Archives for posts with tag: politics

The maxim that “the personal is political” has been around since its origin in the 1960s feminist movement. It postulates that what happens in one’s personal and private life is actually quite relevant to and influenced by the larger, structural factors at play on a macro scale. But really, everything is political. Mezzo level institutions and organizations are political. Media is political. Neutrality is political. Everything is interconnected, and what happens anywhere is going to be shaped by, and will shape in its own discrete way, the world and its ideology.

When it comes to film and television, the same holds true. In general terms, action and horror films are inherently conservative. I appreciate a wide diversity exists across all genres, and some great films are great because they subvert common tropes, but by and large, action and horror films are inherently conservative. There is some threat to the in-group from an outside force, and the only difference between the two is whether the protagonist goes on the offensive or the defensive. Action films are usually a bit more broad in that the threat is typically to upset the status quo (think of the Joker who wants to change the world, and Batman who wants it to stay the same – Batman’s ‘solution’ to the world’s problems is ultimately to remove all the deviants). Or you can think of Captain America: Civil War which is one long advertisement for libertarianism (don’t let oversight committees hold me accountable; I, as an individual, know best). Horror films are more personal in that the threat is much more intimate. The threat is more overwhelming and overpowering. The viscera is embellished. But the overarching theme between the two is clear: the Other is dangerous, and you better fight or the bogeyman will get you. Think about it this way, conservative politicians and pundits use horror movie rhetoric to justify action movie policies.

They may seem like us, but there is just enough of a difference that their inhumanity is truly revealed

In contrast, adventure films are inherently progressive. The protagonist leaves their comfort zone, goes on their hero’s journey, and learns something from having experienced the different. Consider the original trilogy of Star Wars which would be incredibly problematic by today’s standards of identity politics: every human is white except for the one black guy who is pretty shady. Yet by the end of the story, Luke has found friends, teachers, and allies across a wide range of species with different languages, cultures, and lifestyles. The final confrontation is an overcoming of hatred, and the humanity of the antagonist is very literally revealed when Darth Vader connects with his son in his dying moments. It isn’t an outsider that is the villain of Star Wars, it’s hatred. It’s an ideology that can be overcome through non-violent resistance – Luke wins by refusing to fight.

The politics of a thing doesn’t have to be overt. It can be baked into the structure of the way a story is told. A character can have an exploratory relationship with the different, or it can be a threat. Protagonists in stories are paragons of how to interact with the world, and the way that the storytellers frame that interaction will inherently be political one way or another. Even the really obvious political messages like in Civil War don’t seem obvious because it is the framework of the story shaping the message rather than a character yelling at you that libertarianism is amazing. Though the beard Steve Rogers grows afterward may be telling…

Sharks, the Thanoses (Thanii?) of the sea, being shown here in a radical propaganda film that tells us that even those maligned as unthinkingly violent can be our friends… if we leave our comfort zone

Superficial politics is what is commonly associated with politics in movies today. Movies that base their entire marketing campaign on how much of a woman their protagonist is, or ensure that a minor character is Asian, or show a brief allusion to the existence of homosexuality in the corner of their film: these are what instigate the great political debates of our time.

When a film goes to great lengths to include every identity, it feels hollow. Films are finite, which means they have only so much time for character development, and peppering the screen with diverse, one-line characters is far more tokenistic than it is a genuine political statement. Even a television series doesn’t have enough time to invest in all the colours of the rainbow. Representation is important in films, but tokenism is not representation. Better to have less representation than just a rich tapestry of background characters, and then produce greater depth.

There is just… boy! There is just one of every kind of you, isn’t there?

I’ve written previously about feminist ethics in ‘feminist’ films. In this case I want to look at the politics. Replacing the male lead of an action film with a female doesn’t change the inherently conservative nature of the format. This likely contributes to the intense backlash that these types of films receive from white men: they are no longer presented as the in-group, which means they must be part of the out-group, which means they are closer to the one-dimensionally monstrous villains than to the heroine saving her own status quo. When Captain Marvel destroys the patriarchy with her laser fists, she isn’t creating a new, brighter future because the world she is saving belongs only to the in-group of the comfortable female watching the film from home. The world isn’t actually changed in any meaningful way, it just doesn’t have Jude Law in it anymore. The dynamic of the out-group threat remains the same; it is simply the content that is shifting. Here the narrative is exulting my elimination, and it doesn’t feel all that great. Hence, backlash.

