from Field Notes: Jabba idiota orangii

It is sometimes claimed that, as with Yeti or Bigfoot, there is but one Donald Jabba the Trump. Such cannot be the case, however, for how would such species persist across time? While Jabba idiota orangii is a monotypic taxon, the Jabba Donald, infamous worldwide for its peculiar behaviors, is no endling, or terminarch, to use the technical terms for the last representative of a species.

In fact, Jabba Donald has spawned numerous times. The offspring, while bearing some resemblance to their sire (e.g., they lack moral compasses and higher-level cognitive functioning), nonetheless also present a scientific puzzle, for they are missing numerous morphological features distinctive to and definitive of this species, such as the troll-doll blonde hair; the thick profile; the tiny, grasping, groping paws; and the complete cell phone symbiosis.

Jabbas, or at least the one extensively studied by naturalists like me, have yet another means of propagation available to them, for they can parasitically commandeer other minds in the manner of the fungus Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani (not to be confused with Flor-uh-duh Man) that parasitizes and renders zombielike certain ants. See the well-documented and tragic cases known in the scientific literature as Lady G. and Ghouliani. In at least one case, the parasitization seems to have turned the nocturnal infected host, one Tucker (sometimes spelled with an f) Carlson, the Jabba’s distinctive orange color, with white circles around its eyes. Creatures that engage in Jabba-mimicry for the perceived benefits to themselves–the Hawleys, Cruzes, DeSatans, Gaetzes, Tubervilles, and so on–are as numerous as larvae on woodland carrion.

It is widely believed that this dangerous, predatory, generally sluglike but suddenly aggressive lower lifeform can be controlled by limiting its communications (it tweets, like a bird), but actual mitigation can only be accomplished by trained professionals, such as state Attorneys General, who can try, convict, and imprison the Jabba for one or more of its quite serious crimes. Until this is done, it will carry about doing what it always does–doubling down.

–The Armchair Naturalist’s Guide to Toxic, Venomous, and Otherwise Dangerous American Species, by R. Shepenborough

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con), Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Devil Went Down to Georgia, aka Bad Angels in America, a Screenplay | Bob Shepherd

[“Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen, crescendos, then fades over voice of Announcer.]

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.

JABBA THE TRUMP: Good evening, GEEOR-JUH! So here we are. What’s this place? Dalton? Dalton, Geeorjuh. You gotta be kidding, right? What the heck am I doing here? They said to me, ‘Sir. You have to go to Dalton, Geeorjuh.”

“No way, I said.”

“But, Sir,” they said, “if you don’t go, the Republicans down there, they lose.” Pitiful, am I right? But it’s true. It’s true. Carpets, right? You make carpets here in Dalton, Geeorjuh. So, here I am. And I’m not even on the ticket. Not something I want to do, believe me. But they need me. Republicans, without me, they never win another election.

So, we love the great state of Geeorjuh. I had this guy, Jeff Sessions. Wanted to be Attorney General. He was from Geeorgia or someplace in the South. I know. Hayseeds, right? A long way from New York, I’m telling you. Terrible. Worst Attorney General ever. Worse than Barr, even. Barr couldn’t do the most simple thing I asked him. Send in the military around the country–the Army, the Air Force, the Marines, the Space Force. Trump’s military. Get the Communist Democrats, Antifa, the News Media. Look at them back there. The Media. What a joke, right? Just wait. Tomorrow, they’ll say, he attacked the media. So, Sessions. Wouldn’t fire Mueller during the fake Russia investigation. So, I said, Jeff, you’re fired. And then he tried to run for office. And he lost. Lost terribly. That’s what happens. Trump’s not behind you, you lose.

