In this last week of the best of all possible worst years ever, we are being inundated by a veritable plague of lists. Have you noticed that Duck Dynasty seems to be on every single one of them? A cartoonish Methuselah homophobe racist is only the latest wedge issue in the culture wars that define the divide-and-conquer politics of the ruling class. The timing of Phil Robertson's First Amendment rights at the tail end of Aught-Thirteen virtually guarantees his placement in the List of Lists.
Before making my own New Years Resolution to avoid lists and rankings like the plague, I did happen to catch Think Progress's list of the Best Movies of the Year. (This is the official blog of the Center for American Progress, a front group for the White House and the Democratic Party. Though characterizing itself as a grassroots organization for the hoi polloi, it was recently forced to reveal its corporate backers, which run the gamut from too big to fail/jail banks, the military industrial complex, and Walmart. Oops.)
So, it should come as no surprise that TP's most beloved movies mesh perfectly with the policies and propaganda of the Obama administration and the self-serving interests of its corporate overlords. The reviewer, Alyssa Rosenberg, admits that she has not seen all the movies of 2013, but compiled her list anyway. These films may or may not be great... I have not seen them. It's the reasons why TP thinks they are great that are quite revealing -- and predictable. Here are how movie reviews are written within the smog of neoliberal thought:
12 Years A Slave: "A great movie about slavery in America that derives much of its greatness from focusing on how black Americans learned to accommodate themselves to the strangenesses of white privilege, rather than on how good white people rise above the unfair advantages granted them by the violence of white supremacy."
Rosenberg echoes centrist thought in her celebration of the latest entry in the Slavery Nostalgia genre: black Americans can only triumph by assimilating themselves into the white system. When movies can portray them doing this willingly, rather than having their rights bestowed upon them by white people, it is cause for celebration. So what a triumph for white people, huh?
Personally, my favorite slavery nostalgia flic is Django Unchained, a piece of revisionist history in which the slaves triumphed by setting plantations on fire and killing their masters. Needless to say, the corporate media hated it. Probably because the cruelly corrupt house slave played by Samuel L. Jackson bears an uncanny resemblance to the current White House occupant. Plus, it uses the N word.
After Tiller: "A look at the few remaining doctors in the United States who provide late-term abortions, After Tiller is a remarkable and deeply compassionate look at what it’s like to provide a medical service that makes you a target of violence and hatred. And it’s a kind and clear-eyed look at the circumstances under which women and their partners seek these procedures, cutting through ugly rhetoric to emphasize that no one wants a late-term abortion."
Since abortion is one of the major cultural wedge issues distinguishing the two right wings of the Money Party, this film was obviously a shoo-in for TP's list.
Fruitvale Station: "Ryan Coogler’s strikingly assured debut feature makes the death of Oscar Grant a tragedy by providing a riotous, sexy, often extremely funny celebration of the last day of his life. And it’s not as if we needed even more proof that Michael B. Jordan should be an enormous star, but he filed yet another brief on his own merits in taking on what could have been a stiffly noble role, and instead is a gorgeously human one."
Unarmed black guy gets shot in extra-judicial assassination-by-cop. Another wedge issue to make white liberals feel vicariously victimized at the same time its film treatment makes them chuckle, and more prone to donate to millionaire Wall Street Democrats righteously proclaiming themselves oppressed by those bigoted Republicans in Congress.
(Another film, Dirty Wars, featuring extra-judicial assassination-by-president, is mysteriously absent from TP's best-of list -- despite the fact that it has been shortlisted as an Oscar nominee for best documentary of 2013.)
Her: "My review of Spike Jonze’s innovative romantic comedy is embargoed until next week. But his exploration of a blooming relationship between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system, named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, liberated from her body, to great effect) is also a story about humanity as a whole getting attached to a new kind of technology. It’s funny, charming, very sad movie that pulls of something relatively rare–it’s fair and clear-eyed about all of the participants, as well as wise and moderate in its vision of the near future."
I haven't seen the movie, but since major Obama donor Scarlett Johannson plays the part of the sexy computer, this was bound to make the "progressive" list. Any movie showing us how to love our compromised-by-the-NSA operating system is a must-recommend for the Obama Spy State. If you can't love Big Brother, love Big Lover.
As an alternative, I recommend Ghost in the Machine, from Season One of The X-Files. Made in 1993, it presaged the post-9/11 surveillance state most eerily, and even villainized the NSA. There are plenty of films and books in the robot-as-love object genre, including dozens of old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits entries. The difference between these and Her is that Her (She?) is billed as a romantic comedy rather than cautionary dystopian sci-fi. So feel the neoliberal love, people!
Loves Her Gun: "I’m not sure Loves Her Gun has found distribution, which is too bad, because this chronicle of an accidental shooting foretold is a powerful brief on women, violence, and guns that makes the most of its Austin setting."
A triple-whammy of Democratic wedge issues for the price of one. The war on women. violence, and guns. Plus Austin, the one liberal bastion in the Lone Star State.
Pain and Gain: "Some of my fellow critics think Michael Bay isn’t self-aware enough to have fully pulled off this adaptation of a true story about three Miami bodybuilders who kidnapped, tortured, and extorted a local businessman for his assets. But, by God did I enjoy watching Mark Wahlberg, Dwanye Johnson, and Anthony Mackie rampage through Pain and Gain, a glorious, ridiculous exploration of the compelling power of American dumbness. 'Jesus Christ himself has blessed me with many gifts,' Johnson’s Paul reflects at one point. 'One of them is knocking people the fuck out.' Whatever you need to tell yourself."
