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.
Newspapers always make good movies: the dare-devil reporter, the overachieving assistant, and the crusty editor up against the power of a dishonest government. There is wonderful symbolism in the heavy lead type spelling out a scandal and the broad sheets of newsprint rolling off the presses to cover the nation. The audience is assured that the truth will come out.
The publication of the Pentagon Papers is a perfect crusading newspaper story. It starts with the intellectual, once hawkish, Marine veteran stealing and photocopying secret papers and giving them to The New York Times for publication, revealing 30 years of the government misleading the populace about the Vietnam War. The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, begins in Chapter 2, with editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) frustrated and embarrassed by having been scooped, once again, by The Times. When the government gets an injunction, barring The Times from further publication, The Post, in the words of Bradlee, is “in the game.”