Sunday, 18 October 2015

Movies and the American Question.

I just finished watching The Hunger Games, it having been recommended to me by my daughter. So what did I think?

Well, on the surface it seemed a typical Hollywood production, an American film made by Americans and aimed at American sensibilities. It’s basically a juxtaposition of violence and sentimentality, as seems to accord with two of the apparently predominant themes in the American psyche.

But I got drawn in as we mostly do when we have somebody to root for. The heroine has all the required credentials: she’s young, physically attractive, resourceful, brave, intelligent, compassionate and virtuous. She’s a poor little poor girl from a mining community modelled, I assume, on West Virginia. She has none of the luxuries or social advantages enjoyed by the elite, and so she’s the underdog who successfully takes on not only her immediate enemies, but more importantly the decadent Establishment which pitted them against her for the purpose of political control and its own amusement.

But then I got to wondering. Why does Hollywood so favour the idea of the underdog taking on the might of an omnipotent Establishment and winning? The highest grossing franchise of all time must surely be Star Wars, and who do we root for? The rebels, of course. The Empire is an evil, controlling force which must be defeated if right is to prevail. Nobody questions that. Why?

Is this simply an echo of American cultural roots, when a small but brave and determined force of colonists took on the might of the British Empire and won? Well, that seems reasonable enough. But how about looking around the world and questioning where the centre of Empire lies now, and who are the rebels? Has the canary become the cat without really noticing the volte-face?

And I’m not trying to be either wise or didactic here, neither is the question meant to be anti-American. The human condition is too complicated for that, and the human animal too self-interested for simplistic judgement. I’m just musing on why the most powerful country on earth which has a proven track record of strutting that power, often with questionable justification, should so favour the idea of David beating Goliath.


Madeline said...

The US was founded on a paradox: "individual liberties" supported on the backs of slaves. If I were a Marxist, I would say that's the role of ideology: to mask reality and in doing so keep people in their place. Americans think they're still rugged, independent frontiersmen (hence the fixation on firearms and distaste for social welfare) when they're really fat, complacent wage slaves. A national mythology upheld by politicians and popular culture helps to perpetuate this mass delusion. That's what I would say if I were a Marxist. I'm not sure yet if I'm a Marxist.

More recently archaeologists have suggested that the role of ideology is not to keep the dominated in their place, but rather to legitimize the ruling class in their own minds. That is, ideology is a myth that the rulers tell themselves about themselves. The dominated class understands how society really works, and make their true allegiances known in subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- acts of resistance, but because the power structure is deeply embedded, it's difficult to make real headway.

This theory has largely been applied to studies of forced labor. I'm not sure it applies to the modern American "wage slave." It seems like it would be easier to grasp the reality of your situation when you're literally held in bondage, and more difficult when you are kept in place by more abstract cultural forces. I'm also not sure how I think about the term "wage slave." It's intentionally provocative so as to make people reconsider the amount of freedom they actually have but it might be more than a little offensive to people who are literal slaves. Then again there's a broad spectrum between the "wage slave" as white collar office worker and the "wage slave" as Filipino factory worker making $2 an hour to make shirts for the white collar office worker.

Hope your absence over the last few days is not due to anything bad, or if it is, that it is temporary.

JJ Beazley said...

Bad? That's subjective, but then I do believe that perception is the whole of the life experience. If it feels bad, it is. Temporary? Let's go for 'chronic with acute interludes.' I don't communicate well during the acute interludes.

Having said which, the fact that you persevere and exercise your erudition so eloquently helps. Did I say you're a brick? Hey.

I wonder whether you should be circumspect in using the M word. I gather there's a senior general over there who wants to introduce internment for those who fail to give total allegiance to the flag and the ideology.

I mentioned you to somebody from the village today while her horse (Rosie) was nuzzling my face. It wasn't easy.