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When Hollywood Buried The Subtext
By Ed Driscoll · April 4, 2007 04:50 PM · Hollywood, Interrupted · Radical Chic

I haven't been following the review of Shooter, simply because it looked like a typical big dumb post-9/11 Hollywood movie, but Ace of Spades notes that it's essentially a Dick Cheney assassination fantasy:

I checked for confirmation by seeing if Dana Stevens of the amateur leftist webzine Slate liked it. After all, she views movies almost exclusively through the prism of whether or not they flatter her leftist politics.

Surprise! She loves it! And if you listen to the audio commentary, she's giggling like a schoolgirl over the Cheney-figure (actually a corrupt Senator from Montana, who looks like Cheney and hunts) getting killed in the end.

She soft-sells the movie's politics in her headline ("The Political Revenge Fantasy," no particular politics specified) and in this opening paragraph:

The hero of Shooter, Antoine Fuqua's libertarian action thriller, is the marvelously named Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg).
Libertarian? Really?

But she gives the game away in the audio commentary, gushing (when she doesn't have time to consider her remarks and edit them) that this is in fact a hard left-liberal assassination fantasy.

Why is she dishonest in her written review? Why does someone have to endure her giggling at the thought of the Vice President being assassinated in the audio commentary to get a real take on this film's politics?

The movie's final, bloody coda hammers home its strangely powerful and absolutely nihilistic political message: Everything sucks as much as it possibly can, and even if you're named something as awesome as Bob Lee Swagger, there's not much you can do about it. Swagger's one-man attempt to clean up the streets of Washington is presented as a futile, almost symbolic gesture. The most he (and we) can expect is to satisfy our basest anti-establishment fantasy: to track down the bastards who got us into this mess and blow them the f*** away (to be replaced, presumably, by other bastards).

There's no apparatus of justice in place at the end of this movie, no public stockade in which to shame the perpetrators of all the war crimes, cover-ups, and lies. There's just a lone dude with his girl in a getaway car, leaving behind a pile of bodies. Swagger may be our hero, but he's no savior. Challenged with the rhetorical question, "Do we allow America to be ruled by thugs?" he can only shrug: "Sure, some years we do."

Note that she's not at all displeased by the message of this movie -- sometimes political justice can only come via a sniper's bullet to the head -- but was much exercised indeed about the "war propaganda" in a movie about a battle that occurred over 2000 years ago.

Would Dana Stevens enjoy a film in which a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton analogue was plugged in the face in the interest of true political justice? I doubt it -- in that case, she'd understand the pro-assassination message of the movie was profoundly dangerous. (And undemocratic -- do we all have a vote in who our president is, or does a sniper get a one-bullet-one-vote veto over our elections?) If such a film was released, stating, flat-out, that the only way to get this country back on track was to kill Barack Obama, she'd excortiate it.

The left hates The Turner Diaries. They understand that bad books can give bad people bad ideas. And yet when the leftist equivalent of The Turner Diaries is relased, they get positively gushy. It's all part and parcel of the left's highly nuanced take on political violence: It's either disgusting or it's an, um, interesting idea. It all depends on whether the right people are being assassinated.

In the 1950s and up until the mid-1960s, it was possible to sneak all sorts of leftwing ideas into films by burying them deep into the subtext of the shooting script. Did you think that The Hustler was merely a film about a down-on-his-luck pool bum brilliantly played by Paul Newman? So did I--until I listened to the audio commentary on the DVD, and discovered that it was a film about the Blacklist. (Hey, if you say so, guys.) Similarly, on one level, it’s possible to argue that The Manchurian Candidate is a leftwing fantasy concerning the assassination of Joseph McCarthy, but the film’s incredible pacing, plot twists, and eye-popping cinematography help to soft-sell that it’s yet another anti-McCarthy movie. And from the same era, while Dr. Strangelove is obviously an anti-military/anti-Cold War film, its Swiftian absurdity and brilliant screenwriting, and pox-on-both-sides message makes it all go down remarkably smooth.

The need to bury these themes to get them past the censors in the Hays Office made for brilliant writing and great moviemaking. As did the need to use innuendo rather than overt sexuality (see: Hitchcock, Alfred). That period ended when--talk about unintended consequences--the demise of the Hays office depressed Hollywood’s box office by removing restrictions upon its writers and directors. Thus subtext and innuendo went out the window, ultimately leading to today’s Hollywood and "liberal revenge fantasies". And its not like Shooter is the first film to praise a would-be assassin. Or worse, attempting to make a successful one into a tragic, sympathetic, innocent figure.



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