Category Archives: Hollywood

Top Gun: Maverick The Pentagon Recruitment Drive

Hollywood, like the US press, has not been spared the influential hand of government.  Under the mask of various projects, the defence establishment has sought to influence the narrative of Freedom Land’s pursuits, buying a stake in the way exploits are marketed or, when needed, buried.

The extent of such collaboration, manipulation and interference can be gathered in National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood (2017).  Matthew Alford and Tom Secker argue that a number of operations mounted by the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI were designed to further “violent, American-centric solutions to international problems based on twisted readings of history.”

The US Air Force has its own Entertainment Liaison Office in Hollywood, run by director Lieutenant Colonel Glen Roberts.  “Our job,” he explained in 2016, “is to project and protect the image of the US Air Force and its Airmen in the entertainment space.”  Propaganda is not a word he knows, even though he is its most ardent practitioner.  He describes the involvement of his office across scripted or unscripted television, movies, documentaries, reality TV, award and game shows, sporting events and video games.  Its purpose: “to present the Air Force and its people in a credible, realistic way” and provide the entertainment industry with “access to Airmen, bases and equipment if they meet certain standards set by the Department of Defense.”

No more blatant has this link between celluloid, entertainment and the military industrial complex been evident than in the promotion of Top Gun.  When it hit the cinemas in 1986, the US military received a wash of service academy applications, though finding exact recruitment figures linked to the film has not been easy.  (This has not stopped publications such as Military History Now confidently asserting that interest in US Navy flight training rose 500% that year.)

The film was, after all, nothing else than a relentless, eye-goggling advertisement (well, at least 100 minutes) for the US military, a sequence of swerves, testosterone jerks and puerile masculinity.  “It was probably the most realistic flying move that I’d seen, and it just left a mark on me,” Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown told a gathering at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. last August.  “I was out of pilot training, and I was already going to fighters, so it was one of those where you kind of go ‘that’s pretty realistic.’”

Top Gun also served as something of a palette cleanser for US power, bruised by its failings in Indochina and hobbled by the “Vietnam Syndrome”.  In the words of Roger Stahl, a communications academic based at the University of Georgia, “The original Top Gun arrived just in time to clean up this image and clear the way for a more palatable high-tech vision of imperialism and ultimately the Persian Gulf War.”

With Top Gun: Maverick, the collaboration between the Pentagon and the film’s producers is unerring and nakedly evident.  While Cruise plays the role of a rule breaking pilot who lives up to his name, his production is distinctly obedient to the dictates of the US Navy.

It’s also worth noting that Cruise has had trouble using the facilities of other defence ministries to shoot his films given his ties to the Church of Scientology.  There has been no such trouble with the Pentagon.  Both, it seems, have mutual fantasies to promote.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show that the movie only proceeded with the proviso of extensive defence involvement.  The production agreement between the Department of Defense (DoD) and Paramount Pictures is explicit in outlining the role.  The US Marine Corps expressly guaranteed providing 20 Marines from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California “to appear as an official funeral detail for the filming sequence” along with access to MCAS Miramar “to enable actors the opportunity to experience flight simulator training.  All aspects of familiarization and training will be captured by second production unit.”

In return for such access to equipment and facilities, along with necessary technical support and personnel, the DoD openly mentions assigning “a senior staff, post-command Officer to review with public affairs the script’s thematics and weave in key talking points relevant to the aviation community”.

Clause 19 of the agreement reiterates the importance of the Pentagon’s role in the production process.  A “viewing of the roughly edited, but final version of the production (the ‘rough cut’)” was to be provided to the DoD, relevant project officers, and the DoD Director of Entertainment Media “at a stage of editing when changes can be accommodated”.  This would enable the “DoD to confirm that the tone of the military sequences substantially conforms to the agreed script treatment, or narrative description”.  Any material deemed compromising would result in its removal.

The USAF has gone into an enthusiastic recruitment drive, hoping to inject some verve into the numbers.  In of itself, this is unremarkable, given a shortage of pilots that was already being pointed out in March 2018.  That month, Congress was warned about a shortfall of 10 percent equating to 2,100 of the 21,000 pilots required to pursue the National Defence Strategy.  Shortages were also being noted by the US Navy.

Recruitment stalls have mushroomed across movie halls.  Navy spokesperson Commander Dave Benham is hopeful. “We think Top Gun: Maverick will certainly raise awareness and should positively contribute to individual decisions to serve in the Navy.”  With the film running throughout the country, the Navy’s recruitment goals for the 2022 financial year of 40,000 enlistees and 3,800 officers in both active and reserve components may be that much easier.

Patriotic publications have also delighted in the recruitment pap of the new film, seeing it as eminently more suitable and chest-beating than advertising gimmicks such as the 2-minute video featuring Corporal Emma Malonelord.  Released last year, it features an individual who operates the US Patriotic Missile Air Defence system.  From the outset, we are told about a “little girl raised by two moms” in California.  “Although I had a fairly typical childhood, took ballet, played violin, I also marched for equality.  I like to think I’ve been defending freedom from an early age.”

The video is also pap of a different type.  It shows that those freedom loving types in defence can also be musical, balletic products of lesbian unions and peaceful protest.  “Emma’s reason for joining up is selfish,” states a sneering piece in The Federalist.  “There is zero in the video to inspire any kind of bravery, sacrifice, duty, honor, integrity, excellence, teamwork, or respect.”  Senator Ted Cruz was blunter in his assessment.  “Holy crap.  Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea”.

Best leave it to the likes of Cruise the patriot scientologist, lubricated with tips and much assistance from the Pentagon, to give their version of service in the US military.  Even if it is deceptive, controlled tripe.

The post Top Gun: Maverick The Pentagon Recruitment Drive first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Uyghur Podcast Brought to You by a CIA Torture Propagandist

On February 2nd, eagle-eyed pro-China activist Arnaud Bertrand revealed that WEghur Stories, a podcast “working to create a conversation within and about the global Uyghur diaspora” that has been aggressively promoted on Facebook and Spotify, is funded by Washington’s French diplomatic mission—and that John Bair, its co-creator, co-host and producer, is a former CIA operative.

Arnaud Bertrand (@RnaudBertrand) / Twitter
Arnaud Bertrand [Source:]

No trace of Bair’s deep-state background can be detected from the podcast’s website, where he is merely referred to as a former “foreign policy analyst, political speechwriter, and narrative consultant.” However, his LinkedIn profile—which characterizes him as a “narrative development” specialist—reveals an eight-year stint with the Agency from 2004 to 2012, the first seven of which were spent as an intelligence officer.

Since then, he has enjoyed a colorful, diverse career in a number of fields, serving as ghostwriter for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and foreign policy and national security adviser to Pete Buttigieg’s in 2020, which overlapped with a three-and-a-half year spell at Threat Pattern LLC.

WEghur Stories | Podcast on Spotify

The latter company uses CIA “intelligence and counterintelligence analysis techniques to protect corporate brands and assets.” Trade outlet Intelligence Online describes the firm as “a CIA and Wall Street alliance”—in March 2015, Michael Sulick, the Agency’s long-time Clandestine Service Director, joined as senior partner.

Michael Sulick - Wikipedia
Michael Sulick, the Agency’s long-time Clandestine Service Director. [Source:]

Bair, moreover, sits on the board of Foreign Policy for America, a D.C.-based advocacy group founded in the weeks following the 2016 presidential election, “as a home for Americans who support principled American engagement in the world.” In other words, to shill for empire after the victory of Donald Trump, in the event his isolationist, anti-war rhetoric on the campaign trail turned out just to be hot air—which it did, of course.

Lately, he has worked as content director for Thresher, a company offering corporate clients a range of products combining “signal-rich proprietary data, AI-powered technology, and world-class expertise to help decision makers understand China.” Thresher claims to rely on “the best technology the world has to offer, incubated at Harvard and leveraging innovations from Silicon Valley.”

Deep-state liberal performing arts collective

Since January 2014 too, Bair has been part of The New Wild, “a multidisciplinary art lab that brings together artists, writers, scholars, and technologists in a rigorously collaborative environment to create large-scale theater, opera, and spectacles.”

It is as part of this group that Bair produces WEghur Stories, and wrote Tear a Root from the Earth, an elaborate musical about the legacy of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan that has been performed at theaters across America. Additionally, he served as communications director for Everybody Is Gone, an immersive “art installation and performance” seeking to provide “reparative spaces to the Uyghur community” and “counteract the Chinese government’s objectives.”

Little information on The New Wild can be derived from its website—there isn’t even a means of contacting the troupe—although its “collaborators” section is intriguing, for behind the handsome hipsteriffic headshots often lurk deep-state backgrounds.

For example, Jessica Batke, creator of Everybody Is Gone and Tear a Root from the Earth’s music director, was previously a foreign affairs research analyst at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

A person wearing glasses Description automatically generated with low confidence
Jessica Batke [Source:]

She currently serves as senior editor of the opaquely funded ChinaFile, where she manages its China NGO Project, and has published numerous bizarre, scaremongering stories about Beijing subsequently picked up by the mainstream media.

In late January, for example, Batke authored a report framing as sinister a network of youth centers across China, at which attendees can, among other things, have their umbrellas repaired and watch showings of The Dark Knight for free. This while earning “points” for showing “respect for their elders and family, righteousness and trustworthiness, pleasure in helping others, hard work, and thrift in running their household affairs” that can be redeemed for essential products in supermarkets.

The Wall Street Journal was widely ridiculed for presenting this mundane youth engagement program as a malign, insidious Communist Party plot “to quietly [insert] itself into everyday life” in China.

Johnny Walsh, a cellist who co-authored Tear a Root from the Earth and composed its score, is a veteran U.S. foreign policy apparatchik currently occupying a senior post at intelligence cutout USAID, while Nicolas Benacerraf, director and scenographer, is an academic studying “advertising as a means of theatrical population control,” and its relevance to “political theater,” in his spare time.

New Wild founder Marina McClure—a theater director “who grew up internationally,” with an extensive dramatic résumé and virtually no social media presence—has since 2019 received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the U.S. government’s regime-change arm, which financed the production of Everybody Is Gone.

Image of Marina McClure
Marina McClure [Source:]

The NED has since 2004 funded propaganda operations surrounding the purported Uyghur genocide to the tune of millions annually, bankrolling a nexus of advocacy groups, human rights NGOs and media operations to further the controversial narrative, among them right-wing, anti-communist separatists, in order to discredit and ostracize China.

All along, the U.S. has frequently clashed with Uyghur militants in Afghanistan.

It is surely no coincidence the NED wellspring began flowing the year after publication of The Xinjiang Problem, authored by Graham E. Fuller, former vice chair of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate and CIA station chief in Kabul, and academic S. Frederick Starr, a distinguished Eurasian fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council, a neoconservative Beltway think tank.

“It would be unrealistic to rule out categorically American willingness to play the ‘Uyghur card’ as a means of exerting pressure on China in the event of some future crisis or confrontation,” they wrote. “Many of China’s rivals have in the past pursued active policies in Xinjiang and exploited the Uyghur issue for their benefit…The possibility cannot be excluded from any survey of possible longer-range futures for the Xinjiang issue.”

Elsewhere in the text, the authors acknowledged that Uyghurs were in contact with Muslim groups outside Xinjiang, and “some of them have been radicalized into broader jihadist politics in the process, a handful were earlier involved in guerrilla or terrorist training in Afghanistan, and some are in touch with international Muslim mujahidin struggling for Muslim causes of independence worldwide.”

There is reason to believe the U.S. may be providing covert support to these same militants. In 1999, a CIA operative was recorded as saying:

The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia [emphasis added].

East, Turkestan, Islamic, Movement, Party, training
Purported members of the Uyghur-led East Turkestan Islamic Movement [ETIM] in training video. Inspired by the Taliban, the ETIM led a violent insurgency against the Chinese government from the late 1990s until 2017, according to Newsweek, “in a bloody bid to weaken China’s resolve in Xinjiang.” Ironically, for many years, the ETIM was on Washington’s terrorist list, and was targeted in airstrikes by the Pentagon in Afghanistan up until 2018. [Source:]

“We love the CIA,” Ben Affleck writes

Intriguingly, John Bair’s biography on The New Wild website notes that, after his lengthy run as an intelligence officer, he served in the CIA’s entertainment liaison office, which consults directly with TV, streaming and movie productions. Via this mechanism, Langley exerts enormous, insidious and little-known influence over a wide variety of popular culture, influencing scripts and narratives in its own malign interests.

During this time, the résumé notes, Bair served as consultant on several high-profile projects, including the 2012 movies Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. This is striking, for production of those films was heavily influenced by Langley, creating a truly extraordinary situation in which two pictures vying against each other for numerous industry awards that year were both effective CIA propaganda infomercials.

Argo tells the real-life tale of the CIA rescuing six American diplomats who evaded capture during the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, via the cunning connivance of dispatching operatives to the Iranian capital under the guise of scouting for shooting locations for a sci-fi movie.

It was a story the Agency had wanted someone to adapt for the silver screen for some time—in December 2007, an essay by Tony Mendez, who led the daring operation, outlining the experience was published on a section of the CIA’s website which regularly suggests possible storylines writers and producers should pursue. | Argo | Movies

In Argo, Mendez was played by Ben Affleck, who also directed the movie. Email exchanges between the actor and CIA liaison office during the production process unearthed by academic Matt Alford speak to an extremely chummy and affectionate rapport, with actors and production staff receiving rare private tours of Langley, and being provided with exclusive archive photos. All Agency personnel identities are redacted in the emails, although there are many written by and mentioning names short enough to be “John Bair.”

“We would love, in brief, to film a quick bit walking through the lobby, something in the parking lot and a wide shot of the building as an establishing shot,” Affleck wrote to the CIA in one missive. “We love the Agency and this heroic action and we really want the process of bringing it to the big screen to be as real as possible.”

In return for its assistance, the CIA was provided with multiple drafts of the script—Langley was very taken with the writer’s efforts, with one entertainment liaison office representative commenting, “the Agency comes off looking very well, in my opinion, and the action of the movie is, for the most part, squarely rooted in the facts of the mission.”

Upon release though, Argo was widely criticized for its historical inaccuracies, such as determinedly diminishing Canada’s prominent role in the mission, falsely charging that the British embassy refused to help the diplomats, and fabricating whole-cloth a daring runway escape scene.

Neglecting to highlight how the CIA’s 1953 coup had helped destroy Iranian democracy and provoke the 1979 Islamic Revolution, it was also harshly condemned for universally depicting Iranians—with the exception of a single character—as rabid, aggressive, violent, moronic and possessed of surging anti-Western animus. This did not prevent the movie from securing three Academy Awards though, including Best Picture.

“Grossly inaccurate and misleading”

Zero Dark Thirty dramatizes the CIA’s decade-long worldwide manhunt for Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks, culminating with the Navy SEAL team raid on his secret compound in Pakistan in May 2011.

The film generated even more controversy than Argo, due to its depiction of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and false implication that they were fundamental to locating the al-Qaeda chief, with even the CIA’s then-acting chief Michael Morrell expressing grave concern about this fundamental aspect of the narrative.

ZERO DARK THIRTY | Sony Pictures Entertainment

A bipartisan group of senior U.S. senators—including notorious war hawk John McCain—were so outraged by it that they wrote a joint letter to Sony Pictures, Zero Dark Thirty’s distributor, slamming the movie as “grossly inaccurate and misleading,” and declaring the company had a “social and moral obligation” to make categorically clear torture played no role in bin Laden’s location.

The executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture program, declassified two years later, confirmed that “the vast majority of intelligence” which helped track down the al-Qaeda chief was not only “originally acquired from sources unrelated” to the program, but “the most accurate information acquired from a CIA detainee was provided prior [emphasis added] to the CIA subjecting the detainee to enhanced interrogation techniques.”

