I Want To Love Tim Hortons, but…

Today I have a very important post regarding a matter of great concern to me that was discussed in detail on Facebook. The threads have since fallen into the archives of the various people who followed it, but the concern is one that may force me to reconsider my patronage of what I believed to be a great franchise for writers like myself to hang out and enjoy an awesome cup of java.

Tim Hortons is a popular little place to get coffee, donuts, sandwiches, soup, and other awesome little snacks while you kick back and relax with the peeps (read: friends and colleagues). Many stores from this franchise dot the landscape of the Western New York area where I live, and one of them, located on Colvin Blvd. between Brighton Rd. and McConkey Dr., has always been my complete fav over the past two years. Its atmosphere is typically laid back and fun, and the employees working the night shift when I usually hung out there were not only courteous and attentive to the patrons, but showed a great deal of interest in our vocation, which was writing–or in some cases, artwork and photography as a corollary of the writing and publishing field. Coffee shops have long been popular with writers and artists of nearly every stripe, going all the way back to the Beatnik subculture of the 1950s. I like to think that authors like myself, and those artists who often work along with us to produce books, are the modern day successors of the great but quirky Beatniks of yesteryear.

One of the reasons coffee shops appeal to us so much is because of the specific type of ambiance and environment they provide, and the fact that they tend to attract both employees and patrons who are “hip” to the youth culture. Such individuals appreciate the sense of fun that our writing largely embodies. My genres of choice for writing tend to be horror, sci-fi, and pulp fiction, with a great appreciation for the comic book medium (even though, thus far, my published work all appears in prose). My work also has a lot of what I consider to be strong political and socio-cultural commentary, something the above genres and sub-genres of fiction writing have long specialized in providing. And the idea of entertaining your audience while simultaneously–and hopefully–enlightening them at the same time is the main purpose of our product. This is why we love our coffee shops to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to the spirit of our work when we visit. And this means, first and foremost, a sense of fun.

And here lies my concern. As many friends and colleagues are well aware, I have long recommended and preferred Tim Hortons [THs] to its main competitor in the area, Starbucks. THs has always had better service, better tasting coffee and latte, and considerably more reasonable prices. The THs on Colvin Blvd. (often called the McConkey branch) had become the THs of choice for me over the past two years, and certainly the only one to patronize regularly. This was not only due to what I mentioned above in terms of quality of product and reasonable prices to go with it compared to Starbucks, but also the fun and affable personalities of the late evening/overnight staff and their singular ability to get along well with writers and the rest of the hipster, youth-oriented crowd that love to frequent coffee shops.

Interacting with these employees gave me all the extra impetus to order multiple cups of java well into the “late” morning hours (not a contradiction in terms, as I’m sure you know I mean late at night into the morning when it’s still dark outside). It also gave me much encouragement to recommend not just THs, but this particular shop to my many fellow writers and related artists, whom I often encourage to visit and hang out with me in the Western New York area.

Well, about a week and a half ago, what I feel was a very bad business decision on the part of the store management was conducted. It resulted in what I believe to be a great injustice to two of the employees of the evening/overnight shift at the McConkey branch of THs. These two employees were well known for providing cordial service and often a shoulder of advice and great artistic suggestions to the hipster authors like myself who frequent the locale. I understand why the manager made the decision that she did, but I’m sorry, it was the wrong decision, and though I realize it was done for reasons intended to serve matters of decorum and professionalism, it was done without a thought as to the main customer demographic who tend to patronize the coffee shop.

Specifically, a short video displaying some patrons and reportedly the two employees in question (whom I must confess to not really recognizing under clever masks) performing a rendition of the popular and very fun Harlem Shake dance. It was embedded on Facebook and (for a time) YouTube, and to say the least, everyone I know who saw it totally loved it! It gave the location the important veneer of fun and youth-oriented atmosphere that attracts so many of us to that fine place. I knew my fellow writers would flock in droves to patronize such a cool and hip little coffee shop when they got the chance to visit me periodically, and it would be a great place to relax and hold our creative planning sessions for future book projects. I likewise recommended it to all fellow writers I know who live in the area.

The McConkey THs shop was simply a great place for writers to hold their story planning sessions. Its atmosphere was highly conducive to the type of fun and creativity that underlies our work, while sipping some great java that is priced reasonably enough that we could afford to be ordering additional cups for an entire planning session, which could last a few hours. We could also have some snacks there while conversing and sharing our story ideas with the employees, who had often shown great interest in our work. I knew they would always look forward to meeting my fellow young men and women who work the literary “salt mines” with me, and the reverse was most definitely the case.

Unfortunately, the manager, upon seeing the video on either Facebook or YouTube, reacted in a knee-jerk display of what I’m sure she legitimately considered “professionalism” and fired the two employees who were present when the short video was made, and who were said to have participated in displaying the mega-popular Harlem Shake. These two employees just happen to be great and attentive workers who showed much interest in the creative work that so many of the franchise’s patrons are involved with. They also got along very well with the predominantly youthful customers there, who are largely comprised of college students, poets, starving writers, goths, fans of the contemporary music scene, Harry Potterists (this way cool descriptive term for this group of fantasy fandom was coined by one of the two employees who was fired), and connoisseurs of books in the various fantasy sub-genres. In other words, they were hardly the type of patrons who would be even remotely offended by such a video being filmed on the premises. This fact was amply displayed by at least three patrons who took part in the fun. The video was quite brief, lasting no longer than 23 seconds, and could in no way be construed as a case of the staff neglecting their jobs. I can personally attest to these employees being very good at their jobs, and very responsive to the patrons there, including regularly telling us what was on the menu, always diligently giving us the reminder, “last call before the old stuff is thrown out to make way for baking the new stuff,” etc. I never felt they were in any way unprofessional. 

I was very upset upon learning that these two employees were let go for something that was in no way negative towards attracting the type of patronage that primarily enjoys the environment of Tim Hortons; quite the contrary, in fact! And the video in no way constituted a case of any employee of that particular shift neglecting their work to “goof around” instead. They would never have filmed such a video if there was a large number of customers to be served, and in fact, the small number of customers present at the time clearly encouraged the very festive video. This is no different than the emerging and growing trend of businesses that routinely have employees spontaneously engage in nerf missile fights or impromptu hoop-shooting tournaments to keep a “light” and festive atmosphere that is fun to participate in. This method of running a business is highly attractive to both youth-oriented customers and employees, and has never been shown to detract from a professional job being done by the staff.

Yes, the Harlem Shake has sexual connotations to it, but that is simply and largely an imitation of the very popular music videos made by mega-hip vocalist Katy Perry. She is immensely popular amongst the youth crowd, and the evidence of her very strong influence on the emergence of the now trendy Harlem Shake dance is clearly displayed in her music video California Gurls.

Ms. Perry and her act personifies the free and joyous expression of sexuality, as well as the unbridled–even manic–sense of fun and creativity that is so popular with the youth crowd of today. It would only come off as “inappropriate” or offensive to the most old-fashioned way of conservative thinking, and such individuals do not regularly patronize coffee shops like THs, unless it happens to be a store with a convenient drive-thru. But they do not tend to sit in the store and become part of the social scene that are an integral part of its atmosphere, and are indicative of what coffee shops tend to represent in American culture. And I always felt that THs was as “American” and contemporary as any other popular aspect of this culture (yanno, like apple pie, baseball, etc.).

So I cannot put into adequate words how disappointed I was by the manager’s knee-jerk reaction to this short little video. I understand that she could easily say the following things: “Sorry, I didn’t really want to do it, but it was store policy.” It was? If so, then the patrons knew nothing about such a policy, and as we are supposed to be the most important people in the store, it forces us to wonder what purpose such an incongruous rule was to serve. Not the interests of the customers, I must say. “Doing such a thing on work hours was unprofessional and a sign of neglect for their jobs.” That would be patently untrue, for all the reasons I mentioned above, as myself and my fellow patrons always got great service there, and we grew to like these employees on a personal level. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a coffee shop to my fellow writers, both within the area and visitors, if bad service was common there.

I called the store last week, spoke to the manager, expressed my concerns and that of my fellow writers over her decision, and issued a polite protest. She spoke to me very politely, took down my personal info and blog address, and courteously thanked me for the call when it ended. I did inform her that since I have been discussing having some of my fellow writers visiting with me soon, I could not in good conscience recommend the McConkey shop any longer, or even THs in general (since presumably, the policies would be the same in every shop of the franchise).

If an unjust reason like this would be used as an excuse to fire efficient and hard-working customers at a time when jobs are hard to come by during a bad recession, how could I be inclined to support this shop any longer.  One of the two employees, in fact, is married and has a family to raise. It’s not like what either of them did (to whatever extent their involvement was in the production of a short, fun video) was the equivalent of stealing, or failing to replace day-old food so a a new batch could be cooked up, or being rude to customers for no good reason, etc. These two employees never acted moody or in any way discourteous to the customers around me, no matter how hard a day they had either before or during the work day. Nothing about that video was something that would make the company look bad for the primary patrons there (again, quite the contrary!), and they were not neglecting the needs of the customers in any way.

