American Fascism? Tell it to The Marine

I do a lot of surfing that ain't movie related, like most Net addicts, and today, in my regular attempt to see how high I can get my blood pressure to go while reading the daily dispatches from the world of politics, I came across "Sowing the Seeds of Fascism in America," by Stan Goff. Now, while I may be a wine-sippin', vegetable-eatin', Keith Olbermann-lovin' feminazi librul, Stan is a retired veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces with (he says) service in Vietnam, Colombia, Somalia, and other places that have been and still can be rather unpleasant. So I'm guessing that Stan does not eat tofu.

And among the many interesting, informative, and enraging things he had to say in his long piece, there's this about the state of American culture:

There is a kind of interlocking directorate between white nationalists, gun culture, right-wing politicians, mercenary culture (like Soldier of Fortune), vigilante and militia movements, and elements within both Special Forces and -- now -- the privatized mercenary forces. It is hyper-masculine, racialist, militaristic and networked.

If one simply pays attention to cultural production in the United States, especially film and video games, it is fairly easy to see that the very memes that are the cells within the body of white nationalist militarism are ubiquitous within our general cultural norms. The film genre that most closely corresponds to a fascist mind-set is the male revenge fantasy, wherein after some offense is given that signifies the breakdown of order (usually resulting in the death or mortal imperilment of idealized wives or children) in which Enlightenment social conventions prove inadequate, and the release of irrational male violence is required to set the world straight again. Any reader can list these fantasies without a cue. It is one of the most common film genres in American society.

Goff doesn't specifically mention The Marine -- the article was posted a few weeks ago, actually -- but it's easy to see how the film, even how the marketing of the film, plays right into that mind-set. The trailer alone hits many of Goff's high points: vigilantism, mercenary attitudes, the imperiled wife.

This isn't a brand-new trend. Action movies have always been with us -- hell, the first movie to win a Best Picture Oscar, 1928's Wings [my review], is basically an action movie. And there have been undertones of the facism Goff describes for at least the last 20 years, in movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. But there's a qualitative difference in more recent action movies. It started as a blip, with the hypermasculine Con Air [my review] and its weirdly macho-chivalrous attitude toward women, but it really started ramping up in the early 2000s, with flicks like 2003's Bad Boys II, from director Michael Bay. In my review, I described what was so particularly awful in the new attitudes of this film in particular, but it works in a general way, too:

[T]here's something bold here ... as if Bay feels freer to open up in a political environment that's moving to assuage the worries of the Bays of this world: that oddly accented foreigners are trouble, that gays are a threat to masculinity. Miami cops Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) hunt down a Cuban drug smuggler (Jordi Mollà) using John Ashcroft-approved methods that make Die Hard's cowboy cop John McClane look like Andy Griffith: disdain for cooperation with other policing agencies like the DEA, dismissal of the necessity of formalities like search warrants. Of course, a certain degree of rogue lawlessness has always been inherent in overblown flicks about superhero cops, but here, now, Bay takes it to a new level: Burnett and Lowrey aren't bucking the system, they are the system, and It Is Good. The downright pornographic glee with which Bay shoots slo-mo bullets into the crania of bad guys ... the ecstatic glory he imbues into a devastating multiple-vehicle (car, truck, boat) highway chase ... the utter scorn for civilians who get in the way ... All are celebrations of an ascendant attitude in law enforcement: Anything goes, and the more defiant to the ideals of true justice the better. Shockingly, and probably accidentally -- Bay is not a filmmaker who understands irony -- the climax barrels right up to the front door of that most audacious symbol of the current disregard for the rule of law: the U.S. military base of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

A year later, we had a slew of these films:

One is an anomaly. Two is a coincidence. But three? Three is a trend, and it's an ugly one. Within the space of mere weeks, we've been dealt Walking Tall [my review], in which The Rock beats up the bad guys when no one else will punish them for their crimes, The Punisher [my review], in which Thomas Jane expends an army's worth of ammo into a gang of organized thugs who killed his family and also has fun psychologically torturing one of them, and now Man on Fire [my review], in which Denzel Washington deploys some of the most sickeningly barbaric retribution a big-budget popcorn film has ever seen.

And now we have a big, dumb, musclebound guy who pretends to be a wrestler on TV pretending to be a solider in the movies -- can you get much more hypermasculine than that? -- and the overt torture imagery of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning [my review], with the added bonus there of the crazy "sheriff" -- another perversion of genuine law enforcement imagery -- and his retribution on draft dodgers.

Ah, for the days when just screaming "Yippee-kay-ai!" at the villains was enough to get a cheer from the audience ....


MaryAnn Johanson

author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride

minder of