Avatar: The Legend Of Korra, Season Four Premiere

The fourth and final season of Avatar: Legend of Korra has just premiered, and having seen the first episode of it, here are some (mildly disjointed) thoughts:

The primary theme of the episode seems to be that of abdication of responsibility. This is what both Avatar Korra and Prince Wu, in their own ways, seem to have done. Wu is an irresponsible playboy who seems to have no interests beyond luxuries and skirt-chasing. This is not so bad a thing in good times – one is reminded of Tolkien’s sentiment that he wished for nothing more than “a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses”, or Mencken’s praise of the do-nothing President Coolidge. When times are placid, decent, and prosperous, wise men leave well enough alone, and those are the times in which one might justifiably feel relieved at the news that the prince doesn’t care a jot about how things are going in the capital and is off to some remote resort for the summer – or longer – to drink, gamble, and chase women.

But these are not good times in the Earth Kingdom.

As for Korra, she appears simply to have given up. On herself, on her mission, on the world – on everything. The burden of her position and what it requires her to be willing to do has become too much for her; her wounds are deep and not easily healed. And so she has simply walked away. She has sunk into despair, and seems to be occupying herself with demonstrating precisely why that is a mortal sin.

This is a theme that should resonate with all people who live in the Modern age, because it is a time in which every leader and institution that should be defending us from moral, demographic, military, political, cultural, and economic collapse seems to have abdicated. Atlas has truly shrugged. Our kings, our priests, our generals – they all do nothing as we sink. Juan Carlos refused to rule as a King and left his people to democracy; to the tender mercies of King Mob – and look at Spain now, mired in insolvency and social degeneracy. It was said that after the Catholic Church renounced its role in politics in Vatican II, the Church “breathed a sigh of relief” – but how has that turned out both for the Church and for the people and nations it was supposed to guide? The King, the Church, everyone who has abdicated their responsibilities has tried to portray it as salubrious, as liberating, as giving “power to the people”. But there is nothing admirable about simply giving up on one’s responsibilities, because when those tasked with leadership simply refuse to lead, they end up throwing those who depend on their leadership to the wolves. In our world, that has meant The Cathedral, King Mob, and capitalist globalists. In the world of Avatar, that means Kuvira.

Which actually means that the people there are getting off light. As of the first episode of the fourth season, Kuvira appears to be ruthless, but not evil – there is an important difference between the two. Certainly, it appears that the bandits who are attacking people and forcing their lands into her domain are in her employ, but this is not very heavy-handed by the standards of conquerors (and Kuvira, who is called the “Great Uniter”, is definitely that). Certainly, it is much more humane than allowing disunity and its attendant chaos to continue in the Earth Kingdom. And while she may be a warlord, her engagement to Baatar, Jr. shows that she is at least one who seeks some level of legitimacy and respectability. It is also worth pointing out that conquerors are, for all that they can be terrible on the battlefield, often surprisingly lenient rulers over the people they conquer. In many cases, they are far better from the perspective of the common man – kinder, more competent, less corrupt – than the governments they have replaced. And I, unlike many monarchists, have no philosophical objection to the idea of a dynastic change from time to time. Royal houses, like all institutions, can suffer from entropy, and when they do, their replacement by a more dynamic family is in the best interests of the people and the kingdom (all of this, by the way, is illustrated in the changeover from the Goldenbaum dynasty to the Lohengramm dynasty in Legend of Galactic Heroes).

So count me as cautiously pro-Kuvira for now. This might change over the course of the coming season, if ruthlessness crosses the line into something worse. It likely will – an action show needs a suitably impressive villain, after all. And there is a traditionalist case to be made for the idea that it’s fitting for the final season villain to be a usurper – as I have noted, such people are generally not well-liked in traditionalist/reactionary circles.

One further note – and this may, more than anything, explain why Nickelodeon didn’t ever seem to quite know what to do with this show. Legend of Korra has, from its very beginnings, had a certain melancholy tone about it. It is a tone that is not quite tragic, nor has it ever descended into the tearjerker style of something like Doctor Who or a Joss Whedon production, but there is a definite feel of the entire story as being a melody played in a minor key. This, too, is part of what gives the show a traditionalist resonance. Leftism is a utopian cult; one that believes that all of history inevitably leads, a few temporary setbacks perhaps aside, to a beautiful, perfected world. Not only that, but we are now at a point at which they see themselves on the cusp of victory over the forces of religious faith, conservatism, sexual morality, and all other forms of “regressive” thought that they believe have held back utopia. All people who find themselves enveloped in the beckoning light of a gleaming future will by nature be joyous, and never more so than when they feel it to be finally within their grasp. It is the traditionalist, the reactionary, the person who understands the sorrowful truth of inexorable human nature and the inevitability of the great Spenglerian historical cycle, to perceive the world with a melancholy heart. It is we who understand that there is no gleaming utopia beyond the next horizon; that it will vanish like a mirage precisely when it seems closest. We understand that the only inevitable truth is that everything around us will crumble. Then, centuries or millennia hence, it will rise, then crumble again, then rise again, then crumble again – on and on ad infinitum until the breaking of the seventh seal and the ending of this world. Legend of Korra – the entire Avatar franchise – is a story that deals with cycles, with death and rebirth. In this sense, it could not avoid being both traditionalist, and also (or perhaps, thus) melancholy.

And while Avatar Korra’s descent into despair may be a sin, much of the sensibility behind it is simple realism. She is not – cannot be – the same young woman with the strong but simple sense of justice and faith that she can save the world that she was when she first arrived in Republic City. She has seen terrible things. She has had to do terrible things. She has defeated enemy after enemy in the hopes of peace and justice only to see even worse ones appear right behind them. There is much that she can no longer believe in, and she no longer has very much patience for falsehoods. She still retains within her a vigorous sense of right and wrong (which I am quite confident that she will demonstrate later in the season), but she now understands that there is some degree of futility inherent in the unchangeability of human nature and the cyclical nature of history which means that no great final victory over injustice is ever truly possible in this world. This knowledge cannot help but add to her already-heavy burdens, and it has made her sullen, sad, and withdrawn.

In short, this all makes Legend of Korra a show that should strike an emotional chord with any reactionary/traditionalist.

I shall be watching the remainder of this final season with great interest.

FSD vs. 4GW – On Every Battlefield

For some time now, the “Fourth Generation War” (4GW) theories of military action advanced by a small circle of writers, including Martin van Creveld, William S. Lind, and John Robb, have gotten attention among high-IQ and forward-thinking people. These theories are far too complex to recount here, and what I’m going to say requires some familiarity with them, so if you aren’t familiar with them (and if you aren’t, you should take the time to make yourself so), you can start with this archive of Mr. Lind’s columns or his current work at TraditionalRight, Mr. van Creveld’s book, and Mr. Robb’s blog. Everyone interested in conflict of any sort in the 21st century should read it.

“Conflict” here is a key word, because a conflict can take the form of a war, or of a political or philosophical conflict, or of an economic conflict, or any combination of the above. The popular historian Dan Carlin once reminded his audience (which includes me) that not every revolution involves guillotines or palaces being stormed. There is a strong case to be made, for example, that the United States has had several revolutions – some violent and some not. 1776 and the ultimately unsuccessful secession movement of 1861 are the obvious, violent ones, but one could say that a revolution came with Roosevelt in 1932, and another one with the social revolution of the 1960s. The hallmark of a revolution is not so much bloodshed as a rapid transformation of a society. Even the people themselves look different on opposite ends of a revolution – look, for example, at pictures of ordinary people in 1963, and again only a decade later in 1973. They don’t look anything alike – as if they were people from two faraway countries, or from time periods a century apart.

So not every revolution involves guillotines, and not every insurrection involves AK-47s. And yet, the rules of successful struggle are defined by the zeitgeist of their times. That is, in fact, exactly what Lind et al. are getting at when they name their theory “Fourth Generation War”. It is the way of conflict in our times, and is shaped by its unique realities. Bringing these ideas together reveals an important insight – that a mildly adjusted version of 4GW theory is, in fact, applicable to any sort of modern conflict.

