The last episode of The Blacklist was hilarious. Red describes an international cabal – comprised of people in government and the private sector – who run the world behind the scenes, start wars, control the media, kill to protect their power, etc. It’s supposed to be so edgy. Dark, terrifying conspiracy. He has to get loads of investigate journos to attend his briefing in secret. They’re all stunned by what he says. But… he’s just describing the ruling class! Seriously, the ‘Cabal’ is just the capitalist military-industrial-media-government complex. But we’re supposed to be shocked by the existence of this group. Once informed about it, the Washington Post runs a front page story telling everyone of the breaking news. SHOCK NEW REVELATION: SMALL NUMBER OF POWERFUL PEOPLE ARE POWERFUL AND GET UP TO STUFF FURTHERING THEIR OWN POWER WITHOUT TELLING US! The evil director of the CIA looks at the paper in horror, like he’s thinking “oh no, now everyone knows!” It’s like structuring the big, dramatic denouement of a drama series around the astonishing revelation that water is wet, and having all your characters suddenly back away in terror from any rivers or taps they happen to be standing next to.
On the other hand, I can’t help thinking this is still more charged than a story in which such facts of life are ignored. Even presented as an outlandish, shocking revelation, it’s still presented. Even framed as a surprise, it’s still there.
Reminds me of the best Bond film ever, Quantum of Solace, in which a bunch of corporations, eco-businesses, military hardmen and Western politicians are presented as members of a secret criminal cartel who are trying to take over Bolivia’s water reserves. Now this basically happened in the real world. The film depicts it as an evil secret conspiracy that MI6 wants to stop. It also depicts Quantum as sneakily damming up loads of water to create an artificial shortage. But it basically connects with the real world, albeit distantly. It’s far more connected to the real world than anything in the follow-up movie Skyfall (which is total shit, by the way, both politically and as entertainment). Quantum of Solace also connects with the idea that powerful Western interests are behind politically-motivated Right-wing coups in South America… which is just one of those things that any sensible person takes for granted as an established historical truth, but which the mainstream media treats as a bizarre revelation. But Quantum of Solace at least acknowledges it. The movie puts the evil secret conspiratorial organisation behind such things rather than, y’know, the CIA and the US government… though it does have the CIA complicit in Quantum’s machinations, even if it is because one CIA guy is a rotten apple.
Is this subversive? Of course not. It’s gatekeeping. It acknowledges things about the real world that people either know about or strongly suspect. It then packages them in the classic methods of containment of such incendiary truths. Bad Apple Theory. Conspiracy Theory (which works either way – either as instant dismissal or as an obfuscation of the structural and legal nature of most real conspiratorial shenanigans). Etc, etc.
On the other hand, I think the capitalist culture industries may underestimate the potential ultimate result of such things. When such things become common knowledge, something that people all take for granted, even in a watered-down and ideologically-neutered form, that tells us something. Loss of any confidence in the current state of the world may not start any fires, but it does erode. This isn’t what the capitalist culture industries want to do. It’s something they have to do in order to appear even superficially plausible.
As I say, it’s gatekeeping. But the thing about gatekeeping is that it constitutes an acknowledgement that the gate is somewhat insecure, and that there are people who want to break through it.
Also, James Spader kicks it.