Sunday, January 22, 2017

This Ain't My Party


Spending a weekend in a cabin in the woods, a group of college kids tell scary stories in SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT (1979)


Political pundits are chewing their manicures off trying to figure out how the Democratic Party became the biggest loser in this year's election. What's going on out there in flyover country that resulted in epic losses for the Democrats on both a state and federal level?  They could, of course, travel about the country and talk to a sample of working and middle class people, but that would just be silly. Instead they've taken to the airwaves and interweb with a whole bunch of theories.

The most popular is the angry white man theory. Yep, it's all Travis Bickle's fault. He's got a chip on his shoulder because technology, globalization and the gig-centric Uber economy have denied him the comfortable, middle-class life his parents had. But hey, he needs to get real and realize it's his own fault and he should've taken out $50k in loans for college and then he wouldn't be so ignorant as to vote Republican.
Then there's the related "white-lash" theory: the white working class lashed back against a changing country. They're threatened by the "browning" of America and the fact that we had a black president (who was half white, but whatever). They reject political correctness not out of concern for their civil liberties, but because they want to go around hollering racial slurs. And those blue collar slobs should've been grateful that thanks to Obama they have affordable healthcare except it's not really affordable. Oh well, if they're complaining about paying twice as much out-of-pocket or sky-high deductibles or the fact that their doctors no longer accept their insurance it's probably just because they're a bunch of racists.
But what about all those people waving "Blacks for Trump" and "Latinos for Trump" signs? Oh, they were probably confused so who cares about those folks anyway. And what about people like Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley who were anti-Trump but also vocally critical of Obama and opposed Hillary Clinton? Ignore them, they just don't understand.
There's the Weimar theory: that those ignorant rubes just can't figure anything out so they're looking for a strong-man authoritarian to solve all of their problems. Never mind that a lot of those folks have strong objections to limitations of their civil liberties and opposed Obama's autocratic methods, all they want is a dictator.
The pundits can't seem to figure out what's going on in the Rust Belt. They don't understand those incorrigible Southerners at all, but they're just a bunch of Bible-beatin' rednecks who're looking for people to lynch anyway. And they completely forgot the Southwest was even there until BREAKING BAD came on.
Now, I don't have the benefit of an Ivy League education like those other jokers - I went to art school and then I got my paralegal certificate from Earl K. Long College (go fighting crawdads!) - but I think I have a theory of my own.
I grew up in Red State-land and I've been a loud-mouthed power-to-the-little-guy banker-punching populist Democrat my whole life. My parents were both proud Democrats - after all, the Democratic Party was the party of the working man.
Unfortunately, that's no longer true.
What was once the party of the factory workers, the farmers, skilled tradesmen and small businessmen is now the party of Wall Street bankers, Silicon Valley billionaires and the Hollywood elite.
The party once epitomized the values of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan - more direct democracy, a government by the people, pro-worker, anti-globalist, anti-war, equal opportunities for all and special privileges for none. However, now it espouses the ideals of Hamilton: authoritarian government, imperialist wars and the rule of an elite. They'd like to exile all those unpleasant working class people to Siberia and create a beautiful America where a bunch of hedge-fund managers and illegal aliens all get naked together and sing "This Land Is Your Land."
Looking at today's Democratic Party,  I haven't seen a group this despicable since Marie Janisse's ex-boyfriends got together to form that Los Lobos tribute band.
And as much as what was said about the Deplorables, I found the Obama/Clinton devotees a lot more frightening; those folks have a bloodthirsty fervor that rivals the Manson Family.
I've got a gaggle of Obamatons at my office and normally I keep my mouth shut around them because I've been tarred and feathered before and it wasn't fun. But after listening to a string of sneering epithets about "those ignorant people" (it was either the people who voted for Trump or the Bernie Sanders supporters who refused to vote for Hillary, I couldn't really tell) followed by gushing accolades about President Obama being the best president in the history of the United States, I couldn't stands no more.
"Only if you think appointing a cabinet full of Citibank and Goldman Sachs executives, signing a taxpayer funded bailout for the architects of The Great Recession, a healthcare bill that's a giveaway to the insurance companies, bringing down the hammer on whistle-blowers and trying to ramrod a super-secretive global-corporatist anti-democratic trade bill through Congress is a legacy to be proud of," I said.
And then as a smell of ozone crept into the air, a low growl emerged from their collective throats as their lips curled back to reveal their fangs. Their hands curled into talons and their eyes began to flicker and roll like a lizard's.
"You must be some crazy redneck racist!" they screeched. "You just don't understand!"
Yeah, I think I do.
And that's the other thing -- this foul new breed has two defenses when confronted with a dissenting opinion, either:
1) Accuse the dissenter of being a racist to shut them up. I find this abhorrent for so many reasons. Racism is a serious problem, not some flippant label to be tossed around like a volleyball.
2) You don't understand. See what that condescending little phrase does? The only reason you dare disagree is because you're ignorant.
Rather than championing the working class, today's Democratic Party despises them.
One of the Office Obamatons even said she opposed raising wages because then the price of goods would go up and we'd have rampant inflation.
"The price of goods is going up and we have rampant inflation anyway," I said. "When only a few corporations have ownership of everything prices go up because there's no competition."
"You just don't understand," she said.
The reason people in middle America have abandoned the Democratic Party is that the party turned its back on them decades ago. With its economic elitism, imperialist warmongering and shrieking self-righteousness on social issues, it's no longer a good fit for them. Once the party of the common man, it's now a party for the kind of people who watch a Marx Brothers movie and say, "I really like MARGARET DUMONT -- but I find those little weird guys highly offensive."
The Democratic Party isn't the party of the people anymore. And it really needs to check its class privilege.

