Empire Records Analysis: Or, Anarcho-Syndicalism Rocks!

I first watched Empire Records in 2000. I was in college and a movie about young, edgy people working together in an independent music store sounded fun. At first blush, the movie comes off as a bunch of posturing young people that aren't comfortable in their own skin. That element is there, to be sure, but to treat the movie as "Just Another Teenage Movie" would be to miss out on a powerful under-riding narrative of collectivism and anarcho-syndicalism.

In the movie, the Empire records store was established with what lines up fairly closely with the beginning of rock and roll. (blues and jazz predate rock, but the important aspect is the anti-authoritarianism of rock that functions as the ethos of the store and its employees).

But it's not a pure attack on conformity and authority. Anti-authoritarianism cuts both ways in the movie. The rock star who's come to town represents a pure kind of anti-authoritarianism. Yet, he's also "the man" that the good folk at Empire Records discover they want to stick it to. Consider the star's name--Rex Manning--which means king of men, he’s the king of Rock, he’s the essence of rock ’n roll. When Corey, the Harvard girl, seduces him and he obliges, saying “rock ’n roll,” she realizes she doesn’t want to cast off all of society’s constraints. She discovers that she’s really looking for a more traditional relational model. Something more stable.

Enter Joe, the anti-authorial manager of empire records. He operates as a protector for all the troubled young people that work for him. His version of rock ’n roll is less anarchic than Rex’s. Yes, he plays the drums, smokes cigars, drinks beer, and even hits one of his employees--Lucas, but he also flouts the rules, turning in a bank bag stuffed with paper to cover for the very kid he hit

So, the balance here is not a complete rejection of authority; rather, the question is what type of authority is allowed/allowable. Unlike rex’s "anything goes” approach, Joe provides loose guidance, even presiding over a group therapy session when the youth under his watch need it.

Essentially, the Empire Records store presents a sort of utopia. The chief rules with reason rather than emotion. When confronted by the bodies of the young women that work for him, he is stoic. Offering counsel, not himself. When money runs out, everyone pools their resources to ensure their way of life can continue.

Potentially confusing, is why Lucas is put in charge at the beginning of the action. Joe makes this decision because he is at a loss of how to move forward with the issues of power and finance that threaten the store.

Joe tells Lucas not touch the cigars, beer, drum sticks. Joe knows that all of his rules will be broken.

He wants Lucas to break the rules. Joe needs Lucas to shake things up because Joe is incapable of making a non-rational decision. Consider that Joe never calls the cops on Lucas. This is because he put Lucas in charge for a reason and the reason is the society of Empire Records.

There’s a sort of anarcho-syndicalism there.

From Wikipedia:

"Anarcho-syndicalism is a political philosophy and anarchist school of thought that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society."

Through the records store, the employees are able to change their society. They regulate what is accepted / acceptable. For instance, they judge that Rex Manning is a threat, a figure that aggrandizes himself only and they cast him out. 

Empire Records is the sort of place where quarters are glued to the floor. Money is less important than the community. It's the sort of place where the down and outs can go and get a job, get friendship, as evinced in "Warren Beatty's" episode. He comes in with a gun and a lot of anger. But his desire is merely to be accepted. Importantly, police haul Beatty away from the store on two occasions, but their authority is limited. Warren returns to the store after the police take him away both times. Traditional measures of discipline are meaningless in the world of Empire Records. Punishment doesn't make sense in a society that takes care of those at the bottom. Once the individual becomes part of the collective, though they still have their problems to work through, they are supported and operate in a space where they can freely express themselves. They have a space of self-expression protected by their collective unity.

Now, if you want to watch a really good movie, you're probably better of watching Hi-Fidelity than Empire Records. It's also highly likely that the film-makers didn't mean to write in an anarcho-syndicalist collective. Likely, the writers were going for a "Save the Farm" or "Save the Orphanage" kind of plot with a Gen X angle. But anarcho-syndicalism sounds so much cooler, doesn't it?

End Transmission

Beggars in Spain - Nancy Kress - Probably a Communist Text


What draws me to Nancy Kress is her background studying English, getting a degree from SUNY Plattsburgh. I'm no New Yorker but an English program is an English program. Add to that that I came up with the novum for this novel while brainstorming ideas for short stories. 

