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Human Liberation and Revolt
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 4:24 am    Post subject: Teaching Tommy During an Era of Fascism. Reply with quote

A Prescription for Peace
Teaching Tommy During an Era of Fascism

By Doug Soderstrom,

11/20/06 "Information Clearing House" --- - In looking back at that of my own education, I have come to the conclusion that much of what I learned was a matter of propaganda. And I am sorry to say that it wasn’t until “that sorrowful day in September” that I decided to take a serious look at the history of our country, and it was that which has made all the difference, that which no doubt changed my life. As a result, I began to understand the sacrosanct privilege of being a citizen of a democratic republic, what it means to suffer “the swift retaliation” of those incapable of understanding the irrefragable duty to question one’s country, what has no doubt become a determined need to challenge the insanity of a nation having apparently gone mad in an outrageously absurd rush to war.

Then, after having spent forty years as a psychologist teaching at the college level, my sentiments have not changed; we, as teachers, have done a terrible thing. We have chosen to mislead our students. We have led them to believe things that are simply not true. Rather than educating them, arming them with the knowledge necessary to understand “the realities of the life,” we have inadvisably placed an inordinate emphasis upon preparing youth for the workplace, essentially training them to become robot-like cogs in the machinery of mankind. Rather than vesting them with the power to think for themselves, the power to reason in a critical manner, the sagacity to understand the complex nature of the moral dilemmas set before us, we have, through the power of propaganda, chosen to domesticate our youth, deciding that it is preferable that they become flag-waving patriots, loyalists, apologists chauvinistically pledging their allegiance to the Fatherland. This, paired with a combat-contingent reinstatement of the military draft (H.R. 4752: Universal National Service Act of 2006) coupled with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (Section 9528) that has apparently given military recruiters (who quite often do not tell our kids the truth) the nearly unprecedented right to roam the halls of our public schools demanding the name, address, and telephone number of each and every student in the country….…. and we may well be looking at a lead-up to that which occurred in the 1930’s as Adolph Hitler “brown-shirted” the youth of Germany assuring there would be a ready supply of soldiers to serve in combat.

Decidedly, such is no way to raise children unless we, as a people, have decided that we do not want our children to possess the soundness of mind, the skills, necessary to carry out the astonishingly difficult task of maintaining the cumbersome complexities of a democratic republic.

Consequently, as a counterbalance to the many myths (fictions, fantasies, and fabrications) taught in our public schools, I am proposing that youth be taught to respect the wonderful elegance of peace, love, and justice, that our children understand the terrible dreadfulness of war, hate, and injustice, that they appreciate the gravity, the paramount import, of facing the reality of the world in which they live, that they develop the character, even the wisdom, to realize that:


Every human being is sacred, that regardless of one’s sex, race, status, economic condition, creed, color, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation, nothing is of greater value than that of protecting the right for everyone to be treated with respect.

Each and every human being is first, and foremost, a valued member of the human family, and then, and only then, a citizen of any particular nation, that reversing the order of these will, without exception, distort one’s relationship with his fellowman leading to an increased likelihood of mutual misunderstanding, conflict, and, in the long run, war.

Peace is a far better thing than war, that each of us, as human beings, has a moral responsibility to use our energy and talents to move the world toward peace, love, and justice, and thus away from that of war, hate, and injustice.

From the very beginning our country has been enmeshed in violence. First, there was the decision to go to war with the British Empire. Then a near-genocidal attempt to destroy the American Indian, the original inhabitants of our country, followed by a centuries-long exploitation of the Black race. Along with this, our country has a time-honored tradition of conflict with a multitude of others: threatening to destroy our adversaries (nations unwilling to align themselves with that of our interests) through the use of an arsenal of deadly (many of them nuclear) weapons; willingly participating in the overthrow of numerous popularly elected governments unwilling to abide by our rules; demanding that other countries allow us the right to exploit their natural resources in order to maintain our own standard of living; has been, and perhaps still is, involved in the trafficking of drugs around the world; assassinates foreign leaders, aids terrorists, and supports “death squads;” has committed a multitude of crimes against humanity; has allowed the CIA, an organization much like that of the Mafia, to terrorize the world; kidnaps suspects and tortures prisoners; imprisons more of its own people than any other country in the world; is the only nation in the West that kills it’s own people through the use of the death penalty; is an international pariah, a true maverick, refusing to work with the rest of the world in order to resolve problems confronting humanity; has a long and varied history of aligning itself with a rather vicious assortment of dictators, tyrants, and despots willing to do our bidding at the expense of their own people; and, as such, is increasingly beginning to resemble the fascist movements of Adolph Hitler in his nascent 1930’s attempt to take over the world.

Capitalism, an economic system in which it is assumed that self-interest (exclusive concern for one’s own family and personal welfare) is an undeniable good, that greed can (and perhaps should) be tolerated, that one ought to be allowed (and perhaps even encouraged) to make as much money as possible, that the right to own property is inalienable, and that equality (the relatively equal distribution of goods among folks) is, for the most part, of little or no value, and that capitalism, as an economic arrangement, is in no way preferable to that of socialism, an economic system that cherishes a relatively high degree of equality amongst its citizens (the right for everyone to share in and to have access to “the basics of life”), while simultaneously encouraging individuals to overcome the temptation to be indolent (lazy and/or unproductive) by mandating that each has a moral responsibility to share with others, as indicated by Karl Marx’s aphorism, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” the early Christian communist (communalist) expectation that each share his/her belongings with others, along with the prophet Jesus’ (Mark 10:17-27) advice to “the Rich Young Ruler” concerning what must be done in order to be saved, what one must do in order to inherit eternal life…… “Go and sell all of your possessions, and give the proceeds to the poor, and then, and only then, will it be possible for you to be saved,” but, as we are told, since the Rich Young Ruler had great possessions, he (like many of us no doubt would) in fact did leave with a saddened and grievous heart……. much like that of “the camels of antiquity;” it is a very difficult thing for those with money to humble themselves to the point of crawling on bare knees through the “proverbial eye of a needle!”

From the very beginning, the United States has been a class-based society in which the government, for all practical purposes, has served the interests of the rich, and more or less been forced to tolerate the poor, while allowing those of the middle class, those who happen to work for a living (sometimes referred to as “wage slaves”), to remain eternally nervous out of a deeply-ingrained fear of losing their jobs thus enabling those in power to maintain control over workers, folks with seemingly little, or no, concern for those at the bottommost levels of society, those (the indigent poor, those of color, others “down on their luck,” Viet Nam and Iraq War veterans, and those who are mentally ill) with little or no opportunity to make it to the top….… no matter how hard they try.

The United States of America, as well as Israel, by virtue of their eagerness to go to war, their apparent willingness to plunder and pillage other lands have, without question, become the most hated of nations in the world, and that the President of our country, George Walker Bush, due to having formulated a preemptive military policy (one that mandates a right to destroy any nation threatening our right to control the world) paired with that of a foreign policy that shows very little respect for that of other nations, has become the most hated man on Earth.

The citizens of our country ought to be ashamed of having allowed the phrase, “In God We Trust,” to have been placed upon our coins, the very emblem expressing an assiduous craving to consume, even to devour, more and more things, a hypocritical tendency to say one thing, but to do another, the fact that our nation has, for all practical purposes, never placed its faith in God, but rather in something much more tangible; an unrestrained need to generate more and more wealth (that of an increasingly large gross national product), individual and corporate assets protected by a military arsenal ready and willing to destroy any nation audacious enough to interfere.

Organized religion has become an astonishingly complex problem for nearly every nation, that, along with the good, it is rather evident that religion has become one of the primary, if not the primary, cause of war, violence, and death, that it would be much better if individuals were less inclined to be religious, less inclined to regard themselves as “masters of the universe,” folks so ethnocentrically predisposed that they seem to have little doubt that they have received the divine right to determine who it is that will go to Heaven versus who it is that needs to be punished in Hell, a people so terribly arrogant that their lot in life would be much improved if they were willing to relinquish such piety, replacing it with something much more genuine such as an authentic interest in serving the legitimate needs of the human family.

The rights of citizens, as indicated in The Bill of Rights, were not given to the people, rather such rights have always been earned, essentially taken from the firm grip of a government never inclined to give freedom to its people, either through the power of the law or through an unrelenting willingness of folks to engage in acts of civil disobedience, suggesting that teachers have a responsibility to make sure that students not only understand the principles of civil disobedience, but that they might have an extended opportunity to learn how to implement (to carry out in an effective and efficient manner) well-intentioned acts of civil disobedience.

It is important that one be honest, that one be honest with God, himself, as well as with others, that one summon the courage to tell the truth, a realization that veracity must not be compromised, a rather simple recognition that the most dangerous thing one can do is to tell the truth, to say that which nobody wants to hear, a resolute willingness to be a maverick (even that of a whistle blower), to be one who can be counted on to tell the truth regardless of the consequences.

