THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (41-50)

“The FedRev 100” is a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. Here is the The FedRev 100: films 41 to 50.

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41. Cidade de Deus [City of God] (2002, F. Meirelles) 

Director Fernando Meirelles burst onto the scene with City of God, a true tour de force of film making. The film is propelled by a furious energy as it tells the history of gang violence in the poverty stricken slums of Rio de Janeiro from the point of view of the youth growing up under severe economic oppression. The story is a memoir, told chronologically though flashback, and it employs a host of techniques that in the wrong hands often come off as cheesy, such as freeze-frames, spinning cameras, and the names of characters popping up on screen as they’re introduced. Under Meirelles’ guidance these techniques are elevated to the divine, woven into the fabric of a masterfully crafted film. City of God is the story of one kid growing up, but through that lens we are exposed to a world of segregated poverty, hidden beyond the sight of the tourist resorts and upper class neighborhoods. Revealed here is the struggle of the poor and oppressed in the underbelly of capitalist society.

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42. Gojira [Godzilla] (1954, I. Honda) 

Made less than a decade after the end of World War II, with nuclear annihilation still fresh in the Japanese consciousness after the U.S. dropped two atom bombs on the already defeated nation, Godzilla brought to life a horrific monster as a metaphor for nuclear destruction. The film was inspired by a real-life “accident” in which a Japanese fishing boat was irradiated by American nuclear testing in the Pacific, and the resulting film was pointedly anti-American and a powerful condemnation of nuclear weapons. Over the years, nearly 30 Japanese Godzilla sequels have been produced, as well as 2 Hollywood remakes, making the franchise one of the most enduring and prolific in film history. While many of the sequels don’t take themselves very seriously, there can be no denying the impact the original film has had on society. It is a terrifying and highly entertaining film whose politics are integral to the plot, and its anti-nuclear stance resonated with millions of people around the world, making Godzilla one of the most beloved characters in cinema.

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43. Cradle Will Rock (1999, T. Robbins) 

Written and directed by Tim Robbins, Cradle Will Rock is a love letter to the theater and the role of art in society as a tool for resisting oppression. Set during the 1930s in New York City, the film centers around the production of the musical “The Cradle Will Rock,” directed by Orson Welles and written by Marc Blitzstein, through the Federal Theater Project. Robbins’ film is an ensemble which weaves together many characters and issues of the time, including the saga of John Rockefeller hiring Diego Rivera to paint a mural for him, only to have it destroyed because of its leftist themes. Cradle Will Rock also addresses the rise of fascism in Europe and the growing anti-communist climate in America, depicting the House Committee on Un-American Activities as unjustly persecuting artists. Cradle Will Rock is filled with fantastic performances from many recognizable stars in small parts, and was clearly a labor of love for all involved, resulting in a film that joyously celebrates art while mourning the death of the Federal Theater Project and condemning the oppression of the poor by the ruling class.

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44. Brokeback Mountain (2005, A. Lee) 

Brokeback Mountain beat the odds to become a worldwide hit, and then became one of the most honored and acclaimed films of all time, cementing its legacy as one of the most powerful and important success stories in film history. It’s the story of two men, played brilliantly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, who take summer jobs herding sheep in the mountains of Wyoming, where they fall in love. Living in a deeply homophobic society, they are forced to lock away their feelings and live closeted lives, each marrying a woman and having children. As the years pass they rekindle their love on occasional fishing trips, but are prevented from sharing their lives together as both of their marriages deteriorate. Brokeback Mountain is a heartbreaking love story that punches you in the gut, and it’s masterfully crafted by Ang Lee, who never rushes a single moment. Lee’s film faced a gauntlet of bigotry and conservative criticism in a risk adverse industry, and yet, because of the quality of the film making and the universally human appeal of the narrative, Brokeback Mountain was accepted by the mainstream the world over.

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45. Do the Right Thing (1989, S. Lee) 

Set on an extremely hot day in Brooklyn, Do the Right Thing is a powerful exploration of race relations in America. The film, which feels a lot like a stage play, introduces a large cast of characters who inhabit the neighborhood. Mookie, played by Spike Lee himself, plays a delivery man for an Italian-American owned pizza shop, which has a “wall of fame” of famous Italian celebrities, but no black people, despite being located in a predominantly black neighborhood. This angers Mookie’s friend, who demands that Sal, the shop’s owner, include black people on the wall. Symbolized by the rising temperature of the summer day, racial tension which had been bubbling just under the surface begins to boil over, resulting in a fight involving much of the neighborhood’s residents and the police, who murder one of the black protesters with a choke-hold. Do the Right Thing is a fantastic piece of political art that forces the audience to think about where they stand on the issue of race by raising the question of nonviolence versus violent self-defense in the face of oppression.

Tim Robbins And Morgan Freeman In 'The Shawshank Redemption'

46. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, F. Daramont) 

A prime example of a film that forged a reputation as a classic on home video, The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from a Stephen King novella, is a powerful film about a banker wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Andy Dufresne is sent to Shawshank prison where he struggles to adapt to the harsh conditions. While incarcerated he is befriended by Red, the inmate who “knows how to get things.” What follows is a fantastic story of friendship, survival, and yes, redemption in the face of a cruel prison industrial complex. The inmates are portrayed as human beings trapped in a brutal, cruel circumstance, while the judicial system, warden, and guards, the official establishment of law and order, is the villain. The Shawshank Redemption is a film that takes us to the depths of despair while exposing the corruption of the powerful, but it’s punctuated by so many poignant moments. Ultimately the film is a masterpiece that puts forward one of the most hopeful and emotionally satisfying endings ever.

