SPACE FORCE!

Like everything else about this administration, the SPACE FORCE is probably also about whiteness.

 

I know I haven’t written in a while, but in my defense, I’ve been getting a PhD (and then recovering). But now I’m back, I’m a doctor (not that kind of doctor), and also: SPACE FORCE!

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The sitting-in-a-golf-cart president of the united states has been making more noise lately about the so-called “Space Force” he wants to add to the military, sending out six mediocre-at-best (and your-graphic-designer-friend’s-worst-nightmare at worst) logos for his fashy mailing list to “vote” on (i.e. raise money for the reelection campaign he started like, three months into office). Hold on, if you haven’t seen them I’ll dig them up… here:

 

[six SPACE FORCE logos]

So, here’s the thing about the logos. Aside from being utterly shite, busy designs that are at once both meaningless and and entirely forgettable, and aside from the hideous circa-2003 flash-animation feel and the unrepentant keming issues, and aside from the utterly blatant ripoff of the NASA “meatball” and the fact that if these were military logos no country in their right mind would take the US seriously (heh as though they do anymore anyway, but fine), there’s still more to talk about when it comes to both these logos and SPACE FORCE in general.

 

[the logos for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and SPACE FORCE]

So the president and his administration can’t actually make a new branch of the military, for starters. What they can and have done is direct the DoD to draft plans for how a SPACE FORCE would work as a sixth branch of the military (after the Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines). But it’s unclear what it would actually do, how it would be arranged, or why it’d be worth the money to do such an administrative rejiggering.

Mike Pence said recently that “the space environment has fundamentally changed in the last generation; what was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial,” which …is bullshit from start to finish. Space has always been both adversarial and contested (maybe he doesn’t remember a little thing called the “Space Race”? Reagan’s plans for “Star Wars”?) and things have been held in check by a little thing called “diplomacy” (which to be fair, Trump has never in his life heard of). We actually have an international treaty that (in short) says “no weapons in space,” but as we all know, Trump doesn’t give a damn about treaties (or laws of any sort).

Image of an art-deco rocket launching with the words "I have a question about the Space Force. When is Puerto Rico getting electricity?"
From Robert Bruce Design

The US does send military satellites into space, usually under the watchful eye of the National Reconnaissance Office, one of the “big five” intelligence agencies (along with the CIA, NSA, DIA, and NGA), and the Air Force does send up unmanned X-37s for secret reasons, so perhaps it would take on some of those responsibilities? Or perhaps it would act more like the Coast Guard, there to rescue astronauts who run aground (or collide with space junk)? It’s pretty unclear what the SPACE FORCE is needed for, especially when Flint still doesn’t have clean water and Puerto Rico is still without power.

But I think a friend of mine really put his finger on the issue the other day when we were discussing these logos. He pointed out that they all have something in common: they’re intensely “retro.”

They’re the #MAGA of space.

These logos reveal something really important about what Trump and Pence and the whole administration are trying to get at: these aren’t forward-looking plans, they’re distilled nostalgia. Just like Make America Great “Again” hearkens back to a fantasy “golden age” where white people had everything and nobody else mattered, this Space Force is hearkening back to the “space age.” And what did the space age promise?

Whiteness in Space.

Look, I’m not the first person to say that The Jetsons takes place in a dystopic future in which the systemic exclusion of people of colour has been extended to its logical conclusion: a future without black people. I’m not the first to point out that it’s a show about a nice white family with a sapient robotic slave, or that it replicates literally everything monstrous about the patriarchy in one all-encompassing swoop. But if SPACE FORCE isn’t about going backward to a time when “the future” was about the (all-white) Robinsons exploring alien worlds, or about the “all-American” (white) Flash Gordon fighting Yellow Peril, then I will eat my hat.

The goals of white supremacism can inevitably be seen in the things it idealizes. Maybe I’m reading too much into the garbage-disposal logos for the SPACE FORCE, but I’m not reading into what it represents. The drive to have a “strong” (i.e. military), nationalist, American presence in space is part and parcel of Making American Great Again, and that almost certainly means weaponizing space against people of colour in some form or other.

In V for Vendetta, the guard at the party’s propaganda station watches “Storm Saxon” at his post. For all its flaws, it sure gets some things right—but maybe it should’ve called the tv show SPACE FORCE, instead.

