The “Great White Hope” and the spread of U$ capitalist hegemony

As I continue to learn more about the world around me, becoming more a fire-breathing Marxist, by reading more Marxist theory and applying it to the world as it exists, I’ve been watching a number of new (and old) films, and listening to music, specifically the whole playlist of the Black rhythmical genius, Gil Scott-Heron, which I updated last year on my faltering YouTube channel. While I will write about control of information by social media outlets in this post, I will explain how films made by Hollyweird push forward a certain ideology, which fits with their evident collaboration with the CIA and the Pentagon, another form of their propaganda hoisted onto the masses. As fellow Marxist thinker Michael Parenti rightly put it in his book, Dirty Truths, “the mass media are class media,” although there is more at play than just that, in a time when “human rights” are distorted in the name of imperialism. In this post there are spoilers, but I doubt most readers people will watch these movies, apart from Sorry to Bother You. In order to fully address this topic, I have divided this article into seven sections:

And then we get to the first section of this article, which gives one a basis in Marxist theory, allowing for entrance into this topic at an informed position.

Hollyweird and cultural hegemony

Hollyweird, as conservatives and Gil Scott-Heron prominently call it, and its profit model fits right into Antonio Gramsci‘s conception of cultural hegemony. He argued that “organic” intellectuals organize relationships to benefit the dominant class (either the bourgeoisie or proletariat), trouncing the “traditional” intellectuals who hold a “long-time monopoly on religious ideology, bonded to schools, education, morality, and other societal values.” For both the bourgeoisie and proletariat, they choose specialized individuals who organize relationships to benefit their class, specifically consisting of “organic” and “traditional” intellectuals, with the former type often being nationalistic. Both types of intellectuals operate in what Gramsci called the two levels of society, also called the superstructure: civil society and political society, with the dominant group (either the bourgeoisie or proletariat) exercising hegemony over society and/or through the state, with their deputies, the intellectuals, trying to garner “spontaneous” consent given by the masses to the general direction the dominant group has “imposed on social life.” In my previous article on cultural hegemony, I argued that the producers of The Simpsons constituted organic intellectuals, as they are not those who “serve as organizers of “masses of men,” “confidence” in their business, consumers in their product, and so on.” This is because the latter group would constitute the so-called “captains of industry” or the  capitalists themselves, allowing PR people to serve as such organizers and gain “confidence” in their business (and brand). Rather, organic intellectuals enforce the hegemony of those above them, with a particular division of labor while the bourgeoisie dominates, subjugating and “liquidating” antagonistic views, with these intellectuals possibly coming from private associations. At the same time, the organic intellectuals of the proletariat can come from political parties or other institutions of a proletarian nature. Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Kim Il Sung, Thomas Sankara, and many others, would be examples of such organic intellectuals in the annals of human history who have been on the side of the proletariat. However, there are likely no “traditional” intellectuals among the proletariat, as they mainly serve as clergy and other religious figures. As it stands today in our capitalist world, those who exercise the dominant ideology through social institutions, such as banks, universities, TV stations, newspapers, film studios, police departments, courts, prisons, legislatures, and private associations, to name a few, are the bourgeoisie, working to “socialize people to consent” to their dominance. This is done in order to ensure that the masses accept the “beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values and moral norms” of capitalism itself, keeping the bourgeoisie in power, in control.

You may ask, how does this relate to Hollyweird? Well, with producers in Hollyweird, whether in film, TV, or some other form of media, constituting “organic” intellectuals, they are cementing relationships which benefit the bourgeoisie and enforce capitalist hegemony. However, while Elon Musk can be called a visionary and a “thought leader,” he is just a capitalist out for the bottom line, not an “organic” intellectual. Those who are intellectuals, in this case, are the deputies of the bourgeoisie, not the bourgeoisie itself.

The “Great White Hope”: Looking at Back to the Future and Forrest Gump

Some recent films I have watched directly enforce this hegemony. The first one I will cover is the cult classic, Back to the Future, a 1985 sci-fi film directed by Robert Zemeckis, a Chicago-born White male who came to be known as a person who was “well attuned to the nuances of framing and camera movement…fluent and innovative in the visual language of the movies” or what IMDB calls a “whiz kid with special effects.” [1] However, Zemeckis would not be the “organic” intellectual, but rather the movie’s producer, Steven Spielberg would serve this role, although Zemeckis would later end up in this role as he was also a producer during his career, along with being a writer and editor at other points. The movie’s plot is simple: Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) is a White male 17-year-old who doesn’t care about high school, with the strict school administrator, Mr. Strickland (played by James Tolkan), hating his guts. He accidentally gets sent thirty years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, “mad scientist” Doc. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd), a White guy who kinda looks like Bernie Sanders. The movie is racist almost from the start: the uranium Doc. Brown bought for his time machine is from “Libyan terrorists” whom he paints as a bunch of goofs, but shoot him down in front of Marty, in a mall. Later, when Marty travels back to 1985, after succeeding in his time traveling mission, the Libyans crash their minivan into a shack, which lights up in flames, killing both “Libyan terrorists.” This is talked about by the late Jack Shaheen (of Lebanese descent) in his wonderful book, Reel Bad Arabs, which was later turned into a short film. While I don’t remember exactly what he wrote in his entry for the movie, as I don’t have the book in front of me, I do remember him talking about this main racist element in the movie.  The dumb thing about this early onset racism in the movie as there is nothing which necessitates the “terrorists” be Libyan. They could have been angry, White men, just as easily! But, the producers and writers decided they should be Libyan, possibly because they were painted as “terrorists of the week” by the media,but also shows their inherent racism within their thinking.

