Theatre Thursday: Theatre is the original VR

Something I’ve said for a long time is that live theatre is the original virtual reality, and the only shows you can see in 3D without special glasses.

Also, unlike their recorded and edited cousins — audio, film, video, and streaming — each live theatrical performance is a unique moment in time that will only be experienced by one audience ever, and will be experienced by each audience member (and each performer) in a completely different way.

In a way, I feel sorry for actors who do recorded and edited media, because they really don’t know which performance it’s ultimately going to be. They might do 23 takes of a scene in front of a green screen, have no idea that the director will ultimately settle on number 17, although maybe with a little tweak and morph so that the last beat or two of take 13 actually takes over.

And if it’s a two shot with another actor, the final shot you see on screen may actually use performances from two different takes, seamlessly woven together. It’s the film version of Photoshopping a group picture from multiple shots to make sure everyone’s eyes are open.

And that’s before all of the effects and whatnot are added, and maybe the actor was in a mocap suit anyway, because they’re really only providing the physical movement and overall kinesthetic emotion and facial movement to a performance that will turn into a twelve foot tall purple alien with big yellow eyes.

Meanwhile, a stage actor could play that same character with clever costuming, props and choreography — a couple of cast members lift them for height, a little light change and lots of fabric create the big purple body, and a pair of grapefruit with big black circles on them held Pale Man style become the eyes.

Not to say that one is better than the other. They’re just different. But the game kind of changes when all of the venues are shuttered because of a plague. No more movie theatres at the moment. No more live shows.

All we’re left with is streaming, and the question: Is this the end of both the cinema and live theatre?

Well, don’t bet on it. In 1606, theaters in London were shut down because of the plague, and this was in the middle of runs of three big hits that are still famous now: King Lear, Macbeth and Volpone.

This year, Broadway lost shows like Moulin Rouge: The Musical, Six, Company, Mrs. Doubtfire, Caroline, or Change and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, among many others. Some may be rescheduled. Others may never happen. And it’s the same in London, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle… everywhere.

In L.A., Center Theatre Group had to close The Book of Mormon revival tour early, for example.

This hasn’t stopped many of those performers from performing, and a number of Broadway stars have taken to singing to their fans from home via social media. In a way, this actually makes live theater even more intimate, because every single viewer has their own personal front row center seat — and they get to see the same show that everyone else does.

Can you imagine? Going to see the original staging of Evita on Broadway, and Patti Lupone sings every number right to you? Okay, except without all of that stagecraft, because she’s singing it to you solo and a capella from her living room. Still… rather intimate and impressive either way.

London certainly has a number of previously saved streaming performances to watch. And while it’s anecdotal because I can’t share the link here, two friends of mine managed to do live streaming improv, cell phone to cell phone, with the performance between the two phones put up via another friend’s third phone.

It was a very impressive and clever use of technology. And Zoom isn’t just for meetings. I’ve seen colleagues in theatre now use it for company meetings, as well as group practices.

Is it still theatre in this form, though? Yes. I happen to think that all performing arts are ultimately theatre, whether they happen on a stage or a screen. In 2012, I performed in a number of pieces around the city that took place in public spaces as part of Playwrights Arena’s Flash Theatre L.A.

We performed everywhere from a pet store parking lot to a cemetery in South Los Angeles; in a nearly dark public courtyard with only the uplights illuminating the walls to shine on us when we needed them, in Union Station downtown, and so on.

The cemetery performance and Union Station were two of my favorites — the first because we created a long and elaborate, intricately choreographer Danse Macabre in which I started out as a disgruntled grave digger, then snuck behind a tombstone to change into the guise of a skull-faced pope.

We also had La Llorna and a lot of Día de los Muertos style face-painting in a collision of Medieval Europe and modern Latin America, taking place in a cemetery with a large proportion of black residents, since for a long time in the city’s history it was one of the few places open to them.

What I loved about Union Station was how the show started and ended. We quietly came in and took our places as if we were people waiting for a train, but then slowly stepped out and joined the performance, which involved a twelve-foot tall puppet.

When it was over, after we read out a bunch of real-time tweets we had solicited beforehand, each of us then strode off into the crowd to make our exit by becoming “normal” people again.

We were never on an actual stage for those shows, but it was still theatre. It’s still theatre no matter how big the CGI effects are.

But it’s not only the film and TV people who can forget this. The theatre people can too, in the opposite direction, and sometimes ignore the concept that media and tech can work onstage — or that theatre can happen onscreen in real time — as well.

Back in about 2012, I saw a wonderful production of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, which is basically his fictional biopic and guilty confessional about the death of Marilyn Monroe. Oh… he’s not confessing to killing her directly. He’s feeling guilty over not doing enough to save her life, seeing as how he was married to her at the time.

That’s right — the blonde bombshell dumped the jock (Joe DiMaggio) and married the smart nebbish. Nerds of the world, take heart! That would be like Scarlett Johansson dumping Ryan Reynolds for John Green.

Oh, wait. She did dump Ryan. Just not for John.

Anyway, as originally staged, when characters aren’t onstage, they sit in high backed chairs upstage. Occasionally, one of them will have a flashback monologue, which they deliver by standing in place.

The twist on this the director pulled was having everyone backstage, but when their monologues came, live ghostly video of the actor backstage would be projected on the two side walls of the actual stage. (It was performed on a partial thrust stage.)

Miller was probably borrowing from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which was the first major play to be performed without an actual set — in the days when Broadway was all about realism — and with the entire cast seated onstage when not performing.

This production of After the Fall just took the original concept and modernized it.

But long before video and high tech, tech has always been a part of theatre, from Grand Guignol’s elaborate illusions used to create shock and horror, to the elaborate stage machinery of 18th century opera and earlier.

The opening of the film The Devils by Ken Russell does a pretty good recreation of 17th century French theatrical staging and mechanics:

The interesting question, really, is which media are going to survive this modern plague? If our entertainment venues are limited for long enough — at least, as long as they really need to be to help us survive this — then this just may be the end of the cinema as we know it.

