A critic may only once use the most famous line from Gladiator as the title of a blog post. When the time comes, they had best make it a good one. So here goes.
You know how people, usually the self-appointed jags who call themselves things like “taste makers” or “thought leaders” or gods help us “toastmasters,” say things like, “critics don’t matter because all opinion are equal?” Well fuck those people and their anti-intellectual twaddle.
Some opinions are bad opinions. When someone calls a bad opinion into question, they are not exercising their right to an opinion, so much as they are taking a stand for what they believe to be a truth. Recognizing that personal truth and personal morality are regularly used to legitimize personal bias, I submit that in this post, my role as critic is that of someone speaking to a broader morality and perhaps a more universal truth.
Let’s begin with Captain America: Civil War. As some of you may know, I was a bit busy dealing with cancer’s efforts to cripple me while Civil War was in theatres. Having finally seen it on Netflix, I have but one question to put before all of you #TeamStark people.
What the hell is wrong with you?
Setting aside the fact that the conflict between #TeamCap and #TeamStark was built on a pretext so flimsy it could pass through solid matter – a la The Vision – there’s a clear moral high ground in the Avengers’ break up. Oh, where is Adam going with this one? Japanese internment allegory? Deus ex Patriot Act? Wrong on both counts.
Let’s do this $100,000 Pyramid style.
Because you need to reboot a franchise for the third time…
Because you want to appeal to the New York demographic…
Because JJ has posted a thousand dollar bounty for a picture of him…
Because Marvel finally got the rights back from Sony…
Markie Post had problems with that clue. It cost a nice lady from Salt Lake City a lot of money.
Spider-Man? Adam’s upset about Spider-Man? How could Adam be upset about Spidey?
Because Tony Stark literally, not figuratively, applies the military-industrial-superhero complex to a child at the behest of the United States’ Secretary of State, acting on behalf of the United Nations.
Would anybody care to guess what the UN has to say about child soldiers? I’ll save you the trip to google; the UN frowns on child soldiers, they frown very much. They frown like Tina Belcher being told she’s not allowed to write erotic friend fiction.
The International Criminal Court considers the use of child soldiers, recently defined as anybody under the age of eighteen, a war crime. So well done, Marvel, your “let’s skew younger with Spider-Man’s third iteration” has had the effect of saying the MCU is cool with the militarization of youth. #TeamStark fans, you can go ahead and defend your war criminal, I mean hero, now. Make sure to show your math on the parts where you tell me applying the slightest bit of critical thought to this movie is somehow my problem and not the movie’s issue.
Which brings me to thing number two. Remember The Running Man? It’s a very good novel written by Stephen King, under the guise of Richard Bachman. Therein, America devolves into a corporate-controlled nightmare state. The privileged few – separated from the great unwashed by geography, currency, and social custom – enjoy, as part of their pointless existence, game shows/blood sports featuring poor people. One example is Treadmill for Dollars, where people with heart conditions answer trivia questions before having a coronary. Of course, everybody’s favourite show, is The Running Man.
The book version of Ben Richards isn’t a convict mucking about for a pardon. He is written as a working-class guy who goes to the Games Network as a way of making enough money to stop his wife from sucking cock to put food on the table. Additionally, he isn’t a sculpted superman a la Arnie, but a scrawny weakling with a compromised respiratory system. And further removed from Arine, who had four hours to beat up some pro-wrestlers, book-Richards has to hide from the Games Network’s “Hunters” for thirty days with the entire United States at his disposal.
To the best of my knowledge, The Running Man is a cautionary tale. So imagine my surprise when I discovered CBS’ new TV show, Hunted.
Hunted follows nine teams of two in a real-life manhunt as they attempt the nearly impossible task of disappearing in today’s vast digital world as highly skilled investigators combine state-of-the-art tracking methods with traditional tactics to pursue and catch them…Hunters in the field and Command Center investigators work together to identify clues to potential hiding places and collaborators that can ultimately lead to capture. Will the anxiety of being fugitives on the run cause teams to make a critical error, or will they be able to stay off the grid long enough to avoid being found…A grand prize of $250,000 will be awarded to each team that successfully evades being caught for up to 28 days.
Are you butt fucking kidding me?
Has society been so furiously jerking off to The Hunger Games that it is now blind to the normalization of the surveillance state? What exactly do people think this show is laying at North America’s feet if not the Orwellian ass-demon of The Amazing Race? Yet even as I write these words I know people will tell me I ought to give The Running Man A Game Show Legally Distinct From The Running Man But Still Fundamentally The Running Man some benefit of the doubt. Fuck that.
I know this show is not to blame for the surveillance apparatus that is modern society. The reality of the panopticon state is infinitely more user friendly and benign than that which was imagined by the likes of Yevgeny Zamyatin. At the same time, ought we bend the knee to the excesses of surveillance, even if they are packaged in the seemingly banal trappings of reality TV? If privacy is something fundamental to the rights of a citizen in a liberal democracy, then doesn’t the very existence of this show present as a moral hazard to that privacy?
But they volunteered to be on the show, Adam.
So did fucking Ben Richards. Volunteering to be part of something unethical and dangerous, doesn’t make the thing any less unethical and dangerous (see: the Stanford Prison Experiment or the Milgram Experiment) But go ahead, tell me how re-framing citizens as fugitives to be run down like so many dogs by ambassadors of various state apparatuses (FBI, CIA, NSA, Navy Seals) is harmless fun. Tell me there isn’t a hypothesis to this game show that is meant to study the limits of state and public surveillance. Once again, show your math as you defend the virtues of the state using the media to spy on citizens for sport.
There’s a popular phrase attributed to Julius Caesar, alea iacta est: the die is cast. Caesar apparently said it when he crossed the Rubicon River with his legions, and in doing so brought about the end of the Roman Republic. I expect the less heroic truth was more along the lines of, “My ass hurts from riding a horse from Gaul to Italia.”
The die may already be cast in terms of TV and movies celebrating the amoral and monstrous…cough Guardians of the Galaxy as an apology for mass incarceration and police militarization…cough. If it has, then the role of the critic becomes all the more important. In such a world, the critic is no longer a simple facilitator of conversations, but a bastion of morality. Ours will be to scream and shout and hope that people still want to listen.
Author’s note: I reached out to Stephen King to confirm that The Running Man was not a road map to nightmare television, but at press time he had not returned my tweet.