A Cornflower By Any Other Name

Call Me by Your Name is a 2017 film about a transient ephebophilic romantic entanglement between two diasporic Jews living in “northern Italy” (not otherwise specified) in the 1980s with a shared interest in European high culture and in the fact that they are both Jews. It is the type of premise that makes a typical person of These Circles™ apoplectic, and one could almost say that it was that, combined with simple curiosity, that made me watch it.

I am continually amazed by how many people flippantly throw about the term “paedophilia”. I recall Ryan Faulk remarking once that the word “racist” is useless because to brand someone with it tells one nothing about what he believes; it is used only to manipulate. Ditto here, it seems, when the younger person in the relationship is 17, which is fully four years removed from what clinicians would define as paedophilic territory. Equally amazing is how many people are saying, “But the age of consent in Italy is 14,” as if that even matters. Would this become a “paedophile movie” to these people if Italy’s age of consent were 18 in 1983?

Why Italy was chosen is indeed interesting (much of this may apply to the source material as much as the film) and segues into several other curious choices made in the film about what to show explicitly, implicitly, or not at all. Debates rage on whether Italy or Germany deserves to be called the heart of European civilisation, but it should be borne in mind that both are young countries, and the region of Italy in which the film is set was part of the same political entity as what is now called Germany for a significant chunk of its history. The two protagonists – Oliver (the man) and Elio (the teenager) – roundaboutly evoke these themes in a dialogue about classical composers, eg Bach (a German) and Busoni (an Italian).

If one draws a line, roughly, under Bologna, everything above is unambiguously white. Everything below is white too, but it is palpably not the same. Northern Italy is also the least Jewish part of the country, as Elio notes quite early on, to which Oliver says that he is from New England and is “used to being the odd Jew out.” Elio is plainly uncomfortable with his identity, which is one of the things that cause friction between the two at first. Oliver, though, is overbearingly confident and looks like a figure from a 50s film noir poster, just at the time America’s Anglo elite had begun its steady decline. One could easily believe that he was indeed a New Englander, and he spends most of his life absorbed in European cultural artefacts, but internally he cannot bring himself to abandon his apartness, his selectness, his (I dare say) chosenness. He also has five-pointed stars on his trainers, on which the camera at one point lingers for a few seconds – as if this were connected to the Star of David he wears on a discreet necklace. It is not, though. It really only puts one in mind, again, of old films, and of that place which is home to all things formless, superficial, and vacuous.

Elio is attracted to these qualities in Oliver, but when he tries imitating Oliver’s behaviour, wearing a Star of David round his own neck, it comes across as strange and hollow. His mother would apparently disapprove of it, because his family are “Jews of discretion”, but she never comments on it, which makes one wonder what was the point of even mentioning it in the first place.

Elio’s family, naturally, are odd. He sounds American. His mother and father sound English and American respectively, but it is still not clear. All of them speak at least four European languages, and they live in a bucolic Italian paradise, but it is apparently only one of their houses (do they have one for every season of the year?). They act almost as a mosaic arrangement of the clichés of European Jewry; deracination, neuroticism, feigning detachment from things.

Elio’s father, “Mr Perlman”, is an archaeologist, so the film is replete with discussion about classical antiquity, particularly their aesthetics. However, despite taking place in Italy, most of the names I remember hearing were Greek, which I found interesting because Greece had few settlements in that part of Italy – the northernmost outpost of Magna Graecia was at Adria, but it was very much an outlier. Mr Perlman waxes lyrical a few times in the film, the first time when he is showing Oliver a slideshow of classical statues and saying that they look as if they are “daring you to desire them”, at which Oliver gives a quizzical look. This comes on the heels of escalating tension between him and Elio – and afterward, his inhibitions seem to diminish. That is the explicit link to Hellenic pederasty. The implicit one is by far more interesting. Although both actors (Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet) are adult men, they could not have found two men who were more physically different. Hammer is above the 99th percentile in US male height and nearly as fetching as the Greek statues, whereas Chalamet is glabrous and gangling. Elio is at an ephebe’s age, more or less (he is played by Chalamet). He is cultured but rather unworldly and naive – and by the end of the film (like an eromenos, one is tempted to imagine), when he is inconsolably broken-hearted, one finally sees a change in his demeanour. By then he has come to terms with himself in multiple ways, not just with his incipient sexuality.