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47. Cloud Atlas (2012, T. Tykwer / L. Wachowski / A. Wachowski) 

One of the most ambitious mainstream films in recent years, Cloud Atlas is a genre-bending epic complete with incredible special effects and a star-studded cast of actors who all play multiple characters, but what really makes it noteworthy is its unflinching revolutionary stance. The narrative weaves together several stories which take place over hundreds of years, and the theme of directly resisting injustice is carried like a baton through each vignette, openly embracing revolution as the solution to human exploitation and oppression across the ages. It’s a film about how human beings are inextricably linked, how our actions and choices ripple through time and impact others beyond ourselves, and the need to collectively find the strength to resist injustice and break free of all forms of slavery. Cloud Atlas is a film that puts forward the idea that things do not have to be as they are, that we can birth a better future for everyone by taking the necessary steps today, and this anti-establishment message is executed with the highest regard for artistic quality, including brilliant cinematography and acting, as well as a remarkable musical score.

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48. The Constant Gardener (2005, F. Meirelles) 

Fernando Meirelles followed up his universally acclaimed masterpiece City of God with The Constant Gardener. While a more traditionally structured film than its predecessor, and one that is more measured and somber than a brutal force of nature, it’s no less beautiful, poignant, and powerful. It’s the story of a British diplomat who at great personal risk takes up his wife’s activism after she is murdered in retaliation for trying to expose corruption and murder within the pharmaceutical industry. The film is a powerful indictment of Big Pharma’s exploitation of the third world, as well as the way capitalist-imperialist governments actually work in conjunction with private industry to aid and cover up these crimes. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz give fantastic, nuanced performances, and the film takes us on a journey of intrigue and mystery through several countries. The Constant Gardener is a film that affirms the human dignity of the oppressed in the third world, while telling a powerful story of self-sacrifice in the service of a greater good.

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49. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, A. Dominick) 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is about Jesse James, the legendary outlaw, and Robert Ford, a young man who idolizes the criminal and his exploits. Ford wants desperately to impress James, to show his abilities as a sidekick despite a lack of criminal experience. Ford’s older brother has been involved in the James gang, but despite the family connection, Robert’s knowledge of Jesse is based mostly on tall tales and comic book stories. James has become a legend in his own time, and the film is a slow burning meditation on the nature of celebrity in America. Ford worships the idea of James, the mass produced pop-culture reflection of the criminal, but learns the real man is disappointing. He’s a lonely, paranoid murderer; a shell of a human being, hollowed out by his own fame, and after realizing this Ford recruits his brother to help him collect the reward money being offered for James, dead or alive. The film is beautiful to take in, shot by the master cinematographer Roger Deakins, and those images are accompanied by a haunting score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Jesse James is a masterpiece that explores the dark side of fame in modern society.

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50. Days of Heaven (1978, T. Malick) 

Often listed among the most beautiful films ever made, Days of Heaven is the genius Terrence Malick’s second feature. It’s the story of Bill, who after killing his boss at a factory in Chicago flees to northern Texas with his girlfriend Abby and younger sister Linda, where they all sign on as seasonal workers at a rich man’s farm. The Farmer is a young man with a terminal illness, and Bill and Abby pretend to be siblings, hatching a plan to have Abby seduce and marry the farmer so they can inherit his fortune when he dies. A love triangle develops, and of course things don’t go according to plan. Set in the sparse landscape of the Texas Panhandle, the film explores the nature of love and jealousy, as well as the desperation of the poor. The tragic ending is an outcome of the values promoted in capitalist society, which condition people to see each other as property, exploiting each other as a means to attain wealth. Days of Heaven is told primarily from the perspective of Linda, who narrates the film in signature Malick style, and Ennio Morricone’s Academy Award nominated score helps the lay the emotional foundation for the narrative. Unfortunately, after directing this masterpiece Malick didn’t make another film for 20 years.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 51-60)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 81-90)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (51-60)

“The FedRev 100” is a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles, so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. Here is the The FedRev 100: films 51 to 60.

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51. Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings (2001 / 2002 / 2003, P. Jackson) 

If “The FedRev 100″ were judged purely on technical and artistic achievement, without factoring in political orientation, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy would probably be in the top 10. It is truly one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema, especially when considering that it easily could have gone very wrong. From the very beginning, Jackson devoted himself to a series that would both honor J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material and work well as a film, and he succeeded with flying colors, bringing Middle Earth to life in spectacular fashion. The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy story of good versus evil, and while its depiction of this conflict might be too black and white, what it has to say about the ability of the least likely heroes to overcome seemingly impossible odds does have value. Of course its outmoded focus on kingdoms and royal bloodlines is not something to celebrate, but it does speak to the seductive nature of power and the need to humble one’s self in the service of a greater good. Of all the technical accomplishments of the trilogy, perhaps the greatest achievement is the way Jackson handled the narrative, gradually expanding the scope of the story as the central characters splinter off into their own threads, and yet maintaining the sense that we’re watching one cohesive film. The Lord of the Rings, when taken as a whole, is a truly extraordinary cinematic experience.

