal treatment by the Civic Center, opportunities to get jobs, accommodation for changing dietary needs, basic “human” rights and equal treatment. Trans-gendered Americans have faced discrimination in the workplace, in the military, from businesses, and even from using the bathroom of their gender. But in the case of the transients, it’s the case of a civil rights battle gone wrong, escalating tensions between protesters and police.

Admittedly, Transmet is written from a strongly anti-authority viewpoint, as we see both in Spider’s behavior toward people in authority, and the cop’s eager enthusiasm to use violence. The acts of violence that happen in the police shootings of today and in the riot response of Transmet may both come from a place of fear for a cop’s safety. But in Transmet there is an enjoyment of violent behavior by the cops, an animistic jungle mentality, as if they were looking for an excuse rather than acting for their own protection. But given the number and character of police involved shootings in the world today, it is important to consider if implicit bias, or even an inclination toward violent behavior is involved.

Spider’s McAvoy moment is in his account of the violence below. Unbeknown to Spider, his editor has sold the live feed of his column (equivalent to a live tweet session being re-tweeted today), putting Spider’s words on screens around the city. While Spider recounts the violence and how it came to be, he turns the situation back on the reader and raises the issue of their accountability in the situation:

Enjoying this? You like the way I describe disgusting shit happening to people you probably walked past in the street last week? Good. You earned it. With your silence.”

I’m sorry. Is that too harsh an observation for you? Does that sound too much like the Truth? Fuck you. If anyone in this shithole city gave [a damn, though stated far more colorfully] about Truth, this wouldn’t be happening.” ~ Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #3)

Spider’s live feed actually affects the real world, forcing the Civic Center to recall the cops. This is the thesis of Transmet, that someone getting the truth out there can change the world. And that our own desire not to listen to the truth is what is responsible for a lot of the awful things that happen in the world.

Personally, I find myself more in the camp of not listening to the truth, not out of a desire to live in my own reality, but more born of the need to live my life on a day-to-day basis at all. The majority of the time spent not with wife or work is spent on writing my next non-fiction book, which requires a lot of heavy math research and programming time. I don’t make a lot of room in my head for the terrible things happening in the world, and I certainly don’t do a lot to go out into the world and try to change them. Individually this isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but when all of us do it then the world becomes a darker place. It’s the old saw of “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Spider’s no saint, and he certainly isn’t politically correct. He doesn’t see the transient movement so much as a matter of identity, but more as fashion choice. He uses violence when he feels it appropriate to get to the heart of a story, beating his way past barricades. But the motive for much of his seemingly abhorrent actions seems to be to get this movement to take what they’re doing seriously, to warn them of the consequences of their actions and how others will perceive them. If the Trump campaign has taught us nothing it has taught us that we are not as tolerant as we think we are. People are still scared and are looking for someone to blame, and in this story the transient movement just made themselves easy targets for that blame.

The rest of the volume centers around stories designed to introduce us to the world of the city, something that will continue into volume 2. In a moment mirroring Hunter Thompson’s (on whom Spider is partly based) encounter with George McGovern in a bathroom, Spider finds the President (who he refers to as “the beast”) in a bathroom as well.

thebeastandspider

“The Beast” is clearly patterned after Richard Nixon, an enemy of Thompson, and Spider has a rather unique way of speaking truth to power during the encounter (through the use of a bowel disrupter, a favored weapon of Spider’s).   We’ll get into “The Beast’s” philosophy of governance when we cover volume 4, but this little tidbit from earlier in the story caught my eye on a second read:

payoffdebts

Candidate Trump has been similarly accused of using funds from the Trump Foundation to buy paintings of himself and to settle legal disputes to the point that the New York attorney general ordered the foundation to cease soliciting funds. Trump is hardly alone in this, and one does wonder if at some point the distinction between money for the campaign and money for the candidate will be as finely drawn as it is now. Trump’s a little more despicable in that these were charitable donations, but the song’s basically the same, just the lyrics are different.

Issue 5 finds Spider spending the day watching TV, buying “Air Jesus” sneakers, calling into talk shows, and being hit with a subliminal “ad bomb.” Commercials in our dreams is a truly frightening notion. Issue 6 is the weakest of the volume in my opinion, as Spider has his own “Jesus in the temple” moment at a convention for new religions. Transmet doesn’t have much to offer on religion other than seeing it as another area to distrust authority, but thankfully it isn’t really the focus of many issues.

