Fear of a Dead Planet (Death in the Movies: The Wall)

When I was in high school, I was an avid “LJer”–a person who used an early community-blogging platform known as “livejournal” which, famously, “died off” in approx. 2009 after turning over ownership to a Russian media company, SUP Media. Apparently since then, LJ servers have actually migrated from their native San Francisco California to Russia, and the LJ community (or should we more aptly state, the Zhivoy Zhurnal community) is tied very closely to an online newspaper, the Gazeta, and is largely made up of prominent political pundits who use the blogging interface for political commentary.

And that’s the way the news goes.

Things were different between approx. 2005 – 2008. The ominous Russian presence was mostly just brushed off as “pornbots” (all of which migrated with the American LJ community to Tumblr, naturally). For the rest of us, LJ was a conjoining of platforms that allowed us to vent our teen rage and to find likeminded peers who were members of niche blogging networks (communities).

The niche where I found the most active and variable community was the “classic rock bandom”. In many ways, we were precocious, studious, erudite and creative. We were informed and enriched about the social histories of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. We were knowledgable about the back catalogs, live recordings, bootlegs, outtakes and studio sessions of prominent bands and their spin-offs. We were infused with trivia about the band members, their significant others, their childhood families and enchanted by the mundane minutiae to the point where we had our own entire language of shorthand memes to identify who was “with it” in our groups.

And in other ways, we were deplorable perverts (I *truly* mean ‘deplorable’ with all the intensity of the post-2016 connotation) with invasively voracious appetites for private information, incestuous fantasies about the bands’ core members (occasionally crossing over to other bands, you know, for the sake of broadening the gene pool) and intense emotional attachments to these bands’ discographies. People within the bandom could be excluded (or idolized) based on what they stated their favourite album was, because those albums spoke volumes (emphasis on the pun) about what kind of person you were.

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Part of the community manifesto of a central hub for classic rock slash fic, art, etc.

In my particular instance, I was a young person living in an unstable household where I felt excluded by my parents but also trapped with them. I was extremely cognizant of my apparent defects (mostly brought to my attention by my mother). I also had a flair for the flamboyant. And because I was a significant part of the Pink Floyd and the Who bandoms, my favourite albums respectively were The Wall and Tommy.

In one of the many boxes from my mom was a paper that I wrote for Dual-Enrollment World History (circa 2006, vintage) that was a scene-by-scene breakdown of the film version of The Wall with extensive, House of Leaves-esque footnotes relating to the tracks of the album that were abridged or excluded from the film, hypothesizing what they would have added or taken away from the narrative. My most elaborate footnotes were on the work print of a scene that would have corresponded to the song “Hey, You”.

For those only passingly familiar with the iconographic film or the “classic” album, in brief: The Wall is about a young English man whose father was killed in combat (along with the rest of his unit) and was subsequently raised by his doting, yet fearful and fearsome mother. As an adult, he has married and has achieved some commercial success as a touring musician, but he is emotionally stunted and withdrawn, apparently has no friends (or at least none who care to keep tabs on him) and winds up losing his wife to another man. The end of this portion of the story is hailed in by a physically destructive manic episode.

The second half of the story concerns the hallucinogenic portion of his psychotic break where he begins to fantasize about fascist England and the rise of a charismatic rock star authoritarian who surrounds himself with the imagery of goose stepping hammers and hungry maggots (referred to as “worms”). This fantasy becomes overwhelming and disturbing, and ultimately it intermingles with the guilt and the loneliness of the first part of the story. The metaphorical implications of the end of the story are just as implicitly positive as they are negative. By no means is the story “open ended,” but the exact fate of the protagonist is unclear; it’s also apparently irrelevant.

Reading my high school paper leaves me anguished. There’s a lot of real pain and clarity there, but there’s also a naïveté that I envy. The child who wrote that paper could not have possible foreseen the events of 2007 – 2017.

That child didn’t connect the dots together about what traumatized them so much about their body, or have the context for why teachers commenting on their breasts was inappropriate beyond being uncomfortable; even as the focal point of objectification, they didn’t realize that their first foray into romance would yield a stalker. That child certainly didn’t anticipated being raped, or getting married and being subsequently abandoned by a partner who sought carnal and emotional attachments elsewhere when they became impatient with a spouse who felt traumatized by their own sexuality.

