Archives for posts with tag: propaganda

The war in Afghanistan began with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power, and ended with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power. Sisyphus rolled his Katamari Damacy boulder up the mountain, and it rolled right back down again. The absurdity of the war is obvious on its face, but there is a desperation to find meaning within it that would make Camus blush. Though it’s somewhat old news by now, during the American withdrawal, there was all sorts of noise about how Western forces were abandoning their Afghan comrades to the brutality of the Taliban.

I am not trying to diminish the severity of what the Taliban has done and will continue to do with those dissenting under its rule. My glibness comes as a result of the crocodile tears shed over the bodies of those slain during the withdrawal from the war that ignore the over a hundred thousand bodies that accumulated preceding it. Losing a war is bloody; that’s the reality of war. If you don’t like it, maybe question the war itself rather than the means of its end.

The realities of war

The tears come from the bipartisan desire to create meaning in a pointless war: if there are good Afghans to save, it means that the war produced good Afghans worth saving. Nobody would have given a shit about them otherwise; the West would be much more inclined toward taking refugees if there was a heartfelt belief that we need to create a safe haven for those fleeing violence and persecution. The sad irony is that those whose freedom from the Taliban was being demanded were those who had aligned themselves with the invaders, cementing the linking of a “good” Afghan with their complicity in the war.

Another central tenet that the war in Afghanistan was meaningful is the women’s liberation that the war provided. Some women were able to go to school, and therefore 20 years of death, torture, and war crimes are vindicated. Those women are worse off now than they were before; again, no argument, but finding miniscule acts of success to justify what is otherwise 20 years of pointless war is incredibly ignorant. In actuality, using war to generate feminism is more likely to produce a nation of incels who see feminism as cancer than an Islamic Feminine Mystique.

Thanks, Betty Friedan!

Using feminism as justification for the war in Afghanistan, and gesturing loosely toward the mostly urban women who benefited, pointedly ignores the majority of women who live in rural settings where most of the war took place. Afghan women were certainly not benefitting from the war when they and their families were dying from it. The quick rise of the Taliban points to a nation hungry for incel-logic; Afghanistan may actually be worse off than it was 20 years ago from the perspective of democratic and liberal reformation due to the brutality used allegedly in its name. Sisyphus’s boulder fell back down the mountain and into a ravine. The West tried to viciously impose liberal secularism in Iran with the Shah, and he too was violently overthrown by a virulently religious fundamentalist group. Any positive regard held for Western ideals is just as dead as all the rest of them.

The war made Afghanistan worse, and for what? The bipartisan narrative adopted in much of the media paints the picture of a blundering but ultimately benevolent force trying so hard to do good but occasionally failing in simple but horrific ways. Like if Rocky Balboa knocked out Apollo Creed in the first round, but because his eyes were all bruised up and he couldn’t see, he wandered into the crowd and begun striking civilians at random. At home we’re watching and thinking, no! Rocky! If only Mickey had cut you so you could see! We are helpless as Rocky bludgeons old women and children in his missteps. Then, after the crowd boos too loudly for too long, we lament Rocky leaving, shaking our heads at the blows he receives on his way out the door. Meanwhile, Apollo Creed has gotten up and dusted himself off, and being the only one left standing in the ring, claims victory.

YO AMERICAAAAAAAA!

We could still love Rocky after such a blunder. It’s forgivable. But that’s not how war works. The better analogy would be if Rocky was at a bus stop where Apollo Creed was reading a newspaper, and Rocky was like, “I heard you hate women!” and then pulled out a gun and shot him. Then he wandered away from the bus stop to a nearby wedding reception and shot up the guests. And he did so with eyes wide open.

The West knew what was going on in Afghanistan. They’re actively preventing themselves from being held accountable to international law. We’ve had whistleblowers point out the war’s criminality to us repeatedly and they’re all being punished for it by both American political parties. And for what? For what? For literally no reason. Terrorism didn’t go away; Al-Qaeda evolved into ISIS-K. Afghanistan is fully red pilled. America wanted war instead of justice, the rest of the West went along with it, and this is what we’re left with.

Cartoons make the villains easy to spot!

