Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Untying the Knots — Reagan is to Trump as Spielberg is to Tarantino

Reagan is to Trump
Spielberg is to Tarantino

by the High Priest of Prickly Bog


 But wait… hear me out before you dismiss the idea as a completely ludicrous postulation. I’m not saying that Reagan and Spielberg are similar in any other way than the way in which they relate to Trump and Tarantino (although I leave that for you to judge yourselves) but that something has happened in the American/human consciousness in the last thirty or so years, that has changed the way in which we discuss our problems.

It is an idea that popped into my head whilst watching “Amistad” directly after having seen bits of “The Hateful Eight” – a film I cannot seem to watch entirely in one piece as my hand keeps switching it off. It is a similar reaction I have when listening to Trump speaking, and episodes of Jerry Springer
or Howard Stern and, in fact, most all Tarantino movies after “Jackie Brown,” (which I surprisingly felt was a fairly decent bit of storytelling).

And yet, I always find myself compelled to understand the reasons behind the widespread appeal of pop-culture, even when (or should I say especially when) I find it personally repellent. And so, as a dedicated student of that which I find myself hating, I must wonder if it is indeed society I am seeking to understand… or myself. (Although those two things may be entirely enmeshed.)

To start off, let’s eliminate the argument as to whether any of them are personally intelligent or not. Whatever you (or I) think of what they have to offer, all four of these men are hugely successful. They are also all unique, and each one has achieved his success by going against conventional wisdom. Whether or not they are wise in a traditional way is probably less important, in this discussion, as the intelligence it takes to see clearly that winding silver line leading through the uncertainty, straight to the top of the heap. It is a pathway which seems to elude most of the rest of us comparative “thickos.”

However, we can (and probably should) make a judgment as to whether the message they proffer is intelligent, and if it is useful to the society as a whole; if it is something that needs to be questioned, or at least examined and fleshed out. Even if we agree with it, are we not duty bound to assure ourselves that it is true, wholly true, and completely true.

It is in this way that the similarities between these men start to formulate within my mind. It occurs to me that all of them have the ability to start off with an obvious simple truth at the beginning, and to convolute the discussion in such a way that the end result is not necessarily true anymore. We find
these truths to be self evident… but why are they self evident? What each of these men do is to exploit a tendency within the human mind to have arrived at a conclusion, and then to materialize the substance and the proof of that conclusion into a permanent reality in which we live, without questioning the foundations of the truth. We hardly ever remember where it was that we first learned those “truths,” and so it becomes even more convincing that they must be objective truths… or else why would we believe them? They are, self evident.

And yet a hundred years after the Founding Fathers had declared that it was “self evident that all men are created equal,” a civil war to end slavery had to be fought. It was what John Quincy Adams (as played by Anthony Hopkins in the Spielberg movie) predicts will be the final battle of the American Revolution. But was it really? Isn’t that ignoring the draconian future that was to come. The history, as we see it, of Jim Crow, mob lynchings, and cross burnings leading through the civil rights era… all the way to cops killing Eric Garner, and Trump followers punching blacks at political rallies.

Perhaps nothing is as “self evident” as it first seems. Perhaps a simple truth like , “slavery is bad” — requires more than us just saying it. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Why do we think it is bad?” and “What is so bad about it?” Is it the violence? Is it the lack of freedom? Is it that we incur the loss of cultural identity? Is it that children are brutalized so that generations to come will feel the negative effects? Is it that slavery is an extreme expression of capitalism without controls? Is it that it inevitably leads to poverty and ghettoism even centuries after it has ceased to exist? And then we could ask ourselves where else in our lives do these qualities also exist. Are some of these necessary in certain situations… violence, for example? How do we go about justifying certain elements of things we would otherwise revile.

The similarity I find in these four men, is that they each talk about things in a way that doesn’t sweat the details. That wants to “make America great again” or simply believes that America is and always has been great, without actually elucidating us at to what makes America great, and conversely what makes it less than so. We are constantly expected to keep up in the discussion by remembering that which is self evident. Nazis— bad,  World War Two— good.  Ku Klux Klan— bad,  black cowboy shooting people— good.  Mexican immigrants taking jobs from Americans— bad,  my ancestors as immigrants— good. Now I know most people reading this are saying, “But Nazis and the Ku Klux
Companies who worked with the Nazis
Klan ARE bad!”
And therefore anyone shooting them must be good, I presume.  
Well... I don’t necessarily disagree with you.

