December 14, 2011

Do Not Eyeball the Bear

We have established stories/narratives. The invasion of Iraq. Often these stories are used to reach an end the people in power already know and want. We are seeing that now with the mounting pressure to “do something” about Iran. It is a dangerous place! We hear. They want nuclear weapons. Nevermind that America, Russia, and China already have nuclear weapons. Nevermind that during the Cold War we came again and again to the brink of destroying ourselves. That’s not the story.
The story is that Iran is a bad place run by bad people and nuclear weapons are bad things so we have to stop them. We do - the good guys. And anyone who says otherwise is, clearly, a bad guy. Which is where I bring up: the Senate voted to allow executive power to indefinitely detain American citizens. They did this because “we are at war” and when at war sometimes hard things must be done. You have to fight the bad guys.
The bad guys, however, are American citizens. You and I. The established story here is that Iran is a bad guy, and people who don’t want to invade Iran might be bad guys, because terrorists are bad guys, and maybe this isn’t all connected but it probably is with a big capital-e Evil. Got that? That’s the story. Now I’m going to talk about movies.
Kill Bill is the traditional revenge movie. The Bride goes on a rampage of revenge, and in the end succeeds. She at times seems just as bad as the people she’s after - she was one of them, until recently - but she turned her back on it, and is killing bad guys, so she’s a good guy. The Bride is how we see ourselves. Maybe not great - certainly not saintly - but on the side of the righteous.
We are actually closer to the plot of Old Boy. And we’re not Oh Dae-su, either (he’s the guy taking revenge for being kidnapped and held captive for what, ten years? A long ass time). We’re the captor. In Old Boy, Oh Dae-su is released after a lengthy captivity, and seeks revenge. He hurts a lot of people. He finds his captor. And he discovers why the captor did this to him. Sorry for calling him the captor, I looked it up on Imdb, but I can’t tell which was the bad guy (I am awful with names).
The bad guy did all this to Dae-su because, when both were young, Dae-su saw the bad guy fucking his own sister, and told his friend - not out of malice, but in an offhand way. He didn't see the bad guy (then just the sister-fucking guy) again, because Dae-su moved away. The sister killed herself. The bad guy dedicated himself to revenge. This is a disruption of an established story. It’s why the movie initially upset me so much. I expected an established story of revenge, and I got a disrupted story. Think of America in this context with Iran and Iraq. Recently there was a survey that discovered most Iraqis and Afghanis did not know why America was there. They did not know what 9/11 was. Our apparent revenge meant as much to them as the bad guy’s did to Dae-su - taken for a slight that Dae-su (representing the Iraqis, Afghanis, and hopefully not the Iranians) did not remember. The bad guy took revenge for something the hero didn’t actually remember. The whole goddam movie is about him trying to find the reason for his suffering.
This, as I said, is a disrupted story. It’s an uncomfortable story (with a lot of incest, besides). Disrupting an established story can feel akin to killing god. We know our stories, we like them. But after so many years at war, after the financial collapse, many people do not accept the established story. They don’t accept that we must go to war with Iran; nor that the “boom and bust” cycle of capitalism is the best thing for America. And that so many don’t accept the established story tastes bitter to those who do accept it. It's the comfort of the established story against the change of the disrupted story.
I don’t want to pull self-righteous bullshit here. I am often wrong. I may be wrong about the threat Iran poses, or about the financial reform I’d like to see. But I look. I examine the stories I hold near and dear, even about myself. Because you can’t move past the limits imposed by the established story, until you tear it down, disrupt it, and see the larger story - possibly the real story, possibly just another well-entrenched story that must be torn down in turn - until you are willing to destroy the things you believe, with no doubt, to be true.

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