I told my friend Bob Wilson, "Hey, what do you think about a story with people that are biogenetically engineered to not require sleep." 

"Yeah, that's a good idea, but it's already been done. Go read Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain."

I did read it. I liked it a lot. I also never wrote a story about the sleepless. I guess I still could. After all, part of science fiction is that it operates as a megatext where everyone recycles the same ideas over and over, hopefully adding to them and thinking about concepts in more complex ways--but not always. 

That leads in to questions about entertainment vs. value. Science fiction is sometimes a galvanizing force for the future or a predictor of ugly things to come--ugly things best avoided, but more often than not science fiction is just about entertainment.

High-Tech Corrupted Worlds: A Discussion with Elias J. Hurst

The narratives that easily catch our attention are ones that were already lingering around in our psyche ghostlike before we encounter them, stories of love, death, and adventure, stories that stir us, reminding us of our duty, reminding us of death. 

These are the stories that Elias J. Hurst spins. His most recent novel, Europa, provides that feeling of distant familiarity that keeps you turning the pages where you learn more about an unknown superweapon that threatens humanity, a mysterious enemy, a conspiracy, and a betrayal. Hurst has written three novels, Planning a Prison Break, Lenny, and, most recently, Europa. We talk about Michael Crichton, climate change, cyberpunk anti-heroes, video games, and upmarket vs. postmodern narratives. 

RT: The most famous early science fiction writers were all scientists by training, but in more recent history, the big science fiction writers are idea guys rather than scientists. However, your background is in toxicology, photonics, and millimeter wave communications. Do you feel linked to that older tradition of science fiction writers as scientists? Does your work in science directly inform the stories you write or are those two worlds separated somewhat?

EH: This is where I show my lack of knowledge of sci-fi classics. I started writing sci-fi because of how much I loved Michael Crichton’s books growing up. From middle school on, he was my favorite author. As I understand it, he started out pursuing a writing degree at Harvard and switched to medicine because of conflicts with a lit professor. I believe the scientific education he received while pursuing his M.D. absolutely shaped his approach to science fiction. The concepts in his books are based on technologies of the time but pushed to an extreme. Sphere may be an outlier there, but I think of Jurassic Park, Congo, and Timeline. His approach to science fiction informed mine. Europa is soft-sci-fi/cyberpunk, but my scientific background shapes the technologies that define the environment in it. mmWave technologies in particular play an important role in Europa. We are rapidly moving toward a wireless world—5G and electronic warfare are only the start of it—and I wanted to extrapolate that forward into future dystopia of Europa. 

Watching Do the Right Thing in 2020

From Radio Raheem to Eric Garner and beyond, will this country ...

"At the end of the film, I leave it up to the audience to decide who did the right thing." - Spike Lee

If you watch Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, you won't feel like you're watching a movie made three decades ago. Well, maybe you will, but I didn't. I know that I have a nostalgia for all things '80s and '90s and can run on the media from that era forever, constantly amazed at the creativity and beauty that came out of that time. And with music featured prominently by Public Enemy and others in the film, I get all that I want and more out of it. But this movie does more than merely resonate with my admittedly deep nostalgia.

Do the Right Thing tells a story of American racism that hasn't changed all that much over my lifetime. It hurts to see that. I first saw a clip of Do the Right Thing in 2012 as part of Amit Baishya's Theory course at Ball State University. Nearly a decade later, the movie continues to reflect a reality continuing to play itself out on the streets of our country with young black men choked to death and young black women shot and killed by the police.

How many Radio Raheems have disappeared? How many more will die before we collectively agree that enough lives have been lost? Malcolm X says, “The price of freedom is death,” but I hope that freedom for minorities and the disenfranchised in America arrives without filling our cemeteries with young black and brown bodies.