It is important that one be a man or woman of integrity, one who is governed by one’s conscience, the rudder of one’s soul, that which empowers the human spirit, impels an individual to live in such a way that one’s values affirm the sacredness of life, that which directs an individual to treat others in a manner that one would like to be treated, that which sets in motion an empathic resolve to make sure that “the least of us” are treated with respect, a precondition for that of self-respect.

It is important that one have humility, an inner power manifested by those who understand that they are no better than anyone else, a rather calm and unpretentious realization that one’s accomplishments are of no special significance, no doubt the only known cure for those shackled by the chains of conceit so terribly central to that of arrogance.

It is important that one have the faith to doubt, a simple recognition that no one, no human being, has “a direct pipeline to God,” that no one can authoritatively tell another what he or she must believe, that, like it or not, no human being has the capacity to comprehend “the truth of God,” that, as a human being, one has no choice but to face the fact of “ontological uncertainty,” the fact that truth (the perfect knowledge of God) is necessarily “off limits” to man, that although one has an existential responsibility to search for truth, one must do so realizing that what is searched for will never (can never) be found, leaving one with little choice but to accept the fact that whatever one is able to find will emerge only if one has the fearlessness to question anything and everything (God, one’s church, one’s parents, one’s nation, the law, society, others, but, most importantly, that of one’s self), that nothing should be taken for granted, that skepticism (the willingness to question) should rule the day, that answers, in and of themselves, are of little value, whereas the great questions of life represent the engine of knowledge, that if one is to muster the courage to search for truth, it is essential that one appreciate the perilous nature of such a journey, realize that such a trek requires the absolute courage of one’s convictions, the sureness of self, the existential capacity to confront “the incredible incomprehensibility of eternity.”

It is important that one become self-reliant, that one develop the skills necessary for self-governance, that one develop the capacity to think things out for one’s self accompanied by a firm resolution that one must never allow one’s self to become a servile slave of the status quo, that one must resist the temptation to go along with the crowd, to become “a good ole boy,” an organizational man, or that of a team player.

It is important that one develop the defiant power of the human spirit, a tenacious, absolutely indefeasible, willingness to overcome any and all odds, an inexorable unwillingness to allow anything or anyone to “keep one down,” an ontological resolve to surmount the “tough times of life,” a courageous commitment to respond to tragedy by saying “yes to life.”

17. It is important that one find meaning in life, an ontological reason for which to live, an existential willingness to move beyond the superficial pleasures of life such as that of money, power, reputation, status, success, and the acquisition of things, an effort to acquire a transpersonal interest, a willingness to give one’s life for something greater than one’s self, a resolve to live one’s life for God, for one’s children, a beneficent cause (such as that of Martin Luther King’s commitment to civil rights), or perhaps even a career that might enable one to serve the best interests of mankind.


It is important that one develop an empathic concern for others, the willingness to place one’s self into “the shoes” of another person, the capacity to view the world from the perspective of folks unlike one’s self, even those of a foreign nation, a resolve to overcome the narrow-minded confines of one’s own cultural conditioning demanding that we glorify the deeds of our own nation, while simultaneously damning those of our enemy, a blind presumption that we, as a nation, are always right whereas our enemy is, without question, always wrong, a programming that has taught us to live our lives according to the Lex Talionis (red in tooth and claw) Law of Retribution, that there is nothing wrong with that of hating one’s enemy, that during a time of war we should be proud of a willingness to kill the enemy, that any effort to place ourselves in the shoes of an enemy (to want to understand, and therefore forgive, him as a human being who is in no way different from that of ourselves) has become equated with that of having become an apostate, a turncoat, a traitor, a disloyal American willing to collaborate with the enemy, an arrogance so profoundly ignorant that we, as citizens, seem to be left with little choice but to follow the Machiavellian edict to simply “do away with” those we have been taught to hate.

It is important that we develop an appreciation for the fact of death, the fact that each and everyone of us will one day die, an existential reminder that if we are to be good stewards of our lives, we must live each day as if it was our last day on Earth, that, because we have only a limited amount of time to get done “what must be done,” we must take seriously the imperative that we live a good and decent life, for without such an inclination, we will certainly miss the mark, miss the existential responsibility to make the most of our lives.

Finally, it is necessary that we comprehend our responsibility in regards to the future, in regards to those who will populate the planet once we die, the mandate that we respect, that we have a true reverence for, life, that we honor and respect the needs of those who will follow in our footsteps, that we be willing to defend the Earth from the awful onslaught of progress, that we, as a people, be willing to live with less, that we put an end to the practice of plundering and pillaging our planet, that we understand that anything less than this may well lead to the decimation, perhaps even the annihilation of, the human race.

Clearly then, a partisan approach to anything results in children having little choice but to believe what they have been told, what has more or less been collectively “crammed down their throats,” effectively depriving them of an opportunity to know “the facts,” the facts, of course, being the essential ingredients, no doubt the bedrock, of truth. Even though Christians (primarily those of the religious right/the fundamentalists) have done a great deal to muddy the “waters of truth,” the prophet Jesus (in John 8:32) promised that “the truth will set us free,” that an awareness of the facts, an informed understanding of the way things are, a thorough “sifting of the chaff from the wheat,” will provide a solid foundation from which to launch a search for truth, a place from which to begin, a progressive opportunity to figure out what should be discarded, what ought to be retained, and what needs to be added in order that youth might be educated in an objective and honest manner.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be filled with fear, the fear of loosing our jobs, afraid that someone might be a bit upset by what we say or do; let’s reverse course. Why not strive to “upset a few apple carts,” strive to teach the things that nobody wants to hear, demonstrate the courage of our convictions, risk the consequences of telling students “the truth.” Otherwise, if we choose not to do such a thing, we will be forced to face the fact that we have become “partners in crime,” willing participants in having chosen to lead our sons and daughters down the “yellow brick road” of arrogance, which leads to inhumanity, war, and then to death. Thus, I believe that we must demand that we teach our students “the truth,” demand that we teach each and every side of each and every issue, enabling students to transcend, to move beyond, the bondage of personal and collective bias, to move beyond a self-inclined willingness to bask in the twilight of social and cultural ignorance, demand that we do our best to set humanity free from the shackles of self and society in order that we, as a people, might one day thirst after righteousness, that we might be more inclined to love God, our neighbor, and perhaps even that of our enemy, placing us on the firmest of ground, the freshly prepared path of peace leading to the promise land of life, liberty, and justice, not just for us, but for all of mankind.

No doubt something for all of us to consider since it is our very own children, that of the next generation, who will one day inherit the future, and thus govern our nation. Accordingly, it is imperative that we ask who will be most qualified, most able, to take the reigns of leadership; statesmen eager to build a democracy committed to peace, love, and justice, or another bunch of thugs anxiously awaiting their turn to rule the world with the “shock and awe” of their most recently developed weapons of death?

Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D. Psychologist - <gdsoderstrom@yahoo.com>
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 03, 2006 7:17 am    Post subject: 'Baby, Give Me a Kiss.' Reply with quote

I put this article in this thread because of the discussion about psychopaths in corporations and how they are often successful in Capitalist society. This article gives insight into the world of Lear Jets, sex, money, and power. The marketplace to the most nihilistic place of all.
'Baby, Give Me a Kiss'
The man behind the 'Girls Gone Wild' soft-porn empire lets Claire Hoffman into his world, for better or worse
By Claire Hoffman, Times Staff Writer
August 6, 2006

Joe Francis Goes WildJoe Francis, the founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" empire, is humiliating me. He has my face pressed against the hood of a car, my arms twisted hard behind my back. He's pushing himself against me, shouting: "This is what they did to me in Panama City!"

It's after 3 a.m. and we're in a parking lot on the outskirts of Chicago. Electronic music is buzzing from the nightclub across the street, mixing easily with the laughter of the guys who are watching this, this me-pinned-and-helpless thing.

Francis isn't laughing.

He has turned on me, and I don't know why. He's going on and on about Panama City Beach, the spring break spot in northern Florida where Bay County sheriff's deputies arrested him three years ago on charges of racketeering, drug trafficking and promoting the sexual performance of a child. As he yells, I wonder if this is a flashback, or if he's punishing me for being the only blond in sight who's not wearing a thong. This much is certain: He's got at least 80 pounds on me and I'm thinking he's about to break my left arm. My eyes start to stream tears.

This is not what I anticipated when I signed up for a tour of Joe Francis' world. I've been with him nonstop since early afternoon, listening as he teases employees, flying on his private jet, eating fast food and watching young women hurl themselves against his 6-foot-2-inch frame, declaring, "We want to go wild!"

Tonight we had spent almost five hours in a sweaty nightclub, crowded with 2,500 very young and very drunk people. Clubs like this are fertile fields for Francis. He's made a fortune selling videos of women who agree to flash their breasts and French-kiss their friends for the cameras. In exchange, a girl who goes wild will receive a T-shirt, a pair of panties, maybe a trucker hat. It had been a typical night for him. He'd scoured the club, recruiting young and, for the most part, intoxicated women. Because filming wasn't allowed inside, he and his newly discovered entourage had stepped outside, heading for the confines of a "Girls Gone Wild" tour bus parked across the street.

