Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Cryptofascist? The Problem with Frank Miller: Open Thread

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


  1. HappyinVT

    But I have ssen the same comment re: the “vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle” from some on the Left.

    And somehow some of my favorite entertainers seem to hold siocial/political views different than my own.  I’m not sure I can quit “Frazier.” Paid and who doesn’t love some Wagner in the right mood.

  2. Strummerson

    My pet peeve is the whitewashing of history in The 300.  300 Spartans defending their liberty against eastern collectivist totalitarianism?  First off, the Spartans weren’t alone.  But the forces from Sparta included around 900 helots, who were slaves, to complement their 300 freedom loving patriotic masters.  So it was really around 1200 Spartans, but only 25% were free and enfranchised.  There is some disagreement about the status of the helots, with some classifying them as slaves outright and some considering them more like serfs, somewhere between slaves and free people.  But everyone acknowledges that they weren’t free and basically functioned as agrarian peasants whose labor provided much of the basis of Sparta’s economy.

    So all in all, Miller appears to be particularly unsuited to evaluate emancipatory movements.

  3. “beautifully argued”

    I’m often amused by right wing criticism of celebrity statements about social and political issues. They say celebrities should stick to their craft instead of voicing their opinions. They say that until the celebrity happens to be on their side then they say, “So and so gets it.”

    Personally, I’ve never had a problem with separating art from the artist. In the mid-90’s, I became a fan of a Detroit area band. One day, I was playing their music in my office and a co-worker said he was surprised I liked them. I asked him why he was surprised and he said, “You know they’re gay?” I laughed and said something to the effect that buying their cd didn’t mean I was inviting them for a sleepover. I gave him a break for being clueless, because he was from Texas.

  4. It’s so good to get out of the Murdoch bashing groove, and I knew only the Moose moot would get this. However, it’s worth reiterating something I said on DKOs about the Guido Fawkes imago.

    The Guido Fawkes mask was adopted by a notorious right wing blogger and supporter of the fascist English defence league – Old Holborn. I’ve diaried about his odious antics a last year, but won’t link to his site

    Likewise, Guido Fawkes is also the pseudonym of our own would-be Matt Drudge, the right wing blogger Paul Staines.

    Let it also be remember. The real Guido Fawkes, whether he was a double agent or not, was still involved in a plot to blow up Parliament and return England to papal rule.  In short, he has more in common with a religious zealot like Bin Laden, than any freedom loving anarchist.  

  5. virginislandsguy

    The NYT has the scoop in “Hacking Scandal Widens to Government Secrets, Report Says”.

    The report said the police had warned Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary from 2005 to 2007, that his computer and those of senior civil servants and intelligence agents responsible for the British province may have been hacked by private detectives working for News International.

    This may take NewsCorps criminal exposure to a whole new level.

  6. fogiv

    in case anyone is interested:

    Newfound stone artifacts suggest humankind left Africa traveling through the Arabian Peninsula instead of hugging its coasts, as long thought, researchers say.

    Modern humans first arose about 200,000 years ago in Africa. When and how our lineage then dispersed has long proven controversial, but geneticists have suggested this exodus started between 40,000 and 70,000 years ago. The currently accepted theory is that the exodus from Africa traced Arabia’s shores, rather than passing through its now-arid interior.

    However, stone artifacts at least 100,000 years old from the Arabian Desert, revealed in January 2011, hinted that modern humans might have begun our march across the globe earlier than once suspected.

    Now, more-than-100 newly discovered sites in the Sultanate of Oman apparently confirm that modern humans left Africa through Arabia long before genetic evidence suggests. Oddly, these sites are located far inland, away from the coasts.

    “After a decade of searching in southern Arabia for some clue that might help us understand early human expansion, at long last we’ve found the smoking gun of their exit from Africa,” said lead researcher Jeffrey Rose, a paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Birmingham in England. “What makes this so exciting is that the answer is a scenario almost never considered.”

  7. fogiv

    we recorded a historic feature complex this last summer (the one where we found the subterranean structure; I posted a video of it back then). per usual, I snapped a bunch of photos of the surrounding area (in addition to all the recording specific photographic needs).  anyhoo, this is one of those shots:


    Having done some research for the reporting, check this out:


    Time machine! Love it when stuff like that happens. Here’s the video again:

  8. So I was talking with my Pops about the wind storm that went through my town, and dude is from Alabama dude has done homework during hurricanes.  Anyhow he says at least hurricanes move on in an hour.  That was some of the scariest shit I’ve ever seen.  So Santa Ana winds yeah been there done that, but that storm knocked down a tree on a house in every block.  (Casa Adept lost 30 feet off the top of a Deodora tree missed the Casa!)  

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