In the movie, the neighborhood drunk, himself an unlikely but lovable hero, tells Spike Lee's character Mookie to "Do the Right Thing." Mookie tries to follow that counsel. But in a neighborhood and country rent by racism, it's not always clear what the right thing is. As Robert Chrisman describes in "What is the Right Thing? Notes on the Deconstruction of Black Ideology" Do the Right Thing leaves one with a melange of contradictory and, at times, confused messages that suggest that the film has no clear vision of racial relations in a m├ętropole" (53). Chrisman points to a plurality of attitudes and perspectives in the movie. Doing the right thing isn't clear when messages abound. Should one fight the power, as a song by Public Enemy admonishes, should we give in to hate for the other, or should we make every attempt to love those around us, even if they are different?

Rhetorical question notwithstanding, differences abound in Do the Right Thing, ultimately leading to violence. During a flashpoint moment, Mookie picks up a garbage can and tosses it through Sal's Pizzeria, inciting the crowd to loot and burn the restaurant. But Mookie doesn't do anything further. He sits across the street in dazed disbelief at the destruction playing out before him, as if he's not sure if he did the right thing or not. He had already been standing up for himself to Sal and Pino, Sal's racist son. But upon witnessing Radio Raheem's death, he's goes beyond words directly to action. Mook is working out the tension between Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for nonviolent protest and Malcolm X's promotion of violence as a catalyst for change.

In the aftermath, Mookie sees that the other right thing is to work to support his girlfriend Tina and their young son, Hector. To this end, he doesn't accept a handout from Sal, but only what he rightfully earned. He doesn't have a ready solution to the difficulties he now faces without employment, in a neighborhood where hate has risen up to overcome love.

As a way forward, the movie offers a lot of suggestions. Maybe we all just need to chill. Or maybe salvation will arrive from an infusion of cash from an insurance claim, the ever present reminder of  capitalism's victory, if not over racism at least over seeing the haves become the have nots. But King's and X's picture is tacked onto the wall at Sal's Pizzeria. So, a recognition of black heroes is gained. All through Do the Right Thing, Lee gives us black heroes. The great accomplishments of black musicians are front and center and midway through the film, we even get a long list of many excellent artists, from Sade to Dr. Dre to Miles Davis.

Probably the most important statement of the movie is that a clearly victorious way forward isn't postulated. Rather, 1989 carried its own nostalgia for the power of the Civil Rights movement and the great cultural achievements of a century's worth of black artists. But, at the same time, that nostalgia is contrasted with a darker picture of black bodies sprayed violently by firehoses and policemen attacking black men in a clear continuum with a deeply racist past.

We've got to break out of that continuum. We've got to do the right thing.


Chrisman, Robert. “What Is the Right Thing? Notes on the Deconstruction of Black Ideology.” The Black Scholar, 21.2, 1990, pp. 53–57. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41067684. Accessed 28 June 2020.

1000 Year Old Science Fiction Writers

Let's posit a world where medical interventions radically extend the lifespans of mankind to rival Methusaleh's length of days. So, you get writers spinning out yarns for centuries.

Question 1: What is the creative capacity of the human. Would time allow a human to keep digging, keep finding more stories to tell? Or does imagination run out at some point? I suspect that creativity could continue, but one's perspective would surely alter. The human perspective is already quite different in the various stages of a 75-80 year lifespan. Everything a person writes until they reach twenty years is mostly garbage. Then you get a flowering born of a maturity of vision and skill chained to the rocketing excitement and newness of youth. This doesn't last, of course. The following decades gradually give way to greater perspective and, commonly, a decrease in passion or vital energy.

But what would happen if this greater perspective just kept on going for a thousand years? I suppose that few people under the age of 200 would find a great deal of interest in the writings of, say, a 700 year old. Not least because it would take a long time to build up the requisite knowledge needed to appreciate the work of a septuacentennarian.

Question 2: Provided a writer could build up an income stream from previous works over the course of a few centuries, would they care to continue writing? Highly successful artists with our current lifespans commonly pause to rest from creative endeavors for a year to a decade of time. Consider Steely Dan, who went on a hiatus through the '80s. Or consider Thomas Pynchon, who didn't publish a book after Gravity's Rainbow (1973) until almost two decades had passed with Vineland (1990).  Though, Pynchon is an anomaly. He takes such care with every word and sentence in his books, that maybe it really just took that long for him to finish his project.