Before climbing aboard, he walks in my direction, and the next thing I know, he's acting out his 2003 arrest on me.

I wriggle free and punch him in the face, closed-fist but not too hard.

"Damn," bystanders say. Francis barely blinks. He snatches at my notebook. He is amped, his broad face sneering as he does a sort of boxer's skip around me, jabbering, grabbing at my arms and my stomach as I try to move away, clutching my notebook to my chest. He stabs a finger in my face, shouting, "You don't care about the 1st Amendment. I care about the 1st Amendment, but you are the kind of reporter who doesn't care."

Maybe you've seen the "Girls Gone Wild" infomercials that run on late-night cable, advertising mail-order videos of women exposing themselves ("and more!" as the jackets promise). Francis didn't invent the notion of spring break—and all the binge drinking, flurried hookups, wet T-shirt contests and general you-only-live-once exhibitionism that it entails—but he and his company, Mantra Entertainment, have affixed themselves to this youthful domain and transmitted its middle-American hedonism to the world. By packaging and dispersing it, people close to Francis tell me, Mantra does as much as $40 million a year in sales.

At 33, and after almost a decade as the king of soft porn, Francis says he wants to leave this twilight existence and wade into the mainstream. He is quick to list the projects he says he has in the works: a feature-length film, a series of "Girls Gone Wild" ocean cruises, a "Girls Gone Wild" apparel line and a chain of "Girls Gone Wild" restaurants. He says he's producing a new line of videos called "Flirt" that will be racy, but not explicit, and could be sold in mass-market retail outlets such as Wal-Mart and Target.

In short, Francis wants to insinuate himself and his view of the world into the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the vacations you take and the entertainment—filmed and glossy—that you consume. He sees "Girls Gone Wild" as the ultimate lifestyle brand. "Sex sells everything," he says. "It drives every buying decision . . . I hate to get too deep and philosophical here, but only the guys with the greatest sexual appetites are the ones who are the most driven and most successful."

Mantra's headquarters are in Santa Monica, just down the street from MTV, and the décor is bachelor hip: flat-screen TVs, mod lighting, bowls of candy. Francis doesn't show up every day. That, he says, is because a big part of his job is simply to be seen, and not in the office. He doesn't often visit the "Girls Gone Wild" call center in Inglewood, either. I tag along on a day that employees there get the rare treat of a visit from the boss. Avoiding eye contact, wearing a T-shirt and sneakers, Francis looks more like a kid visiting his father's office than the chief executive of his own company. But when he pushes through the double doors, his employees gasp.

"Joe Francis. Wow, I love your work," says one flabbergasted young man who passes him in the hall. Francis smiles uneasily and doesn't stop as the man keeps muttering, "Wow. Wow."

The call center, just past Los Angeles International Airport, is staffed by rotating shifts of 250 employees who earn $9 an hour, plus commission, to hawk "Girls Gone Wild" videos, which sell for as little as $9.99 each. A whiteboard on the wall sets the agenda: "Push That Porn!!!"

The workers are mostly young and African American, and the videos they're pushing are almost exclusively of twentysomething white girls. "You like watching triple-X, right? You seen our doggy-style videos? Well, I'm going to send you out eight of the hottest videos of the year," goes the pitch.

Francis serves in many of the videos as a playboy host, surrounded by members of the opposite sex who appear to be titillated by his presence. "Spring Break 2005: Anything Goes!" is like most of Mantra's video products. Women in bikinis giggle as they stare into the camera and explain just how wild their vacations are getting: group showers, oral sex in bars with strangers, topless dancing. One girl, surrounded by her friends, explains, "I'm ready and willing, and I'm a dirty slut."

For "Spring Break 2005," Francis and his crew prowled the beaches of Miami, South Padre Island, Cancún and other sunny destinations. They filmed women not just taking off their tops but taking it all off, and having sex with one another. Francis is often on the other side of the camera, asking sweetly if he can hold the girls' tops, inquiring about their class schedules, chiding them for being "so naughty," saying he wants to see if they've shaved their genitals, begging them to play with their breasts and bend over to expose their thong underwear. They comply.

Francis has aimed his cameras at a generation whose notions of privacy and sexuality are different from any other. Nursed on MySpace profiles and reality television, many young people today are comfortable with being perpetually photographed and having those images posted on the Internet for anyone to see. The boundaries that once contained sexuality have also fallen away. Whether it's 13-year-olds watching a Britney Spears video, 16-year-olds getting their pubic hair waxed to emulate porn stars or 17-year-olds viewing videos of celebrities performing the most intimate acts, youth culture is soaked in sexuality.

Francis has manufactured his own celebrity. He has become famous not just by selling soft porn but by affiliating himself with a tribe whose notoriety is perpetuated by the tabloids. He's been romantically linked to heiress Paris Hilton and Kimberly Stewart, Rod Stewart's daughter, and the gossip columns have reported that he's hosted Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn at his house in Mexico.

Until recently, the New York Post's Page Six, the paper of record for this world, treated Francis as an inconsequential hanger-on. Then, in March, Francis hosted a bachelor party in Mexico for Richard Johnson, the page's editor, and within weeks Page Six was wondering if he could be the next Hugh Hefner and even a likely candidate to buy Playboy.

Francis happily acknowledges that he courts attention. The effort, he says, is not about his ego but about selling his product. "Everything that gets covered in my name drives the business," he says. "The two are synonymous. You have to play the image up."

Francis, who grew up in Laguna Beach and went to USC, got his start in the gritty world of reality television, working as a production assistant on "Real TV," a syndicated show of home-video bloopers. He says he came up with the idea for his first commercial video venture after noticing that much of the material submitted for the show was too violent or explicit for network television. In 1997, using $50,000 in credit card debt, he released "Banned From Television," a compilation of footage of gruesome accidents—shark attacks, train wrecks and general gore. Then Francis moved on, releasing the first "Girls Gone Wild" in 1998.

In 2000, Les Haber, a producer who had worked with Francis on "Real TV," sued for breach of implied contract, breach of confidence and unjust enrichment. He accused Francis of stealing the idea for "Banned From Television" after Haber had pitched it to Francis as a potential partner. A jury agreed and found Francis and his company liable for $3.5 million; later the two sides settled for an undisclosed sum.

It seems like Francis spends a lot of money on lawyers. I guess that comes with the territory of filming strangers who take off their clothes. More than a dozen women have sued him, alleging that his company used images of them exposing their bodies on "Girls Gone Wild" videos, box covers and infomercials without their permission. Only a few have convinced the courts that they were unwitting victims. For the most part, judges and juries have sided with Francis' 1st Amendment argument that the plaintiffs' images were captured in public places and that the company was free to use them as it pleased, particularly in light of the fact that the women had signed waivers.

In Panama City Beach, his lawyers successfully fought another battle. Authorities had filed a 77-count complaint in state circuit court that accused Francis and his crew of gathering a group of minors—a 16-year-old and four 17-year-olds—and taking them to the Chateau Motel. There Francis paid two of the girls $100 each to make out in the shower while his crew videotaped them and told two of the girls he would pay them $50 each to touch his penis, according to the complaint. Francis pleaded not guilty to all charges.

After sheriff's deputies arrested him, he spent a night in jail. The deputies impounded his Gulfstream jet, his silver Ferrari and a stockpile of footage that authorities say shows him encouraging underage girls to engage in sexual activity. (Francis tried to use the scandal to a profitable end, coming out with "Girls Gone Wild: The Seized Video," featuring scenes filmed in Panama City Beach.) His lawyers asked a judge to suppress all the evidence, claiming it was illegally confiscated, and she agreed.

The parents of four of the girls in the Chateau Motel case filed a civil lawsuit in federal court accusing Francis and his company of a raft of offenses, including child abuse and sexual exploitation. Eleven months ago, FBI agents conducted a search of Mantra's offices, acting on a warrant issued in Washington. People close to the investigation say the FBI is looking at Mantra in connection with the alleged filming of underage girls. Francis' lawyer, Michael Kerry Burke, says Mantra is aware of the investigation and that similar warrants have been served on other companies.

The more time I spend with Francis, the more I suspect that for all his talk of living the dream, he's pretending at enthusiasm. His franchise is by its nature a constant party, and it can be exhausting. Two tour buses, splashed with the "Girls Gone Wild" logo, crisscross the country every day in search of the latest and hottest footage for the millions of videos the company sells each year. Club promoters pay Mantra up to $10,000 a night for the privilege of hosting Francis' film crews, sure to draw big crowds. And the money keeps pouring in.