To be honest, the Spider of early Transmet is more cartoon than person. There are glimpses of the Spider who we come to know and love by Volume 3, the moment on the roof is a defining one for the rest of the series. But I found myself having a difficult time deciding whether or not I should go forward after this point. I read the first volume, put it down for about six months, read it again, then devoured the rest of the series in short order. It has a lot of things running against in content and violence at first, but as Warren Ellis (the author) got a better handle on Spider’s character rather than caricature, we begin to see a driven man willing to do whatever it takes to get the truth out to people. And we see the best of what sci-fi has to offer in dealing with the issues of today in a future setting. That’s why this series is one of my favorites, but not one I keep on my shelves instead living only in the digital recesses of my Kindle.

Hell, Patrick Stewart liked it so much he wanted to play Spider in a TV/Film adaptation (sadly never to be), and he wrote the intro to Volume 5. If it’s good enough for Picard, it’s good enough for me.

We’ll continue with the marathon probably Tuesday with Volume 2, Lust For Life.

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We miss you already, Jon!

I’ve watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart since 2003. In 2o10, my wife and I were two of 200,000 standing in the Washington Mall for the Rally To Restore Sanity (And/Or Fear). It was The Daily Show’s Indecision 2008 coverage where we heard about President Obama’s election, and indeed has been the way we’ve gotten through much of the malarchy of every election cycle. We’re going to miss him for 2016, which promises to be an even crazier year than 2012 on both sides.

I don’t always agree with Jon Stewart. Some of his pieces on religion made me cringe. I’ve never been a huge fan of him referring to Fox News as B——- Mountain, even when they might have deserved it. And even as the most trusted name in fake news I learned to take some commentaries with a grain of salt. For starters, I have on occasion actually enjoyed something I ordered from Arbys.

But I know I’m going to miss him. And I’m kind of wishing that John Oliver would break his contract with HBO and come back over (even though he’s doing some fabulous work over there). I’m not really keen on any of the current correspondants taking over the center chair. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jessica Williams and Jordan Kleper is hilarious, but I don’t think anyone has quite the same ability to be funny and thoughtful as quickly and interchangeably as Stewart.

You know what I do think would be a crazy, left field, awesome move for The Daily Show to take? Bassim Yousef.

Yousef hosted an Egyptian version of The Daily Show, poking fun of dictators, generals and the state in an arena that was frankly more fraught with peril than it ever has been in America. And he was funny. Just watch last Monday’s episode of The Daily Show to see how funny. His show was torn off the air in Egypt and he spent some time under varying degrees of custody. Frankly I was happy to see him alive and well and on TV. But seriously, here’s what we’d get:

  • A lot of the same charm, charisma and timing of Stewart.
  • An international view, something that Oliver and other correspondants have already proven can be beneficial.
  • Something different, but proven and in line with what we expect and want The Daily Show to be.

This is not me saying that there wouldn’t be other great choices. But this is a choice that I feel gives the best of both worlds, the need for the show to be different and not a copy of its tenure under Stewart, but a way to be the same and still satisfy the audience.

As you can tell I’ve been thinking a little about this.

Ultimately I’m glad that someone will be sitting in the chair, though if Jon suddenly changed his mind and wanted 10 more years that’d be okay too. The show has been a way to become engaged with the news and political life that isn’t oppresive and depressing. It’s been a way to find out about interesting books and movies (some for gifts). And it’s just been a great landing spot to process the events of the day.

Hopefully, next year, it still will be.

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Awareness

Just got my confirmation e-mail yesterday for the NYC Midnight competition, meaning I can now share this story with all of you. I’ve still got five weeks to wait until I know the results of the first round, but I’m pretty happy with the story either way. The prompt was:

  • Genre: Political Satire
  • Subject: A Presentation
  • Character: A secretary

Enjoy!

——————————

“It can’t be that bad.”

Those were the optimistic words Sally had spoken not an hour before. Now she was standing in a room full of congressmen from both sides of the aisle, including her boss, a newly elected freshman from Ohio.