Sorry, Marty, and David. To paraphrase Norma Desmond: “Films are big! It’s the screens that got small.”

People may become too accustomed to just watching at home, and thanks to all of their online hanging out with friends, they may finally remember what the important part is. So expect streaming parties, either as virtual hangouts or IRL, to become the new norm.

Also expect an end to the blockbuster spectacle once people have been reminded through all of the scaled-down-to-mobile shows and performances what theatre is really about: the interactions between characters that happen because of an inciting event.

Notice, by the way, that in any online discussion of the latest hit streaming show, people aren’t talking about the effects or the spectacle or any of that. They are talking about the characters, what they do, and why people like it or don’t like it.

As for theatre, it will survive because, after all, it has for thousands of years and through many difficulties. Plus, when it’s not some overblown Broadway show with a ridiculous budget and inflated ticket prices, it can be cheap to do, easy to stage, and affordable for everyone.

It just may be that “too big to fail” turns into “too big to stay.” Movies and TV turn into intimate events at home or maybe in small clubs. Meanwhile, all of that small theatre that’s always been there goes on. Only, this time, people will have a renewed appreciation of it.

Think about this for a moment. What genre do escape rooms fall into? Not film, and not TV. Nope. They are a type of immersive theatre in which the audience is also part of the cast.

Image (CC0 1.0)

Wednesday Wonders: Fooled by famous frauds and fakes

It’s April 1st, but given the state of the world at the moment, I would hope that everyone refrains from any kind of pranks or jokes today in honor of the occasion. Instead, let’s look at five times in the past that scientific types have passed off a fake as reality.

I’ll take it in (mostly) chronological order.

The Mechanical Turk

In 1769, Maria Theresa, empress of Austria-Hungray, invited her trusted servant, Wolfgang von Kempelen, to a magic show. Von Kempelen knew his physics, mechanics, and hydraulics. The empress wanted to see what he’d make of a stage illusionist.

In short, he was not impressed, and said so in front of the court, claiming that he could create a better illusion. The empress accepted his offer and gave him six months off to try.

In 1770, he returned with his results: An automaton that played chess. It was in the form of a wooden figure seated behind a cabinet with three doors in front and a drawer in the bottom. In presenting it, von Kempelen would open the left door to show the complicated clockwork inside, then open a back door and shine a lantern through it to show that there was nothing else there.

When he opened the other two doors, it revealed an almost empty compartment with a velvet pillow in it. This he placed under the automaton’s left arm. The chess board and pieces came out of the drawer, and once a challenger stepped forward, von Kempelen turned a crank on the side to start it up, and the game was afoot.

Called the Mechanical Turk, it was good, and regularly defeated human opponents, including Benjamin Franklin.  and Napoleon Bonaparte — although Napoleon is reported to have tried to cheat, to which the Turk did not respond well.

Neither its creator nor second owner and promoter revealed its secrets during the machine’s lifetime, and it was destroyed by a fire in 1854. Although many people assumed that it was actually operated by a human and was not a machine, playing against it did inspire Charles Babbage to begin work on his difference engine, the mechanical precursor to the modern computer.

In the present day, a designer and builder of stage illusions built a replica of the Turk based on the original plans, and watching it in action is definitely uncanny.

Moon-bats and Martians!

This is actually a twofer. First, in August 1835, the New York Sun ran a six part series on discoveries made by the astronomer John Herschel on the Moon. The problem: The press flat out made it all up, reporting all kinds of fantastical creatures Herschel had allegedly seen and written about, including everything from unicorns to flying bat-people, all thanks to the marvel of the fabulous new telescope he had created. When Herschel found out about it, he was not pleased.

The flipside of this came sixty years later in 1895, when the astronomer Percival Lowell first published about the “canals of Mars,” which were believed to be channels of water that ran into the many oceans on the planet.

In reality, they were just an optical illusion created by the lack of power of telescopes of the time. This didn’t stop Lowell, though, and he went on in the early 19th century to write books that postulated the existence of life on Mars.

Of course, Lowell was not trying to perpetrate a fraud. He just had the habit of seeing what he wanted to see, so it was more self-delusion than anything else.

The Cardiff Giant

This would be Cardiff. The one in New York, not the capital of Wales. The year is 1869. The “giant” was a petrified 10-foot-tall man that had been dug up on a farm belonging to William C. “Stub” Newell. People came from all around to see it, and that did not stop when Newell started charging fifty cents a head to have a look. That’s the equivalent of about ten bucks today.

The statue was actually created by George Hull, who was a cousin of Newell’s. An atheist, Hull had gotten into an argument with a Methodist minister who said that everything in the Bible had to be taken literally. Since the Bible said that there had been giants in those days, Hull decided to give him one, and expose the gullibility of religious types at the same time.

Cardiff, after all, wasn’t very far from where Joseph Smith had first started the Mormon religion, and that sort of thing was not at all uncommon in the area during the so-called Second Great Awakening.

Although a huge hit with the public to the point that P.T. Barnum created his own fake giant, the Chicago Tribune eventually published an exposé with confessions from the stonemasons. That didn’t seem to make one bit of difference to the public, who still flocked to see the statues. Hull and his investors made a fortune off of the whole adventure.

Piltdown Man

Less innocuous was a hoax that actually sent a couple of generations of anthropologists and evolutionists down the wrong path in tracing the ancestry of humans. In 1912, Charles Dawson, an amateur archaeologist, claimed to have discovered the fossilized remains of a hitherto unknown human species in Piltdown, Sussex, England.

The key part was that while the skull had a human-like cranium, it had an ape-like mandible, or lower jaw. In other words, having traits of both species, it could easily have been the long-sought “missing link,” a transitional form that provides the evolutionary bridge between two species.

The first so-called missing link, Java Man, had been discovered twenty years prior to Dawson’s. Unlike Dawson’s Piltdown Man, Java Man, now known as homo erectus, has been accepted as a legitimate transitional form between ape and man.

