First – welcome Josh!
Second – I was recently a guest on the Oi! Spaceman team’s new(ish) Red Dwarf podcast ‘Searching for Fuchal’, chatting about the Series 1 episode ‘Balance of Power’, here.
It’s the 22nd of May 2016. Jack has no idea what’s in the charts.
Jack’s at the movies… because, for all the snark, Jack loves big SF movies, even when they’re also superhero movies starring good-but-ridiculously-overrated British actors who unfairly monopolise jobs in the industry. Jack has also always had a soft spot for the X-Men movies. For all their flaws, Jack likes the way they try to engage with material politics and history. They do so far more successfully than the Watchmen movie did, though Jack wouldn’t want to comment on the source material as he’s never read it. (Jack plans to. Jack read From Hell at Phil’s insistence, and loved it.)
Jack’s waiting for the movie to start. Jack is only mildly irritated by the routine discomfort of the seating, and the less-routine smell of someone’s dirty feet from somewhere else in the theatre. (Jack’s irritation at the latter will grow throughout the movie.) Jack is drinking water he brought from home, because Jack’s nearly 40 and – much to his own surprise – has reached the tragic stage of incipient fogeydom where he resents cinema tuck prices so much that he’ll bring his own packed lunch to the movies, secreted in his pockets. Really, the next stage for Jack is probably camping holidays, Old Spice, and argyle socks worn under sandals. Can’t be far off.
Jack’s watching trailers.
There’s a trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence. Jack is reasonably impressed by the film’s unusually accurate use of a relatively obscure word. ‘Resurgence’ does indeed mean ‘to continue after a break’, which is apt for this film. Normally, films will misuse words because they sound cool, or just make words up. Jack also rather likes the bit where the aliens smash London to pieces. Down comes that stupid ferris wheel! Yeah!
No appearance by the new Ghostbusters trailer. Jack, whose personality paradoxically combines reticence and shyness with a tendency to enjoy public fights over things about which is he passionately angry, was almost hoping for it to come on and be met by petulant outbursts of “they’ve raping my childhood!” so he could tell the outburster/s to either grow up or shut up, and to get some perspective, etc. Jack was thrown out of a cinema once (because he started a political argument) when he was a student and enjoyed the experience so much he subconsciously hopes to get an opportunity to make it happen again. (Jack, needless to say, should perhaps be careful of the glass walls of his own house when lecturing other people on maturity…) Jack is enjoying the spectacle of manchild crybaby diaper-fillers the world over having waaah-waaahing sessions over the new gynocentric Ghostbusters. But then Jack is a Cultural Marxist SJW, deeply involved in the global Cultural Marxist SJW cabal, and their White Genocide conspiracy to destroy heterosexuality, masculinity, and civilisation itself, and so is always pleased to see his victims wail in vain against their inevitable fate. (Ssssh, don’t tell anyone I told you, okay?)
Meanwhile, back in the real world… remember Independence Day: Resurgence? (Of course you do, we literally just talked about it a couple of paragraphs ago.) It’s being slyly used by the US military as a recruitment tool, as pointed out by Jonathan MacIntosh. This need surprise nobody. Indeed, Jack thinks this sly-but-relatively-open tactic is quite honest compared to the systematic way in which movies like Independence Day glorify the military beyond all sane degree. Jack has already told you the anecdote about coming out of the original to hear someone say “Y’know, people sneer at the military… but we’d need them if something like that happened!”
There’s a trailer for Star Trek Beyond, which is a worse trailer than the disproportionately reviled Ghostbusters trailer by any sane measure. Beyond has yet to produce a trailer that makes the film look even remotely enticing. This new one has the same problems as the first one. It’s uninvolving, visually uninteresting, tells you nothing about the premise of the film, and offers the lamest imaginable ‘funny’ bits. Really, the ‘funny’ bits are indistinguishable from the ‘jokes’ you get in adverts for Maltesers or Pringles, where friends are sitting around bonding over their snacks, and somehow using the snacks as an essential and integral part of their social interaction, and saying things that are structured like jokes, and are evidently supposed to make the audience of pavlovian-conditioned battery animals laugh on cue, but which fail to actually be jokes because, while they have the outward form of jokes, they lack any actual joke content. Also, Jack could be wrong, but Beyond looks set to engage in yet another reiteration of the ‘natives’ narrative, with aliens in place of natives. It certainly looks like it, even down to having the standard bad-ass native/alien girl one. You’d think Avatar would’ve put paid to this dodgy practice forever… unless you remembered that actually the complaints about the film’s patronising orientalist racism were limited to a few whiney malcontents like Jack, and Avatar made about a zillion dollars, and looks set to have about a dozen sequels, prequels and probably quequels and zequels too.