She had said those five hopeful words to him in his office. Congressman James Latimer had just finished the fifth of his morning papers. She’d put the report on his desk, something she’d wanted to bring up with him for a while but didn’t quite have the nerve. James had always been friendly with her, even if she was just his secretary. It was never in an inappropriate way, or at least not in an unwelcome inappropriate way.

He perused her presentation with bemusement.

“It’ll never happen,” was his gentle reply.

“But there’s bipartisan public support. I’ve got polls, surveys, letters to the editor. Surely the committee…” She flipped the file open, and was turning over papers when he touched her hand.

“It doesn’t matter.”

And that’s when she’d said, “It can’t be that bad.”

Now she was standing in front of the sub-committee, holding a clicker whose buttons she had to crush just to get to the next slide, watching weeks of work fly by. Somewhere along the line she realized she was talking.

“In the last month there have been twenty continuing resolutions brought to the House floor. Of these, seventeen were for the creation of national awareness days, weeks or months. The stated purpose of these awareness campaigns is to bring attention to diseases, causes or groups who are in need of that attention. It’s most helpful to minorities who otherwise might not capture national notice,” Sally began, finding her voice surprisingly steady.

“But as you can see things have gotten a little out of hand,” Sally continued, as she gestured to the briefing binders in front of each of them. Inside were more than a hundred pages, each with thirty-five or so lines each representing a holiday, observance, or awareness campaign.

“Forty-nine new holidays have been created since the beginning of the calendar year. We are currently in the midst of National Noodle Month, National Peanut Month, or if you’d prefer, Moustache March.”

There were a couple of polite chuckles in the room which were quickly silenced by the aged Congressman McCloister. “That’s all very well and good, miss,” he began in a thick southern accent, “But what is it you hope to accomplish?”

“I’m glad you asked that.” In truth, she wasn’t, though it had been frankly amazing she’d been allowed to talk for as long as two continuous minutes. “Such a glut of holidays and awareness weeks is resulting in very little actual awareness, and some ridicule. I have here a proposal for the elimination of 30% of these ‘holidays’, ones that I think you’ll agree will be missed by no one.”

“This is because Latimer here can’t grow any facial hair,” charged McCloister running a finger over his own soup strainer.

Again there was polite laughter, but Latimer just smiled. “Miss Raymond, please continue,” he said.

“Well,” she fumbled, “just taking a look at foods for example we have a variety of months celebrating unhealthy eating habits. We’ve got pudding snack month, snack food month, frozen food month…”

“Vegetables can be frozen,” cut in Congressman McCloister.

“When’s the last time you ate anything green?” quipped Congressman Brown, a democrat from New Hampshire with a hairline that had long ago surrendered and was in full retreat.

Sally nodded her head to the side, “Yes, but we’ve still got candy month, ice cream month, chocolate custard month, artisan gelato month…”

“Miss Raymond, all you’ve succeeded in doing so far is to make us hungry,” McCloister drawled.

“Then I probably shouldn’t bring up hamburger month, hot dog month, soul food month, or barbeque month,” Sally said. “We have a nationwide obesity epidemic…”

“Typical nanny-state government,” cried Congressman Paulson, whose high-pitched voice cut the air in two. “Americans have the right to eat whatever they want. Their diet is between them and their God. Why should the government be poking its nose in?”

“Not to mention big business,” McCloister interjected. “There’s a lot of money made from hamburgers, candy and snack food. A lot of jobs, Miss Raymond.”

Sally was tempted to mention that two of the observances she thought about knocking off the list were actually very necessary given the congressmen’s diets, but she paled at the idea of saying diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome in front of elected officials.

“Besides,” Congressman Brown noted, flipping through the brief, “you’ve got plenty to represent the other side of the argument: garden month, soyfoods month, spinach month.”

“Actually, that’s spinach lover’s month,” piped up Congresswoman Babbington.

“What’s the difference?” asked McCloister.

“I guess one celebrates the vegetable, and one celebrates the people who like it,” Babbington answered.

“Like Popeye,” Brown observed.

“Not me,” McCloister scoffed, “I can’t stand the stringy stuff.”

Sally was regretting starting with the food, especially an hour before lunch. She flipped through a couple more slides while the group was focused on discussing favorite foods.