The enormous and unprecedented support provided to Zero Dark Thirty by not only the CIA but the Pentagon was well-publicized at the time of its release, although it would be some time before internal documents revealing in detail how its narrative was directly shaped by deep-state interests were declassified.

Among the tranche was an internal memo describing how the film’s writer consulted directly Agency representatives—which may well have included Bair—on the script over four separate conference calls. In turn, they dictated what should be changed or even removed from the screenplay, in order to protect Langley’s image.

For example, a spy “[firing] a celebratory burst of AK-47 gunfire into the air” at a party, and the use of a dog during an interrogation, were both cut, the latter because “such tactics would not be used by the Agency.”

Interestingly though, the filmmakers were moreover explicitly told to stick to torture techniques already in the public domain—suggesting they may have been made party to classified information, and the CIA did not want that leaking out.

Curiously, the aforementioned Senate report also reveals that the CIA had been planning to “publicly attribute” the operation to the success and efficacy of the torture program two months before its execution, with the Agency’s Office of Public Affairs specifically deployed for the purpose. After the raid, the CIA “engaged the media directly in order to defend and promote the program.” Was Zero Dark Thirty the product of this perverse propaganda push?

Whatever the truth of the matter, the relationship between the CIA and the filmmakers over the course of Zero Dark Thirty’s production was so concerningly intimate and intensive that it triggered three separate internal investigations, probing lavish gifts to Agency operatives, possible granting of classified material to the studio, and more generally the ways in which Langley engaged with the entertainment industry.


A number of ethics violations were identified, and various processes reformed, but no one was prosecuted or fired.

Bair had left the CIA by the time of the film’s release, and long prior to the investigations being launched, after just one year in the liaison post. It is unclear if he was pushed in advance of potential censure, or left of his own accord, and it remains an open question what he was doing and where over the 18-month gap following his departure and next stated role on LinkedIn.

Still, it can only be considered utterly grotesque that an individual so intimately involved in the production of clandestine state propaganda demonizing the Islamic world and justifying the unspeakable criminal excesses of the War on Terror—to say nothing of whatever evils he himself may have perpetrated over his intelligence career during the same period –now plays the public role of a committed friend and humanitarian protector of Uyghur Muslims within and without China.

As the New Cold War grows hotter every day, we can expect its cultural component to become correspondingly turbocharged.

Theater-goers are an ideal target audience for anti-China propaganda—overwhelmingly liberal, educated, wealthy, and influential opinion formers, their support for or acquiescence to dangerously rising tensions with Beijing provides absolutely crucial grease for the imperial war machine’s ever-churning wheels.

Unlike Washington’s battle against Soviet Communism though, this time around the CIA does not have to rely on covertly co-opting academics, authors, creatives and musicians—there are clearly enough creatively minded veteran deep-state operatives out there who can be relied upon to faithfully execute the West’s informational assault on global perceptions regarding China in a variety of innovative ways.

  • First published at Covert Action Magazine.
  • The post The Uyghur Podcast Brought to You by a CIA Torture Propagandist first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Authoritarian Monsters Wreak Havoc on Our Freedoms

    You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You’re wrong. Dead wrong.

    They Live

    We are living in an age of mayhem, madness and monsters.

    Monsters with human faces walk among us. Many of them work for the U.S. government.

    What we are dealing with today is an authoritarian beast that has outgrown its chains and will not be restrained.

    Through its acts of power grabs, brutality, meanness, inhumanity, immorality, greed, corruption, debauchery and tyranny, the government has become almost indistinguishable from the evil it claims to be fighting, whether that evil takes the form of terrorism, torture, disease, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, murder, violence, theft, pornography, scientific experimentations or some other diabolical means of inflicting pain, suffering and servitude on humanity.

    We have let the government’s evil-doing and abuses go on for too long.

    We have bought into the illusion and refused to grasp the truth.

    We’re being fed a series of carefully contrived fictions that bear no resemblance to reality.

    We’re living in two worlds: the world we see (or are made to see) and the one we sense (and occasionally catch a glimpse of), the latter of which is a far cry from the propaganda-driven reality manufactured by the government and its corporate sponsors, including the media.

    Indeed, what most Americans perceive as life in America—privileged, progressive and free—is a far cry from reality, where economic inequality is growing; pandemic lockdowns (both mental and physical), real agendas and real power are buried beneath layers of Orwellian doublespeak and corporate obfuscation; and “freedom,” such that it is, is meted out in small, legalistic doses by militarized police armed to the teeth.

    The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers, disease, etc.).

    They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being.

    They want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

    Most of all, they want us to continue to march in lockstep with their dictates.

    Tune out the government’s attempts to distract, divert and befuddle us and tune into what’s really going on in this country, and you’ll run headlong into an unmistakable, unpalatable truth: the moneyed elite who rule us view us as expendable resources to be used, abused and discarded.

    In fact, a study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern University concluded that the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens. Instead, the study found that the government is ruled by the rich and powerful, or the so-called “economic elite.” Moreover, the researchers concluded that policies enacted by this governmental elite nearly always favor special interests and lobbying groups.

    In other words, we are being ruled by an oligarchy disguised as a democracy, and arguably on our way towards fascism—a form of government where private corporate interests rule, money calls the shots, and the people are seen as mere subjects to be controlled.

    Not only do you have to be rich—or beholden to the rich—to get elected these days, but getting elected is also a surefire way to get rich. As CBS News reports, “Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further.”

    In denouncing this blatant corruption of America’s political system, former president Jimmy Carter blasted the process of getting elected—to the White House, governor’s mansion, Congress or state legislatures—as “unlimited political bribery… a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over.”

    Rest assured that when and if fascism finally takes hold in America, the basic forms of government will remain: Fascism will appear to be friendly. The legislators will be in session. There will be elections, and the news media will continue to cover the entertainment and political trivia. Consent of the governed, however, will no longer apply. Actual control will have finally passed to the oligarchic elite controlling the government behind the scenes.

    Sound familiar?

    Clearly, we are now ruled by an oligarchic elite of governmental and corporate interests.

    We have moved into “corporatism” (favored by Benito Mussolini), which is a halfway point on the road to full-blown fascism.

    Corporatism is where the few moneyed interests—not elected by the citizenry—rule over the many. In this way, it is not a democracy or a republican form of government, which is what the American government was established to be. It is a top-down form of government and one which has a terrifying history typified by the developments that occurred in totalitarian regimes of the past: police states where everyone is watched and spied on, rounded up for minor infractions by government agents, placed under police control, and placed in detention (a.k.a. concentration) camps.

    For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary.

    But why would a people agree to such an oppressive regime?

    The answer is the same in every age: fear.

    Fear makes people stupid.

    Fear is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. And, as most social commentators recognize, an atmosphere of fear permeates modern America: fear of terrorism, fear of the police, fear of our neighbors and so on.

    The propaganda of fear has been used quite effectively by those who want to gain control, and it is working on the American populace.

    Despite the fact that we are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack; 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane; 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack, and 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist , we have handed over control of our lives to government officials who treat us as a means to an end—the source of money and power.

    As the Bearded Man warns in John Carpenter’s film They Live: “They are dismantling the sleeping middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery.”

    In this regard, we’re not so different from the oppressed citizens in They Live, which was released more than 30 years ago, and remains unnervingly, chillingly appropriate for our modern age or Carpenter’s other dystopian films.

    Best known for his horror film Halloween, which assumes that there is a form of evil so dark that it can’t be killed, Carpenter’s larger body of work is infused with a strong anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment, laconic bent that speaks to the filmmaker’s concerns about the unraveling of our society, particularly our government.

    Time and again, Carpenter portrays the government working against its own citizens, a populace out of touch with reality, technology run amok, and a future more horrific than any horror film.

    In Escape from New York, Carpenter presents fascism as the future of America.

    In The Thing, a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic of the same name, Carpenter presupposes that increasingly we are all becoming dehumanized.

    In Christine, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a demon-possessed car, technology exhibits a will and consciousness of its own and goes on a murderous rampage.

    In In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter notes that evil grows when people lose “the ability to know the difference between reality and fantasy.”

    And then there is Carpenter’s They Live, in which two migrant workers discover that the world is not as it seems. In fact, the population is actually being controlled and exploited by aliens working in partnership with an oligarchic elite. All the while, the populace—blissfully unaware of the real agenda at work in their lives—has been lulled into complacency, indoctrinated into compliance, bombarded with media distractions, and hypnotized by subliminal messages beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards and the like.

    It is only when homeless drifter John Nada (played to the hilt by the late Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of doctored sunglasses—Hoffman lenses—that Nada sees what lies beneath the elite’s fabricated reality: control and bondage.

    When viewed through the lens of truth, the elite, who appear human until stripped of their disguises, are shown to be monsters who have enslaved the citizenry in order to prey on them.

    Likewise, billboards blare out hidden, authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is actually ordering viewers to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks scream “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of dollar bills in a vendor’s hand proclaims, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

    When viewed through Nada’s Hoffman lenses, some of the other hidden messages being drummed into the people’s subconscious include: NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP, BUY, WATCH TV, NO IMAGINATION, and DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.

    This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American culture.

    A citizenry that does not think for themselves, obeys without question, is submissive, does not challenge authority, does not think outside the box, and is content to sit back and be entertained is a citizenry that can be easily controlled.

    In this way, the subtle message of They Live provides an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state, what philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to as dictatorship in democracy, “the invisible order which sustains your apparent freedom.”

    From the moment we are born until we die, we are indoctrinated into believing that those who rule us do it for our own good. The truth is far different.

    Despite the truth staring us in the face, we have allowed ourselves to become fearful, controlled, pacified zombies.

    We live in a perpetual state of denial, insulated from the painful reality of the American police state by wall-to-wall entertainment news and screen devices.

    Most everyone keeps their heads down these days while staring zombie-like into an electronic screen, even when they’re crossing the street. Families sit in restaurants with their heads down, separated by their screen devices and unaware of what’s going on around them. Young people especially seem dominated by the devices they hold in their hands, oblivious to the fact that they can simply push a button, turn the thing off and walk away.

    Indeed, there is no larger group activity than that connected with those who watch screens—that is, television, lap tops, personal computers, cell phones and so on. In fact, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month.

    The question, of course, is what effect does such screen consumption have on one’s mind?

    Psychologically it is similar to drug addiction. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.” Research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

    Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet discontent and pacify disruptive people. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek.

    Given that the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by six mega corporations, what we watch is now controlled by a corporate elite and, if that elite needs to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers, it can do so on a large scale.

    If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

    The powers-that-be understand this. As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

    We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

    This brings me back to They Live, in which the real zombies are not the aliens calling the shots but the populace who are content to remain controlled.

    When all is said and done, the world of They Live is not so different from our own. As one of the characters points out, “The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.”

    We, too, are focused only on our own pleasures, prejudices and gains. Our poor and underclasses are also growing. Injustice is growing. Inequality is growing. Human rights is nearly nonexistent. We too have been lulled into a trance, indifferent to others.

    Oblivious to what lies ahead, we’ve been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that’s never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

    So where does that leave us?

    The characters who populate Carpenter’s films provide some insight.

    Underneath their machismo, they still believe in the ideals of liberty and equal opportunity. Their beliefs place them in constant opposition with the law and the establishment, but they are nonetheless freedom fighters.

    When, for example, John Nada destroys the alien hyno-transmitter in They Live, he delivers a wake-up call for freedom. As Nada memorably declares, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

    In other words: we need to get active.

    Stop allowing yourselves to be easily distracted by pointless political spectacles and pay attention to what’s really going on in the country.

    The real battle between freedom and tyranny is taking place right in front of our eyes, if we would only open them.

    As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, the real battle for control of this nation is taking place on roadsides, in police cars, on witness stands, over phone lines, in government offices, in corporate offices, in public school hallways and classrooms, in parks and city council meetings, and in towns and cities across this country.

    All the trappings of the American police state are now in plain sight.

    Wake up, America.

    If they live (the tyrants, the oppressors, the invaders, the overlords), it is only because “we the people” sleep.


    The post Authoritarian Monsters Wreak Havoc on Our Freedoms first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The G7 and the Orwellian Twin Tropes Propagandising US Global Domination

    During the recent G7 summit the corporate media went into pro-US propaganda overdrive.  The BBC’s Global News channel – or UK global propaganda outlet – has spent the years since the Iraq War spinning the US Military’s assault on the Black and Brown homelands of the world as ‘America spreading democracy’.  Media Lens has responded to the brutal consequences, condemning BBC Paul Wood’s misrepresentation “The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights” (22 December 2005).  Previously, BBC defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus also historically spun American Military aggression as “the promotion of democracy throughout the Muslim world” (5 December 2002).   In the near two decades since Iraq, consecutive BBC Political Editors Andrew Marr and Nick Robinson have also regularly spouted this propaganda position.  And this ongoing orthodoxy was parroted ad-infinitum during the summit by the rest of the corporate media.  The other trope repeatedly invoked was that of a supposed transatlantic ‘special relationship’.

    Even leaving aside the death toll and victims of torture resulting from historically recent US militarism, for America to actually spread democracy it would have to be one itself.  Reflecting the genealogical critique of Philosopher-Historian Michel Foucault – that the mechanisms of power rarely disappear but instead evolve – the US reality is that much of its slavery-era anti-democratic oppressions are still intact, albeit in mutated form.

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, African-Americans were driven out of the public sphere by a violent campaign of lynching, torture and intimidation known as ‘disenfranchisement’.  This deliberate political exclusion persisted into the 1960s in the practice of murdering voter registration activists, some of which was fictionalised in the pro-federal establishment film Mississippi Burning (1988).  Currently, this agenda manifests itself in ‘Voter Suppression’ tactics.   Poll Stations are closed down in Black and Latino areas, resulting in reports of 6+ hour waits, to cast a ballot – as exampled in the infamous experience of 102 years-old Desline Victor.  Impediments to voting are also created by new regulations which refuse to recognise forms of ID common among Black and Latino groups, therefore blocking their attempts at voting.

    In the academic publication The New Jim Crow (2010), Michele Alexander documents a similar oppressive continuity, recording that there are more Black Americans in the US penal apparatus than were held in slavery in the 1850s.  Given the privatisation of US Prisons, much of this captivity is for profit, and can also similarly involve prisoners being used as cheap labour.  In most US states prisoners lose the right to vote, so once again they can’t take democratic action, even against their own caged exploitation.

    There is also the issue of taking Black lives with impunity of which the Black Lives Matter movement rightly complains.  Much of this begins with the historic lynching tradition.  Given often the complicity of authority figures – sheriffs, police officers, local judges, handing victims over to lynch mobs – this practice has historically been relabelled as supposedly respectable ‘extra-judicial killing’.  Building on this, in recent years many states have passed Stand Your Ground, Shoot First Laws’.  There have been attempts to excuse current killings of many Black youths such as, Trayvon Martin and Jordon Davis on just this legal provision.

    Those wondering about the relevance of these practices for foreign policy need only reflect on why examples of the US historic lynching postcard resemble so closely the human trophy photography to come out of Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay.  One of Guantanamo’s interrogators was “Lieutenant Richard Zuley, a Chicago police detective in the Navy Reserve… During his career with the Chicago Police Department, Zuley conducted police interrogations primarily on Black Chicagoans. These interrogations involved the use of torture techniques similar to those he would later use at Guantánamo Bay.”  Again echoing the issue of institutional continuity, the  American Military’s practice of assassinating those globally, whose arguments of US racist-imperialism it finds too inconvenient to put on trial, is similarly once again spun as merely ‘extra judicial killing’.

    Neither claims of ‘America spreading democracy’ or the ‘special relationship’ stand much scrutiny, given that for generations Britain has been welcoming those seeking refuge from US racial and political oppression.   Therefore the real predominant special relationship that the British general public actually embraced has been with Americans, who were the US establishment’s victims.

    The singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson enjoyed his time in the UK in the early 20th C, whereas in his own country he was subjected to racial and political persecution, predominantly by Federal authorities.

