No Stranger to Fiction: ‘Masters of War’

Kevin M. Brettauer
Push The Button: The Cap discusses Norman Osborn's bad conduct

We have no Avengers to help repair this world. They only exist in stories.

“Like Judas of old, you lie and deceive / A world war can be won, you want me to believe / But I see through your eyes and I see through your brain / Like I see through the water that runs down my drain.” — Bob Dylan, “Masters of War"

“All for freedom and for pleasure / Nothing ever lasts forever / Everybody wants to rule the world.” — Tears For Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World"

“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act III, Scene I

Like most stories, what was needed was an inciting incident, a starting point for the tale that was about to begin. An excuse for action. A reason to issue a call to arms. Something that would necessitate inspirational speeches on the field of battle as the fight began. Something time-tested, past-approved and entirely foolproof.

They needed a scapegoat; that much was certain. They needed a failsafe; that, too, was without question. They required a lie with which to blindfold the public; this was unspoken, yet completely understood. They needed personalized artificial motivation to back up that lie, and they needed it in spades.

Wars had been waged. Invasions had occurred. The reign was in trouble, and what was needed most of all…was a siege. To prove our nation's might. To prove we were still top dog, despite the fact that others lorded their connection to the heavens over us. These men of power wanted nothing more than to show the rest of the world that America was not to be trifled with.

These men of great power who had shirked their great responsibility should have heeded Charles Bukowski: “Before you kill something make sure you have something better to replace it with; something better than political opportunist slamming hate horse shit in the public park."

That would, of course, require listening to the past. These days, most people are opposed to such behavior, citing the mistakes or victories of past leaders as weaknesses or flaws or flukes, preferring to go their own way every possible chance they get, often repeating their own mistakes but expecting different results, which both Chinese proverbs and Albert Einstein claim is the very definition of insanity.

So it would seem, then, that lunatics had seized control of the nation. Sure, some had quit when they had realized what they had gotten into; some had to be removed either through force or coercion; some were embarrassed into resignation and are forever remembered as the patsies of much weaker men. Their replacements, as is always the case, proved to be more cut-throat, more bloodthirsty, more villainous and terrifying than their predecessors. They mastered the tasks before them with aplomb, and the grips they held us in were tight enough to shatter even diamonds and bring down the heavens, crashing them into the houses of worship below in their attempts to rip the gods in twain.

They endured controversy; they quarreled amongst themselves; they were challenged by friends, enemies, terrorists and political opponents. They trampeled over the rights of minority groups who had sought acceptance for so long. They carefully crafted laws allowing unethical detainment and torture that George Orwell would never have even dared to dream of during the darkest nights of his soul. They were even called out by other individuals of questionable sanity. Normally, most people would quit when challenged by noted sociopaths, but these were not normal conditions, and those in charge were not “most people".

And then, as it had to, the war began. A new sort of holy war for a new age, leading into a new tomorrow safe from the heathens who threatened the sanctity of our Christian nation with their worship of violent, barbaric deities who sought the destruction of the United States. These men of great power were not going to take their existence lying down, so when it appeared that the heathens had attacked America, whether or not you believe it was an inside job set up by the man at the top (and regardless of whether you believe his appointment to the office was legal or even fair, taking into consideration all of the facts and his personal history and qualifications), they had the perfect excuse to invade their homeland. I mean, look at the damage they'd caused. They'd killed scores of American citizens in the most public of ways. Retaliation was the only course of action.

In the heat of the moment, a battle plan was hastily put together, a plan that, had it been given more thought and time, could have benefited all involved nations. As it stands, the plan was tremendously flawed, leading to scores of unnecessary deaths and a war that should have been short and simple becoming protracted and terrible.

And that was even before the insurgents blindly struck our bold leader in the face, as if they were attacking the flag itself and all it stood for, all the while waving their own.

Soon it seemed like the insurgents and their nationalist allies outnumbered the American forces in might and willpower, if not in manpower, as well. They fought, some would even say valiantly, and still continue to do so.

Even though a new age is dawning, and even though the head warmonger is gone and considered a war criminal by many, including, possibly, the current President, the battle still wages on, and the siege is still in full effect.

Sic semper tyrannis. Thus always to tryants.

And as Asgard falls, so does Baghdad.

Gods bless America, and may Hela damn Norman Osborn.

And may Osborn drag the former regime with him, kicking and screaming, for though Bush has provided the Marvel Comics writers with some of the finest material they could ever hope to base their nuanced, fictional tales on--even though he made it possible for us to experience a collective national catharsis as Spider-Man decked his long-time foe at the climax of Siege #3 -- he has broken our country, and not even the Barack Obama administration can put it back together quite right. The United States has become a jigsaw puzzle with a few missing pieces, and none of us can quite find them.

We have no Avengers to help repair this world. They only exist in stories.

But perhaps with stories, we can help salvage this nation.

Next Week: As the Vatican counters another sex scandal, we examine the relationship between sex, power and religion in modern comics in “Tears in Heaven".

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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