Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Amazing Sermon-man and the Folly of Message Movies

“You’re just an innocent / a helpless victim of a spider’s web / and I an insect / going after anything that I can get / So you’d better turn your head and run and don’t look back / ’cause I fear there is nothing left to say / to you that you wanna hear, that you wanna know / I think I should go – the things I’ve done are way too shameful / And I have done you so wrong, treated you bad, strung you along / Oh shame on myself, I don’t know how I got so tangled!” ~ Penitent and punny lament of the Spider-man 3 creators, as verbalized by Maroon 5

The Spider-man I may have partially enjoyed.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 swings slings flies crawls weaves propels its way onto DVD and Blu-ray today, and from the looks of things, it could be the last one for quite some time, with some time being around the next four years.  Though it did well (enough) in its opening weekend, Spidey’s momentum stagnated severely after that point to become the least grossing member of the franchise, due in small part to the arrival of exponentially better-looking movies like Godzilla and X-men but mostly to the proliferating foreknowledge among male moviegoers that the film would inexplicably kill off one of the only reasons they’d even consider subjecting themselves to this tripe.  The tragically random demise of the beloved Gwen Stacy resounded through the circles of outraged comic book fanboys until reaching the ears of this Author, who could only ask his informant in wide-eyed horror, “Why, for the good of all things holy, Why?”

Actually, I probably said something like, “Well, that’s pretty stupid,” a sentiment that seems to be shared by most of those repentant sinners who blindly lent their money to this cruel and unusual, woman-killing punishment.  Andrew Garfield Spidey 2 has consequently usurped Tobey Maguire Spidey 3 in many fans’ minds as the absolute worst of all the Spidey movies, redeemable only in that it might precipitate an off-screen breakup between Garfield and his no-longer-on-screen love Emma Stone.  Of this judgment there can be no debate, as killing off Emma Stone in a movie without cause – hell, by any cause – is, like, the worst possible transgression you could perform as a director short of killing off Lindsey Stirling in a music video, which – let’s be honest – is never going to happen during my lifetime.

The Spider-man I watched instead.

But I’ve only seen Spider-man 3, and so I shall dedicate this forthcoming article chiefly to denunciating the wrongdoings of that boondoggle.  If AGS2 commits the cardinal cinematic vice of needlessly murdering a pretty girl for the sake of, well, nothing, as “needlessly” would have it, then TMS3 does probably the next worst thing in the hierarchy of Hollywood crimes, taking its viewers for simpletons as well as saps, albeit without mangling or interring any faces you may miss in the future.  Where AGS2 tries to artificially manipulate our hearts and emotions into crying through exploitive and contrived plot twists, TMS3 tries to manipulate our intellects into accepting a neatly packaged moral message through ham-handed dialogue exchanged by silk-thin characters whose only reason for existing is to impart this moral message to what the director must presume is a very unimpressionable audience.

Spider-man 3 is a movie you probably want to like if only because it makes such an adamant show out of its own moral-ness, that being its eagerness to teach kiddies some moral tenet they can apply in their own lives.  Indeed, the friendly, neighborhood spider-man of director/writer Sam Raimi’s original trilogy seems to be a quintessential American hero, embodying courage, charity, exceptionalism, and, yeah, responsibility, even though it takes him the whole of the first movie and a lot of heavy-handed bludgeoning from his elders to understand the importance of the last virtue.  Peter Parker is a largely admirable if fallible young man – plucky while short of being impertinent, decent to women, occasionally testy but usually genteel, respectful of his Aunt May, and a duty-minded servant of peace and tranquility.  As a rather plainly characterized but kind-hearted and pure girl-next-door archetype*, Parker’s love interest Mary Jane is no less a model for blossoming teen girls in those very few moments when she’s not dangling from some precarious height and fulfilling the narrative need for Spider-man to swoop in and rescue somebody.

