A movie is more than just a movie in this exploration of the symbiotic shifts of politics and popular culture.
In a country that once prized pluralism and consensus, the center will no longer hold, as superheroes, zombies, and apocalyptic action flicks have pushed popular culture both toward the far left (Avatar) and the far right (Clint Eastwood). “Eastwood begat Reagan and Rambo, who came and went,” writes Vanity Fair contributing editor Biskind (My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, 2013, etc.), “but the culture continued its rightward drift, arriving at Steve Bannon, who famously said, ‘Darkness is good.’ ” The author shows how the standard tropes of popular narrative—the good guys vanquishing the bad guys who spread crime and chaos—have been subverted by both the left and the right. Biskind’s analysis tends to reduce popular culture into ideological tracts, regardless of entertainment value, and to become mired in plot summaries. However, he convincingly demonstrates how movies and TV have softened—or hardened—audiences toward an embrace of the extreme, past the point where reason, pragmatism, and conventional morality hold sway. Emphasizing attitudes on authority and on aliens, monsters, or anything that poses a threat to humanity by being different, the author maintains that today’s blockbusters “have normalized the extremes so they have become the new mainstream….Reason and science are on the defensive, while behavior that was once beyond the pale…has become the new norm as the public good is replaced by self-interest.” Though the popular shifts help account for the rise of Donald Trump, Biskind shows how both parties invoked the apocalypse to appeal to voters inflamed by the endgame scenarios of popular culture. “No longer,” he writes, “are we fighting for our way of life, or, as Superman put it, for ‘truth, justice and the American way.’ Now the stakes are considerably higher. We are fighting for life itself.”
Incisive analysis about “the power of culture to inflame our emotions” and render reasonable debate inert.