I’ve purposefully avoided talking about the military-industrial complex and how the reason for the war is obviously all the money that was made by the defense contractors and weapons manufacturers. It’s not that I disagree, it’s that we don’t have a smoking gun pointing to that level of Machiavellianism, and I want to be as convincing as possible. The war is provably pointless in a way that ought to make us reflect on why it ever happened in the first place. When there is no justification for a war, it’s a lot easier to compare it to straight-up murder. The war in Afghanistan was criminal. Those who participated in it are criminals. Anyone saying otherwise is covering up a crime.

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.

You ever notice how incredibly stupid the idea of individualism is? It’s essentially saying, “I’m going to make it on my own in this crazy world, and I’m going to do it wholly dependent on literally everyone around me.” We depend on our bus drivers to get us from point A to point B, and if we drive, we depend on our car manufacturer to provide that same function. We depend on our grocers to sell us food, who in turn depend on wholesalers, truck drivers, farmers, and so on, in order for them to get the food to sell us in the first place. We depend on strangers on the street to not stab us for no reason as we go about our day. We depend on our roommates to cover their share of rent. We depend on our actors to provide us entertainment. We depend on our athletes to provide vicarious exercise for our slovenly lifestyles.

But wait, you might say! I make my own money, and I use that money to induce others to perform those tasks for me! I am independent! But alas, no, you’re not. You depend on someone to pay you. It is perfectly conceivable to imagine a world where your employer decides not to pay you, or pays you insufficiently for what you’re worth, and then you become dependent on lawyers, judges, and the legal system in order to obtain redress. It’s also quite reasonable to suppose that there could be those you induce to take your money who do not then provide their service at all, or do an insufficient job. I suppose you could say that you could induce fair labour treatment using only the threat of the violence you personally could commit, but I can’t imagine a society like that ever thriving.

We depend on loved ones for comfort. We depend on our mentors for guidance. We depend on strangers for security. Like I said, we depend on literally everyone around us for literally everything we do. Others too depend on us in turn. You can’t criticize collectivism on the basis that it eliminates human individuality because human society¬†is a collective. It can’t function otherwise! Certainly people are individuals with their own unique traits, but they exist in a collective within which they depend on others for absolutely everything. Individuality only serves to add colour and diversity within the collective, but it cannot possibly act as a substitute or civilization would crumble into dust.

So why do people so ravenously defend this ludicrous idea? Well, if you look at every movie, you’ll see a lone figure who abides by (his) own rules because society could not exist without (him) to keep it afloat. Sometimes it will be a small group, but generally even then there will be one (male) who stands above the rest who is the most individual of them all. We see it as social progress when that one individual is black, or female, or even a black female, though there are those who decry even that, as God forbid a woman be a lone heroine who stands outside the common rules of society to show how inadequate they are. Now I kind of want Hollywood to remake a bunch of John Wayne movies with a female protagonist. Sure it’s hypocritical of me because I’m calling it individualist propaganda in this very paragraph, but just imagine how many people it would piss off. Totally worth it.

It’s why we focus on Martin Luther King Jr. alone, despite the massive community organizing that propped him up. The Civil Rights movement wasn’t an individual, it was a collective (a movement is, by definition, a collective), but that is a narrative rarely heard. Gandhi had millions of people alongside of him, and he didn’t do all that work on his own. We love our generals, despite them being completely worthless without a collective surrounding them functioning smoothly and efficiently.

This leads us to our next question: why would nearly every piece of media perpetuate asinine individualist propaganda that doesn’t make any sense when given two seconds of casual thought? The answer, as always, is capitalism. People will be less inclined to complain if we can blame them as individuals for not pulling up their bootstraps hard enough to get out of poverty, even though, again by definition, the collective is responsible for that very situation. If we disconnect people from the intrinsic connection of human community, they won’t band together in support of that very community. Keep people distanced from one another, and they’ll be more likely to connect to things rather than to each other.

If we recognized the basic structure of civil society as a collective, we would be guided toward a more democratic method of organizing the mechanisms within it. Compassion would replace greed, as greed is individual whereas compassion necessitates an other. Communities would be measured by the success of the whole, not the success of its smallest minority. I’m not advocating a Utopian ideal, just an inclination toward a more natural social order.

Post-script: There will be those who criticize collectivism as willing to sacrifice the individual for the sake of the group. You have to keep in mind that we already do sacrifice individuals for the sake of the group; it’s called the justice system. We put people in jail who disrupt civil order. It’s not uncontroversial. The bigger concern, from what I’ve witnessed in individualist philosophies, is the willingness to sacrifice groups for the sake of the individual.