KoyanisB015.page52. Koyaanisquatsi (1982, G. Reggio) 

Koyaanisquatsi is a highly political documentary, and like its predecessor Man with a Movie Camera, it’s perhaps better described as a video essay or tone poem. Though while Man with a Movie Camera highlights the virtues of socialist society, Koyaanisquatsi performs the opposite function, critiquing the waste, chaos, exploitation, and dysfunction under capitalism, juxtaposed against the serenity of nature. “Koyaanisquatsi” is a word from the Hopi language, defined during the closing credits as “crazy life,” “life in turmoil,” “life disintegrating,” and “a state of life that calls for another way of living.” The film sets about making the point, without any dialogue or narration, that contemporary capitalist society is not the way human beings should be living, and it uses slow-motion and time-lapse photography impeccably, forcing the viewer to see familiar things in a new way. Philip Glass’ haunting musical score provides a backdrop for the staggering scale of the production, becoming a character in the film in and of itself. Koyaanisquatsi is a film that illustrates the ability of artists to observe the world around them, recognize something wrong, and translate that feeling into an artistic creation that effectively communicates that message to a mass audience. This film, without uttering a single word, calls upon us to forge another way of living.

la-haine_21085653. La haine (1995, M. Kassovitz) 

La haine is a searing drama set in an impoverished suburb of Paris about three young friends from immigrant families; Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert. They are undesirables isolated from the rest of French society, and they’re routinely harassed by police. A riot is sparked by the police beating one of the trio’s friends, putting him into a coma, and in the chaos a policeman loses his gun. Vinz finds the gun and he plans to use it to kill a cop if their friend dies. The film follows the three friends, one white, one black, and one middle-eastern, throughout one full day. With no jobs and little prospect for a better future, they wander around aimlessly in an attempt to entertain themselves, under the constant threat of the police. La haine, which translates to Hate, is shot in a beautiful black & white creating a contrast that underscores the socioeconomic and race-related division of society, and the film brilliantly depicts the lose-lose situation of the oppressed under capitalism. If they accept their place as the scum of the Earth, they lose, and if they resist they face brutal crackdowns. Perhaps the only major strike against this film is the lack of a female presence, but nonetheless, La haine is a powerful film about the hatred that flourishes in societies segregated by class.

Shadow_Doubt-stairs54. Shadow of a Doubt (1943, A. Hitchcock) 

Compared to Hitchcock’s better known classics, Shadow of a Doubt might get somewhat overlooked, but it nonetheless stands as one of his greatest achievements, and it was also the prolific director’s personal favorite among his own films. With Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock crafted an intimate portrait of small-town American life, contrasting its hidden dark side with its polished, cheerful exterior. The film centers around Uncle Charlie, a murderer on the run from the law, and his niece, also named Charlie, who gradually pieces together her uncle’s mystery as she realizes that he, like middle-class life, isn’t what he appears to be on the outside. Beyond the surface level drama, which is entertaining in its own right, Shadow of a Doubt goes much deeper, analyzing the social make-up of small town America as a garden from which fascism can grow. Uncle Charlie has a misogynist outlook, a serial killer who targets old women he perceives as a drain on society, wasting wealth that he thinks ought to belong to him, and young Charlie must overcome her own impulse to idealize her uncle in order to see him for what he really is. Besides being socially complex and nuanced, Shadow of a Doubt is also beautiful to watch, with camerawork that was ahead of its time and strikingly dynamic. Joseph Cotton turns in a fantastic and terrifying performance as Uncle Charlie, as does Teresa Wright as a young “innocent” whose struggle to defeat her uncle is a unique kind of “coming of age” tale that gets to the heart of the evil just below the surface of American society..

dvd_strange55. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963, S. Kubrick) 

Dr. Strangelove is a film that is both hilarious and deadly serious. Given the apocalyptic consequences of nuclear war, perhaps comedy and satire were the best tools to question the insanity of the Cold War. A deranged U.S. general orders a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union, having become obsessed with an imagined Soviet threat against the American people’s “precious bodily fluids,” and the film follows the efforts of the utterly inept government and military officials to prevent nuclear war. The film is a powerful attack on the U.S.’s paranoid Cold War ideology and its willingness to risk the fate of the entire world in an imperialist power struggle. It also shows how easily fail-safes can be circumvented by bureaucracies. In perhaps its boldest stroke, the film depicts U.S. collaboration with a former Nazi, the title character Dr. Strangelove, implying that perhaps the two nations who had recently been at war actually have similar ideologies at their core. The film is a wild, hilarious ride, and perhaps because of its satirical criticism it was able to get away with a rather bleak, thought provoking ending.

site_28_rand_1758118753_ali_maxed156. Ali (2001, M. Mann) 

A fantastic bio-pic, Michael Mann’s film Ali is about the boxer Cassius Clay’s decade long journey from winning the heavyweight title and being re-named Muhammad Ali by the Nation of Islam, to having his title unjustly stripped from him after refusing induction into the U.S. Army, and his struggle to reclaim his crown. Ali was an active professional fighter from 1960 through 1981, and there are many stories that could make great films within those years, but by focusing on the decade between 1964 and 1974 Mann was able to tell a powerful tale of redemption packed with political implications. The film begins with an electric 10 minute opening montage showing Ali training, inter-cut with a Sam Cooke concert. It sets the stage and the terms for the story to come, perfectly capturing the look and feel of the turbulent 1960s. The film is highly stylized, shot by perhaps the greatest living cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, and Will Smith turns in a fantastic performance as Ali, resisting the temptation to resort to an exact impression, and instead embodying Ali in a way that is emotionally authentic. Smith channels Ali’s charisma and persona without coming off as a parody, delivering instead a three-dimensional character. The film is primarily about Ali’s righteous stand against the Vietnam War, and the ramifications that stance had on his career, as well as the impact it had around the world.

