Category Archives: propaganda

The Post (2017)

Most of Steven Spielberg’s directorial output falls into two broad categories. Big budget popcorn blockbusters like Back to the Future and Ready Player One in one group, and quasi-historical agitprop like Schindler’s List and Amistad in the other. While they both serve the same political goals, the films in the latter category are easier to dissect because they aren’t veiled in fantasy or sci-fi symbolism. Released a mere year into the Trump presidency, anyone who isn’t already on board with Spielberg’s politics can smell the agenda behind the film a mile away. Simultaneously a softball primer on the Post’s role in exposing the Pentagon Papers and a love letter to the movie’s namesake, The Post amply demonstrates Spielberg’s mastery of the medium. Though one gets the impression that Spielberg more or less phoned this film in, it is a surprisingly satisfying drama on its own terms. It is also a cunningly deceptive work of progressive propaganda. If we take the case that even when making historical dramas Spielberg is revealing occulted truths underneath the exoteric editorial, The Post reveals a lot about the true nature of the DC power structure.

The film traces the events that occurred between Daniel Ellsberg’s theft of the Pentagon Papers from the Rand Corporation archives up to the Post’s coverage of the report and subsequent Supreme Court exoneration. The drama of the film centers around the tensions that arise when a sedate establishment paper like the Post exercises editorial courage and actually lives up to its assumed mandate to hold the powerful accountable for their actions. As WaPo heiress, Kay Graham, Meryl Streep is the tentative-but-determined publisher and widower trying to negotiate a path forward for the paper. While trying to reconcile the competing aims and advice of Post chairman, Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts), editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), and board member, Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), Streep is plying yet another tiresome spin on the Beleaguered Womyn Standing Up to The Patriarchy.

As the film opens, we are plunged into the war torn hellscape of South Vietnam in 1965 as it’s seen through the eyes of high level Pentagon bureaucrat and assistant to Secretary of Defense, Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg knows the war effort is a failure and all their attempts at technocratic administration have had no effect. Disaffected with the lies being spewed by Robert McNamara, Ellsberg returns to the employment of the Rand Corporation and uncovers reams of research performed by his employers that reveal just how much had been hidden from the public over several administrations.

In 1971, New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan ran the first article exposing the leaked papers and was subsequently throttled by the Nixon administration in court. Cowed by the iron fisted tactics of the White House, the leadership of the Post were at first reticent to pursue what was obviously an explosive story. Driven by a sense of journalistic duty, Post reporter, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), goes on a tireless search for Ellsberg in a world without internet connectivity or cell phones. After communicating through presumably untapped phone booths, the two meet in a secluded hotel room and Ellsberg hands him the 7000 page trove. As he flies back to DC, the stewardess innocently asks about the giant box occupying the adjoining seat. “Just government secrets”, he quips.

As a viewer, you already know how things will resolve, but Spielberg masterfully crafts the dramatic beats. It remains engrossing throughout. However, just like Bagdikian’s quip, Spielberg is also putting a lot in plain sight that goes beyond what he wants you to see. For one thing, he is very clever about how he frames the moral conflict. When Bradlee presses Graham about the importance of maintaining the integrity of their role as members of the fourth estate regardless of whose feathers might get ruffled, Graham initially balks because of her close social ties with McNamara. To his credit, Spielberg is revealing the longstanding symbiosis between the progressive political establishment and their media lapdogs. At a crucial juncture in the film, Bradlee openly acknowledges the Grahams’ proximity to the highest echelons of the Democratic power elite.

Ben Bradlee: [to Kay] You know, the only couple I knew that both Kennedy and LBJ wanted to socialize with was you and your husband.

