Frank Miller and the rise of cryptofascist Hollywood | Culture | The Guardian
The film 300, directed by Zack Snyder, based on a Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name, is just what you would expect from the heavily freighted right-wing filmic propaganda of the post-9/11 period: the Greeks, from which our own putative democracies are descended, must fight to the death against a vast but incompetent army of Persians (those hordes of the Middle East), who are considered here unworthy of characterisation – in fact, every character in the film is unworthy of characterisation – and the noble Spartans (the Greeks in question) achieve heroism despite their glorious deaths on the field at Thermopylae, by virtue of the moral superiority of their belief system and their unmatched courage. Ruthless enemy! From the Middle East! Heroic, rugged individualists! A big, sentimental score! Lots and lots of blue-screen! Endless amounts of body parts spewing theatrical blood!
It’s a barely watchable film, but what from Hollywood these days is not similarly unwatchable, when so many high-profile releases are based on a medium, the comic book, made expressly to engage the attentions of pre- and just post-pubescent boys. At least comic books themselves are so politically dim-witted, so pie-in-the-sky idealistic as to be hard to take seriously. But in the films of this era, the Marvel and DC era of Hollywood, even when the work is not self-evidently shilling for large corporations (with product placement) or militating for a libertarian and oligarchical political status quo (which makes a fine environment for large, multinational corporations), the work is doing nothing at all to oppose these things. Paying your $12.50, these days, is not unlike doing a few lines of cocaine and pretending you don’t know about the headless bodies in Juarez.
With this in mind, an honest recognition of cinematic propaganda, we shouldn’t be shocked by Frank Miller’s comments about Occupy Wall Street. It is naive to be shocked by them. But let’s evaluate the particulars of his remarks just the same. Miller tries to repel the OWS message (“Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty titbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism”) by reminding us that we are at war. This despite the fact that OWS is focused primarily on income inequality, and thus mainly taken up with domestic politics, such that OWS doesn’t really take a position on the “ruthless enemy” and doesn’t need to. Miller’s particular approach, the warmongering approach, is self-evidently reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney years, in which any domestic reversal was followed by an elevated level on the colour-coded risk-assessment wheel. But in this post-Iraq war moment – when the most aggravated conspiracies we seem to have in New York City involve, for example, a lone Dominican guy who advertises his hatred of the government on Facebook and who may have been entrapped by local police – our “ruthless enemy” just doesn’t seem quite as numerous as Miller’s Persian hordes.
Beyond Bush-Cheney fear-mongering, Miller’s further complaint seems to be that people who camped outdoors in Zuccotti Park for two months were not terribly clean. (The Spartans were no doubt tidier in Thermopylae.) But if the crowd of 32,000 who turned up to march in NYC last Thursday – after the “pond scum” had been ejected from the park – are any indication, this hygiene issue is no longer a reliable talking point for Miller (or for Newt Gingrich, the rightwing posterboy of the late 80s who has now entered the race for the Republican presidential noimination). The 32,000 included some professional types, at least one retired police officer and lots of elderly people, many of whom had recently showered. Same thing at UC Davis, and at Berkeley. Those college kids usually have showers in their dorms.
Miller also accuses the OWS protesters of being too technologically savvy. For example, he accuses them of playing Lords of Warcraft. Now, I admit it, I know nothing of multiplayer online role-playing games, nor do I own an iPhone nor an iPad. Nevertheless, I maintain I am correct in imagining that what Miller actually means here is World of Warcraft. This superficial mistake (suggests what should be plain: that Miller wrote his jeremiad quickly, perhaps late at night, when a lack of restraint is often linked with the onset of unconsciousness. He didn’t bother to reread it. He therefore overlooks at least one obvious point. Namely, no one is more likely to play World of Warcraft than the kind of adolescent boy who also thinks 300 is quality cinematic product.
Miller’s hard-right, pro-military point of view is not only accounted for in his own work, but in the larger project of mainstream Hollywood cinema. American movies, in the main, often agree with Frank Miller, that endless war against a ruthless enemy is good, and military service is good, that killing makes you a man, that capitalism must prevail, that if you would just get a job (preferably a corporate job, for all honest work is corporate) you would quit complaining. American movies say these things, but they are more polite about it, lest they should offend. The kind of comic-book-oriented cinema that has afflicted Hollywood for 10 years now, since Spider-Man, has degraded the cinematic art, and has varnished over what was once a humanist form, so Hollywood can do little but repeat the platitudes of the 1%. And yet Hollywood tries still not to offend.
Does that make American cinema cryptofascist? Is “cryptofascist” a word that you can use in an essay like this? I keep trying to find a space somewhere between “propagandistic” and “cryptofascist” to describe my feelings about Miller’s screed. But perhaps it’s more accurate to say the following: whatever mainstream Hollywood cinema is now, Frank Miller is part of it. And Frank Miller has done Occupy Wall Street a service by reminding us that our allegedly democratic political system, which increases inequality and decreases class mobility, which is mostly interested in keeping the disenfranchised where they are, requires a mindless, propagandistic (or “cryptofascist”) storytelling medium to distract its citizenry. We should be grateful for the reminder.
Miller’s account was based on Herodotus’s histories, something Brin conveniently forgot, and that was full of fantasmagoric element, ‘Under Siege’s villain, was a rogue navy spook, insane enough to try to scorch the Hawaiian islands, this is true
of most of the villains in the die hard, including Olyphant’s Richard Clarke based tech guru. In the original Dark Knight Returns,
a clique of savage killers called the mutants, are not unlike what the Joker unleashes. I guess Downey’s take of Hughesesque
Tony Stark is also fascist,