435457. L’armée du crime [Army of Crime] (2009, R. Guédiguian) 

Released in the same year as Inglourious Basterds, Robert Guédiguian’s Army of Crime is also set in France during WWII. But while Tarantino’s film is an escapist revenge fantasy that takes great liberties with history, allowing the audience to revel in an unnatural catharsis, Army of Crime is firmly grounded in reality, showing the nuts and bolts of the French Resistance. It’s a bold, uncompromising film that forces the audience to confront reality. It’s explicit about the vital role communists played in organizing and leading the Resistance, as well as the collaboration with Nazis on the part of French authorities and police officers. Indeed, the underground opposition fighters are primarily pursued and betrayed by their own countrymen, who brutally torture and murder suspects on behalf of the occupying Germans. Army of Crime is edited in a classic, straightforward manner, and the actors authentically portray those who faced a choice between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. It’s a great film that challenges the audience, perfectly capturing the political terms and the stakes involved in carrying out a resistance movement against fascism.

dinner-with-andre158. My Dinner With Andre (1981, L. Malle) 

The brainchild of actors Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, and directed by Louis Malle, My Dinner with Andre is a film that is so simple in concept that it gently lulls the audience into its embrace. It’s a film that is literally a conversation between two people; one, who tells of the varied and rich experiences in his life after leaving mainstream society and traveling the world, and the other, who listens attentively but ultimately argues for a more pragmatic, conventional (first world) way of life. The film sets up an ideological struggle between the two men, and throughout the conversation the “realistic” character is forced to examine society and his place in it, as what he perceives as normal and real is actually artificially contrived, and what he perceives as fantasy is actually real. While a film about two people having a conversation could easy become dull and monotonous, Malle keeps it cinematically interesting and visually dynamic in a way that reinforces the dialogue; the image and the word working hand in hand to challenge the way the audience sees the world.

fullsizephoto35317959. Gwoemul [The Host] (2006, Bong J.) 

The Host belongs in the conversation for the greatest monster film ever made. Bong’s genre masterpiece is about a family who owns a snack shop along the Han River, and primarily about Gang-doo, the adult son of the shop’s aging owner, Hie-bong. One day a mysterious amphibious creature is seen hanging off a nearby bridge before it drops into the water and terrorizes the people on the riverbank. After trying to fight off the monster and help those in need, Gang-doo’s daughter is kidnapped by the creature and taken away to its hidden lair in the city’s sewer system. Hie-bong’s other two adult children join Gang-doo, re-uniting to try to rescue his daughter. The film, which is highly entertaining on a surface level, also has strong political undertones, specifically targeting American imperialism, carrying on the tradition established by Godzilla in 1954. The monster is a result of genetic mutation after an American doctor violated safety protocols and ordered a Korean subordinate dump a large amount of toxic formaldehyde down the drain. And throughout the film we see signs of political unrest stemming from the American military presence and the quarantine imposed by the American government, which is based on lies. The climax of the film comes to a head during a political rally in which activists are protesting the U.S.’s planned use of a chemical called Agent Yellow against the creature. The Host is an entertaining and moving film infused with a powerful anti-imperialist message.

hero_EB19971021REVIEWS08401010361AR60. Sweet Smell of Success (1957, A. Mackendrick) 

Sweet Smell of Success is a highly stylized film noir that takes us inside the seedy underworld of entertainment columnists and press agents in New York City. It’s a world where self-interest rules, and everyone is trying to get ahead, or merely survive, in harsh dog-eat-dog conditions. Ethics are a non-existent consideration in a setting where corruption and extortion are necessary tools for success, and everyone is fair game to manipulate and exploit. Burt Lancaster plays J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful columnist who rules over the fates of the aspiring with an iron fist, turning in an iconic villainous performance. And Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a down-on-his-luck press agent desperate to get his clients mentioned in Hunsecker’s column so he can pay his rent. Hunsecker exploits Falco’s desperation to manipulate his sister’s relationship with a Jazz musician he doesn’t approve of. It’s a film that shows how power structures work under capitalism. Those who have exploit those who don’t to achieve even greater power and influence, no matter who must be trampled or destroyed in the process. Sweet Smell of Success has a sizzling script and an immersive visual aesthetic that transports you directly into a corrupt world of exploitation and greed.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 81-90)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)

Kanye West Needs to Learn the Difference Between the Cry of Rebellion of the Slave (New or Old) and the Frustrated Rage of the Wannabe New Slave Master: OR WHY YOU CANNOT BREAK ALL THE CHAINS EXCEPT ONE

Reprinted from Revolution Newspaper

by Sunsara Taylor and Carl Dix | June 27, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us

In his new song, “New Slaves,” Kanye West evokes the seismic brutality and grinding oppression inflicted on Black people since they were first dragged to these shores in slave chains. He indicts the cradle-to-prison pipeline that steals the lives of Black youth and rails against the cold, hard reality that no matter what one accomplishes, if one is Black they will continue to face dehumanizing and even life-threatening racism. Through this song, he declares himself in open rebellion against a racist industry that seeks to neuter and profit off his artistic talents and a broader society which has, as an expression of this very racism, repeatedly written off or dismissed Kanye’s rants and anger as simply an outgrowth of “his oversized ego.”

