Saturday, June 22, 2013

Turns Out Metcalfe's Law Works in Reverse, Too

INTO THE ABYSS Documentary By Werner Herzog  

We had this one on our Netflix list for a long time, and we put it off, for obvious reasons. We finally got to it. Here's what we thought:

Metcalfe’s Law says the addition of each node to a network squares the value of the network. E.g. two telephones can make only one connection, five can make 10 connections, and twelve can make 66 connections. In the early Internet days, this law was bandied about in support of the notion the bigger the network, the better.

But what about the qualitative contraverse?

In terms of human relations, Metcalfe’s Law is definitely not true. Adding a few bad apples to an otherwise sound network of family and friend can just as easily destroy the core network – and its peripheral members. That’s what happened here.

In order to steal a cherry red Camaro, two juvenile delinquents, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, kill a housewife, then her son (an acquaintance or friend), and his friend. The prime mover gets capital punishment, his accomplice, 40 years. This documentary recounts the story, and interviews the murderers. It is a story that is, at various times, heartbreaking, naive, and ultimately bizarre. Just like the human animal itself, I guess one could say. There, I said it.


  • In an interview, the murderer recants his earlier confession, and thus disputes all the evidence, DNA and otherwise, while cheerfully averring his “Christian faith.” 
  • While working on his legal case, a woman falls in love with accomplice Burkett, marries him, and carries his child, all the while denigrating “those kinds of women” who fall in love with dangerous inmates to seek attention. She is certain he is innocent – again, all evidence to the contrary, and all the while, primming, touching her hair constantly, and smiling demurely for the camera. 
  • In his last act, the murderer “forgives” the family of his victims for the “atrocity being committed on him.” Wonderfully generous. 
Herzog’s camera stares unblinkingly the whole time, constructing (painfully) long takes, letting it all sink in.

Letting it sink in.

Still waiting for you to let it sink in.

The camera dares you to turn away, and you simply cannot. You are going to follow this thing to the very end, and you know it. This all perhaps sounds very dark, and yes it is, but not in a crushing way, but in an instructive way that depicts the human capacity for self-delusion. We see it, but we don’t believe it.  The perpetrators did it, and they don't even believe it, or so it seems.

And yet, there it is, reality, the elephant in the room.  No one will acknowledge, except the documentarian.

Some of the low-life characters interviewed here call to mind the fiction “Knockemstiff” by Ohio writer Daniel Ray Pollock. You want dark? Unburdened by any ameliorating elements that reality might hold, that one is pitch black.

Saturday, June 01, 2013


“Underlying all the voices I hope you will hear a unifying consciousness, telling the old story of going out and coming home, as if by firelight in a cave, so that the children listening now with upturned faces will know, when their turn comes, that others have gone before and that they are not alone.”—James Tarrant