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WesRecs

Vol. #47 - September 25, 2020

Greetings from another week in 2020 America. Let's everybody take a much needed breath. There was gross and hateful injustice in the world last week. There will be more next week. At the same time there has been, is, and will be community, generosity, and love. Not automatically of course, but with extreme effort and care and determination. These might sound like platitudes. Some days they for damn sure feel like nothing more than that to me. But they're also truths...and necessities.

For a number of factors (good, bad, & exciting) this will be an extremely anemic WesRecs, my apologies, but it just could not be helped this week.
  • As I mentioned last week, I made a quick trip up to Boston to visit some family and friends. It was a great trip and good for the soul. It was the first time in over half a year that I left NYC, drove, saw my mom, held my 22-month-old goddaughter, and spent time in anything that could even remotely be called "nature". I'm very happy that I went but not only did the travel & quality time with loved ones itself mean I had fewer days to put into this week's newsletter but all of the driving, and seeing people, and waking up on various beds and futons at weird times meant has meant that I've been nearly wiped out in terms of energy. I was sleeping pretty rough the past few weeks anyway due to...you know...the possibility of apocalypse, but the trip did not help and I have been *struggling* for the clarity and focus required to smash content for review 4-5 hrs per day as usual. No regrets about the traveling, at all, but that's what's up.
In pre-pandemic life I was in the habit of trying to locate video of all of the background acting projects I was on. It was a fun to see if you could spot yourself for .7 seconds as a sort of badge of the 5-15 hrs you spent on a set on some random day. I hadn't really done that since this all started so I decided to see if I could locate any of the last projects I'd done. Here's a fun still with Tracy Morgan and J.B. Smoove from the 3rd season of The Last OG. I fake played pool for 4 hours that day then stood out in the freezing cold for another 2 hours for a shot that got cut. Damn I missed set life. This ep was directed by the amazing Robert Townsend, it was such a pleasure to watch him work, total confidence & purpose in every step of his direction.
  • I'm heading back to set. As you may know, in the before times I was paying most of my rent through background acting (being an extra on NYC based TV & Film productions). It's not glamorous, there's a lot of BS, and the some weeks had plenty of work while others were barren BUT I got to go all over NYC to places I never would otherwise, I got countless hours of experience on sets, every day guaranteed a good story or two, and the money (when I got work) generally ranged from decent to very very good depending on a lot of factors out of my control. Plus sometimes I got to be on TV. Then COVID came and I honestly wondered if regular background work would ever be a thing again. There are only few places that I can think of that are more suited to become super-spreader locations than a film set. There are dozens to hundreds of people coming and going (most of them having worked lord-knows how many other freelance gigs that week, everybody is packed in tight in a closed space and either yelling to be heard or talking/singing/dancing/moving as part of a performance, the always-too-few bathrooms are shared by all, lunch and dinner are buffet style situations with rows of food trays sitting on top of warmers with shared serving spoons, open access disposable silverware, and self serve snacks/condiments/etc. --- I didn't know if it was even possible to take an environment like that and make it conform to any semblance of "safe" in a pandemic and beyond that I wondered if audiences would even buy the idea of random crowds of people in the background of a shopping mall or office scene going about their business unmasked. Actual events in America pretty quickly cured me of any illusion about people being freaked out by seeing unmasked crowds on their screens :( and as far as plague reduction measures: HOLY SHIT THEY ARE GOING HARDER ON THIS THAN ANYTHING I COULD HAVE EVER IMAGINED. --- I booked my first gig back next week on a Netflix production and the (very welcome) hoops that I, a basic background actor, need to jump through in order to make this happen