Why have our movies become so dark, showing a government so evil?

Summary: The evolution of America has accelerated as we slide down the long-feared slippery slope leading to the end of the Second Republic (founded on the Constitution). Each event appears clear in the news, but the cumulative effect — the rise of a New America — is too large for us to see. For perspective let’s look at our heroes in print and on screen. Their foes display our fears; their relationship to the government reflects our relationship to it. We might pretend not to see what’s happening, but our mythical heroes see the darkness falling on us — and have changed accordingly in ways that reflect our weakness. When we decide to become strong again, we’ll find new myths (or reclaim the old ones).  {First of two posts today}

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. … Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s “The Arabian Nights”

Superman in handcuffs
“Man of Steel” (2013)

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Our fictional heroes reflect our dreams of individual empowerment, along a gamut from James Bond to Superman. Less often remarked, some of our myths show our awareness that only through collective action do we have strength. In the real world unions, associations, and governments created the middle class and brought full civil rights to women and minorities. Many of our stories feature heroic organizations — such as the British Secret Service, Triplanetary, U.N.C.L.E, GI Joe, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Heroic individuals and organizations protected us against criminals and foreign powers.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E

No longer. The war on terror has revealed that our government might have become our greatest foe. On TV we see stories with ample precedents in history, but unimaginable to most Americans. President Obama personally selects America citizens for assassination, without formal charges or trial. The NSA taps our phones and monitors our emails. Police patrol our streets with military equipment (just like Fallujah), eager to use force (e.g., SWAT teams killing when delivering summonses).

Fiction often mirrors our fears and our view of the world. As do our films today. Soldiers take Superman away in handcuffs. SHIELD launches helicarriers equipped for surveillance and assassination. Government agents attack Captain America. Action adventures routinely feature government officials as the bad guys. The next sequence of Marvel films feature the Civil War series, in which the government regulates — forcibly enlists — mutants in its service.

The GI Joe team

In this world trust becomes rare. Heroes in TV and films are often told to “trust nobody” (e.g., in “The X-Files” TV show, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, and “Captain America: Winter Soldier”). Sometimes the moral of the story is the even more extreme “trust nothing”, with the usual exceptions of love — or friends and family. It’s excellent advice for peons. Taken seriously this prevents people from working together through existing organizations, which shatters even the strongest people into powerless shards. We become individuals and families helpless before the mega-corporations and government agencies that run our world, and helpless before the 1% that own it.

Movies and TV are our myths. Today they give us nothing to inspire people to work for social and political reform.

The missing link

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Secret Intelligence Service
Paging Mr. Bond, Mr. James Bond.

Dedication matters more than technology, the willingness to pursue rational goals at great cost over many years. Intelligence and passion matter. But none of this accomplishes much without organizations, which gives us planning, leaders and followers, accumulating individuals into something greater.

Organizations cannot function without a shared vision of the possible. For that we rely on our myths, rooted in our past. Napoleon sought to imitate Alexander the Great. The Founders look to build a better Roman Republic. Israel looks to ancient Israel. Myths create our vision of what’s possible for reform.

This creates a problem for Americans, so ignorant of our past (and despising much of what little we know about those sexist racist dead folks). When our myths turn dark and depressing, what remains to inspire us? We can dream of being Wonder Woman or Superman, but this provides no models or ideals to spark action. I wonder about the future of the millennials.

What next?

A breath of our inspiration
Is the life of each generation;
A wondrous thing of our dreaming
Unearthly, impossible seeming —
The soldier, the king, and the peasant
Are working together in one,
Till our dream shall become their present,
And their work in the world be done.

— Arthur O’Shaughnessy, “Music and Moonlight” (1874)

I suspect we turn to fantasy about heroic individuals striking down the evil government — Captain America: Winter Soldier is a typical example — as a stage in our surrender. It’s an adaptation to defeat, since we choose not to accept the burden of self-government and the endless struggles that requires. It’s an old story. The reaction of the Roman people to the Republic’s fall was resignation, as seen in the popular philosophies of the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity.

We need no new myths. The old ones remain potent; when we wish to act we will find them as inspiring as they were for our forefathers. Nothing can happen until we reach that point. So the strategic goal of reformers must not be specific policy changes, but nourishing the small spark of independence within our souls. Then much becomes possible.

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Government agents as bad guys
Who are the bad guys here? From “Captain America: Winter Soldier”

For More Information

See all posts about…

  1. Art, myth, and literature
  2. Books and films

Posts about heroes:

  1. A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
  2. Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009 – The Law of Equivalent Exchange
  3. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 12 November 2010
  4. Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
  5. We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
  6. Our choice of heroes reveals much about America, 2 June 2013
  7. Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for, 30 June 2013
  8. Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?, 28 October 2013

Is this our future?

“Silent Running” by Mike and the Mechanics (1985)

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18 thoughts on “Why have our movies become so dark, showing a government so evil?

  1. What darkness in America?

    The Charmed Life of a CIA Torturer: How Fate Diverged for Matthew Zirbel, aka CIA Officer 1, and Gul Rahman“, Ken silverstein, The Intercept, 15 December 2014 — It’s a must-read to understand the New America growing on the ruins of the America-that-once-was.