I did let the manager know that my blog entry on this matter would go “live” today. And in that time (I spoke to her last Friday), she evidently did not reverse her decision. I do not know for certain if she put any thought into the matter, but it’s my personal opinion that she simply took a “what’s done, is done” attitude and put no major thought into it. And despite the fact that her overall intentions may have been inclined towards what she perceived as adhering to professionalism, it was not something conducive to the well-being of this particular establishment, it was not a decision that in any way made the main customer demographic happy (yet again, quite the contrary!), and resulted in two routinely courteous, amiable, and hard-working employees being rendered jobless during a nation-wide recession that this state has been suffering particularly bad from.

In case I may be accused of making up these accolades for the night staff, please go to this website, which gives location info and customer reviews for this particular Tim Hortons.

Please note the following, excerpted from the customer reviews that I linked to up above (which I copied and pasted in bold face):

Shaun R.

Shaun R. April 22, 2011

Go late night, the staff there is phenomenal. Very nice for a night crew, and I’ve had my fair share of bad night crew employees.

Leslie A.

Leslie A. September 28, 2012

Been to many Tim hortons and this is by far the best, the staff is so friendly…

Brianne G.

Brianne G. June 8, 2012

The staff here is so friendly and cheerful 🙂

Note the time stamp of these excerpts and you will see they were made from 2011 to Sept., 2012, which are recent enough. Nothing about those reviews suggests the work of a troll, as they were friendly with no sign of sarcasm. Note how one of them directly recommended the evening shift, and noted that it’s (or at least was) the best of all the THs in the area.

As such, I am planning on having a talk with THs corporate management. I encourage all of my followers on this blog, including all of my fellow writers, to leave a brief and polite message of protest to the manager of the store, who can be reached at this number during the daytime hours (figure Eastern timezone hours): (716) 833-0412. Let her know that this was far from a good reason to fire two employees whom the patrons liked and respected, and whose presence often encouraged me–and clearly other patrons–to specifically pick the McConkey store, and specifically during the evening-overnight hours.

Thank you to all for listening, including my fellow writers and the management of this store. And to the latter: Please reconsider your decision and do the right thing. A refusal to do the right thing out of nothing more than stubbornness or lack of concern for the situation (because it’s now “in the past”) is only going to lose this store a chunk of its primary patronage, possibly hurt the franchise’s good reputation among those of my vocation (who are a big part of its customer base), and result in protests further up the Tim Hortons hierarchical ladder. No one is calling you an evil monster or any names at all for that matter; we all make mistakes, and we often make mistakes with the best of intentions. But the only way to rectify things for people who may have been hurt by some of our mistakes is to admit the error and reverse the decision. As I see it, that shows a lot of character and responsibility, not a sign of weakness.

 

Gun Control and the Connecticut Shooting

With the latest tragic massacre, this one involving more children than adults (it did take place in an elementary school) and having occurred in the sleepy little hamlet of Newtown, Connecticut a few days ago, once again the news is filled with demands for stronger gun control laws…and little else. Yes, the simplistic response is always, “Guns are too easily available” or “Guns shouldn’t be available to the public at all” or “Too many people in modern society misinterpret the meaning of the 2nd Ammendment,” etc., et al., yadda yadda yadda. And whenever a crime occurs where children are the victims, people are quick to manipulate the extreme emotional tensions that inevitably arise as a result to get whatever political result they want, without taking into consideration that when emotions are running high, reason and rational thought tend to take a back seat, with misguided and even outright draconian “solutions” that end up sacrificing civil rights for perceived security being the end result.

I ask all readers of this post to be mindful of that when discussing these issues and possible solutions, and to always seek out democratic solutions to any problem we may face, and never resort to draconian measures, no matter how sensitive or emotionally charged the issue may be.

With that said, so I won’t have to reiterate the incident in question and make this post any longer than it has to be, read the initial news report here if you are not already familiar with it, then return to this post.

Let me start off by saying that this will be a controversial post, as will many of those I pen, but I am not going to back off of any issue that I feel strongly about, or that which I believe to be right, no matter how sensitive it may be. And I will start by saying that I have a huge degree of condolences for the tragic losses of this latest shooting spree, and a full appreciation for the enormity of what this event, and previous ones like it, signify. It’s for these reasons that I hold so firmly to democratic principles particularly at times like this rather than abandoning them in the proposed “solutions” that always seem to spring up immediately afterwards. Again, this is because when emotions are running high, the temptation to forget what our ideals are supposed to stand for is running even higher.

Though I consider myself a progressive and a genuine socialist, I do not have the rabid opposition to civilian gun ownership that too many of my fellow progressives have (many socialists of the true Marxian stripe do not, it should be noted). This is because I do not agree that the easy availability of guns is the main issue here, and I am not sure that outright banning of guns for civilian ownership would be a viable solution to the problem any more than the across the board banning of recreational drugs ultimately decreased the number of drug addicts and the degree of crime and misery surrounding such addictions. Moreover, I am not sure that the common citizenry benefits from such banning measures.

I should point out here that I am not a member of the NRA, and I am far from a right-winger, trust me on that. So I hardly count as one of those “gun nuts” that the Left often admonishes. This is why I think that what I have to say is important for people on both the Right and the Left to listen to, even though only those with a genuine willingness to listen will actually get anything out of it (but it’s these particular people whom I am seeking to reach here; those who have their mind completely made up one way or the other are not going to listen, and are only going to throw all sorts of loaded accusations at me, as usual).

Along these lines, I am going to heavily quote from Michael Moore’s response. Let me say upfront that while I do not agree with everything Michael says, I have profound respect for the man, as I am not only a firm follower of his articles and documentaries, but I consider him one of the most courageous progressives in the U.S. today, and one of the relatively few truly brave people of note on the Left in the present era. In that capacity, I believe he is right up there with the likes of Glenn Greenwald, Debbie Nathan, Bill Maher (sometimes), Joan Walsh, and other personal heroes of mine whose writings and TV appearances I regularly follow. It is by no means my intention to insult or drub Michael here, even though if I did, he could easily take it, as he has endured far worse from much “bigger” people than me; I am simply making these points because I believe them to be the truth.

Also, as I will point out later in this post, Michael is one of the few people in this debate who is not dealing with the issue in the entirely simplistic way I described above, but is instead targeting other aspects of our society that the average commentator never bothers to question (likely out of fear of being called a “socialist,” heaven forbid!). For this, he gets immense props from me, even though I will not hesitate to “chew him out” if I feel a particular comment of his warrants it.

Much of Michael’s quotes I will be responding to here appeared in an open letter he sent out this morning to many who subscribe to his website, and others from his Twitter feed on the issue over the past few days. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

For one thing, a common concern for supporters of the 2nd Amendment that is too often outright dismissed by many pundits of the Left is the fact that strict bans on guns will only keep these firearms out of the hands of criminals, not sane, law-abiding people. If you lived in a neighborhood like mine, you would see why the thought of that terrifies me profoundly. Now let me say upfront that I am not the type of person who ever advocates going outside of the law to resolve any issue; or advocates violence as anything other than as a last resort for self-defense and protection of the weak only; or as someone who suggests that citizens engage in shoot-outs on the street with gang bangers or drug dealers. I am all for calling the police to deal with such issues, and demanding that they spend less time busting people for possession of marijuana or engaging in illicit mutually consensual sex and more time protecting people who live in dangerous areas from truly dangerous individuals.

However, I am simply speaking from experience, and the reality of living in such an environment, when I point out that we cannot always depend on police to be there 24/7, or to arrive promptly in the middle of a bad situation like a break-in to our home, or a threat unexpectedly materializing in front of our homes. If you live in a dangerous part of a big city, it’s all-too common to be approached by individuals who attempt to forcefully sell one item or another to you, and who refuse to leave or cease harassing you and your loved ones about the issue if you politely attempt to tell them no, you are not interested, and to please leave. I can’t count the amount of times I had to get nasty with such individuals before they stopped insisting that I–or a loved one I was with–at least look at and “consider” purchasing the obviously “hot” gold chain they were trying to push on us.

Yes, you can call the cops on them, or threaten to do so, but this doesn’t often deter such individuals when they know, more likely than not from extensive experience, that if the police bother to arrest them rather than just telling them to leave, within two days at most they will be released. Then, you have to deal with these individuals returning a day after being released or driven off by the cops, in a much less cordial mood than before, yelling at you with something like, “Yo, why did you call the cops on me for!”

And they make sure to initiate this confrontation when no cop is in sight, or likely to arrive before things can go too far, especially in a portion of the big city where cops are often busy–after all, it takes a lot of manpower and work to control all the illicit smoking of pot and illegal crap games going on in these neighborhoods, and we can’t expect our esteemed officers to be remiss in these particular responsibilities (and yes, I say this as someone who has a few friends and even family members or are cops or ex-cops; I like to think some of them would sympathize rather than grumble at me over this, because there are people who become cops with the sincere intention of protecting people, and do not smile upon spending so much time and effort busting people on essentially victimless crimes just to keep the law enforcement industry and offices moving).

However, if these individuals know you own a firearm, and are willing to use them to defend yourself and your loved ones if absolutely necessary, they are much more likely to think twice before bothering you. These types of people count on the government disarming law-abiding citizens, because while it’s often argued that guns in the hands of citizens make it easier for them to kill, the opposite makes it much easier for many types of criminals, particularly various petty but still potentially dangerous individuals, to operate.

