What I Think about the Story of ‘Fight Club’

I’m not particularly interested in the story of Fight Club. After I had seen the film the first time, I still had no interest at all. The first time was in the theatre on a date; we almost walked out. The second time I watched it was at home and I noted that the dialog in the first part was engaging, but as a whole the movie could not keep me focused. My original post about the film was written as a reply to a friend and was aimed at answering a very direct question from her. I had no idea there was any interest in the story or film outside our discussion. The reams and reams of writing I find myself doing now have really been extracted by a huge struggle between outside forces, my better judgment, and internal demons. I still don’t find the story interesting or attractive and would not recommend reading it to anyone concerned with how they spend the minutes of their life. However I do find that my thoughts about the story have changed significantly since I started this odyssey.

Fight Club very clearly has a powerful message to many of its readers and viewers. But it’s hardly original. Chuck Palanhuik is hardly the first person to notice the alienating nature of modern consumer society. So what is it about his story that makes it better than previous versions? Some readers have told me it’s a message with particular appeal to the young who are not yet jaded by consumerism and career. Is Fight Club then just adolescent literature for college students? What makes Fight Club different from The Hardy Boys or Conan Comic Books or the Priest Kings of Gor?

Fight Club as Commentary on Modernity

What is it that this ‘Fight Club journey’ has taught me about the story? To be honest, until I had it explained to me, I had no idea it was a protest against consumerism. Even though I was aware of the interesting dialog that opened the story, I became lost in the bloody imagery and cheesiness of using Brad Pitt as a macho protagonist. That’s why I genuinely appreciate the comments left to my previous posts. This very interesting comment from someone claiming to be Rory Sweeney highlights my point,

While we [humans] have long argued that doing so will free us to achieve higher goals, such as jetpacks and hover-cars, what society has shown is that we enjoy the simplicity of appealing to our base instincts. For examples, I give you the rise of professional sport to the devotion of a religion, and the pervasiveness of pornography that you disdain so conceitedly. Despite our advances technologically, the very principles of consumerism have kept us from attaining any higher purpose. We create advanced communication devices so that we can interact over vast distances, increase our productivity and free ourselves to explore the mysteries of the universe. Then we design, produce market and buy products to fill the devices with millions of diversions to distract us from the hard work of advancing humanity beyond its current state. Along with helping us expand our horizons, technology has created more distractions and allowed us to live insular lives to compensate for the aggravation that we have no focus, no guidance no plan and no objective to obtain in particular.

This was a very thoughtful remark and I learned a lot about Rory from reading it. I have no problem with the anti-consumerist message he is trying to communicate. Where he and I disagree is that we need Fight Club to think of this. Rory thinks it’s crucial and concludes the above quotation with the remark

[above quote]…That, to me, is what Fight Club is about.

I think this is ridiculous. There’s been more than a hundred million billion words written about this aspect of modern life. Starting at the turn of the last century, some of the greatest minds of our time have reflected on the question. It’s a crucial aspect of the neo-Marxist philosophers of the Frankfurt School. Emile Durkheim, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell all wrote about this. It’s one of the main themes of counterculture since the 1960s. It’s the message that shaped the music of Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics, as well as the greatest band that neither you nor anyone else has ever heard of, The Saints (and here). It’s become so central to popular culture it appears on the websites of bands whose main income is derived from the performance of sound tracks for pornographic movies. A questioning of this is in part what gave rationale to the regime of Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and fuels the neo-fascist government in the People’s Republic of China. It is the central question of modernity in our life time, having given birth to entire academic disciplines and fields of study. So I agree with Rory that this is an important question and one that deserves a great deal of thought. My problem is with Chuck Palahnuik’s version and its cinematic interpretation. I have never needed a shirtless Brad Pitt beating someone bloody to come to agreement with Rory.