Further evidence that the aliens-as-natives narrative is far from dead comes along very soon in the Warcraft trailer. (Jack must acknowledge that he knows nothing of World of Warcraft beyond what he learned from that episode of South Park.) This is a much better trailer than the one for Beyond, in that it actually gives you some idea of what the film is about. And what it’s about is: fantasyland aliens – Orcs – living in a fantasy kingdom with humans, and fighting them with big sharp fighty sticks. The humans are, well, humans… which means, in practice, that they’re white (most of them anyway, as far as I can tell from the trailer). The humans are feudal in that way humans are in fantasy kingdoms. They don’t think or act or talk like actual feudal people, naturally, but they wear armour and chainmail and carry swords and have a king. The Orcs in this film are not like the ones in Tolkien/Jackson. They’re not dark-skinned savages with working class accents (Tolkien being unable to decide if he was more afraid of brown people or poor people, and Jackson being unable to bring himself to criticise this dithering). Nor are these Orcs just aliens. They’re also natives, or tribesmen. They literally look like every stereotype of Native Americans you can remember, grafted onto big, muscular, befanged versions of Fungus the Bogeyman. They are clearly warlike… except that there’s one of them who is also wise and moral. Wisdom and morality in ‘natives’, means, in practice, not wanting to kill humans (i.e. white people) who are attacking you and your people. He has his obligatory Dances With Wolves bit where he calls the noble human who wants to make peace “my friend”, and tells his unwise and hostile fellow Bogeymen/Indians that the humans can “help us”. It looks like a rewrite of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, crossed with every film about natives-as-aliens-ever. Jack must reserve judgement before seeing the film, of course (which he probably won’t do), but some things are clear from the trailer. We may not be able to tell exactly how the film will treat these assumptions, but we see the assumptions all too clearly.
Jack sits and watches this and wonders when western culture decided it was easier to continually make guilt-relief fantasies than to face up to the fact that western civilisation decimated, destroyed, infected, tortured, enslaved, burned, and all-but annihilated almost every set of natives peoples it came across as it spread across the globe like cancer spreading through a body, assimilating every cell into capitalism on its way? Jack wonders about the sheer bad faith of these stories that continually construct aboriginal non-white races as ‘alien’ and expect this to be taken as admiration. Jack wonders how you believe you’re creating a story about the injustice meted out to native peoples while simultaneously denying their humanity, or denying them any actual representation – beyond taking tropes that you’ve created to signify them and bolting those tropes onto monsters. Jack wonders just how fucking determined people have to be to not see that what they’re doing is dehumanizing, patronising, condescending, dishonest, and racist, despite the fact that it is pointed out to them every time they do it – and not just by non-whites (who, of course they don’t listen to) but even by some whites as well. Jack considers the eternally reiterated story of the white man who saves the natives/aliens from the other white men as being, essentially, akin to Nice Guy Syndrome. A beneficiary of patriarchy believes himself entitled to the admiration and love of women because he’s ‘the nice one’; this really works according to the same psychologic as the white man who expects Native Americans to shut up and stop complaining because he’s learned to tut sadly at the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee.
On the subject of racialised ‘alienness’, along comes a trailer for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Aside from the usual appropriateyness of the stuff about Ninjas, Jack is actually astonished to see that the turtles are constructed of tropes, traits, and stereotypes that connote blackness. Once encoded (barely) within their turtlehood, the quartet of quasi-pseudo-young-black-men can be shown adhering to several of the most crude and doddery stereotypes about African Americans in the book – just in the fucking trailer. They’re clumsy and comically incompetent. They’re magical. They’re not specifically shown lusting after white women, but the main lust object in the trailer is Megan Fox (I think), so there’s a good chance we’ll get an encoded reiteration of the black-men-all-want-our-white-women trope. They even – and here’s the kicker – seem to want to be ‘human’, which, in this context, looks suspiciously like black people wanting to be white in order to be ‘normal’. Yikes.