are...formidable. In no particular order this run-of-the mill job to be a pedestrian in an outdoor scene, something that earlier this year I might have booked the night before the shoot with nothing more than a text message requires: a production-administered COVID test 3 days before the shoot, signing off of HIPPA release forms agreeing to phone-based contact tracing and an alert to public health organizations should I test positive, an hour long computer-based training for on-set safety protocols, the downloading of an app that I need to report symptoms (or lack thereof) on each morning of production, and the reading of voluminous additional documentation about on-set protocols (which are extremely thorough and cautious). And that's in addition to the usual "send us pictures of yourself in 3 completely separate outfits so we can determine your wardrobe for the day" that background actors often have to complete. Don't get me wrong, I am *all for* the precautions but all of this was like a full day's work and I haven't even gone in for the test yet (which, thanks to SAG-AFTRA I'm being compensated for...go unions!!). --- I am really interested to see what set end up being like. I can tell you just based on the training I've already undergone that it'll be nothing like what I remembered. *Strict* social distancing, 3-tiered color-coded access zones (the least restrictive of which requires a surgical (not cloth) mask - the most restrictive of which requires a surgical mask or respirator, a face shield, goggles, gloves, and a gown), temp checks, app monitoring, single service food dispensing, etc etc. It's been a lot.
  • An extremely awesome potential opportunity dropped in my lap out of nowhere. I swear I'm not trying to be vague or "mysterious" here but basically there's a chance that I get to be involved in something really fun. It was sudden and it required me to put a lot of time into unexpected prep and communication this week. At this time I can't talk about it either way but I should know if it's a go by next week's WesRecs. If it is a go I'll tell you all about it then, if not, well, I'll never speak of it again, but on top of all of the above it ate a lot of the time I would've been devoting to this week's newsletter.
Some other thoughts:
  • In my head the roads of America were fully in their April-ish lockdown state of being damn near empty. While the NYC --> Boston traffic was about as good as I've ever seen it there were PLENTY of people out there. If you've been traveling or if you never stopped working outside of your home in the last 6 months then this is obviously not news to you. But for me, someone's who's been in a post-epicenter lockdown bubble for half a year it was an eye-opener. I got my driver's license more than a decade later than most of my peers so honestly I was just happy that I still remembered how to do it.
  • In maybe my own personal-best time for TV series digestion I completely caught up with all 3 seasons of Ozark in less than 3 weeks. Like I said in WR 45 the show fascinates me for so many reasons (the way that it very much does not explicitly consider race...and thus very much does say a lot about whiteness continues to be crazy interesting to me) but I'd be lying if I said that the regular 4am binges as of late weren't partially due to just an extreme uneasiness about the state of affairs and the havoc I see coming. Whatever the case the cast is amazing, the pacing is perfect and I really look forward to seeing how it wraps up. In a year when I've returned to my president-of-my-high-school-sci-fiction-club roots by watching Altered Carbon, The OA, Star Trek: Picard, & S2 of Star Trek: Discovery. I just got a trusted tip re: The Expanse and I look forward to checking it out ASAP. On the book front I'm still happily/apprehensively making my way through Butler's Parable of the Sower (not much time to read as of late) and I've just begun Ken Jenning's Maphead which is def speaking to me in a very specific way.
  • My earliest (extremely vague) memory is from when I was around 3 years old. That memory is just barely not a blur, and everything before that is utter darkness. It is both a wonder and a sorrow that all the years before then of adults talking to me, holding me, singing to me, making me laugh, & going on about their lives while I was in the room are only in my imagination. I was there, but not in any way that I can access now. Humanity is wild my friends.
OK, apologies for any typos, I'm going to bed.

