Tag Archives: Anarchism

Dear Tom: Missions Possible and Impossible

8 Aug
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Your mission, Tom, should you choose to accept it….

By Jack Halberstam

Your mission, Tom Cruise, should you choose to accept it, is to self-destruct within 5 seconds of reading this message.

Oh, you did that already, several times, and in public, and on Oprah and in documentaries about the Fascist Church of Scientology. Still, please do it again and mean it this time. Consider all rumors about your homosexuality to be null and void, you are way too ordinary to be homosexual. Also, you dress badly. And, furthermore, pursuant to this message, you will no longer be a lesbian boy idol. Someone get the message to Ellen please.

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As for your latest masterpiece, Mission Impossible 47, it sucks. FYI Tom, “masterpiece” is not a compliment, don’t get excited, definitely don’t start jumping around like a puppy on sofas the way you did when people had to hear about you kidnapping your last wife, Katie Holmes. Your new film sucks so bad, Tom, because we have to watch you supposedly saving the world from the bad guys. Who are the bad guys, Tom? Are they anarchists? Are they? Really? What? Do you know what anarchy is, what it means, what it stands for? Do you get that anarchists reject hierarchy, and property and believe in self-governance and call attention to abuses of state power? Do you know what you are Tom? You are a guy who jumps out of planes and thinks that this qualifies you to save the world. Do us a favor next time – how about don’t save us from the anarchists? Please.

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Tom, Mission Impossible Fallout is a nonsense film with a nonsense title. The only fallout is the nuclear level stench that the film puts out as it tries to offer audiences clever twists and turns on a very bad plot. Oh, and you fall out of planes and helicopters a lot. Let’s think about the plot of this movie, Tom, and see together if we can understand where it falls out with even its own premises. Ok, bear with me Tom, there is a lot of summary here and I want you to follow along with me, focus…no stop looking around for someone who needs your help, I need your help, I need you to explain this nutso plot to me so that I can understand how and why in the age of renewed right wing populism and fascist patriarchy, anarchy becomes the problem afflicting what you like to call in this film “the world.”

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OK, here we go, a summary: a rogue group of operatives (Tom, you played Ethan Hunt, right? A man who is both hunted, haunted and hunting…clever…and then there is Benji played by the desperately trying to be funny Simon Pegg, and Luther played by Ving Rhames, who, in this film is essentially a Black male punching bag whom you keep saving to prove your morality – so good of you to save the Black man when his role usually is to die off quickly and leave the white guys to save the world, but you saved him! Wow…deep). As I was saying Tom, look at me, as I was saying, you lead a group of rogue operatives known as the Impossible Missions Force as they try to prevent some bad anarchists from obtaining plutonium and using it to blow everyone up. The Impossible Missions Force…great name Tom…let’s shorten it to IMF to make it clear for whom you work. Do you know what the IMF is Tom? Ask Siri…no not your daughter, that’s Suri, although she probably knows the answer, Siri – Siri, what is IMF?

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“Here’s what I found: IMF stands for the International Monetary Fund. The IMF promotes international financial stability and monetary cooperation. It also facilitates international trade, promotes employment and sustainable economic growth, and helps to reduce global poverty. The IMF is governed by and accountable to its 189 member countries.”

Sounds ok Tom, right? The IMF sounds like a good thing to you, maybe – reducing global poverty? Gooood. Sustainable economic growth? Gooood. Wrong, not good. The IMF basically allows wealthy countries to impose neoliberal capitalism on poor countries. The same countries responsible for creating shit shows in the global economy (think Germany) then gets to impose restrictions on bad “lazy” countries (think Greece). Not good, Tom, not good. So, you are the IMF and you work for the government? Sort of? Not sure, not really?

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Who is the government in this film, Tom? Is it that Black CIA officer, Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett), who keeps bugging you and following you and assigns to you a childminder by the name of Walker (played by a hunky Henry Cavill)? Or is the government Walker himself who is keeping tabs on you, but who is also a buff and better version of you and, just in case the audience ends up liking him better than you, is also ultimately revealed to be a loser anarchist??

