Archives for posts with tag: progressive

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.

I had an interesting, albeit brief conversation with a particularly radical professor of mine who had recommended I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I had found an audio book version, and would listen to it while I was on the bus, getting groceries, or out for a walk. Meanwhile, while I was at home doing proper reading with words on a page, I was reading the book Germinal by Émile Zola. For those who may not know, both of these book share similar themes: depressingly abused working class families under the heel of oppressive capitalist structures eventually coming to realize that there are alternative solutions to the miseries of their existence. They both go into excruciating detail about the horrors these proletarians endure, and consuming both essentially simultaneously was quite a downer.

The conversation we had ended with her suggesting that the importance of these stories is the solidarity that we revolutionaries can embrace with the disenfranchised of the past. Those who fought before us join the ranks of those who fight at our sides, and together we stand with those who will continue to fight once we tire or fall. Like I said, quite radical. I mean I’m paraphrasing what she said, but the gist is there. We are stronger when we are many.

What I found interesting about this conversation was the undercurrent of broad acceptance of varying beliefs, not all of them “politically correct,” let’s say. Germinal was published in 1885, The Jungle in 1906. The views of men toward women were those that existed before women were even allowed to vote, and the portrayals of those relationships, marriage especially, are not particularly progressive by today’s standards. Domestic abuse was deemed somewhat reasonable, wives were expected to tend the home, proprietorship of female relatives was prevalent, etc. Could a revolutionary today stand next to someone like this?

Though certainly not a foundation of comprehensive political clout, Cracked released a video recently that said no, they couldn’t. They use the example of Bernie Sanders campaigning for an anti-abortion Democrat in a mayoral election. Sanders’s view is that progress can only be made with a Democrat majority, regardless of any singular view of one of its members, and thus is criticized for essentially abandoning the purity that is necessary to advance the approved goals of progressive politics. Those who differ on an issue would sideline the entire movement. If enough compromises are made, for example with pro-lifers, then the majority on that one issue would be lost, and progress on women’s health would be lost along with it.

Then again, there are others who condemn revolutionary purists. According to this view, revolutionaries need to chill the fuck out and stop finding literally everything so “problematic” and focus on large issues rather than day to day minutia. Self-righteous shaming serves only to alienate those who might want to learn and grow within progressive movements, and dogmatic zealotry is quite frankly annoying in anyone, regardless of cause.

The Jungle and Germinal become relevant once more because one must ask where the balance lies between solidarity and purity? Could a feminist today stand next to an unapologetic wife beater in the cause of worker’s rights? If she stands with him, could he be expected to stand with her? Reciprocity in compromise ought to be expected, but certainly in this case it seems unlikely. And should it? Are all causes equally valid to the point where we should stand in solidarity with everyone? Alleged feminists attack Islam on the whole because they believe that it is oppressive to women, and justify attacks on the Middle East based on this premise; is that a proper ally within the feminist movement?

This debate has been around for as long as people have been up in arms over social progress. Bakunin and Marx famously disagreed over the theoretical differences of Communism and Anarchism, which differ about as much as Protestantism and Catholicism; which is to say very little. About as much as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, really. Even within basically the same ideology, humans seem to dismiss solidarity for the sake of indistinguishable purity in almost every instance.

For this reason, traditionalism prevails almost every time. Factions develop almost naturally when change is demanded, and the common denominator among them all is some degree of contentedness with the status quo. Though each aspect may be different (working class males may be content with gender norms; white females may be content with racial disparities, etc.), the bond between every schism is the clenched hold on the way things are. Conservatism wins by default.

Pick your cause. Be specific in your goals, that way you don’t have to be specific with your allies. If your goals are vague, like ending racism, then just about anything can distract from that impossibility. If your goals are to end Stop-And-Frisk, then so long as everyone is on board with that, there are no problems. You might disagree with the person standing next to you on something else, but you’re both there for the same reason which means you’ve already got something in common. That commonality means that conversations will be easier, and conversing could create new allies in other areas, or help reevaluate some of your own beliefs. Purity matters in goals lest the conversation become bogged down by tangents, but it is much less important in ideology. Whatever the reason that someone got to their position is irrelevant, and demanding purity in ideology is characteristic of a cult.

Advancement isn’t going to happen in partisan politics; it will happen in movements driven by people wanting to make change. Sanders is right to an extent that Democrats will achieve more if there are more democrats, and Cracked is right that on a singular issue, diversity may topple that issue. However, letting politicians decide how things ought to be done is a terrible idea. How about we decide what the issues should be, and all we should expect from our politicians is to listen?