But the women are changing, Francis tells me, and that makes him sad. In the beginning, when "Girls Gone Wild" cameramen first popped up in clubs, the women who revealed themselves seemed innocent—surprised, even, by their own spontaneity. Now that the brand is so pervasive, the women who participate increasingly appear to be calculating exhibitionists, hoping that an appearance on a video might catapult them to Paris Hilton-like fame.

And Francis is getting a bit old for spring break. He says he's tiring of the eternal vacation. "It's really the worst thing, in my mind," he says, comparing it to a trade show or a convention. "It's fun for everybody else but me. I just get hounded by kids. It was more fun not being famous on spring break." What's more, the press has been omnipresent and, he says, too critical. "I've been anally raped over and over by the media."

It's an odd sort of thing for him to say. In January 2004, as news reports recounted, he was forced at gunpoint to simulate sodomizing himself with a vibrator as an intruder videotaped him in his Bel-Air mansion. A 28-year-old named Darnell Riley was arrested 14 months later, after police received a tip from Paris Hilton. Riley pleaded guilty to robbery and attempted extortion and was sentenced to 10 years and eight months. He is serving his time in Corcoran State Prison.

On his jet, Joe Francis flies above America, fast asleep, curled up on a foldout leather bench and swaddled in crisp white sheets. His tan face is still, his large mouth slack. The Gulfstream is stocked to cater to his needs—a Sony PlayStation, stacks of newspapers and magazines, a cabinet crammed with liquor and soft drinks and drawers full of snacks such as gummy bears, mesquite barbecue potato chips, M&M's and sugarless gum. Nearby, his crew of young men sit quietly, careful not to disturb him.

When he wakes from his nap, Francis pads in white socks to the bathroom. There the fixtures shimmer and the hand towels are plush, white and stitched with his initials in gold thread. His crew is deferential to him, and when he tells them that I am the new "Girls Gone Wild" topless model, they laugh obediently, even though the joke is flat from overuse.

Francis has the confidence, charm and sly intelligence of a back-slapping fraternity leader. He can be persuasive, to a degree, when he argues that "Girls Gone Wild" is just something that gives a good time to all. On the plane, his feet kicked up onto the seat in front of him, he turns to me and ponders what kind of footage his crew will gather that night. He hopes the girls will be pretty, he says. Pretty and wild. He says he loves women, is crazy about them. But sometimes it doesn't sound as though he is. The words he chooses, the stories he tells—they make a different point.

"My favorite is explaining to dumb chicks why the qwerty keyboard is called a qwerty keyboard, and why the letters aren't in order," he tells me. "They're, like, 18 years old, and they're, like, 'Wait a minute, there were typewriters?' And you got to start there."

I give him a look that says I have no idea what he's talking about. I haven't spent much time with 18-year-old girls lately, but the ones I know have usually heard of typewriters. But a qwerty keyboard? Never heard of it.

His eyes register my blank stare and he pounces, full of glee. "Hold on," he says excitedly. "You are a writer for the L.A. Times and you don't know this answer to this question?" He is shouting, turning to the back of the plane, making sure that everyone hears. "Unbelievable, she's 29 years old and she doesn't know about the qwerty keyboard!" It's a game, it seems. He's being playful. Sort of.

"She's going to slaughter me now," he shouts to the group as I keep smiling, writing in my notebook, tape recorder running. Apparently, he wants more of a reaction. He's pantomiming me typing furiously, writing an article.

"She's going to be looking at her keyboard going, 'Ah, you think you're so smart now.' Qwerty keyboard. Who's smart now?" He sounds happy. "She's going to be playing that tape back. It's going to be echoing in her head. Qwerty, qwerty, qwerty. She's going to go all psycho."

In the early '90s, when I was a high school sophomore in Iowa, two senior boys bought themselves a laminating machine and founded an association they named, simply, "The Horny Club." To gain admittance, girls had to unbutton their shirts, unhinge their bras and bare their breasts for a minimum of 10 seconds. They were rewarded with a laminated membership card and a ride whenever they needed one in the cofounder's 1989 red Trans Am.

The two seniors zeroed in on my friends, who were rebellious and too young to drive. I wasn't interested. Although I had often gone skinny-dipping with large groups of kids, the idea of taking off my shirt for two dorky guys in exchange for a badge seemed silly. No one would fall for that.

Then one summer day, my best friend and I were walking to the video store when the Trans Am pulled up. The owner of the laminating machine rolled down the window and pointed to my friend, saying, "She can get in, but Claire, you can't." I turned to her, shocked. She was a shy, straight-A student. Why would she do it? Her answer: "Just for fun."

I know that Francis' assertion that women bare all for "Girls Gone Wild" because they enjoy it—while undeniably self-serving—is at least partly true. But I find myself asking the same question I had put to my friend back in Iowa: Why?

Francis doesn't have an answer. "I've never focused on why they do it," he says. He rattles off suggestions: "It's empowering, it's freedom." Would he do it, I ask? "Probably not," he responds. "I'm too shy."

I call Vicki Mayer, a sociologist and Tulane University assistant professor, for guidance. Mayer teaches a class on the nudity rituals that take place on New Orleans' infamous Bourbon Street. She has studied and written about "Girls Gone Wild," and she contends that it's simplistic to say that Mantra takes advantage of women. "For some women this is liberating, for some women this is something they do on a goof or for a lark to show friends they can, for some it's a way of flirting with the cameramen," Mayer says.

Francis and his staff maintain that it's the "girl next door" they seek out for their videos. In reality, the "Girls Gone Wild" girl is almost always slender and young, with nice teeth and very carefully groomed private parts. At the same time, Mantra recruits hard-working and attractive young men who will be able to sweet-talk women into taking their clothes off for the cameras. (Mantra has released several "Guys Gone Wild" DVDs filmed by female camera crews, but they have not sold as well.)

Mayer has studied the young cameramen, who, she says, often sign up because they hope to break into Hollywood. Usually, she says, they end up disillusioned after spending night after night with women who lose their inhibitions for a T-shirt. "As much as it would be easy to see this as a simple relationship of men treating women a certain way, there are mutual relations of exploitation. I kind of feel like both sides could be seen as exploited."

She's concluded that the winners are "the owners of these companies who are contracting cheap labor and free talent for a media product."

Francis arrives at the nightclub outside Chicago and is waved past a long line of people that snakes in front of the low-slung building. His crew follows him, single file, as he pushes his way through crowds of young women encased in a synthetic Victoria's Secret sexuality and swarms of young men who, though pimple-faced, exude an Abercrombie & Fitch confidence.

His entourage heads for the bar, bypassing an expanse of empty tables, to climb up to a narrow platform surrounded by a metal fence. This is the VIP section. Women in fishnets greet the crew wearing "Girls Gone Wild" tank tops and not much else. They are writhing against one another, their faces fixed in dazed sexual stares. Everyone clusters around a small table stocked with Red Bull, vodka and pitchers of fruity punch. When I turn to the flock of pretty girls, Jillian Vangeertry, a 21-year-old student, offers me a warm smile. I feel as if I'm in a bed of kittens. Why, I ask, is she here?

"Anybody enjoys the attention. T-shirts, hats—we got all the accessories," she says. I ask if she plans on going wild for the cameras later. She shrugs. "If you do it, you do it," she says confidently. "You can't complain later. It's almost like your 15 minutes of fame."

I sip my awful fruity cocktail, one of two that I'll nurse that evening, and turn to Francis' road manager, Chris Parisi. He says his boss is nothing short of brilliant. "He created a monster: the name, the image, the brand—he created something that everybody knows or wants to be a part of. Even my dad knows 'Girls Gone Wild.' The name itself is so powerful, and he's powerful. They all want to feel like they are a part of Joe's world."

Francis returns from his dance-floor foray. He's hyper, like a kid on sugar, talking fast. He says he's discovered the ultimate quarry: a girl who says she will be 17 for just a few more hours and who wants to get wild for the cameras the minute she's legal. "Girls Gone Wild" crew members can receive a bonus of $1,000 if they discover such a treasure, he shouts happily.

I follow Francis and his bodyguard through the crowd to find Kaitlyn Bultema. She's dancing on a podium and leaps off at the sight of Francis. She's wearing a skirt-and-shirt ensemble that exposes her stomach, most of her breasts and much of her bottom. I ask her why she wants to appear on "Girls Gone Wild" and she looks me in the eye and says, "I want everybody to see me because I'm hot."

It's then that it hits me: This is so much bigger than Francis. In a culture where cheap and portable video technology lets everyone play at stardom, and where America's voyeuristic appetite for reality television seems insatiable, teenagers, like the ones in this club, see cameras as validation. "Most guys want to have sex with me and maybe I could meet one new guy, but if I get filmed everyone could see me," Bultema says. "If you do this, you might get noticed by somebody—to be an actress or a model."

I ask her why she wants to get noticed. "You want people to say, 'Hey, I saw you.' Everybody wants to be famous in some way. Getting famous will get me anything I want. If I walk into somebody's house and said, 'Give me this,' I could have it."

