Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Book Reviews: The Big Shiny Prison, Fortress Europe, Return To Fortress Europe (Ryan Bartek, Anomie Press) by Dave Wolff

The Big Shiny Prison (Anomie Press, 2016)
Fortress Europe: (The Big Shiny Prison Volume II) (Anomie Press, 2016)
Return To Fortress Europe (The Big Shiny Prison Volume III) (Anomie Press, 2023)
Written by Ryan Bartek
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Goodreads
I was inspired to begin writing about these books no sooner than I had begun reading them. For a seemingly endless period of time, I experienced whitewashed pressure to conform to the social structure that author Ryan Bartek rejects as a way of life. Such is the strength and conviction behind his “Big Shiny Prison” series that if you find yourself experiencing similar pressure to any degree, regardless of age, reading it creates a sufficient paradigm shift to break that indoctrination and view your surrounding world from other perspectives, creating an approach to journalism that hasn’t been tried before.
With the expression of Jack Kerouac, the autobiographical theme of Henry Miller and the realism of Hunter S. Thompson, Ryan Bartek eschews the American Dream for its ivory tower absurdity. Instead of taking the route of mainstream music magazines in interviewing bands and presenting the same rehashed information, he travels America and Europe like a modern day beat poet, years after this breed of humans seemed extinct. He meets known, respected figures in alternative subcultures including metal and punk underground scenes, speaking with them on a one to one basis and defying traditional journalism in his presentation of their views.
In an age of extreme yellow journalism, spin propaganda and less opportunity than ever for critical thought, when anyone expressing an opinion others find offensive essentially becomes an unperson, Bartek's writings are more necessary today than they were during the Reagan and Bush eras. His brutal realism remains a threat to middle and upper America as it exhorts readers to go beyond hack journalism and mainstream generalizations. But he’s not trying to piss people off as much as to appeal to the readers out there who are still thinking, shatter remaining lethargy and urge them to perceive with their own minds.
Bartek's interviews with musicians, artists, freaks and odd men out would take weeks to digest, especially since everyone has their own unique perspective. There is no sugarcoating or whitewashing, nor preaching about trying to change to better oneself, and his stark descriptions of the places he travels are equally raw and unromantic. This is the first written account of its kind I have encountered since Peter Kalafatis’ 2006 novel “A Rebel Life: Murder By the Rich,” which blows a hole in the illusion of the American Dream by juxtaposing the author’s “straight life” with his late brother’s experiences with drug addiction.
Each of these volumes delves deeper into the underworld of life in the United States and abroad. From metal, punk, alternative rock, and industrial scenes, he explores contemporary radical movements such as Occupy, and concludes by discussing the fabled Bohemian Grove. Despite their unvarnished accuracy in reflecting a world increasingly battle-scarred due to 9/11, the Covid pandemic, religious intolerance, book bannings, and the threat to world peace presented by Vladimir Putin, these volumes have potential to open the general public's eyes to the impact these events have on people who remain staunchly committed to freedom of expression.
The most extensive, in-depth critiques of Bartek's work would barely scratch the surface of what he attempts to accomplish. But it's intelligently written and arranged, and just reading it all in one sitting will have the effect of shredding your mind, but tearing apart your preconceptions about modern society will also give you the feeling that you have gained some knowledge that you had never imagined possible. This is where the real revolutions begin to take place. –Dave Wolff

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