Mr Robot 3.1 – Undo

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“You know when you fuck something up and you wish you had the power to hit ‘undo’? Like when you say the dumbest thing in front of your biggest crush? Or when you talk shit about your boss in an email and then hit ‘reply all’ to everybody at work?”

“We all have those days.”

Such is the way episode two begins, with an upbeat INXS song (“New Sensation”) and a montage of Elliot’s new routine at E Corp. Our unreliable narrator is hopeful that he can undo the damage he’s done, undo the hack. We see the painful virtual tours and corporate training videos he has to endure at his new job – the security checks and card swipes, the idiot greasy co-worker objectifying women and the other elements of his morning routine.

The beginning of this episode is rhythmically interesting. In many ways it mimics the Aronofski cut that was established in Requiem For A Dream – shirt, pill, train, turnstile, swipe the I.D. card, hit the elevator. All fast cuts. All on repeat. And we listen to upbeat ’80s music and watch Elliot slowly chip away at the senior staff members of E Corp.

Each iteration of the routine ends with Elliot in the middle of a presentation – about cost, efficiency, and security. And each roll-coll introduction of a new “upper-middle” manager reveals a lazy, distracted, arrogant, ignorant, and unconcerned corporate shill – fiddling with their smart phones, ignoring the presentation, interrupting the presentation because they’re bored.

“I’ve got a soul-cycle class I’m late for. Let’s pick this up sometime…next quarter?”

The beginning of this episode has the stains of American Psycho all over it, right down to the ’80s music, the polished surface of corporate America, and the roiling ocean of distraction and discontent beneath the surface. At the end of each cycle, we see that Elliot has managed to remove another corrupt manager; the space-bar click sound effect machine-guns the exit of corrupt corporate leaders – the sub-prime scammers, pension embezzlers, ponzi schemers, and sexual harassers.

Until he finally gets a receptive audience who gives him what he wants: the digitization of all corporate records.

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The first act is the most important. Elliot grinds through the days until he gets what he needs in order to try and begin reversing the damage he has done. Act two finds Elliot speaking with Krista, his therapist, who later recognizes his dissociative personality and seizes an opportunity to speak directly with Mr. Robot. Little comes of the conversation; the audience watches Krista come to terms with truths that the audience is already aware of.

Copycat organizations begin masquerading as F-Society and the noose tightens around Darlene. A currency war is introduced, presenting the tired notion of an “America Versus China” conflict. Joanna, manipulative and beautiful as she is, dies at the hands of her lonely and jealous lover, leaving her blood-stained infant wailing in the back of a car. No character shows remorse, even with the presence of the crying child, and I don’t believe the audience really cares, either. The woman was something of a robot herself.

Obviously Mr. Robot is building tension and stacking pieces together; long-form narrative is chess, not checkers, slow and patient strategy, rather than impulse. But there is absolutely nothing about this episode that stands out. Elliot crazy. China bad. Crazy wife dead. Audience not surprised.

Perhaps this is an insulting analysis. Maybe this is all building toward something more. But for now, I find myself not giving a single f*** about any of these characters, what they’re doing, or the world they live in. The story is pregnant with intrigue but lacks sympathetic characters. Let’s hope something changes.

Let me know in the comments what you think. I’d be curious to know.

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Mr Robot 3.0 – Power Save Mode

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It’s difficult to tell whether or not Sam Esmail’s brainchild will be able to maintain its narrative momentum as we begin season three of Mr Robot. The “split-personality” device is a tricky tightrope walk, especially as contemporary psychology has largely debunked the concept of multiple-personality disorder. This isn’t to say that it isn’t an interesting device that can be used to great effect (think Fight Club or Primal Fear) but it can fall apart very catastrophically (think Identity or Secret Window).

But, for the time being, Mr. Robot hasn’t yet jumped the shark.

Season three has introduced new players to pump some new life into the narrative, but the story is also beginning to fold in on itself. It was clear from the beginning that Esmail hadn’t diagrammed the whole arc; the pilot itself was a grand ‘hail mary’ with wonderful, and likely surprising, success. But Mr. Robot will only last as long as the ratings do. The USA Network will continue to find ways to add new things into the mix, for as long as they can, which could easily doom the show to a fizzling-out in a style not dissimilar to Dexter, Entourage, or Lost.

When the story-teller knows how the story is going to end before the first script it authored, the architecture of the story isn’t compromised by executives and ad-dollars. Deadwood, The Sopranos, and The Wire are excellent examples – all of these ended on a high note that left audiences wanting more, rather than their stories being wrung dry, left to die on the vine, to die the death of a million weeping pinhole wounds.