Above the dance floor, the stage is full of girls who rotate, twist and shimmy their way up and down three strip poles. One of them is Jannel Szyszka, a petite 18-year-old who prances around the stage like a star. At her feet, a crowd of hundreds is gyrating to the pounding house music. Dozens of polo-shirted boys shout up to her, making requests like "shake your titties" and "get crunk" (meaning crazy-drunk).

Szyszka tells me later that as she was spinning around the strip pole that night, Francis appeared, grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him. "You are so going on the bus later," she recalls Francis saying. "I was like, 'Um, OK.' I was shocked. I was like, 'Whoa—Joe's, like, trying to talk to me, like out of all the girls in here.'" Francis invited her back to the VIP area to do shots with him, she says, and she said yes.

Szyszka says the more shots she drank, the cloudier her judgment became. She says she agreed to join Francis and his crew on the "Girls Gone Wild" bus. "I thought 'Girls Gone Wild' was like flashing, and I thought I would flash them and be done. And so when I'm walking to the bus, that's all I'm thinking is going to happen."

At first she felt comfortable, she says. Inebriated and excited, she says she was led to the back of the bus, to a small bedroom. The double bed, with its neatly folded iridescent purple sheets, takes up most of the room. A flat-screen TV faces the bed, and cabinets are filled with remote controls, lubricants, condoms, sex toys in plastic bags, baby oil, a DVD called "How to be a Player" and a clipboard full of waivers for girls to sign. A small bathroom is off to the side, with a half-sized shower with faux marble tiling, and on the floor of the shower is a crate holding cheap and fruity-flavored rum, whiskey, tequila and Kool-Aid.

Footage from that night shows a close-up of Szyszka's driver's license, proving she's not a minor. The camera then captures Szyszka lying on the bed. Her nails are chipped, her eyes coated with makeup. Following a camerman's instructions, she shows her breasts and says, "Girls Gone Wild." She seems shy but willing. She smiles. The unseen cameraman asks her to take off her shirt, her skirt, then her underwear. She sprawls on the bed, her legs open. At his suggestion, she masturbates with a dildo, saying repeatedly that it hurts but also feels good. Francis enters the room at certain points and you hear his voice, low and flirtatious, telling her, "You are so adorable." When she says she's a virgin, he responds: "Great. You won't be after my cameraman gets done with you."

When I talk to Szyszka seven days later, she says she "didn't quite realize" she was being filmed. "But I didn't care because I was drunk and who cares?" Then she adds: "It didn't feel good to me at all, but I was totally faking it because I was on 'Girls Gone Wild.'"

Eventually, Szyszka says, Francis told the cameraman to leave and pushed her back on the bed, undid his jeans and climbed on top of her. "I told him it hurt, and he kept doing it. And I keep telling him it hurts. I said, 'No' twice in the beginning, and during I started saying, 'Oh, my god, it hurts.' I kept telling him it hurt, but he kept going, and he said he was sorry but kissed me so I wouldn't keep talking."

Afterward, she says, Francis cleaned them both off with a paper towel and told her to get dressed. Then, she says, he opened the door and told the cameraman to come back, saying, "She's not a virgin anymore."

Szyszka says Francis told her that what happened had to stay between them. She says she agreed, and they walked to the front of the bus. Szyszka remembers that one of the crew returned her driver's license. Another asked if she wanted to hang out on the bus. She declined, she says, but asked for three pairs of "booty short" underwear that Francis had promised her for appearing on camera. "They gave me a weird look like that was too much," Szyszka recalls. "They were, like, 'Three of them?' and I was, like, 'Yeah, three.'"

Within days, Szyszka says, she told her father, who was angry about what she said had happened but kept quiet at her request. A month after the incident, she says, she told her sister and mother.

She's confused, she admits, about what happened. She feels guilty, she says, for getting herself into the situation in the first place. She says she never would have undressed for the cameras if she hadn't been completely drunk. And she is adamant that she said "no" to Francis. She says she's haunted by that night.

"I feel like it was planned," she says. "Sometimes I'm driving along, and I think about it and all of a sudden feel weird."

Six weeks after that night outside Chicago, when I call Francis on his cellphone and ask him about the incident, he says he doesn't remember Szyszka and that he didn't have sex with anyone that night. He seems to lose control, repeatedly referring to me by a crude word for female genitalia. "If you print that, I will [expletive] sue the [expletive] out of you. If you print that, baby, you just put the nail in your own coffin," he tells me. "You are a [expletive expletive]. You decided to blast me . . . You are a [expletive] bitch . . . I will get my last laugh on you. I will get you." He then refers me to Burke, his lawyer.

In an e-mail, Burke says Francis and Szyszka did have sex—consensual sex—and that neither Francis nor anyone affiliated with "Girls Gone Wild" gave her any alcohol. "Neither Mr. Francis nor any of the GGW staff in or around the bus recall Ms. Szyszka making any complaint or comment about Mr. Francis. In fact, Ms. Szyszka was in good spirits after the encounter, and numerous witnesses have stated that she danced with her friends outside the bus for nearly two hours afterward," Burke writes. He adds: "Though Mr. Francis cannot speak to Ms. Szyszka's discomfort during the encounter, other news stories have commented that Mr. Francis is reputedly well-endowed."

Francis sounds scared in the message he leaves on my office voicemail: "I've seen some excerpts from your article that I guess you've sent to the photographer and, um, I want to talk to you about it."

No photographer has been assigned to the story, and no excerpts have been sent to anyone.

I don't call Francis back right away, so he calls my editor. He tells her that I have a crush on him, that I have an ax to grind because I am jealous and angry.

"I just felt that Claire may have had a little affinity for me," he says as she takes notes. "It may have come out when she had a few drinks." He describes my behavior as aggressively romantic. "Originally she hit on me. That's how I met her. I took her to a lunch. She called me all the time and it wasn't about work. It was about me. I know when a girl has a crush on me."

He tells her I was drinking heavily—"we all were"—and offers to send photographs to prove it. When my editor asks if he put his hands on me that night, he doesn't hesitate.

"I did absolutely get physical with her—but not romantically," he says. "We were outside standing by a police car. The officer told her to quit taking notes on what he was saying. I said, 'There's no freedom of the press here.' I took her arms behind her back and said, 'Let's take her to jail.' I said she should go to jail and the officer agreed with me. She didn't get the sarcasm. She listened to him. She stopped writing. Can you believe that? That's the 1st Amendment. She's not a journalist. I stand up for the 1st Amendment. But she didn't." My problem, he tells my editor, is that I "wasn't smart enough" to "get" what he was saying.

When I start to pull police and court records, I find that I'm not the only woman who's made Francis mad.

In 2000, the property manager of his Santa Monica apartment, Stephanie Van de Motter, obtained a restraining order requiring that he stay at least 100 yards away from her. According to court documents, she said that Francis, upset about the noise garbage collectors made in the mornings, had harassed and threatened her, twice climbing up to her bedroom window and pounding violently on the glass and screaming obscenities at her whenever he saw her. He appeared in her office several times, she said, asking for her by using the crude word for female genitalia, and left messages with a co-worker: "Tell the bitch this is war." Francis' lawyer says he can't comment on the case.

In 2003, Darian Mathias-Patterson, who scouted locations and arranged for the rental of a space for a Halloween party Francis threw, filed a police report, saying he had threatened to kill her when she told him she couldn't return his $25,000 deposit because the 2,000 guests had trashed the place. He hurled profanities at her, she told police, saying, "I'm going to [expletive] get you, you [expletive] whore" and repeatedly used the same crude word. Two weeks later, Mathias-Patterson, who was pregnant, miscarried. She later sued Francis and his company in Los Angeles County Superior Court for emotional distress, and the case was settled for an undisclosed amount. Francis' lawyer says he can't comment on the case.

In 2004, a woman filed a police report accusing Francis of drugging her. She told police that after she met Francis in a bar in South Beach, Fla., where they argued over the morality of "Girls Gone Wild" videos, she went to his room at the Ritz-Carlton for a drink and awoke the next morning in bed next to him. Police dropped their investigation, citing a lack of evidence, and Francis sued the woman for defamation in state court in Miami, where the case is pending. He is seeking $25,000,036—a figure that includes $36 in room-service hamburgers he said he bought the plaintiff and her girlfriend the morning after they had consensual sex.

In a news release, Francis said at the time: "I won't sit back and be called a rapist. Rape is a very serious crime that I personally find disgusting. As a son, and as the brother to three sisters I love very much, I would NEVER have sex with a woman without her consent."

I have two more calls to make, this time about me.

I phone Ementi Coary, a Melrose Park, Ill., police officer who witnessed Francis roughing me up. He says he didn't intervene at the time because he had been told by "Girls Gone Wild" crew members that Francis and I had "hooked up" and that we "had a thing going" and that I was "just jealous."

