We all search for meanings and labels to attach to ourselves and to other people. Yet I am often surprised at how subjective these are. Aside from my identity as an Orthodox Christian, I do not know what other words I would use to describe myself, apart from a great sinner.
I regard myself as politically liberal and a fan of pop culture. Yet both of these have passed from defining fairly cynical positions to being articles of faith.
Take films for example. The latest instalment of Tarantino’s endlessly unimaginative career has (astoundingly) won great reviews.
Tarantino has learnt his main lesson from David Mamet: if you use the word ‘fuck’ often enough, you will be praised by upper-middle-class film critics for raw, clever and realistic dialogue on a literary level with Aeschylos.
And then he has learnt presumably from someone else that if you are self-consciously derivative then it is not derivative, but ‘post-modern homage’. And that’s good.
Lastly, he seems to have learnt from Baz Luhrmann that if you use pop music in period films, this will be praised as ‘inspired’ rather than embarrassingly stupid because it flatters idiots, especially if the lyrics are related to what is happening. IE ‘It was very inspired of Tarantino to use an 80s British rock song called ‘putting out fires with gasoline’* in a film set in 1940s France because there is fire and there is gasoline. Me clever. Me understand what Tarantino say.'
I am far from being puritanical or highbrow in my film taste. I defend the view that many excellent films in the 1980s were stupid action adventures that nonetheless contained interesting ideas about consumerism and aggression. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film ‘The Running Man’ was a hilarious satire on sadism and conformity.
In this sci-fi movie, America has undergone a financial crisis, and for entertainment the crowd watch people being butchered on TV (hmm, hmm). There is a brilliant advert for one daytime TV show which shows a man picking up dollars in a cage filled with Doberman Pinschers. Conveying the state of society through its advertisements is both very funny and deeply concise, avoiding pretentious philosophising and laboured moralising.
Yes, it is a silly film with a largely clichéd plot, but it does represent the things that good pop culture can do with some imagination. Now contrast this with Quentin Tarantino. Has he ever had an imaginative or original plot idea?
In fact, Tarantino is less like DeSouza (the writer of The Running Man) than he is like Killian, the smarmy talk show host who makes money by flattering the baying sadistic crowd whilst feeding them torture porn. In case anyone thinks this term is a stupid hyperbole, the IB star Eli Roth has described the scene where he beats a Nazi to death as ‘porn’.
I don’t think one need be an admirer of National Socialism to find this very strange.
Now we have reviewers of this film stating that it is a work of post-modern genius that is cunningly disguised as a clichéd piece of crap.
In further entertainment news I’ve read that Russia and China are going to invade America in the remake of Red Dawn. This is another 80s film that was ultimately very daft, but with interesting ideas about how quickly America would adapt to Soviet Invasion and if there was a rebellion, how brutal would the rebels be? Whilst it was not 'Battle of Algiers' there were memorable scenes where Patrick Swayze dispatches injured prisoners, including one who looks like a teenager. This is not shot in a gloating way, like Tarantino, but with striking moral ambiguity for a film with such a mad reputation.
Yet now the Soviet Union has collapsed, why exactly would the Russians invade? And why would China risk invading a country that owes them so much money? In fact China is all that’s keeping America’s economy going right now.
Perhaps ‘pop’ culture has ran out of steam. It is a profoundly American form of entertainment (just look at the pitiful efforts of the French and British to emulate it) and perhaps it gave a voice to the libertarian right/ left who were elbowed out of the statist corporate policies that the Democrat and Republicans both followed. Now we have reached a paradox that because the state did not regulate the banks, the state has partially nationalised them. Subsequently the idea of a self-regulating market is gone.
In political news, I notice there has been a blanket silence on both ‘left and ‘right’ publications about Obama’s Vice President Biden (a sordid Serbophobe bigot) going to visit the puppet government in Belgrade. Could it be that liberalism is going the way of pop-culture?
*This song appeared in yet another brilliantly mad 80s film, 'Cat People'. This may seem derivative but no doubt shows Quentin's genius for 'post-modernism'.