“As for the ‘class warfare’ thing,” wrote one of my friends, “I think we should own it. I think we should say, ‘Yes, you’re damned right we’re fighting class warfare–warfare against the numerous policies, regulations, practices, beliefs, attitudes, etc. that privilege, favor, and valorize the rich and wealth itself over work and other human values.’ Because the wealthy and powerful have been indulging in at least a three decades’ long class warfare against the poor. Fighting back isn’t starting a war.”
This, in response to an article on what psychologist Paul Piff calls “asshole syndrome,” the tendency of the rich and the powerful to ignore the Golden Rule, what we call common decency. Increased wealth and power creates increased intolerance, and increased senses of self-privilege.
Not starting a war? No war, right now? It does depend how one looks at the term “war.” Intolerance of, and easy digs against, the working poor and even, saints alive, what we call the middle class, you could call war de facto, I think. “The proles are not human beings,” says somebody casually in Orwell’s 1984, and while I wish I knew more about history, I’m feeling an amen from on high. Peter Brabeck may not have actually said that human beings aren’t entitled to fresh water. But the city of Detroit certainly thinks so…
James DeMonaco’s The Purge: Anarchy makes it simple, for the sake of entertainment. Under the aegis of twelve hours of lawlessness every year, provided for by the probably-totalitarian “New Founding Fathers,” it’s perfectly acceptable for rich people to pay not-so-rich people to round up poor people (read: anybody too poor to take cover with armaments) in the street, and force them through mazes where one-percenters in white-tie mufti plus night vision goggles plus automatic weapons, hunt them down in paintball mazes. This is the harvest. No, sorry, not the harvest. The culling.
DeMonaco’s first Purge movie showed us a siege: an upper-middle-class family headed by Ethan Hawke, locked down with the father’s own popular home defense products. The son’s act of mercy towards a man on the street set up the siege, for the Patrick Bateman clones outside the house believed the man (who just happened to be black) was their property. They demanded their right to Purge.
The right, the responsibility, and the participation. The New Founding Fathers want everyone to get involved—one nation under guns and baseball bats (sorta like the Ramones’ variation on the United States seal—to the mush, underfoot, with those damned olive branches). Of course, this is the United States government, and it harbors hidden agendas. But of course, as a hypothetical brand new way of living and dying, the New Founding Fathers can let us believe it’s all make-believe.
The antagonists in the first film all wore the same kinds of masks, versions of which dutifully appeared online. In “Anarchy,” it’s catch-as-catch can, the scarier the better, and one young black man has “God” written above his forehead. Ultimately “God” turns out to be a procurer, not out for blood or passion, just out to get paid. That doesn’t fit history. But it fits our history.
The new movie’s dialogue sounds halting, fragmented, and in places, alternately inappropriately cool and surprisingly furious. But these rhythms and volumes reflect, I think, the rhythms and volumes of actual people experiences actual trauma. It takes them awhile to figure out who the real enemy is, and the screenplay saves back confirmation for one last twist. Unlike the first film, it brings up the question of resistance fighters, culture jammers, armed with hacking skills and good old munitions. They too, enter the swirl of Purge, but how will they make their signal heard through the bloody noise?
At least one person says the “asshole syndrome” findings might inspire a backlash (a worse one) against the poor. Others believe we’ve got to understand the problem to slog through the marsh and reach dry land. Me, I wish for a better world, which for me at least (and I hope I’m not alone) means, an egalitarian world. I don’t know how many people I’ve got on what I’ll vaguely term “my side.” I might be cool but in the minority, as another eerily perceptive surface-schlock film Wild In The Streets, put it long ago. It seems safe to say that we haven’t overwritten the destructive side yet, let alone its subset, the “I’ve got mine” outlook. Oh. The humanity.
Wiki’s page on the Anarchy movie says it depicts anomie, not anarchy. Anomie’s defined, however, at dictionary.com, as “a state or condition of individuals or society characterized by a breakdown or absence of social norms and values, as in the case of uprooted people.” The way I see it, the movie’s “anarchy” allows the rich, the powerful, and even (shhhh) the government, to implement most brutally the policies which the rest of the year, they’ve largely had to approach with at least affected tact and sensitivity.
But I look at Detroit, and I see that we haven’t stopped breaking down. And those with the power, whether from the law, the bank book, or the gun, feel more comfortable saying what they mean.
I hope for an evolution. I’d settle for a revolution, albeit one that gets people putting down their bank books, guns, and yes, in some cases, their laws, to get to the Golden Rule. With an intensity we haven’t held, since maybe forever.
And maybe fighting back isn’t starting a war. But it’s still fighting back.