Signed: The Remixologist.

A movie poster for Starship Troopers but retitled "Space Force"

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The featured image is of the Jetsons in their weird little spaceship and is captioned “Space Force!”

Let’s Talk About Robin Hood (2018)

Because I’m a medievalist and I need to understand what’s going on here.

 

This is about a new movie that’s coming out soon. The movie, starring Jamie Foxx and someone named Taron Egerton, is called “Robin Hood.” It’s a new take on a story you might be familiar with, about a lord returning home from the crusades to medieval England only to find that King John has taxed everyone into oblivion and is ruling like a tyrant. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor ensues.

But I have so, so many questions about this take.

Here’s the trailer.

Actually, I have only one question, and the rest of them stem from it:

WHEN DOES THIS MOVIE TAKE PLACE?

Let’s take a look at some stills.

Okay, in this first shot, you see the city in which this all takes place. Look at those beefy as all get-out walls. Look at the truly massive foundations. Are those tile roofs on all the buildings inside? And what’s going on with the footings of the industrial-revolution-style bridge off to the left? Are those concrete footings in the water? Well, okay, none of this is at first glance totally impossible in a medieval setting, but it’s pretty outlandish.

Okay things are getting weird here. Is that an industrial steel sculpture? And look at those textiles. The fashion is of course modern, but look at the leather of that suit jacket, and the fine texture of the vest beneath. I guess it wouldn’t be totally, completely, absolutely impossible to imagine—

—okay stop right there. That bottle. That’s a machine-made bottle. There’s no way around that. It looks like a Heineken bottle for chrissakes. There’s no doubt about it: that’s post-Industrial Revolution materials science.

Which I guess explains the riveted steel construction of this… armored troop carrier? Tank? Out of place premodern submarine? Thing?

Not to mention the huge quantities of steel everywhere and… whatever this lock-and-load crossbow-slash-grenade-launcher thing might be.

Okay, so this is, um. I know, it’s a post-apocalyptic society! Yeah, that’s it!

…except then why are they talking about returning from the crusades? At 1:30 in the trailer, a voiceover (probably Foxx) says:

“You were a crusader. Now you have to be a warrior.”

Okay that’s weird. And not just because crusaders were warriors, in no uncertain terms.

So it takes place after some kind of apocalypse, but not too bad an apocalypse because we still have modern materials science and industrial-scale metal production, but the crusades are still a thing, so… maybe there were other crusades?

Yeah, that’s it. There’s no internet anymore, and the islamophobes won (causing the ruination of society in some kind of war that pushed us back to industrial revolution technology), and now there’s some kind of persistent and/or permanent front in an ongoing war, so if you want to be a dick to Muslims you have to actually get up and go fight them in person. Okay wow, that’s bleak, but it’d explain the whole “crusades” thing except—

Wait. Why is everyone using crossbows? And what’s this?

Are those catapults?!

If you can make perfect glass bottles, and truly vast quantities of riveted steel, and beautifully uniform textiles and leather jackets… where’s the GUNPOWDER?

Where are the guns? Where are the cannons? Where are the bombs? If you’re in a state of constant war, and you’ve got enough wealth and manpower for huge numbers of metal-clad, lock-action crossbow-wielding civil defense soldiers at home, why doesn’t anyone have a gun? Why are you using catapults to throw stones over the walls instead of using gunpowder to blow holes through them?

Is there not enough nitrogen? Did we lose the Haber-Bosch process? Is that what caused the apocalypse? Did half the world starve because we somehow lost all ability to artificially produce nitrate? I AM SO CONFUSED.

Look, I know the answer, the real answer, is because someone thought “hey wouldn’t it be cool if it looked like this?” But it just makes me twitchy when you see such sloppy worldbuilding without the writers even hanging a lantern on it or anything. It’s the kind of thing that turns this:

into this:

and that just makes me feel like this:

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image is of a dude about to throw a molotof cocktail in the Heineken bottle in a medieval-ish film, from the Robin Hood trailer.

Art Bell (1945-2018)

Art Bell died this week.