Dawson’s downfall came after the discovery of more transitional forms and improved testing methods that authenticated many of these. When researchers finally turned their attention back to the original Piltdown Man fossils, they determined that the skull was only about 500 years old, the jaw, only a few decades. Both had been stained to simulate age.

In 1953, they published their findings, which were reported in Time magazine, but the damage had been done, setting back anthropological studies, because more recent, legitimate discoveries were doubted because they conflicted with the fake evidence.

It seems likely that Dawson was the sole hoaxer. What was his motive? Most likely, he wanted to be nominated to the archaeological Royal Society, but hadn’t yet because of a lack of significant findings.

In 1913, he was nominated because of Piltdown, proving yet again that it’s possible for a fraud to profit — if they’re white and connected.

Vaccines and autism

We’re still feeling the repercussions of this fraud, which was first perpetrated in 1998 by a researcher named Andrew Wakefield. This was when he published results of studies he carried out which, he said, showed an undeniable link between childhood vaccinations, particularly measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and autism.

In Wakefield’s world, “undeniable link” meant “cause and effect,” and a whole bunch of parents proceeded to lose their minds over the whole thing. We’re still dealing with the fallout from it today, with diseases like measles and whopping cough — which should have been eradicated — suddenly causing mini-epidemics.

Eventually, when they could not be replicated, it came out that Wakefield had flat-out falsified his results, and his papers and findings were withdrawn and repudiated by medical journals.

What was his motive for falsifying information without any regard for the lives he endangered? Oh, the usual motive. Money. He had failed to disclose that his studies “had been funded by lawyers who had been engaged by parents in lawsuits against vaccine-producing companies.”

But, as with Piltdown Man, we’re still seeing the effects and feeling the damage a generation later. This is why now, more than ever, we need to rely on actual scientific findings that have been replicated through peer review instead of rumors, myths, or memes.

Happy April 1st!

Talky Tuesday: Language is (still) a virus

I used this Burroughs quote as a post title a couple of years ago in an entirely different context, but the idea has taken on new relevance, as I’m sure the world can now agree.

This post’s title comes from a William S. Burroughs quote which reads in full as, “Language is a virus from outer space.”

What he meant by the first part is that words enter a host, infect it, and cause a change in it. Just as a virus hijacks a host’s cells in order to become little factories to make more virus to spread a disease, words hijack a host’s neurons in order to become little factories to make more words to spread ideas and belief systems.

As for the “outer space” part, I think that Burroughs was being metaphorical, with the idea being that any particular language can appear totally alien to any other. While, say, Mongolian and Diné may both come from humans on Earth, if a speaker of either encountered someone who only spoke the other, they might as well be from different planets because, for all intents and purposes, they are from different worlds, unable to communicate with words.

And the language we use can quite literally create and shape our perceptions of the world, as I discussed in my original Language is a virus post. One of the most striking examples I cited in that link was Guugu Yimithirr, an aboriginal language that has no words for relative direction. Instead, they refer to everything based upon where it is relative to actual cardinal directions.

In other words, if you ask someone who speaks this language where you should sit, they won’t say, “In the chair on your left.” Rather, they’ll say something like, “In the chair to the north.” Or south, or east, or west. And a speaker of the language will know what that means, whether they can see outside or not.

Quick — right now, if someone said “Point east,” could you do it without thinking?

And that is how languages can change thoughts and perceptions.

But, sometimes — honestly, far too often — language can change perceptions to create tribalism and hostility, and during this plague year, that has suddenly become a huge topic of debate over a simple change of one C word in a phrase.

I’m writing, of course, about “coronavirus” vs. “Chinese virus.” And the debate is this: Is the latter phrase racist, or just a statement of fact?

One reporter from a rather biased organization did try to start the “it’s not” narrative with the stupidest question ever asked: “Mr. President, do you consider the term ‘Chinese food’ to be racist because it is food that originated from China?”

There are just two problems with this one. The first is that what Americans call “Chinese food” did not, in fact, originate in China. It was the product of Chinese immigrants in America who, being mostly men, didn’t know how to cook, and didn’t have access to a lot of the ingredients from back home. So… they improvised and approximated, and “Chinese food” was created by Chinese immigrants starting in San Francisco in the 19th century.

Initially, it was cuisine meant only for Chinese immigrants because racist Americans wouldn’t touch it, but when Chinatowns had sprung up in other cities, it was New York’s version that finally lured in the hipster foodies of the day to try it, and they were hooked.

In short, “Chinese food” was a positive and voluntary contribution to American culture, and the designation here is merely descriptive, so not racist. “Chinese virus” is a blatant misclassification at best and a definite attempt at a slur at worst, with odds on the latter.

But we’ve seen this with diseases before.

When it comes to simple misidentification of place of origin, let’s look back to almost exactly a century ago, when the Spanish flu went pandemic. From 1918 to 1919, it hit every part of the world, infected 500 million people and killed 50 million.

A little perspective: At the time, the world’s population was only 1.8 billion, so this represents an infection rate of 28% and a mortality rate among the infected of 2.8%. If COVID-19 has similar statistics — and it seems to — then that means this pandemic will infect 2.1 billion people and kill 211 million.

By the way, while the 1918 pandemic was very fatal to children under 5 and adults over 65, it also hit one other demographic particularly hard: 20 to 40 year-olds.

So if you’re in that age range and think that COVID-19 won’t kill you, think again — particularly if you smoke or vape or have asthma, and don’t take the quarantine seriously. And remember: the rich and world leaders are not immune either — not now and not then.

The president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, was infected in the 1918 H1N1 pandemic in 1919, and while he survived, this assault on his health probably led to the stroke he had late in that year, an incident that was covered up by his wife, with the help of the president’s doctor. The First Lady became de facto president for the remainder of his second term.

In modern times, the first world leader to test positive for coronavirus was Prince Albert II of Monaco, followed not long after by Prince Charles and Boris Johnson. Of course, I’m writing these words a bit ahead of when you’ll read them, so who knows what will have happened by then.

