A Critical Appreciation of Explosions: Mad Max

A Critical Appreciation of Explosions continues on in all it’s blood- and gore-soaked glory, this time with another generous contribution from Yaz. 

Mad Max  is an important movie. It launched the career of Mel Gibson– who, psychotic-manchild antics aside, went on to do some absolutely phenomenal work –it helped launch an entire culture of Australian action films, the main character is pretty obviously the inspiration for The Punisher, the entire aesthetic of the Fallout games is a love letter to the film and its sequels, and the final five minutes of it inspired all 12-odd hours of the Saw franchise.

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A Critical Appreciation of Explosions: RoboCop

For the 2nd post in this series, here’s a terrifically well-written guest post from Yaz

If you were to ask me to name my five favorite science fiction movies, the list would go as follows:

A Clockwork Orange. Videodrome. Minority Report. RoboCop. Blade Runner.

 There’s no irony there, no tongue-in-cheek, so-bad-it’s-good appeal. I love RoboCop. It is one of my favorite movies. It’s one of the best action movies ever made and it has a lot of depth to it. Ken Russell (director of Tommy and the film version of Lawrence’s Women in Love) described it as “the best science fiction film since Metropolis.” Roger Ebert compared it to Chaplin’s Modern Times. It’s the director of Showgirls and a cyborg tromping around, spouting monotone one-liners and fighting the most 80’s villains imaginable, but out of it all come some really complex ideas and a startling amount of heart and pathos. It is a great film, and the fact that anyone on Earth could think otherwise, well–that’s the kind of crime not even RoboCop himself could stop.

“I have to go. Somewhere, a critical misinterpretation is happening.”

So come with me, now, to the ruins of Old Detroit, and let’s look at the elements that make this film so damn amazing (and, by the way– I’m going to be consulting the Director’s Cut of the film, which goes heavier on the satire and the blood). Continue reading

>My Favorite Sports References in Literature

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[like a dark horse, my dear friend and frequent contributor to the Desk Jasper Moore up and submits a new guest post in a week when I really didn’t have too damn much to write about in the first place.  This one’s one of my favorites – indicative of what the guy is doing over at The Triumph — you owe it to yourself to head over there just as soon as you finish reading this here post.  Much Obliged – Your Editor]
It’s not exactly a secret that those of us who spent our entire childhoods reading are not known for being particularly athletic. When I was 7 I read The Neverending Story around 8 times and failed literally every part of the Presidential Fitness test (on the upside, I got to be judgmental of all the kids who only saw the movie—I’m actually rereading it now and that book still kicks a lot of ass).

But it’s also not a secret that we like to obsess over trivia, impose mythic structures onto everyday life, and know absolutely everything, and all of those habits work at making us really resent our inability to get involved in sports (I once wrote a poem where I used the highs and lows of the Boston Red Sox as a metaphor for a 
relationship—how quickly you transform from Ted Williams to Bill Buckner when things get rough).
This is exactly what getting in a fight over your girlfriend’s insistence on trusting Google like it was her father feels like.
So in honor of this contradiction: my favorite times that a writer’s looked at the field of athletics and said “yes.
This is what I need.”
#5: The Opening of Bailey’s Café, by Gloria Naylor

“…If he’s too good a crowd could turn real ugly, if he’s too good he might not make it out of town that night; so the Northern games are where he goes all-out and hopefully gets himself voted into the East-West classics and his team into the Negro World Series…”

This is actually the book that inspired the list—I’m partway through and it’s pretty good. At times the book is so dark it feels like Naylor is deliberately trying to make you feel awful, and at times the narrative voice gets a little gratingly folksy, but for the most part it’s a really solid book. And it opens with page after page of praise for the Colored Leagues of the 20s and the way that baseball was, for its young black narrator, the only thing he saw in life that gave him hope that a world might exist outside the one he lives in.