In the complicated, never-committal relationship between M.J. and Peter (briefly escalating into a Twilight-esque – how do they call it in hipster-speak? – “triangle” with the encroachments of James Franco’s Harry Osborn), Raimi must have thought he’d found the root of his series’ appeal, considering the infuriating number of ultimately fruitless and time-exhaustive scenes he devotes to portraying them disconnecting, reconnecting, speaking on the phone, dancing, dining, reclining, commiserating, and sobbing with one another, though Peter definitely shoulders the brunt of the final activity.  That doesn’t even account for the unbelievably sluggish scene outside Mary Jane’s apartment, wherein the camera cuts at least half a dozen times to show Peter staring at her through the window, M.J. not looking back, Peter admiring M.J. still more from afar, M.J. not noticing, Peter ogling M.J. even longer in dejected longing, M.J. not looking, Peter leaving at last, and M.J. finally glancing after him before she calls his phone number.  But this is just as much the editor’s fault as it is the screenwriter’s, and only one of many such timing missteps throughout the bloated, wannabe epic picture.  The great sin of Raimi’s script lies in reducing all the major characters to cautionary symbols, from the vengeful Venom to the self-excusing Sandman (no relation to the Neil Gaiman character, thank gosh) to the also vengeful Green Goblin 2.0 to the unteachably irresponsible Spidey himself.

Spider-man 3’s internal and external antagonists have all the depth of the diagram of a particularly simplistic Sunday school program, and one so haplessly stripped of its religious context that it more closely resembles a lesson in civics from some insipid, taxpayer-funded kids’ show.  In fact, the only occasion on which Raimi admits any semblance of religion to embellish his narrative is through a prayer sent up to heaven by Peter’s rival workplace photographer, a devoutly Christian caveman who pleas with his pagan idol to purify the earth of his personal enemy.  This throwaway non-sequitur of a scene, aside from slighting both the moral integrity of any Christians and cultural education of any non-believers in the theater stalls, leaves the rest of the movie’s message a tangle of patronizing pretenses and homilies.  The irreverent characterization of Jesus Christ as a lifeless effigy, idolized by superstitious barbarians as some wrathful enforcer of personal vendettas rather than a merciful and loving redeemer, establishes an agnostic or nihilistic tone that must be extended throughout the film for it to maintain any consistency.  This inevitably leads to logical contradictions, as the movie expects us to reconcile its skepticism in man-made gods with its faith in man-made morality, as if the rules prescribed by the one can be inherently faulty and mad while the rules of the other remain inherently reasonable.

Spider-man 3 eschews the straightforwardness of the first film by attempting to foist not one but three pat morals on the viewer, which you could basically summate as “revenge is bad, forgiveness good”, “power makes gothic gangstas of us all”, and, I quote Peter, “we always have a choice”, whatever the heck that means.  The hideous space ooze Venom is the leading exponent of the first life lesson, quite literally making a monster out of whoever tries to wield its power, but not before turning him into a freakish bad boy punk with a habit for randomly dancing through the streets of New York City and crashing his girlfriend’s jazz performances.  Peter renounces the Venom’s temptations after realizing that the creature’s possession has twisted him into hurting Mary Jane, but the Christian Eddie Brock isn’t as quick to see the self-destructive tendencies of revenge/power/alien goo, succumbing to its all-corrupting influences until he kills himself in his uncontrolled fury just like every other Spider-man villain.

Holding grudges bad.

Peter has to absorb the wisdom of this precept for himself in confronting the Sandman, whom he loathes for the murder of his Uncle Ben, although it turns out it was all an accident, sort of, and we oughtn’t judge him for this fatal act of violence because he was only robbing the old man to provide for the needs of his daughter, or some cal like that.  None of the numerous B&W flashbacks really serve to clarify the narrative or make us care about the events that transpired a whole two movies ago, but Spidey accepts Sandman’s revisionist reckoning of that night without much question, anxious as he is to lecture the criminal, and audience by extension, about the necessity of owning up to your actions and pardoning those who trespass against you.

Releasing yourself through forgiveness good.

Spider-man 3 is an exemplary example of bad filmmaking all across the board, from Tobey’s weepy and melodramatic performance to the joyless romantic subplot that goes absolutely nowhere to the cluttered storytelling to the cringe-worthy dialogue to the surprisingly unsuper-human choreography (Green Goblin and Spider-man voluntarily handicap themselves by joining in a fist-fight).  But none of these things are Raimi’s unforgivable foible, which is presuming that his audience is repugnant enough and stupid enough to require a half-baked sermon on the consequences of revenge or unfettered power.  Whenever storytellers, secular or faithful, conceive of a tale primarily as a vehicle for some prepackaged message, be it political, religious, or ethical, the story itself suffers to the point of making the message tedious or intolerable.  In order for us to care about the message, we need to have at least a passing interest in the plot, and in order for us to have an interest in the plot, we need at least a minimal investment in its characters, which, by these premises, is a circular impossibility wherever such characters live only to advance the message.