The opening of season three introduces Irving(Bobby Cannavale), a Robert Goulet/Gordon Gecko mashup whose cold demeanor and self-interest begs for a gaudy pinky ring or gold bracelet. His character is interestingly convincing even while being painfully one-sided and almost clichéd. Untroubled by personal wealth, he’s introduced in a barbecue restaurant arguing with a minimum-wage cashier over the redemption of a coupon. He is modeled after other villains defined by meticulousness – Hannibal Lector, Guss Fring, Anton Chigurh. The idea, really, is to find his style laughable while also recognizing an undercurrent of profound influence and brutality.

There have been a lot of villains like this in television lately.

Irving is tasked with handling the situation between Tyrell (Martin Wallström) and Elliot(Rami Malek). If you can recall, Tyrell put a bullet in Elliot’s stomach at the conclusion of season two when Elliot tried to put a stop to his alter-ego’s machinations. Irving is the linchpin that connects our developed protagonists of the underground hacker network ‘F Society’ with the elusive underground network known as ‘The Dark Army,’ whose goals are still completely, mundanely, boringly obscure; I’m sure there will be a shocking reveal further down the line.

What interests me is Whiterose (BD Wong) and his discussion at the beginning of the episode, following a wide, sweeping shot over what we assume to be a nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator. And this is where I weep for the future of the show – the introduction includes nuclear technicians casually discussing a theory of the multiverse, it then expands to visually reveal a massive technological structure that invites comparisons to the “hadron collider” in Cern, and eventually leads to Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) asking Elliot what he would do if everything could be changed, if everything could be erased, including what happened to their parents, and that it’s an absolute possibility.

Discussions of the multi-verse and the possibility of changing time – Mr. Robot is tinkering with some tricky subject matter that is completely divorced from a critique of capitalism, illustrations of manufactured consent, and a celebration of the meek rising up to conquer their masters.

The psychological drama takes a back seat, thematically, to the opportunity of changing or shifting reality altogether. The masters of the economic world are transforming into masters of reality itself. The unreliable narrator, Elliot, has been completely changed. The story, moving forward, can be good or it can be a disaster. And this episode doesn’t pass the smell test.

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The Curious Man – A Chaos Portrait

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Years ago I produced a series of images with a group of people, most of which I wouldn’t be able to name. These images were made by doing speed-drawings of friends and strangers – and self portraits – in simple pencil. These were usually executed in two minutes or less. Then we’d lay out other drawing materials – markers and charcoal and chalk and ink – and try to finish the piece in an additional one to two minutes.

These are basic gestures, and the untrained nature of the execution (alongside the frenetic energy generated by a huge time constraint) resulted in some some interesting pieces. I believe this is an image of me sitting in the smoking patio at one of my favorite neighborhood bars in midtown Tucson.

But I can’t really be sure…

June 24, 2017 – Caitlin Strachen

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Caitlin is a magnetic and multi-talented woman. She’s also effortlessly mysterious; she seems almost shy and reserved when you spend time around her because she’s incredibly thoughtful and quiet. But she springs into action when the spotlight lands on her. Today’s images come from the 2012 ‘Cabaret de los Muertos’ in Bisbee, a nascent variety show that, sadly, only lasted two seasons. But hey, that’s small-town life. When one tradition fails to take root, there are always other interesting concoctions that spring up.

At the time, Caitlin was still studying art and living a couple hundred miles north in Prescott, Arizona, but with roots and family in Bisbee, she made the trip down and dazzled. Her first set was a tap-dance, dressed in red and black, and she caught everybody’s eye. In local theater, some presentations are humorously under-rehearsed (but usually beloved because the performers are locally known). This performance, however, was elevated beyond that modest ‘community theater’ standard. She absolutely killed it.

And I don’t think it’s even possible to take a bad photograph of her- truth words.

Porcelain skin, a dancer’s physique, and a captivating smile – she is a pleasure to watch. She sings, plays the flute, and dances, and she does all of these things with a grace, elegance, and professionalism that’s rare, especially for a woman her age. This quiet, seemingly shy blonde girl – with the perfect curly locks – is something special to behold.

But you’ll have to go to Bisbee if you want to see her.

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June 20, 2017 – Cirque Arts

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I’m not sure if it’s just that I was too busy or completely blind, but it seems to me like the institution of circus arts wasn’t really that much of a thing twenty years ago. While I was working and going to college, it seemed to me like Flam Chen was the only performance troupe of its kind here in Tucson. Then, almost out of the thin air, it seemed like all kinds of insane talent was erupting from the Old Pueblo. Elemental Artistry, Cirque Roots, and Tucson Circus Arts began to gain momentum, and a variety of independent performance artists started to couple with area musicians to create unique live performances. Poi spinning, hula hoop choreography, aerial acrobatics, sword swallowing, and every other conceivable form of circus, vaudeville, and musicianship was available around every corner.