Speaking as someone who has a high degree of sympathy for what the poor have to deal with in this economic system, and the pressures that cause too many of them to “break” and resort to criminal activity and succumb to mental illness (a major but often overlooked component of this issue), you can’t always be “soft” in dealing with such people if they are determined to menace and threaten members of their own economic class, or mentally ill who are unable to afford (or unwilling to seek) competent medical help (an issue I will return to in a bit). You have to be tough when warranted in such an environment, even though you must restrain this toughness to instances when it’s absolutely necessary, and never become a bully. We can count on good people to do this, and in a democratic society, we cannot engage in flagrant mistrust of the average citizen to do the right thing in the end, and my fellow progressives are well aware of this–and those who aren’t ought to be.

Compassion has to be given to all sides of an issue, not just one. On the other hand, if diplomacy fails, then you have to be willing and able to show people in such an environment that you are not going to be an easy victim, and this is in no way advocating violence as the first reaction or ultimate solution to every problem. It’s simply a fact of life, however unfortunate, of living in such an environment.

Also, and this is important–we need to ask ourselves a very serious question here: Will making firearms illegal actually keep them out of the hands of bad or mentally ill people, or will it simply soon result in the proliferation of a new thriving criminal enterprise that provides guns to people who want them but cannot obtain them legally? And will this not result in the arrest and prosecution of many basically good people who purchase illegal firearms with the intent to protect themselves, but who have never used one, or aren’t likely to? Does this not mean that many people will be jailed for using a firearm in a legitimate instance of self-defense, where they and/or their loved ones would have met a violent death had they not used it? And will this result in more expensive, tax-payer funded entrapment schemes by new law enforcement task forces trying to convince people they “need” to purchase a firearm, and then arrest them if they do? Wouldn’t our police forces have their time and resources better spend dealing with genuine bad guys who try to hurt innocent people?

These are questions we need to seriously ask ourselves when discussing the banning of firearms as an oft-proposed solution to gun violence or accidents involving guns. People who live in dangerous areas have enough problems with thriving criminal enterprises that are doing so well and gaining so much power precisely because things like recreational drugs–and in a previous era, alcohol–are illegal to purchase in an across-the-board manner. In fact, the illegality of marijuana is now just beginning to reverse course in certain states, but the “harder” drugs that most of the criminal industry is built around are still selling as well as ever, despite the futility of the police forces attempting to “prevent” its use and distribution in this manner. And let’s not forget the increased powers that the police and other government agencies have over us being the major end result of such measures, not “protection” from drug use.

Now, Michael Moore and other gun control advocates argue that certain types of firearms and their accouterments–specifically assault rifles and mega-clips–be made illegal for civilian purchase; that all firearms require a license to own; and that all who would seek to acquire one be subject to a mental exam. These suggestions are not entirely unreasonable, and in fact, I think they should be given serious consideration. However, I will say that the rules of acquiring a license for a non-assault firearm should be reasonable to the individual with a clean record, and not ridiculously difficult as it is in my home state; and we need to consider that mental exams can be biased against certain groups of people (like racial minorities) and may not be reliable in many instances. As such, I am saying lets discuss this particular solution, both its good points and possible pitfalls.

Now, in regards of the many stats that Michael and other progressives provide to prove that cities and countries with less guns, or with strict gun control laws, have less gun violence: You can easily find counter-stats to these allegations that put their conclusions into question, and bring up the serious issue of whether or not the culture of the U.S. in particular (something Michael, to his great credit, does get into) may not make America entirely comparable to the situation in other First World countries when it comes to this issue.

For instance, a CDC literature review reported the overall recording of such statistics to be “inconsistent.” Their full quote, which I found here, is thus:

“Some studies indicated decreases in violence associated with restrictions, and others indicated increases,” the CDC study concluded. “One study indicated a statistically significant reduction in the rate of suicide by firearms among persons aged 55 years; however, the reduction in suicide by all methods was not statistically significant.”

So these statistics, possibly on either side of the fence, may need a much better analysis in regards to causation and correlation. There are just too many counter-statistics available to offset any collection of studies or statistics in either direction. Either side can find examples to bolster whatever their opinion happens to be with a short time spent on an Internet search engine.

Then there is another issue that is not often brought up. If we are so quick to mistrust civilians owning guns, why do we trust cops to use them on the job? Yes, cops are trained to use them, and have procedure to follow, but do all cops follow proper procedure in all cases? Should the government have the right to decide who can and cannot carry guns and use them responsibly? If we argue they can, then what makes politicians specially qualified to do that? Moreover, civilians are capable of being properly trained, and learning all the hazards and safeguards of using and owning a gun too. That is why targeting at a gun range, as well as hunting, is a sport that some civilians either have a natural aptitude for, or can readily learn as well as any cop with sufficient training and experience.

That is why the frequent argument I hear about how incompetent civilians always turn out to be when it comes to accuracy with a gun while being placed in a simulated circumstance with a mock gun-wielding lunatic who opens fire on a crowd of people in (for example) a university setting, just falls flat to me. Yes, you will see advocates of strong gun control run simulations where a mock massacre situation is played out, and a bunch of civilians are handed phony guns to see how well they can defend themselves against a mock assailant who is also wielding a bogus gun. The end result will always be, “Every single civilian volunteer in the experiment missed the killer, or froze up under the pressure,” while, of course, the killer managed to do none of the above and hit 8 out of 10 people he aimed at.

Okay, this begs the following question: Does this mean that civilians are inherently incapable of using guns properly, while lunatics somehow gain uncanny skills of accuracy when they go off the deep end? Or does this simply suggest that the people who conducted the experiments kinda, sorta forgot to recruit any civies who had any degree of training or experience with firearms, or had them wield firearms of a model they were not familiar with, while the guy recruited to play the lunatic in the scenario was a trained and experienced user wielding a model he was indeed familiar with? This question is not entirely sarcasm, because I would really like to know if the average citizen is truly incapable of receiving competent training and experience at, say, a professional gun targeting range.

That makes me wonder if perhaps one reasonable solution to the problem of civilian gun ownership may be to require anyone who legally purchases a firearm–after acquiring a license for it, if one insists–be required to take a training course, and even to regularly train, at a firing range to keep their skills from getting rusty. This would, of course, be at the gun owner’s own expense, but I would argue that politicians and gun control advocates not play a possible game of dirty pool by insisting that the cost of these training courses be made ridiculously (read: prohibitively) expensive–the cost should be reasonable, perhaps even tailored to the individual’s income level.

Civilians who are willing to abide by the law and do things the right way should be rewarded in various ways, not discouraged from doing things the correct and lawful way with games of dirty pool. In other words, a reasonable compromise on this issue should be made between the law and society at large, with both being expected to play fair and straight with the other. These training courses should also include safety at home studies, and gun owners who have kids should be encouraged to bring their kids to that part of the study to teach them the proper usage–and the many potential hazards–of having a gun in the house, just as we should do when it comes to dealing with traffic, swimming pools, sex education, etc.

Now there is another matter I do not see discussed very often at all, which connects with the previous issue I raised of cops using guns. If civilians cannot be trusted with guns, why should society allow police officers to carry weapons that are designed to kill rather than subdue in a non-lethal fashion? Should a government sanctioned employee be trusted more than a civilian? If one argues that they should, then what is that saying about the relationship between the government and the civilian populace? I know that officers do carry non-lethal weapons such as mace and tasers, but why not a more advanced form of taser that is not restricted to the use of a wire? Before you accuse this writer of advocating sci-fi technology, let me remind my readers that we are technologically advanced enough to have brought people to the moon and back nearly 45 years ago, and have developed computers and cell phones with amazing capacities. Are you to tell me that a wireless taser is beyond the capabilities of our weapons manufacturers to create, especially in a world that is promoting a “go wireless” mentality so heavily in all other aspects of technology? And why not other forms of non-lethal but effective weaponry, that causes no permanent damage but subdues even the nastiest criminals effectively? Or weapons with different settings, that offer the option of subduing non-lethally or increasing to a level that will subdue with extreme prejudice in particularly serious situations? Or even offer purely defensive weapons to civilians? Or mobile, affordable electronic panic alarms that can summon the police and/or ambulances faster than dialing on a cell phone could?

If we regularly see cops and soldiers carry guns, and insist that crime and warfare is fought with weapons designed to kill and inflict heavy amounts of destruction, and see individuals in positions of authority and power who routinely call for such measures as the solution to so many problems, how can we not expect a culture that supports the use of violence–and specifically lethal forms of violence on large scale–to develop? Our media and government regularly encourages citizens to act as cheerleaders of war and to canonize soldiers (on our side, that is) as heroes regardless of what they do, or how necessary it was to do it, yet we cry for harsh measures of prohibition whenever we see people in regular society resorting to such means when they seek to lift themselves out of rampant poverty or develop severe mental illness.

