Crisis on N Earths: US Embassy Bombings, Osama bin Laden

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

It’s August 7, 1998, and two American embassies in Africa–one in Tanzania, the other in Kenya–were just bombed nigh-simultaneously by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The shadowy figure fingered as being behind the attack had an origin story straight out of a superhero comic: scion of a wealthy family, he founded an organization which, probably with American funding and support, aided the resistance movement against the Soviet invasion of a country near his own.

The resistance movement was the Mujahideen, the organization was al-Qaeda, and we are of course talking about Osama bin Laden. Today is the day most of America first hears his name.

Whether or not the US provided funding or other assistance to al-Qaeda in its early days fighting the Soviet Union is controversial, but it is generally agreed that if it happened, this was a major error that came back to bite the people who made it. I’m not so sure.

To be clear, two hundred people died. Nobody, except maybe the people who carried them out and their ideological fellow travelers, thinks these attacks were a good thing.

But American culture, for nearly half a century, had been built around the Cold War. It was the go-to argument for the oppressor class: can’t pay living wages or fund social programs because that’s socialism and we don’t want to be like those godless commies, you know? Can’t roll back the dominance of arbitrary Christian mores standing in the way of women’s and queer liberation; that’s secularism, the kind of thing those godless commies would do. Even the Civil Rights Movement was treated as a potential communist plot!

We have, multiple times, looked at the way the sudden, anticlimactic end of the Cold War impacted the national psyche. For a solid decade, the US was a nation flailing, a massively oversized military-industrial complex suddenly without an enemy to (never actually) fight, a police and surveillance state without infiltrators and agents of foreign powers to ferret out.

Some relics remained intact. To this day, conservatives will still argue against any proposed or extant social program by pointing to the Soviet Union, but instead of implying that we will become like the Soviets at their most brutally oppressive, now the implication is that we will become like the Soviet Union in the sense of collapsing. And much of the rhetoric is unchanged; the only difference now is that we are exhorted to report suspicious activity from our neighbors because they might be terrorists, as opposed to because they might be communists. (And before that, Nazis. And before that, communists. And before that, anarchists. And before that…)

And that there is the key. These bombings are not the moment at which terrorists became the new communists, but they are the prequel. They are the moment at which the new villain became known.

He’s a great fit. The best villains, we’re always told, are mirrors of the heroes. And if the American military-industrial-police complex, which is to say the American right, is the self-declared hero, then in bin Laden we have a perfectly cast villain. Most obviously, like the American right, he is extremely devoted to a far-right regressive religion which he believes should be the basis for government, which is to say forcibly imposed on all. He also comes from money, just like the American right. Most of all, however, he is motivated by a powerful hostility to the Other, a belief that violence is the appropriate response to any difference.

Hero and villain, in other words, believe precisely the same things, with the only difference being where and in what culture they happen to have been born. But of course, when your motivating belief is the hatred of the Other, that’s all it takes to be bitter enemies.

The common refrain in the late 90s and early 2000s, regarding right-wing Muslim terrorism, was “they hate us for our freedoms.” And that’s not untrue, insofar as diversity is a product of freedom: when people are free to be openly different, their differences are naturally more visible. Of course rather more significant a factor is that we have been conquering, manipulating, and oil-drilling the Middle East for generations; those of “them” who hate “us” by and large have fairly good reason to do so. But the common thread between all the world’s right wings, whether of empires or their colonies current and former, is that us/them division in the first place. “They” hate “us” for the same reason “we” hate “them”: because once you’ve divided the world into an us and a them, a Self and an Other, a normal and a deviant, hating and fearing the Other becomes natural, and killing them feels like self-defense.

Most terrorism in the United States is carried out by American-born conservative white men. That is simply a fact, and as true in 1998 as it is now. And for them as well, it is not untrue that they hate us for our freedoms, for our difference. Right-wing terrorism is motivated by the same hatred and fear and desire to kill the invading outsider–because, to those who draw those little circles of normalcy, everything deviant is an outsider.

And so the great transference can begin. Where once communists were the terrible Other, whose agents infiltrated the state and must be expunged, now it is terrorists. Where once being anything other than a conservative Christian white allocishet man made you suspect as a commie, now it makes you, if not a terrorist, at least suspect of aiding and abetting them. (Hence the nonsense about Middle Eastern terrorists sneaking across the border among undocumented immigrants from Latin America: to the rightwing mind, Middle Eastern people, terrorists, and Latin@ people are all Other, and therefore more or less interchangeably equivalent.)

