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The Fast Runner (or, The Dream State of My Kinship Nation)

Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature.
- Teresa Nielsen Hayden

It isn't merely that I can't stand listening to that man (not to mention having to look at him). It's that the State of the Union address, and American politics in general, have become nearly unwatchable for me lately. I know I'm not supposed to surrender to the impulse to believe "It's all just so much bullshit", but you know what?

It's all just so much bullshit.

There's only one version of the State of the Union address worth giving at the moment. There's only one policy speech worth sitting through. It's one paragraph long, and would take about 45 seconds to deliver.

"I call on Congress and the legislatures of the separate but united States to pass a Constitutional amendment that prohibits any payment to or on behalf of any candidate for, or holder of, any federal office, whether in money or in kind, by any party or entity except the federal government itself, acting on behalf of the citizens of the United States of America."

The American people understand the problem and they understand how to fix it. We are long past the point where mere fiddling can save us. 

Okay, so maybe according to the Supreme Court giving money to candidates is speech. Unfortunately, it is also an excellent source of political and spiritual corruption. As a nation, we know this in our bones. We have over two hundred years of experience living with the problem. I'm sorry if the robber barons and their henchmen feel this is an unjustified intrusion into their rights of free speech. I'm also sorry that not being able to yell "fire" in a crowded theater is an infringement of the free speech rights of raving lunatics.

But really, I'm not all that sorry.

I'm sure this is all too simple-minded of me. I'm sure it offends the sensibilities of the politically subtle and complex. I'm equally sure that I and a great many other Americans don't give a crap what it is, just as long as it gets done.

Will it solve all our problems? No. But it is the first and only truly necessary step we have to take before we can address our other problems. Why the Democrats don't unite and adopt this as their single issue and devote themselves to taking it to the American people, and pushing the thing through to completion, is completely beyond me. And my feeling is that unless and until they do, American politics is, like I said, all just so much soul-deadening bullshit.

So, yeah, I'm happy to admit it: Last night I set out to hatch a very specific plan to guarantee I wouldn't see, even accidentally, one nanosecond of that man's speech. It took quite a bit of thought to finally determine which DVD I should rent. At last I opted for "The Fast Runner". Two hours and fifty-two minutes of some of the best film-making I have ever seen.

Let's take care of this business right now in case you get bored with the rest of this entry and go elsewhere. If you haven't seen this movie, set aside about three hours of your time to sit down and soak this thing in. Turn off the phone. Draw the curtains. Make sure you have all your required snacks and liquid refreshments close at hand before you press the "Play" button. You will be quietly astonished afterward that three hours have gone by. There is, so far as I can recall, no more vivid cinematic verification of Teresa Nielsen Hayden's observation above that "[s]tory is a force of nature."

"Spoilers" follow, though I doubt that my telling you what happens will truly spoil things for you. This movie does not rely on its plot to keep you involved. It relies on a very simple story powerfully told.

Years ago, a stranger came in the night to a small group of Inuits living in the remote and barren (at least to our eyes) wastelands of the Canadian arctic. The group's leader died that night, and the man's son took his place, but an evil seemed to have possessed him, probably the handiwork of the mysterious visitor. Where the group seemed to have had a harmonious existence before, things begin to go wrong.

After many years, a young boy who was present that night, Atanarjuat, "the Fast Runner", has grown into a fine young man. He is in love with Atuat, and she with him, but she has been promised to Oki, the son of the group's leader. Oki is jealous of Atuat's obvious love for Atanarjuat and so he challenges him to fight for the right to claim Atuat as wife. Bless his heart, the Fast Runner actually manages to win his beloved's hand in marriage, and Oki is left even more jealous and resentful than before.

Eventually, things come to such a pass that Oki and two of his henchmen conspire to kill Atanarjuat and his brother while they sleep in their tent. The brother is killed, but Atanarjuat escapes by scrambling out of the collapsed tent and fleeing, stark naked, across the vast expanse of snow and ice. Oki and his two henchmen race after him, but Atanarjuat is not called the Fast Runner for nothing.

Exhausted, Oki and his henchmen are forced to abandon the chase but return to their camp to fetch the dog team and use it to continue the chase.

Miraculously, the Fast Runner survives (barely) his ordeal on the ice and finally comes across a man and his wife and their young daughter. They give him clothes and food, and Atanarjuat begs them to hide him from his pursuers. The man and his wife bravely choose to help the young man. Oki and his henchmen are spotted approaching so the man and his wife hide the young man, and steadfastly deny -- in the face of Oki's threats -- that they have seen Atanarjuat.

