Black Ribbon Award

Month: July, 2017



Last week, Jacobite magazine published an essay of mine centered on fra Girolamo Savonarola. The essay served a couple of functions. First to make the case that Savonarola, who was burned at the stake in 1498, has an undervalued contemporary appeal, specifically in his zeal for Godly moral reform of a society steeped in corrupt secular worldliness. I did this by showing the similarities between the friar and certain strains of the punk movement—not only in his unvarnished righteousness but also his use of youth to implement his agenda. Second, then, was to demonstrate how a predictable pattern of social rebellion emanates from unpredictable sources. This made for confusing reading, no doubt, not least of all because many readers were forced to wrap their heads around Krishnacore. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. An essay can balance multiple priorities and still be coherent. Though I still feel that there is room for expansion on the broader point.

One of the few responses I got pointed out that, for all the moving parts involved, the scope of the essay was still very narrow. I had, according to this tweeter, overemphasized the strident earnestness of Fugazi at the expense of the more ironic critiques of Dead Kennedys. I may yet write on Dead Kennedys, whose Swiftian brand of punk appeals to me and is vital, but that entails a different essay entirely as they—like their even more idiosyncratic Bay Area peers Flipper—were more literary than movementarian. But something did go unwritten, so I’m going to write it here.


I wonder if there is an alternate timeline where Thomas Merton had not died suddenly by freak electrocution in 1968. That cynical adage—maybe originated in Johnny Rotten, maybe not—that death is a “good career move” for once does not apply here. Maybe that’s not the case for Merton himself, but in exiting the earth as he did, the work he left behind has, like the Vatican II reforms then being undertaken, become prisoner to a generation. He exists now as an icon of a limited triumph rather than as a guide one might seek through endless troubles. How Merton would have weaved through the mutating turmoil of the 1970s and beyond is a seductive speculation. He would doubtless have been more challenged, but I think not fruitlessly.

Much of what we know of the classic stereotype of punks—their filth, their rudeness, their sloganeering mode of speech and thought, their radicalism, also their filth—is derived primarily from Crass, a band which existed from 1977 to around 1984. Yet Crass was very unusual among its contemporaries. The band’s founder, Penny Rimbaud (nee Jeremy John Ratter), then age 34, had spent the previous decade in a cottage commune in the Essex countryside so isolated that it took days for news of the moon landing to reach them. In that time, Rimbaud and his fellow artists had several bands, happenings, festivals, and poems behind them. Crass was less a musical act than it was a multimedia articulation of a political program. Indeed, compared to the more tonal politics of other bands—Sex Pistols were contrarian, The Clash romantic, Killing Joke existential—Crass was a concise, if brute, argument for anarchism, pacifism, direct action, feminism, and rabid anticlericalism. Their albums were manifestos that included screeds, careful visual language, and pranks that nearly destroyed the planet. More broadly, however, was their ideal of living outside society, subsisting on their own means to reach their own ends. “There is no authority but yourself.”

“[T]hey were in a certain sense anarchists,” Thomas Merton wrote in 1960, “and it will do no harm to think of them in that light. They were men who did not believe in letting themselves be passively ruled and guided by a decadent state, and who believed that there was a way of getting along without slavish dependence on accepted, conventional values.” Merton was assessing the character of what is generally referred to as the Desert Fathers, men (and women) who, following the birth pangs of Christianity, dropped whatever they were doing as citizens of the Roman Empire or thereabouts to pursue a reduced state of seclusion, manual labor, prayer, fasting, and meditation. “Driven by furies out from men and lands,” wrote fifth century Roman poet Rutilius Namantianus, “A credulous exile skulking in the dark/Thinking, poor fool, that heaven feeds on filth.”