Here’s how good that passage is: the narrator states that for him, the world begins and ends at New York, and I’m still cheering for the same teams as him.
If that guy had a swastika sticker on the back of his car, I don’t think I’d hate him any more than I do now.” – your editor’s comments on a Yankees bumper sticker


#4: Soccer and Vodka, Solomon Volkov’s Testimony
Yeah, I’m putting Testimony in the fiction category. The work is hugely, hugely controversial—to the point where a symposium of musicologists (you know: grown up band-camp kids) got into an all-out brawl over it. I’m gonna go with the position that, authentic or not, and despite desperately wishing it was true, it’s just not trustworthy. Still a damn good read though.

Anyway, there’s a quote in it where Dmitri Shostakovich off-handedly says:

“Listening to football on the radio is like drinking imported Stolichnaya.”

“Max, I have only enough love for my son or for Zenit Leningrad. Not both.”


And God-damn, that is a wonderful quote. Not only does it name-drop some great vodka, but it’s an incredibly intelligent composer—one of the greatest to ever live—pausing for a moment to talk about how much he loves soccer. He once said that “Football is the ballet of the masses.” Given that Volkov’s whole aim was to show Shostakovich as a clever, human soul, this line is probably the highlight of the book for me (also, unlike a lot of the book, something that I can picture the real man actually saying).
Jesus Christ, this is the most adorable photo of the entire Bolshevik era. Not that, you know, it has a lot of competition.

#3: George Orwell Tells Soccer to Go Fuck Itself
“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the 
shooting.”

Given that Orwell say war (shot in the throat, remember), this is a pretty big compliment to the world of sports. It’s from a whole big essay of his on soccer (or, excuse me, football) where he talks about how absolutely brutal soccer is in England. It’s him elaborating how horrifying it is to watch people get furious about kicking a ball around, how repulsive the bloodlust of boxing fans are, and saying that people who say sports bring us together and inspire peace are goddamn idiots.

Look, I’m not gonna tell him otherwise.
Mind you, I think that all those things are what makes sports beautiful, but, then again, the guy who got shot in the throat fighting for democracy and wrote the most chilling scene about hatred and propaganda in the history of literature (The Minute of Hate, which was pretty much just a political version of your basic Glasgow football fan) probably knows better than me.

I like to think the reason no recordings of his voice survive is just because he decided we didn’t deserve them.

#2: Soccer and Suicide are the Scots’ Only TalentsAlasdair Gray, 1982 Janine
1982 Janine is the narrative of Jock MacLeish, Conservative Scottish Nationalist, getting absolutely smashed on Glenlivet in a Midlands hotel room and telling us the story of his life, distracting himself from the sad parts with elaborate sadomasochistic sexual fantasies—and then preventing himself from climaxing by thinking about his least favorite memories. Said fantasies are, in part, a way of asserting power in his sex life that the lack of an independent Scottish nation has denied him in his political life. This continues until he overdoses on sleeping pills, his mind explodes, he talks to God/The Author, and then goes to sleep and tries to tell an actual story. Gray says it’s his favorite of his books.

“Tee-hee! I’m charmingly insane!”

Right as he tips over into absolute drunkenness—and starts to realize the political meaning behind his masturbatory fantasies—when he makes the following observation about what it is to be Scottish (Hogmanay is New Year’s—and a really big deal in Scotland):
“Who spread the theory that the Scots are an INDEPENDENT people? Robert Burns. …The truth is we are a nation of arselickers, though we disguise it with…a surface of futile maudlin defiance like when we break goalposts and windows after football matches on foreign soil and commit suicide on Hogmanay by leaping from the fountains in Trafalgar Square…We are a poor little country, always will be, always have been, but it would be a luxury to blame ourselves for the mess we are in 
instead of the bloody old Westminster Parliament.”

But…he seems so ordinary.

