' ' Cinema Romantico: KIT Keep it Together

Friday, September 25, 2020

KIT Keep it Together

If some days the terrors promised by so many apocalyptic tech-noir films seems right around the corner, other days technology proves our only respite, like the Brown Bear webcam livestreaming straight from Brooks Falls along the Naknek River at Katmai National Park & Preserve in Southern Alaska. The sight of bears fishing for salmon and the sound of rushing water plunging over rocks pacifies. My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife introduced me to this webcam a few years back and if one of us or both of us had a rough day, we’d lose ourselves in the livestream. Of course, this is 2020. And in 2020, where we have learned that “virtually nothing” equates to roughly 200,000 and that American executive governance has been reduced to magical thinking and trolling, every day is a bad day. As such, we’ve foregone watching the Bear Cam for a few minutes here and there on the small screen of our phones and taken to watching the bear cam for hours at time on the big screen of our TV. And though there is no way I could ever literally turn and live with the animals, as Whitman wrote, boy is it heartening to imagine turning and living with them anyway. These bears, they are so placid and self-contain’d. I sit and look at them long and long. 


The new Katy Perry album, “Smile”, has been heralded as a return to form, of sorts, for the musical superstar, meaning that after the wellness goo of “Prism” and the ineffectual confessions of “Witness”, she has re-embraced the exploding bubblegum pop of “Teenage Dream.” This yielded some minor accusations of being out of step with our present. We’re in the middle of a pandemic! Who wants to smile? But look at the album cover. Not only isn’t Katy pointedly not smiling, she’s not smiling while wearing a clown costume, a double ironic counterpoint to the record’s title. Indeed, the superb, thunderous opening cut, “Never Really Over”, evokes how painful memories might fade but never disappear, the ticking clock as the song concludes suggesting their return is only a matter of time, getting “Smile” off on a contrasting gloomy foot. And though many lyrics in the ensuing tracks espouse maintaining happiness at any cost, Katy’s voice hardly believes what she’s peddling, whether it’s “Not the End of the World” or a plea to “Cry About it Later” because “tonight we’re having fun.” The latter is such fiction, in fact, that she immediately follows it with another crying song, “Teary Eyes”, nothing less than that dancing, crying girl meme come to life. The booming banality of “Champagne Problems”, meanwhile, only brilliantly (if unintentionally) underlines the insignificance of those bubbly troubles. Even on the excellent, inspirational “Daisies”, Katy does not so much sing “til they cover me in daisies - daisies - daises” as scream it. By that last “Daisies”, you want to giver her some room; she’s screaming to keep from falling apart.


As 2020 drags on into its undoubtedly terrifying final act, the air of America has come to evoke that scene in “Return of the Jedi” when our rebel friends are in the cockpit of the stolen shuttle trying to slip through the Imperial fleet to reach the forest moon below. “C’mon,” Han Solo offers, “let’s keep a little optimism here.” Of course, because it’s Harrison Ford, this plea for optimism sounds oddly pessimistic. That’s how any dose of optimism feels these days, futile, like the piped-in noise at sporting events that’s supposed to fool me into thinking everything’s normal when what it does is not simply remind me how  abnormal it is but how profoundly skewed our priorities are. We’re more devoted to finding a way to play football than to control the pandemic. And though the former could well dovetail with the latter, finding a way to implement the same sort of rapid testing for athletes across the full spectrum of society, that would require true leadership at the top. Instead we are stranded with a shit-for-brains more concerned with personal grudges and paranoia than people, continually claiming we’re rounding the corner or glimpsing a light at the end of the tunnel, like he’s Captain Carol Burnett (Matt Damon) on that episode of “30 Rock” promising the plane will take off in another half-hour, publicly downplaying, to use his word, COVID-19 while privately he does nothing about it, focused instead on ostensible election fraud limited to the Facebook chat groups he apparently frequents and within the doughy environs of his minimal brain. And while I want nothing more than to believe everything will be fine come November, that norms will hold, that our election will transpire freely and fairly, so many meeting our faithless, fearful leader’s recurring fascist overtones with a mixture of Kool-Aid, cowardice, and slippery political calculus leaves me feeling less than optimistic. 


From a distance, that might not look like a bear. But it is a bear, I assure you, one we glimpsed not on the Falls cam this past Saturday but on the River cam, a little ways down the Naknek. This bear had staked out a shallow spot in the water, away from the shore, all on its lonesome, beneath the picturesque clouds, in the shadow of the mountain, and just...permission to speak freely? That bear just chilled the fuck out. Eschewing fishing and roving and rough-housing, that bear wasn’t doing, that bear was being, the apex of existence.

Being, what the French call Être, has been in short supply in 2020, if achievable at all. And if being is not the secret to life, though it may be, I’m still running tests, it is at the very least my own emotional sustenance. Without it, I’ve felt adrift, angry, exhausted. But that bear gave me hope. Not that everything will be all right, mind you, but that in this time of extreme unpleasantness, I might still summon the emotional wherewithal to be.

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