Sunday, March 20, 2011

DMZ: Blood in the Game, or An Introduction Writer to Avoid

Let me just say right up front that DMZ: Blood in the Game (aka TPB 6), is very good. Things are heating up in the war as the cease fire goes into effect for provisional elections to choose a governor for Manhattan. The Free States and the US have their own candidates, but it quickly becomes clear that the grass roots candidacy of Parco Delgado of Spanish Harlem is going to carry the day. An assassination attempt doesn’t slow things down, either, nor voter intimidation by Trustwell Corp. The one thing that threw me, and right off the beginning, is that Matty Roth is sleeping with Zee. Last I remembered was him sleeping with a Canadian reporter. In fact, the previous trade featured a story in which that reporter was killed. Either Zee and Matty started sleeping together off camera or I missed something.

There’s an interesting difference in depiction with the relationships Matty has with the two women. The more or less casual relationship Matty had with the Canadian often involved shots of one or both of them naked. In none of these issues did we see either Matty or Zee naked. It’s in accord with a more withdrawn personality for Zee, who doesn’t go in for showy, despite her outrĂ© appearance. A shot of the two of them in bed where she has a sheet pulled up rings true for her character, even though she’s waking up from a night spent sleeping next to Matty.

Mostly what I’m going to talk about is the introduction to this trade by Greg Palast. He’s an author who also reports for BBC Television Newsnight. Here’s a couple of quotes to get things started.

“It’s New York in the future and looks uncomfortably too much like America today. There’s a phony war on terror, a hunt for illusory insurgents and troublemakers which becomes the trigger-point excuse for crushing the heaving, rising underclass. Except here, in the comic, America’s culture war and class war has moved to its inevitable bloody conclusion: a corporate junta pretending to provide safety to war-torn New York while using high-tech military intelligence and scum-bag death squads to hold on to power.”

“If the story sounds weird it’s because any story that’s real is weird. I’m writing this after filing my own story from Eight Mile in Detroit. One foreclosed home after another, weeds to the roof. This guy in the last unemptied house on the street told me his son was just shot dead in his back yard. There’s several foreclosure notices on his dinner table. He’s working seven straights to keep his kids from having to live in a homeless shelter. But he’s f-cked and he knows it. He doesn’t stand a chance. America is a fixed casino.”

“In DMZ, the damned and doomed have risen. They don’t want to eat this sh-t anymore – but all they’ve done is bring out the iron claw from America’s democracy glove. The poor are crushed, herded into the Bantustan of Uptown Manhattan and offered the peace of surrender in the class war. This is a brilliant news report from inside America’s skull dreaming into the future. A future closer than you think.”

Digested that yet? Take a little while. That much stupid takes a bit to get through.

I’ll start with the easy one, and the most common by speakers at every corner in the US. The United States is not, has never been, and will never be a democracy. It’s a republic. There is a difference. Look it up.

Now, on to the particulars of this stupid. Palast is so conflating unrelated things it’s hard to believe he actually read this book. He relates it to his trip to Detroit where he encounters a guy on a gutted block who’s about to lose his home and has just lost his son. This, according to Palast, is because everything’s fixed in America to keep the poor down. To my mind it’s not, but there are certainly things in the US that make it hard for someone who isn’t well educated to know what’s going on and what to do to help themselves. On the other hand, the information is readily available to everyone, if you have any idea how to look. It’s not locked away with the wealthy so that the poor can’t achieve. The poor don’t know how to achieve, and often in spite of long term government (not just school, but various agencies at local, state and federal levels) attempts to teach them. The reasons are varied and numerous, with no one easy way to get the poor to learn and behave differently. Hell, my experience of the middle class and wealthy is that they’re often none too aware, either, but they’ve managed to accumulate just enough to not be poor or have been lucky enough to have started out in the middle or upper class and not been dumb enough to fall out.

But that’s all irrelevant. DMZ, throughout and not just in this trade, is about a future where the Know Nothings have become the Free States, a bunch of rednecks who’ve managed to assemble an army, largely with seized weapons from the US, and have mounted a conventional war against the US. This war has lead to a DMZ in Manhattan. Unlike the DMZ in Korea, this one’s populated. A lot larger, too. There is a standoff between the Free States forces and the US forces, with the residents of Manhattan not fortunate enough, or not willing enough, to get out caught in the middle.

It has nothing to do with Detroit, a city so economically distressed it might actually physically shrink, with large swaths reverting to nature. This isn’t all bad, from an environmental standpoint. It’s not new in the grand scheme of things, though it’s new for a city that size in the US. Lots of cities have disappeared from the world over the millennia. On the other hand, Manhattan in DMZ was the vibrant place it is today until the war came.