Latimer coughed when he saw that she was ready to resume. “Perhaps we’d better table that discussion for now,” he suggested, then gestured to Sally.

“Right, well…” she wasn’t really sure where to continue. “Here’s a favorite of mine. January is Awareness Month Awareness Month.”

“Meaning we should be having this meeting next year?” Paulson interjected.

“Or we could have another one this July during National Awareness Month,” Sally responded.

“But you said the purpose of these campaigns was to bring awareness to the issues,” McCloister said. “What brings more awareness than awareness?”

“Or awareness of awareness,” Brown laughed.

“Do we really need two recognized days that mean exactly the same thing?” Sally asked incredulously.

“Why not?” McCloister said. “Says here there’s both a potato day and a potato month.”

‘And now we’re back to the food again,’ Sally thought.

“Say, why is turkey lover’s month in June?” asked Brown.

“Excuse me?” Sally sighed.

“Well shouldn’t we be loving turkeys in November?”

“Of course not,” replied McCloister, “that’s when we eat them. Not a very loving thing to do now is it, Miss Raymond?”

“I guess not, congressman. Okay, how about Zombie Awareness Day?”

“Excuse me?” Congresswoman Babbington raised an eyebrow.

‘Now we’re getting somewhere,’ Sally thought.

Congresswoman Babbington’s blond hair may have succumbed to gray long ago, but she would never surrender her wits. “I presume that’s in October?” Babbington asked.

Sally shook her head. “In May actually. I’m all for fun and games, but I think we can agree that people don’t need to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.”

Of course it was Paulson who spoke up first. “You’re just looking for an excuse to take away my shotgun. We live in frightening times with all sorts of government funded research going on beyond the people’s notice. Why I’ve seen reports…”

Brown cut him off, “Actually, the zombie thing has been good for getting people to put together what they’d need in case of an emergency, like water and first aid kits. I don’t share the congressman’s view that an imminent living dead attack is upon us, but these doomsday preppers are all set for hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.”

“Besides, if there were a group of undead on the hunt for brains, I don’t think any one of us in this room has much to worry about,” Babbington joked.

Sally looked pained. Presidents tended to go gray no matter how young they were, or how short their term in office, but that was nothing compared to congressional secretaries.

She flipped through a number of slides until she stopped on an image of denim jeans. “How about pants awareness month? Everyone here seems to be wearing pants or a skirt. I think if you travel through the city you’ll find people wearing something on their lower half. Do we really need a whole month dedicated to knowing pants exist?”

Babbington was first to respond, “Speaking about pants cuts to gender equality, differing standards for men and women. It provides an opportunity to talk about just who is wearing the pants in the family.”

“Not to mention shining a light on the overseas conditions for making clothing of all kinds. Low wages, harsh working environments,” Brown continued.

“Plus cutting recognition of pants hurts big business, that’s jobs again, not just here but overseas,” McCloister finished.

“Squirrel awareness month?” Sally offered.

“Brings awareness to our national parks and the conditions of urban living.” Brown said. “Plus, the last thing I need is PETA camping out in front of my house.”

“Pickled peppers month?” Sally attempted.

“Tongue twisters help mental acuity and can prevent early onset Alzheimer’s,” Babbington replied.

“Plus they’re dang tasty,” McCloister added.

“Ballpoint pen day?” Sally tried again.

“We need to preserve our history, to connect with the physical in this technological world,” Brown said.

“Dirty Harry day?” Sally said exasperated.

“There you go with the anti-gun nonsense again!” Paulson retorted.

Sally shot a look at Latimer, who was trying to suppress a laugh. She wanted to glare at him but she had to make some attempt to keep the meeting together. After all, she was in the Capitol Building. She couldn’t even begin to imagine the history, the classic debates, the landmark decisions that had probably been made in this very room. But now she had a bunch of congressmen asking each other, ‘do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?’

“Gentlemen and lady, this is the kind of little stuff that makes everyone think we don’t take our jobs seriously. Days, weeks and months like these are fodder for the late night comedians,” Sally began. “And before you say it, yes comics are job creators too, laughter is good for the soul and the body, and sometimes a jester is the only one who can speak truth to power. Well, I’m not a jester, I’m just a secretary to a freshman congressman, but I still have something to say.