The Desert Fathers, like Savonarola, are an easy mark for projection and allusion, perhaps easier because even the most illustrious of their number—St. Anthony the Great—rises only so high above the cluster. But they’ve been making it easy for centuries. St. Augustine was moved to tears by their example and then to Christianity. St. Benedict formulated his Rule after them, organizing and perpetuating monasticism by leaps and bounds. Ditto Sts. Jerome and Francis. It is either too easy to overstate or to overlook how meager their backgrounds and ambitions were in comparison. Some came down from nobility, others up from slavery. Some had spouses and others were prostitutes. Many could not read, but somehow managed to internalize the Scriptures. They did not seek ordination or ministry, and if so then with the greatest reluctance. They were not interested in institutionalization, but in living out the Gospel.

As such, the Desert Fathers were not a doctrinal group. Much of their teaching, such as it is, survives in the form of homiletic bites, nearly all recorded secondhand, passed down and spread around for centuries. Merton has translated a selection of them. A truncated edition of Benedicta Ward’s translation for Penguin is somewhat more comprehensive, dividing sayings by subject: quiet, compunction, self-control, lust, humility, non-judgment, fortitude, discretion, unceasing prayer, hospitality, visions, etc. Some are quite straightforward:

Some brothers ask Marcarius, “How should we pray?” He said, “There is no need to talk much in prayer. Reach out your hands often and say, ‘Lord have mercy on me, as you will and as you know.’ But if conflict troubles you say, ‘Lord, help me.’ He knows what is best for us, and has mercy.”

Others are a bit more involved:

A brother was tested by temptation in Scetis. The enemy brought into his mind the memory of a beautiful woman which troubled him deeply. By God’s providence a visitor came from Egypt. When they met to talk, he told the brother that his wife was dead (she was the woman about whom the monk was tempted). When he heard the news, he put on his cloak at night and went to the place where he had heard she was buried. He dug in the place, and wiped blood from her corpse on his cloak and when he returned he kept it in his cell. When it smelt too bad, he put it in front of him and said to his temptation, “Look, this is what you desire. You have it now, be content.” So he punished himself with the smell until his passions died down.

It’s very easy to give a certain pathological reading to such passages, as the Amazon reviewer who inspired my purchase of the book clearly did: “The Desert Fathers are concerned with their own souls, but they are okay if the rest of the world goes to Hell. In fact, they seem more concerned with avoiding Hell than going to Heaven.” Fair to an extent. Not everything included is a source of wisdom, but some may read the second passage and still take something from it. Finding, perhaps, that it articulates the pressure and struggle to maintain chastity in a culture that has discarded it. One of the challenges of religious life today, and also of reading this book, is picturing the folly, fervor, and difficulty of early Christianity. Not simply the state of persecution—though that is often conjured—but of living by the Good News itself. The Desert Fathers lay bare the wild vicissitudes of holiness in practice.

“They did not reject society with a proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men,” Merton continues. “The Desert Fathers declined to be ruled by men, but had no desire to rule over themselves. … The society they sought was one where all men were truly equal, where the only authority under God was the charismatic authority of wisdom, experience and love.” In the end, a thesis’s true strength isn’t that it can be confirmed or reconfirmed, but that, once confirmed, it can be pushed. To declare something as the “new punk,” even if that punk is centuries old, is to do a disservice to the spirit that compels it and the other destinations that it could reach.

In the early 1990s, Justin Marler of the stoner metal band Sleep quit his music career and spent seven years as an Eastern Orthodox monk. During that time he published a zine called Death to the World to evangelize to other punks. “The last true rebellion is death to the world. To be crucified to the world and the world to us,” Marler wrote in the first issue.

This counter culture of Punx is something that a handful of truth seekers can easily identify with, for it is very clear that the world is coming to a close. To be a true punk is to have nothing to do with that element which kills, hurts and causes pain, but to cauterize wounds. To be in the world but not of the world.

If anything ties these strings together, it’s in leading to a way out; or if not a way out, then to a way up. People are attracted to punk by a sense of disquiet. Certain other people are attracted to the idea of punk through yearning for disquiet. But one cannot go from disquiet to disquiet and expect growth, let alone autonomy, just as one cannot go on inventing norms just for the purpose of shattering them. Disquiet and yearning, moreover, are not hostages to one mentality; they require their own nurturing, because they are not useless. In fact they are essential, equal to if not greater than certainty and righteousness. Humanity would atrophy without them.