It is so because, on virtually every level, the zeitgeist of our time is FSD vs. 4GW – Full-Spectrum Dominance vs. Fourth Generation War. On one side are large, institutionalized powers with expensive, complex, high-tech systems that allow them to (at least theoretically) dominate a field of conflict from top to bottom on every level. FSD is the philosophy of the US military, and it is also the philosophy of the cartel of institutions that Mencius Moldbug has named “The Cathedral”. On the other side, you have 4GW: relatively small, loosely-affiliated associations of fighters who use relatively simple and widely-available tools, and who have turned their relative small size and light weight into an advantage in the face of an enemy with a powerful but clumsy and heavy-handed methodology.

The non-mainstream right in this country – and especially the new philosophical insurgents of neoreaction and the Dark Enlightenment – has developed organically into a non-militarized 4GW entity, operating on a philosophical battlefield and battling an opponent that bases its strategy on FSD. This, again, deserves more of an exploration than I can manageably give it here, but let us have a quick overview of it.

The Cathedral (I still wish for a different term to describe it, but this one seems to have caught on) is an unusual FSD opponent in that it does have some 4GW elements to it (it should tell you something about the perceived legitimacy of large established institutions that even the biggest FSD entity of them all prefers to be decentralized). It is not a traditional state, it has no formal organization to it, and its power is distributed and decentralized. It is both stateless and, in its international universalism, operates as a sort of meta-state that transcends borders. And yet its ideological rigidity, its means of idea transmission, and its enforcement methods give it many statelike qualities. Remember, whoever exercises power over you is your de facto government, because their position in your life is on all practical levels indistinguishable from that of a government. And the Cathedral is very powerful indeed – it sets policies, it manufactures public opinion, it ruthlessly punishes offenders, and it makes and breaks leaders in politics, business, and media. Some of this is done via explicit government action, and some is not. The Cathedral is a global cartel that controls multiple organs of power, and can use whichever suits it best when it needs a meme propagated, a rule (formal or not) instituted, or an enforcement action undertaken. In this way, it transcends and surpasses the state – it is even more of a Full-Spectrum Dominance entity than any mere state could ever be.

As for the alternative right as a 4GW entity: yes, much can be said about the manner in which a 4GW entity uses an FSD opponent’s size and strength against it. But perhaps it is more important, in this limited space, to emphasize a few points about the nature of 4GW entities. The first is that the alternative right’s lack of formal organization or centralization is at this point a net positive. FSD entities are very good at destroying point targets and making examples out of the leaders of meaningful opposition groups (as opposed to controlled and/or functionally powerless opposition groups, which FSD entities routinely allow to exist for show). A look at the fates of Wikileaks and its frontman Julian Assange after they ran afoul of the Full-Spectrum Dominance of the American security state should tell one all one needs to know about that. Another important point is that 4GW involves actors who don’t necessarily want to recreate the institutions that they’re fighting (for example, groups like al Quaeda that both are stateless and have no particular ambitions to become a state). It is, in fact, the primary distinguishing feature of the alternative right as a political movement that they have given up on politics as constituted in Western-style democracies. They are not going to vote, or form a political party, and no one among them is going to run for office, nor would they even if they thought they were electable in a mass democracy. Similarly, few wish to capture or take charge of the Cathedral or its branches. Part of this is the understanding that the Cathedral is something like the One Ring – too powerful and terrible to remain in human hands; something that must only be cast into the fires of Mt. Doom. But another part of it is the understanding that the radically decentralizing effects of technology – its global reach and lowering of barriers to entry – are beginning to make many of the Cathedral’s organs start to slowly melt away on their own. Just as the Iraqi insurgents realized that events would force the U.S.’s retreat eventually, so we must realize that events and technology will, or at least will provide the opportunity to, render the Cathedral obsolete. It is already possible to bypass the Cathedral and set up parallel institutions – and doing this is another signature of 4GW entities (Lind is fond of citing the example of social and charitable institutions often set up by stateless Islamic groups like Hamas). Why take over newspapers, for example, when they are going bankrupt on their own? Why take over the universities when talk of a “higher education bubble” is everywhere? Why not just get ahead of the curve and create our own parallel institutions; accept that they will, at least for some significant amount of time, be smaller, and focus on quality over quantity?

(This, incidentally, is one reason why I argue that there is only a limited amount, tactically speaking, that we can learn from reading the likes of Saul Alinsky. Leaving aside the question of whether leftist tactics would work for a rightist movement or whether we would even want to use them, there are also the truths that Alinsky was the product of, and wrote in, the pre-internet age, and also that his goal was to capture and use existing institutions while ours is not).

What this all amounts to is a few things. First, all people on the alt-right should take some time to read deeply in 4GW theory (the links above are a fine place to start). Second, contra techno-doubters like Bruce Charlton, the internet is a blessing to us that allows our 4GW struggle to continue. Third, we should remember that 4GW is, as John Robb put it, open-source war – so you should write much, read much, share the love, encourage others, don’t worry too greatly about who gets credit for what, put ideas out there even if they’re half-finished, refine half-finished ideas you find from others at will, and remember that the goal is victory.

On Homosexuality And Uranus

When I first got started with my reactionary writings, I thought I would be the only anime fan in these circles. Boy was I ever wrong.

Despite this, I sometimes get questions from those reactionaries who are not anime fans about aspects of anime and anime culture, often of the “How can you call yourself a reactionary when you like something which…” variety. Normally these are easy enough to answer, but there’s one that I’ve gotten a few times that deserves a bit more of an exploration; specifically as regards the seemingly tolerant attitude towards homosexuality often seen in anime. This is something that can indeed be confusing – it often leads people to think that anime is, as a genre, more leftist than it really is, and that Japan is, as a society, more tolerant of homosexuality than it really is (having lived there, I can assure you that it is not very receptive to open homosexuality). So here is my attempt at something like a full response – apologies in advance if it wanders about a little, as it is more a reflection than anything thesis-driven.

The short answer is that anime reflects the tolerant attitude that a society can have towards what Fred Reed referred to as “baroque sexualities” when they represent no threat to the prevailing heterosexual order. This, in turn, reflects the tolerant attitude that can be had towards any minority – whether it be a lifestyle minority, an ethnic minority, a religious minority, or a political minority – when it is below a certain level of prominence in that society.

This opens us up to looking at a much larger picture. But let us begin with homosexuality.

So then, anime reflects the attitudes of a society that isn’t threatened by homosexuality. This may seem like an ambiguous statement to make, since those of baroque sexuality have often, in sneering and pushy voices, asked “Are you threatened by my sexuality?”. Or at least they used to – now, of course, we know that that question was, in itself, a threat – the fulness of it, including the unspoken portion, would go something like: “Are you threatened by my sexuality? Well if not, just you wait. You’ll be paying astronomical fines for not wanting to bake a cake for my wedding or losing your job for daring to oppose my pet political causes soon enough, chump”.

And yet in Japan, and certainly in the world of anime, things are different. Anime homosexuals are carefully portrayed as not representing a threat to the prevailing cisheteronormist order. Let us take consider an early example, Sailors Uranus and Neptune from Sailor Moon. Though obviously (and yet never quite explicitly) a lesbian couple, one of whom has some prominent transgender (or at least highly androgynous) qualities, they never really make any demands for accommodation on the world that surrounds them. Sailor Uranus does not wish to upend the society around her in order to gain the validation involved in having her lifestyle redefined as normal; she only desires to be left in peace to discreetly live as she wishes. She doesn’t want to change marriage laws, get you fired for saying that you don’t like her, or tear down the faith of the polis.

And it is because of this that she can safely be left alone by the larger society around her. She is not a threat, so she can be treated as a curiosity – liked by some, disliked by others, but simply not worth bothering with on a societal level. The implicit, unspoken bargain that she makes with the larger society is both reasonable and humane – she gains a strong measure of security through obscurity, and the mores of the society around her remain secure. That is largely how it is in Japan, and how it largely used to be in the West as well. Laws against homosexuality in the West existed, but were essentially a hedge against precisely what has happened now that they have been removed – open, politicized homosexuality becoming a serious threat to the existing order. As for the discreet, private practice of homosexuality, laws against it are and always were virtually unenforceable (for many reasons, including the general disinterest of Westerners in taking any great pains to enforce them against those who kept their proclivities private), and when they were on the books they remained virtually unenforced.

To mix fictional metaphors a bit, I am reminded of the Borg from the Star Trek franchise. In one episode of, I believe, The Next Generation, several members of the crew find that they can, if they are discreet and quiet, move unmolested through a Borg ship, though they are in plain view of numerous Borg drones. The Borg, it turns out, are interested in assimilation at a civilizational level, not an individual level. Thus, if an individual, or even a very small group, moves through their ship and seems to present no threat, they are ignored. Below a certain level of prominence, they are simply not worth doing anything about.