And please do not be silly and tell me “how much respect you lost for me” for allegedly “criticizing” or “feeling as I do” about the military. If you are a soldier, or have family members who are or were soldiers (and the latter group includes me), then you do a disservice to the very principles America is supposed to uphold by defending the military no matter what it does, or under what circumstances it does them simply because they were inflicted on people who weren’t Americans. That is not respect, it’s a form of worship and a tribalistic mentality that exposes the dark side of nationalism, and displays a profound disrespect for democratic principles and for the value of human life in general. I will gladly praise the military when they put their lives on the line to defend our borders and prevent some despotic foreign power from invading us, or the many rescue missions they regularly risk life and limb to conduct; I will also strongly support them by demanding they not put in danger or hellish conditions for no good reason, i.e., reasons that have nothing to do with self-defense or rescuing people, and that they be given good benefits in return for serving the government under such risky conditions. I will not support them, however, for fighting ostensibly on behalf of Wall Street, or for participating in the same types of massacres regularly committed on foreign civilians and children during wartime as we are decrying civilian mass shooters like Adam Lanza for doing on a much smaller but still horrifically tragic scale. In my estimation, a “good American” is defined as a citizen of the United States based on the principles they uphold, not by “following orders” without question, or doing whatever a certain authority figure in a uniform commands them to do. End relevant side rant.

Again, I’m not a pacifist, and I’m certainly not arguing against violence, and sometimes even lethal violence, in matters of justifiable self-defense, or as a last resort when genuine attempts at diplomacy–either on an individual or international level–fail. I’m not asking for anyone to take the “doormat” role. But when we see our government regularly calling for things like preemptive strikes; perpetual war; policies of violence based on revenge, business matters, and imperialism rather than self-defense or securing of our borders; turning a blind eye towards any civilian casualties, including children, that comes as the result of any act of violence from warfare who aren’t specifically of American citizenship; the hiring of armed mercenaries trained and rented from a private company (like the former Blackwater) to supplement and in many instances replace government-hired soldiers; and the tolerance of a president who demands the right for the targeted assassination of even American citizens without due process, then how can we expect a mentally healthy, non-violent citizenry to emerge and not rationalize such measures on fellow citizens whom they dislike?

And let’s not even get started on the continued sizable support for the death penalty in America, which encourages citizens to believe that meting out retribution via killing in a situation where the assailant isn’t armed and/or threatening or attacking anyone is a viable way of conducting affairs in a democratic nation.

Considering all of the above, coupled with an economic system that creates great amounts of poverty and insecurity for millions of citizens, why do we act so ‘shocked’ when so many people develop the ideology that the use of violence to improve their own standing in society is an acceptable way of achieving the much vaunted “American Dream”; or when mental illness becomes so rampant, and so many of these people vent their extreme rage by taking a gun to other people before taking it to themselves, as Adam Lanza just did? This makes it quite clear yet again that the problem is not simply “too many guns” or “guns in the hands of too many civilians,” and I fully credit Michael Moore for making this clear, both in his Twitter feed and in his excellent documentary about the culture and glorification of violence in America, Bowling For Columbine.

To quote some of Michael’s recent statements:
“Yes we need gun laws & better mental health care. BUT even that won’t stop the killings. Because, let’s face it, America believes in killing
“A country that officially sanctions horrific violence (invade Iraq, drones kill kids, death penalty) is surprised when a 20-yr old [Adam Lanza] joins in?
“I hate to say it, but killing is our way. We began America w/ genocide, then built it w/ slaves. The shootings will continue- it’s who we are
“The long term solution to reducing gun deaths is to change our society from one of perpetual war and fear to one of peace and tolerance.”

He further said:

“Also, end the U.S.-sanctioned policy of killing: End the wars NOW, end death penalty. Stop banks and insurance companies from destroying ppl.
“It’s all violence & it’s all connected. Why does this happen only in America? The answer is right in front of u. And it’s not just the guns.”

Yes, there is the issue of (yup, every reader of mine who is now saying “Here it cooommeesss!!” is totally correct): The wonders of our money-based, production for profit system, reverentially referred to as capitalism. Yanno, where the “can’t pay, can’t have,” “profit before anything else,” “price tag on almost everything,” and “dog eat dog” ideology and accompanying culture glorifying greed, avarice, selfishness, and inequality is the primary law of the land?

Before anyone dares to suggest I am exaggerating in this instance and unfairly dragging our poor system through the mud, let us not forget, as Michael also pointed out, that health care services, like nearly everything else, charge for their services, and are not subsidized by the government and dispensed based on need. It is thus filled to the brim with doctors and other mental health practitioners who operate according to the “bottom line” more than anything else. Yes, these people have to eat, have families to support, have mortgages and other bills to pay, etc., and should be paid well, don’t get me wrong. But this pay should not come at the expense of the many people from poor neighborhoods who seriously need such care–or anyone else, for that matter. A society laden with poverty, insecurity, and other difficulties which the average civilian faces today should not be expected to produce a population of largely healthy people. Moreover, doctors and everyone else–including those who run prisons and collection agencies–shouldn’t be permitted to profit off of other people’s misery.

At the same time, to be fair, mental health practitioners should be given a say on how best to treat patients in accordance with their professional expertise, rather than be subservient to either business imperatives (e.g., HMOs and Big Phrama companies) or politicians who lack their expertise and may be more interested in helping preserve the status quo than truly helping people in need, and may try to control how mental health professionals dispense treatment towards such ends. Of course, the mental health industry should be regulated to make sure abuses aren’t going on, but that is another issue that I am looking forward to discussing in its own post when I tackle the mental health industry as a whole (I can hear some of my readers shuddering already! Muah-hah-hah!).

In short, the government needs to realize and acknowledge that this system destroys and hurts many people who are left behind, and the majority are not doing well in it. This is not because most of them are lazy bums or inherently incompetent individuals. Many of them, in fact, are children and teens who are not legally allowed to work even under the most humane conditions but may have much to contribute to society and a strong desire to do so; and elderly people who are no longer able to work but spent decades of their lives as productive workers.

This issue is a moral issue, far more so than arguments over whether or not gays should be allowed to marry (their equal rights as citizens should go without saying and be considered protected by the Constitution no matter who it may offend); or whether stem cells contain little souls and thus shouldn’t be used in medical science to develop cures for genetic-based diseases (you don’t have to be an atheist to desire secular decisions from the government or the separation of church and state); whether or not Christmas should be called “Christmas” in public or not (it shouldn’t be an argument that people of faith be allowed to call it as they please, and those who do not subscribe to any faith system should be totally free to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” if they so choose, without the other side getting in a huff about it), etc. I’m sorry, but economic issues and those revolving around social justice and civil rights are moral issues, and have a far larger intrinsic effect on our well-being than the typical wedge issues Americans fight over and support or refuse to support politicians about during any campaign or election year.

Again, though I have never heard Michael Moore call himself a socialist, he is responsible for another excellent documentary that dealt with much of our society’s fetishistic loyalty to an archaic and destructive system, Capitalism: A Love Story. (Again, I do not agree with absolutely everything he says in that documentary, but I certainly agree with and support its basic essence and message.)

Now, before anyone starts accusing me of giving Michael metaphorical fellatio here, I hope he understands that I do take issue with a few of the things he said on this Twitter feed, which he reiterated in the letter he shared with his subscribers earlier this morning. He had every right to say these things, of course, and I’m sure he understands that he needs to expect some feedback that will not be entirely agreeable.

To wit (quotes in bold face):

If only the first victim, Adam Lanza’s mother, had been a gun owner, she could have stopped this before it started.
RT ‏@marlasuehale @MMFlint obviously that argument the NRA folks have been using doesn’t work after all.
RT @kazic284 @MMFlint Thanks for pointing out how dumb that logic is. People have been screaming, “If only the principal had a gun!” Missing the point.

I think the really dumb logic is anyone who thinks that anyone having a gun without the proper training can be expected to take out someone who does have the proper training. Period. All weapons are tools, and one must practice with them in order to learn how to use them properly, just like any other type of tool.

That being said, I again say that I do not think a regular sane citizen cannot be expected to wield a firearm as competently and accurately as a lunatic if they have a comparable amount of training, something that needs to be ongoing as described above. After all, the vast majority of cops and soldiers are sane (or at least start out that way), and prove as capable as any lunatic with a firearm on a regular basis due to their training.

One can argue that someone with a regular firearm could never take out someone with an assault rifle holding a mega-clip, but that is nonsense, because despite the advantage someone with the latter would have over the former, it’s been shown in other demonstrations that speed and skill can overcome someone with superior firepower. A computer simulation on an ep of Spike TV’s (admittedly violence-demonstrating) series Deadliest Warrior nevertheless strongly indicated that Jesse James and his crew, using their talents in combination with their regular six-shooters designed in the 19th century, could be expected to win over Al Capone and his gang from the 1920s wielding brutal assault weapons like a tommygun. You can dislike that show all you want because of its theme of violence, and deride anyone who watches it (me included) as a “violence nut,” but please keep in mind that the warrior ethos does not always mean support of violence as a first resort or in a preemptive manner, and many of the shows ep’s include simulations depicting units of the U.S. military and police forces–whom we are expected to cheer for–and not always criminal organizations.

And since the Left loves to support similar scenarios to determine the efficiency of regular (possibly untrained) citizens caught in hostile scenarios (without the use of computers, natch) for strictly informative purposes, then a show like Deadliest Warrior can be viewed in the same spirit. People who say that those who watch such shows must necessarily advocate violence in a knee-jerk manner as a response to any possible problem are doing the same thing as people who accuse violent video games and other TV shows of being the cause of gamers and couch potatoes for acting violent in real life, and I will remind fellow supporters of Michael Moore that he opposes such simplistic mentality, particularly because it has no reliable science to back up such claims.

Of course, maybe a future ep of Deadliest Warrior can feature the following theme: Trained Civilian vs. the Trained Lunatic–who would come out on top? (I kid, I kid!! It would still make a bitchin’ episode, though!).

