Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

9.11.04

Pulp Fiction vs. Forrest Gump

My wife is astounded that the Democratic Party is now seen as the party of the elite, which may have turned off the "meat-and-potatoes" voters that care about God, country, and family. I don't know why she should be. For years the Democrats have courted celebrity endorsements that make them look hip but don't do anything to sway voters. Why, if you're the Democrats, align yourself with two sections of the populations (entertainers and young people) who traditionally don't vote? Every year you hear about these entertainers who tell us to vote yet don't bother to cast a ballot themselves. The voters who went Republican might like to be entertained by these people, but they don't want them telling them how to live their lives. So it's not surprising that the Democrats are seen as the elite party. What is surprising is how the Republican power base, many of whom are ridiculously wealthy CEOs, have managed to deflect the "elitist" criticism that could rightly be leveled at them. In today's world of an uninformed public (on both sides) the Republicans are just better at hiding their faults. The Democrats need to stick to their liberal guns but put all the celebrities back in the closet.

What does this have to do with the title of this post? Well, the way I see it, although the problems facing our country are many and complex, the way of looking at how you approach these problems can be boiled down to whether you prefer Pulp Fiction or Forrest Gump. You remember 1994. Grunge was just about to start its downward slide, Newt Gingrich tried to take over America and failed miserably (take heart, liberals -- conservatives have overreached before, and look what happened), and there was no World Series because millionaires couldn't decide how to split their filthy lucre. Ah yes. It was a good year for movies, too. Pulp Fiction came out and basically changed for the better the way movies worked. Yes, there were many awful imitators of the movie, but the non-linear approach to storytelling, which Tarantino didn't invent, obviously, became another way to challenge audiences. Interesting movies that didn't spell everything out for the audiences became more popular -- again, we had always had them, but they had fallen out of fashion for a while. Without the success of Pulp Fiction, would we have had The Usual Suspects, Seven, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, or Memento? (Just to name a few.) I don't know. Pulp Fiction took a way of telling a story and stood it on its side, making the end of tale of redemption even though it doesn't take place chronologically at the end. We also know the consequences of both Jules and Vincent's actions at the end, so we appreciate their choices far more. It's a bit of a puzzle, but it's worth it. This is a movie that wouldn't have been as powerful if it had been told chronologically.

Then there was Forrest Gump. Not the worst movie of the year, but just kind of ... blech. A homily to a more innocent time that never existed. A "feel-good" parable about God, country, and family. (Yes, I'm not subtle about where I'm going with this. So sue me.) Tom Hanks was okay in the title role, but he didn't deserve his Oscar for it any more than he deserved his Oscar for Philadelphia the year before (Denzel's performance was far better, but he wasn't gay or afflicted with AIDS, so he didn't win it). It showed a borderline mentally retarded person pulling himself up by his bootstraps, innocently finding himself in all sorts of historical situations, and showing what a simple boy from Alabama (or wherever the hell he was from; it's been ten years since I've seen it) could do with just his faith and naivete. Robert Zemeckis, the director, should be commended for melding historical footage with Hanks and other actors, but in the end, this is a simple-minded movie that made people feel good because it re-affirmed their stereotypes. (I'm not going to go as far as Dave Chappelle in Undercover Brother, but he has a point.) A paternalistic attitude toward black people. Forrest treats Mekhi Phifer (wasn't it him?) okay, but the tone of the movie is that Forrest, even though he's retarded, can run his life better than Phifer can. There's also this attitude that retarded people don't need any professional help to become superstars -- they just need a little fear in them to "Run, Forrest, Run!" Speaking as a father of a disabled child, it's more than a little insulting.

Now, you may say I'm taking it too seriously. It's a fable about one man. Well, maybe. But that's not the point. The point is, in this culture war we're supposed to be currently engaged in, you have the Forrest Gump fans and the Pulp Fiction fans. I have heard people actually dismiss Pulp Fiction not because it's too violent, but because they don't like to think when they watch movies. I rarely say anything to that, because what can you say? These are the people who watch reality television. These are the people who watch professional wrestling. These are the people who don't like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because they don't like subtitles. These are the people who think People magazine is good literature.

Do you really need to think that much to watch Pulp Fiction? Of course not. It's not a Bergman movie, for God's sake. What you need to do is pay attention. People who like Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction are more likely, in my view, to vote for a president who says everything's fine. They don't want nuance, because "nuance" is a fancy foreign word (probably French) that means "I hate America." In Forrest Gump's world, Robin Wright can die, but it's okay, because she was punished for her actions! She lived an amoral life, and God struck her down. Sure, it's sad and all, and we weep along with Forrest, but she got what she deserved. Gary Sinise can lose his legs, but the film is never bitter about the government sending him over to Vietnam. There's not even really a moral center in Forrest Gump, because we never get the feeling that Forrest would ever do anything differently than he does them. He never makes a choice. He's like a baby. People who like Forrest Gump believe in Forrest as a metaphor for the country. We just go on and do the right thing because that's the way it is. We never think about our choices, because the way is clear. If we screw up, like Robin Wright (Jenny, I think her character's name is), then God will punish us. But ultimately, America (as represented by Forrest) is right. People who question him are ultimately swept away.

There is a moral center to Pulp Fiction, despite the violence, drug use, foul language, and gang rape. Yes, the wicked (represented by John Travolta) are punished. But he is only punished because he had a choice, a choice that Samuel L. Jackson made differently, which led to his survival. Forrest does good because he's never really confronted with evil. Jules does good after realizing that his life is evil, and it truly was evil. Bruce Willis makes a choice for good, and survives. He didn't have to go back down into the cellar, but he did. Put Forrest in that situation (not that would be funny!) and he doesn't even hesitate. Willis is a real character because we can imagine ourselves doing what he does. Forrest is a fairy tale because no one can imagine themselves as him.

Ultimately, those who like Pulp Fiction understand that the world is not black and white. Our president, and those who voted for him, would have you believe that it is. I don't think the people who voted for Bush are stupid, like a lot of liberals seem to, but I do think there's a yearning on their part for a return to a simpler time, when these "issues" we are dealing with didn't exist. That time is not a specific era in our history, because these issues always have existed. What these people want is a return to childhood, to that innocence that permeates a middle-class upbringing in a socially and racially homogeneous environment. I know about this, because it describes my upbringing. I would love to live like Peter Pan in my childhood neighborhood, circa 1980. It was a great time. I had no worries. But people who voted against this president know that, unfortunately, the problems of today won't go away simply by ignoring them or legislating against them. We need to look at our country and our world in new ways, and come up with new solutions. It will require hard work and, just as important, hard thought. Hard thought is, unfortunately, something that a lot of people don't want to engage in. And so we get the situation we have today.

Go rent Pulp Fiction if you haven't seen it or never liked it. Watch it carefully. Come on over!

Postscript: I heard this morning that NASCAR is considering selling advertising to hard liquor companies. I thought NASCAR was part of the whole "values" community who all voted for Bush. Advertising hard liquor (and beer, which they already do) in a family-oriented "sport"? As usual, business rules all. Both Democrats and Republicans are ruled by the all-mighty dollar. Republicans just do a better job hiding that fact.

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