This was supposed to be a review of Batman vs Superman


I recently read an interesting book by Eric Bennett titled “Workshop of Empire” in which he details the connection between the CIA’s Council for Cultural Freedom (CCF) and the Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Peter Engel, the program’s second director spent years appealing to wealthy donors and the CIA to help him create a program to counter the Soviet program which brought intellectuals from the developing world to study in Moscow. Engel was successful in that he eventually secured funding from CCF, through an alumnus who was working a a screenwriter in Hollywood.

The US government gives the film industry 2 billion dollars a year in cash and access to resources, equipment and personnel. I guarantee that funding doesn’t go to projects that are critical of the US or even portrays US policy through a critical lens. For that reason alone we should view Hollywood as a giant extension of a larger US propaganda network. One should ask oneself what any form of media is expecting them to believe. You could attribute it to the director’s particular aesthetic, but even that likely has it’s roots in things the general public is conditioned to believe. There are a lot of films that only want you to buy into their premise, and perhaps absorb underlying themes along the way. But those movies wouldn’t be from the US.

When I watched “Man of Steel” I had difficult time with the amount of mindless destruction that occurred during the Zod/Superman fight scene. That scene went on for four minutes and the amount of destruction that took place within those four minutes was excessive. Zod even prefaces the fight by saying “Every action I take, no mater how violent, no matter how cruel, is for the greater good of my people.” It wasn’t just lazy foreshadowing, the line was drawing a parallel between the film and what the film industry wants you to believe about US imperial aggression around the world. But Superman is what the USA wants you to believe it is and Zod is actually what it is.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, the opening sequence takes place in South Africa, during which Iron Man via the Hulkbuster, get’s into a fistacuffs with the Hulk. During this little dust up they manage to destroy several buildings and cause tons of damage to the city. A chase scene toward the end of the film takes place in Seoul, South Korea. And the final fight scene takes place in a poor fictional country called Segovia. Slight digression; it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the one country that gets destroyed is fictional. Nor should it go unnoticed that it’s poor and Eastern European coded.

The end fight in “Man of Steel” was only a few seconds longer than the fight between Hulkbuster and the Hulk, but one drew outrage and the other drew applause. The only difference being one took place in an American city and the other took place in and African one.

More “realistic” examples of this can be found in action films. The most recentĀ  that comes to mind is the opening scene of “Skyfall”. Bond and Moneypenny chase a terrorist through the streets of Istanbul endangering unsuspecting pedestrians, smashing into fruit and nut carts, and stealing vehicles as well as a fair. A similar opening scene happened in Casino Royale. Bond almost runs over a construction crew then proceeds to destroy the construction site to capture one person. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the 007 franchise is among those that is directly funded by the DoD.

In almost every case it’s either Black and Brown folks having their countries destroyed, or it’s everyday people having their homes, offices, jobs destroyed. The larger message is that its ok to create big messes to serve a larger purpose, and that in the long run the people, property, and livelihoods, especially those of Black, Brown, and poor, were sacrificed served a greater good. It’s intended to push, the unqualified belief that the cause being pursued is just despite the destruction.

Scenes like this in films have become so common you have to ask yourself what message is being conveyed. The sepia filters on any scene set in the global south is intended to paint those regions as arid and unforgiving. It makes the scenes of rampant destruction more palatable if you can view the country as inhospitable. American audiences make the connection between what they see on screen and the abstraction taking place in a distant land and for the most part they are ok with it.

Directors are showing mass destruction of cities and neighborhoods in a way that is as casually racist as telling a racist joke. Like many other forms of racism, people participate in it because they can. And if they can’t be racist in real life then they will use art to construct virtual worlds to be so. It never occurs to them that doing so dehumanizes the global south, and gives license to ever more racist, and buys complicity from the average citizen in American wars of extraction and exploitation. It also creates fertile ground for people to fetishize the types of violence they wish they could commit against Black and Brown folks.

Naturally, some will say (we all know who) it’s just a film. But representation matters. If a single Black or Brown person being tokenized or used as a prop in a film is worth being critical, then so is portraying the cities, towns, and communities we inhabit and build being destroyed. Just like any other form of racism, an imbalance exists between what you saw in Man of Steel and what you saw in Age of Ultron. I saw two white guys in a world in which they are already endowed with an overabundance over power and privilege, gifted with even MORE power and privilege, using that power to casually destroy people’s lives. Even more strange is the people creating the destruction are supposed to be the heroes.

In his book, Bennett goes on to talk about Janet Burroway, and Wallace Stegner and their ideas about ideas in fiction. They worked very hard to tell up and coming writers that stories were about “the harpoon and the dingy” not the metaphor represented in the giant white whale. Perhaps in doing this they have recruited generations of unwitting writers to their cause. Because Hollywood absolutely writes stories about ideas. Embedded in that little allegory about harpoons and dingys is the idea that Black and Brown lives matter less; that poor people’s lives matter less. And that military and police destruction of those lives in service to imperialist agendas is OK.

We can’t say that the CIA is in the writers room with directors, but parties to a conspiracy don’t need to be aware of each other in order for it to be a conspiracy. Given that several screenwriters are graduates of Iowa MFA, would it surprise anyone?

Ultimately superhero films and action films represent what the US empire wants you to believe about them, and about the position of the global south in that image. In the larger sense that belief is that they have to commit violence and destruction in order to head off a larger evil. And in the smaller sense they want us all to believe that we are all, and especially people of color, disposable in the pursuit of the greater good. The truth is, that these images are designed to embed a sense of inferiority in people of color in furtherance of the larger white supremacist agenda. And the in the smaller sense we are all disposable pieces in a war of exploitation.




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