Time for action. The debate & discussion are over. Just as no one should debate whether “rape is legitimate,” this gun debate is effing over.
Not a fair comparison, Michael, and you know it. Sorry, but I cry foul here, dude! You’re trying to use an emotionally sensitive issue to get your position through, because you know it will discourage people from thinking rationally on the subject as a whole. Rape is by definition a non-consensual form of violence inflicted upon one person by another, an extreme sexual intrusion upon another person’s body, and this cannot be justified under any circumstances. But that is not always the case with firearms or the gun issue in general, which is much more nuanced and complex. Rape is never a suitable form of “self-defense,” but that is not always the case with the use of guns, because not everyone who uses a gun does so for maladjusted, selfish reasons, but may be doing so to defend themselves or a loved one. Further, guns are used in ways that do not factor human targets into the equation, such as hunting, firing range, etc.

But you cannot, in contrast, rape a target on the wall, and I never heard of a sport where hunters rush out into the wilderness to force themselves upon as many deer or raccoons as they can find in a single night (I hope I didn’t give any out-of-the-way redneck clans any ideas here!). My flippancy aside, I think my main point here stands.

As is often the case in these shootings, the gunman seemed to single out the women to kill (CNN: 18 of the dead are female; 8 males.)
Ooooh. Some men didn’t like that last tweet. So let me give u another: When’s the last time u saw a woman walk in & spray a place w/ bullets?

Michael, I think you know many men didn’t like that last tweet because one bad habit that people on the Left tend to have is making sometimes blatant, sometimes sorta subtle misandrist comments. And feel free to call me a misogynist for making this statement, which would be no different than some pundits calling anyone in America who dares suggest that government officials of Jewish ethnicity behave no better than any other ethnic group when in positions of military power must be “anti-Semitic.”

I will have you know that my closest friend is a woman, and if you knew her personally, you would see that she is hardly the meek, “stay in the kitchen” type; no, she runs her own business, is fully independent, and tough as nails, and would never tolerate a male BFF who was an actual misogynist. And I have many other women as close and valued friends, and many whom I work with in progressive circles, who would also not tolerate a misogynist of either gender amongst them. And I can tell you that none of them would ever make a misandrist comment aimed at men in general, even though they rightfully dislike certain types of men–as well as certain personality categories of their own gender. This is called egalitarianism, and it is, IMO, a higher form of moral ideology than either feminism or masculinism, even though I support both in essence of their empowerment of each gender, but back away from the extreme tendencies of either that seek to provide “evidence” that one gender is inherently superior than the other when it comes to ethical behavior.

Have you ever considered, Michael, that many of these nuts may seek to target women so often because our society has a habit of continually vilifying sexually active women as “whores” and “sluts”? And before you say it’s men alone who do this (and yes, many men do), you know very well that women often castigate each other in arguments with these same double standard pejoratives. Have you ever considered that many of these lunatics were Bible nuts, and the Roman Catholic Church–even the many liberal divisions, which you include yourself among–still do not advocate strongly for giving women equal positions to men in the clergy? Why not, I wonder? I certainly support high-ranking female clergy members, and I’m not even Catholic. I’m Wiccan, an alternative system of faith that is predominantly progressive and hardly supportive of misogynists!

I am not suggesting that you, or other such Leftist pundits, are secretly misogynists yourselves, so please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. What I am saying is that men have every right to be offended by such “true” comments as any woman would have a right to be when their gender is singled out as being more violent or “worse” than the opposite gender. Equality is not about giving special considerations or favors to any minority group; it’s about empowering them on the same level as those currently considered the ‘majority,’ and to recognize that both genders are afflicted with various double standards and stereotypes that are unjust. But I don’t need to tell you this, of course. Or may I possibly need to simply remind you?

And I also ask you to consider how “kind” and benevolent many female politicians have been compared to their male counterparts when given positions of power. Let’s not forget the likes of Queen Elizabeth, or Margaret Thatcher, or Indira Ghandi, or Janet Reno (let’s not forget she was in command of a massacre of many children and young teens by the FBI at the Waco, Texas incident back during the Clinton Administration, and was Hillary’s close friend), or even Hillary Clinton herself and Condoleezza Rice and their incessant support for war-mongering in the Middle East.
Let’s also keep in mind this recent article by Glenn Greenwald on the atrocious war-supporting and tyrant-coddling record of Susan Rice, who is now Obama’s favored incumbent to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. What exactly is the record for women politicians in general when it comes to support for civil rights legislation?

This is not an attack on women in general, but rather my making the point that all groups of human beings display similar tendencies when placed in positions of power. So I highly doubt putting a majority of women in charge of our capitalist system or powerful political institutions would result in a better world, but rather one that largely resembles what we have now.

In regards to women who kill on a large scale, they tend to do so differently than men do, but no less ruthlessly. There are many examples of female serial killers, for instance, who poisoned people–men much more often than fellow women, and often children (how is that for an emotional chain-puller?)–or suffocated them, or via other means that do not spill the same degree of blood that gun violence has, but which tends to claim no less a number of victims over the long haul. And because of their cunning, subtle ways of “acting out” in comparison to their male counterparts, they tend to often get away with what they are doing for longer periods of time, stretching a massacre out across several years, or even a few decades. Check out this sample of prolific female serial killers in this survey conducted by Meghan Holohan for just an example.

Note what the introductory paragraph by scribe Meghan Holohan (omg, a woman!) said: “Few people think of women as serial killers. Perhaps this misconception is based on the stereotype of women being sensitive and compassionate. For these brutal killers, sometimes the guise of nurturing helped them get in the door, but these ladies are just as depraved as their male counterparts.” Now note the outrage expressed by the first commenter, “Karen,” who thus purports to be a woman, when it comes to the leniency often given to women killers due to the “positive” stereotype that Meghan mentions above: “A woman kills 8 of her 10 children in modern times and gets probation? Awful!”

Am I shameful misogynist for pointing out these facts to any person on the Left–male or female–who may not like them pointed out or acknowledged? Am I disgrace to the progressive ideology and movement for doing so? For that matter, are Meghan and “Karen” (if she truly is a woman, and there is no reason to suspect otherwise) perhaps “self-hating women” for writing this article and comment, respectively? I would argue they aren’t, and I commend them both, just as I do the many amazing women I am friends with and/or work with in progressive circles regularly. If I accused you and the other progressives who routinely make such mean-spirited “factual observations” about members of the “bad” gender of being a misandrist, would you say you aren’t, but simply “state the facts, no matter who may not want to hear them”; or would you perhaps argue that being a misandrist isn’t as bad as being a misogynist, at least as far as progressives are concerned? And is offending your male followers by pointing out such facts in the context you did–which was clearly taking a dig at the entire male gender (at least, that is how the tone of your tweet came off as doing, intended or otherwise)–less of a problem than possibly offending women with a different comment directed against their entire gender?

I don’t personally consider you a misandrist, Michael, but I will tell you that I feel your male followers had every right to be offended by that comment, and you can rest assured that there are plenty of cool, brilliant, and dedicated female egalitarians on the progressive side who would be equally offended, and rightfully so. You have a right to say whatever you want to say, but I’m sure you understand you are going to be challenged when you make comments of that nature. I expect much better from you, as I do all progressives, and I will call you on it whenever you fall short of your best.

And finally, from Michael’s Twitter responses:

A Facebook post from Mark Kelly: http://mmflint.me/U0XlUU
This morning a crazy man attacked 22 children at an elementary school- in China. But all the crazy man had was a knife. Number of dead? Zero
In addition to his two handguns, the killer in CT this morning used an assault rifle called The Bushmaster.

Yes, firearms, particularly assault rifles like the Bushmaster, do make killing large numbers of people at a single time easier. I would expect a frenzied individual carrying only a knife (like the lunatic in China who entered an elementary school) and doesn’t target just one particular individual in a clandestine manner to end up subdued by several staff members before he killed anyone. However, as you will note from studying any cursory list of serial killers (including the list I provided up above), the use of knives, poisons, and even pillows to dispense acts of murder can claim as many victims as these mass shooters do, but simply over a prolonged period of time. And these individuals do not tend to kill themselves following these drawn out massacres as these deranged mass shooters often seem to do.

Again, I want no one to take this as an attack on Michael Moore–including you yourself, Michael, if you ever read this–but simply as what I believe to be well-warranted disagreements, which I have with everyone whom I respect from time to time (and which they have with me also, of course).

Despite the controversial nature of this post, I hope it provides food for thought, and encourages a rational and well-reasoned–not emotionalistic or hysterical–reaction to this latest tragedy involving a mass shooting incident. I hope our solutions are reasonable and in harmony with what we have the right to expect from a democratic society.

And in closing, I hope that we–as Michael asked us to do–take a good, hard look at the many issues outside of the simple matter of civilian ownership of guns that contribute to this problem, and come up with a solution that results in a better and more compassionate society, rather than merely one with more restrictions and less civil rights. If we do not deal with the real cause of the problem, but simply try to target the symptoms, then we are going to continuously miss the point and continue to live in denial of the problems with our current society that we need to address if viable, democratic solutions that actually work are to be implemented.

