Thursday, June 05, 2014

one of us

The Wolf of Wall St. / Orange is the New Black

Comparisons of criminality aside...

Viewing these references to Tod Brownings Freaks (1932)—especially within the context of American culture's 15+ year fixation on the antihero (of which Wolf of Wall St. and Orange is the New Black are a part)—I couldn't help but hear the chant as a kind of siren song. We're all criminalsonly dupes still take things like honesty, morality and integrity seriously. It's not so much that we're being prompted to join in on the immoral behavior ourselves (other than vicariously), but that the writers are feeding a desire
in us and in themselvesto sympathize (in a dramaturgical sense) with those who commit wrongdoing—especially those in positions of power. Being in a system that seemingly provides no alternatives, we're desperate to find ways to "understand" the powerful when they engage in immoral or criminal politics because, well, we're stuck with them. And this gives us an excuse not to judge them too harshly, which allows us to remain content in our apathy. It's all just a con anyway, right? Instead of trying to hold people accountable—which entails giving ourselves a headache by trying to stay informed in an increasingly swamped and distracting landscape—we can secretly admire their cunning from the sidelines (especially if we voted for them, or if they're played by Jon Hamm, Steve Buscemi, Kevin Spacey or Bryan Cranston). When someone in a position of power does something illegal or immoral, rather than adopting a critical position we can choose to use our "understanding" to make excuses on their behalf—his heart was in the right place, her motives were probably good, he didn't have much of a choice, they were simply trying to maximize profits for their shareholders, he's only a madman because he was raised in a whorehouse and had traumatic wartime experiences, etc. This relationship to the world and the attitudes it fosters come full circle in a time when most of us feel so powerless that we no longer see ourselves as active citizens who can affect change but as spectators commenting on that which has already been written. No longer is the story about a few human souls who happen to be disguised as "freaks" and a few freakish souls who happen to be disguised as human beings, as Browning's film would have it. It's now a story about a world where all human beings are merely freaks in disguise. In other words, why bother? One is as good as the next. We accept them, one of us!


Celebritized Contrition is the New Insufferable.

Orange is the New Black: a Netflix original series wherein all the current social positions of liberals are given narrative shape.

If people could learn to recognize their white privilege and let go of their name brand shampoos, they could learn to love
and feel solidarity withthe less fortunate. And by less fortunate I mean various minorities: Puerto Ricans, immigrants, blacks, lesbians, the transgendered... But not poor white evangelicals, of course. They're laughing stocks. Dupes. Forever unrelatable. (And at war with us!)


Tyler said...

These are also examples of writers using characters as mouthpieces, so to speak, especially in WOLF. It doesn't fit that a group of Wall St. con-artists in the 80s would all be familiar with Browning's film. (I'd be shocked if belfort's or kerman's book made any such reference.)

One of my lines is a reworking of something Nabokov said in his lecture on THE METAMORPHOSIS: "Gregor is a human being in an insect's disguise; his family are insects disguised as people."

"It's not so much that we're being prompted to join in on the immoral behavior ourselves..." This is certainly arguable.

Tyler said...

this post has been updated somewhat -- clarified, hopefully -- since first posting.

and if anyone is interested: i added another example to Nothing New or: What's the World Coming To!? (near the middle)