So almost a month has passed and most of you probably think that I have already forgotten about Acedia, after just three newsletters. But no, no! I am here. Without any single excuse to offer except the usual “life is busy!” and perhaps a bit of a feeling that I need to generate well-written, meaningful, and interesting content for you - which, of course, raises the pressure on me, and leads to paralysis rather than the usual loquacious glossolalia.
Life back in Helsinki (after such a relaxing Festivus season) has been just fine — good, even. My longest-running friend, Brian, visited in the first week of January and we journeyed to Lapland, attempting to see the Northern Lights. (We did, sort of). Since that it has been several weeks of easing back into reality, or whatever reality is for me. A massive slew of small projects that I committed to at the end of last year have snowballed, so I’ve spent the last two weeks in a nonstop morass of copyediting/proofreading and web hacking. But it looks to be clearing up soon, which is good, as Agnieszka and I have started planning our ‘big project’.
This isn’t anything I can talk about yet, not because we’re secretive or dramatic, but because we do not yet have a clear idea of what it’s going to be. We are meeting daily to work on it, but this first stage of planning involves some mega-reflections about our past work, together and independently. This means we’re attempting to place past projects such as Pixelache’s 2016 festival, Ptarmigan, and even websites we’ve made together into some sort of analysis-model, attempting to determine not only what our successes and failures were but what we learned (and didn’t learn) from them. After the whirlwind of projectsPROJECTSprojects that comprised the last six years of my life, it’s wonderful to finally be able to take a breath and reflect on what it all meant. Whatever ‘model’ we concoct may end up being more valuable to the outside world than whatever local, ephemeral activities we end up planning. We’ll see.
Actually, not much. I always love this time of the year because it’s easy to pirate all the big American ‘Oscar’ films, as all the screeners leak around this time. But I have only had time for one or two. The Big Short was a riot, and another curious example of the left-wing turn in popular culture. Like Mr. Robot, it’s seizing on some sort of populist anger towards inequality and financialization, though of course both are ‘compromised’ by the simple fact that they are themselves products of the corporate feeding chain -- not just because they are produced by studios but also because of the means of their dissemination. The Big Short doubly embraced this compromise by casting four A-list movie stars as the protagonists, even though they are far from heroic; but the anger and frustration at the Wall Street elites comes through in a manner that doesn’t feel hypocritical. Maybe it’s just a sign of manipulative filmmaking at its finest; either way, I laughed throughout.
After the onslaught of books I haven’t been reading anything except Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (see below).
I impulsively bought a bunch of tickets to Helsinki’s DocPoint documentary film festival, for some reason. To me, the only tragedy that comes from videos being so easy and cheap to make now is that non-fiction filmmaking is almost too easy and there’s little reason to see it in a cinema. Actually, I think I miss going to the cinema alone, a common activity of mine when I lived in Tallinn but generally too expensive to bother with in Helsinki. So, on Tuesday night I went to see Lutz Dammbeck’s new one, Overgames, which did little to change my mind about the genre. It was as personal and sprawling as Das Netz but significantly less interesting, and about 1/3 of the audience walked out before the end of its 165 minutes. I love idiosyncratic essay films, but this felt like an Adam Curtis series drained of life and vaguely structured around a concept he invented (‘Permanent Revolution’, some sort of perverted Enlightenment philosophy) but never clearly defines.
But then, last night, all faith was restored at Orion cinema, which screened Peter von Bagh’s Helsinki, ikuisesti. This is an essay on the representation of Helsinki in Finnish cinema, comprised entirely of film footage and some 20th century Finnish paintings, with the narration a mix between von Bagh’s own script and quotes from famous Finnish writers and thinkers. I know nothing about Finnish cinema, and also not very much about Helsinki, the city I call home and have lived in for longer than anywhere else except my hometown of Pittsburgh. And this was about more than just civic pride - von Bagh examines how the cinematography of the city echoed the changes in Finnish culture throughout the century, particularly when dealing with ideology and the dark undercurrent of war and violence. It most resembles Thom Anderson’s Los Angeles Plays Itself - which is not a bad thing, at all! And it was actually shown on film, which feels like an increasing rarity in documentary film festivals.
It’s been some good times here, amongst all of the proofreading. Alan Courtis visited to play a concert organised by the indefatigable Mental Alaska folks, and also led a Svamp workshop on group improvisation. It was a joy to have Alan around for a few days, and it was nice to see that I could play the viola a bit still, even with what is technically a broken wrist (almost healed, I hope).
These days, it’s nice to read a book about American politics in the 1970s, especially during this time of total madness over this year’s election. As disgusted as I am by the whole spectacle (because the whole thing is a massive waste of time, as the only way Hillary Clinton is not elected in November will be if she gets indicted for something), I can’t tear myself away from it. I'm reading blogs and news about it every day, which feels like a waste of time but also incredibly gratifying and entertaining. It's a lot like American football, I suppose.
Most pundits are claiming that Trumpism is obviously the chickens coming home to roost - the nasty yet inevitable result of Nixon’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, begun a half-century before - but there’s clearly more to it, as evidenced by the simultaneous popularity of Bernie Sanders (and I guess Mr. Robot and The Big Short play into this, too). Both are tapping into similar veins of resentment and a feeling of inefficacy, which is exactly what American politics needs right now.
While I’m taking great pleasure in seeing the Republican party splinter and melt down over Trump and Cruz’s popularity, I don’t think people realise that this ‘problem’ isn’t going to go away after this election. I’m usually wrong about politics, but I think that any result except a Sanders presidency is going to just exacerbate the frustration and unrest felt by many Americans. Trump supporters may be misguided, sure, but many of their complaints are justified. In my view, a Clinton presidency is just going to further protect the status quo and lead to a further mobilisation (and possibly militarisation) of Trump/Cruz supporters; the next time around, these people are going to be REALLY scary. This is why I will not under any circumstances cast a vote for Hillary Clinton (or anybody else, besides Sanders) in November. I hope any Americans reading this feel the same way; as convinced as you may be by her rhetoric, all you need to do is look at where her money comes from: https://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?cid=N00000019&cycle=Career
OK - that’s it for now. I promise to get back on track here. My dream, where all of my friends also start weekly email newsletters, has yet to happen. Come on, people! It’s easy to sign up for Mailchimp!