Category Archives: Racist and Nazi Propaganda

The Symbolic Construction of Mass Shootings

(Check out my previous two pieces relating to this subject here and here.)

Much of the internet has evolved into a mutated form of the famous New Yorker cartoon caption contest; except in the internet the cartoon is not a cartoon but the rapid procession of events that constitute the enterprise we monolithically dub “the news”. Twitter and Facebook exist to arbitrate these acts of framing and declare quantitative winners. Twitter in particular pushes the form of discourse toward the framing caption; as in The New Yorker a vast quantity of captions are submitted, unlike in The New Yorker their voluminous quantity is regulated in a decentralized fashion.

The traumatic event being read into as a form of literature is hardly a new thing. Thomas Carlyle’s account of the French Revolution is structured as a novel, and similar exercises exist in such a staggering multitude that to begin listing them would rapidly derail this article. However, the form of the novel suggests a different sort of interpretation of events than a tweet, an online news article, or a blog post such as this one does. There are certain grammatical structures that are favored; a novel composed entirely of declarative generalizations would be rather rough reading, but a Twitter feed composed of little else has been several people’s ticket to influence.

Soon after the Virginia Tech shooting, a package was delivered to NBC containing what could be considered promotional materials for the shooting by the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho. It would seem, given the frequency with which mass shooters are delusional and prone to fantasizing, that the medium of the redemptive fantasy, the advertisement, would give tons of insight into what would cause a shooting. The police officials and a psychologist seemed to disagree despite a telling detail being right at the end of the statement. From Wikipedia:

“Police officials, who reviewed the video, pictures and manifesto, concluded that the contents of the media package had marginal value in helping them learn and understand why Cho committed the killings.[123][124] Dr. Michael Welner, who also reviewed the materials, believed that Cho’s rantings offer little insight into the mental illness that may have triggered his rampage.[125][126][127] Dr. Welner stated that “These videos do not help us understand Cho. They distort him. He was meek. He was quiet. This is a PR tape of him trying to turn himself into a Quentin Tarantino character.”[126]

Their roots seem to be fairly simple-some combination of major depressive disorder/severe anxiety/schizophrenia and an attraction to the aesthetics of a prior example of violence. These are, of course, far too broad as precursor symptoms to be of much use in rooting out shootings before they occur. Semiotic democracy, the decentralized readings of a shared text, will sometimes produce horrific outliers.

The almost daily occurrence and discussion of these sorts of shootings does not push the public into a state of enhanced sensitivity to them, nor does it get us any closer to figuring out their roots. It does, however, force the reader to start distinguishing them into categories mentally or to develop strategies of not engaging with the articles/events when they encounter them if they’d like to continue reading the national newspapers regularly.


This dilemma of internal media environment ecology has been dramatized in the NBC show Hannibal. The show, in its first season anyhow, exists as an unusual but still recognizable police procedural-serial killer is on the loose, brilliant investigator and his loyal crew of coworkers figure out how to catch him with the centerpiece of each episode being the virtuoso aria of an explanation provided by the brilliant investigator. The grand hero of any procedural, from House to Monk to Shark to…well you get the picture, is the character who can consistently pull off the magic trick of pulling sense from an overwhelming pile of seemingly contradictory information.

What sets Hannibal‘s Will Graham apart is the tone this procedural investigator-as-secular rationalist-mystic takes and the self-reflexive quality of the show. Graham, taken from Thomas Harris’s novels, is a freelance psychological profiling consultant for the FBI who specializes in serial killers. He has a form of “radical empathy” wherein he can enter the mind of the killers by looking at their crime scenes. The show recognizes Graham’s position as a mystic; the cops have to leave the crime scene for a brief period in order for Graham to channel the interior psychology of the serial killer. The crime scenes are very much gruesome art pieces and Graham treats them like an extremely astute art critic who focuses on the place of the “artist” in the piece.

Part of the reason for Hannibal’s steep ratings decline and cancellation is possibly a product of its hitting the point of procedurals too squarely on the nose. The primary comfort of the procedural, like that of the mystery novel, is the eventual catharsis of a mysterious world coming to clear coherence through the medium of the investigator. The increasingly prolonged periods of rather questionable but very calm and rationalistic explanation that always concludes popular programs in this mold such as  CSI in its various incarnations is a response to increased desire for explanations; the money shot. Hannibal meanwhile explores the ramifications of the procedural mentality and its aftershocks; Graham is frequently on the brink of madness and his knowledge is very much a grounds for suspicions that in his ability to read the killers he isn’t that far removed from them in his mental workings.

The distorted Krazy Kat triangle between Hannibal Lecter, Will Graham, and Jack Crawford on the show is a subject that will require its own essay. It’ll suffice for now to take away the lesson that the contemplation of crimes does not produce a unified response by any standard and that the desire to understand these events, if pursued in good faith, does not always lead to especially comforting conclusions. Much of the public is willing to write killers off as monolithic totems of “insanity”, an ill-defined category used mostly for gerrymandering the border of acceptable behaviors and thought processes.

This isn’t necessarily an unhealthy response, though it leads to the production of articles, news reports, and pop psychology books that frame these events as indictments of specific social trends in a binary that usually favors the agenda of the writer while fetishizing the less familiar detail. Columbine was a problem of “video games”, as though video games exist simply in a vacuum. The influence of video games probably played some small role in the manifestation of the shooting, but then so did a million other things.


In his suicide note, Williams positions himself in the cultural genealogy presented above going from Timothy McVeigh to the Columbine shooter to the V-Tech shooting. CBS reports on the suicide note:

“Flanagan (Williams) also said in the note that Virginia Tech shooter, Seung Hui Cho, was ‘his boy’ and mentioned the Columbine High School shooting.

‘Also, I was influenced by Seung-Hui Cho. That’s my boy right there. He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got….just sayin,’ he wrote.”

More interestingly, he sets up his shooting as a response to the Dylann Roof shooting earlier this year. He writes “The church shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!” There is a discourse of mass shootings, and among the isolated shooters a strange and horrible tradition with controversy over what belongs in the cannon.