Of the many ways to educate your children about the pitfalls of hatred or ambition, Spidey has to be the most counter-productive and confounding of them all, and will likely leave kiddos more confused as to good and evil and justice and Mere Christianity than when they started.  Ne’er has a comic book movie wrought a more perniciously preachy web of half-truths and deceits.

* This could really be a good or a bad thing depending on your esteem of whoever lives next to your particular door, though most people are Optimists and choose to think it’s a good thing.

... and somehow I find these more entertaining than the real thing.
Play in streets.

You’re fired.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Guardians of the Galaxy

DON’T PANIC.  The following film review has been professionally eviscerated and organized into chunks of 150-400 words that will lend themselves well to your daily quality reading sessions on the crapper.  It’s our dearest hope that these portions convey at least a resemblance of the message imparted by the author in the whole, but if not, feel free to leave a complaint by calling the editor of the Alpha Centauri district, as The Guide is being continually revised to reflect our simultaneously growing and diminishing understanding of the galaxy surrounding us.

Guardians of our Galaxy… and some awesome kid.

Peter Quill: A renegade space-hopper, surprisingly dashing and suave for a wanted outlaw going by the significantly more ostentatious if no more memorable title of Star Lord.  Who?  Those uninitiated to the galaxy might naively excuse his criminality as a product of a traumatic childhood loss or (more ignorantly) of his single-to-zero-parent upbringing, but this is far from the actual case.  Quill’s earliest living memory is of helplessly watching his mother succumb to death before his 8-year-old eyes, but this doesn’t pain him nearly much as it might otherwise, precisely because it’s his earliest living memory and neither he nor anybody else could say the first thing about Mama Quill except that she died.  Quill admits to being “an a-hole, but not 100% a di__”, a distinction that sets him apart as a relatively honorable man in a galaxy of thugs and thieves like…

Gamora: A generically badass green-skinned alien babe with a sword; also an orphan and the adopted daughter of the cryptic yet recurring phantom menace Thanos and sister to the blue-skinned warrior Nebula. In the 2014 biopic Guardians of the Galaxy directed and co-written by James Gunn, she’s portrayed by reigning queen of geekdom Zoe Saldana, who extensively trained for the part by playing a blue-skinned alien babe in Avatar and living with a green-skinned alien babe during filming of Star Trek. Gamora appears in various states of undress for the trailers to Guardians, but she’s actually a really sweet, blandly independent girl in real life, so long as you can get past the whole part about being a living weapon.  Incidentally, no man has yet to join his lips with hers, leastwise not in the Marvel Studios fictionalization, which critics have hailed as an encouraging and progressive break from the chauvinistic, patriarchal perspective that’s too often engendered by such archaic male-fantasy movies as Thor, Spider-man, Captain America 1, and Iron Man.

Drax the Destroyer: A brutish goliath of a prisoner who’s more disposed to using his fists than using his mind; compensates for his inability to process figurative language with a vocabulary ripped straight from a thesaurus (just don’t call him one) and a proclivity for ripping out the spine of those who say anything he finds irksome, which he only learns to be illegal really late in his first adventure with the Guardians.  Drax the Destroyer channels his destructive instinct towards the annihilation of Ronan the Accuser, a meanie he’s sworn to unspine in retribution for the murder, not of his parents, but of his wife and daughter, who remain shrouded in mystery even to this day due to the scarcity of any documentation proving their existence or relationship to Drax.

