Reflections on Attack on Titan #85

The latest issue of Attack on Titan confirms what many have suspected for a long time: the protagonists of our setting are fighting in a false post-Apocalypse. The monsters they resist are agents of human dominance, not human extinction. They exist to keep the citizenry ensconced within the walls of the ruling family, ignorant of the world of luxuries that waits outside.
It’s not an unfamiliar parable, but the reveal is well executed. For years we’ve watched our protagonists struggle against the Titans,  risking life, limb and sanity to preserve the human race. On the eve of their more hopeless battles they’ve abandoned any dream of actually saving humanity, instead fighting for the sake of knowing we didn’t go down without a fight. Now, the struggle is smaller, more complicated, and less existential. The human race was never on the line. So what have the members of the Survey Corps been dying for?
The series is still ongoing, and more remains to be revealed. What we do know is that the royal family seems to be actively colluding with the titans for social control, sacrificing the bravest and brightest of their citizenry into an absurd, hopeless war. Any revolutionary impulse has been effectively diverted outwards, compromising attempts at social progress.
In the past Hajime Isayama has indicated that aspects of the work were inspired by Alan Moore’s Watchmen, a claim well supplemented by the secret in the basement. Just like the royal family of Attack on Titan, Moore’s Adrian Veidt secures social order by concocting an overwhelming alien threat. When he asks the omniscient(ish) Doctor Manhattan whether he did the right thing, the doctor replies, “nothing ever ends.”
We might read Attack on Titan as a depiction of the limits of the Ozymandian worldview. Ozymandias believes he is creating peace, but war only exists because we cannot agree what version of peace is most desirable. In Attack on Titan, we see a version of peace that is maintained with lies, manipulation and murder. We see a fragile society cowed into taking the shape most desired by its masters.
But as the doctor says, nothing ever ends. This peace cannot last. The revolutionary impulse cannot be stymied forever, because the engine of the world is entropy, blood and evolution. At the end of Watchmen we see the first fault-lines emerge in Adrian Veidt’s carefully constructed peace, when the violence and secrecy that peace required are revealed to the public.
In Attack on Titan, we’ve just witnessed the beginnings of a similar unraveling. The protagonists’ definition of humanity has been radically shifted. No longer is the human race contained within their walls- instead, the vast bulk of humanity is implied to lie far outside their current understanding. This corresponds with their shifting understanding of the nature of the Titans. Like shadows, the monsters appear as a distortion of our image, demonstrating our negative space. They are the boundary of what we may be. Like all such mechanisms, they are wrestled with, pushed back, and redefined.

Trump in Three Monsters

Monsters are a key element of our cultural digestive system. They are abnormalities, and through that abnormality they encapsulate some unpleasant truth. The terror of the Boogeyman is that he was always inside the house, waiting to blow open the door. So it is that we create Boogeymen to substitute whatever punishment- deliberate or subconscious- the parents will enact if the child falls out of line. Sometimes an outrageous monster saunters into reality fully formed. The task then is to name them. Having so sauntered, Donald Trump has been named for many monsters, each providing a lens through which to examine him.

Late in the primaries, Alexander Burns with the New York Times began to compare Trump’s continued candidacy to a sort of zombie attacking the GOP: damaged, but unstoppable. In his Zombie Aspect, Trump springs a demographic trap the Republicans have been sliding into for years, namely the fact that the structure of their primary elections selects for untenable candidates. Like FrankenTrump, Zombie-Trump serves as an undead corpse provoking an existential crisis within the GOP.

Comparisons between Trump and Frankenstein’s monster have been numerous and high profile, including Robert Kagan at Washington Post and David Corn at Mother Jones. Most of these writers invoke the Frankenstein comparison to castigate the mainstream Republican party, whose relationship with Trump can be described as complicated at best. Trump is used as an example of the rot that has lurked in the GOP all this time. Just as Frankenstein’s monster reveals the shortcomings of his creator in gruesome spectacle, so too does Trump represent the logical conclusion of the modern Republican party’s policies of xenophobia, warmongering and predatory capitalism.

One last monstrous point of view on Trump casts him only indirectly, as it lets us see the candidate’s monstrosity through the effect he has on a personal level. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg described Chris Christie as Trump’s “Renfield,” making Trump Dracula by extension. Renfield is himself a monstrous, but piteous figure. He’s sucked into the Count’s orbit, his latent depravity leveraged to place him in the bigger monster’s service. Likewise, Trump has reduced the once-blustering Jersey Governor to fetching coffee and backing his candidacy. Perhaps Christie will have an intrusion of conscience like Renfield did; perhaps he’ll keep eating Trump’s rats.

Throughout these different versions of the monster Trump, one theme seems clear: in his aberration, Trump reveals the underlying taint of that which he is aberrant from. On a personal level, he forces acquaintances to debase themselves with the sadistic instinct of Dracula. As an “outsider” within the Republican party, he’s the voice of unfiltered racism the establishment thought they had sublimated. Perhaps what’s most haunting about Trump is how perfectly the character of the monster is suited to the medium of democracy. If the monster’s job is to reveal a truth about ourselves, how much more effectively can he work in a system where his approval is atomized and tabulated?

On Seeing Mountains for the First Time

They are huge.

They are exactly too huge. Too ancient. They wait at the edge of the city the same way the sun hangs in the sky. You could pray to a mountain all day. You could piss on it. You could carve your biography on its face, fill the etchings with molten iron, and end your life with a curse on the mountain’s mineral bones.

It would not matter.

You cannot solve a mountain. You cannot even articulate a mountain as a problem.

