Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, December 23, 2005

Why is Modern Liberalism So Cowardly and Stupid?


        The title question was raised by James Pinkerton's Newsday column on the King Kong remake.

  • Pinkerton doesn't have the balls to say what he thinks.  Instead, he puts it in the mouths of others.

  • A lot of his argument depends on history — history he gets ridiculously wrong.

  • Pinkerton also either doesn't understand how the google search engine works, or tries to deceive his readers about it.

  • And he doesn't even have the courage of his convictions, to say 'stay away from this racist movie.'

  • Here's another interpretation — it's about Cooper's experiences in WWII, and the need for military preparedness.  It actually has more going for it than Pinkerton's thesis.  In other words, it's only 95% horse manure.

        Why do people write stuff this dumb?  And why can't Pinkerton come up with a decent argument?  He's smarter than this.

        Special note: Thanks to my buddy Cal D. for spotting two typos on the page ('right' for 'write,' 'Darrell' for 'Darrow,') since fixed.

At Length:

        A few days ago, December 15th to be exact, James Pinkerton of Newsday had a column on the new King Kong movie.  It was reprinted by local substitute for a newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  The column is liberal (in the political sense), cowardly, and stupid.  It's interesting, in a depressing sort of way, that those three characteristics show up together so often nowadays.

        Pinkerton starts off:
        Is "King Kong" racist?

        Lots of people say it is.

        Well la-di-da.  Lots of people say all kinds of things Pinkerton disagrees with, like: 'Homosexuality is evil,' 'Abortion should be outlawed,' and 'The Holocaust never happened.'  This is just cowardice on Pinkerton's part — pretend to avoid taking a stand.

        He goes on:
        And, if it is, why does the film keep getting remade?  What does it say about us if the new "Kong" is a huge hit?

        Of course, an equally good question is, 'What does it say about James Pinkerton, and "Lots of people," if King Kong isn't racist?'  Wanna guess how much consideration that question will bet in this column?  That's right, zero.

        Any movie that features white people sailing off to the Third World to capture a giant ape and carry it back to the West for exploitation is going to be seen as a metaphor for colonialism and racism.  That was true for the original in 1933 and for the two remakes: the campy one in 1976, and the latest, directed by Peter Jackson.  (In addition, a "Kong" wannabe, "Mighty Joe Young," has been made twice.)

        Well, the pictures are going to be seen that way by you, Pinkerton.  You could make a case that the two remakes and both versions of Mighty Joe Young are anti-colonialist, along with the unmentioned.  But that's putting too much weight on these movies.  What they really are, is entertainments.

        Movie reviewer David Edelstein, writing in Slate.com, notes the "implicit racism of 'King Kong' - the implication that Kong stands for the black man brought in chains from a dark island (full of murderous primitive pagans) and with a penchant for skinny white blondes."  Indeed, a Google search using the words "King Kong racism" yielded 490,000 hits.

        Comparing the new film with the original, The Washington Post's Stephen Hunter observed, "It remains a parable of exploitation, cultural self-importance, the arrogance of the West, all issues that were obvious in the original but unexamined; they remain unexamined here, if more vivid."

        Pinkerton, Edelstein, and Hunter all assume that what their interpretation must be what dwelt in the minds of the movie makers.  Horse balls.  Prove that you can read minds from a distance guys.  And demonstrate that you aren't using the film as the equivalent of a Rohrsach blot, projecting your own mind onto that which is inherently meaningless.

        And by the way, a lot of us know how Google works.  Put those words into the search field, and it brings up accusations King Kong is racist, statements that it isn't racist, comparisons of King Kong with rap videos.  As you go further in you'll find references to Kings this, that, and the other who aren't the fictional gorilla, references to the city of Hong Kong, references to racism real and imagined, and pages that don't contain the word King, Kong, or racism anywhere on them, but which showed up because one or more of those terms was on other pages, and the other pages with "King," "Kong" and "racism" linked to the one that google returns as a hit.

        By the way, I entered those search terms a moment ago, and got 615,000 hits, rather than 490,000 hits Pinkerton mentioned.  The extra 125,000 hits, where did they come from?  Well, add -Pinkerton to the search terms, and it knocks off 13,000, which gives you some idea of how many results one item can cause, as it spreads around the web.  A search on King Kong racism -pinkerton -newsday brings the number down to 559,000.  And if we quit fooling around, and search "King Kong" racism -pinkerton -newsday -Edelstein -Post -Hunter
-Hong -China, we get down to 45,400 hits.  In other words, Jim Pinkerton, David Edelstein, and Stephen Hunter generated almost 93% of the hits with their '"King Kong" is racist' pieces.  And be sure not to miss this page either.

        And by more vivid, Hunter might be referring to the natives of mythical Skull Island, where Kong is discovered.  Director Jackson took people of Melanesian stock - the dark-skinned peoples who are indigenous to much of the South Pacific, including Jackson's own country of New Zealand - and made them up to look and act like monsters, more zombie-ish than human.  Indeed, one is moved to compare these human devils to the ogre-ish Orcs from Jackson's mega-Oscar "Lord of the Rings" films.  The bad guys are dark, hideous and undifferentiatedly evil.