Check out this link for a sample of how vile female serial killers can be, and how they tend to operate behind the scenes more often than their male counterparts do. They may not become serial killers as often as men (then again, our culture raises men to believe it’s a sign of “toughness” to be desensitized to violence, and to be quicker to mete it out), but when they do go off the deep end, they tend to become every bit as bad as their male counterparts. And note how they do not need guns in many instances to carry out these killings. Those in positions of political power do not need to wield guns themselves, as they simply order soldiers or FBI agents (in the case of Janet Reno) who are carrying all the ammunition to carry out massacres on their behalf–just as their male counterparts do.

I Finally Saw CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST

Cannibal_Holocaust_movie

Yup, you read the subject line of this post correctly: I finally found the nerve to watch Ruggero Deodato’s notorious 1980 Italian horror film Cannibal Holocaust. Often said to be the worst of the lot amongst the infamous Italian genre of cannibal cinematic gore fests that saw its birth and gruesome heyday in the 1970s, this movie has also been proclaimed as “banned” (both truthfully and falsely) across the globe, with many distribution companies throughout the world settling only for heavily edited versions for release if an overall ban wasn’t enacted. In fact, it took some years following its completion to gain any type of release even in Deodato’s native Italy, whose populace seemed to boast a sizable audience for this type of material (and some think only the Asian market goes for this sort of thing!).

It’s been reported that Deodato, the famous–or infamous; take your pick–Italian cult director of extreme cinema, was actually arrested for producing this less-than-pleasant flick, and accused of initiating actual murders in the course of filming this nightmare on celluloid. In actuality, it was only the four animals brutally slaughtered on screen who got the genuine snuff treatment, and not any human beings (I can actually hear the collective membership of PETA having a simultaneous conniption over such double standards). This movie has been much maligned–er, discussed–throughout various blogs and web sites dealing with relevant genres of cinema already, so there is no need to go into a detailed synopsis of it here (if you want to know more, Google has achieved its level of popularity for a reason, people! And no, the owners didn’t pay me to plug it, FYI *sarcastic grin*). What I do want to get into here, which will give a lot more info on the film to the followers of this blog who are not in the know in a by proxy sense, is my evaluation of this movie, i.e., whether or not it truly deserves its reputation as one of the most brutal and vile films ever made, and whether or not it had any real merits to it that may enable it to rise above the status of a pure exploitation splatter film.

The first thing I’d like to mention in regards to seeing a film I’ve always heard so much about yet didn’t see for a long time after first hearing about it is not the matter of whether everything I’ve heard would ring true in my estimation, but what significant details (significant to me, anyway) I would notice that no previous reviewer bothered to mention. The first detail that caught my mind about this movie that no one ever mentioned to me (that I believe warranted mention) was the totally incongruous theme instrumental that played over the fairly lengthy opening credits–it was an extremely pleasant and even downright relaxing tune! If an unsuspecting viewer caught this movie on cable (not that it would ever be shown on contemporary cable, even in an edited version–we are likely at least a few years away from the debut of the Extreme Gore Channel) and came across this very pleasant melody playing over a rather scenic panorama of South American jungle from the sky, they may very mistakenly get the impression that they were in for a cute family-friendly American flick about kids saving endangered tree sloths from being captured for display in a zoo, or a nice little documentary by the estate of Marlen Perkins on the art of photographing caimans in their natural habitat *cue to theme music of Mutual of Omaha* (for those who got that, sorry, I couldn’t resist). I can’t help but bellow in sadistic laughter for just a few seconds (okay, maybe several) for what such clueless individuals would be in for if they decided to sit and watch with such *ahem* incorrect expectations. Though “sadistic” is certainly an apt term for what was to follow, as one can always count on Deodato to deliver the goods.

Now, with that out of the way, let me get to a point of major controversy and contention about this film, and follow with my usual frank degree of honesty and lack of PC in response: The very graphic scenes of actual animal mutilation for whatever reason Deodato saw them as necessary (I won’t try to psychoanalyze him here, but no, as far as I know, he didn’t grow up to become a serial killer despite showing some of the major warning signs). This flick saw the brutal killing by knife and other bladed implements of a musk rat and a large tortoise by Italian-American antagonist and sensation-mongering young documentarian Alan Yates and his crew of blonde “pretty boy” Jack Anders; typical guido Mark Tomaso (whose father hated him, btw, a sentiment his dad made very clear when asked about his son’s disappearance in an impromptu news interview); his ill-fated Peruvian guide Felipe; and his very easy on the eyes girlfriend Faye Daniels (her being the only attractive thing about this film, if you don’t count the pleasant opening music). This unrepentant animal slaughter further continued when Alan shot a pig in one of the native villages at close range, and one of the tribes depicted in the film did their own part to piss off PETA by divesting a live monkey of its head and eating the rest of it.

So, did these scenes in any way add to the narrative or lend any “artistic” credentials to the movie as a whole? No, they were pure examples of shock value, presumably added for the purpose of adding further examples of generic “savagery” to a movie that already had plenty of that without the need to sacrifice any live animals. I’m not sure why Deodato couldn’t have gone the fake gore route for the animals like he did for the people killed in this movie, but then again, I guess he felt that non-sentient animals were fair game when trying to make a gory film about the “laws of the jungle” that was as “realistic” as possible. That being said, in all fairness to Deodato and his PETA-defiling crew of actors, one thing that wasn’t mentioned in any of the reviews I ever heard (and I’ve read and heard plenty) was the fact that at least with the scene involving the tortoise–by far the most graphic and needlessly extended of the four scenes of genuine animal massacre in this flick–the hapless reptile was killed quickly, as its head was immediately chopped off. This is something that all hunters with even a modicum of ethics will strive to do when hunting for food, or even for sport. The main point of brutality with this extended sequence was how graphically the tortoise was shown being slowly cut to pieces in glorious full color close-up, and all its organs removed and then eaten by the male members of the crew; Faye was the only one who turned her head from the proceedings in disgust and vomited in both a PC and stereotypical moment.

Faye was also to later play further PC roles in this movie, such as being the only voice of semi-conscience amongst Alan and his depraved crew of tabloid fools, as Deodato and screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici probably thought it was unlikely for a man to show the same traits, despite the main character in the film, Prof. Harold Munroe, expressing such sentiments frequently in the main framing sequence of the movie. Did I tell you how much I dislike PC and stereotyping? Yes, that was a rhetorical question, for the one reader out there who may not have caught the sarcasm (and please pardon my pretentiousness for assuming I have more than one reader at this point, too, not counting me when I have to edit these damn posts *grins*).

To answer another question likely on the mind of many: No, the scenes of animal mutilation didn’t get to me, probably because I have gone raccoon hunting a few times with some friends a long time ago, and honestly, the stuff they did to the raccoons were not much different than that which was done to the animals onscreen by the overzealous actors in this film, albeit not nearly as prolonged, and I know there is nothing unusual about those friends of mine when it comes to hunting (they are the friendliest people to ever enjoy hunting animals, I should point out, and I’d much rather be their guest for dinner than accepting a similar invite from the Yanomamo tribe). I’m not going to get into a discussion of the ethics of hunting in the civilized world in this particular post, because it’s too off-topic and I tend to make my rants long enough as it is (I can already see the complaints being thrown at me about the many virtues of brevity, yadda yadda yadda), but I’ll deal with that subject in another post, fear not (or fear quite a bit, as the case may be).

However, those who are squeamish about such things, and every member of PETA, had best not attempt to sit through the needlessly prolonged sequence where the tortoise was vivisected in more detail than you’d expect to see in a zoological physiology lab, but if you are even a casual dabbler in hunting, the innards of a reptile do not look different enough from those of a deer or a raccoon to give you the trembles. On the other hand, the painful killing of the musk rat by way of a knife was not done quickly enough in my opinion, and some degree of censure should have been brought down on Deodato’s crew for that one. I was wondering, however, why the hell that musk rat didn’t bite the hell out of actor Carl Gabriel Yorke before he got the chance to perforate it with the knife considering the way he was holding it. Now that would have been a sight worth sitting through that sequence for.

There is one more thing I should add about the tortoise mutilation scene that did actually make it a bit difficult to sit though, and this goes back again to the subject of Deodato’s choice of score for the movie. Part of the soundtrack included this hugely ominous instrumental that evoked a severe sense of foreboding that was played over every scene of violence, sometimes combining it in a medley with the incongruously pleasant melody from the opening credits to create a truly outre contrast. This ominous tune was played non-stop over the entirety of the turtle-gutting scene–which seemed to go on for an eternity, as if Deodato was constantly worried that we didn’t see enough of the poor creature’s viscera to satisfy whatever it was he thought he was trying to satisfy with these scenes–and this made the sequence unsettling even for some who aren’t turned off by the sight of real freshly butchered animal entrails. Anyone who may get upset by what they were seeing would find the addition of that music truly unbearable, even if not on a conscious level. Say what you want about Deodato–whether good or bad, it will quite likely be true–but the guy is enough of an auteur to know how to combine visuals with choice of score to create exactly the type of mood he wants.

