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Children of the Sun


When I was a young man I had the opportunity to travel around the world on a 9 month odyssey with a crew of cinephiles under the direction of an organization called The International Honors Program.  The tale of this extravagant boondoggle will be told another day but for the purposes of this commentary I will say that the expedition took place in a mid-80's cold war world when movies, radio and television (even newspapers) actually had cultural and political impact - that is to say, before the digital age. I started scribbling these musings weeks ago and (in my mind) went down many paths; some lead to the past, others to the future and still others to places that don't exist. How did I get to the paragraph I'm presently composing? Well, it started with Noah Hawley and the TV series Fargo which he writes and directs because, as it happens, this talented auteur graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1989 and that means he might have known one of the Steve's on the aforementioned global trek because they share the same alma mater. Tangential to be sure but... but those of us in the IHP were committed to the study film, television and media generally so it's not unreasonable to speculate that Steve and Noah could have crossed paths.

Upon completion of my wanderings I found myself kicking around San Francisco with a lovely Penelope who dragged me to the Alhambra for a screening of "Raising Arizona." Having spent the past year fox hunting in Cornwall, drowning in Roman amore, walking the banks of the Ganges in India, touring the Golden Triangle atop an elephant, strolling in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, flying kites in Tiananmen Square and witnessing the decadence  of Hong Kong and Macau this early Cohen Bros. picture was an acid bath of Clown World Americana. The opening sequence of chronological vignettes showing the courtship and marriage of the protagonists HI and Ed is a masterpiece of filmmaking and foreshadows themes that will reoccur in Noah Hawley's Fargo Season 2 which was released in the autumn of 2015. There is an emerging symmetry to all of this which I will sketch out thusly:
  • Fargo Season 2 is set in 1979 at the end of Jimmy Carter's presidency and just before Reagan's Morning in America.
  • Raising Arizona released in 1987 at the end of Reagan's presidency and just before Bush 41's Thousand Points of Light.
  • Fargo (the movie) set in 1987 at the end of Reagan's presidency and just before Bush 41's Thousand Points of Light.
  • Fargo Season 2 released in 2015 at the end of Barack Obama's presidency and just before Trump's Make America Great Again.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen Fargo Season 2 then you might want to stop reading now, binge watch it, then resume at this point or read on now knowing it will enhance your perceptions of the show. Onward.

I rate this Fargo series very high in part because of its cleaver homage to the Cohen Bros. oeuvre and some character types that fans know so well. A young couple who make a series of bad decisions out of loving commitment that lead to horrible consequences. A dutiful citizen savior who stands firm while a whirlwind of chaos engulfs the community. The homicidal maniac mercilessly killing people who intentionally or unintentionally (doesn't matter which) break his unknowable code of conduct. There are shots of forests from Miller's Crossing and dreams of the future from Raising Arizona and roadside store owners from No Country For Old Men and the grinding of body parts from Fargo (the movie) to name just a few of the visual hat tips sprinkled throughout 10 episodes.

There is a killer FS2 soundtrack with great late 70's tunes and innovative covers of songs from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and other Americana. Any show that finds a way to slip Billy Thorpe's classic "Children Of The Sun" into the narrative is a winner in my book and once I heard those guitar cords howling in show # 1 my commitment to this ride was sealed. A few episodes in they play DEVO's "Too Much Paranoias" from the bands Duty For The Future Now album (1978) which is a great disk. The final episode opens with War Pigs by Black Sabbath which, technically, was recorded pre-Clown World kickoff (1973) but post-50 Years of Failure (if you set the start date of 50YoF at 1963) - it all gets kind of murky. It's hard to believe the creators of this soundtrack missed the opportunity to slip "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas into this mix because...