But where does Kanye take this? Unfortunately, instead of the cry of rebellion of the slave (new or old) who wants to not only get out of this madness himself but fight for a world where no one is oppressed, exploited, and degraded in this way, Kanye rages at the ways this ongoing oppression keeps him from being able to fully integrate himself into, and assume his place at the top of, the modern-day slave system.

This is expressed not only in the way Kanye constantly boasts of obscene wealth and conspicuous consumption in a world where so many suffer so endlessly (including those whose modern-day slave labor has produced all that material wealth). Even more, this comes through in Kanye’s inability and/or unwillingness to envision a world that is not divided into oppressors and oppressed, exploiters and exploited, those on top and those on bottom. Encased within these terms, Kanye ends up making a principle—even an anthem—of fighting to be on top. As he puts it crudely in the chorus of “New Slaves”: “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”

Think about what this chorus is saying. That essentially this world is made up of two kinds of people. On the top are the “dicks,” i.e., “real men” who get off on fucking over others. On the bottom are the “swallowers,” i.e., women, as well as men who are being cast as women (the biggest insult that can be hurled at men today), who are viewed as nothing more than receptacles for some “dick’s” semen. Kanye doesn’t object to this dehumanizing division. Instead, he openly brags about and claims his place in it as a “dick.”

And look at what actually goes on in this world where the half of humanity that is born female are treated as “swallowers.”

Look at the way that women and girls are bombarded from a very young age—including by songs like this one—with the notion that their highest purpose in life is to be of sexual service to men. Look at the way men—trained in this same outlook from a very young age—routinely beat, rape, pimp, purchase, and otherwise insult and demean women on the street, in the homes, in the schools, in their relationships, and at workplaces. Look at the way women, if they actually have sex or even if they are sexually abused or raped, are considered “sluts” or “hos” and treated like soiled and unworthy garbage. Look at the millions of women and young girls throughout the world who are preyed upon and pimped out, drugged and beaten into submission, and sold as mere bodies to be violated and demeaned on the street or through the Internet. Look at the whole Christian fascist movement in this country that has assassinated abortion doctors and passed outrageous restrictions, all out of their desire to reduce women back to breeders of children and possessions of men. Look in the shelters and on the streets where poor and especially Black women have been evicted from public housing by the thousands, along with their children. Look at the desperate women who make up the bulk of the modern-day slave system of sweatshop exploitation all around the world.

Calling women “swallowers” accepts this enslavement and oppression. Bragging about being a “dick” celebrates being a wannabe slave master. Not only is this utterly unacceptable for how it views women, this kind of approach ultimately leads Kanye away from consistently challenging even the horrendous oppression of Black people he legitimately and powerfully indicts.

We see this very sharply in the closing verse of Kanye’s song. Kanye rails against the way corporations have tried to control him and draws parallels to the private prison contractors making enormous profits off stealing the lives of Black youth. He calls out those who are sitting back in the Hamptons (one of the most elite and wealthy vacation spots) bragging about the wealth they made through this exploitation of Black people. But then, he rhymes, “Fuck you and your Hampton house, I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse, Came on her Hampton blouse, And in her Hampton mouth.” Here Kanye reduces his “rebellion” against the oppression and exploitation of Black people to a vision of revenge against this racist elite that has denied him full entry by defiling and degrading this elite’s property, which is all that women in this view are deemed to be.

It is simply a fact that there is no fundamental difference between this view of women and the brutality and degradation and terror, imprisonment, and foreclosed futures of those who are born Black or Latino or other oppressed nationalities in this country. Indeed, the roots of both these forms of oppression are woven deep into the structures and culture of this capitalist-imperialist system and the struggle to end both these, and all other, forms of oppression are also bound together in the struggle to make real revolution to get rid of this system. How this is so is something that people need to get deeply into and a good place to start are the special issues of Revolutionnewspaper which deal in great depth with “The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need” and “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.”

Today’s modern-day slaves do NOT need the cry of revenge and degradation flowing from the frustrated aspirations of the new wannabe slave master. Humanity desperately and urgently needs the deepest cry and act of rebellion of the slaves who are determined to free not only themselves but all of humanity. This is the fight for real, all-the-way communist revolution as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian (BA). And we need art and culture which celebrates this genuine rebellion and the strivings for really breaking free of all this enslavement, degradation, and self-degradation.

All this drives home the tremendous truth and significance of BAsics 3:22, a statement made by BA many years ago, which Kanye West, oppressed people everywhere, and all those who yearn to get free must learn from today:

“You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men. You can’t say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution.”

Reprinted from Revolution Newspaper

Man of Steel in Obama’s America

There is no doubt that Superman is one of the most significant and iconic characters in American literature and film. A modern day mythic character, he has been the subject of scholarly analysis and debate for decades, and since his creation in the 1930s he has continually reinvented himself to maintain relevance through changes in cultural attitude over the years.