    Post-war footage of African-American Rhythm-&-Blues performers freely plying their trade in Britain, shows the artists in occasional off-stage anxiety as this was the first time they’d been in un-segregated spaces, sharing train carriages and the like with white citizens.  Some of this footage can be found in the first episode of a previous BBC arts documentary Blues Britannia (2011), which demonstrates the ongoing self-conscious lengths the BBC’s Global News channel attempts in re-branding American establishment traditions as ‘democratic’.

    Also, many American artists objecting to working-class exploitation and oppression came to Britain fleeing the political persecution of US McCarthyism.  The composer and harmonica player Larry Adler was one of these.  While here he produced the score for the popular UK film Genevieve (1953).  Two decades later he told the New York Times how even his foreign work was treated under McCarthyism.

    Remember the film ‘Genevieve?’ I composed and played the music for that. Six weeks before it opened at the Sutton in New York a print was requested without my name. My music was nominated for an Oscar. As no composer’s name was on the credits they nominated Muir Mathieson, who conducted the orchestra. I made the fact known to the Academy but no correction was made and my name never restored.

    The Adventures of Robin Hood was one of UK television’s most successful exports of the late 50’s and early 60’s.  However, its producer Hannah Weinstein and previously successful Hollywood writing team including Ring Lardner Jr. (a joint Oscar recipient), Ian Hunter, Robert Lees, Waldo Salt, Adrian Scott and Editor Howard Koch (another joint Oscar recipient), were fleeing the McCarthyite Black List.  In 1990 a fiction film – Fellow Traveller (1990) director Philip Saville, starring Ron Silver, Daniel J Travanti – was made largely inspired by their situation.  The production company back then was ‘Screen Two’ a division of the BBC.

    While largely hated by large parts of America, in the 1960s and 70’s Muhammad Ali, similar to Robeson, enjoyed respite in the UK.  Part of Ali’s fondness for Britain was that when stripped of his World title by US authorities, a little known Oxfordshire based Irish former bareknuckle fighter Paddy Monaghan, put together a petition demanding his reinstatement.  Even though only publicised by a working-class, unknown, un-resourced figure, this petition got 22,224 signatures in the UK.  You’d hope given Ali’s relationship to Britain, and that images of the resulting friendship that occurred between the two men can be found in the BBC’s photo-archive, that this alongside the history of McCarthyism, would inform BBC News/Current-Affairs spin on US democracy.  Sadly not!

    Significantly the UK has now gone from the country that used to welcome those seeking refuge and relief from American oppression, to one that on US government insistence imprisons and – according the UN’s Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer and medical journal The Lancet – tortures Julian Assange (Assange is now an absented non-person in corporate media coverage).  This turnaround has occurred due to the elitist subversion of Party democracy in the UK, and because the corporate news media – as demonstrated by BBC News output – is willing in the Orwellian manner of Winston Smith at the Ministry of Truth, to absent and rewrite, its own Arts, Historical, and Archive material.

    The origins of the constructed ‘special relationship’ narrative, owes much to the correspondence and occasional friendship between a retired Winston Churchill and President Kennedy.  And also to the fact, that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher launched their attacks on the post-war consensus in their countries, from largely shared agendas and at around the same time.  Actually UK Labour was historically to the Left of even US Democrats.   Labour’s 1960s Prime Minister Harold Wilson could not expect his Party to accept following America into Vietnam – so there was no all across the political spectrum ‘special relationship,’ and very few instances where Britain has ever been able to say to the US ‘don’t do x…”

    The notion of a ‘special relationship’ was infamously remanufactured when Neoliberal New Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tried to market the war on the Iraqi people on the basis of the heady days of world war alliances.  This was quite a reboot.   America aided Britain’s fight against the eugenicist Nazis by providing racially segregated regiments.  Historian Graham Smith (When Jim Crow met John Bull – 1987), notes than when American forces arrived in Britain they attempted – thankfully unsuccessfully in some cases – to impose segregation on the UK social spaces that GIs might visit.  Owners/landlords of pubs, dance halls and cafes were often appalled both by the racism and the threat of being posted off-limits to service personnel, at a time of great economic hardship, if they refused.  This was not new.  Smith cites similar diktats in WWI given to French Authorities about not ‘Spoiling the negroes” (Ibid., page 10).

    Race issues also threatened the judicial independence of British sovereignty.  During the Second World War, 11 African-American GIs were executed for rape on UK soil. And rape was not a death penalty crime under British law.  It’s questionable how many – if any – of these soldiers committed this crime because American authorities of the time viewed relations between black men and white women as a sex crime in itself.  The case of Leroy Henry particularly incensed the British public. He’d been having a relationship with a local white woman before being arrested for rape and having a confession beaten out of him, resulting in a death sentence. Indicative of the British low opinion of American justice and the solidarity later to be shown Muhammad Ali decades later, the people of the city of Bath put together a 30,000-strong petition, which got his sentence commuted.

    White Americans also brought racial violence and lynching practices to UK shores.  The wartime memory of many British Tommies is fighting in UK dance halls and elsewhere alongside Black GIs against White American racists.  Victims of violence also included British Colonial Servicemen and volunteer Colonial Technicians (recognition of this in some BBC archives does not impact on its ‘US spreading democracy’ news narrative).  West Indies cricketing legend Learie Constantine was in charge of the Caribbean technical volunteers, and was subsequently given a peerage for his war service and sporting achievements.  He wrote the following letter of complaint to the British government.

    I cannot lay sufficient emphasis on the bitterness being created amongst the technicians by these attacks on coloured British subjects by white Americans … I am … loth to believe that coloured subjects of the Empire who are here on vital work could be attacked at random and at will and pleasure of these white American soldiers without the means of redress … I have lived in this country for a long time and claim many friends among the white population and I shiver to think that I am liable to attack by these men if I am seen in the company of my friends. I suggest something be done urgently, as I can foresee a crisis.

    Corporate media apologists might question how much this experience was part of public consciousness.  However, the middle section of the film Yanks (1979, director John Schlesinger) features an attempted dance hall lynching of a Black GI who’d been seen dancing with a white woman.  And this film is primarily a wartime set romantic vehicle for Richard Gere, not a piece of political agit-prop.  There were also similar phenomena internationality, including the Battle of Manners Street, in New Zealand where white American servicemen attempted to violently segregate a Services Club to the exclusion of local Maoris.  Race and the US wartime presence were also believed to be contributing factors to the two days of rioting in Australia known as the Battle of Brisbane.

    Post-war even in America it was impossible to sell in the cultural market place, the US establishment as a credible site of authority.  The Black figure offered as an idealised son-in-law of a middle-class white family in the film, Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967) is not a member of the US establishment but a doctor working for a UN based organisation.  Marvel Comics when starting the title Nick Fury, Agent of Shield, originally made Shield a UN based organisation, rather than US.  The central protagonist of The President’s Analyst (1967) is on the run from the world’s intelligence agencies, the worst of which are the CIA and FBI.  Indicative of the fear of oppression of US authorities the producers did not even feel safe in using the actual acronyms of US intelligence agencies.

    When Tony Blair threw his weight behind America’s foreign wars, he did so flying in the face of this history and the cultural sensibilities it generated.  He also threw into reverse Britain’s position as a post-war decolonising power.  He subverted the Labour Party’s historical identity as a pro-workers organisation with a socialist agenda by aligning it with the right wing US Republican Party. He also subverted Labours’ historic anti-imperialist sensibility, which kept Britain under Harold Wilson’s Labour out of Vietnam.  Perhaps most shocking for older Labour traditionalists and Black Britons, he took the UK’s intelligence and military sectors and forced them into relations with the US security services, that had historically tried to break the Civil Rights Movement, drive Martin Luther King to suicide, fed details of his sex life to the right wing press, and which had an assassination programme of American Black Liberationists entitled COINTELPRO.

    Blair chose to support America’s Iraq War 5 years after arguably the worst lynching in US history –  in 1998, James Byrd, “a Black man in Jasper, Texas was ‘lynched by dragging‘,” behind a pick-up truck until his body disintegrated.  Three years after the start of the Iraq War, in Jenna, Louisiana “whites responded to black students sitting under the ‘white tree’ at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree.”  And America’s post-war civil war Black Lives Matter crisis has still continued to manifest itself.  As for Presidential and federal authority, this was also 5 years since Bill Clinton bombed a medical manufacturer in Sudan.  9/11 resulted in 3000 American deaths and many more injured.  Clinton’s bombing is credited with “several tens of thousands of deaths” of Sudanese civilians caused by a medicine shortage” by German Ambassador Werner Daum and others.

    Just as no one in the corporate media questions the death toll and torture of current US-led imperialism, no one also scrutinises the nature of just what has been unleashed on the world, or the massive ideological reboot needed to sustain it.  Instead, we get ‘America spreading democracy’ and the ‘special relationship.

    The post The G7 and the Orwellian Twin Tropes Propagandising US Global Domination first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Star Trek: A Viewpoint beyond Liking It

    See Part 1.

    What is the point of Star Trek? When examined under apposite practical context, the conclusion may validate the argument that Star Trek filmography cannot be separated from the business enterprise that created it. Consequently, it is no-brainer to deduce that special interests control the content, direction, and purpose of such films.

    Star Trek (ST) sagas are fascinating—even addictive. One explanation could be that the modifier Star makes us feel good about a Trek that would take us far from problems afflicting our planet. Another may suggest that imagination, storylines, characters, costumes, etc. are put together in such a way that earned them enduring allure and a place in the cultural landscape. Those among us who, as if under “cultic” influence, enjoy watching the various Enterprise ships roaming between the stars may justify the “addiction” in terms of relaxation without guilt. Is that the whole story? No. Beyond the assumed relaxation, progressives would want to see their ST experience as a means to uncover possible new metrics denoting freedom, progress, and effective humanistic principles.

    Yet, are we so delusional that we embrace fictional tales of dubious value despite our realization that the hyped trek is not only crudely fictitious but also a mirror for Hollywood greed, its false worlds of extraterrestrial civilizations where most are bad, and only the Federation is good? On a serious note: is it conceivable that all these treks among the stars are, in fact, subtle ways to spread and justify U.S. policies, ideology, militarism, and interventionism?

    To be sure, delusion has nothing to do with our affection toward Star Trek. We well know that fictional space adventures cannot possibly ascend to any appreciable value except that of entertainment. We also know that what we watch is only a rendering of fictional tales made in accordance with the cultural and business values of producers and writers. Of course, then, as we do not take this faking seriously, we still enjoy the twists to a story, seeing special effects and futuristic technologies in action, cinematography, and the visions for advanced societies.

    Could Star Trek offer clues or means to examine social, cultural, and political situations? Highly improbable— such tasks are manifestly antithetical to the objectives of films that want to dazzle and entertain. Conversely, distancing from (or escaping into) filmic fiction while maintaining connections to it by other means is not vacillation of choice between two contrasting sets of behavior: adolescence coupled with nonchalant innocence and maturity tempered by discernment. There is no competition between these two sets. Proving this point, viewing a fictional story in space (in whatever set of behavior) could be much more gratifying than watching a documentary on, for example, the behavior of desert insects.

    Ultimately, fiction will always remain fiction, and material reality will always remain material reality. Besides, neither fiction nor non-fiction has ever changed anything in the mentality and actions of modern states and societies where misinformation, disinformation, blatant political demagogy, gossip as culture, pervasive triviality, pomposity, and inconsequentiality dominate unchallenged—with no end in sight—every crevice of today’s culture.

    Did a great movie such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest change anything in the behavior and ethics of hospitals, caregivers, and people toward mental instability? Did the U.S. prison system change after the movie Brubaker? In the book world, did Tolstoy’s War & Peace novel (1869) on the horrors of Napoleonic wars in Russia hinder the path to WWI? Did U.S. violence against countless nations of the planet cease after James William Gibson published his exceptional book: The Perfect War: Techno War in Vietnam? Did Ramsey Clark’s book, The Fire This Time (1992), stop the United States from invading Iraq in 2003?

    Along the same lines, did ST stories influence anything important in the real world? The answer is no. Did they, at least, elicit intellectual response to certain topics relevant to empowerment and emancipation? The short answer is still no. Although some ST episodes or films could eventually stimulate some to engage in articulate debates, they are not the proper forums for intellectual tension and analytical drive (to be fair, a few productions do present topics deserving of reflection and respect). Meaning, they seldom contribute to achieving higher levels of consciousness in any concrete way. Does curiosity have a role? The answer is another no. Curiosity for how a plot would end is by no means equivalent to exploratory curiosity of the mysteries enveloping our outer space or the vast universe. Are there morality paradigms, ethical values, or philosophies we could learn from Star Trek? Once again, the answer is no.

    To take on ST in a critical context, maybe it is a good idea to relate its significance vis-à-vis similar filmic and writing experiences. For starters, attributing to ST a science-fiction quality is deceptive. This cannot be otherwise. Star Trek is all fiction and just a very little science. Encyclopedia Britannica gives a terse definition for the concept of science. It states, “Science, any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.”

    Accordingly, while Star Trek fits all formats of fiction, it does not conform to the definition of science. However, dubbing the science of ST and similar stock as pseudoscience is acceptable. Regardless, ST remains a fictional menagerie of good and bad—even contentious— scripts. To evaluate ST, it is relevant to point out the basic feature epitomizing the film industry. Together with the vast entertainment, music, and sport industries, the film industry is the highest expression of vulture capitalism where astronomical-paying jobs and moneymaking machines are the norm (in 2018, the global film industry was worth $136 billion).

    Within such an environment, the ST franchise (like all similar widescreen and TV movies) is out there to sell a product and make good profits. Concerns for productions conducive to cultural or political debates rarely figure in the calculation of producers. Simply, the gluttonous underpinnings of such industry where business decisions start and end with eyes fixated on advertisers and box office cannot possibly be a voice for social progress through fictional dialog. Even independent filmmakers cannot escape this fate. At the end of the day, they need money for production, for living, and for lifestyle.

    About fact-based films, Konstantinos Gavras’ great American film Missing (starring Jack Lemmon) went into fast oblivion despite all awards it garnered. Observation: Generally, American moviegoers are not interested in serious topics such as the abduction and killing of an American journalist in Chile (in the aftermath of the fascist military coup of Augusto Pinochet, 1973) that Henry Kissinger abetted and helped organize. By understated indoctrination, most Americans disproportionately look for entertainment over content.

    Another great fact-based film that remained obscure is Z—also by Gavras. U.S. moviegoers and critics have no inclination to see political dramas in foreign lands—Greece in this case. Then there is Gillo Pontecorvo’s outstanding fiction-based film: Queimada (Burn!) that encapsulated the core and modus operandi of British colonialism. It went unnoticed despite an outstanding script and superlative performances by Evaristo Marquez and Marlon Brando.

    It is an empirical fact that made-for-high-profit U.S. film industry is resistant to produce quality films in terms of progressive humanistic, artistic, political, or social values. Factors such as the type/size of prospected audience and expected revenues play fundamental roles in the decisions to make films. Consider Finding Forrester. This greatly distinguished film had no success at market level. Despite an impressive thematic value, the system will falsely claim that such movies are not what the moviegoers want.

    Because so-called science fiction films have no inclination for intellectual subjects of any sort, filmmakers of this genre compensate by wrapping their productions with attractive illusions of technology with the intent to slide over all other deficiencies including poor dialogs. In addition, because producers follow pre-established financial-ideological guidelines, one specific consequence is notable: their pervasive tendency to treat the audience like kids. That is, to count on viewers’ intellectual passivity versus the meaning and purpose of films. The quid pro quo is apparent: visual and narrative “excitement” in exchange for intellectual indifference to the value of films.