The symbolic components of the shooting as its been reported seem to have been set-up, knowingly or otherwise, by Williams so as to make the news articles become self-reflexive exercises in examining the place of journalism itself. He shot the reporter and cameraman as they were in the process of shooting a news segment, creating the possibility the murders could have been broadcast live. At the same time, he also filmed the shooting himself and uploaded it to Facebook and Twitter while broadcasting his personal justifications for carrying out the shooting. It was calculated, like the others, as a performance meant for broadcast.

The place of the media in the emergence of copycat killers is not well understood.

Maybe the FBI ought to hire some theater critics.

The Purple Heart (1944)

In April of 1942, the United States aircraft carrier Hornet, three cruisers, and seven destroyers sailed to within 750 miles of the Japanese mainland. On the deck of the Hornet were 16 long-range, B-25 bombers, stripped down, and loaded with a much fuel and as many bombs as they could carry. Although the “Doolittle Raid” caused only minor damage to a few industrial and military installations on the outskirts of Tokyo, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka, the psychological effect was considerable. Only 4 months after Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy had hit the Japanese mainland. Of the 80 men who began the raid, 69 made it safely to nationalist held areas of China, or to the Soviet Union. Three were killed over Japan. Eight were taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army.

The Purple Heart is a fictionalized drama about the 8 crew members of the Doolittle Raid who went missing in action. Made in 1944, before anybody knew that 3 were executed and 1 died in a prisoner of war camp, Lewis Milestone’s film is a bloodthirsty, racist, genocidal exercise in propaganda designed to justify the murder of Japanese civilians. It is also, along with Robert Aldrich’s brutally cynical film Attack, the best American movie about World War II. While the Japanese characters in The Purple Heart are depicted in such a demeaning, bigoted manner that you can barely understand what they’re saying half the time, Milestone’s film embodies the contradictions of the American war against Imperial Japan in a way that’s true to history. In 1944, the United States was a democracy. Imperial Japan was a fascist abomination bent on conquering all of East Asia. Yet by 1945, after the American government murdered hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in the Tokyo fire bombings, and in the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, very little moral difference remained between the two belligerent countries.

The Purple Heart takes place entirely in a Japanese courtroom. Eight American airmen commanded by Captain Harvey Ross, played by Dana Andrews, are on trial, not as POWs, but as common criminals, accused of machine gunning Japanese civilians at schools and hospitals. The trial is a mockery of justice. Newspaper reporters from friendly nations like Germany are admitted. Journalists from neutral countries like Portugal and the Soviet Union suddenly find that their press credentials are no longer valid. The 8 men are assigned a “defense attorney” who never consults with his “clients,” or cross examines witnesses. The prosecuting attorney is a sadistic Japanese army officer named General Mitsub. The “judge” isn’t a judge at all, but a Japanese warlord. Captain Ross is not allowed to meet with either the Red Cross or the ambassador from the Swiss embassy. The verdict is a foregone conclusion. Captain Ross and his seven crewmen will be found guilty.

“So why have the trial at all?” the viewer wonders. “Why not just line Captain Ross and his men up against the nearest wall, and call the firing squad”

While Lewis Milestone’s depiction of the Japanese is not only racist, but genocidal, his depiction of their politics is surprisingly realistic. The only reason Captain Ross and his 7 crewman are on trial at all is a bureaucratic squabble between the Japanese Army and the Japanese Navy. General Mitsub, an army officer, wants the Americans to swear under oath that the 16 bombers came from an aircraft carrier. For him, it would be a loss of honor if they came from occupied China. The Japanese Navy, on the other hand, denies that an American carrier got within 1000 miles of the Japanese mainland, even though the United States cruiser Nashville had sunk a Japanese picket boat that got too close to the Hornet’s task force.

In other words, if General Mitsub cannot prove that the Doolittle Raid came from an aircraft carrier, he’ll have to commit seppuku. If he succeeds in extracting a confession from Captain Ross, and his men, then the Emperor will put the blame on the navy. One by one he calls up the members of Captain Ross’ crew out of their cell, and tries to torture them into admitting the 16 bombers came from the Hornet. There’s Sergeant Jan Skvoznik, a big Polish American football player. He loses his mind. There’s Lieutenant Angelo Canelli, and Italian American painter. They break his hands. There’s Sergeant Howard Clinton, a teenager from the south. After he refuses to talk, they cut out his vocal chords. Finally, there’s Captain Ross himself. As the senior officer, he’s tortured psychologically, not physically. “I worked on a fishing boat out of Sante Barbara,” Mitsub says. “I mapped every inch of your coastline from San Diego to Seattle.”

The climax of the Purple Heart comes when the judge offers the Americans a deal. As soldiers “just following orders,” they don’t even have to admit they came from an aircraft carrier. All they have to do is name their commanding officers. When Captain Ross asks for a recess, General Mitsub is confident that he’s won. But the American commander has something up his sleeve the Japanese of Lewis Milestone’s film will never understand, radical democracy. Mitsub, like all authoritarians, had hoped to beat the enemy by divide and conquer, by isolating the weakest link in the chain. Captain Ross decides that he can not only win, but he can win playing by Mitsub’s rules. The military chain of command is suspended, he announces during the recess. He won’t order any of the men to stay silent against their will. They will take a vote. What’s more, the vote will be decided, not by majority rule, but by consensus. He holds out a vase and passes it around the room. Each man will drop his wings inside, broken if he votes to talk, unbroken is he votes to say silent and die. Mitsub comes into the room to announce that the recess is over. Captain Ross hands the vase to the judge. If there’s even one pair of broken wings inside the vase, all eight men will tell the court what they want to hear.

Needless to say, in a pro-war propaganda film like The Purple Heart, there won’t be any broken wings. There aren’t. One by one, the judge counts them out. One by one, they’re unbroken. When he reaches the eighth unbroken wing, he looks both enraged and dismayed. “Is this your answer?” he says in disbelief. Captain Ross stands up and gives a defiant speech that’s both ridiculous and inspiring. “This war won’t be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth,” he says. We hear a gunshot. General Mitsub has committed suicide. Democracy has beaten fascism. As odd as it may seem in a pro-war, racist, genocidal work of propaganda, that’s the message. Democracy is good. Torture is bad. Real men stand up for democracy against torture, kangaroo courts, and fascist intimidation.