It’s a refreshing moment of honesty, but this is also a cinematic parlor trick. Just as Lincoln portrayed the Democrats as the villains, Spielberg again wants you to see this film as a fundamentally apolitical work upholding timeless truths and sacred American ideals irrespective of his obvious partisanship. After all, this is simply a quasi-historical account of an event which was damaging to Democratic presidents. Spielberg wants to show you how pained and tortured Bradlee and Graham were in weighing the decision to release the information that would be damaging to people in their social circles who also happened to be on the same political team as they were. He really wants you to believe that the WaPo of 2018 and all other establishment media outlets are just these selfless, intrepid truth seekers who would fearlessly pursue the truth even if it was damaging to a Democratic regime. Spielberg really wants you to think that all of these pampered elites are going to put everything on the line and hold the political class to account even if it disrupts their cushy lives, their exclusive access and their career fortunes. Ergo, you should trust the media to be just as fearless about holding both parties accountable regardless of which party occupies the White House or controls Congress. Right.

The central deception of the film is that it tries to paint WaPo and establishment media as independent actors. Who really thinks that the Washington Post under Jeff Bezos is really a completely neutral paper without an unspoken ideological bias? Who really thinks that the millions donated to Democrats and the prospect of a fat Pentagon contract aren’t tilting the coverage in one direction? Who really takes Jennifer Rubin and George Will seriously as honest conservatives?

And what about the Rand Corporation? Ellsberg gets painted as a hero for stealing the report and leaking it to the media, but is anyone asking what they’re up to in the first place? If you read the official line, it’s just a cutting edge think tank which just happens to attract the brightest minds from the military, intelligence and academic communities who are applying themselves to the world’s thorniest issues. If you scratch just below the surface, you find a collection of shadow technocrats and neocons who are agitating for expanding surveillance, global military intervention, weather manipulation and various forms of social engineering. When anyone discusses the “deep state” or the “shadow government”, it includes quasi-private, para-intelligence organizations like Rand. Who’s to say that the release of the Pentagon Papers wasn’t quietly authorized by Rand as a large scale psychological operation in the first place?

What’s really galling about The Post is just how predictably tone deaf Spielberg is to the cultural moment. Like his imperious cohorts and their servile, feckless sycophants, Spielberg is painfully oblivious to the media landscape of 2018. Since Trump announced his candidacy for POTUS, there has been an incessant and increasingly unhinged howl of fauxtrage from the ruling elites that someone who hasn’t been properly anointed has claimed the reins of power. He hasn’t hidden the fact that this film was meant as another broadside against Trump, but who’s going to come away from this film with a changed mind? Progressives will congratulate themselves for watching another movie which confirms their biases and conservatives will either ignore it or vent over Hollywood’s liberal agenda.

What’s perhaps most odious about The Post is that Spielberg has the audacity to continue to present progressives as the champions of press freedom and civil liberties. The media and political landscape of The Post is ancient history. Like everyone in Hollywood establishment, Steven Spielberg seems to hold the belief that there are people outside his echo chamber who need a history lesson on the importance of a free press and the dangers of executive overreach. The stupid rubes just don’t get it. Pay attention, you MAGA hat wearing degenerates. Steven Spielberg wants all you stupid peasants to just ignore the absolute monopoly progressives hold in media, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and academia and get really worried about the despotic overreach of Donald Trump. Just ignore the aggressive and punitive clampdowns of the Obama administration. Pay no attention to the fact that during the era in which this was set, the entire liberal counterculture predicated their movement on free speech First Amendment rights, but now cheerleads the multibillion dollar tech giants who openly censor and deplatform any opinion to the right of Bernie Sanders. Just disregard the fact that WaPo Executive Editor, Marty Baron, openly admitted that Trump was more accessible than Obama at the recent Poynter Ethics Summit. Just close your mind off to these inconvenient facts and focus all your attention on that ominous final scene and pretend that Trump is just a carbon copy of Nixon. Just luxuriate in this romanticized portrait of a bygone era where liberal virtue was a metaphysical certitude. Kind of like the way Wade Watts donned his VR goggles as he entered the Oasis in Ready Player One.

The Post takes its place alongside All The President’s Men and Spotlight as a subgenre of films in which Hollywood consecrates its fellow media brethren as eternal champions of truth and guardians of the American republic. It’s not that these media victories were inconsequential or untrue, it’s just that the one-sided agenda they serve is so blatantly obvious at this point. Will Spielberg ever make a film chronicling the years the media spiked or ignored Hollywood’s abuses? Will the cinematic adaptation of the Harvey Weinstein media story ever get made? Will Spielberg ever make a film which paints the sexual revolution in a bad light? Where’s the media’s aggressive investigation of the allegations contained in An Open Secret? Oh, that’s right. None of these exist because this would be damaging to the progressive establishment.