Everyone know that Scottish football fans—particularly in Gray’s hometown of Glasgow—are pretty much a sack of knives held together by beer and scabs. But it’s pretty brilliant that he made the connection between that and Scotland’s perpetual disenfranchisement. And between that and arselicking—and, given some of the content of the book, I don’t think he’s being entirely figurative in that either.
Yeah, that’s hippo-sex. And also football, somehow.


#1: The Opening of the Sound and the Fury


“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass. 

     ‘Here, caddie. He hit’. They went away across the pasture. I held to the fence and watched them going away.”


Here’s the context (which is denied you when you first read the book). Benjy Compson, our narrator, has the mind of a three-year-old and no concept of time. The only member of his family who treated him well was his sister Caddie. His brother Quentin was…kind of obsessed with Caddy and her sexual purity, because it represented the honor of the family.
Also… yeah
Caddy got knocked up and ran away, Quention went off to college in Boston [FUCK YEAHeditor] and promptly drowned himself in the Charles River [oh. –editor], and Benjy’s father drank himself to death. There was a chunk of land the Compson family owned that was supposed to be sold to pay someone to take care of Benjy when his mother died that was instead sold to send Quentin to Harvard and turned into a golf course.

Benjy walks along the edge of it every day. The family thinks he knows the land was his, but he doesn’t. He just wants to hear the golfers shout “Caddy!” because it makes him remember his sister, and when he remembers things they may as well be happening to him.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was that hard to follow? Tough shit, Yankee.”

That’s what Faulkner does here. He takes golf—which not even my love of Scotland can make not-boring-as-shit—and turns it into a way through which the idiot who personifies the fallen south attempts to relive a time when his family wasn’t in ruins. The novel opens with benjy watching a game of golf and that scene forms the nexus, not just of the novel, but of the entire history of the American South.
Jesus Christ, Faulkner. I’d hate to see what you would do with baseball.

“Write the book that unmakes the world. No big deal”
[Sidenote: Can I just say that shirtless Faulkner photos are the greatest thing in the world? After Orwell with a katana.]

>Pinklon Thomas (guest post!)

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(So here’s something I’m terribly excited about – a guest post from Jasper Moore, the fellow responsible for two of my very favorite blogs, The Triumph and The Gutrotter)

Lemme tell you about Pinklon Thomas.

I am not a man who really follows much in the way of sports. I cheer for the teams that are important to the people who are important to me, or who I have a special connection to (Baseball: Red Sox 100%. Football: Steelers. Rugby: Scotland. Softball: Arizona State), but I’m rarely drawn to the spectacle itself—where I find my passion in sports is in the way they create mythos, the ability of athletics to elevate real people to a near-mythological status.
So it makes pretty good sense that one of the sports that fascinates me is boxing. It has the things that make baseball such a wondrous thing—legacies, history, romance, myth—but with a heavy dollop of violence and something incredibly primal to it.
Well.  Mostly primal.
Boxing generates legends like very few other things in the world do. Jack Johnson (not the giant vagina of a folksinger) was a man who pretty much beat racism to death with his fists. The Hurricane was…well, that’s actually a lot more complicated than Bob Dylan said, but whatever. Ali defined what it was to be a champion. Even Mike Tyson, despite being about one step away from being one of the more disturbing Batman villains, is still somehow charming in his psychopathy.
And then there’s Pinklon Thomas, whose main triumph—besides being one hell of a fighter—was being one hell of a nice guy. And accomplishing that so well that he’s my favorite man to ever throw a punch for money.

“Gonna beat you senseless now.  Let’s get lunch after.  I’m buying.”
By the time he was 10—before I was drinking coffee—Pinklon was addicted to heroin and crack. By the time he was 16 he was a pimp, had a hit on his life, and he went off to prison for three years. Immediately upon getting out of prison he walked down the street into a gym and started training. After three fights, at the age of nineteen, he decided to go professional.

