Die Stupid

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BY JOHN STEPPLING
Dateline: July 2007

diehard4
Inpolite, infantile question: With so many American supermen of Scots-Irish ancestry, I don’t understand how the Irish don’t control the world already…

“There is an underscoring of collective anxiety in this film, everyone, from ordinary citizen to wonk- defense specialist, all seem nervous….even before anything jumps off. It is portraying a culture of deep almost bottomless anxiety…”

I have this three-week break before I go to Norway, and my girlfriend is already there, and school is over, so I have a lot of time on my hands……which is my excuse for going to see Die Hard 4 yesterday. Now, on the heels of your very good post on Arts and Entertainment, and our dissection of the pathogenics of *24*, I think a quick glance at the Bruce Willis franchise is in order.

What struck me yesterday was the power of the medium….at least in terms of the social and cultural legitimizing that such spectacles bring with them. It’s close to what Gramsci described as hegemony. It’s also curious to watch an actor as limited as Willis survive in roles that ask us to accept his inherent coolness. But see, it doesn’t really matter, because the spectacle is what matters. Guy Debord comes to mind again. The film is predictable, though the paeans to patriotism and American good are rather crude, even for a cartoon like this. The other trope….besides American good, is that of technology as a cure, or in the hands of foreign evildoers, a curse, for mankind. Amazing how computers never freeze up in these films, nor do servers go down….and hackers are all but omnipotent. It’s pointless to go over the obvious thematic assumptions here; the man of action, the anti-intellectualism, etc…..but my favorite moment was the *bad guy* quoting Lenin (a lot of the other villains speak French…..wouldn’t you know!!). Truly hysterical.

Ah well, Willis is a devout Republican and a buffoon….so one shouldn’t expect insight. I thought again, however, of The Shooter, a sort of left wing fantasy action film. The difference between Die Stupid and the Wahlberg vehicle, is one of character. It’s possible that character, as in some way realized on screen, violates the action-cartoon template. I’m not sure, but there have been a couple interesting quasi-subversions of expectation this last year, the other being the latest Bond with Daniel Craig. In the case of the Wahlberg and the Bond, a genuine sense of character crept in….albeit fragmentary and more or less eclipsed by the frame of *entertainment*…..which brings us back to that notion again.

I think I will return to the notion of Entertainment in the next post, but for now let me just say that in films like Die Stupid, what you have is pretty naked propaganda. It fits quite nicely into the Empire’s recipe for assumed truths. Trust the new faceless SWAT teams and pilots, for they are there to protect civilization. Like National Socialism, the prevailing message is that the enemy is bent on destroying civilization, and hence must be stopped, and by any means neccessary. The Nazis biologized the enemy, the Final Solution was a ‘disinfecting” of civilization….and this is largely what one encounters in Die Stupid. There is an enemy “out there” and we must be vigilant. There is an underscoring of collective anxiety in this film, everyone, from ordinary citizen to wonk- defense specialist, all seem nervous….even before anything jumps off. It is portraying a culture of deep almost bottomless anxiety.

In one sense, this is a film that nobody takes seriously, and for that we can be thankful……unlike, say, 24, which…..maybe because of its lack of humor… is presented as serious. One watches such cultural product and feels once again the infantilization of this culture. Little boys playing with big toys. And in ever more feverish bouts of death wish frenzy. Die Stupid is an orgy of destruction…..much like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. At a certain point one starts to realize, as one sits in the dark comfort of the Multiplex theatre, that this is a form of pornography. It has no reason or justification beyond a prurient exciting of base energetic responses – and this kind of arousal is to be seen more and more in today’s entertainment culture. It might be Die Stupid appeals more to the NASCAR crowd, and 24 more to urban conservatives, and probably liberals, too, but both traffic in the same iconography and both are advertisments for empire.
—J.S.

John Steppling serves as Cyrano’s Journal’s Senior Editor, Arts & Culture, and coedits VOXPOP, a blog area dedicated to such matters.

4 comments on “Die Stupid
  1. What amazes me is the consistency of a culture’s m.o. It would seem like Hollywood and American television have been playing this notion of the hyperindividualist cop solving complex social problems on his own, normally through violence, for ages…nothing new in that regard, but the noise is now defeaning. The strong belief in cartoon Supermen underscores the perennial infantilism of American culture. One has to marvel at how one malignant aspect reinforces another. This a great and insightful read.

  2. In a culture in which to point at any aspect of truth is to indict it, the main beneficiaries have to focus on and create ever greater falsehoods. The goes for all who have a pretty well feathered nest, from politicos to culture workers, like movie producers, etc. Die Hard 4 and similar excremental art (?) have to be empty of true meaning, but, since they’re commercial-ideological tropes, they need to reflect and play up to the established values. Thanks for this piece I enjoyed it.

  3. The funny thing about Willis is that, as the article says, he’s a joke, but he’s a buffoon who takes himself awfully seriously. Who was who said the biggest fool is he who starts believing his own press? Aging superman Willis fits that to a “T”. Hardly surprising this idiot is a Republican, too.

  4. People love explosions, particularly fiery ones. Just recall the ‘triumph’ of the moment in Selma and Louise when they gleefully ignite a fuel truck because the driver was a little rude.

    Note, by the way, how these glorious film explosions are usually repeated two or three times, in total contradiction of any possibility of reality. We see the truck or village or helicopter explode in flames, then guess what, we see it do it again, and often, a third time. It’s as if the producers want to get the most out of the money they invested in all the gasoline and chemicals used in the explosion.

    The exploitation of such ‘thrills’for the public is inevitable. Put enough explosions on film and you’ll fill the theater (and your pockets.)

    One can hardly blame Willis for taking this route. Fortunately there are people like yourself who dare call him to task on it.

    However, underlying this trend is this American (or world-wide?)love of seeing things burn. It’s exploitable, sellable, and profitable.

    If people can’t see the connection between Selma and Louise and the events of 9-11 perhaps they are overlooking an important aspect our ‘American Way of Life.’

    Selma and Louise is the ultimate female brat movie, but not the last one. The female brat is a standard Hollywood theme since Stanwyck perfected the role fifty years ago.

    Willis is just the male version, the individual who breaks all the rules others have to live by, who burns, destroys, and kills for the box office and the the joy of the spectators, who, living in the real world, are never allowed to break any rules at all without excessive punishment.

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