In medical circles, the name “Spanish Flu” has been abandoned, and that particular pandemic is now known as H1N1, which I’m sure looks really familiar to you, because this has been the standard nomenclature for flu viruses for a while: H#N#, sans location, animal, or occupation, more on which in a minute.

But first, let’s get to the reasons behind naming a disease after a place. The H1N1 Pandemic was a simple case of mistaken identity and also contingent upon that whole “Great War” stuff going on in Europe.

See, other countries had been hit by it first, but in the interests of the old dick-waving “Gotta appear strong before our enemies” toxic masculinity, all of them suppressed the news. It wasn’t until Spain started seeing it in their citizens and, because they were neutral, they announced outbreaks, that the world suddenly pointed fingers and said, “Ooh… this came from Spain. Hence, it’s the Spanish flu.”

Except, not. Ironically, it seems now that the Spanish flu originated in… China. Although that’s according to historians. Virologists, on the other hand, have linked it to an H1 strain later identified in pigs in Iowa in the U.S.

Either way, all of the countries involved in WW I, aka “The Great War,” kept mum about it.

So the name “Spanish flu” was a simple mistake. On the other hand, the names of other diseases actually are outright xenophobic or racist, and we only have to look as far  as syphilis to see why.

Basically, syphilis is an STI that was the most feared of its kind until… AIDS, because syphilis was not treatable or curable until penicillin was discovered in 1928 — although it was not produced on a mass scale until 1945, thanks to needs created by WW II, and facilitated by the War Production Board.

Hm. Sound familiar?

But the reason it became known as the French disease outside of France was that it began to spread after Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494-95 to reclaim a kingdom he thought should be his. It was eventually so devastating that Charles had to take his troops home, and so it began to spread in France and across Europe.

Since it first showed up in French soldiers, it was quickly dubbed the French disease in Italy and England, although the French preferred to call it the Italian disease. In reality, it most likely originated in the New World, and was brought back to Europe by… Columbus and his Spanish soldiers, who then somehow managed to spread it to the French as they worked for them as mercenaries.

Hm. STI. A bunch of male soldiers. I wonder how that worked, exactly.

And I am totally destroying my future google search suggestions by researching all of this for you, my loyal readers, just so you know! Not to mention that I can’t wait to see what sort of ads I start getting on social media. “Confidential STI testing!” “Get penicillin without a prescription.” “These three weird tricks will cure the STI. Doctors hate them!”

But the naming of diseases all came to a head almost five years ago when the World Health Organization (WHO)  finally decided, “You know what? We shouldn’t name diseases after people, places, animals, occupations, or things anymore, because that just leads to all kinds of discrimination and offense, and who needs it?”

This directly resulted from the backlash against the naming of the last disease ever named for a place, despite the attempt to obfuscate that in its official terminology. Remember MERS, anyone?  No? That one came about in 2012, was first identified in Saudi Arabia, and was named Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Of course, it didn’t help when things were named swine flu or avian flu, either. A lot of pigs and birds died over those designations. So away went such terminology, especially because of the xenophobic and racist connotations of naming a disease after an entire country or people.

Of course, some antiquated folk don’t understand why it’s at the least racist and at the most dangerous to name diseases the old way, as evinced by the editorial tone of this article from a right-wing publication like The Federalist. But they actually kind of manage to prove the point that yes, such terminology is out of fashion, because the only 21st century example they can list is the aforementioned MERS.

The most recent one before that? Lyme disease, named for Lyme, Connecticut, and designated in… the mid-70s. Not exactly the least racist of times, although this disease was named for a pretty white-bread area.

The only other examples of diseases named for countries on their list: the aforementioned Spanish flu, Japanese encephalitis, named in 1871 (seriously, have you ever heard of that one?); and the German measles, identified in the 18th century, although more commonly known as rubella.

So, again — it’s a list that proves the exact opposite of what it set out to do, and calling coronavirus or COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or “Chinese disease” is, in fact, racist as hell. And it won’t save a single life.

But calling it that will certainly endanger lives by causing hate crimes — because language is a virus, and when people are infected by malignant viruses, like hate speech, the results can be deadly.

Inoculate yourselves against them with education if possible. Quarantine yourselves against them through critical thinking otherwise. Most of all, through these trying times, stay safe — and stay home!

Image source: Coronavirus Disease 2019 Rotator Graphic for af.mil. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario “Charo” Gutierrez)

Momentous Monday: Witches’ brew

You’re suddenly whisked back to medieval Europe, where you see a woman walking down the street. She’s wearing a tall, black, pointed hat — which is why you notice her in the first place, and she’s selling people some sort of potion.

Intrigued, you follow her until she comes to her permanent place of business, which is also her home. The “sign” above the door is a broom, and she invites you in, where you see a bubbling cauldron and the black cat who is the only other occupant.

She finally offers you her potion and you reluctantly take it, wary of whatever witchcraft she’s trying to pull. Then you realize that she’s selling beer, and this is a microbrewery.

The tall hat is mainly to be seen over the crowds. As for the “broom,” it was actually an alestake, a sign to let people know that a fresh batch was ready. The cauldron, of course, was for the actual brewing and fermentation, and the cat was meant to keep rats and other rodents away from the necessary grains.

From its beginnings in Mesopotamia and Egypt 9,000 years ago, brewing was done almost exclusively by women, which makes sense if you consider it to be more of a culinary art, which in many ways it is.

This continued to be the case on into the Middle Ages, and in many cases it was the only way a woman could earn money — either extra money for the household, or to support herself if her husband died.

Ale was very popular at the time because the water wasn’t so good, but people needed a pure source of hydration and nutrients. Ale and “small beer” of the time wasn’t that strong. But women made a lot of money doing it.

As the industry grew in the 14th century, men started getting involved, particularly in the production of “hopped” brews, which had a longer shelf-life and different flavor than the women’s un-hopped versions.

In that age-old story, because the men wanted in on the action and brewing had made many women independently wealthy, the Ale Wives begin to suffer increased scrutiny, and the Church helped out by associating their symbols with what they bring to mind today: witches.