Because I’m a winner. Won this election you wouldn’t believe how much—millions and millions of votes. But they got dead people voting. Illegals. Democrats. Can you believe that? They’re allowing Democrats to vote. Crazy, believe me. 11,000 votes. That’s all I needed. It’s Tuesday night. I’m well ahead. Ahead everywhere. And then at the last minute they bring in all these boxes and boxes of votes—millions of them—all Biden. By dead people and Democrats. Biden. I know. The worst. He’ll take your jobs. Your cows. He wants the country to be Venezuela. Terrible. But that’s the radical Democrat Communist agenda, folks. I was saying to Ivanka—where is Ivanka? Ivanka, come up here and say something.

IVANKA: Hello, Georgia. I’m not going to say much because Daddy would get mad and I don’t have a brain anyway, but thank you. Thank you for coming out tonight and showing that you want to draw the line in the sand. That you are going to support David Doodoo and Kelly Loofa because the president has their backs. The greatest president in the history of our country, my father, Guardian of the Galaxy, Donald J. Trump.

JABBA THE TRUMP: Thank you, Ivanka. Nice legs on her, huh? I always say, if she weren’t my daughter, I’d be dating her. So, they’re trying to steal the election. Rename your military bases where so many heroes fought and died, named after great hero slave owners and rebels against your country. Nobody knows the military like Trump. You got, what? What’s that? Fort Benning? I don’t know. Maybe they could call it Fort Trump. I’d be OK with that.

But we won. We won by a lot. They call me up and they say, Sir, I can’t believe how they’re trying to steal it from you. It’s a statistical impossibility. Biden got more votes than there were people in the whole history of the country. Cause they got these machines. Need votes? Just print them up. Millions and millions of votes. Oh, this is a vote for TRUMP? Throw that one out.

The two worst events in the history of our country. First the fake Russia investigation. Then they try to steal the election. I don’t know. Not since the Continental Army had to fight off the Communist invasion from CHAIY-nuh was it so bad. Touch and go. Touch and go. That’s how it will be for Republicans if the Supremes—I’m not very happy with them right now—don’t step up and fix this thing. You know, I flew down here on a great helicopter—Marine One—great helicopter. Not as good as the Trump helicopter. Not by a long shot. But good. Like those stealth planes. Since I rebuilt the military. Terrible. It was in terrible shape, and I rebuilt it. They got these stealth planes, they’re actually invisible. You could be standing right next to it, and they would say, what do you think of the plane? And you would say, What plane? Because you couldn’t see it. Incredible. Incredible. So, I flew down on Marine One. And it’s like touch and go. Touch and go. Like my connection to reality.

But you’ll see. We won the election. We’re still going to win. Just wait. You’ll see. Big things happening. And any Senator goes against me, like your Governor here in Georgia, I’ll be campaigning against them. I can promise you that. You’re done. Finished.

OK. Well, that’s about it. Just wait and see the next couple days. You’ll see. Going to be wild out there. Good night, Geeorgia. Now, get me the hell out of here.

[JABBA exits to music of “YMCA” by The Village People. Satan and the ghost of Roy Cohn dance onstage to the music. Crowd in MAGA hats–Moscow’s Asset Governing America–mills around aimlessly, like zombies in The Walking Dead, trying to remember what day it is, their own names, and where the exits are located.]

Copyright 2021. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This post may be reprinted if it is reprinted in its entirety, with proper attribution. For other piece by Bob Shepherd about Don the Con and the Trump maladministration, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con) | Leave a comment

Fact Check | Bob Shepherd

The fact that you even have to say
that Black Lives Matter
and the fact that you do–you do have to say it.