Jonathan Haidt paints purity as an inherently conservative virtue, and I agree that it is, but it exists within progressive circles as well. When the left cancels itself on Twitter because someone isn’t being the perfect incarnation of allyship, that is the same manifestation of out-group exclusion found in any conservative diatribe. Framing old, white men as the dastardly fiends to be destroyed by a quick-witted teenage white girl and her motley crew of minority friends and LGBT acronyms is a shallow political message of identity and a deeper presentation of group categorization. The categories may be new and turn traditional categorization on its head, but the process remains the same.

A girl!? Inventing things!? Harumph and such!

Superficial politics in media will never change anyone’s mind because it isn’t intending to. It’s probably encouraging further divisiveness because conservative ideology is inherently divisive. Its intentions are to make money. Is it such a shock that billion dollar corporations aren’t actually as progressive as they pretend to be? Controversy breeds money, and enough people buy into shallow political pandering to turn a profit because they’re thrilled to be a part of an in-group for once, and their political education has come from triple-digit character count polemics on social media. Plus it pisses off the alt-right, and therefore it must be good! This kind of film will continue to be made so long as this continues to be the state of our world. If Fox News really wanted to end this manufactured culture war, they’d just stop ranting about it, and it would probably go away. I guess they have their own ratings to consider.

The thing is, though, more people probably learned how to open up to the outside world and fight against fascism from Star Wars than they did from the Ghostbusters remake. Ideology has a place in film, but it needs good storytelling to be effective. The right complains about Hollywood’s conversion to ‘woke’ culture, but progressive ideals have always found their home in fiction. The issue is panderous, bad writing and tired conservative tropes dressed up in progressive clothing that are alienating to the new out-group.

My political activism involves liking movies with really rabid comment sections on their YouTube trailers

I like action movies. Batman is my favourite superhero, and I thought Civil War was better than Infinity War. I dislike horror movies for the most part, but not for the reasons listed here. You can enjoy things and ignore the politics within them, but that doesn’t mean that the politics aren’t there. Those who don’t recognize them are going to be much more susceptible, and that sounds ominous, but it goes both ways. Maybe people will learn to be kind to strangers if they saw it in a movie once? There is a difference between good politics and bad politics, despite what those evil, relativistic postmodernists think!! Good politics represented as preachy and tokenistic only reinforces bad politics. Good politics embedded in a good story will go infinitely further.

Joe Biden has gone on the record to declare, like many US presidents before him, that Israel has the right to defend itself. And of course it does! If zombie Hitler rose from the grave to lead an undead Fourth Reich into the heart of Israel to finish the job, then yes, Israel should do its best to save humanity from the zombie Nazis. We would all be counting on them! However, now that 2020 is over and the likelihood of this event has dwindled, we have to look at the cold reality.

Hamas is firing rockets into Israel. That’s obviously a bad thing, so maybe Israel does have the right to retaliate against journalists, and the right to ensure that children are just under one third of all Palestinian deaths. Given that life expectancy in the area is so short that the median age is about 21 years old, it’s just statistically likely that there would be disproportionately younger victims. It’s simple math! But wait! Why is life expectancy so short in Palestine? Now a lot of folks don’t like talking about that because that means you’re bringing context into the conversation. Context would require us to look at what happened before Hamas started firing rockets into Israel, and if we do that, then maybe it doesn’t look so much like defense after all…

The body of a Palestinian child, killed during an Israeli airstrike, is carried to Al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip, Palestine, on May 13, 2021. Photo: Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Oh shit! Context!

What had happened just before the rockets was a police raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. There were a whole bunch of Muslims praying there because, you know, Islam, and it’s the third holiest site of Islam, and it’s the month of Ramadan, so some Muslims wanted to do some praying. At the same time, some Israelis wanted to do some celebrating of Jerusalem Day to commemorate their invasion and occupation of the area back in 1967. Since the mosque is technically owned by the Muslims (though the grounds are patrolled by Israeli forces), the police banned the revelers from the area. They decided to plan their parade anyway. The police opened fire on the Muslim worshippers with rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades; the worshippers were, at most, throwing rocks. If you were wondering, those revelers were still able to enjoy their party as flames leapt over the mosque! It’s not a great look.

East Jerusalem wasn’t bent out of shape for no reason, either. In the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, Israelis were doing their best to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes in order to claim them for themselves. It’s not like the Palestinians were behind on their rent or anything; the Israeli settlers just wanted to take their homes. So they did.

“If I don’t steal it, someone else will!” Well, they might, but it’s unlikely they would be an Arab.