    What is preponderant in this context, therefore, is the viewing experience as an end. Mind you, the audience does not accept everything—people are not stupid. What appears to be working, though, is this: as we close our eyes to stupidities, we open them wide in the attempt to enjoy and understand the story. The keyword, therefore, is “enjoyment”. We enjoy, so to speak, seeing Leonard Nimoy pretending to be a logical person from Vulcan while knowing that nearly none of his “logical” remarks relate to the rhetorical craft of logic; and we like to see William Shatner exude “toughness” in the execution of his agenda as Captain Kirk, and so on.

    In the same vein, Picard, Janeway, Sisko, Archer, McCoy, Ryker, Data, Worf, Crusher, La Forge, young Kirk (Chris Pine), etc. all had their big share of people’s affection for no other reason than being fictional characters with certain appeal. With the exception of Picard (Patrick Stewart, a fine Shakespearian actor, contributed to make the character excel in the delivery of the act), most other ST characters offered no serious intellectual provocations meant to challenge the mind.

    If pertinence matters, Star Trek tales are not liberating experiences either. Gene Roddenberry, creator of the original series, put his ship in orbit and loaded it with topics borrowed from mentality, cultural, political, and military matters typical of his time. Unlike other fictional writers of the caliber of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and others, and despite his visionary approach to the future of humanity, Roddenberry, being a TV producer, appeared to have been inclined to tell commercially appealing adventurous stories. In practice, he sacrificed substance for commercial success.

    What is relevant to the analysis of ST is that unlike Wells, for example, whose impassioned anti-imperialist impulses are known, Roddenberry chose the safe ground of the self-centered American culture. He imbued Star Trek with many problematic plots that, when interpreted rigorously, appear to be glorifying American colonialism, imperialism, militarism, racism, unilateralism, and gratuitous violence. Despite all that, Roddenberry redeemed himself in several valid episodes in the original series and in The Next Generation.

    There is no doubt that other Star Trek series after Roddenberry such as Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Discovery and all spin-off series could have merits under certain circumstances. My focus is ST: The Original Series, and ST: The Next Generation. These two series represent the foundations upon which all other series were fashioned, not so much in terms of characters but rather in terms of the ideas that propel the ships and their crews into the infinity of space. Compare Star Trek to George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise. Lucas remained a prisoner of superficial characters and story-lines à la Edgar Rice Burroughs. In contrast, Star Trek evolved far beyond the intent of Roddenberry.

    Are there critical issues to debate about Star Trek: the Original Series (ST: TOS) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST: TNG)?

    First things first, the history of post-WWII science fiction filmography is disappointing. From the moment in which Hollywood took firm control of the genre with its impressive, high-tech production capabilities and computer-generated imagery, filmic artistic values literally went down the notorious drain. There was one superlative exception: Kubrick’s film: 2001: A Space Odyssey (novel by Arthur C. Clark). From its release in 1968 until present, no film has ever matched it—not even close. (Of less artistic/intellectual value but with significant science fiction appeal are Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg and Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón)

    As for Odyssey, who could ever forget the spectacular scene when one among the fighting man-apes threw a large bone (weapon) up into the sky, which then transmuted into a future artificial satellite? With that scene, a glimpse into the marvelous evolution and accomplishments of the human species was depicted to a lofty pinnacle of expression. Kubrick’s cinematography of 2001: A Space Odyssey elevated the film into a unique standard by which all science fiction films are measured. The appendix to this thought cannot be more direct: when the force propelling a film defines its trajectory by embracing the evolving purpose of humanity, the outcome would be another chapter celebrating life and the riches it offers. Do socio-humanistic and progressive cultural values propel so-called science fiction movies (e.g., Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Armageddon, Aliens, etc.)? That is, do they fit the evolving purpose of humanity? Does our “revered” Star Trek fit the purpose of humanity?

    The answer to the first question is a resounding no. Films such as these are essentially void of intrinsic values that could promote equality, peace, and social progress. When films concentrate on special effects as substitutes for the story itself, on glorifying wars in space, on creating conflicts with imaginary space nations, on extreme violence, and on simplistic story-lines, they cannot possibly be ascribed to having any valuable purpose except unspecified excitement. To answer the question whether Star Trek fits that same purpose, we need to examine the situation with unbiased feelings and approach. This is understandable: despite our unapologetic, strong affection, the answer is no.

    Earlier, I stated that Roddenberry imbued Star Trek: The Original Series with problematic plots that one may interpret as glorifying American colonialism, imperialism, militarism, and even violence as a means to resolve problems. Is there any truth to this assertion? Were these plots a conscious effort to tell a story as a means to re-write history, justify events, or maybe to perpetuate certain ideologies and social philosophies? Could it be that plots’ development was no more than “innocent” expedients meant only to excite, hence people should accept them at face value? Either way, we should never stand for unclear agendas—doing otherwise means that our intent to examine Star Trek has failed.

    Was Star Trek: The Next Generation any different from The Original Series? Yes. Keep in mind that 19 years separate the two, which is a long period where daring technical innovations had taken place. Second, with an excellent team of producers, executive producers, directors and writers such as Rick Berman (who later became the head of the franchise), Michael Piller, Brannon Braga, and Ronald D. Moore, the franchise flew to a higher level of quality. (Roddenberry was also a consultant to the new series for some time). Most important, ST: TNG was superior vis-à-vis the original in a very specific way. It induced the demanding viewers not only to interact with the plot, think about variables, and investigate contradictions, but also to react on plot development and conclusion. The following are a few observations with focus on certain episodes from both series.

    “Where no man has gone before,” announces captain Kirk. Is that an indirect tribute to so-called American exceptionalism? You bet. With the exception of Spock, Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura, most other recognizable crew members appear to be and are Americans. The mission is American; the Starfleet command is in San Francisco, the computer and medical sciences aboard the ship are American, and many of the stories are replicas of American stories. To stress the American-ness of ST, when a strange magnetic storm catapults the ship back to the 20th century (episode: “Tomorrow is Yesterday”), it does not end up flying over China, Senegal, or Argentina. It flew over an American base on U.S. soil. In short, “To boldly go where no man has gone before”, was supposedly a “modest” American way to declare the “prowess” of Americans who “dare” to challenge the odds of galactic travel.

    Again, “Space, the final frontier,” the solemn voice of Captain James T. Kirk intones. But what was the first frontier? Is there a correlation between the first and the final—why frontier in the first place? Could a word such as destination (or any other appropriate synonym) have been more expressive of the intent?

    There is a distinct possibility that Roddenberry did not consider that he was juxtaposing the so-called American frontier, which is the conquest of what is now the United States, with the proposed final conquest of the space and its planets by the same colonialist power. Did he overlook a basic fact about the first American frontier expansions—the near extermination of the Original Peoples? If so, why did he not care to set the record straight? On the subject of recorded history, it is of no use that someone would try to minimize or void the juxtaposition, because in both cases the intent and its linguistic expression (final frontier) denotes a planned conquest of the outer space in emulation of the old conquest of Turtle Island—North American continent.

    Generally, in the histories of British colonialism and its successors American, Canadian, New Zealander, and Australian colonialisms, for example, the notion of frontier was synonymous with never-ending geographical exploration—all of which are euphemisms for bloody conquests. In the so-called American experience, Manifest Destiny was the embodiment of a frontier always in motion to accumulate one conquest after another.

    They wanted to discover new worlds. So they say. It is verifiable history that once European explorers landed their ships on the shores of these new worlds, they started to destroy them, remove and exterminate their indigenous populations, put their own populations in control, and create rules and laws to dominate and govern. Second, what is the purpose of discovering a new life and new civilizations only to destroy them? This happened in many science fictions movies—including Star Trek.

    In “The Man Trap” episode, Kirk and crew did find such a life, a shapeshifter who needs salt to survive. Soon enough, they ended by vaporizing its molecules because the shapeshifter was effectively killing some crewmembers to get their body salt. Strange thing is, Professor Robert Crater and his wife (the creature in a shape-shifting mode as a former flame of McCoy), did ask for salt tablets without explaining the reason. Had the creators of ST envisioned a different course of action for the shapeshifter—and for humanity as an altruistic model—, an ideal ending could have been the following.

    Instead of killing the new life, for which the crew traveled from planet Earth to find, Kirk could have provided the needed salt (ship replicators can replicate any food item) and deliver tons of it to the surface? Are we missing something? Yes. What lurks behind the concept of killing as entertainment?

    Why is it important to discuss the fictional killing of a space life form? First, the concept moving the fictional killing is dialectically tied to the justification for real killing under similar but often invented premises. Second, this raises the question whether killing, as a solution for a problem, could be unilaterally justified by the killer. The answer is no. Killing is an objective-centered action. It is a rationalized act taught by humans to other humans throughout the ages—modern war colleges are an example. Alternatively, could it be that killing is intrinsic to the human genetic code? The answer is still no. Killing is a complex act that involves countless supporting factors including conditioning, thinking, prevailing societal patterns of violence, and ideological motivations. In addition, humans have evolved and eventually learnt to co-exist without murdering each other—ancient villages and cities, and modern urban living could attest to that.

    Let us consider the issue of the shapeshifter under this light: do we kill sharks because sharks attack humans? Essentially, sharks attack humans only in water—it is their natural habitat and they need to eat to live. Humans, who cannot live in water, kill sharks either for flesh and fins, for “medicinal” cartilage, or, hypocritically, to fend off potential danger to humans. However, the empress of all universal truths is that killing to feed exemplifies the food chain in nature. With that, it is a common sense to state that the shapeshifter was exercising her or his right to live—does anyone blame the lions for hunting zebras?

    Surprisingly, the murder of the shapeshifter on board of the Enterprise was not the end. In the episode “The Squire of Gothos,” the salt-sucking life form appears again but this time as a mummified body placed in a wall niche for exhibition by the villain of turn, the alien Trelane. There are two possible explanations as to why the producers decided for the “macabre” exhibition. The first: may be due to poor budget or poor taste in trying to fill the castle hall with trophies for the childish Trelane. The second is more complex. It is reasonable to speculate that the exhibition had an ulterior motive. It conveys the impression that not only Earth people could kill the “obnoxious creature” but also other space species such as Trelane’s people. To wade into a wider interpretation, it is as if ST producers are saying that killing is normal if the killer “declares it justified”. (U.S. imperialists call it collateral damage.)

    A correlated topic: what is the nature of the five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations”? Was the USS Enterprise travelling through space as a warship or as a peace ship? Rodenberry did not specify. Let us assume that the Enterprise was on a peaceful mission. If that were so, how could one explain the frightening weapons it carries? To be clear, there is no such thing as offensive or defensive weapons—only intent can determine their use. So where does the starship stand on this issue?

    For those who are unfamiliar with the making and naming of the various American military divisions, suffice it to say that the starship has a military hierarchy. The top is captain (also used in civilian ships), but admirals and commanders are everywhere in space—they give orders, expect obedience, and can, at will, remove captains from the chair of command. In this case, what gives away the military nature of this ship is the presence of cadets. A cadet is a junior trainee in an army. For those who are familiar with the naming processes of the American Navy, they know that the prefix USS and number in the name of the Enterprise stands for United States Ship followed by the numerical sequence of its deployment. (In real context, the U.S. navy has had many maritime ships named USS before the creators of Star Trek introduced a ship sailing through space and named it United Space Ship (USS) Enterprise, NCC-1701.)

    To make a comparison, unlike American warships that navigate through our oceans to intimidate nations they deem adversaries, Federation/American fictional starships roam the outer space ostensibly to explore “new worlds”. In more than just one situation though, USS Enterprise ships do use their “shock and awe” weapons to intimidate “stubborn” newly encountered space nations and individuals. In the episode “A Piece of the Action,” a tough Kirk forced two gangster groups (by demonstrating, through Scotty, what the ship can do) to stop fighting among themselves. In effect, he imposed Pax Americana in space on behalf of Federation.  A question: what is the positive in making peace between criminals? Did the city-planet benefit? Who knows—we only saw squabbling gangsters.

    What kind of weapons do Starfleet ships have, anyway? Memory Alpha (MA) at Fandom dot com gives “serious technical details” on these weapons. Starships, as told by MA, have an impressive array of offensive weapons from phasers that vaporize people, all the way to the formidable photon torpedoes that vaporize ships, asteroids, and small planets. Now, why arm ships with such weapons if the intentions are peaceful? Why take all these imaginary weapons to the stars unless the Federation wants to use them as “torpedo” diplomacy against space species not yet discovered? Was that because this enemy has no interests in establishing diplomatic relations with the Federation?

    More intriguing, how do we interpret the stubborn ideological tendency of ST writers to characterize the various space nations as being inherently hostile to the Federation? To push further, did Kirk or other captains of the Federation ever try to invent adversaries and enemies? Star Trek procedures never stated that directly in any episode. It often happens, though, that those the Enterprise encounters are often portrayed as unfriendly, bellicose, treacherous, and, more than often, imagined as having human or human-like bodies but with strange-looking heads and weird facial anatomy.

    If observed closely, the message that ST tries to convey about the species populating the universe invariably dances to the Earthly tunes of racism, chauvinism, and imperialism: only the Federation and its implied boss, the United States, are good. In this guise, most space nations, be they Romulans, Cardassians, or Ferengi, etc., are naturally bad, while those who joined the Federation (does NATO ring a bell?) are good. Among these, you find Vulcans, Bajorans, and Klingons. (The latter incessantly dub the Romulans as having no honor. However, are the Klingons themselves honorable people according to the makers of ST? In the episode, Sins of the Father (ST: TNG), producers implicitly conveyed the judgement that the Klingon ruling establishment is conniving, traitorous, and without honor—they colluded to punish Worf to cover up for the misdeeds of a warlord.

    Countless viewers and the media celebrated when Kirk kissed Uhura in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Eventually, that kiss entered the racial history of the United States. The uproar was possibly due to the perception that racial segregation and miscegenation in American society, at least in Hollywood, was on its way out. Those who jubilated placed the kiss in the context of changing U.S. race relations.

    One moment please: but the episode was supposedly taking place in the 23rd century where race problems were supposed to have been resolved at least two centuries earlier! Then why celebrate a fictional kiss in the future (in outer space, nevertheless), but, in the process, convert it into real progress on Earth? One more thing: Kirk and Uhura kissed under duress by means of the kinetic power exerted on them by the “stepchildren”. Consequently, that kiss was not genuine, not valid, and was not a product of passion or love. By force of this argument, it is outlandish to claim it has any value in the exercise of willpower in normal human and race relations just because actors of different skin colors kissed on the set in the performance of their work.

    Kim Petersen and I have discussed this matter. He writes, “I strongly disagree with much of the logic you employ here. For viewers, the fact that it is depicted as happening in the 23rd century and that it was telekinetically coerced is irrelevant. For 1960s racists, the mere acting of this was blasphemy and it broke a filmic barrier…”

    My counter-argument: the notion that “The mere acting of this was blasphemy, and it broke a filmic barrier”, is of limited practical consequences. Yes, it might have broken a filmic barrier; but that barrier is situated in a world of moneymaking milieus where the games are played by the rules of the film industry and market response to them. In such milieus, actors can make it or break it based on numerous factors that are inconsequential when applied to those disadvantaged sectors of society where the paradigms for conducting a normal life without discrimination and prejudice cease to work.

    Incidentally, before the airing of this episode in 1968, Stanley Kramer’s film The Defiant Ones (1958; story by Nedrick Young) tested the grounds on race relations by chaining two prison escapees; one is white and a bigot (played by Tony Curtis); the other is black (played by Sidney Poitier). Despite winning many accolades, the film did not generate uproar, as did the kiss between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols. Why is that, especially knowing that the critical content of The Defiant Ones far exceeds the superficial plot of “Plato’s Stepchildren”? Possible explanation: while the tease generated by the scene of a kiss between a white man and a black woman might have raised the anger (or consent) of some, it only broke, if that is what really happened, the taboo in a specific workplace but not in society. Consequently, in a complex societal structure, the” PARTICULAR has no chance in transforming into GENERAL.

