Notes from Underground


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White is the new black



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I see a lot of movies, but not as many as I used to see. With age has come discernment. I'm able to tell a lot of things from previews, and thus save myself the trouble of wasting two hours of my life on something that looks dull, unappealing, or annoying.

Previews rarely lie, at least not in one sense. If a preview for a movie looks bad, the movie itself is almost certainly bad too. (The rule doesn't always work in reverse, however; I have seen many previews that prove to be much more entertaining than the movies they're promoting.)

One thing easy to glean from a preview is whether a movie is formulaic. Clichéd plots or story arcs are commonly decried by professional and amateur movie critics: "Oh, another buddy movie; another chick flick; another historical costume epic ..." However, certain narrative clichés are rarely noticed, much less discussed, because we take them to be lively and profound truths instead of tired and superficial formulae. We don't recognize them as propaganda because we've internalized their messages to such a degree that they seem to us self-evident. To understand them objectively would require deprogramming; we would almost need to have a certain computer chip removed from our brains to see things properly. But that chip is wedged in tight; removing it would be painful. Moreover, if we go through with the surgery, and it's taken out, we realize that the brainwashed zombies who still have chips in their heads are going to castigate us as the true freaks.

In the course of my still promiscuous (though more selective) movie-viewing, I've recently been subjected to two particular previews, over and over. I don't plan to see either movie because I already know what's going to happen. Those three minutes of select clips strung together with an enticing narration have told me all I need to know. Now, some may object to my abrupt dismissals of the two movies, since I'm openly and avowedly eschewing any obligation to withhold judgment before seeing each one in its entirety. To those with that complaint, I issue a solemn challenge: if I am wrong in anything I assert below, write me at The Last Ditch and take me to task. I will abjectly apologize and throw myself at the mercy of the court of public opinion, should my insolent presumptions turn out to be false.

The two movies to which I refer are "Pirate Radio" (already in limited release), and "Avatar," which opens December 18. Both represent movie genres that I typically enjoy. "Pirate Radio" is a quirky historical comedy, and "Avatar" is a sci-fi epic. Both movies appear to have some appealing qualities: "Pirate Radio" boasts a comedic turn by the always great Philip Seymour Hoffman; "Avatar" has dazzling special effects and what looks to be some thrilling interplanetary adventure sequences. But ...

As the previews of each movie make clear, both films are tiresome exercises in typical contemporary propaganda dressed up as entertainment. Each follows a script that has been rewritten, with only minor variations, umpteen times in recent years, reflecting a way that our society has been trained to think about itself. Most irritatingly, each purports to be somehow "edgy" or "subversive" when in fact it merely restates a presupposition that everyone imbibes daily, as if it were mother's milk and we all infants.

"Pirate Radio" follows the exploits of a DJ named The Count, in particular his crusade in the mid 1960s to broadcast forbidden rock 'n' roll music to British teens from a ship in international waters, in defiance of the stodgy BBC censors. The film has an endless number of precedents, many of them starring Robin Williams. In such movies, a nice, fun-loving, gutsy protagonist battles an evil, mean, humorless fuddy-duddy. The hero has a quick wit, a smart mouth, and a twinkle in his eye, but there is a purpose behind his mischievousness: he wants to liberate the oppressed from their oppressor and the repressed from their repression.

The villain, on the other hand, is a power-hungry control freak who becomes apoplectic with rage whenever anyone challenges his authority. Moreover, he utterly hates it when anyone, anywhere, appears to be having a good time. He says he believes in "discipline," but he's really a sadist. He claims to represent traditional morality, and like all such people (so implies the movie), he is a wretched hypocrite nursing a legion of secret vices.

The hero in this sort of film delights in baiting the film's villain, and we the audience are requested to applaud the many and varied ways he messes with that contemptible creature, who is deserving of absolutely no sympathy whatsoever. There is, after all, no worse sin than being judgmental or intolerant (unless we are judging one deemed "judgmental" — but it goes without saying that the movie does not encourage us to dwell on that possible source of cognitive dissonance).