If you don’t know who he was, well, he was probably best known as the former host of Coast to Coast, a paranormal-themed radio show broadcast back in the 1990s. There’s probably no real reason you should know who he was, and if I’m being honest, I don’t even know who he turned into. I don’t know if he was a good person in his personal life, or what he did after the 90s. As far as his Wikipedia article says, he didn’t get up to anything more controversial than a quick remarriage after the death of his wife.

But here’s what I remember of Art Bell.

I’ve always had insomnia. Like, imagine an autistic kid who didn’t know there was a name for it, who literally banged his head on his pillow to fall asleep on a regular basis (much to the concern of his parents and the annoyance of his older sister). Imagine a kid who couldn’t make his mind shut up for love or money, and whose legs have ached since forever, especially in the small hours of the morning. Sleep and this kid have never been much better than acquaintances, and that’s in the good times.

Now imagine that kid’s parents give him a small, AM radio, powered by a couple of batteries (double A’s, I think), so he can stick it under his pillow and at least not die of boredom while he’s lying in bed, awake.

The kid, you obviously know, is me.

There wasn’t a hell of a lot to listen to at night, not on AM radio in the Toronto suburbs in the 1990s. There was baseball and hockey, sure, but aside from the 92 and 93 seasons—when the Jays even attracted fans from the less-masculine among us—that didn’t mean much to me. There was a show called “Lovers and Other Strangers” that still cracks me up to this day when I remember it, mostly for the love letters they read in sultry voices and for the sheer, unironic abundance of Kenny G. Soprano saxophone that was the siren song of late-night AM radio.

And then, later at night, so late it was really more like morning, there was Coast to Coast AM.

God it was weird. They covered everything, from Bigfoot and other “cryptid” sightings, to ghosts and psychics, to alien abductions and government conspiracies. It didn’t matter if it was real. It was fantastic, in the most literal sense of the world.

Lying there in my bed, head pressed to the pillow that muffled the sounds of talk radio for everyone else in the house, I heard stories. Calling different numbers from east and west of the Rockies, I heard a parade of long-time listeners (first-time callers) sharing their personal experiences, opening the door to a whole world that existed beyond the one I knew. For a couple of exhausted hours in the time of the night that even the monsters under my bed were too tired to come out, I had a front-row seat to strange, bizarre, and sometimes dark fantasies made real.

The truth value of the things covered was essentially nil, but the truth claims held something deeper. In retrospect it’s a little bit sad. So many of the callers were people who were genuinely scared of things they didn’t understand, or who were sublimating the terrible stresses of their daily lives into a kind of performance art without even knowing it. I think many of them genuinely thought they’d been abducted, or were the target of a conspiracy, or that they’d really seen Bigfoot out of the corner of their eye while they were out in the deep forest in their early twenties, some decades ago. Many more probably knew they hadn’t seen the things they were saying, but just desperately needed someone, anyone, to take them seriously for a moment’s time. Just for thirty seconds on the end of an echoey, staticky phone line.

Art Bell did that for them.

Of course the genre isn’t what it used to be. The successors to the late-night tin-foil-hat conspiracy theory talk shows have gone from the realm of harmless cranks endlessly rewatching the Zapruder film, arguing whether it was one bullet or two, to people openly subverting the country’s faith in democracy and screaming at fever pitch that the first black president—not, of course, because he was black, never that—wasn’t a legitimate president because he was “born in Kenya.” It’s gone from people calling in at 3 in the morning to talk about that time they saw the chupacabra on their ranch to a red-faced Alex Jones wannabe ranting that the woman who would’ve been the first woman to be president—not, of course, because she was a woman, never that—was a literal tool of the Devil who had to be stopped at any cost.

And maybe Art Bell had a part to play in that history. Maybe in entertaining the minor conspiracies, the outlandish ones that never gained any real traction, he carved out a space that could be exploited later by his more malicious successors. Maybe the world would be a better place today if he hadn’t been who he was and done what he did.

But for that kid with his head to the pillow in the hours of the night that even god wasn’t awake to see, Bell’s absurd little show was a lifeline into a realm of possibility. For a couple of hours when nobody else was around, the impossible was possible, for better or worse, and every dark thing that ever haunted your dreams was out there, somewhere, waiting to be seen—or caught on camera.

Art Bell died this week. He was 72.

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Featured image is of Art Bell in his recording studio, and is taken from various unattributed twitter feeds. If you know whose photo this is, let me know, as my google-fu is clearly lacking.