You can climb it, crawl around it, or pulverize it with bombs. But you cannot defeat it.

Marginalia and Social Dominance Among The Fluffiest People

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I’m unnerved by the rabbit society implied among these doodles. In the image above, we see two social classes implied. The two rabbits on the right are naked, laboring, and quadrupedal. Their… master? commander? is heavily armed, standing tall with his penis-shame covered. Who appointed this rabbit-man? Is he a warlord? Has there been some military coup within an established rabbit society?

Or is he merely the first of his kind? Perhaps no other rabbits have learned the human-ways as he has. What does it say that he seems to use these powers for vengeance and domination?

Perhaps the greatest blessing of King Rabbit’s rule is that his short-sightedness will keep the rabbits from overwhelming the earth as their human predecessors have. Let’s pray the rabbit-men never learn the dark magic of cooperation.

Lee Widener’s Rock’n’Roll Head Case (review)

Lee Widener’s Rock’n’Roll Head Case is a badass adventure, sometimes mystical and often silly.

The prose is clean, unembellished and functional. There’s a lot going on in this story, and Widener wisely chooses not to let his words get in the way, instead allowing the reader a frank look at the bizarre situations he’s cooked up. More importantly, Widener’s story is always on the move. The pacing is right up there with Jingle All the Way, leaping from event to event without wasting screen-time. Characters are archetypal but outlandish, communicating most of what you need to know about them in their first few sentences on the page. The economy of story-telling is strong enough that I was surprised to learn that Lee Widener hasn’t got any screenwriting credits that I could find. Obviously we don’t want the world of books to lose a unique voice, but Widener’s high-concept yarn would translate beautifully to the screen.

The world of Rock’n’roll Head Case is warped, but familiar. While Widener populates his world with Frankensteined presidential candidates and disembodied rockstar heads, his protagonist Chaino Durante is a classic everyman. Everyone who isn’t some popped-collar trustfund larva has worked some shitty gruntslime job, even if it isn’t for a fast food joint that cooks burgers in toxic waste. Durante gets to live out the perfectly healthy fantasy of murdering one’s boss and stealing all his money, only to find out how deeply he’s gotten in over his head.

My favorite aspect of Rock’n’Roll Head Case is the merging of the monstrous, the morbid, and the divine. Widener’s Alice Cooper is equal parts Tyler Durden and Shiva, with a healthy dash of black magic. Widener’s Cooper is a smooth, spider-spewing criminal whose rhetoric hints at a deeper philosophy behind his devil-may-care attitude. Everyone in Alice’s worldview holds death inside them. We must die to become ourselves, and this state of being is both monstrous and godly.

I, Gadget (Fan-Fic)

Something old.

 

            A poison orange smeared against the once-sky. The bastard sun puked through the atmosphere, nourishing fruit-sized tumors on the Inside-Out Men, who howled stupid across the maze of ruin. They could be dangerous, Gadget thought. Perhaps they’d try and eat his rubber pseudoskin, or chip their teeth on his iron wrought skeleton. Or maybe they would just leave his trash-heap corpse behind unharvested; the closest these things ever got to art. Gadget sighed, converting some of the world’s last oxygen into carbon dioxide. He didn’t need to breathe- his lungs were an affectation, something he used only for talking, back when there were people left to talk to. Another one of the Inside-Out Men’s bellows ricocheted through miles of scrap and concrete, splattering flecks of mucus. They’d tear Gadget apart if they smelled him. Maybe he’d stop them. He let his eyes drift while he waited. Something caught his attention.

It was a gristle. A floppy piece of meat-ish that squirmed between the fingers of Gadget’s once-white gloves, vaguely sticky like a vending machine hand resurfacing from a couch. Gadget’s cyborg eyes regarded it carelessly, before drifting to the crumpled sign crowning the rubble from whence it came. Peabody Elementary School. “Wowzers,” Gadget muttered. He let the gristloid flutter to the ground, ending the shredded child’s last contact. He tried not to remember Penny.

When he was a young man, Gadget didn’t realize how long eternity could be. It had taken decades to capture Claw, and when they did he was a wretched thing, a crooked goblin that only half-remembered what it once had been. It died months later, almost as an after-thought. Gadget could have just waited all along. Afterwards, all he did was wait. He waited through the Chief’s surgeries. He waited for Penny’s tears to dry off of his shoes the day they put Brain down. He waited for the last of Penny’s hair to fall out, for her to stop grabbing every lost strand, for her to stop looking at him like that.

The smear on the once-sky had turned a limp purple. Gadget blinked, unaware of when it happened. The Inside Out Men had gotten closer. One had stopped to copulate clumsily with the other, but his genitals were on the wrong side of his pelvis and so he ejaculated whimpers. They wore their hearts on their sleeves, the Inside Out Men, which is how Gadget knew they’d not be leaving him alone. He didn’t know the name of the virus that had done this. He had assumed someone would tell him eventually, but they were all too busy trying to keep their lungs from slopping out their mouths. And so he stood on the wreckage of an elementary school, listening as mutants’ finger bones scraped against their exposed ribcages. Their cracked gums glistened with hunger.

Several punctured exposed organs in the scrumble up the rubble heap. They left trails of bile in the sky as they fell on their backs, their comrades laughing in choked deep tones. Gadget had a rocket launcher in his thigh, a helicopter in his skull. Neither of these interested him. The first wave dug their boneclaws into his chest, which fired sparks that lanced across their veins. They began to tug with their mutant strength, straining steel and ripping synthetic flesh. Gadget looked up at the moon. It was farther away than it had once been. It had inched away from the earth, and now seemed to be fading.