This, again, can apply to any group that is a minority for any reason. Consider this: I shall describe the plot of a television show that is sure to be controversial in the modern day. In it, a red-haired white woman, portrayed as a bit of an amiable dimbulb, is in a mixed marriage with a Latino man. And not just Latino – he is an immigrant who often breaks into his native Spanish when annoyed with his wife, which is often, as she is a clumsy crybaby who can do little on her own. One can imagine the White Nationalist taking umbrage at the mixed marriage and the unflattering portrayal of the white woman. One can imagine the left heaping on praise of its brave multiculturalism. Controversial, then? Very likely so. And yet the show I have described is I Love Lucy, which debuted in 1951 to a general lack of socially-conscious reaction. This almost certainly is because, at the time, Latinos were so small a percentage of the U.S. population that they were in the range of being exotic curiosities (their small number was reflected in the fact that it wasn’t until the Census of 1970 – nearly twenty years later – that Latinos were counted as a distinct group). Even racism, that scourge of all things egalitarian, seems only to rear its head when a group reaches a certain prominence in a society.

And here we must define “prominence”, as I have intentionally used a term that could have its basis in multiple factors. Prominence could be based on sheer numbers – but it could also be based on political influence, cultural influence, disproportionate disposition to either a negative activity (e.g. criminality) or a positive one (e.g. economically important minorities like the Chinese in Malaysia), the loudness and severity of demands placed by it upon the surrounding society, or any number of other things that, voluntarily or involuntarily, cast aside a group’s security through obscurity and bring it to the attention of society at large. It is only then, once a group is past that certain level of prominence and can no longer be dismissed as a curiosity, that problems seem to start on any sort of large scale.

But let us return to the topic of anime and homosexuality.

Not long ago, I was asked my opinion of the late-90s series Revolutionary Girl Utena, which some say contains traditionalist themes (but also contains heavy lesbian themes). I had to admit to having never actually seen it, and so resolved, despite receiving some admonitions that it was “degenerate”, to watch at least some of the show. I am not far into the series as of this writing, but so far, it seems to me that it portrays an attitude towards homosexuality that is not so much degenerate, but reflective of what is, in a way, a very traditional view. What it shows are the pre-1960s attitudes of the old upper class in a society whose traditions were not under assault from politicized, weaponized homosexuality. It is, then, traditional in its representation of homosexuality in a sense, but so much so that modern reactionaries (and no matter how we may long for a more civilized past, we are all native-born sons of Modernity) may find it rather difficult to understand.

In the manners of the old British upper class, homosexuality, when practiced at all, was seen as something properly limited to the realm of a youthful indiscretion. A bit of schoolboy buggery at Eton or Harrow was treated with a wink and a nod, and not spoken of in polite company either in school or after graduation. It was not expected to be a lifestyle that one engaged in forever, much less a political cause. It was a thing one grew out of – the idea of being 45 years old and still “gay” (a term that would have been near-incomprehensible to them) would have been seen as being utterly ridiculous. Same-sex crushes of the idol-worship variety, for both males and females, were to be expected in one’s school years, but were simply a step along the way to a permanent romantic bond, which was to be found with one’s suitably upper-class wife (which illustrates how this attitude is not so very far off from that of the ancient Greek upper class, for whom boys were for recreational sex, and women for marriage and continuation of the family line). At that point, the less said about youthful indiscretions, the better.

A good example of this exists in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, which, though being of relatively modern vintage, seems to be rather incomprehensible to modern people. A recent film version (which I have not seen) is said to have reconfigured it so that the story is about a mean old Lady Marchmain and her spoilfun Catholic beliefs getting in the way of Charles and Sebastian’s eternal love (which would doubtless be sealed by a gay “marriage”, if the spoilfuns of the time had allowed such a thing). This, of course, misunderstands Waugh, his novel, and his message on so many levels as to be utterly risible. It filters it through modern eyes, and also through a demotist and egalitarian worldview, which cannot comprehend an older, upper class worldview that is very different from their own (it should be said that the attitude towards homosexuality that I have described was exclusively an upper-class one, both in that the lower classes did not share it and in that the upper classes did not believe that the lower classes should share it).

What destroys Sebastian Flyte is not his mean mother or her restrictive Catholic ways (which both Waugh and Charles Ryder accept), but the fact that while Charles eventually leaves his schoolboy days behind, grows up, and accepts his adult responsibilities as a member of the upper class, Sebastian steadfastly refuses to do so (his inappropriate adulthood attachment to his teddy bear is a prominent symbol of this). His persistent homosexual behavior and refusal to marry is one symptom of this, but his alcoholism is another. Excessive drunkenness was then, as it is now, rather expected of students at university – but it also was and is expected to stop when a young person graduates and enters the world of adult responsibilities. This is what Sebastian never accepts – to the last, he remains flaky, irresponsible, and childlike. It is this, not his mother’s sternness or the strictures of her religion, which is at the core of his descent into a spiral of self-destruction.

No wonder leftism, which is really no more than the political arm of the desperate desire for eternal adolescence, should turn him into a hero!

Similar things could be said of androgyny. Utena herself wishes to be a prince instead of a princess, and affects a certain androgyny which involves wearing a customized version of a male school uniform (still quite flattering though, this being anime and all). This, too, was something that was accepted, and even expected, at a certain stage of youth (although, admittedly, Utena pushes that boundary more than a little). Once, while touring Versailles, I came upon a portrait of Louis XVI as a toddler, wearing a full-length blue velvet dress. This was not at all unusual among the upper classes before the 20th century – both pre-pubescent boys wearing dresses and girls wearing trousers – because it was accepted that children were by nature androgynous, and came into their gender characteristics at puberty. But once the time to become young gentlemen and ladies arrived, young people were expected to put away the things of childhood, including androgyny. If Louis XVI had worn a dress to court as an adult, for example, even he would have been treated as having gone mad, King or not. The idea of spending a lifetime “transgender” or in a state of in a permanent, androgynous limbo, would have been unthinkable.

Utena may indeed be pushing the limits of when such things are overlooked, but she is still a schoolgirl, and the cultural assumption that androgyny will go the way of the same-sex school crush or the schoolboy buggery still looms in the background. At some point, she is expected to grow up and leave all that behind.

And perhaps this is as much the problem as anything. We are a Peter Pan society, in which people refuse to grow up, few seem motivated to comport themselves like adults, and everyone seems to run about asking for – no, demanding – validation for every aspect of their existence, even – especially – the baroque, the degenerate, the antisocial, and the sinful aspects of it. This has led us to an age of Totalism – in which it seems one must only either gushingly praise a thing or passionately hate it. It is an age of no quarter, in which the rule is to oppress or be oppressed, and only fools think that they can safely live and let live. That is the age in which we find ourselves, and we all know it, and feel it so deeply that it is difficult to remember that there have existed times and places in which “tolerance” meant what it actually means, and was not a codeword for the ruthless crushing of tradition and Christian morality.

These times and places were far more genteel and civilized than what we have now, and while we must never either forget that it was the left that was the aggressor, nor lose sight of what must be done to restore a decent society, it is still, I think, permissible to wish that we could live in them. A world in which private things are kept private, the prevailing culture of decency is not under threat, and the rule is not “They are always either at your feet or at your throat” is a humane and orderly one, and there is much to admire about it. To the degree that any anime series provides a look into such a world, I do not believe it to be degenerate. Someday, the Social Justice Warriors may come for anime in earnest (there are already some troubling signs here and there), but until and unless that happens, I see nothing wrong with continuing to watch.

Avatar: The Legend of Korra, Season Three Wrapup

Having just caught the final episode of the third season of Avatar: Legend of Korra, I present some thoughts on it.