Rocket and Groot: Respectively, a genetically altered, anthropomorphic raccoon and his walking tree pet; both bounty hunters and steadfast partners-in-crime.  Neither has lost a loved one but both feel as if they’re leading lives of isolation: a short-tempered, self-serving gunslinger, Rocket rejects the label of raccoon, saying, “There ain’t no thing like me, except me,” and Groot struggles to communicate with anybody beside the vermin he accompanies, having “vocabulistics limited to ‘I’ and ‘am’ and ‘Groot’, exclusively in that order”.  In this sense, they form a seemingly novel but rather derivative parallel to another, somewhat older pair of smugglers working in a galaxy far far away, one of them a handsome, impertinent rogue and the other a kindly walking carpet whose howls and moans only make sense to the one he calls his master. Even though Groot and Rocket appear to be constantly imperiled in the narrative of Guardians, Marvel insists that “no raccoons or tree creatures were harmed in the making of the film”, as both are brought to life by a top-notch blend of imaginative CGI and voice acting, provided here by an engagingly irritable Bradley Cooper and the amazingly talented Vin Diesel, who reportedly read his line more than a thousand times in several languages because he was so committed to capturing the complicated emotional nuances of his character.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: In spite of their distinguishing quirks and flairs, all five of these oddballs have at least two things in common, one being that their character development is limited mostly to little quirks and flairs, the other that they really don’t like each other at the beginning but eventually resolve their petty differences through friendship and trust when destiny calls them to save the universe from impending devestation.  If that sounds like the plot outline of another uber-commercial Marvel movie, it’s because it is like the plot outline of another uber-commercial Marvel movie, but it’s only rarely as concentrated as its predecessor, being riddled with sci-fi universe mumbo-jumbo, extraneous characters, and too many exceptions to too many rules.  A 30-something-year-old Star Lord is dancing through the dust-strewn hallways of a gloomy junk world when he happens upon an important orb thingamajiger that could be used as a superweapon if the wrong people managed to get their hands on it.  As a matter of fact, just about all the prominent spacefarers in the movie wants to get their hands on it, which by sheer chance ends up driving Star Lord together with the rest of the Guardians-to-be, albeit by landing him inside a meteoric penitentiary where everybody wants to kill him.  Rocket Raccoon has one plan of escape and that plan that involves obtaining a frickin’ quarnex battery, so they have to figure it out!  Groot figures it out but trips the alarm in the process, forcing all our heroes to improvise an action-packed getaway and Rocket to fend off waves of robotic prison guards with a machine gun in possibly the awesomest action sequence of 2014. Oh, yeah.

After hijacking a Lego set-ready starship out of there, the Guardians venture to a system called Knowhere (helpfully identified by setting subtitles) that looks an awful lot like the severed skull of some space giant, probably because it is the head of a space giant.  Here they receive a soporific and incoherent backstory monologue from a white-haired creepy guy named the Collector who looks like a cross between Zeus from Tron: Legacy and Rutger Hauer’s replicant in Blade Runner.  He’s not a pretty sight for the eyes.  The Collector tells them of the “Infinity Stone’s” epic power and it’s around this time that the Guardians recognize the galaxy really depends on them to stop Ronan from devastating everything in his wake, because he’s a bad guy and that’s the kind of thing bad guys do.  For more on the Xandar crisis and formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, turn to page 2,190,489 of The Guide.

Ronan the Accuser: Until the dawning of the era of Thanos, the dominant scourge of the galaxy, responsible for executing all unprovoked and nefarious actions typical of such an office; wears poorly administered facial paint and an ever-gaping mouth that suggests a degenerate descendant of the Joker and Bella Swan.  If you somehow miss his presence or only purpose in the Marvel picture, viz. to give the protagonists somebody to fight, then you must not be paying very close attention, for the Guardians refer to him incessantly and the filmmakers take numerous (now customary for the studio) cuts from the main action to show him and his henchwoman plotting something evil or another. Unlike the main villains of some other Marvel projects, e.g. Loki or Guy Pearce’s bad guy in Iron Man 3 (however confused he was), Ronan isn’t so much a character in and of himself as he is an excuse to make the integral characters do or say things that explain their underlying motives and consciences, if only minimally.

The Galaxy: an ecosystem of monumental proportions, virtually infinite in the diversity of its lifeforms and locales, so big that, by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy (per The Guide’s definition of “infinite”). Through a wholly remarkable amalgamation of makeup and set design and modern animation, Marvel has created a surprisingly stunning low-budget alternative for those who can’t afford a Hitchhiker’s Guide to travel the galaxy for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day.  It’s just a shame that a movie imbued with so much color and spectacle happens to be so aggravatingly underlit, or maybe this Guide contributor was screwed over by a defective screen.