    One episode (ST: TOS), “A Taste of Armageddon,” stands out for its peculiar script, for its ideological themes, and for the actions taken by Kirk. The story-line speaks of two planets at war. As for the plot, the episode unequivocally displays a type of decision-making favoring mass violence while apparently promoting a determined intention for unsolicited intervention. There are two points to argue:

    First, the co-authors (Gene L. Coon and Robert Hamner) have politicized the script in terms favorable to the American idea of supremacist beliefs. Here is how I read the script: as typical of an overconfident Kirk (or the United States ideologically looming behind him), he decided unilaterally to transform that war from a war-by-computer but with real victims into a real war with real weapons and real victims as well—with the computer numbers resulting in people being disintegrated as per the numbers. In concrete terms, Kirk’s decision was a prescription for protracted violence. No need to say that Coon and Hamner made Kirk win his gambit and the story ended without further deaths. Was there any insinuation working behind the scenes? Of course, the United States, through Kirk’s action and despite it, was “successful” at “stopping” bloodshed from continuing. It seems that a rationale comes into being: Kirk-U.S. intervention “paid off”. Implication: “American interventions are good”. Mike Pompeo expressed the doctrine for intervention in naked terms. He dubbed American wars in the Middle Eat as follows, “The United States is a force for good …”

    Second, they injected a biblical term into the script with apparent intent to reinforce and spread the ideology of the “born again Christian”. A question: what was hiding behind the decision to recycle into the future of humanity the mythology of Armageddon (the end of time battle)? Was that a veiled attempt to make the meaning of the term stick in the minds of viewers as a “prophesy” that should happen in the future?

    The episode has another angle. It promotes the idea that the United States (the ever-belligerent former cop of the world on planet Earth before space travel) has evolved to become, again, the top cop of the outer space in the 23rd century. (Read how the imperialist media frame the issue of U.S. policing the world: 1) Should the United States be the World’s Policeman? 2) Should the U.S. use its military and financial power to act as the world’s policeman?)

    Vilification of lifeforms in space appears in the episode: “A Devil in the Dark”. What is the reason for which ST producers call a life-form, living in its own natural environment on planet Janus IV: devil (which is an evil force according to religious mythologies on Earth)? Was that life-form evil because of its physical attributes? Some may argue that film titles are no more than rhetorical gizmos. That may be true; but experience taught us that derogatory name-calling is the ideological first step to dehumanize people in order to attack them—in the American ideology of wars and discrimination words such gooks, coons, ragheads, brown peoples, etc., are omnipresent.

    It seems that many writers of Star Trek series (and other fictional stories in space) do not want—by design or by ideological attitudes—to imagine a future world without wars. You can see that clearly when some writers place an oversized emphasis on wars and mortal antagonisms between imagined extra-terrestrial civilizations. Is there any message here? Are they trying to convince us that wars are normal occurrences typical of all thinking species? Are we dealing with innate predilection for wars? There is no such thing as innate predilection for war. What exists, though, is a rooted ideological construct that sees wars as a glamourous showcase for empire, dominance, and control? The imperialist New York Times explained this horrific construct as follows: “The Pitfalls of Peace: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth“.

    In the first episode of ST: TNG, “Encounter at Farpoint,” an omnipotent space “alien” (Q) transports Picard to a quixotic, strange court and puts him on trial for the crimes of humanity.

    The premise is fine. But ST writer Dorothy Catherine Fontana was eloquently leading the script to an impressive indictment of Picard representing the Federation and, by allegorical extension, its boss: the United States. Speculation: Q, being a god-like omnipotent, could have brought to trial not only a captain of an American starship, but also all other leaders of the planet. Given that Fontana chose only the U.S. rep, she might have wanted to put only the United States on trial. Or could it be that Q’s (Fontana’s) indictment of Picard because the crimes of humanity pale by comparison with that of the United States?

    Picard gave his most memorable performance as a captain in the episode “The Measure of a Man.” (What made Picard shine was an exceptional script written by Melinda M. Snodgrass who was a lawyer and a novelist.) The script goes like this: when a federation scientist wanted to disassemble Data to study him, Picard prevented his transfer by arguing against slavery, and that Data, albeit being an android, has the right to decide for himself if he wanted to be disassembled and studied.

    Before everything, expecting that fiction could resolve real problems is non sequitur. That is, winning a solid argument in fiction is not synonymous with winning the same in reality. At one point during the hearings, Picard declares, not in so many words, that slavery ended a long time ago. To beautify an imaginative future, Picard overlooked an important aspect of slavery. While open physical slavery with shackles has disappeared, slavery by other means has continued. In our world, racism, discrimination, poverty, violence motivated by ideology, raging wars by aggressive states (U.S., NATO states, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel) on militarily weaker nations are all different forms of slavery whereby the victims often lack effective means of resistance despite putting up strenuous fights.

    Since I touched on the issue of slavery by other means, there is one peculiar form of slavery that I call Behavioral Enslavement. In such form, peoples, groups, individuals think, react, and take action in accordance with transmitted, fixated ideas about other peoples, their cultures, and their ways of life. You can see such a form of slavery of the mind in the episode “The Paradise Syndrome” (ST: TOS). The script depicted Kirk and Spock encountering a peaceful oasis inhabited by a tribe of Original Peoples; most westerners still chauvinistically call them American Indians following the name coined by Christopher Columbus.

    First, paradise is an idyllic imagination of a place. Consequently, dubbing it as syndrome is odd. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines syndrome as follows: “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition”. A question: which group of signs and symptoms did the producers find abnormal about the place they depicted?

    Aside from its absurdity as imagination, what is wrong with such a depiction anyway? Are we not dealing with fiction? This is fiction; so where is the problem? Consider the following sequence of events. A writer from the 20th century imagined a situation in the 23rd century. In it, the writer continues to see the tribe as still living in teepees. Still wearing the same attire of four centuries earlier, still motivated by irrational passions (as seen when a tribesman attacks and wounds Kirk in a fit of jealous rage), and still believing in the supernatural as the sudden appearance of Kirk from a shrine pushed them to think of him as a divine entity. It is reasonable to conclude that the writer was incapable of seeing the Original Peoples in any other way except that one depicted by Hollywood. Very little thought the producers gave to tribe’s other attributes like synchrony with nature, wisdom of the mind, peaceful relations, and much, much more.

    American hyper-imperialism is distinguished for playing the pretext maker, the accuser, the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the executioner in international relations and wars. The undergirding for such a self-arrogated “extraordinary” role is sheer unaccountability—primarily due to its military power, aggressive impulses, and institutionalized gangsterism.

    In one episode of ST: TNG, Commander Ryker reprised the role played by the United States on Earth but gave it the allure of a space backdrop in the 24th century. In that episode, “The Vengeance Factor,” a space woman was seeking vengeance against another group with who her people were at war (what else populates the mind of Star Trek writers except war?) Well, when the woman was lunging toward her designated target to kill him, Ryker pleaded with her not do it, which was a fine act of chivalry. To make her desist, Ryker—with a stony expression on his face and a phaser in his hand—kept stunning her. When she made her final lunge, the First Officer vaporized her with a phaser no longer set to stun.

    Let us debate the killing. Because Ryker, his captain, and the crew freely express the principles of the Federation—so-called Prime Directive—, why did he not use all other sophisticated means of the Enterprise to subdue and then expel her from the ship without resorting to total annihilation? Had he done that, the viewer could surmise that the humanity of the future had come a long way from the path of violence by implementing carefully crafted humanistic mentalities…. Yes; it is impossible to read the mind of writers; but it is quite possible to read between the lines of thought. So, what to make of a pretentious script that dispenses with elementary ethical concerns for the sake of slipshod story writing that varnishes senseless violence? Alternatively, was the script a subliminal attempt to slip in an ideological architecture whose undeclared end is providing acquiescence for U.S. imperialistic violence in its self-granted role as the world’s cop?

    This leads to the foremost issues whereby fictional space stories replicate, reinforce, and rationalize acts of the system’s violence on Earth. The implication is straightforward: the impulse for rationalized killing seems deeply seated on the minds of those who think of themselves as the guardians of state powers and directives. In a word, one may conclude that in travelling from our century to the 24th, the trekkers of the Enterprise have paved no new paths toward peaceful co-existence or prevention of wars. On the contrary, they were enmeshed in terror and discord wherever they went.

    Before closing, I must address how Star Trek producers and writers, from the Original Series to NuTrek, composed certain stories. William Shatner once tweeted, “What is NuTrek? Is that like simonizing?” Shatner’s sarcasm is incisive—he hit the nail on the head. Star Trek filmography cannot escape the “curse” of cheap commercialism, contentious writing, poor writing, ideological writing, and writings that cannot (or do not want) to deal with fictionalized space stories on humanistic platforms.

    For instance, at the end of the film Star Trek: Into Darkness, a young Kirk gave a speech to a large audience gathered at Starfleet Command. He said, “There are always people who want to harm us …” Where did that come from? Of course, it came from post-9/11 atmosphere where the phrase, “Why do they hate us…” became an everyday ideological construct in the hands of American interventionists. In the same movie, Admiral Marcus, who was plotting a war with the Klingons, angrily asked Kirk, “When war comes, who’s going to lead us: you!” His words indicate one thing: he expected that his pretext would lead to a fighting war and that he would be the one directing it. In this context, it appears that fiction writers are often keen to start wars in space. Why is that?

    Star Trek: The Original Series is replete with odd scripts. Among these is the episode “Patterns of Force.” Not only is this episode highly ideological, but also very poor from the viewpoint of fiction writing. Why on earth (after all the Hollywood movies about the Third Reich), does one have to watch a space fiction story set in the 23rd century only to find Kirk and Spock fighting Nazi-like species and humans on a planet called Ekos? In political terms, “Patterns of Force” was a propaganda tool by the producers to keep the talk about Germany and Nazism going. To make the point, did anyone see a Star Trek movie having the landing party come to a planet where Americans have devastated places like Bear River, Wounded Knee, Dresden, Berlin, Korea, Vietnam, or Hiroshima, for example?

    Kirk and Spock did it again in the episode “City on the Edge of Forever.” In it, Spock points out that the death of Edith Keeler is necessary to end her pacifist campaign from stopping WWII (otherwise, Germany would have a nuclear bomb). Consequently, Kirk did not try to save her by letting her die under the wheels of a passing car. What is the deal with such episodes: fixation or indoctrination? (Remark: yet, it was okay, from the viewpoint of ST writers, for the U.S. to build a nuclear device and use it on Japan. Why is that?)

    To close, Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and all successive spinoffs are interesting to watch. On other grounds, my opinion is that the franchise in its current forms and structures has no intellectual soul. From the viewpoints of reason and hope, it is not promising to see U.S. fictional starships drift in space only to engage in wars somewhere in the galaxy. It is one thing that the United States is ruining our world with real wars; it is another when it is ruining the outer space with fictional wars.

    Then there is the nowadays reality: this summer is the scheduled official standing up of the United States Space Force, the U.S. army in space. Stand by!

    The post Star Trek: A Viewpoint beyond Liking It first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Fascist Kabuki

    There is no question that most television is a waste of time. The people connected with it realize how bad programming is and go ahead with their shows as cynically as possible. Producers are turning out programs that literally make me sick. TV seems to re-infect itself each year, using the same approach to shows and making them worse each season.
    — Richard Boone, Hanford Sentinel, 1960

    …the intelligence empire’s efforts to manufacture the truth and mold public opinion are more vast and varied than ever before. One of its foremost assets? Hollywood.
    — Nicholas Schou, The Atlantic, July 2016

    Like Saddam’s WMD in 2002, the threat posed by the tightening credit of 2008 was made to seem infinite for being undefined, but this time the terrible menace just below the horizon was global, and the fabric of reality itself, now daily called “capitalism” in the world media heretofore shy of this term, was threatened with extinction: without any real reportage, newscasts disseminated narratemes from Hollywood disaster films presaging total obliteration of the familiar. Strife was promised in terrifying and titillating epic visions – of a period of riotous turbulence, of systems crashing and structures imploding, of reigning isms lying in ruin and our species’ hubris chastised, of hedonistic society abruptly repentant in the wake of cataclysm, of wastelands of Darwininan struggle, all lying just around an epochal bend – but first, with special vividness, of perilously inadequate economic plumbing, suggesting that if the “toxic assets” “clogging the system” were not cleared without delay, at any moment the world would be submerged in deep financial shit.
    — Alphonse van Worden, The Protocols of the Learned Lacanian of Ljublitzia, June 2016

    There is a huge amount of material on CIA involvement in Hollywood. This is not new, but it seems to have been compartmentalized by most Americans and shuttled off into the dark corners of their consciousness. Most people largely don’t want to know. And the reasons for this are complex. But before digging into that, it’s not only the CIA that shapes entertainment, it’s nearly all institutions of government and almost all corporations and media itself. Giant media conglomerates are in a sense hardly distinguishable from the CIA and Pentagon and State Department. Which is rather close to the classic definition of fascism.

    The esteemed former University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky agrees. In Operation­Hollywood, Chemerinsky asserts that “the Supreme Court has said that above all, the First Amendment means that the government cannot participate in viewpoint discrimination.” It “cannot favor some speech due to its viewpoint and disfavor another because of its viewpoint.” Moreover, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his 1995 decision Rosenberger ­v.­The ­University ­of­ Virginia that the government must abstain from “regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction.
    — Tricia Jenkins, The CIA in Hollywood, March 2016

    And yet this is what happens constantly.

    …they have become very good at persuading the public that a good movie is the one that opened strongest last weekend, even if the critics hated it. The media helps them do it, by reporting on box office figures without discussing the ways that those figures are manipulated. The media are part of the gravy train anyway, because of the ad campaign revenue.”
    — Paul Brynes, Sydney Herald, 2014

    Now, again, the cooperation of the CIA and Pentagon is well known. Two films that won Oscars for best picture (Argo and Hurt Locker) were essentially pure CIA and Pentagon propaganda. And this to not even get into stuff like Zero Dark Thirty. But what is more pernicious is how, in turn, all public narratives have taken on the quality of a Hollywood movie. And today this is evident in the way the Covid lockdowns are being depicted. Watch the opening episodes of any of the Dick Wolf TV franchises this new season: Chicago Med, FBI: Most Wanted, etc., and you see blatant unquestioning support for the government narrative (FBI agent advises daughter to not leave the house without her mask). This exactly meets the definition of propaganda. Dissenting views are completely absent. In Chicago Med the pandemic is depicted as if it were bubonic plague. Public discourse on the pandemic reflects TV’s treatment.

    In fact, dissent is usually portrayed as dangerous and unpatriotic. The looming question is, then, why do so many people attack dissenters when they know (because the information has been around and available for thirty years) the government (and Hollywood) lie…they lie all the time. In fact, they ONLY lie.

    Now, recent polls suggest that half of Americans reject the idea of more lockdowns. That’s a lot of people. Yet very few of those people speak up, or post opinions on social media. And this is an interesting phenomenon. There is an enormous fear of being called ‘conspiracy theorist’ or ‘anti vaxxer’ or ‘Covid truther’ etc. There is a tacit assault on the truth itself embedded in this stigmatizing. A pathologization of the search for truth. And this seems something that has arisen out of the culture of social media.

    One understands that if the law says wear a mask or be fined, then people will wear the mask. But there is no law (yet) in expressing a dissenting opinion. And this lynch mob mentality has, predictably, attracted the most virulent xenophobic and racist memes and opinions possible. Of course, major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are perilously close to outright censorship now. One is labeled dangerous if one questions the narrative on the pandemic. Simply pointing out that the fatality rate is extremely low despite all the lurid headlines is cause for censorship on Facebook. Stating facts has become, quite literally, dangerous.

    But there is another layer involved in the shaping of opinion. And perhaps it is better to describe this as the shaping of consciousness itself. And this is because it’s really not just opinion, it’s something both more expansive and much deeper. One aspect is the now glaring infantilizing of the public. Here is n interesting side bar.