The fact that Putin and Trump

The fact that if you tell people
it’s about their freedom,
it’s about their jobs,
it’s about those Socialists
wanting to steal your hamburgers

The fact that Jesus on a plate
holding an AR-15 at the fireworks concession

The fact that Alex Jones

The fact that I’m so good at facing facts
they should name a recovery center after me
or a firing squad in North Korea

The fact that men in three-cornered hats told other men
that it was about THEIR freedom,
that it was about THEIR equality,
when it was really about (their, shh) not paying (their, shh) taxes

The fact that it doesn’t have to be same as the old boss

The fact that the Mystic Massacre

The fact that the Fort Pillow Massacre

The fact that age-defying cream

The fact that skin-lightening cream

The fact that you could go on all day like that

The fact that you learned the facts of life
but don’t even want to know the facts of death

The fact that if you are brown in America
someone else’s de jure
is your de facto

And the fact that that’s a fact

The fact that if you’re poor,
fact finding is easy because
there’s always a fact of the day
and if you’re not,
then you are an accessory
before, during, and after the fact

The fact that all markets look pretty free
if you’re rich and spending some poor person’s labor

The fact that everybody wants their Mama,
and no one wants to admit that,
is two facts

The fact that 27,375 days

The fact that Jimmy Carter said
he had sinned against Rosalynn in his mind,
which was so JC of him,
I could have kissed him on the peanut.

Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This poem may be freely distributed as long as it is distributed in its entirety and this notice is retained.

For more poetry by Bob Shepherd and more about reading and writing poems, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/poetry/

Posted in Poetry, Trump (Don the Con) | Leave a comment

King Donald the Wurst

Dumb Donald Trump
sat on his rump,
eating cheeseburgers all day.
He called for his Miller
and brownshirted killers
and hypocrite fundies to pray.

He called for his Barr
to make him a czar
and all rule of law to allay.
And to meet his requirement
that it trash the environment,
he neutered the EPA.

“To switch out democracy
for rank kakistocrasy,
I had but to bellow and bray.
I’ve drawn to my Trump
many millions of chumps
and given sweet Vlad complete sway.”

“I’ll call it a day,” the con man did say,
“Though I’m still president anyway.”
Then he farted and stood
and called it all good,
and went to a golf course to play.

Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | 9 Comments

Bye, bye, poor, sad Orange Clown Man

To the tune of “O Danny Boy”

O Donnie boy, your cuckoo coup has faltered.
Time runs away, like dye down Rudy’s cheek.
What’s done is done. The vote count can’t be altered.
You’ll soon be jailed. Your prospects sure look bleak.

Will you come back, when Biden’s term is over?
Will Princess Sparkle run then in your stead?
Will your scam businesses roll then in clover?
Well those cloud castles, Donnie boy, are made of lead.

Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | 1 Comment

Donnie: Thanks for the Memories!

Imagine that someone, back in 2010, had written a novel that told exactly the story of the Presidency of one Donald Chump. Imagine that it was set in the near future: 2015-2020. Imagine that this was the plot outline:

Three right-wing White Supremacist political operators finger a pampered rich boy, a pathologically narcissistic, would-be playboy, con-man charlatan businessman with racist views to run for president on a populist, nationalist message rooted in racism. It’s full of zany, only in America stuff: the guy agreeing to do this because he thinks he can get a lot of press that will build his brand and help him put up a tower in Moscow, the grab ’em by the ***** conversation, the all-out campaign by the Russians to put this guy in office, the comments about “rapists and murders” coming across the border, the rallies with thousands and thousands of crazies from Podunk, the bikers for Chump, the political hack who comes up with the idea of the border wall to get the fool to stay on topic in his campaign speeches, the “Lock ‘er up” chants, the narrowly won election, the horror and disbelief of the candidate himself and those closest to him about actually having won, the lie about the inauguration crowd, the placement in every high position in the government of someone with no experience intent on destroying the agency or department he or she leads, the affair with the porn star, the affair with the Playboy bunny, the Slovene wife who hates f**king Christmas, the laying on of hands by evangelical crazies in the Oval Office, the trashing of alliances, the private conversations about getting out of NATO, the Toddler English, the insane policy making about extraordinarily serious matters by tweet and 2:00 in the morning, the cheeseburger lunches for White House visitors, the initiative to buy Greenland from Denmark, the talk about sending astronauts to the sun and stealth planes being actually invisible, the cozying up with murderous dictators, the quid pro quo demand that an ally at war find dirt on a political opponent in exchange for military aid, the nepotism (and the insipid, pampered beasties benefiting from that–Princess Sparkle and Slender Man), the “good people on both sides,” the abandonment of allies to be slaughtered, the Lena Riefenstahl-style fascist Convention, the orange clown makeup, the circus of continual lying, the utter denial of a global pandemic, the circus of the pandemic press conferences being turned into the Me Me Me comedy hour, the campaign against wearing masks, the Bible upside down at the church photo-op, the comment about the Two Corinthians, the sneering at Evangelical hucksters behind their back to aides, the tear gassing of Moms in yellow shirts by unidentified brownshirts, the turning of a handful of white boys in Neo from the Matrix outfits into an imagined massive uprising of Antifa terrorists, the labeling of protestors against systemic racism as terrorists, the parade of toadies and sycophants, the absolute capitulation of an entire political party and the Russian intelligence blackmailing of Senators behind that, the comments about shining light into your orifices and injecting disinfectant, the White House and campaign superspreader events, the The First Lady in the I Don’t Care and Russian military outfits, the press conference at Four Seasons Landscaping held by the ghoulish and bizarre bat-villain attorney, the claims of a stolen election, the hair dye running down the bat-villain’s face as he describes how Hugo Chavez engineered the election theft, the attempt to get states to ignore their election results and appoint Chump electors.