This is compounded by the setting of the movie itself: a literal White person’s fantasy. There is only one prominent Black person in the whole film, Goldie Wilson, played by Donald Fullilove. [2] Everyone else is White, literally. When Marty goes back to 1955, it is worse: Goldie, who was the town’s mayor in 1985, is a janitor in a restaurant, ordered around by an angry White boss. Every other character is White. Basically, this means that Goldie is a token individual, made to make you think the town is diverse, when it is not at all, and is presumably in the Midwest. Not surprisingly, the audience is obviously supposed to sympathize with Marty, a sort of “down and out” individual who is middle-class, who is portrayed as “cool”  for riding a skateboard (and fashioning one in 1955), and playing an electric guitar. The rest of the movie goes on with Marty  bringing his parents back together and the “bad” White guy, Biff (played by Thomas F. Wilson) becoming a literal servant to Marty’s parents, who are much better off, in changed 1985. Women in the film are basically second fiddles to the men, either trying to woo them (or fall in love with). Lorraine, Marty’s mother (played by Lea Thompson) tries to do this when flirting with Marty after he messes with the timeline of his parent’s first meeting. Other women are apparently interested in “bad boys” like Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer (played by Claudia Wells), in 1985, or are just in the background. Basically, the film is a White male fantasy, plain and simple, almost nostalgic of the 1950s and arguably sexist in how it plays out, as women don’t seem to have any strong will, just succumbing to men. Is there any surprise that Ronald Reagan Raygun (as Gil Scott-Heron calls it), loved the movie, especially after the joke referring to him by Doc. Brown, and incorporated a nonsensical line from the movie into his 1986 State of the Union Address? I have a fondness for time travel, and that part of the movie is interesting, which may be part of the reason I like Futurama, the time-traveling episodes of The Simpsons, and other shows. Still, this does not distract from this movie’s message: a nostalgia for a repressive time, the 1950s, as a part of a White male adventure of absurdist proportions. After watching a series of videos on YouTube, along with the parodies of Back to the Future by Family Guy and American Dad, I see no reason to watch the other two movies in the series, which plan to be even dumber, and be, like this one, over-hyped. As Black hip-hop group Public Enemy says in their 1988 hit song, Don’t Believe the Hype, although they are talking about lies about Black people in the media.

Now, onto Forrest Gump, a 1994 film which was also directed by Zemeckis, but produced by Wendy Finerman (a White Jewish woman), Steve Tisch (a White  Jewish man), and Steve Starkey (a White man who often produces Zemeckis’s movies). Like Back to the Future, this is also “Great White Hope,” meaning that it is a White male fantasy. The movie follows one major character, Forrest Gump (played  by Tom Hanks), a middle-class White boy born in Louisiana, who tested below the IQ level, only getting into a public school after pleading by his mother (played by Sally Field). There is undoubted racism flowing through parts of the movie, like the fact that Forrest was named after Gen. Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the KKK. As for Forrest, he ends up going to college on a football scholarship at University of Alabama, then enlists in the Army in 1963, fighting in Vietnam before he is wounded and goes back home. Despite the previously mentioned bout of racism, Forrest does, while in the Army, become friends with Bubba Blue (played by Mykelti Williamson), a Black man who can apparently talk about nothing but shrimp, and dying in Vietnam. Forrest later forms a shrimping company with his former commander from Vietnam, Lt. Dan Taylor (played by Gary Sinese). On the one hand, the movie has the positive of criticizing the horrible IQ test, saying that it is not bad to be weird, and points to the physical horrors U$ soldiers who fought in Vietnam had to endure once home (evidenced by Lt. Dan, who is crippled and in a wheelchair). However, apart from the absurd putting of Forrest Gump into archival footage to make it seem like he was there, which takes up a number of scenes in the movie where he meets with at varied Presidents (such as Kennedy and Nixon), talk show hosts, and others. This is compounded by the ridiculous idea that Elvis got his moves from Forrest or that Forrest unintentionally revealed the Watergate scandal. Apart from this, there are a number of other problems.

For one, the movie has what I’ll call a Male Savior Complex. What I mean is that Forrest works to “save” Jenny Curran (played by Robin Wright), with Jenny seeming to be wild and out of control, having a rough life, while Forrest does well, going from being a football star (in college) to an Army Brat, then a ping-pong player, and the head of a shrimping business. Basically, Forrest goes from being middle-class to becoming a millionaire (after investing in Apple Computer), meaning that he is a capitalist by the end of the movie, who is also a “good” philanthropist. While Jenny resists him for much of the movie, leading her own life, she eventually gives up and marries him, perhaps symbolic of the “self-made” man (Forrest) triumphing over the “excesses” of the 1960s (Jenny). Clearly this shows that the film is sexist, falling into line with patriarchal and traditionalist values. Forrest basically preys on Jenny for much of the movie, trying to get her to “love him,” and that apparently works by the end, a disgusting turn of events. The film tries to get you to sympathize with former creep and rule follower Forrest, a White straight man who is strongly traditionalist in his action (and thinking), after Jenny dies, perhaps because she was “conquered” (as opposed to the dynamic in the Oliver Goldsmith’s play, She Stoops to Conquer), leaving Forrest and his son remaining.