On the positive side, The Post’s historical details are outstanding and a shocking reminder even to me of how distant the technological world of 1971 seems. Telephones were devices plugged into walls and had rotary dials which required a small amount of physical exertion to operate. Newspaper print had to be laid out in typesetting machines and then put into production with giant presses. After the paper is printed, the bundles are loaded on to trucks through human chains of men. Sure, it still goes on to this day, but for how much longer? Shortly after Graham authorizes the printing of the story, the film cuts to Bagdikian cracking a wry smile as the rumble of his desk signifies the impending arrival of a historic journalistic scoop. And when the paper arrives, the whole world stops to read it. Maybe there’s something to learn from the analog world after all.

The Post is an enjoyable enough 2 hours of viewing, but I doubt anyone will look back on it as one of Spielberg’s best films. The fact that this film was fast tracked into production so quickly after Trump entered the White House says quite a bit about how deeply he’s agitated the ruling elites. In the film, Parsons excoriates Graham for putting the future of the paper at risk by publishing stolen top secret government documents. His concern that everything was on the line rang true. I suggest that Parsons’ anxiety offers a window of insight into the panic that has gripped the progressive establishment. Not because he’s the tyrant they continuously portray him as, but because he’s not in their Club. Sure, he’s a billionaire and everyone loved him before he went into politics, but since he entered the arena, he joined the Wrong Team. Making things worse is that he’s openly adversarial and calling out WaPo and all the other media lackeys for being the water carrying propagandists they are. Anyone who isn’t inside the progressive bubble knows this. And we certainly don’t need a patronizing cinematic lecture from Steven Spielberg in order to understand the virtues of a free press.

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Hollywood Proselytizes for the Cult of Obama to the Bitter End


If Meryl Streep’s steaming pile of smug and the generally ignominious and partisan tone of the Golden Globes weren’t a sufficient reminder that Hollywood is a de facto propaganda arm for the Democrats and all things Obama, I present this towering feat of kiss ass.

This creepy, outrageously obsequious and idolatrous ode to the Obama Cult of Personality comes courtesy of celebrity sycophants, and a Diverse© pool of Marginalized P*rsxns engaged in a breathless and vacuous recitation of talking points. This is virtue signalling that would make Kim Jong Il jealous. Obama is obviously concerned about the demolition of his legacy so the self-congratulatory vibe is cranked to 11.

In the Soviet Union, artists were required to glorify the State.  In America, it’s a way to telegraph that you’re a Good P*rsxn and totally #WOKE while indulging a fantasy that you’re being edgy and contrarian despite being in a bubble of near perfect ideological conformity.

Positively loathsome. 

Le Tigre and Feminism’s Cult of Government Worship


In case you still harbored the delusion that feminism was some kind of edgy, contrarian ideology, the original purveyors of 90’s Riot Grrrl feminist electroclash, Le Tigre, have returned from the dead to destroy all doubt. In this sad attempt at cultural relevance, these would-be “rebels” become full throated propagandists for corporatist, neocon-approved Hillary Clinton. 

That’s right. Apparently, cheerleading for the woman who has voted for wars which have killed tens of thousands, taken money from Islamic regimes, and actively undermined her husband’s rape accusers is super feminist and like totally empowering. She’s a Democrat, she has a vagina, and she’ll be the first womyn in the Oval Office, so set aside all those petty right-wing conspiracy theories, PYGS!

If you can even make it past the knife-to-the-skull intro, the song is nothing more than a moronic and childish pander-fest. Filled to the brim with idiotic clichés, feminist straw men, obligatory talking points, and canned Trump hate, the song achieves new heights in cringe.  

Apparently, neither Le Tigre or Pitchfork are all that interested in feedback on this song because the voting buttons and comments have been disabled.  

Way to stand behind those feminist convictions, SYSTERS.  