The first-season villains were a (brilliant) thinly-veiled version of communists, and this season’s villains were an (equally brilliant) even less thinly-veiled version of anarchists. And certainly, these anarchists are terrifying. Yes, the President of the Republic is a cowardly, two-faced buffoon and the Earth Queen is domineering and self-centered, but as threats these both pale in comparison to the Red Lotus. The Red Lotus is not cowardly, buffoonish, or self-centered at all; it is a fanatical utopian cult whose members are smart, strong, educated, cultured, powerful, dedicated, and self-sacrificing – and this is precisely what makes it so dangerous. As many have noted before, a crook will stop when he has money, a tyrant will stop when he has power, and both will stop when it is obvious that their plan will be self-defeating or self-destructive, but someone who genuinely thinks that they’re there to save the world will stop at nothing – not even their own destruction – in order to achieve victory. This is why fanatical utopian cults cannot be fought the way one would fight other adversaries. One cannot be reasonable or merciful with them; one cannot negotiate with them nor meet them halfway, nor try to appease them by extending them rights and allowing them a fair hearing in the marketplace of ideas, nor shake hands and agree to disagree, nor offer them a ceasefire and trust they they will abide by it, nor leave them in peace to live as they wish and hope that they will extend the same consideration to you, nor take them at their word, nor trust them about anything, ever. Fanatical utopian cults must be – can only be – put down with extreme prejudice, as soon as possible. Any responsible authority that does not do so only invites further chaos; by inaction and the adoption of half-measures, they leave their people at the mercy of destructive fanatics. And yet doing what it takes to put down a fanatical utopian cult will not only leave the authority who must do so looking like a tyrant to many, but also, often with great sadness, will leave them feeling like one inside. Which brings us to our next point.

Korra ends the season utterly heartbroken; defeated in spirit in a way that she has never been before. Clearly, her experience with the Red Lotus has affected her deeply. She is a spirited young woman with a strong sense of justice and a willingness to fight for it, yet the twin experiences of seeing what the Red Lotus fanatics were willing to do in order to win, and of doing what she had to do to stop them, have pushed her past a boundary, disillusioned her, and left her scarred.

This is what contact with wickedness does to a human soul. Seeing horror and interacting with cruelty or depravity is corrosive to the soul, and inevitably leaves its scars. One may succumb to it or one may fight it, but one will not be left unaffected by it. Does it matter that the Red Lotus fervently believed that they were doing the right thing? No – in fact, in many ways it makes it worse. For one thing, Korra had to destroy people who were doing what they believed to be right, which takes a far greater mental and spiritual toll then fighting those who are just thoroughly evil. For another, Korra has had to see for herself what cruelties human beings are capable of when they believe they are doing good. For her especially, with her strong intrinsic sense of right and wrong, this has to have shaken her to her core. If people are capable of doing such things in the name of righteousness – indeed, if they can make themselves believe that plainly terrible ideas of the sort that the Red Lotus held were righteous – then of what value is righteousness? And then there is the matter of, for the second time in her short career as the Avatar, having had to put down a fanatical utopian cult with extreme prejudice – with this time having been even more bloody and violent than the last.

Traditionalists and reactionaries should here identify with the Korra’s feelings. Speaking for myself, the sheer horror and ugliness of leftist Modernity eats at my soul, and though I must face it in order to fight it, I wish that I could shut it out completely and simply pretend that it doesn’t exist. And fighting it, too, is taxing. It is in my own essential nature to be empathetic, forgiving, and reasonable. But what does one do when confronted with an adversary who takes all of these as weakness, and uses them to destroy enemies foolish enough to let their guard down for even a second? Who see every attempt to compromise or to find middle ground as the first inch given of the many miles that they will take, at any cost and by any means necessary?

The obvious answers, and the knowledge that they must eventually be implemented, will cause anyone with a good heart the same sadness that it causes to Avatar Korra.

But on to other matters…

Family continues to be an extremely strong theme throughout Legend of Korra, and also receives a highly traditionalist treatment. Perhaps most interesting is the story of the Beifong sisters, Suyin and Lin. Toph’s extremely modern parenting style – having two children by what seem to have more or less been one-night stands with different men, raising them as a single mother without any real fatherly influence, and being highly permissive to the point of neglectfulness in parenting style, leaves her two daughters undeniably damaged and dysfunctional. Suyin suffers hardest and earliest and falls the farthest, but after life and hardship beat some sense into her, she recovers more quickly and thoroughly than her elder sister. By the time we encounter her, she is a respected leader in her city and the beloved wife and honored mother of a tight-knit, if somewhat offbeat, family. These are precisely the things that Lin, who on the surface always appeared to be more functional, was never able to have for herself. Now too old to have children, and never really having gotten over the one great romance she ever had in her life, Lin is, in her own way, a sad figure. Dedicated only to her work, she is alone in every conceivable way until she finally reconciles with her sister after thirty years of bitter estrangement. Having been raised by modern parenting methods, she is a modern career woman. And despite the frontloaded feminism of this show, that is not depicted as a good thing.

Related to this curious mix of feminism and traditionalism is the show’s treatment of men, and especially fathers. Most television shows with a feminist edge treat men (other than those of the “Magic Negro” or “gay best friend” variety) as being some degree of irrelevant, brutish, foolish, or all of the above, and most that deal with families treat fathers as some degree of either clueless buffoon or patriarchal oppressor. And yet, for all its prominent feminism, Legend of Korra portrays its men, and especially its fathers, in a light so positive that it’s rather shocking in a modern TV show. Tenzin, for example, can certainly be a bit of a blowhard sometimes, but he is unquestionably a wise teacher, a learned master of his art, an upstanding leader of his nation and his community, a loving husband, a caring son and brother, and both a strong and nurturing father to his children and second father to Korra. When his family is threatened by the Red Lotus, It is Tenzin who fights them so fiercely that he comes closer than anyone will to defeating Zaheer until Korra finally manages to do so in the season climax (in the Avatar state and with an army helping her). Even at that, in the end, it takes Zaheer’s entire group to finally defeat him. Similarly, Tonraq, Korra’s father, is seen not only as a great chief of his tribe, but as a dedicated family man and father who repeatedly puts himself at risk for the sake of his wife and daughter. Even Suyin’s barely-seen husband is shown to be, if not a fighter, then at least a brilliant engineer and good husband and father. Even the comic relief characters of Bumi and Bolin are admirable in their own ways. Bumi is a joker, but also a high-ranking soldier and deeply loyal to his family. Bolin, for all his often-expressed comic hyperbole and braggadocio, is someone who shows deep loyalty to his family and to Team Avatar, and who is a powerful earthbender in his own right. All of them are strong and decent, and none of them are derogatory caricatures. If this show is feminist, then, it is not of the man-hating variety, and this is yet another quality that makes it remarkable these days.

The future of Avatar: Legend of Korra is somewhat in doubt at the moment. Nickelodeon, which never quite knew what to do with The Last Airbender, really doesn’t quite know what to do with this series. In retrospect, the network that brought us ten seasons of Spongebob was probably the wrong venue for the Avatar franchise, and there was always going to be a mismatch between it, its regular audience, and this show. As such, Nickelodeon has pulled it off the air, where it was getting good but unspectacular ratings, and gone to a web-only model for showing it. This isn’t so bad as it might seem – the number of web views is, reportedly, phenomenal (I strongly encourage all fans of the series to give it all the web views that they can). If more episodes are made, it will signal a sea change in how television shows are presented, and will prove that a web-only show can be successful. I hope that is the case, for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps it would allow the producers to present even more adult themes and situations. Perhaps it will allow for a democratization of television in the way that other media have been democratized by the internet. But above all, I simply want to see more of this unique, fantastic television show.

So let us hope that it neither gets canceled, nor that the politically correct thought police ever get to it!

Evola in Bemidji

NOTE: The following contains spoilers for the first season of the TV series Fargo.

Leftists, libertarians, and anarchists (and the latter two might actually mean it) often speak of “borders, boundaries, and forms of control” as if these were all terrible things, blights on the human condition that oppress humankind, stunt its development towards a more refined and utopian condition, and prevent individuals from achieving a beautiful state of self-actualization. Of course they speak this way – as de facto (and often de jure) rejecters of original sin, they see human nature as essentially good, and human beings as blank slates except for that essentially good nature. When undeniably not-good (certainly by Modernist definitions) aspects of human nature – clannishness, laziness, greed, selfishness, violence, exclusion, even traditional gender roles or the tendency of some groups to be better at certain tasks than others – make themselves persistently and undeniably apparent, these are dismissed as “social constructs” (as if that too was a bad thing), which are invariably the fault of the usual designated villain groups. All of this, of course, is nonsense.