Whether or not Lewis Milestone – a Russian Jew making a racist film, even as Hitler was gassing Jews in Eastern Europe – genuinely believed his genocidal depiction of the Japanese is beside the point. Nobody believes it today. There’s anti-Japanese, and anti-Chinese bigotry in the United States of 2015, but even the most hard core racist would find the depiction of the Japanese in The Purple Heart almost comically dated. On the other hand, Lewis Milestone raises issues, kangaroo courts behind a wall of censorship, torture, the electronic surveillance of prisoners and the denial of counsel to the accused, that are sadly relevant to the United States of The Patriot Act.

Everything Lewis Milestone accused the Japanese of in 1944, anybody could accuse the United States of in 2015. Everything that General Mitsub did to Captain Ross and his crew, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have done to Chelsea Manning, Barrett Brown, and Jeremy Hammond. No American can honestly watch The Purple Heart in 2015 and say he’s like Captain Ross or Lieutenant Wayne Greenbaum, Ross’s second in command, an educated Jewish American from New York, a CUNY graduate who can quote the Geneva Convention from memory. On the contrary, if General Mitsub presides over a mockery of justice based on divide and conquer, surveillance, torture, and arbitrary executions, we all remember how George W. Bush said “the Constitution is only a piece of paper,” or how Alberto Gonzalez called the Geneva Convention “quaint,” or how Barack Obama declared Wall Street to be above the law, and then went on to prosecute journalists and whistle blowers.

What’s more, even in 1944, Milestone’s propaganda was full of holes. While the Doolittle Raid bombed only military targets, by 1945, the United States Air Force under Curtis LeMay was committing crimes against Japanese civilians far and away worse than machine gunning a schools and hospitals. LeMay’s air force burned Tokyo to the ground, killing over 100,000 people and displacing over a million. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two of the greatest war crimes in history. Indeed, the American mass murder of Japanese civilians along with the internment of Japanese Americans based on nothing but the color of their skin gives the lie to the idea that “we” were fighting for democracy against the Japanese. On the contrary, we were fighting for empire. Whatever his intentions, Lewis Millstone gets it all up on screen, the democratic, multicultural ideal of Roosevelt’s New Deal America, and the genocidal racism that made it impossible.

The Superhero and American Exceptionalism

The archetype of the superhero has gone through numerous shifts since its inception in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Like much of the early history of comics, the appeal, genesis and audience was largely within the immigrant population. Earlier comic strips appealing to immigrants were largely vaudevillian hijinks organized around the family-think the Katzenjammer Kids. Their appeal was in the lighthearted way they poked fun at the accents and cultural mores of the people who had little hope of assimilating.

Superman is different. Superman could not have existed before 1938. Superman is of course a subverted aryan power fantasy; that the main distinction between the seemingly powerless Clark Kent and the godlike Superman comes mostly from letting a slight kink in his dark hair loose points toward the subtext of Judaism. That he’s able to be all powerful only when he tucks the kink away shows that the fantasy is one of assimilation. Superman is an isolated immigrant. Superman as a fantasy, at least initially, isn’t much different than Walter Lippmann’s arc when he consciously de-ethnicized and deterritorialized himself as a Jew to support and prop up the cynical anxieties of the ruling elite.

Superman must endlessly battle Lex Luthor to legitimize inherent “goodness” of his authoritarian employment of bottomless power the same way people will fight corporate “corruption” in order to legitimize the current failing system. Superman is the Democrats.

The next major superhero, Batman, represents the opposite pole of the ruling class-vigilanteism, the slaveholder’s revolt. His enemies represent ethnic stereotypes codified in physiognomy as much as those of Dick Tracy. He comes from money and doesn’t need superpowers because money is enough of a superpower in and of itself. He is purposely sexless; he has an ancient butler instead of a love interest, he adopts a child instead of going through the disgusting physicality of sexual intercourse. Of course Batman did have periodic love interests but none of them ever stuck in the public imagination in the manner of a Lois Lane. The sensuality of the body has always been the cultural property of the poor and oppressed.

Batman fights small time criminals but rarely ever systemic injustice. He’s barely a vigilante; he steps outside the law to enforce the social place of the police in a way the police can’t. He can be more effectively normative than the state. He can enforce the surveillance state without the annoyance of process. His beating up a criminal is what defines them as a criminal; their “evil” is usually barely fleshed out by the writers. The Joker’s seeming “anarchistic” “meaningless” evil springs from the same mechanisms that allow a large portion of the population to claim Dylann Roof wasn’t a white supremacist but just “pure evil”. It is no accident the defining Batman comics came from Frank Miller, an outright fascist. Batman is the Republican.

The sheer volume of production in the comics industry means there are of course hundreds, possibly thousands of forgotten or secondary characters. Some might wonder “why aren’t you discussing female superheroes at all?” I don’t discuss this because there haven’t really been any; female superheroes largely exist as copies of male characters drawn up as psychologically safe sex objects.

This may be changing but as the superhero exists as the deep structure impulses undergirding the overarching hierarchies of power in a misogynistic society, their existence can hardly address the actual experiences and challenges of women any more than Rosie the Riveter could. The superhero is normative. The norm of the society is the repression of women unless they assimilate as aspirational carrots.

The superhero, being based always in the fantasy of assimilation imagined either from the bottom up (Superman) or the top down (Batman) in various configurations changes as the specifics of the politics of assimilation and aspirational ideologies shift. Because American capitalism requires the feeling of never being satisfied with one’s position, these fantasies have immense power and broad reach. They can be transposed in various keys all the way from outright neoconservative fantasies of genocide (The Punisher) to parables of the confused and blind “well meaning” authoritarianism of the classic liberal (Spider-Man.)

Superheroes predominate in the United States because their “goodness” is circumscribed within the boundaries of American exceptionalism and the justification of authoritarian ideology. This is why the Marvel Civil War comics seemed so utterly ridiculous. This is why the attempts to satirize these values in something like Watchmen failed to register as anything more than “superheroes growing up.” The only part that could register consciously is “hey, they curse and smoke and have sex now.”

“Foreign” superheroes like Colossus or Captain Britain exist merely as puppets miming the cultural values of America garbed in a usually laughable accent or literally their country’s flag. So the obvious question then becomes: How does the recent trend of major budget superhero films with reach beyond what their floppy paper predecessors could’ve dreamed of fit into the overall question of assimilation?