We’re trying to look at context, so what’s the context of all this? What happened before? Well it started with the Nakba, or the ‘Catastrophe’, where over 700 000 Palestinians left or were kicked out of their land when Israel first became a thing in 1948. There were likely some atrocities to encourage them to leave, but these are being hidden by Israeli authorities. It’s pretty straight forward really. The British gave Jewish people a homeland thanks to the Balfour declaration, but it’s not like the land they were ‘giving away’ was empty (the British had also promised the land to the Arabs for helping them out with another thing, but you know, who gives a shit I guess?). Also, what’s the morality of a colonial empire ‘giving away’ land that it only ‘owns’ in an exploitative context? Anyway, the whole thing was a shit show, and all the Arabs in the area were kind of pissed for pretty obvious reasons.

In 1967, Israel decided to expand. To give a bit of nuance, a bunch of neighbouring countries were lining up military forces along Israel’s border, and overall tensions in the Middle East were high (the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees roaming around didn’t help, and Arabic countries kept trying to invade Israel to undo the crime they believe had been committed). However, Israel attacked first and attacked hard. To be clear in the context of this blog’s title, defense is not aggression. In about six days, Israel drove beyond its borders, and then annexed a bunch of the land it had invaded. Israel tripled in size at the further expense of the surrounding Arab countryside. This was (and still is) hella illegal under established international law, and the United Nations passed Resolution 242 to point out that you can’t just invade and take people’s land if you’re trying to establish peace in the Middle East. For comparison, when Russia annexed the Republic of Crimea, everybody got mad and imposed a bunch of sanctions even though Russia said that since Crimea was part of the USSR back in 1991 and had been a part of Russia since about 1783, it was entitled to have it back. Israel claims that because Jewish stories talk about a holy land, they have similar entitlement. I wonder if there’s a movement to sanction Israel, or at least boycott or divest investments…

Your laws mean nothing to me!

I’m not a historian, and I don’t advise utilizing this blog as any kind of historical education. There is much more to this story, and Israel arguably became a much safer country for its citizens after the 1967 expansion. The issue isn’t really related to traditional geopolitical affairs, but much more the creation and expansion of an ethno-state. Jews have what’s called a Right of Return that allows any diasporic Jewish person to easily immigrate to Israel; the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that were displaced during its creation do not because Israel is a democracy and they don’t want non-Jewish voices influencing their political decisions. The overwhelming desire is to maintain a Jewish ethno-state. As an example, in 2018, it was enshrined in law that only Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel; Arabs in Israel, who also lost the official recognition of their language in the same bill, apparently do not. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have no political voice whatsoever in Israel, despite Israel maintaining militarized checkpoints and controlling imports throughout the region.

This control manifests in many harmful ways. Checkpoints limit Palestinian ability to go to the hospital, go to a school outside of one’s ‘zone’, attend a funeral, whatever you can think of, because these checkpoints involve navigating hostile military police that can occasionally prove fatal. Israel also controls the water supply of Palestine and deprives them of this life-sustaining liquid. Israel actually illegally takes water out of Palestine to supply its own citizens. Palestinians only receive the aid that Israel allows, and with restrictions on fishing and lack of water, the food supply doesn’t do too well either. With Covid, despite Israel leading the world by having vaccinated 60% of its population, Palestinians aren’t doing nearly that well. They’re at about 5%. The conditions are so bad that the United Nations predicted that the land would be “uninhabitable” by… actually, according to their predictions, it already is.

Seems totally habitable!

Palestinians quite frequently rise up against Israel. They’re doing it right now, even, as I write this. Israel’s policy usually involves what is called “mowing the lawn“: when Palestinians get a little too uppity, the Israeli military will just come in and kill a whole bunch of them until they quiet down again. Even when Palestinians are protesting peacefully and unarmed, Israeli soldiers have been documented cheering on a sniper using them for target practice (the unit was reprimanded for taking a video, not for shooting unarmed protesters, if you were wondering). This ‘self-defense’ results in really disproportionate harms.

Palestinians aren’t too keen on all that stuff I mentioned above (and more – remember this isn’t an exhaustive blog), and Israel doesn’t want to give up its ethno-state. Really, it wants to keep expanding its illegal settlements into Palestinian territory to manifest the shit out of its destiny. Options are often framed as a binary between one and two-state solutions, but another, less discussed option is the perpetuation of a status quo that involves the gradual annexation of the surrounding territory and expulsion/extermination of the Palestinians living there.

It’s going well!