The man and his wife nurse the Fast Runner back to health (much damaged by his flight across the ice). Winter comes on hard, and Atanarjuat burns to return to his wife, and to his village where he can take his revenge on Oki.

Suffice it to say that the Fast Runner does return, and through an act of grace manages to restore harmony to the village that had been suffering under the mysterious stranger's evil curse for so long.

So last night, rather than watch further manifestations of the evil curse under which my kinship nation currently suffers, I chose to have the story of the Fast Runner re-told to me. Not so much because I need to believe that there is someone out there, our own Fast Runner, getting ready to return and save us from the evil we suffer under. That sort of wish-dreaming would be childish.

No, it's more that I needed to be reminded that evil is not all-powerful, and that if you just put your head down and keep running, naked and cold and empty of all hope though you may be, you can outlast evil. And that maybe, at the end of it all, you can even pull off an act of grace. And that maybe your single act of grace can in some way save the rest of us, too.

Heh. And all you guys got last night was more partisan bullshit and weird references to something called "switch grass". I'll bet you're sorry you didn't come over to my house.

[Netflix, B & N, ]


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Why the Democrats don't unite and adopt this as their single issue and devote themselves to taking it to the American people, and pushing the thing through to completion, is completely beyond me.

I'm not usually one to play the 'both sides are the same' card, but in this case I think it really is because the Dems are as indebted to such monies as the Republicans. Not on a personal scale, so much, but in terms of campaign funding from various lobbyist / corporate donations. If they cut that off, a) they stop getting a chance at the money, and b) they see themselves as bringing a knife to a gunfight election.

I think you are right, the Democrats certainly can't disarm themselves by nobly vowing to bail out on donations from lobbyists and corporations, etc. while Republicans continue to accept them. I think the only thing they could do is push for a Constitutional amendment. Naturally the Republicans would call them hypocrites for continuing to accept donations even though they are pushing for an amendment to ban them, but I don't think the American people are so stupid as to not understand the Dems can't, as you say, bring a knife to a gunfight.

I think the battle to get such an amendment passed would be nearly impossible to win, for all sorts of reasons. But I think if the Democratic party had the guts to fight the battle, they might be able to get it done. I think, surprisingly, a lot of politicians would be for it -- as I understand it, most of them absolutely hate all the fund-raising they have to do. And I think the majority of Americans would support it. The problem, of course, is that those who would oppose it are among (or philosophically support) the most powerful political entities in the country.

But, you know, you never know until you try. They said the same thing about the recent failed attempt at a filibuster, of course, but that was a stupid idea (in my view) in the first place. Maybe an idea that the public actually thinks is a good one would have a better shot at beating such tough odds.

I loved that film. I loved the way it was paced and shot so differently from most stories. (Apparently all the technical people, as well as all the actors, were Northern People, and the previous experience of the camera people had been nature films. I think this turned out to be a great strength.) It's also one of the best fantasy films I've ever seen.

My sympathies on the state of the union.

I loved that film. I loved the way it was paced and shot so differently from most stories.

Yeah, one of these days I want to sit down and give this movie the scrutiny it deserves. I don't really understand what the film-makers are doing that makes the thing so seductive to watch. Somehow they draw you into this alien world and you lose track of how long the film is. I suppose the answer could just be "great photography, characters you care about, and a powerful story". Not that you need anything more than that, of course, but I dunno. I feel like there is something else going on but I can't put my finger (or any other appendage) on it yet.

And you're right, it really is one of the best fantasy films ever made.

I stopped reading the entry to avoid spoilers 'cuz I'll get the movie. Then I'll finish it once I've watched.

On the other, yes, I'm there with you. And I'm USUALLY one of those annoying "First Amendment Purist" types. But on the subject of money as speech, nope, nu-uh. Also, on the subject of corporations having free speech rights to spend money, nope, not so much. Corporations are not persons. That was a bad call.

See, if James Dobson or some wonky CEO type, particularly those members of the supermoneyed ruling class that move in and out of private and public jobs, want to exercise their free speech rights and endorse a candidate, they should do it with, I say, speech. And IF anyone's allowed to donate campaign money, I think at the very least it should be limited to individuals and limited in amount. If you think peace is the answer, make a sign. If you think war is the answer, ditto. I got Halliburton's magic marker right. here.

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