"I was under the impression that you guys knew each other, that something was going on between you and that you guys were playing around," Coary says. "I changed my mind when he was grabbing your arm. That didn't look like playing around anymore." That's when Francis' bodyguard physically separated us, escorting me to the edge of the parking lot, and when Coary called for backup; a patrol car arrived moments later. "He's one of those guys who has money and does whatever he wants to," Coary continues. "I would've been happy to put the guy in jail." He had advised me to press charges that night, but I declined.

Then I phone Leland Zaitz, who was working for Francis in Melrose Park as a producer and was in the parking lot during the episode. Zaitz says he interpreted the whole thing as Francis being affectionate toward me, despite the fact that the pressure he applied was so intense that hours later, my arms were covered in red hand marks.

"He starts having fun and he realizes that most people can't keep up with him and he gets a little rough. I think it was just Joe's version of being playful and goofy," Zaitz says. "I think he was trying to bring you in closer."

When I think back on that night, our very public scuffle isn't what seems the most revealing. Instead, the moment I saw Francis most clearly—his charm, his rage, his cunning and even his regret—came later, when no one was looking. I was waiting, still shaken, outside the club for a cab to take me back to my hotel. Francis, who had disappeared inside the bus, returned.

Ignoring the two policemen who hovered a few yards away, he tiptoed past them to stand over me. He rubbed my shoulder. His gestures were oddly gentle—even fond. I felt sick.

"I'm sorry," he said, reaching over to tousle my hair. "We love our little reporter. Don't we guys? We love our little reporter."

I stared down at the dirt as he whispered in my ear, "I'm sorry, baby, give me a kiss. Give me a kiss."

Claire Hoffman covers Hollywood and the adult entertainment industry for The Times.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 03, 2006 7:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I half expect to hear this guy has been Bobbetized.
He's baaaack.....

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 28, 2006 7:18 am    Post subject: The Rhoda Reaction Reply with quote

The Rhoda Reaction
Why The Bad Seed teaches us more about evil than George W. Bush ever could.
12/20/2006 3:19:05 PM

Rhoda Penmark
She is instantly recognizable as a camp icon. With her flouncing gingham dress, blond pigtails, obnoxious bangs, and disingenuously angelic voice, eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark the bad seed exhibits the thin veneer that can mask criminal insanity. Over the past decade, Mervyn Leroys 1956 film The Bad Seed has been endlessly parodied by drag queens, screened at teenage parties, and plumbed by David Letterman for laughs. But despite the mirth it elicits today, The Bad Seed as well as the 1954 novel by William March (whose real name was William Edward Campbell) on which it is based is deadly serious. We may laugh at it now but when March wrote The Bad Seed, he intended to engage fully the most important question on everyones mind in the aftermath of the Holocaust and Hiroshima: what are the causes of evil and how do we eradicate it or at least keep it in abeyance?

It is probably no coincidence that, as naughty little Rhoda got camped to the max, the word evil found a secure place in our political vocabulary. Ronald Reagan first popularized its use as a political concept in a 1982 speech condemning the Soviet Union before the British House of Commons. Clearly a reference to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which was released a scant year and a half earlier, Reagans rhetoric was pure Hollywood PR schmaltz. Among the emergent Christian right, however, the word had serious theological resonance. And that was George W. Bushs intent when in his 2002 State of the Union address he charged Iraq, Iran, and North Korea with being an axis of evil. With that sop to his fundamentalist base speechwriter David Frum originally suggested the term axis of hatred Bush set the stage for the US invasion of Iraq and the next three-plus years of carnage. Just four months later, in May 2002, John Bolton, in his new role as unconfirmed US ambassador to the United Nations, gave a speech titled Beyond the Axis of Evil, to which he added Libya, Syria, and Cuba to the list of Satans army. The Bush administration so normalized the idea that an enemy like Hugo Chavez turned it against them, referring to Bush himself as the devil who left behind the smell of sulfur when he stepped out of the room.

Whats interesting here is that by politicizing evil, by applying it to entire peoples perceived as threats to the United States and Europe the regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il, the fundamentalist megalomania of Osama bin Laden, the shadowy network of terrorist cells Bush inverted the biblical concept of evil as something that makes its home in the individual human heart. Liberals, meanwhile, tend to be averse to the idea altogether, even as they rail against genocide in Darfur, massive networks of child prostitution in Thailand, and, yes, nuclear proliferation and organized terrorism, as horrific and ethically appalling. The difference is that liberalism and its pop-culture handmaidens, unwilling to reduce entire cultures to the status of evil, offer a broader and more complex range of analytical tools for understanding humanitys darker turns.

So as we say goodbye to bloody 2006, its worth pausing to take a closer look at The Bad Seed, a work that not only allows us to distance ourselves, through camp, from the demonic forces running roughshod through the world, but offers a chance to revive a broader debate about the nature of evil.

Born to be wild
The film version of The Bad Seed, released half a century ago with its startling performances by Nancy Kelly as Rhodas mother, Christine; Eileen Heckett as the mother of one of her victims; and, of course, Patty McCormicks as the films unnerving anti-heroine has all but eclipsed the novel on which it was based. Although unread and out of print today, William Marchs The Bad Seed was an instant bestseller when it was published in April 1954, selling more than a million copies within a year. The New York Times called it a true artistic achievement, and it struck such a cord with the public that Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright Maxwell Anderson penned a stage version that opened to rave reviews just 22 weeks later.

Aside from the films cop-out Hollywood ending, which kills off Rhoda and allows her mother to survive, its plot and narrative structure is nearly identical to Marchs original work. In a near parody of post-war family life, lovely, educated Christine Penmark is married to a traveling businessman, a former army officer, and their daughter, Rhoda, is the perfect child. Suddenly their idyllic life in an unnamed Southern city (based on Marchs hometown, Mobile, Alabama) is shattered by the death of a boy in Rhodas day school. It quickly becomes evident that Rhoda knows more about the death than she will admit, and that she murdered him. As Christine agonizes over what to do, Rhoda, covering up her crime, strikes again. Christine, the hapless heroine, is trapped in a bright, sunny all-American home with the knowledge that her perfectly behaved, obedient child is the source of malevolence and horror. This was the birth of the suburban gothic at its finest and earliest: it was neither the older British gothic, which featured solitary young women trapped in a dark, decrepit medieval castles fighting off unknown horrors, nor the Southern gothic that had gained currency at mid century with the work of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner.

Marchs novel had far more psychological and sociological nuance than either. After it becomes clear that Rhoda is a sociopathic killer, March goes to great lengths to explain why. Rather methodically, he delineates through conversations among the novels adults three theories that account for the cause of human evil. Monica Breedlove, Christines landlady and a strict Freudian, treats every aspect of human behavior as a clash between id and superego. Reginald Tasker, a crime writer, believes human behavior is shaped by a confluence of factors, including developmental issues and mental illness; Richard Bravo, Christinas war-journalist father (who is deceased in the novel, but a character in the film) believes violence is caused by environment, especially poverty. And Christine believes especially after discovering that she is the daughter of a famous female serial killer that her daughters behavior is genetic, and that mind and environment are of far less consequence than an inborn tendency to violence. The novel and film present these theories with equal weight, and to the literate common reader of the 1950s, who was well versed in popularized Freud as well as the cultural critiques of Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Franz Boas, and Ruth Benedict, The Bad Seed captured a vibrant debate about the genesis of human wickedness.

March seems to come down on the side of genetics, but the way he characterizes the individual presentation of evil informs the other accounts. He is, after all, concerned with how to identify evil before it strikes and describes this trait in Rhoda as being so cool, so impersonal about things that bother others. Throughout the novel he makes clear that the trait of the bad seed consigns humans to lack warmth, empathy, curiosity. As Christine and her husband reckon with just how bad their little girl is, they take to calling it the Rhoda reaction.

The good German
Under cover of a frightening American-gothic tale exposing the horror lurking beneath the facade of post-war suburban tranquility, March also explored the realm of international politics. No reader in the 1950s could entertain a discussion of how human beings can inflict horrific suffering on others without being constantly mindful of the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima. In 1954, these events were still visceral in the American imagination, inextricable from any discussion of human nature.

Marchs biography he was raised Methodist testifies to his near-obsession with evil and why it assumed such horrible world-historical form. As a soldier during World War I he was enmeshed in the horrors of war and suffered several nervous breakdowns, as well as continued bouts of hysteria throughout his life. He was also withdrawn and guarded in relationships being a deeply closeted homosexual didnt help and wary of all human interaction. In the early 1930s, as an employee of the Waterman Steamship Corporation, March lived in Germany and saw the rise of Nazism firsthand. In his letters home he compared Hitlers thugs to the Ku Klux Klan and noted in urgent tones the rise of virulent anti-Semitism, book burning, and the formation of the first concentration camps. He even detailed how the German political situation was pitting family members against one another. Certainly, as the author of Company K, a noted pacifist novel published in 1933 that is considered a classic of US war fiction, March understood intimately the dangers posed by Nazism. The genius of The Bad Seed is that March transferred his observations about the Third Reich to a horror story of the idealized American family replete with the perfect, obedient child who, in both novel and film, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Hitler Youth. In The Bad Seed, March emphasizes the parallel by describing Rhodas hair in Teutonic fashion as plaited precisely in two narrow braids which were looped back into two hangsman-nooses.

