Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Make Guns, Not Horror Comics & Movies...

Well, now it's official: it's safer to manufacture handguns and firearms in the U.S. of A. than it is to publish horror comics or horror DVDs. As the fast-food industry jockeys for similar state-sanctioned indemnity from legal prosecution, our Fearless Leader will soon sign into law a bill Congress passed last week that will forever shield the firearms industry from "massive crime-victim lawsuits." In the same AP release (dated October 20th), President Bush was quoted: "Our laws should punish criminals who use guns to commit crimes, not law-abiding manufacturers of lawful products."

Of course, Bush has recently allowed to expire prior bans on rapid-fire firearms that serve no useful purpose except killing human beings and profiting gun manufacturers -- "lawful products" once again. Never mind that the Brady Bill emerged from an attempted assassination of a prior President. It's all good. The NRA and gun lobbyists clearly have the Republicans in their pocket; once again, "the public good" is out of sight, out of mind.

Now, I grew up in a military and a hunting family. I live in a part of the country where most of my neighbors have firearms, and that's fine with me. I'm a deadshot with a rifle, though I choose not to have any in my home. Many families hereabouts used to pass beloved firearms down from father-to-son and daughter, but that was a problem for firearm manufacturers: the need to sell more and more firearms every year meant a culture of gun and firearm mystique and ownership had to be cultivated.

I understand (though I don't share) the fascination with firearms, and haven't a problem with those who choose to own them, fire them (in hunting or target practice), or even collect them. But the grim reality is that the firearms industry's need to increase sales exponentially year after year has resulted in bountiful harvests of death and destruction, and we as a culture suffer the consequences. The high-tech state of contemporary firearms outstrip anything that was even remotely imaginable to the writers of the Constitution or its relevent Amendment (an amendment, BTW, drafted to ensure civilian militias could counter a tyrannical government, if necessary), and it's impossible to justify the kind of rapid-fire death-spewing hardware as being necessary to any rational person unless their intention is to decimate their neighborhood. The powerful NRA and gun lobby continues to back this insane consumer frenzy of firearm ownership and mass production beyond any reason, denying all culpability -- which leads to my outrage at this latest development:

Manufacturers of firearms now enjoy greater legal protection than someone who draws or writes a horror story.

Dig, especially with populist fanatics like John Grisham fanning the flames from time to time, we continue to hear our elected officials fret more over the dire consequences of videogames than firearms, the national threat represented by, say, Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (which was the target of Grisham's campaign, along with Taxi Driver) than by the manufacture and rampant sales of Magnums and Uzis (and that's the low end of the current spectrum).

Works of imagination, however confrontational or outrageous, will never, ever approach the dire threat represented by metal-sheathed high-tech bullets designed to explode internally and continue their trajectory in expansive fragments, causing the greatest possible damage on their way out of the human body.

The sales of videogames, the marketing of 'R'-rated movies, the rating of Hip-Hop music is in no way comparable to the massive advertising campaigns and seductive consumer culture firearms manufacturers have cultivated and sustained -- but note which one gets the attention of lilly-livered elected officials (like whiny Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman) time after time. Can't buck that gun lobby, Joe! Back that War in Iraq, Joe! But oooooooohhhhh, those nasty videogames. Why, some of them even have sex hidden in them!

Throughout the years I published and co-published Taboo, I knew I was forever "under the gun" of possible prosecution under the Rico Act; my tenacity and perseverence was based in part upon the fact that I didn't own a fucking thing, though the possibility of facing jail-time was pointed out to me more than once. Fortunately, Taboo attracted only the attention of various customs agents over the years, culminating in confiscations, bans, etc. which kept Taboo on the "condemned" lists in Canada, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. However, comics shops continue to face more dire legal threats and pressures than gun shops or shows, and that's completely unjustifiable.

In publishing, I found censure a greater obstacle than censorship per se. Refusal of services was the most frequent obstacle that kept Taboo troublesome to publish: in the case of Taboo 2, I immediately lost my local production facility when the John Totleben cover prompted their decision to refuse to shoot the transparency needed. That same firm had proudly shown me gun catalogues as evidence of the quality of work they did; when I pointed out the apparent moral disconnect between having no moral qualms working on the gun catalogue, displaying firearms whose only reason for being was to discharge lethal projectiles, while Totleben's painting presented neither a threat to anyone's health or, for that matter, any form of behavior anyone could possibly imitate (unless, of course, you are a krill-bearing piranha-humanoid), the professional refused to discuss the matter any further.

It was the tip of the iceberg, initiating a series of expensive setbacks and debacles that effectively delayed the release of Taboo 2 for months and cost SpiderBaby Grafix thousands and thousands of dollars in unexpected, unplanned-for publication costs. Alan Moore's inside-back-cover From Hell painting was refused by two production firms (again, all we needed was the transparency shot for separation purposes) because the firm reps claimed it had "satanic intentions," and after an extensive search for a printer willing to handle the issue, we were screwed when the binderies refused to bind the book! One local bindery wrote a scathing letter to me, stating flatly that they would have destroyed the book if they could (they, of course, published gun catalogues). In the end, the pallettes of printed pages and covers had to be shipped from Bellows Falls, VT to Boston, MA at considerable risk and cost -- and the binding we did get, in part due to the length of time the job sat unbound, proved fragile (Taboo 2 notoriously suffers from a tablet-like binding from which the pages easily disengage).

Now, those professionals were all within their rights to refuse provision of services for moral reasons. But I continue to wonder about the moral compass that has no problem with participating in the propogation of the gun culture but balks at images or words that might offend. Characteristic, too, was the insistence that those most outraged were not censors.

Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press is clearly not as precious as the Right to Bear Arms in this country. That's the fact.

To me, though, it's simple and pragmatic:

Guns exist only to be fired.

Guns shoot bullets.

Bullets maim and kill.

Images and words do not.

That was 1989; I know for a fact we would face even greater obstacles publishing Taboo today.

Lest you think I am blowing sunshine up your ass, as Tim Lucas noted in his October 20th Video WatchBlog, similar woes delayed and fiscally impacted on this week's long-overdue US DVD release of Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust. Here's the relevent portion of the Grindhouse press release Tim quoted in full in his post:

"After fighting a difficult battle with printers over a graphic photo insert, Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski of Grindhouse Releasing have at last prevailed in their mission to bring Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST to DVD.

No less than eight different printers refused to handle the artwork for Grindhouse's 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST during the final stages of the project. The company encountered further resistance from numerous binderies who likewise turned down the job of putting together the elaborate DVD package due to the inner sleeve design, which features an image of a nude woman impaled on a stake.
The stonewalling by printers caused a nerve-wracking last-minute delay in Grindhouse's production schedule, and ultimately cost the disc producers thousands of dollars in added expenses. "It was a real nightmare. We almost didn't make our street date because of these problems," says Murawski. "For a while, it seemed like nobody was going to take on the job. We had a similar problem years ago with our release of CANNIBAL FEROX, where we actually did make some changes in the artwork that we felt were appropriate. But we would never change our design to suit a printer's sensibilites. We put too much hard work into the project to back down."

The producers have faced many other obstacles bringing the DVD to market in recent months. A well-known film magazine refused to run an ad for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, denying Grindhouse the opportunity to submit an alternate design; the same publication promptly killed a story on the movie after seeing the ad. Major retailers such as Blockbuster have passed on the DVD, citing content issues.

“With all the uncensored horror product in the marketplace, it is amazing that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is still a lightning rod for First Amendment issues decades after it was made," says Grindhouse's head of theatrical distribution David Szulkin, who served as Associate Producer of the DVD.

All 11,111 copies of the limited edition 2-disc set had to be hand-assembled, as the "offending" artwork was printed in a different facility than the rest of the DVD box. Based on the impressive advance orders, distributor Rykodisc predicts that the entire run will sell out in record time."

(For the complete post, click
  • "Meat is Murder.")

  • The message is clear:

    Make Guns, Not DVDs.

    I know, it's discouraging, in't it?

    Look, if you need legal counsel, check out Batton Lash's Wolff & Byrd, which is now online. After two decades of self-publishing, Batton has just launched SUPERNATURAL LAW.COM. "In addition to their print comic book," Batton writes, "Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre now have their own online strip, every Monday and Thursday. It's all new, in color and free!"

    Now, when have you ever heard of free legal counsel in such matters? We need Wolff & Byrd now more than ever before -- check it out
  • here.

  • Enjoy it and bookmark it!

    Speaking of October 20th:

    Edward Alden reports in the October 20th The Financial Times a remarkably blunt, straightforward assessment of the Bush Administration's behavior patterns and record to date from Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff until January 2005.

    Here's the jist of it:

        Vice-President Dick Cheney and a handful of others had hijacked the government's foreign policy apparatus, deciding in secret to carry out policies that had left the US weaker and more isolated in the world, the top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed... In a scathing attack on the record of President George W. Bush, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson... said: "What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.
        "Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences."
        Mr Wilkerson said such secret decision-making was responsible for mistakes such as the long refusal to engage with North Korea or to back European efforts on Iran.
        The comments, made at the New America Foundation, a Washington think-tank, were the harshest attack on the administration by a former senior official since criticisms by Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism czar, and Paul O'Neill, former Treasury secretary, early last year.
        Mr Wilkerson said his decision to go public had led to a personal falling out with Mr Powell, whom he served for 16 years at the Pentagon and the State Department.
        "He's not happy with my speaking out because, and I admire this in him, he is the world's most loyal soldier."
        Among his other charges:
        The detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was "a concrete example" of the decision-making problem, with the president and other top officials in effect giving the green light to soldiers to abuse detainees. "You don't have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you've condoned it."
        Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and now secretary of state, was "part of the problem". Instead of ensuring that Mr Bush received the best possible advice, "she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president".
        The military, particularly the army and marine corps, is overstretched and demoralised. Officers, Mr Wilkerson claimed, "start voting with their feet, as they did in Vietnam. . . and all of a sudden your military begins to unravel".
        Mr Wilkerson said former president George H.W. Bush "one of the finest presidents we have ever had" understood how to make foreign policy work. In contrast, he said, his son was "not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either".
        "There's a vast difference between the way George H.W. Bush dealt with major challenges, some of the greatest challenges at the end of the 20th century, and effected positive results in my view, and the way we conduct diplomacy today."

    When my wife Marj and others expressed their confusion over Secretary of State Powell's complicity in the lies that led the US into the Iraq War, I pointed out (as Wilkerson does) that Powell was being a good soldier. The military is all about rank; President Bush is the Commander-in-Chief, and if you're in the military, you willingly fall on your sword for your superior officer, especially your Commander-in-Chief.

    Of course, what remains unsaid in the ongoing keep-the-blinders-in-place coverage of the dire situation military recruiters are facing is the fact that the Commander-in-Chief is the problem.

    I'm sure similar problems presented themselves in Emperor Caligula's reign.

    (Thanks to HomeyM for bringing the Wilkerson news to my attention.)