How does this stuff get endlessly regurgitated with so little awareness of the issues? Of course, it’s partly because of the overwhelming white hegemony on the industry. But it’s also that the most basic structural building blocks of the fantasy genre were fashioned by white, colonialist, imperialist culture. The foundational texts of SF/Fntasy-proper are The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Wells called himself a ‘socialist’ but was also a eugenicist, racist, and imperial apologist. Sadly, much western socialism is historically tainted with such things, though it also contains the seeds of vehement opposition to them. In The War of the Worlds, ostensibly an anti-imperialist parable, Wells has ‘us’ under attack in order to satirically highlight ‘our’ imperialism. And yet the foundational assumption here is that ‘we’, i.e. humans, are white westerners. The ‘civilisation’ of white westerners is taken for granted by the novel even as it schemes to satirically show that civilisation under attack by a more developed technological culture. Wells might show the horror of what that looks like to those who are attacked, but he fails to quibble with the underlying ontological claim about civilisation. Even more fundamentally, he sees the need to highlight the horror of imperialist colonialism by showing what it would be like if it happened to white westerners (his racially-aware viewpoint ignores Ireland, as all racially-dominated views of this issue do, be they pro or anti imperialist). The implication is that white westerners are people and anybody else isn’t. You can’t show how bad imperialism and colonialism are by simply depicting them, as real-world imperialism and colonialism is directed against those who are, essentially, not people. Wells writes a book that tries to sympathise with them even as it negates their very humanity by silent implication.
Something similar happens with the working class in The Time Machine. Wells tries to write a book where the class struggle has become biological, and humanity has diverged into separate species as a result of the class divide between the oppressors and the oppressed. But his attempt at a Swiftian socialist satire has the workers ‘devolve’ into the Morlocks: monstrous, subterranean, brutish cannibals who prey on the effete descendants of the oppressors of their ancestors. You only have to look at ‘The Daleks’, with its unintentional reiteration of pro-aryan and anti-semitic tropes even as it thinks it’s being a liberal anti-Nazi allegory, to see this at work in Doctor Who.
It is not hard to see how the sorts of stories Jack has been watching trailers for can trace their lineage directly back to these structural, foundational, baked-in paradoxes. Especially when the will is not there to even recognise the problem. Indeed, the will is there to ignore and hide the problem.
Speaking of the will to ignore and hide problems, there’s also an advert for The Times and Sunday Times, in which we see clips of Donald Trump, a police raid, refugees getting off a boat, etc. We are asked to believe that The Times and Sunday Times are where we will find the real story on such issues. Even as we’re asked to take that seriously, the advert engages in outrageous bad faith. Trump is the only politician in the ad. The entire issue has become him – and he is portrayed as presidential. This is the man who says all Mexicans are rapists, wants to repatriate refugees, and ban muslims entering the USA. Cut to an oh-the-humanity! shot of refugees fighting for survival. There’s no ironical juxtaposition here. At best, we’re being asked to take this ostensibly blank, silent, value-neutral depiction of shit-happening as aesthetic evidence of the papers’ determination to stare facts in the face impartially – which is itself an ideological claim, just as the decisions about what to include in the clips were ideological. There’s another advert for The Sun, in which we are offered slightly different enticements. The Sun offers its imagined audience of simple-minded Bingoids such things as ‘suspense’ and ‘excitement’, illustrated with brightly coloured cartoon sharks, etc. X-Men: Apocalypse is a Fox picture and is thus owned and run by the same ‘people’ who own/run NewsCorp, which owns The Sun, and Times Newspapers Inc. Between them, these papers can cater for everyone in the audience, from the swinish multitude who want their bread and circuses to the serious people who want to read neutral (i.e. normalising) articles about refuges dying on the shore of fortress Europe and a proto-fascist running for President.
These newspaper adverts are, by the way, without a doubt the biggest works of fiction that will be screened in this theatre tonight.
Spoilers for X-Men: Apocalypse follow
Somewhat to Jack’s surprise, X-Men: Apocalypse turns out to be about the history of the twentieth century being judged by a returned Old Testament God – or at least by a personification of a garbled version of what we might think such a being would think of us. Jack can’t help but think Vox Day might be very happy to nominate this as part of his slate next year.
Apocalypse (the baddie) identifies himself as Elohim, which is one of the names of the God of the Hebrew Bible.