The problem is, when things are “self evident” we tend to not assess them or break them down into component parts. And it makes any response that we might have to them feel justified. It’s what you do! Hmmm… sounds a bit like a Geico commercial I’ve seen recently. “It’s what you do” locks us into a pattern of behaviour that is acceptable to our group. What do you do when you see a Nazi? Shoot him, of course! Or at the very least… hate him! In the ’30s in Germany, many people fell into the pattern of believing that Jews were bad people. They were involved in conspiracies to rob the country of all of its money. We would all starve because of them. So what do you believe is the right thing to do with them?

Now again, we are not concerned with what is true, or what is right or wrong here. We are simply talking about what people believe… and how their culture and it’s leaders/heroes present the problem, and therefore the solutions that spring out of that simplistic presentation. I am guessing that the strongest kick-back I will get is regarding Steven Spielberg. He is a cultural icon held in great esteem by many people I know. He is also politically liberal and therefore more relevant to the type of people who might read this. Many people have grown up influenced by his movies, and he is clearly an extremely talented manipulator of human emotion. But any serious examination of movies such as
“Amistad” or “Schindler's List” or “Saving Private Ryan” should be enough to confirm my assertion that his heavy handed depictions of obvious truths are without subtlety or balance. That he often bends the truth in order to get his point across. That he manipulates the emotional levels of our anger and our sadness, so that in our discombobulated state, we will accept a message which in fact has absolutely nothing to do with the reason for our emotions in the first place. We can see that his brilliant use of symbolism often obscures the reality behind what that symbolism was originally intended to represent. Symbolism can be a wonderful thing, just like ritual can be. But they can both be perverted when we are convinced that they are the truth and not just a metaphor for it.

Perhaps if my friends were of a more conservative nature I would get into more trouble because of my my assertions regarding Reagan and Trump — that they are  simplistic, but I think I’m fairly safe in criticizing Tarantino, despite his liberal leaning tendencies, as a lot of liberals think he is just not politically correct enough in his use of violence. But that is not necessarily the problem I have with him.

So what then makes me split the four into two distinct groups. Why is Spielberg like Reagan, and Trump like Tarantino? Well, this seems to me somethings that is dictated by the times we live in. Spielberg and Reagan are from the past. They are much more polite. They have managed to couch their simplistic belief systems in a mannered and graceful approach. They use charm, and heroism to convince us of their beliefs. They use the traditions of America that many of you have grown up with, deep-fried in re-used oil and served under a thick syrup of artificial and hokey sentimentality. Trump and Tarantino are more modern. They reject that method altogether. They are basically punk rock matured to its ultimate zenith. They hate drippy sentimentality. They will say or do pretty much anything to avoid it. They are products of what our culture has become, and will become even more in the future. They spout whatever comes into their minds — it doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not. We see them as somehow authentic for that very reason. They are uncensored, they are raw, and therefore they must be honest.

But of course the problem is that they are just as manipulated by tradition as those who follow it.
Quentin Tarantino
They are victims of their own reverse psychology. They are mirror images of what has come before. And we all know, that although a mirror image is the exact opposite of what it reflects… it looks almost exactly the same. It is no more truthful than that which it disdains. But — and this is important — it is also no less truthful.

Ultimately, I suppose, this is not a thesis upon the four names I have chosen to dissect. But what our society is all about. We do see movement… especially if we are older. I remember how disturbing the sixties were for my grandparents. There was a loss of certain genteel qualities which even I tend to bemoan these days. But we youngsters believed that our culture was going to gain by a greater freedom of expression. By greater authenticity and creativity. But what we did not do was scrutinize our own words. We did not examine what we thought we needed. We believed that truth was a simple understanding of that which is self evident.  And ultimately, despite surface changes, very little that is deeply wrong about our culture has changed much. And, if anything, I think we can can all feel safe believing that in the future very little will also change — unless we really want it to.

Somewhere along the next forty-five years it occurred to me that the answer does not lie in a battle between simplicity and complexity. Perhaps the basic truths of life are indeed simple. Happiness, peace, love, security. But their utilization in real life can be quite a complex game, although complexity doesn’t guarantee them either. 
Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr
The Catholic church has historically used incredibly complex dogma to prove whatever the hell they wanted you to believe. And so have most of our leaders throughout history. What we have here is simply an alteration in style, and the dogmatic substance remains pretty much what it has always been. Why even in Mr. Spielberg’s movie, “Amistad,” the President at the time, Martin Van Buren, is depicted as a half witted dunce who knows as little about statesmanship as our very own Donald Trump.
To wrap up, and in honor of Reagan, Spielberg, Tarantino and Trump, I therefore gratuitously quote French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” Possibly the most gratuitous and redundant saying of all times — the more it changes… the more it stays exactly the fucking same!

Peace out. And keep questioning everything.