Mocking stupid white rednecks is bread and butter for the smugly superior professional liberal veal pen. It is a cottage industry and the whole raison d'etre of MSNBC, for example. It is just another way for corporate Democrats to differentiate themselves from corporate Republicans. And what a gift this movie must be to them: stupid white rednecks stupidly attack capitalism. What delicious horror. Two phony left thumbs up, yo.
Short Term 12: "Based on director Destin Cretton’s experiences working in a group home for teenagers who’d been removed from their families, Short Term 12 stars Brie Larson and John Gallagher, Jr., giving tremendous performances as staffers at a similar facility who are terrific at their jobs because of past traumas they share with their charges. It’s a rare movie that can detonate and clear the ground on a genre–in this case, Troubled Children Saved By Dedicated Adults–that’s become a horrific, insulting cliche and then build something gorgeous and funny on the old foundations. Short Term 12 pulls that off, while also offering a resounding brief for the power of niceness."
If you can make an insulting cliché gorgeous and funny, then all is well. The "power of niceness" shall keep the Wall Street Democrats safe from the mob.
We Steal Secrets: "Alex Gibney’s documentary about Julian Assange has an unsettling structure that almost lead me to walk out of the theater when it seemed like the film wasn’t taking the sexual assault allegations against Assange seriously. But Gibney, in a moment in his career when he seems dedicated to fiercely interrogating his own assumptions and first reactions, delivers a sharp interrogation of Assange’s personality and how a transparency movement has been undermined by Assange’s sense that he deserves a deference he wouldn’t extend to anyone else."
If you thought a flack for Obama's think tank was going to praise Julian Assange, you should think again. So, thank God that this hit job of a movie did not disappoint Rosenberg. If it wasn't going to emphasize his personal weirdness issues over his exposure of war crimes, graft and corruption, then she never could have written her review. And we all would have been losers.
And last but least in the Obama Think Tank's best movies list:
Zero Dark Thirty: "Kathryn Bigelow’s striking, gorgeously shot, volcanically acted chronicle of the search for and execution of Osama bin Laden technically opened wide early in 2013. And while the furor over it has largely faded in the excitement of a new Oscar season, it’s still one of the most important, complicating chronicles of our time, especially in a year where other cultural explorations of the War on Terror have ebbed in power and insight."
Is comment even necessary? Is Alyssa Rosenberg obsessed with the word "gorgeous?" This movie was scripted with the direct help of the CIA, and glorifies ("gorgeously shot") torture. And irony of ironies: the Obama administration is not punishing former CIA Director Leon Panetta, now exposed as the source for the filmmakers. They are going after the leakers who exposed Panetta as the leaker. That has got to be one of the most important, complicated chronicles of our time. But not one that Think Progress is ever likely to review.
Today's the day that more than a million people are being officially condemned to poverty by the two sides of the Money Party. At the very most, the Democrats are considering a measly three-month extension of benefits, as though the de facto 25 percent unemployment rate will magically correct itself when the green shoots of spring start popping up all over this exceptional land of ours.
In a column called "The Fear Economy," Paul Krugman bemoaned the political apathy and pointed out the inconvenient truth that even employed people are stuck in a rut. Because, obviously, what's bad for ordinary people is very, very good for CEOs. My New York Times comment:
Maybe the tipping point is near... when millions of us losing our unemployment benefits and millions more struggling under the yoke of wage stagnation, pension loss, and intolerable working conditions see the light, realize how badly the political system has failed us, and collectively assert our human rights.
It happened in the last great Depression when the Bonus Army camped in Washington to demand cash back for their reimbursement certificates. It happened when throngs of jobless people got wise to the propaganda that poverty is caused by laziness, stopped blaming themselves, and demanded relief from the politicians through the mass Unemployed Workers Movement.
The jobless joined the wage slaves in their sit-down strikes, endangering the bottom lines of the robber barons.
Once upon a time, the fear was transferred from the working class to the ruling class. And the New Deal was born. And ever since, the right wing and the plutocrats have been trying mightily to dismantle it.
So until enough of us can harness that soul-destroying fear and shove it right back at the miscreants who are causing this whole economic mess, nothing is going to change. We need to band together and collectively perform the ending of that other famous working class film, "9 to 5."
And then we need to go to the polls and throw the bums out who refuse to expand Social Security, restore SNAP cuts and extend unemployment insurance. And maybe convince Bernie Sanders to run for president.The other 1100-plus reader comments were similarly outraged. It gives me hope that more and more people, even erstwhile Obamabots, are no longer limiting their ire to the Republicans. They are On to the Con. There is anger out there. And that is a healthy thing.
One of the readers responding to my comment said it sounded great until I mentioned Bernie Sanders, who apparently was among those senators voting for the horrendous budget that rewarded the rich and the war-mongers and punished the poor even more than they've already been punished. If I had known about his vote, I probably would not have given him a plug.
Still, despite his unfortunate bout of "pragmatism," he may serve the purpose of at least verbally challenging neoliberalism in the upcoming rigged presidential horserace. For one thing, I doubt that the Establishment could ever get away with bodily removing him from presidential debates as they did with Jill Stein of the Green Party.