The Awesome Mix: A compilation tape of Star Lord’s favorite 70s pop/rock hits as bestowed on him by his mother and prominently played through his trusty Walkman; doubles as the official new-old soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy.  Radio disc jockeys from Betelgeuse to Magrathea have speculated that the awesome mix may be Guardians’ most important contribution to a culture which is languishing from quite possibly the worst year in all musical history, an era beset by the sickening beats of such bogon poets as Calvin Harris, Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith, the Why You Gotta Be So Rude band, and the That’s Just How I Feel band.  At the time of this guide’s “writing”, the awesome mix was ranked #1 on the iTunes charts and looked to be projecting a potential revival of the largely forgotten genre of awesome-music. Even a miniscule humanoid sapling can jive to that.  The same cannot be said of the orchestral score, which repeatedly draws upon the ordinary and rote in lieu of anything memorable, playing generically heroic anthems during battle scenes and generically sad piano themes during the few arguably disruptive parts of the film that are intended to make us cry.

The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 film): Excerpted from Superheroes Are Fictional by Josephos Rex.

As frivolous summertime eye candy, Guardians of the Galaxy is perfectly passable entertainment that does absolutely nothing to reinvent the comic book movie, the space opera, or anything else.  Much like The Avengers of two years back, it’s stuffed chock-full of snappy one-liners, likeable characters, and slickly choreographed action that makes the most of each hero’s unique powers.  Like The Avengers, it was also geared narrowly to a set of rabidly devoted fans who were largely predetermined to enjoy every minute of the film whether or not it had a very compelling story, which it honestly doesn’t.  Where Joss Whedon, working with legends whose backgrounds and personalities had already been established, took the liberty to deliver mostly straight-up action from beginning to end along with scattered pauses for rhetorical sparring matches, James Gunn tries to make up for his characters’ relative obscurity by inserting flashbacks and what I figure are supposed to be emotionally resonant scenes.  The problem is that such moments are neither sincere enough to produce real sympathy nor small enough as not to interfere with the rest of an otherwise lighthearted movie.  In the long run, they feel more like digressions from a generally weak narrative than pillars of a particularly strong one, like emotional backdrops that Gunn tacked on just for the sake of claiming that his film had a “heart”.  The closest the movie ever comes to having a moment of real pathos is a beautiful scene midway through in which Star Lord ejects himself from the safety of his space pod to aid an incapacitated Gamora, voluntarily offering to trade his own life for that of “friend” who’s beaten him up, robbed him of his expensive sphere, and coldly rejected his invitation to dance all in the short two days they’ve known each other.  All told, it doesn’t make a lot of sense why the heck he’d do it, which kind of undercuts the meaning of his sacrifice when you think about it logically instead of focusing on the pretty green lights and weightless, sci-fi romanticism of the visuals. Is he just a gentleman doing as a gentleman ought; has his propensity for chivalrous or sacrificial behavior been demonstrated even once prior to this event?

Aside from the misplaced melodramatic flashbacks, Guardians rarely forgets its soul as a comedy, taking several jabs at the more overused tropes of filmmaking, such as the “five jackasses, standing in a circle” as a symbol of their unity, or the poorly defined superhero who conveniently reveals a new power right when it’s needed, or the protagonist defeating his foe only to discover larger forces at play he must confront in a gratuitous sequel, or the villain who takes forever to finish off the first good guy while the second good guy prepares a sneak attack from behind.  At other times, the movie buys into clichés without acknowledging it as openly, if at all, as when Star Lord launches into a ‘planning montage’ describing the 12% of an idea he’s thought up before he actually executes it in real time, or when a letter from a long-lost relative gives a character who’s losing hope the strength to proceed, or when the heroes knock down the bad guy way too easily the first time for it to be permanent.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the kind of mindless diversionary crowd pleaser that people in on the joke will be reciting ad nauseum for several weeks after its release but whose plot will sooner fade from everybody’s memory than far more provocative and original films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a modicum of mindless diversion here and there, and the film universe always stands to benefit from some more stupid one-liners, because heaven knows we don’t have enough viral animal memes or comic book gifs clogging up our internet already.

If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, I have no idea whether you’ll like this movie. Sorry.  If you liked The Avengers, I’m not even sure you’ll love The Guardians of the Galaxy, though I would attest their internal conflicts are almost exactly the same.  If you like flashy, feel-good sci-fi pictures about teamwork and talking raccoons and dumb trees and green whores and a-holes and the guy stiff enough to say, “Nobody talks to my friends like that,” after calling them all these things, then I’m high on believing you’ll get a kick out of Guardians of the Galaxy.  I know I did.