There are several manners in which they do this that only seem novel the way Jeff Koons sculptures do in relation to the commonplace objects they imitate-they’re bigger and more money is swirling around them. The most critically respected superhero film of the current wave, The Dark Knight is an obvious conservative parable of the Bush years, or rather the whitewashed narrative of the Bush years. The privileged child, acting on the expectations of his parents, faces “pure evil” (“Some people just want to watch the world burn”/”The terrorists hate us for our freedom”) by ramping up use of paramilitary equipment and absurdly expensive surveillance systems to take on this depoliticized evil and leaves having done the “right thing” despite a plummeting approval rating (“The hero we deserve”, ironically becoming this after the fall of Harvey Dent, the former DA and therefore as close as the film comes to an embodiment of the values of due process.) The Marvel movies are rarely this explicit but even there the US military actively did huge favors for the production of the Iron Man films. They saw their propaganda potential-the larger public did not.

Part of why the present is the time of the superhero the empty inertia of the flow of money. Part of it is dialectic pushback. Popular cinema has always been closely hewed to how Freud considered dreams-wish fulfillments. In the face of the emptiness of the authoritarianism of the present, the superhero represents the unfulfilled wish of the comfortable feeling that the authoritarian impulse and machinery is benign and wants to protect us from, as Malcolm X put it, “the chickens coming home to roost.”

Slightly more interesting is the aggressive resistance to interpreting these texts as political objects. But like sporting events, television or videogames, superhero movies exist as “apolitical” spectacles. Because political implications are inescapable, “apolitical” just means “basking in the inertia of the present”. They are therefore reactionary and useful to the existing power structure as firewalls to involvement and consciousness.

This firewall exists in two directions. Let’s draw a relationship to the politics of the workplace. Consumption of “entertainment” under capitalism has, since the advent of television, mirrored the scheduling of work as Adorno pointed out. Further, it works in direct relation to work as “relief”, or as I said earlier “wish fulfillment”. Of course, wish fulfillment only exists as a mirror of the unfulfilled wish and so the relation between entertainment and the dynamics workplace is more direct than is generally assumed.

The workplace tries at times ludicrously to protect itself in its own internal “apolitical” firewalls though rarely with the success of “entertainments.” “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a perfectly logical outgrowth of the society as a whole. Most workplaces and social outings work on the implicit agreement: “Don’t ask me anything, in exchange I won’t tell you anything.”

And so it is with the public’s relation to the superhero film. There is a great cultural demand for, to borrow a phrase used by Richard Poirier in describing early literary attempts to create American identity “a world elsewhere.”

Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album yesterday which you can hear selections from for free here.

The Literature of Mass Shooters

Stan and I were analyzing the mass shootings of Elliot Rodger, Dylann Roof, and James Holmes. The initial question being: “which ones qualify as acts of terrorism?”

The initial conclusions:

-Roof was a straightforward outgrowth of the white nationalist movement and therefore his shooting is terrorism.
-Rodger was an outgrowth of the MRA movement so despite the fact psychological issues can be read into his action it’s still a political act of terrorism.
-Holmes was legitimately and exclusively mentally ill.

We accepted these conclusions because both Rodger and Roof left written material. Holmes didn’t.

Roof’s in particular cut straight to the chase. It says, plainly, “I shot these black people because they’re black and I hate black people.” This doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about white nationalists. Anything interesting in regard to it is in the reactions denying that it was clearly a political act of terrorism supporting the 2nd grade reading level model of white supremacy.

Rodger’s “manifesto” tells us a bit more. The MRAs, like Roof’s Stormfront folks, are the product of white men revolting over the fact they might not be as privileged as they once were. But Rodger more clearly outlines the surreal banality of the spiritually dead culture of privilege he was an extension of.

Rodger spends portions of his manifesto nostalgically lamenting how everything was fair and right with the world when he was a young man playing Pokemon, and how happy he was there was brand synergy between the cans of Mountain Dew he was drinking and the World of Warcraft MMOs he was playing. I’m not making this shit up, it’s all there. Rodger may have been the most boring person who ever lived.

By being more boring, Rodger takes on a weird interest. His privilege, and he had tons, is not enough. He fears the universe is manifestly unjust; that maybe women can’t actually be bought. In more optimistic moments he clings to the hope that maybe they can be bought but he just can’t afford them yet.

The surreal climax to his autobiography/manifesto describes his staking whether he’s going to kill himself and go on a shooting spree or not on whether he wins the Powerball lottery. He spends his time driving 8 hours across state lines because the Powerball tickets weren’t available in California. He can’t buy other lottery tickets because he doesn’t consider anything less than a couple hundred million dollars capable of making his life anything other than a story of someone tragically wronged by fate.

Part of how he’s wronged is by being a white man who can’t get literally everything he wants right this second. This being wronged doubles over on itself because his mother committed the cardinal sin of not being “white” so he can’t feel as fully wronged about his not getting everything he wants as he could if he were unambiguously “white”. Rodger spreads white supremacist diatribes all over his manifesto despite his being mixed race because white supremacy is an aspirational ideology.

Remember when Charles Koch, a man whose net worth equals a couple dozen Powerball jackpots and whose whiteness probably attracts moths, said when he was caught stealing oil from an Indian reservation: “I want what’s coming to me, and that’s all of it”?

Maybe Rodger was right about himself. He wasn’t crazy. He was just a loser.

Holmes only seemed to fit into this thread by being a white man who shot a lot of people. He dyed his hair and took Batman movies way too seriously. Clearly he’s crazy and not like any person any of us have ever met…

Except in the trial where he was convicted his line of reasoning came out, garbed in the vocabulary of human resources managers everywhere. It was pretty simple.

“You take away life, and your human capital is limitless.”

It took Elliott Rodger 120 pages to express this, it took Dylann Roof two. It took the US military several tens of thousands of pages to express this during the Iraq war. It took James Holmes one sentence.

Of course the jury couldn’t find him insane. He is the 1%.

This is a guest post by Daniel Levine. You can buy his first book here.

Sixteen Candles (1984) Pretty in Pink (1986)

Ted the Geek: Hey Dong, what’s wrong?

Long Duk Dong: Do you remember that old movie we were both in?