This is why I keep asking about deeper analysis. Why would I now need Chuck? I have never needed to read Fight Club or watch Brad Pitt to be asking questions about the meaning of life, material wealth, and human needs in the late 20th century. My guess is that Rory didn’t either. He knew all this and probably even wrote about it long before he ever came across Fight Club. The real question is not what message Rory and his Fight Club friends get from the story, but why they think they need Chuck Palahnuik’s version of this story to give the concept meaning. What is it about the way Chuck tells us the story that Aldous Huxley’s version lacks? Certainly there seems to be a great deal of attachment to this explanation of alienation and anomie, rather than to Durkheim or Marx.

The Truly Conservative Message of Fight Club

I can understand that some explanations are more appealing than others. This doesn’t make anyone’s answers more or less accurate. It just means there are symbolic aspects of the explanation that make them ‘interesting’. It’s these psychological aspects of expression that have given birth to the myriad forms of analysis Rory mistook me for stating. I had thought I had avoided this by pointing out Fight Club seems almost a plagiarized version of works of great literature and that only readers unfamiliar with this could find the story original and daring. But I’ve changed my mind on this point. Or at least I’ve come to a slightly different interpretation of why someone could find profound a basically plagiarized version of great literature copied to explain a concept that has functioned as the backbone for much of Western intellectual discourse.

So who is Fight Club a meaningful and profound message for? And why do these people keep getting upset at me for pointing out that it’s their message? Why aren’t they embracing my identification of them as a tribe? Because in my pointing out that Fight Club is a special message for them, I am also pointing out that it is not a message for everyone.

University of Manitoba professor Kenneth MacKendrick referred me to this article from the Huffington Post addressing why “dudes don’t read”. Despite the headline, the article has little to do with men reading and is more about men writing. Where are the “badass young male writers” of today. It asks us, would Hunter S. Thompson or Kurt Vonnegut or Brett Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney or Alex Garland or Chuck Palahniuk even get book deals if their debut novels were written today?

But this is an incredibly conservative message. I am in no sense well-read in the works of these authors but I have read something from each of them, except for Alex Garland. While some of them are still writing, they are all my age or older. They started writing in a time when writing was physically a different thing from what it is now. There was only paper to write on. You had a choice of using pens or typewriters, but it all looked pretty much the same when it got into the hands of a reader.

So what would Hunter S. Thompson be writing if he starting writing today? Would he be writing books? Would he have had to start his writing career as a journalist? Thompson wrote non-fiction. It was sold in books by stores because that’s pretty much the only way large essays could be distributed. There’s a whole new world out there and as such, there’s a whole new way of packaging print. And my reading of this is that it’s these new ways that men like to read and write (or see here). Would Thompson’s writing career have started in news and then lead to writing books? It might have, but my guess is that he would have been writing in the same place you are reading right now.

The idea that reading and writing habits haven’t changed in decades despite unimaginable changes in print media seems very strange to me. Newspapers have adapted to this fact. Libraries are now on-line. But there’s some out there who hearken for the good old days when people had to spend money to get a hold of print. I can understand that bookstores and publishing companies would think fondly of the past, but I can’t understand why some segment of readership would reject a technology that has given us the power to publish directly and for readers to find our stuff without paying.

My point is that if Hunter S. Thompson were writing today, he would be blogging or something else on the Net. He sure wouldn’t be writing books that are sold in bookstores. The idea that he needed a publishing house to make him into a great ‘badass’ writer is really strange given the hundred and one ways of disseminating print that the Internet has created.

But more than anything, this message about bookstores and publishing companies is an intensely conservative image of writing and of society. Of course it’s a conservative message. The whole Fight Club thing is an intensely conservative message. And that’s what I mean with my Fight Club as the White Man’s message-thing. Fight Club is for people who expected a whole lot more from life than they think they’ll ever really be getting. So who is it that’s listening to this message of Fight Club as revolutionary literature? Is it Third World authours? Is it minority writers in the USA? No, it’s a bunch of young White boys from the suburbs whining about how the ladies are now crowding them out of the bookstores and the chance to become print media celebrity millionaires. I guess this is just the politically correct way to be a red neck now that women are filling the boardrooms and management offices. Is It any coincidence that Fight Club’s become the new hip theme for cool young Christians? After all, who’s more nostalgic for the good old days when men were fathers and women didn’t make millions writing books or control publishing companies?

