Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Civic Nationalism, Open Borders, and Pandemics

Welcome back to the Gauntlet of Balthazar for another soaring jaunt into global politics and philosophy, and the by now oh-so inevitable observations on the Corona Virus, otherwise known as Covid-19. Yes, I know it's all everyone has talked about for the last month, but I guess that the Gauntlet is just as capable of being 'bitten by the bug', so to speak, as anyone else. Besides, with everyone hunkered down with home-schooling and cabin fever - what could be so wrong with a little thematic pile on.

Now, I'm not a virologist nor a medical practitioner by any stretch of the imagination, so I'll keep my notions about the particulars of the virus, theories of its origin, and prevention tactics circulating through the media to the barest minimum.

What I would like to comment on is the rate at which I see globalists of all stripes suddenly back-peddling their Marxist-inspired open borders stance out of the fear of their demise at the hands of this encroaching plague. And while I'm sure just as many ardent ideologues have proved incapable of parting with the tenets of their "virtuous" beliefs, it seems it doesn't take much of a look under the shell of the most well-meaning liberal to find a lurking authoritarian at heart who wishes that global martial law might be put in effect to extinguish the sickness.

In America, the process, psychological and otherwise, went something like this: 1. Media focus highlights the Corona Virus. 2. The Democrat establishment decides that they can use the virus, and President Trump's expected failure to deal with the emergency as a tool to attack him further. 3. The fear that the media generated effects liberals (as the emotional types) much more so than the oh, so practical Republicans, and they freak the f#*k out! 4. The virus actual worsens. 5. The economy worsens. 6. The right comes up with practical solutions of how to deal with the threat. 7. The left complains that the right isn't moving fast enough to effect change, even though they slow down the legislative process - attempting to add failed liberal pork perks to the bills in question. 8. Trump's approval rating improves.

And in the near, near future: 9. The virus eventually dies down. 10. The economy eventually improves. 11. A neo-lib lying dog-faced pony soldier named half-senile creepy uncle Joe (Biden) debates Orange Man Trump in an amazingly embarrassing series of debates in the fall of 2020. 12. The Bernie Bro's / Antifa burn down DNC headquarters across the US. 13. Trump is reelected in a landslide for a second term. 14. Reminded by their stunned echo chamber that anyone who disagrees with them are not just wrong, but very, very, bad people, liberals will cry for about a week and then log a flurry of angry, but really very, very, super important Twitter posts that will change the world. 15. The Democrat establishment magically finds some new nonsense to attack Trump with via their proxy puppets in the news, media, and educational system. 16. Democrats / Neo-Libs find new ways to spend the taxpayers money on useless, but very important pet policies they like very much. 17. Republicans reluctantly go along with financing the Democrat's crappy policies, even in light of endless abuse, in order to keep the system they are used to running as it always has. 18. Viola! Things are back to business as usual.

In the long run people around the world will perhaps be more concerned with cleanliness and hand-washing and all that, but I expect it will only last for a short time, and then, filthy humans will soon go back to being as filthy as they've always been. Likewise, the globalists will push their open borders polemic as soon as they can muster it, forgetting that just a short time earlier it was really, really, easy to embrace national sovereignty when it behooved everyone to close their borders at the first onset of an emergency.

Sadly, globalism, stemming from it's Marxist roots, is fairly entrenched worldwide and has worked hand-in-hand with its Liberal Capitalist doppelganger, multi-national globalization, in order to change the world in the left's image. Strange bed- fellows to say the least. But no more so than radicals turned Neo-Lib establishmentarians, the phenomena of "woke" Corporate CEO's, and Communist bureaucracies embracing Free Market Capitalism.

At the very beginning of US politics, the left, or at least what amounted to the left at that time, (as the anti-establishment party and anti-religion party) - Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party (the liberal elements of which later merged into the Whigs, and thence the Republican Party, and not the later pro-slavery Democrats), deeply believed in the values of Sovereignty, Civic Nationalism and Civic Virtue. All were required for the founding and sustenance of our new nation.

Of those essential tenets, "Civic Nationalism", as an ideology, gained a bit of a hard rap in the aftermath of World War Two, where the unbridled Ultra and Ethno-Nationalism of the Nazis and Fascists tarnished the term, leading to general substitution of the descriptive "Patriotism" in many nations, including the United States.