They were also libeled by male authors, particularly John Skelton in his The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng, which depicted every aspect of the Ale Wife trade as ugly and unsavory, from the brewsters themselves to their customers and their brews.

Of course, the Church was only too happy to oblige in changing the depiction of these women from successful entrepreneurs and business owners to Satan’s handmaids and minions of evil.

This all came about because the Catholic Church had suffered a schism in 1517, When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Luther only intended them for the clergy, but thanks to the invention of printing, they were translated from Latin to German and promulgated far and wide.

They might as well have been 95 Feces, because the shit hit the fan.

Over the course of 70 years, from 1560 to 1630, The Great Hunt saw about 80,000 people accused and 40,000 executed. It was all about marketing. Once the idea of witches had been sold to people, whichever church found and dealt with more of them would convince more people that they were the “right” one.

Those 40,000 deaths were individual selling points for whichever side caused them.

One of the few prominent cases of a man being executed for witchery and dealing with the devil was decidedly political. The early 1600s, Cardinal Richelieu wanted to un-fortify towns around France, but one recalcitrant priest, Urbain Grandier, refused to tear down the wall around his town, Loudun. He was ultimately executed in 1634.

Aldous Huxley wrote a documentary novel about these events, The Devils of Loudun, in 1952. It was later adapted into a play that was eventually made into the film The Devils, directed by Ken Russell and starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave.

While these witch-hunts were marketing for the church, the secular impetus for them was the usual: the continued oppression of the already powerless, particularly women, who made up the bulk of the accused.

There modern, non-European examples as well, such as The Dakan of Gujarat. Currently ongoing in India, these are cases of men basically accusing women — often from their own families or households — of witchcraft and sorcery in order to take over land that the women own.

The drivers in this case are a combination of misogyny, the caste system, and a way to blame women for the problems caused by failed economic policies created by… the men.

One of the more extreme examples: Women in a household were accused and beaten by men in the same household because the women had the audacity to tell the men to not shit in the fields where the women were growing food crops. How dare they!

Ultimately, every case of railroading, persecuting, and punishing the less well-off are just cases of the 1% desperately trying to keep what they have — which is already way too much.

This is perfectly depicted in the cartoon where a rich, old white man with a plate piled high with cookies points accusingly at a person of color with no cookies at all, and telling a construction worker with one cookie on his plate, “Careful, mate… That foreigner wants your cookie!”

Someday, the “foreigner” and the worker are going to figure out that they can just take most of the hoarding billionaire’s cookies and share them among themselves.

Witch hunts are just the way that the richest use the least powerful as a scapegoat to keep everyone in the middle from realizing who the real witches, demons, and villains are.

While the Ale Wives had money, it wasn’t enough in a society that wouldn’t even respect the concept that women could. And so the rival brewers called them licentious women, the church called them the Devil’s Daughters, and everyone else started buying their beer from the men, and going to the church that made them feel safer via better witch-killing spectacles.

It’s a never-ending story that needs to end, but even to this day has not. After all, the Japanese Internment in America that began with WW II was never about national security. It, too, was about taking land and an industry away from a defenseless class.

Remember the Ale Wives and what happened to them the next time you’re enjoying a beer that was no-doubt brewed by a man, and make an effort to support businesses that are owned by women, people of color, or members of the queer community.

Sunday Nibble #10: Plus ça change

It seems that any sudden societal upheaval in America follows the same basic pattern as the COVID-19 situation, as follows.

  1. Rumors of something bad coming, ignored.
  2. A little bit of the bad thing happens, the media starts to mention it.
  3. A couple more bad things happen, and suddenly the media turns it into a trend.
  4. Continue escalating hype until people freak.
  5. Store shelves stripped bare.
  6. The government fails to react.
  7. Shit gets real.
  8. The government finally sort of does… something?

Specifically, I’m thinking of the L.A. riots, which were nearly 30 years ago, but the same pattern seems to apply to the AIDS crisis (without the hoarding but with the freaking, I think) and it probably applies to the Watts Riots and the Spanish Flu and every other sudden crisis.

But I’m having a definite déjà vu over this one, even though I was a far younger and very naïve person (politically and otherwise) back on April 29, 1992. Okay, same day of the month as this post, a month early, totally unintended.

But that April day was when Los Angeles exploded in violence because the police officers who had beaten Rodney King for no reason were acquitted.

From what I remember, the story broke by the minute, and my dad freaked out about it as soon as he heard the verdict. Of course, he had lived here through the Watts Riots, so he had previous experience. I did not.

Time to stock up on everything, said he, and the stores were insane — much like they were a week before all of California shut down ten days ago.

Water and TP aisles empty, a lot of other essentials practically gone. Well, you know the drill. You all just lived through it.  At the time, though, the assholeishness of it didn’t occur to me because I was still working on installing that whole self-awareness subroutine, but, looking back… yeah. Even my dad had been a greedy asshole about it. Everyone had.

The shutdown due to the riots lasted all of about five days. And, on top of that, I realized that my dad really shouldn’t have been so worried. It was Woodland Hills, way out in the West Valley, aka “The place all the white people moved to in the 60s in order to avoid sending their kids to school with non-white people.”

Poetic justice: I went to school there with a lot of non-white people, and now a lot of the part of Woodland Hills I grew up in and where my parents lived is now heavily Hispanic. I love it. It was when this influx began that all the scared whypipo moved to the Simi Valley.” (My parents tried to join the exodus, but no one wanted to buy their house.)

As for Simi Valley, it’s the home of the Reagan Library, which tells you everything you need to know about it and its demographics. They wanted the place built there, even though the only real connection he had to the city was that he was once governor of the state.

Oh, yeah. One other thing Simi Valley: It was also the venue to which the trial of the cops who beat Rodney King was moved, apparently, with the ultimate defense goal of finding a jury favorable to… the cops. Why would that jury be favorable? Because so many police officers lived there.

And then LA. exploded into violence over a jury verdict delivered in a different county. But that explosion never got anywhere near Woodland Hills because, of course it didn’t.