There are a number of other problematic elements. While the movie shows the horror of the Vietnam war in that it is bloody and brutal, it does not seem to take an antiwar position like Apocalypse NowThin Red Line, Catch-22, Full Metal Jacket (in a unique way), Gallipoli (antiwar to an extent), and Platoon, to give a few examples. Also Forrest is completely obedient of all orders while in the Army, which Lt. Dan himself makes fun of after the war is over, and seems to genuinely love the U$ capitalist system, never taking any efforts to resist it whatsoever. There are other elements of the movie which I have not mentioned here, but the general idea put forward is that anyone can make it in the U$, even though this idea is utterly false since class mobility doesn’t really exist within the U$. As I said earlier, this a Great White Hope. What I mean is that it does not offer a diverse world as one that is held up as a positive. For a movie that is famous for phrases like “Run, Forrest Run!” and “Life is like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you’ll get,” it is important to recognize its clear reactionary streak. This should be obvious to anyone as apart from the racism in certain parts, strong sexism, and nationalism, the peace movement is made fun of as an utter joke where people don’t know what they are saying. When Forrest speaks in front of them in a rally, he is still treated like a good symbol even though he is wearing his uniform with a Medal of Honor. This even turns Jenny, then a peacenik, on, for some reason, which doesn’t make much sense. Even worse is the scene about the Black Panther Party (BPP), which are treated as a bunch of male chauvinists who condone men hitting women to “discipline” them. There was undoubted problems with sexism within the BPP, but they did work to counter this, and stand against abuse of women, so the scene of him encountering a bunch of angry Black nationalists is an utter joke without question. That’s all I can remember for now. But, the movie is pretty terrible for all the reasons I have explained. As such, Forrest Gump undoubtedly spreads the capitalist ideology, yet more evidence of cultural hegemony.

Such sexism in the Forrest Gump and Back to the Future is not unique. Just take songs by the Beach Boys as one example. Sure, you could say some of them have good beats, but many are about a male urge for a new (or maintained) romantic relationship with girls like as exemplified in their songs “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Good Vibrations,” “Barbara Ann,” “Kokomo,” “I get around,” “God Only Knows,” and “Surfer Girls.” Also, the idea of a monogamous marriage is reinforced in some of those songs. In this, you could say the sexism is integrated into the songs in that it is all about male urge for something which, if woman don’t reciprocate as they are “supposed to” (by societal standards), it will lead to male anger, although that is not expressed in their songs. You could say this male urge is also sprinkled throughout early songs of The Beatles as well, while their later songs were more diverse in topics.

An antidote?: From Sorry to Bother You to Black Panther

This brings us to Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, a film which really blew me away in its wonderfulness. The film is strongly anti-capitalist, directly talking about exploitation of the proletariat, racism, sexism, and the like. The main character, Cassius “Cash” Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield), is a black man living in present-day Oakland who is renting a room with his uncle, and living with his girlfriend Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson), who works as a sign-twirler. In order to live there, Cash gets a job as a telemarketer for RegalView, where he learns to cultivate his “white voice,” which brings in the money, catapulting him to “power caller.” In the meantime, his fellow comrades (like Salvador “Sal” played by Jermaine Fowler, and varied others) who also work at the company, are trying to organize themselves against their horrible work situation. In almost an act of betrayal, Cash goes to a higher level, where Worry Free, a company which uses literal slave labor, is the main client. He is still a telemarketer, but he is selling capitalists (and governments) the use of WorryFree’s slave labor and weapons, with Langston (played by Danny Glover), a black man with one eyepiece, looking a bit like the monopoly man, as his mentor of sorts. While Cash rises to this level, the workers are striking in front of the building every day, with police having to literally club them out-of-the-way so Cash and other “power callers” can get to work. Undoubtedly, this causes strain and Cash and Detroit’s relationship, leading Detroit to stand up for herself and leave him. This is unlike Back to the Future or Forrest Gump, which are sexist for reasons I have previously explained, a positive to say the least. Detroit does end up going out with the union organizer, Squeeze (played by Steven Yeun) and while she and Cash do come back together, the fact that she drew a line in the sand, standing up for herself in such a manner, is undoubtedly feminist, bucking the general trend of Hollyweird. It is no coincidence that Detroit is most radical throughout, as part of The Left Eye, a group graffiting WorryFree’s posters. This is despite some complaining that the film does not pass the Bechtel Test, when a “feminist piece of media must…have at least two women in it, who…talk to each other, about…something other than a man.” Even through this film does not pass this test, it does not mean it cannot still be a strong and powerful, worthy of praise, despite this shortcoming.

As the film goes into its last stretch, when Cash goes to a party hosted by Steve Lift, the CEO of WorryFree, the capitalist plan is revealed: to turn workers into half horse, half people hybrids (called “equisapiens”) which will be more obedient, by having them snort something that looks like cocaine but is not cocaine. Cash is chosen to as what Lift calls a deceptive “Martin Luther King” of these hybrids who will keep them in line. More likely, Cash would mirror the role of Curtis, a White man, in Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer, who leads the people in a rebellion on the train which turns out to be a ruling class mechanism of population control. That movie is touted as anti-capitalist by some, and while class is a major factor of the movie, it falls short just like Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, which features a story of capitalists who live in a bubble outside Earth while the masses suffer on the decaying Earth below. Back to the film. Cash is disgusted by Lift’s creation of these beings, but Lift says it just standard capitalist practice. After he leaves his phone behind at Lift’s McMansion, which records equisapiens being abused by Lift, he shares this video on reality show and other networks…but it just ends up with WorryFree’s stock rising! With all seeming to be lost, the union of workers makes one last stand in front of RegalView, with Cash calling on the equisapiens to help as the police beat up the protesters, with these beings freeing Cash and his comrades Squeeze and Sal. With this victory, it seems that everything has returned to normal, with the capitalists suffering this defeat, but Cash turns into a equisapien. He, in the credits, leads a group of equisapiens to Lift’s McMansion, telling him the phrase of “sorry to bother you” used in his telemarketing, attacking Lift to get revenge for the horribleness he has brought upon the world.