To me, the term "Nationalism" merely suggests the support and affection that one has for their nation of birth or residence. But to many, (usually on the left - as they have been influenced to despise their home nations in the name of globalism) it is yet another vile "-ism" that invokes xenophobia and racism - conveniently blurring the line between Civic and Ultra-Ethno-Nationalism.

Part-and-parcel of Civic Nationalism is an almost sacred belief in Territorial Sovereignty, which is why we have seen the right-left debate heavily centered on border security since President Trump's election. Ironically, the previous administration deport- ed way more illegal aliens (yes, yes, I know - undocumented persons or whatever), separated far more kids from their border-hopping parents, and built plenty a mile of wall along the Rio Grande. But hey, what's good for the goose isn't so good for the gander, I guess.

Anyway, the bottom line here is that most Republicans - or at least Neo-Whigs, Right-Leaning Libertarians, and Conservatives (religious or otherwise), require secure borders as a physical manifestation of their unwavering belief in national sovereignty and Patriotism i.e. Nationalism. Thus, the sudden need to close the US southern border with Mexico as a result of the potential aggrandizement of Corona Virus victims merely helped to prove a point that was already a tenet of the faith for those on the right, and generally stands as an heretical anathema to those on the left.

In the end, this issue, highlighted, yet also de-prioritized by the media's focus on the pandemic, comes down to the push-and-pull between national sovereignty and inter- national globalism - a struggle, that like the Corona Virus, has been seen played out on a grander scale on the world's stage for the past two centuries.

Stay healthy.

Till next time.

Friday, March 13, 2020

From the Writer's Studio: The Novice's Guide to Spotting Good Scripting

Welcome back to the mighty Gauntlet of Balthazar and another installment of the From the Writer's Studio feature.

Today I'd like to go over some bullet points for the layperson, or beginner screenplay writer, that may help you determine how to "rank" a film or series episode not just by a vague sense of enjoyment or dislike, but by objective standards of writing. Now, obviously a lot of this relies on personal taste, as well as the quality of the presentation, but within reason, I think the basic elements I'll be discussing should be viscerally available to the average person, even if said person is not an avid deconstructionist, or is thoroughly unaware of the whys and why nots they enjoy or dislike a work of media.

That being said, my personal enjoyment of a piece of media can be easily undermined by my perceptions of structural, thematic, philosophic, or continuity flaws in a script, let alone stylistic heavy-handedness, timidity, or the promotion of an overt agenda by the screenplay writer, or writers.

If you recall from my recent deconstruction of Toy Story 4, you might remember that I stated that within reason I enjoyed the "ride of the film", but the Little Bo Peep character not being supplied with a story arc, but rather a blanket of feminist stereotype attributes, suggested to me that it was the weakest written film in the franchise. Thus, while it was tolerable and somewhat enjoyable, my perception of its flaws were there all along, and when I thought them out in retrospect, only then did I understand what the problem was. I believe that you too might have felt similarly before reading my assessment, but couldn't put your finger on the reason as well. Thus, the impetus for this article.

So, let's begin, shall we?

Let's take a look at a classic of all classics, dissect it, and see why it passes muster regardless of theme, setting, social morays of the time, etc. etc.

I think Casablanca will do.

So, background: Casablanca was a 1942 Romantic Drama directed by Michael Curtiz, with a screen- play written by Julius and Phillip Epstein and Howard Koch, which was in turn based upon a stage play called "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.

The film starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre - all perfectly cast for their roles.

It cost about $1 million USD to make at the time, and pulled in about $3.7 million on its initial box office release.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, it maintains a rating of 98%, and frankly, how could it not? It is as close to a perfectly written film as possible and contains elements that are "resistant" to being tarnished by the passage of time.

The story is actually rather simple, or as the Ilsa Lund character puts it: "It's about a girl who had just come to Paris from her home in Oslo. At the house of some friends she met a man about whom she'd heard her whole life, a very great and courageous man. He opened up for her a whole beautiful world full of knowledge and thoughts and ideals. Everything she knew or ever became was because of him. And she looked up to him and worshiped him with a feeling she supposed was love."

Now clearly, the tale of Casablanca is a lot more complex than that - politically, emotionally, and structurally, but Ilsa's quote from the middle of the second act relays almost all we need to know about her back-story, and sets the stage for her conflicted emotions, and the excuse for why she left poor Richard standing in the rain waiting for the love of his life who was never to return. 