This would have been one dark, disturbing, crazy, but wildly unrealistic farce of a novel, wouldn’t it? Absurdist comic book supervillain fiction.

And here’s the really crazy part: toward the end, 47 percent of the electorate say, Oh, yeah, he’s my guy!

If, back in 2010, I had had these ideas for a novel, I would have rejected them as just too unbelievable.

Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | 1 Comment

Bob’s Basic Bread: Most Recent Recipe


I’ve been baking for quite a while and have lots and lots of recipes I’ve developed for lots and lots of baked good
s, but this is my most BASIC recipe for sourdough bread–the one I use now most often. I developed this recipe by trial and error over a number of years. Note that I have given the measurements in grams. Bread baking is pretty precise, and I’ve found that measuring by weight, in grams, is best. You can purchase a good digital kitchen scale quite cheaply. If you don’t have a digital scale yet, I’ve provided rough equivalents using standard measurements. Note that differing ingredients weigh more or less than one another per teaspoon or cup, so a conversion for water will not be the same as a conversion for flour is.

Water, 143 grams (a tad more than 2/3rds of a cup)

Yeast, 7 grams (2 1/4 teaspoons, or one package)

Sugar, 4 grams (a little more than a teaspoon)

Salt, 11 grams (about 2 teaspoons; I like a lot of salt. If you want, cut this down.)

Sourdough starter, 231 grams (about 1 cup)

Don’t have a sourdough starter? Make one. It’s really easy to do. Here’s how: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/a-starter-is-born-making-your-own-sourdough-starter-from-scratch/

Bread flour, 340 grams (divided into 2)


Optional Day-Before Activity to Get Your Starter Pumped for the Big Game

Take your starter out of the fridge, feed him or her, and leave him or her sit out on the counter overnight.

Activating the Yeast

Combine water, yeast, sugar, and sourdough starter. Let sit about 15 minutes, until a little bubbly.

Creating the Sponge

Add 170 grams of the bread flour. Stir to combine, about 1 minute. Let sit for 15 minutes. For a more sour-doughy bread, let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Creating the Dough and Autolyzing

Add the other 170 grams of bread flour. Knead for 2 minutes in stand mixer on setting 3, using dough hook. You can do this kneading by hand, but it will take five times as long. Let sit for 20 minutes for the flour to soak up the water and start forming gluten strands. This autolyzing step will vastly improve your final product.

Kneading

Knead on setting 3 for 8 minutes. I usually do this for 4, turn the mixer off to let it cool, wait a few minutes, and then do 4 more. This will prolong the life of the mixer. Again, if kneading by hand, work for five times as long. Your dough should be quite wet and sticky. To handle it, you will have to flour your hands and the surface you are working the dough on, if doing the kneading by hand. Wetter (highly hydrated) dough will produce a more open crumb, which is desirable.