        Well, I suppose King Kong, the various dinosaurs, and other strange creatures could have be discovered in upstate New York or maybe Romania, but approximately every single human being who saw the picture would promptly have screamed 'Wait a second, there's no way these creatures could live in New York and not have been discovered a long time ago.  I want my money back.'  To discover strange, unusual and LARGE creatures, the fictional discoverer must go someplace isolated from the rest of the world.  In 1912, Arthur Conan Doyle used the Amazon jungle for The Lost World, and Edgar Rice Burroughs employed the interior of Africa the year after, but by 1932, both were old, and explored enough that they weren't very believable anymore.  So Merriam C. Cooper used the South Pacific.  Guess what, Pinkerton?  The natives there ain't white.

        One might note that the original source material for both films dates from the same period: "Kong" in '33, J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" four years later.  Both works are ultimately meditations on the West and Western uniqueness.  Which is to say, what's the role for white Europe - and for its ethnic offshoot, North America - in a world that is mostly non-white?

        Wrong again, Pinkerton.  Tolkien started writing The Silmarillion around 1916, gradually spinning out the whole Middle Earth setting.  The sources are the lore and legends of northern Europe, Norse myths and the King Arthur tales, created at a time when most people had no idea there was such a thing as non-whites.

        As for King Kong, the new two-disc collector's edition of the original movie has a documentary on Merriam C. Cooper, the screenwritier and director of the original Kong.  Cooper had been fascinated by tales of adventure, exploring, and wild animal capture since he was a boy, especially the capture of gorillas, and he spent years in Asia filming documentaries (the character of "Carl Denham" in the original is modeled directly on Cooper).  Another inspiration was the film of The Lost World in 1925.

        As for the idea that the U.S. and Europe were worried about "the role for white Europe - and for its ethnic offshoot, North America - in a world that is mostly non-white," now that is pure projection of modern attitudes into the past.  I read most of Edgar Rice Burroughs's work when I was a kid, as well as other things from the teens through thirties, and the assumption that white people would always dominate blacks was absolutely unquestion (though Burroughs, who was a typical, casual racist in the teens, was an avowed anti-racist in the forties).  Pinkerton, a suggestion: don't write about things you're utterly ignorant of.

        Some would label such sentiments as racist, but others would note that every ethnicity naturally feels a special affection for its own kind.  Yet, in the West, outright invocations of white nationalism, such as the 1915 film "Birth of a Nation," were politically unacceptable, even in the '30s, and so the same race-conscious sentiments were encrypted into allegory - in print or on celluloid.

        This is so thickheaded, I almost can't react.  Open expressions of racism were unacceptable in the 1930s?!?!?!?!?!?!  Try googling Lincoln Perry actor, or Willie Best, or "Amos 'N' Andy."  Or just watch Gone With the WindThat is a racist movie, friends.

The new "Kong" drills home its race consciousness by making repeated references to Joseph Conrad's 1899 novel, "Heart of Darkness," which denigrates both the colonizing whites and colonized blacks.  In the novel's climax, the once-idealistic character Kurtz writes of Africans, "Exterminate all the brutes!" Conrad presents Kurtz as crazy, but Africa is presented as a crazy-making place.

        The movie actually uses Heart of Darkness as an example of someone who knows he shouldn't do something, but feels compelled to go on anyway.  And by the way, the critical interpretation of Conrad's novel is far richer than Pinkerton's simplistic view.

        The new Kong is, as always, a noble beast with a tender side.  But, at the same time, his killing is presented as a cruel necessity.  And at the end of the film, the white people - love interests Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody - are brought closer together, thanks to their brush with the big ape.

        Leaving aside the question of whether it's necessary to kill Kong (the film suggests it's not), the idea of Ann Darrow running off to live happily ever after with the giant gorilla is something that needs a psychiatrist.  And the Darrow and Driscoll characters are strongly drawn to each other before they ever reach Skull Island.

        But if the movie is so loaded with race-charged imagery, why isn't it being protested?  Why aren't we seeing pickets and boycotts?  Perhaps it's because today, as people look around the world, they see that most political strife is, in fact, ethnic strife.  Folks like to say that "diversity is our strength," and they resolve to fight racism, but every day's news reminds us that ethnic conflict lurks in the human heart.

        That's a gloomy reality that "Kong" captures, in its crypto fashion, and so there's no point in getting worked up over it.  Indeed, since the film is entertaining - like the similarly themed, much honored and extremely popular "Rings" movies of a few years back - one might as well go see this one, too.

        So, the movie is white racism, denigrates the majority of the human race, and we should all go see it.  Thanks for clearing that up James.  See ya at the lynching.

        I'm not sure why people aren't boycotting the movie, but here's a few guesses: because most non-whites don't see themselves as giant gorillas irrestistably drawn to the first blond they meet; because most people realize that a classic monster movie is just that — a monster movie, not a film about anyone in particular; because most people aren't stupid, and obsessed with finding yet another reason to attack their own civilization; because most non-whites, to the extent they identify themselves with Kong, see him as a noble but bad-ass monster that the white folk are just barely able to take down in a rigged fight, machine guns against muscle, and the Melanesians as scary dudes who run the white invaders off Skull Island.  In other words, they're not implicitly pacifist, as Pinkerton is.  But most importantly, they aren't cowards, and the reason they don't protest is because they aren't offended by the movie.

        By the way, I just had a thought.  Machine guns against muscle, planes against the earth bound — Merriam C. Cooper was a World War I pilot, and volunteer flier for the Poles against the 'bestial' Soviet Union.  That's what King Kong is really about: the future of warfare, it's domination by technology, and the need for military preparedness.

        "And I am Marie of Romania."

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