So in the End..?

So in the end, where am I with all this Fight Club stuff? It’s not that I disagree with the message. Of course I agree with Rory and his Fight Club friends. How could I disagree with all these voices crying out about consumerism and corporate control? How could I? It’s just that in all of this I keep hearing another voice that I can’t quite make out so clearly. The last time I heard it was on the website of that broken down rock and roll band inviting fans to join then in their battle against consumerism while boasting of their exploits making soundtracks for pornographic movies. I just can’t shake the feeling it’s not so much the cry of victims that I’m hearing as it is their whining that getting all that stuff was so much harder than they ever thought it would be.

And that’s what I hear in all the responses to my lack of enthusiasm with the story of Fight Club. It’s a bunch of middle-class kids from the ‘burbs who’ve stumbled upon a watered-down version of the central problem with modern capitalist life. Maybe they really are calling for a revolutionary change in the way we live. But then again, maybe they really do believe they are a unique snowflake and getting all that crap from the store should have been a lot easier than it’s been.

Fight Club isn’t their battle cry for a world where production and labour serve human needs. It’s their symbol for a world where they should have been special and unique, but somewhere along the way it all got stolen.

Check out this link about the print industry lobby group Printing Industries of America.

Why Chuck Palahnuik is Irrelevant.


Dating Taiwanese Girls

As soon as you arrive you’ll be deluged with questions about whether or not you have a girlfriend and then the real question, “Is she Chinese?” You’ll be told all about how many Chinese girls (Yes, that’s the word that single women prefer) want foreign boyfriends, so of course it’ll be easy to find one. The fact is, this is true – sort of. How true? To quote one English teacher I know, “Look there’s a guy over at the Taipei Hostel, Ron; he’s fat and ugly, he’s bald, he’s broke and he’s drunk all the time – and even he has a girlfriend.” The truth is, you’d have to have some gross physical deformity or be Black (but that’s a whole other story) not to be able to score in Taiwan. And even that would just slow you down. And she’ll look great. Taiwanese women are beautiful. They have wonderful slender figures, long silky hair, their personalities and character are pretty much the way movies portray them to be; submissive and ready to please men. There may be a more beautiful group of women out there somewhere, but I have yet to meet them. Chances are, any woman here chosen at random is the best looking woman you’ll have ever dated.

Or that’s what you and I’ll think. Chinese guys will tell you a different story. It’s widely understood among local guys that the girls dating foreigners are always the ugliest. When I asked my girlfriend about this, however, she told me this was just “sour grapes”. Both she and many of my female students agreed that these women are in fact the most beautiful, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated women around.

That’s the plus side. Here’s the down. Chinese society is very conservative. Dating is strictly serious business aimed at achieving marriage. If that 3-letter word beginning with “s” should show up, you can be sure that the 8-letter word beginning with “m” will follow (‘marriage’ that is, if you haven’t got me). The conservative nature of Taiwan society can make dating as fun as pulling teeth. As one of my students put it, “The first time a guy asks you out, you have to say no.” It is no understatement to say that you might have to ask the same woman out every day for six to eight months before she’ll even agree to see a movie with you. In the worst case, months and months of meeting in coffee shops and going to movies will precede your first kiss, much less anything more exciting. It’s got nothing to do with what she wants. It’s more like, and again, as one of my students put it, “How can I be sure if he really likes me?”

Once that ‘s’ thing starts to happen, don’t think all your troubles are over. Depending on the woman, they may have just begun. A lot of women live on their own, but more likely, she lives with a roommate and then where are you going to go? If she lives at home, even if she’s 33 and teaches at a college, she might have to be home by 11 O’clock. Maybe not, but maybe. Just remember what it was like when you first started dating, back when you were 15 or 16. That’s Taiwan at 30.