The world is trying to establish a degree of accountability. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking to investigate potential war crimes committed by Israel when they were “mowing the lawn” back in 2014 (see statistics above). Hamas will also be investigated, but again, the statistics point to fairly disproportionate moral responsibility. The UN routinely attempts to condemn and interrupt Israel’s more pernicious behaviour, but the United States keeps stepping in to veto them. They’re even doing it again for the current crisis – 53 vetoes and counting! The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement calls for non-violent intervention against Israel in a manner comparable to the successful international intervention that ended South African apartheid. However, in the United States, they’ve legislated against this kind of protest across the country, some places requiring professionals to sign an oath to never support the BDS movement lest they lose their job. In Canada, we’ve used our hate speech laws to stifle the BDS movement here at home as well. Elected Israeli officials offer no support either, and ‘alternate Prime Minister‘ Benny Gantz zealously seeks to develop illegal settlements with equal vigor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention. According to Human Rights Watch, what Israel is doing amounts to apartheid, but nobody ever seems able to do anything about it! Is firing rockets into Tel Aviv the best solution? Probably not, but the options available are quite limited.

Israeli violence against Palestinians cannot be considered defensive because it is an occupying colonial state – any violence is inherently an enforcement of its own hegemony. Even if Palestinians, or Hamas, or whomever, were to attack without ‘provocation’ which might necessitate ‘defense’, it’s hard to truly condemn insurrection based on the context of its evolution. We don’t cheer the explosion of Alderaan just because rebel forces might have attacked imperial storm troopers at a check point. Typical watchings result in rooting for the rebels.

The Death Star has the right to defend itself

To finish off, I’d like to quickly go over some of the counter arguments that I’ve seen in defense of Israel:

“Don’t you get it? Israel needs to bomb schools, hospitals, residential apartment buildings, media offices, and critical infrastructure because that’s where Hamas is hiding all their weapons and terrorists!!” The evidence that’s provided by the Israeli military about where Hamas might be holding its WMDs is often quite dubious. But let’s say for the sake of argument that the average, non-combatant citizen is so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause that they’re willing to let Hamas store weapons in the schools where children go to learn their ABCs (or the Arabic equivalent). Hamas is accused of using civilians as human shields, that’s part of the ICC investigation described above. Are people consenting to this? What does it say about the occupation that there are so many collaborators hidden among the Palestinian population? Maybe the depths that people are willing to go to resist Israel’s apartheid isn’t the slam dunk argument you think it is.

“Why does the left support Palestine?! Muslims hate gays, and the left LOVES the gays!! They’re all terrorists and Israel is doing what it can to keep order in a land filled with terrorists!!” Ah, I see you have chosen… racism. Demonizing a group of people as bogeymen to justify violent oppression against them is bad. No group is a monolith, and it’s quite dehumanizing to categorize them as such: hence, racism. Funny thing about racism, though: Israel is actually used as a template by some far right white supremacists for the ‘handling’ of minorities. The idea of an ethno-state is quite palatable to racists everywhere, and Israel certainly fits that bill. You can just ask Richard Spencer.

“Palestine wasn’t even a place when Israel was created! It was Syria and Jordan! It’s not their land!!” It was a territory of the British called Mandatory Palestine. Palestine has a long history of being associated with the region even if it was never established as an independent nation. It’s essentially irrelevant though: are you suggesting that they moved there from these other countries? Pretty sure the whole ordeal arises from the fact that these people were already there when was Israel was created, completely irrespective of what they were called. The problem doesn’t change! Let’s say they were truly stateless, does that mean they deserve the treatment they’re getting now? This one boggles my mind because like, this group doesn’t deserve dignity because the name doesn’t align with your understanding of history?

“You’re just being anti-Semitic! Why do you hate Jews so much!?” This is an obscenely common refrain when criticism of Israel arises, regardless of context. It’s offensive because it equates Judaism with the modern state of Israel (remember from earlier that no group is a monolith?). Plenty of Jewish organizations and individuals reject Israeli oppression. Hell, I would even go so far to say that criticism of Israel doesn’t even need to be considered anti-Zionist. Some Zionists need their Messiah to arrive before Israel can be founded, and see the secular institution of the nation as outside of their religious beliefs. Some Zionists don’t even recognize the current incarnation as a state!

Can’t we all just get along!?

Israel is in the midst of more lawn maintenance. What Palestinians are doing is fighting for their lives. This isn’t a ‘conflict’, or whatever milquetoast term some news organizations will use to try to be ‘neutral’ in their headlines, because that implies equitable forces on both sides. It’s a violent enforcement of apartheid being resisted by a group that doesn’t have many good options. Questions of ‘defense’ and ‘rights’ are often heavily loaded. When we look at all the context, the question shouldn’t involve such abstractions at all. What we should really be asking is: do Palestinians have the right to be alive?