First Rise

Flour a bowl or pan small enough to fit into your microwave oven. Flour your hands. Lift the dough, form it into a ball by folding it under, until the top of the ball is quite tight. Transfer the dough into your floured pan. Cover with a tea towel. Place pan in microwave oven with a tall glass or mug of VERY hot water. What you are doing is creating a make-shift proofing box. Do not turn on the microwave, ofc. Let the dough rise in the microwave, with the hot water, to heat the air in the microwave, until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Second Rise, If You Are Making a Boule

Flour your hands. Transfer the dough to a floured baking dish (a large cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven works very well). Punch down slightly. Allow to rise, covered with a tea towel, for 40 minutes. For the second half of the rising time, place the skillet on the top of your stove as you preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Second rise, If You Are Making French Bread or Sandwich Loaves

Flour your hands. Transfer dough to a cutting board. Cut into two pieces with a dough scraper or a very large chef’s knife. If you are making French Bread, tuck the ends of the two pieces under. Then roll each piece out to create a log-like shape, about 1 ¼ inches in diameter. If you are making sandwich loaves, simply tuck each end under and shape into a loaf shape. If making French bread, place the two dough logs on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. If you are making sandwich loaves, place the two dough loaves into greased loaf pans. Allow to rise, covered with a tea towel, for 40 minutes. For the second half of the rising time, place the sheet pan or the loaf pans on the top of your stove as you preheat your oven to 350 degrees. The warmth of the stove will assist the rising.

Baking: Boule

Place a cast iron skillet or a cake pan, filled with water, into the oven, lower rack. Place your boule on the upper rack. Slash the top of the bread with a lame or a very sharp knife, about 1/4-inch deep. The pattern is up to you–a cross, radial lines, or parallel slashes are common. A couple of these slashes will do. Lightly sift a little flour on top, creating a snowflake effect. This will make the bread look quite nice when its done. Bake for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Lower temperature to 325 degrees, remove the water pan, and bake until center of bread, measured with a thermometer, reaches 195 degrees.

Baking: French Bread or Sandwich Loaves

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Check temperature to see if center has reached 195 degrees. If not, continue baking, checking every few minutes to see if it has.

Yummy Option

Halfway through baking, remove bread from oven, spray the top with olive oil, and sprinkle top with sesame seeds or everything bagel seasoning mix. The oil will make the seeds or mix stick.

Yummy Option 2

Sprinkle semolina onto the bottom of the baking dish or pan before placing dough on it for the second rise. The semolina will give the bottom of the bread a nice added crunch.

Posted in Art, Food | 1 Comment

A Dummies’-Style Guide to Becoming a Cult Leader


These guidelines will help people to recognize such scam artists when encountering them. Just about all cults include most or all of these elements.

Make a Promise that gets at something people really want and don’t have, such as community, wealth, happiness, sex, or freedom from anxiety or worry.

Explain that The Promise will be realized in a Transformation into a Higher State of Being or a Return to a Mythical Golden Age.

Create an Impending Calamity or Apocalypse (the End of the World has typically been the staple here) that can be avoided through membership in the group, achievement of The Promise, and possession of The Secret Knowledge. The supposed Secret Knowledge can be simply a mash-up of pop psychobabble or pseudoscience or political ideology or New Age nonsense or traditional religious ideas or some combination of these, augmented by Guided Apophenia–encouraging Disciples to perceive patterns in the world (in popular culture, for example) that aren’t really there, especially patterns involving the Adversary (see below).

Make use of Normalizing Disciples and their Testimonies.

Create and present, optionally in some Sacred Text, a Backstory of a Revelation of The Secret Knowledge or Hidden or Esoteric Teachings being communicated by A Messenger to The Great Leader (that would be you), who becomes the embodiment of The Secret Knowledge on Earth.