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Or is it Alec Baldwin’s character, Alan Hunley, your boss, who shows up to stop you from going rogue but then, twist after twist, ends up assisting you in going your own maverick way? Is he the government Tom? Is it the lady on the motorbike, Ilsa, who keeps hunting you (the hunter gets hunted) but always holds back from shooting you once you are in her sights? Is it the White Widow who seems to represent a shadowy terrorist group but actually turns out to be working with the CIA? But if Ilsa is the government, and so is the White Widow then who is the enemy? Is the government good or bad in this story Tom? No, don’t think about it, don’t look to your daughter Suri to help, even Siri is no use here. Simple question, is the government good or bad? If good, then why do you keep going rogue and why don’t they trust you? If bad, and you oppose them, and want to be free of their surveillance, and in fact want to go it alone on behalf of ‘freedom’ or some such vague concept, well, then in that case Tom, are you an anarchist? No, I know you are not a mutual aid anarchist or an anti-fascist anarchist, I mean duh! You are a scientologist and believe that you are a superior being in an inferior world (the plot of most Mission Impossible films). Obviously. But maybe you are a right-wing anarchist? Like Zizek? What’s that Tom? Oh, you LOVE Zizek, right, you have never heard of the IMF but you love Zizek, it is all making sense.

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Solomon Lane – an anarchist in Mission Impossible and Zizek look alike.

But wait, Tom, we have not finished the plot summary. So you are trying to stop the bad anarchists from dropping plutonium on the “world” which would create….fall out! And so, you need to impersonate one bad guy, John Lark and then kidnap another bad guy, Solomon Lane, and then hand him over to someone called the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, last seen playing another royal – Princess Margaret and wasted here because there is no one to charm because Ethan Hunt is on a mission and has no time for tomfoolery). Luckily, the hunt for John Lark led us, Tom, to one of the very best scenes in the film (I hesitate to call it a film but it has a plot, was shot on some kind of digital equipment and trades in visual imagery that overwhelms its human accompaniments). Yes, the bathroom scene where you and that hunky Henry rough up an Asian dude in a bathroom stall and then when people enter the bathroom, you pretend to be having a threesome in the stall to avoid detection.

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Niiiiiceee Tom! An arch little wink to the homo rumors that dog you (that we have declared null and void) and a postmodern moment of self-consciousness that allows us all a good giggle at the idea that you would ever masquerade as anything. Because that was the plan, right Tom, you were supposed to pretend to be John Lark and with some nifty face transferring technology, you would have gone undercover as the Asian guy. You would have fused with him, entered him, and all kinds of other metaphors for the sex you were pretending to have with him. Would you have been in yellow-face if you had actually followed through on this thoroughly racist premise? But you abandoned the whole idea pretty quickly Tom, not because of the racism but because, well you killed the guy. Dead guy, no face. Technically, of course, that was a “good” kill because he was the bad guy and you, you are so good you cannot even pretend to be bad. You are so original, you can only be you, right Tom?

Anyway, the plot thickens. Of course it does! You, being the very, very good guy that you are – we remember how you have already saved Ving Rhames several times by this point in the plot, you have killed several baddies, you consistently put your team first – overturn a plan (from the government? who is the government Tom, I know I keep asking) to kidnap the anarchist (and remind me again Tom what do they stand for?) that would result many deaths. Damn it Tom, you are SO good, you just keep saving and saving the world, one innocent at a time. I-am-so-moved. And now you must impersonate John Lark using face technology in order to meet up with more bad guys (who turn out to be the government in disguise, just saying Tom, confusing!)

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Now, this face off technology is pretty cool Tom…were it not for the fact that it has been done to death in another film, what was it called…something catchy and clever…oh yeah, Face Off, ha, that’s good, another clever film featuring a white, pseudo-homosexual (we call them faux-mo’s Tom in case you need the correct lingo ever) who is a member of the Church of Scientology and thinks he is the bomb – wassisname? Oh right, John Travolta. Is this a metaphor for some kind of sex thing you guys do in the Church Of Scientology? Face off, jerk off, stare into the eyes of other alpha male members and their members, imagine your face in their face, your eyes in their eyes, your members for ever privately communing and confirming with their members in a members only bathroom stall? But needless to say, by the second or third time you used that technology in the film Tom, I was over it. So, when you left the naughty anarchist alone with Walker, told Walker to watch him and then it turned out that, oops, Walker and Lane were in cohoots and oops wait, Lane is not Lane but Benji with a new face and oops, Alex Baldwin is not the bad government rep but a good guy there to support you….wow, I just can’t. Way too much Deus Ex Machina shit here Tom…what? Deus Ex Machina, no it is not a church thing, it is a theater thing. It is the way stupid plot can be resolved when the author has painted himself into a corner – you just introduce a moment of technical wizardry that saves the day. Remember Finding Dory? No? With your friend Ellen in it? Nobody does, Tom. Sequels Tom, fear sequels. Anyway, Finding Dory keeps painting itself into a corner because Dory was a-dory-ble precisely because she kept forgetting everything and now she remembers everything so she needs new and interesting obstacles to overcome and new ways to overcome them. In this film, the resolution comes in the form of…wait for it….a smart octopus. No, Tom, I do not think you need to hire an octopus in your film. But you do need something.