And speaking of uncomfortable parties, the second film in this regional horror film bonanza is SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT (1979) made in Natchitoches, Louisiana. You used to be able to get some good meat pies there. Ten college kids head out in a van for a weekend at a cabin in the woods near the allegedly haunted Lake Durand. For some reason surprised that spending the weekend in the woods means they'll be out in the middle of the woods (jeeze, people, what did you think was going to happen?), they decide to spend the evening telling scary stories.
The first is the weakest of the bunch, a re-telling of "The Hook" urban legend with a bigfoot monster added to the mix. The second tale is my favorite of the bunch in which three boys pledging a fraternity must spend the night in an old abandoned hotel that's reputed to be haunted. Sure, it's nothing new, but it's got great atmosphere: it's all dread, creaking stairs and long hallways with looming shadows. And I can't put my finger on why, but there's something about the ending that gives me a serious case of the creeps.


The green light in SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT.


The last story is the tale of a shy young woman who snaps and kills her date after he attempts to rape her. The incident leaves a mark on her fragile psyche and years later, she's driven to kill again. The story has no dramatic arc and the ending is completely abrupt, but I think that's the point.

It's not a perfect movie by any means, but what it lacks in the script department, SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT makes up for in dread-filled atmosphere. It evokes the feeling of being at a party where the conversation is riddled with frosty silences and insidious little jabs, the hosts insist on serving a vegan menu and you can't leave and go home because the person who drove you there already passed out drunk in the bathtub. In a neat twist, the characters in the vignettes are all played by the same actors who play the kids in the wraparound stories. There's something twisted about the kids making up ways for their friends to die.

With echoes of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and elements that predate THE EVIL DEAD, one of the things that makes SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT so unsettling is its apocalyptic view of the universe. In many anthology horror films, the misdeeds of the characters are punished with an Old Testament-style justice. However, in SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT, bad things happen completely at random and without much reason and explanation. The universe isn't a nice place; it doesn't give a damn about you. In fact, it's all too willing to smack you down just to prove it can. The film opens with credits over a black screen accompanied by a cataclysmic barrage of voices, howls, wind, animal cries, screams, gunshots and weeping children. It immediately catches the viewer off-balance as we're instinctively alerted to danger by the sounds but have no sense of where we are or the source of danger. It reminds me of the opening of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, which used a barrage of radio news broadcasts detailing random acts of violence and industrial accidents to depict a world defined by chaos. However, in CHAIN SAW, human beings were the cause of all of the mayhem, while in SCREAMS, there are supernatural forces at work. The supernatural happenings at Lake Durand supposedly date back to the time when Native Americans still occupied the land.
The land may have been colonized - but natural forces will not be tamed. It makes sense this film would come out of Louisiana where you're completely at the mercy of the elements: floods, humidity of epic proportions, mosquitos, kamikaze flying roaches and the lingering fear that the state could be wiped off the map next hurricane season. Some people wonder why anyone would want to live in such conditions. Why don't those yahoos just move somewhere sensible like Connecticut? And to those jerks I would respond a powerful sense of history and pride in unique culture and tradition has a strong hold. Louisiana is the kind of place that gets in your blood. Hell, I'd move back there in a shot if I weren't dodging that outstanding warrant.


SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT


Though the tales at its center may be a little weak, the all-hell-breaks loose finale totally makes up for it.  Despite its clunkiness, I really enjoyed SCREAMS OF A WINTER'S NIGHT. It has never been released on DVD, but I think that worn-out VHS-filtered-through-YouTube picture that has the same color palette as a healing bruise just enhances its uneasy charm.

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