Mao or Hillary?

Enable every woman who can work to take her place on the labour front, under the principle of equal pay for equal work. This should be done as quickly as possible.~ Mao Tse Tung, 1955

We hail from all corners of the country and have joined together for a common revolutionary objective…. Our cadres must show concern for every soldier, and all people in the revolutionary ranks must care for each other, must love and help each other. ~ Mao Tse Tung, September 8, 1944

Unite and take part in production and political activity to improve the economic and political status of women.~ Mao Tse Tung, July 20, 1949

By increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies. ~ Hillary Clinton, September 16, 2011

Tomorrowland (2015)

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Despite being little more than a collection of clichés and preachy feelgood platitudes in a visually stunning cinematic wrapper, Tomorrowland gets a couple points for attempting to counter science fiction, and humanity’s, apparent fetish for visions of self-destruction and apocalyptic doom with a message of optimism and hope.

Tomorrowland tells the story of Frank and Casey, two dreamers bound by shared destiny to save humanity from itself and fulfill the promise of the utopian dream that was revealed to them in the titular city beyond the realm of time and space. The filmmakers had lofty intentions, but the film’s message is so diffuse and its emotions and characters are so superficial, it ends up being another example of high spectacle that’s low on meaningful content.

We meet young Frank Walker as he travels to the 1964 World’s Fair with his homemade jet pack in hand to present to judge David Nix. Though he escapes scrutiny from a yet unformed Homeland Security surveillance apparatus despite carrying a suspicious bomb-like device, Nix is unmoved by his invention since it doesn’t work. Frank insists that it’s valuable because it will teach kids that “anything is possible”. After this setback, we’re subjected to a highly implausible flashback of a hardass father who’s highly critical of his budding engineer son. You know. You probably hear it all the time. “My goddamn kid and his fascination with SCIENCE!”

Right off the bat, the film is not only asking us to believe that his father (i.e. toxic masculinity, patriarchy, penis = bad) would disapprove and actively discourage his interest in science and engineering, but empathize with a hero who makes a device whose sole purpose is to inspire hope. And he showcases his creation at the very same World’s Fair which, besides the space program, also happened to showcase another notably hope filled vision of the future, The Great Society. Not because he’s passionate about science and building things. Not because it’s something that will be sold in the marketplace and used by the masses. Not because he wants to drive down the marginal cost, employ people and build a company.

No. The sole purpose of the device is to inspire hope.

Wow, Frank. That sounds remarkably like the thinking of a politician and not a capitalist.

He is eventually joined by Casey; the daughter of a NASA engineer who dreams of traveling the stars herself. At the outset of the film, she’s arrested for sabotaging the demolition of a NASA launch site which employs her father. Though we’re meant to see this as evidence of Casey’s rebellious nature, her concern for her father’s welfare as well as her scientific and mechanical expertise, it’s also pretty sad that the film asks you to view the sabotage of equipment used to dismantle state property as evidence of a forward thinking, contrarian youth.

We are presented with scenes from Casey’s classes where she’s bombarded with pessimistic doomsayers. Naturally, her English teacher is teaching downer literature like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. On the one hand, it’s nice that Brad Bird is acknowledging that the public school establishment is inculcating cynicism and apathy, but he’s also feeding us another dumb and increasingly ubiquitous cliché; the plucky young female protagonist who wants to “fix it” and is totally into science. It’s not like this character lines up with a political agenda or anything. That’s right, folks. Public schools are crushing the optimism of our female youth and totally discouraging civic engagement.

Their lives intersect because Athena, a robot from Tomorrowland, recognized their scientific acumen and optimism and deemed them suitable candidates for admission to the city of the future. A city where the most creative people could work without interference from politicians, bureaucracy, “greed” or other unnamed impediments. Apparently, the revolutionary future that awaits us requires abandonment of the profit motive just as Comrade Marx taught us.

Frank was exiled from Tomorrowland and lives a life of seclusion surrounded by an astonishing quantity of technology. He has pulled a Hari Seldon and apparently calculated the destruction of civilization with mechanical precision. Frank sees that Casey’s optimism alters the inevitability of civilization’s demise and they set out to change the future.