Neither one of these characters is straightforwardly gay; Elio has a girlfriend for the second half of the film with whom he copulates, and Oliver eventually ends up getting married. It is better this way, I think. If they were gay then their relationship would be that much less remarkable, since it would be the default for them both to be attracted to members of their own sex anyway. Since this is not the case, attention is drawn not to the same-sex nature of their attraction, but to everything else about them – their erudition, Oliver’s strange obsessiveness, etc. Oliver’s doctoral thesis, the reason he is staying with Elio’s family, remains a mystery except for the fact that he is assisting Elio’s father in some way, but that is never really explained either, and there are probably a load more things like that that I have missed. The performances of the two lead actors, who eat up >90% of the screen time, are among the most “real” I have ever seen in a film, and I do not recall any scenes that you would have to be gay to enjoy. There is also not a single histrionic outburst from anyone in the entire film about Elio and Oliver’s relationship, which stops it from falling into familiar(ly tedious and clichéd) territory, and Oliver even seems to remark on this towards the end when he says something to the effect of, “You are so lucky. My father would have had me carted off to a correctional facility.” In fact, the extent to which their relationship is even mentioned explicitly by any of the other characters is very limited even at the end.

So it’s worth watching, I think. But if you are the sort who would be put off by Robert Stark’s novel, this is probably not for you either.

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The Hand is Pinker Than the Eye

Apologies for borrowing the title of this article from one my favorite Pink Panther cartoons, but it seems as appropriate as ever. The AltRight was quick to embrace Harvard professor Steven Pinker’s recent remarks referring to them as “highly intelligent and internet savvy.” This was somewhat laughable to me, as it should be clear to anyone with the least bit of critical thinking skills that in the overall context,(as Jesse Singal correctly observed) Pinker was saying that people in the AltRight held incorrect views and were simply just not exposed to the powerful counter arguments and explanations which would refute their ideas. He referred to them or (or those potentially susceptible to persuasion toward their way of thinking) as lacking the necessary facts which would provide ideological immunity toward embracing identitarian views.

Now you might think at this point that someone as intelligent as Pinker must hold some kind of trump (small t) card and that these counter arguments he has must be devastating. Well, far from me to come off like an anti-vaxxer, but let’s just say that the “immunity” that Pinker offers to inject you with consists mainly of the same basic bitch arguments you’ve likely already heard a thousand times already and rejected.

Allow me to give a couple of examples:
Pinker claims that the “the majority of domestic terrorism is committed by right-wing extremist groups.” First off, this statement is rather vague and misleading in and off itself. For one thing, Muslims represent a tiny percentage of the population relative to whites and other demographics, so who commits the “majority” of domestic terrorist acts isn’t the most relevant statistic. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

A. Muslims commit terrorism at a rate which is vastly disproportionate to their percentage of the population.

B. Islamic groups self identify as Muslims and almost always clearly state their religious motivations for carrying out their attacks, whereas “right-wing extremist group” or “white supremacist” are dubious, subjective classifications often attributed by third parties and which may or may not be accurate or even have served as primary motivations for the attacks.

C. The media and the government frequently downplay Islamic violent acts, to sustain the narrative, minimize panic and prevent the dreaded backlash against Muslims. Often attacks will be comically categorized as “workplace violence” and the Islamic component of the crime will be ignored, even when explicitly stated by the perp as an inspiration for committing the act.

D. When Pinker says “the majority of domestic terrorism is committed by right-wing extremist groups,” what metric is he using? Are we talking body counts or number of incidents? Can we really give the same weight to an incident like 9/11 where 3000 people were killed to a situation where someone whom happens to be AltRight panics and drives into some people while his car is being surrounded and attacked? I’m looking over the list of recent domestic terrorist incidents, and I’m just not seeing a whole lot of “right-wing extremist groups” or even whites being implicated. There is the Vegas shooting of course, but as yet we have no information as to the motive.

E. Unlike other forms of domestic terrorism, Islamic terrorist is almost entirely preventable. It’s like “bonus” terrorism. The 9/11 hijackers were all here as a result of student Visas. If we did not continue import people (whom we do not benefit from anyway) from Islamic countries, our risk for this particular brand of terrorism would be greatly reduced. Since these people explicitly state their hostility toward western values and express no desire to assimilate to our cultural and social norms, one wonders what the point is.