When people think of Canada, they think of hockey, needless apologizing, and Tim Horton’s coffee because associating national identity with a corporation couldn’t possibly be the worst idea ever. None of these are things I would call “values,” however. Canadian values are a funny thing. Mostly because Canada is an abstract social construct that only has the meaning humanity gives it, and as a social construct, cannot actually have values. It’s like saying money has values. Usually this is why the concept of Canadian values doesn’t come up very often. The only people silly enough to consistently ascribe values to their nation are Americans, and that’s mostly due to the fact that America has been desperately trying to anthropomorphize itself throughout its entire history.

crying eagle

Things Americans value, as depicted by this image: weeping openly, nature, and destroying their own flag

But north of the border, we do try every now and again. Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to dictate “shared values” that supersede any nationalistic urges, claiming that, “openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice” are what unite us, rather than any hard-line Canadian identity. It sounds nice, right? I’m not Canadian because of any geographic truth about my birth and current living locale (the traditional construct of nation being the socially agreed upon borders drawn haphazardly across the globe which demarcate which laws you are compelled to follow), but now I’m Canadian because of my patriotic adherence to this list that Trudeau made up… or had written for him. Either way, it’s essentially nonsense.

However, when most people think about Canadian values, they think of Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s “Canadian Values Test” which would forbid any incoming immigrants and refugees from entry lest they agree to certain “values;” values presumably widely contrasted to any Liberal leader’s version of them. The lunacy of pan-Canadian values aside, people were mostly in favour of broad, incredibly vague, yet still hypocritical values being enforced at the border.

border crossing

We are open, compassionate, just, and respectful people. You need to be just like us in order to come in. (Yes, I know this is the American border under Trump. We have our own hypocrisies, they’re just more difficult to find in a Google Image Search relevant to immigrants or refugees)

Why is there pressure from political organizations to promote absolute values within the citizenry? It makes no sense from a practical viewpoint. Laws are the enforceable side of values, but nobody is going to go beyond that to enforce “openness” and “respect” as laws because more often than not those spouting these platitudes are those most likely to disregard them. They’re also impossible to define. Is it respectful to respect a woman’s right to choose, or to respect the life which began at conception? Values are individualistic and subjective to the point where they are entirely meaningless on any kind of macro scale.

Politicians and their pundits aren’t actually speaking about values when they discuss values because, as discussed, that is a meaningless prospect. What they are talking about is purity. Values aren’t the thing; everyone being the same is the thing. We want a country that is untainted by foreign aspects that will defile the sanctity of our nation. We only want those who are like us. We don’t want to be infested by those… types. If this sounds like dog-whistle racism, well, who can say?

purity

Can you imagine some foreign elements contaminating this water? Society is just like that. If anything foreign is introduced, it poisons us all. It’s not racism. This metaphor is incontrovertible.

Purity has its defenders. Jonathan Haidt suggests that the divide between conservatives and liberals is predicated on their different moral foundations. Liberals predominantly adhere to a creed of reducing harm and emphasizing fairness, while conservatives focus on harm and fairness as well, but introduce respect for authority, in-group coherence, and purity into their moral baseline. This is why the harrumphing about “values” usually comes from conservative talking points.

Except coming up with something that conservatives typically agree on and deciding that must make it “moral” (a surprisingly relativistic understanding of morality, considering the accusations of relativism usually come from the conservative aisle) isn’t ethically valid. Morality is the systemic regulation of our relationship to the Other. Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas states that our individual freedom must justify itself in the face of the Other. “Morality begins when freedom, instead of being justified by itself, feels itself to be arbitrary and violent.” All alone, morality cannot exist and our actions are infinitely free, but when we come across someone new, we realize that our actions mean something in a relationship, and the ignorance of that relationship can only be exploitative. Purity is the necessary exclusion of the Other. It literally cannot be a moral foundation because it precludes the very existence of a moral relationship.

people interacting

In order for me to interact morally with you, I need a “you” to interact with

Unfortunately, politicians bring up values to pander to immoral standards of social purity because they don’t want to talk about the stuff that actually matters: policy decisions. The more we’re all talking about abstract, unfounded notions of pan-national values, the less we’re talking about taxes, environmental policy, and the housing crisis. I don’t have to promise something that you can call me out on when I fail to deliver; I just need to stroke your underlying xenophobic fears, and I’ll get elected. All I need is the right kind of rhetoric. If my polling numbers go down, I can just ramp up the rhetoric because rhetoric doesn’t require any kind of meaningful follow through.

So. What have we learned. Purity is the opposite of morality. Macro-level values are meaningless. And if anyone ever brings up these things in a political debate, it’s because they¬†really don’t want to be talking about the concrete things they’re actually planning on doing. Also they’re probably a smidge racist.