In the previous essay I had already taxed myself pretty desperately beyond my ken in making religious prescriptions. But the point I made then remains unchanged here. Young people are seeking religious renewal. Churches may rejoice that the time of being “spiritual but …” or imbibing in ritual with no strings attached is going into its death throes. But churches with their own forms of stasis, whether in struggles with modernity or petty fractiousness, might not be the immediate sources of correction. Renewal does not automatically entail a return or a “reform of the reform,” sometimes it is an assemblage or an exploration, a kind of rewinding in order to fast forward. It’s the kind of thing that’s going to happen because it’s the kind of thing that always happens.




Like everyone, I am subject to fits of what some call “black dog” moments. Moments in which the various tribulations life throws my way are less bearable than usual. They press on my skull, slow my pace, paralyze my thoughts, and embank me in so low a state that redemption seems if not impossible than hardly worth the effort. Again, like everyone. And like everyone I have my method of coping. Maybe it’s not the best, but it’s likely not the worst. I like to find a quiet place, a nice spot by a creek, for instance, where I close my eyes and run through a series of what-ifs. What if things had been different? What if I had been less neurologically afflicted? What if I was more socially aware? What if I was charming? What if I was better looking? (Or just had better hair?) What if I was more ambitious or disciplined? What if I was less fear-stricken? What if Queen Elizabeth had not defeated the Spanish Armada?

I’d like to think that such an alternate timeline is out there for these questions. One where this blog, and all the writing that preceded it, does not exist because I have a more suitable profession, maybe as a programmer for a startup, based in Santa Monica with a ragtag bunch of coders. After working on our sure-to-be-game-changing app, we head out at 3:30 to longboard down Venice Beach and drink some Lagunitas. We each play our best devil’s advocate in favor of single-payer healthcare. Then I hit the I-10 back to Echo Park to the bungalow I share with my long-term girlfriend, a gestalt therapist who writes essays about our open relationship for Hello Giggles and Salon, and two cats. I listen to Uncle Tupelo on vinyl before I hit the gym (Equinox is the wrong amount of phony so I just go to the Y). I meet some friends later at the bar where we drink more Lagunitas and lament the younger generation’s addiction to screens. A girl from Pepperdine confuses me for a member of Parquet Courts, but I “respect women” and play it cool. I’m on Twitter but only tweet maybe twice a week, most of those are retweets of Alain de Botton, Stephen Colbert, Christiane Amanpour, and Nietzsche quotes. My name is not Chris but probably Bradley or Webster. I go by “Dane” for reasons I cannot recall. I was raised Episcopal but prefer to go the Interfaith Atrium to meditate and discuss karma over Lagunitas. I don’t need therapy, but I like to go anyway because I think perspective is important.

But of course alternate timeline does not always mean preferable. Soon, Los Angeles would be in chaos. Its citizens running rampant in the streets, looting shops, burning piles of tires, and attacking and maiming one another with no rhyme or reason. My bungalow would be ransacked, my laptop smashed, my two cats impaled in the yard on sharpened croquet sticks, my records disordered and defiled. I’d escape north with my girlfriend provided I did not bargain her away already for some gas and Lagunitas. As the chaos spreads, I’d be last seen roaming Death Valley in search of an outlet for a smashed Android. The cause of this breakdown would be hotly debated for decades to come, but I’d know precisely the source. None other than Tommy Wiseau, director, writer, producer, and star of The Room, who in a fit of ego decided to let the cat out of the bag, preferably with the utmost subtlety, that he knew it, all of it. The joke? He was in on it. His masterpiece? Not “the worst film ever made” but the spectacle of it all: the cult obsession, the books, the films about the film. All of it.

I hope, anyway, that that is the exclusive fate of my alternate life, for I fear that such a devastation is every bit as possible here. Because on top of climate change, supervolcanoes, and thermonuclear war, the revelation that Tommy Wiseau is not the entertainingly clumsy outsider artist of international renown but a cold and guileful showman is one last disaster we do not need. The workaday normie may chuckle at such an insinuation, but a whole swath of the creative class, and their sophisticated millers-about, have their perceptions so wired to the former that it fortifies a worldview unto itself. Any slight suggestion to the contrary acting like a Death Star-level design flaw.

When I first saw Tommy Wiseau, I did think he was a creation. It was in 2009 and he was appearing on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as himself. Tim and Eric had an almost Arbusian flair for filling their show with awkward and unconventional performers, for which Wiseau fit the bill in spades. Even when they showed the incomprehensible flower shop scene from The Room I still wasn’t sure if it was real. When I read about the film on The AV Club later that month, I was finally filled in. By the time I actually watched The Room in a friend’s basement I understood the ins and outs of it and its phenomenon.

The experience was less fun than if I had been flying blind, but I was still amused. How could I not be? Watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a primary mechanism for getting through my inept childhood. And like all nerds who were finely attuned, for good and ill, to their imperfections, I leapt toward all things imperfect, regardless as to whether they reflected me or elevated me. It was through this portal that I discovered many of my present interests: noir, horror, drive-in culture, punk rock, zine-making. All of independent culture lives in this nether realm, and because The Room is more independent than most, its sophisticated audience was practically assured. In fact, Room fandom has become a paradoxical marker of sophistication, like being blocked by someone kind of famous on Twitter.

In narrative terms, The Room is a mercifully straightforward film, telling of a relationship that deteriorates and leaves a man so hurt and isolated that he commits suicide. In production terms it is less simple. Everything that has been said about how poorly made The Room is has been confirmed over and over again. It is demonstrably bad in almost every aspect. Tommy Wiseau possesses neither technical training in nor natural talent for the cinematic medium. Many, in fact, look on the film as though it should not exist, or that its existence is the result of a collective cultural unconscious being made flesh. Things just don’t happen without a reason.

In the 1999 Simpsons episode “Mom and Pop Art,” a botched attempt to build a backyard barbecue pit gains Homer entry into the art world when it is mistaken for a sculpture. He is hailed as a genius by the likes of Jasper Johns (guest appearing of course) and much to the dismay of Marge, a trained but unsuccessful painter. But when his repetitive work wears on his admirers, he wows everyone—Marge included—by flooding Springfield. The accidental genius trope is a common enough one in comedy; in fact The Simpsons revisited it from a literary end with Moe as a brilliant poet. It speaks to the peculiar relationship that sometimes sparks between artists who may or may not be outsiders and outsiders who make art. The difference doesn’t seem very stark or significant on the surface when one has a grasp of art’s vast and general history, and even in the face of classic examples of the relationship it still doesn’t seem very unique. That’s mostly because the relationship has a use so limited it seems almost protected.

While I hesitate to declaim certain forms of art to be more legitimate than others, it is unavoidable that certain forms of art have a broader, more consistent appeal to the point that standards of some form are made clear. Art is the extension of the artist’s priorities, experience, and skill, but artists also recognize a canon, which they invariably comment upon whether in homage or defiance. Francis Bacon, for instance, had no formal training as a painter, but used classical portraiture and photography to refine his craft. Art also has “things” to “say” about “life” that can be easily registered, even while not wholly correct, through the unique framing of the artist. If imagination can be chained by discipline and still walk, then it is canonical art. “Outsider art” recognizes no such strictures, existing entirely for its own sake, and hence gives off the impression of naivety. Sitting as outsider art’s patron saint is Henry Darger, a Chicago custodian with a history of being institutionalized. His magnum opus is The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, which he worked on for most of his adult life. At over 15,000 single-spaced pages it is both beautiful and disturbing. It was also not known about until after Darger had died when his landlords discovered it and his other manuscripts. Free of the drive or knowledge of the promotional arts, there is an air of the happenstance, even the fateful, in the outsider artist. While Daniel Johnston is without question a good songwriter, I’m left to wonder how his present notoriety would have played out had he not been working at a McDonald’s in 1980s Austin.

Wiseau is not gifted to the same extent as Darger and Johnston, but his cluelessness makes him appear as though cut from the same cloth. The original 2003 release of The Room was marked by a single billboard ad over Highland Avenue in Hollywood displaying Wiseau’s unsettlingly vacant stare. Of Wiseau’s background we have little to go on, but we know at least that he is not from the United States and gained just enough understanding of American norms to know that they exist but not how they function. The Room is painfully earnest; in fact that is its one artistic saving grace. “Viewers leave The Room with a raw impression of Wiseau’s alienation from (and hostility toward) the women who have bruised him,” Scott Tobias wrote, while “viewers leave Birdemic knowing nothing about [director James] Nguyen that can’t be broadcast through a megaphone.” Whatever The Room’s faults, there’s no overlooking its purity of vision. And purity is a creative attribute prized by the impure. In addition to Tim and Eric, Wiseau has developed a following among generation X and millennial comedy performers like Kristen Bell, Alec Baldwin, Seth Rogen, and James Franco. A cynic has an ideal climate. He or she can revel in its unadulterated vulnerability while reframing it within his or her own joke as he or she sees fit.

But The Room has its own fateful aspect: what if Tommy Wiseau didn’t have any money? Wiseau has been coy about the precise source(s) of his funding for The Room, the budget of which ballooned to $6 million. There was mention of importing clothing form South Korea, as well other entrepreneurial and real estate ventures that suggest phenomenal business acumen, but it is all pure speculation until Wiseau decides to articulate himself. More fascinating than the film itself is the process by which it was made. Thanks to his costar Greg Sestero, who wrote a memoir of the experience, we have a better idea of it. Wiseau exerted total control over production, with no one to overrule any of his decisions, such as filming completely gratuitous scenes and repeatedly firing cast members and whole crews rather than just himself from either (though there is a bizarre feud over directorial credit). It’s almost as if, for Wiseau, product mattered less than production. That he had the ability and resources to wield power on set makes him a filmmaker. And here, Wiseau has a point.

True independence is hard to come by, and the feeling is often better than the results. James Franco has channeled the fruits of his talent as a comic actor into a series of wasteful vanity projects. He acquires advanced degrees like designer handbags; he published a collection of sub-writing workshop-quality short stories and starred in the adaptation; he directed forgettable cinematic carnival rides out of Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. He appeared on General Hospital over the course of several episodes and wrote it off as “performance art.”

Wiseau has one thing in common with some of the most revered cinematic stylists today: he is not very prolific. Once The Room was reborn into its current infamy, Wiseau rebranded it as a “black comedy,” albeit with little success. A decade after his debut, Wiseau produced a series called The Neighbors, a sort of bizarro Melrose Place by way of the multi-camera sitcom in which he stars as the both the building manager and a petty criminal. Originally considered for Adult Swim, it is streaming on Hulu. “[Wiseau has] become a beloved midnight-movie staple, a carnival barker who plays up his ‘mysterious weirdo’ persona for monetary gain and fan service,” goes the F-grade AV Club review. “As a result, he seems to be counting on his many devotees to unquestioningly follow along on The Neighbors’ misguided experiment in low-budget entertainment. But whatever lightning in a bottle that birthed the man’s unprecedented success is long gone.”

Agency, in a way, is more crucial to the artistic life than independence. For those who are steeped in creative industry—with firmer ambition, clearer direction, and a supply of good fortune—following instincts has few obstacles. The outsider artist has less maneuverability, however, being dependent on various “mentors” who understand the world into which they have stumbled. Escaping them seems impossible. Critics plucked Jean-Michel Basquiat from graffiti art obscurity, dubbing him with honors like “the radiant child;” he jumped from art dealer to art dealer producing numerous but increasingly predictable paintings to fund the heroin habit that killed him at age 27. Not that actually finding agency is any better. For decades the identity of the reclusive Texas musician “Jandek” was a matter of notable if not heated speculation. After the release of the 2003 documentary Jandek on Corwood, interest reached a fever pitch, the redhead frequently seen on the record covers—Sterling Smith—started performing live for the first time. A tribute album followed, then everyone lost interest.