That video above is after Thomas lost the position of World Heavyweight Champion to Tyson—his first loss in 25 professional fights—and if you watched the beginning of it, you’ll have seen that the word “respect” got batted around like it was a mafia film starring Rodney Dangerfield. Not only is Thomas a former champ, but he’s a man that nobody has anything but good feelings for. When Tommy Morrison cuts open his eyebrow, nobody really seems happy. The announcers are mourning the fact that Thomas is never going to be a champion again more than they are celebrating Morrison’s victory, and even Morrison seems to feel guilty that he took out Thomas. This is the kind of thing you only see in mythology—Thomas has this incredible ability to bring the respect and admiration of anyone whose face he manages to bash in.
Part of this, of course, might be the fact that Thomas’s fighting style, described by John Darnielle (who, among other great things—black metal, Prince Far I, and mutually destructive codependency— introduced me to Thomas), was that of “a really annoying mosquito—who weighs about seven hundred pounds.” Thomas wasn’t a showy or glamorous fighter, nor was he much of a self-promoter or a glory hound. Instead, he fought like he lived: unrelentingly.
You ever play Punch Out? (If not: were you ever a child?) You know how that game is just about enduring every beating while you chip away at cartoonishly huge opponents with ludicrous gimmicks? That’s pretty much how a Pinklon Thomas fight went. The man would step into the ring—usually in bright pink trunks, looking vaguely bored and weathered, wearing pink shorts, casually graceless—and he would shake his opponent’s hand, nod, smile, and then just slam his left hand into their face like a pneumatic press for round after round.
That. Every 30 seconds. For half an hour.
By the way, the first fight he ever lost was the one he lost to Tyson for world champion. Until then, he had 24 consecutive victories, zero losses. Nineteen of those wins were knockouts And that fight took eight rounds—eight rounds against a man who usually knocked out his opponents in the first, hit harder than probably any man who ever lived, and was probably kept alive by the same mystical forces that sustain Michael Myers in Halloween. And Thomas did that entire fight with a dislocated elbow. Tyson’s also one of the only fighters Thomas was ever an asshole to (which, let’s be honest, is pretty understandable). Think about that. The man stared down a living supervillain and called him gay in public.
Over the course of his career up until then, he had broken each hand twice. Including one fight where he broke both, and went on to not only fight but actually win the fight with two broken hands. Along the way he beat the shit out of Gerry Coetzee—a Dutch South African with the nickname “The Bionic Hand”—at the height of Apartheid’s international attention. And let’s be honest, there’s something beautiful about a black ex-con from industrial Michigan beating a white Afrikaans man into a pulp in 1983. Like so much about Thomas, it just felt like a triumph for everyone involved.
 I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a clearer recognition of impending doom.
If you watched that video, note the attitude. Coetzee is beaten, he’s bleeding, he’s panting. Thomas looks tired at first, and then you realize that he’s just bored. He’s still dodging Coetzee’s punches like he’s in the goddamn Matrix, he’s still swinging that piston fist like it’s an automatic weapon. And, in some weird roundabout way (and this isn’t to say anything about Coetzee himself), he’s punching racism in the face until it spits teeth.

But what’s he doing now? That’s half the reason he has this article. Dude is helping kids. Tyson—the man who beat him—went on to be one of the greatest train wrecks in the history of sport. Meanwhile, Pinklon’s founded a charity  devoted to keeping kids off of drugs and encouraging them to do what he did: punch addiction in the face.

The man has been able to make a living dealing in violence and show business his whole life, and he’s remained decent, kind, humble and down-to-earth the whole time. Unlike nearly every other heavyweight champ, Thomas has a real respect for almost everyone he meets, and reading interviews with him nowadays is about as heartwarming as anything you can do with your time. Thomas managed to be simultaneously the greatest artist of violence on the face of the earth and a man who was never impressed by himself or anyone else. He managed to beat 24 people in a row into submission and never forget that he was an ordinary sinner.
He is the most huggable man who could also instantly punch my brain out.