Create Stages of Development toward acquisition of The Secret Knowledge, aka, The Path, and Testimonials from Normalizing Disciples further along The Path toward Mastery of The Secret Knowledge. Name these stages, creating ranks within the group of Disciples. Charge people increasing amounts of money (and/or other services) for training to reach these ranks.

Create an Other–an Enemy or Adversary–that wishes to destroy the group, and include among these anyone from outside the group (e.g., friends or family members) who might attempt to get the Disciples from drinking the Kool-Aid. Isolate Disciples as much as possible from competing ideas and from the society at large.

Create community-binding Rituals involving Sacred Objects or Talismans, and Symbols or Icons, including both Bonding Rituals (to the leader and to other members of the group) and Private Rituals (to carry the activities of the cult into the disciple’s private life).

Build community and immunity within the cult by warning Disciples on The Path that exposure to the ideas of those outside the cult, such as other belief systems, can prevent acquisition of The Secret Knowledge and bring about The Calamity.

Engage group members in Proselytizing and Recruitment.

Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This material may be shared if this notice is retained and the material is shared in unedited and complete form.

Posted in Epistemology, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Close to You (Donnie’s Song) | Bob Shepherd


with apologies to Hal David, Burt Bacharach, and The Carpenters

Why do toadies
suddenly appear
to take your part
and kiss your rear?
Putin has the dirt
to ensure they don’t desert
and stay close to you.

Why does Mitch,
like Pence’s fly,
stick like glue to
your every lie?
To please his base, the rubes,
he’ll sell the country down the tubes
to be close to you.

On the day that you were born, the demons got together
and they larded you with vanity and vice.
Now no matter how extreme the cost,
you won’t accept you’ve really lost.
You’re lice
on rice.

Why should the ghost of Lady Lindsay
froth like Ghouliani in a frenzy?
Something’s very strange
that he’s acting so deranged
to stay close to you.

[music fades here through end of song]

Though you’ve lied and conned and gimmicked
and you’ve failed with the pandemic,
they’ll stay close to you.

Just to follow you around,
Democracy they’d drown
to stay close to you.

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con) | 7 Comments

Film, Propaganda, and the Human Condition

Almost everyone hated high school. Why? Well, at that age, kids are busy trying, with the limited resources they have, given their youth and inexperience, to separate from their parents and to figure out or to create who they are, as independent creatures. Doing this is really difficult. High-schoolers are, after all, still kids, though in almost-adult bodies, which is confusing enough in itself. The sociologist Erik Erikson called this period in people’s lives the Identity Stage, and what kids go through at that age the Identity Crisis. According to Erikson, this life stage begins at about 12 years (middle school) and continues through about the age of 18 (the end of high school).

So, in middle school and high school, kids are still amorphous, though they want to be greatness chiseled in stone, and they are often mean to one another because this makes them feel better in comparison. The Germans have a name for this. They call it Schadenfreude. The folksinger Arlo Guthrie makes fun of this tendency among people in his Alice’s Restaurant, in which he invites his audience to think about someone who is worse off and then to think of the person who is worse off than that guy and then to think about The Last Guy, the one who has no one for whom he or she might feel schadenfreude, whom he or she might feel better than. Here’s what playwright Oscar Wilde said about Schadenfreude: after the successful opening of one of his plays, there was an after party. When Wilde entered the room, everyone turned and clapped. Wilde told them that he was moved to tears because “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.” In other words, the professional cynic (scratch a cynic and you find a Romantic) Mr. Wilde believed that people would rather see you fail because they can then feel better about themselves in comparison. Humor typically works because it touches on and treats lightly something difficult or disturbing. In our time, an academic industry has sprung up in happiness studies. One thing that these researchers have discovered is that people’s happiness about their own success has very little relation to their absolute success but, rather, their success relative to those whom they know and associate with. Yeah, but my car is nicer than his is.