Be kind to one another, I love you all.
WesRecs is the weekly newsletter where I (comedian/storyteller/TV Host) Wes Hazard recommend a bunch of cool content (recs) to YOU (the person reading this). There's no particular reason for this other than the fact that I love curating stuff and I'm always excited to share items that I personally have found worthwhile, exciting, or necessary. If you like what you see please be sure to subscribe to get each week's edition delivered straight to your inbox and if you know someone else who might be into it definitely share with them. You can check out all past issues HERE.

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COVID Corner

Findings in Plagueland

In the Epicenter of Mexico’s Epicenter, Feeling Like a ‘Trapped Animal’ - NYT

This did not make me feel any better about the upcoming winter.
 
"A new reality set in for many: A prolonged economic shutdown was clearly impossible. People could wear masks, and distance as much as possible, but almost no one could afford to stay home. They had to keep working.

For the vast majority of people, risking illness or death has simply become the price of survival."

...

"Mr. Arriaga’s own attempts to stay away from the market lasted only a month before he blew through his life savings and trudged back to work in fear.

“I’ve got nothing left,” he said on a recent weekend, bracing himself for another long night in the market. “It’s either go out there and face the virus, or sit here and starve.”"

...

"Ms. Aquino reopened the table in front of her butcher shop, selling tacos, sweets and soup once again.

But daily deaths from the virus are often still as high as they were in June, and the pandemic has claimed so many livelihoods that few people can afford much meat anyway.

“Now we just have to survive,” Ms. Aquino said."

Last Legs

Grim Outlooks For America

Trump’s latest Supreme Court spin unmasks the GOP’s vile game - The Washington Post

I mean, the mask was off before...but now??? All the way off.
 
"Instead, those seeking to bear faithful witness to this moment will have to be a lot more forthright about what this affair really means, which is this: Whenever Trump and Republicans view it as something they can get away with, Democratic electoral victories can and must be treated as subject to nullification at will, as outcomes that fundamentally just don’t confer obligations on them."

...

"But this is about something far more fundamental than McConnell’s fealty to consistency. It’s about the contempt that McConnell and Trump hold for millions and millions of American voters. It’s about their cavalier willingness to treat all those voters’ political preferences as having no legitimate purchase at all — that is, when they vote for Democrats."
...

"“Obama did not have the Senate,” Trump said on Fox. “When you have the Senate, you can sort of do what you want.”
You can do what you want. There you have it: In 2016, Republicans “wanted” to deny a hearing to a nominee — which they justified by claiming it would be hideously unfair to voters in an election year — simply because he had been chosen by a Democratic president.
Now they “want” to give a quick hearing and vote to a nominee in an election year — even though by their own lights this is hideously unfair to the voters — simply because if not, Ginsburg’s replacement might get chosen by a Democratic president.

Republicans control the Senate, so they can do exactly this. And that’s all the justification they need."

🎵To The Left! To The Left!🎵

On That Commie Pinko Tip

A Portrait of the Breakdown of Hope and Meaning in America - Jacobin

Someone made a documentary about incels. I find their ideology mostly pathetic yet undeniably dangerous and necessary to study if for no other reason than the harm that ignorance of it will likely lead to. Based on this review I am very eager to check out the doc for the way in which it, rightly, situates this vileness in the the exposure of capitalism's bitter strangling of America.
 
"Moyer resists a portrait of the incel that would have them as a simple, nefarious product of internet culture, opting instead to contextualize incels within the broader failures of the liberal social contract. The NEETs possess insights into the structural forces that have produced their own fatalism, economic collapse that has disinvested them from the ideology of decorum and upward progress, from Hilary Clinton’s oft-quoted declaration that “America is already great.”

In part, then, the men in TFW NO GF point toward the failures of a market-based logic of individual freedoms and responsibility. The film looks beyond the bareness of the “greentext” personal writing in order to draw it out as a political and existential response to a system in which collective life has been stripped away, professionalized, or rendered entirely ineffective.

Moyer’s film attempts to show us how corners of contemporary culture deal with dwindling prospects in the face of vastly unequal progress. Inceldom is shown to be an inflammatory, impotent dissent to match the gilded self-righteousness of “moral capitalism” and the market logic that drives technocratic liberal policymaking. If it appears at times too forgiving of a nihilistic and even violent cultural movement, Moyer’s contribution is nonetheless to show how structural miseries help lead the way to 4chan. In the near absence of a relevant left to address these miseries, subcultures like the incel may only proliferate."