Emotionally, Casablanca is a about a love triangle, but it is even more so about the character arc of the cynical and detached anti-hero Rick Blaine, all set in a universe where loyalty, principle, and honor, are commodities to be readily traded for one's own benefit or in order to gain exit from the netherworld that Second World War French-Moroccan Casablanca is depicted as. 

So what is it exactly that clues you into the fact that the story and script are so solid?

1. Unilateral Character Arcs

Every character in the film, not just the protagonists, or a single protagonist, possesses a story arc. Literally all of the main, secondary, tertiary, and even incidental characters evolve in concord to events depicted in the film. In some cases, their arcs end with death or an exit from Casablanca, but invariably, beforehand they move from being self-serving to choosing a side in the increasingly tense divisions that have found their way to the distant way-station. This makes the story a true ensemble tale, regardless of the fact that the main pair's love affair seems on the surface to be the only story that really matters. 

2. Linear and Causal Progression of Events

All actions in a quality script or story must be, like real life, subject to "cause and effect" and events must evolve over time (i.e. from act to act). 

In Casablanca this is done repeatedly with masterfully penned dialogue, often relayed in "second-person" - where one character, or characters, speak about a character who isn't present, revealing some deeper truth about the "spoken about" character. For example: 

Annina: Monsieur Rick, what kind of a man is Captain Renault? 
Rick: Oh, he's just like any other man, only more so.


Annina: Oh, Monsieur, you are a man. If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing that she wanted in the world, but she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?
Rick: Nobody ever loved me that much.
Annina: And he never knew, and the girl kept this bad thing locked in her heart? That would be all right, wouldn't it?
Rick: You want my advice?
Annina: Oh, yes, please.
Rick: Go back to Bulgaria.

Annina's desperation comes through clearly, as (we suspect) she considers prostituting herself in order for her and her husband to gain exit visas from the lascivious Captain Renault. This of course puts Rick in the moral compromise of having to break his rule of not getting involved with customer's personal affairs in the name of "true love" - reflective of his own feelings for Ilsa. So, not only does this move Rick and Renault's characters forward, it also makes Annina and her husband Jan's plight not just sympathetic to us - it makes them real.

3. Substantive Dialogue

Rule of thumb: If you as a viewer can readily recall a line of dialogue, or many lines of dialogue from a film, even years after seeing it, it's a clear sign that the writing of the dialogue was spot on. It had emotional resonance, it was cleverly phrased, was revelatory in some manner, or encapsulated the situation or a character at that point in the film or episode so perfectly that it hit the bullseye without seeming like it was just exposition or was too on the nose.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat.", "Luke, I am you father", "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.", "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." etc., etc., I barely need to mention what films these lines are from, because all of them succeed in meeting the criteria I mentioned. You probably have your own list in your own head, if you think about it.

4. Low-High Context

This is a tough one, for both viewers and writers. Low and High Context has to do with the delicate fulcrum of relating vital information to the viewer in a natural way without it appearing as if it is a monologue, explanatory, exposition, diatribe, or polemic. 

For instance, here's an impromptu example of cringe-worthy dialogue. The entry character walks onto the bridge of the space ship, and melodramatically states something like: "I love this old ship. It brings back fond memories of the good old days when I was it's Captain, and you were the pilot, and we smuggled goods under the evil empire's nose, all the while having a passionate love affair." 

This is not something anyone would say to someone they shared the experiences in their statement with. This is something the character would explain, in a different way, to a stranger. It is exposition for expositions sake - an attempt to relate the characters back-story in a sloppy, rushed manner.

How would it be achieved properly, with pretty much the same words and setting?


Entry Character: I love this old ship. 
New Captain: If you loved it so much, why'd you leave?
Entry Character: Smuggling was never a life-long career choice. The Empire saw to that. 
New Captain: I'm not talking about the Empire. 

See what I did there? The back-story is all related, but the context is appropriate for a personal conversation between former significant others.

Casablanca does this perfectly. Small phrases, and even sighs and eye rolls, relate how characters feel about one another. For example back in Casablanca, when the bartender character "Sascha" comically says to Yvonne - the barfly who is heart-broken over Rick and has been cut off, "Yvonne I love you, but he pays me", you understand that Sascha is indeed in love with her. You also learn that Rick's heart is not open for business, which makes his damage over Ilsa all the deeper and more visceral. 

Once again, every line has multiple effects and relevance and is contextually apropos.   