What philosophers can fill hundreds of pages demonstrating, artists can often illustrate far more economically. It is with this in mind that we may look at the rather unexpected reactionary implications of the recent cable TV series Fargo. Here we witness the liberation of one Mr. Lester Nygaard (played by the wonderfully talented Martin Freeman), and the consequences thereof. Lester is a fine test subject – an average everyman of Modern America in all senses of the word. He has an average job that he isn’t very good at, he has a wife who emasculates and despises him, he is childless far past the age at which he should be, and he is faring unspectacularly in financial terms. He is one of those men who, in the words of Thoreau, leads a life of quiet desperation, and he lacks the strength of will to liberate himself from it. But, as we shall learn, perhaps that was for the best.

By happenstance, into Lester’s life drops one Lorne Malvo (a mesmerizing, as usual, Billy Bob Thornton), who is a demon. Whether he is in any physical/spiritual sense is the sort of question that Coen Brothers stories always leave one with, but he looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, so for our purposes we shall call him a duck. Thus, given the opportunity, he sows chaos, as is the wont of demons. How does he do this? Via the same method that a demon (perhaps even, it is later hinted, Malvo himself) used to ruin the first man and woman – by liberating them, by giving them what they secretly wanted, by promising them that they could transcend their boundaries and limitations and be as gods. Thus with a few words (this is all it took in the Garden of Eden, as well), Malvo sets in motion the ruination not just of Lester Nygaard, but of many of those around him as well.

With those words, and two simple acts of violence which follow, he breaks Lester’s chains. But what are chains? And what does it mean to have the broken? When we use the word “chains”, images of slavery inevitably come to mind. But our chains are also the ties that bind us – to family, to friends, to community, to society, to humanity, and to God. They are the rules of conduct by which function the mutual obligations that bind us to all of these. A very few people – natural aristocrats of the soul – can transcend the rules without breaking those bonds. And, of course, virtually everyone thinks of themselves as one of those who could. But for most, the breaking of chains leads to a euphoric period in which freedom seems to lead them to triumph, after which… well, let us return to our example.

And so Lester is liberated both from his harridan of a wife and from any immediate consequences of her demise. But there is more than that afoot. Lester becomes liberated not just from the external entities to which he was bound, but increasingly from all internally-held constraints as well. He gains genuine confidence, a precious commodity which he never had before; he learns to value and believe in himself. All of which, modern society teaches us, is unmitigated good. And for a while, it is visibly good in Lester’s life as well. For a year, he has his time of triumph. He evades responsibility for his crime, he marries a beautiful and adoring new wife, he opens a successful business of his own, and he is honored both personally and professionally.

But was that ever so rosy a picture as it seemed? His new wife may be adoring, but she is clearly a trophy wife who Lester married for the wrong reasons. And his freedom comes at the cost of his brother’s. His brother was an unsympathetic jerk, to be sure – but he wasn’t a murderer, and didn’t deserve a murderer’s punishment. Part of Lester’s liberation has been a liberation from empathy; from the idea of not using others and justifying it solipsistically based on whatever that person’s worth is to him. His brother displeases him, so to Lester’s mind he deserves any punishment available whether fitting or excessive. His wife pleases him for her beauty and the ease with which she is dominated, but that produces no bonds of the sort that will prevent him from discarding her when he feels it necessary to do so. And that time will come, soon enough.

It comes because Lester’s path, now bereft of borders and boundaries, has no limit; no endpoint at which anyone, including Lester, can or will say “Alright, this is enough. Stop here and go no farther”. He is not an aristocrat of the soul, but only a common man. He does not know when enough is enough, and when enough is too much. There is nothing to stop him at Aristotle’s Golden Mean; there is nothing in his past or present experience to show him even where that might be, and thus he goes sailing right past it.

Yet here a point deserves reemphasis. Lester is not an aristocrat of the soul, nor is he a saint. But neither is he particularly or exceptionally prone to evil. Lester’s key flaw – his tragic flaw, in the sense of the Greek tragedies – is simply that he is a common man; one who has come into possession of more freedom than a common man can cope with. Of course, the demon Malvo knew perfectly well when he broke Lester’s chains that this was the case, and that eventually death, misery, and chaos would ensue because of it. But again, sowing chaos is simply what demons do – Malvo is very good at it and, as his suitcase full of audiotapes shows, has done it many times before. The demon understands that giving too much liberation to those who are unequipped to rationally deal with it will only lead to their destruction and the destruction of everyone around them.

As indeed it does for Lester and those unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity when he finally implodes. His chance second encounter with Malvo in an elevator in Las Vegas sets the end in motion. It all seems very avoidable at first glance, but on further analysis, what happened was inevitable. Lester can’t help but to push too hard and too far; to ignore warning after warning and disregard common sense until it is suddenly, plainly too late. That is his new, liberated nature. To self-destruct was his destiny; the path without borders and limits can, for the common man, lead only to this and to nothing else. If it had not been this particular encounter that had sparked the beginning of Lester’s end, it would just have been another one; the fact that the circumstances involved offending the demon who liberated him is only a bit of Coen-esque poetry added to the story.

It is at this point that the effects of Lester’s newfound liberation kick into a panic-induced high gear. Consumed by cowardice, but also by a selfishness (at this point advanced into sociopathy) born of his liberation from the chains that bind him to others, Lester sacrifices his trophy wife, not an hour after she has committed a crime and taken an enormous risk by lying to a police officer in order to try to save him (Based on my own observations it was at this point that Lester’s few remaining defenders among the show’s fan base seemed to have finally given up on him). And when, as the final confrontation looms before them all, Molly Solverson tries to get him to tell her the truth, thereby sacrificing his freedom for the good of others, we see that at this point he is so far gone that he can’t even understand the parable that she uses to try to reach him (even though his faculties of reason are perfectly intact, as he demonstrates by easily solving the fox/cabbage/rabbit riddle). Thus do even more people die – the FBI agents assigned to watch him, the demon Malvo (this only through the selfless courage of Gus Grimly), and eventually Lester himself – finally dragged down to the bottom and drowned, literally, as a consequence of his decisions.

So what are the takeaways from all of this?

The first is that demons often – in fact, nearly always – appear as liberators and breakers of chains. “You will be as gods”, says the demon, who, unlike his prey, knows full well what that will mean. Giving the powers of a god to those without the godhead is a recipe for sowing chaos, which is, again, the business of demons. Thus, there should be a healthy skepticism of liberators. “Liberated from what… to what?” is a question that should always be asked. The average man may not have the vision or the wisdom to ask that, but natural aristocrats do, which brings us to our next point.

The second takeaway begins by reiterating that most people can’t rationally, much less virtuously, handle a great deal of liberation. Most people need to be taught and led, and it is, in fact, inhumane to deprive them of this structure and guidance. Lester’s basement prominently features a poster that shows a fish swimming against the direction of all the other fishes, with a caption reading: “What if you’re right and they’re wrong?”. But most people are not Socrates. They cannot rationally and virtuously find their own way; left to do so, they will, as Lester did, only turn into selfish monsters who destroy themselves and those around them. Most people can’t and shouldn’t swim against the direction of the rest of the fish, so it is the responsibility of the elites of society – of the very natural aristocrats who could find their own way – to make sure that the rest of the fish are swimming in the right direction; i.e. that the basis of the ideals on which their orderly and harmonious society is based are indeed rational and virtuous.

Because otherwise we end up with a world of Lester Nygaards. A world of utter chaos.

Sailor Starlight

I didn’t know Peter Brown all that well. I’m not saying that I did. But in the mid-90s, anime was still not mainstream yet, the fan base was smaller, and everybody knew everybody, at least a little, or by reputation. And Peter Brown certainly did have a reputation.

In those days, the staff of the computer lab at Laney College – on the border of Oakland’s seedy downtown and its distinctly non-touristy Chinatown – was effectively the same as the makeup of its college anime club, Beefbowl Anime. It was run by a crazy bald second-generation Korean who mostly created fansubs by coercing his elderly father, who had been forcibly taught Japanese as a schoolboy during the Japanese occupation of Korea – to translate the likes of Tenchi Muyo and Macross Plus into English. The lab itself was a motley collection of computers that were ancient even then – some Mac SE/30s, a couple of squat IIci and IIvx machines, and a few PCs that still had 5 1/4” floppy drives. I’d go up there sometimes, hang out, wheel and deal for tapes – in those days, fansubs came on VHS tapes put together with Video Toasters, and you had to have connections to lay your hands on them (thus one reason why everybody got to know everybody – so you’d have people to trade with). As with so many things, it’s easier now, but with less human connection or sense of community. But I digress.