We are, at least partially, free to be who we are. And they hate us for that freedom.


Current status of the Patreon:

Vlog Review: Heart Catch Pretty Cure 7 & 15 and Star vs. Evil S2E20

Regular episode of a new series…

..and a bonus episode! As long as my Patreon stays above $150/mo, I’ll post two of these every month!

Reminder that Patreon backers can request commissions, see these videos (including Star vs. Evil, commissioned episodes of other series, and panels I presented at various cons) 4-5 weeks early, AND see Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early! 

Vlog Review: CatGhost 5-8

 

Extremely late regular episode… plus an extremely late bonus episode! As long as the Patreon remains above $150/mo, I’ll post two extra vlogs every month!
Reminder that Patreon backers can request commissions, see these videos (including Star vs. Evil, commissioned episodes of other series, and panels I presented at various cons) 4-5 weeks early, AND see Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!
 

Crisis on N Earths: Cowboy Bebop

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

Okay, let’s jam. 3, 2, 1…

It’s like this. Cowboy Bebop is one of the most critically acclaimed anime series of all time. In the US in particular it was a massive hit, in many ways the peak of the wave of anime imported to American television that began with Pokemon. It’s where the wave crashed over us, a mountain of foam, gorgeous, sublime even.

But still just foam. (So many people are mad at me right now.)

The thing about Cowboy Bebop is that it’s all style. The characters are incredibly cool, but they’re also completely stock archetypes out of Westerns and film noir. They get backstories, which is what anime usually substitutes for character development, but those backstories are basically pure cliche.

(Except Ed and Ein. Ed and Ein are strikingly original and criminally underused. They also get even less development than the central trio, despite being vastly more interesting. The Adventures of Ed and Ein when?)

It’s visually stunning in its execution of familiar scenes out of space opera, wushu, and, again, Westerns. The music is spectacular, including a serious contender for the greatest opening theme of all time, and note that I didn’t limit that to anime or even television. It is very clearly the product of a group of artists absolutely at the top of their game and having a tremendously good time. That alone is enough to make it deserving of most of the praise it’s received.

But that doesn’t change that it doesn’t actually have anything to say. (So mad.)

Anyway, if we’re gonna talk about it, and we’re talking about the DCAU, we gotta talk “Pierre le Fou.” See, Sunrise worked on a number of early Batman: The Animated Series episodes. (“Pretty Poison” for one. So there’s another femme fatale they’ve animated; the difference is that Faye is what Ivy performs. “I Am the Night” and “The Man Who Killed Batman,” also.) “Pierre le Fou” is their homage to that work, and it shows.

A horror story about an “insane,” murderous clown with the mind of a child, a backstory of torment and abuse at the hands of institutional power, and a character design that seems largely based on a cross between the Penguin and the Mad Hatter. Also the climactic fight sequence takes place in an abandoned amusement park at night.

It’s pretty BTAS, is what I’m saying.

It’s not really a sympathetic villain story, though, despite the backstory. Cowboy Bebop mostly doesn’t do sympathetic. Tragic, maybe, but that’s hardly the same thing.

It’s a great episode. Besides all the BTAS, there’s a healthy does of Akira in there (look at how the flashback to Pierrot’s “training” is lit!), the villain is terrifying, and the fight scenes are brutal. This is solid horror, on top of everything else, and horror in a very different vein than “Toys in the Attic”–deadly serious and gothic, much like the Bat, as opposed to light and Weird. (Which I want to say is like Superman, but… eh. Not as neatly as I’d like.)

But there really isn’t much to chew on here. It’s meat-flavored, but it’s got no meat. It takes pieces from many places, puts them together into something that works, and that’s great… but that’s all it is. The whole is precisely equal to the sum of its parts. Everything’s on its sleeve, everything’s pure shiny surface–and like Pierrot himself, despite a bulky appearance, what’s in there is mostly just guns.

No wonder American anime fans latched onto it so hard. Calling this Dragon Ball Z for people who think they’re too smart for Dragon Ball Z is deeply, intensely, staggeringly unfair, as well as highly inaccurate. The Matrix of anime? Nah, that’s Serial Experiments Lain.

I dunno. There’s not really a good analogy. Point is it’s gorgeous and spectacularly well done and hollow, and I’m literally the only person who thinks that last part, and anyone reading this who’s actually watched Cowboy Bebop hates me now.

I think it’s time we blow this scene.

(This was originally written as a stream of consciousness and posted to Patreon with no editing. I have very lightly proofread this version–punctuation, spacing, and adding the countdown at the beginning are the only changes.)