Ted the Geek: Sixteen Candles?

Long Duk Dong: It’s got me down.

Ted the Geek: Why Dong? That’s where we met. That’s where we decided to go into business together. Now we run a successful software company. We both millionaires. I’m CEO. You’re my Vice President.

(Long Duck Dong throws his chair to the floor)

Long Duk Dong: Look you white motherfucker. I may be your Vice President, but I am not your Asian sidekick.

Ted the Geek: You’ve been reading Twitter again, haven’t you Dong?

(Long Duk Dong picks up his chair and sits down)

Long Duk Dong: Yes. I’ve been reading Twitter again. It’s good to keep in touch with the younger generation. You, me, Steven Colbert, everybody who grew up in the 1980s, do you know how young people see us? Do you know how many young Asian men and women in their 20s grew up hating themselves because of me? It’s a good question. Maybe we should ask it more often.

Ted the Geek: I think you’re taking Sixteen Candles a little too seriously Dong. It’s just a 1980s teen comedy. You’re meant to laugh at it, not obsess over it when you’re in your 40s.

Long Duk Dong: Asexual Asian men, Asian dragon ladies, how is any of that funny?

Ted the Geek: You were hardly asexual Dong. You got laid.

Long Duk Dong: But don’t you see Ted? That’s the joke. Asian men in Hollywood movies have traditionally been presented as completely asexual. So a horny Asian kid, unlike a horny white kid, is in and of itself funny.

Ted the Geek: I was a horny white kid Dong, and I was funny.

Long Duck Dong: But you weren’t funny because of the color of your skin. Even my name, Long Duk Dong. It’s like I wasn’t even supposed to be an individual, just this big Chinese dildo.

Ted the Geek: You are a big Chinese dildo Dong. That’s why everyone loves you. That’s why you get the girls. All you have to to is recycle that “hey sexy girlfriend” line and they’re putty in your hands. You’re a funny guy Dong. Women love guys who can make them laugh.

Long Duk Dong: I get the white girls Ted. Asian girls, black girls, Mexican girls, they all remember that movie and think I’m still the same self-hating little turd I seemed like back then. They don’t realize John Hughes pulled a fast one me. I’m not politically correct. I have nothing against slapstick ethnic humor. That’s why I hammed it up. I was supposed to be this goofy, funny awkward kid, like we all are as teenagers. But this movie wasn’t just about goofy, funny awkward kids. It has a larger ruling class, white supremacist agenda that it manages to slip in under the cover of the idea that you’re not supposed to take it seriously. First of all, it’s not only racist against Asians.

Ted the Geek: Who else is it racist against?

Long Duk Dong: Do you remember when Molly Ringwald and her friend Randy are in the hallway talking about the perfect birthday present? Molly Ringwald says she wants a hot guy in a black Trans Am. Randy’s like “oh my God, a black guy” and then sighs with relief when she realizes her friend meant a black car, not a black guy. Well, what if Sam did want to date a black guy? Michael Jackson was big in the 1980s. So was Prince. What’s wrong with it?

Ted the Geek: Nothing Dong It was a joke. You’re taking it too seriously.

Long Duk Dong: Sixteen Candles is also racist against white people.

Ted the Geek: You mean the Ryszczyks, the way it’s supposed to be funny that Sam’s father keeps mispronouncing the name? That’s not racist. I can’t spell Ryszczyk either. The jokes on Sam’s father. He’s a narrow minded, Midwestern white guy who can’t change with the times.

Long Duk Dong: It’s not only Sam’s father. It’s Sam. Sam’s sister Ginny is supposed to be a bimbo, so she doesn’t know how to chose the right WASP guy. Dad says Rudy’s a greasy bohunk. Remember when Ginny says that to Sam? And how does Sam answer? She says “well is he?”

Ted the Geek: What’s bohunk anyway?

Long Duk Dong: It’s a derogatory word for American of Eastern European descent, Bohemian Hungarian.

Ted the Geek: I thought they were Italians.

Long Duk Dong: That’s another thing. John Hughes does play the Ryszczyks as if they were Italians. They’re like the family in Married to the Mob. Now how can you make a film in Chicago and not know the difference between a Polish American and an Italian American? How stupid did John Hughes think we were. And how stupid was John Hughes? Why would you want to alienate two ethnic groups for the price of one?

Ted the Geek: Lighten up Dong. Italians and Pollacks don’t get pissed when you make fun of them. They love ethnic jokes.

Long Duk Dong: I used to think Polish jokes were funny too. Then I found out it was it was the Nazis who invented them.

Ted the Geek: What do you care about the Nazis Dong? You’re Chinese.

Long Duk Dong: You should have told that to John Hughes. He has me yell Banzai. That’s Japanese not Chinese and that’s racist. Would he have a German speaking French? An Englishman speaking Russian? Of course not. But Japanese, Chinese, what’s the difference? It’s like we’re not real people or anything.

Ted the Geek: Oh come on Dong.

Long Duk Dong: And do you know what’s even worse than the racism?

Ted the Geek: What?

Long Duk Dong: The rape culture.

Ted the Geek: The what culture?

Long Duk Dong: The rape culture. You don’t see it because you’re a fucked up middle-aged man just like me. But those kids on Twitter know, and I’ve been educating myself. Sixteen Candles may not be the most racist movie ever made. But it’s certainly the most pro-rape movie ever made.

Ted the Geek: The most?

Long Duk Dong:  It’s pretty bad. You play a rapist yourself.

Ted the Geek: A rapist? Where do I pull a woman into an ally and fuck her against her will?

Long Duk Dong: You don’t remember how you fucked Caroline Mulford when she was drunk?

Ted the Geek: That was totally consensual sex. She enjoyed it.

Long Duk Dong: Enjoyed it? She was too drunk too enjoy anything.

Ted the Geek: It’s comedy. She’s this upper class senior bitch who’s like the last girl you’d expect to sleep with a guy like me. That’s what makes it funny. Jake Ryan is so smitten with Sam he gives Caroline to the geek, me. That’s why Jake was a good guy. He didn’t horde all the talent for himself.

Long Duk Dong: Do you remember what Jake says?

(Ted starts laughing)

Ted the Geek: He says she was passed out in the bedroom so drunk he could violate her ten ways to Sunday and she wouldn’t know what happened.