    And one aspect of this childishness is the aforementioned compartmentalization. Many of these people attacking dissenters well know the government lies. Ask them about WMDs or Yellow Cake in Niger, or mobile chemical weapons labs, or even the guns to Contras and US trained death squads in Central America. They know they were lied to. And yet they desperately cling to official narrative regards Covid.

    Deception can be coercive. When it succeeds, it can give power to the deceiver.
    — Sissela Bok, Lying; Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, September 1999

    The public has little interest in the Pentagon Papers, in John Podesta’s leaked emails, or in why Gary Webb was murdered. The official narratives regarding the break-up of Yugoslavia, or the coup in Honduras, or the killing of Gaddafi — the official narratives to any of these have been debunked years ago, and yet the lies persist and continue to shape opinion. When the U.S. helped with the fascist coup in Bolivia, the story was on the front page of most news outlets. When the socialist party was re-elected the story was seen, literally, nowhere. Most people think the coup was a popular victory for the people of Bolivia. Same with Hugo Chavez and the narrative in Venezuela. (see the debunking of liberal icon John Oliver here.)

    Now, two things to note here. One is that much of the pandemic suspension of rights was possible because of the Patriot Act. And, two, the rabid anti-communism that runs through U.S. history and U.S. educational institutions has left a residue that clings with particular tenacity to the white liberal class. The most ardent virtue signalling is found among the affluent liberals of urban America. And these are people with great visibility and are also the target demographic for advertisers.

    The clumsily-titled Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act, or USAPA) introduced a plethora of legislative changes which significantly increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in the United States. The Act did not, however, provide for the system of checks and balances that traditionally safeguards civil liberties in the face of such legislation. Legislative proposals in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were introduced less than a week after the attacks. { } One of the most striking features of the USA PATRIOT Act is the lack of debate surrounding its introduction.
    — Epic.Org, Electronic Information Privacy Center, May 2015

    There isn’t even the spirit any more that was in Vietnam, of skepticism, and the sense that the patriotic thing to do is to tell the American people the truth and to try to be impartial and not to be the cat’s paw of the government. But when I say this on TV the reaction is overwhelming; there is tremendous hostility to the free press in this country.
    — John MacArthur, Harpers, Censorship and the War on Terrorism

    The government has simply abandoned the idea of referendum, or really, it was never considered (which Neil Clark wrote about here.)

    The same hostility to free speech is found regards actual democracy. Now, this is not a majority opinion, I don’t think, but like the lockdown polls my guess would be about half. So who makes up this half of the U.S. that is hostile to stuff like free speech or democratic procedures? Again, my guess is the educated white liberal class. These are the people who exhibited an outsize hatred of Trump to the extent that anything he said was going to be opposed and this includes the pandemic. These are the people who beatified Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Who refuse any criticism of Obama, and who love FBI directors if they were against the Donald. Why? I have no real answers except that in the age of screen culture the waves of opinion form quickly and migrate often and rarely can be rationally explained. Something in cyber culture (more acute due to the lockdowns) encourages simplistic narratives of good and evil. And in times of acute precarity there seems a default setting of ‘trust’ regarding state institutions. This also all falls under infantilism.

    There are psychological aspects to this beyond just the inherent influence of screen culture. And this is a subject that does not lend itself to simplistic discourse.

    We see that the object is being treated in the same way as our own ego, so that when we are in love a considerable amount of narcissistic libido overflows on the object. It is even obvious, in many forms of love choice, that the object serves as a substitute for some unattained ego ideal of our own. We love it on account of the perfections which we have striven to reach for our own ego, and which we should now like to procure in this roundabout way as a means of satisfying our narcissism.
    — Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921

    Because there is no single Fuhrer figure in contemporary America, this libidinal attachment is diffused over a variety of figures. Why, for example, is Dr. Fauci so respected? Nothing in his dodgy career history explains this. Why are the countless dissenting doctors and respected researchers ignored? The only answer I have is that visibility on the screens of mass media amounts to a kind of Fuhrer stature. Like Max Headroom Fuhrers. There is an inherent authority in the close up, (Godard may have said that) and that is what TV and its extension to laptop and tablet screens achieves. The public is in thrall to figures of authority, even if entirely artificial. Or, rather, they are in thrall to ‘their’ screen images. The ones they identify with and feel they own. Politics is expressed much as shopping is expressed. The identification in the political sphere (and with history) is identical to how this public identifies with Hollywood’s protagonists.

    Just as people do not believe deep down in their hearts that Jews are the devil, they do not fully believe in the leader. They do not really identify with him but act on this identification, represent their own enthusiasm, and thus participate in the leader’s performance. It is through this representation that they find a balance between their instinctual urges continually mobilized and the historical stage of enlightenment which they have attained and which can not be arbitrarily revoked. It is probably the distrust of the fiction of his own ‘group psychology’ that makes the fascist masses so merciless and unshakable.
    — Theodor Adorno, Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda, 1951

    This is an important observation of Adorno. The bad faith that resonates throughout the U.S. public discourse is an engine for resentment and rage. And everything has come to feel like a fiction. There is also a strange merging of several tributaries of social movements. One is the Green New Deal (and just read Cory Morningstar on this) and another is the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns, and then the Klaus Schwab (and Bill Gates and friends) so called Great Reset.

    These are the privatised corporate movements that are passed off (on screens) as social reform. Now, the same can be said of Black Lives Matter but to a far less degree because that movement is far less unified. And Defunding the Police even more so, and this because much of that is driven by the formerly incarcerated. But the principle remains.

    The Covid phenomenon, however, stands apart as the most drastic and grotesque manufacturing of crisis perhaps ever. Maybe in human history, actually. There is no crisis. The flu has similar numbers for fatalities and for infection. And now much state policy is attached to positive test results for a test nobody (even the manufacturers) really trusts. So who is driving this hysteria? Almost nobody can argue the lockdowns will cause more death, and more suffering. Already there are acute spikes in suicide, and drug overdose, as well as domestic abuse and depression and homelessness. The answer to who constitutes the engine behind this hysteria is likely the same people, by and large, who are driving the above mentioned attempts to rescue Capitalism. Or rather, to control the demolition of capitalism and the transition into a new feudalism.

    World systems theorists like Wallerstein and Amin had been since the destruction of the USSR chronicling an unprecedented ruling class offensive to push forward a transformation out of an obsolescent form of competitive capitalism to the next shape of class rule; popular dissident economists and social theorists like Robin Blackburn, Michael Hudson, Naomi Klein, and Robert Brenner had simultaneously been tracking the increasing precariousness of the financialized post-Bretton Woods arrangements. Indeed Klein had recently published an enormous bestseller The Shock Doctrine which, for all its many flaws, provided a neologism for ruling class praxis that vividly conveyed its premeditated malice, violence and cunning, and which was well suited to advance conversations across social strata and diverse communities about the events unfolding in 2008.
    — Alponse van Worden (Ibid.)

    Van Worden’s critique is actually about Slavoj Zizek, and it is worth noting the malevolent influence of ersatz Marxists like Zizek (and Jacobin magazine and Bhaskar Sunkara, and these days even Counterpunch, sadly, and Chris Hedges, and many crypto LaRouchites, etc.) who are all now actively aligned with U.S. Imperialist interests. And all of whom have embraced a faux green ‘woke’ subject position that is merely more mystification and obscuring of genuine class analysis. For the real barometer for genuine opposition has become the ‘drama of the mask’. Where only recently it was the thermometer, the 1 degree or 2 degrees or whatever, that anchored most climate discourse, today there is the mask. There is ‘herd immunity’ (called mass murder by the folks at Counterpunch). There is the same guilt tripping, the same virtue signalling, and the same bad faith. And the bad faith is palpable, for when expressing ‘concern’ for victims of the pandemic, one can hear the echoes of the same concern many expressed for the victims of child abuse during the recovered memories trials, or of late, too, the overpopulation proponents — like Prince William and Bill Gates. They do not care about victims, they care about saving themselves — but that can only reach their conscious mind by first saving capitalism.

    The current bad faith can also be linked to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. The emotional and psychic vacuum, even if largely unconscious for many, left by the fall of Soviet communism, was (and is) enormous. And out of this vacuum came the front edges of the new woke fascism.

    Today, social conditions have produced uncritical acceptance of authority among large parts of the population. Among others, even those one might expect to criticise the status quo, we see only despair. The upsurge in interest in deterministic utopian or pessimistic thinking, influenced by the rapid technological change speaks volumes about the powerlessness felt even by those least susceptible to fascist propaganda.
    — Max L. Feldman, Seductive Fascist Style, Verso blog, September 2019

    And the style coordinates for concern invariably enclose rank sentimentalism. For as James Baldwin noted sentimentality is The Mask of Cruelty. This public bathos has multiplied across all areas of discussion, and it points back to just how harmful the erosion of education has been, and maybe in particular the loss of arts education. For the American public today is both tone deaf and stunningly deficient in aesthetic understanding. They have gone from bad taste to no taste.

    Not that long ago, Hollywood was still capable of making meaningful movies.

    Based on what little reliable information has been published about the CIA and Hollywood, the agency’s covert manipulation of the entertainment industry appears to have markedly decreased during the next two decades. In the 1970s, following the Watergate scandal and shocking congressional revelations about the CIA, a Hollywood backlash against the spy agency even took shape. A series of anti-authority thrillers, including classic conspiracy films like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View (both released in 1974) and Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975), depicted the national security state as a malevolent force, with Condor, starring Robert Redford as a CIA whistle-blower, taking specific aim at the agency as an institution capable of killing anyone who gets in its way, even its own agents.
    — Nicholas Schou,  Spooked, 2016

    The shift began in the late 70s. And it escalated profoundly in the 90s under Bill Clinton. For the Clintons saw the importance of Hollywood. A huge number of former Clinton interns are now Hollywood producers. (interesting aside, Clinton screened the 1998 Ed Zwick film The Siege in the White House — a story of terrorists attacking NYC leading to martial law).

    Today, however, there are fewer people actually going to the cinema. People watch at home, on laptops and stream from a myriad of platforms. This is the Netflix era. Something else has changed, too. Hollywood has actually stopped being a source of entertainment. I mean it “is” still that, but it is more a sort of religious domain and something like a companion. This is an atomized and lonely society. Electronic devices are left on in many homes 24/7. It is the background white noise of daily life. There are TVs in most restaurants now. There are TVs in doctor’s offices and in all manner of waiting rooms. I saw wide screen monitors at the unemployment office. I saw them at the DMV. Life is chronicled on screens, and I suspect Jonathan Beller is right that our unconscious is now a film strip.

    The new woke fascism is, however, much like all fascist movements. I sense too much is made of the technological revolution (sic). Even critics of the fourth industrial revolution are besotted by AI and the fantasies of mass surveillance and facial recognition and the like. The truth is, of course, it doesn’t really have to work, people only have to believe it does. But technology is now a form of mystification. The woke fascism is, like earlier forms, attached to ideas of not just obedience, but duty to obey. And in this sense Americans have always been prime targets for fascism. They see life as a struggle and a conquest. Today the duty to the state is camouflaged to a degree, the state has as a stand-in varieties of environmental constructs (Gaia, etc). The overpopulation eugenicists constantly reiterate their love of nature, of the “planet”. But this is a planet for ‘them’, not for you. And the fascist system is always, to a large extent, petit-bourgeois. So, into this Hollywood has increasingly created stories of technological heroism, and of duty to the authority of those who create and operate that technology. And to valorize the white middle class (Spielberg is the avatar for suburban heroic) As I have written before, Terminator 2 was the story of androids as better parents than humans.

    What I am trying to point out is that the CIA is trying to circulate whitewashed images of itself through popular media. Further, it is trying to weave those images into the fabric of society in such a way that viewers see them as a “natural” reflection of the Agency, rather than one that is partially constructed and manipulated by the government.
    — Tricia Jenkins (Ibid.)

    And it is Trump who is, maybe, the ultimate expression of this decline into ‘no taste’. Trump can’t be understood. He speaks in gibberish. Biden is only very slightly better in terms of speaking English. His clear early stage dementia is maybe the perfect sound track for the Covid experiment. And yet, the petit-bourgeoisie applaud him (and Kamala Harris) as if an exorcism has been completed and the Virgin Spring is born.

    And lest anyone have doubts about the underlying agenda(s) of the Covid lockdowns, and in particular Bill Gates… read Jacob Levich.

    Here are just a few of Gates’ suggestions..(found in his op ed in the NY Times, and one in the New England Journal of Medicine) which I take from the Levich article…

    Work closely with Western military forces, specifically NATO, in operations targeting the developing world. (Planning “should include military alliances such as NATO”; “in a severe epidemic, the military forces of many or all middle- and high-income countries might have to work together.”)

    Suspend constitutional guarantees in sovereign nations affected by epidemics. (“Because democratic countries try to avoid abridging individuals’ rights to travel and free assembly, they might be too slow to restrict activities that help spread disease.”)

    Create worldwide surveillance networks, presumably free of privacy protections, that would make information about people in developing countries instantly available to the imperial core.  (“Access to satellite photography and cell-phone data” would permit tracking “the movement of populations and individuals in the affected region.”)

    The drama of the mask is one of transitioning into full tilt fascism. And instead of black shirts, we have black (and blue and rainbow) masks. But there are already police in most European countries, and in the U.S. (in places) enforcing lockdown restrictions and punishing those who literally and figuratively refuse the mask. Businesses are aligned with their new duty to the state. To the system. Those businesses that are still open, that is.

    Homelessness is reaching proportions never even dreamed of even by dystopian Sci Fi writers. And with this is coming a new criminalizing of poverty. The poor were always resented in America, but now those who do the resenting are feeling emboldened by a new religious fervor. And the empire of screens is there to validate that fervor. A patriotic fervor for some, a new woke ‘concern’ for others. Put on the mask because you CARE about people. And nothing is too severe for those who refuse. There is an overwhelming self righteousness in American society today. The next stage will be mandatory vaccination. And with that we will have arrived at an existence of pure symbolism, disconnected from reality. It is fascist Kabuki, a political drama of stylized symbolic gestures and mime, all performed behind a mask.

    The post Fascist Kabuki first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    You Can’t lick the People: Individual and Collective Struggles in the Films of Frank Capra

    A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.

    — Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) The Prince, 1513


    In 1939 the American director Frank Capra released Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a film that was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Story and turned James Stewart into a major star. Stewart plays Junior Senator Jefferson Smith in Washington who launches into a a filibuster talking non-stop for 25 hours and reaffirms American ideals of freedom. Capra’s depiction of manipulating elites is carried out in fine detail as Smith quickly learns the ropes on the Senate floor. This representation of the upper echelons of society is the common link between all of Capra’s major films of the 1930s and 1940s.

    Capra exposes the negative behaviour and manipulations of society elites and tries to educate people into ways of dealing with these problems through solidarity and political means. Although Capra’s own politics may have been more conservative I will argue that Capra was in a very difficult position that meant he had to resort to an almost Machiavellian approach of appearing to do one thing but actually doing another. This made Capra’s films very progressive for their time and few directors have managed to do the same since, except, for example, the English director Ken Loach. Through the use of various different types of plot lines Capra turned cinema into a progressive socio-political vehicle for encouraging societal and community unity. I will look at some of Capra’s main films to explore how he achieved this while at the same time struggling to maintain his career against conservative political forces who were not happy with his popularity. I will also look at Capra’s films in the broader historical context of progressive Enlightenment ideas and aims.


    Frank Capra circa 1930s

    Enlightenment traditions

    In this series of articles I have been examining the effect of Enlightenment and Romanticist ideas on modern culture. The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that emerged in Europe during the 17th to 19th centuries arising out of a European intellectual movement known as Renaissance humanism. Enlightenment ideas centered on reason and science as the basis of knowledge and promoted ideals of progress and liberty.