So, the middle- and high-school kids engage in Schadenfreude. I may not be the prettiest or the smartest or the most talented or the sexist or the most athletic, but that person is worse off. The Stephen King film Carrie, in which the title character takes revenge on her cruel classmates (there is an entire genre of such films) is basically what people would now recognize as being indistinguishable from a film about a high-school shooter, except that the main character is, shockingly, the one the audience is rooting for and approves of. Everyone else, just about, gets slaughtered, but from the audience POV, they had it coming.

Films are excellent propaganda vehicles because the POV and emotions of the audience are so easily manipulable by filmmakers. This is why both Lenin and Hitler, among their first official acts, established film studios. Lenin had Sergei Eisenstein to make propaganda films like The Battleship Potemkin and October. Hitler had Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl to make films like Triumph of the Will, with Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels (recently reincarnated as Stephen Miller, Propaganda Minister of the Don the Con misadministration) to write the script and architect Albert Speer to stage it. An excellent book could be written about why, exactly, audiences are so easily manipulatable by films, but this essay is not that book.

The Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci brilliantly exploited this propagandistic power of film in his movie 1900, which opens with an elderly man and woman being chased by a mob wielding pitchforks and scythes. The audience is aghast at the mob and rooting for the old people to escape. At the end of the film, the exact same scene is repeated, but the audience has seen the old couple being horrible—being collaborators with the Nazis—and this time the audience roots not for the elderly couple but for the mob.

Control of POV is the most powerful tool in the filmmaker’s toolkit. One of the beauties of film (and of first-person or limited third-person narratives generally) is that it can extend human sympathies by enabling us to see through the eyes of a character different from the viewer. That’s why a film like El Norte can powerfully move an audience to care about asylum-seeking refuges and why something like the television program Will and Grace probably did more to advance the cause of LGBTQX rights in the United States than did all the Act Up pride events, as awesome as those were, ever staged. However, this power that the film auteur has to manipulate audiences by controlling their POV has its dark side. The POV presented can be that of a truly horrible person—a Hitler, for example, or a Trump. Consider, for example, the jingoistic nationalistic “patriotism” of the Marvel Comic Universe films, ideal for molding children into the next generation of cannon fodder, or the satire of the same in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. The United States today, under Trump, and yesterday, under Bush, Jr., is so inclined toward fascist ways of thinking that many U.S. viewers of Verhoeven’s film don’t even get that it is a satire.

All of which raises an interesting issue. Our basic ontological situation in this life is that my mind is over here and your mind is over there, and we do not see the world from the Other’s POV. However, all the most beautiful things that people do—teaching, mentoring, nurturing children, conversing, negotiating agreements, making love, creating art (such as writing essays)—is about bridging that ontological gap.

Years ago, I wrote a short story about an alien race, from a water world, called the Oosmoolie. In the story, the Oosmoolie stumble upon another water world that used to be called Earth and slowly piece together the fact that the planet was once inhabited by intelligent land creatures who destroyed their world via climate change. In the story, the Oosmoolie are tentacled, octopus-like creatures who can attach tentacles and thereby join their nervous systems with one another and directly experience the Other’s subjective states or, rather, a melding of those states. I was surprised when I saw the director James Cameron had borrowed this idea for his blue alien creatures in the film Avatar and wondered whether he had read my short story in a textbook when he was younger.

I suspect that we would all be better off if we had the capability of the Oosmoolie, though at first, experiencing what people are ACTUALLY feeling and thinking and experiencing might be pretty frightening. This would be like the ultimate Panopticon.

Years ago, I started dating a woman who told me that she hated actors because they were so phony, which was a problem because, well, I had spent years as an actor. But I thought she had it all wrong. As Stanislavski and Uta Hagen and others of the Method Acting school taught, acting well is all about taking on the person of another, about Being someone else rather than about playing at or pretending to be someone else. So, acting well should extend the range of one’s human sympathies.

Copyright 2020. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd about film, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/film/

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