Trailer Reviews
Big Hero Six – So, is it Marvel, or Disney, or what?  It sure looks stupid whatever it is.  Awkward silence or awkward noise jokes in the trailer are an immediate tip-off to garbage.
Alexander’s Doubleplusungood Day – Also stupid, except for the kangaroo at the end.
Night at the Museum… Secret of the Tomb? – They didn’t put the 3 in the title because they knew nobody would go to a movie they could watch twice on DVD with the added benefits of Amelia Earhart, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, the T-Rex, Atillia the Hun, and Darth Vader, in descending order.  Oh, and we’ve already seen the giant-monkey-peeing-on-the-city-to-douse-the-fire gag.  Remember the Jack Black Gulliver’s Travels movie from a couple years ago?  No?  Best to keep it that way.
Dumb and Dumber To – Genius title for a stupid movie.  After the Kick-A 2 and the Burt Wonderstone catastrophes, I think Jim Carrey’s still recovering from the fallout from his “gun owners are heartless mother_____s” comment, and the fallout from his “gun owners have very little left in their body or soul worth protecting” comment, and the fallout from the sophomoric, utterly asinine video he made dancing on Charlton Heston’s grave.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies – The CGI wolves don’t even look that good, and they already used the Pippin song in Return of the King.  Lame.
Interstellar – This is what a good trailer should do: tease some of the film’s standout visuals and tell you just enough about the concept to get you interested but not enough to spoil the movie, a la the Avatar trailer.  Aside from promising a lot of returning Dark Knight actors and Christopher Nolan’s take on space travel, it really doesn’t tell you a lot about the plot, which shows the trailer editor did something right.
The November Man – Based on a thriller I haven’t read and starring Pierce Not Bond Brosnan, it looks pretty boring either way.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but this actually looks halfway entertaining with all the corny jokes and exploding things and Hollywood blade-unsheathing/clashing/swinging sound effects, though you could probably condense all of the good parts down into a two-minute time frame, like so:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

On Socialist Supreme Court Justices and Your Boss's Business

Alternatively titled  “Interpreting the non-interpretation”.

In a Yahoo-exclusive interview with former Today Show propagandist Katie Couric, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lamented the absurdity of her fellows’ recent primeval ruling that Hobby Lobby and other corporations of principles don’t have to pay for their employees to have sexual intercourse.  When prodded by Couric to expound the full injustice of the majority’s discriminatory and punitive sentence against “women”, the part-time authority on the forbidden substance lists of various religious cults remarked that the five “males” on the Court have a “blind spot” and punctuated her belief with a hard-hitting kindergarten analogy.  “One has freedom to move one’s arm until it hits the other’s nose, and it’s the same way with speech, with religion,” she said in the video released Thursday.  According to Ginsburg, the contention that Hobby Lobby’s owners have a right to freely exercise their religion and abide by the tenets of their God is invalid because, “When you’re part of a society, you can’t separate yourself from the obligations that citizens have… you can exercise your right until it’s affecting other people who don’t share your views.”

This statement is perturbing on a number of levels, the first being simply that they were uttered by a sitting Supreme Court Justice on an entertainment show to be broadcast over the internet and consumed by thousands of voting citizens.  As anyone with an iota of constitutional understanding should know, the Supreme Court was originally and wisely intended to be an independent body, incorruptible and unmalleable by the demands of their present-day citizenry, who have no direct electoral power over their continued jurisdiction.  The Supreme Court was never supposed to be the end-prize of some banal popularity contest, as the House of Representatives and the White House have often devolved into; accordingly, the very idea of having a “celebrity” on the Court surpasses even the idea of a celebrity president in its revoltingness.  But Couric even-handedly banishes the notion that Ginsburg is just a run-of-the-mill celebrity.  “The Hobby Lobby case has made you a bit of a rock star online.  Are you aware of this?” she asks the justice with a smile only barely suppressing a gush of fangirl giddiness.

