To the editors.
I enjoyed Andrew Goodwin’s “Reading: The Cultural Crash of ’89” in November 11’s Reader. I was glad to read that there is a “contemporary Marxist theory” that does not involve reducing every cultural artifact to its “progressive” stance. This must not be too popular because I hadn’t heard any of it during this last election. Marxists of any stripe have yet to prove that Marx was defining a new world order and correctly predicting future trends, not just describing industrial conditions of the time. In my opinion the first hint that Marx was stating the obvious is that Marx’s philosophy defines a worker by his labour and ascribes different values to objects created–values which no longer exist but were symptomatic of the ideas of the day. Abandoning both left and right biases when viewing cultural artifacts I believe can be more rewarding than the posturing that goes with the rhetoric of our time. Here two examples of this approach follow. I hope you’re sitting down.
The Japanese cartoon Battleship Yamato (known here as Starblazers) concerns itself with earth under attack from a foe from outer space. A “mighty ship from The Great War” arises from the waters, is outfitted to do combat and journey to a distant planet to obtain aid in the war against the space foe. Now a right winger would look at the cartoon and bemoan its characterizations, comparing them to long dead classics. A leftist would bemoan the toys being sold from the cartoon, the violence in Starblazers, and the working conditions of the artists (very good and higher pay and recognition than our counterparts) while missing what Starblazers is about!
Since The Great War is what the Japanese refer to when speaking of World War 2, I looked at that period to see what the cartoon was about. In 1931 the Japanese developed a line of ships to get around the US and London Naval treaties which limited Japan’s size and speed of their ships. The Japanese cleverly placed removable weights on the ships that slowed them down–and the US and Brits were none the wiser. The name of the line of ships–the Yamato! The flagship was lost at the Battle of Midway, with the loss of all life. Starblazers too ends with the death of almost the entire crew and cast! Shown in America for over 20 years, no one has caught the connection between the cartoon and the actual event until It’s Only a Movie, the newsletter of the Psychotronic Film Society did so in our third issue. Ignore the trees, and you see the forest.
The Manchurian Candidate has as its underlying theme the idea that a leftist could manipulate the right into a frenzy which would ultimately prove a threat to the principles the right is trying to protect. It, in effect, blames the left for McCarthyism! Where on earth did that idea come from? It happens to be true! It may be hidden as metaphor in the film, but it reflects a true picture of what happened. The Communist Party had refused to strike during World War 2 and had lost ground with workers. The Socialists had made inroads into the unions the party could count as its own. There was only one way to get the Socialists out of Communist unions–call for hearings and punishments for those that ignored the war effort. When the hearings turned on them they chose to appear as victims, against the wishes of fighters like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall who wanted to beat the hearings, not turn them into symbolic protest. All this happened long before Eisenhower was in office! I called the Communist Party and asked if the hearing and purges they initiated might have led to McCarthy–they said it most definitely did and they had made an error. That means The Manchurian Candidate is a more honest presentation of the McCarthy period than all the articles that equate it with Eisenhower, all the documentaries made that agonize over the victims (yes there were victims, but the tactics the CP gleefully used against Socialists wound up forever removing them as a force in the US) all the biased versions most of us already know.
I suppose this sounds like post industrial service and techno oriented rhetoric. Beats me. I spend so much time sifting through comic books, trash movies and watching my monitor (tv to the uninitiated) I can’t help but feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t read an Alan Moore graphic novel like The Watchmen, or read any of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. None of this diatribe is meant as a critique of Mr. Goodwin’s piece. My point is new left or old, rightist or off the map, there are many different ways to look at our culture. Any writer or Prof who ventures away from smug contempt when dealing with our pop culture gets my applause.
At one time we believed that work defined ourselves. I have perfume commercials from the 50’s that promised to smell nicer longer. That was a value oriented approach. Now a perfume ad can show a plane passing over a pool–and that sells the product! Desire and seduction have replaced in my opinion, the left and right’s fixation on work and value-use oriented outlooks. Nowhere is that as clearly stated than in pop culture itself.
Psychotronic Film Society