In this way, Sorry to Bother You is optimistic about fighting capitalism, having no White savior models or anything like that. As such, the film’s producers, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, and Forrest Whitaker, can be said to be organic intellectuals. While they are not serving as deputies who are pushing capitalist ideology on the masses, they are not necessarily from the proletariat either. The movie, which has garnered $17.5 million as of October 11th, has made a profit of about 547%, as the budget for production was only about $3.2 million! Hence, as such, it is still a capitalist product which was distributed by capitalist Larry Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures domestically. Comcast’s Universal Pictures (due to the fact the Universal’s direct owner, NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast) and a Universal Pictures’ subsidiary Focus Features distributed it internationally. Still, the film clearly bucks the overall capitalist ideology, going beyond a criticism just of the orange menace, but of the system as a whole, even talking about the idea of false consciousness throughout. One could say the same of a film like Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast, which lost money. As a summary, in that film, the main character, Allie Fox (played by Harrison Ford) criticizes consumerism and believes a nuclear war is imminent, brings his family to Belize, where they try to create a utopian civilization based around an ice machine he builds, but this is later destroyed and his family is basically left destitute, traveling on a boat through the jungle. There is much more than that, but this is still a good summary starting point. Additionally, a film like V for Vendetta, critical to an extent of the current capitalist system, was distributed by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, which has been owned by AT&T since earlier this year.

A discussion of Sorry to Bother You connects to two other films this year which prominently feature Black characters: Black Panther and Blackkklansman. The first film has been broadly seen by Black people as a positive and praised as being “progressive.” If we count up the amount of money needed to produce the film ($200 million) plus that which it cost to market it ($150 million), especially in the U$ but also in “certain western Euro markets like Italy, Spain, Germany, and over in Japan,” the film made a total 384% profit, considering that it grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide. Now, this film, has been praised as having “a story that has far more going for it than branding” with “groovy women and Afrofuturist flourishes,” “the first film in the Marvel cinematic universe to center on a superhero of color,” a movie with “a proud Afrocentric twist, featuring a nearly all-black cast” and celebrates “Black Power…in such a mainstream fashion,” and has a broader message. [3] Others call it an “epic that somehow manages to simultaneously be a comic-book blockbuster, a pulsating espionage thriller and an Afro-futurist family saga,” that the film draws “on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes,” and a “rousing Afrofuturistic adventure” which “blow[s] you away with thunderous effects and also tackle ethnic and gender issues, crush racial stereotypes, celebrate women and condemn Trump-era notions of exclusionism.” Beyond that, Time claimed the movie had “revolutionary power,” Carvell Wallace called it a “defining moment” for Blacks in the U$ while reactionary leftist Shaun King called it an important “cultural moment,” historians said it taps into 500 years of Black history, while it got other praise as a “cultural touchstone,” is “revolutionary” somehow, with viewing parties for the film supported by celebrities here, there and everywhere as noted in The Root, The Guardian, and EW.

Not surprisingly, the hype about this film is totally wrong. There have already been questions about if the film is Islamophobic, with others saying Black resistance is liberalized to comfort White people and that the film is plainly counter-revolutionary. These perspectives are not wrong. The film not only adheres to “at least some dubious Hollywood conventions,” as stated by the New York Times, but it is “still a superhero movie,” as stated by Variety, a movie which “never veers beyond the most conventional contours of modern-day movie action,” as admitted by the Washington Post. Should it be any surprise that the film centers on a “militaristic monarchy” called Wakanda, which people claim is “fair and democratic,” which is a faulty statement without question. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report put it well: the movie focuses a “black royal family” and doesn’t show “real people the power they have over the real world.” Christopher Lebron adds to this, writing that the movie

…depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men…N’Jobu…soon understands that his people have the power to help all black people, and he plots to develop weapons using vibranium to even the odds for black Americans…[but] T’Chaka, however, insists N’Jobu has betrayed the people of Wakanda. He has no intention of helping any black people anywhere; for him and most Wakandans, it is Wakanda First…[not having] a vision of global black solidarity…[and using] Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people…[the] contest between T’Challa and Killmonger that can only be read one way: in a world marked by racism, a man of African nobility must fight his own blood relative whose goal is the global liberation of blacks…A white man who trades in secrets and deception [the CIA man] is given a better turn than a black man whose father was murdered by his own family and who is left by family and nation to languish in poverty. That’s racist…Perhaps Killmonger’s main dream to free black people everywhere decisively earns him the fate of death…Black Panther is a movie about black empowerment in which the only redeemed blacks are African nobles…Black Panther is not the movie we deserve.