Peter Brown was kind of a member of Beefbowl and kind of not – it isn’t like most anime clubs back then had much real formal organization unless they were big operations like Cal Animage up at UC Berkeley. Everyone just kind of showed up when they could. Peter Brown showed up a lot. The first time I saw him was in the Laney computer lab before a Beefbowl showing (of a couple episodes each of Maison Ikkoku and DNA^2, I think). My first thought was “What a weird-looking girl!”. There was certainly a distinct androgyny to him: a plump, round, rather feminine face that was unmistakably half-white and half-Asian, long hair hanging down in a ponytail, a fanny pack (these were, and perhaps still are, thought of as a feminine or at least effeminate article of clothing); and besides this (much to my disapproval), girls do commonly wear jeans these days, so the rest of his clothes were no help.

Later, during the showing (the cool kids watched anime at home and came to club showings to hang out in the hallway, talk, and make connections), I asked who the girl in the blue jacket was. There was a round of laughter at my expense. Some ribald teasing ensued, which I professed bafflement at. One of the members of the club, a Chinatown native named Raymond, stopped to explain.

“That…” he said, crinkling his nose up as if he were smelling something bad, the way Chinese often do when they talk about something they dislike, “…is Peter Brown”.

I continued to be baffled. Who was he?

Peter Brown had a reputation, you see, as a cosplayer. But with one distinct quirk – he always dressed as female characters. They have a name for that now; they call it “crossplay” (a portmanteau of “crossdressing” and “cosplay”). But Tumblr didn’t exist back then, so our name for it was “fucking weird”.

“How could you think that looked like a woman?”, somebody asked me accusingly.

Thinking fast, and wanting not to spend the rest of the evening as the butt of jokes, I shot back “Well it sure as shit doesn’t look like a man!”

And everyone conceded that I had a point there. The ribald teasing subsided.

Fast forward a year…

* * *

The next time I remember seeing Peter Brown was at Anime Expo ’96, which was the Best. Con. Ever. It was the last anime con before anime started really going mainstream, and thus the last con before poseurs and casual fans started showing up. It was the last time that any anime con was really just a gathering of knowledgable, hardcore devotees. Being in my early 20s, I saw nothing wrong with going down there with no badge or hotel room ready. I’d figure something out about the badge, and besides, the best part of the con was the room parties anyway. As for a hotel room, I figured that it was just a three-day con; staying up 72 hours wouldn’t be that big a deal, and I could sleep when I got home (you think those kinds of things at that age). So I bummed a ride down to LA (with the crazy bald Korean driving – an odyssey in terror is ever there was one) and walked in the door of the hotel with a grand total of $40 in my pocket for the weekend.

The badge issue got solved. Somebody from (I think) the Cal Animage branch at Chabot College hadn’t been able to make it, but the guys from the club had picked up his badge anyway, and since they were connections, I talked my way into it.

The hotel room issue was not resolved so neatly. The first night, I stayed at the Cal Animage Berkeley room party until it shut down at 7AM or so. They showed all kinds of animated shorts on (what in those days passed for) a big TV set – I remember seeing some Seishun Shitemasu fundubs, Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown, and an obscure little thing called Spirit of Christmas. I grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep under a table, and woke up to find that someone had drawn Madoka Ayukawa on my forearm with a Sharpie.

That night was the masquerade, and it was magnificent. You couldn’t get a crowd to chant “Seig Zeion” with that enthusiasm today.

I don’t know whether this still occurs, but on Saturday night, Anime Expo used to feature an unofficial Pool Party at the hotel pool. Every anime in history has its inevitable fanservice beach episode, and girls would come to the Pool Party in costume as some character from a beach episode. There were fewer girls in fandom then, but they tended to be prettier and thicker-skinned when it came to getting rid of conslugs (as we called guys who came to cons to hit on girls back then – before somebody invented the concept of “stare rape”). I forget why I didn’t go, but I didn’t. Somewhere during the evening, however, I ran into a couple of the Beefbowl guys, who were laughing their asses off at something. I asked what happened.

“Peter Brown damn near started a riot at the Pool Party!”

Again, bafflement on my part.

It turned out that Peter Brown had shown up to the Pool Party dressed as female Ranma, in a red wig and one-piece swimsuit. It hadn’t gone well. A lot of people saw him and headed for the exits. Nothing quite ruins a Pool Party, the general consensus said, like a pudgy half-Asian male sporting a visible three-piece set under a tight red leotard.

I burst out laughing too. I said I was going to the pool to see it all for myself, but the guys told me that the party had broken up and he was gone.

“This isn’t fucking funny!”, Raymond insisted.

But it was.

Fast forward a year…

* * *

Anime Expo ’97 was different. Anime had started to go mainstream in earnest. The casual fans had started showing up. There were more people there, but fewer people you knew. There were more girls – a lot more. For the first time, you heard of lots of people who planned on meeting face-to-face with others who they’d become friends with on the internet – mostly on IRC or ICQ. That was part of my plan, too – I was going to meet Winnie for the first time. Not with any idea of romance – I had been able to even over the internet that she had some psychological issues that I didn’t want to deal with, and anyway she had a jealous harem of male admirers – but I was curious to meet her all the same. She and her harem were doing a group cosplay as the characters from Fushigi Yuugi, with Winnie herself as Miaka. There wasn’t a Yui – hives can only have one queen, after all.

I ran into Peter Brown in the registration line. He said he had something special planned for the masquerade this year. The general consensus was that this was not good news. The general consensus was that Peter Brown’s costumes were indeed beautifully-crafted and meticulously-made, and that they would be a wonder to behold if only he wasn’t wearing them personally. Perhaps he could create the costumes, and he could find a girl to wear them instead? A few people had suggested this to him, and a couple of girls had even volunteered, but Peter Brown was not interested.

That year, also for the first time, the number of attendees had grown such that not everybody who wanted to see the masquerade could fit into the ballroom where it was being held. Thus, big (again, for the time) TVs were placed in smaller ballrooms, and the masquerade was simulcast into them so that everybody could watch. Winnie and her harem had grabbed some front-row seats. I lay on the floor at their feet, right in front of the TV.

About halfway through the masquerade, Peter Brown took the stage, wearing a bright red business suit with a green shirt and a yellow tie. I was not a great Sailor Moon fan, but I had seen enough Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars to suddenly understand what the special thing that Peter Brown had in mind was. He started his skit, struck a pose… and waited. Something had gone wrong; someone had missed a cue for something. There was a long, awkward delay. Peter Brown, trying to keep things going, said in a diva-ish voice (barely audibly over the TV in the remote ballroom) “I cannot work like this!”. The wait, with him still holding his pose, seemed to go on forever, until finally the tape was played and the feed cut to Sailor Star Fighter’s transformation sequence from the anime.

“Oh God no!” someone shouted.

The feed cut back to Peter Brown. The suit was supposed to have been a velcro-secured, tearaway affair, covering the Sailor Starlight costume of black leather thigh-high boots, hot pants, and a bikini top, to be revealed when he tore it off. But it had malfunctioned, and as the feed cut back, he was still desperately trying to pull it off of his plump, rotund body. The crowd – both in the main ballroom and in the remote hall where I was, broke into jeers. I turned to one of Winnie’s hive, who was dressed as Chichiri, complete with the sort of round, conical hat associated with Chinese and Vietnamese peasants…

“Gimmee your hat!” I pleaded

“Why? What for?”

“Just gimmee your hat!”

He did. I speed-crawled up to the TV, and in one motion, clapped the hat onto the screen right over the image of Peter Brown’s mostly-uncovered body as it pranced around on stage – safely obscuring it, completely.

And the crowd cheered!

Fast forward a few hours…

* * *

Later that evening I was at a room party (I think it was run by someone who later was manga editor for Dark Horse – it’s a bit hard to remember). I arrived late, had a drink or two, and settled in. I wandered around, said hello to the host, and to Raymond, and to someone I knew from IRC and had already met once in person the year before.

I ended up half-drunk, and eventually ambled over to the room’s bed.

And there was Peter Brown. He was sitting on the bed in the room, half-drunk himself, normally dressed, and alone.

My head was spinning. I needed to sit down for a while. So I sat on the bed, and Peter Brown recognized me, and we started talking.