    How did Enlightenment artists and philosophers do this? They tended to focus on the psyche and conditions of everyday life, including poverty, oppression, injustice, and desperation, for example, the writers Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Voltaire (1694-1778) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797).

    These traditions continued on to the nineteenth century with Auguste Comte (1798–1857) in France and John Stuart Mill (1806–73) in England, and by liberal (Mill) and radical Karl Marx (1818–83) social theories. Enlightenment ideas of progressive change crossed all the arts and could be seen in literature, music, art, poetry, architecture and theatre where they would have definite effects on form and content. The new art of cinema in the twentieth century was no different. Directors like Capra used cinema to highlight poverty and injustice, but also the positive social effects of individual acts of courage.

    Capra used some of the techniques later developed in the Italian Neorealist cinema of the 1940s and 1950s such as a definite social context, a sense of historical actuality and immediacy and a documentary style of cinematography.

    Capra’s main films Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), American Madness (1932), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Platinum Blonde (1931), State of the Union (1948), Meet John Doe (1941), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), all show a commitment to progress and social change. Capra depicts two separate social worlds which rarely come together except to show how different their values and moral systems are. Their relations are depicted two main ways:

    (1) Failed attempts to corrupt a good man [Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Platinum Blonde (1931), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Meet John Doe (1941), State of the Union (1948)]

    (2) Working class solidarity or victory [American Madness (1932), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

    Capra’s themes – (1) Failed attempts to corrupt a good man

    Capra liked to show individuals who are human and have their own problems yet are courageous and morally upstanding. These individuals are bullied, offered well-paid jobs or the chance to retire wealthy but refuse to sell out their friends, class and/or family.

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

    There are many scenes in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington where Capra shows how corruption and collaboration with the media push through the agenda of corrupt elites on the make. Capra uses an almost documentary style of having characters explaining in detail how they operate while at the same time giving out lots of information on how progressive-minded individuals can resist.

    Smith is working on a bill to authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys’ camp but the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in an appropriations bill framed by Taylor and supported by Senator Paine. Paine is concerned about Smith’s reaction to all this and suggests they drop the bill. Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), responds:

    We can’t drop it now, Joe. We bought the land around this Dam and we’re holding it in dummy names. If we drop it or delay it–we are going to bring about investigations, and investigations will show that we own that land and are trying to sell it to the State under phoney names. No, Joe, in my judgment the only thing to do is push this Dam through–and get it over with.

    In the meantime, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), who was the aide to Smith’s predecessor and had been around Washington and politics for years explains in detail to Smith how the system in the Senate operates:

    Yes. House. More amendments–more changes–and the Bill goes back to the Senate–and *waits its turn on the calendar again*. The Senate doesn’t like what the house did to the Bill. They make more changes. The House doesn’t like those* changes. Stymie. So they appoint men from each house to go into a huddle called a conference and battle it out. Besides that, all the lobbyists interested give cocktail parties for and against–government departments get in their two cents’ worth–cabinet members–budget bureaus–embassies. Finally, if the Bill is alive after all this vivisection, it comes to a vote. Yes, sir–the big day finally arrives. And–nine times out of ten, they vote it down. (Taking a deep breath) Are you catching on, Senator?

    Capra even goes so far as to have Smith (on the directions of Saunders) give direct quotes from the Senate Manual itself:

    Uh–Mr. President–you and I are about to be alone in here, sir. I’m not complaining for social reasons, but it’d be a pity if the gentlemen missed any of this.(Then, referring to his manual–in a business-like tone) Mr. President–I call the chair’s attention to Rule Five of the Standing Rules of the Senate Section Three. “If it shall be found that a quorum is not present, a majority of the Senators present–,” and that begins to look like me–“may direct the Sergeant-at-arms to request, and if necessary *compel* the attendance of the absent Senators.”(Then-stoutly) Mr. President–*I so direct*.

    As the filibuster starts to attract the reporters attention Taylor ups the ante and grabs the phone:

    Hendricks! Line up all the papers in the State! Don’t print a word of what Smith says–not a word of any news story coming out of Washington! Understand? Defend the machine. *Hit* this guy! A criminal–convicted by Senate–blocking relief bill–starving the people. Start protests coming. Wires. Buy up every minute you can on every two-watt radio station in the State. Keep ’em spouting against Smith! McGann’s flying out–be there in five hours. Stop your presses–yank out the stories you got in ’em now–and get going–*get that whole State moving*–!

    Senator Jefferson Smith pursues his filibuster before inattentive Senators

    Meanwhile, in another documentary-style verbatim moment Smith reads out the United States Declaration of Independence:

    –certain Unalienable Rights–that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness–” (Finishing with a flourish and putting the book down) Now, that’s pretty swell, isn’t it? I always get a great kick outa those parts of the Declaration–especially when I can read ’em out loud to somebody.

    Of course, The United States Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and the irony of his namesake reading it out loud in the Senate was not lost on the audiences of the time. Thus, in a few short scenes, Capra shows how the Senate is manipulated, the power of the media and how filibusters work.

    Platinum Blonde (1931)

    Capra’s film Platinum Blonde shows an ordinary person thrown into a rich millieu as a vehicle to show the lives and attitudes of society elites. Stewart “Stew” Smith (Robert Williams) an ace reporter for the Post meets Anne (Jean Harlow) the sister of a rich playboy Michael Schuyler (Donald Dillaway) he is sent to report on. Stew falls for Anne and they get married. However, while Anne tries to turn him into a ‘gentleman’, his workmates make fun of him:

    “Conroy: (singing) ‘For he’s only a bird in a gilded cage, a beautiful sight to see—'(he waves his hand) Tweet, tweet – ha, ha—”

    Eventually Stew has enough of his new valet and being pressurised into behaving according to the social norms of the upper class. He refuses to conform and gives it straight to Anne:

    “Stew:  Yes, I’ll tell you – for the same  reason I’ve never wanted to go out with those social parasites, those sweet-smelling fashion plates. I don’t like them. They bore me. They give me the jitters.
    Anne’s Voice:  Do you know you’re talking about my friends?
    Stew:  Yes, I’m talking about your friends, and they still give me the jitters.”

    He eventually decides to leave Anne and refuses to take money (she offers him alimony) which depicts his incorruptible nature and his working class allegiances.

    Theatrical release poster

    Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

    In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), the co-owner of a tallow works and part-time greeting card poet inherits 20 million dollars from his late uncle, Martin Semple during the Great Depression. Semple’s scheming attorney, John Cedar (Douglass Dumbrille) tries to get Deeds’ power of attorney in order to keep his own financial misdeeds secret. However, Deeds is not easily manipulated and fends off all greedy opportunists. His sincerity also charms minder Cornelius Cobb (Lionel Stander) and star reporter Louise “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur) who writes popular articles about him with the nickname “Cinderella Man”. When Deeds meets a dispossessed farmer (John Wray) who comes at him with a gun, he calms him down and decides to give fully equipped 10-acre (4-hectare) farms free to thousands of homeless families. He is taken to court but wins over the people and the judge in the end.

    Meet John Doe (1941)

    In Meet John Doe Ann Mitchell, a newspaper reporter, prints a letter from a fictional unemployed “John Doe” threatening suicide on Christmas Eve in protest of society’s ills. The letter gets much attention and Ann is rehired to exploit the fictional John Doe. She gets John Willoughby, a former baseball player, hired to play the role of John Doe. Ann then writes a series of letters exposing society’s disregard for people in need inspiring ordinary people to start “John Doe clubs” with the slogan “Be a better neighbor”. This philosophy develops into a movement. Willoughby himself becomes inspired by the movement which the newspaper’s publisher, D. B. Norton decides to manipulate to have himself endorsed as a presidential candidate. After Norton exposes the letter fraud John decides to kill himself as the original letter had stated (by jumping from the roof of the City Hall) but the people change his mind when they tell him that they planned to restart the John Doe clubs anyway. As John leaves, the editor Henry Connell turns to Norton and says, “There you are, Norton! The people! Try and lick that!”


    Walter Brennan, Gary Cooper, Irving Bacon, Barbara Stanwyck, and James Gleason in Meet John Doe

    State of the Union (1948)

    In State of the Union Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury), Republican newspaper magnate, plans to make her lover, aircraft tycoon Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy), president, a power which she can then manipulate. Matthews’s wife Mary agrees to support him in public because of his idealism and honesty. Matthews is a powerful speaker and appeals to ordinary people and their trade unions (“audience was full of cheering union men”) He is a progressive:

    I’m going to tell them that the wealthiest nation in the world is a failure unless it’s also the healthiest nation in the world. That means the highest medical care for the lowest income groups. And that goes for housing, too. […] And I’m going to tell them that the American Dream is not making money. It is the well-being and the freedom of the individual throughout the world from Patagonia to Detroit.

    Elite manipulation of the economy itself is indicated:

    Now, look here, Jim, you know just as well as I do that there are men at that banquet who’ll be rooting for a depression, just so they can slap labor’s ears back.

    Capra exposes elite methods of divide and rule (“They’ve carried hatreds around for centuries. The trick is to play on these hatreds, one nationality against the other, keep them voting as blocks.”) and shows how the people can get their voice heard on the monopolised media:

    Ladies and gentlemen,this is a paid political broadcast. Paid for, not by any political group or organization,but by thousands of public spirited citizens who have taken this method of insuring that their voice,the voice of the people shall be heard.

    When Matthews discovers the political manipulations going on behind his back, “He steps to the microphone before the cameras, and confesses to the American people. While promising to seek bipartisan reform — and challenging the voters to vote — he denounces as frauds both his backers and himself and withdraws as a candidate for any political office.”

    Capra’s themes – (2) Working class solidarity or victory

    In these films the main theme is the machinations of elites to gain control, monopolise and increase profits. The developing awareness of ordinary people that they will be the ones most affected if these plans are successful forms the basis of solidarity action.

    Theatrical poster

    American Madness (1932)

    Set during the Great Depression, the Board of Directors of Thomas Dickson’s bank want Dickson (Walter Huston) to merge with New York Trust and resign. Dickson refuses as he believes that the merger will exclude many of his ordinary clients in the drive for profits. When the bank is robbed of $100,000 different aspects of this morality story relating to extra-marital affairs, gambling and staff loyalty are played out. As word of the robbery gets out a huge crowd of clients arrive panicked about their savings and a run on the bank starts. However, the long held policy of Dickson to help people when they were down produces positive results as favours are called in. Clients who did well arrive at the bank holding up wads of cash declaring that they were depositing money, not taking it out. This action of solidarity with Dickson calms the queues and people start putting their money back in or going home thus saving the bank from the vulture Board of Directors.

    It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

    38-year-old George Bailey postpones his plans to tour the world before college to sort out the family business, Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan. George’s father suffers a stroke and dies but the board votes to keep it open, provided that George runs it. George marries Mary Hatch but they end up using their $2,000 honeymoon savings to stop a run on the ban and it solvent. George sets up Bailey Park, a housing development financed by the Building and Loan, in contrast to his competitor Henry F. Potter’s overpriced slums. Due to a mistake by his forgetful uncle a large sum of cash goes missing which threatens the future of Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan. George becomes desperate and contemplates suicide. However, an angel appears on the bridge he is about to jump off and shows him what the town would have looked like without his efforts.

    This idea is a stroke of genius in the film as the angel shows him that his town Bedford Falls has been renamed Pottersville, “a seedy town occupied by strip clubs, swing halls, and cocktail lounges” thus depicting the reality and desperation of many places in the United States at the time. George has a change of heart and begs the angel for his life back. He runs home to discover that the townspeople had rallied and donated enough money to save the bank.

    In 1946 Frank Capra released It’s a Wonderful Life, a film which is still shown every year in cinemas and on TV thus maintaining its popularity. Yet when released it performed poorly at the box office mainly due to the sheer quantity of films released that year. Despite the rough start the film went on to become voted as one of the best films ever made. Though often perceived as a sentimental movie, a more recent analysis describes the story line as “a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people.”

    The individual and the collective

    In these films Capra operates on two levels (sometimes at the same time) — the individual and the collective. He exhorts the individual to stand strong in the face of extreme pressure, and shows the power of collective action, even if it does take some time to form. However, this is an important point in itself as changing beliefs and ideas lead to a new understanding and self-awareness within the group. The success of collective action then gives the group a feeling of self-worth and power which becomes an important element in future struggles. In a way, Capra takes on a similar role as Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), the author of the 16th century book The Prince. While many would see Machiavelli as a self-serving immoral opportunist writing a book advising elites on the craft of ruling and exploiting the exercise of power, this may not have been the case. Erica Benner writes:

    Just a year before he finished the first draft of his “little book”, the Medici swept into Florence in a foreign-backed coup after spending years in exile. They were deeply suspicious of his loyalties, dismissed him from his posts, then had him imprisoned and tortured under suspicion of plotting against them.

    She notes that “Machiavelli’s writings speak in different voices at different times” and that “Francis Bacon, Spinoza and Rousseau – had no doubt the book was a cunning exposé of princely snares, a self-defence manual for citizens. “The book of republicans,” Rousseau dubbed it.”

    Oil painting of Machiavelli by Cristofano dell’Altissimo

    Benner describes the benefits of seeing Machiavelli in a positive light:

    His city’s tempestuous history taught Machiavelli a lesson he tries to convey to future readers: that no one man can overpower a free people unless they let him. […] Citizens need to realise that by trusting leaders too much and themselves too little, they create their own political nightmares. […] So what can citizens can do to preserve their freedoms? For one thing, they can train themselves to see through the various ruses in the would-be tyrant’s handbook. Machiavelli’s The Prince describes most of them, in ways that mimic their disorienting ambiguity.

    Capra, like Machiavelli, shows in detail how elites manipulate in many different ways, through friends, bought-off individuals and their use of the media. Capra also shows people the negative effects of trusting their leaders too much and how they can resist being overpowered by developing awareness and solidarity.

    However, Capra, like Machiavelli, also experienced suspicion and rebukes from the elites he was depicting. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington had been attacked as a film that showed America in a bad light, the sort of things that “unfriendly” people were saying “in and out of America” about “the institution of these United States”.1 The film State of the Union was criticized by the Hollywood columnist Lee Mortimer of Hearst’s New York Daily Mirror as:

    stuff slipped through the customers by one of the oldest dodges in the game, ‘Sure I’m against communism, but -‘ The big ‘but’ here seem to be a deep-seated dislike for most of the things America is and stands for … The indictment against this country, its customs, manners, morals, economic and political systems, as put in the mouths of Tracy and Miss Hepburn, would not seem out of place in Izvestia [Russian newspaper].2

    The implications of being anti-American and pro Soviet Union were very serious for Capra as they attracted the attention of HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) which could lead one to be black listed and effectively unemployed. As Capra himself stated:

    Courage made me a champion … But the world was full of ex-champions.3

    Capra urged respect for American traditions of free speech and political dissent invoking the names of Jefferson, Paine, Emerson and Thoreau and tried briefly to organise a petition of support for Hollywood writers, including the ones he had worked with who had been subpoenaed and black listed. However, this fell through and Capra abandoned the protest. (Capra replied to criticism by saying he was a Catholic and wanted to present a Christian doctrine). As it happened Capra was never criticized by name in the hearings “nor were [his] films such as Mr Deeds and Mr Smith“.4  As Capra saw his colleagues being forced out of Hollywood he “set about purging his work of any elements he could anticipate that anyone, anywhere, present or future, might find ‘un-American”.3 Sadly, this action resulted in his later films becoming ever more saccharine and innocuous.


    The 1930s and 1940s were an extraordinary time for progressive cinema and Frank Capra became one of America’s most influential directors. He won three Academy Awards for Best Director from six nominations and was active in various political and social activities in the industry. His social realist depictions of society depicting the conflict of groups with very different economic and political agendas is a far cry from much cinema today.

    1. Joseph McBride, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success (Simon and Schuster: New York, 1992), p. 422.
    2. McBride, Frank Capra, p. 547.
    3. McBride, Frank Capra, p. 543.
    4. McBride, Frank Capra, p. 542.