Abdul Alkalimat adds to this in his review, writing that the film is a “replay of the conflict of the 1960s between cultural nationalism and revolutionary nationalism, the US organization of Karenga and the Panthers of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale” with the king of Wakanda, cultural nationalist, being friends with the CIA, while the revolutionary is a “sort of gangster living a Fanonian fantasy that violence will change the world. He too is the son of a member of the royal family.” He adds that the film is a “commercial hodgepodge of references to other popular films,” ranging from James Bond, Star Wars, the Hobbit, Fast and Furious, and Stargate, concluding by saying that “a movie like this has the bait to pull us in like fish about to be hooked by the system…This film is dangerous and we must be vigilant against culture used to control and oppress.” Paul Street can have the final word here. He argues that the movie is “stealth ruling-class propaganda,” as part of the manufacture of consent by Hollyweird and the broad entertainment media  in the U$, because for one, Wakanda is “run by smart, warm, attractive, and benevolent Black royals” but is not a democracy but a hereditary monarchy which is “wedded to absolutism, aristocracy, and tribalism,” with everyday people being “backdrops at best.” He further adds that while “Wakanda could have used its great power to help Black Africa and the Black diaspora abroad,” they decided to keep “the country hidden behind its cloaking devices, keeping the wonders of a vibranium-enriched life…for itself.” The article goes onto say that  since Killmonger (T’Chaka’s cousin) is from Oakland, the script writers undoubtedly knew about the Black Panthers, a person who wants to “turn Wakanda into an open revolutionary agent of Black liberation by all means necessary” and export revolution (Street says like Che Guevara and Trotsky, but Trotsky never did this), but that he has “become every bit as evil as – the amoral equivalent of – the racist oppressors he hates.” This means that there are “no warm, attractive, and inspiring advocates of Black pan-African revolution…only the cold and repellent Killmonger,” meaning that this movie is another “Hollywood update of white America’s longstanding distinction between the good Black and the bad Black” with good Black pursuing “moderate ends in dignified and polite ways” and the bad Black “angry, violent, and undignified,” wanting to “wage war on the white oppressors.” In the case of he movie, T’Challa is equivalent to “Booker T. Washington, Sidney Poitier, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, Eric Holder, and…Barack Obama” while Killmonger is equivalent to “Toussaint Louverture, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Bigger Thomas, Malcolm X, Jeremiah Wright, Huey Newton, and the nightly urban crime reports all wrapped up together.” Not surprisingly is that T’Challa gets the “kindly white veteran CIA agent named Everett K. Ross,” which means the movie falsely portrays the CIA as a “friend of an independent and strong African state,” with the movie (despite some exceptions), absurdly portrays the “white senior CIA agent as a friend of an independently developing and autonomous Black African state.” The movie ends with saying global capitalism is good with the “CIA agent smiling as he watches his friend T’Challa tell the United Nations that Wakanda is joining the international community,” and then a teaser “after the full credits, when we see a forgotten white Marvel superhero…emerge from a Wakandan hut.” His article ends by asking: “Did you expect something different and more radical from Hollywood? Why?” He is right to ask this.

The movie also has another purpose: to connect with other superhero movies, getting people hooked another one of Marvel’s Hollywoodized comics. That was the goal of a movies like Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Ironman, X-Men, and Hulk, and many others. [4] Once everyone is introduced in their own specific movies, then they can make movies where all of them fight together against a “common” enemy. Yet another product which is spread to the masses which reinforces capitalist ideology.

Spike Lee, “respectable” Black politics, and capitalist ideology

With this, it is worth talking about Blackkklansman. A good starting point is Boots Riley’s well-thought criticism of the movie, engaging in what he calls a “political critique of the content of and timing of the film,” even though Spike Lee hugely influenced him and he holds the latter “in highest respect as a filmmaker.” He even says that having a story not being true is not necessarily a problem it is “being pushed as a true story and…its untrue elements that make a cop a hero against racism” with false parts trying “to make a cop the protagonist in the fight against racist oppression.” He goes on to write that the

…real Ron Stallworth infiltrated a Black radical organization for 3 years….where he did what all papers from the FBI’s…COINTELPRO…[working to] sabotage a Black radical organization whose intent had to do with at the very least fighting racist oppression…Ron Stallworth was part of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO’s objectives were to destroy radical organizations, especially Black radical organizations…when White Supremacist organizations were infiltrated by the FBI and the cops, it was not to disrupt them…It was to use them to threaten and/or physically attack radical organizations…There was no bombing that Stallworth or the police thwarted…That was made up for the movie to make the police seem like heroes. There was no cop that got recorded and/or arrested due to saying things at a bar while drunk about how he’s ok with shooting Black folks…This was put in the movie to make Ron and the rest of the police look like they were interested in fighting racism, like they don’t all protect whatever racist and abusive cops are in there. This is a scene where the whole police force…work together with the fictional Black radical love interest to set the one racist cop up. Never happened…His partner that did the physical infiltration of the Klan was not Jewish and did not look Jewish to other people…If you really went up to Kwame Ture and asked him what we should do right now—as Ron Stallworth does in the film—he would have said what he usually said: “Study!!!” But, it made the Black radical group look more dangerous to have Ture say something that sounded like he was calling for armed insurrection…Ron Stallworth looks like a hero, and so does his partner and the police force…Everything else is simply unverifiable stuff that ex-cop Ron Stallworth wrote in his memoir…the radical girlfriend says that she’s not down with him being a cop, then Stallworth…says that he’s for the liberation of his people at the same time as being a cop. All the fake stuff we just showed him go through argues his point for him. And then they hear something, and go, guns drawn, to investigate. They go down the hall together with the signature Spike Lee dolly…Cops and the movement against racist oppression united. This is the penultimate shot before the film goes to news footage of current White Supremacist attacks…for Spike to come out with a movie where story points are fabricated in order to make Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing…Spike Lee’s, Chiraq, plays into that myth [of black-on-black violence], and how that myth is used against movements for social justice…By now, many folks now know that Spike Lee was paid over $200k to help in an ad campaign that was ‘I aimed at improving relations with minority communities. Whether it actually is or not, BlacKkKlansman feels like an extension of that ad campaign.