Okay, so what I'm saying here is, if I wrote two hundred novels over the course of three hundred years, earning enough to let the stock market do its thing for me, I think I'd be ready for a break.

Question 3: Would readers keep reading your stuff several hundred years in? For the argument, let's say that Stephen King had another 900 years to keep writing. Would you be down to read eighty more Dark Tower books? That's a lot of tooter fish sandwiches. My guess is that people would continue to be fans of their favorite authors across the centuries. Unless . . .

Question 4: If everyone is living for centuries, at what point do former fans turn their back on reading and take up the pen. With a thousand year life spans, surely almost anyone could learn to perfect the literary art.

Question 5: Do other forms of media and forms of entertainment along with advanced AI eclipse the need for human writers and human work? Maybe thousand year old men do little more than recline on a throne of forgetfulness as robotic servants buzz around them, clipping toenails, changing catheter bags, massaging striated muscles, fetching channel changers, writing original screenplays, the whole works.

Taking all these questions into account, I assume that if a science fiction writer could live to be 1000 years old, they would give up on writing long before their abilities flagged or their readership vanished.

Fortunately, I don't have any of these problems. So, cheers to everyone as I continue writing.

The Mandalorian


So, space opera is sometimes not much more than westerns in space. That's The Mandalorian for you. This isn't necessarily a criticism. While the series has a couple of heavy-handed "You're watching TV" moments, the western themes are mostly deployed intelligently and don't crowd character development. The exceptions? A gratuitous learn how to ride a horse-like creature sequence and an interminable standoff, with Imperial soldiers doing a lot of standing around on a street outside an Old West looking storefront and the Mandalorian's cohort doing a lot of hand wringing inside.

The State of Science Fiction

"If science fiction is concerned with the future, and our only future now lies within the ever-changing world around us, one can indeed write about the present and consider the results science fiction." Gary Westfahl, from his book William Gibson.

One of the great difficulties of pushing science fiction in 2020 is information fatigue. You can also call it future fatigue, a problem where the oddities and fears we all used to relegate to the future keep piling up in present reality.

In a society with a dearth of technological advances, science fiction is absolutely needed. Consider that the golden age of SF in the US came during the lead up and beginnings of the atomic age and the space age. But when science fiction is reality, what do you do then? You want to return to nature, breathe in some rarefied air, gain the perspective you can only get when you turn off all the devices for a weekend and spend time looking in the glowing embers of a fire. The last thing you probably want to do is pick up a good technothriller about a killer virus from Wuhan that causes already distressed relations between the US and Chinese superpowers to boil over.

Rimi Chatterjee: Love and Knowledge and Yellow Karma

Image result for rimi b chatterjee

The twenty-first century operates on the money-as-value system where one consumes or is consumed. People are nothing if they don’t contribute to the market. Global politics has turned into a complex calculus, with nationalism returning to pre WWII levels led by toxic, tiki-torch toting masculinity. The global village is sick and the globe is sicker, riddled with plastic trash, radioactive waste, and carbon with nowhere to go.

Robert Heinlein maintained that science fiction must put humans in the center of its stories. That axiom has held through the atomic age and has perhaps never been more important than now, a time, as Rimi Chatterjee describes, full of hanyos. Half man and half devil, the hanyo lives for himself and, more to the point, kills for himself, using up people and resources without regard for the future, for sustainable culture, for the inner life.

Rimi Chatterjee is an English professor and Indian SciFi writer, following in the tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin, C. J. Cherryh, and Joanna Russ. She has three published novels, Black Light, The City of Love, and Signal Red. Her novels fuse hard SF with twenty-first century social and economic perspectives. Her writing is rich with the promise of a technologically enhanced future and richer with a compassionate embrace of the human condition.

Dr. Robert Doty's Science Fiction Collection

Dr. Robert Doty was my friend and mentor. I first met him as a boy at Campbellsville University where my dad taught New Testament and Greek in the Christian Studies department. The picture above is from 1991-1992. Years later, I took Dr. Doty as an undergraduate and a Master's student, studying English Literature. While working on a PhD in English Literature, we met regularly to discuss critical approaches to texts.