 
In conversation with the above piece I offer the best analysis of inceldom that I've personally come across. Very well argued, very thorough.
Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times” - New Statesman

As I mentioned way back in WesRecs 16, I'm not really familiar with Judith Butler's scholarly work. But I remain deeply intrigued by the interview I included in the previous newsletter and I more than ever intend to check out her latest book. I really enjoyed Butler's responses in this interview but the questions asked by Alina Ferber here seemed so incredibly small-minded and in search of a "hot quote" without ever truly attending to the specific identity, reputation, stated worldview, etc of her subject. Maybe I'm just tripping. Whatever the case I loved what Butler had to say.
 
"AF: One example of mainstream public discourse on this issue in the UK is the argument about allowing people to self-identify in terms of their gender. In an open letter she published in June, JK Rowling articulated the concern that this would "throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman", potentially putting women at risk of violence.

JB: If we look closely at the example that you characterise as “mainstream” we can see that a domain of fantasy is at work, one which reflects more about the feminist who has such a fear than any actually existing situation in trans life. The feminist who holds such a view presumes that the penis does define the person, and that anyone with a penis would identify as a woman for the purposes of entering such changing rooms and posing a threat to the women inside. It assumes that the penis is the threat, or that any person who has a penis who identifies as a woman is engaging in a base, deceitful, and harmful form of disguise. This is a rich fantasy, and one that comes from powerful fears, but it does not describe a social reality. Trans women are often discriminated against in men’s bathrooms, and their modes of self-identification are ways of describing a lived reality, one that cannot be captured or regulated by the fantasies brought to bear upon them. The fact that such fantasies pass as public argument is itself cause for worry."

...

"AF: This year, you published, The Force of Nonviolence. Does the idea of “radical equality”, which you discuss in the book, have any relevance for the feminist movement?

JB: My point in the recent book is to suggest that we rethink equality in terms of interdependency. We tend to say that one person should be treated the same as another, and we measure whether or not equality has been achieved by comparing individual cases. But what if the individual – and individualism – is part of the problem? It makes a difference to understand ourselves as living in a world in which we are fundamentally dependent on others, on institutions, on the Earth, and to see that this life depends on a sustaining organisation for various forms of life. If no one escapes that interdependency, then we are equal in a different sense. We are equally dependent, that is, equally social and ecological, and that means we cease to understand ourselves only as demarcated individuals. If trans-exclusionary radical feminists understood themselves as sharing a world with trans people, in a common struggle for equality, freedom from violence, and for social recognition, there would be no more trans-exclusionary radical feminists. But feminism would surely survive as a coalitional practice and vision of solidarity."
Are You An Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You! - David Graeber

I fully admit that prior to this year, despite thinking of my personal politics as "far left", I had the same dismissive, eye-rolling, "It can never work!" reaction that most people have when they encounter someone seriously advocating for anarchy. I knew enough to understand that they weren't promoting a vision of roving gangs haunting burned out cities in a Mad Max hellscape. I knew they were making the case that most modern societal problems can be traced to global capitalism and the violent coercive power of "the state" as we understand it and that they believed a society that abandons those power structures offered the greatest chance for human freedom and fulfillment. I just didn't think it was a serious worldview that could plausibly be enacted because everything I knew told me that such a world, without a state monopoly on the use of force, would quickly descend into chaos as the richest and the most brutal and the most desperate plundered at will as the poor and alone and unarmed populace was left at their mercy with no government to protect them. Additionally, I asked myself how a society without a central and robust government could do things like maintain public utilities, or handle disaster response, or send a satellite to Neptune?