After reading this review, I think Boots Riley got it completely right. I did watch the movie myself and thought it was relatively good, but I think his criticism is completely valid. It really did positively portray the cops as “good” for fighting racial justice, specifically as those fighting White supremacists which was stopped by the “bad” police captain who made him destroy all the records. Stallworth is painted as the “hero” who revealed this story, keeping the records of the action. This is despite the fact that he literally participated in White supremacist meetings (via his White colleague) and did nothing to actually break up the group. Even if we accept the movie gospel, he stopped a bombing, but the group continued on. Additionally, while a few White supremacists were killed when the bomb went off in front of their car, they obviously recovered from this, with no effort to break-up the group. The connection to current events, with live-TV images of what happened in Charlottesville, the orange menace, and others, was obviously meant to relate it to the present. The cops were portrayed as positive and “revolutionary” which is an utter joke which doesn’t recognize the role of the cops. Does Spike Lee forget the nature of the cops in his other movie, Do the Right Thing, the nature of Black revolutionaries in Malcolm X, another movie he made? It seems he has, instead making absurdist movies like Blackkklansman and Chiraq, the latter which is like a Shakespearean play with militaristic themes and supposed feminism which reduces men to literally being only about sex, which is just not true as it doesn’t recognize the power they actually hold in society as a whole. The only positive of Blackkklansman is it does not have a white savior element which is shown in Free State of Jones (symbolized by a poor White farmer named  Newton Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey) and Selma (symbolized by LBJ), Lincoln (symbolized by Lincoln), and a “respectable” Black man like Cecil Gaines (played by Forrest Whitaker) in The Butler. [4] The last of those films is one of the worst, including a scene where the Cecil’s son, Louis, becomes a Black Panther and he angrily denounces the BPP as being horrible. Sadly, Cecil’s other son, Charlie, dies in Vietnam, and Louis leaves the BPP after they become “violent.” Of course, Cecil, who worked in the White House as a butler from 1957 to the 1980s (from Eisenhower to Reagan), it is not until the end of his time there that he advocates for advancement and equal pay for the Black staff. He only resigns when Reagan doesn’t support sanctions against apartheid South Africa, not anytime before then, later joining an anti-apartheid protest, and of course, celebrating Obama’s victory in 2008. What else would you expect from someone as much into Black respectability politics, growing up as a “house negro” in his early life on a White plantation in Macon, Georgia, in the 1920s and 1930s, as him? His son, Louis, by contrast, is the one who joined the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) where he  engages in a sit-in at a segregated diner, goes on a freedom ride  in Birmingham, participates in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963, participates in the voting rights movement in Selma in 1965, and runs for a seat in Congress. This is while Cecil just stands by.

There a few other films I’d like to mention here, apart from 12 Years A Slave which is an interesting story to say the least. Spike Lee’s Blackklansman does not focus on race and class which abundantly clear in Fences (based off August Wilson’s novel), police brutality inherent in Fruitvale Station (even with its problems), and about anti-racist activism on campus in Dear White People (in the first season of the show and the movie of the same name). The last media is one of the most interesting, as it slaps racism right in the face, with much discussion about identity either through:

  • the Black rabble-rouser (symbolized by Samantha “Sam” White, played by Logan Browning)
  • the Black gay man who becomes a journalist of sorts (symbolized  by Lionel Higgins, played by DeRon Horton)
  • the respectable Black man who becomes student president (symbolized by Troy Fairbanks, played by Brandon B. Bell)
  • the White anti-“PC” student (symbolized by Kurt Fletcher, played by Kyle Gallner)
  • the White male “ally” [only in the TV show](symbolized by Gabe Mitchell, playedby John Patrick Amedori)
  • the resentful Black woman who wants to be “respected” (symbolized  by Collandrea “Coco” Conners, played by Antoinette Robertson)

And all the rest. I only say the first season and movie as those are the only ones I have watched presently. There are undoubtedly elements lacking, but the situation of a mostly White university which portrays itself as “diverse” is something which can be universally  recognized by many in U$ universities as a whole, so it has power in that way.

To sum up this section, Spike Lee is clearly, as it currently stands, serving his role within the framework of cultural hegemony that Gramsci outlines, perhaps serving as an organic intellectual, or even if not, as a conduit for spreading capitalist ideology to the masses which will weaken any efforts to make the world a better place, especially those who skew to more radical and revolutionary solutions, which are sorely needed.

Some comments on Paths of Glory, varied films, and animated sitcoms

The final film I will talk about in-depth here is Paths of Glory, a film where Kirk  Douglas plays a French general (and former lawyer) who defends three soldiers from “cowardice in the face of the enemy,” in an effort to save their (and fellow soldiers) lives from a fruitless charge across no-man’s land to their deaths. While the film is undoubtedly antiwar in that it shows the horror of war, the absurdness of a trial against these three individuals which is meant to just protect the commanders, and their eventual death by firing squad to restore “order.” The latter makes the film pessimistic as the war (in this case WWI) continues on, with the soldiers portrayed as sexist beasts (at the end of the film) toward a captured German woman, who are entranced by her when she begins to sing. At  the same time, it makes a point that following orders  is not always good, as those who didn’t follow orders and stayed in their trenches are saved from slaughter. The commander who ordered the charge to take “Ant Hill” which killed half of Douglas’s soldiers is sacked, but the person who sacked him  does not understand Douglas’s anger, offering him the sacked commander’s job. It is a film very different from other antiwar films, so it is unique in that way. It is unlikely a film like this would be made today.

