The times they are a’changing! Maybe it’s just turning 40, but I really do think US politics and society are undergoing a bit of a sea change. Nobody can argue that the past three years have been fun. On the other hand, I think that, so far, this period of transition is infinitely less bruising than the one the country went through in the 1970s and 1980s. In today’s video I try to knit the New Deal and Reagan eras into a single narrative of progress and change. It is punctuated with Joker level chaos of course.
I really do believe that 2020 presents an opportunity to help the country move on to its next cycle of growth and progress. I have no idea who would best represent and shape that change. But I do know that whoever gets elected in November, even if it’s Donald Trump, will have that opportunity. I’d really rather it wasn’t Donald Trump. Today’s video sets out my general attitude to US history and the 2020 election. It’s useful viewing if you want to know my biases before this year of election madness.
So who is scarier, Terrorists or Narcos? This distinction has a lot to do with today’s video, and why I take the Sicario sequel so much less seriously than I do the first one. For me the answer is simple and obvious. Narcos are infinitely scarier than Terrorists. I rag on Al Queda and ISIS all the time. And I do it from a Muslim country. As far as I’m concerned they are a bunch of ridiculous losers, either working directly for the CIA, or indirectly for the Pentagon by helping them inflate US military budgets. “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is largely the result of some poor choices on the part of the US back in the 1980s, and it is in the process of quickly evaporating. I am perfectly comfortable pointing stuff like that out, and broadcasting that message from most Muslim countries.
Would I ever make a video talking about Mexican drug cartels like that? Hell no. Not from Mexico. Not from anywhere. I’m a coward, and Narcos are legitimately scary. They are not the result of a few poor choices by the CIA and the US government (that continues to support Saudi Arabia), they are the result of deep human needs, and deep confusion about the way to deal with those needs. Marijuana legalization may help diminish the power of these cartels, but it’s not like heroin or cocaine are getting legalized any time soon. Drug trafficking, and the powerful criminal networks around it are going to be with us for quite some time.
Both Sicario movies open with horrific acts of violence. The first focuses on a crime carried out by Narcos, that is certainly exaggerated for film purposes, but that seems grimly plausible. The second Sicario movie opens up with a multiple suicide bombing of a shopping center in Kansas City carried out by motivated international terrorists. It was pretty gross, but I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. The whole concept of an organized terror attack in middle America just seemed so silly. In 2002 the preceding sentence would have felt like tempting fate, but at this point I think we can concede: ISIS isn’t coming for Peoria.
There’s a lot wrong with Sicario’s sequel, as I point out in detail in today’s video. But it may be this fundamental silliness more than anything else that put me off the film. Narcos are a real, enduring and very serious threat. Jihadi terrorists are a sad joke, and any movie that talks about them like they are serious just strikes me as US government propaganda. Which is a fair description of Sicario: Day of The Soldado.
Today’s video talks about the ambivalent approach to the use of power we see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Marvel movies are often as much about how great power hurts itself and what it aims to protect as they are about bad guys. The video lays out that the DC movies have none of this subtlety. As I think more about it though, I think I was too easy on the DC movies. These films are pro-US power, and even pro-torture in a very Trumpian, Fox News way.
A couple years back, with a review of Batman V. Superman, I talked about the main influence on the DC movies, a guy named Frank Miller. Frank Miller is an undisputed genius, but he’s got a world view that is deeply rooted in the 1980s. His vision is of a world that is being torn apart at the seams. In Miller’s world we need powerful people to do what’s necessary to face “evil” no matter the cost. This vision of the world made a lot of sense in the 1980s, with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, and with US cities falling into an abyss of crime and drugs.
I am writing this from the heart of New York City, a place that is now safer than it was in the 1950s. Despite the US’s careful cultivation of rogue states, and the ever present threat of a dirty bomb, nobody expects human civilization to be wiped out anymore. I hate to throw this word around, but from this perspective, Miller’s vision looks more than a bit fascist. And that’s the perspective the DC films have adopted. Evil is everywhere. Power must confront it. And that power should not be questioned. You can see this world-view on Fox News every day, and you can see it in the speeches of Donald Trump.
After the critical and financial failures of Batman V. Superman, and Suicide Squad, the Warner Brothers corporate offices mandated that the films get more “optimistic”. But this pro-power perspective has continued in the DC movies, regardless. Last year’s “sunnier” Wonder Woman takes place during World War I. The film-makers don’t know anything about World War I, so they just portray the Germans as Nazis. This fits with the US foreign policy establishment’s lionization of Woodrow Wilson, and insistence that US power is always used for good. As someone who would love to see pop culture reckon more seriously (or at all) with World War I, I was pretty disappointed.
I may be over analyzing things here. The DC movies have been a mess, top to bottom, since Christopher Nolan finished his last Batman film back in 2012. But there are a lot of really, really bad ideas floating around in that soup of crap…