It’s not all like this. Younger women are much more “Western” in their attitudes. I’m including in this group the high school girls who grabbed my bum on a crowded train and then asked my girlfriend to tell me how sexy I looked. But don’t overestimate how liberal the Taiwanese woman of the 21st Century has really become. A more likely source of your one-night adventures will come from the class of people that back home you’d call the mentally ill.

You’re bound to hear all sorts of stories about those wild girls. You may live in a hostel where guys are bringing girls back and having sex with them in the dormitory. You may even be one of those guys. Don’t think that a little thing like a smucky personality, lack of looks or even body odor will be a serious impediment. Your white skin and English language ability make you a star on par with famous sports or entertainment personalities. You’ll hear the names of women over and over; Wendy, Kim, who care only if you’re white and speak English. It may be expensive, but the disco scene could provide you with a rocketship to transport you into the fantasy of your dreams.

Just remember to be careful what you wish for; some of those dreams are nightmares. You know that movie, Fatal Attraction, where Michael Douglas sleeps with a woman he meets at a party and she follows him around trying to destroy his life. In the movie she was Glen Close; in reality she’s Taiwanese. Take T, for example. His girlfriend is the beautiful graduate of a major national university. She lives on her own and is trying to become an airline cabin attendant. The problem is that when he tried to break up with her she went crazy. Now, she follows him around to his classes threatening to kill him. At one point she strangled him with a hair dryer cord. Another time, she searched through all the hostels in Taipei and finally found him at the Taipei Hostel at 4 in the morning. She dragged him out of bed and back to her place where she forced him to have sex with her. He later told me that he had to or she’d have hurt him even worse.

From my experience,  T‘s story isn’t even that extreme. Lots of you out there may know worse. So when you start hearing — or telling– all those great babe stories, you just sit back there and listen to yourself. If your friend told you this story back home, and it wasn’t all just part of this groovy scene hanging out in Taipei and having fun, would you think it was a cool ‘getting laid’ story? Or would you think he was one desperate guy to be hanging out with a chick like that? Would you think it was cool bangin’ a babe cause she missed her meds? Do you troll for pussy at the bars next to the psycho wards? You thought that was just for characters out of Kill Bill, but it’s every day here in Taiwan. Just ’cause she has brown skin and doesn’t speak English too well, anything goes. Right?

I know you’ve heard about all those wild local girl things. We all have. And while you don’t have to admit anything here, rest assured that no matter what you say, I know you know.

What I Think about the Movie ‘Fight Club’

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know Kerim Friedman who produces the blogs Keywords and Savage Minds. Lesser known outside of my circles is Kerim’s wife, Shashwati. You can find her blogs and information about her work in film here and here. Shaswati, Kerim, and I often talk about films and recommend ones that we should and shouldn’t watch. The film Fight Club seems to come up a lot.

Fight Club is a 1999 Hollywood movie staring Brad Pitt and Edward Albert Norton that describes the exploits of a group of men who find meaning through participation in an underground fighting club. As the club grows, it becomes the backbone of a revolution of ordinary guys against the established order. In fact, I have seen Fight Club. I saw it when it first came out. At the time, I though it was very hard to follow and I couldn’t quite understand the point. I just watched it again and to be honest, parts of it were interesting. I especially liked the beginning and the almost poetic way in which our protagonist sees his empty life. Some of it was quite beautiful. It was almost worth watching until…well… until they started fighting.

Shahwati asked me about the movie because I actually belong to a real life fight club. Or to be more accurate, a group of loosely affiliated men who fight as part of their recreation. We live in Taiwan, so we don’t get to do a lot of punching. We do a lot of what you’d call wresting, but most of us have fought cage matches and we want to fight more of them. I played a lot of contact sports before this. I played rugby union as a kid, playing again from 1990 until a few years ago. And you know, in all the years I have been involved in combat sports and the years before that in which I played rugby union, no one ever talked about Fight Club. This is not quite true. One of the members of my BJJ club in Taipei (that’s Brazilian Jiu-JItsu) once mentioned he had seen the film and that there was some aspect to it he thought was interesting; something about walking down the street and sizing up strangers for a fight. But that’s it. That’s the end. No one watches Fight Club. No one talks about it. No one even seems to know the movie exists, although I know they do.

This is not to say that real life fighters don’t watch films. They love watching them. These guys get together and watch Bruce Lee movies all the time. They quote Bruce Lee on their websites. They use his Chinese name () as their Chinese signature and there was even a brief period where everyone was talking about the recent hit The 300. They just don’t watch Fight Club.

And why would they? It’s a stupid movie. It’s got nothing to do with the things that guys who fight in their spare time fight about. It’s not about people who want to fight. Guys who want to fight for fun really are the way you think they are. They may be nice, Christian folk, but they’re nuts. Have a listen to this interview UFC champion BJ Penn following his victory over Jens Pulver – who is a born-again Christian.

All those people who would do steroids and then complain about people cheating in the ring to win a fight with them – come on. Anybody who does steroids to smash my face in personally, while I’m playing by the rules, I got a serious problem with that. Grow some balls and fight BJ Penn without steroids. That’d be cool…when I go into the Octagon, I’m ready to die… I’m ready to die, and you come in and you kill me somehow and you cheated, I mean where’s the honor? Where’s the whole thing?

BJ is speaking about UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk who tested positive for anabolic steroids. You don’t need to be shocked by these words. I’ve heard the same things from Penn’s personal friend Enson Inoue,

There is no better way to die, than to die in the midst of a battle, fighting to the very end……like a man.

whose gym in Tokyo uses Japanese military slogans (大和魂) as its motto. Or from Ken Shamrock, once called the most dangerous man in the world.

I will get my respect or I will die

In fact, this neo-Bushido talk is the norm for full-contact fighters. For more psycho quotes from MMA fighters, see this link. And if you want, compare them with some memorable quotes from the movie Fight Club.

In a sense, the realism of the fights in the movie and the people involved in them shouldn’t be an issue. The fights themselves are just a metaphor for rebellion. But this hasn’t stopped the critics. Take a look at Rotten Tomatoes if you don’t believe me. In a ridiculous masturbatory fantasy from vultureculture.net, Tom Block tells us that, “While watching the men knock each other’s teeth out in Fight Club, some women may find themselves eying their lovers and wondering, “Is some part of guys really like that?” Mr. Block goes on to clarify the world of Fight Club. “It’s only fair to point out that Fight Club is about womenless men”, he confides in us. And he is right. Fight Club is a make believe world where men are men and women are just on the sidelines. It’s sort of a Rambo and Bruce Willis-type-thing, but it’s not Clint Eastwood and the anger of a Dirty Harry changing the world. Instead it’s your anger turned into rage against the machine. It’s the pornotopia of kicks and punches. It’s prison without the sodomy.

But when all is said and done, Fight Club is one of those ads in the back of a comic book selling the human growth hormone (HGH) my brother-in-law claims he bought, used, and grew 3 centimeters. But he didn’t. HGH has serious side effects on grown people that are very quickly noticeable. And so does getting in fights. You get hurt; you get really messed up. There is no part of the man next to you that’s like that, if only because he’s afraid of getting hurt too much. There may be in his fantasy, but there’s a reason why he stayed where he was born and things in his life continue to run pretty much the way they did yesterday.

But the twisted thing about the movie is that in the end, it wasn’t an underground club of White men and their buddies banding together in a desperate struggle for humanity that truly shocked our world. It wasn’t a White man angry at the meaninglessness of his job and his life who really had the dream of making tomorrow radically different from today. Instead it was a bunch of religious nuts holed up in some cave in Afghanistan. It wasn’t a claims adjuster frustrated at airline meals and silly conversation who had the balls to finally say, “Hay, the way you’ve been living your life is wrong, and I’m going to do something about it.” It was Osama bin Laden and the crew that George Bush Jr. calls terrorists who really made your tomorrow different from today.

People for whom violence is no fantasy have always known this. Fighting doesn’t set you free. It hurts. The fighting in Fight Club isn’t about fighting. It’s about stupid White guys who are too chicken to live the life they really want. It’s a movie that makes being a stupid White guy seem heroic instead of just the boring thing that it really is. Fight Club goes beyond boring into a whole new dimension of stupid. And that’s where I want to leave it.

I didn’t like Fight Club, not the first time I watched it and not the second time, either. I don’t recommend that anyone watch it.

Other links about Fight Club

What I Think about the Book Fight Club

What I Think about Chuck Palahnuik

I also highly recommend this piece from the film review blog Bright Lights.

The Real Ironman

Anyone who has played rugby union has played with Australians and knows that there’s something different about them. Perhaps it’s the cannibals that every Australian tells us they personally aren’t descended from but whose blood we all suspect flows in their veins. Perhaps it’s the relationship they have with Asia that some Australians tell us makes them Asian. Regardless, it took my Austro-Asian colleague Glenn Reeves to point out that there is a real Ironman and he is an Australian.

But first, Australia has a long and deep involvement in the robotic history of superheros. I originally learned about this from my brushes with the Ultraman. Ultraman was born in Japan, but at some point was relocated to Australia for the making of his recent films. Glenn has informed me that the Ultraman is not the only Japanese robotic Japanese superhero to make it all the way Down Under. A whole generation of Australians were weaned on the heroics of Gigantor who was originally spawned in Japan. You might enjoy this clip from the original series in which Gigantor slaughters an evil whale who is sinking ships.

Ironman is the robotic superhero that I wrote about in this review, and it is no surprise with their long history of robots as superheros we find that the real Ironman is in fact Australian. What struck Glenn with his nostalgic appeal was Tony Stark emerging from the cave into a hail of harmless gunfire from the pseudo-Taliban gang of Raza. While watching the the official Ironman trailer with Glenn, he commented that this scene was a direct rip-off from the life of Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly. Apparently, the Kelly Gang, while waiting for a train load of police to show up and arrest them, were involved in the construction of armoured suits forged from dismantled plow shears. Wikipedia tells us that…

At about dawn on Monday 28 June, Ned Kelly emerged from the inn in his suit of armour. He marched towards the police, firing his gun at them, while their bullets bounced off his armour.

See here for the whole account of the gun fight.

Wikipedia, the source of all things true, tells us about the development of the Marvel comic concept of Ironman.

Iron Man’s premiere was a collaboration among editor and story-plotter Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, story-artist Don Heck, and Jack Kirby. In 1963, Lee had been toying with the idea of a businessman superhero.[1] He set out to make the new character a rich, glamorous ladies’ man, but one with a secret that would plague and torment him as well.[2] Lee based this playboy’s personality on Howard Hughes,[3][4] While Lee intended to write the story himself, he eventually handed the premier issue over to Lieber, who fleshed out the story.[2] The art, meanwhile, was split between Kirby and Heck. “He designed the costume”, Heck said of Kirby, “because he was doing the cover. The covers were always done first. But I created the look of the characters, like Tony Stark and his secretary Pepper Potts“.[3] explaining, “Howard Hughes was one of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase”.

So Ironman is based on Howard Hughes, we are told. But elements of the movie have been lifted from a wide range of imagery. For example, on an HBO special that discussed the making of Ironman, special effects technicians talked about the way in which imagery for the automated dressing of Tony Stark in the Ironman armour is based on the concept of samurai being assisted while donning their armour. I can’t escape the impression that Tony Stark’s fight as he left the cave is based on the Kelly Gang’s gunfight at the Glenrowan Inn. However this comparison has escaped almost everyone except my Australian compatriot. Even reviews like this one, that acknowledge the similarity with Kelly, stop short of suggesting that the the movie is copied from there.

Well, I’m not going to stop there. Edward Kelly is the real Ironman, and I am certain the ideas used in the movie come from his historical gunfight.

What I Think about Four Brothers

In my review of the Dark Knight, I pointed out how a film must be believable. This doesn’t mean that every aspect must happen as it would in the actual, but it must take the audience seriously. The film must be present the story in a manner consistent with the way it could happen. Dark Knight failed this test, as does Four Brothers.

Four Brothers is a story about the revenge of four adopted brothers following the murder of their mother. Along the way, they discover the corrupt underworld of Detroit city politics. Four Brothers stars Mark Wahlberg, who is one of Hollywood’s most prolific figures. Wahlberg has acted in, directed, or produced some of the biggest films, included the Departed, Three Kings, and the Substitute. Wahlberg is listed as the executive producer of Entourage, which is one of the few TV shows that I watch. Wikipedia, the source of all things true, states that Wahlberg has a criminal record including the use of hard drugs and that he has committed seriously violent crimes against African and Asian Americans.

The Detroit described by Four Brothers is nothing like any city that you or I have been to. Guns, guns, guns, guns are everywhere. There are more guns in Wahlberg Detroit than in a spaghetti western. At one point, Wahlberg walks into a high school basketball game waving a handgun demanding someone tell him who shot his mother. And while gangsters have plenty time to send around their death squad to handle Wahlberg and his brothers, the police are nowhere is sight.

But that’s not the problem. Who cares if the city is called Detroit? It could just as easily be Tombstone or Gotham City. It doesn’t even have to be in the United States except to explain why everyone speaks English. It’s just a setting where the director can produce as much violence as he or she thinks is necessary to tell the story. The problem with Four Brothers is much deeper in the details.

Like Dark Knight, the story may be interesting, the script well-written, and the acting captivating, but there’s something still in the film that tells us the directors are treating us like fools. Following the basketball game I mentioned above, Wahlberg and his brothers discover they need to interrogate another hoodlum. In the process of capturing him, Wahlberg is bitted by 2 rottweilers. Rather than heading to the hospital to see if the leg could be saved, Wahlberg jumps up, runs down the villain and tortures him into telling him whom next he has to beat senseless.

But why even have him bitten by a dog? There are a hundred different ways the scene could have been filmed. I know that Bobby Mercer (Wahlberg) is supposed to be tough but he’s also supposed to be a human being and not some sort of superhero. In having him bitten by a dog and walk away, the director, John Singleton, who wrote and directed Boyz n the Hood, is asking us to ignore this and pretend it’s just part of the fun, like the gun waving and shooting in the streets of Detroit. But it’s not. The city has to have a name, but dogs don’t have to bit Bobby Mercer.

In doing this the film isn’t ruined, but it is that little bit less fun than it could be. Four Brothers has some interesting ideas that it conveys, but like so much of what comes out of Hollywood, it refuses to take the audience seriously and continues in the tradition of telling ridiculous stories.

Gattaca versus The Incredibles

Gattaca is the story of a genetically regular human whose dream is to travel into space. In the future, positions like this have been reserved for a genetically superior brand of humans, and as such, it is impossible for him to achieve this goal. Vincent Freeman, who is played by Ethan Hawke, undergoes enormous difficulty to take over the identity of Jerome, played by Jude Law, one of the genetically superior who has been crippled in a suicide attempt. The Incredibles, on the other hand, a cartoon about a family of superheros, glorifies the principles of exclusion.

Critics greeted both films positively. Rotten Tomatoes gave Gattaca 82%, while the Incredibles received a 97%. But the message of these accolades, we are told is quite different. Critics pan the unfolding of Gattaca’s plot. Void as it is of violence, robots, and spaceships, the film still manages convey a science fiction story through imagery and dialog rather than gadgets and special effects. But the most significant aspect of the film is its moral message. The RT synopsis of Gattaca states that it is, “Intelligent and scientifically provocative, Gattaca is an absorbing sci-fi drama that poses important interesting ethical questions about the nature of science.” Film Freak Central tells us that, “…it ultimately wants nothing more than to argue there’s something in the human equation that can’t be predicted by science.” So it seems that Gattaca is a story of how human will can ultimately triumph over the bureaucratic exploitation of human characteristics; no matter how carefully we engineer humans, we are still people who have desires and make choices that override our genetic destiny.

The Incredibles, we are told, is not a moral story. It is a, “a family-oriented superhero adventure with the brilliant animation…” Reviews focus overwhelmingly on the quality of the animation, calling it “stunning“, “terrific“, a triumph of design“, literally enough to make one speechlesseverything that an animated film should be“. No one seems to feel the moral message of the film is worth mentioning. Perhaps they didn’t even notice it. But in contrast to Gattaca, the message is start and bleak.

While Vincent and Jude Law battle genetic discrimination, the Incredibles have solved all this. But there is no winning when it comes to the judgment of an Incredible. Buddy Pine was the first to find this out. Just as resolute as Vincent to overcome the limitations of his birth, Buddy is determined to become an Incredible – even adopting the name Incrediboy. Brushed aside by the Incredibles who seemingly could find no use for his obvious brilliance, Buddy is driven to reinvent himself as the evil Syndrome. While Buddy spends the rest of his life inventing devices that would give anyone the same abilities as a superhero, he would fail miserably in his drive for acceptance as an Incredible. It would seem that artificial powers are not good enough to make one an Incredible. For those not born with superpowers, no acquired ability, enthusiasm, or potential would ever be able to make up for this.

Gattaca tells us that genetic differences are not enough to overcome the human will. This is true even when these differences have clear consequences both for the person in question and for others traveling in space with them. And despite Vincent’s brave words when his charade appears to be up, that he was, “…as good as any and better than most”, there were many clues to his charade shown through lack of performance. The Incredibles tell us the same thing. The difference is, they’re the good guys when they do it.

What I Think about Brokeback Mountain

A couple of years ago, my friend Kerim Friedman wrote a post on his blog about the movie Brokeback Mountain. Kerim had questions about the statement the movie was trying to make. I replied that despite the movie’s overt content addressing homosexuality, I believe it also made a very powerful class statement. Rereading the comment, I really liked what it had to say about the movie, so I have reformatted it to fit here.

I do feel that Brokeback Mountain was genuinely a class statement or at least that a genuine class statement is contained in the film. I grew up in a small logging town, and have met real cowboys and rodeo athletes. I thought the portrayal of this personality type was dead on: the material bleakness of rural life, the way that characters talked to each other, the kinds of things they boasted about, all brought back childhood memories. Before I had seen the movie, I was skeptical it would have much to say to me. But one of my childhood friends who now works in Tokyo as a corporate recruiter described the movie’s message as, “Imagine the troubles two gay loggers would have to struggle with discovering their love for each other.”

It is a kind of urban pride to assume everyone wants and can live life in ‘The Big City’. But making that kind of move just isn’t possible for everyone who grew up in the kind of lives portrayed by Brokeback Mountain. It may be true, as John Scagliotti writes in Counterpunch, that the, “thousands of Western gay boys “that took up urban life in the 1970’s and 80’s” included some cowboys. I’m certain this is true. But I am just as sure that if you grew up to be a cowboy in a place like Merritt, British Columbia (home of the important Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo), you’d better not talk about homosexuality unless you’ve got something negative to say. It may be that homosexuality is one of the few remaining aspects of life that makes it possible to talk clearly about this kind of life.

One final point. Am I the only one who finds it strange that our ‘cowboy’ anti-heroes are shepherds? I have never met a cowboy shepherd, although the film crystallized the fact that they must exist. I have never spoken to a cowboy about this, but my guess is this is low class ranch work. It could very well be that the introduction of factory beef farming has changed the reality of ranch work. Does anyone know anything about this?