This “anything is possible” line is basically the central theme of the film, and it is simultaneously the film’s weakness and strength. It’s great that Brad Bird wanted to offer a hopeful vision for humanity, but the film never really tries to define the action and behavior that contribute to such widespread cynicism and apathy nor does it clearly define virtuous action. It asks you simply to accept that hope and optimism are sufficient all by themselves.

In a climactic scene between Nix, Frank and Casey, they are shown a fantastical machine which broadcasts tachyons from humanity’s presumably inevitable future doom. Once again, we’re presented with another shopworn cliché in cinematic SF; a doomsday device which can only be dismantled by our protagonists. The bit about the tachyons is a neat speculation that apparently has some actual foundation in particle physics, but the overall idea is pretty tiresome.

Upon making this realization, Nix delivers the following monologue which reveals the meat of what the film is attempting to address.

Nix: Let’s imagine… if you glimpsed the future, you were frightened by what you saw, what would you do with that information? You would go to the politicians, captains of industry? And how would you convince them? Data? Facts? Good luck! The only facts they won’t challenge are the ones that keep the wheels greased and the dollars rolling in. But what if… what if there was a way of skipping the middle man and putting the critical news directly into everyone’s head? The probability of wide-spread annihilation kept going up. The only way to stop it was to show it, to scare people straight. Because what reasonable human being wouldn’t be galvanized by the potential destruction of everything they’ve ever known or loved? To save civilization, I would show its collapse. How do you think this vision was received? How do you think people responded to the prospect of imminent doom? They gobbled it up like a chocolate eclair! They didn’t fear their demise, they re-packaged it. It could be enjoyed as video-games, as TV shows, books, movies, the entire world wholeheartedly embraced the apocalypse and sprinting towards it with gleeful abandon. Meanwhile your earth was crumbling all around you. You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one! Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint! In every moment there’s the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. They dwell on this terrible future and you resign yourselves to it for one reason, because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today. So yes, we saw the iceberg and warned the Titanic. But you all just steered for it anyway full steam ahead. Why? Because you want to sink! You gave up! It’s not the monitor’s fault, that’s yours.

While this monologue is great because it criticizes the fetish for nihilism and asks individuals to take responsibility for their own apathy, it’s also remarkably half-assed, timid and tilted towards the alleged evils of consumer culture and almost completely devoid of any meaningful criticism of the actions of the state. The film never really makes a firm commitment on what constitutes virtuous action or what constitutes morality. The main impression with which I was left was that government scientists are the optimists and dreamers and the study of science all by itself will edify humanity. Never mind that the government is spying on you, turning faraway countries into smoking craters, contributing to a culture of corruption, incarcerating people by the millions, killing unarmed citizens and seizing property.

Apparently, none of these things are worth mentioning. But that English teacher who assigned 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 is creating too much damn pessimism. God forbid anyone question the actions of the government.

In the final scene, we get a montage of new recruits for Tomorrowland. Naturally, it’s a rainbow of multiculturalism and gender equality. Part of me thinks it’s great that Hollywood is so committed to creating new role models and presenting such an “inclusive” vision of the future, but lately, the crusade for social equality in every media form has become tedious, predictable, hamfisted and positively irritating.

I have come to expect big Hollywood films to glorify the state and its subsidiary social agendas of climate change, multiculturalism and feminism and this was certainly no exception. Despite the flaws, there’s an attempt at a noble message beneath the shallow platitudes and candy coated veneer. Unfortunately, I think this film will end up “feeding the wrong wolf” as Casey would say.

Interstellar (2014)

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Recommended, but with caveats.

Let’s get the science stuff out of the way first. I’m not going to quibble about the science in this film at all. Not a bit.

Even if this film represents a new era of scientific realism in blockbuster filmmaking, I do not enter ANY SF film with an expectation of total fidelity to the laws of physics. I expect a good story and I’m cool with suspension of disbelief within the boundaries of the world that is presented. If the science and the storytelling are both good, then I’m satisfied. If the science is weak, but it tells a good story and the liberties taken make sense within the story, I’m equally satisfied.