Now, the eight steps at the top of this article seemed to have taken place all in one day in the case of the L.A. riots — maybe because it threatened rich white people?

Other times, events have moved in much slower motion. Reading the history on it, in the case of the AIDS crisis it took well over a decade to go from point 1 to point 8, and point 6 was intentionally extended, most likely causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

And in our modern age, we’ve gone through the cycle in a hyper-fast manner. Still slower than the L.A. riots — or maybe not, because all of the trial drama and build up for that  one took months.

But when it came to Corona Lockdown, we went from 1 to 8 in about three months at most, also stalling for far too long at 6, and we all reacted in the same damn exact way.

Let’s be greedy little bitches and grab everything we can.

And that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I think that the key, though, is in step 7, as in when shit gets real, but for the 1%. First off, when they realize that they are not immune — and we’ve already had an A-list actor and spouse, several members of Congress, and various other celebrities test positive.

Second is when this realization is going to make them start spending their money on fixing shit, and they’re going to realize that they only caught it because the people they depend on do not have the same access to health care and income security that they do.

All the sheltering in place in the world does no good if their maid has to take public transportation because she can’t afford a car or insurance, and can’t take sick days off if nobody pays her for them.

If a billionaire can’t work for a month it makes no difference, because all of their passive and residual income from investments or rents and royalties keeps rolling in. Until, of course, the stock market tanks and their investments become a bit less valuable, and that’s another thing that makes them think about how helping others will help themselves.

Did I mention that the maid and all those other low-paid workers who interact closely with the billionaire probably don’t have the best health insurance or lowest deductible plan, if any?

And that Mr. or Ms. 1% doesn’t even really notice the help much so that they certainly don’t notice when the maid is coughing all over the counters while cleaning them, or that they themselves have a habit of leaning over their personal assistant from much closer than six feet while telling her what you need her to schedule, all because they’re trying to stare down her top.

They won’t even put two and two together when they suddenly feel feverish, because the only way they’re going to decide to get tested is if they come down with full-blown symptoms or if they hear that someone in their social circle has tested positive or reported symptoms.

Even then, and even if they test positive, they aren’t going to do a thing to help anyone outside of their circles until the big red flag is hoist.

That’s right. We won’t see really important action from the 1% until the grandest event of them all: Somebody in their class dies from this virus — and that is inevitable. Once that happens, you’re going to see mountains moved like never before to block the spread and find a cure.

Just look at how the straight community’s tune changed the second that Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. Hey, there’s a reason Magic is still alive and a year older than Rock Hudson was when he AIDS killed him. You do the math.

Yep. Suddenly, death comes calling on their kind and the 1% goes socialist harder than your Bernie bro nephew who’s majoring in PoliSci at Berkeley.

“Pay the peons to stay home and the hell away from me! Give them all the health insurance they need for free so they don’t make my family sick. And let’s do something about all these homeless. No more evictions for now, everyone gets enough money to pay their rent. Ah, hell. Here’s property I bought and never developed, cover it in motor homes. Just keep the homeless the hell out of where I am, okay? And figure out how everybody who can works from home. Give ’em the equipment to do it.”

It’s Scrooge the morning after the four ghosts visit. Sad, but if they’re paying for your Christmas goose, just shut up and cash the checks, no matter how big an asshole your Scrooge was up until their sudden revelation.

Kind of ironic but fitting, really, that the deadly virus of “Trickle Down Economics” that Ronald Reagan foisted on America in the 80s — and which directly created the shitshow we’re living now — might actually start to trickle the hell down because of another deadly virus.

See, the big flaw with “trickle down economics” was the assumption that if you gave rich people more money, they would liberally toss it down on their subordinates, everyone would get raises, and it would be good times.

In reality? Not so much. The only trickle down the working class experienced was getting pissed on by the owners.

The fatal flaw of capitalism is that people — no matter their social status or personal wealth or lack thereof — tend to act, on an anonymous playing field, in their own best interests and no one else’s.

Yes, there are definitely altruistic human beings. Mr. Rogers’ “helpers” do exist, but they are few and far between.

In capitalism, which is a zero sum game, most of the players will only be altruistic when incentivized, and the incentive that works the best is to steer them toward an action that, while serving others instead of themselves, will ultimately cost them less in the long run.

Death is the great equalizer, after all. Not to mention that there is no one so rich that they wouldn’t trade their entire fortune in exchange for fending off death. If our modern robber barons can pull the same trick for only a quarter of their fortune, they will think it had been worth the price, and their selfishness might ultimately leave the world a better place.

We shall see.

The Saturday Morning Post #8

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 8. If you want to catch up, check out the first one here and the previous one is here. The one thing to remember is that each of the 13 short stories is narrated by a new character, and the novella is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. 

Last week, we met Tycho, an assistant to a local government official who got a quick promotion due to a family emergency his former boss suffered. Along the way, he met a tailor’s assistant, Finley, and they proceeded to get friendly. Finley picks up the thread from here.

Warning: Graphic content ahead. That’s true of most of the novel, but I think this is the first chapter where it comes at the top. So to speak. So strap in. But keep in mind that this chapter in particular, as is the finale novella, is one gigantic political satire. If you’ve been reading along all the way, though, you’ve probably gotten enough hints to have figured that out by now. Enjoy!

INTO THE MATTRESS

I haven’t been plowed face down so hard for at least six months, and never in such a nice hotel by such a hot guy. And certainly not by someone so young — in fact, about three years younger than me — and never someone in such a powerful position but, to be honest, it wasn’t his money or his power that first caught my eye or kept my interest.

The first thing I notice (after that whole “God, he’s cute as fuck” thing) is that despite me being merely a tailor’s assistant while he’s getting the royal treatment — such as is given to new government employees on a certain level — whenever my boss and this guy’s assistant aren’t around, he talks to me like I’m a real person. And, besides the aforementioned cuteness, he’s also got a sort of goofy but endearing manner about him. So, what the hell. I flirt. Because I’ve got good gaydar, and he’s setting it off.