Long Duk Dong: You think it’s funny to rape a drunken 17 year old girl?

(Ted continues laughing)

Ted the Geek: That’s the joke. The actress was like 25. I was 15. The only rape going on was statutory rape, by her.

(Ted is now laughing so hard he’s snorting)

Long Duk Dong: You’re missing the point. They filmed it. It was like Steubenville. And don’t you think there was something just a little creepy about casting adults as the cool kids and 15 year olds as the geeks? The guy who played Jake Ryan was 24 years old. Molly Ringwold was 16. That’s the perfect dreamboat hunk? He puts his drunken girlfriend in his father’s car with a 15-year-old kid who can’t drive, then goes off and seduces a 16 year old girl. That’s not only sick. That’s criminal. What if Jake Ryan had been the football coach and not another high-school kid? A grown man handing off a drunk girl off to a 15-year-old kid so he can fuck her while she’s passed out, that’s funny to you?

Ted the Geek: It’s funny because Jake Ryan’s father’s so rich he can afford to let his son trash a Rolls Royce. But let’s just agree to disagree on Sixteen Candles.

Long Duk Dong: John Hughes was a racist and a rape apologist. I’m glad he’s dead. I hope he suffered.

Ted the Geek: What about Pretty in Pink?

Long Duk Dong: What about it?

Ted the Geek: There’s no racism in Pretty in Pink. And it doesn’t apologize for rape. Just the opposite, it’s feminist. Ducky’s in love with Andie.

Long Duk Dong: To be honest, I’ve always thought Ducky was gay.

Ted the Geek: He is. Have you seen his Grindr profile? But back then he was in love with Andie Walsh. Andie’s in love with Blane.

Long Duk Dong: It’s feminist that she’s in love with some rich preppy?

Ted the Geek: Pretty in Pink is about how Ducky has to learn how to get over his sense of entitlement. Then the girl he’s in love with so she can go off and marry the rich guy she really wants. Do you know how progressive that was for the time? Hollywood was always telling every geek, every unattractive guy, every working class loser that he deserves a beautiful girl. Pretty in Pink is saying no. You don’t. You see Dong? I read Twitter too.

Long Duk Dong: I guess so. But Ducky’s a more interesting character. The film is saying one thing and showing another. It’s saying Ducky has to give up his sense of entitlement. But it’s showing the opposite. Most people who watched it thought Andie chose the wrong guy.

Ted the Geek: Pay closer attention Dong. Why did Andie chose Blane over Ducky? It’s not that Ducky’s a geek. It’s that he’s a loser who reminds her of her father. Remember when they go to the rich neighborhood. Andie looks at the houses and says “my god these houses are beautiful.”  She’s checking out Ducky as potential husband material. When he’s not interested in the big houses that means he has no ambition,that he’d be just fine if he worked in a record store for the rest of his life. That reminds her of her father, Harry Dean Stanton, another loser who can’t hold down a job. That’s why his wife walked out on him. If Andie chose Ducky it would mean starting the whole cycle all over again. She’d walk out on Ducky just like her mother walked out on her father. So she’s choosing to end the cycle by going to the prom with Blane.

Long Duk Dong; Yeah. I guess so.

Ted the Geek: You see. So you admit Pretty in Pink’s not pro-rape.

Long Duk Dong: Yeah. It’s not pro-rape.

Ted the Geek: Is it racist?

Long Duk Dong: I guess not.

Ted the Geek: So what’s wrong with it?

Long Duk Dong: It’s boring.

Ted the Geek: Dong. You’re 45 years old. You’re supposed to find a teen comedy boring. You want to watch a film? Jean-Luc Godard’s great. So’s Pierre Melville. So’s Martin Scorsese.

Long Duk Dong: Something just bother’s me about Pretty in Pink. It’s Blane. He’s awful.

Ted the Geek: That doesn’t matter Dong. He’s Andie’s choice. You have no right to question a girl’s choice of mates for any reason. It’s rape culture if you do.

Long Duk Dong: You know what really bothers me. It’s like these rich white motherfuckers like Jake Ryan and Blane McDonough always get the girls.

Ted the Geek: Don’t go hating on white people Dong.

Long Duk Dong: I don’t hate white people. I feel sorry for them. These John Hughes films are all about training middle class white girls to find the right upwardly mobile husband. They wind up choosing Wall Street dipshits like Jake Ryan and Blane McDonough.

Ted the Geek: You don’t know they’re going to Wall Street Dong. Jake or Blane could have just as easily dropped out of society to write poetry, or to protest the war in Central America. Maybe they wound up sitting in redwood trees or shutting down the WTO in Seattle.

(Dong looks at Ted)

Ted the Geek: OK. Yeah. They probably went to Wall Street. But they were Sam and Andie’s choice and you have no right to question a girl’s choice for anything. That’s rape culture.

Long Duk Dong: I’m not questioning Sam or Andie’s choice. They can marry anyone they want. Molly Ringwold wasn’t even that hot anyway. What I’m questioning is the way they put these Wall Street dirtbags up on a pedestal. Blane McDonough? Jake Ryan? The perfect 1980s husband was the kind of guy who ruined the economy in 2008. Those Wall Street jerks ruined your country and you still love then for it.

Ted the Geek: Dong. Don’t hate. That’s what Andie said to Ducky. Hating guys like that because they’re rich is as bad as hating people because they’re poor.

Long Duk Dong: Jesus you white people are hopeless. At least in China they line an occasional banker up against the wall and shoot him. Here, these guys destroy your standard of living and you give them 7 figure bonuses. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome or something.

Ted the Geek: You want to line Jake Ryan and Blane up against the wall and shoot them?

Long Duk Dong: Well I’d prefer a guillotine, but a firing squad will do.

Ted the Geek: You’re just a hater Dong.

Long Duk Dong: I’m thinking about the working class. What about Andie’s father? What about Iona? What about Ducky? Is life really all about putting the working class people in your past who love you behind you so you can move to the upper-east side and send your kids to Harvard? Why exactly do we assume Ducky is going to end up as a loser. He has good qualities. He fights for Andie. You can feel the working-class rage smoldering underneath the goofy exterior. Why are bland, boring, white bread Jake Ryan and Blane McDonough sexy and Ducky not sexy? Why do we automatically assume Ducky would make a lousy husband? I for one think he’s the better man.

