Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mars Attacks – Realism and Liberalism


Of the two cornball alien invasion movies to defile our cinemas the year of 1996, one grossed enough money to firmly cement its legacy in American pop culture and acquire a sequel nearly twenty years after the unfortunate day it reared its head; the other, alack and alas, was sentenced to wistful anonymity for much of the same period, baring eking out its monumental production costs by the end of its run and attaining only a slim following.  The former unpatriotic disgrace, ironically known as Independence Day or ID4 and brought to us courtesy of director Roland Emmerich, Will Smith, and Jeff Goldblum in a role he should regret to the grave, is unquestionably one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen and, by the same token, one of the most uproarious.  The emotional peak of the sci-fi film, which would eventually become a staple of the genre as highlighted in recent endeavors like Avatar and Pacific Rim, is defined by a rousing and poetic call to battle delivered by President Bill Pullman, an exhortation for “mankind – that word should have new meaning for all of us today –” to lay aside their “petty differences” and “unite in our common interest” to defeat an enemy of life itself, “to fight for our freedom… from annihilation, for our right to live, to exist”.
Should we win this fight, The Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!  We will not vanish without a fight!  We’re going to live on!  We’re going to survive!”

ID4 is all too frequently mistaken as some kind of right-wing, jingoistic ode to American nationalism, when in fact it’s just the opposite, loudly trumpeting a laughable message of multiculturalism and an idealistic philosophy that human beings, when subjected to extraordinary pressure and trying circumstances, naturally rally to effect cooperative solutions rather than naturally splinter and mobilize to devour one another out of self-preservation.  A fantasy of liberal foreign policy distinguished by a glowing optimism in the durability of the human spirit, it shows us humanity not as it is but as the director imagines it to be, and does so convincingly enough that its tomfoolery has even reeled “Progressive” icons like Hillary Clinton into citing its fictionalized events as scientific proof of their Pacifism.



The latter invasion movie, an exclamatory satire of American political inefficacy entitled Mars Attacks!, also climaxes with a memorable calling for solidarity by the leader of the free world, but unlike President Bill Pullman’s admirably portrayed and carefully prepared pep talk, President Jack Nicholson’s appeals are purposely frazzled and contrived, brimming with political talking points and so hammily delivered by the tactful actor that they sound like the speech of a madman or a stoner.  Nicholson chides a party of three Martian warlords as if trying to reason with a class of disobedient children, inquiring in pithy, 3rd-grade fragments:
Why are you doing this?  Why?  Isn’t the universe big enough for both of us?  Why be enemies?  Because we’re different?  Is that why?  We could work together.  Think of the things that we could do; think how strong we would be.  Earth… and Mars, together!  There is nothing that we cannot accomplish.  Think about it… think about it.  Why destroy… when you can create?  We can have it all… or we can smash it all.  Why can’t we forget our differences; why can’t we work things out?  Little people… why can’t we all just get along?

Naturally enough, this dazzling oratory – this extemporaneous entreaty for togetherness and teamwork – reduces the foreign dignitaries to tears, prompting their leader to offer his right hand in peace, a gesture Nicholson proudly reciprocates, deeming this groundbreaking diplomatic settlement yet another victory for his administration.  But lo, the alien’s arm breaks away and scuttles around the unsuspecting president’s body like a spider, plunging its barbed tail straight through his back and raising a flag from his chest where he lies sprawled on the office floor.  All his efforts to negotiate with and appease the sworn enemies of his nation only result in his shockingly brutal and darkly comical demise.

Mars Attacks! is not just the artistic superior of Independence Day, delivering more exciting action and intriguing special effects with an emphasis on miniatures and intentionally crude-looking CGI, but its ideological antithesis in every conceivable way, gleefully deriding nearly every figure that Emmerich’s product had romanticized and exalted six months earlier.  As a comedy, though, it’s only rarely funny, while ID4 is a deadly serious action movie that continually provokes unplanned laughs.  In essence, the latter turns the old maxim on its head to demonstrate that all good humor is rooted in a separation from truth.  Mars Attacks!, being a snidely intelligent study of many Americans’ self-loathing and sympathy for those barbarians who would destroy them, advances a theory of Realism that makes it a very grim and humorless viewing experience in spite of its cartoony appearance, comedy, and camp; ID4, being a fundamentally absurd and blissfully ignorant Humanistic tirade, sponsors a foreign policy of Liberalism that renders its director’s aspirations to tell a moving war story thoroughly ridiculous to spectators.  It’s hard to chuckle at the one when it so harshly parodies our administration’s ineptitude, but it’s impossible to take the other sincerely when it distorts its heroes and humanity itself into godlike paragons of righteousness – united in the best of times, resilient in the worst, mutually respectful, stable, and cooperative.