    Matthew Zirbel’s home in Great Falls, Virginia is filled with oriental carpets, perhaps collected from his time spent working in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The million dollar home has “LOTS of “WOW!” You will “Oooh & Ahhh”, says this recent description on Zillow.

    This isn’t the first time Zirbel’s surroundings have wowed someone. Over a decade ago, Zirbel, then a junior CIA officer, was in charge of the Salt Pit, a “black site” in Afghanistan referred to in the recent Senate torture report as “Cobalt,” where detainees were routinely brutalized and which one visitor described as a “dungeon.” A delegation from the Federal Bureau of Prisons was “WOW’ed” by the Salt Pit’s sensory deprivation techniques, and a CIA interrogator said that prisoners there “literally looked like [dogs] that had been kenneled,” according to the report.

    In fact, one of the most horrifying stories – and there are many – in the Senate report on torture takes place in the Salt Pit, where Gul Rahman was murdered by the U.S. government in November 2002. …

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  2. “Organizations cannot function without a shared vision of the possible.”

    Which perversely also means that “mega-corporations and government agencies” cannot function properly either and will also degrade into paralysis.

    After all, even accepting that the State Department, the various branches of the military, and the plethora of spy organizations are following actual objectives rather different than those publicly advertised, they all seem to be stupendously inefficient and ineffective even at those tasks. And there are enough examples of firms run into the ground by a “every man fighting for himself” mentality (Sears being a recent one).

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    1. guest,

      “they all seem to be stupendously inefficient and ineffective even at those tasks”

      Perhaps so, but I disagree. These organizations appear to seek more power, in various dimensions. They’re enormously efficient at growing, at protecting themselves from domestic foes, and serving the the 1%.

      Your critique is similar to those saying our military is ineffective because it keeps losing wars. True, but that’s not it’s purpose — and is of little relevance to its purpose. The WOT has vastly increased its funding, geographic reach, and range of missions. It’s a great success!

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  3. I have an idea, and I work in a creative business, so I think about these things. It’s the surveillance. And maybe people, if you survey them, they’ll think other issues are more important, economy, environment, terrorism, or whatever. But here’s the deal about surveilance — it’s that sense of being watched. And deep down in our psyche, we don’t like being watched. It’s millions of years of evolution, of being watched by large cats or snakes, we fear this. You get watched, then you get eaten. We may not even realize this consciously, because it’s a deep down instinctive thing. As long as we are being watched, we will feel fear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cathryn,

      I agree! Just the knowledge of surveillance affects how we behave, what we say. As Orwell said in 1984:

      There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

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    2. You are definitely on to something. I can tell you that from first hand experience. Although, I no longer fear them much, as my overt surveillance herd’s worst fear is to be found out. We do try to put ourselves in the role of audience members watching an endlessly repetitive movie w/variations on a theme … fear and intimidation.

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  4. Shadowy organizations so shadowy that they even defy spelling conventions….

    — such as the British Secret Service, Triplanetary, U.N.C.L.E, GI Joe, and S.H.E.I.L.D. Heroic individuals and organizations protected us against criminals and foreign powers.

    S.H.E.I.L.D…..sounds like a good counter to the guys over at S.H.I.E.L.D.!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “So the strategic goal of reformers must not be specific policy changes but nourishing the small spark of independence within our souls”

    You have mentioned this point a number times in your recent posts and I think it is profoundly important.

    Judge Learned Hand agreed when he stated “liberty lies in the hearts of men and women, when it dies there, no constitution, no law. no court can save it

    James Madison also seemed to be sensitive to this issue when he stated; “I go on this great republican principle, that people will have some virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and intelligence. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.”

    Such nourishing seems to partially involve tactical decisions which diminish accumulated fear.

    Once that inside barrier of fear is broken “new” people may emerge.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “President Obama personally selects America citizens for assassination, without formal charges or trial. The NSA taps our phones and monitors our emails. Police patrol our streets with military equipment (just like Fallujah), eager to use force.”

    I think a big part of the reason why many Americans (apparently) don’t care about these things is because they think only “bad guys” are targeted. They assume our military only target dangerous scary Muslims, and that our police only target dangerous scary black men, with the occasional enemy sympathizer caught in the crossfire.

    Things might change if word got out that an ordinary down-the-street Joe-The-Plumber type had been targeted. If people see the government going after a white guy, with no Arab or Middle-East connections, with no criminal record or radical politics, and with nothing to make him any more of a “bad guy” than your average Joe-The-Plumber voter, then heads might start to turn.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see much happening until then.

    I’m reminded of a quote by Martin Niemoller.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe this is a reference to the famous quote about “they came for the communists, the Jews, etc, but I did not protest because I was not a communist, a Jew, etc, when they came for me nobody was there to take my defense”.

      There is one big problem with the statement that “they think only “bad guys” are targeted”: when the State acts arbitrarily, as the US government is increasingly doing, _anybody_ can become a “bad guy” for mysterious and baffling reasons.

