Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Rebels and the American Establishment

Would-be radical rapper and filmmaker Boots Riley explains the ironies surrounding cultural rebellion in America:
“Everybody feels like they’re the exception,” he went on. “There’s a story I tell, which was told to me by Tom Morello,” who was the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, with whom Riley formed a side project several years ago. “Rage were going to shoot a music video for one of their songs, Michael Moore directed it and the idea was they were gonna show up on Wall Street and play loud in the middle of the day, and when the cops came, and when Wall Street people came and yelled at them, even if it got shut down, that would be the video. So they get there, they play the song one time. Tumbleweeds. Play it again. Nothing’s happening — a couple cops talking into their radios. They play it a third time and start hearing a rumble. ‘Are they sending SWAT in?’ And then, from around the corner, they see hundreds of people in business clothes coming closer, chanting ‘Suits! For! Rage!’ They’re fans!” (In the finished video, for the song “Sleep Now in the Fire,” a few men in trading-floor jackets rock out in the crowd.)


G. Verloren said...

I feel that Die Hard did a pretty good job of capturing the American love of "rebels" pretty well - possibly unintentionally.

"Who are you, then?"
"Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. A pain in the ass."

"Mr. Mystery Guest... are you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm still here. Unless you want to open the front door for me."
"Ah, I'm afraid not. But you have me at a loss. You know my name, but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?"
"I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers, actually. Really liked those sequined shirts."
"Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mister Cowboy?"
"Yippee kay-yay, motherfucker."

John McClane isn't portrayed as a truly heroic figure - he's portrayed as an ordinary working schmoe whose primary talent is being a complete and utter pain in the ass to everyone around him. And it's because of that talent that the film wants us to root for him.

"Sure", the movie says, "his infuriating and combative personality may have led him to be a lousy father and husband, and a generally miserable human being. But it also let him beat The Bad Guys™, by pissing them off so much they made dumb, entirely avoidable mistakes! They would have totally succeeded in their plans if John wasn't such a frustrating asshole - or if they had just been better at ignoring him."

"So because of that, let's all collectively excuse his life-long patterns of domestic abuse and toxic masculinity that drove his wife to leave him, and convinced a judge to deny him custody of his children! And while we're at it, let's give it up for his fellow police officer Roy, who shot and killed an innocent child out of fear, but whose real tragedy is that he's lost his self confidence and is working a desk job instead of being out on the streets, where he can have the chance to shoot and kill OTHER people, and this time they'll deserve it!"

Americans largely don't celebrate "rebellion" so much as "irreverence". They don't care if a plan is foolish or even suicidal, so long as it is audacious and insulting. They'd rather make a point than make a difference.

It's not just the fact that if they can't win, they'll settle for pissing off the opposition. It's that they firmly and genuinely believe that the key to winning IS to piss off the opposition.

We don't need a plan. We don't need a philosophy. We don't need experts, or experience, or an education. That's all just lies spread by cheats and phonies - like the evil Hans Gruber! No, all we need is a tough working Joe, who has the guts and has the wits to stand up to The Bad Guys™, armed with nothing but grit and sarcasm, and piss them off as much as humanly possible, and then then rest will take care of itself!

John said...

That's really astute.