Today’s image of the day is a picture of one such performer, Jimmy Linenberger, performing with The Bennu. I continue to be amazed by the massive amount of talent and creativity out there, and feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to see people like Jimmy perform on stage.

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June 14, 2017 – Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl

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It’s still hard to put into words when I look back on these two. I met the husband and wife musical duo at a 4th Avenue bar in Tucson, Arizona back in 2005 or 2006. The two were playing music in the bar lounge. It was a week night and there was no cover charge, which is really the only reason my girlfriend and I went out that night; we were both going to university and didn’t have a tremendous amount of spare cash, so free music and cheap happy hour drinks were always a solid draw.

I really enjoyed the music. Amy and Derrick always had magnificent chemistry. They always seemed happy and in love, and that came through in their music. They’d take breaks in between songs and interact with the crowd, ask questions, take requests, and make jokes. It was impossible to walk away and not take some of that joy with you. As relatively broke as I was, I had to buy one of their albums, and it become a regular part of my musical rotation.

Years down the road I secured a job in the old copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. With the mining operation all but shut down, the town had long-ago become a mecca for artists, musicians, drop-outs and various other vagabonds. It’s unique color and history also make it a draw for tourists, which sustain a healthy hospitality industry – restaurants, bars, and hotels abound in Historic Bisbee. As it turned out, Amy and Derrick called Bisbee their home; they played multiple sets at various venues each and every week. My favorite times were Wednesday nights at The Copper Queen saloon where Amy would play solo, seated behind her keyboards, and take requests from anybody who happened to be there – funny, improvised, and ingenious performances. I quickly learned, when dropping by Doug Stanhope’s Super Bowl party, that the couple actually rented a house from the comedian and lived adjacent to the Stanhope compound.

In a small town, everybody seems connected to everybody else in one way or another.
I could never boast a close, personal relationship with Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl, but I always enjoyed their music and their kind, generous energy.

Amy Ross suffered from lupus and kidney problems. After spending more than a week at the Tucson Medical Center, she passed away at the age of forty. She’d been suffering from a blood infection and died shortly before a scheduled surgery. Derrick shot himself in the head in his home in Bisbee with a firearm he purchased shortly after his wife’s death. Amy’s death was announced on her Facebook page:

“Hey kids! Bad news! I died this morning and Derrick didn’t know how to tell you. I love you all and hope you go out and be nice to someone. Funerals are a bore so hopefully I don’t have one. Give Derrick some alone space…He stinks at this stuff so leave him be for now. Thanks for all the kindness…Please spread it around.
~Whiskey”

We learned shortly thereafter that the message was penned by Doug Stanhope after receiving permission and password information from Derrick.

It’s hard to tell if anybody had any idea that Derrick would take his own life. He’d mentioned that he might kill himself while speaking on Stanhope’s podcast before Amy’s death, but such a public proclamation – and on a comedy podcast no less – didn’t seem to bend too many ears, especially when speaking with a man known for humor that’s regularly pretty dark.

The whole town, still absorbing the loss of Amy Ross, was in shock after learning about Derrick’s suicide. A gathering of locals descended upon The Grand Hotel Saloon in celebration of the lives of Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl. Local musicians sang songs, covered tunes from the deceased couple, and many glasses were raised. The bar was packed with glassy-eyed locals, and I like to think that it was a decent send-off.

Today’s photograph was taken in the green room at The Bisbee Royale, a short-lived night club that is now home to the local radio station.

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June 12, 2017 – The Pit Fire

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For several years, while I was living in the borderlands of Southeastern Arizona, I made it a point to attend the annual Cochise College Pit Fire. The entire evening surrounds a main event, the lighting of the pit fire itself; it’s an ancient method of baking clay pottery in which the pottery is placed in a trench dug into the ground with a wood fire burning above it. The result is pottery covered in interesting patterns and colors.

The evening is peppered with various musical performances on several outdoor stages, dance performances, acrobatics, theater art, gourmet food supplied by the college’s culinary arts club, and other vendors. It’s free for anybody who wants to attend, and it is genuinely one of the more interesting (and little-known) events in this somewhat remote area of Cochise County, right along the Mexican border.

I wouldn’t even be able to tell you if today’s picture depicts a booked performance artist or if it’s just an enthusiastic attendee who decided to spin poi in the field where the pit fire’s lit. It doesn’t really matter – it illustrates the energy and creativity of the event.

If you live in southern Arizona and want to attend, all you need to do is mark your calendar. You can check out their website here.

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