Ginsburg is aware, enough so that she had already developed a close acquaintance with her most devoted fan group – a tumblr page fashioning itself “The Notorious R.B.G.” – well before coming to the interview and could point to the more inventive Youtube videos created by her fans and dedicated to her spirit.  That doesn’t even encompass the legions of leftist websites which immediately dove to trumpet the “scathing” “35-page” “rebuttal” she penned, prostrating themselves before her as if before the author of holy writ.  Still, let us pause and reflect for a moment just on what Ginsburg has revealed about the fates of our financial security, of privacy within our homes, of uninhibited speech and assembly, of our right to simultaneously labor and serve our God in the same country, and ultimately of our right to live by the precepts we deem true and honorable and godly.  All these things, she demonstrates, are entrusted to the safekeeping of one legally oblivious elitist so enamored of her own textual gymnastics that she delightedly gorges herself upon the sycophantic ravings of any fool stupid enough to accept such stunts as legitimate argumentation.  In short, her self-indulgent tirade proves we are now but subjects to the whims of a narcissistic demagogue, an opportunistic tyrant more concerned with impressing and expanding her core fan network than with upholding a static document she herself has admitted she wouldn’t recommend as a model to nations lacking constitutions of their own.

Unfortunately, she’s not the only one in the judiciary to defend the ridiculous assumptions advanced in this case, namely that “contraception coverage is something every woman must have… to control her own destiny” or that “corporations” somehow abrogate their spiritual allegiance when they decide to trade goods and services on the public market.  Despite the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling being almost universally pegged as a major “victory for conservatives” (as opposed to the altogether agreeable ruling of two years past, which was then heralded as a triumph for neither conservatives nor liberals but only for the beleaguered middleclass), at best it’s only a narrow evasion of absolute defeat, a half-hearted compromise ceded by defenders of constitutional liberty to its most ardent opponents; at worst, it’s another sign that our court has become infested with unelected, unaccountable, and utterly corrupt de-facto legislators who routinely supplement or even supplant constitutionality with political feasibility.

Note that even the “conservative” majority carefully limits its language so as to (un-)cover only the kinds of drugs objected to by Hobby Lobby, and then only by “closely held” companies like Hobby Lobby in which “at any time during the last half of the tax year, more than 50% of the value of its outstanding stock is, directly or indirectly, owned by or for five or fewer individuals” (IRS definition).  “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs,” wrote Alito in the decidedly defensive and un-scathing 49-page majority opinion, somewhat longer and less emotionally charged than Ginsburg’s outstandingly scathing but only 35-page rebuttal.

But why ever shouldn’t the decision be understood to hold that way?  Strictly from a constitutional standpoint, upon what basis can a man plead a God-given “right” to be conferred any luxury or convenience by any other man?  No such right exists in the law of the land that can be extrapolated through its text or through the original intent of the Founders, which the pragmatic backers of the contraceptives mandate would discount in every other instance anyway.  On the other hand, the first amendment could hardly be more explicit in its protection of religious liberty, declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The simple but emphatic “no” preceding “law” in this clause implies an absolute prohibition on the kind of draconic legislation that secularists or theocrats would attempt to levy against those outside their religious order.  The right to freely exercise one’s faith, of course, must needs entail the right not to exercise sacraments that conflict with one’s faith, in the same way that the right to freely speak one’s beliefs entails the right not to speak beliefs that one deems unconscionable.  The same statute which guarantees our right to publicly support those virtues demanded by our scripture also guarantees our right to refuse support for those vices our scripture condemns, one of which, for certain Christian sects, is the use of contraceptives or abortion-inducing drugs for meaningless, often extramarital sexual escapades.  Such a refusal of endorsement in no conceivable way disadvantages the adherents of other religions and fits solidly within the doctrine of Live And Let Live – or “Don’t Swing Your Arm Into The Other Guy’s Nose” as the laconic saying now goes – that statists weakly try to claim as their guiding credo.  In fact, any man who truly longs to live and let live and keep his nose clean has to respect the right of other believers not to respect his belief, or at the very least not to subsidize his belief at the expense of their own.