(Well… actually, it seems to mean all sorts of things in the Old Testament books… and is a plural, sometimes meaning angels or judges… but the character Apocalypse claims it as one of his obligatory “many names”, so…)
His apocalypse is very specifically a judgement upon humanity. It’s very much the end of the world as we know it, leading to his new kingdom. He controls the dust and the metal and the sand. He is a desert god. He brings Four Horsemen.
It’s not quite that straightforward all the way through.
He starts out, in the prologue, being worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. Except that they rebel against him and imprison him. Which makes Jack remember how the ancient Egyptians had a Pharaoh – Akhenaten – who decided to change his people’s entire religion to be the monotheistic worship of Aten. (Or it could’ve been henotheistic, which basically means that you accept the existence of many gods but worship the one you identify as the boss, or your personal fave.) Akhenaten’s religious/cultural revolution didn’t stick, and he was anathematised after his death by later rulers, almost erased from official Egyptian history, and his cultural legacy rolled-back.
The interesting thing – at least Jack finds it interesting – is that Akhenaten’s religious revolution has been theorised by some, most famously Sigmund Freud, as a possible origin-point for what became Judaism. Freud, in Moses and Monotheism, theorises that Moses began as an Atenist priest. Jack is not qualified to say whether or not this theory is plausible as actual history, and notes warily (after a google search) that David Icke seems interested in it, but even so… it’s surely an interesting connection in this context.
The Egyptian stuff is fairly standard Chariots of the Gods / Stargate / Pyramids of Mars gubbins. The modern day Egyptians who later resurrect Apocalypse are, as is standard, largely mute, violent, and the latest recruits in a millenia-old secret society of heretical worshippers, bearing a secret mark, and fanatically dedicated to bringing back their imprisoned dark god so that he can do something or other, and yet also prone to scarper in idiotic animal terror when he awakes, etc etc.
Apocalypse seems designed as an illustration of the idea that all religions share a genealogy, or at least common family features. He assimilates several religio-cultural markers. He has a pet Teutonic angel, a pet Egyptian stormbringer, a pet crypto-Amazon warrior and a pet Hebrew warlord… Magneto (of whom more later).
The Judeo-Christian version of god seems uppermost in the mix. He’s the boss in this henotheistic mash-up (natch – no other tradition but the ‘Western’ one is going to have enough clout to be on top).
Apocalypse is as capricious, destructive, narcissistic and genocidal as Yahweh.
Apocalypse is almost comically fogeyish. He watches television and sighs at the modern world of 80s Cold War posturing, nukes, social strife, trash TV, etc… thus amusingly transposing the standard, despairing, tragic, uncomprehending Liberal eyeroll at such things into a judgement from the Old Testament god himself upon our fallen modern ways.
Apocalypse’s ultimate appeal to the rueful, liberal self-loathing of post-twentieth century (fox) audiences is through the medium of Magneto, his notional Jewish ancestry (which is more purely semiotic than anything else), and the way this relates to history.
The Old Testament god gives his people – the Hebrews – a pretty bloody time of it. It has to be said, they’re not exactly peaches and cream to deal with themselves (at least according to the Old Testament). Genocide doesn’t exactly seem like something that god would be against on principle. Indeed, he frequently unleashes it upon the world himself, and through the medium of the Israelites in the histories told in the Old Testament. Similarly, Apocalypse is seemingly angry about the Holocaust, and about the way mankind has behaved in the twentieth century generally, and yet also determined to commit genocide himself. Apocalypse by name, Apocalypse by nature. He and his four mutant figurative-horsepersons are planning to do that quintessentially radical/revolutionary move that is also craved by liberals (but which only seems evil when radicals and revolutionaries do it): Year Zero. Clean slate. Start again from scratch. Destroy in order to rebuild.
His first chosen horseperson is the future Storm, who is now a (pale) Egyptian woman. Menaced by Arab men (because of course) and living in poverty, she seems to have legitimate grounds to be unhappy with the world, though her sudden decision to join Apocalypse in global genocide seems a tad forced, especially since she begins the story as an admirer of the now peaceful-and-idealistic Raven/Mystique. (This will be important plotwise later.)
Apocalypse’s key horseperson, however, is definitely Magneto.