And… score. I figure out that I was right in a few sentences, and he soon tells me what hotel and room number he’s in, and I am so there.

And all of this less than a week after the city and county of Los Angeles get ripped a new one by a gigantic quake out in and named for Riverside.

It’s a week after the quake when I wake up early Tuesday morning in his (government provided) hotel room out in NoHo, his arms wrapped around me, his morning wood sandwiched in my ass-crack, and I’m trying hard as hell to remember his name, because the last thing I want is for him to think that I’m just some shallow gold-digger, because I’m not. Hey, I work for a clothing shop that does a lot of contracting for local governments, so I am really used to dealing with bureaucratic assholes, and this guy is not one of them. Not to mention that my boss is generous, our clients tip, and I’ really not hurting for money.

But, honestly, this guy is a breath of fresh air. Again, because he treated me like a human. And when I asked him if I could stay the whole night after he rocked my world and he said yes, I kind of shivered in joy, because it made me feel like he wasn’t looking at me like I was just a whore.

But Jesus Christ, what the fuck is his name? I’d give anything to remember that right now. All I can remember is that it starts with a “T,” but so many names do. Tae? Taj? Taki? Tamal? Tanner? Taylor? Ted? Terrance? Thad? Thadeus? Thagrador? Theo? Theodore? Thomas? Tim? Timothy? Titus? Tobias? Tobuscus? Toby? Tom? Tomás? Torrance? Travis? Trent? Trenton? Trey? Tripp? Tristan? Troy? Truman? Tucker? Turner? Tyler? Tyrion? Tyrone? Tyson?

Fuck!

This was as hard as I was. Still, at least he was wrapped around me at the moment, so I might have a chance to organically ask the question if I was patient. At least when I’d asked him if I could stay the night he’d said “Yes.”

Ultimately, he let me and so I just stayed there all night as I felt him gently breathing on the back of my neck — which also made me really horny before and after I slept — and then his alarm went off and he suddenly jerked and spasmed.

“Whoa, hey. Wait, hi!” he sputtered as he woke up, and I swore he got harder. “Um… stupid question time again, and sorry for this, but… what’s your name?” he asks even as we’re both trying to nonchalantly get the cork in the hole without it looking like either one of us is trying to make it happen.

“Finley Potter,” I reply, grateful that he’s given me an opening — or is close to giving it to my opening, shut up. So I ask, “And you are…?”

Thank god he doesn’t bat an eyelash at that one, or try to flaunt his degrees, and simply says, “Tycho Ford. Well, Tyty. And… I seem to be about to accidentally shove my cock up your asshole for some reason?”

This makes me laugh and remember why I like him so much, and I just reply, “Why, yes, sir. Yes it seems so. And why isn’t it up there already?”

“Because, I’m just wondering one thing…”

“Whether it’s your money that I’m into, right?”

I can feel him hesitate behind me and sigh a little before he whispers in my ear. “So… is it?”

“Fuck no, you silly insecure douche. It’s all you,” I reply, and with that he proceeds to eagerly ram it home and fuck me into the mattress again, over which I have no complaints, and when he’s made another delivery via the back door and I can’t help but mess the hotel sheets because of it, we cuddle for a while until the alarm goes off again and he apologizes.

“Sorry. Last snooze. But… same time tomorrow night?” he asks and I lean back and say, “Oh, fuck yeah.”

And we both hop on the Metro together, riding until the point when he gets off two stops before I do, and we part with a kiss, but I can’t help but think about him all day long.

Although a lot of those thoughts come back to things I don’t want to think about, like the quake. When I get to work, the OLEDs in the lobby blare the news, and it’s all Tycho, the youngest county department director ever, even if they do keep calling him “acting.” Damn if he doesn’t look sexy as hell in the footage of him leaving the county building. We sure did a good job of dressing him well — although I can’t help but think, “That hot dude’s been in me several times.”

He doesn’t comment to the reporters and I know he hasn’t done a presser yet. I have sensed a touch of anger in him about this whole thing, so I’m wondering — as his responsibilities increase, are the fucks he throws in me going to get harder and angrier?

The thought that it might makes my hands tremble as I cut fabric to patterns, although it’s a good tremble. I mean, if he wants to take out all of the tension and anger on me… I would so be there for that. Note to self: when we get home tonight, point that out. Sure, he’s younger than me, but I’ve got nothing against role-playing an Angry Daddy scenario where I’m not the daddy.

But… it’s a long day, because, apparently the big quake has also created a big government shake-up, and I don’t know whether that’s reality or a bad pun. All I do know is that we’re suddenly winding up with a lot of “acting” folk for various positions, and every single one of them who deals with the media is getting a ridiculous new wardrobe. At least we only actually tailor the clothes here, except for the rare custom job, but those are special-ordered ahead.

It’s the first time in months I’ve worked O.T., actually, so I don’t get out of there until nine p.m. — not a problem at all because more money — but I text Tycho as soon as I’m leaving.

“On my way,” I say.

“What kept you, honey?” he replies.

“Too many people needed new clothes,” I text back.

“I’m not wearing any and need you likewise soon,” he answers.

“Gonna ride the train down then I’m gonna ride you all night long,” I reply.

“As you should,” he texts back just as I’m taking my seat on the Metro.

Of course, our conversations were much more abbreviated, but I’m not one to share that in the ridiculous TXT/m o g speak, because I’m kind of owskoo, as they call it now, or “hipster” in the disdainful words of our parents. All I know is that I’m gonna get some, so I am elated for the entire B Line ride back up to the Lexen. And by “elated,” I mean hard as a fucking rock.

When I get to the hotel, the desk clerk just hands me the keycard without asking my name and gives me a wink and nod. “Go on in,” he says, and so I go up to 23 and key my way into the door to find Tycho lying face up on the bed, legs spread, arms crossed over his face, butt-ass naked, and his gorgeous golden dick standing at full attention above his more than adequate balls. I don’t have to ask. I strip on my way to the bed, kneel between his legs, and have at it.