Ted the Geek: Ducky says he’s available on his Grindr profile. Go for it.

Long Duk Dong: That’s not what I mean. Pretty in Pink may be a bit more liberal than Sixteen Candles. But it gives Andie only two choices: Wall Street dirtbag or goofy loser. Isn’t the world a much bigger place than that? Aren’t there far more than two kinds of potential husbands in the world? Isn’t there an entire spectrum of men in between?

Ted the Geek: That’s the Breakfast Club.

Long Duk Dong: Really? I haven’t seen it.

Ted the Geek: Check it out. I think you’ll like it. And stay off Twitter.

Captain Phillips (2013)

The first half of Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass’s film about the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia in 2009, is not only exciting and well-made, it’s an excellent argument against gun control.

20 good guys without guns are piloting the MV Maersk Alabama, a container ship commanded by Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips, along the coast of Somalia. They are in pirate-infested infested waters. As Phillips checks the alerts about pirates on his computer, and as he prepares his crew for the inevitable attack, we can feel the tension build. We all remember the story about the MV Maersk Alabama from 2009, so we knew what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t matter. The suspense is papable. We’ve already met the bad guys with guns, the Somali pirates, in an earlier scene. Then we see them, a fishing boat and two skiffs. Phillips picks them up on radar. He orders a lock down an evasive maneuvers. The crew sets up fire hoses on the railing of the ship in order to make it more difficult for the pirates to board. They radio the authorities. They prepare to retreat to the engine room in the event the ship is captured.

It’s difficult to convey just how hair raising the chase is. Paul Greengrass, who also made United 93, knows set up a chase scene between bad guys with guns in little skiffs and good guys without guns in a huge bulk freighter. Phillips bluffs the mother ship and one of the skiffs out of the attack with a fake call to the navy for air support. He swamps another in his wake. The first attack fails, but the next day, one of the skiffs continues pursuit. They pull alongside the MV Maersk Alabama. They’re almost overwhelmed by the high-pressure fire hoses. The ship lurches right. It lurches left. The pirates barely hold on. Finally they get one of their metal ladders onto the railing. You feel the terror in Captain Phillips’s body as he sees them getting ready to board. You also ask yourself one question.

What if only one or two of the men on board the ship had had AR-15s?

None of the usual arguments for gun-control work. Indeed, it’s a little puzzling as to why the MV Maersk Alabama didn’t have a few automatic weapons on board. Armored cars have armed guards. So why not a bulk freighter carrying millions of dollars worth of supplies through pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia? What’s more, we’re the open seas. There are no innocent bystanders. The situation is chaotic but there’s a clear shot at the target, the four men with AK-47s climbing up the metal ladder onto the ship. Even a poor shot with a 38 caliber revolver could have probably shot the guy in the lead and sent him tumbling back into the sea. At the very least, the pirates may have gotten the message and called off the attacks.

Where are the guns? Where are the guns? Oh where are the guns?

Your inner George Zimmerman will be disappointed. None of the good guys has a gun. When the bad guys, who do have guns, board the ship, your inner George Zimmerman will think the Kenyan Muslim illegal immigrant squatting in the White House not only took his gun, but his testicles as well. Tom Hanks as far as I know is not a racist, and I doubt Paul Greengrass is either, but this is a profoundly racist depiction of black men. It’s actually testament to the skill of the filmmaker and, sadly, to the skill of the black actors who play the Somali pirates, that Captain Phillips managed to slip these four drug-addled, bug-eyed, demonic creatures right out of Birth of a Nation past respectable public opinion all the way to a nomination for Best Picture. The people who made Captain Phillips may not be racist. But the final product of their labor certainly is racist.

Once on board the ship, the superior organization of the western crew manning the MV Maersk Alabama, which, to be fair, includes a few dark skinned men as well, takes over. These pirates just aren’t very bright. While their skill in boarding the MV Maersk Alabama was admirable their skill in searching the MV Maersk Alabama is laughably incompetent. They need the crew to pilot the ship back to Somalia. But where are they? They want to search the engine room. Tom Hanks bluffs them into searching the kitchen first. When they finally make their way down to the engine room, the crew knows they’re coming and spreads broken glass near the entrance. One of the pirates slices up his foot, thus reducing the effective strength of the attackers to 3. The bad guys have guns but no shoes. Two of the pirates take Hanks back up to the bridge. The crew then overpowers the lead pirate, takes his gun —- finally the good guys without guns get a gun — and arrange an exchange. The MV Maersk Alabama’s maneuvers had sunk their skiff. Hanks offers 30,000 dollars and the ship’s life boat, and himself as a hostage, in exchange for leaving the ship. The pirates accept the deal, drag Hanks onto the life boat, and, do to superior western brainpower and the self-sacrifice of a good guy without a gun — one who should have had a gun goddammit — the ship is saved.

At this point, I suppose you have to ask yourself the same question Tom Hanks is asking himself. Do these pirates have any humanity in them? Will he be able to talk his way out of the hostage situation and get back to Vermont. I’d say no. Greengrass suggests they do. The lead pirate speaks English. He claims he’s only a fisherman who’s been forced into piracy because western bulk trawlers have been overfishing along his coast line, but it never quite works. At times his arguments may seem rational but it’s impossible to get beyond his wild, bug-eyed mannerisms. What’s more, as the pirates go on without sleep, they get wilder, more incompetent, more irrational. That the four pirates who kidnapped Captain Phillips in real life may have been wild, irrational, violent men is beside the point. There are wild, irrational white Anglo Saxon methheads in the Ozark Mountains. Captain Phillips is about Somili pirates. It could, in fact, have been a good film. Had Captain Phillips centered its narrative on the four Somli pirates, showed them as sympathetic figures driven to a life of crime by western piracy of their fishing stocks, it might have gotten under the flood of propaganda in the western media in 2009 about gun wielding men in skiffs threatening the fishing lanes. But alas, it doesn’t.

The second half of Captain Phillips is boring as hell. I assume Paul Greengrass had the cooperation of the United States Navy because they provided him with an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, a frigate, and a 40,000 ton amphibious assault ship as props. The United States sailors and Navy Seals are cool, competent, and professional. It should be great military porn. In fact, my mind tells me that it is in fact great military porn. But it’s still boring as hell. Skip it. It’ll put you asleep before the happy ending.