Magneto is hiding out in Poland, his homeland, where his new family is killed by communists – because reasons, and because he’s destined to always be persecuted by the twentieth century’s bogeymen: totalitarians. And also because, Charles Bronson-like, he has to endure a new tragedy at the start of every film to contextualise his latest temporary foray into destructive, vengeful, petulant anger. (Magento is a very nuanced and complex character: he is as moral or homicidal as he feels, depending on how happy he is at any given moment.) Just after this latest ultra-fridging, where his wife and daughter die in order to make him have feelings about a) the entire human race and b) god, Magneto bellowprays to his god – presumably the Hebrew one – “Is this what you want me to be?” He’s basically asking God if it is his plan for him that he should always be a killer, an avenger, perpetually suffering so that he may be God’s instrument of vengeance.
The answer, when Apocalypse brings it, seems to be “Yes, I need you to be Moses/Samuel/etc”.
Apocalypse (the Old Testament god, remember) appears to Magneto not long after and appeals to him through his status as a Holocaust survivor, and as someone who lost his family in Auschwitz. In the film’s most astonishing sequence (not for the reason it thinks), Apocalypse takes Magneto to Auschwitz and urges him to destroy the place in a burst of elemental vengeance… which is also, ironically, a destruction of the monument and an erasure of history. Ironically, the kinds of people today who would like to demolish Auschwitz would probably mostly be neo-Nazis.
Can I just take a moment to say… no. Do not set part of a superhero film in Auschwitz. Do not have supervillains stomping around inside the grounds of the worst death camp in the Nazi industrialised genocide system, wearing skin-tight purple PVC thighboots (as one of them does). Don’t do that. I’m generally not one to fret about good taste… but there are lines. Show some fucking respect. Not everything is up for grabs, okay?
Oh look, I seem to have dropped the talking-about-myself-in-the-third-person conceit of this piece. Still, it doesn’t matter. We’re nearly there. Magneto becomes part of Apocalypse/Elohim/God’s plan to punish the fallen modern world for its presumed collective guilt over the bad stuff its rulers have done, and they set about smashing the place up… until Magento has his obligatory change of heart, along with Storm, and the goodies win. Despite being involved in the murder of, presumably, millions of people, Magneto and Storm are forgiven and left unpunished and unrestrained at the end. They thought better of it at the last minute, which I suppose makes it all right.
Prayer seems to be what saves the day. Prayer to a new god. Specifically, prayer to a young Jean Grey – played here by Sansa out of Game of Thrones – who is already on her way to her incipient godhood. Charles Xavier prays to her and she, at the last minute, recognises that she’s the one everyone should be worshipping in this henotheistic set-up. Even Apocalypse himself, at the end, as she blasts him with her goddess rays, seems to recognise that he is witness to the birth of a new and superior god, and to be pleased about it. (As ever, the poor villain only exists to be proved wrong and overmastered, and to grovel… having been the only person in the story who really, fundamentally, wanted to radically change things.)
I suppose there is something to be said for the idea that a young woman can blast away a vengeful old desert god in the cause of saving the world and her friends. If only Jean weren’t so damned Celtic/Aryan (I’m being rhetorical). If only she weren’t blasting away a mixed and rather venomous mix of every religious tradition – from Judaism to the gods of ancient Egypt – all stuck together in one contextless lump of malignant jumbled-up history. If only she didn’t look so much like a triumphalist declaration on the part of white-dominated liberal capitalist modernity that it has value after all, even as totalitarians on both sides, and brown people and their barbaric gods, squabble and make the world look dangerously like it needs sandblasting into nonexistence. If only she weren’t the one to flash her blue eyes and toss her red hair until the Hebrew and the Egyptian see the error of their ways.
But then, this is an X-Men film (a film series based on comics that are about how wagging a finger at Malcolm X for rejecting white society), and we’re looking up at the big, white screen. Whaddaya expect?
Even so, I’m inclined to go relatively easy on X-Men: Apocalypse. It seems altogether queasier and more anxious about the world, and about the arc of history, than the more-focused but also more smug and whiggish First Class and Days of Future Past. At least Apocalypse seems to see our world as haunted by gods who hate us and also are us… which seems fairly close to my experience.
So, yeah, that was Jack’s trip to the movies.
What have you all been up to?
EDIT 28/5/16 – Thanks to Philip Wallén for reminding me what year it is.