So in summation of that point, the movie works just fine without the real animal mutilations, because they added nothing to the movie save additional shock value, and as more opportunities to make Alan and his crew look like assholes, and they didn’t need these particular scenes to accomplish that. The problem is, their needlessness only served to make Deodato and the actors portraying those characters look like assholes too, and even though I think a point or two in their defense simply because they were true was warranted (e.g., the tortoise being given a quick death), they still deserved full criticism for these scenes. I really wish that musk rat gave Mr. Yorke a nice big bite on his finger before he started cutting the creature up, or at least peed on him and ruined his expensive company-loaned safari outfit; that way, he would have smelled like a pissant instead of only looking like one. Bottom line, if you haven’t seen the film and dare to make the decision to do so like I did, and you are sensitive about the issue of animal violence, don’t feel bad about securing one of the versions of the flick that had the animal killings edited out, as you won’t be missing anything other than some serious heartbreak.

Moving aside from that and onto the subject of the (thankfully fake) scenes of human on human gore: Despite all that I heard–one online reviewer dared any viewer to sit through the movie and not throw up–I managed to sit through it without flinching more than a minor extent, and nary as much as even a single dry heave (it seems the characters in the film were doing enough throwing up at the various scenes of gory mayhem for the viewer, anyway; so no need to waste my own gastric fluids to show revulsion at the tableau on display when others are generous enough to sacrifice their own instead). The gore effects were realistically rendered, but often shown in quick shots to de-emphasize any possible shortcomings of the sfx. I actually can think of one particularly disturbing scene I will unfortunately take to sleep with me tonight that didn’t involve a murder, but a seriously diseased old woman who, realizing she was a liability to her tribe at that age and condition (no nursing huts thereabouts?), wandered to a certain sacred spot to sit there moaning in agony as she slowly rotted while not so patiently awaiting her now merciful demise. The sight of Alan and his crew dispassionately standing over her and explaining her situation to their expected future audience as you may casually explain the making of a ginger ale float on your home ec YouTube channel wasn’t exactly one of the highlights of my night. And considering how quick Yates and his party were to resort to horrid violence in order to create artificial drama and action for his audience, you’d think they could spare one measly bullet to put that poor old woman out of her misery. But no, they had to be sadists even when it came to not committing an act of violence. I couldn’t help but wonder if some of those old woman’s moans were actually her saying, “Just shut the fuck up and shoot me already, you pale-faced pricks!” in her native lingo. You can’t imagine how many times I wished I had popcorn with me so I could throw a stray kernel at the screen every time Alan and company gave with another display of flagrant douche-baggery. It takes quite a special type of douche-bag (or, as my bud Stephanie spells it: “dooshbag”) to earn that title based on what they sometimes don’t do in addition to what they spend so much time actually doing.

But bottom line, the movie didn’t make me part with any bodily fluids nor hide my eyes under a pillow (okay, I half-closed my eyes at the scene when the tribal woman was given the Yanomamo’s answer to the “scarlet letter” treatment–with emphasis on the scarlet–for adultery, but hey, I bet most of you would have, too!), and I have honestly seen worse. It’s not my intention to boast here, because while I have quite a high tolerance for gore and mayhem on the screen, I do have limits, and I have had them reached before. In fact, there are a few films I have yet to work up the nerve to watch at this writing (I doubt I will ever have the nerve to watch An American Crime). Immediately coming to mind is on that list is Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom, which my friend and adviser at my alma mater’s foreign film club was willing to show due to what he described as its artistic merits, but utterly refused to show Cannibal Holocaust for allegedly lacking the same (*waves to Dr. Basile*). But is it really so bereft of any such merits? Let’s talk about that a bit now.

I have to say, in all honesty, that Cannibal Holocaust has a decent script, with production values to match, despite its obvious and rather sleazy exploitative elements. It boasts an important theme throughout the film, one that Deodato and Clerici made no attempt to disguise. That theme presents existential questions about the nature of justice, how relative and subjective what is deemed “criminal” and what methods of dispensing it can be from culture to culture, and a serious but uncomfortable comparison between primitive cultures like the Yacumo and Yanomamo tribes of the Amazon Basin and our own “civilized” (read: organized and post-industrial) society and its accompanying cultures. There are many reviewers who like to admonish writers of didactic stories or scripts for being “preachy” when they purport to do something more than just provide escapist entertainment, as if giving someone food for thought and entertaining people are somehow mutually exclusive. Of course, calling someone “preachy” for having something to say about something in their fiction is in many ways a tacit admission that they, and other readers, dislike being expected to read or watch something that makes them feel compelled to think too much.

Granted, some writers do a bad job of presenting a theme or message, and are lamentably “heavy-handed” in doing so. But in my humble opinion, when a writer succeeds in an attempt to combine making their audience think while simultaneously entertaining them in the process, they achieve their vocation’s equivalent of pure gold. I think even those who make a courageous attempt to send out a message, but fumble the attempt badly, are usually admirable in their own way. For anyone who feels that entertainment doesn’t work when a strong message is built into it, or that this message or idea somehow taints or dilutes the story’s entertainment value, I suggest they look at great TV series that were both entertaining and thought-inspiring at the same time, like the classic politically-charged 1970s sitcom All in the Family; the very ahead-of-its-time and heavily intellectual 1990s drama series Picket Fences (provided you ignore every episode of its horrid fourth and final season); the bulk of the late Rod Serling’s work, like his famous teleplay Requiem for a Heavyweight and his popular thought-provoking fantasy TV series The Twilight Zone; and much of Joss Whedon’s oeuvre, including his fantastic fiction TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer; its equally commendable spin-off Angel; and his short-lived but cult classic sci-fi Western, Firefly. Of course, there is nothing wrong with shows/movies or stories that merely seek to entertain without a heavy message, and I am fond of several of those as well, including the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company (one of my all-time faves), which the great comedian and actress Lucille Ball once commended for “not trying to change the world,” which she felt was the best type of comedy there was, a form she did so much excellent work in with three hit sitcoms (yes, I’m ignoring her fourth and final one, Life With Lucy, out of respect for her).

However, I find it possible to enjoy both, whereas others clearly seem to have a more one-sided view of this issue, so yes, I’m one of those annoying scribes who is often accused by those who hold such an opinion as “preaching” to them. And contrary to those who claim “preachy” only applies to those stories that beat their viewers or readers over the head with the message, I’ve seen such stories and writers (including myself) accused of “preaching” even when when the message was fairly subtle and subservient to the pure entertainment aspects, like action or characterization. Hence, for some, even a subtle message constitutes too much thinking for comfort.

The way I see it, though, is that writers of all stripes have a more important job than simply entertaining, even though that is certainly a big part of our job. Writers have often been the very conscience of their society, bringing thoughts, ideas, memes, and opinions before the reading public that people en masse often need to hear and consider even if they don’t want to do so. Thus, writers have the ability to make or a break a revolution at certain points in history. Again, there are bad ways of spreading a message via writing, but we must never forget or dismiss the importance of leaving a reader with an idea or thought they didn’t have before they read our story or watched a show or play culled from a script we wrote. I have nothing against mindless escapist entertainment in certain dosages (just like food heavy with sugar), as we can certainly use it at times, but in my opinion, too much of that to the near-exclusion of more didactic forms of writing and general entertainment cause the latter to serve as “bread and circuses” for keeping the masses pacified while their overseers make a killing off of them, in every sense of that word.

That is likely the reason why so many people do not like thinking about or attempting to understand certain issues too much, or being reminded of the preponderance of a certain major societal problem that they prefer to deal with by doing their best to pretend it doesn’t exist. “Preachy” writers won’t let them forget or ignore these matters, which is why adherents to that school of thought find the need to use a certain adjective or verb to deride writers of didactic fiction, much as pop culture did the same for well-educated people by calling them “nerdy” and women who openly enjoy their natural sexual desires as “slutty.”

One of the uncomfortable things that this film’s script forced us to do is to look at matters from the perspective of the primitive tribesmen featured in the movie. Seeing things from the perspective of others outside of whatever narrow perspective our particular group happens to hold is often extremely difficult for us. This is why you see things like Americans justifiably screaming in rage when a few thousand of our fellow citizens are killed by the brazen attack on our soil on 9/11, yet rationalize and ignore the frequent destruction wreaked upon average citizens and their property in Middle Eastern nations by drones and invading military units sent by the United States government. It’s always easy to justify what your group does to “their” group, but the reverse is never seen as morally comparable. Those outside of one’s group are often dehumanized and derided as being living personifications of evil and degeneracy, and we often even rationalize what we do to them as being in their best interests. Alan Yates and his small film crew seemed to have no problem with treating the tribes they encountered in and near the “Green Hell” section of the Amazon jungles as less deserving of the type of considerations that they felt they were completely worthy of, because they view themselves as “more advanced” than the primitive tribes. However, as Prof. Monroe noted in this movie, our society commits many of the same atrocities and barbarities as these tribes do, but we simply find more “civilized” ways of doing it.

For instance, we may not kill or imprison someone for advocating an unpopular opinion as some nations have done and continue to do, but we do other less “extreme” but no less effectively unjust ways of stifling such people by threatening them with job loss, revocation of tenure or funding, and academic ostracizement even if they push unpopular ideas that they can often back up with good peer-reviewed scientific experimentation. Our political system won’t tie someone to a tree and divest them of their favored body parts for refusing to flow with the status quo, but our institutions will resort to many forms of blatant censorship and socio-political marginalization of such individuals. And while our culture will not stone or shove a wooden pole through the vagina of a female for violating a socially constructed sexual taboo, we will still socially condemn girls and women for openly expressing their sexuality via pejorative terms like “slut” and “whore” (which far too many girls go along with and use against each other, it must be admitted), and young women under a certain legal age are actually arrested and prosecuted for taking and sending provocative photos of themselves, which is more an attempt to control their sexual expression and decree it to be “obscene” than the common rationalization of “protecting” them from “bad choices.” So while our society and sense of justice no longer permits the extremes of punishment for social infractions and violation of cultural taboos that we saw meted out in this film by the Amazonian tribes, we still engage in often life-destroying forms of punishment for essentially the same things.