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How does Deus Ex Machina work in  Mission Impossible 47?? It works through you, dude. You are the Deus Ex Machina Tom. Whenever the moronic mission takes a wrong turn, you arrive from above, from below, on a bike, in a plane, flying a helicopter, on a cliff, in a tunnel, with a gun, or your fists, on your knees or hanging from a rope, or a ledge, but you always make it, you always get the job done, often with only one second remaining and a bad guy still loose. You do it, and you do it again, you save the day.

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And I have not even finished explaining your film to you Tom. Oh man, remember the good old days Tom, when you were just a young whipper snapper and you just wanted to have fun and and dance around in your underwear and when “risky business” meant crashing dad’s car not parachuting through a storm from 30,000 feet up? Remember back then – you still used allegorical names then – I think you played Joel Goodson…what’s that? Allegorical? Oh it just means, well, never mind Tom. I just meant that there is a pattern to your films. In fact, in Risky Business, there was also a queer theme – remember the transgender person you nearly had sex with in that film? Now that was a great film – white kid fucks up his parent’s house, gets into a relationship with a prostitute, ends up owing “bad” people money but at the end of day, still has a bright future and gets into Princeton. Wow, magic how that happens…for white boys. Now, that was your sweet spot, the cute story about innocent young white boys getting into trouble but always coming out on top! You had a good thing going Tommy boy, so why this nonsense about fighting anarchists and stopping the end of the world?

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Back in the good old days, you did not have to think about the IMF, or ask who exactly represents the government, or figure out how to juggle three women in one film without having sex with any of them or sort through why your wives leave you, often under cover of night and with much planning. And now Tom? Now, as your church tries to figure out who you should marry next, as your bulked up mid-life crisis body begins to show signs of wear and tear, as your plots contain as many contradictions as a story about why three heterosexual guys were caught in a toilet stall together, now Tom, it is time to do the right thing.

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What should you do Tom? Well, stop making these Mission Impossible films. Really stop it. But, second, if, like Samuel Beckett, you find that “I can’t go on. I’ll go on”…well, what? Who is Samuel Beckett, no he is not that Black action actor, that is Samuel Jackson, and no, Jackson is not available to play a support role in your next film, nor is Samuel Beckett. But as I was saying, if you find you must go on, here’s a plot for you: your shitty boss, Alex Baldwin’s character, has been sexually harassing the head of the CIA played by Angela Bassett, and blackmailing the White Widow and  trying to kill Ilsa, all while stymying their promotions, taking responsibility for their work and ideas and making tons more money than them. You, in the meantime, have been luring international men of mystery into public bathrooms with hunky Henry. You are so busy that you fail to see all the angry women who are lining up to take down the IMF. When you finally emerge from the restroom, no longer even able to feel your face, not even knowing any longer if it is your real face, the women have formed a rogue group and teamed up with anarchist groups to bring down global capitalism, assassinate its leadership, redistribute wealth, make health care and child care free, put a cap on earnings, abolish inheritance (all money goes back into the system), abolish prisons, make university free, figured out how to pay teachers properly, get rid of lawyers, ended marriage, oh and stopped nuclear war. All that…while you were in the bathroom with the hunk.