    Viral Reactions: The Smugness of Celebrity Self-Isolation

    The rush to elevate self-isolation to Olympian heights as a way to combat the spread of COVID-19 has gotten to the celebrities.  Sports figures are proudly tweeting and taking pictures from hotel rooms (Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton being a case in point).  Comics are doing their shows from home.  Thespians are extolling the merits of such isolation and the dangers of the contagion.  All speak from the summit of comfort, the podium of pampered wealth: embrace social distancing; embrace self-isolation.  Bonds of imagined solidarity are forged. If we can do it, so can you.

    The message of warning varies in tones of condescension and encouragement. Taylor Swift prefers to focus on her cat.  “For Meredith, self-quarantining is a way of life,” she posted on Instagram.  “Be like Meredith.”  Meredith, of course, had little choice in the matter.  John Legend delivered a concert on Instagram, wife Chrissy Teigen beside towelled and quaffing wine.  “Social distancing is important, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. I did a little at-home performance to help lift your spirits.”  Then there was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who actually boasted two miniature ponies.  “We will get through this together.”  So good of him to let us know.

    Others, like model Naomi Campbell, can barely hide their revelations, moments of acute self-awakening amidst crisis.  “I’m learning what it means to put my busy or complicated life on hold and just to be still for a while, in one place, with hyper awareness of the people and spaces directly around me and the moment to moment actions I am making.”  A long dormant, cerebral world, awoken by a virus.

    Similarly, singer Lady Gaga has found that within that deodorised, heavily marketed form of celebrity is the heart of a human.  “This is reminding me I think a lot of us,” she reflected on Instagram “what it is to both feel like and be like a human being.”

    Self-isolation has seen the rich with their entourages making an escape for holiday homes and vast retreats.  Then come the eccentric and the slightly ludicrous options: the well-stocked and equipped bunker; the safe room.  Such an approach is far more representative of the estrangement between haves and have-nots.  “One of the best options is in Middle America,” comes the recommendation from Adam Popescu in Vanity Fair.  “If you’re part of the 1%, why wait or sluggish government support when you can burrow 175 feet underground in a refurbished Air Force missile silo in rural Kansas that markets itself as a survival condo?”

    The condo in question, the brainchild of developer Larry Hall, sports nine-foot think concrete walls, epoxy-hardened for good measure.  Their purpose, ostensibly, is to withstand nuclear blasts.  Current interest, however, is over a possible occupancy to ride out the coronavirus pandemic.

    Florida entrepreneur Tyler Allen has already reserved his spot.  While he has “other fortified locations”, he has a preference for the Kansas condo project. “Some of my hard facilities have a bunker but it doesn’t have protection for biological infection, doesn’t have protection for radiation.  The survival condo has layering; it has it all.  I’m protected from everything.”  His advice is not cloying and congratulatory. It is more of the self-preservation school of thinking.  Let the idiots watch the disaster unfold on phones, screens and social media while I go about arming myself for doom.

    All this excitement about upright behaviour provides a noisy distraction from those who are simply in no position to isolate themselves.  Food from increasingly bare counters must still be put on the table.  Doctors and nurses must still perform their dangerous tasks in increasingly overwhelmed health systems.  The menial jobs where contact with the public inevitably continue.

    Then come those who have been in isolation well before the term came into vogue: the forgotten elderly, the impoverished, the vulnerable.  But even here, the celebrities lurk with message and instructions, waiting to pounce.  Never let chances to do the good deed, and talk about it, go by.  At the very least, it has presented opportunities to tell others to do good works for the poor.  For actor Ryan Reynolds, “COVID-19 has brutally impacted older adults and low income families … If you can give, these orgs need your help.”

    Reynolds and his wife Blake Lively have donated $1 million to be divided by Feeding America and Food Banks Canada.  Lively, for her part, has a lesson. “Though we must be distancing ourselves to protect those who don’t have the opportunity to self-quarantine, we can stay connected,” she suggested in an Instagram post.  “Remember the lonely and the isolated. Facetime, Skype, make a video.”

    As with other forms of life, combating disease comes with its hierarchies.  Luxuries and miseries are unevenly distributed.  The allocation of resources is skewed.  But valiant efforts are made to suggest that the well moneyed celebrity shares the lot with the proles and the hoi polloi. An Esquire contribution does just that, though the effort is risibly unconvincing.  “Celebrities, they’re just like us!” it cheekily proclaims.  “Self-isolating in their cavernous houses, dancing up their marble stairs, pouring themselves a crystal tumbler of citrus-scented tequila and sauntering into the home-cinema to wait for all this to blow over.”

    Routine Myth Maintenance: Tarantino and American Exceptionalism

    Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is a 2019 comedy-drama set in 1969 Los Angeles and features a large ensemble cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The story centres around veteran actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), star of the 1950s Western television series Bounty Law, and and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton is worried that his career is in decline and is reticent to take advice to travel to Italy to make Spaghetti Westerns. Cliff Booth also struggles to get work in Hollywood due to rumors that he murdered his wife on a boating trip.

    In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino re-emphasizes many of the bugbears, cliches and and myths of US elites with his checklist portrayal of misogynist violence against women, negative depictions of Chinese, Mexicans and Europeans, and the negative association of cult-following hippies with youth opposition to the Vietnam war. And all this happens during a period of much political activity and public demonstrations against the Vietnam war which is barely noticeable during the length of this film.

    1937 Louisville, Kentucky. Margaret Bourke-White. There’s no way like the American Way


    Dalton gets a big opportunity when he is cast to play the villain in the pilot of Lancer, a new American Western series broadcast from 1968 to 1970. He tries hard to toughen up for his new cowboy role yet fluffs his lines and has a minor breakdown in his trailer. The softer side of Dalton is also still visible when he shows concern for a child actress he has thrown on the floor in a ‘tough’ acting scene. Following in an old cinematic tradition Cliff appears to be Dalton’s doppelganger or alter ego as he represents the tough side of Dalton off screen. Within the film they merge on screen as they play one character when Cliff plays Dalton’s body double. The reality of Dalton is that off screen he is shown to be a sensitive and anxious person, particularly about his declining fame.

    Dalton’s new role also shows that the cowboy as a symbol of the tough American individualist undergoes changes from old style hero to gritty realism, while also being caricatured in Spaghetti Westerns.

    The fact that Dalton plays a famous hero cowboy role during the 1950s but becomes a tougher character in Lancer in the 1960s mirrors the changing perception and role of the USA, which changes from a simple positive force post WW2, to a more complex position during and after the Vietnam war.

    Because many of the veterans and demonstrators against the Vietnam war became hippies and were fundamentally opposed to state warmongering, Cliff dislikes all hippies. Tarantino then portrays the hippies in the film as cultists who blindly follow their violent leaders.

    Cliff discovers that hippies have taken over the farm where earlier cowboy movies where filmed during Dalton’s heyday, and they seem to do nothing but laze around all day watching TV. This ruination of such an important site of American cowboy symbolism only confirms Cliff’s negative attitude towards them.

    Bruce Lee, portrayed in the film by Mike Moh

    Mexicans and Chinese

    The negative portrayal of Mexicans and Chinese as somehow ‘lesser’ beings is stoked up in two other scenes from the film. In Hollywood, Cliff gets thrown off a set after a scene when he provokes Bruce Lee into a fight. Lee is depicted making ridiculous cat wailing noises as he enters into a fight with Cliff, reminiscent of the worst Kung Fu movie cliches and turns the scene into a comedic parody of Bruce Lee’s own films. Cliff smashes Lee into the side of a car leaving a huge dent as if it was a superhero movie without superheros, symbolically demonstrating the ‘natural’ strength and power of the Westerner without the tutoring of Eastern martial arts. The unspoken supremacy of the white male is also depicted as Cliff shields Dalton from Mexican workers who might see him crying. The tough male hero cannot be seen to be upset before lesser mortals.

    Women and Europeans

    The final scenes of absolute brutality and misogyny depict Cliff slamming a can of dog meat into a female hippie’s face, then slams her face into the mantelpiece and then onto the marble floor are only equaled by the scene of Dalton roasting her alive in the swimming pool with a flame thrower from an earlier film set. Clearly Dalton has got his ‘toughness’ back after being ‘impoverished’ by his European wife and sacking his alter ego Cliff.

    The effete men of Europe are represented in his depiction of Roman Polanski and the European distortions of the cowboy genre which Dalton eventually agrees to act in. Following the Italian director Sergio Leone’s success, many Spaghetti Westerns were filmed at Cinecittà studios and various locations around southern Italy and Spain between 1964 and 1978.

    Like in Inglourious Basterds (where Tarantino has Americans assassinate Nazi Germany’s leadership), Tarantino gives an alternate history of the Manson Family murders when the members decide to instead kill Dalton as a representative of Hollywood which had ‘taught them to murder’ according to the ‘hippie’ logic of one of the Family members, Sadie. This symbolically turns the anti-Vietnam peace-loving hippies into the perpetrators of violence, creating more right-wing prejudice against them.

    Classical Hollywood

    The greatest irony of Tarantino’s nostalgic view of Classical Hollywood is that Hollywood of the time followed a code of ethics agreed by the filmmakers themselves (which would have rejected Tarantino’s movies outright). During the Classical Hollywood period American toughness was tempered with respect for women, the body, foreign nationals and countries. This code of ethics, called the Motion Picture Production Code, was applied to most United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1934 to 1968. It had a quite comprehensive set of guidelines, a selected few of which are described here:

    Resolved, That those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated:

    – The illegal traffic in drugs;
    – Willful offense to any nation, race or creed;[…]

    That special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized:

    – International relations (avoiding picturizing in an unfavorable light another country’s religion, history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry);
    – Brutality and possible gruesomeness;
    – Technique of committing murder by whatever method;
    – Third-degree [torture] methods; […].

    Thus we can see that one of the reasons why the Classical period was so successful is because of its upstanding and humanistic approach to the narratives of the time. People (and their political, cultural and ethnic backgrounds) were treated more respectfully within the films and the audiences were spared the gross bone-breaking, blood spurting violence of many films made since the relaxation of the code. Directors like Tarantino have turned cinema into a modern gladiators’ ring where the audience catharsis of thumbs up or thumbs down prevails.

    Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name in a publicity image of A Fistful of Dollars, a film by Sergio Leone.

    Tartantino’s modus operandi is to play up successful features of American culture while at the same time re-writing aspects of American history that ’embarrasses’ the political right or doesn’t fit into its over-embellished image of itself. Also in its negative depictions of other nations, women and ethnic groups (the negative portrayal of Native Americans is implicit in the cowboy genre), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood props up  the ideology of American exceptionalism.

    Tarantino has produced and directed a classic of Trumpean cinema in that it reasserts the primacy of the American way of life married to conservative Republican values.

    A Note on Carlos Ghosn and Global Capitalism

    The boss of world car maker Nissan  — arrested and under intense surveillance around his luxury mansion, and charged with gorging himself with about $140 million of unauthorized pay1 — makes a daring escape from under the nose of Japanese authorities and across half the world. It will take months for details of how Carlos Ghosn ran away to become public, and probably years to verify which of them are true and which are diversionary stories. However, the lessons about global capitalism are already plain to see.

    * Ghosn rose up the managerial ladder at vehicle maker Renault in France by showing his mettle as a ruthless exploiter of labor. His nickname, Le Cost Killer, was well earned.2 At the Renault factory in Flins, workers must stay at their station the entire eight-hour shift with two ten-minute toilet breaks. They burst into tears because they cannot help wetting their clothes. Nearly half the workers are on temporary contracts that run one to three months.3

    * When Japanese car maker Nissan was on the verge of financial collapse in 1999, it formed a loose alliance with Renault and received an investment. Renault obtained about 40 percent of Nissan — and installed Ghosn as the boss.4  It was a major break for Japanese industry to accept a foreigner as chief. Ghosn laid off 20,000 and closed factories, which got the profits flowing again.

    * Several years ago Ghosn began to push for a complete merger of Nissan and Renault in a consolidating global industry. But it seems the exploiters could not agree how to divide the profits. Nissan generates most of them, and high Japanese executives and Japan Capital in general feel that Renault wants too big a share.5

    * Ghosn kept up the merger drive. This is the real reason, he says, why he was arrested and charged with plundering Nissan of undeclared money, putting luxury mansions in Japan, France, and Brazil on the corporate tab, and hiding a murky deal with Saudi businessmen.6  Ghosn counterchares that he is a victim of selective prosecution, asserting that executives in Japan do this stuff all the time.

    * Unable to squeeze Ghosn to leave the scene quietly, the Japanese government released him on bail after four months in jail, re-arrested him last April, and largely confined him to his mansion. Ghosn could not have a phone or use the Internet, and his wife could not visit him.7  Ghosn’s trial was to begin in April 2020 but then was put off to autumn 2020 or even into 2021.

    * Ghosn had enough. With his wealth and global connections, he put together a bold plot. Somehow Ghosn left his house despite 24-hour surveillance by several cameras. He allegedly took a private jet to Istanbul (chartered under a false name),8 changed to another private jet without going through Turkish arrival and departure clearances, and flew to Beirut, Lebanon, the city where he grew up and where he apparently enjoys government protection and presidential affection.

    While the press debates the inhumane procedures of Japanese courts and confinement versus the illegal flight of Ghosn, it gives little attention to the fact that the Ghosn-Nissan-Renault affair is a clash among thieves over the profits sweated from hundreds of thousands of workers. For twenty years the press adored Ghosn for his talents at exploitation.

    The escape drama underlines that the globalization of corporations, production, and supply chains does not create a unified capitalist class. Just the opposite, the battle of capitalist interests becomes global, too.

    Despite intellectuals who chatter about the surpassing of national sovereignty9, state power remains more important than ever. Ghosn found refuge in Lebanon. Japan and Lebanon have no extradition treaty. State boundaries define limits of coercive state power, a reality that currently infuriates Japanese authorities.

    Incidentally, the detail about workers forced to urinate in their pants was published by a mainstream newspaper in Japan almost a year ago, when the capitalist media there were in the process of removing Ghosn’s crown.

    Hollywood will most likely make a suspense thriller about Carlos Ghosn’s escape. The movie might portray the contention between capitalists, but it will hardly underline the fact that it is all a fight over the spoils of exploitation. The Godfather is a brilliant epic showing that the mafia reproduces big business in miniature, but the first part in particular hides what the mafia is about: it extorts small businesses, preys upon working people susceptible to the vain hope of gambling and the doomed refuge of drugs, and hires out thugs to employers when workers want to unionize.

    There is no greater drama than socialist revolution. Hollywood has yet to make a movie about how Lenin got out of tsarist-imposed exile in neutral Switzerland during the First World War and traveled with associates in a special closed train to Russia shortly after the revolution of 1917 began. History will tuck Carlos Ghosn away in a footnote — and see new triumphs on the path that Lenin took.

    1. How Carlos Ghosn Hid $140 Million in Compensation From Nissan,” Bloomberg, September 23, 2019.
    2. “‘Le Cost Killer’ faces toughest test,” The Telegraph, July 4, 2006.
    3. Renault factory workers in poor labor conditions have no sympathy for ‘cost-cutter’ Ghosn,” Mainichi, February 3, 2019.
    4. Nissan and Renault cement ties,” BBC News, 30 October 30, 2001.
    5. Renault presses Nissan again for merger,” Nikkei Asian Review, April 22, 2019.
    6. Carlos Ghosn: the charges against him,” France 24, January 8, 2020.
    7. Factbox: Ghosn’s bail conditions – Surveillance cameras, no internet access,” Reuters, December 30, 2019.
    8. Private jet firm says it was duped over Carlos Ghosn escape,” Guardian, January 3, 2020.
    9. See, for example, Peter Wilson, “The end of sovereignty,” Prospect, March 24, 2016.