Adaptation is an oldie but goodie with an excellent cast of characters. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is supposed to write a movie adaptation of Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief. The emphasis is on ‘supposed to’ because he doesn’t.
We accompany Charlie trying to overcome his severe writer’s block by pursuing his work without a plan. In the process, we witness his soul-crushing rampages of self-loathing, short moments of seeming progress, and tragically unfulfilled desires. All the while, Charlie’s much more lighthearted twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage in a double role) naively pursues his own screenplay endeavors. Also, the audience dives into the book along with Charlie and get a glimpse into the life of orchid thief and breeder John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Initially, the film is nothing but bizarre; however, gradually it becomes inspiring and holds quite a few surprises for unsuspecting viewers.
Yes, ok. So the film is twelve years old? It’s funny and clever, and it features some of the best actors and actresses Hollywood has to offer. (How often do you get to see Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhal, and Queen Latifah in one single movie?) In short: Stranger Than Fiction is a classic. Unfortunately, it’s a classic not many people know. Well, we’re going to change this now.
After the general introduction to Hochschild’s treatise last week, let us now pursue a deeper analysis. The “deep story” of the Tea Party movement in red states is a story through which its advocates pursue an “emotional self-interest” (in addition to an economic self-interest) as Hochschild emphasizes. Ironically, while her interviewees adamantly refuse to participate in what they consider a culture of victimization – meaning a culture that seeks to remedy systemic inequalities – populist white male politicians, such as Donald Trump, nevertheless provide them exactly with those empowering moments of identity politics that they reject in women, minorities, or refugees. As Hochschild puts it in her conclusion, although “victims” would be “the last word my Louisiana Tea Party friends would apply to themselves,” they are “sacrificial lambs to the entire American industrial system.” Hochschild’s use of quasi-religious terms is telling. She ascribes to Trump’s rallies a religious, cultic quality which, through invocations of “dominance, bravado, clarity, national pride, and personal uplift,” transforms the crowd’s sense of shame and alienation into feelings of elation and belonging. These concluding observations of Strangers in Their Own Land show the deeply troubling aspects of the Tea Party, most of all the manipulation of the masses through the promise of uplift, unity, and power in a way that uncannily resembles extremist, fascist ideologies.
In January 2017, I listened to an interview with UC Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild on National Public Radio about her New York Times bestseller. But it was not until a friend of mine recommended Strangers in Their Own Land that I actually read it. My friend commended the book less for a more informed understanding of the rise of the Tea Party and – by implication Trump – but rather for providing an empathetic, humane perspective of the supporters of the American conservative party, especially its populist right wing.
Imagine you get home and see a bunch of your friends, let’s say friends whose taste in films and shows you usually trust, watching a show. A really weird cartoon show you can’t make any sense of, because, let’s say, one of the show’s constantly burping characters turned himself into a talking pickle just to avoid a family counseling session. And suddenly the talking pickle calls itself “Pickle Rick” and slaughters giant rats in the sewer. You see your friends’ faces, their eyes fixed on the screen. Heartfelt laughter alternates with quiet curiosity. “In which world is this an actual show?!” you may ask yourself before you decide to sit down and give it a try… Read more »
“I write emotive stories about Natives who have been absent in history.”
(Gerald Vizenor, personal interview)
Gerald Vizenor’s historical novel, Native Tributes, will be published in August 2018. And here is one important reason why you should read it: Native Tributes will encourage you to re-visit the aftermath of World War I – from a Native American perspective.