There were some other movies I have watched recently like The Bullet Train, Woman Walks Ahead, The Syrian Bride, and Chappaquiddick. But, I can’t really say much on most of those. I will say that Woman Walks Ahead is a bit of a white savior story which obviously distorts history (once you look into the actual story). It makes one of the main characters, a white woman named Catherine Weldon, played by Jessica Chastain, out to be a goof when she was actually an advocate  for indigenous peoples. It also devalues all those who are said to be part of the Lakota people, rather than calling it the racist name of “Sioux” which was pinned  on them by the French, except for Sitting Bull (played by Michael Greyeyes), which could be said to be an unfortunate oversight, but it also yet another way to erase indigenous people and their fight against U$ imperialist killers, with Sam Rockwell, the stuckup colonel, Silas Grove, getting a prominent part. This, undoubtedly supports the dominant capitalist hegemony, with the producer and director, along with anyone below them, and the movie studio itself, complicit in this without a doubt.

Finally there are animated sitcoms, like South Park, created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and The Simpsons, which was created by Matt Groening. As I have argued on this blog in the past, the latter animated sitcom has gone way downhill, so much so that it is a zombie form of its original self. The former show has done so as well, or perhaps it was always bad. I recently watched two recent episodes in the show’s 22nd Season (“The Problem with Poo” and “A Boy and a Priest”), to see if anything had changed. Of course, it hadn’t. The latter show involved a literal piece of shit (called “Mr. Hanky”) being pushed out of the town of South Park for his discriminatory sayings, then moving to Springfield, with a hashtag at the end of the show saying “#cancelthesimpsons.” Most commentaries I read on this seemed to take it as a joke, because Parker and Stone support “artistic” freedom or the bourgeois conception of “free speech” which mocks efforts to be “politically correct” or PC. As I understand it, efforts to be “PC” are meant to help disenfranchised and disempowered groups, but they are led by liberals, whom do not recognize the overall context of what they are doing. As such, the efforts are mainly rhetorical, not about changing structures of power and oppression, which is the main problem with “PC” efforts, as they currently stand, which can easily be integrated into the capitalist system.

Back to South Park. I personally feel that the call to “#cancelthesimpsons” is clear trolling because in the other episode I noted there (which happens to be the episode played the week before), a message flashes on-screen at the end of the episode saying “#cancelsouthpark,” which is apparently part of a sort of marketing campaign by Comedy Central and by the show itself. As such, the message in the first episode I talk about here cannot be taken as a serious effort to cancel The Simpsons. Rather, it is an act of camaraderie between shows that now both see themselves as anti-“PC,” although in very different ways, which is becoming the name of the game for a number of people in the same position and strongly trumpeted by those on the “right.”

Closing remarks

The cultural hegemony of capitalist ideology continues to permeate through our society, whether you watch animated sitcoms like Futurama, The Simpsons, or American Dad, watch a movie in a theater, or see an ad on a bus. [5] It cannot be escaped as much as we may see ourselves as “immune,” but it becomes part of our mind, as we recognize the corporate brands which populate the landscape and then begin to accept the state of the world as it stands today. There must be efforts to fight back against such an ideology, something  which doesn’t require uniting with the “right” as some have proposed. Rather it involves countering capitalist ideology wherever it stands, working to build a better and more fair world which is free from profit and decadence, without falling into the traps of those who  emphasize electoral contests like the DSA, Socialist Alternative, and the Berniecrats, putting those who do this on the road to revolution, standing with the proletariat across the world, regardless of what country they currently reside.


Notes

[1] David Kehr, “FILM; ‘Cast Away’ Director Defies Categorizing,” New York Times,Dec  17, 2000.

[2] According to IMDB’s listing, Henry David Waters, Jr., who played Martin Berry, seemed to be the only other actor of color in the whole movie.

[3] Manohla Dargis, “Review: ‘Black Panther’ Shakes Up the Marvel Universe,” New York Times, Feb 6, 2018; Peter Deburge, “Film Review: ‘Black Panther’,” Variety, Feb 6, 2018; Joe Morgenstern, “‘Black Panther’ Review: An Epic to Pounce On,” Wall Street Journal, Feb 12, 2018; Jimi Famurewa, “Black Panther Review,” EMPIRE, Feb 6, 2018; Ann Hornaday, “‘Black Panther’ is exhilarating, groundbreaking and more than worth the wait,” Washington Post, Feb 9, 2018; Peter Travers, “‘Black Panther’ Review: Marvel’s History-Making Superhero Movie’s a Masterpiece,” Rolling Stone, Feb 6, 2018.