Whereas most alien invasion saga assume an us-vs.-them backdrop where humans and aliens alike are fully committed to the extinction of the other, Mars Attacks! postulates a scenario where intellectuals, journalists, and officials are less concerned with finding and enacting the best strategy of repelling invasion than with proving their own culpability in the aliens’ violence.  Pierce Brosnan plays a professor (read “scientist” or “expert”) Donald Kessler who refuses to entertain the racist notion that such a technologically advanced, well organized, and visibly brainy people as the Martians could possibly have come with malign intent.  “Logic dictates that, given their extremely high level of technical development, they are an advanced culture, therefore peaceful and enlightened,” he lectures Nicholson in a White House conference. “The human race, on the other hand, is an aggressively dangerous species.  I suspect they have more to fear from us than we from them.”

Even after the Martians decimate the American welcoming committee, he urges the President to withhold from striking back, babbling that the invaders’ decision to fire their laser beams on U.S. soldiers was probably motivated by a “cultural misunderstanding” over a hippie who released a dove into the air, to which 15-year-old First Daughter Natalie Portman (in one of her first and, fittingly for this project, worst performances) helpfully pipes up, “Yeah, maybe to them doves mean war.”  Up until the moment they bear him away for experimental purposes, the Professor retains an unwavering trust in the Martians’ rationality and good will, believing to the end that he and his countrymen, not the bloodthirsty, lawless marauders, are the source of all the world’s problems.

Just so, the U.S. State Department and its minions in the media instinctively scramble to link acts of terrorism by real aliens with American foreign policy or constitutional liberty, as we’ve observed respectively with the Boston Marathon bombing, which networks first baselessly blamed on “right-wing extremists” angry over tax day before pointing to U.S. intervention in Iraq, and with the assault on the Benghazi embassy, which officials at all levels of the government infamously passed off as a spontaneous protest against an amateur movie trailer posted on Youtube.  Our government’s jerk reaction to any outbreak of violence is not to condemn and counteract but to examine and explain, to uncover not just “who did this” but also “why”, with the purpose of reforming American society so that the attackers won’t feel a compulsion to strike in the future.  The fault never lies with the aggressors, whose beautiful faith and rich culture, we’re told, clearly forbid the use of violence, but with the victims of aggression for provoking them to righteous retaliation.

So the Pacifists proclaim: truly we have less to fear from the Taliban and al-Qaeda than they have to fear from us westerners, rampaging across their lands and devastating their homes with supposedly indiscriminate drone strikes that give rise to the popular idea of “homegrown terrorism” subscribed to by the president himself.  As recently as last month in a much maligned speech to West Point Military Academy graduates, Obama suggested that the U.S. may be responsible for much of the anti-American sentiment abroad, saying, “We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield,” and adding in a later address, “We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat – one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.”  Early on in his presidency, when any hope may still have persisted that the Great Unifier legitimately planned to fulfill his promise of closing Guantanamo Bay, Obama dubbed the detention center a “symbol that helped Al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause” and “a rallying cry for our enemies”, drawing the sweeping conclusion that, “The existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained… the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American natural security.”

In the Liberal worldview of Professor Brosnan and President Obama, extended diplomatic relations between powers with competing interests is not just a desirable proposition but an altogether feasible one, and the only impediment to maintaining such relations stems from rigidly defensive and untrusting actions by one power.  In the worlds of both Obama and the professor, this willfully blind philosophy has propelled the decline of civil society and order the whole world over.  As political puppet John Kerry fiddles with an impossible agenda to unite first-world countries under a sadomasochistic Global Warming protocol, scolds jihadists for their wanton and juvenile commitment to sowing chaos, dines with Syrian overlord Bashar Assad, and begs other countries to refrain from arming radical Islamists, a standing Muslim army is subjugating regions the U.S. fought tirelessly to liberate for the better part of a decade, Iran is continuing to enrich uranium into bomb-grade material, and the Russian Prime Minister is amassing troops along the border of Ukraine.  All the while, the President of the United States neither ignores these crises nor makes a concerted attempt to rectify them, but vainly “reaches out” and talks to other leaders he expects will fix the matter for him upon their honor as selfless and incorruptible human beings.