Man of Steel, the new film directed by Zack Snyder, represents the latest incarnation of Superman, and unlike Superman Returns (2006), which was a lighthearted and cartoonish continuation of the Christopher Reeve series, this franchise re-boot is much more serious and loaded with social and political messaging.

Despite mixed reviews, Man of Steel is proving to be a pretty significant hit at the box office. And because it’s so popular, mainstream, and culturally relevant, in addition to being well made technically, the stakes are raised, and it’s very important to sort out what the film is saying, and to set the record straight.

Early incarnations of Superman’s character in the 1930s depicted him as a sort of super-human Robin Hood, fighting for social justice against corporations and government corruption on behalf of the poor and working classes. His adopted home-town of Metropolis was even named for the Fritz Lang film, which also deals with the injustice of class inequality. This original progressive version of the character was developed in the context of the Great Depression, but despite this positive political origin, as America established itself as a global imperialist power, Superman’s political identity changed.

Since World War II Superman has been inexorably linked to America’s idealized self-image and symbolically represented its self-appointed role of global policeman. His motto became “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” This was a major departure from his left-leaning beginnings as he became a thinly veiled metaphor propagandizing American imperialism. For much of Superman’s heyday he was the fictional personification of that “shining city on a hill,” a powerful beacon for the world to aspire to and admire, which is exactly how America prefers to think of itself. And as America’s military might and world dominance grew, so did Superman’s muscles and powers in the comic book series.

Now, in the Age of Obama, politics aren’t always what they seem on the surface, and the same holds true for Superman. The latest incarnation of the character- a lonely, brooding, complicated man struggling to deal with his power and learn his place in the world- fits right into the complex Obama age.

In Man of Steel, Kal-El, Superman’s Kryptonian birth name, is skeptical and concerned about his role. He’s layered, nuanced, and thoughtful. He wants to help others but is worried about how the world will receive him. This kind of thoughtful and measured restraint is exactly what America thought it was voting for when Obama came to power in the wake of George W. Bush’s bellicose arrogance. It’s no accident that this film is coming out now and that it takes on the political complexities of this era. This isn’t the outwardly patriotic Superman of the Cold War.

Before being elected president, Obama had a reputation for being intellectual, peaceful, and even a borderline radical leftist (not to imply that was actually the case, but it was a perception many had). He had past associations with Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright, and he was sometimes named among the most liberal members of the US Senate. But since assuming the highest office in the land he has taken a very different political course. He’s embraced the worst of Bush’s abuses and taken many of them even further. He’s drastically increased the secretive drone program which murders hundreds of innocent people, he failed to uphold his promise to close Gitmo, he’s launched an aggressive assault on civil and human rights, and he’s prosecuted more whistle-blowers than all previous presidents combined.

The point of mentioning all this is that Obama has been able to embrace a reactionary agenda and get away with it because of his liberal reputation, not in spite of it. And Man of Steel operates in the same way. It promotes many backward ideas while appealing aesthetically to a liberal sensibility. It strips away the overt, cartoonish patriotism of past Superman incarnations and replaces it with a more serious, intellectual narrative. The film is darker than Superman films of the past; more emotional, and generally more sophisticated on every level. It takes place in a grounded and realistic landscape rather than in a bright, fanciful setting.

But underneath this darker, serious, realistic, and emotional exterior is the same old imperialistic and nationalistic Superman story that’s been told repeatedly since World War II. It’s just been dressed up in a way that appeals to today’s audience. Even though Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel‘s producer, and Zack Snyder want you to think this is a Superman of the people, it’s packed with backward and reactionary themes and ideas.

For example, an obvious attempt has been made to make Superman a stand-in for Jesus. So much so that the film was specifically marketed to church congregations by inviting clergy members to advance screenings. Man of Steel includes a sub-plot where Kal-El was the first member of his race to be born naturally (more on this later), paralleling the “miracle” birth of Jesus. And at one point in the film he enters a church and seeks guidance from a pastor, which makes no sense because if anyone should know that god doesn’t exist it would be the alien born of a scientificly advanced race that has explored the galaxy. The entire film makes a point of showing that Kal-El is a “savior” figure who can perform miraculous feats while the rest of us are merely children who must strive to live up to his standard.

As a matter of fact, the masses of people are less than nothing in this film. Superman is the only force that can save the planet while the people scatter and flee. Human beings are mostly insignificant in resolving the plot, other than some assistance by the military, which, by the way, is featured prominently and positively throughout the film. A film that depicts the masses as insignificant while a powerful savior figure protects them encourages inaction and fear during turmoil, and discourages the idea that united peoples can overcome overwhelming odds when working for mutual benefit. In Man of Steel, the people are powerless and need “Jesus” and the military to save them.

Another issue raised in the film is the idea of controlling the population through artificial births outside the body. The film shows Kryptonians as a highly advanced civilization which has developed a method of having babies by storing genetic information inside a “codex” and then growing fetuses in artificial wombs, thus allowing their species to procreate without the need for women to go through pregnancy. Kal-El, as previously mentioned, is the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. Every child on Krypton is born to fulfill a pre-determined purpose in society, but Kal’s parents chose natural pregnancy and birth so that he would grow up free to decide his own fate.

