Now the PC commissars are gunning for ‘Stranger Things’
How is cultural orthodoxy enforced? According to some, cultural orthodoxy emanates invisibly from the powerful as a means of reinforcing and cementing their control over society.
But you don’t need a complicated theory to explain the transmission of cultural orthodoxy throughout the land. These days, you can simply watch the mobs form, then see how they terrify those who didn’t anticipate that they might be getting crosswise of mob behavior.
Let Scarlett Johansson be cast as a transgender person, and watch as tens of thousands of tweets denouncing the idea of a “cisgender” person playing someone trans derail her casting and the project. Once that happens, you can be sure no one will make the mistake of tempting the furies again by doing anything comparable that might set off the rage.
Note how the new version of “West Side Story” being filmed by Steven Spielberg moved heaven and earth to claim its star, Rachel Zegler, is enthnically permitted to play the Puerto Rican Maria, because her mother is from . . . Colombia?
Then there’s the attempted enforcement of cultural orthodoxy not by social media mobs but by the old-fashioned gatekeepers. They are much less powerful than once they were, but they’re still trying to make sure popular culture maintains a strict adherence to the ideological boundary lines that have been in place for the past half-century — even when those ideological boundary lines make no sense.
To wit: Even though the Soviet Union has been no more since 1991, some unthinking liberals writing for influential publications have been taking exception to negative depictions of the Soviet Union in popular culture lately.
My favorite example comes from Variety film critic Peter Debruge. He recently reviewed a movie about the Russian ballet star Rudolf Nureyev, who defected to the West in 1961: “The film remains maddeningly ambiguous about his motives for cutting ties with the Soviet Union. . . . [Nureyev] developed an ego somewhere along the way of the sort better suited to Western countries, where self-interest (versus personal sacrifice for the greater good) is a way of life.”
Imagine you are the filmmakers and producers of “The White Crow” and this is the way your labor of love is treated by an American cultural commissar. Would you dare to go that route again?
On July 4, Netflix released the third season of its hit teen-horror show “Stranger Things,” set in a small Indiana town in the 1980s. This inventive mash-up of 1980s pop-culture themes has previously featured a US government conspiracy involving the torture of children along with evil supernatural creatures from an alternate dimension. This season, however, there’s a new villain. It turns out the Soviet government has secretly funded the construction of a lavish shopping mall in the town to disguise its efforts to open a portal to the other dimension. Our heroes must fight unambiguously evil Russians to save the day and the world.
“Stranger Things” is not to be taken seriously. The people who make it don’t want us to take it seriously. Instead, they want us to delight in their use of decades-old tropes. And this is exactly what disturbs today’s would-be cultural gatekeepers.
Quoth Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic: “The setup for the entire eight episodes of Season 3 seems at first to be based on a simplistic premise of good and evil, one that the show’s previous seasons resisted. . . . All eight episodes are being released by Netflix on July 4, and the Uncle Sam-against-the-Russkies plot configuration leans heavily on red-blooded patriotism.”
She then claims the show is more nuanced than this because it shows how capitalism can destroy the commerce of small towns through things like the mall — when the best joke of the show is that the mall was only built there to serve the interests of the Russkies!
And in The Week, Aaron Bady opines that “instead of reminding us of what we have lost — our youth, our innocence, our sense of play — the show gets caught up in the kind of patriotic fantasies that adults love so much, things like romance and defeating communism in a mall with fireworks on the Fourth of July.”
I’m not saying the makers of “Stranger Things” will care all that much about these sorts of opinions, expressed in dubious prose by slavish know-nothings. But they certainly serve as warning shots to anyone who might dare to follow them down a road in which patriotism is good and Communism is bad. Even in 2019. Maybe especially in 2019.
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