A recent trend with Hollywood (and by extension, Americans) has been to completely saturate our movie theaters with Superhero movies. Apparently we can’t get enough of the same plot and CGI battles replayed year after year. So why do we keep watching the same film over and over? I argue, we like watching these movies because we are increasingly living in a world in which our escapism is no longer to shoot Native Americans and marry a blonde. It’s to fantasize about being rescued from a corrupt, one-sided, ruinous political world by an attractive, moral strong-man… and then bang the blonde (some things never change). I want to look at how this ties into our perceptions of the political world and where we are going looking forward.
To Begin: Some Cultural Data
In the past 10 years there has been a resurgence of dystopian movies (The Hunger Games, Divergent Series, Elysium…) and Superhero films. Take a look,
I’m only looking at blockbuster movies, so, for comparison take a look at the number of films released by MPAA members per year from the year 2000 onward.
Basically, the number of films released by our big movie producers has dropped, while the number of dystopian or superhero movies has increased dramatically.
Some Polling Data
It seems the America is gripped by two axioms of its political world.
1: We do not trust our government,
This perception has been dropping dramatically since 2001, which is, consequently around the same time we begin seeing our trend toward Superhero and Dystopian film (the second surge was in the mid 90s which lines up with the distrust of government in the mid 90s above).
2. We demand a stronger president.
Every decade brings the demand for more powerful authority figures to cleanse the political backwater we call the US senate. It is a fact that since the founding of this nation in 1776, our nation’s executive branch (headed by our president) has become ever more powerful at the expense of our legislative branch.
Source: Some History
We Want a Political Savior
So here we are, we want a more powerful president and a weaker senate. But at the same time we distrust government. This is true for both parties. For the republicans, you only need to look at the current dick measuring contest, aka the republican primary, as a grand game of who can sound the most manly emphasizing their policy of slaughtering Arabs and threatening Russians. This explains the resurgence of Donald Trump, someone who was seen as a joke candidate during the re-election of Obama has come to the forefront as someone who is decisive and strong willed.
For the democrats, the first Obama campaign verged on a personality cult, while the second campaign hinged on being better than the other guy. The Obama campaign was full of all the symbolism and strands of hoping for a strong willed savior. Hope and change, no matter what culture you’re in, is the rallying cry of a people disenchanted with the way things are. But it apparently failed.
We all want a Superman to fly down on earth and solve our problems decisively, through some epic battle. We want a Batman, a moral crusader and a blinding white light of justice who, in the face of hopeless government complicity and corruption, still ends up doing the right thing. And in our moments of leisure we like watching movies about a Dystopian world set in our not-so-far future of oppression and near starvation; then our every-man (or woman) appears and rebels against the evil powers, reestablishes a truly just government, and retires in peace.
We are wandering down the pathway of wanting to be saved by ‘a politician we can believe in’ and simultaneously decrying authoritarianism (so long as it’s not OUR president… it’s bad). We want a savior without having the willpower or the grit to produce it.
Where This Leaves Us
There is one immutable truth that we all know; no form of government or society can exist forever. We just hope that we aren’t alive when it eventually goes belly up. Empires, nations, kingdoms, and dynasties rise and fall. In America, it seems as though we are awaiting our own fade into obscurity. Every day brings news that the economic machinery of India, China, and Brazil are catching up with the once undisputed rule of American power. At one time we launched our booming voice into the echo chamber that was once American international diplomacy and heard only silent agreement. Those days are over, no matter how many versions of the Avengers we make.
For some perspective, the ancient Egyptians lasted roughly 2,000-3,000 years. The Romans, a paltry 300 years undivided, and a reasonable 1,400 if you include the Byzantine Empire. The majestic Ming dynasty, famed throughout the ages as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history” was a mere 276 years, a small pebble awash the titans who appeared before it.
Our United States has been in existence for about 240 years, structured under a document which is so difficult to change that this has only officially happened 17 times (excluding the bill of rights) in our entire history.
And so, we are entering into a seemingly dichotomous era. Those who are obsessed with the moral and political purity of 1700s America and those who are fed up with departure from the European welfare experiment. And yet, one thing that remains unifying is our undying love and devotion for the US Constitution. Despite the fact that we hate our government and we dream of the days that we get saved by ever growing authoritarian presidents (something which would make the founding fathers roll over in their grave); we still seem to have an unassailable infatuation for the very document responsible for its creation.
We see no campaigns to amend the constitution to fix the electoral college system; instead we seem content in allowing the judicial branch create pseudo amendments by ‘interpreting’ their way through the mess which is same sex marriage.
But despite all these evils, America is content on waiting for her hero rather than building its own. And so, I suggest that perhaps America won’t go out with a bang, but with a whimper as our government becomes increasingly gridlocked and partisan, supported by a lazy populace. Because, for the most part, we all seem to think we’re royally screwed but refuse to do anything about it. It seems we’d rather spend an entire election cycle talking about ripping 1 pound parasites out of some woman’s uterus or your right to purchase fully automatic AK-47s (for… ‘hunting’ purposes), rather than the fact that our government is completely inept in dealing with the coming digital world (how many times does our government need to get hacked before this becomes obvious?).
In following this election it looks like we will double down for the 11th time on defense spending as a way of ‘staying ahead’ of regional neighbors, most of whom have been imaginary since the 90s. Through our movies, our cultural attitudes, and our actions we all seem to be awaiting for the decline of America.
Maybe if we sit on our hands long enough, this just might happen.