5. The Cathartic Turnabout

Perhaps the greatest thing about Casablanca is the ending, which is open ended, and one could argue, is not the typical Hollywood happy ending. Yet, it is at the same time the epitome of a Hollywood film of the classic era.

To encapsulate (spoilers here): After several characters spend much of the second act either encouraging or discouraging Rick from assisting Victor and Ilsa in securing transit from Casablanca to a new life in New York City, it appears as if Rick is willing to give Victor the shaft and turn him over to the Germans in order to get his beloved Ilsa back. While the self serving quality of this is a motif that can be easily understood by every viewer, it is a high moral conundrum. Victor is important to the cause, Ilsa is important to him, Rick loves Ilsa, Ilsa loves Rick. Ilsa is of course Victors wife, but when Ilsa met Rick she believed that Victor was dead, thus, any wrong-doing on anyone's part in the messy triangle is thoroughly innocent. It is even presented at one point that the perceptive Victor suspects that Ilsa is in still in love with Rick - a fact that makes Victor all the more noble and sympathetic in the audiences eyes. 

So, after Rick finally concedes to aid the endangered pair, his sudden turning on them is both under- standable as well as being quite a shock to the viewer. But not as shocking as when he turns the tables 180 degrees again at the penultimate moment of the film. The second turnabout is perhaps even more shocking in that, not only does Rick embrace the fact that he can no longer stand on the sidelines and must sacrifice his own happiness for the betterment of humanity as a whole, Captain Renault does so as well, turning on his German master, Major Strasser; by shooting him dead. Thus, Ilsa and Victor depart, leaving Rick and Renault alone on the runway to become closer friends, and we're led to believe, mem- bers of the French Resistance in Africa. A stunning double turn about that manipulates our sympathies and the expectations the earlier parts of the film set up and then destroyed in a wild catharsis ride that resolves in retrospect the only way it really "should have".

Symphonic flourish, end credits, bring up the house lights. Perfect!

If somehow you've never seen Casablanca, or it's been some time, and you are interested in the rules of thumb that I laid out in this article, I suggest you heat up the popcorn and cue it up and think about the Unilateral Character Arcs, the Linear Causal Events, the Substantive Dialogue, the Low-High Context fulcrum, and the amazing Cathartic Turnabout(s) of the conclusion. 

Next thing you know you'll be writing your own scripts, or better ones if you already do.

Not that they'll be as brutal as Casablanca! But hey...the attempt is all that really matters, right?

Till next time.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Happy 15,000th Page Visit Post!

Hi all.

Just a quick message of a celebratory nature.

I must confess that within reason I try (okay, okay, most of the time I fail), to not be a bean counter as far as page views, subscribers, or likes, etc., go, but every once in a great while a numerical hallmark is achieved that just deserves mentioning.

In light of that, I was driven, nay, compelled, to briefly mention that the elusive and mighty Gauntlet of Balthazar - for all of it's quirk and multi-focused creative divergences and consciously shameless self-promotion, has well surpassed over 15,000th page visits by readers (and watchers and listeners) across the globe.

From the US to Hong Kong, from Russian to the UAE, and from the UK to India, etc., etc., somehow that hearty number of humans have stumbled onto this home of problematic art, button-pushing commentary and hopefully insightful observations, and I expect some of you have might have even returned here more than a few times.

I will admit that I over the last couple of years (especially in 2019) I slacked often and took many, many breaks, often lengthy, from consistently posting here due to the vagaries and logistics of artistic creation and other real world constraints on my time, but I have to say that (at least at the moment) I'm fairly certain that some fresh content will be on its way.

To divulge just a few tidbits of upcoming events, I must point out that there will be more posts regarding multi-nominated and award-winning Nevekari Enterprise's new proposed episodic series "Sovereignty" involving some new trailers which we will be designing. In concord I am also currently working on an electronic music concept album that is still evolving and shall remain shrouded in secrecy - except for the fact that the disc cover is (once again) a mocking poke at vintage Soviet propaganda. Add to that I will be cranking out more reviews - such as part two of my review of Disney+'s "The Mandalorian" as well as the most recent Star Wars film, not to mention new parts of my comprehensive (and hopefully elucidating) article sorting out the evolution of US political philosophy from 1789 forward - particularly highlighting the sordid history of the Democratic Party. Note: I'll probably re-post the earlier bits in in smaller, more numerous, and more digestible sub-sections as to not overtax the easily overtaxed.

Anyway, that's about all for now.

Till next time.