[4] Free State of Jones, however, has its positives in that it follows the struggle for Black rights across a historical timeline from during the Civil War until afterwards into the Reconstruction, which few movies I’ve seen before have done. Despite the White savior element, this did introduce me to the real story, as noted by the Smithsonian:

…in Jones County, Mississippi…Newton Knight, a poor white farmer…led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War…[leading a] company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi…overthr[owing]…the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The county was known as the Free State of Jones…After the Civil War, Knight took up with his grandfather’s former slave Rachel; they had five children together. Knight also fathered nine children with his white wife, Serena, and the two families lived in different houses on the same 160-acre farm. After he and Serena separated—they never divorced—Newt Knight caused a scandal that still reverberates by entering a common-law marriage with Rachel and proudly claiming their mixed-race children…The Knight Negroes, as these children were known, were shunned by whites and blacks alike. Unable to find marriage partners in the community, they started marrying their white cousins instead, with Newt’s encouragement. (Newt’s son Mat, for instance, married one of Rachel’s daughters by another man, and Newt’s daughter Molly married one of Rachel’s sons by another man.) An interracial community began to form near the small town of Soso, and continued to marry within itself…There was some very modest cotton production in the area, and a small slaveholding elite that included Newt Knight’s grandfather, but Jones County had fewer slaves than any other county in Mississippi, only 12 percent of its population. This, more than anything, explains its widespread disloyalty to the Confederacy, but there was also a surly, clannish independent spirit, and in Newt Knight, an extraordinarily steadfast and skillful leader…[Knight’s] views were not unusual in Jones County. Newt’s right-hand man, Jasper Collins, came from a big family of staunch Mississippi Unionists. He later named his son Ulysses Sherman Collins, after his two favorite Yankee generals, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman…Although he was against secession, Knight voluntarily enlisted in the Confederate Army once the war began. We can only speculate about his reasons. He kept no diary and gave only one interview near the end of his life, to a New Orleans journalist named Meigs Frost. Knight said he’d enlisted with a group of local men to avoid being conscripted and then split up into different companies. But the leading scholar of the Knight-led rebellion, Victoria Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones, points out that Knight had enlisted, under no threat of conscription, a few months after the war began, in July 1861. She thinks he relished being a soldier…In October 1862, after the Confederate defeat at Corinth, Knight and many other Piney Woods men deserted from the Seventh Battalion of Mississippi Infantry. It wasn’t just the starvation rations, arrogant harebrained leadership and appalling carnage…Returning home, they found their wives struggling to keep up the farms and feed the children…In early 1863, Knight was captured for desertion and possibly tortured. Some scholars think he was pressed back into service for the Siege of Vicksburg, but there’s no solid evidence that he was there…On the night of October 5, Major McLemore was staying at his friend Amos Deason’s mansion in Ellisville, when someone—almost certainly Newt Knight—burst in and shot him to death. Soon afterward, there was a mass meeting of deserters from four Piney Woods counties. They organized themselves into a company called the Jones County Scouts and unanimously elected Knight as their captain. They vowed to resist capture, defy tax collectors, defend each other’s homes and farms, and do what they could to aid the Union…In March 1864, Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk informed Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, that Jones County was in “open rebellion” and that guerrilla fighters were “proclaiming themselves ‘Southern Yankees.’” They had crippled the tax collection system, seized and redistributed Confederate supplies, and killed and driven out Confederate officials and loyalists, not just in Jones County but all over southeast Mississippi…That spring was the high-water mark of the rebellion against the Rebels. Polk ordered two battle-hardened regiments into southeast Mississippi, under the command of Piney Woods native Col. Robert Lowry. With hanging ropes and packs of vicious, manhunting dogs, they subdued the surrounding counties and then moved into the Free State of Jones. Several of the Knight company were mangled by the dogs, and at least ten were hanged, but Lowry couldn’t catch Knight or the core group. They were deep in the swamps, being supplied with food and information by local sympathizers and slaves, most notably Rachel…After Lowry left, proclaiming victory, Knight and his men emerged from their hide-outs, and once again, began threatening Confederate officials and agents, burning bridges and destroying railroads to thwart the Rebel Army, and raiding food supplies intended for the troops. They fought their last skirmish at Sal’s Battery, also spelled Sallsbattery, on January 10, 1865, fighting off a combined force of cavalry and infantry. Three months later, the Confederacy fell…The third act of the film takes place in Mississippi after the Civil War. There was a phase during early Reconstruction when blacks could vote, and black officials were elected for the first time. Then former Confederates violently took back control of the state and implemented a kind of second slavery for African-Americans. Once again disenfranchised, and terrorized by the Klan, they were exploited through sharecropping and legally segregated…Ross thinks Knight’s character and beliefs are most clearly revealed by his actions after the war. He was hired by the Reconstruction government to free black children from white masters who were refusing to emancipate them…In 1876, Knight deeded 160 acres of land to Rachel, making her one of very few African-American landowners in Mississippi at that time…In the film, Marsh and Blaylock appear briefly in a courthouse scene. For the two of them, the Knight family saga has continued into the 20th century and beyond. Their cousin Davis Knight, who looked white and claimed to be white, was tried for the crime of miscegenation in 1948, after marrying a white woman. The trial was a study in Mississippian absurdity, paradox, contradiction and racial obsessiveness. A white man was convicted of being black; the conviction was overturned; he became legally white again.

[5] This could be expanded with idea from, as some would say by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, but probably more powerfully through Michael Parenti’s Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies, The Culture Struggle, Inventing Reality: The Politics of the News Media, and  Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment. I haven’t read any of those books yet, just Parenti’s God and His Demons, Superpatriotism, Democracy for the Few, and the Assassination of Julius Caesar. Parenti’s other books are: The Sword and the Dollar: Imperialism, Revolution, and the Arms Race, Land of Idols: Political Mythology in America, Against Empire, Dirty Truths, Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism, America Besieged, History as Mystery, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, The Terrorism Trap: September 11 and Beyond, Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader, The Face of Imperialism, and Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid’s Life, along with varied articles.

Advertisements