Even as an adult in a healthy, supportive new marriage to a man who’s been nothing but active and supportive in my transition, I’m still afraid of abandonment. I’m pathologically afraid of my partner leaving me for another individual (or series of individuals), even though I know that to be irrational and unlikely. But more pressingly, I’m afraid of him being removed from my life permanently by random acts of violence.

That child didn’t notice that all the doctors’ visits resulting in prescriptions for “aggressive skin care treatments,” or the cropped haircuts or the excessive showers were motivated by the same antisemitism that dripped from the same household common vernacular that blended yiddish seamlessly. No amount of exposure to Anne Frank videos or stage plays or chapters from her diary suggested that there was a common ground or that there was any reason to worry.

The classic rock bandom was the perfect breeding ground for our post-9/11 generation. Regardless of our personal views, we were isolated from the conflict of the world. We were apparently protected from the Out There because we were Living in America, just as our parents and grandparents had been during the Vietnam conflict. But one of my best friends from that time in our lives posted this status on Facebook exactly a year ago, today.

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During this time, we already were seeing increased rates of attempted assaults on Jewish Community Centers and shuls (they’ve continued well into the new year, of course). Who knew that only some fifty weeks later, there would be an even more hands-on approach to these dead Jewish bodies? Who knew that we’d be seeing historic Jewish cemeteries be demolished in the night? Who knows what snappy name they’ll give this series of incidents in history books some decades from now.

In the movie, the protagonist begins to fantasize intensely about fascism and even places himself as an active part of this fascist regime (the aforementioned rock star leader, obviously). Back in the day, I analyzed this scene to be a matter of sequence, a dramatized step in the cycle of abuse where the victims become the bullies. I have a radically different perspective, now. Now I see the protagonist vividly placing himself in this world because it’s a tangible reality. The trauma he experienced, the trauma that invented his personality, the interactions with other people who also existed in post-war England and shared this same experiential vocabulary belong to this world: it came from fascism, it lives in fascism and it’s going to die fascist, too.

One of the most iconic scenes in the movie is the school scene. You know the one.

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Teachers hated when we’d pull this one. They’d get clucky and point out the double negative “See, they’re saying you do need an education.” They’d conveniently avoid the following verse: “We don’t need no thought control.” But then again, since they were teachers, they were complicit, nay, essential to thought control.

As someone who taught during the 2015 election primary election cycle and the 2016 presidential election, I believe this firmly. Opinion: I believe that even teachers who want to do the right thing, teachers who want to expose their students to challenging topics to hone their critical thinking skills, are still acting as agents within an authoritative system. I feel this to be true, because my students voted for a ticket that is going to kill me, my partner, our friends, our neighbors, our communities.

The final scene of the movie is children stumbling over the wreckage of the eponymous Wall, picking up the pieces. Some are investigating to sate their curiosity. Some appear to be picking up the debris to dispose them. I mentioned earlier that whatever happened to the protagonist is irrelevant, because it is. But what happens to these kids is apparent.

Hereditary trauma is a provocative topic in psychology circles and pop science forums. The belief is that historical trauma is powerful enough to impact the very genetic material that will create future generations. This has been observed in the children of Holocaust survivors, First Nations descendants, the descendants of African slaves, and probably is already scheduled in the books to be studied in the children of the Syrian crisis.

I watched this movie last night for the first time since high school, where I watched it and listened to the album version obsessively. I remembered every single scene and every single word and could anticipate every detail and key change. But it shook me with the severity of a decade of new abuses and several decades’ of unlocked knowledge. I tried to watch with my partner, but he fell asleep just before the second story arc began. We were holding hands. I still felt incredibly lonely.

 

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2 thoughts on “Fear of a Dead Planet (Death in the Movies: The Wall)

  1. The dramatic increase in hate crimes- especially against Jewish communities- are particularly what have me so worried about continuing in this Trump presidency. Meanwhile my mother has taken a willfully ignorant viewpoint and is ignoring all the red flags in favor of the propaganda fed to her by various pro-trump pages on FB that paint him as the underdog.

    How can she not see the correlation between Trump and the attacks on the Jewish people?

    Being part Jewish maybe I’m more aware of these things…

    I’m sorry for rambling in your comments. Your blog is always extremely well written.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Happy birthday to me – Death in the Gay Den

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