Whether Wiseau was trying to improve his work or capitalize on his notoriety, he hit a wall in doing so. His talent, to be sure, played a significant role here, but so too did the onlookers who erected it in the first place. No one asked for The Room to be made. But once it was made, people gladly accepted it for their own whims. Assessing Joy Division, Peter Saville said, “The two works are Unknown Pleasures and Closer, and that’s it. Everything else is just merchandising.” The same, for all intents and purposes, applies to Wiseau and The Room, though switch out merchandising with commentary. A film like The Room never seems truly finished, at least not until everyone has had their say, whether from spoon-throwing fans, The AV Club, RiffTrax, the Nostalgia Critic, or myself.

But to let Wiseau comment on anything, let alone through his own work (admittedly he never clearly comments on his work), seems unfathomable. We need not hear what he may have to say on, I don’t know, the state of cinematic art, the role commerce plays in it, or even the emotional extremes to which we are pulled by love. That’s too much noise, and also quite dangerous, particularly now that James Franco is directing and starring in an adaptation of Sestero’s memoir The Disaster Artist. Perhaps the alternate timeline is the preferable timeline after all, one where I would be spared a world destroyed several kilotons over by the most catastrophic chain reaction of meta in the history of postmodernism.

Funding for this post has been provided in part by Pabst Brewing Company.


Trudeau partriation

On July 1 of this year, the members of the sizeable polity directly to the north of ours assembled under their leafy banner to pay homage to a momentous event. 150 years ago, the British North America Act granted the colonial satellites of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick to confederate into a dominion of provinces. The arrangement granted the newly formed nation comparatively greater sovereignty in determining its social destiny, provided, of course, that the monarch may appoint their head of state and that they submit any constitutional amendment they may want to the British Parliament for approval. Such triumphs, however limited, are not won alone or without considerable struggle, but one must wonder how things would have otherwise gone had Canada been bereft of John Alexander Macdonald at that moment a century and a half ago.

John A. Macdonald, born in Scotland, was a British Columbian lawyer of exceptional alcoholism. Also he was a formidable colonial politician, serving as Attorney General of Canada West on and off from 1854 to 1867. After several years of complex coalition juggling, his stewardship of confederation granted him the inaugural position of Prime Minister of Canada for nearly 19 years. The parentage of this success can be derived from Macdonald’s earthbound political pragmatism and his very simple vision. He was able to weather harsh opposition to his designs in part because they always seemed so quaint compared to the conflicts being borne out just below them. He and his allies looked on at the events of the Civil War in utter horror. What was an amusing if brutish sports match to the British was to their moose-cohabitating subjects a cannibalizing failed state. With the Union victory, his fears simply went from chaos to invasion. He looked upon Abraham Lincoln’s genius and said, “No, no we don’t need that. Thank you.” Not that Lincoln would have blamed him.

But out of Macdonald’s triumph came a tragic irony. Maybe not tragic exactly, but at least a nagging condition that formed a symbiotic relationship with its neighbor. One looks upon Canada with a sense of dispirited inevitability in its legacy as a nation of contrast. It is as if a law from the cosmos itself governs that we see Canada and America side by side as we would see mediocrity and genius, caution and risk, near-sightedness and 20/20 clarity, Daedalus and Icarus, and so on. This arrangement seemed more or less amenable to Canadians for much of their history. It took nearly a century to find someone who would try to transgress against the cosmos.

Before Pierre Elliot Trudeau became the 15th Prime Minister of Canada in 1968, his notoriety rested on being an independently wealthy, intermittently employed, unabashedly radical, devoutly Catholic, and singularly Quebecois intellectual. He once showed up to the 1949 Asbestos strike driving a Jaguar and at Murdochville in 1957 wearing shorts and sandals. He wrote an essay defending a people’s right to assassinate their tyrannical sovereign. Maurice Duplessis, authoritarian Premier of Quebec and friend of Trudeau’s father, called him “a subversive.” He would not read anything on the Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books without a Bishop’s permission. He sat out World War II. His election to parliament, and subsequent appointment as Minister of Justice, in 1965 at age 46 may well have been his first real job. Charles Taylor, his New Democratic opponent, was forced to keep his day job. That such a person could ascend so quickly in Canadian federal politics seems rather fanciful, but like Macdonald his moment was well timed.