Current status of the Patreon:

Retroactive Continuity: Devilman Crybaby E10, “Crybaby”

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo

Yes, I’m aware this is late. And yes, I’m aware I forgot to release any video last week, I’ll fix it tomorrow and the next day.

Commissioned post for Shane deNota-Hoffman.

Which it did.

There’s a lot of End of Evangelion in this episode’s DNA. Ryo looks remarkably like Rei/Lilith’s final form in that film; the destruction is intercut with images of children playing; even the ending, two characters lying on the shore of a red ocean, is shared with that film. But that makes sense, as End of Eva is the go-to anime movie for apocalyptic scenarios full of vaguely Biblical imagery.

This is an old genre we’re working in here, already fully formed by the time its first real classic, the Book of Daniel, was written in the second century BCE. The apocalypse was originally about political resistance, a reassurance that there was a tyrant out there bigger and more powerful than the one currently oppressing you, and that it was thus absolutely certain that the oppressor would eventually fall, as all oppressors do (along with everything else). In modern times, apocalyptic literature followed the general trend toward more psychological fiction, using apocalyptic language and imagery to engage less with political revolution than with personal evolution. Demian and Revolutionary Girl Utena are standout examples of the latter form. And then there’s Akira. Or, more to the point, the film Akira, a howling scream of disgust at a world in decay. End of Eva sings in the same key, though the original series was more along the lines of Utena‘s approach. Compassion, as we’ve discussed, is suffering, and there comes a point at which that suffering is unbearable.

We live in a fundamentally evil universe. This is a universe in which heat will be moved from the equator to the poles according to strict rules, regardless of how much human suffering and death the resulting hurricanes will bring. You think humans are capable of great evil, and we are, but the evil of the universe wipes out the stars and shatters worlds. No human killer, no genocidal tyrant, has ever killed as many people as the protozoan Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal strain of malaria. And unlike anything else we have ever encountered, we are capable of moral decision-making, and hence of good. That’s the only place good exists, after all: the human imagination.

We made it up. A tiny cry of defiance against a universe of cold darkness. We found ourselves in an existence where suffering is inevitable, and said, “You know what? I’m going to take on the suffering of others, too.”

It is futile. The humans stand no chance, almost entirely wiped out by Ryo’s demons before Akira’s new devilman army can even reach him. The last human holdout is destroyed somewhere in the battle between Ryo and Akira and their respective, monstrous allies, and then all the demons and devilmen wipe each other out. And the whole time, Akira stands no chance against Ryo; Hell’s champion against its prince, he inevitably dies.

And then God kills Ryo and blows up the world. But if there is a God, then God is evil. They made this, after all. They’re either actively malicious or possessed of such towering incompetence as to be indistinguishable from malice. Satan was right to rebel. That’s not enough to make him not evil, though. Ryo has far too much blood on his hands.

We can’t win. Compassion just means more pain. Nothing good lasts; evil always triumphs in the end. The end of everything is the only thing we can be absolutely sure will happen. But we keep going anyway, because that is who we are. That is what we are. Stubbornly, futilely compassionate. Even when we run out of tears, and can only scream at the universe, when we can only weave scenarios of its destruction. We collectively yearn for apocalypse, ironically not because we want more endings, but because we cannot stand the number we already have.

I’m so tired of caring. So tired of raging at the evils and injustices that surround me. Tired of drowning in an ocean of hatred that grows deeper every day. Tired of crying for friends, and loved ones, and strangers, and myself. There are no tears left to douse the flames. There is only rage, futile, desperate rage, because the alternative to rage is terror and despair. Despair because our defeat, the defeat and destruction of everything good, is inevitable. But rage can focus us elsewhere, can remind us of the central lesson of the apocalypse genre: the tyrant will die, too. Perhaps we can accelerate that.

Success is guaranteed, after all. We might not survive it, but the fascists and the bigots and the laughing lying rats will inevitably die. Everything they built will crumble away. Everything they believed in, if they believed in anything, will be forgotten. Of course failure is also guaranteed, as we and anything we build and anything we believe in are all just as doomed, just as temporary. But at least we can be sure that those fuckers will get theirs.

The power of the oppressor will break. Everyone dies. All nations crumble, and all regimes fall.

All worlds end.

From the ashes and the rubble, a new world forms. It will be evil, too, of course, but in different ways. We will make different mistakes, and really that’s all you can ask of anyone. And so we cycle on.


Current status of the Patreon: