Real cynical

In a Time Out New Yorksidebar interview with Thom Andersen, the director (or cine-essayist, as Time Out refers to him) of a recent documentary about LA as film set, he makes a remark which struck me as extremely apt. He’s condemning the film LA Confidential for “preaching a kind of political defeatism, which is misleading and condescending, because the people who preach it aren’t always politically disengaged. They’re preaching political disengagement to other people, which produces disenfranchisement.”

How true is that? Films routinely portray political committment with cynicism in an attempt to convey “realism” that way. Realism, in this case, means hopeless and intractable by definition. It’s not “realistic” that anything can be changed, that corruption can be controlled, contained, or at least fought. Movies so often portray sunny wish fulfillments that perhaps such dour cynicism is necessary to cue viewers that we’re supposed to consider ourselves within the realm of the real. But it is condescending to peddle this discouraging view of what is actual and possible.

Also, such films discourage viewers from political activism because such activity would take them away from theatres — theatres do good business when people can’t find any hopefulness or meaning in their real lives, which investment in political causes might give them. Instead these movies reassure you that you shouldn’t bother, that it’s all a racket, and you should consider yourself wiser, the “realist,” for already having learned this from films, and for spending your time watching fictional characters live and confront problems rather than doing so yourself.

Popular films necessarily try to pich themselves beyond politics, to alienate no potential portion of their audience, but the cumulative effect of consuming all this post-political media is to absorb their apolitical pessimism as your own political position, to imagine it necessary that you yourself be beyond politics, or see through all politics as shallow lying, too, so perhaps you won’t alienate any potential friends, or that you can claim some of the inherent glamor of movies for yourself by adopting their point of view on the world. This is a shame, because being beyond politics is simply disenfranchising yourself voluntarily, which is a de facto vote for everything you might stand against.

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