That is "Pirate Radio" in a nutshell, or so say my antennae. Hoffman is the hip and happenin' hero; Kenneth Branagh is the cruel, hateful, and emotionally and sexually repressed villain. Previous films with an identical paradigm include "MASH," "Pleasantville," "The Breakfast Club," "Caddyshack," "Real Genius," and of course the Robin Williams self-righteous comedy triptych of "Good Morning Vietnam," "Dead Poets Society," and "Patch Adams."

"Avatar," for its part, follows in a long line of movies that portray white Western civilization as wicked, and non-white primitive savagery as good. The hero in this type of movie is usually a representative of the civilized world, often a soldier, who has become disillusioned. For one reason or another he ends up among an exotic group looked upon as simple, backward, and unworthy by the (again) hypocritical civilized world, who turn out to be nothing but rapacious, exploitative beasts, the true savages, one might say. Meantime, the so-called savages are the truly civilized ones. ("How ironic!" we are expected to tell ourselves, and then congratulate ourselves for being so clever.) It's the exotic primitives who are shown as maintaining peace and living in harmony with nature; they are the ones who possess true wisdom. Dwelling among this noble people, the hero finds himself spiritually reborn. He may even end up defending them when they are attacked by those of his own kind; treason to his race shows the hero's loyalty to humanity.

The total absence of anything resembling nuance in this type of film is striking. It's not enough to suggest that the civilized world has often made terrible mistakes, or that native, indigenous, or "exotic" cultures have frequently suffered oppression or exploitation at the hands of civilized (read: white) nations. No, in fact (this type of movie insists), civilization is all bad, and primitive natives are all good. The civilized world is greedy; the natives are generous. Civilized man is grasping and acquisitive; primitive man only wants to share the land. And he would never dream of trying to conquer it or take it from others. All of those notions are axiomatic; they simply go uncontested and are taken as givens. Other examples of the anti-civilization, pro-primitive paradigm in cinema include "Dances With Wolves," "Pocahontas," The Last Samurai," "Seven Years In Tibet," "Salvador," and "A Dry, White Season," among many others.

Indeed, the only thing unique about "Avatar" appears to be its futuristic, outer-spaced extrapolation of these familiar concepts. Instead of the white man's being cast as the oppressor of the black, brown, or red man, as has been the case in most historical epics, it seems that now mankind as a whole is the oppressor, and the natives of some alien world are the noble primitives.

Again, it is worth pointing out just how mainstream such sentiments are. We are so habituated to them that they scarcely register with us at all, much less as propaganda. That is because the contemporary West has for all practical purposes become the anti-West. Before we are even old enough to walk, talk, or think for ourselves, we are trained to despise our own heritage, history, and institutions. It is endlessly drilled into our head how racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and sexually repressed we are, and how we ought to seek amends for our many transgressions. We have presumed to "civilize" the world, we are lectured, when really we ought only to be receptive (read: supine) before other cultures. We after all have nothing of value to teach them; they have everything to teach us.

Ironies abound. The takeover of the West by anti-Western ideologies has caused Western culture to become its own worst enemy. The political, cultural, and traditional West is never attacked more bitterly than by the once subversive elements who now control most of the culture's institutions. The chickens have come home to roost; the inmates run the asylum, and now it is they who seek to spread their destructive ideologies across the globe.

Meanwhile, one who supports the West's traditional values finds himself in the role of traitor, since treason against the current debased, degraded, and debauched order appears to be the only way to remain loyal to the ideals of our civilization. It is we, not our enemies, who now find ourselves the true avatars and radio pirates. Our enemies are the principalities and powers, we the rebel angels. Up is down, down is up, and white is the new black.

December 16, 2009

© 2009 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

Mr. Nowicki's personal blog is Dyspeptic Myopic, at www.andynowicki.blogspot.com.

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