I forget the exact words of the conversation, and I wouldn’t try to repeat them here even if I did. But, as it got late, and the crowd thinned out, and we drank a bit more, the conversation turned personal, and I heard Peter Brown’s story in full.

Peter Brown’s father had met his mother while in Japan in the military. They married, moved to the U.S., had him, and divorced when he was very young. His mother had gone back to Japan and neither he nor his father had ever heard from her again, though they had heard thirdhand that she had remarried, and that Peter Brown had Japanese half-siblings who he had never met. His father had remarried as well, and he had ended up with new stepsiblings, and eventually half-siblings, from his new stepmother. She hadn’t liked him very much though, and neither had her children. His being the child of his father’s first wife was most of it, and the obvious racial difference between him and the rest of his new family hadn’t helped. There was a lot of emotional abuse, and sometimes the abuse from the other kids in the family crossed into the physical. Always the outcast, at 18 he was unsubtly requested to leave, and did. He worked where he could, and took classes at Laney where he could. That was his lot. And then there was the cosplay.

He didn’t directly say that his life was an unhappy one, and always had been. He didn’t have to. It was obvious from talking to him that the conventions and the cosplay were the only things that brought him any real joy or sense of accomplishment. The whole crowd had booed him that day, and I’d stuck Chichiri’s hat over him on the remote ballroom TV, and yet that moment on stage at the Anime Expo masquerade was still all that he had lived the previous year of his life for.

Of course he would never just make a costume and let somebody else wear it.

I felt for him, but said little. Perhaps just letting him talk was what was best, or perhaps I just couldn’t think of anything to say about it all.

The party wound down in the wee hours. Eventually everyone left, including us. The next day was the last of the convention, and I didn’t see Peter Brown again before we all went home.

Fast forward five years…

* * *

If you’re ever in Oakland Chinatown and you’re in the mood for some Dim Sum, Restaurant Peony is a good choice. It’s on the top floor of the Pacific Plaza, a block off of Broadway, and a few blocks from Laney College. On a clear, cool early afternoon in the fall of 2002, I was there for lunch with Raymond, his brother, and another of his friends.

A lot had changed in the previous few years. I had gone to Japan to teach English for a year, and then come back to the States. I’d fallen in love, been engaged, and had gotten my heart broken. I was working at a job that involved a lot of time on the road. Raymond had started to have some health issues, and didn’t get out all that much. But my being back in town for a while merited a lunch out.

We were both getting close to thirty. We both still liked anime, but it wasn’t – couldn’t be – an obsession or a lifestyle anymore.

Dim Sum is a leisurely experience, especially on a weekend. You sit, and talk, and eat a bit, and sit some more, and drink some tea, and let a couple of hours pass. If you’re with Asians, you can expect gadgets at the table; nobody thinks of it as rude. Between the many courses, Raymond’s brother sat smashing buttons on a GameBoy Advance. The rest of us talked. Someone (probably me, though I can’t be sure) brought up Peter Brown and asked what he was up to.

Raymond crinkled his nose. “He’s out at sea.”

Surely this was a joke?

No. It wasn’t. Raymond explained that you can make a lot of money fast by signing up as crew on a cargo ship; so much so that if you lived cheap, you only had to work half the year. Peter Brown did this, and with the other half, worked on his costumes and went to wear them at conventions.

“Besides, the ships go back and forth to Japan a lot, and while he’s there he can go anime shopping.”

I suppose he could. Or perhaps he could spend the time looking for someone…

The conversation moved to other things. We talked, and sat, and ate, and drank some tea, and Raymond’s brother plinked away at his GameBoy.

Fast forward ten years…

* * *

Raymond’s house is a beautiful one, or would be were it not a total mess – cluttered to every last inch with toys, models, figures, DVDs, and an ever-more forlorn looking collection of VHS tapes – all artifacts of an increasingly distant youth. And not just in his room, but everywhere. His mom lets him. I’d complain if it was my house, but it isn’t. And besides, he and I are of the same generation, and the toys of his youth were all familiar and comforting things to me, too.

And I myself have little right to complain of anyone else not wanting to grow up.

Still, a lot had changed in those ten years, too. I had ended up back in grad school and was putting the finishing touches on my thesis. Raymond’s health problems had gotten worse, and he’d gotten very close indeed to death before a new set of kidneys became available. The transplant had been a success however, and he’d only had to stay in the hospital a week afterward. Raymond still didn’t have a driver’s license at just short of forty, so I occasionally drove him down to Pill Hill in Oakland for his periodic post-transplant checkups. They were all fine.

It was a Saturday afternoon. Raymond had gotten back into building and launching model rockets, which were a part of his childhood, and mine as well. He’d gotten me back into it, too. And so we sat at his dining room table – gorgeous lacquered wood under the double tablecloths that sat under the gaming laptops and scattered piles of parts from rockets and Gundam models. I glued fins on an Estes Big Bertha. Raymond’s glue was drying, so he distractedly played some game on his computer, while an 80s mix played from the smartphone he’d laid on the table.

Somehow, the anime Queen’s Blade, noted for its unrealistically huge-busted female characters, came up.

“Let’s see Peter Brown cosplay that!” I joked.

Raymond looked away from his game for a second. “No chance of that. He’s dead.”

“Wait – that’s terrible! What happened?!”

“Killed himself. Got ahold of a pistol somewhere and shot himself in the head.”

“That’s awful…”

Awful… yes. Though I guess not all that unexpected.

“Yeah, well…” Raymond added, staring down at the table “…at least he checked out on his own terms.”

There was, not an intentional moment of silence, still silence for a moment nonetheless. Then something loud happened in the game on Raymond’s laptop, and he went back to it.

My rocket sat before me, needing fins. But I let it wait for just a bit, and I thought about Peter Brown.

No… not unexpected. Had the boos finally gotten to him? Was damn near twenty years worth of being a running joke in the only places he’d ever found any real happiness enough? Maybe it was the fact that we were all getting older. If people booed what he did when he was twenty-three, what would they say when he was forty years old? And what was there for him on the other side of forty, anyway? Certainly not a wife, children, family, accomplishment, respectability. He’d have none of the sweet things about growing older, and he couldn’t keep up what he had been doing much longer.

And so it seems he checked out.

Had there been a somberness in Raymond’s voice when he had told me? Respect for the dead, perhaps. Or maybe some reflection on the fact that he’d come close to “checking out” himself recently, and not on his own terms? He hadn’t crinkled his nose this time. But then again, if he really did dislike the guy so much, why did he always know what he was up to when I asked?

Or it could have been a realization that he and I had more to count as ours at forty than Peter Brown did, but not all that much.

Raymond’s mom came home. We made dinner. We ate. I glued my fins. He finished his game. The sun went down. I went home. Life went on.

* * *

So why am I telling this story? On a political blog, no less?

I suppose a liberal would say that Peter Brown hadn’t been tolerated enough. That he faced structural racism. That he was some manner of sexually baroque that should have been celebrated. That if we had all been more supportive, he wouldn’t have seen that gun as the only logical conclusion of his existence on this Earth.

Maybe.

I also suppose that traditionalists would say that Peter Brown had been robbed of something important by modernity. That he needed direction in his life; something more than the enjoyment of foreign cartoons as the thing that gave him meaning. Or that he had been tolerated too much – allowed to be a man-child too long in a society that is too permissive when it comes to such things.

Maybe.

Perhaps being on the wrong side of forty has made me reflective. Perhaps I’ve started to become an old man who tells pointless stories. Perhaps it’s just summer, and life is slow, and it’s the right time to spin a yarn about the old days.

Maybe it’s all of that. Or something else entirely.

They say that nobody really ever dies so long as people remember them. For this reason, Peter Brown’s name is the only one that I haven’t changed or concealed in this story.

I didn’t know Peter Brown all that well. Maybe nobody did.

But I do remember him.

In Which I Determine Whether Friendship Really Is Magic

I recently took a fair amount of criticism online – from both left and right – over a series of retweets I posted from BronyCon, a gathering of fans of the television show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I’m usually pretty inured to criticism (I get a lot of it in this gig, as you might expect) but this time, there was a certain ring of truth to it. After all, it really is rather unfair of me to offer an opinion on something I’ve never actually seen. Beyond this, I do understand the fact that, especially with “genre” shows, a property cannot always be fairly said to be represented by its fandom. As someone who is well-known as a longtime anime fan, I have seen myself that some anime fans can be a bit, well… excessive. And so it was in this spirit that I sat down to give My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic a fair shake by (in old-school anime fan tradition) watching the first four episodes of the show, with the movie My Little Pony: Equestria Girls thrown in for good measure. Below are my scattered impressions of each episode, written down in my notebook as they occurred to me.

