Bombs Over District 9
For more reasons than I can count, I’m tired of hating things. I’m tired of saying to myself “you shouldn’t enjoy this film – it’s racist”. I can feel myself becoming an anachronism – out of time, in more ways than one.
As I sat there, reading about “Bombs over Baghdad”, something tweaked inside my brain.
I had seen District 9 a couple of nights before, and the film had stymied me. I could see how interesting the premise was, how well it was done. But I was troubled. The representation of both the black and alien characters as savages irked me, as if the film were setting up stereotypes only to not knock them down. It reminded me of the Star Trek model of tolerance: when we find that rare alien who expresses the same liberal values, then we finally see our common ground. Maybe there’s hope for them yet. If I were feeling even more cynical than usual, Christopher would be Barack Obama.
The cop-out, liberal-humanist ending – look, deep down, those who are different are actually just like us – was played out; it’s been repeated thousands of times in seemingly every film ever made and the fact that this film also went there didn’t just bore me – it made me angry.
These were the things that went through my mind.
It was art that made me who I am. When art expresses beliefs that aren’t mine, become potential fodder for ideologies I oppose, I cringe. I switch the screen off. I move away. I decry, I spit and foam at the mouth. “These things are not me!”, I exclaim. These things are not me.
The overwhelmingly positive web-geek reaction left me puzzled, as if suddenly I were the only one in a room full of sophisticates chewing with his mouth open.
There was one fascinating line in District 9. It was when Wikus says something about ‘the prawns having no sense of property or ownership’. That was difference. That was the insurmountable barrier. That was interesting.
Having spent years steeped in contemporary cultural theory, this was the moment I was expecting big things. Something new. Not the same old story.
But was it?
“OutKast’s B.O.B. is the best because it says YES to everything we are and compresses it to pure energy.” -Tim
“B.O.B” works because it just fucking goes. It’s like someone put a brick on the accelerator at the beginning of the song, and you just can’t help but be carried along with it, in its energy, in its relentless, restless drive. Like the decade it heralded, the song is insatiable in its push to move on to the next moment.
Dance. Drink. Fuck. Lick. Smoke. Abandon yourself. Enjoy.
It was impossible not to be inundated with a thousand opinions of District 9 that were the opposite of mine. They weren’t just babble. They were smart, well-argued perspectives, ones that I could see myself agreeing with someday. Something was different here. Something about art had changed.
Art is not diminished. But it is now something else.
The threat and the danger of art was always its capacity to create subjects in its image. Sexist art begat sexist people. Racist art encouraged racism. This is why we had to force criticism into a box. We had to make it fit to make the world a better a place.
Art made people who they were. This is now a lie.
I’m trying to express something I don’t have words for. This reassures me. I’m trying to express something that exists in the future. Let’s create a picture.
You stand at the edge of the ocean. The tide washes over you. It never goes in. It just comes against you, over and over and over again. It is endless.
You used to get breaks. Breathers. Where you could collect yourself and thoughts and sink your feet a little into the sand. “There,” you thought. Some respite. Ah. This is who I am.
The rushing torrent never ends.
“B.O.B” says yes to everything because it can.
Because the tide is always coming in and you are a rock, stable and worn, fixed and malleable.
“District 9 is a racist film!” you say. But it doesn’t matter. Because minds have been made up before. They are also rocks in the tide. And the stream rushes past them too.
Art is not diminished. But it is something else.
The virtual is the canvas for your soul. While your insides were always outside, now the metaphor means something else.
The screen is blank and you are the projector.
And art is not diminished. But it is something else.