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But, if you really want to help people, and you really seem to want to, based upon all your Scientology videos, give your money away – some could go to Black Lives Matter to acknowledge that it is the police and not the anarchists who need to be stopped. More could go to various humanitarian crises in Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Indian occupied Kashmir and elsewhere (remember Kashmir Tom? You shot the last third of the movie there without mentioning its own ongoing struggle). More could go to help women and minorities make real films instead of these insanely expensive, sorry excuses for movies that you are involved in. You could endow a chair in sexuality studies somewhere so that people can study why people join pseudo churches to cover up whatever sexual secrets they have. You might consider funding a bunch of smart young, radical politicians to start a third party that would really go rogue in the US and would break with the super capitalism of Trump and would figure out how to redistribute wealth, how to hold banks and bankers accountable and how to rescue us from plutocratic democracy. Tell you what Tom, here’s an idea, you really can save us and the world. Take all of your wealthy friends in the 1% and put them in a helicopter – show them how to jump out with out a parachute, and if they resist, push them out. We will call it Mission Possible – Push Out and our world won’t end, but yours will. What’s that? You’ll do it if you can be reinstated as a lesbian boy idol? Ok, I will talk to Ellen and see what I can do.

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Henry and Grover, Drowning in a Bathtub

12 Oct

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By Tavia Nyong’o

“I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” — Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform

“My thoughts are murder to the state.” — Henry David Thoreau, 19th century American writer, conservationist, and proto-anarchist.

Teaching Thoreau’s great essay on ‘Resistance to Civil Government‘ during a partial shutdown of the US federal government is an occasion for feelings of great ambivalence. The scholar Henry Abelove has called Thoreau’s prose persona seductive. And I, like Abelove, very much want to be seduced. But how can I extol the worldview of this fearless forerunner of queer anarchism while the anti-government wing of the governing party allows the sick and needy to go uncared for, the statistics on the jobless to go uncollected, the safety of our food supply to go unverified? There is a great deal of interest today, post-Occupy, in anarchist political philosophy and horizontal modes of organizing and action. This anarchist resurgence inspires me, even as it disquiets. I wonder: could I be mistaken in my conviction that, however much leftwing anarchism can sound like rightwing libertarianism, they ultimately form distinct and opposed political traditions?

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For answers, I turn to Thoreau, and his queer little errand into the wild a century and half ago. Every American school child knows how Thoreau went to live in a cabin by a pond in Walden forest, and how he epitomized the search for a more basic and independent way of life. But, if we take too literally his descriptions of how he lived, and what he lived for, we can sometimes forget that the society he temporarily distanced himself from was, by today’s standards, itself incredibly spartan. Even those enjoying the heights of antebellum civilization that Thoreau rejected, did so without electricity, telephones, televisions, cars, the highway system, airplanes, or the internet. There was no federal income tax, no Social Security, no FBI or NSA. So, lest we be hopelessly anachronistic in our reading, we must keep in mind all that Thoreau could not have meant, when we try to recover what it meant for him to dwell apart from his society, what prompted him to utter his famous animadversions against government and to pronounce our individual duty to resist it.

The famously combative opening sentence of his essay on Civil Disobedience is memorable. “I heartily accept the motto–“That government is best which governs least”…Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe–“That government is best which governs not at all.” These are words to thrill a modern Tea Party activist. But just a page later we find Thoreau reformulating: “But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government.” This idea is different: Thoreau’s expectancy for improvement, his call to better government, is less often heard, even from left anarchist circles, than his call to do without it.

Thoreau was unlike the “no-government men” or at least, he wanted to be. Much rightwing rhetoric today pronounces itself with vitriol equal to Thoreau’s against government programs they oppose, like health care, public education, and regulation (versions of government Thoreau scarcely knew). But vehemence alone does not establish a shared affinity. Libertarians like to claim him, but Thoreau’s experiment in Walden was not so much a “going off the grid” like today’s survivalist fringe, so much as it was an effort to find a way to live against state-thinking. The right forgets that when Thoreau went to jail rather than pay his poll tax, he was motivated by outrage against specific state actions: the war against Mexico and the Fugitive Slave Law, a law that made the entire union hunting grounds for slavecatchers, and mocked the vaunted freedom of states like Massachusetts. It was against the states crimes against humanity and its imperial wars specifically, not government as such, that Thoreau theorized his proto-anarchism.

Consider this: today’s “government shut down” is itself actually an act of state. It was planned and put into action by a governing party at the behest of its radical Tea Party fringe. Shutdown is, as Malcolm Harris noted, a euphemism for accelerating the ‘austerity‘ being implemented across the world currently. It is not a shutdown of all state functions, least of those having to do with the conduct of wars or surveillance, and many of even the “non-essential” have been ordered back to work, sometimes without pay. Threatening to send the nation into insolvency if pet agenda items are not enacted is not “getting the government off our backs.” It is the pursuit of neoliberal governmentality by other means. As with austerity elsewhere, the target of the shutdown is not ‘government,’ but the social welfare state and popular sovereignty. Just ask the people of Detroit, who have had their elected government suspended in order to allow predatory creditors and lawyers to loot their remaining assets.