The 1968 Liberal leadership convention saw Trudeau compete against eight other parliamentarians, some with many decades of experience on him. One, Paul Martin, had been a member for over 30 years and served in multiple cabinet posts including Minister of National Health and Welfare and Minister of External Affairs. By the fourth ballot, Trudeau had won with 1,203 votes. A few factors contributed to this, one being the spirit of the 1960s, which not even Canada could resist; in fact many seemed quite pleased that they, too, could have a Kennedy. The Liberals were also unable to win majorities in the last two elections. Though more salient was Trudeau’s background. The Liberal Party has a tradition of alternating between French and English leaders. Trudeau was not only French, but also a sharp defender of federalism in a province becoming increasingly antagonistic to it. On the eve of the election separatists stormed the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade, pelting him with bottles and rocks as he sat on the grandstand. He refused to budge, however, and the stunt backfired. The Liberals gained 26 seats to win a majority.

The resulting character of Trudeau’s premiership can be summed up by Trudeau’s own guiding principle of governance: “reason over passion.” The slogan’s oddness is twofold. Whether Canada is reason poor, it could hardly be accused of being passion rich. Moreover, Trudeau governed himself almost entirely through passion. In fact “reason over passion” is exactly the principle a passionate person would seek to emulate. “Coldly, let us be intelligent,” he put it more strangely. Sure, he was quite put together in his speech invoking the War Measures Act during the October Crisis of 1970, which gave police power “to search and arrest without warrant, to detain suspected persons without the necessity of laying specific charges immediately, and to detain persons without bail.” “These are strong powers,” he said almost mournfully, “and I find them as distasteful as I am sure do you. They are necessary, however, to permit the police to deal with persons who advocate or promote the violent overthrow of our democratic system.”

But those remarks have been overshadowed by Trudeau’s more defiant, off the cuff statements to a reporter on the street. “Well there’s a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in the society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don’t like the looks of—“ The reporter interrupts: “At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?” “Well, just watch me,” was the Prime Minister’s infamous reply. Outbursts such as these would be increasingly relied on throughout Trudeau’s 15-year tenure. Some, like his pirouette behind Queen Elizabeth, were carefully rehearsed. Others, such as telling a protestor in Saskatchewan that if he didn’t stop throwing wheat at him he’d “kick you right in the ass,” were not.

To be Trudeau in Canada, it seemed, was to be restricted. Perhaps even to be imprisoned. He loathed parliamentary debate and one time became so frustrated that he allegedly told members to “fuck off,” though he denied it. “What I overlooked was the fact that he himself had absolutely no administrative experience whatsoever,” said Trudeau’s Minister of Communications, Eric Kierans who quit the cabinet in 1971 and later joined the New Democrats. Trudeau relied more on civil servants than his party and lost his majority when he opted not to campaign during the 1972 election. His political survival can be in some way attributed to a feckless opposition party that could never conclusively game him in votes. The only rival who truly challenged him was René Lévesque, a broadcaster turned separatist firebrand and Premier of Quebec.

When surveying Trudeau’s achievements, one finds a few home runs rather than many base hits. Though many more factors were in play, Quebec’s first “sovereignty” referendum failed on his watch. He patriated the constitution—and brought a farther reaching Charter of Rights and Freedoms—while derailing Quebec’s derailment attempts in the process. He entrenched multiculturalism as a fact of Canadian life, as well as the metric system. Trudeau was at his most assured when enacting a sweeping gesture or imparting a grand vision of Canada’s place in the world. But assured does not always mean best. Canadians seemed mostly to tolerate his civics lectures, but world leaders were much less impressed. His attempts to mediate in the Cold War during his final term came off as naïve, to say the least.