“I know that it can seem hard to agree on anything, especially in these times of fractured partisan schisms. In truth, these continuing resolutions are the only thing you people seem to consistently agree on without debate. What about meaningful immigration reform, balanced gun control, raising the minimum wage? What about the things the people sent you here to do, the things I came here to be my small part of?”

She had expected stunned silence. She had expected angry yelling. She had expected to be immediately fired.

Instead all she got was laughter.

“Somebody needs to celebrate July 31st a little early this year,” McCloister said with a knowing look.

Sally had a feeling that leaving national orgasm day on the list would not go unnoticed. Countless witty retorts sought escape from her lips. She could have commented on how a real orgasm was as mythical to the congressman as zombies or dragons. She could have pointed out that celebrating orgasms once a year could only improve the congressman’s sex life. Or she could have stuck to the old chestnut of those who are preoccupied with sex are rarely occupied by it.

What she did do was stand there, staring, clutching the clicker tightly. Her hand was shaking.

“Listen here, Miss Raymond,” McCloister continued, seeing that his joke had not amused his audience. “I’m sure you came here with a bunch of idealistic notions and thoughts for changing the world. I blame Aaron Sorkin. He’s ruined a generation of young minds and political operatives. You think politics can be noble, that it can be simple, but the real world is more complicated. Any one of these awareness things, even the one’s you think are ridiculous, have all sorts of interests behind them. They can work, even if they don’t always work in the way we intended. And they cost the government next to nothing, which even people like my friend Congressman Paulson can get on board with.”

“No more government spending!” cried Paulson.

McCloister raised a hand to both acknowledge and silence Paulson. “Listen, Miss Raymond, you want to get something done in Washington?”

Sally nodded.

“Propose a phantom vibration syndrome awareness week,” McCloister said. “Those nerve impulses can be a sign of something serious. And while you’re at it, I don’t think hot wings have been getting enough attention. We almost had a national shortage last year. I don’t want to even get started on the potential economic fallout that could have caused.”

The congressmen all pushed back their chairs in unison. The group left, leaving their briefing binders on the table, all except Brown who was apparently starved for a laugh.

When Sally was finally alone in the room with Congressman Latimer she turned to him and said, “That’s not really how things work is it?”

Latimer grinned, “How should I know? I just got here myself.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, “You knew this would happen.”

He raised his hands in innocence. “Washington’s not exactly known for its predictability. I had no idea what a logical, rational argument would do to a room full of my colleagues. Thank you for the opportunity to find out.”

“You’re welcome.” She clicked off the projector. “Alright, you win; I’ll let you take me to dinner.”

“Of course, Miss Raymond.”

“But I want sushi.”

Latimer grinned, “I think it’s their week.”

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Breaking Genre

I tend to write two (maybe three) genre’s of story: science-fiction, mystery and other (whatever you call sweet little story thoughts like Purple Crush).

That’s the wonderful, and terrifying thing, about entering writing contests, particularly ones you’ve paid money for. This week I am writing a 2500 word Political Satire for the NYC Midnight competition.

I can’t think of another circumstance under which I would write one. And that’s great, and also stress-inducing.

I fully believe that one of the ways to become a better writer is to write something you’ve never written before. I also tend to be a believer that stretch genres or topics are good for the contest participant as they have no excuse, or opportunity, to phone it in and rely on their existing skills.

That being said *aaaiigh*!

My political satire background consists mainly of Doonesbury, Bloom County, The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live (and Parks and Recreation I guess). I am having to do a lot of research, a lot of brain storming, and a lot of just damn thinking to make this story happen.

And I’m loving it of course.

I complain, but I bring these kinds of things on myself. Or I could blame Jo “The Happy Logophile” Eberhardt, who linked to this contest on Facebook and is participating as well. Yeah, that’s a better idea, I’ll blame Jo 😉

Here’s the bit where I sound all schmaltzy and cliché but I really mean this:

  • Authors should not be afraid of any genre.
  • The best way to learn a genre is to read, and then write it.
  • You never know what ideas you might have.

Okay, enough gushing, gotta get back to work.

Good luck to everyone participating. I’m hoping to at least get past the first heat but we’ll just have to see. I’ll share these stories with all of you whenever that’s appropriate.

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