As it stands, there are many religious bodies which would censure either “birth control” or abortion under their teachings, viz. those regarding murder, adultery, or being fruitful, but there’s not a single religious body which would mandate birth control or abortion as a requisite of faith.  Hence, Ginsburg’s scaremongering assertion, that Hobby Lobby is imposing some objectionable practice or affinity on employees against their spiritual convictions, falls flat upon its face, 1) because nobody needs access to these given commodities in order to loyally serve their god, 2) because the companies in question have made no effort to coercively convert their workers to any belief set, and 3) because there isn’t the slightest logical correlation between passively neglecting something and actively forbidding it.  Even if there was some hypothetical “religion” which called for its followers to make use of IUDs, Plan B pills, or other random prescriptions opposed by major Scientologist, Jewish, Christian Scientist, or Jehovah’s Witness employers – supposing still further that such employers even exist on a scale worthy of anybody’s concern –, the mere act of declining to pay for these items hardly resembles a move by the boss to marginalize his employees’ hypothetically religious freedom, as these hypothetical duties could be and should be hypothetically pursued on the individual’s own initiative rather than on the part of an unwilling third party.  For as often as we had to suffer the logically insipid trope about evil corporations imposing their owners’ archaic beliefs on others, the only groups in this scenario which have actively sought to impose their beliefs are unions of self-entitled employees and Obama’s largely unsupervised stooges in the DHHS, which illegally forced the contraceptive regulations into effect without a congressional vote.  Only by a staggering perversion of basic English and common sense can one conclude that Hobby Lobby has ever violated the (a)moral integrity of secularists, when the reality of the matter is the exact opposite.  The only side in this debate that’s deliberately assaulted the religious liberty of the other is the secularists, who would forcefully bind the hands that feed them in servitude to a hedonistic worldview they’ve disavowed out of piety.

But for the five conservative-leaning justices who struck down the Obamacare contraceptive provision, the merits of Hobby Lobby’s protest hinged not on the rather plain language of the Constitution’s first amendment or its manifold defenses of private property rights but on a confusing and constitutionally irrelevant law enacted twenty-one years ago called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which essentially established that the government could freely defy the document from which it derives any power so long as it’s serving a “compelling interest” and there’s no “less restrictive” method of upholding that interest.  Justice Alito’s concession that universal contraceptive access is a “compelling” goal of the government would have been embarrassing enough even had he not rested his case on an extra- or possibly anti-constitutional statute.  The Free Exercise Clause didn’t even play a factor in the majority’s opinion, and what little mention Ginsburg made of it in her opinion centered on a nonsensical distinction between non-profit and for-profit work and how engaging in the latter somehow precludes you from the rights bestowed on the rest of mankind by God.

There are so many other layers of inanity rolled up in this episode that I can only touch on in brief, such as the contradictory clichés “not my boss’ business” or “stay out of my bedroom”, coming from the very borderline prostitutes who want their boss to pay them for whatever they do in their bedrooms; the typifying of a woman’s employer-provided insurance policy as “her health care”, which makes no sense at all under the relatively straightforward definition of “employer-provided”; the misogynistic notion that birth control is an inextricable plank of every woman’s health, as if the female sex exists solely to provide cheap pleasure for men; the lie that half of women use contraceptives for strictly non-contraceptive purposes, when the most cited “fact sheet” from the Guttmacher Institute shows only 14% of those taking the medicine do so with that intent; the assumption thereby that employers are somehow obligated to pay for this medicine, which, using the same logic, would obligate an anti-gun pacifist to provide firearms for all their workers who can demonstrate alternative functions for guns besides killing people; or Ginsburg’s pathetically ignorant definition of a religious organization as something that “exists to serve a community of believers”, uniformly dismissing missionary work as irreligious activity while mindlessly equating one’s religiosity to the extent of one’s social circle.

All these things are beside the main point, though, which is that our Court is currently and has long been packed with phantom legislators who are either startlingly ambivalent or apathetic to the Constitution they’ve sworn to defend.  Ginsburg isn’t the first imbecilic traitor to feign an investment in the preservation of a document she wants fundamentally upended or destroyed, as Justice John Paul Stevens served an appointment of 35 years before choosing to belatedly release a book detailing his support of several foreboding alterations to the first, second, and tenth amendments.  Those who aren’t ideologically committed to completely fracturing the foundations of our republic are often so enamored of their own reflection that they’ll wreak any populist havoc necessary to maintain a gleaming public image.  Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, reportedly exulted in fan mail he received from pro-abortion activists prior to writing his opinion, and Sonia Sotomayor is just as much a wannabe celebrity, pimping a memoir with the aid of an all-too-obliging media, shamelessly drawing attention to her race, and making a routine of public appearances.  America’s representatives haven’t challenged the “good behavior” of a Supreme Court Justice since impeaching Samuel Chase in 1804, but how much farther than that man have certain of our present judges gone in their war against the Constitution?

Ginsburg frets that, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”  Agreed.