If you want hard science, then read a science book or watch Cosmos. If you’re someone who simply can’t enjoy a SF film which doesn’t adhere fastidiously to the laws of physics, you should probably skip this film. Seriously. Don’t bother.

That being said, this is the cinematic equivalent of literary Hard SF. All of the fanfare is warranted because there is plenty of real (and speculative) science! The film touches on relativity and the accompanying time dilation effect, wormholes, black holes, and the possibility of higher dimensions of spacetime. All of the heady shit that makes cosmology, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics so mind blowing makes it into this movie and is dealt with very convincingly.

Among other things, the characters travel through a wormhole, land on a planet near with extreme gravitational tides, and journey through a black hole which passes into higher dimensions of spacetime. All of it is way cool, beautifully rendered and gives you plenty of mind candy to ponder with or without bong hits. I haven’t a single issue with any of these aspects of the film.

My beefs lie elsewhere.

I have two essential gripes with the film. It is presenting a tortured confluence of collectivism and individualism and its economics require a far greater leap of imagination than any of its wildest scientific speculations.

First and foremost, it is trying to have it both ways with respect to its view of humanity’s redemption of itself. It is presenting a near future dystopia where environmental devastation has decimated the food supply. This shortage precipitates a genuine need to seek alternatives, but the film sends a conflicting message about how we achieve salvation.

The government has imposed mandates through the public schools which require that the majority of the population enter into agriculture in order to meet the global demand for food. History books are being rewritten to exclude space flight because humanity simply cannot afford such extravagance.

So far, so good. Collectivism run amok.

The hero of the film, Matthew McConaughey, is a former pilot and engineer and teaches his kids to be independent thinkers. Acquire self knowledge, appreciate the scientific method and be self-sufficient individuals. He’s the kind of father who insists that they know how to change a car tire, but has a healthy enough irreverence for government property that he would remotely down a drone and dismantle it for parts.

A cast of independent minded protagonists are being established as be a countervailing force against encroaching mindless authoritarianism.

Again, so far, so good.

Where the film starts to go off the rails is through some mysterious observations made by Cooper’s daughter. They discover NASA hard at work engineering humanity’s interstellar salvation.

The government has imposed dystopian mandates around employment, the food supply and education, yet they are still funneling billions of dollars into NASA programs which are completely secret. Also, this band of enlightened government scientists aren’t militarized, experience no budget overruns or shortfalls, are rational and pleasant people, and are quietly working on spacecraft which can traverse interstellar distances completely beyond the view of the press and the public.

AND the lead scientist played by Michael Caine serves as a mentor to Murphy so that she may fulfill her intellectual potential and solve the mysteries of spacetime.

So our intrepid, individualistic, free thinking heroes are able to fulfill their purposes and buck the system by…wait for it…working for the government!

Alrighty then!

Furthermore, for all of Nolan’s scientific detail, the film’s economics are about on par with Star Trek. Wildly speculative to put it mildly. The film presents not just one, but multiple manned flights through a wormhole which is located near Saturn! This is not a cheap endeavor nor is it one with an economic payoff on the other side.

There are, of course, the requisite collectivist sentiments which surround it. “Then get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel,” says Dr. Brand.

This is a classical collectivist sentiment. The only difference being that it’s being applied as a rationale for going into space in order to achieve humanity’s presumed salvation. The film ultimately reconciles this and its wilder scientific speculations by positing that love is the unifying force which transcends the barriers of knowledge and science. Sounds a little like faith, people!

Don’t get me wrong. None of this destroys the film nor does it diminish my enthusiasm for the idea of interstellar travel. Christopher Nolan works very hard at credible world building and the film never fails to engage.

The visual, musical and thematic allusions to 2001: A Space Odyssey are myriad and the comparison is fully warranted. The two films are companions through and through and Interstellar is arguably an update of the ideas which 2001 introduced.

Spoiler alert. The film’s big visual payoff is neither the passage through the wormhole or the black hole. It’s a visual representation of a tesseract, and it’s pretty bitchen.

Do it.

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