My conversion
 
"Everyone believes they are capable of behaving reasonably themselves. If they think laws and police are necessary, it is only because they don’t believe that other people are. But if you think about it, don’t those people all feel exactly the same way about you? Anarchists argue that almost all the anti-social behavior which makes us think it’s necessary to have armies, police, prisons, and governments to control our lives, is actually caused by the systematic inequalities and in- justice those armies, police, prisons and governments make possible. It’s all a vicious circle. If people are used to being treated like their opinions do not matter, they are likely to become angry and cynical, even violent — which of course makes it easy for those in power to say that their opinions do not matter. Once they understand that their opinions really do matter just as much as anyone else’s, they tend to become remarkably understanding. To cut a long story short: anarchists believe that for the most part it is power itself, and the effects of power, that make people stupid and irresponsible."

...

"Anarchism is just the way people act when they are free to do as they choose, and when they deal with others who are equally free — and therefore aware of the responsibility to others that entails. This leads to another crucial point: that while people can be reasonable and considerate when they are dealing with equals, human nature is such that they cannot be trusted to do so when given power over others. Give someone such power, they will almost invariably abuse it in some way or another."

 
I just stumbled upon this via YouTube algorithms and it was pretty damned great. Don't let the hair and the crazy stare fool you, this guy is making some serious and well-researched points re: the psychology of doomsday preppers. As a person who tends to hyper-analyze things and whose mind most often focuses on heading off the worst-case scenarios I will be the first to admit that I understand a huge part of the prepper mentality. So much of it relies on (and rewards) the idea of being smarter and more ready than your head-in-the-sand peers. You stockpile food and supplies and teach yourself arcane skills in no small part because of the off-chance dream that you might get to drop the biggest "I told you so!" of all time when the electricity goes out and the grocery store is empty and all of a sudden people need to have some serious skills vis-a-vis pickling. But in the ever-growing American prepper subculture there are also obvious strains of nihilism, wish-fulfillment, fascism, and white supremacy...as this video so brilliantly teases out. What's so wild (and ultimately such a shame) is that so many of these people are starting out with more or less the same sentiments as so many people I know on the far left. Namely that: Global capitalism is a future-less sham, modern industrial life is almost designed to strip away human meaning/purpose and turn us into consuming automatons, & extraordinarily powerful forces that are completely decoupled from any sense of non-profit-oriented value are the true masters of our lives in the current age and we must dedicate ourselves to checking them and building a more meaningful society. I am so completely on board here. HOWEVER, my general approach to accomplishing all of that rests on building community, ensuring that the least empowered are supported/included, eliminating hierarchies, & forever keeping the fact that we are all connected and dependent on each other in sight whereas they see the proper course of action as an apocalyptic culling where only the strongest and most ruthless survive while the weakest are mercifully (but perhaps brutally) relieved of their miserable existences. See how those don't jibe particularly well? Definite food for thought.

Things Seen

Watched Recently By Wes

I first encountered his work a few years out of college and since then I have found very few creators whose art has so perfectly aligned with my sense of humor and how I feel about the joys and miseries of being human. I love Perry Bible Fellowship and I'm so happy for all of the laughs it's given me.
I needed a little absurdity in my life this week. This ostrich answered the call. Remind me to never even attempt to outrun one of these birds on foot. Whether by speed or by distance this thing will hunt you down, it's like 3 evolutionary steps removed from a velociraptor.
Never in history has a caption lied to you less.
If you've been keeping up with the newsletter you'll know that charcoal grilling has been a new hobby/passion for me this summer that's done a lot to get me outside, relieve stress, and keep me occupied. I'm also a far more versatile cook now. Anyway I realized the other day that I knew remarkably little about the fuel that made that all possible (and which, yes, is in no way good for the earth) so I decided to wise myself up on it and wow this is really really interesting.
This is just plain helpful if you play the sacred game.
Random Viewing

Word of The Week

Up That Vocab Game

Karoshi, n.
[ kuh - ROH - shee ]

Meaning: In Japan: death brought on by overwork or job-related exhaustion. Also attributive, esp in karoshi victim.

Origin: Japanese karō-shi, lit. ‘overwork death’ < ka- excess + -rō labour + shi death (all elements < Middle Chinese). The word came into general use in Japan in the late 1980s.
Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.


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