Friday, January 27, 2006


Lenin on America's culture of life:

"What is much more interesting is that, in between the bookends of life, all kinds of murder and mayhem will be mandated by God. In fact, isn't the irony of this that the cult of life is elevating its gloriole in a society whose cultural output makes a fetish of death? From Bonnie & Clyde to Natural Born Killers, the open secret of American (and by extension, global) fantasy life is that death is a beautiful and erotic thing. Teen horror flicks pitch an extreme negative fascination with the body and its inners with a sensuous devotion to its sensory surfaces - or to put it more bluntly, sex and violence.

Curtis White makes an apt point in his hilarious book about The Middle Mind, regarding the Spielberg schlock Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg's "conscience" movies are always suffused with platitudinous drivel, purporting to be idealism, or compassion or some other appropriately undemanding reaction to the world's evils. This one in particular makes use of the flag, which flaps majestically at the beginning and end of the film, wrapping its contours in a comforting Stars n Stripes diaper. One knows that it is not going to offend 'patriotic' sensibilities, just as the use of softie Tom Hanks to play the heroic Captain Miller deflects embarrassing memories of tough guy John Wayne posturing a la The Green Berets. Yet what is the central "lesson" of the movie? As White has it, it is to be found in the connected scenes in which the intellectual multi-lingual Upham persuades Captain Miller to issue a command not to kill a German prisoner. The German is pathetically attempting to recite the Star Spangled Banner. Here is a human life, a PoW with rights under international law. One does not simply kill one's prisoners, unless already among the savage, and that is downright unAmerican. What does the German do? He comes back, guns blazing, and takes out Captain Miller with obvious satisfaction. Upham learns his lesson and does what we all know he should have done in the first place: pops a bullet in the evil Kraut's head. The lesson, therefore, is:

[A]lways choose death, for if you do not, death will come anyway, later, multiplied.

These intellectuals with their Hamlet-like procrastination, their sensitivity and cowardice, will get us all killed. Back in the present day, the old soldier named Ryan weeps over Miller's grave and wonders once again if he has led a good life. The flag returns, translucent, radiant. But a resonance of death this time, the flag bears a slight similarity to the eery deathliness of Warhol's 'Diamond Dust Shoes' .

Of course, there are all sorts of cheap shit movies that do a lesser courtesy to the same job. I was watching Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it last night, for instance. (Plot: murderous ex-dictator of anonymous Latin American country, recently deposed by Arnie, wants him to assassinate the new 'nice guy' President the Americans have assisted to power. Stop laughing. To this end, they kidnap Arnie's sweet, doe-eyed little daughter in her dungarees and pink sweater, and threaten to kill her if he doesn't do what they say. Naturally, being evil, they're going to kill her anyway, hur hur hur. Arnie busts the fuck out of there, kidnaps, shoots, beats and conflagrates his way to that tropical nation, because "awl that mattas to me now is my dawta". But why fabulate? The videos taken by soldiers in Iraq of dead Ay-rab bodies, their hilarious titles ("Ramadi madness", "sneaky little bastards", "Another Day, Another Scumbag"), the slick professionalism and the overlaying of aggressive heavy metal music, easily match Tawhid wal-Jihad's sicker productions for morbidity and cruel fascination with humiliated flesh. The 'rape footage' from Guantanamo, if it is ever released, will doubtless provide similarly revolting scenes implicating the viewer in sadistic pleasure at the torture and humiliation of others. It isn't even necessary to go abroad for one's kicks, however. America is a violent society, more so than most other advanced capitalist states. The combustible fusion of imperialism abroad, fear-mongering at home, and ready access to firearms has ensured this." (Lenin's Tomb, "Terri Schiavo and the American Cult of Death," March 21, 2005).


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