Kansas, well, Kansas City to be specific, is home to an anomaly from the prototypical Cohen Bros. narrative in the persona of an Afro-American with the name Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) who is a striving mob enforcer representing a KC crime syndicate.  He's been sent north to buy out a regional trucking operation owned by the Gerhardt clan. These second generation German-American newcomers who built their trucking empire through grit and violence don't want to sell or be told what to do by the big city so a regional war breaks out in Minnesota. Mike Milligan needs to set things right or get replaced, which means killed, by his superiors at the home office so he acts accordingly. It's a bloody mess but in the end Mr. Milligan comes out smelling like a rose and the Gerhardt family is wiped off the face of this wicked world. This leads to a poignant scene when Mike is taken out of the field and put in a cramped office to enjoy a new life of writing up quarterly reports and playing golf.

This moment of institutional isolation and angst reminded me of a sentimental journey amid the lightning round in the Spring of '16 when Barack reluctantly showed Mike Wallace his CIA cubical in the University of Chicago Law Library. Why? Because Fargo Season 2 is a show that was filmed, edited and put in the can pre-MAGA and the story shows why half of We the People spit the bit on November 8, 2016. Urban crime moved into rural towns, family businesses either took a shitty M&A offer or got rubbed out by voracious corporations, the Reagan Revolution didn't stop killers like Mike Milligan from worming their way in to management and "The Law" is what allowed it all to happen. As Barack says, "when you're outside of the system, you are properly outraged at this ineptitude of the government or this corruption or this issue that you feel deeply about. When you're in it, what you realize is, is that if you follow this process, if you're respectful of this process, then we can sort it out."

The system may not "sort it out" in a way that satisfies the scrappy German-American immigrant family that fought and sacrificed its way to a fun house mirror image of the American dream but Barack took their feelings into account by saying, "And not everybody’s going to be completely happy with it. But it will beat any other system given that we are human and given original sin. You know, this is going to work about as well as it can." Well, that's not good enough bro, and after five decades of respectfully following this "process" a significant group of insiders said no more bullshit!

I don't know if Mr. Hawley and his Fargo Season 2 co-creators intended to illuminate this uncanny parallel between the fictional Milligan (AKA Woodbine) and the real life Obama (AKA Soetoro) but post-2016 the similitude is a glaring. My guess is that the Mike Milligan character is a midwestern version of a smooth criminal inspired by another Obama doppelgänger - Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) from the show "Breaking Bad" - who embodied the dark reality of the Techno-Fascist Imperium about 5 years earlier ('09-'11). Woodbine doesn't look like Obama - physically Mike Milligan is a cross between Yaphet Kotto and Dave Chapelle - but his calculating ruthlessness and moral ennui capture the prototype of our FBPOTUS and, it retrospect, that is a pretty cool thing to have done even if Mr. Hawley didn't mean to - and he probably didn't.

Throughout the show Mike Milligan's improbable survival and rise is mirrored by the inexorable abandonment of the American dream by the young Blumquist couple, Peggy and Ed, played by Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons. She is a brain washed Pre-Pinterest pop culture junky who hoards glossy travel and fashion magazines to inspire her day-dream of an impossible future. He is a diligent butcher who imagines a practical domestic existence with his wife, home and (God willing) children to care for and raise as upstanding Blumquist citizens. In episode #1 She absentmindedly runs down a Gerhardt hoodlum who is fleeing his bloody murder of a judge at a roadside diner. UFO lights in the night sky distract the sniveling brother Rye (Kieran Culkin... yes, that's right, Macaulay Culkin's brother) and he gets t-boned by Peggy's beautiful blue Chevy Corvair. A series of tragi-comic murders, attempted murders, accidents, escapes and deaths happen as a result of this UFO sighting.

People of the earth can you hear me?
Came a voice from the sky on that magical night
And in the colors of a thousand sunsets
They traveled through the world on a silvery light

While this slow grinding consolidation/elimination of our American dreams was churning through the heartland during the Reagan presidency I was jetting through the sky and descending on ancient alien cultures to study their celluloid simulacrum. You know what I learned? Films and Television are not, on the whole, accurate pictures of reality and entertainment industry content produced in any country, especially the USA, must be "approved" by the national intelligence services. This is especially true for programming that is widely distributed, heavily promoted and award winning. It is designed, created and published for the purpose of brainwashing and manipulating the "cognitive infrastructure" of the nation and, in the case of the Techno-Fascist Imperium, the entire world.


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