Monday, August 24, 2009

Did Tarantino prime us for Cheney?

Did one inglourious basterd facilitate our acceptance of the other?

I confess I've been checking in regularly over at Parabasis as Isaac Butler has gone into full ethical meltdown mode - I can't even keep track of the conflicts of interest and levels of hypocrisy he's now juggling on a daily (or maybe hourly) basis. Still, you have to hand it to Isaac, the Vassar-speak and self-regard keep flowing in about equal measure, however ludicrous the self-serving arguments become.

But at the same time I've been drawn into an interesting debate elsewhere on the site about Quentin Tarantino. I've simply mentioned that as one of the leading forces in the mainstreaming of torture into American pop culture (via Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, various scenes in Kill Bill, and of course his producer credits on Eli Roth's Hostel movies), it seems obvious that there's a link between Tarantino's oeuvre and the political culture that aids and abets American torture today. In historical terms, Tarantino is Dick Cheney's artistic avatar.

This, of course, leads to all sorts of complicated arguments and denials, some of which it's worth working through, I think, for the light they shed on the assumptions of our critics and the film-going audience. Many people like to imagine that "sophisticated" aesthetic thinking must insulate the artist from his political milieu (and his influence on said milieu) - yet at the same time, of course, the efforts of "politically correct" critics to condemn, say, racism in film, etc., must be absurd if we simultaneously accept their thesis on Tarantino.

My gut is that, yes, Tarantino has always been a sadistic political reactionary cloaked in a "progressive" pop disguise, and that this irony is intensely abhorrent to his fans (for obvious psychological reasons). To me, the correspondence between Tarantino (and Roth, James Wan and Leigh Wannell and the rest) and the likes of Dick Cheney and John Woo, is at least suggestive, and generally, I admit, convincing; my gut feeling is that there is a moral loop between the political and the cultural spheres. But how Tarantino has operated within the political context of the past two decades is a longer topic than I can manage in a single post. Perhaps there's yet ANOTHER multi-post series in the Hub Review's future . . .


  1. Hm. I actually stayed away from the thread at Isaac's to avoid spoilers, since I'm quite excited about seeing Inglorious Basterds (and still am), but after checking it out and checking out this post, I think you're raising some interesting ideas, even though I'm not fully convinced. Since this post is primarily about torture and its place in the world of Quentin Tarantino...I think you are giving him too much credit, as a director. The way he uses violence and torture are, I think, well within the mainstream of how torture is depicted in most films and has been depicted for years. It is brutal, yes, and always effective. It's interesting, though, that, with the exception of Kill Bill, Pt. 1, the main motivation for torture in his films is revenge or sadism. Does it inure people to that kind of violence? Probably. But so do most mainstream movies. I'm not excusing his work here, but I think it's a broader thing. And I do think that his larger morality does come through: violence may be necessary, it may even be satisfying or enjoyable, but it has consequences. That, at least for me, is what mitigates the brutality and what works against the Dick Cheney ethos of if the good guys do it, it's not wrong. Tarantino's world is so filled with grey areas and anti-heroes, you can't say that.

  2. But what "consequences" has promulgating a culture of violence had on QT himself, 99? Isn't he a bit like Dick Cheney in that sense? You seem, here, and elsewhere, to want to shrug off my analysis, even while largely agreeing with it. But why should Tarantino be exempt from the consequences of his actions? Perhaps because you enjoyed them?