Canadians were less pleased with Trudeau’s management of what they actually cared about. To have David Frum tell it, he vastly overleveraged government spending amidst inflation and recession. After promising not to impose wage and price controls in 1974, he did exactly that in 1975. More controversial, though, was the National Energy Program:

Most other Western countries redirected themselves toward more fiscal restraint after 1979. Counting on abundant revenues from oil, the Trudeau government kept spending. Other Western governments began to worry more about attracting international investment. Canada repelled investors with arbitrary confiscations. … Under the National Energy Policy [sic], Canada was up-regulating as the US, Britain, and West Germany deregulated. All of these mistakes together contributed to the extreme severity of the 1982 recession. Every one of them was Pierre Trudeau’s fault.

The NEP was also Trudeau’s most damning testament of his federalism-over-provincialism bent. Oil producing provinces, namely Alberta, took the NEP as an imposition by the federal government on provincial control of its resources. Relations between eastern and western Canada chilled markedly, resulting in a regional right wing wave of the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance, which propelled Stephen Harper, and the provincial Wildrose Party.

Pierre Trudeau considered himself a “citizen of the world” and carried himself as such, with a wanderlust that was unquenchable. (I can’t tell if his 1960 jaunt to Maoist China, at the CPC’s invitation, was utterly clueless or wryly self-aware.) But in truth, Trudeau’s most important constituent was not the Canadian or the Earthling, but his past self.

One of the few reminders of the politician’s humanity is the incessant need to shake off their pre-election civilian identities, if not to conceal a flawed shame then to at least accept that they’ve ascended—or descended—to a new level of being wherein little of what they learned or experienced really applies anymore. Not so Trudeau, who spent his political career more or less confirming his theoretical past. His tenure was successful provided he did not betray himself. “Canada” was a neat idea that didn’t properly exist outside of his own head and so sought to make it. Why it was called “Canada” or why it had oil-soaked prairies on the one end and the French on the other or why it was bound to such shackles as “commerce” were bewitching but trivial mysteries compared to the possibilities of birthing his thought experiment into a higher realm of transcendent genius. Of course one person’s “genius” is another person’s “Americanization.” “The Charter [of Rights and Freedoms],” Seymour Martin Lipset wrote, “makes Canada a more individualistic and litigious culture, one that will place more stress on the enforcement of personal rights through adversary procedures.”

But it does not matter in the end whether Trudeau had discovered the Canadian capacity for genius or merely cribbed it. He tampered in such a way as to undo a regional balance, not altogether intended or easily understood but delicately maintained all the same. The Daedalus state had gone Icarus, and if the damage from the sun could not be reversed then the balance needed to be restored through other means.

To speak of the American genius is not to speak of the United States in rarified terms at the expense of Canada, but only to reconfirm what is factual. Genius is as dangerous as it is rare, but the American social engine can be fueled by nothing less. Indeed, Americans have subjected themselves to something akin to a lottery system combined with a guessing game in teasing out who will be best suited to meet this demand. But the United States is either unwilling or unable to come down to a more modest level for any reason, so then it must be brought down.

In February, Lana Del Rey pledged her support to a national effort to remove Donald Trump from the White House by way of occult ritual. This effort will fail not so much because witchcraft is false but because there are far greater forces at work. Imagine a force hardened, embittered, and restless; a force that has divined its power from being more aware of the faults of its nemesis than the nemesis itself. Such a force will be in search of the most proper vessel to unfurl its designs in restoring the continental balance. It will fortify the vessel with whatever means can be mustered until it has ensured total debasement. The vessel will not be a genius but will possess a certain charisma to carry it over any potential obstruction, preventing the attainment of proper knowledge of its limits. Whether or not such a vessel is presently in the halls of American power is something that, if all goes according to plan, will not be figured out until it is too late. But any such vessel would be instantly recognizable to Canadians to the point of being uncanny, and they will know that the weights are shifting and that for Americans “too late” is still very far off.