A sectional interest abusing constitutional mechanisms to hold the nation at ransom to forward a divisive agenda built, around the protection of a form of property, even at the cost of ruining lives. That describes the Fugitive Slave Law of Thoreau’s day, and it describes the attempt to defund the government and Obamacare now. The real comparison to be made is not between libertarianism and anarchism, but between the reactionary agenda, then and now, to withdraw protections from those who are seen not to matter — slaves and Mexicans then, the sick, poor, people of color and marginalized today — and to instead focus the resources of the state on the policing and imprisonment necessary to keep this drastic upward distribution of wealth from exploding into violence. It was this sort of state, the very one dreamt of by the likes of Grover Norquist, that produced thoughts of murder in Thoreau. This was the sort of state he called on us to resist through direct action.

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I am not among those who imagine queers and other anarchists can simply recreate Thoreau’s wild way of life. Anyone who sought to live in such precise antagonism to his own particularly day as Thoreau did can hardly have thought highly of those present day communities who idealize an arbitrary point in the past, beyond which they refuse to develop. True, Thoreau scorned the pursuit of wealth, the coveting of consumer items, the longing for marriage and family. He even scorned reading the newspaper: keeping up too closely with the revolting deeds of his fellow Americans was, he remarked, like a dog returning to its vomit. His idea of revolutionary action was certainly individualistic. But what he meant by individualism was different, almost antithetical, to the possessive, endlessly flexible individual so valorized today. There is an astonishing image at the end of his essay “Slavery in Massachusetts,” where Thoreau directly links wildness, contemplation, and anarchist belief with a profound sense of entanglement with affairs of state:

I walk toward one of our ponds, but what signifies the beauty of nature when men are base? We walk to lakes to see our serenity reflected in them; when we are not serene, we go not to them. Who can be serene in a country where both the rulers and the ruled are without principle?. The remembrance of my country spoils my walk. My thoughts are murder to the State, and involuntarily go plotting against her.

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As Pete Coviello points out in a fine new book on Thoreau and his era, Thoreau’s discontent with society was paradoxically motivated by powerful desires to connect, to love and be loved. The persona of his journals is different from the persona of his essays and Walden, but they are recognizable facets of a single, complex being. Thoreau’s queerness lay in his determined avoidance of the love, marriage, family, and property accumulation that were then, as now, extolled as the principal aims of white, bourgeois life. He refused to be heteronormative then, and would have not tried very hard to be homonormative now. But even as Thoreau rejected institutionalized forms of relationality, Coviello insists, he did so in order to allow himself the lifelong struggle of articulating another form of being, one that was, like friendship itself, forever without institution. Coviello quotes from Thoreau’s Journals:

Ah, I yearn toward thee my friend, but I have not confidence in thee. I am not thou—Thou are not I…Even when I meet thee unexpectedly I part from thee with disappointment… I know a noble man; what is it hinders me from knowing him better? I know not how it is that our distrust, our hate is stronger than our love…Why are we related—yet thus unsatisfactorily. We almost are a sore to one another (Coviello, 30-31).

Thoreau is here able to say, with pitch perfect ambivalence, that the experience of friendship is one of simultaneous expectation and disappointment, love and hate. I love him, Thoreau says of his friend, and yet I hate him. Contrast this to the stance of the libertarian who says: I hate him, and I love me (and mine)! Thoreau offers a stunning insight here, in the decades before the modern hetero/homo divide was solidified. It is one that may begin to make new sense now that there are tentative signs that divide it may be crumbling. He points out that friendship exists almost everywhere without institutional support or government sanction. Not that friendship is pathologized. Indeed, it is probably universally extolled as an anodyne to the ravages of consumerist, competitive society. But even where extolled, friendship always lacks an apparatus. Thoreau’s insight into the undercommons of the affections is at least as valuable as his demonstrations on how to grow without neighbors. Here is Thoreau’s queer path into the wilds, wilds that are as much between us, whoever and wherever we are, as they are along some romantic horizon, always just beyond reach.

Further Reading

Henry Abelove, Deep Gossip (2005)

Pete Coviello, Tomorrow’s Parties (2013)

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons (2013)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Slavery in Massachusetts