Episode 01 – Friendship is Magic, Part 1:

  • This show seems more monarchistic than I might have expected. Two sisters ruling a kingdom?
  • The “Elements of Harmony” – this speaks to the feminine value placed on group consensus. What does it say that this was used to shun a misbehaver?
  • “Spike”? There’s a male character on this show?
  • So the main character is a bookworm. Explains a lot.
  • So the male character is physically tiny, and a servant. Typical.
  • So there is a princess! This demonstrates the truth that women, deep down, do totally grok hierarchical monarchy.
  • Spike – the little male dragon servant has the most masculine name ever – definitely a metaphor for the subjugation of masculinity.
  • The ponies who drag the chariots are “sirs” – again, subjugated male servants.
  • Twilight Sparkle is a “geekgirl” – quite telling. The people who created this show know their audience.
  • So this show is basically a monarchistic, hierarchical matriarchy. It is weirdly simultaneously reactionary and progressive. This brings up a question: Do women not object to hierarchy, as long as it’s *they* who rule it?
  • “There are only two kinds of women: Feminists and masochists” say feminists. In that vein, male MLP:FIM fans are surely masochists.
  • Fluttershy – the Tomoko Kuroki of Equestria.
  • There’s a definite femdom aspect to this.
  • I’d smack Pinky Pie.
  • Soooooo much matriarchy.
  • Nightmare Moon is definitely a villain of the animesque “Ufufufufufufu…” variety.

Season 01 Episode 02 – Friendship is Magic Part II:

  • UFUFUFUFUFUFU…
  • Predictably, the male is useless.
  • This show is rather Sailor Moonish. Expected from two shows based on feminine values.
  • So the females encounter a roaring lion, and engage in the fantasy of “fixing” a dangerous male.
  • Ever heard of a “testosterone-soaked” action movie? This is estrogen-soaked.
  • SOMEBODY FUCKING SMACK PINKY PIE!!!
  • Ah, the dragon who is the middle class white woman’s illusion of what gay males are like.
  • Shadowcolts! They’re, uhm… dressed like they came from a gay S&M club.
  • YMCA… Shadowcolts come from the… YMCA…
  • If you believe in yourself, anything can happen!… and other things that nobody over 30 believes anymore.
  • “Now, young Jedi, you will feel the pow-wah…”
  • Yes, yes… they each have a crystal that makes up the Ginzuishou… I’ve seen this before.
  • Yay! And everybody gets jewelry!
  • It’s like the end of the Sailor Moon R movie… but not as good, and twenty years later.
  • And they bow to their Princess. Very hierarchical. Very monarchstic.
  • The queen as healer (which is how all women see themselves). See? Females really do grok monarchy!
  • …as long as males have no effective power, that is.

Season 01 Ep. 03 – The Ticket Master:

  • Whatever this is, it could’t be worse than the actual TicketMaster!
  • And here we see that the male incessantly needs correction by the females.
  • Ah, an excuse to dress up. Females love that.
  • Applejack: My Capitalist Pony
  • Speaking of which, do any of these ponies besides Applejack have, you know, a job?
  • Females jockeying for social position. I am amused.
  • SOMEBODY GVE PINKY PIE RITALIN!!!
  • So Rarity dreams of meeting a man at a high society ball… in other words, to mate with a high status male.
  • Women in social competition sure do get vicious.
  • How does all this speak to the degree of manipulativeness among women?
  • This episode would be impossible among males. There is too much status-seeking and social jockeying in it.

Season 01 Ep. 04 – Applebuck Season:

  • So Applejack has a brother. Again, I’m actually surprised that this show has any male characters at all.
  • The female predictably lets a male suggesting that she can’t do something goad her into foolishly taking on what she can’t handle. Never forget that, ye who seek to use Game.
  • Yet more unrealistic grrl power fantasies.
  • And magic makes up for lack of opposable thumbs.
  • Ah, the fear of social embarrassment. To the female mindset, there is nothing worse.
  • Women really can be easily goaded into doing the stupidest shit.
  • Pridefulness is the heart of feminism. And that’s not a good thing.
  • Complimentarianism is simple, obvious sense. Which means that like all obvious sense these days, it is deeply controversial.
  • Surrender to womanly pride, and you get a bunny stampede. Truly a valuable lesson learned.
  • Sure, I know – but the actual consequences of giving into feminism are no less bizarre, and far more disastrous.
  • And the females discover the male ethic of helping with hard work… after getting dragged into it.

BONUS! My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic the Movie: Equestria Girls:

  • So Twilight Sparkle is a Princess now? How did that happen? Silly question – she’s an author avatar (and audience avatar), and all girls, no matter what egalitarian nonsense they may spout on Tumblr, dream of being princesses.
  • And again, in this show, males are servants, window dressing, or irrelevant.
  • And also, not particularly competent.
  • Who is this new pony? She is evil! In this show’s normal “Ufufufufufu” way, of course.
  • So monarchistic! I mean… in an utterly matriarchal way.
  • This show isn’t really leftist so much as oddly reactionary politically, yet sexist towards males.
  • And now she’s a real girl!
  • Just about all the girls here wear skirts? Oddly traditionalist!
  • Oh! Look! The show just turned into Mean Girls! Again, we see social hierarchy, and the fear of ostracization from the ingroup as the sum of all fears.
  • And the males retreat before the powerful female.
  • And Twilight Sparkle faces her most dangerous challenge yet! High school cafeteria food!
  • Yup – social stratification/separation into thedes rules here as well! See? Females really do understand the basics of reactionary thought.
  • Again, in this show, males are useless and stupid, fit only to be simple servants.
  • Ah, female signaling and status-jockeying.
  • Bookishness to the rescue! The awkward teenage girl’s fantasy.
  • The fantasy of female dominance over males is a serious theme here.
  • As is status and social shaming – to be honest, I’m not quite sure that females quite exactly understand not responding to social shaming.
  • And in this feminized society, a lot of males don’t either.
  • Boyfriends are commodities here… as are all males.
  • Another song. A time-waster?
  • There’s really no hint of “gay rights” in this show. Males – gay or straight – are too inconsequential here to bother spending time thinking about.
  • Wow! A male briefly did something mildly important. But only to support a female and become a fantasy boyfriend, of course.
  • Dare I hold the brief hope that they’re going to lez out?
  • More of the female virtues of consensus and cooperation.
  • The dress-up montage! The female equivalent of the 80s action movie training montage!
  • Uh oh! She’s got the HHH sledgehammer!
  • GIRLFIGHT!!!
  • Predictable climax! Yay!
  • Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown!
  • “A true princess in any world leads not by forcing others to bow before her, but by inspiring others to stand with her.” Wow… so the principal/queen declares that there’s no power without noblesse oblige! Very reactionary!
  • “You know what Spike? I am a little more comfortable wearing it!” I’ll just bet you are!

Wrapup/Overall thoughts:

This show is far less doinky, and also far less egalitarian than I thought it would be. That said, it is positively estrogen-soaked… deeply imbued with female thinking. As such, I can understand why females like it, but any male who willingly watches this (fathers of young girls excepted) can only be considered masochistic. In short, it isn’t terrible in itself; but Sailor Moon did largely the same things, 20 years ago, and with more sympathy for males. Which may be explained by the fact that Japanese males and females are far less at war with each other than in the West, and especially in America.

If anything, MLP suffers from insufficient respect for the proper balance of male and female essence.

Grade: Not as bad as I feared, but I don’t understand why it has male fans or why it seems to have sparked a movement, and I wouldn’t bother watching it again.

(P.S. The tradition of giving a show four episodes as a basis for determining whether you wanted to watch any more goes back to the days when anime fansubs came on VHS tapes and were very difficult and time-consuming to lay one’s hands on. Recorded at SP, which was the highest quality, a standard VHS tape gave you two hours of recording time, which worked out to four episodes of a show each. So you’d get your hands on the first tape, watch it, and then decide whether you wanted to go through the often-considerable bother of trying to lay your hands on any more of it. Kids these days with their crazy BitTorrent… they don’t know how good they’ve got it!)