As my colonial cousins recover from an overdose of turkey and tryptophan, let me prod you into consciousness with the Frank Miller problem – which also allows me to post some awesome pics.
No, the Frank Miller problem isn’t as simple as you think. From his slapdash rant about the OWS movement on his website, it seems to quite clear where Frank’s political sympathies lie:
“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached – is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.
This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they’re spewing their garbage – both politically and physically – every which way they can find.
Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy.
Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.
And this enemy of mine – not of yours, apparently – must be getting a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh – out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle.
In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas’ basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft (sic).
I said it seems to be quite clear where Miller’s political thinking lies: except nothing is clear in this inchoate melange of addled testosterone, islamophobia, and shock jock cliche.
Surprise, surprise. Frank Miller writes dark, paranoid cartoon books. His political thinking is dark, paranoid and cartoonish.
This is not the real Frank Miller problem – except for him – and anyone who expected anything else.
The Real Frank Miller Problem
Hopefully, Miller’s political rantings will make some of the Occupy supporters in London think again when they sport V-for-Vendetta masks, and therefore assume this is some left revolutionary uprising of the masses. Though Alan Moore is a much more sophisticated story teller, aware of the violent illiberal tendencies of his heroes, there’s nothing in the Guido Fawkes character that couldn’t be equally conscripted by a right wing populist.
And this brings me to the nub of the issue: can you read off fiction against politics, or vice versa. Rick Moody puts the case in his essay Frank Miller and the rise of cryptofascist Hollywood.
Miller’s hard-right, pro-military point of view is not only accounted for in his own work, but in the larger project of mainstream Hollywood cinema. American movies, in the main, often agree with Frank Miller, that endless war against a ruthless enemy is good, and military service is good, that killing makes you a man, that capitalism must prevail, that if you would just get a job (preferably a corporate job, for all honest work is corporate) you would quit complaining. American movies say these things, but they are more polite about it, lest they should offend. The kind of comic-book-oriented cinema that has afflicted Hollywood for 10 years now, since Spider-Man, has degraded the cinematic art, and has varnished over what was once a humanist form, so Hollywood can do little but repeat the platitudes of the 1%. And yet Hollywood tries still not to offend.
I kind of go along with this thesis: especially the domination of the DC and Marvel franchises which have so saturated Hollywood. Compared with the 70s – where realistic story telling and improvisatory acting were at a premium – the movies of the early 21st Century aspire in their acting and subtlety and realism to the state of a cartoon. (Fortunately great actors and writers have a refuge in USTV).
But then I stop short. Rick Moody puts Gladiator into this genre.
which I still contend is an allegory about George W Bush’s candidacy for president, despite the fact that director and principal actor were not US citizens. Is it possible to think of a film such as Gladiator outside of its political subtext? Are Ridley Scott’s falling petals, which he seems to like so much that he puts them in his films over and over again, anything more than a way to gussy up the triumph of oligarchy, corporate capital and globalisation?
And here we have it – the whole problem of reading fiction as politics. Gladiator as an allegory for George Bush? How bonkers can you get?
Hopefully, more bonkers still. Moody’s reading of the Ridley Scott classic is as revealing about himself as it is about the movie. And that is the joy of fiction: taste and interpretation is entirely subjective. Meanings are not enclosed and enforced as in polemic or propaganda. The drama of the story is dialogic – it lets you take two sides at the same time. (As Shakespeare says in King Lear “That’s true too”)l. Art is open ended, descriptive rather than prescriptive, and let’s you frame your own metaphors. And rarely are stories allegories like Orwell’s Animal Farm or Miller’s The Crucible , and even when they are, they take on a complex life of their own.
Most stories play with political and real life events, but with no definitive read off. I remember as a politicised 19 year old, having loved reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in my early teens, worrying whether Sauron was Hitler or Stalin, Saruman Mussolini or Hitler. Though the story of the Ring of Power is definitely Tolkien’s response to Germanic myths of power and domination (the inscription even echoes the Hitlerian “Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Fuhrer”) it is ridiculous to go beyond some deep metaphoric echoes. Had Tolkien wished to make a simple political or historical statement he would have made it. Fiction creates its own internal dynamics, and from fairy tales to classical tragedy to morally complex anti heroes like Tony Soprano or Harry Lime in The Third Man, allows us to experience the clash of ideas and characters, without taking sides, or taking all sides.
So the meaning of a writers work often escapes its maker. There are dozens of artists whose politics I abhor, but whose writings I still love. Take the case of some great 20th Century poets – Yeat’s fascist nationalism, Eliot’s anti-semitism, Philip Larkin’s racist conservatism, Bertolt Brecht’s collaboration with Stalinism. Where their political beliefs obtrude into their work or – as in the case of Ezra Pound – they become pure propagandists, their statements can be rebutted and excoriated for what they are.
But these writers weren’t full time politicians. We only know of their politics because of their lyric talents. In the more epic world of fiction – whether it’s a mirror to reality or a fantasy alternative world – meanings are fluid, metaphors are mysterious, characters and events memory precisely because they are intractable and irreducible to a simple message. By definition, works of art contain emotional and unconscious force which the artist cannot control or describe. Therefore we’re presented in a great comic book, novel, poem, movie or painting with densely complex statement, something which rewrites its meaning every time a new viewer watches it.
In short – Frank Miller’s politics are stupid, paranoid and frankly laughable.
But still the Dark Knight will survive the idiocy of his maker.
Crossposted at Daily Kos