The Vancouver-based counter-cultural magazine, Adbusters, who prompted, called for, and pre-named the Occupy Wall Street movement, frequently point out the “co-opting of cool” – a process where a destructive or otherwise undesirable corporation or government hijacks something counter-cultural / local / grassroots / for its own purposes. Examples range from takeovers like Nike buying out Converse, the original rebel’s shoe-of-choice, to Facebook being co-opted by marketing and information gathering agencies, including the FBI.
Quentin Tarantino is one such example of a co-opting of cool. Garnering his initial success with fast, witty dialogue and the anti-establishment feel of films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s films have since kept a semblance of the cool and rebelliousness while ideologically becoming co-opted by mainstream political and cultural thought. In Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino plays upon and deepens the sense of Jewish victimhood. This victimhood is the never-ending Ace for the state of Israel, justifying the gruesome brutality of the Nazi killers in Basterds just as it justifies its crimes against the Palestinians and its threat of a pre-emptive strike on Iran. This is a tool of public manipulation that we are continually subjected to, and it is truly a core belief of the American / Western establishment.
Alex Jones, the explosive political and cultural commentator and talkshow host at infowars.com, adds another interesting way films like Tarantino’s latest pair manipulate public feelings: by presenting crimes of exploitation and other insidious employments of power so severely and in the past, films like Basterds and Django Unchained create the impression that such abuses are absent in the present. After all, we do not appear to have any holocausts happening nor do we appear to have chained slaves marching in the snow. The perceptual effect is to teach the viewer that exploitation and abuse exists only in this bluntest and immediate (fast-acting) form. It would follow that the standard of violence in such films would always have to increase in order to maintain the impression that the ever more violent present is peaceful against the outrageously violent past. The resulting social effect is complacency. To clarify how this functions, we only need to remember the response to Avatar, an opposite scenario. Its peaceful and beautiful world depressed viewers as they compared it to their own world, one filled with estrangement from nature, increasing illness and poverty, and permanent war.
Whatever ideological effects Basterds and Django may create, artistically we must also admit that Basterds and Django are clichéd – the worst insult to any artistic creation. Supporting Jewish violence by way of their victimhood or playing on racial division (especially evil whites or evil Germans, hero Jews or hero Americans) is a fully fatigued story that we have heard over and over again. For their cartoonish histories, their pro-establishment ideologies, for impressing that exploitation is a thing of the past, or for the sheer artistic boredom of playing on the most worn-out motifs, Tarantino’s Basterds and Django are decidedly uncool.