      Thus, many upright soviet citizens with an impeccable bolshevik pedigree ended up in the gulag — just because the NKVD had to fill a quota of traitors. Many innocent Afghans ended up in the various US hell-holes (from Bagram through Diego Garcia to Guantanamo), because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. During the worst period of Central American dictatorships, many people ended up abducted, tortured and executed just because government-linked paramilitaries did not bother checking the identity of their targets. And the number of US citizens (toddlers, well-known politicians, high-ranking military officers, etc) ending up in the nightmare of no-fly databases and terrorist watch-lists for unknown (but unavoidably egregious) reasons would fill books.

      In fact, people living under dictatorial regimes pretty quickly learn that it is not a question of being amongst the good or bad guys because of what they say and do, or do not say and not do, but that it is a matter of luck. So they hunker down and hope not to be taken notice of. Detecting the first signs of such an attitude among the US population will be a significant phase.

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  7. RE: Dessenter,
    That’s an interesting comment. Can you tell us more?

    Everyday occurrences occurring at frequency rates so high that they cannot by happening by coincidence, i.e., cars w/one headlight so severely out of alignment it shines across lanes into oncoming traffic (your windshield); cars making right hand turns with headlights that rake across your windshield just as you pass the side street they happen to be pulling out of; observing Dodge 300’s 10+ times a day (sometimes one way), for months, during a 6 mile drive to and from work; arc white reflections, in your eyes, from passing cars side view mirrors; vehicles that just can’t wait to make that left hand turn are already across one lane as you pass by in the curb lane; hell, city buses w/one wildly aimed headlight into your windshield; oncoming traffic flashing their headlights, while you’ve purposely aimed yours lower years ago; the guy pulls out of a side street, hits you, and the cop writes the wrong citation number on his ticket, he contests, you appear and he walks (cute, huh?).

    Never noticed any of this? You know like your life on the road, in your car changed like someone turned on a light bulb 10+ years ago? Your wife never noticed? Mine can corroborate. If you never noticed, I can safely say it’s not (overt surveillance) targeting you. Believe me if it was you’d know it. That’s the point, to tell you you’re being watched. I understand the Klan was/is big on this type of intimidation. Bet the Feds are too; who would have this impunity and funding to last 10+ years.

    The key: everyday occurrences occurring at frequency rates so high and with a regularity that cannot be ignored leading one to believe the occurrences cannot be coincidence (for 10+ years).

    In addition, my Vietnamese wife and I moved into a white island/outpost community. When we told our councilman we thought we might be being followed; your councilman responded, “former FBI agents watch over the village”. No, the FBI is not interested in digital stills or video contained in a PowerPoint CD presentation. The local PD backed away like the CD was radioactive. Spoke critically about the FBI, for the first time in my car one night and early the next morning the local PD kicked in my fence gate looking for a bad guy with an” AK”. My 2 dogs were quite all night. You know, they never replaced that gate latch, and they said they would. (I’ve made it a habit to speak critically of them ever since.)

    Did I forget to mention the garrote hung in a tree on our front lawn that the local PD (7 doors away) attributed to arriving by “high winds”. Incidentally, according to the state pedophile tracking website we have 405 of them living in a 5 mile radius of us. I’m not sure, but I think there’s something going on her.

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  8. I agree with this well written and insiteful article. Fact is that America has been going downward into a pit of corruption in DC. 6 Days ago in Annapolis many well intentioned protestors marched to the State house to demand that new policies be put in place to reduce police corruption in the wake of Freedie Grays death. So many hollywood films depict a very dark harrowing and cold world for our kids too see, other adults, teens. It sends a bad message that hollywood is all to quick to embrace.

    Hollywood needs to change its tune and to start to make more responsible movies that are intelligent, less filthy, and less perverted. Its not good for your kids. Not good for you future. Because when we too many dark messages in the media, movies, sports heros gone bad, the Catholic church, our country begins to turn against one another.

    When will Americans stop embracing the forces of evil? For some times now American females embraced forces of evil in the US. They sleep around like hookers at a young age, then later commit heavey crimes including threats to kill, harassment,you name it. They don’t have a conscience because the US society doesn’t promote it. In restaurants, on violent tv shows, in open marriages, adultry, child abuse. Our society has become too evil. Is no pro good. But is in service of something much more wicked. Absolute evil.

    The plain of many Americans is to pretend to be altruistic. But thats a scam. Many of the most utopian aspects of the us are filled with evil, and wickedness that will literally get you killed. I have been the victem of15 dozen violent crimes in the last 10 years in Maryland. Believe me, Maryland is more violent than New York City. It is the 9th most violent place in the US. 41st most violent place on earth, right in front of Hondurus.

    At my old bank, there is armed guard carrying a fully automatic submachine gun. There is a full clip carring 100+ bullets. That is a common sight in New Mexico where you can carry a submachine gun to class at the Univerisity of New Mexico. As you might be agreeing. Most are going to pretend to do good, But they are in the service of Lucifer, the devil.

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