While that sounds simple enough at first glace, it’s actually a sophisticated straw-man attack against communism, social planning, as well as the idea of ectogenesis itself. It’s targeting the false notion that under communism people would effectively be turned into robots, have no individuality, and be forced to work a pre-determined role without any choice in the matter. Of course none of that is true, and the film fundamentally misses the positive potential ectogenesis could have for society.

Going back to the beginning of humanity, women have had to bear the physical burden of pregnancy while men are free to spread their seed without being physically anchored to their children. Women don’t have that luxury. If artificial womb technology could become widely available so that women could have a choice between natural childbirth and ectogenesis, it would go a long way toward establishing true equality between men and women. Ectogenesis could function as a sort of reverse abortion, a choice women could make allowing them to become mothers without pregnancy, giving more options to potential parents.

But Man of Steel sees this concept in the worst possible terms, depicting ectogenesis as authoritarian social planning, draining society of choice and freedom and contributing to the decay of a once great civilization. The opposite would likely be true in the real world. If this technology were to become widely accessible it would simply be a tool providing more options for potential parents. In a free society it would be a voluntary option, not a draconian mandate. An advancement like this could revolutionize the way we think about motherhood and the family unit, and help establish equality between the sexes.

Another major problem with the film is the depiction of the military. Even before the release of the film it was obvious this was going to be an issue because of the prominent cross-promotion with the US National Guard. There has been a major campaign to promote the armed forces with Man of Steel-National Guard ads in movie theaters, on billboards, and on TV. The slogan “one American icon inspires another” has been difficult to miss over the last few months as Superman is shown to be an ally of the American military through the multi-platform recruitment and propaganda campaign.

In the film itself the military is very worried about Superman and his power and they approach him with apprehension, but it isn’t long until they team up to fight General Zod, the ex-military leader of Kal-El’s home planet who has come to Earth to rebuild their almost extinct race. It’s essentially a clash of superpowers with the fate of humanity, hiding meekly out of sight (with the exception of the military), hanging in the balance. There’s even a scene where Superman dramatically walks through a group of soldiers; they all lower their guns, realizing he’s on their side.

General Zod, however, loudly proclaims that every action he takes, no matter how violent or cruel is for the greater good of his people. He’s been programmed, remember, as all Kryptonians have been, to fulfill a specific purpose. Zod was born to defend Krypton, and once his home planet was destroyed he had no choice but to commit genocide to make room on Earth to rebuild his race. He is ultimately revealed as a caricature, a straw-man attack against communism while Superman on the other hand was born free to choose his own purpose, and he benevolently sides with humans over his own race.

The film metaphorically sets up a contrast between socialism and free market capitalism, but it does so by depicting the former in the worst possible terms and the latter in the best. Zod might as well be Stalin on steroids, while Superman is the idealized image of Obama. That’s how the film gets away with reactionary ideas, by establishing a false “objective” position, and then ultimately siding with and promoting the wrong ideas.

Toward the end of the film Superman destroys a US military drone and then lands to have a conversation with his new military allies. The film tries to have it both ways. By destroying the drone Nolan and Synder can claim they’re making an anti-drone statement, but in reality the film upholds the role of the military. When the American general asks Superman if he’ll act in America’s interests he responds, “I was raised in Kansas! It doesn’t get any more American than that.”

And thus, Man of Steel continues the long tradition of Superman stories that uphold the idealized “American way” while appearing on the surface to be more thoughtful, intelligent, nuanced, and grounded in reality. You vote for Obama because he appears to be the opposite of Bush, but ultimately what you end up with is even worse. Likewise, Man of Steel is even worse than the previous incarnations of the story because it’s a Trojan horse, creating the appearance that it’s something new and different, selling itself to a new audience, but still upholding the same foul ideas.

Man of Steel embraces the role of religion, downplays the role of the masses, upholds the military, portrays ectogensis in the worst possible authoritarian terms in a straw-man attack on social planning, and promotes a sanitized and idealized vision of America as the shining city on a hill for the rest of the world to aspire to and admire, which couldn’t be further from the truth. While certainly well produced and very entertaining, the film ultimately promotes a reactionary agenda.

Cool Things I’ve Found: ‘The End of Poverty?”

A fantastic documentary by film maker Philippe Diaz about the root causes of poverty and inequality around the globe. Narrated by Martin Sheen, it paints a stunning portrait of poverty by exploring both the macro and micro views of its causes, as well as the forces that perpetuate it, while celebrating the culture and resolve of poverty stricken peoples around the world. A large international cast is interviewed offering a wide variety of perspectives, though all agree on one important point: the poor’s poverty is not their own doing. They are victims of an unjust system of exploitation. The entire film can be streamed here, and I highly encourage everyone to watch it.

The Walking Dead’s Shifting Social Outlook

When I last wrote about The Walking Dead I strongly criticized the show’s social/political outlook and worldview in this article. Since the beginning of the show’s run, The Walking Dead has promoted a narrow, individualistic, survivalist philosophy which can essentially be summed up with the motto “kill or be killed.” But as the third season of the show drew to a close a noticeable shift in philosophy occurred, as I’ll explore in more detail later.