Incidentally, the president of Mars Attacks! isn’t that far removed from our own, placing a greater value on rhetoric, the semblance of moderation, and publically appearing to solve a problem than on actually solving anything.  Independence Day gives us a larger-than-life portrait of a titanic leader who not only rouses the human race into a heroic stand against evil but even boldly leads the charge himself.  “I’m a combat pilot,” he drawls in one of the cheesiest quotes of all time.  “I belong in the air.”  Mars Attacks!, on the other hand, realistically portrays the president as a sheltered wimp and strategic stooge, ever subject to manipulation by his ignorant advisors and family while ordering his (admittedly unhinged) general to “Shut up.  Shut up.  SHUT… UP!”  The commander-in-chief of Mars Attacks! is shown as one who’s never governing but always being governed, asking his wife for military counsel, inviting his teenage daughter to sit in on important deliberative meetings, and eventually groveling before his enemies in a desperate appeal for peace and coexistence.  In the same way, our own president often takes a backseat to his dictatorial wife, who wages a belligerent war on that “biggest national security threat” of obesity, and to his girls, who haven’t yet reached voting age but nevertheless manage to shape around the dinner table what the president calls his “evolving views” on homosexual marriage.

That the whole cast consists of mega-stars and throwaway cameos makes the irony of each character’s false nobility even more hilarious.  Martin Short’s Stephanopoulos-like Press Secretary is privately a lascivious philanderer, bidding loose women he fancies on “personalized” midnight tours through the White House that culminate with an intimate stop in the aptly titled “Kennedy Room”.  Sarah Jessica Parker is a bubble-headed TV reporter who cultivates an amorous fascination with the elitist professor, one she refuses to release even after her head has been mounted on the body of a chihuahua.  Whereas Jeff Goldblum’s responsible and suave scientist in ID4 casually preaches a mantra of recycling (“You know how I’m always trying to save the planet…”), Mars Attacks! repeatedly maligns the Environmentalist agenda and its preoccupation with earthy over human welfare.  “I guess, like, now we just have to start over and start rebuilding everything, like our houses, but I was thinking maybe instead of houses we could live in teepees, ’cause it’s better in a lot of ways,” says dorky misfit Richie without finishing his line of thought in an acceptance speech preceded by a multi-cultural Mariachi version of the national anthem.

Typically of a liberal picture, ID4 casts not just a warrior president as humanity’s savior but also a stereotypical black dude dating a resourceful single mother who makes ends meet as a self-described “exotic dancer”.  In Mars Attacks!, the ultimate redeemer of mankind, the one who gets the girl, and one of the only major characters to make it through alive is neither a politician nor a soldier nor a scientist but a dimwitted country boy who does nothing for the entire picture and only discovers how to defeat the Martians by sheer coincidence.  This upsetting resolution is the film’s harshest blow to moviegoers.  In the end, man is saved neither by the brilliance of his leaders nor by a kindred spirit binding all his fractured nations, but merely by a stroke of dumb luck.  Contrarily, every single measure by which human civilization traditionally overcomes in these movies – every call for unity, every empty summons to battle, every pretentious plea for us to “put aside our differences”, “work together”, and “just get along” – in effect leads only to the savage, sometimes graphic, and well-deserved deaths of its proponents.

A cynical, morbid, and pessimistic parable of philosophical Realism, Mars Attacks! would be great comedy if it didn’t so closely mirror real-world conflicts and the ill-fated doctrine of appeasement that has enraptured Neville Chamberlain, Jimmy Carter, and now Barack Obama.  Independence Day will always be immensely more popular due to its optimistic and childlike faith in human endurance, but Tim Burton’s film is an eminently shrewder and more intelligent work, posing a keener understanding both of the corruption inherent to all governments and of the perpetual anarchy underlying foreign relations.

3 comments:

  1. I could tell that you made a lot of points though I couldnt understand most of the whole blogpost

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  2. I recently found your blog via Google and I must say you hit the nail on the head in every post you write. This has always been one of my favorite movies, love the way the little buggers talk. Ack ack ack. Haha! But I never thought about the political innuendos much until now. Thanks for giving me a new perspective on this hilarious parody.

    Alexis Luther

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  3. I found your blog when I thought how the liberals in "Mars Attacks" reminded me of the US and European politicians who continue to cling to political correctness in the wake of ISIS terror attacks and infiltrations. You have Hillary and Obama condemning those, like Trump who, albeit crudely, suggest beefing up border security, saying it is tantamount to racism.

    Hillary would have a Martian in her face with a laser gun before she would publicly acknowledge it was a bonafide non Christian, White, American, heterosexual Male threat that was not created or inspired by Christian, White, American, heterosexual Males. By then it would be too late. But then again, she would probably impress the Martians with her voice, since it's sounds so much like theirs!

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