The allegory for Manhattan in DMZ is not current NYC or Detroit. It’s Baghdad. DMZ is simply resetting the Iraq War to Manhattan. It strains credibility to some degree because there were no opposing sides hunkered down with numerous factions in the middle, all fighting for control. In Iraq there was and is one side hunkered down and fighting or allying with the numerous smaller factions, but it’s the same sort of factionalism in DMZ. It’s also similar in this trade that voting has lead to increased violence and heavy handed attempts to rig results.

What’s disturbing about Palast’s diatribe is that he thinks DMZ is what the US is now, or at least a mere shade away. He says the people of Manhattan rising to elect who they want, in the face of hand-picked candidates by the two main factions and outright voter killing by a corporate player whose exact agenda is unclear (in the book) is the same as, well, I’m not sure what. He seems to think that they’re representative of the poor and lower middle class today who’ve been foreclosed in such high numbers. The thing is the voter anger today is much more scattered in its direction. It’s almost universally directed at the bankers, but some of the time it leads to elections that bring us socialism (according to the Obama haters) and some of the time it leads to elections that bring us fascism (well, that’s still Obama in Glen Beck’s world, but to more rational characterizers, that would be the GOP right). Amusingly, it swings from one to the other in just 2 years. So far as I recall, the bankers haven’t sent any armed forces to disrupt either of these elections.

In any case, no one would say any of the Know Nothings or Obama were hand-picked by any corporate forces. No one with any sense, anyway. They all snuck up on the electorate from outside positions.

The “heaving, rising underclass” isn’t doing much heaving or rising. Large swaths are actually rather apathetic. Some fumble out of their lethargy to swing wildly at whatever target is apparently in charge at the moment. In 2008 it lead them to vote for Obama. In 2010, the GOP. In either case, they’re not being crushed by extremists from a phony war or the hunt for illusory insurgents. For one thing, there’s nothing phony about the war in DMZ. It’s not like Iraq, where we ginned up an excuse to invade. The war in DMZ is within the US. No one could argue it wasn’t in the US interest to fight a war against rebels within its own borders. Well, settling things politically would be better in real life, but it’s not as good for fiction.

Palast doesn’t even read the book correctly when it comes to Trustwell Corp. He advocates that the company is trying to rig the elections to hold on to power, but there’s been no evidence in DMZ that Trustwell governs Manhattan. Trustwell is a destabilizing force in Manhattan, which no one governs in its entirety. My reading of this book is that Trustwell wants to rig the elections so that the population doesn’t have one elected, popular leader to get things done so that Trustwell is no longer needed by the US. From what I can glean, they may also be working with the Free States. It’s not control that Trustwell is seeking. Instability creates business opportunities for their services. It's as though Xe, formerly Blackwater, were to use its private security forces in Baghdad to suppress the vote or support Shiites and Sunnis alike in their fights against one another. Similarly, Liberty Media, Matty’s employer, is a thinly veiled Fox News, advocating for a position that will sell its content as much as possible.

Come to think of it, he doesn’t seem to have read the book when it comes to the election results, either. Reading his intro, you’d think Trustwell successfully had its candidate elected, or at least killed the one it didn’t like. I know I’ve only read the book once, but it was pretty obvious neither of those things happened.

I don’t think DMZ is any great work of fiction. It’s far too thin in its analogies to current people, corporations and events. But it is fun, and it has an interesting point of view, much like watching Red Dawn or reading Scout. Hell, if you want a really creative view of an alternate present in NYC, read Ex Machina. That’s far more nuanced and balanced, with less characterization and demonization. Granted, Wood crossed into more nuance this go-round with Matty’s parents, but it’s all very heavy handed with Trustwell, Liberty Media and the Free States. The US government, for that matter. I think that reflects the less nuanced view of its protagonist, Matty Roth, who's young and easily swayed but still absolutist and uncompromising about the views of others. Mithcell Hundred in Ex Machina is older and both more settled in his own views and more willing to consider the views of others.

It’s hard to believe Palast is more heavy handed than Matty Roth's world view, to the point of totally ignoring the content of the book in subservience to his own agenda of US…I was going to say decline, but Palast comes across as thinking the US has always been a terrible place to be, so decline doesn’t seem right. Evil seems like the right word for someone with so little subtlety or perception. The US is evil. Just ask Greg Palast. But don’t let him write an intro for your book. Nothing in this intro suggests he did read the book, unless he was under the influence of something, be it ideological or chemical, when he read it.


  1. I get a chuckle whenever someone who has poor grammar skills feels the need to call someone else stupid. For example, people who do not know the difference between "led" and "lead." In this article, the writer uses "lead" twice when "led" is called for, here: "voting has lead..." and here: "In 2008 it lead them...."

  2. Well, that's amusing, anonymous. Way to stand by the courage of your convictions.