I start bobbing up and down on it and he starts moaning and squirming, and then suddenly says, “Oh my god, Darren, that is so hot.”

I pull my mouth off his dick and look as he uncovers his face, looks down, and then smiles. “Hi, Fin,” he says. “I knew it was you. Just joking. And can I call you Fin?”

“Um, sure… But what can I call you?”

“Tyty,” he replies.

“Okay,” I tell him, “But for the moment, can I just call you ‘daddy?’”

“Ha!” He replies. “That’s not normally my thing, but whatever floats your boat.”

“Wait,” I ask. “Are you a bottom for daddies?”

He laughs. “No, dude. I’m into topping the hell out of them. And you’d be surprised how often that works out.”

“Really?” I reply. “Whoa… Then again, I am older than you. Technically, a baby daddy, so…” I give the tip of his dick a lick, but I think what I’d said had already raised the sails a bit higher.

“I think I told you, I thought you were younger than me,” he finally says, “But since you’re older…well, then… shit. you’re going to be coming on over a lot more often. Meanwhile… you seem to have stopped — ”

He coughs and gestures, and I don’t need another word, so dive back down and continue slurping. He’s bucking and moaning until he suddenly grabs my hair to pull me off.

“Bottoms  up,” he commands, and I don’t hesitate. I throw myself down on the bed, does a little prep work, then whispers in my ear. “Ready?”

“Oh, fuck yeah, daddy,” I reply, and then he rams it home. He seriously pounds me into the mattress. Hell, if this one is memory foam, it’s going to have stories to tell for centuries. Although it’s not. It’s just a hotel mattress, but something about lying face down and taking a really hard dicking from a really hot guy just… rustles my jimmys. Well, my prostate.

As usual, right as Tyty announces what he’s about to do, I clench up tighter than a landlord on deposit refund day and quiver like the city did during the quake and then we’re both grunting and moaning incoherently until we collapse into a silent, sweaty heap.

And… scene…

Image Source: Hotel Lexen, NoHo, CA © 2020 Jon Bastian

Friday Free-for-All #7

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the most annoying noise?

Let me get two classics out of the way: fingernails on a chalkboard and rubbing a balloon don’t really bother me. Anyway, the thing that really skeeves people out with the chalkboard isn’t the sound. It’s empathizing with what dragging your fingernails across a surface might do to them.

It’s not our ears that hurt at the noise. It’s our fingers that cringe at the thought of having a nail ripped off.

I’m also tempted to mention country and (anything)-metal music, except that since it’s attempting to be music, it doesn’t really qualify as noise, because it’s too organized.

I could go political and say “Any words out of the mouth of the current tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” but I try to avoid those as much as possible so that they won’t annoy me.

This goes for any ridiculous, inflammatory, hateful, conspiratorial, or utterly stupid words to come out of the mouth of anyone, and those come from all sides.

Working my way up on the annoying scale, number three has to be the alarm clock in the morning. Why? Because it’s the sound that tells me, “Okay, wake up from those interesting dreams, get out of your nice warm bed, and go get ready for the day.”

The only mitigating factor is that I use the annoyingness to counteract the fact that I’m not a morning person, and I have two alarms set. One is the alarm in the bedroom with the standard “Beep beep beep” and nine minute snooze, although I’m more forgiving to it, because it also serves as my white noise machine when I’m going to sleep.

The other alarm is my phone, which I leave plugged in on my desk out in the living room, and it’s set to an alarm ringtone called “Donkey” that I find to be completely obnoxious. But that’s the entire point. When it starts to go off, it gets me out of bed and out into the living room to turn it off, and that’s usually enough to keep me on my feet.

Usually.

But that’s purposeful annoyance. Number two on the scale is purposeless annoyance and if you allow it to continue, you’re bad person. I’m looking at you, parents, because most annoying sound number two is a screaming child, and that covers the range from infancy on up until whenever they stop doing it which, I hope, is once they hit school and the overworked and underpaid teachers won’t put up with your crotchfruit’s shit anymore.

We’ve all experienced it, though. Sitting in a restaurant or, riding on the subway, or trying to enjoy a movie or play. Then all of a sudden, a shrill klaxon rends the air in two, our eardrums bleed, and some tiny shit in a onesie decides to exercise their lungs and vocal chords for no good reason.

Modern parenting being what it is (read: crap) the response is frequently a meek and meaningless, “Indoor voice, Jayden, indoor voice,” which accomplishes nothing. There’s that, or the eating disorder in the making response of shoving a juice box or carrot stick or other treat in the kid’s face to shut them up.

Okay, I get it. The direct response of going all drill sergeant and shouting “Shut the fuck up, you little asshole!” right in the kid’s face is frowned upon, but if you’re in a public space, the immediate response should be to evacuate. Grab that thing — they’re portable — and haul it as far away from people as possible.

“Baby rooms” in movie theaters were the best innovation to ever hit the industry.

The funny thing, though, is that some people maintain this tendency for life, and this brings me to most annoying sound number one: A large group of people being loud and shrill in conversation while being totally unaware of it.

In other words, the adult version of the screaming infant.

My weekend job is doing box office for an improv company in the lobby of a building with a much larger theater — but if you’re a regular reader, you know that. I get to see this phenomenon all the time when they have a big crowd for their show. It’s a 360 seat theater, and once it gets over half-full, their audiences can be the worst before, after, and during intermission.

The annoyingness crosses all demographics, although I’d have to say that the absolute worst are teenage girls, because they still do the infantile screaming thing as well. And I feel sorry for you if you get within range of their actual conversations, because they are as content-free as the most blatant of clickbait “Can you believe (celebrity) looks like this now?” articles.

Of course, if you toss in some alcohol, the adults can get just as bad and loud and annoying. And yes, I’m judging you for that if I see it. Deal with it.

So I suppose that the worst noise ever would be my alarm clock waking me up to a baby in a screaming match with his teen-age sitter, and they’re both drunk. Hey, it could be worse.

No. It couldn’t.

So what noise is most annoying to you?