Even more important is the fact that we still tolerate a global socio-economic system that is based upon the same type of “survival of the fittest” & “law of the jungle” ethos that Alan Yates was ranting about and using to openly rationalize the abhorrent behavior of his documentary crew throughout the footage they left behind that was recovered by Prof. Munroe and his rescue party. Our environment is much more controlled and comfortable than the raw jungle environment that the Yacumo and Yanomamo tribes operate within, but the basic principles are the same. These principles have long been used by the many who follow the “teachings” of Ayn Rand to justify and even glorify almost every negative aspect of behavior that human beings can manifest, from greed and selfishness all the way to war and imperialist domination of others. How does this make our culture majorly different or more advanced than that of these primitive tribes despite our frequent pretense to the contrary and chauvinistic sense of entitlement?

Though this wasn’t explored in the script, it can be cogently argued that we are even more guilty of such behavior than the Yacumo and their fellow Amazonian tribes, because unlike them, we have the productive and technological capacity to create a socio-economic system that is not based on a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest structure that is predicated upon ruthless competition rather than cooperation and the goal of abundance for all. Defense of a system that breeds uncivilized behavior within the context of a supposedly civilized society makes us in many ways more culpable than a primitive tribe for prominent displays of such behavior amongst us.

Now don’t get me wrong, this film was hardly one of black-and-white depictions of morality. I am not by any means defending the three primitive tribes who appear in it (though only two prominently) as “noble savages.” They were often very barbaric in their treatment of each other when it comes to dispensing justice, along with the harsh and not exactly reasonable morals that demand extreme forms of punishment if violated, and they often come across as nightmarish caricatures of the primitive savage trope seen throughout the horror tales of Western culture.

Nevertheless, the main point of the film–voiced largely through the ethical character of Prof. Munroe–was that savage behavior from one group towards another merely begets similarly uncivilized behavior in retaliation, something that high-ranking politicians in America refuse to accept or acknowledge. Those who are more worthy than others in their own eyes cannot logically expect those others to accept this loaded logic, nor readily adopt it into their own mindset. What was also well displayed in the script was how victims and victimizers can readily reverse status depending upon who has the advantage at any given time, even in regards to each other. This is made clear on a macroscopic level in the civilized world’s greater political sphere when we see, as just one example, how the high-ranking extremist Israeli politicians and their right-wing lobbyist lackeys in the American political landscape often use the historical fact of how extreme methods of systematic murder and imprisonment inflicted upon members of the Jewish ethnic group during the World War II Holocaust by the Nazis as rationale for entitlement when inflicting similar forms of treatment upon a different ethnic group, the Palestinians, based on competition to control rather than cooperation in sharing the resources and land of their geographical region.

This amply displays how the nature and imperatives of the hierarchical economic system we live under, and not the innate “nature” of any particular group of people, results in the bulk of serious conflicts in the world today. In such an environment, whether it’s a steamy jungle region or huge post-industrial cities, there are few individuals who are innocent at all times, and the role of victim and victimizer often shifts and changes as readily as billows in a wisp of smoke.

Of all the members of Yate’s little entourage, only Faye was afforded a sympathetic character (whether PC or not, this was nevertheless the case), so she was the only one whose horrid final fate at the hands, teeth, blades, etc., et al., of the vengeful Yanomamo tribe was truly vilifying to the viewers. Alan, Mark, and Jack were seen as receiving their just desserts–with “dessert” being an apropos term here–particularly Jack, whose comeuppance butchering was executed (pun intended) in glorious detail, including the receiving of a cruel mutilation that may have inspired Lorena Bobbitt when she was planning a suitable revenge on her abusive husband as he slept one night (if any reader doesn’t know or remember who she is, then I recommended you spare yourself the grief of Googling her name and finding out; let’s just say that she took the fact that her husband was a major dick into her means of retribution). Luckily for Jack, the Yanomamo weren’t as sadistic as he and Alan were, or they likely would have inflicted that type of mutilation on him before Alan got the chance to shoot him after he was speared–which sort of rendered the mutilation pointless from our sense of logic, but maybe the tribe wanted a souvenir that could double as a good paperweight or fly swatter, or something.

With that lovely political rant of mine out of the way, I now get to other matters regarding the script of this film that I think actually deserve commending. For one thing, the dialogue was relatively well scripted for a flick that many would be quick to dismiss as C-list exploitation trash. Despite all of the shocking scenes of violence and the atrocious displays of needless violence on animals wrought by Deodato and his crew, he takes the message of this film seriously, and it doesn’t come off as tacked on material to give a false framework for as background support for a series of shock sequences. Not only that, but there was another major point of the script that I never recall hearing or reading from the multitude of reviewers who’ve critiqued this film, and that is the surprisingly witty banter exchanged between Prof. Munroe and his main guide, not to mention the professor’s reactions at having to show “respect” to his primitive hosts by eating or imbibing whatever they happen to give him (and it’s not anything you would care to have on your holiday dinner table, trust me). Yes, I’m serious, this movie actually has a good amount of decent one-liners and intentionally funny verbal repartee between the true main protagonists of the film. Make note of this, since you aren’t likely to see this particular point mentioned in any other review, which will tend to focus mostly on the gore and animal brutality first and foremost, and the message that Deodato and Clerici tried to convey on a secondary note (with the reviewers often, though not always, concluding that it got lost in the bloody shuffle).

The acting certainly wasn’t Oscar-worthy, but it wasn’t bad either, and whatever degree of dubbing used in the English language version I was loaned to watch (I’m honestly not sure how extensive the dubbing was) seemed to be professionally done. The characters were well portrayed by the cast, with Robert Kerman playing the role of the movie’s ethical spokesman Prof. Harold Munroe quite competently, and the trio of actors comprising Alan Yate’s crew of documentarian douche-bags doing a good job of portraying them as…well, major league douche-bags. Actress Francesca Ciardi played an extremely lovely Faye Daniels, and she was nice enough to treat the viewer to a few copious full body nude scenes, and I think only the extremely prudish would call someone perverse or obscene for admiring a beautiful woman’s nude body, which she has every right to be proud of. We were even treated to a very gratuitous sex scene between Faye and Alan, which connoisseurs of soft core porn material couldn’t enjoy too much when one considers that the sex happened in “celebration” of Alan and Jack successfully creating drama for their documentary by trapping a large portion of the Yanamomo’s women, kids, and elderly in a huge hut and setting it aflame, consigning all of them to a horrible death and blaming it on their rival cannibalistic tribe, the Shamatari.

So all in all, this was a good horror flick with an important message to deliver, and I’m glad I was able to sit through it. If you have a generally high tolerance for gore and violence in general, then you may be able to make it through this film too (it usually takes things other than gore to gross me out). If you can, it’s worth doing so, and for more reasons than mere bragging. This is especially true if you are not turned off by “preachy” films that seek to make the viewer think, and use the horror genre to present metaphors and archetypes that resonate with both our conscious and subconscious minds on many levels in the same way myths and folk tales of old did and still do (more about archetypes and myth and their importance to writers and artists of all other stripes in a future post). Fans of Ruggero Deodato’s twisted oeuvre of cinema, and fans of the cannibal sub-genre of horror, obviously shouldn’t miss this one, but fans of the greater horror genre will find much to appreciate about it also, especially those who enjoy horror archetypes personifying various significant political and cultural truths that our society prefers not to think about very much. If your tolerance for gore is not high, then avoid this one like you would a leper full of open sores, and if you cannot stomach the depiction of authentic animal cruelty but still want to see the movie, by all means seek out one of the edited versions, especially considering how depictions of real cruelty towards animals is illegal in some countries.

I should in closing answer a final oft-asked question by noting that there is indeed a Cannibal Holocaust II, which was produced in 1988, but Ruggero Deodato and Gianfranco Clerici had nothing to do with it, and it wasn’t actually a direct sequel to the first one, dealing with entirely different characters and a completely different Amazonian tribe than the three featured in this film: the Yucumo, the Yanamamo, and the Shamatari. Since I know little else about flick at this time, I cannot in good conscience recommend seeking it out to anyone at this writing.

Update: There have apparently been more than one non-cannibal film that were billed as a sequel to Cannibal Holocaust in order to take advantage of its notoriety for marquee value, albeit in a very dishonest but typical manner. None of these films, including the one noted above, had any connection to the Deodato “message thriller.” In fact, there has been a dearth of true cannibal films after the early 1980s, with these purported sequels marketed as such simply because they featured an adventure taking place in a jungle with native tribes and stuff like that (not even a single real animal mutilation in sight!). Deodato was all set to make a true follow-up to his film during the previous decade entitled Cannibals, and it was slated for a 2008 release. Quite unfortunately–or very fortunately, depending on your viewpoint–this intriguing project fell through due to a variety of factors, but largely the inability of the producer to find sufficient funding. One must wonder why, hmmm? Looks like Deodato’s fans will get to hold their lunches for a while longer now.

– CN