While some critics in 1954 saw The Bad Seed as a nifty psychological thriller, many took it seriously as veiled social criticism. The critic for the New York Herald Tribune noted that it is possible to read The Bad Seed as an allegory of our violent times, as a commentary on the bewilderment and helplessness of all men and women of average good will who find themselves face to face with pure evil, which is incomprehensible. In light of World War II and all it uncovered, how else was The Bad Seed to be interpreted?

Feeling their pain
So what has happened since 1954? How did William Marchs somber, frightening, historically informed meditation on evil become a joke? In part it is due to the fact that, in an era when the longstanding mockery of suburban culture has culminated in American Beauty and Desperate Housewives, the films seriousness now reads to us as melodrama. But it is also because the immediacy of the Holocaust and Hiroshima has faded and been replaced by new horrors. The carnage of Vietnam; the murderous regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile; the genocide in Rwanda; and the current war in Iraq have become commonplace. Meliorated by passive television coverage 1960s television brought the violence of Vietnam into the living room but also rendered it mundane and an increasingly knee-jerk nationalism, the American public has become increasingly inured to horrors around the world.

As a nation, we have, in short, succumbed to the Rhoda reaction, a lack of basic empathy for the pain of others in spite of or more likely because of our governments complicity in horror. It took the attacks of September 11 on American soil to remind us that really horrible things can happen in the world. But it hasnt helped at all that, thanks to George Bush, our national rhetoric sees it as result of evil and not geopolitics.

Evil has been and still is a bipartisan word. You wont catch Bush describing Henry Kissingers decision to carpet bomb Cambodia as evil, likewise the Reagan administrations appalling support of Pinochets large-scale, state-sponsored murders. While there was some outcry over these events, by and large the Rhoda reaction was and continues to be the operational mode for too many Americans. Bushs invocation of evil heralded a sea-change in our political discourse. Yet the worst aspect of Rhoda reaction is not the lack of empathy for human suffering we can all understand how humans deaden themselves to avoid dealing with pain but rather the lack of curiosity that goes along with it. We, as a nation, have become appallingly incurious a word many pundits have used to describe our president who is so quick to revile evil in others.

So lets continue to camp up dear little Rhoda the pain really is almost too hard to bear. Until we humans of all nations can discuss, without relying on religious abstractions, the harsh reality of what we are doing and why, we will live in a world that eludes comprehension. But that doesnt absolve us from continuing to try.

Copyright 2006 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 5:02 am    Post subject: Dreaming Up New Politics Reply with quote

Dreaming Up New Politics
Thinking different in an age of fantasy

By Stephen Duncombe
February 9, 2007
In These Times

In the autumn of 2004, shortly before the U.S. presidential election and in the middle of a typically bloody month in Iraq, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature article on the casualty of truth in the Bush administration. In a soon-to-be-infamous passage, the writer, Ron Suskind, recounted a conversation between himself and an unnamed senior adviser to the president:

The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'

It was clear how the Times felt about this peek into the political mind of the presidency. The editors of the Gray Lady pulled out the passage and floated it over the article in oversized, multi-colored type. This was ideological gold: the Bush administration openly and arrogantly admitting that they didn't care about reality. One could almost feel the palpable excitement generated among the Times liberal readership, an enthusiasm mirrored and amplified all down the left side of the political spectrum on computer listservs, call-in radio shows and print editorials over the next few weeks.

What worried me then, and still worries me today, is that my reaction was radically different. My politics have long been diametrically opposed to those of the Bush administration, and I've had a long career as a left-leaning academic and a progressive political activist. Yet I read the same words that generated so much animosity among liberals and the left and felt something else: excited, inspired . . . and jealous. Whereas the commonsense view held that Bush's candid disregard for reality was evidence of the madness of his administration, I perceived it as a much more disturbing sign of its brilliance. I knew then that Bush, in spite of making a mess of nearly everything he had undertaken in his first presidential term, would be reelected.

How could my reaction be so different from that of so many of my colleagues and comrades? Maybe I was becoming a neocon, another addition to the long list of defectors whose progressive God had failed. Would I follow the path of Christopher Hitchens? A truly depressing thought. But what if, just maybe, the problem was not with me but with the main currents of progressive thinking in this country? More precisely, maybe there was something about progressive politics that had become increasingly problematic.

For years progressives have comforted themselves with age-old biblical adages that the "truth will out" or "the truth shall make you free." We abide by an Enlightenment faith that somehow, if reasoning people have access to the Truth, the scales will fall from their eyes and they will see reality as it truly is and, of course, agree with us. But waiting around for the truth to set people free is lazy politics.

The truth does not reveal itself by virtue of being the truth: it must be told, and we need to learn how to tell the truth more effectively. It must have stories woven around it, works of art made about it; it must be communicated in new ways and marketed so that it sells. It must be embedded in an experience that connects with people's dreams and desires, that resonates with the symbols and myths they find meaningful. We need a propaganda of the truth.

Progressives like to study and to know. We like to be right (and then complain that others are not). But being right is not enough--we need to win. And to win we need to act. I propose an alternative political aesthetic for progressives to consider, a theory of dreampolitik they might practice.
Go to Grand Theft Auto school

Progressives need to study dreams. Fortunately, we have a ready-made laboratory at our disposal. Unfortunately, it takes the form of something progressives traditionally disdain: commercial culture. Recognizing the importance of commercial fantasies does not necessitate some sort of pseudo-populist embrace of the entirety of popular culture. But it does mean that we need to recognize that in these expressions some popular will is being expressed. How that will is being manifested in popular culture may be something to condemn--or applaud--but the will itself has to be dealt with. Acknowledging the present passions of people is not the same thing as accepting things as they are. Instead, current desire is the fulcrum on which to leverage future change.

As unlikely as it seems, progressives can also learn a lot from a best selling shoot-'em-up video game like Grand Theft Auto. Yes, all the hand-wringing, wet-blanket, moralistic critics of video games are right: Grand Theft Auto is apocalyptically violent. But there is something else about these games, especially morally suspect ones like Grand Theft Auto, that demands our attention. They are wildly popular. Why?

Video games like Grand Theft Auto may appeal to our worst libidinal instincts--a bit of eros and a whole lot of thanatos--but these games also demand the participation of the gamer; new worlds open up to the player as he or she develops new skills, and characters respond based upon the player's past actions. In video games, unlike almost all other mass media, the spectator also becomes a producer.

This runs counter to much of how progressive politics is done these days. Consider the typical "mass" demonstration. We march. We chant. Speakers are paraded onto the dais to tell us (in screeching voices through bad sound systems) what we already know. Sometimes we sit down in a prescribed place and allow the police to arrest us. While these demonstrations are often held in the name of "people's power," they are profoundly disempowering. Structured with this model of protest is a philosophy of passive political spectatorship: they organize, we come; they talk, we listen. Progressives need to re-think our game. If people aren't joining us maybe it's because the game we're playing just isn't much fun to play.

With Reclaim the Streets (RTS) we tried playing by different rules. For five years I was an organizer with the New York City franchise of this international direct-action group. Beginning in London in the early '90s as an unlikely alliance between environmentalists and ravers, Reclaim the Streets merged protests with parties, taking over streets and turning them into pulsing, dancing, temporary carnivals in their demand for public space.

The RTS protest model proved popular. From its relatively small first reclamation of Camden High Street in 1995, demonstrations grew steadily in size and scope; the model spread to cities across the United Kingdom and Europe, then Australia, Israel, South America, and the United States.

Acting autonomously, activists adapted the London model to local conditions. In New York, RTS protested everything from the privatization of public space to the World Trade Organization, throwing demonstrations to draw attention to the destruction of community gardens and highlight the exploitation of Mexican American greengrocery workers. Political targets shifted with location and over time, but the method of protest--and the philosophy behind the method--remained constant. RTS believes that political ends must be embodied in the means you use. Giving the idea of "demonstration" new meaning, protests should literally demonstrate the ideal that you want to actualize.