The zombie genre is politically problematic, inherently. When the world is shown to be overrun by mindless, flesh-hungry undead, the majority depicted as a faceless, sub-human mob while small pockets of people struggle to survive against the zombie hoards, is that not a frightening metaphor for top-down class warfare? The zombie is the perfect visual metaphor for how the wealthy, and to a certain extent even the middle class, see the poor. What could be scarier to the privileged classes than a relentless mob of homeless coming to rob them of their comfortable way of life? That’s essentially what a zombie is, metaphorically speaking. To the wealthy elite, the poor are, at best, unproductive drains on society, and at worst, less than human and eligible for extermination. Zombies represent the latter.

So, when zombie films depict a small group of survivors battling an onslaught of encircling hoards, it’s a symbolic expression of fear of the masses by the privileged. Zombies are nothing more than pests who need to be suppressed in order to maintain the established class hierarchy. Entire books could be written analyzing zombie culture from this perspective, and there are very view entries in the genre that avoid this fundamentally problematic characterization of society and the masses (Shaun of the Dead is a rare positive example of subverting the zombie genre, mainly because it’s a satirical parody that shows how under the capitalist system we’re all basically zombies already).

The Walking Dead, like most zombie-themed media, suffers from this problem at its core, and it’s compounded by the fact that the central hero is a white, male police officer who’s established a patriarchal survivor group. Considering the role the police play in capitalist society, serving and protecting the elite, preserving their system of power and control over the masses, the fact that Rick is a cop is no accident. Rick’s job within the context of the zombie apocalypse is to preserve the staus quo to the best of his ability, just as his job pre-apocalypse was to preserve the established class hierarchy.

The show is rife with dangerous symbolic and metaphorical problems during these politically and socially charged times we live in. And, in addition to this fundamental genre-based flaw, as I argued in my previous article, it has been promoting an individualistic survivalist philosophy that teaches society that most people are to be feared, you can only rely on yourself, your family, and your previously known friends, and you must put aside morality and be willing to kill outsiders at the drop of a hat if you’re going to survive. “Trust no one” and “kill or be killed.” That’s what the message of The Walking Dead has been.

Given the show’s genre, all the inherent problematic elements (class warfare, the suppression of the masses, etc.) will almost certainly remain intact throughout the remainder of the show’s run. Those problems are built-in, fundamental aspects of what the show is. However, while those issues can’t be ignored, I am hopeful that the show’s philosophy of survival and its outlook on human relations will evolve, and over the last few episodes of the third season The Walking Dead has shown some signs of improvement in this area.

Previously, I had pointed out that there have been many examples of the show killing off characters who speak out against the ruthless, individualistic survival philosophy, as if trusting other people and trying to build a functioning community from the ground up is some sort of “weakness.” And “strength,” by contrast, has been classified as a cutthroat willingness to kill or abandon any outsider who poses even the smallest potential threat.

This season of The Walking Dead has been all about this question, the struggle between these two contrasting views. It came to a head when the Governor presents Rick with an ultimatum: hand over Michonne, a new and not yet fully trusted member of Rick’s group, or be faced with open war that could result in the entire group being wiped out. Essentially Rick had to decide if one person, one he didn’t even fully trust yet, was worth sacrificing in order to save everyone else. In other words, is it okay to do a little bit of evil in order to accomplish a greater good?

Rick wrestles with this question for an entire episode, and for a while it seemed he would in fact knowingly sacrifice Michonne to a slow death by torture in order to establish a truce with the Governor, saving his group. At the last minute, he changed his mind, and from that point on a shift in the show’s survival philosophy has gradually unfolded. Rick is starting to realize that the individualistic mindset he’s been championing has been misguided and morally wrong.

Most pointedly, the policies of survival Rick has been instilling in his group have been fully taken to heart by his son, Carl, and the end result is a cold-blooded killer. Carl murdered a surrendering teenager in the season finale, carrying out the philosophy of “kill or be killed” to its ultimate end. I don’t think it’s coincidence that Carl often wears a Blackwater t-shirt, and he justifies his actions by explaining that empathy and forgiveness is a weakness that comes back around to kill you later, and therefore it’s better to shoot first no matter what.

Rick listens to his son’s explanation, and in that moment he sees how morally bankrupt he himself has become, and he realizes he needs to change course, adopt a new philosophy, and provide a positive, empathetic example. His first act following this realization was to adopt the remaining people of Woodbury into their group at the prison, for the first time openly embracing a large group of outsiders without question or fear.

There are other positive signs as well. For example, in the previous episode Rick reversed his policy of dictatorship (established in the final episode of season 2), and asked the group to vote on whether to hold their ground or cut their losses and flee. And in that moment the conflict between the prison and Woodbury took on a new dimension. No longer is it a rivalry between two imperialist powers struggling for territory, because when the members of the prison group willingly volunteer to hold off an invading force their cause becomes much more just.

While The Walking Dead will continue to suffer from the inherent political, social, moral, metaphorical, and philosophical issues built into the zombie genre, hopefully, at the very least, it will proceed as a show that promotes human interdependence, empathy, forgiveness, and gender equality. Doing so would be a major reversal of what the show has been about until very recently.

Rugged individualist survivalism is narrow and dangerous because there are no moral limits that can’t be crossed in order to protect yourself at the expense of others. Embracing that cold “survive at all costs” mentality robs us of the empathy that makes us human. I’m hopeful that The Walking Dead has recognized this and will begin to promote the idea that the best way for humanity to not only survive, but thrive, is for people to join together under a system of mutual benefit based on equality. Unfortunately, we have to wait until season 4 to find out.