Another factoid Pinker touts as some kind of antidote to AltRight ideas is that even though Blacks commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime, the Irish also once had high crime rates, therefore it’s possible for groups’ criminality to change over time. Okay sure, but so what? A few points:

A. What parameters are we talking about? The Irish once had higher crime rates, but what was the murder/violent sexual assault rate relative to the rate among blacks for the same types of crimes? This would be useful information to know. Italians also were once over represented in crime. It’s perhaps telling though, that the nature of their criminality was vastly different from that of blacks. Italian crime took the form of organized and sophisticated syndicates which often involved committing murders and robberies in association with those activities. The mob built and managed casino resort hotels though. It didn’t rape old ladies or kill random people on the street for 5 bucks. There was a degree of impulse control and future time orientation in play even within the criminal element.

B. While crime rates do fluctuate among groups depending upon their circumstances and cultural environment, the violent crime rate among blacks is consistently higher throughout the entire world, remaining elevated, spanning over a wide variety of countries and radically different environments. Sure, it’s certainly possible that over the next 80 years, the violent crime rate among blacks will be greatly reduced…but so what? Why are we obligated to subject ourselves to it in the meantime and accept this finality as a given. It’s a bet I didn’t agree to take. Since the vast majority of blacks have little interest in assuming any responsibility for their own behavior and would rather blame white people, wouldn’t it make more sense to go our separate ways and allow blacks the self-determination to flourish to remove whites as a variable in their equation for success/failure? Then in 80 years, after nations like Haiti have advanced space programs, established functioning sewage systems and can sustain violent crime rates equal to those of poor white communities if West Virginia, perhaps we can revisit the possibility of multiracial integration. If in 80 years blacks have demonstrated they have the ability to act civilized and courteous in public in accordance with western ideals, then we can give it another go.

C. Using the argument of Irish or Italian crime fluctuation is unlikely to persuade people with potentially AltRight leanings to embrace multiracialism or mass immigration from non-white countries. In fact, most people who hold these views believe that allowing migrants from Italy, Greece, etc into the US was a mistake to begin with (I say this as someone whose 1/4 Italian by the way.) These migrant waves did irreparably transform the country in culturally undesirable ways for the Anglos who were here at the time, and they had every right to resist being overwhelmed by them. Just because the status quo seems “normal” to us in the contemporary, that isn’t inherently indicative of it being an improvement for those who pre-existed its manifestation. As F Scott Fitzgerald (part Irish!) wrote in This Side of Paradise:

When Amory went to Washington the next week-end he caught some of the spirit of crisis which changed to repulsion in the Pullman car coming back, for the berths across from him were occupied by stinking aliens-Greeks, he guessed, or Russians. He thought how much easier patriotism had been to a homogeneous race, how much easier it would have been to fight as the Colonies fought, or as the Confederacy fought. And he did no sleeping that night, but listened to the aliens guffaw and snore while they filled the car with the heavy scent of latest America.

It’s been nearly 100 years since This Side of Paradise was published, and Fitzgerald’s sentiments still ring as true as ever, while Pinker’s ideological inoculations carry the familiar scent of snake oil.

Brandon Adamson is the author of Beatnik Fascism

Hooked on Animatronics

My recent trip to The Rainforest Cafe got me to thinking about how animatronics should feature more heavily in a hypothetical society. Lacking sentience, animatronics offers humans the potential for an interactive experience with nature, yet without the elements of cruelty and exploitation commonly associated with keeping “live” animals in captivity. Imagine how parks like Sea World could flourish if they made the transition to housing mechanical dolphins and Orcas. This could even finally allow them to display versions animals like great whites, which do not seem to survive in captivity. It would also put an end to the senseless park deaths that occur (or at least further minimize them as accidents can always happen). Dinosaurs like the Wooly Mammoth could be resurrected to roam again, all without having to grapple with the ethical considerations. I suppose, if these animatronic creatures were to become high tech enough to develop something of a consciousness, that might be a game changer. It should be go without saying though that even without the ability to feel or reason, these beings should be treated with respect, empathy and decency as if they were as “real” as any other creature. You just never know, and it doesn’t hurt to be kind in this scenario.

Brandon Adamson is the author of Beatnik Fascism

The Experts

I reviewed the 1989 film, The Experts over at Aryan Skynet. I’m not sure this mediocre movie warranted having 1,300 words written about it, but hey that’s never stopped me before. The review can be found, here