Let me answer the most obvious condition question first: If your film, show, or movie revolves around politics, such as “House of Cards”, “West Wing”, or “Designated Survivor”, then yes, obviously it should talk about political issues.
However, what about everything else? It seems that we can’t watch, read, or play anything these days without it first being shoved through an ideological lens of some sort. Movies produced from Hollywood are tilted so far to the left they get pulled over by police.
Critics of all things woke tell the world that not all things need to have politics injected into them. Video games, comic books, Slots Play Casinos, movies, syrup, sugar and spice, and everything nice shoves woke political correctness down everyone’s throats these days- when all most people want is to enjoy their evening busting open alien heads and tune out for a couple of hours.
I 100% get that – and to an extent, I might even agree. However, does this mean that nothing that isn’t directly related to politics shouldn’t have politics in it… at all?
Politics and Culture
The problem is that it isn’t so easy to remove politics from a piece of media. If your work / art says anything, anything at all, then it carries far reaching implications and associations, even if the artist never intended it to.
An easy example is Predator, where Arnold Schwarzenegger runs through a jungle killing insurgents and rebels, and an alien without a second thought. It’s a whole bunch of mindless fun… if you have no problem with the idea of a Westerner combating Communism with violence. Or masculinity. Or guns.
Basically, every story is set against a backdrop of influences, biases, stigmas, and, yes, political beliefs. A basic story of good versus evil can be made infinitely complex by how you define “good” and “evil”- and you yourself might feel different about those definitions ten years down the line. And what about someone viewing your work twenty, fifty, one hundred years from now? Do you really think they’ll hold the same beliefs as you?
This is why we cannot judge people of the past by the standards of today. They each must be taken in accordance with their time period. Authors have literally been injecting their beliefs and opinions into their stories for thousands of years.
Take the story of the Trojan war: There’s a section of the story where one of the Goddesses (either Athena or Aphrodite, I can’t remember which) is told that the battlefield is no place for a woman. Apparently, this was a matter of contention in the time period, and this piece of dialogue was the author’s opinion on the matter.
However, let’s examine a work that’s a little more subtle: Star Wars.
George Lucas’ Messy Masterpiece
While the Prequel Trilogy is better known for its more political bent (characters spend far more time discussing trade negotiations than they probably need to), the Original Trilogy is equally full of worldbuilding and political implications. The evil Empire has to be taken out by the rebels. While the political nature of the rebels is left vague other than “pro-freedom / democracy”, the Empire is, well, an empire. Full blown, totalitarian dictatorship, with genuine speciesist undertones that has no problem with murdering billions to enforce their idea of order.
And there are people online who unironically think that the Empire did nothing wrong!
Meanwhile, the prequel trilogy delves into ideologies and politics even further. Chancellor Palpatine’s rise to Emperor is a story that subtly parallels Hitler’s rise to power after taking on “Emergency Powers” to put down a threat that never goes away. Star Wars is Pro-Freedom, Pro-Democracy, equality- representative of the American culture that George Lucas was born and raised in.
And that’s okay!
Get woke go broke
Why then do people get angry when Hollywood creates politically charged films? Why does anyone care if a move is PC or not? There are several reasons for this, and what makes “woke” films different from everything else.
First of all, they’re usually garbage. Just about every film is required to be somewhat woke these days, and the more of that political nonsense is put into the film, the worse the movie itself usually is.
Second, woke ideology (and those who purport it) is immensely condescending. It’s also just plain and simple wrong. It’s man-bashing, white-bashing, success-bashing, nostalgia-bashing- basically, it takes everything you’ve ever known and loved, calls you an idiot for loving it, and then REEEEs in fury about how much of an evil white man you are if you dare object.
We can actually return to Star Wars for a perfect example of this. Rian Jonson’s “The Last Jedi” is about as woke as a movie can get these days, and it’s completely nonsensical. The plot is like a puppy running in circles, chasing its tail for two hours until it collapses, poops on the carpet before chewing up your favorite sneakers. And the puppy is ugly.
The Last Jedi’s plot revolves around the slowest moving space battle to have ever existed. It takes every idea that was built up to be important from the previous seven films, chucks them out a window, and calls the audience stupid for expecting anything else. It invents two of the most obnoxious characters out of nowhere, demands that you love them, and calls you a misogynist for questioning how they ever got to where they are in society. One of them even has pink hair!
The Give and Take
A work of art has two audiences: The creator who makes it and everyone else. Every work of art has a bit of the person who made it inside of it, and this is reflected in the messages and themes and everything else that has to come together for the end result to exist.
As someone who loves writing, drawing, painting, and art in general, I can say that everything I make is unique because it’s made by me. That might sound narcissistic, but I promise it’s not. Everyone is a unique person, and anyone who has created something puts their own touch on it.
That’s good. I put myself into my work, such as this article, and I know that I’m going to be proud of it when it’s finished. Not because I expect to change the world, but because I’ll be satisfied with a job well done. For all intents and purposes, I’m the core audience of this article, and so only my opinion matters. I put whatever opinions here I want, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. I think chocolate tastes bad. There, I said it!
However, franchises are massive. God knows how many people work on something like Star Wars, from the music to the special effects, to the actors, writers, cameramen, stuntmen, audio engineers, and thousands of others. It used to all be wrangled by George Lucas before it was bought by Disney and handed over to J. J. Abrams, Rian Jonson, and Dave Filoni.
These directors (the first two, at least) took an established franchise with an established worldview and identity and then tried to drastically change it. For something that’s already established, the audience is going to have expectations.
This is a burden every artist with followers must face- the anxiety of living up to the audience’s expectations. Star Wars tried to “subvert expectations” and make something that was not woke, woke- and ended up creating a chaotic mess.
We can see this difference of expectations play out in the works of someone like M. Night Shyamalan. After the initial success of 6th Sense, it was no wonder that he felt the need to live up to the expectation that his later movies had to have a “twist” of some kind, which became his thing.
And I think this is the crux of the woke issue. Unlike the inherent backdrop of culture and politics that exists in almost everything, “woke” politics is parasitic. It takes things that people already love, chews them up, spits them out, and then gets angry when you don’t want to eat them.
Did you love Luke Skywalker as a kid? Well, too bad, because he’s now a fat, sad old man. Did you like Doctor Who for the character’s charm and wit and relationships? Too bad, now he’s a she. Did you like Star Trek? Too bad, now it’s gay and flamboyant and got black guys and strong women and- hey, why are you pointing at Deep Space 9?!
A video essay I watched by The Locus Eaters described this as the “Woke Skinsuit”. It looks like the thing you love. Tells you that it is. But inside, it’s been hollowed out and replaced with something else. Something sinister and malevolent.
So, does politics have a place in our media? Absolutely. Politics is a reflection of our culture, and the exploring of ideas through allegory and metaphor is vital. And great fun, when done competently!
However, don’t take the thing I love, gut it with a knife, and then call me a bad person for not stabbing first. This is why “wokeness” is going to die. Not today. Not tomorrow. It will take years. Decades, even. Generations, perhaps. But it will happen.
Because the ideology is hateful. It hates you and me and everyone who doesn’t hate the world as much as the “woke crowd” does. Well, here’s a wake up call. Everyone hates the woke, and the woke guillotine is going to hang Robespierre soon enough. Mark my words.