Jud Süß (1940)

Jud Süß, the infamous anti-Semitic propaganda commissioned by Joseph Goebbels in 1940, is a bit like D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Birth of a Nation was the inspiration for the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915. Heinrich Himmler ordered Jud Süß to be shown to SS units about to be sent against Jews, to non-Jewish populations of areas where Jews were about to be deported, and to concentration camp guards. It’s not only a hateful film. It’s flat out incitement to murder.

So it was with some trepidation that I watched it, and it’s with even more trepidation that I write about it. Birth of a Nation, an old silent film, can be viewed as a museum piece, a tutorial in the development of the early cinema. Its portrayal of black Americans is so crude and so over the top it’s not likely to inspire very many people to join the Ku Klux Klan in 2014. Jud Süß is propaganda of a different order. In keeping with his theory that the most effective propaganda was subtle and indirect, that it should, according to historian Stephen Lee, “convey its message within the context of a story with which the audience could identify,” Joseph Goebbels commissioned the talented filmmaker Veit Harlan, and a cast of A-list German actors, including the Swedish born film start Kristina Söderbaum.

Unlike Birth of a Nation, Jud Süß personifies the racial other as a compelling anti-hero that an audience might possibilty identify with. Halfway through, you realize, to your horror, that it’s actually a well-made, well-acted, well-written film. It’s effective propaganda. What’s more, Jud Süß is not an obviously right-wing, authoritarian film like Triumph of the Will. On the contrary, at first glance it almost feels like that left-wing, “socialist” Nazism your crazy teabagger uncle is always warning you about.

Looked at more closely, it’s actually a right-wing populist, anti-government melodrama driven by conspiracy theory, much closer to Alex Jones and David Icke than it is to The Communist Manifesto. Charles Alexander, the Duke of Württemberg is a fat, lazy, dissolute politician with a taste for high living and underage women. Without the money for a coronation gift for the duchess, he arranges to borrow money from Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, a Jewish moneylender. Oppenheimer insists that he come to to the city, from which Jews had been banned for centuries, to present an expensive set of jewerly in person. The Duke of Württemberg agrees, giving Oppenheimer, who shaves his beard and cuts his hair in order to disguise himself as a gentile, a set of forged papers.

On the way to the city, Oppenheimer runs his carriage off the road. He’s picked up and driven the rest of the way by Dorothea Sturm, Kristina Söderbaum, a “pure” Aryan maiden who incites all of lustful desire for revenge against the gentile oppressor via miscegenation. But Joseph Oppenheimer is no out of control freedman from Birth of a Nation. He’s a sly, clever man who knows how to bide his time before he makes his move. Like a good drug dealer, he knows how to give the first few hits at a discounted price in order to get his mark hooked. The Duke of Württemberg, a big government “tax and spend liberal” — “liberal” by the definition of Fox News — also wants to start an ambitious program of modernizing the city. He wants an opera house, a bodyguard, and a ballet company. Oppenheimer agrees to finance these a well, wanting only the authority to maintain the roads and bridges of the dukedom for 10 years, as well as the right to levy tolls for their use and upkeep. Soon he has the Duke wrapped around his finger, letting him skim a percentage of the profits off the top as a further incentive.

So what does Oppenheimer want (apart from bedding Dorothea Sturm)? He wants the Duke to lift the ban of Jews from living in Württemberg. In the eyes of an anti-Semite of course this makes him a villain, but what about the rest of us? Isn’t Oppenheimer just a good politician? Indeed, you can almost see Joseph Goebbels nervously reviewing the script in order to make sure that Oppenheimer does not come across as a sympathetic anti-hero.

Whether or not Oppenheimer is just a good Machiavellian using trying to liberate his people “by any means necessary,” however, is beside the point. The horde of dirty, disreputable, lower class Jews — eastern Jews as opposed to Oppenheimer’s assimilated western Jew — clearly don’t deserve to be liberated. What’s more, Joseph Oppenheimer is more interested in revenge against the gentile than he is with liberating the Jews. Soon Württemberg has become the nightmare big government “liberal” state libertarians have always warned us against. Prices go up. Oppenheimer secures the right to collect taxes on beer, wine, and wheat. He brings in prostitutes. He seduces the aristocracy with the promise of sex with under age girls. He invokes eminent domain to deprive a hard working blacksmith of half his house, than manipulates the Duke into having him hanged when he objects.

In short, an Aryan Bedford Falls becomes a Jewish Pottersville.

The rest of the film is just crude melodrama. The people start getting restless. They break out the pitchforks and torches and organize their own tea parties. Oppenheimer convinces the Duke to suspend the Constitution and set himself up as a dictator with absolute power. They travel to Ludwigsburg to hire mercenaries (funded by the city’s Jewish population of course) to put down any potential rebellion. Oppenheimer has Dorothea’s fiancée Faber, the film’s most fervid anti-Semite, tortured, while he rapes her across the street from the dungeon to the sound of her virtuous Aryan lover’s screams. Dorothea commits suicide, becoming a martyr, and inspiring the overthrow of the Duke. The Constitution is restored. Oppenheimer is hanged, and Jews are once again banished from Württemberg.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Astonishingly, in 1940, on the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union, Joseph Goebbels made an anti-government melodrama. Let me repeat that. Jud Süß is an anti-government film. The Nazis made an anti-government film. Was that clear? Jud Süß attempts to channel any potential anger that the German people might have had over living under a dictatorship against the same Jews that very Nazi dictatorship was persecuting. We don’t have to ask if it worked or not. Roger Ailes learned the lessons of Nazi propaganda well. By deflecting the anger of the American people over George Bush’s surveillance and torture state and Obama’s bailout of Wall Street against the working class and against blacks, Fox News does on a daily basis what Jud Süß did all the way back in 1940, makes the victims the oppressors and the oppressors the victims. Jud Süß is authoritarian propaganda that knows it has to pose as anti-authoritarian. If Triumph of the Will was George W. Bush landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declaring “mission accomplished,” Jud Süß is the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Alex Jones. Right-wing populism never seems to go away.