When RTS organized a protest what we were really organizing was a framework for activity. We would decide upon a place and time and put out a call. We printed up propaganda and press releases, trundled in a sound system, and set up legal teams to get people out of jail if they get arrested. But the actual shape the protest took on was determined by who showed up and what they did. We saw what we were doing as opening up a space: literally, in terms of reclaiming a street from auto traffic and specialized use, but also metaphorically by opening up a space for people to explore what political activism could mean for themselves. We turned spectators into producers.
Think different

Violent video games aren't the only popular fantasies that progressives can learn from. As much as it might pain us to acknowledge, we can also learn a great deal from advertising. Progressives traditionally respond to the fantasies of Madison Avenue as reactionaries. We're against it, and we want to oppose it with what we know: reason. But perhaps there are other ways for progressives to think about advertising. We need to burrow deep into it, drilling past the sizzle into the steak. There we'll find its DNA, the code that guides its various permutations, no matter what product is being sold. From these building blocks I believe we can reassemble a model of communication and persuasion that is true to progressive ideals and effective in today's world. In brief, we need to heed the call of Apple Computer's grammatically challenged campaign and "think different" about advertising, and our politics.

All advertising is about transformation. The product advertised will transform you from what you are (incomplete, inadequate, and thoroughly normal) into what you would like to be (fulfilled, successful, and completely special). Transformation was once the property of progressives. What were democracy, socialism, anarchism, civil rights, and feminism if not dreams of a world transformed? Advertising is, in essence, a promise--often a false promise, sometimes ironic, but a promise nonetheless. Progressives need to work on our promises.

Too often, we progressives pitch our cause in reactionary terms of hanging on to what we have and holding the line. Or we make appeals to guilt and sacrifice, asking people to give up what they already have so that others might have a piece of it. These are appeals to the past or to a diminished present. They take for granted that the best we can do is redistribute what we have already attained and that we cannot all gain more. Because of this they are doomed to failure.

For a moment imagine an advertisement that asks you to stay where you are, to accept things as they are, or, if you are looking for social change, promises to make things personally worse for you. Progressives often do this and, tactically speaking, are insane for doing so.

Advertising also requires us to "think different" about the very way we think. We like to think we derive our truths through linear logic, but the trick of advertising is its ability to circumvent such logic, substituting associations for equations. A picture of a happy family is placed next to a picture of McDonald's: Bingo--Big Macs are familial bliss. The goal is to equate unlike items, collapsing difference into unity.

How can progressives hope to appropriate such a principle as association? Why would we want to? To answer the second question first, we must. Linear logic belongs to the age of the sentence and the paragraph; associative logic is in tune with the present visual era. If progressives wish to communicate in the present, they need to learn the language of association.

Conservatives use it all the time. Think of the propaganda of the second Bush administration in preparation for their war in Iraq. By constantly referring to Iraq in the same sentence as terrorism, and Saddam Hussein in the same breath as al-Qaeda, the administration effectively forged an association that continues today.

But is that what progressives should do: elide the truth and play a cynical game of realpolitik? I don't think so. We can find ways to harness the power of association without slipping into a moral morass. Associations conjure up an ideal, not an equation of facts. But this does not mean that associations must be built upon lies.

Lines of connection and association have been traced by progressives before. These were the lines that Martin Luther King Jr. wanted us to follow when he asked us to consider where we get our sponges, our soap, our coffee, tea, and toast: "Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world." Associations were what King was describing late in his life when he drew out the connections between the war in Vietnam and poverty and race hatred in the United States. More recently, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, in their provocative 2004 white paper "The Death of Environmentalism," argued that the environmental movement needs to articulate a wider set of associations, articulating (and publicizing) links between industry and weather, resources and war, nature and values. The principle of association is an opportunity for progressives to move past the timid linear logic that inspires no one and to harness a powerful tool of persuasion.

But it's not enough to draw connections between things we do not like; associations can also communicate what we are for and what kind of world our policies might create.
Reclaim fun

Progressives can use association at the level of organization building as well. I learned this in mid 1990s working with the Lower East Side Collective (LESC), a community activist organization I co-founded in New York City. We didn't fundraise by applying for grants, sending out direct-mail appeals or badgering people on the street. Instead, we raised money for our organization by throwing huge, raucous dance parties. We goofed around and socialized while tabling for causes. We prided ourselves on our cleverly worded signs. And, working with groups like Reclaim the Streets and More Gardens!, we turned our demonstrations into festive carnivals. In brief, we enjoyed ourselves.

The projection of "fun" was part of a conscious strategy on our part to counteract the public perception of leftists as dour, sour, and politically correct--a stereotype that had some validity, at least in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the mid-1990s.

LESC had a standing working group whose function was fun. We called it, with tongue firmly in cheek, the "Ministry of Love." Within a year of our founding we had more than 50 activists working with us and were engaged in six simultaneous campaigns. We also had been attacked by several on the sour left for being too joyous. That's when we knew we had succeeded in transforming the association of progressive activism from sacrifice to pleasure.

The importance of fun in politics is not just the luxury of the privileged activist. In the middle of the murderous civil war in El Salvador, Salvadoran women would immediately create three committees when setting up new refugee camps: one on sanitation and construction, another on education, and a third, comite de alegria, on joy. Yes, activism involves sacrifice--a sacrifice of free time as well as the bliss of ignorance. But activism is also social, exhilarating, rebellious and fun. Which make better selling points?

Modern politics is about appealing to people; you need to attract activists into an organization and supporters to your cause. The hair shirt wearing, self-sacrificing progressive may be a suitable candidate for sainthood, but politically they are a liability. Branding is the new buzzword in advertising; it's the set of associations attached to a product or corporation. Politics, whether we like it or not, are branded too. The important question is what sort of brand we want to build.
Advertise desire

The most valuable lesson progressives can learn from advertising, however, has to do with the power of desire. Advertising circumvents reason, working with the magical, the personal and the associative. A journey of emotions rather than an argument of fact, advertising's appeal is not cognitive, but primal. This emotionality, perhaps all emotionality, disturbs progressives. As heirs to the Enlightenment, progressives have learned to privilege reason. Feelings are what motivate the others: Bible thumpers, consumers, terrorists, the mob. All true, but emotions also can motivate progressive politics. The problem is not desire, but where desire has been channeled

Progressive desire (as well as some rather more base ones) has provided material for copywriters and creative directors for decades. In its own convoluted way, and for its own pecuniary objectives, Madison Avenue has been an invaluable propaganda bureau for progressive ideals, keeping hope alive. Each advertisement, along with this or that product, sells the dream of a better life. Now it is time to turn the tables. Advertising has provided us with sophisticated techniques to reach people and connect with their desires; now progressives need to use these tools to redirect progressive passions back into progressive politics. Karl Marx once argued that only socialism could unlock the material promise of capitalism; today I believe that only progressive politics can free the fantasies trapped within advertising.
Have a dream

Embracing our dreams does not necessitate closing our eyes, and minds, to reality. Progressives can, and should, do both: judiciously study and vividly dream. In essence, we need to become a party of conscious dreamers.

Right now the only people flying this flag are sequestered to the far fringes of progressive politics. Some of this marginalization is of their own choice. Many street activists and political performers are suspicious of more mainstream progressives who, in their eyes, have abandoned the utopian dreams that once directed and motivated the left. They also have contempt for the tactical (non)sense of a bumbling, fumbling Democratic Party. "At least we shut down Seattle and opened up a discussion on the politics of globalization," they brag (an estimation shared, with some concern, by the editors of the Financial Times). Disgusted by the conciliation and incompetence of their more moderate comrades, these progressives often keep their own company.

But this marginalization is not entirely of their own making, for progressives ensconced in the center show little interest in their left flank. Here conservatives have something to teach us. The Republican Party learned to look to its margins. Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove, Ronald Reagan--all these men at one time might have been described as people whose fringe politics guaranteed their irrelevance. They are also the very people who led the Republicans to power over the past few decades. During the same decades groups like the Democratic Leadership Council argued that the Democratic Party needed to abandon its margins and move to the center. They were successful. As a result the Democrats have virtually no connection to the aesthetic and political fringes of the progressive movement today.

It's a shame because these activists--in all their marginality--have a better understanding of how the center operates than do the centrist professionals inside the Beltway. They understand the popular desire for fantasy and the political potential of dreams, and they know how to mobilize spectacle. They have a better read on the attractions of popular culture and the possibilities of harnessing this for progressive politics than the "pragmatic" center who, secure in their sense of superiority, stick to their failed script of reason and rationality.

It is time to cut our losses and try another tack by moving the strategies, tactics, and organization of the margins to the center. This will take convincing on all sides. Those on the margins need to take power seriously, giving up the privileged purity of the gadfly and court jester and making peace with the dirtier aspects of practical politics: the daily compromises that come with real governance. Those in the center have to be open to a new way of thinking about politics that challenges some of their core beliefs about the sufficiency of judicious study and rational discourse and the efficacy of a professionalized politics. The centrists need to acknowledge that their model of politics is, ironically, out of touch with the cultural center of our society. They must be willing to dream.

Stephen Duncombe is an associate professor at New York Universitys Gallatin School and a life-long political activist. For more on the politics of dreaming see http://www.dreampolitik.com.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 5:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with the author, most vigils and marches are largely symbolic and not very effective.

Curiously I re-watched the Yes Men tonight. What a hoot! Funded by Herb Alpert, too. More of their antics would be great!
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction" - Dawkins
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